A real life hobbit village. And it’s sustainable.
I remember reading an article in the St. Austin Review that described Tolkien’s Hobbiton as an embodiment of a social philosophy known as “distributism.” G.K. Chesterton was a big proponent of it. Wendell Berry—know him? You could call him one too.
It’s basically agrarianism where everyone is a peasant and nobody is a lord. In Hobbiton, all the farms are for sustaining the community, not trading with the outside world at large. The mill is the closest thing to an industry, but once again it is for producing enough for the Shire. “Distributists were ‘greens’ before anyone had the label,” and it certainly wasn’t because they worshipped the earth or anything. As Christians, they believed not that all creation was God, but that all creation was God’s temple.
If you only saw the Lord of the Rings movies, then you don’t know what happens in the books at the end. Remember that vision Frodo sees in the mirror of the Shire being enslaved? It happens. The ring is destroyed, but the wizard who industrialized the forest takes over the Shire. The mill makes weapons instead of corn. It’s not pretty. But this is analogous to what corporatism does to small communities.
Stratford Caldecott explains this idea:
“The family [is] the only solid basis for civil society and of any sustainable civilization. [Distributists] believed in a society of households, and were suspicious of top-down government. Power, they held, should be devolved to the lowest level compatible with a reasonable degree of order (the principle of ‘subsidiarity’). Social order flows form the natural bonds of friendship, cooperation and family loyalty, within the context of a local culture possessing a strong sense of right and wrong. It cannot be imposed by force, and indeed force should never be employed except as a last resort and in self-defense[…In capitalism] property and wealth had become concentrated in the hands of a few, reducing other people to the status of ‘wage slaves’[…Distributists believe] in the direction of wider ownership (not ‘public ownership’); meaning that measures should be taken to encourage small and family-run businesses, farmers and local retailers, and to defend them against the larger conglomerates. Forcible redistribution of land… was not an option. … One of the most basic of these principles was freedom: the whole point of the philosophy was to foster self-sufficiency, independence, and personal responsibility. The Shire fits neatly into this tradition of social thought… It was a way of life founded on local tradition… one shaped by our ancestors…”
In other words, the “local, sustainable” movement, with a Christian emphasis (Tolkien was Catholic). Christians widely distribute their private property amongst one another, placing primacy on the needs of the poor—at least, when they act as Jesus wanted them to. The “rings of power” that are Big Gov, Big Biz, Big Ag, and pretty much anything but Big Hearts and Big Faith, corrupt us.
Some may say that this agrarian distributism thing is nothing more than a “pastoral paradise.” That’s why it’s in a fantasy book. But the Shire only emulates a kind of community that has existed before and still exists in some places today. And “distributists think small rather than big”. Start small. This village in Copenhagen seems to have figured it out. They adapted the vision to their place and time: windmills, recycle bins. Something is pleasant in the state of Denmark.
“The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.”
—Samwise Gamgee, The Lord of the Rings