The Leeds Arts Club was founded in 1903 by the Leeds school teacher Alfred Orage and Yorkshire textile manufacture Holbrook Jackson and Arthur Joseph Penty (1875 –1937), who was, like his father, an architect . Penty left Leeds for London in 1905 and was followed later in 1907 by Orage and Jackson who moved to London to edit the hugely influential cultural and political journal The New Age.
Penty's ideas were widely influential and he formed the ideas of guild socialism . In 1906, Arthur Penty published Restoration of the Gild System in which he opposed factory production and advocated a return to an earlier period of artisanal production organised through guilds. Orage, as editor of The New Age, took up,although in the context of modern industry rather than the medieval setting favoured by Penty.
This more revised version of the guild philosophy was also associated with the economist G.D.H.Cole who formed the National Guilds League in 1915 and published several books on guild socialism including Self-Government in Industry (1917) and Guild Socialism Restated (1920).
In the course of his life Penty produced many books and a small collected anthology was published The Gauntlet: A Challenge to the Myth of Progress, by Arthur J. Penty. Norfolk, VA: IHS Press, in 2003 all of which were illustrative of a naiive post industrial Christian workers Utopia.
The Distributist League, consisting of men such as (Roman Catholic) Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, and (non Roman catholic) Arthur Penty among others, advocated the formation of communes based on “Christian principles” and revival of the Guild system such as flourished during the Middle Ages. The distributists were known for their unremitting opposition to Industrialism and Capitalism per se, and their call for a more equal distribution of material goods throughout society. Penty wrote a slim 24 page pamphlet Distributism: A Manifesto in 1937 which was published after his death on January 19th that year.
Having spent some time this last week on the Pennine moors and discussing the effects of the Enclosure acts and the early industrialisation ( we visited the relict moorland coke ovens that helped feed and establish the first iron foundries that built the engines and tools of the Industrial revolution - piss poor picture but it's been a bit rainy this last week) the words of Ludwig van Mises seem apt ...
"It is a distortion of facts to say that the factories carried off the housewives from the nurseries and the kitchens and the children from their play. These women had nothing to cook with and to feed their children. These children were destitute and starving. Their only refuge was the factory. It saved them, in the strict sense of the term, from starvation…. the fact remains that for the surplus population which the enclosure movement had reduced to dire wretchedness and for which there was literally no room left in the frame of the prevailing system of production, work in the factories was salvation. These people thronged into the plants for no reason other than the urge to improve their standard of living."That the vocal and comfortable middle classes like Chesterton , Belloc and Penty hated the removal of the individual skills that the Catholic mediaeval guilds provided - naturally they welcomed the benefits that industrialisation had brought them.
Just as Lord Patel welcomed the cheap cosy waterproof clothing, and cheap waterproof boots made by Chinese refugees from mediaeval agricuture to clothe the world in the way Lancashire did when those coke ovens were working full blast.
A Distributist blog affords a curious insight onto the Catholic elements of Penty's ideas and their curretn adherents