Writings 1990-1999


Kenneth Westhues

Catholic New Times, 18 June 1997; on the web by permission, August 2003

Background. Drat! Editor says Lasch's Women and the Common Life is already taken. Two weeks to deadline. Search own bookshelves. New books too academic. Search independent bookstores. Find Buchan's Transformation. Read it in the aisle. Rooted in southwestern Ontario. Does anybody here have roots? Yes, go with it. Bibliography alone worth reviewing. Intriguing references to New Society Press. What's that?

Phone Buchan. Sometime novelist. Blue Crow her own creation. Grass roots. Sustainability. Native spirituality. Writing and publishing for building "conscious community." In the middle of Canada's Technology Triangle. Imagine!

Phone Working Centre. J. Mancini says Buchan is as engaging in person as in print. Says New Society churns out great stuff. Trenchant new book by Theobald. Last year's Massey Lectures, the ones that got cancelled. About transformation from the bottom up. Democracy. Dialogue. Can I see it? Maybe pair it with Buchan. S. Mancini is reading it. "Please, Steph, I need it for three days." Book slowly extracted from backpack. What a friend!

Call from J. Mancini. Jim Lotz's newsletter, Community Connections, just arrived from Nova Scotia. Side-by-side reviews of Theobald and Buchan. Yes, fax it. I'll go with both. Good enough for Lotz, good enough for me. Editor doesn't say no.

Buchan's book begins where it should, with her own life in Windsor, Toronto, and now Waterloo. "What else could possibly matter more than what lives here?" she asks. "Without a conscious relationship to home," she answers, "the physical ground beneath our feet, our efforts to change social and individual behaviours happen without a context, as if the human species can exist in a vacuum and be unaffected by the destruction of the natural world."

The book unfolds as a guide to initiatives by which citizens in southwestern Ontario are reclaiming responsible stewardship of this place. Organic and no-till agricultural ventures, community gardens, experiments with hemp and kenaf, the St. Jacob's Family Birthing Home, St. Mary's School Peace Park in Brantford, and restorative justice experiments in Perth County are among the projects described.

Local doesn't mean parochial. Transformation is rooted not only in the physical and social realities of southern Ontario but in the scholarship of Kirkpatrick Sale, Wendell Berry, Riane Eisler, and dozens of other authors. Buchan's book has theoretical depth, especially in its discussion of the ideal of reciprocity in relations among humans, and between humans and the earth.

Theobald's book differs little from Buchan's in its approach and thrust, and is similarly enlivened by autobiographical references. It ends with a call to people throughout the industrialized world to start building the kind of local communities that Buchan nourishes in one corner of Canada.

The first of the three parts of Reworking Success is lucid economic history, systematic comparison of the two post-war periods, 1945-1973 ("citizen as euphoric consumer") and 1974-1996 ("from consumerism to making do").

Having shown why economic growth can no longer be the measure of success, Theobald sets forth in part two some principles for guiding current efforts at change. Most important is "common ground," a concept used here in Cardinal Bernardin's meaning but applied more broadly. "One first step we must take," Theobald writes, "is to move beyond our tendency to adopt polar positions, which we then treat as non-negotiable."

In the final part of his book, Theobald gives his guardedly optimistic view of the future. He highlights "emerging successes" of the kind Buchan describes, and pinpoints their secret: rejection of the centralized, bureaucratic mode of decision-making in favour of local control and community base. Theobald's discussion of the possibilities arising from the reduced need for employment in the big economy is especially insightful.

In the way these two books have been written and published, they exemplify the hopeful new directions they describe. They are like CNT In this respect. Their review here is appropriate.