Tuesday, January 03, 2017


The Agrarian Mind

Wendell Berry, "The Whole Horse," The Art of the Commonplace (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2002), pp. 236-248 (at 239):
An agrarian economy rises up from the fields, woods, and streams — from the complex of soils, slopes, weathers, connections, influences, and exchanges that we mean when we speak, for example, of the local community or the local watershed. The agrarian mind is therefore not regional or national, let alone global, but local. It must know on intimate terms the local plants and animals and local soils; it must know local possibilities and impossibilities, opportunities and hazards. It depends and insists on knowing very particular local histories and biographies.

Because a mind so placed meets again and again the necessity for work to be good, the agrarian mind is less interested in abstract quantities than in particular qualities. It feels threatened and sickened when it hears people and creatures and places spoken of as labor, management, capital, and raw material. It is not at all impressed by the industrial legendry of gross national products, or of the numbers sold and dollars earned by gigantic corporations. It is interested — and forever fascinated — by questions leading toward the accomplishment of good work: What is the best location for a particular building or fence? What is the best way to plow this field? What is the best course for a skid road in this woodland? Should this tree be cut or spared? What are the best breeds and types of livestock for this farm? — questions which cannot be answered in the abstract, and which yearn not toward quantity but toward elegance. Agrarianism can never become abstract because it has to be practiced in order to exist.
If I were President-Elect of the United States, I would ask Wendell Berry to be Agriculture Secretary.

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