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The Agrarian Vision

The Agrarian Vision: Sustainability and Environmental Ethics

Paul B. Thompson
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Agrarian Vision
    Book Description:

    As industry and technology proliferate in modern society, sustainability has jumped to the forefront of contemporary political and environmental discussions. The balance between progress and the earth's ability to provide for its inhabitants grows increasingly precarious as we attempt to achieve sustainable development. In The Agrarian Vision: Sustainability and Environmental Ethics, Paul B. Thompson articulates a new agrarian philosophy, emphasizing the vital role of agrarianism in modern agricultural practices. Thompson, a highly regarded voice in environmental philosophy, unites concepts of agrarian philosophy, political theory, and environmental ethics to illustrate the importance of creating and maintaining environmentally conscious communities. Thompson describes the evolution of agrarian values in America, following the path blazed by Thomas Jefferson, John Steinbeck, and Wendell Berry.

    Providing a pragmatic approach to ecological responsibility and commitment, The Agrarian Vision is a significant, compelling argument for the practice of a reconfigured and expanded agrarianism in our efforts to support modern industrialized culture while also preserving the natural world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7381-8
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Sustainability and Agrarian Ideals
    (pp. 1-17)

    How can we make our society and our lives more sustainable? What would it mean for us to try? When Thomas Jefferson assumed office as the third president of the United States, he faced a sustainability crisis of his own. The new republic was straining to recover from debts incurred while opposing the British in the Revolutionary War. Although historians of the United States seldom mention the fact, many colonials chose to relocate their businesses after the Revolution, seeking a more stable economic and political environment. The United States’ chief international ally was France, which had endured a decade of...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Sustainability and Environmental Philosophy
    (pp. 18-41)

    The wordenvironmentalismis often used to indicate a loosely organized social movement that emerged in the closing decades of the nineteenth century, leading to the formation of national parks and wildlife preserves. The most active early period in the United States coincided with the terms of President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), which saw a considerable emphasis on conservation and an expansion of the national park system. Environmentalism enjoyed a resurgence during the 1970s with the passage of key environmental legislation such as the Clean Water Act and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. It has reemerged in recent...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Philosophy of Farming in America
    (pp. 42-61)

    Few would dispute that North American agriculture has been moving toward a bipolar organizational structure in the first decade of the twenty-first century. One pole is industrial agriculture, comprising the major agricultural chemical and equipment companies; the principal grain, processing, and packing companies; the major grocery and restaurant outlets; and the largest farm producers. The other pole is often designated alternative or sustainable agriculture, which is a loose network of organic and regional producers, chefs, nongovernmental organizations, and ordinary food consumers. Four or five decades ago, the complex of input companies, large-scale producers, and the food distribution system was regarded...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Political Values and the Future of U.S. Agriculture
    (pp. 62-86)

    In 1988 I contributed to a policy briefing book for mainstream agriculture leaders in which I warned them against trying to “bar the door, barricade the windows and attempt to hold on to what power [mainstream agriculture] has to dictate the agricultural policy debate,” although I also conceded that they could expect to achieve many of their immediate political ends if they did just that. In the intervening decades, farm groups have begun to appreciate that others will insist on having their say. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s creation of a certified-organic label, the rise of retailers (such as Whole...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Moral Significance of Land: A Lesson from The Grapes of Wrath
    (pp. 87-110)

    We have seen how the industrial philosophy of agriculture emerged as a philosophy of the Left, only to become reconciled to the middle of the road. This chapter uses the novelThe Grapes of Wrathand the political events of the Great Depression to explore the links between political philosophies of the Right and Left, on the one hand, and the moral significance of land, on the other. The way John Steinbeck (1902–1968) used character studies and dialect, as well as the aesthetic effect of his celebrated intercalary chapters, accounts for much of the critical debate overThe Grapes...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Farming as a Focal Practice
    (pp. 111-135)

    Albert Borgmann developed the ideas of focal things and focal practices in the final stages of his inquiry into the failed promise of technology. His bookTechnology and the Character of Contemporary Lifeis a philosophical study of why life in modern society has become so disjointed, frenetic, and unsatisfying, despite the hope of previous generations that science and technology would free humanity for more satisfying and ennobling pursuits. Focal things and focal practices encompass a broad array of objects and activities that give meaning to people’s lives. They are capable of addressing the failure of technology because they unify...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Food and Community
    (pp. 136-154)

    Albert Borgmann’s “culture of the table” is offered as a practical way for present-day Americans to begin recovering a deep and sustaining moral meaning in their common lives. Food can be a focal thing in Borgmann’s sense when it becomes the centering orientation that holds a number of meaning-giving activities together, providing coherence and purpose to our lives. These activities certainly include at least some dimensions of gathering, preparing, and eating, although I want to include elements of farming as well. Borgmann himself starts with the meal. As a focal practice, eating should be at the heart of our personal...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Why Philosophy Matters for Agricultural Policy; Why Agricultural Policy Matters for Sustainability
    (pp. 155-174)

    Agricultural policy encompasses diverse laws and administrative procedures that have been developed for the governance of agriculture. First there are very broad laws and regulations that govern the full range of productive and commercial activities, although these laws sometimes make important exceptions for farms and farming. The constitutional ban on the restriction of interstate commerce, for example, has important implications for the governance of agriculture, in that it prohibits states or counties from passing laws that make it impossible for farmers from other parts of the country to sell their products in a given locality. Environmental and labor laws also...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Sustainability and the Social Goals of Agriculture
    (pp. 175-195)

    In a 1983 essay on research and development policy, agricultural economist James T. Bonnen states: “Changes in society’s values and social agenda, in part the consequence of externalities to agricultural policy and production, will remain an important source of disequilibria. This will require not only social science, physical and biological science, but also humanities research on the ethical and value choices that must be made.” Bonnen’s view was particularly enlightened and prescient not only for its recognition of the importance of ethics and values in technology policy but also for his suggestion that the humanities could and must contribute to...

  13. CHAPTER 9 The Road to Sustainability
    (pp. 196-214)

    What do we mean by sustainability? The wordssustainandsustainableare common terms. Some time back I recall pundits on the national news proclaiming that the rise in residential home values was “not sustainable.” They did not have to define this term. We all knew what they meant, and since the collapse of the U.S. mortgage industry in 2007, it is clear that they were right. The wordsustainability, however, is sufficiently nonstandard that it is not included in the dictionary supplied with my word processing program (though I doubt this will continue to be the case for long)....

  14. CHAPTER 10 Sustainability as a Norm
    (pp. 215-233)

    As noted in the last chapter, defining the phrasesustainable developmentbecame important for integrating environmental issues into international political relations after the Brundtland Report. Yet a robust debate over the meaning ofagricultural sustainabilitypreceded the Brundtland Report. This debate had been going on for perhaps a decade beforeOur Common Futurewas published in 1987, if one focuses narrowly on the use of the wordsustainableto characterize an agricultural practice. But if one thinks broadly enough to encompass ideas about making agriculturepermanentorresilient, the beginnings of the debate can be pushed back to the early...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Sustainability: What It Is and What It Is Not
    (pp. 234-255)

    The somewhat presumptuous title of this chapter is not intended to suggest that I will now definesustainabilityonce and for all. On the contrary, the continuing debate over the meaning of sustainable practice will prove increasingly useful and important for future generations. In fact, I have three main purposes. First, I review and consolidate themes related to the idea of sustainability that have been introduced throughout the book. In that modest sense, I say what sustainabilityis. Second, I discuss a trend only hinted at previously: that sustainability is best understood as a social movement. Although there are helpful...

  16. CHAPTER 12 Sustainability, Social Movements, and Hope
    (pp. 256-276)

    Highly technical approaches to sustainability proliferated in the decade between the publication of the Brundtland Report and the end of the millennium. By 2001, Australian philosopher Aiden Davison was calling for an end to the contentious debates over sustainable development on the ground that these technical definitions simply promoted the idea that environmental problems were a domain for expert decision making and technological innovation. The idea that there might be something about modern life that needed deep reform in which many (if not all) people should participate had been driven from the field. Davison’s hope was that by turning the...

  17. Conclusion: Jefferson’s Bequest
    (pp. 277-292)

    When it comes to sustainability, it is better to be lucky than smart. This does not mean that we should abandon intelligence completely. Thomas Jefferson’s approach to the political sustainability of the new American republic illustrates how intelligence can be applied to the problem of sustainability with cunning and guile. When Jefferson became president of the United States in 1801, the immediate threats to the sustainability of America lay in factionalism and in the potential for foreign invasion. Jefferson might have approached this problem by appealing to Americans’ patriotic zeal, buttressed, perhaps, with a bit of fear. Instead, he followed...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 293-300)
  19. References
    (pp. 301-318)
  20. Index
    (pp. 319-324)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 325-325)