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Agrarianism and the Good Society

Agrarianism and the Good Society: Land, Culture, Conflict, and Hope

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Agrarianism and the Good Society
    Book Description:

    Every society expresses its fundamental values and hopes in the ways it inhabits its landscapes. In this literate and wide-ranging exploration, Eric T. Freyfogle raises difficult questions about America's core values while illuminating the social origins of urban sprawl, dwindling wildlife habitats, and over-engineered rivers. These and other land-use crises, he contends, arise mostly because of cultural attitudes that made sense on the American frontier but now threaten the land's ecological fabric. To support and sustain healthy communities, profound adjustments will be required. Freyfogle's search leads him down unusual paths. He probes Charles Frazier's novel Cold Mountain for insights on the healing power of nature and tests the wisdom in Wendell Berry's fiction. He challenges journalists writing about environmental issues to get beyond well-worn rhetoric and explain the true choices that Americans face. In an imaginary job advertisement, he issues a call for a national environmental leader, identifying the skills and knowledge required, taking note of cultural obstacles, and looking critically at supposed allies. Examining recent federal elections, he largely blames the conservation cause and its inattention to cultural issues for the diminished status of the environment as a decisive issue. Agrarianism and the Good Society identifies the social, historical, political, and cultural obstacles to humans' harmony with nature and advocates a new orientation, one that begins with healthy land and that better reflects our utter dependence on it. In all, Agrarianism and the Good Society offers a critical yet hopeful guide for cultural change, essential for anyone interested in the benefits and creative possibilities of responsible land use.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7250-7
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    One way to judge a people is to look at the ways they use nature—the land, broadly defined to include its soils, rocks, waters, plants, animals, and sustaining processes. A culture writes its name on land for all to see. Is the soil kept fertile and in place? Are waterways clean and full of life? Are tracts of land devoted to uses for which they are ecologically well suited? Are landscapes sensibly laid out and pleasing to the eye and ear? And are the modes of living and working on land likely to endure for centuries, without nature lashing...

  4. 1 Life in the Enclaves
    (pp. 9-24)

    The work of managing a natural area—a wildlife refuge, park, public forest, wilderness reserve—does not fit easily into American culture. When well done, the profession entails ways of thinking, valuing, and acting that stand culturally apart. It deviates from, and indeed calls into question, much of what America is about.

    For starters, the work requires a long-term perspective. It means thinking about and planning for the very long run. This perspective contrasts with the short-term attitude that characterizes much of the modern age, whether it is the business that plans quarter to quarter, the student who looks ahead...

  5. 2 A Durable Scale
    (pp. 25-45)

    The conservation community in the United States suffered a loss in April 1948, when sixty-one-year-old Aldo Leopold died fighting a grass fire on a neighbor’s farm. It was a loss not just of a lead conservation voice but of a type of conservationist, one who could roll up his sleeves and labor on land yet who understood the broad cultural and economic contexts of land use and conservation. It was the latter skill that made Leopold so valuable, then and now. Even as he mastered scientific details, he developed a rare ability to distance himself from the day-to-day. He could...

  6. 3 The Education of Ada
    (pp. 46-69)

    It is early one morning, August 1864, in the mountains of western North Carolina. Ada Monroe has risen and sits on her house porch. The life she has known has wound down and come to a halt. Kinless and nearly friendless, alone and immobile, she has no idea what to do. The solace she gains from books and art is not enough to sustain her. Though Ada does not realize it, the next twenty-four hours will set her on a new course. She will begin life again, in a world badly torn by war. Her central possession is a three-hundred-acre...

  7. 4 Framing Our Choices
    (pp. 70-82)

    To judge from its popularity, the journalistic convention of reporting two sides to every controversy reflects something like a deep-rooted yearning—certainly among Americans, perhaps among other peoples too—to reduce complex issues into opposing options. The world is hardly so simple, of course. Dichotomies are as apt to confuse as they are to clarify. Still, we routinely find ourselves confronted, for instance, with the options of vast reproductive autonomy for women or a fetus’s unlimited right to life: pro-choice or pro-life. Both sides ignore the complex social world in which abortion decisions are made. This tendency toward two-sided simplification...

  8. 5 Good-bye to the Public-Private Divide
    (pp. 83-106)

    To live well on land has long been a challenge and a hope for people everywhere. It is the “oldest task in human history,” Aldo Leopold claimed, and he was in a position to know as a careful student of the land and of the ways various peoples had misused it.¹ In America today, we are having trouble at that task, according to many conservationists. A major cause of our troubles has been the institution of private property rights in land. Too many landowners use their lands in ways that undercut the collective good, and their property rights shield them...

  9. 6 Back toward Community
    (pp. 107-127)

    The institution of private property is one of the chief mechanisms through which a society interacts with the natural world. Property law creates a framework for managing and using nature. It explains who gets to do what, and where. When a landscape is divided into private parcels, it is not the land that is fragmented; nature remains an integrated whole. What is fragmented is the legal power to make decisions over land. The law prescribes how individuals can acquire managerial powers over particular segments of this natural whole.

    One question that presses itself upon American law and culture today is...

  10. 7 Love and Democracy
    (pp. 128-145)

    One of Wendell Berry’s valuable contributions to conservation thought has been his persistent reminder that good land use rarely occurs in isolation. Good land use requires human users who care about land and know how to use it well. Sound knowledge is critical, and so is a supporting social order, a community that can inform and help sustain good practices. Such a community, in turn, requires leaders if it is to respond adequately to tensions and challenges. Not all local people but enough of them must display a commitment to the community and a willingness to serve. In Berry’s view...

  11. 8 Wanted: Environmental Leader
    (pp. 146-157)

    The United States is currently seeking one or more national environmental leaders. Applications for the position are invited, especially from individuals, resident or nonresident, who have a capacity to stand back from U.S. culture and reflect critically upon it. Applicants will be screened based on their knowledge, character, and personal skills. No formal academic qualifications are required (but see below for our additional screening of applicants who have received PhD’s).

    A national environmental leader must (1) help the people of the United States awaken to their environmental predicament, in its ecological and cultural complexity; (2) stimulate a yearning for better...

  12. 9 The Politics of Homeland Health
    (pp. 158-170)

    One lesson that stands out from the past few federal elections is that the land-conservation stance is due for an overhaul. Fifteen years ago, the first President Bush matter-of-factly declared himself an environmentalist. Today, few Republicans and a good many Democrats would accept the label only with qualifications, if at all. In the 2004 presidential election, John Kerry and other pro-environment candidates had little or nothing to say about the subject, presumably for fear that strong comments could cost votes. Few voters today treat the environment as a decisive issue. Something has happened.

    Substantial credit for this anti-green shift goes...

  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 171-172)
  14. Index
    (pp. 173-184)