From WENDELL BERRY
Forward to Another Turn of the Crank (1995)
Field Observations: An interview with Wendell Berry
The essays in this book deal with a number of important issues that have now become obscured by poor politics, and they deal with other issues, equally important, that are now little noticed, and are perhaps not noticeable, by politicians;
The book is therefore vulnerable to some misconceptions that I would like to correct beforehand. Nothing that I have written here should be construed as an endorsement of either of our political parties as they presently function.
Republicans who read this book should beware either of approving it as “conservative” or of dismissing it as “liberal”. Democrats should beware of the opposite errors.
One reason for this is that I am an agrarian; I think that good farming is a high and difficult art, that it is indispensable, and that it cannot be accomplished except under certain conditions. Manifestly, good farming cannot be fostered or maintained under the rule of the presently dominant economic and cultural assumptions of our political parties.
Another reason is that I am a member, by choice, of a local community. I believe that healthy communities are indispensable, and I know that our communities are disintegrating under the influence of economic assumptions that are accepted without question by both our parties-despite their lip service to various non-economic “values.” The “conservatives” believe that an economy that favors its richest and most powerful participants will yet somehow serve the best interest of everybody. The “liberals” believe just as irrationally that a merely competitive economy, growing always larger in scale and controlled by fewer and fewer people, can be corrected by extending government charity to the inevitable victims: the dispossessed, the unrepresented, and the unemployed. No agrarian or community member could look kindly upon or wish to serve either belief.
A reader would also be in error who concluded, from this book’s reiterated wish to restore local life by means of local economies, that it is “antigovernment.” On the contrary, one of the fundamental purposes of these essays is to serve the cause of democratic government as established by the Constitution. I do not believe, however, that a nation can secure such a government merely by means of a constitution. Political democracy can endure only as the guardian of economic democracy, as I am by no means the first to say. A democratic government fails in failing to protect the integrity of ordinary lives and local communities. By now it should be pretty obvious that central planning is of a piece with absentee ownership and does not work. But to say as much is not to say that there is no proper role for government. The proper role of a government is to protect its citizens and its communities against conquest – against economic conquest just as much as conquest by overt violence.
Underlying all that I have written here is the assumption that a people who are entirely lacking in economic self-determination, either personal or local, and who are therefore entirely passive in dealing with the suppliers of all their goods and services, including political goods and services, cannot be governed democratically – or not for long. This seems to be borne out by the present decline of political dialogue into a rhetoric of increasingly violent abstraction, without compassion, imagination, manners, or goodwill. The voter is no longer understood as an intelligent citizen to be persuaded, but rather as a benighted consumer requiring only to be distracted or deceived.
Furthermore, I am convinced that the present concentration of the best educated and most able people in centers of power, industry, and culture is a serious mistake. I believe that for many reasons-political, ecological, and economic-the best intelligence and talent should be at work and at home everywhere in the country. And therefore, my wishes for our schools are opposite to those of the present day political parties and the present-day politics of education and culture. Wes Jackson has argued that our schools – to balance or replace their present single major in upward mobility – should offer a major in homecoming. I agree.
Finally, it would be an error to think that, because the arguments set forth in this book are not at present spoken or heard by any prominent politician, they are the work of a person thinking and writing in isolation. In fact, these essays belong to a conversation that is current, vigorous, and growing. There are now hundreds of organizations actively at work all over our country on behalf of local health, conservation, and economy* The members of these organizations have been my teachers, they have given me hope, and I dedicate this book to them.
*For readers wishing to contact such organizations, help may be available from the Land Institute, 244 E. Water Well Road, Salina, KS 67401.
Farming & the Global Economy
Conserving Forest Communities
Private Property & the Common Wealth
Health is Membership
Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community – The Joys of Sales Resistence
The Idea of a Local Economy
Thoughts in the Presence of Fear (Thoughts following 9/11)
God and Country (1988)
A Practical Harmony (1988)