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Picking our models carefully

Bill Luse has an excellent post up about Wendell Berry's shallow positions on homosexual "marriage" and abortion.

Not having previously paid a whole lot of attention to Berry, I had nevertheless managed to pick up that he is considered an agrarian and is admired by some on the right, especially the paleo-right and trad-right, who are sympathetic to agrarianism and critical of capitalism. He also (as Bill mentions) was evidently admired by Russell Kirk. More about that below.

A little googling had shown me a while back something of the ambivalence of Berry's views on the abortion issue and also that he has been arrested outside of nuclear power plants. (An action he may have to repent of if he eventually decides, as evidently some environmentalists have done, that nuclear power isn't such a bad thing after all. But I digress.) I made a wild guess--on which I'm happy to be corrected, that Berry is not known for being arrested outside of abortion clinics.

So, not only did I disagree with Berry's over-the-top environmentalism, I also already suspected what the various quotations Bill has brought together confirm: Berry has his priorities totally reversed.

On the subject of environmentalism he is passionate. And he makes his life (and his wife's life) inconvenient in various ways in the pursuit of this passion. It's what he's about. On the subject of environmentalism, his words are "raping the earth." On the subject of abortion, he is detached, dispassionate, and wouldn't want, God forbid, to be thought of as being part of the pro-life movement. The claim (which Rod Dreher appears to take quite seriously) that this is because Berry doesn't like to be thought to be part of movements won't bear a moment's scrutiny, considering his unabashed willingness to be identified with environmentalism and anti-nuclear-ism.

What all this amounts to is that Berry never did think of himself as a conservative, is a lifelong Democrat, thinks shallowly about social conservative issues, and can't bear the thought of being thought to be passionate about a conservative movement such as the pro-life movement. "Raping the earth"--yep, that gets him riled up. Tearing babies into tiny pieces, not so much. He's just opposed to abortion "as birth control." But sometimes it's "necessary." Blah, blah. And as for homosexual "marriage," his comments are about as deep as those of a thoughtless sophomore. Maybe he could do better if he tried, researched the issue, thought more about it, but he doesn't try. Because, quite obviously, he really doesn't give a darn. That's not where it's at for him.

Well, okay. People are going to be what they are going to be. Normally I wouldn't write a blog post about some American Luddite ecology writer like Berry. Who cares what he thinks about conservative social issues? He's never claimed to be a conservative anyway. Give him points for honesty, I guess. He's just some guy with whom I have nothing in common, and his thoughts on life and marriage issues are, it turns out, not worth the pixels it takes to reproduce them.

But I'm writing this because there are conservatives who still greatly admire Berry. Apparently Russell Kirk said of him in the late 1970's, "Berry is possessed of an intellect at once philosophic and poetic, and he writes most movingly. Humane culture has no better friend today than he."

Now, I'm not necessarily blaming Kirk for that. After all, a lot had to shake out after that. But, to paraphrase Gilson on Descartes, while there may have been an excuse for being Russell Kirk on Wendell Berry in 1978, there is no excuse for a conservative's taking a Kirkian position on Wendell Berry in 2012. But unfortunately, that's not how people look at it. There are still self-styled conservatives who truly admire Berry and think of him as a deep thinker. Rod Dreher is surprised himself at Berry's shallowness on homosexual "marriage."

But Dreher acknowledges that, "Nobody familiar with Berry’s work could possibly expect him to be a conservative culture warrior on the gay marriage subject." That's kind of interesting. Not reading much of Berry, I don't know exactly to what Dreher is alluding, but I'm going to guess it might be to the general fact that Berry doesn't think of himself as any kind of conservative at all and would never want to be caught dead (as it were) endorsing a real conservative culture war position. But in that case, why the surprise? Liberals are "evolving" all over the place these days on the issue of homosexual "marriage." Why should Berry be any different? Perhaps because despite his being a lifelong Democrat, even post-Roe, despite his shallowness on the life issues (which does not appear to be new), Dreher still thinks that "humane culture has no better friend than he." Hmmm.

Now, as sure as God made little green apples, there are readers here at W4 (you know who you are) who are going to be almost irresistibly tempted to respond to this post by beginning a discussion of the "evils of capitalism" and all the great wisdom that you believe Wendell Berry has to offer on that subject. I urge you to resist that almost irresistible temptation. Stop instead and think about the following thoughts:

What does it say about a man's judgement when he is a shallow thinker and unwilling truly to commit himself on the matter of killing babies? Does it not indicate a poor judgement that he is obviously driven by a sense of political solidarity with the Party of Death to reverse his priorities to such a serious extent? Is there not a danger that, in admiring him so much and resenting criticism of him, in thinking of him as so deep, one will become like him and one's own priorities become skewed?

Nor is this worry about skewed priorities on the non-mainstream Right merely a hypothetical one. There is, for example, the fact that Thomas Fleming, the grand old man of paleoconservatism, seems to feel that he must distance himself both from pro-lifers and from those who oppose homosexual "marriage."

I'm not saying that Fleming was influenced in this distancing by Berry. Probably not. I'm saying it's a similar phenomenon. "I'm not like those goldarned neo-con conservatives, and I won't make common cause with them." Which makes the person in question uncomfortable with the pro-life and pro-marriage movements.

We need to pick our role models carefully. If someone whom you greatly admire on sociopolitical issues is so uncomfortable with conservatism (or mainstream conservatism) that he waffles on the most important social issues of our day, think again about your evaluation of him. And watch and pray that you enter not into temptation to do the same as he. Some things are non-negotiable and much, much more important than others.

Comments (116)

I will readily admit to having been a Berry admirer, in at least a passing sort of way. I hadn't read more than a few essays that he had written, but those had been good and I knew he tended to self-identify as an agrarian. I respect the original agrarians, such as Allen Tate and the other Fugitives, and I frankly just sort of assumed Berry was a worthy successor.

Whoops.

I've seen Berry's tin-eared comments that you reference, and just suffice to say that I'll be viewing the things he says rather more critically in the future.

I suggest taking Anthony Esolen as a role model instead.

Just say it: He doesn't give a damn. ;)

I don't know of any thinker who's right on everything. Does anyone else?

No, sorry, Sanity Inspector, as a sanity inspector you ought to know this: Priorities matter. It's not just "being wrong about something." That is a flattening and information-removing, hence misleading, phrase. It's having your priorities completely switched on their heads--being more concerned not to have a computer because it's "participating in the rape of the earth" than you are concerned about tearing the arms and legs off of unborn children. A phrase like "not being right about everything" completely misses the matter of weights and measures, a sense of perspective, etc. People, and especially role models, are not just lists of propositions where we put a little check mark by the ones they are right about and a little frowny face by the ones they are wrong on. Those who admire a man tend to pick up not only his answers to yes and no questions but also his sense of what is more important than what. And that makes a huge difference to the development of a worldview as a coherent whole. Berry's worldview is wrong.

Some things, as I said, are more important than others.

Oh please. My "pre-packaged glib nothing statement" alert just went off, per Sanity Inspector's comment.

(An action he may have to repent of if he eventually decides, as evidently some environmentalists have done, that nuclear power isn't such a bad thing after all. But I digress.)

That really isn't a digression, Lydia. Rather, I think it is indicative of how he prioritizes things. Nuclear power is the safest and cleanest technology we have when done right. It is also going to be necessary if we wish to maintain our standard of living. So much of what we enjoy about modern life is made possible by cheap power. Thus he can wax eloquent about agrarianism and traditional life in rural communities til the cows come home, but it reveals either a stark ignorance about the role of energy in the modern economy or callousness toward the masses. Unless he would have rural communities revert to Amish living, nuclear technology (thorium reactors for now, fusion eventually) is the only way to simultaneously protect the environment and masses.

It is possible that he sensed, without realizing it explicitly, that being pro-agrarianism, anti-modern-development, is effectively congruent to being against the modern expansion of population. You cannot have 7 billion people without having homes, jobs, and cities for 7 billion people, and that takes modernity in all its complexity. Sorry, there is no other way. People who are opposed to the modern expansion of population often are in favor of abortion and other artificial methods of population control EVEN THOUGH those methods are morally repulsive. Which speaks to the priorities: is it better to be raising crops and livestock humanely than it is to raise a family humanely?

What's wrong with differencing oneself from pro-lifers when those pro-lifers are making a really bad argument? An argument based on a world view that you see as not just fundamentally wrong, but dangerous? I'm talking about Fleming now, as you were. I'm sure that Fleming is no less anti-abortion than the people he criticized.

And some of the "good" pro-lifers, the ones who base their positions on Aristotelian metaphysics and a belief in a universal human right to life, do the exact same thing. Look at some of the things Harry Jaffa writes against Antonin Scalia, because of the latter's legal positivism.

What I said above applies whether Fleming is right or wrong on the substance. I'll just add that I think Fleming is exactly right in some of those criticisms. First, that it's not at all clear that abortion and infanticide are against natural law; that's not something I want to argue about in blog comments, though. Second, that appeals to Catholic natural law doctrine, whether on marriage or abortion, are ridiculous in a society where the Church has practically no authority, and where those who do accept its authority are already on your side.

P.S. I do agree about picking our models carefully. I think you have to choose based on their whole lives, not based on their position on this or that policy issue. I wouldn't pick either Berry or Fleming as an example to follow.

I haven't read Wendell Berry and I confess my entire ignorance of agrarianism. But I would defend him against accusations that he sold out by continuing to grow tobacco.
I do not think the case against tobacco as proven. It seems more likely that tobacco is injurious only in background of modern diet and not in itself. People should focus more on what kind of fat they are consuming. I would have no problem with a national or global ban on trans-fat.

Plenty of neo-cons are not pro-life and are pro-gay marriage. One of NRO editors wrote a piece defending gay marriage on NRO itself. I would say that having liberal social opinions is likely to be more common among neo-cons (defined as being strong on defense and budget) than among paleos.

Second, that appeals to Catholic natural law doctrine, whether on marriage or abortion, are ridiculous in a society where the Church has practically no authority, and where those who do accept its authority are already on your side.

Aaron, I don't think that flies. Your so-called "Catholic natural law doctrine" is really "Catholics upholding natural law principles", because those principles are accessible to the natural light of reason. There is a reason the word "natural" is part of it. Insofar as there are Catholics and Protestants and Buddhists and atheists etc. who all claim some foothold in natural law, they all claim that this standard is something that EVERYONE needs to be paying attention to, because these principles are not dependent on faith.

Also, I wish it were true that all people who call themselves Catholic already accept that natural law is authoritative, but that is far from true. If it were true, then the 60 million Catholics (at least 20 million voters) would all be voting pro-life and would not be using contraceptives. But statistics seem to show that Catholics vote pro-abortion about as regularly as non-Catholics do.

Berry's not a philosopher, but a farmer, novelist, and poet. That he's inconsistent on life issues is apparent, but to imply that this invalidates what he says about other things is simply idiotic. The reason real conservatives (as opposed to market-exalting Right-liberals) read him is that he preaches limits, humility and responsibility, things that you don't hear much about on the mainstream libertarian-infected right, EXCEPT when it comes to sex.

"I suggest taking Anthony Esolen as a role model instead."

Heh-heh. Tony's a Berry fan himself. Care to try again?

Perhaps it would be beneficial for critics to check into why many conservatives find WB worth reading. This is a good place to start (not that you will):

http://www.isi.org/books/bookdetail.aspx?id=2e193ca6-6817-41a1-99b7-f6a4da36febf

It includes an essay by Esolen.

The argument that infers what 60 million Catholics believe from their contraceptive usage is slightly dubious. After all, it is perfectly possible that the Catholic believes his contraception to be wrong but finds that he can not help doing it.. Wouldn't it just follow from the Original Sin? I know it is wrong but I can't help doing it.

"there is no excuse for a conservative's taking a Kirkian position on Wendell Berry in 2012"

Baloney. The book I referenced above gives ample reasons, as do any number of essays/articles on such blog journals as Front Porch Republic. The sort of thinking reflected in this comment is why the mainstream Right often appears as a big echo chamber. The real reason that neocons and others despise WB and like-minded writers/thinkers is not that he's soft on abortion and homosexuality, but that's he hard on materialism and consumerism, and by extension the corporate capitalism that serves as their ideological idol. Attack our god, we get pissed. I've no doubt that if WB were perfectly orthodox on life issues the neocons, etc., would still reject him as being an economic heretic. Feel free to lob as many Molotov cocktails as you want into the Church of the Zipper, Mr. Berry, but please stay away from the Church of the Wallet!

The sort of thinking reflected in this comment is why the mainstream Right often appears as a big echo chamber.

Yes, NM, which is why *so many* people on the mainstream right are writing warning people like you against exactly the kind of rhetoric in this comment and talking about Wendell Berry. Oh, guess not. Just a few of us who stand at this particular intersection or who even talk to the paleos.

I notice from your comment that you aren't really making the slightest effort to take my advice in the main post and resist the temptation to get all defensive and start blah-blahing about capitalism, materialism, consumerism. I was hoping you would make even a minimal effort in that direction.

Now, let's go back to what Kirk said: He made the extremely strong praising statement, "Humane culture has no better friend today than he."

It is not baloney to say that the evidence is in on that, and Berry doesn't merit that praise. Berry has no idea (do you?) what homosexual "marriage" means for *humane culture*. Berry apparently doesn't give a rat's patootie what the deaths of unborn children in those "necessary" abortions he wants to hang on to have to do with "humane culture."

Would I agree with him on the economic issues if he were not so shallow and messed up on the social issues? Of course not. Why should I? Conservatives are allowed to disagree among themselves and to support the free market and to think that environmentalists are badly wrong, including wrong on the empirical matters, though not, apparently, without your getting upset and snarky about their daring to do so.

However, as this history of this blog shows, I have been quite happy to have as a valued blog colleague someone who disagrees with me on economic issues but has it right, and even has *priorities* right, on these other issues.

Worldview matters, NM. Berry's Democrat worldview is badly messed up.

~~Berry has no idea (do you?) what homosexual "marriage" means for *humane culture*.~~

Of course I do. I strongly disagree with WB in this regard. But if I may be blunt, you have no idea what consumerism and materialism mean for humane culture. Your blind spot is as big as his. It's just in a different place.

Decades ago, I heard Donald Atwell Zoll describe Berry as a Neo-Jeffersonian Agrarian. I wonder what Zoll would think of him today.

I'm sure that Fleming is no less anti-abortion than the people he criticized.

Aaron:

You should be a lot less sure. Consider a couple of facts: First, Fleming said that the pro-life "ideology" diverts attention from "the really important thing" which is "how to convert nonbelievers" and toward "comparatively trivial and legislative policies and judicial agendas." This is a pretty strong implication that pro-lifers should be directing their efforts toward conversion (which, by the way, pro-lifers at Christian crisis pregnancy centers *do* do) *instead of* toward protecting the unborn in law. The judicial agenda of Roe v. Wade was not by any means "trivial." Not even remotely close. It has ushered in a reign of death of colossal proportions. Yet (fact #2) Fleming (as I recall it) heaped scorn in the pages of Chronicles upon Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and the other participants in a symposium in First Things for even _daring_ to refer to Roe as a "regime" and as "illegitimate." Fact #3: Fleming goes on at some length about how rational he thinks it could well be for a non-Christian to believe that abortion is okay. This is part of his rejecting all natural law arguments. He relates the prohibition on abortion entirely to Christian doctrine, and yet (Fact #4) in his distancing article on homosexual "marriage," he gets snarky about any attempts to use religious arguments in the public square in our non-religious country. Which, if you put it all together, would mean that pro-lifers have *no* good approach to trying actually to protect unborn children in law.

By the way: Someone sent me an article in hard copy circa 1997 from Chronicles bitterly criticizing the First Things Symposium on the Roe regime. I don't think I kept the physical article, though I'll look around. If someone happens to know the name of it or have a copy, I'd be interested to read it again.

Tony, of course every theory of natural law claims to be evident by natural reason, just by definition. But most of us aren't moral philosophers, so we don't arrive at natural-law beliefs that way. Very few people come to believe Roman Catholic natural-law doctrine (or any other natural-law doctrine) other than through some authority, whether it's the Church, schoolteachers, or parents. If I'm wrong empirically, if there are lots and lots of people out there who don't accept religious authority but who've come to oppose abortion rationally by way of metaphysical arguments about acorns and oak trees, then I'd like to see the evidence.

OK, I can't read Thomas Fleming's mind, so I shouldn't have said I was sure. Instead, I'll charitably assume that as a traditionalist Roman Catholic, he's as anti-abortion as the people he criticized.

Also, while I'm not especially interested in conservative office-politics, don't Chronicles (Fleming) and First Things (Neuhaus) have a history? Lots of these paleos settle their personal grudges through ideological propaganda.

And here's a particularly interesting smoking gun on Fleming on abortion, even more direct than the article to which I was referring before:

http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/2010/06/07/conservative-credo-ivb-abortion/

Here are a few money quotes:

When pro-life Christians call for a restoration of anti-abortion laws, they join hands with Jacobins and Marxists in elevating the state above people. I know that is not what they intend, but can anyone today be so naïve as to trust the US government or even state governments with the power of life and death?

Fleming clearly implies that only in explicitly Christian, church-related governments should there be abortion laws:

In the Catholic and Orthodox—and to some extent the Anglican and Lutheran world—it was the Church, though secular rulers could be expected to cooperate, for example, in criminalizing infanticide. But today, who can "fill in"? Certainly not the anti-Christian governments of North America and Europe.

Fleming therefore, for ideological and not merely for practical reasons, contends that the _only_ laws pro-lifers should be aiming to beef up are those that give (more) parents (more) ability to protect unborn children:

The obvious solution is to fall back on the ancient view. Children are the gift and property of God, but the stewardship belongs to the parents and not to social workers. The implication would be that instead of trying to beef up abortion laws in general, Christians should focus on some specific targets. If one parent has the right to terminate a pregnancy, why should not the other parents have at least a veto power. Court rulings and laws that legalize abortions for minor daughters or at least facilitate them are unpopular and could be overturned. Re-empowering parents, then, is a more important objective than any attempt to strengthen the state's control over life and over families.

I call readers to note how this allows Fleming to keep his credentials as non-mainstream burnished and shining bright. He looks oh-so-clever: Gee, huh, an _unusual_ approach to the abortion issue. One that focuses on the _family_ and on _parents_. One that seeks to revive an "ancient view."

How attractive.

Only not to those of us who actually believe that every child should be protected in law.

Lots of these paleos settle their personal grudges through ideological propaganda.

So? The ideological propaganda still is what it is and has its own content. If "office politics" leads you (Fleming) to deride the pro-life movement and develop your own silly ideas that there shouldn't be laws against abortion because ours is not a Christian nation, then you're too wrapped up in office politics.

In fact, that point is related to the point of my main post.

And by the way, yes, if a state passed laws criminalizing abortion, I _would_ "trust" that state insofar as I would hope that state would carry out that law and protect the unborn child from being aborted! It's particularly ironic that Fleming heaps derision on libertarians and then falls back on silly, vague libertarian arguments that we shouldn't have even state laws against abortion because that would be to "trust the state with the power of life and death." One might as well say that we shouldn't have laws that punish killing five-year-olds because to do so is to give the state the "power of life and death." I note that Fleming is constantly talking about infanticide in the ancient world. Does he also think that we should not "trust" our non-Christian governments with laws against infanticide against born children? Let's hope not, but it's a little difficult to see why not, since he is so eager to assimilate abortion and infanticide to the same legal structure and to relate _both_ to the power of parents and not to "trust" the state to outlaw abortion.

When pro-life Christians call for a restoration of anti-abortion laws, they join hands with Jacobins and Marxists in elevating the state above people.

That is really just an appalling statement. Since no can be "so naïve as to trust the US government or even state governments with the power of life and death," we should just leave off restoring state prohibitions on abortion? The unreason, it hurts.

NM -- there's an essay in that ISI Festschrift for Berry that lays out very admirably his supposed defense of traditional human sexuality. Yet every chance he gets, it seems, Berry himself throws cold water on it. It's rather disheartening, especially for someone like me who really is sympathetic to his critique our political economy. You really haven't answered Lydia's point about priorities.

Yes, Paul, I find that disheartening as well. But as far as priorities go I'd say that a man's mistaken priorities in one area do not necessarily invalidate his observations in others. Example: Christopher Lasch. He was a man of the Left, and remained a man of the Left until his dying day. But it is foolish to say that conservatives shouldn't read him because of that. I believe that Lasch has a lot to say to the right, despite his Leftism. Were his priorities off? Perhaps. Is he therefore valueless? I don't think so.

The other thing about WB worth noting is that while he's squishy on some of these issues, if you step back a ways you see that he's entirely the opposite w/r/t fighting the type of culture that makes such choices possible. In Berry's view, if the god of individualistic autonomous choice wasn't enthroned on the altar of society we wouldn't even be having these conversations about abortion and gay marriage. What twists the knickers of critics like Lydia is that Berry rightly ties sexual and financial acquisitivism together as having the same pernicious root -- individualist autonomy. The Right in this country is no more able to grant that connection from their side than Lasch's leftist audience was from theirs. The Robb Report and Playboy are flip sides of the same effed up individualistic mentality.

appeals to Catholic natural law doctrine

I have never heard of such a thing. I have seen Catholics employing natural law arguments, but never of a "Catholic" natural law doctrine. Strikes me as an oxymoron. If it's natural law, how could it be exclusively "Catholic"?

In short, WB requires one to rethink individualism, something which neither the Left nor the mainstream Right in this country wants to do.

Also funny -- all these folks criticizing Berry while admitting they haven't read him, or much of him. I've read all the fiction and at least half of the nonfiction, some of it more than once. You cannot get a sense of what he's about by reading the odd essay, or even worse, the odd out-of-context quote from the odd essay.

I wonder how these critics would react if a bunch of Lefty writers proceeded to attack, say, Thomas Sowell or Charles Murray without having read them? Nevermind. I know exactly how they'd react.

What twists the knickers of critics like Lydia

Y'know, NM, you've made comment after comment after comment like that, and I'm now finding it a bit wearying. What "really" bothers me, what "twists my knickers," and so forth. Bag it, already.

You haven't even *acknowledged* the point I made about Jeff Culbreath who was my valued colleague and whom I would have been happy to continue to have. As far as I'm concerned, Jeff's ideas about economics were often *very* wrong-headed, but you _never_ heard me, nor would you ever have heard me, saying the same things about him that I have said about Berry here.

So you are outright refuted in your repeated mind-reading attempts about what "really" bothers me.

This "what you really think" stuff is the kind of thing that used to get our late lamented colleague Zippy furiously angry. I try to let it go a few times, but after a while even my Job-like patience gets grated by it. For the umpteenth time: No, it is not the fact that Berry is quite wrong-headed on economic matters that "really" bothers me when I talk about what I talked about in the main post. It's that his worldview is screwed up, that his priorities are upside down, that he doesn't give a damn about the defense of marriage and the family, and very little about the unborn.

It's the merest sophistry for you to speak as though somehow someone who is so blatantly socially liberal is somehow really on our side because he attacks "individualism." Why not take the man's own words for it? Nor do you have a leg to stand on when it comes to these subjects about how I haven't read his other stuff. I've read what he said in those interviews about these subjects. You have _nothing_ to say to refute the evaluation I made in the main post about his hyper-charged language about environmentalism vs. his distancing on abortion and his outright liberal views on marriage. Nothing whatsoever.

Sorry, but I don't buy some sort of transubstantiation view on pundits: I'm not going to buy that Berry's accidents are moderately pro-abortion and outright pro-homosexual "marriage" but that his essence is conservative because he dislikes "individualism." That's ridiculous.

"It's that his worldview is screwed up, that his priorities are upside down, that he doesn't give a damn about the defense of marriage and the family, and very little about the unborn."

Only one unfamiliar with his work could say this.

"As far as I'm concerned, Jeff's ideas about economics were often *very* wrong-headed, but you _never_ heard me, nor would you ever have heard me, saying the same things about him that I have said about Berry here."

Jeff was a colleague, and furthermore, one that was with you on these issues. I put it down to politeness. One tends to be more courteous with colleagues than with folks one doesn't know.

"It's the merest sophistry for you to speak as though somehow someone who is so blatantly socially liberal is somehow really on our side because he attacks 'individualism.' Why not take the man's own words for it?"

Pardon me, but I've read 10,000x more of his words than you have. Who's got the better odds of taking him at his words?

"I'm not going to buy that Berry's accidents are moderately pro-abortion and outright pro-homosexual 'marriage' but that his essence is conservative because he dislikes 'individualism.' That's ridiculous."

Yeah, caricatures usually are. You are criticizing from ignorance, something you would never tolerate in a Leftist opponent.

"The claim (which Rod Dreher appears to take quite seriously) that this is because Berry doesn't like to be thought to be part of movements won't bear a moment's scrutiny, considering his unabashed willingness to be identified with environmentalism and anti-nuclear-ism."

WB is not a "movement" guy, and on numerous occasions he has criticized environmentalism. He doesn't even like the word:

http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2012/05/why-i-am-not-an-environmentalist/

Sigh. Why argue with someone who won't do their homework?

Fleming's antagonism to the state when it comes to abortion isn't libertarian. He sees the US today as similar to the pagan Roman empire, a tyrannical entity ruling over and persecuting Christians. I personally think that's a completely wrong view that leads to all kinds of wrong politics, but that's how he sees it, and that's what underlies his anti-state approach.

C Matt, "Catholic natural law doctrine" means Catholic natural-law-doctrine, not Catholic-natural-law doctrine. Obviously, there are plenty of mutually incompatible theories of natural law, only one of which is taught by the Catholic Church.

If Berry bought a computer it'd be an Apple MacBook Air.

Only one unfamiliar with his work could say this.

NM, I see that you are going to take your stand here. How about if you tell me how it is even *possible* for Berry to care about the defense of marriage while supporting homosexual "marriage." As far as I'm concerned, that is literally impossible. I can't help thinking that despite your disavowals there is something you don't get here about the issues if you think it's possible to care about the defense of marriage and the family while supporting homosexual "marriage." What about my claim that he cares very little about the unborn? Well, let's see: He's expressly said that sometimes abortion, like divorce, is necessary. How much does he care about _those_ unborn children? How much does he care about aborted unborn children generally when he himself summarizes his opposition to it as simply opposing it "as birth control." Okay, fine: So when some Down Syndrome child is aborted, that isn't birth control. Let's say the mother really, really wanted a child and tried hard to get pregnant. But she doesn't want a Down Syndrome child, so she aborts it. How much does Berry care about _that_ child when all he's willing to say is that he opposes abortion "as birth control."

Look, I'm prepared to believe (if you insist) that Berry has an inconsistent position here. Many people are inconsistent. That's human nature. But if you care about the issues, you get your act together on them. Which Berry has not done.

Aaron, you say,

Fleming's antagonism to the state when it comes to abortion isn't libertarian. He sees the US today as similar to the pagan Roman empire, a tyrannical entity ruling over and persecuting Christians. I personally think that's a completely wrong view that leads to all kinds of wrong politics, but that's how he sees it, and that's what underlies his anti-state approach.

I'm _assuming_ that this is your evaluation just now, after reading the article I linked. _Before_ that, you were telling us that you were sure that Fleming is just as pro-life as those he criticizes and that that is the charitable thing to assume. You might at a minimum acknowledge that I've refuted the claim that he's just as pro-life as those he criticizes, since I've shown quite clearly that he opposes most pro-life laws.

Second, while that's all well and good and all about what underlies his foolish remarks, the rhetoric has a distinctly libertarian sound. "Oh, how can we trust the state with life and death. We can't do that. Who knows what dreadful things they might do to us if we do." In fact, in a sentence I didn't quote, he does just what some leftist pro-aborts do and implies that if we give the government power to _prohibit_ abortion, this will also give them the power to require _mandatory_ abortions. Puh-lease. If this doesn't have a stupid-libertarian pro-choice sound to you, then I don't think you've heard the same stupid-libertarian pro-choice rants that I've heard.

But to tell the truth, it matters very little to me if Fleming has some superstructure of ideology that is at the same time anti-libertarian and anti-pro-life. Big deal. He's messed up, and I maintain that part of what has caused him to be messed up is that distancing effect: We wouldn't want to be like those darned mainstream-ers. How crude they are.

But most of us aren't moral philosophers, so we don't arrive at natural-law beliefs that way. Very few people come to believe Roman Catholic natural-law doctrine (or any other natural-law doctrine) other than through some authority, whether it's the Church, schoolteachers, or parents.
"Catholic natural law doctrine" means Catholic natural-law-doctrine, not Catholic-natural-law doctrine. Obviously, there are plenty of mutually incompatible theories of natural law, only one of which is taught by the Catholic Church.

Aaron, if you want us to take you seriously about not being sure NL prohibits infanticide, you have to at least be serious about what NL is. People don't need to come to it "through some authority" because the roots of the natural law are inscribed on our hearts. A 4-year old doesn't need to be taught that his brother stealing his new birthday gift is wrong, for crying out loud. Generally, ALL men understand and adhere to a at least a share of the natural law without argument, philosophy, propaganda, or indoctrination. (Even ivory tower moral philosophers of the nihilistic or unitilitarian schools believe in NL when they leave the tower - like when someone punches them in the nose.)

There are primary precepts of the natural law, as well as secondary, and tertiary precepts. Virtually all men know that killing as murder is wrong and killing as self-defense is not wrong - only a man who has been warped through grotesque indoctrination by family and society can FAIL to know this. It's one of the primary precepts. However, secondary principles are needed to determine *who* falls under the protection of the primary precept, and who does not. That there is some disagreement about the secondary conclusions doesn't imply that the primary ones are in doubt, or can only be grasped through philosophy.

There are perhaps 2 or 3 major versions of NL *theory*, i.e. ways of accounting for _why_ NL is what it is. They don't really differ all that much in understanding the what it is of NL. (Just as there are thousands of different versions of Christian doctrine, but by and large they all agree that being a Christian involves an adherence to Jesus Christ who is the one savior of mankind.) And none of them differ significantly about the primary precepts of the NL. When Catholics say that abortion is wrong by reason of NL, they are perfectly willing that you should examine the question from an Aristotelian, or Platonic, or Confucian understanding of NL theory, that's fine. What you cannot do is pretend that because it is a Catholic pointing to the conclusion "abortion is wrong" that this rests on a distinctly Catholic, faith-based understanding of how to account for NL that people of other (or no) faith cannot realistically apprehend. That "abortion is wrong" can be concluded from primary precepts of NL taken with one or two secondary principles doesn't require any in-depth analysis of the philosophical theory _behind_ natural law. It's an argument a child of 8 can understand without faith, and a youth of 14 can fully comprehend with confidence.

But to tell the truth, it matters very little to me if Fleming has some superstructure of ideology that is at the same time anti-libertarian and anti-pro-life. Big deal. He's messed up, and I maintain that part of what has caused him to be messed up is that distancing effect: We wouldn't want to be like those darned mainstream-ers. How crude they are.

We are the unwashed masses, the suburban yahoos who torment Fleming with smartphones and go to Olive Garden thinking it's Italian food. Why would he want to be associated with us? Guilt by association is real!

"How about if you tell me how it is even *possible* for Berry to care about the defense of marriage while supporting homosexual 'marriage.'"

From what I've read WB seems to take the view that some conservatives take -- that gays s/b allowed marriage in the "civil union" sense, due to benefits, visitation rights, inheritance, etc. In this view he is more of a libertarian than a Left-liberal. I don't think he sees the full ramifications of this view, however, in its potential effect on the institution of marriage in general, which he has written much about. This is why I'd chalk his error down to inconsistency. As my friend David Mills wrote recently, WB doesn't have an Aristotelian cast of mind which enables one to see such things readily. As I said above, he's no philosopher.

"How much does he care about aborted unborn children generally when he himself summarizes his opposition to it as simply opposing it 'as birth control.'"

I do not have the book at hand, but in Citizenship Papers he describes his position on abortion in terms that limit his acceptance to a "life of the mother" situation. I think that his somewhat reticent approach to the issue is that he realizes his appeal is largely to a vaguely "Left" readership who, while applauding his ecological/economic views, probably find his marriage and family beliefs much more problematic (he is a lot like Lasch in that regard). If he were to come across as "militantly" pro-life the Left might just write him off altogether, and thus not get his insight on marriage, family, individualism and sexuality, which is something they need to hear. I'm not saying he does this consciously, but I do believe that he does in one way or another pick his battles.

As I said above, he's a poet and farmer, not a philosopher, and he doesn't have that cast of mind. Like a lot of people, some of them quite intelligent, he doesn't feel the drive to seek and destroy inconsistency in his own thinking. I'm not like that, but I know people who are.

I'm not saying he does this consciously, but I do believe that he does in one way or another pick his battles.

Well, frankly, that's the problem, if it means shying off on defending the unborn.

Let me add, too. It is Berry himself who says,

"Abortion for birth control is wrong," he says. "That’s as far as I’m going to go."

Now, elsewhere he says he wants to limit it to life-of-the-mother cases. But he evidently doesn't know, doesn't care, or doesn't think, that those are not jointly exhaustive options. What's all this "that's as far as I'm going to go" stuff? Well, again: It's association with the Democrats. He's uncomfortable sounding like a real pro-lifer. So he's willing to engage in careless thought.

On marriage, there are other things to be said. His thinking is *incredibly shallow*. All this baloney about "how can the churches single out homosexuality for disapprobation when the churches are full of fornicators" stuff. As Bill puts it, "And is there any tireder accusation than the one about all those Christian churches bursting at the seams with hypocrites? I've gotten more rigorous arguments on this issue from some of my duller students."

As for civil unions, Berry evidently recognizes (which perhaps I shd. regard as refreshing?) that a rose by any other name would still smell the same, hence he doesn't bother trying to pretend that he's only in favor of marriage-by-another-name, aka "civil unions." He just outright says he's in favor of homosexual "marriage." He may give as a _reason_ all this blah about inheritance rights and such, but that just shows that he *doesn't think* that he *doesn't know what he's talking about* and that he *doesn't care*. I don't know if you can't see this or if you don't care about it because you're committed to thinking of him as a deep thinker. The same goes for all the nonsense about the government's not "approving" of someone's sexual behavior. Just how uninformed is this? Very uninformed. He's utterly ignorant of the way that homosexual "marriage" is linked with government promotion of homosexual sodomy in the schools. He hasn't even thought of the necessity of marriage to civil law and civil order, which is willy-nilly going to mean some kind of "approval" of certain sexual relationships. He just hasn't thought. Shallow and sophomoric thought.

This is not a defender of marriage. Frankly, I don't care what else he's written on the subject.

And then, we have the lifelong Democrat thing. I'm going to say outright: Nobody continues to vote all his life for the Democrat party right up through 2012, including twice for Barack Obama, and (to make it more emphatic) announces this to all and sundry, while being *any* sort of defender of marriage and the unborn.

If that isn't concrete evidence of my point about priorities, I don't know what is.

NM, you say,

Jeff was a colleague, and furthermore, one that was with you on these issues. I put it down to politeness. One tends to be more courteous with colleagues than with folks one doesn't know.

With me on these issues. And also at the metalevel about their importance. Right. Which is why I wouldn't say the things about him that I say about Berry, not because I'm courteous, but because *I think they are true about Berry and are untrue about Culbreath*. Is that sufficiently explicit for you? Actually, I'm not known for my courtesy. I've been quite sharp with Jeff C. about his economic issues, and he himself (I'm sad to say) thinks I am far too discourteous on blogs, as he has made publicly plain. The point is that it is my opinion that one of these men has a seriously messed-up worldview on seriously important things, and the other doesn't. I don't know how to be clearer. Which refutes all your talk about how what "really" bothers me is Berry's approach to economic issues. In fact, such a claim could with far more justice be turned around: What you _really_ like about Berry is what he says about economics and environmentalism. Hence you get all defensive when someone points out that, all said and done, he's a lifelong lefty with an extremely shallow approach to the most important social issues of our day. I would say your comments in this very thread, in response to a post where I warned about that very thing, make that self-evident.

"I would say your comments in this very thread, in response to a post where I warned about that very thing, make that self-evident."

And you w/b wrong. I responded with your warning specifically in mind. He is not a "lifelong lefty," as he is just as wary of big government as he is of big business. If you read him you'd know this.

"an extremely shallow approach to the most important social issues of our day."

In your opinion. I in turn think you have an extremely shallow approach to another very important issue of our day -- materialism/consumerism, which is in a certain sense worse than the abortion issue, in that it is one of its causes. So that gets us where, exactly?

Ah, well, yes, that's revealing, NM. You demur at considering abortion and the aggressive homosexual agenda more important than what Wendell Berry is all about. I'm sorry to say that that simply confirms my previous suspicions, which I was unwilling to treat as facts until they were confirmed. Materialism and "consumerism" are (in any sense at all) *worse* than abortion? That tells me that your priorities, like those of your model, are badly skewed.

~~Materialism and "consumerism" are (in any sense at all) *worse* than abortion? That tells me that your priorities, like those of your model, are badly skewed.~~

C'mon, Lydia. You're a philosopher. Read what I actually wrote. I purposely and specifically qualified it. If abortion is a symptom of materialism and consumerism, the latter are, in that sense, worse. One must attack both the cause and the symptoms, no?

NM, there are plenty of people who murder their children for reasons that only by the greatest strain could be considered to be "consumerism and materialism." As, for example, if they do not wish to have a girl. Or if people do not consider themselves emotionally capable of handling a disabled child. Or if a boyfriend simply wanted to have consequence-free sex and pressures his girlfriend to have an abortion. Or if the girl wanted to have sex as recreation and therefore has an abortion. You can go on and on as you no doubt will be inclined to about how *somehow* all of these have *something* to do with what you call materialism/consumerism. To which I will reply--rubbish. Half-wishing I felt free to use a stronger word. Perhaps we should take that part of the conversation as read?

And, yes, I do know that you originally said "one of its causes." But you're going to have trouble pushing your "it's really worse" line with that qualification in there. Because once the independence of the two issues is recognized, then you have to step up to the plate and say which is worse--an actual, specific abortion (hey, I have an example--somebody who has an abortion in order not to bear another little carbon-footprint-being--we might call this an anti-consumerist abortion!) or somebody who crassly wants a new ipad but would never have a child aborted.

Two more things, NM:

As I said above, he's a poet and farmer, not a philosopher, and he doesn't have that cast of mind.

It is absolutely clear that he has set himself up as a pundit. You don't get to use this type of excuse anymore once you have done that.

he is just as wary of big government as he is of big business.

Actions speak louder than words. Nobody who is just as wary of big government as he is of big business votes Democrat consistently, including for Barack Obama in both '08 and '12. And tells everyone about it.

If you do not see (or will not see) the rather obvious connection between abortion/homosexuality and the exaltation of individualist "freedom" (which includes economic "liberty" so called), then there's not much more I can say.

There are too many smart conservatives who find WB to be worthwhile for me to accept uninformed arguments from folks who haven't even read him. I'll stick with them, TYVM.

That is an evasion of the actual examples and argument I gave.

To respond to your examples and argument would, frankly, take too much work and more time than it's worth. Why should I do the legwork when you can read him yourself?

From ISI's webpage about the 'Humane Vision' book:

Isn’t Berry a liberal? How is it that conservatives have come to take an interest in him?

It is often assumed that if one cares about nature, extols community, expresses concerns about technology, or questions capitalism, then one must be a liberal. Yet all of these themes are recognizable in the writings of leading members of the conservative movement, such as Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, and Leo Strauss. To these similarities between Berry and conservatism we might add the following: His defense of decentralization and the relative autonomy of local communities; his healthy suspicion of government power and his support for individual liberty and a robust civil society; his hostility to the welfare state and defense of private property; his opposition to abortion, promiscuity and divorce; his respect for tradition and distrust of leveling abstractions such as scientism.

The ISI statement is misleading concerning abortion, especially given Berry's insistence that he *won't go any farther" than to say that he opposes it as birth control. Moreover, I'm just going to assume that the ISI people didn't know about his support for homosexual "marriage." If I'm _really_ charitable (I wish I could really believe this) I would hope that if they knew about it and about the shallowness of his reasoning in that area they would have strongly qualified what they are saying here and would have informed their readers. If they wouldn't have done so, then that tells me how reliable they are on this question, doesn't it?

Oh, and all that stuff about hostility to the welfare state and defense of private property???? What??? This is an open and unabashed Obama supporter. (Obama just, probably illegally, turned back welfare reform if anybody cares. If Berry cares. Will he still vote for him? Bet he will, without so much as a qualm.) Decentralization? He supports the President who just radically centralized the entire medical industry. Don't make me laugh.

I don't know when this was written by ISI. But it is not accurate.

But here, NM, I'm going to give you a clear case, and a clear question.

Jody is an organic-food-eating earth-lover who talks at least as much as you do, and means it, about the evils of consumerism and materialism. She lives intensionally on all environmentalist fronts and is also very careful not to buy things that have been made by companies that, she believes, exploit their workers. She gives a hefty percentage of her money to Oxfam and volunteers time at her local homeless shelter. She lives with her boyfriend, and they have decided that it would be wrong to have children, because there are too many people in the world. Jody gets pregnant and, as an expression of her anti-consumerist, pro-environmentalist worldview, she has an abortion.

Jack is a nice though not terribly deep young evangelical guy, exactly the same age as Jody. He has a job, doesn't have a girlfriend, and instead of giving his money to Oxfam and spending time at the local homeless shelter, he saves his money up for nerdy video games and spends his time playing them or hanging out with his buddies eating pizza and watching videos. (He does give a portion of his money to his church, which does give money to the poor.) Jack and his friends don't have the best taste in videos but try to be careful to skip sex scenes and the like. Jack was raised pro-life and has retained that mentality. He would never countenance an abortion under any circumstances. One day he sees a new electronic gadget (made in China), which by no stretch of the imagination does he need. It costs, say, $300. He buys it. I intend Jack's act of buying the gadget to be more or less a paradigmatic act of “mere consumerism.”

Which is worse, Jody's act of abortion or Jack's act of consumerism?

As a Christian and a conservative, I bought Berry's The Art of the Commonplace solely for the purpose of writing a chapter-length refutation of every stupid essay in the book, of which there are many. But I set that project aside because I couldn't believe anybody took his nonsense seriously. Maybe I was wrong.

NM, abortion can be like a symptom of lots of things, not just one thing like materialism. It can be a symptom of extreme selfishness - which often goes along with materialism but can manifest itself even without materialism. It can be a symptom of lust, and a symptom of being power-mad, and vanity, and a whole host of other evils.

Also, when you have a society with several illnesses, the different ways in which it is ill will tend to affect each other. So, greed affects lust, but also lust affects greed. Which comes "first"? Why, pride does - it goeth before a fall. My point is that finding that materialism plays into the abortion mentality isn't enough to say that materialism is the root evil, and abortion a side-car evil.

But here's my other thought: consumerism is one of those squishy things that in *theory* can be described clearly and distinctly, but in *practice* doesn't admit of clear and definitive boundaries. Everyone needs to consume, and to buy consumer goods, and for each person the divisions between things that are necessary, things that are useful for necessities, things that are suitable to one's state, and things that are luxuries are a bit different, person to person. Hence it is usually difficult or impossible to say "buying X is an example of the evil of consumerism." And when it is an example, it can be so in varying degree: it can be wrong, but only slightly wrong, or it can be a very grave evil. And thus many, many people who are subject to consumerism in some measure are subject to it only at times, or only within narrow limits, or only in mild degree. And therefore we must retain a great deal of reserve and caution about saying whether X actions (purchases) are abominations to society because of their materialism.

But none of those really apply to abortion: you don't ever have to wonder whether THIS particular example of abortion was an evil abortion - it was. You don't ever have to wonder whether THIS particular abortion was a heinous evil - it was. Yes, we won't ever know the degree of guilt that is involved, that's another matter. But since we shouldn't go around trying to assign degrees of guilt anyway, that really has no impact. My point is that it is basically impossible to just eradicate the tendency toward consumerism from human life, since we all have original sin and we all need consumer goods, but it IS possible to eradicate the social abomination of abortion, and it is possible to talk about doing that in clear terms.

Actions speak louder than words. Nobody who is just as wary of big government as he is of big business votes Democrat consistently, including for Barack Obama in both '08 and '12. And tells everyone about it.

That's what's puzzling me. For someone who prides himself as being nobody's lapdog and independent of ANY mainstream, what's the deal with voting for Obama twice and announcing it? Doesn't that just undermine the image of independence? I can understand it if you vote for the Green party, that's not mainstream and is anti-consumerism. But Democrats certainly are not anti-consumerism, not in any sense that amounts to anything.

If you do not see (or will not see) the rather obvious connection between abortion/homosexuality and the exaltation of individualist "freedom" (which includes economic "liberty" so called), then there's not much more I can say.

This is rather obvious in the example of ancient Greece and Rome, precisely how?

Which is worse, Jody's act of abortion or Jack's act of consumerism?

Obviously, if Jack didn't buy the gadget, Jody wouldn't feel forced to have the abortion to prevent another human parasite from raping Our Pagan Lady of the Planet, Gaia.

Michael Bauman,

I'd like to encourage you to complete that project -- it would do the world some good to have someone carefully and thoughtfully lay out all of Berry's bad ideas.

Quite frankly, anyone who claims they are going to happily vote for Obama in 2012 (I can swallow my pride and understand the 2008 vote) shouldn't be taken seriously by any sort of conservative, cruchy or paleo not excepted.

By the way, the whole idea that if some social phenomenon or even some wrong attitude A is a contributing cause to some sin B, then A is worse than B, is completely wrong. There are a nigh-infinite, perhaps infinite, number of counterexamples. Consider: The custom of arranged marriages in Muslim society sometimes is a contributing cause to honor killings, when a young woman tries to refuse an arranged marriage. Make no mistake, the custom of arranged marriage, especially as it shades all too easily into forced marriage, is a bad thing. But it is not worse than the concrete act of murder! Or: Jealousy or anger may be a contributing cause of murder. But jealousy and anger are not worse than murder. One could go on in this vein all day long.

In fact, I can only see that one could make an argument that A as a cause of murder is worse than murder if A really _determines_ the occurrence of the murder, in which case it is not a murder on the part of the proximate human cause (as he was just a pawn), and the murderous intent lies somewhere further up the causal chain: E.g. If it were possible to brainwash or hypnotize a man so that he went out, entirely without his own will, and killed some innocent person, then the one doing the hypnosis would be both committing the murder of the innocent victim and involving a third party in the evil, which one might argue would be worse than simply committing the murder himself directly.

Obviously, nothing like that can apply to so amorphous a social phenomenon as "materialism" or "consumerism" nor indeed to any general social phenomenon, not even to lust, though lust is a more plausible candidate, to my mind, as a widespread contributing cause of abortion.

Abortion is a chosen action by individual human beings.

I'll be willing to amend what I said above and even agree that to the extent that one _attempts_ to coerce some other person to commit murder or to be involved in murder, one is arguably doing something worse than murder oneself, as one is harming the other person's soul as well as willing and trying to bring about the death of the innocent. This can be true even if in the end some degree of consent by the other person's will is required. E.g. When people try to coerce or strongly pressure women to "agree to" abortion, or when a wife tries to coerce her husband to pay for or approve of or in some sense agree to her abortion.

But again, this applies only to acts of persons, not to generalities such as "materialism" nor even to attitudes or feelings.

"I don't know when this was written by ISI. But it is not accurate."

LOL -- coming straight from someone who's not read him! It was written by the guys who edited the volume, btw.

"Which is worse, Jody's act of abortion or Jack's act of consumerism?"

The abortion, of course. But you're missing the point. An abortion is an act of inherent evil. Consumerism is an evil element in society which tends to produce an atmosphere in which bad choices are tolerated for (supposedly) self-interested motives. It helps create the climate wherein abortion is just another consumer choice.

"As a Christian and a conservative, I bought Berry's The Art of the Commonplace solely for the purpose of writing a chapter-length refutation of every stupid essay in the book, of which there are many. But I set that project aside because I couldn't believe anybody took his nonsense seriously. Maybe I was wrong."

Reason #37 why my history major daughter won't be transferring to Hillsdale.

By the way, did you know that a couple of your colleagues there contributed to the ISI festschrift on Berry? You might want to take the "nonsense" up with them.

"it would do the world some good to have someone carefully and thoughtfully lay out all of Berry's bad ideas."

So the market-worshipping WSJ types can all read it and pat each other on the back? Meh.

But you're missing the point. An abortion is an act of inherent evil.

No, no. That is my point. That's why your statement that "consumerism is worse" cannot be right at all, in any sense!

Totally off-topic ... but I beleive that Mrs McGrew is about to learn (and learn, and learn) that I knew what I was talking about when I posted my assessment of Mr Auster's behavior and character.

Ilion, nix on that. If I ever decide to talk about that controversy on either of my blogs (and I might never do so), it will be in my own time and in my own way, not prompted by OT reader comments in a thread. I trust you and others to abide by this. My e-mail address is available here at the site if someone has some question that he really feels a need to ask me.

I have no intention of talking about it; and I did point out that my comment was totally off-topic.

But, I noticed it.

Call it an "I told you so", if that's what you need to do; after all, there is an element of that to the comment.

I'd place Berry alongside folks like John Searle--he's someone who is clearly on the wrong team, but is nevertheless worth taking seriously.

Conservative role model? Nah. But like Searle, if you read some of Berry's stuff in isolation and didn't know he was on the wrong team, you'd assume he was on your own. In fact, if I were designing a course on natural law, I can think of a few essays by Berry I'd assign, much as a class on dualism would include stuff by Searle. Like Searle, you'd wish the guy'd connect the dots.

I think Lydia's comments here are pretty much right, but I confess to having a soft spot in my heart for the guy regardless. Perhaps much to the chagrin of Berry himself, it was his writings more than anyone else's that awoke me from my dogmatically liberal slumbers.

If Berry bought a computer it'd be an Apple MacBook Air.

No, Rush Limbaugh and I use MacBook Airs. Here's what Wendell Berry claims to use.

I agree with Tony that the term "consumerism" is devoid of meaning except at the extremes. I'll bet if nicem would allow us compare his purchases to someone like, well me, I'd come out favorably as an anti-consumer because I buy nothing I don't need and bank it. And I think the anti-consumerism pose is a . . . well, pose. Frugality and industry govern what you buy. Those railing against "consumerism" want to invent a new sin, but there aren't any new ones.

And what about purchases of nothing? A couple of days ago I "purchased" a kayak trip to explore the caves of the Channel Islands. What will I consume from that purchase? What do I consume when I buy a book that I can't get interlibrary loan and then give it away?

What twists the knickers of critics . . . is that Berry rightly ties sexual and financial acquisitivism together as having the same pernicious root -- individualist autonomy.

I probably should let this die, but this is one of the most uninformed and bizarre things possible to claim. The classic Christian view is that all drives are a matter of appetite, and these appetites cause people to do things both good and bad. It has been rightly said that that your vices are the seeds of your virtues. Likewise, it has been remarked that those with no vices have very few virtues. See the Apostle Paul.

The idea that "acquisitivism" is caused by "individualist autonomy" is a breathtaking case of casting aside thousands of years of Christian theology with a slogan with political overtones. Acquiring good things and bad things are related, and the "root" is a good one: God's purpose in our nature. Nice, I think you'll destroy your religion with your politics.

Lydia McGrew: "But, to paraphrase Gilson on Descartes, while there may have been an excuse for being Russell Kirk on Wendell Berry in 1978, there is no excuse for a conservative's taking a Kirkian position on Wendell Berry in 2012."

Nice Marmot: "'I suggest taking Anthony Esolen as a role model instead.'

Heh-heh. Tony's a Berry fan himself. Care to try again?"

Perhaps Anthony Esolen thinks like Lydia McGrew now: "there is no excuse for a conservative's taking a Kirkian position on Wendell Berry in 2012."


I never said that acquisitivism is caused by individualist autonomy. What it did was to set it free by converting it from a personal vice to an economic virtue. We are now free to be greedy because greed helps the economy, and in a consequentialist manner supposedly helps everyone else in the process.

In any case, I'm going to take the same route that J. Culbreath did and say farewell to this site. Folks here don't give opposing political-economic views a fair hearing without snark, and frankly life's too short for that. It simply angers and frustrates me, and that's not good for the soul. I'll find somewhere where these things can be discussed and debated without the heckle and snide. Cheers.

And... today just happens to be Wendell Berry's birthday. I hardly know what to wish him!

Though I find 'consumerism' and 'materialism' rather vague (I am a avid consumer of books myself), I do think that links can be found between Adam Smith and the sexual revolution.

The economic liberals do not appreciate what Adam Smith wrought. His are truisms, not revolutionary dogma.

Look Nice, you're getting critiques that you should be thankful for. If you can't honestly say that then you can't blame the community. You don't always get personal affirmation. And Lydia has shown an amazing amount of patience with you.

It seems to me what you do with Berry, or any other source for that matter, reminds me of how a past commentator here used to use Robert Penn Warren, another literary phenom who in all his angst over the CW always seemed to point to human depravity and sin as the cause. Well it is the ultimate cause of everything, but for a writer purporting to give explanations of an historical event it is self-defeating. Large doses of moral equivalence are never a good start to an explanation of why people did what they did. Why did these sinful people do this, while those sinful people did that? Theology trumps and obliterates politics.

It seems to me you wish to posit politics to explain what only theology can. "Consumerism" and "individualism," whatever you take them to mean, seem to obliterate important parts of the Christian worldview. Namely, that in this sinful world, often good things turn out bad because of human depravity, and bad things sometimes turn out good because of God's grace and provision for us. You simply can't point to things you disapprove of and draw a straight line back to some alleged root idea and condemn it wholesale. Even if it were true, then simply announcing the fact isn't going to help at all. The question is what are we supposed to do now? Like I've said, critiques are always welcome, but condemnation not so much. Of course, I'm doubtful that these ideas are bad to begin with.

BTW, I am somewhat puzzled about all the things we can supposedly learn from Berry. I grew up on a farm in rural Indiana, and the farm adjacent to the farm I grew up on was turned into an community co-op at least five years ago. I think it's great. These deeply Conservative people did not discover they wanted better food for the community than agribusiness provides by reading Wendell Berry. I could go on about other developments such as opposition to hog "factories," which I also oppose even though it decreases costs. If it isn't healthy or natural for animals then it isn't good no matter what the cost. But none of this has anything to do with individualism or consumerism because the values of the community have not changed. The community has pragmatically adjusted to changing conditions (bringing back what used to be the norm,) and it has only due to the virtues of consumer choice and individual labor and reward. I can see no appreciable change in the political outlook of the citizens, a deeply Conservative region. I hope these consumer and individual trends continue.

I should have said "none of this is a reversal of individualism or consumerism."

"Look Nice, you're getting critiques that you should be thankful for. If you can't honestly say that then you can't blame the community. You don't always get personal affirmation."

On the other sites I frequent where these matters are discussed there is very little snark among the folks who disagree, sometimes rather strongly. There is a difference between having one's views challenged and having them belittled. I've had enough of the latter.

Actually, as a person with a degree in theology, I believe I am doing exactly the opposite of what you describe. I believe that theology (and philosophy) explain a lot of politics. Ideas have consequences, and sometimes theological ideas have political consequences. See, for instance, Brad Gregory's recent book The Unintended Reformation.That is where I'm coming from.

"Lydia has shown an amazing amount of patience with you"

Please. Disrespect is bad enough on its own; it's worse when rooted in ignorance.

In any case, I'm going to take the same route that J. Culbreath did and say farewell to this site. Folks here don't give opposing political-economic views a fair hearing without snark, and frankly life's too short for that.

NM, I don't think that's even remotely fair to them since the contributors to this site have probably more in common with you than me on a number of issues.

No, Mike. Capitalism is the touch-me-not here. Criticize it and you either get reamed or ignored. What's the point?

Can it, NM. Seriously.

I've engaged in three times the amount of heated debate with Lydia as you have on this subject. I have a running series, here at W4, of unvarnished slams on finance capitalism. Invariably they give Lydia the vapors. I lucked into this extraordinary situation where I possess some real visibility into the highest levels of finance, which provides me with the ability to check my critique with knowledgeable sources. This, the benefit of mere accident, has encouraged me to the point where I received an award of my own (from ISI no less!) for writing an essay that slammed finance capitalism. That article was printed and promoted by The New Atlantis, run by terrible neocons and consumerists.

This cult of victimology needs to stop. "Touch-me-not"? Yeah, just can it.

And while I'm in the swing of an Editorial Harangue, let's all take note of the fact that commenter Mark, though he himself has twice stomped off in a huff from this website, does not forbear to treat another commenter's announced (but doubted) resignation rather sourly.

The way (I've found) that good debate occurs in comboxes is that you engage heartily in it, but if you can't say anything more that is not gratuitous, embarrassing or vain, you leave off commenting.

The key fact is that, politically, we can't go on forever pushing our sectarian points of emphasis until such time as every demurral has been snuffed out. We have more important political things to be doing than recapitulating an inquisition: like for instance throwing out of office certain politicians in positions of importance (without for a moment deluding ourselves that, by succeeding at that very necessity purpose, we will be bringing in office great patriots and sages).

Which gets me back to my agreement with my colleagues that you can't take seriously as a conservative a guy who will persist in a disastrous vote.

Paul, in fact the problem I've had with you had nothing to do with issues, but rather your reckless assertions of my intentions or methods. Recall the "crowning folly" of my "stridency and impudence unbecoming of republican discourse"? With "all due respect" of course. Readers may search and see how awfully I behaved.

So if you think I went off in a huff, I was trying not to do that while still accommodating your wishes as the head of the blog. If I made myself look foolish in doing so I am not ashamed of that. In any case, it isn't a good idea for me to continue to care what you think.

I am in an unfortunate position here. I have valued a number of Nice Marmot's comments, though I do find in them a little tiresome tendency to pose disagreements with conclusions without posing satisfactory arguments that really help expose the issues and get at the underlying _causes_ of disagreement. I have also valued very much quite a number of Mark's comments, and even though I can see why they have sometimes rubbed Paul the wrong way, I didn't have quite the same reaction to them. So, although I almost want to say "can't everyone get along here?", I know that would be less than helpful.

Nice Marmot, if you ever return to this shore, take a constructive suggestion, and make your critiques with more underlying support, and try to do it by working back to starting points that Paul or Lydia or I am likely to agree with, (such as, for example, that the "free market" does not contain within it's core notion any intrinsically immoral element, though all of its elements can be warped and distorted by abuse. Or: Christ is God, if that's where you need to start.) To simply suggest that "critiquing capitalism" gets you reamed out is to gloss over much-argued distinctions such as that between capitalism and market economies, and such lack of attention to detail is likely to not win any points. Since Paul especially has made a large point of critiquing capitalism as practiced in the modern West, (going so far as to name it "The Usury Crisis" which is a lot harsher than most critics who are not socialists) it's also kind of goofy.

NM, you shd. listen to Paul. I've been *far* nicer to you than, in the past, I've been to him when discussing economics. And he's the editor!

As a final post I'd offer a recommendation for everyone here to read Brad Gregory's The Unintended Reformation and the Skidelsky's How Much is Enough? Money and the Good Life.

Take Kirk!
Take Weaver!
Take hope!

Cheers.

P.S. The many conservatives who support and appreciate WB do so because they've read him and find his work valuable despite his errors and inconsistencies. The only way that opponents can determine whether this approach is valid or not is to read him yourself. Then, at least, you'd have something substantial to discuss. If you make up your mind not to read him? Hey, your loss.

The only way that opponents can determine whether this approach is valid or not is to read him yourself. Then, at least, you'd have something substantial to discuss. If you make up your mind not to read him? Hey, your loss.

In other words, I have to drink the whole gallon of milk before deciding it's spoiled even though one whiff should be enough.

Hi Scott,
"In other words, I have to drink the whole gallon of milk before deciding it's spoiled even though one whiff should be enough."
This would be true if Berry was systematic and consistent. I think many would argue, as NM seems to in the very comment you quote from, that Berry is not, and that's why he's frustrating but worth reading regardless. One desperately wants him to see where his own arguments lead, since he does't seem to. But he's still a profound thinker, despite his failings. So no, the whole gallon isn't sour.
I for one think his wishy washy stance on abortion and SSM are wildly incongruent with his writings on nature and human purpose.
This inconsistency makes Berry annoying, for sure, but he's still worth reading, precisely if you are looking to get some good conservative insights.
I agree that it is not a good strategy in general to wade through the muck looking for gems. But one's conservative reading list
might at times include books that do not have an imprimatur.

I agree that it is not a good strategy in general to wade through the muck looking for gems. But one's conservative reading list might at times include books that do not have an imprimatur.

That's what I am getting at. Time is limited, so we got to use a filter; and when I put it to test questions: Is this guy's thinking so profound that I simply must read it? Are these profound thoughts not available anywhere else, say, in an author that doesn't have his head up his rear? Are the profound thoughts so impenetrable that his defenders can't adequetly summarize them in a combox yet so important that we all have to do the homework of reading him to return and more-or-less make his arguments for him? I'm not seeing any affirmtive answers.

“It gratifies our wish to think ill of our culture (a wish that is a permanent feature of modernity) without thinking ill of ourselves.”

Louis Menand, literature professor at Princeton commenting on Bloom's Closing of the American Mind

---------

The thing I don't get about agrarian critiques of modernity, is that Southerners anytime before or during the CW would have been horrified at the thought that their way was anything other than a better form of modernity. They weren't trying to avoid it, but rather beat the rest of the world to it with a more stable form. But the goal was the same as for everybody else. Hard for us to understand now, but slavery was seen as the foundation of a better form of modernity than the version of modernity with free labor. They looked forward to the railroads at least as much as any other region, and in fact built it all with slave labor. Not going to argue any of this, but the term "agrarianism" is used nowadays as opposed to modernity, but it is a misnomer.

~~Not going to argue any of this, but the term "agrarianism" is used nowadays as opposed to modernity, but it is a misnomer.~~

Not going to argue this either, Mark, but Allen Tate wrote that it was unfortunate that the tag "agrarian" got attached to the movement, because what they were really after was a revival of religious humanism. A discussion of this appears in the book Fugitives' Reunion, and the other Fugitives agreed with him. Furthermore, what the original agrarians were opposed to was not modernity as a whole, but certain aspects of it, notably those connected with industrialism and corporate capitalism. This becomes clear if you read Ransom's opening statement of principles in I'll Take My Stand. Of course, what they were promoting had an agrarian (as opposed to industrial) element, but that was not the whole thing.

I myself never definitely said (and don't have much stake in saying) that nothing Wendell Berry ever wrote would ever be worth reading. I said he shouldn't be a model, shouldn't be treated as this admired character, as a deep thinker and important pundit, shouldn't be defended with the defensiveness that we have seen in this very thread.

Here's an example: I like the novelist Elizabeth Goudge. I've written a post or two at this blog making qualified recommendations of her novels. She has some good insights, and she has some good novels. But there were plenty of political and even theological ways in which she was a flake. (She was an annihilationist, for one thing, and a socialist, for another.) I read her novels with mental reservations, but I do enjoy them and think them decent literature. If you're hankering for a good novel, read The Dean's Watch. This despite the fact that Goudge always goes way too easy on her bad characters, making excuses for them, and has some implausible reformations.

But I'd never tell people to read thousands of words of Goudge for insights into politics and culture.

Berry set up as a pundit. He's supposed to be out there telling us about the dangers of modern life, and he's been hailed as somebody we need to read on that subject. Considering that he's this tone-deaf on some of the most important dangers of modern life, it becomes something of a shrug to me as to what other insights he might have. Maybe they are there, maybe not. But the pedestal is, *just in virtue of the silliness documented here*, unjustified.

No, Mike. Capitalism is the touch-me-not here. Criticize it and you either get reamed or ignored. What's the point?

Rubbish. I criticize it and so does Paul. Even Lydia and Tony have criticized it.

Using your criticisms of Apple as an example, most of your "criticisms" don't actually prove anything about their products. You think it is enough to call them useless, trinkets and other disparaging terms as though this were a substantial point. You cannot even say "the iPad is useless because..." without resorting to a circular argument (at least you have behaved that way in the past).

P.S. The many conservatives who support and appreciate WB do so because they've read him and find his work valuable despite his errors and inconsistencies.

They also do similar things with writers like Ayn Rand. The real question here is whether or not they get enough right that we ought to rehabilitate them over their "errors and inconsistencies." I would say that someone who can support Obama in 2012 without a deep seated conviction that Romney will be far worse is someone ought to be automatically put on probation for whatever conservative credentials they might have. That's not even counting the fact as Tony and Lydia have observed in various ways that to be for the end of modernity (except very gradually) is to literally prefer the destruction of a state of affairs capable of sustaining 7 billion human lives.

"Long ago Wendell Berry, complaining of our attitude toward work and our relationship to energy, said that 'we would use a steam shovel to pick up a dime.'"

http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2012/08/not-in-my-back-yard-but-pass-me-the-good-life-please/

I don't care what his attitude is towards my work, or the tools I use. I've been using tools all my life, in three different vocations. I've not seen this massive tool misuse he speaks of. It's stupid for people to be as inefficient as his hyperbole implies. I can't think of any reason why I should care what he thinks about "us."

it was unfortunate that the tag "agrarian" got attached to the movement, because what they were really after was a revival of religious humanism.

Well, some of the agrarians really are agrarian. Truly. They might even tie their agrarianism to a religious sentiment, but that's kind a red herring, since they manage to locate religious sentiments in favor of agrarianism without ever asking whether the religion produces the agrarianism or the agrarianism produces the religion.

Furthermore, what the original agrarians were opposed to was not modernity as a whole, but certain aspects of it, notably those connected with industrialism and corporate capitalism. This becomes clear if you read Ransom's opening statement of principles in I'll Take My Stand. Of course, what they were promoting had an agrarian (as opposed to industrial) element, but that was not the whole thing.

Well, I had never seen I'll Take My Stand", so I went and looked up the statement of principles in it. Here is a crystal moment of that:

The contribution that science can make to a labor is to render it easier by the help of a tool or a process, and to assure the laborer of his perfect economic security while he is engaged upon it. Then it can be performed with leisure and enjoyment. But the modern laborer has not exactly received this benefit under the industrial regime. His labor is hard, its tempo is fierce, and his employment is insecure. The first principle of a good labor is that it must be effective, but the second principle is that it must be enjoyed. Labor is one of the largest items in the human career; it is a modest demand to ask that it may partake of happiness.

As far as I can tell, that is a hopelessly bleeding-heart-liberal attitude about the world. The contribution science "can make to a labor" has nothing to do with "assuring perfect economic security

while he is using the tools science put in his hands. That's just bunk. Science cannot assure that, because (a) science doesn't have it to give, and (b) it isn't even a subject that science can study with success (at least, not so far). The only study that might be able to address such a concern is the study of economics, and since that study is not yet a true science, we have a long ways to go before we can ask of it assurance of economic security.

When the "science" of metal working discovers a way to make steel out of iron and charcoal and whatever else, there is nothing about that discovery that remotely bears on promising economic security. It's just a wholly different category of development.

Secondly, for vast ages of man's history, the vast majority of men had to devote themselves to the labor of agriculture, or they (and society) would have starved. Currently less than 5% of the population is engaged in it, and one justly doubts that another 70% are secretly hankering for the life of the farmer. They are unsuited to it either physically, or mentally, or emotionally, or by preference. So, for vast ages of history, men were forced to a work that they would not have chosen had there been other reasonable options. And yet, they are supposed to "enjoy" that? By some principle of nature? How? When God told Adam "by the sweat of your brow will you eat your bread" it was a curse: work would no longer seem readily satisfactory.

They are simply wrong: the first principle of good labor is that it must be effective at producing something, and the second is that it must be directed toward a good desired by someone. Enjoyment is a different issue.

To EXPECT AND ASSUME that an acceptable economic system would not only produce goods but produce them with people enjoying their work is to expect something that no economic system ever did succeed in doing. And probably never will. And there is no particular reason to think that a pre-modern non-industrial society will produce more of that than some post-modern economies: with the sheer multiplication of kinds of jobs, kinds of economic activity, there is vastly more probability that any given person will have some kind of opportunity to find a kind of labor that is more to their liking. If there are only 10 kinds of work, then there are only 10 kinds of workers who can be happy. Nature as such does not grant to man that he should enjoy his labor - not since the first sin damaged our relationship with nature. There is nothing in nature that even hints that we are owed enjoyable labor. Neither nature, nor God, owe us that.

And where does this visionary picture come from? Taken from Ransom in the first essay:

I have in mind here the core of unadulterated Europeanism, with its self-sufficiency, backward-looking, intensely provincial communities. The human life of English provinces long ago came to terms with nature, fixed its roots somewhere in the spaces between the rocks and in the shade of the trees, founded its comfortable institutions, secured it modest prosperity – and then willed the whole in perpetuity to the generations which should come after, in the ingenuous confidence that it would afford them all of the essential human satisfactions.

This book was written in 1930, but that picture fits no place in existence in the western world from about 1850 on. It is really a description from England no later than 1816, and never did find itself on the continent. Before the real industrialism set in, with Napolean permanently defeated, there was no definitive expectation of any kind of "progress" than simply bucolic progress of continued peaceful existence. Marxism came about only 3 decades later, within that very European (and English) context that inspired Marx and Engels with such hatred and envy. Are we really basing a view of ideal economic man on a short-lived setting in the countryside of one (island) nation only, and calling this "Europeanism" at its best?

Put succintly, their descriptions of society from which they draw their thesis just don't sound believable, and their theses just don't sound quite right even granted their descriptions.

Tony,
"men were forced to a work that they would not have chosen had there been other reasonable options."

It does not seem a correct inference. Man was cursed, no doubt, but to say that being a farmer is less suited to the nature of man than being an office-clerk or a factory-hand is stretching things too far.

You simply can not infer what the most people in the past would have done from the fact that 70% of Westerners would prefer not to farm now.

You treat this matter like a propositional calculus, rather than a complex product of history.

We have the divine revelation that man was to subdue the wilderness and tame the animals. So man was to be a farmer, a gardener, a shepherd, a dairyman, a falconer, a snake-tamer, a bear-tamer, a mahout and so on.

That man hankers for a land of his own is undeniable where he can satisfy the divine mandate.

And the divine mandate to subdue the wilderness and tame the animals is Pre-Fall.

"the first principle of good labor is that it must be effective at producing something, and the second is that it must be directed toward a good desired by someone."

Man is made in the image of a Creator God and thus man must be a creator himself. Thus a felt contrast between mechanical work (that does not express man's creativity) and creative work.

Man must be paid to do non-creative work but he would pay others to appreciate his creative work.

The necessity of non-creative work is a consequence of the Fall, either through the social conditions or through individual sinfulness that he prefers to run after money, even through mechanical work or work done mechanically, rather than engage in work that expresses his creativity.

So the critics of Industrialism of Christian humanist school--GKC, Belloc, Dorothy Sayers et al
stressed that the movement of the people from farms to industrial work has led to lesser creative work for the majority of people.

I have never engaged in farm work but it is reasonable that a individual farmer has more opportunity to be creative than a factory hand.

I think that the agrarian complaint may be put as:
Secularly, a man finds fullest liberty in a City where he shares the Law and a vision of Good with other citizens. He has not created the Law but it is the Law and the vision of Good that has created him i.e. shaped his mind and his environment. There is liberty since citizens already agree so much informally that formal laws are few and far.

But Commerce creates a City of Strangers with their own ideas of the Law and the Good. There is thus a diminution in liberty since to make a City out of Strangers, more formal laws are needed. This is captured in a paradox of Dostoevsky: Starting from absolute liberty, I conclude in absolute despotism.

There is also an alienation since man is made such as to share the Law and the Good with his neighbors.

Interestingly, the liberalism seeks to erase distinction between citizen and non-citizen. It can be done either by making everyone a citizen ("Progressivism") or making everyone a stranger ("libertarianism")

Man is made in the image of a Creator God and thus man must be a creator himself. Thus a felt contrast between mechanical work (that does not express man's creativity) and creative work...

I have never engaged in farm work but it is reasonable that a individual farmer has more opportunity to be creative than a factory hand.

The actual raw data in hand is that most farmers throughout most of history did not view their work as "creative" but as drudgery. The number of people who choose to garden is significant, but the number of people who choose to make their gardens 60% to 90% of their available space is NOT. They are unwilling to extend the scope of their creativity to that large an undertaking, because the sheer muscle expenditure and sweat required to do anything with it interferes with the capacity to actually enjoy the process - it becomes drudgery. Extend that again to 50 or 100 acres and they simply lose all perspective as creativity. But for the 5% who don't feel that way, GREAT...for them.

Man is made in the image of a Creator God and thus man must be a creator himself. Thus a felt contrast between mechanical work (that does not express man's creativity) and creative work.

No, I don't think you have quite captured it. Nature is not responsive to man the way she would be if not for sin. So the drudgery man feels in what we call work is partly due to the difficulty of getting nature to produce what we want. This shows itself to the farmer as much as in other areas: He expends enormous effort, but a blight comes and wipes out his crop, and there is nothing he can do about it. Or no rain comes, and again there is nothing he can do about it (unless he wants to employ complex tools and build an irrigation system). Some men are by temperment better suited to that kind of trouble than others. The others who are NOT well suited to it are not suited to farming, by temperment. It takes a lot of muscle, if you don't have machinery. Some men don't have that. To assume that the majority of humans are suited to it physically, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically is simply not well supported in data.

Maybe if nature were responsive to man better, the amount of muscle expenditure needed to make 50 acres of land produce enough for a reasonable economy would not exhaust man's capacity and leave him nothing left over. But without the tools of modernity, it doesn't. Most farmers haven't considered their activity mainly "creative" in a satisfying sense.

Tony,
Drudgery is an inescapable part of the creative process, irrespective of the Curse and Fall. I recommend The Mind of the Maker: the Idea is the Father. eternal and immaterial. The Activity is the Son, that materializes in space and time, sweats blood and is begotten of the Idea. The Power of the creation is the Ghost that proceeds from the Idea and the Activity.

The focus on 'enjoyment' is misleading. The creativity in Christian sense has got nothing to do with it. A writer may not enjoy writing, often enough they are tormented.

The point is having an Idea that begets Activity from which Power proceeds to others as well as back to the creative mind itself.

In mechanical work, there is no idea, that is one's own idea. One follows others' ideas without creatively transforming them to one's own Ideas.

In mechanical work, there is no idea, that is one's own idea. One follows others' ideas without creatively transforming them to one's own Ideas.

Do you SERIOUSLY intend to maintain that an iron-age farmer, spending 14 hours a day breaking the soil with an oxen-drawn plow the way his ancestors have done for 10 generations, considers what he is doing "creatively transforming his very own ideas" into activity and empowering others?

GIVE ME A BREAK! It's just too, too laughable.

Drudgery can be seen in the difference between what a man chooses to do when he has no need for additional money, and what he does ONLY because he needs more money (or food, etc) that the work will bring. Edison (from what little I know) didn't need to invent a light bulb to make a living, he chose to. Yes, the process of testing one option after another and failing was tiresome, but the activity was still chosen: he wanted to pursue it, and the "wanting" was not from something external to the creative drive.

I know men who are driven to tinker and perfect mechanical things: cars, electric motors, etc. If they were farmers they would be driven mad. I know people who were BORN to play musical instruments and compose. If they had to work a farm their hands and muscles would not permit their music, and they would never have found the time to really grasp music in its depth. And on, and on. I know a guy whose real human forte is that of organizing others - a born manager / leader. Something farmers generally don't do.

I will accept that some people would farm creatively even if they didn't need to feed their own family, just doing it to produce for others out of sheer pleasure of such creativity - even though such "sheer pleasure" involves a lot of hard work and sweat. But it is far from clear that most would want do so, especially to the extent of the full 50 acres of production. My grandmother made food for family, for friends, for neighbors, and for strangers, because cooking was her drive - even though it tired her out and made her muscles ache at times, and even though she got no pay for it. But it isn't a drive for all mothers, some find it drudgery - the very same activities that Grandma chose to take on willingly. And that's definitely the result of the Fall, not the inherent problem of the creative process. It's not the effort I am calling drudgery, it's the effort together with its unwelcomeness.

My point is that in a truly agrarian society that never did spring for the modern development of complex machinery, some 80% to 90% of people have to farm to make enough food, and you would never get the 30,000 different (creative) jobs that people have found are just exactly where their creative niches sit. So, the fact that farming can be the right creative work for some doesn't mean that it is for the vast majority. And once we accept the possibility that the best creative field of action for most people might lie outside of farming, we bring in the need for complex machinery to multiply the effective power of the farmer to creatively produce for the non-farmers who are engaged in other works.

In mechanical work, there is no idea, that is one's own idea. One follows others' ideas without creatively transforming them to one's own Ideas.

If your whole theory is built up in opposition to the kind of "mechanical" work of an assembly line (and not the mechanical work of fixing an engine), you should have said so to begin with. I hold no express brief for enormous businesses of 5,000 workers on an assembly line turning out widgets - but with modern machinery and robotics that is becoming a thing of the past. In the approaching post-industrial era, that kind of mechanical work will gradually go away. But the work of a waitress at a diner won't. Nor the work of a clerk waiting on someone trying to find a pair of shoes. Or a flight mechanic running through a checklist of airplane repairs for a quality review. The number of people whose work is truly non-creative assembly-line work these days is less than 20% and shrinking.

Great comment, Tony. I like Gian's summary of the Mind of the Maker as well.

I would add, as a light demurral on Tony's point, that if we include among our current-day agrarians all the folks who work professionally but maintain a consistent discipline of gardening in their leisure time, the numbers under examination would be considerably higher. My mother's patient work over the years, in between household duties as well as work as a teacher, to eventually form the backyard into her image of a garden, is only now coming into its full flower (so to speak) for her grandchildren. Nor is it all mere display: in June my girls and my mom collected enough sour cherries for several delicious pies. She's not a farmer, but I guarantee that agrarian work with her hands -- sweaty and dirty though it was -- has been immensely rewarding.

Paul, my Dad was that way too, always out there pulling a weed or two, planting in the Spring, watering, etc. For those who love it, it is immensely rewarding. But, our experience is mainly of people who have the freedom to dabble. They can put in strawberries this year, and if they don't like that, they can let it be pansies next year. They can just scatter some seeds and let grow what grows for a year if they are going to take a long trip to Europe. They can do 600 Sq ft, or 4,000 sq. ft., and let the rest be just lawn.

A farmer that is growing for a livelihood doesn't have those freedoms. He cannot just walk away one year when he is going to be out of town. He cannot decide to plant flowers just 'cause he likes the looks. He better keep all 50 acres (except the field that is being regenerated by lying fallow) under production. And if drought kills the crop in July, he can't just shrug and say "better luck next year". From our own American literature of the pioneers and the farmers of the 1800s, they lived with one bad year hanging over them as a sword of Damocles. Lots and lots of people who farmed back in the "good ol' days" got out of farming the instant they had the opportunity, because they did NOT find it creatively satisfying.

I had an uncle who worked in a restaurant in the evening, and tried to run a very modest farm (of sorts) during the day. He didn't succeed very well, and he eventually gave up trying to make the farming work, because he wasn't prepared to put all day every day into it. He had a clear choice, a really present and ready choice to do either, and his choice was to leave off the farming. My guess is that he found it economically insufficient. But once he retired, he didn't bother to go back to it (even partially) when he had the freedom, time, land, barn, equipment, etc. It just wasn't that rewarding to him. It had never been "his thing".

The argument I have for agrarian societies is quite simply that one finds considerably less support for abortion, population control and "family planning" in those societies. I do agree with Lydia on Berry, but I remain an agrarian. Examples of agrarian conservatism abound, but let us compare Japan, India, and the Faroe Islands. One will find a lot more children in the Faroe Islands and North India than Japan or other modern urbanized nations, and a lot less support for social liberalism, despite Japanese conservatives attempts to keep a lid on things.

Crimes against life like abortion, contraception, and euthenasia do not happen merely because they are legal. They would happen even if they were illegal... and could very well be difficult to prosecute. No, such crimes occur because social conditions are ripe to tempt individuals to violate their consciences and commit such crimes. It is not entirely wrong for one to see those conditions, the prerequisites to crimes against life, as the true problem, and the crimes themselves as merely a symptom. Yes, in a perfect world, no crime against life would be legal, but neither in a perfect world would anyone seek to commit such a crime--neither in a perfect world would conditions, whether social or legal, arise to even tempt individuals to commit such crimes. But since we don't live in a perfect world, which aspect of these crimes ought lovers of life concentrate? The answer, to me, is far from obvious.

Yes, well, Nick B. Steves, try that one on killing five-year-olds. Frankly, I have little patience with talk about social conditions and background and so forth that "arise." That is all too much akin to making excuses for some eighteen-year-old thug who bashes a grandmother on the head, that he is somehow just a "product of his society" and that we should perhaps concentrate on "systemic causes" rather than putting the young thug in jail. Human beings are responsible beings. Abortion is murder. Dealing with these realities requires us not to take refuge in cliches like "it isn't a perfect world" and "this would happen even if it were illegal." So would murdering five-year-olds. But it would still be a heinous scandal if we had five-year-old killing clinics. Sorry, I'm unsympathetic.

We need to emphasize both social conditions and personal responsibility. Conditions can lead people down the path of murder, but they are still morally responsible for their actions. Their will had to cooperate, and their will must share blame.

It is not entirely wrong for one to see those conditions, the prerequisites to crimes against life, as the true problem,

Sorry, the "condition" and the "prerequisite" is original sin. That's all you need to create the background impetus that gets people into the position where they want to kill, steal, etc. Cain didn't kill Abel because his social conditions put him in the position where the temptation was overwhelming, he did it out of envy and vanity in spite of having a perfectly acceptable society situation.

So, since we can't eradicate original sin from human society, we better put thugs in prison where they belong (except for putting them in a pine box when they deserve that, instead.)

So would murdering five-year-olds. But it would still be a heinous scandal if we had five-year-old killing clinics.

So if enough people were outraged about five-year-old killing clinics, then they wouldn't exist. If they exist, then one must ask why are not enough people outraged? The answer could be that society is broken, and broken in ways that positive law cannot begin to address... It could be that our handwringing about what do, brought on by our conditioning to feel that there is something we must do, habituated to seek answers in positive law to begin with, is itself a major part of what is actually... currently... wrong.

What, in fact, we DO need is Just Government, and maybe, just maybe, there is NO WAY AT ALL to get that in the current regime... in which case all the handwringing in the world about what to do, what to do, and for whom to vote, and against whom to protest, isn't going to change a god. damn. thing. Maybe, just maybe, before humane governance takes affect and is allowed to flourish, a few (or few thousand or a few hundred thousand) heads will have to roll... And maybe pro-lifers just aren't ready to stomach that reality.

And maybe pro-lifers just aren't ready to stomach that reality.

And to be fair, I doubt Wendell Berry is ready to stomach that either.

Sorry, the "condition" and the "prerequisite" is original sin. That's all you need to create the background impetus that gets people into the position where they want to kill, steal, etc.

Then why, for most of human history in most places, were contraception and abortion and euthenasia less widely practiced than today in the west? Why, for most of human history and in most places, were the nations that refused to practice such crimes judged to be the most (not least) civilized? And why, for most of human history and in most places, were such nations as refused such practices, naturally advantaged, so much so that they could be said, quite literally, to have brought civilization to the world? Were such people not affected by original sin? Or was it something in the water? If so, how do we get that water?

That is all too much akin to making excuses for some eighteen-year-old thug who bashes a grandmother on the head, that he is somehow just a "product of his society" and that we should perhaps concentrate on "systemic causes" rather than putting the young thug in jail.

In a saner world, such an "At-risk Youth" would be prevented by strong social and legal restraints from indulging his animal tendancies. He would be brutally coerced for far lesser crimes, and thus either self-correct and find some productive work to do, or die in his rebellion against the dominant culture. Sadly today, such constraints would be considered racist.

You make excellent points, ones which many have difficulty acknowledging.

"Then why, for most of human history in most places, were contraception and abortion and euthenasia less widely practiced than today in the west? Why, for most of human history and in most places, were the nations that refused to practice such crimes judged to be the most (not least) civilized? And why, for most of human history and in most places, were such nations as refused such practices, naturally advantaged, so much so that they could be said, quite literally, to have brought civilization to the world?"
Excellent questions that need to be answered.

"Then why, for most of human history in most places, were contraception and abortion and euthenasia less widely practiced than today in the west? Why, for most of human history and in most places, were the nations that refused to practice such crimes judged to be the most (not least) civilized? And why, for most of human history and in most places, were such nations as refused such practices, naturally advantaged, so much so that they could be said, quite literally, to have brought civilization to the world?"

Contraception and abortion were less common because, prior to the twentieth century, there were fewer safe and reliable methods of doing so. Infanticide, however, was widely practiced in all but Christian civilizations:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infanticide

So much for romanticizing the distant agrarian past.

Okay, Nick B. Steves, whoever you are, bag the talking about thousands of heads rolling.

Good grief.

No, such crimes occur because social conditions are ripe to tempt individuals to violate their consciences and commit such crimes. It is not entirely wrong for one to see those conditions, the prerequisites to crimes against life, as the true problem, and the crimes themselves as merely a symptom.

Ah, I see. Nick, I didn't understand where you were coming from. You are thinking that if society were to give proper negative feedback to crimes like vandalism and petty larceny, (in addition to doing so for graver crimes of course) there would be far fewer graver crimes. THAT's the defect in the social environment. So we need a political and social environment that punishes crimes for real, instead of slaps on the hand, and punishes grave crime by death and the like. Change the conditions, and you change the outcomes.

Well, I sort of more or less agree with that. But I have GOT to ask: Anymouse, is that the sort of thing you are advocating also? Punishing grade schoolers with caning for really noxious grade-school type offenses, and punishing a 20 year old guy guilty of rape with 40 years hard labor, and punishing everybody guilty of pre-meditated murder with death? Or, as I like to call it: permanent removal of life without possibility of parole.

Yes, that is precisely what I am advocating. The only question is how to get to that kind of a society. I tend to believe a certain amount of change in production and consumption is necessary to get to that point again.

"Okay, Nick B. Steves, whoever you are, bag the talking about thousands of heads rolling.

Good grief."
I think he may have a point. I truly have doubts on the capacity of a modern society to ever support any form of virtue.

To vitabenedicta:

I think you have proved his point. Infanticide is being supported today, but was not commonly supported in pre industrial Christian societies. To me that shows anti modernism to have at least some truth to it, and shows that it is probably more relevant than a lot of the silly ideas that get pumped out today.

The British notion of Criminal Tribes in the settled districts of the Indian Empire is pertinent.

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