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Posts Tagged ‘Localism’

Agrarianism vs. The Life Well-Lived

In America, Arts & Letters, Conservatism, News and Current Events, Politics on January 16, 2012 at 12:05 am

James Banks is a doctoral student studying Renaissance and Restoration English literature at the University of Rochester. He also contributes to the American Interest Online. He has been a Fellow with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute Honors Program; in addition to The Literary Lawyer, he has written for the Intercollegiate Review, First Principles and The Heritage Foundation’s blog The Foundry. A native of Idaho’s panhandle, he lives in upstate New York and serves in the New York Army National Guard.

Agrarianism has been an organized antagonist of American capitalism for longer than Marxism has, and it provides a welcome avenue for those who reject the gospel of a bourgeoisie paradise but are averse to the cosmopolitan and authoritarian tendencies of Marxism. It has occasionally found its way into public policy, such as the Second Bush Administration’s efforts to turn all Americans into property owners (though, by that point, “the family farm” had become a suburban home with a two car garage and white picket fence). Most recently, a debate boiled up in the blogosphere over a comment made by First Things editor Joe Carter arguing that Agrarianism was essentially utopian in nature.

Front Porch Republic—which, from what I can make out, is not explicitly Agrarian but is highly sympathetic to its tenets—was quick to come back with a number of repartees. Nonetheless, these repartees (for this reader anyway) only accentuated some of the problems with the ideology that they sought to defend. Front Porch Republic’s best contribution to the debate is Mark T. Mitchell’s. Professor Mitchell is an author of considerable ability and one who—in as far as I can make out—comes pretty close to living the philosophy that he advocates. I would not question the consistency of his views, just the correctness.

In his discussion of Wendell Berry’s Agrarianism, Mitchell writes:

The agrarian is guided by gratitude. He recognizes the giftedness of creation and accepts the great and awful responsibility to steward it well. Such a recognition “calls for prudence, humility, good work, propriety of scale.”[3] In the use of the land, soil, water, and non-human creatures, the final arbiter, according to Berry, is not human will but nature itself.[4] But this is not to suggest that Berry is some sort of pantheist. Instead, “the agrarian mind is, at bottom, a religious mind.” The agrarian recognizes that the natural world is a gift, and gifts imply a giver. “The agrarian mind begins with the love of fields and ramifies in good farming, good cooking, good eating, and gratitude to God.” By contrast, the “industrial mind “begins with ingratitude, and ramifies in the destruction of farms and forests.”

I can sympathize with the desire to live close to the soil (and would purchase a farm could I afford it). The problem with the argument, though, is that it implies a fundamental distinction between the “agrarian mind” and the “industrial mind”; in truth, the difference between the two is one of degree rather than fundamental difference. Perhaps the agrarian mind “recognizes that the natural world is a gift,” but does it recognize it as such more than does the mind of the hunter/gatherer? And, if not, why should we not go further and work to incorporate elements of the hunter/gatherer’s economy into our postmodern existence? Read the rest of this entry »

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Ciceronian Society Annual Conference, March 29-31, 2012: Call for Papers

In Arts & Letters, Conservatism, Humanities, News and Current Events, News Release, Western Civilization on November 30, 2011 at 8:27 am

 

Allen Mendenhall

The Ciceronian Society will be holding its annual meeting at the University of Virginia, March 29-31, 2012. This will be an academic conference in which panelists can present on a variety of topics related to the themes of Tradition, Place, and ‘Things Divine.’ A more elaborate description of these core-themes and their relation to the humanities is provided on the Ciceronian Society website

Possible panel themes include the following: 

 

  1.  The Relationship of Modern Thought to Tradition and the Divine. 
  2.  Greek and Roman Thought. 
  3.  Place, ‘Things Divine,’ and Tradition in Medieval Thought
  4.  Human Scale, Decentralism, and Federalism
  5.  American Thought/Experience and Tradition and Place
  6.  Literature, Localism, History, and the Divine. 
  7.  Agrarianism, Localism, and Economics 
  8.  Social-Political Theology

 

BOOK REVIEW: Laura F. Edwards. The People and Their Peace: Legal Culture and the Transformation of Inequality in the Post-Revolutionary South (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

In Advocacy, American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Civil Procedure, History, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Law, Laws of Slavery, Nineteenth-Century America, Politics, Rhetoric, Slavery, Southern History, The South on September 28, 2011 at 10:41 am

Allen Mendenhall

Since Mark Tushnet revived the study of slave laws in the American South, several historians, most notably Paul Finkelman, Thomas D. Morris, and Ariela Gross, have followed in his footsteps.  Laura F. Edwards’s The People and Their Peace is a book that extends this trend in scholarship.  Focusing on North and South Carolina from roughly 1787 to 1840, and more specifically on three North Carolina counties and four South Carolina counties during that time, Edwards situates local law in contradistinction to state law, portraying the former as polycentric and heterogeneous and the latter as centralized and homogenous.  Edwards suggests that state law was more aspirational than practical in the early nineteenth-century Carolinas because it failed to inform ordinary legal practice at the local level in the same way that resident culture or custom did.

Pitting “reformers” (elite individuals who sought to create a uniform and consolidated body of rules that appellate courts could enforce at the state level) against locals, Edwards demonstrates that the legal system was bottom-up and not top-down and that law on paper or in statutes was different from law in practice.  On paper or in statutes, law subordinated lower courts to appellate courts and seemed, in keeping with the reformers’ ideals, systematized into a unitary, integrated order that reflected the supposedly natural and inevitable unfolding of history.  Reformers selectively compiled local laws and practices into lengthy works to forge the impression that law was a set of consistent, underlying principles.  In practice, however, law was variable, contingent, and contextual.  It emerged from the workaday and quotidian operations of individuals in towns and communities.  Law was therefore as messy as it was unpredictable, and it cannot be understood today without a deep knowledge of interpersonal relationships and cultural conditions in locales where courts sat.  Slave codes, for instance, did not reflect realities on the ground because they were handed down by state legislatures and could not account for the reputations and routines of people in local communities—people who cared less about consistency in the law or about fixed principles than about their personal stake in any given legal matter. 

This book is a corrective to histories interested principally in local legal sources but neglectful of the particularities that brought about these local sources.  It marshals evidence from legal documents—especially case decisions, including appellate opinions—while considering why and how those documents were produced.  The development of state law became increasingly important during the antebellum years, but the rise in state law—which privileged narratives of individual rights, standardized legal principles, and enabled southern distinctiveness—does not make sense apart from local data.  Local data reveals much about the processes (as opposed to philosophies) of law.  Put differently, local law remained discretionary because it was fluid and not subject to abstract and purely notional mantras about rights. Read the rest of this entry »

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