Better than folding socks

Struggling to sleep tonight, I had afore me two options: I could match my socks — always a vexing ordeal (Where do those wandering socks go when they leave their partners cuckolded?) — or I could read further in Wendell Berry’s The Art of the Commonplace. Persevering, slowly as I do, in my quest to breathe life anew into this humble bastion of young-curmudgeonly thought on the Internet, but, just after three o’clock ante meridiem, unpossessed of the wherewithal to offer thoughts of my own, I thought that I should permit Mr. Berry, the farmer-poet of Lane’s Landing, to speak for me.

If we are serious about reducing government and the burdens of government, then we need to do so by returning economic self-determination to the people. And we must not do this by inviting destructive industries to provide “jobs” in the community; we must do it by fostering economic democracy. For example, as much as possible of the food that is consumed locally ought to be locally produced on small farms, and then processed in small, nonpolluting plants that are locally owned. We must do everything possible to provide to ordinary citizens the opportunity to own a small, usable share of the country. In that way, we will put local capital to work locally, not to exploit and destroy land, but to use it well.

[“Conservation and Local Economy”, page two-hundred-and-four, in The Art of the Commonplace]

Though Berry speaks most specifically of agriculture, and, here, of economics as if people mattered, and I, given the context, wrote of moral fabric, he, more eloquently than I, and I aim for the same target when I, substituting for Mr. Schwenkler, argued, contra Joe Carter, against relying on government at any level, in a federal system or a subsidiarity/sphere of sovereignty system, to cultivate morality. Not only are economic matters and moral fabric not exclusive of each other, but the moral fabric of society, the economic health (and not simply “well-being”) of a place, and the community of that place are all intrinsically interwoven; to separate one strand from the rope is to loosen the entire knot.

Briefly, if we truly believe that small is beautiful, then, as Mr. Berry advises, we must work to cultivate smallness from that level, rather than fatuously assuming that a national government — or the (inter)national economy — , the very antithesis of smallness, can in any meaningful way, other than by negation of policies intrinsically hostile to smallness, contribute to the rebuilding of this agrarian ideal of real, distinct, communities.


One Response

  1. “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote for themselves largess from the public treasury with a result that a democracy always fails under loose fiscal policy and is generally followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s great civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence — from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, liberty to abundance, abundance to selfishness, selfishness to complacency, complacency to apathy, apathy to dependency and dependency back again to bondage.”

    – 18th-century Scottish historian Alexander Fraser Tytler

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