Paging Jeremy Beer: Indiana-born Miss America 2009, Agrarian

The whole Miss America thing usually doesn’t interest me much, but, while sitting in my grandfather’s living room, I noticed something in the 3 July issue of Indiana AgriNews that really piqued my interest: Katie Stam, Miss America 2009, is the first to hail from Indiana. More important (Yes, even more important than some Hoosier pride!), she’s real farm girl.

From the article:

[Stam] has signed on to be a spokesperson for the American Dairy Association of Indiana to help spread the good news about the importance of dairy nutrition, as well as tell the story of Indiana’s dairy farmers.

Stam grew up in Seymour and helped on her family’s dairy farm as a child. She is a 10-year 4-H member and showed dairy cattle.

[…]

“I’m a farm girl, and it is a goal of mine to be able to promote family farms,” Stam said.

She said her rural upbringing taught her discipline and the importance of family and family tradition.

“This isn’t just a lifestyle — this is my lifestyle, and I am very blessed to be able to take this message to a national stage,” Stam said.

{My emphasis. — NPO]

How cool is that? Gary Truitt has more at Hat Chat

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Coming This Weekend

I know that, as seems always to be the case, I’ve been dreadfully remiss in the upkeep of this humble online bastion of Nathanism, and for this I apologize. I’m sure I’ve been busy or something. Anyhow, I just relieved myself of a serious academic burden, and intend to write a few things this weekend.

This evening I attended a wonderful Tocqueville Forum debate, between Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute and David Schindler of the JPII Institute and moderated by Patrick J. Deneen, at Georgetown. Tomorrow, I’ll venture twice into DC, once for a lunch-hour discussion at the Heritage Foundation featuring Tim Carney and Matthew B. Crawford, and then later in the afternoon back to Georgetown for another Tocqueville Forum event, a lecture by Prof. Bacevich. Doubtless, I’ll have somethings — or some things — to say about any and all of this.

I’ve engaged in a couple of really great discussions that began over at the League, and stemming from those conversations, I’m going to write a bit more on New Urbanism and on Distributism.

Finally, I’ll be offering, finally, my thoughts, on the Obama-at-Notre Dame controversy. For now, Mr. Kain has posted a nice excerpt here.

“Reviving Our Sense of Place, Our Priorities of Localism, Agrarianism, and Self-government”, Part II

Why, then, a “Jeffersonian” New Urbanism? (Part One.)

A few years have passed since I last read any of the Anti-Federalist Papers; lately, slowly, I’ve been getting back to that, starting with introductory material from editor Ralph Ketcham and some of the important Constitutional debates. To me, one of the greatest failings of the Anti-Federalists (excluding the eventual ratification of the Constitution) is that, though they succeeded in adding the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, thereby, theoretically, providing protections of individual liberties, lost in the shuffle was any notion of community rights. As I’ve stressed elsewhere,

Gone is Aristotle’s zoon politikon, and the Philosopher’s fundamental precept, “every community is established for the sake of some GOOD”, specifically the common good, replaced by the Every-man-a-king doctrine of liberalism. Without the State, its origins in necessary contractarianism, mankind, by the liberal creed, exists in a perpetual state of war. Contra liberalism (and, thus, libertarianism), conservatism, rightly conceived, follows Aristotle, appreciating the importance of the individual but recognizing that outside of community, man enters into what Berry calls “vast meaninglessness, […] the freedom of our vices.”

“Community rights” is a dangerously imprecise term, just the sort of concept that, improperly understood, could lead to collectivism. Nonetheless, the idea that communities possess rights, to which individual rights should be subordinated, or at least by which individual rights should be crafted, guided, and restrained is, I think, essential to conservatism. (I’m channeling Wendell Berry here, for sure.) Though the successes of the the Anti-Federalists manifested themselves primarily in the form of defenses of the individual (and the states), these decentralists were not merely libertarians, something that Larison has noted.

One particular line from Ketcham’s introduction, referring to Anti-Federalist “John DeWitt,” echoes ceaselessly in my mind, reaffirming the very communitarian nature of anti-federalism:

“Each ‘district,’ furthermore, would be a town or ward or region conscious of its own, particular identity rather than being some amorphous, arbitrary geographic entity.”

[My emphasis. – NPO]

Then, to return to the task at hand, to wit, replying to E.D. Kain’s post, I submit that we conservatives must embrace a New Urbanism that not only “believes in community,” but specifically one that recognizes that our “districts” must be “conscious of [their] own, particular ident[ies]”, rather than being mere political divisions. Again, this goes back to my point in Part I about the problems inherent in the coerced integration espoused by some planners. We need to embrace a variant of New Urbanism that not only seeks to define each community, but to empower it — to bring as much political power to the lowest level possible, in addition to the (moderate) cultural control (A bogeyman term? C’est la vie!) of the community. (See, in Patrick J. Ford’s “Edmund Burke, Anarcho-Conservative,” Burke’s admiration for the anarcho-conservative Massachusetts colony.) It’s not just about community, but about a community’s control over its own fate.

Along with the decentralization of power and the community-facilitating traditional urban design and architecture (contextually appropriate, of course!) of Anti-Federalist New Urbanism, we must espouse Distributist(-esque) economics, Jeffersonian economic democracy.

One of my most serious complaints with New Urbanism in practice is that, for reasons of “necessity,” the otherwise localist bent of New Urbanism is all too often sacrificed on the economic front. Instead of Neighborhood Grocery Mart, we have a New Urbanist-friendly Safeway or, given the upper-middle-class predilection for New Urbanism, a “green” “neighborhood” Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Instead of Nathan’s Nocturnal Nook, we have Starbucks and a “neo-traditional” Borders. One cannot sincerely deny what benefits this has, but to substitute, for economic or other reasons, the national chain for the local and independent is to succumb to the short-term, unsustainable temptations of liberalism.

We replace natural cultural and economic diversity with the banality of ubiquity, thereby relegating local culture — and a truly vibrant economic market — to quaint nostalgia in the community museum and a few hole-in-the-wall establishments. We lose the material benefits of having the proprietors of the businesses that we patronize living amongst us — both the benefits of having income that stays in the community and having businesses that, their owners having real knowledge of the community, are responsive to the wants and needs of community members, as they members actually describe them, rather than as they “define” them with their wallets. When we support farmers’ markets and local grocers that contact directly with local farmers, we know that not only are we near the sources of our food (something that, sometimes, we can know even at the chain stores), but we know that the people who make the decisions about what local food we can buy have direct contact with that food for the duration of the journey from field to plate.

When our neighbors are our pharmacists, lumber guys, mechanics, and tailors, we can address concerns we have with their establishments, employees, or products without much of the redtape we may face when dealing with a corporation “owned” by thousands of shareholders and run by a suit-wearing MBA in Bentonville who knows nothing about a lube job, let alone the name of the mechanic who forget to put new oil into your engine after he drained the old lubricant.

Finally, we need this Distributism-infused New Urbanism because private property is, to quote Prof. Wilson, in his reply to Prof. Shiffman, “bound up with the activities of man’s pursuit of the good; consequently it can only be understood properly in terms of that end.” Without the widespread distribution of property championed by Belloc, et al., and Jefferson, we risk both political dominance by those in greatest possession of real property and the diminishing of many men who, deprived of property, become less able to pursue the good. No society, at the community level, the national level, or anywhere between, can survive, in the long-term, when plagued by these two serious ailments.

“Reviving Our Sense of Place, Our Priorities of Localism, Agrarianism, and Self-government”, Part I

As I noted in my post-script to the introduction to my senior essay, E.D. Kain presents a superb, indeed “Front Porch Republic-worthy” piece, “Redefining Prosperity,” an essay so ambitious, loaded, and impressive that I’ll refrain from even attempting to reply as deeply as I had hoped, leaving part of the task to the able Mr. Larison— whose masterly, but still incomplete, response includes references to Prof. Deneen, Prof. Bacevich, and George Grant — and to those whose many thoughtful replies comprise the comment box.

Echoing a point that I, following Larison, made, Mr Kain offers a well-aimed jab at individualism that I cannot abstain from repeating:

Individualism leads to the growth of the State because individualism denies the need for community and family; it abandons such antiquated notions as God and tradition and favors reason and wealth over history and modesty. In the end, however, individualism inevitably falls short; reason inevitably contradicts itself. A nation of individuals is inherently chaotic, and will gravitate, sometimes consciously, oftentimes not, toward a bigger and stronger and more all-encompassing State.

Do read the entire damn post, please.

Hereunder, I offer my reply, limiting myself to addressing the latter portion of Mr. Kain’s essay, where he begins to consider solutions to the serious cultural-moral-social-political-economic disease of individualism.

What the conservative movement doesn’t realize is that to shrink government we must first find a way to transform our communities. We must find a way to undermine this vision of the individual above all else, and tap into that lost art of solidarity. We must abandon our illusions for realities, and our culture of entitlement for one of virtue and accountability. […] This is a cultural challenge even more than a political one, though where the one leaves off and the other begins is hard to say.

[…]

Can we ever revive our sense of place, our priorities of localism, agrarianism, and self-government?

It is not, I think, a question of if, but how: Though usually a bitter pessimist, I remain convinced that we can rebuild our communities, and, thence, greater society — if we want to. (By which I mean not that we shouldn’t seek to rebuild “society,” but that perhaps society is best rebuilt not by working upward from A to Z, but by rebuilding every A.) The answer lies in New Urbanism.

However, the answer, I think, lies not with the New Urbanists. First, though their commitment, usually, to community is undeniable and unabashed, most New Urbanists tend to be left-leaning. Doubtless, we should not fear aligning with them when we share common ground — as no less formidable men than Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul have contended about leftists, more broadly; however, my experience has revealed that a number of them — or at least of planners, more broadly (I should be cautious not to suggest that all planners are New Urbanists, or that all New Urbanists are planners.) believe that “social planning”, often in the form of attempting to integrate outsiders (e.g. immigrants) into communities, is a worthwhile task.

Although we should be welcoming, we must be wary. The presence of foreign elements in our communities threatens the very nature of our communities as we need to perceive them: that is, as people who share roots in place and culture. It’s analgous to planting invasive species in an ecosystem where they do not belong. You might have the most beautiful flower to add to your garden, but not being part of the environment naturally, it disrupts the natural cycles of the place, perhaps poisoning an unwitting animal that happens to nibble, growing sufficiently large to prevent other plants from receiving enough sunlight, or requiring more nutrients than the soil can provide for it and the native plants. If and when outside elements can be integrated smoothly, organically, and over an appropriately long period of time into the community, all the better for the sustainability thereof. But “facilitating democratic participation,” which coerces integration in much the same way that busing did during the slow, agonizing end of segregation — which is to say in a manner wholly destructive of community in the name of a sense of equality that is risible —, is both unsustainable and a political anathema.

Of even more serious concern is the delusional optimism, from which I’ve suffered oftenly, of New Urbanism. We simply cannot create community: No matter how walkable our neighborhoods are, now matter how many front porches and other community-enabling features we include, no matter what other steps we take, we’re fooling ourselves if we think that this alone guarantees community. In my Community Planning Studio this semester, we’re studying Broadway Overlook, a HOPE VI mixed-income development in Baltimore. Imperfectly as it was designed (no porches, no real integration of the owners and the subsidize renters, lack of sufficient public space), it marks a wonderful, aesthetically pleasing (if not somewhat sterile and artificial in its quasi-cookie-cutter design — or planning (Eww!)) departure from the typical example of public housing. Most of the residents feel little more — sometimes even less — sense of community than when they resided in a rat-and-bug infested high-rise. They have a hard-working, but divisive, president of the tenants’ council and in-house community organization, but community is still hard to detect; crime and other concerns, as well as dissastisfaction with the property manager, and countless other problems, hamper the goal of “creating community.” Community takes effort, it takes time, and it takes the proper cultural and political attitudes.

And therein lies perhaps the most serious drawback of the New Urbanists. However “communitarian” they be, ultimately, most, like most Americans, are communitarians wholly within the liberal tradition. The underlying acceptance of the State, of the tension between individual and collective, impedes the community-first philosophy necessary for New Urbanism to accomplish both its own purported goals and the goals discussed herein.

Thus, what we need is a conservative, truly localist and communitarian New Urbanism, one founded on the belief that the locality — place — is a priori superior and sovereign, rather than a subdivision of the whole. The whole, in our New Urbanism, must proceed from the parts. In short, it must be an “Anti-Federalist” and Distributist — a Jeffersonian? — New Urbanism.

Part II.

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.

“Future Perfect”: Peak oil, Mayberry, and a saner world

Peak-oil believers have multiplied like religious revivalists across America and the world, describing on their websites how they became, in the language of
conversion, “peak oil aware.” Still, the news coverage falls back on old stereotypes—
environmentalist, survivalist, homesteader, and homeschooler—often dismissing peak oil, like most useful ideas, as an obsession of the far Left or far Right.

The simpler truth is that peak-oil converts are often young people reviving the personal habits and self-sufficient skills of their grandparents’ generation, thinking seriously about their tap water, transportation, income, food, heat, and electricity, and realizing how little would survive the end of fossil fuels. They anticipate that population trends, climate change, and other problems will compound the crisis, creating what Kunstler has called the Long Emergency. While others are preoccupied with the hot-button lifestyle issues of the moment, they are planting gardens, buying foreclosed farms, learning traditional crafts, taking crash courses in survival skills, and soberly preparing while silently counting down.

In this wonderful piece (Sorry, subscriber-access only! Go subscribe to this fine, anti-war conservative organ!), from the 25 August The American Conservative, Brian Kaller, nonetheless warning of the impending peak oil “crisis”, sets himself apart, marvelously, from the likes of Kunstler (“Tattooing has traditionally been a marginal activity among civilized people, the calling card of cannibals, sailors, and whores. The appropriate place for it is on the margins, in the back alleys, the skid rows. The mainstreaming of tattoos (on main street) is a harbinger of social dysfunction.”) — whom I very much respect, whose writing, particularly in The Geography of Nowhere has influenced me tremendously –, prognosticating that “peak oil will probably not be a crash . . . but a series of small breakdowns, price hikes, and local crises.” [My emphasis. – NPO]

Kaller, as I (and numerous others, including John) have, laments the destructive ways intrinsic in agri-business; however, he particularly strikes a chord with me when he asserts that

[w]e need a common vision that avoids post-apocalypse yarns as well as “Star Trek” fantasies in favor of something both realistic and hopeful. Handled right, peak oil could bring a revival of small-town America, local farming, small businesses, and an economy that centers around Main Street rather than Wall Street. It wouldn’t require us suddenly to turn Amish. With solar, wind, and nuclear power, we can maintain the Internet, commuter rail, and other technologies and continue the global exchange of ideas.

So, for our new vision during this national crisis, I nominate “The Andy Griffith Show.” No, really, I’m serious.

Is this simple suggestion, that we model our communities after that over which Andy Taylor presided, rather than after some abstraction, based not on people, but on technology and “progress”, not that about which conservatism truly is? Rather undeniably, not everyone one the right accedes to the position that peak oil truly threatens our way of life; I disagree with them, but, wishing to reach out and to establish common ground, suggest that, even if we, who forewarn against the “local crises”, say not sooth, but preach of doom that shall pass, may be right in urging a return to Kaller’s Mayberry-like world not out of commercial necessity, but, instead, out of cultural necessity.

What has come to represent American “conservatism” descends less from Burke than from those Jacobins whom he detested, against whom that great sage took took to his pen: They seek to spread democracy, that most debase-able of governments, one which, often enough, they fail to exercise at home, the world across, giving birth to empire as they bring death to community. Particularly in the wake of Senator McCain’s announcement that he selected Palin to run with him, the right has offered incessant peans to small-town America, all the while sending small-town Americans, including Governor Palin’s son, to fight foreign battles, shipping small-town American jobs abroad as part of ideological “free” trade, and, generally, furthering distancing itself from the actual, real values, whereof Kaller composes, that emanate from and denote small-town America. Look homeward, America: Look homeward, conservatives. Harry Kazazian has. The facts that seem to indicate the truthiness of these nonsensical forecasts of peak oil have left him with little choice.

(Page Two)