The 1930’s were marked by intellectual trauma as well as by economic hardship. What had caused the apparent catastrophic crash of “capitalism”—collapse of equity, vanishing demand, and vast unemployment? The desire to diagnose the cause and prescribe a remedy created many ideas and movements. Some achieved success of a sort, and others went unheeded.
The latter category includes the Twelve Southerners of I’ll Take My Stand (and its inadequately appreciated sequel, Who Owns America?). Their prescription was the only one that looked back into the American tradition. The rest were intellectual constructions imported from Europe or made up for the occasion.
The Agrarians, like their English Distributist counterparts, believed that the malady was a surfeit of abstract ownership, government favoritism, dependence on oversized institutions, concentration of wealth, and artificial living. The remedy was a return to a better time of small but independent property owners—to what Mr. Jefferson had always said was the only true base for liberty, the widespread distribution of property—productive landed property, especially.
As Southerners, the Agrarians had no sympathy for “capitalism” as it had been practiced. Contrary to a common delusion, the ruling Republican Party has never represented free enterprise. ...