Perspective

Agrarianism From Hesiod to Bradford

What does it mean to be an “agrarian”?  In reading Southern literary journals, I get the impression that the “agrarians” were an isolated group of writers who, nostalgic for the preindustrial South, celebrated in prose and verse the bygone beauties of rustic life.  In this sense, they were like the early Romantics, and their movement, if it can be called that, represented more a literary tendency than any coherent political or social vision.  Such a description certainly fits some of the Nashville Agrarians, particularly in their later years, but it is at odds with the basic meaning of the word agrarian, and, before we can begin to assess agrarianism, we have to know what the word means and the long tradition that gives it meaning.

Sometimes, in trying to solve an American puzzle, it helps to go abroad.  Over the years, I have been called upon to explain the Southern agrarian tradition to Europeans.  In the lectures and interviews I have given, the first problem I face is the word agrarian.  The subtitle of I’ll Take My Stand is “Essays in the Agrarian Tradition.”  The phrase is Davidson’s, but Ransom uses the term several times in his introductory statement of principles, where it seems to mean something like “pertaining to the life of the farm,” as in the “agrarian life of the South.”  Ransom...

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