A New Agrarian Primer

Most people think agrarianism is synonymous with farming.  As a result, agrarian thinkers spend much of their time defending what they really mean—namely, that agrarianism is not so much about agriculture as it is an integrated life in which farming plays a central or at least respectable role.  Eric Freyfogle wisely avoids this pitfall and begins broadly, as his title suggests, by equating agrarianism with the Good Society.  In taking this approach, he effectively updates the rigid agrarian/industrial and urban/rural dichotomies that characterized the Southern Agrarians and other earlier agrarian thinkers.  For him, agrarianism ultimately is good conservation, which makes a good society possible.

Naturally, land and a healthy land ethic are central to his agrarian vision.  Through nine chapters, he discusses various problems in American land-use policy and practice.  His recurrent theme is that the dominant American way of life, one centered on instant gratification and endless consumption, threatens to undermine the ecological health of the land.  Our system has become so individualistic that there are few incentives for sound and long-term land conservation.  Private property all too often becomes a license for greed and exploitation.  Overgrazing, strip-mining, and factory farming are the most obvious examples of land-use patterns that have a short-term vision and carry...

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