A Reluctant Revolutionary

Wendell Berry is a Democrat, pacifist, and critic of organized religion.  Add to this the fact that he is a writer whose work has proved compelling to many conservatives, and he becomes a bit mysterious.  At times Berry himself has seemed somewhat bemused by the cultural conservatives who frequently promote his work.  Once we consider the abysmal impoverishment of American political discourse, however, the riddle of Berry’s popularity among those wishing to conserve community is solved in short order.  In his fiction and essays Berry deals at length with rootedness, local identity, and the heritage of the West—concerns that are eminently proper to conservatism and which have long been abandoned by the establishment right.  If you are more interested in discovering how to rescue your neighborhood from collapse than in overthrowing the Russian government, there is no help or even sympathy to be found in Beltway think tanks.  So why not turn instead to a poet-farmer from rural Kentucky?  When we consider what now passes for a conservative intellectual, anybody who reads real books and knows what a hard day’s work is begins to look pretty good.

For that matter, next to National Review editorials in praise of creative destruction, select passages from Our Only World appear downright counterrevolutionary.  “What excites...

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