Vital Signs

Societas Regained: Agrarianism, Faith, and Moral Action

Allen Tate's "Remarks on the Southern Religion" (his contribution to I'll Take My Stand) was a plea for the recovery of a humane social order. Nourished by daily labors in the fields, the agrarian community not only produced a more stable and wholesome environment for families and workers than industrialism could offer, but an agrarian community was also more conducive to religious and moral living. Farming, by its very nature, is a communal act: The experience of tilling the soil and harvesting crops fosters a sense of self-sacrifice and an attachment to a shared community.

Genuine cultural renewal, Tate believed, could not take place without appreciating the agrarian worldview—grounded in a connection to the soil and love for the Creator that was increasingly less palpable to his generation. At the end of the 20th century, even the memory of such an existence is quickly fading.

For Tate, the root of the problem was simple: New England (or, more specifically, the Massachusetts Bay settlement and the subsequent religious and political developments in American life) had crowded out the agrarian alternative from public discourse. To the 12 Southerners who contributed to I'll Take My Stand, the American political, religious, and social experience largely stemmed from Puritan New England. In the hands of the divines, the "Puritan ethic" was incorporated into the American...

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