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Agrarianism and the Good Society

Land, Culture, Conflict, and Hope

Eric Freyfogle

Publication Year: 2007

Every society expresses its fundamental values and hopes in the ways it inhabits its landscapes. In this literate and wide-ranging exploration, Eric T. Freyfogle raises difficult questions about America’s core values while illuminating the social origins of urban sprawl, dwindling wildlife habitats, and over-engineered rivers. These and other land-use crises, he contends, arise mostly because of cultural attitudes that made sense on the American frontier but now threaten the land’s ecological fabric. To support and sustain healthy communities, profound adjustments will be required. Freyfogle’s search leads him down unusual paths. He probes Charles Frazier’s novel Cold Mountain for insights on the healing power of nature and tests the wisdom in Wendell Berry’s fiction. He challenges journalists writing about environmental issues to get beyond well-worn rhetoric and explain the true choices that Americans face. In an imaginary job advertisement, he issues a call for a national environmental leader, identifying the skills and knowledge required, taking note of cultural obstacles, and looking critically at supposed allies. Examining recent federal elections, he largely blames the conservation cause and its inattention to cultural issues for the diminished status of the environment as a decisive issue. Agrarianism and the Good Society identifies the social, historical, political, and cultural obstacles to humans’ harmony with nature and advocates a new orientation, one that begins with healthy land and that better reflects our utter dependence on it. In all, Agrarianism and the Good Society offers a critical yet hopeful guide for cultural change, essential for anyone interested in the benefits and creative possibilities of responsible land use.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Culture of the Land

Front cover

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p. v-v

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pp. 1-8

One way to judge a people is to look at the ways they use nature—the land, broadly defined to include its soils, rocks, waters, plants, animals, and sustaining processes. A culture writes its name on land for all to see. Is the soil kept fertile and in place? Are water-ways clean and full of life? Are tracts of land devoted to uses for ...

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1. Life in the Enclaves

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pp. 9-24

The work of managing a natural area—a wildlife refuge, park, public forest, wilderness reserve—does not fit easily into American culture. When well done, the profession entails ways of thinking, valuing, and acting that stand culturally apart. It deviates from, and indeed calls into question, much of what America is about. ...

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2. A Durable Scale

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pp. 25-45

The conservation community in the United States suffered a loss in April 1948, when sixty-one-year-old Aldo Leopold died fighting a grass fire on a neighbor’s farm. It was a loss not just of a lead conservation voice but of a type of conservationist, one who could roll up his sleeves and labor on land yet who understood the broad cultural ...

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3. The Education of Ada

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pp. 46-69

It is early one morning, August 1864, in the mountains of western North Carolina. Ada Monroe has risen and sits on her house porch. The life she has known has wound down and come to a halt. Kinless and nearly friendless, alone and immobile, she has no idea what to do. The solace she gains from books and art is not enough to ...

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4. Framing Our Choices

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pp. 70-82

To judge from its popularity, the journalistic convention of reporting two sides to every controversy reflects something like a deep-rooted yearning—certainly among Americans, perhaps among other peoples too—to reduce complex issues into opposing options. The world is hardly so simple, of course. Dichotomies are as apt to confuse as they are to clarify. ...

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5. Good-bye to the Public-Private Divide

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pp. 83-106

To live well on land has long been a challenge and a hope for people everywhere. It is the “oldest task in human history,” Aldo Leopold claimed, and he was in a position to know as a careful student of the land and of the ways various peoples had misused it.1 In America today, we are having trouble at that task, according to many conservationists. ...

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6. Back toward Community

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pp. 107-127

The institution of private property is one of the chief mechanisms through which a society interacts with the natural world. Property law creates a framework for managing and using nature. It explains who gets to do what, and where. When a landscape is divided into private parcels, it is not the land that is fragmented; nature remains an integrated whole. ...

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7. Love and Democracy

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pp. 128-145

One of Wendell Berry’s valuable contributions to conservation thought has been his persistent reminder that good land use rarely occurs in isolation. Good land use requires human users who care about land and know how to use it well. Sound knowledge is critical, and so is a supporting social order, a community that can inform and help sustain good practices. ...

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8. Wanted: Environmental Leader

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pp. 146-157

The United States is currently seeking one or more national environmental leaders. Applications for the position are invited, especially from individuals, resident or nonresident, who have a capacity to stand back from U.S. culture and reflect critically upon it. Applicants will be screened based on their knowledge, character, and personal skills. ...

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9. The Politics of Homeland Health

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pp. 158-170

One lesson that stands out from the past few federal elections is that the land-conservation stance is due for an overhaul. Fifteen years ago, the first President Bush matter-of-factly declared himself an environmentalist. Today, few Republicans and a good many Democrats would accept the label only with qualifications, if at all. ...

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pp. 171-172

Several of the chapters of this book were delivered originally as addresses to diverse audiences, and I am grateful to the sponsors of the various gatherings for letting me air my views. Chapter 1 was presented in October 2004 as an address to the international Natural Areas Association’s annual gathering in Chicago, Illinois; it then carried the title “Natural Areas in Place and Time.” ...


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pp. 173-183

E-ISBN-13: 9780813172507
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813124391

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Culture of the Land