We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

The Agrarian Vision

Sustainability and Environmental Ethics

Paul Thompson

Publication Year: 2010

As industry and technology proliferate in modern society, sustainability has jumped to the forefront of contemporary political and environmental discussions. The balance between progress and the earth’s ability to provide for its inhabitants grows increasingly precarious as we attempt to achieve sustainable development. In The Agrarian Vision: Sustainability and Environmental Ethics, Paul B. Thompson articulates a new agrarian philosophy, emphasizing the vital role of agrarianism in modern agricultural practices. Thompson, a highly regarded voice in environmental philosophy, unites concepts of agrarian philosophy, political theory, and environmental ethics to illustrate the importance of creating and maintaining environmentally conscious communities. Thompson describes the evolution of agrarian values in America, following the path blazed by Thomas Jefferson, John Steinbeck, and Wendell Berry. Providing a pragmatic approach to ecological responsibility and commitment, The Agrarian Vision is a significant, compelling argument for the practice of a reconfigured and expanded agrarianism in our efforts to support modern industrialized culture while also preserving the natural world.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Culture of the Land

Front Cover

pdf iconDownload PDF (184.6 KB)

Title Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (46.6 KB)
pp. iii


pdf iconDownload PDF (44.0 KB)
pp. iv


pdf iconDownload PDF (26.9 KB)
pp. v


pdf iconDownload PDF (53.0 KB)
pp. vii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (60.3 KB)
pp. ix-xi

This book is a follow-up to my book The Spirit of the Soil: Agriculture and Environmental Ethics. In response to an invitation from Norman Wirzba and Stephen Wrinn, I assembled a collection of mostly previously published essays and received extremely helpful comments from University Press of Kentucky reviewers. The result bears little resemblance...

read more

Introduction: Sustainability and Agrarian Ideals

pdf iconDownload PDF (119.3 KB)
pp. 1-17

How can we make our society and our lives more sustainable? What would it mean for us to try? When Thomas Jefferson assumed office as the third president of the United States, he faced a sustainability crisis of his own. The new republic was straining to recover from debts incurred while opposing the British in the Revolutionary War...

read more

Chapter 1: Sustainability and Environmental Philosophy

pdf iconDownload PDF (178.2 KB)
pp. 18-41

The word environmentalism is often used to indicate a loosely organized social movement that emerged in the closing decades of the nineteenth century, leading to the formation of national parks and wildlife preserves. The most active early period in the United States coincided with the terms of President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), which saw a considerable emphasis on conservation...

read more

Chapter 2: The Philosophy of Farming in America

pdf iconDownload PDF (161.1 KB)
pp. 42-61

Few would dispute that North American agriculture has been moving toward a bipolar organizational structure in the first decade of the twenty- first century. One pole is industrial agriculture, comprising the major agricultural chemical and equipment companies; the principal grain, processing, and packing companies; the major grocery and restaurant ...

read more

Chapter 3: Political Values and the Future of U.S. Agriculture

pdf iconDownload PDF (181.7 KB)
pp. 62-86

In 1988 I contributed to a policy briefing book for mainstream agriculture leaders in which I warned them against trying to “bar the door, barricade the windows and attempt to hold on to what power [mainstream agriculture] has to dictate the agricultural policy debate," although I also conceded that they could expect to achienulle many of their immediate political ends...

read more

Chapter 4: The Moral Significance of Land

pdf iconDownload PDF (184.2 KB)
pp. 87-110

We have seen how the industrial philosophy of agriculture emerged as a philosophy of the Left, only to become reconciled to the middle of the road. This chapter uses the novel The Grapes of Wrath and the political events of the Great Depression to explore the links between political philosophies of the Right and Left, on the one hand, and the moral...

read more

Chapter 5: Farming as a Focal Practice

pdf iconDownload PDF (189.9 KB)
pp. 111-135

Albert Borgmann developed the ideas of focal things and focal practices in the final stages of his inquiry into the failed promise of technology. His book Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life is a philosophical study of why life in modern society has become so disjointed, frenetic, and unsatisfying, despite the hope of previous generations that science and technology would free humanity for more satisfying and ennobling...

read more

Chapter 6: Food and Community

pdf iconDownload PDF (151.5 KB)
pp. 136-154

Albert Borgmann’s “culture of the table” is offered as a practical way for present-day Americans to begin recovering a deep and sustaining moral meaning in their common lives. Food can be a focal thing in Borgmann’s sense when it becomes the centering orientation that holds a number of meaning-giving activities together, providing coherence and purpose to...

read more

Chapter 7: Why Philosophy Matters for Agricultural Policy; Why Agricultural Policy Matters for Sustainability

pdf iconDownload PDF (159.5 KB)
pp. 155-174

Agricultural policy encompasses diverse laws and administrative procedures that have been developed for the governance of agriculture. First there are very broad laws and regulations that govern the full range of productive and commercial activities, although these laws sometimes make important exceptions for farms and farming. The constitutional ban on the restriction of interstate commerce, for example, has...

read more

Chapter 8: Sustainability and the Social Goals of Agriculture

pdf iconDownload PDF (162.3 KB)
pp. 175-195

In a 1983 essay on research and development policy, agricultural economist James T. Bonnen states: “Changes in society’s values and social agenda, in part the consequence of externalities to agricultural policy and production, will remain an important source of disequilibria. This will require not only social science, physical and biological science, but also humanities research...

read more

Chapter 9: The Road to Sustainability

pdf iconDownload PDF (154.4 KB)
pp. 196-214

What do we mean by sustainability? The words sustain and sustainable are common terms. Some time back I recall pundits on the national news proclaiming that the rise in residential home values was “not sustainable.” They did not have to define this term. We all knew what they meant, and since the collapse of the U.S. mortgage industry in 2007, it is clear that they were right. The word sustainability, however, is sufficiently...

read more

Chapter 10: Sustainability as a Norm

pdf iconDownload PDF (155.3 KB)
pp. 215-233

As noted in the last chapter, defining the phrase sustainable development became important for integrating environmental issues into international political relations after the Brundtland Report. Yet a robust debate over the meaning of agricultural sustainability preceded the Brundtland Report. This debate had been going on for perhaps a decade...

read more

Chapter 11: Sustainability

pdf iconDownload PDF (167.3 KB)
pp. 234-255

The somewhat presumptuous title of this chapter is not intended to suggest that I will now define sustainability once and for all. On the contrary, the continuing debate over the meaning of sustainable practice will prove increasingly useful and important for future generations. In fact, I have three main purposes. First, I review and consolidate themes...

read more

Chapter 12: Sustainability, Social Movements, and Hope

pdf iconDownload PDF (161.2 KB)
pp. 256-276

Highly technical approaches to sustainability proliferated in the decade between the publication of the Brundtland Report and the end of the millennium. By 2001, Australian philosopher Aiden Davison was calling for an end to the contentious debates over sustainable development on the ground that these technical definitions simply promoted the idea...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (115.7 KB)
pp. 277-291

When it comes to sustainability, it is better to be lucky than smart. This does not mean that we should abandon intelligence completely. Thomas Jefferson’s approach to the political sustainability of the new American republic illustrates how intelligence can be applied to the problem of sustainability with cunning and guile...


pdf iconDownload PDF (82.6 KB)
pp. 293-300


pdf iconDownload PDF (139.5 KB)
pp. 301-318


pdf iconDownload PDF (67.0 KB)
pp. 319-323

Back Cover

pdf iconDownload PDF (132.7 KB)

E-ISBN-13: 9780813173818
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813125879

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Culture of the Land

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Environmental ethics -- United States.
  • Sustainable agriculture -- United States.
  • Agriculture and state -- United States.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access