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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Agrarians Took Their Stand

The following is excerpted from a 1980 article written by Andrew Lytle (1902-1995). It's based on his presentation to the Philadelphia Society meeting held in New Orleans in October 1979.


Of the twelve agrarians who wrote the symposium I’ll Take My Stand [1930], only three are alive: Robert Penn Warren [1905-1989], the poet and novelist; Lyle Lanier [d. 1988], a psychologist and former executive vice-president of the University of Illinois: and myself, a writer and reader of fiction.

... all the writers were Southern and most of them, by accident, were associated with Vanderbilt University. These men were already known or were to become distinguished in their proper occupations, whether it was history or psychology or literature. Their agrarian writings merely displayed their common cultural inheritance, which was Christian and European. Let me quote a paragraph from the statement of principles as foreword to I’ll Take My Stand:

"Opposed to the industrial society is the agrarian, which does not stand in particular need of definition. An agrarian society is hardly one that has no use at all for industries, for professional vocations, for scholars and artists, and for the life of cities. Technically, perhaps, an agrarian society is one in which agriculture is the leading vocation, whether for wealth, for pleasure, or for prestige-a form of labor that is pursued with intelligence and leisure, and that becomes the model to which the other forms approach as well as they may."

Surely, then, it must be taken that a poet, a farmer, a banker, a historian, a school teacher, must live in a certain place and time and so exhibit the kind of belief and behavior defined by the manners and mores of that time and place. It was not necessary to be a farmer to be agrarian. It was merely the basic occupation of a commodity-producing society.

Only the Liberal mind could confuse equipment with the thing itself, but then the Liberal is always promising to relieve us of our common ills at somebody else’s expense. He is the propagandist of the power we opposed. It is an old fight and the agrarians were not the first to enter it. This is no time to reargue the case. The books are there to be read, and read in light of our present circumstances. I do want to emphasize that agrarianism was not an effort to reconstitute an ideal state, a utopia... .

From 1940 to 1974, the number of farms in the U.S. declined from approximately six million to a little over two million, 62 percent of our family units. Since the second world war, thirty million people have left the country for the city.

... at the time we wrote there were enough families living on the land and enough privately owned businesses in small towns and cities to counterbalance the great industrial might, which was a fact and had to be reckoned with. If our proposal had been listened to, this necessary industry might have been contained, might not have grown into the only idea of the kind of life everybody must be forced to accept. A family, and I mean its kin and connections, too, thrives best on some fixed location which holds the memories of past generations by the ownership of farms or even family businesses. Not only sentimental memories but skills passed down and a knowledge of the earth tended. And a knowledge particularly of the bloodstreams, so as to be warned and prepared for what to expect in behavior. Industry today uproots. ... . Promotion, except among the basic workers, means pulling up roots and being sent elsewhere, with the promise of a better car and another room to the house. The children, just as they are making friends and getting used to school, must begin all over again. This is a modification of the Spartan state, which reduced the family to a minimal role.

I’ve often asked myself: Why was it that so few people listened to us, although most were sympathetic. The kind of life they knew was at stake. I think the reason of their seeming indifference is this: Nobody could imagine the world they were born in, had lived in, and were still living in could disappear. Well, it has.

As my final word, I think we should have found a larger word than agrarian, for it was this whole country’s Christian inheritance that was threatened, and still is. But let there be no misunderstanding. We still are subjects of Christendom. Only we have reached its Satanic phase. I can’t believe that any society is strong which holds physical comfort as its quest. There is only one comfort, and it is the only thing that has been promised: the gates of Hell will not finally prevail.


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