The novelist delivered the National Endowment for the Humanities’ most prestigious address last night — and for once, an actual Jeffersonian delivered the Jefferson Lecture. His remarks are online here. As Gregory Wolfe noted on Twitter, “After Berry got a standing o for his lecture, the NEH chair got up to say B’s words were not the official policy of the US government….” Evidently Uncle Sam doesn’t agree with sentiments like these:
The losses and damages characteristic of our present economy cannot be stopped, let alone restored, by “liberal” or “conservative” tweakings of corporate industrialism, against which the ancient imperatives of good care, homemaking, and frugality can have no standing. The possibility of authentic correction comes, I think, from two already-evident causes. The first is scarcity and other serious problems arising from industrial abuses of the land-community. The goods of nature so far have been taken for granted and, especially in America, assumed to be limitless, but their diminishment, sooner or later unignorable, will enforce change.
A positive cause, still little noticed by high officials and the media, is the by now well-established effort to build or rebuild local economies, starting with economies of food. This effort to connect cities with their surrounding rural landscapes has the advantage of being both attractive and necessary. It rests exactly upon the recognition of human limits and the necessity of human scale. Its purpose, to the extent possible, is to bring producers and consumers, causes and effects, back within the bounds of neighborhood, which is to say the effective reach of imagination, sympathy, affection, and all else that neighborhood implies. An economy genuinely local and neighborly offers to localities a measure of security that they cannot derive from a national or a global economy controlled by people who, by principle, have no local commitment.
Learn more about Berry’s modern agrarianism from Glenn Arbery’s recent review in TAC of The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry, an anthology of top conservative scholars delving into his localist philosophy.