8 / CHRONICLESnPERSPECTIVEnFRUITLESS GRAIN by Thomas FlemingnThe great American story for at least 100 years has beenna tale like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or Hawthorne’sn”My Kinsman Major Molineux”: the rube whoncomes to the city and loses his innocence. Like Jack in thenfairy tale, we are eager to trade in the family cow for anchance to get fabulous wealth. The change from annessentially rural way of life to urbanity has had enormousnconsequences, not least of all on our literary taste. Innsimpler times, Xenophon was a popular author. Along withnPlutarch’s Lives, the Bible, and a set of the Waverly Novels,nyou could not escape seeing copies of the Anabasis or thenCyropedia on the shelves of comfortable country houses.nXenophon would have been pleased with his rusticnsuccess. Of all serious writers, ancient and modern, he wasnthe most devoted to rural life. He not only wrote morenearnestiy about hunting than either Trollope or the creatornof Jorrocks but also composed a major work on the problemsnof managing a country household. In that work, thenOeconomicus, he records a conversation between thenyounger Cyrus (whose attempt to win the Persian thronenmade a soldier out of Xenophon) and the great Spartanngeneral Lysander. When Lysander complimented thenprince on his gardens, Cyrus insisted that he had plantednthem himself and added:nWhenever I am well, I never dine before I havenworked up a sweat either in military exercises ornfarm labor.nWe are not all so rich as Cyrus, a son of the Great King ofnPersia, but in the 20th century it generahy costs money tonwork up a sweat. The price of running shoes and healthnclub membership alone could clothe a farm family for anyear, but the rich city-dweller will pay almost any price tonenter the new elect of the almost-young and healthy—thenliving dead of runners and workout artists, whose bodynmovements are controlled by something less complicatednthan a brain.nFor a sweat that only the very rich can afford, considernbuying a farm from a family facing foreclosure. By allnaccounts we may be the last generation to understand thenphrase “family farm.” Most of the talk about saving the farmnconcentrates on the marketplace: What do we owe thenfarmers who feed us? Defenders of the family farm insistnthat massive farm programs are necessary if we are going tonfeed ourselves, that individual farmers are an essential tonour economy.nI wish it were all true, but some form of agribusiness tooknover food production in the earlier mercantile empires ofnnnRome and Byzantium. We are experiencing the samendestruction of the yeoman class, and our civilization isnalready beginning to feel the consequences. I do not meannthe loss of simpler manners and morals we associate withnrural people. Much of that simplicity is now a convenientniiction—perhaps it always was. After spending a good partnof my life in or near the country, I cannot honestly declarenthat country folks can routinely be expected to display betternmorals. They do have less time and energy (to say nothingnof money) to cheat at cards or marriage; most of them have anbetter-developed sense of right and wrong—or at least ofnconsequences: forget to milk the cows and you havenproblems. But, in the end, farmers are nothing more thannrun-of-the mill sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. Itnwould be a mistake to expect too much of them.nBut in a larger sense, farmers have laid the foundationsnfor our civilization. The American Revolution was fought,nafter all, by farmers mostly, not by the lawyers, politicians,nand service industry personnel who seem to set the tonenthese days. The United States remained an essentially ruralnand small-town society well into the 20th century. Whatnelse explains the peculiar moralism and religiousness whichnhas been commented on so often? There is no point innreferring to the Puritans, who were never a very large part ofn