the population. Southern Baptists, Germans in Missouri,nNorwegians in Wisconsin all eame from quite differentnsocieties, but they shared a set of commitments—principlesnwould be too strong an expression—to their family, theirnchurch, to a way of life that can only be described asnagrarian. Now most of their children can sing (with HanknWilliams):nI left my home out on the rural routenI told my pa that I was stepping outnTo get the honky tonk blues . . .nOh Lord, I got ’em, I got the honky tonk blues.nEven with wealth and fame, Williams could never quitenheal the breach he had opened when he left the land to gonout honky-tonking. He died in his Cadillac, full of painnpills and liquor, divorced from the impossible woman henloved—a myth for modern man.nThe conventional answer was given by Henry Menckennin response to the Southern agrarians. Farmers were turningninto proletarians and “the sooner the change is effected, thenbetter.” But it is fair to ask if there was ever a civilizationnthat was not fundamentally agrarian in its best days. Thenaverage Athenian citizen in the age of Pericles lived in townnbut got up early and walked out to his farm. The mostnexemplary Roman hero was Cincinnatus, who (like GeneralnWashington) returned to his farm after saving his countrynfrom an invading army. Even in the urbane age of thenAntonines, the gentieman farmer remained the Romannideal. Pliny’s letters reveal a way of life—a mixture ofnliterature, public service, and farming—that would havenpleased both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams—both ofnthem farmers down to their dirty fingernails.nEven England remained doggedly country at the heightnof her mercantile glory. A man might make his money inntrade, but he was expected to buy a place in the country andnacquire the manners of a gendeman. The reality of Englandnwas “a nation of shopkeepers,” but the ideal laynsomewhere between Squire Western and Squire Allworthy.nWhat happens to a culture that becomes thoroughlynurban? Athens became a university town; Rome—alreadynin Pliny’s time—was described by Juvenal as a sewer (it hasnnever been thoroughly drained); and England—well, evenna kind man has trouble saying nice things about the oldnsod—a living museum with an immigration problem.nWhether we like it or not, ours is the greatest civilization onnthe face of the earth these days. We may not be, innBerkeley’s phrase, “time’s fairest children,” and I pray wenare not the last, but if Athens was an education for Greece,nthe American way of life has set the standard for modernntimes, and that way of life has been, until very recentiy,nmore deeply rooted in the soil than almost any country innthe civilized world.nEven in the city, Americans cannot entirely shake off thenmanure from our running shoes. Living in the Midwest, Inam appalled by the amount of time my neighbors spendnmowing their lawns, raking leaves, and clipping hedges.n”Don’t they have anything better to do?” is my guilt-riddennresponse. The results are rarely happy—sterile clippednlawns, as neat as astroturf and almost as life-like. Butnthe aesthetic poverty makes their devotion all the morenremarkable.nIt is possible to see the whole suburban project of postwarnAmerica as an effort to combine urban affluence with anmore rural way of life. Spacious lawns with room for a bit ofna garden—on curving streets with names like AppletreenLane—were designed to convey the feeling of a rusticnvillage. In many cases, the comparison is ludicrous, but innsome older suburban communities, life was pleasant.nChildren could roam the streets in safety, play baseball atnthe playground; parents arranged cookouts and pool parties.nEven now, when commuting is made more difficult byntwo-income families, the suburbs continue to attract morenresidents than they are losing.nIt is easy to mock what T. S. Eliot described as: “decentngodless people: / Their only monument the asphalt road /nAnd a thousand lost golf balls.” But we should recall C.S.nLewis’ response: that ordinary working people have annatural desire to create the sort of decent life that is virtuallynimpossible in the cities where they work. How can we makenfun of their struggle to live well, especially on aestheticngrounds?nA trip to the hardware store in spring can be annexhilarating experience. Paunchy middle-aged men arenlined up with sacks of seed and fertilizer; others arenchecking out the latest model lawn and garden tractor. Thenexcitement of combat against cutworms and caterpillars isnmixed with the air of expectancy that usually surrounds thenlast weeks of pregnancy. There must be some deep compulsionnto get our fingers dirty and to plant littie fields ofnfruitiess grain, wherever we find ourselves. Edward O.nWilson suggests we are recreating the vistas of our primalnpast in the African savannas, but Eden was also a garden, sonwe are told, and ever since the fall man has expended greatnefforts to restore that lost world of unfallen nature.nEven before we hunted, men and women had learned tongather fruits and grasses, to grub in the dirt for succulentntubers. Rooting and grubbing are as much a part of ournnature as pairing off and raising families. Urban civilizationnsubjects both impulses—agrarian and familial—to seriousnEven in the city, Americans cannot entirely shakenoff the manure from our running shoes.nstrains. We turn away from parental responsibilities andnindulge our taste for the bizarre and unnatural or—and thisnis hardly any better than perversion—we pursue a career ofnerotic adventurism. Like spoiled boys who refuse to give upnmarbles and go to school, we nurse our adolescence into oldnage and become first evil and then ridiculous.nHuman nature is resilient, but not infinitely so. Culturenrequires cultivation, tending—tilling and weeding—evennmore than a field of corn. We are capable, as a species, ofnalmost limitless advances, so long as we get the basics right.nBut uprooted from the soil, we are like the giant Antaeus,nwhom Hercules could destroy only by lifting up, tearingnhim loose from the earth that gave him strength. Almost 60nyears ago a number of poets and scholars in the AmericannSouth published a jeremiad, I’ll Take My Stand, warningnagainst the perils of a rootless, industrialized society. Thencriticisms of Andrew Lytic, Allen Tate, and John CrowennnJULY 1986/9n