grain elevator owners in the East. The farmers of the Plainsrnstates found themseKes in steadilv worsening trouble, and thernGrand Old Partv, which had commanded almost universalrnlovaltv for a long time after the Civil War, was viewed as beingrnin the grip of the Eastern interests and unwilling to help thernpeople and areas that produced so much of the nation’s foodrnsupply. The country was turning into an industrial societv underrnthe control of huge corporate entities, and farmers were nornlonger regarded, as Thomas Jefferson had described them, asrn”the chosen people of God.” By the 1890’s, the price of wheatrnhad fallen 50 cents a bushel. An antifarmerbias had begun torndevelop in the big Eastern cities, a bias that continues today, asrnevidenced bv a recent description on public television of ruralrnpeople as “hay shakers.”rnThe Eastern interests had taken advantage of the commercialrnopportunities presented by the opening of new farmlandsrnworldwide—from Australia to Argentina and from Canada tornRussia—and the people of the Plains states, many of them fromrnCentral and Eastern Europe, feared a new vassalage—the developmentrnof fiefdoms held b great aggregations of money.rnMonopolistic railroads overcharged for carrying crops to market.rnGrain elevators owned outside the region charged exorbitantrnfees for storage of farm products. A catastrophic deflation,rnbeneficial to the money power of the East, produced a new politicsrnin the region, a politics embodied in the ideas and speechesrnof William Jennings Bryan. His populist views as editor ofrnthe Omaha World-Herald were those of much of the region, andrnthe latter found full expression in Bryan’s historic “Cross ofrnGold” speech and his powerful warnings against “the bondagernof debt.” This antagonism toward the money power of the Eastrnled to demands for a federal income tax, an eight-hour workrnday, and regulation of railroads and utilities and producedrnsuch developments as the Nonpartisan League in North Dakota,rnwith establishment of a state-owned bank and a stateownedrnelevator, institutions which exist to this day. Thus, thernseeds of the New Deal were planted at the turn of the century,rnand at the end of the 20th century there remains a strongrnfeeling in the Plains states that the farming region is still arncolony of the East, a colony in which the farm population isrnsupposed to produce the cities’ food supplies for a pittance.rnThe Plains states continue to feel pressures from the bigrncities on the two coasts, though the strongest pressures are nowrncultural rather than economic. The great cities, in the eves ofrnMiddle Americans, no longer seem great in the way they werernregarded a century ago. The crowded coastal urban regions arernwidely iewed as hostile to civilized life, as centers of crime andrnother forms of disorder. As a gas-station attendant in Wamego,rnKansas, put it to me when I stopped in a rental ear, “I see yourncome from a district of crime.” I’br students of the human spiritrnin America, there is poignancy in this public perception.rnWhat started out as a noble experiment has degenerated intornsomething resembling the lower depths of the Roman Empirernin its time of sharpest decline. In Middle America people referrnto Washington as “out there,” and “out there” is not an attractiverndestination at the end of the 20th century.rnGradually, in man’ parts of the country, there is emerging anrnawareness that the good life is to be found in the heartland.rnMoney magazine, in late 1992, gave Sioux Falls, South Dakota,rntop ranking for quality of life. The major population centers ofrnEast and West, the symbols of urban life in the United States,rnare accurately seen as places where behavior and communicationrnhave been brutalized in ways unimaginable when therncentury opened. Richard Critchfield, an authority on rural lifernand the Third World, asks this telling question in Trees, WhyrnDo You Wait? America’s Changing Rural Culture (1991): “Whornwould talk of remaking the world in our image?” Yes, whornwould want our deeultured cities that are going over the civilizationalrnbrink?rnThis was not the case with the world of Atchison, Kansas, inrnthe 1880’s, or of Omaha or St. Paul in 1900. Then, Americarnrepresented a strong social order that was closely linked with therncivilizational order of the countries whence our immigrantrnpeoples originated. Today, the mechanisms for the effectiverntransmission of Western culture—the schools and media—arernmorally decayed. They promote instability and neopagan alternativernlifestyles that undermine a civilized existence. Thernhorizons of the New Age culture of the 1990’s are based uponrnself-satisfaction, a material and sensual nature, a do-anything,rndo-as-you-please view.rnTo find something better, one needs to trek inland, into thernmore lightly populated, less corrupted parts of the nationrnwhere civilized horizons continue to be recognized and wherernthere is a good measure of continuity between generations.rn”King numbers,” to use a phrase of John Randolph of Roanoke,rndoes not reign in the heartland with the absolute power evidencedrnin the heavil populated cities of bicoastal America.rnThe stratification of life is not as marked; the essential conditionrnof a civilized community, personal safety, continues to existrnoutside the crowded centers.rnHistorians of the future, when analyzing the final decade ofrnthe 20th century, are likely to look back and ask what happenedrnto the promise of the century and why Americans did notrnmo’e promptK’ and effectively to deal with all the unhappy developmentsrnin their soeiet. Mirroring the Romans’ failure tornarrest the decadence that proved their undoing, scholars mavrnconclude that a kind of moral paralysis overcame the country,rnstarting in the 1960’s and accelerating into the 1990’s. Whenrnand where did the loss of community take place? How were thernsocial sanctions, established a centurv or more earlier, undermined?rnThey were undermined, of course. In a mental back-to-thefuturernexercise, a kind of future time warp, we might see thatrnthe final two decades of this century in the United States hadrnparallels with the life experience of people elsewhere in thernmodernized world—the world of advanced but destabilizingrntechnology. Vaclav Havel wrote a brilliant essay on the contemporaryrnhuman dilemma entitled “The End of the ModernrnEra” in 1992. His essay applies as much to America as tornCzechs. He warned that we sec our ills as technical defects thatrncan be solved b’ technology alone. He warned that we mustrnabandon the arrogant belief that the world is merely a puzzlernto be solved, “a machine with instructions for use waiting to berndiscovered, a body of information to be fed into a computer inrnthe hope that, sooner or later, it will spit out a uni’crsal solution.”rnThis attitude colors all aspects of contemporary life.rnThe way forward, he rightly said, “is not in the mere constructionrnof universal systemic solutions.” It is getting to thernheart of reality through personal experience, through thernrestoration of personal relationships and personal visions. Therncurse of our times is impersonality, secularism, abstraction, universalistrnideologies, and over-reliance on technical approachesrnto everything. Wc stressed personal insights and spirituality inrnearlier eras, but we somehow lost this in an absurd reliance onrnsupposedly scientific represeirtations and sociological statistics.rnDECEMBER 1993/23rnrnrn