Because it’s reasonable to assume that Gerald Russello (“The Agrarian Burden,” Reviews, October) is highly knowledgeable of his chosen subject, the Southern Agrarians, I must conclude that his avoidance of their intellectual hypocrisy (or worse) is by choice and not by accident.
I’ll Take My Stand was written by a dozen academics, most comfortably ensconced at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who advocated a return to subsistence agriculture and argued that “a farm is a place to grow corn, not to grow wealthy” (Lytle) while explaining that they, personally, couldn’t afford to go the agrarian route. In Paul V. Murphy’s The Rebuke of History, we learn that John Crowe Ransom “couldn’t afford” to edit a pro-agrarian publication, “and Ransom remained a college professor.” Allen Tate complained that he “may have to leave the agrarian life unless dollars can be persuaded to raise themselves,” choosing instead to visit France on a Guggenheim Fellowship. Living comfortably with modern plumbing and paving in Nashville, Andrew Lytle dismisses (in I’ll Take My Stand) the value of indoor hot-and-cold running water as “scrubbing all the oil from the skins” and of paved roads, which “split the heart of this provincialism . . . ”
There’s a long tradition of this sort of thing in American history, from Henry David Thoreau living on Walden Pond in Massachusetts in the 19th century by means of an unpublicized trust fund, to Scott and Helen Nearing “living off the land” in 20th-century Vermont, both with 20th-century Depression-era $300,000 trust funds, which were never revealed until their deaths. At present, retired and pensioned professor Wendell Berry preaches agricultural self-sufficiency while framing the mailbox for his passive-income check in Kentucky, while Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Virginia makes more from books and speeches than from near-zero-return beef farming. I’m told he runs a sort of farm-visit petting zoo for a few more bucks.
Mr. Russello Replies:
This was not the subject of the book, so I did not address it. While there is some merit in what Mr. Harris says (and this was implied in the book under review), we need to look at the Southern Agrarians’ actual ideas rather than their perceived inconsistent life circumstances.
The Book That Failed
I am amazed that in so generally superb an issue as the December Chronicles, space was wasted on a review, much less a recommendation, of Christopher Ferrara’s Liberty: The God That Failed (“The God With Feet of Clay,” R. Cort Kirkwood). This book is so afloat in rootless abstractions and unfounded judgments that it never touches down on American soil at a single point. You could not find a more perfect example of just the sort of useless nonbook that Dr. Fleming describes and decries in his own contribution to that issue. In regard to history, it matches the fantasy interpretations of the Straussian cult in style if not in purpose.
Mr. Ferrara appears to think that we would be living in a much better world if only America had been Catholic at her founding. She was not. She could not have been. If she had been she would be something different from the America we have known, and Mr. Ferrara would not have the same country to complain about. To speculate about it is pointless wishful thinking unfit for a serious work. Nobody despises more than I do the New England Puritanism and its spawn, which have so deformed American history, but that does not account for all of American Protestantism, about which the author seems to have very little solid information. If America was so tainted in her founding that such aberrations as abortion and homosexualism are inevitable, why is it that the traditionally Catholic countries of Europe show many of the same symptoms? Why has the weight of the Church been mainly on the left wing of American politics for over a century? Such unfounded ruminations merely detract from the confrontation of our civilizational decline, and I don’t think any moderately sensible Catholic would be comforted by Mr. Ferrara’s work. (My apologies to the reviewer, Mr. Kirkwood, a writer I admire, who was faced with a difficult task.)
I appreciate being mentioned by R. Cort Kirkwood in his review of Christopher Ferrara’s Liberty: The God That Failed, where I was cited for supporting the view that the Founding Fathers created a document that allowed a slippery slope to a centralized state, as the Antifederalists feared. But the citation comes in the context of Ferrara’s claim that “the Tenth Amendment does not supersede the Supremacy Clause,” which is a view entirely antithetical to mine.
I would argue that it certainly does supersede the Supremacy Clause, which is why the Framers put it there, one of the few checks on arbitrary authority that they believed in. The point is that the clause says the Constitution and laws “made in pursuance thereof” are supreme, but the Tenth Amendment raises the exact question about which powers are delegated to the United States by the Constitution and says the states have all the powers not delegated. Thus, it is legitimate, and most of the Founding Fathers would have seen it as necessary, for states to nullify those powers that they would argue Washington has no right to exercise.
Mt. Pleasant, SC