Agrarian Economics

Families, Self-Sufficiency, and Limits I’ll Take My Stand, by “Twelve Southerners,” appeared in 1930 as a new statement of agrarian fundamentalism. In the American experience, Thomas Jefferson had framed the classic case for this outlook in his 1782 book, Notes on the State of Virginia. “Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God,” the Master of Monticello wrote, “whose breasts He has made His peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.” Through farmers, God “keeps alive that sacred fire” that sustained moral order and human liberty. Jefferson drew a sharp contrast with a commercial, industrial order, where “dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.” Indeed, the number of a state’s citizens who were not farmers, when compared to its husbandmen, was “the proportion of  its unsound to its healthy parts, and is a good enough barometer whereby to measure its degree of corruption.”[1] As suggested by Jefferson’s reference to labor, implicit to agrarian fundamentalism was a radically different approach to economics than found among the “schools” of that discipline beginning to emerge in the late eighteenth century: classical liberalism and socialism. For its part, though, I’ll Take My Stand seemed on the surface to be weak in laying out a clear and compelling agrarian economics. The “economy” chapter in the volume, Herman Clarence Nixon’s “Whither Southern Economy?,” was actually written by a political scientist. While sharing with his co-authors a distrust of unbridled industrialism and consumerism, Nixon primarily focused on lessons from recent efforts to protect small farm sectors in Scandinavia and France and on the case for a careful expansion of industry in the South.[2] Overall, critics of I’ll Take My Stand pointed to the shallowness of its economic analysis. And yet, when viewed a different wa
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