The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture

The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture

Language: English

Pages: 240

ISBN: 161902599X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Since its publication by Sierra Club Books in 1977, The Unsettling of America has been recognized as a classic of American letters. In it, Wendell Berry argues that good farming is a cultural development and spiritual discipline. Today’s agribusiness, however, takes farming out of its cultural context and away from families. As a result, we as a nation are more estranged from the land—from the intimate knowledge, love, and care of it.

Sadly, his arguments and observations are more relevant than ever. We continue to suffer loss of community, the devaluation of human work, and the destruction of nature under an economic system dedicated to the mechanistic pursuit of products and profits. Although “this book has not had the happy fate of being proved wrong,” Berry writes, there are good people working “to make something comely and enduring of our life on this earth.” Wendell Berry is one of those people, writing and working, as ever, with passion, eloquence, and conviction.


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since the book was written. The one improvement has been in public concern about the problems. Among farmers there is growing distrust of the “agribusiness” line of talk and growing interest in agricultural health and sanity. Among city people there is a growing awareness that sane and healthy agriculture requires an informed urban constituency. There is hope in these developments and in the continued existence of a remnant of excellent small farms and farmers. Some prominent agricultural

becomes a moral predicament. Aware that there is no such thing as a specialized—or even an entirely limitable or controllable—effect, one becomes responsible for judgments as well as facts. Aware that as an agricultural scientist he had “one great subject,” Sir Albert Howard could no longer ask, What can I do with what I know? without at the same time asking, How can I be responsible for what I know? And it is within unity that we see the hideousness and destructiveness of the fragmentary—the

only as long as they are mechanically necessary. In modern agriculture, then, the machine metaphor is allowed to usurp and wipe from consideration not merely some values, but the very issue of value. Once the expert’s interest is focused on the question of “what will work” within the exclusive confines of his theoretical model, values are no longer of any concern whatever. The confines of his specialty enable him to impose a biological totalitarianism on—he thinks, since he is an agricultural

questions are also agricultural, for no matter how urban our life, our bodies live by farming; we come from the earth and return to it, and so we live in agriculture as we live in flesh. While we live our bodies are moving particles of the earth, joined inextricably both to the soil and to the bodies of other living creatures. It is hardly surprising, then, that there should be some profound resemblances between our treatment of our bodies and our treatment of the earth. That humans are small

medical industry to which it is paying $500 per person per year. And that is only the down payment. We embrace this curious freedom and pay its exorbitant cost because of our hatred of bodily labor. We do not want to work “like a dog” or “like an ox” or “like a horse”—that is, we do not want to use ourselves as beasts. This as much as anything is the cause of our disrespect for farming and our abandonment of it to businessmen and experts. We remember, as we should, that there have been

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