Lately I’ve been reading some of Wendell Berry’s older essays, most of them dating to the 1980s and 90s. The first collection that I read, Another Turn of the Crank, begins with an interesting acknowledgment, even and especially twenty years later.
Nothing I have written here should be construed as an endorsement of either of our political parties as they presently function . . .
One reason for this is that I am an agrarian: I think good farming is a high and difficult art, that it is indispensable, and that it cannot be accomplished except under certain conditions . . .
Another reason is that I am a member, by choice, of a local community. I believe that healthy communities are indispensable, and I know that our communities are disintegrating under the influence of economic assumptions that are accepted without question by both our parties– despite their lip service to various noneconomic values.
Then, as he tries to articulate his view on government, Berry asserts:
The proper role of government is to protect its citizens and its communities against conquest– against economic conquest just as much as conquest by overt violence.
Much has changed in the two decades since Berry penned these thoughts. And much has stayed the same. It’s an odd 21st century plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Reading and reflecting on Wendell Berry is a real challenge and encouragement to me. He reminds me of a different way of living, one that I experienced parts of growing up. His has been “a long obedience in the same direction.” And while I do not always understand or agree with every place he has ended up, I can appreciate the articulation of the journey.
I think many of us today find ourselves like Berry, somewhere between parties, somewhere odd on the political spectrum. Our sense of what citizenship means might be different. And we all love our communities, though many today would argue more for their “community” as an abstract, identity-politics kind of grouping as opposed to the people in your neighborhood. Even with the differences, though, Berry’s sense of healthy is something you rarely (if ever) hear about anymore. And even if you do, it’s health as a consequence of having courted disease.
I’d like to think that reading Wendell Berry can help make sense of the “rock and a hard place” where many of us find ourselves.
You can order your own copy of Another Turn of the Crank here.