Here’s my first big post on my conservatives. Nothing you don’t already know.
Thanks for Carl being so attuned to the week of Wendell Berry, which I’ve been too busy to pay attention to. It goes without saying I’m somewhat less interested in Berry’s lecture than I was in Walker Percy’s or Tom Wolfe’s or Harvey Mansfield’s. I agree with Sara that there’s much good in Berry’s essays when it comes to the moral emptying (or displacement) that comes with the triumph of sophisticated liberalism. I find Berry’s “bottom line” hard to grasp because he’s so clearly neither a Stoic nor a Christian. His views on politics are usually not so good and can be usefully classed with MacIntyre’s. Still, he shares the admirable (southern) Stoic conern for knowing your (relational) place as being indispensable for knowing who you are and what you’re supposed to do. But of course he ties being personal way too closely to the (economic) division of labor. Because he’s un-Christian, he can’t even see that there’s a personal (or not merely masterful) dimension to American Lockeanism. (When Berry says something is created, he means not engineered by us. The created is what’s given and good. And when he speaks of God, he means who we are not. See the Jefferson leture for these distinctions.)
In general: I thnk of Southern Agrarianism as having been put in its (not insignificant but very partial place) by Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor. From the point of view American Thomism, Wendell needs a good dose (not too a large a dose) of Pascal. And maybe a good dose (not too large a dose) of Tocqueville and even THE FEDERALIST. I like the comment that he has no conception of sin or the homelessness that’s just part of being who we are, just as he has no sense of the universal church that includes us all.
SLIGHT UPDATE: I’ve now read Berry’s Jefferson lecture. It’s a very clear presentation of his thought as part of the defiantly “reactionary” Southern Agrarianism of Allen Tate etc. In our post-post-industrial time, it might seem more reactionary than ever to spin out an anti-industrial polemic or a defense of a man so immobile that his imagination doesn’t go beyond the field behind his barn etc. But Berry eloquently presents a lot of partial truths that are surely missed by Mansfield, Wolfe, and Percy (although maybe not O’Connor), ones better given by Berry than, say, by Heidegger. A great contemporary political thought class might be centered around the four Jefferson lectures I’ve mentioned.
Here’s my favorite sentence from the Berry lecture: “In this age so abstracted and bewildered by technological magnifications of power, people who stray beyond the limits of their mental competence typically find no guide except for the supposed authority of market price.”