Here are two interesting essays dealing in very different ways and from different perspectives with the tensions inherent in and among local and regional identities, national character, and the globalizing forces of modern economies. First, in The American Conservative, Dan McCarthy brings our previous discussion about American character into clear focus with citation to Samuel Huntington, John Patrick Diggins, and Willmoore Kendall.
Conservatism understood as something intimately connected to feudal institutions poses a difficulty for the American Right, in that it’s conventionally thought that America didn’t have a feudal past. (Robert Nisbet challenges that notion in “The Social Impact of the Revolution.”) But a historically grounded American conservatism does not have to locate itself in European history. There are American traditions, and those traditions are worth conserving, even if they aren’t what textbook traditionalists, taking their inspiration from Europe, consider to be authentically conservative. … as Willmoore Kendall asked, what kind of conservative “takes a dim view of his country’s established institutions, feels something less than at home with its way of life as it actually lives it, [and] finds it difficult to identify himself with the political and moral principles on which it has acted through its history”? These are questions that serious traditionalists should wrestle with. Stegall, as well as Patrick Deneen and others writing at FPR, have addressed a question that needs careful exploration, even — or especially — if it makes neoconservatives and Mr. Peanut traditionalists uncomfortable.
Second, in an interesting leap across the pond for FPR (sans citation!), British foodie Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes a rambling essay called “Think Local, Eat Global” in The Independent loosely based on “eat local” movements but also touching on deeper issues of regionalism, racism, cultural preservation, and political movements.
Food archaeology and food reclamation are, in part, understandable. Reacting against industrial farming, eco-destruction, overwhelming new technology, the soulless life, people are looking for safety and intimate comforts, innocence. So they go back to the soil, grow their own food – like Jamie Oliver, Nigel Slater and Rick Stein – use local produce, forage, win accolades. These can be necessary forms of resistance as the amoral might of globalised business and power spreads. However, my fear is that “son of the soil” poetry is also a cry for cultural homogeneity and deep conservatism, of old citizens claiming more entitlements than new citizens, and rejecting modernity, in particular the promiscuity and ethnic mélange of modernity. It is back to basics, to ploughman’s lunches and market economies, a refuge for Britons who have not felt this angry and disenfranchised for a long time. …
Unlike here, in the US there is a robust debate going on about the deeper meanings of what seem to be wholly benign and life-affirming ventures, such as localism, slow food and self-sufficiency. Jody Bottum, for example, a well-regarded culture critic and editor, wrote that localism is a rejection of “rootless cosmopolitans” made up by Jews and others, an acceptable way to exclude, if you like; only these intruders want a slice of that home-made cake made from home-grown wheat: “Successful localisms attract immigrants, and the presence of immigrants undermines the localism.” There’s a history here, Bottum says. Look at the rural romantics G K Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc and their attitudes to “wandering” Jews.
The inwardness can develop into serious paranoia and a new form of tribalism. In Oregon a restaurant owner actually had a punch-up with his competitors for an award because they used pigs from Kansas and Ohio. Academic Mark Wetherington believes that what may be quaint and endearing is, in fact, symptomatic of bleaker tendencies: “Localism and racism dovetailed with a Republican ideology founded on Jeffersonian notions of an economically independent yeomanry sharing common interests.” The plain old folk of the old southern states and the shooting, hunting Sarah Palin have a lot in common. Caleb Stegall, an attorney and writer from Kansas, believes localist fervour is a “political and social breakout”, a way of manifesting feelings of dispossession anger, alienation and desperation – dangerous stuff.
David Mwanaka fears the new economic climate will encourage this localist nationalism in Britain: “People say they must look after themselves and their families, ‘my life, my pain, my everything’. They divorce themselves from the international community.” I fear he is right. Just listen to callers to radio programmes on ring-fenced international aid and immigration. He also points out the deep hypocrisy of the buy-local lobby. “They don’t want Kenyan beans to waste air miles, but are happy to send out planes of British exports to Africa, spending air miles.” …
Dan Saladino, a producer on The Food Programme, is vastly knowledgeable about the politics, psychology and philosophy of what and how people eat. He feels that there is a tremendous sense in Britain of a loss of culture, a break in family continuity, regional and particular identities. The surging interest and commitment to rediscovering old cooking arts – such as cheese making – is a poignant way of filling that sense of emptiness, that hunger. I can understand that. But not the rejection of those who never can share that ancestry. Saladino avoids this pessimism of the nervous immigrant – by making connections. The sandwich may, he says, be an old British invention, but today is ubiquitous and given millions of fillings. So the newly found pride does not necessarily mean rejection of the foreigner. I so hope he is right. …
It would be harder to promote that internationalism today in most of the Shires, the Highlands of Scotland and valleys of Wales, where the making of authentic foods, now richly rewarded, has become a metaphor for paradise regained, grabbed back from interlopers, purified and rarefied once more. Think about that the next time you buy some personally made quince jelly in the Christmas market, in that cute market town with those beautiful thatched cottages.
It is good to see FPR in the middle of these discussions.
NOTE: The internet is a funny thing. Here’s a tip: The next time you are feeling blue, just step down from the masthead of your friendly neighborhood blog. It’s the next best thing to attending your own funeral! Joking aside, I appreciate all reader comments, regardless of the variety. Fortunately or unfortunately, I never left. My departure from the masthead was for professional reasons only—reasons occasioned by the publication of FPR’s own Mr. Peanut’s recent series, yes, but professional reasons nonetheless having nothing to do with FPR, its commenters, or with my many friends and colleagues associated with this fine project.