Berry connects these major themes from The Hidden Wound to other themes from his many works—work, agrarianism, industrialization, citizenship, affection, and place. In so doing, he offers his readers a fuller-orbed view of his thinking than maybe he has ever done previously. In the end, at least after my first close reading of the volume, I think this work of integration is the most valuable contribution of The Need to Be Whole.
These are not compassionate times—not in the public square, and not in all too much of our increasingly chaotic private life, though I think many people are trying. Mr. Berry knows this very well. And so about halfway through the book, he takes a few pages to acknowledge he was told, more than once, that his reputation would be marred by showing any sympathy to the life or plight of any Confederate.
If I attempt to follow Berry’s underwater route too closely, I’m afraid I will drown. Rather than try to summarize it, then, I will instead distill from it a set of guidelines for improving the quality of our language. The shouters who dominate our public discourse are unlikely to heed Berry’s advice, but those of us who are weary of shrill denunciations have much to learn from Berry’s sanity.
No one can be whole alone; no one can be free alone. Rather, Berry holds that “[t]o be whole and free is…to be at home in a place and in a community where one knows and is known,” and where its boundaries include soils, waters, plants, and animals.
Lying on a bed at 2:00 AM idly flipping through a book while texting a friend isn’t likely to be a transformative experience. Treating education as a hoop to jump through to secure a job, make money, and consume leads to practices serving that end. The authors in this book will challenge our perceptions about what learning is for.
I worked alongside Dad many times. I have also worked alongside other men and women with a disposition towards work like my father’s. They do their labor with skill, creativity, and energy. They rightly earn trust as one to call upon for help with physical jobs.
What is being outlined here is fundamentally a Wendell Berry conservatism: our solutions are not global in nature. They might not even be national in nature. It asks individuals to get involved at the lowest possible scale, in church and on school boards, to be productive in the home and show up in a community as ways to build an emergent virtuous and meaningful life now.
The summer, its heat and its flowers, has finally been put to death. But the dust remains. George Wilson is covered in it, alive and dead, and as Nick told us at the beginning of the novel, the empty space around Gatsby’s dream is made up of that same dust, those same ashes.
Beyond writing about craftmanship and antique furniture, M&T explores ideas about human work in a technological age, work in the context of community, and the relationship between craft and tradition. Regardless of your interest in the nuances of woodworking, many Porchers would find reading M&T to be worthwhile.
Though his recent bestselling books trace the roots of several deeply entrenched beliefs about human nature and our world that have led us into bewildering territory, Trueman concludes both books with a look back into the ancient church and a call to faithful Christian work in local churches.
From the Archives
Chris Arnade, Jared Woodard, and Sarah Hamersma on Wall Street versus Main Street.
Something has gone seriously wrong, and no one seems to have any idea how to fix it—including, alas, Michael Lind.
Alexandria, VA September 11, 2001, we are frequently told, is the day that "changed everything." For the 3,000 people in New York City...