Washington, Ct. It is no accident that Marx and his fellow travelers on the road to flea-bitten utopia were found in the libraries of Britain at some point in their intellectual development. Though the Germans have long possessed a certain Savoir faire for gadgetry and industriousness, it was in Great Britain that the Industrial Revolution was first incubated into a strapping force of global significance. British empiricism, financial dexterity and colonial proclivities conspired to catapult Britain into the forefront of nations in order that they might enjoy both the rewards and punishments of industrialism. As a result, industrialism’s great and abiding theology known as social democracy was incubated and exported from the British Isles along with all the rest of the machinery and packaged commodities  of modern life.

Even though she has stubbornly held onto the trappings of monarchy because of her innate conservative streak, Britain, her colonies in Asia, and her cohorts on the Continent have embraced the industrial construct of social democracy, and it seems to suit them like a well-worn tweed jacket. Thatcherism may have reared its free market bouffant for a spell, but in the end, these villagers on their garden isle will generally eschew the occasionally deft salient of the Tory and submit to the lures of the collective. After all, collectivism is the very font of satire. If there is one national trait held by all in the land of Bits and Bobs, it is a deft hand at satire.

These New World Colonies on the other hand–below the 49th degree of latitude and generally too serious for their own good–seem to want to maintain the illusion of a stubborn distance from the purported historical inevitability of industrial collectivism. Here, we spout our folk songs about the free market, rugged individualism, and the “land of opportunity” while maintaining sharp tines on the national pitchfork against the pernicious influences of namby-pamby socialism. Or so we like to sing. Or so we used to like to sing, or growl, and growl and sing.

When Farmer George, the Mad King, moral bibliophile, and student of science attempted to extract the vig of the collective from the far-flung colonists, we took umbrage and found that a little high dudgeon would go a long way, particularly when practiced within the vast hideout of North America. You can see the rhetoric of the revolution early, when North American landowners would fire off pointed letters to the Factors of London, taking issue with the dunning for mounting bills and calling the collateralized home, their “rock of independence.” And so it was to be. But how can a people so similar in cultural and genetic constituency be so different in their approaches to the industrial collective?

To paraphrase those Third Wayers of the Clinton Middle Faction, “It’s the Land Stupid.” It is not unusual talent nor unique sentiment nor greater energy nor intelligence nor the graces of an appreciative deity that have allowed us to maintain the charade of Free Market Individualism within the collectivist industrial era, it is the good fortune of a fine piece of real estate. The finest in fact, on the globe. This remarkably well-watered and generally fertile province has been, up until recently, our secure castle. We had millions of acres to hide out in and generally decent weather and two oceans of moats and little to keep a person from carving their own reality in stone or timber and setting it up to admire in the smiling latitudes of twenty-five to forty-nine degrees north. In this respect, we really were unique.

Travel directly eastward from the silty Potomac and you will cross the Atlantic to find the lands flanking the Mediterranean and quite a lot of people despite no small measure of aridity . Keep going east and you will traverse the Levant with our current motion narcotic, oil and then across Persia and the Caspian Basin until you reach our new rival China. Only then will you find broad stretches of well-watered, fertile land. Pockets and snippets of productive land abound throughout the latitude but nothing like on the scale of our benighted technocracy. Go north and you will find Russia, which, like Canada is well watered and in possession of productive soils but you will also find that remote fastness imposed by arctic climes. Go southward and you will find the Congo Basin of Africa and the various terrains of South America. You will also find excessively leaching rains, pernicious tropical diseases or narrowing land where better latitudes arise. Even with venerable China, inhabiting the same general latitudes as we do and with significant areas of water and fertile land, there simply is no comparison with our embarrassment of riches. Vast mountain plateaus, torrid and parched desert basins and that most problematic of natural features, the sheer mass of the people themselves conspire to greatly reduce the capacity of the Chinese landscape to furnish her people with the resources she needs. Add globalism to China, and be ready to stand back and watch the fireworks.

This ploughman’s holiday of ours afforded, at one time , a certain sang-froid , a sturdy can-do self-reliance for us self-referentially independent revolutionaries. Despite embracing industrial modernism and flirting with collectivist forms, we were able to preserve our distance, flexibility and abundance. However, it would seem that all this is over now and we are embarking upon a process of assimilation into the hive in order that the so called “Community of Nations” can become equalized regardless of territorial riches. Why? Because it is, as they once snarled in the libraries of London, an Historical Inevitability. After all, as “leader” of the so called Free World, it is our solemn duty to bring the savages to heel and secure the breezy efficiencies of Free Trade in all time zones. We can no longer hold disingenuously to these conceits of unique brilliance and independence, we must join the collective if only in a leadership position as a consequence of superior fire power on a dodgy finance plan.

Sorry Charley Foxtrot, no can do. The old greensward is a tad manky after the industrial opening and the knackered nipper is reduced to chuffing like his forebears on the Sceptred Isle. Its bail-out time at the OK Corral for the skiving Prats of the New World. Things too big to fail are Bobs Your Uncle now. In American, that means we’re boinked.

It was a good run, and we’ll coast along for some time yet while the collective head adjusts to the culminating leveling of historical forces. But make no mistake, despite this land never leaving us, we have left the land and with it goes our uniqueness, that uniqueness that never was “We The People” in particular, it was just this lovely place we inhabited. The United States were big enough and largely benevolent enough to afford us all the opportunity of maintaining the charade that we can join the Circumscribed Industrial Social Democracy without bending to its demands. You win some, you lose some and the clock, unfortunately, aint a scoreboard.

However, here at the Front Porch, we have an opportunity to not so much play fusty old varmint and baleful Cassandra as we do to play tour guide. We can remind our fellow metropolitan arriviste that this nation was unique because of its land and little more than that. Sure, we might have seen the remarkable congruence of a few brilliant minds in space and time conspire to launch a momentary resurgence of humane republican ideals but the bottom line… in this bottom-line happy nation, was that we could only do so because of this land–this sea to shining sea–this place that every dusky skinned terrorist wants to firebomb while wearing a University of Michigan sweatshirt.

The truly wonderful thing is that no matter how hard the determined boosters of  Industrial Socialism try to occupy our attentions and seduce our wants with the various sparkling output of silicon and gears, this land will generally forgive us our sins. Beyond the tattered breastworks of our suburban riot, she remains as lovely and fecund and heart-crackingly gorgeous as she always has. Her people bear this out because still, as far into our consciousness as this global consumer juggernaut has burrowed, as one-size-fits-all we are becoming, the smiling individual remains. Better yet, our polyglot countryman is an individual that has been annealed by a remarkable land and though somewhat flummoxed by the current version of reality we’re tuned into, this individual remains about as pacific as any increasingly crowded people rightly deserve to be. We might not love one another as ourselves but despite all the various institutional efforts to separate the citizen into distinct polling groups, the Ugly American is a pretty congenial knucklehead. Surely, in this nation, we have it made. The only way we will break this spell is to capitulate to all the fast talkers who have ditched empire after empire since Cuneiform  script was impressed in clay tablets along the Euphrates. It is the land people, this place that has formed us as much as we formed it. Time to repay the lesson and get to work doing what we do best, living the constantly re-inventing but grounded American life and recasting it to great success and benefit in response to the demands at hand. Its a little messy, a bit noisome, more violent and brassy than it needs to be but it really is different because we are all, at this time, lucky enough to occupy about twenty four degrees of latitude that beats all.

It’s nothing personal, Canada or France or Mexico, Brazil and China. Go ahead, be yourselves and rub our noses in our mistakes, make us compete again, shame us with some social program that seems to work for you. But don’t expect us to ignore that thing we seem to disregard now because it is separated from our touch by four computer balanced and aligned radial tires. Stop what you are doing right now America, whether it is in a city, a suburb or emptied out province. Stand out on that balcony or porch and breathe this free elixir in deeply and then find a neighbor and shake their hand and point to that horizon even if it is behind twenty three stories of speculative building.

We were a frontier and now we are not, at least in the conventional sense. But that is by far the good news, because with this garden of ours, we can create a frontier and meet it before doing it all over again. In fact , the current challenges constitute  the biggest frontier we have yet encountered. Don’t let anybody make you think otherwise. We do not have to surrender to historical inevitability. That helping hand you are looking for is at the end of your own damned arm and the only way we’ll be able to use that arm to help our fellow when they need it is if we keep it in fighting trim. The way to do this is through the challenges of reinvigorating this land and casting off the industrialized yoke of historical inevitability. They say that politics is the art of the possible. Well, it ain’t. It’s the sport of the liar. Time to stop listening to the liars and resort back to the truest thing we have ever had, this land, this lovely redoubt, this fruit of accident wed to hard work.

Agrarians in the City? Brooklyn, NY's "Truck Farm" boasts the largest urban CSA in the US (20 subscribers).

You want predictability and safe answers? Not here my friend, not in this crucible of mud made by sweat and soil. Just so there is no confusion here, though it sure helps, one does not need to be a farmer to be an agrarian. It is a state of mind and a spirit of husbandry. It is knowing limits, embracing them in fact and knowing the lay of land within which you operate. It is planning ahead and soldiering on. It is helping a neighbor raise a barn when needed. Blow a horn, nail a stud, split an infinity or master a genome, we all have our furrows to plow in this remarkable benediction we inhabit.

We did not create this land, it created us. What it created is something as simultaneously recalcitrant and benevolent as the larger landscape itself. We think we might have tamed it but we have not, we simply became altogether too familiar with it and in this familiarity, we have lost our respect for the hard work of a democratic republic. As the spring begins to creep up from the south , it is time that we get serious about who we have been and what we now are  while remembering that this gift of the land created a messy but fruitful form of government. We need only begin to look at it again as that yeoman farmer of yore looked at the land, as something that takes a combination of respect and work between damaging bouts of quixotic weather. Its not about compromise, its about the harvest. Some years are full of bounty while some are disappointing. The land remains, this thing of true beauty, this lovely bride America. Utopia is like plastic surgery, it purports to sell perfection but in reality, it coughs up a Kewpie Doll fit only for horror and a bitter reckoning when the staples surrender to gravity. I’ll take the old gal with a few well-earned wrinkles that fit soft and snug like a favorite glove. It’s the land, stupid, and boy is she a thing of stunning beauty.

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. Thanks John, the wolves are stalking it would seem…..not to mention the current 17% plus inflation in food prices in India reported recently in the Daily Reckoning and elsewhere.

  2. Sabin,

    A guy from your state told me a few years ago that there were only about fifty people listed as farmers in the whole damn place. In 1787 a whole section of what later became Ohio was reserved for farmers from Connecticut because they wanted to take New England into the wilderness. What has happened?

    Land. Unfortunately, working it is too hard for the wimps who vote for our current “leaders.”

  3. And, here DW is historian, geographer, philosopher and priest. Though a bit shy on the theological, though so well rendered as to make one yearn for the Indiana of Penrod Schofield (sp), both historically and geographically.
    And, of course, he represents, perhaps, the most significant and true agrarian at FPR and him a Connecticut leaf hooper.
    Any disagreements, and he does a terrific job in describing the effects of the current condition, would be related to that reality that engendered said condition.
    Setting aside, for a moment, my usual screed leveled at the levelers and their epigoni, and instead turning my attention to that longed for Great Awakening II, it should be noted that problemo numero uno, avoided by the erudite and somewhat immanent Sabinski, is the movement away from what our Greek friends referred to as “athanatizein,” e.g. the activity of immortalizing.
    As a people, we will not be able to overcome the horrific and oppressive legislation currently sought by the commie-dems if we have not come to terms with the apodictical truth of the divine/human relationship. Until our countrymen have that “Jesus (Jaysus)” experience we are doomed to continue in this frenetic political farce over and over.
    Can I get an amen?

  4. Prof. John, we’re all hoping you have something in the hopper, ready to go. Caleb’s popped up over at Peter’s latest.
    DW, NEVER write stuff like this :”. Then again, little things like apology aint foremost in the mind when setting match to a moist torpedo of Dominican Seed wrapped in Connecticut Shade.” I’M TRYING TO QUIT!

  5. I’ve read through this piece twice, and I guess there must be a point buried in here somewhere, but I’m still not sure what it is, even leaving aside the sloppy history and muddled thinking (“these villagers on their garden isle will generally eschew the occasionally deft salient of the Tory and submit to the lures of the collective” What?). Here’s what I do know–as an American living in the UK for the past 13 years, it’s a whole lot easier for me to eat locally and seasonally and well here than it ever was in the US. I know the farm where my butcher gets his meat. I’ve been to the farm where my vegetables come from. I travel around the country and see still see landscapes that have remained more or less unchanged for hundreds and hundreds of years, in spite of occasional periods of madness (the post-war leveling of much of the UK’s hedgerows, for example). This speaks to a certain kind of localism, the kind I thought FPR readers are interested in, and I think want to get back to. Americans left the land a long time ago when we started plowing up farms for suburban developments, and we were able to get away with it because there was enough land to be able to coast along for a while–you’re right about that. Yes, the land is forgiving, but only to a point. For all its “socialism,” whatever that means, the UK and Europe have kept the architecture of localism largely intact–Americans abandoned it decades ago. And as Berry keeps reminding us, once the local knowledge of how to properly use the land is gone, how will we get it back? Well, I suppose Americans could always pick up some tips from British and French farmers.

  6. Well, wufnik, there is nothing you say about localism in the UK that isn’t truer in southern Michigan, and how many people do you know there who own a few acres? I had fifty turkeys in my front prairie the other day. It is true that American farmers could learn something from the Brits and the Frogs, but the farmers I grew up with taught a lot to the Europeans, too. As long as we don’t pass Obamacare and have what you guys have, I would still rather be in the most depressed county in the most depressed state in the US.

  7. As the Tsunami of Debt continues to crash over the economy and the toxic sludge continues to spew out of the Mississippi colon what else is a good American to turn to but suspecting that maybe after all stewardship should take precedence over ownership.

  8. Bruce, it is interesting that Aquinas’s defense of private property is pragmatic rather than principled, namely that things are better with private stewardship. however, he left the fundamental principle of property that of the common destination of goods; the common destination was the natural law, private property a way of implementing it. Private ownership was good to the extent that it advanced this common destination. John Paul II put private property that did not advance this common good as “an offense before God and man.”

    John W., would you really want to live in “the most depressed county” if you had to live at the depressed wage of that country? Maybe, but it is an easy thing to say and a hard thing to do.

  9. Smith, in some circles, with ample proof, one can assert that stewardship is almost impossible to achieve without ownership. Before digging in too deep, note the use of the word “almost”. But you are right in the sense that no matter what, stewardship is the priority.

    Thank you, pointlessness is one of my favorite occupations. You must have gotten some of what I was saying because you reiterate the central point about American’s leaving their interaction with the land at hazard. My essay was not a gibe against the remarkable interweaving of agriculture into the landscape of the English countryside, nor was it a criticism of anything about the British Isles. One has even been able to get a good meal there for quite a while. You are quite right that localism in farming is still alive and well in England as are the craft of butchering, cheese-making and all the rest. The daily stop at the local village market to post a letter, talk to the neighbors and pick up fresh fixings for the nights dinner is still a great localist lifeway. Driving out of towns and cities in both England and France, the abrupt change from urban to agriculturally rural is far more distinct and while there is some commercial sprawl, it is far less entrenched than in this country. The ordered richness of the landscape is really remarkable. I don’t know if there is a much more beautiful place in an agrarian and architecturally historic sense than Bibury in the Cotswolds or the lovely landscapes of Devon and Cornwall. I’ve yet to see the Lake District but it shall be seen. As far as my rudimentary knowledge of British Politics, it is my recollection that the Labor Party has been in dominance since 1997 and had a very large majority for some time, though it is now being significantly challenged as a result of the economic crisis and Tony Blairs conduct in the run-up to the Iraq War. Didn’t labor have somewhere north of a 100 seat dominance in the early years of your ex-pat residency there? Cameron might be making a good run at breaking their dominance but time will tell. what is your sense on the ground there?

    By the way, if you have not yet done so, head out to Exmoor and take a little tea in the sister towns of Lynton and Lynmouth out on the craggy coast of the Bristol Channel . One of the villages sits up high, the other down low on the water and they are connected by a water tank funicular. The small passenger cars have old wood tanks on them and they pump water back and forth so that the loaded tank pushes the upper car down the hill while pulling the lower one up hill. A great “green” and typically english solution.

  10. John, I own my septic system and well, and springs…and if necessary I’ll defecate in my woods, which I have on occasion! Whas up with your concern re: my evacuation practices…now that’s strange?
    Also, Aquinas and his papist friends ain’t getting my land for some Chi-com reform movement, and him with all that business about actuality and potentiality…he should-a read Von Schelling!
    John, we’re Americans not Papists Monarchists! And, I don’t intend that we become Papist Monarchists, I’m keeping my republican roots…we don’t need no stinkin’ commies!

  11. I suspect it would be a true test of a health hazard. It is a strange concept of freedom that causes a hazard to one’s neighbors. But does your statement mean that those without a yard cannot be free? Is freedom a purchasable commodity or a common good?

  12. Alright gentlemen, the issue at hand is a re-focus on an American Agrarian Ethic and a re-invigoration of our appreciation of and interaction with the land. Now, pondering Cheeks cheeky cheeks and whether the bilious output of them might be recycled into a septic system or public sewers might have some kind of land ethic involved but I’d rather not think about it.

    Medaille, that old “public sewer” saw don’t work with us rural rustics. The only thing I get for my tax dollars…they don’t even pick up the garbage here…are bad roads, worse schools and a surly little State Trooper that likes to pick on woman hosting tag sales. Well, maybe my school claim is a little untoward, they are ranked as good schools but this is a classification we all know is a little suspect now and based upon my kid’s writing abilities when they first entered college, you’d think they’d never had a single english class.

    You know Cheeks, you have the potential to be a fine Bolshy, ready to jump into pogrom at the drop of any bait. You should also know that the bacteria down in the Biocrust of that Soil-Stone interface in your septic system run the joint like a Communist Collective. I can’t really tell you if they consider you as their Sovereign King or Party Boss.

    On behalf of my Paternal Grandma and the Black Irish Hurlers barricaded in the dark recesses of my brain, we take umbrage at this “papist” frenzy.

    Let us keep it civil here and I would say that the august traditions of porch -pissing is included in my definition of civics. Any border fight over the Collective vs.Liberty DMV is not going to be viewed lightly by the writer and I may have to get ugly with everybody and this would not be prudent.

  13. Party Boss of the Anaerobic Bacteria as a concept almost leaves me speechless but isn’t the definition of a health hazard not having your property rights interfered with whilst you screw up the economy with your speculative fractional reserve credit creation woopsies?

  14. I’m thinkin’ Prof. Willson is the most American among us! Nothing is more “American” than marking your own territory. Me and my old dog, Buck, (may he rest-in-peace) used to make our nightly pee-call!

    Sabinski, I aplogize for taking too much delight in curling your thread…at least we didn’t get the “cat food” crowd charging into the room.

    And, about the “Papists” I also apologize for that, though as a Catholo-Methodist and a former alterboy I have every right to critique the collectivists cardinals, bishops, and priests that stagger to the podium to praise anything our nearly documented president says yet adamantly refuses to condemn the feral practices of say, the remnant of the Kennedy clan, or some illegal Mexican (..am I allowed to say that?).

    Again, thanks for keeping us all in line, it was all Medaille’s fault…!

  15. It sounds to me like we have created one of the first policy suggestions for the Front Porch Policy Catalog:

    1. Peeing off porches shall be allowed as long as the residential density is less than the hydraulic radii of the mean. (Before anybody asserts this is confusing, of course it is, Zoning Policy is supposed to be confusing.)

    I think we need Cheeks to pull the lid off the septic tank come this May Day to see if they are playing Pomp and Circumstance or some Bolshevik Marching Harangue.

    I think there are a few more than 50 farmers left in this rocky little corrugated State but not many more than that. Just in the 20 years I’ve lived in my Town, I’ve seen 3 dairy farms fly the coop to areas that run feed cooperatives. A small veal operation is the last large livestock farm I think. One new organic vegetable farm sprung up though. The Tobacco Barn Belt up north of Hartford was powered up by the Cheroot Fashion of the 80’s and 90’s but I think that is tapering off quickly now, hence my determined efforts as a loyal citizen to keep those folks going. Horticulture is listed as the top money component of Agriculture in Ct. now. I can at least get raw milk in a 20 minute ride though and grass fed beef in the same time…three times they’ve tried to overturn the legality of raw milk to no avail!

    One of our remaining farms is a fine old Apple Orchard run by some great friends and it is an officially designated Bicentennial farm, owned by the same family since they bought the jernt from the local Indian chief in the 1700’s. Now THATS “Local”.

    If I may hazard a guess though, I think we will see a few more farming acres actually added in the next 20 years.

  16. Brilliant DW, brilliant.
    Willson proffers “yard” peeing as a fundamental, hopefully late night, act of American rebelliousness. While brother Medallie suggests, for health reasons and peaceful co-existence, that the neighbor’s shoes should not be splattered. While yours truly, reflecting the honorable cause of our illustrious ancestors, recommends that the act of urination reflect one’s antipathy toward the centralizers and consolidators of whatever stripe, local, state, or federal.
    The only codicil I might add is that while in the very act of personal relief greatly anticipated by all men of a certain age, one shout, “In your eye, Bucko!” as an acknowledgment and celebration of the God granted rights of man!
    Can I get a second?

  17. I almost never wax philosophical about liberty. And I don’t worry at all about what Medaille’s neighbors hit or miss. Zoning is also highly overrated [think Gary, Indiana] so probably the first constructive local proposal should be, “Us folks who live on the land have the same rights the cattle have.”

    D.W., we just bought half a lamb, grass fed and organic, from the father of a former student. We eat only free-range eggs and have no flouride in our water. God help the person who tries to soak me in toxic waste.

    Tell your grandchildren to buy enough land to hold off the centralizers, because the basic point of your essay is that indeed those without a yard cannot be free.

  18. DW–Agreed. We’re on the same page. It was just hard to tell, sorry. And we love Exmoor, but haven’t been to Lynton yet, so the next time we’re out there we’ll check that out.

    Cameron was making a good run, but stalled for a bit there, although now seems to be pulling ahead again. What is looking increasingly likely is hung parliament, where neither Labour nor the Tories have a majority, and therefore have to reach some sort of deal with the Liberal Democrats. Probably not a good thing, but the UK has had these before–1974 most recently. People can’t stand Brown, but Cameron hasn’t yet convinced people that the Tories aren’t still the sleazebuckets that they threw out in 1979. What everyone is supremely glad of is that Blair is no longer around. You should probably expect hi to take up residence in the US soon. Lucky you.

    As far as localism in the US goes, it’s hard, but not impossible–see here.

  19. Mr. Cheeks, I see from the Lincoln/Civil War thread that your people are from Burgettstown, Pa. Any relatives still there? If you ever visit them gimme a yell. I’m in a Western suburb of Pittsburgh, just a stone’s throw from B-town.

  20. Rob G you truly must be desperate for reading material. My gr-gr grandpa/ma and their youngest son, a veteran volunteer who died two months after the end of the war from “hard service,” are buried on the hill overlooking B-town.
    I’m just across the state line over in OHio, not far from the west fork of the Little Beaver in Columbiana County. Buckeyes are nuts, you know!

  21. The premise that ” it’s the Land ” that makes us unique is um, what is stupid. Yes, Land made it possible for America to exist, but it almost did not. And btw there is fertile land all over the globe. Europe ,Asia and Africa are also spectacularly beautiful and fertile in many places.

    What America had was the notion of Liberty derived from limited Government. Not withstanding your ambitious and overly ornate prose, you might consider reading someone who is an infinitely better writer, a French gentleman named De Toqueville who wrote what many consider a scholarly work on the differences between the New World and the Old order.

    It’s called “Democracy in America” and I highly recommend it.

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