wendell berry: in distrust of movements

“I HAVE HAD WITH MY friend Wes Jackson a number of useful conversations about the necessity of getting out of movements — even movements that have seemed necessary and dear to us — when they have lapsed into self-righteousness and self-betrayal, as movements seem almost invariably to do. People in movements too readily learn to deny to others the rights and privileges they demand for themselves. They too easily become unable to mean their own language, as when a “peace movement” becomes violent…
They often become too specialized, as if finally they cannot help taking refuge in the pinhole vision of the institutional intellectuals. They almost always fail to be radical enough, dealing finally in effects rather than causes. Or they deal with single issues or single solutions, as if to assure themselves that they will not be radical enough.”


When it comes to economic matters, I believe we can learn a great deal from the writings of Wendell Berry.

Referred to as the “poet of responsibility,” Berry straddles diverse worlds. He is a man of letters, deep ecologist, activist and Kentucky farmer. At the heart of his economic philosophy is the notion that in addition to understanding and valuing the land that sustains us, we must also value the people who work it if we are to create a healthy economy. He believes that economies must be locally based if they are to deal responsibly with the complex needs of any given place: ‘meet local needs first, then trade the surpluses.’ He also continually stresses the importance of  affection in our work and relationship to place. If we don’t feel genuine affection for where we are and what we are doing, we will be led hopelessly and destructively astray.

Finally, he is a powerful advocate of practicing the discipline of nonviolence: “What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being. We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness.”

Be sure to check out his 17 Rules for a Sustainable Economy.

Other online essays:

Thoughts in the Presence of Fear (a response to the 9/11 attacks and their relationship to globalization)

Compromise, Hell! (Economic WMDs are being used against our own people in a version of “freedom” that makes greed the dominant economic virtue)

In Distrust of Movements (I add this one for Ray’s benefit—and for anyone who understands how easily the most well-intentioned movement can get corrupted)


The Art of the Commonplace (a collection of his agrarian essays. This is a good introduction—but any of his books will prove to be great reading.)

One thought on “wendell berry: in distrust of movements”

  1. Lorel,

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    Founder, Daily Kos

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