I know—the last thing you need is another blog to read! And the one I’m about to recommend had several authors and consequently great risk of overwhelming your feed reader. Especially since nearly all the posts are thought-provoking and well-written.
The Front Porch Republic is new—the first posts were on March 2 of this year—but has already produced so many shareable articles that it deserves its own post. Treat yourself and subscribe to the Front Porch Republic; they have a Comments RSS feed as well, though I can’t usually keep up with it. A mark of the quality of this blog (and its readers) is that the comments are so far above the “Your a &%$#& moron!” level seen all too often on websites without benefit of sufficient editorial oversight.
Knowing that most of you would be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of meaty reading available there, however, I will continue my practice of sharing excerpts. Here are a few by way of introduction:
Architecture matters. I knew I missed our front porch; now I know why. It’s a much easier way to interact with the neighbors than cleaning up after a hurricane.
[In his essay, “From Porch to Patio,” Richard Thomas] explores the social implications of the architectural practice of building porches on the front of homes and its eventual abandonment in favor of patios behind the house…. As with any central feature in our built environment, this is more than merely a passing fashion trend or a meaningless design change: the transition from porch to patio was one of the clearest and significant manifestations the physical change from a society concerned with the relationship of private and public things—in the Latin, res publica—to one of increasing privacy. The porch, as a physical bridge between the private realm of the house and the public domain of the street and sidewalk, was the literal intermediate space between two worlds that have been increasingly separated in our time, and hence increasingly ungoverned in both forms.
Why entrepreneurs, the self-employed, family farms, small businesses, and craftsmen are the bellwethers of liberty.
In 1913…Hilaire Belloc looked forward and anticipated our moment. He argued that what we today call corporate capitalism was fundamentally unstable and would eventually cease to exist.
The instability would be caused by the slow but inexorable concentration of property into fewer and fewer hands. As property became concentrated, power also would become concentrated, and concentrated power is a threat to the state unless, of course, it is co-opted by the state. Furthermore, as property became concentrated, the security of individuals would be threatened. People would find themselves in the precarious situation of living paycheck-to-paycheck. Because they possess no capital, they would not be able to provide for themselves in the way that a small farmer or craftsman could. They would be completely dependent upon their wages, and when economic crisis struck and wages were threatened, the insecurity of their situation would become acute. In such a time, it is not hard to image the people clamoring for a solution, rejoicing over a new kind of leader who promises change, if only he is empowered. Yes we can.
According to Belloc, the most obvious solution to this economic instability, the path of least resistance, is the acquisition by the state of the major economic interests, e.g. collectivization. This is sometimes called socialism, and, according to Belloc, it is the most natural course. But socialism is not benign or even honest, for the collectivization of property under the authority of the state results not in a more just society but one characterized by glaring inequalities and the loss of freedom for most. As Belloc puts it, “in the very act of collectivism, what results is not collectivism at all, but the servitude of the many, and the confirmation in their present privilege of the few; that is, the servile state.”
The unlikely alternative is what Belloc calls the “distributist state.” It is characterized by widely distributed private property so that the general character of the society is shaped by individual property owners. By “property” Belloc means “capital.” That is, property that can be used to make a living. When a critical mass of citizens possesses capital and are therefore economically independent, a stable situation exists. According to Belloc, private property is the only means of achieving security with freedom. Collectivization does, in fact, provide security. The price, though, is freedom.
The choices are stark. The Obama administration likely will continue to seek ways to nationalize the economy unless and until the American people rise up and demand a different direction. Do we even remember this better way? Can we imagine a world of free men and women who own real property and do not look to the state for happiness or economic security?
From a related post:
Here we can see the curious state of affairs in our waning republic: Democrats tend to be suspicious of big business but they trust big government to rein in abuses; Republicans express suspicion of big government but no fear of economic centralization. Both are half right but half blind. Here is a principle that we would do well to grasp: concentrations of power in any form are a threat to liberty. It may be too late for this generation to see this vital truth, or if seeing, to do anything about it. But nothing is inevitable, and there are hopeful signs that people are beginning to think seriously about the importance of localism, human scale, limits, and stewardship, the very things woefully lacking in the current spending orgy. While a return to these ideals is still only in its infancy, change is afoot. This represents a glimmer of sanity in a world succumbing to the apparent security promised by centralization.
Tobacco farming and community life. My antipathy towards tobacco products is well-known, and I thought Barbara Kingsolver inexplicably inconsistent when in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle she decried our unhealthy farming practices yet bemoaned the loss of small tobacco farms. I still can’t rationalize subsidizing such an unhealthy crop, but here’s another side to the story.
[E]very community must be bound together by something it shares—and for the ties to bind strongly there need to be several somethings. Here in Henry County, when everyone used to raise tobacco, everyone had the crop’s seasons and its demands in common.
My state is one of the few that still has a good number of small farms, and for years here tobacco was the mortgage crop. It made keeping those small farms possible for many families, and it was a vital part of a farmer’s mixed use of his land. The federal tobacco program and the Burley Tobacco Growers’ Co-op acted as a brake for the small farmer on the pitilessness of the international market….Today farmers here and in the several burley-growing states are free from any buttressing power between the small growers and the supranational tobacco companies that buy their crop. They are free to contract with the companies directly (and typically do, as otherwise there is no guarantee their crop will sell), and in one of those rhetorical equalities that is so unequal in fact, the companies are likewise free to set the price and limit the production, in a world market in which it is cheaper, of course, to grow tobacco in Brazil.
But my point is not only that farmers in my area have lost a good source of revenue. We’ve also lost a shared experience intimately tied to this place in which we live. Tobacco gave us something in common…tobacco was our common language…. [I]f the weather for curing was wet, everyone waited. If blue mold hit the county, everyone compared their losses. And everyone had a near-disaster story from working high in the rafters of the barn, to be retold every fall.
[W]ith the end of the program, most of us took the buyout and quit. The relative few farmers who still grow tobacco grow significantly larger crops now, which is a different sort of operation. People were growing something like two to twelve acres; now farmers often grow forty, or eighty, or even more. This is factory farming, and there is no way a family can manage it alone. There is too much to cut all at once, and hang all at once; it requires jobbed-in crews of migrant labor. Raising a few acres of tobacco was good and satisfying work….Toiling under the pressure of eighty must be something else.
So it is that here in Henry County we have lost the bond that tobacco gave, and one important part of our shared history is only history. And at times of real disagreement….we find we have fewer acres of common ground.
(My personal favorite tobacco farm is not in Kentucky, but Virginia. The Claude Moore Colonial Farm lives in a time warp—1771—and raises tobacco along with other heirloom crops and livestock.)
The Front Porch Republic—I’m reserving a rocking chair, as I plan to be a frequent visitor.
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