The Jeffersonian Solution
(My N.Y. Times Op-Ed)

I wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times. I mailed it in. They never printed it.  So I am publishing it here. Who needs the New York Times anyway?



The Jeffersonian Solution

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The original strength of our American republic was found in the ability to supply our own needs. That is the very definition of independence. We provided our own form of government, our own energy resources, our own manufacturing, and we grew an overabundance of our own food. We were a self-sufficient nation.

This condition of national independence was the natural outgrowth of America’s many independent farming communities. The vast majority of early Americans lived on small farms and homesteads, providing their own food, shelter, clothing, and most other necessities from their own land. Today, however, less than 2% of our population is involved in the work of agriculture, and that agriculture has greatly changed. Now it’s called agribusiness and it is dependent on enormous, unsustainable imports of foreign oil. Subsistence farms have become rare as hen’s teeth.

Thomas Jefferson, primary author of the Declaration of Independence, believed that a citizenry which worked the land, drawing sustenance directly from the earth, was the surest support of our free and independent nation; that such agrarianism engendered a healthy civic virtue. After all, self-reliant people don’t need or want government handouts, and they are not easily manipulated by scheming politicians.

In his book, Notes on Virginia, Jefferson made a remarkably prescient statement:

“Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.” [Note: "venality" means corruption]

Slowly and surely, over the course of two centuries that which was abundantly clear to Jefferson has become a truth no longer self evident. Once thrifty, resourceful and largely self-reliant on their own land, Americans are now mostly crowded into cities and suburbs, playing their specialized roles in the corporate-industrial drama, dependent on a global network of industrial providers and so many forms of government subsidy. We have become the land of the dependent and the home of the helpless.

It is no coincidence, then, that America as a whole has evolved into a needy nation, a dependent nation, a debtor nation and, as a result, an increasingly weaker nation.

Industrialization has brought us to servitude. First, unwary Americans willingly exchanged their independence bit by bit for tempting morsels of comfort and ease. Further along the path, as the germ of virtue was suffocated and venality dominated, much more freedom was (and is) demanded in the name of supposed benevolence, or to protect us all from a host of spectral boogiemen. We’ve come to the point in America where individual freedom is little more than a lovely but quaint phantasm.

So it is that the forces of industrialism, allied with government and all manner of techno-wizardry, are advancing on numerous fronts, implementing with scientific deviousness the goal of ever more centralized control over We its Subjects. Unprecedented designs of ambition are circling overhead.

This is what happens when a civilization, blinded by generations of industrial and technological hubris, separates from its agrarian roots. In a sad paradoxical twist, Americans have come to love the conditions of their modern subservience. This is not what the Founders had in mind. It is not the way free men live.

Popular opinion dictates that organized political action alone will bring the changes that America needs. But this is a false hope. Fundamental and significant change will never come from government. It will come only when American citizens change themselves. We must break away from the various industrial-world dependencies and reconnect to the agrarian wellspring. Americans must return to the land, re-embrace simplicity, self-sufficiency, independence, and personal responsibility—one person, one family, at a time.

The good news is that this is already happening to a small degree. A new American yeomanry of landed smallholders is rolling up its sleeves and working in earnest to take care of itself, apart from industrial and government dependencies. I am among them.

My family lives on 1.5 rural acres in the Finger Lakes Region of New York state. I built my small but comfortable home with my own hands. We heat with a basic wood stove. We raise chickens for meat and eggs. Our freezers are packed with vegetables from our garden and venison harvested from the woods and fields around us. There are bushels of homegrown potatoes and onions in the basement. Our pantry shelves are lined with jars of home-canned applesauce, tomatoes, pickles, green beans, and so much more. We have little money, but no debt.

If, as Jefferson so rightly warned, dependence begets subservience, then it follows that independence begets freedom. This is true on a national and personal level. The path back to individual liberty begins with awareness, determination, and a small piece of land. The rural sections of America are vast, much of the land is inexpensive, and it is full of productive potential. If husbanded with care, the soil will yield an abundance. The land is calling freedom-loving Americans back to itself and forward to a better reality. Do you hear it?

12 comments:

Hank Coran said...

I agree whole-heartedly. I am a fan of a fiction and non-fictionwriter by the name of Ayn Rand. Her philosophy, people say, is opposite of agrarianism and all that it stands for. However, I see that she would agree with the main tenants of agrarianism, that man can and should be reliant only on himself, and not be subservient to any other man unless he chooses to be. I've learned more and more about Jefferson as time goes by, and he and Ayn would have agreed that everyone should just stay out of everyone else's business unless invited in, and have some dignity.

You should try submitting your op-ed piece to another newspaper. Maybe one with more Republican/Libertarian leanings? They tend to be more supportive of philosophies like agrarianism. Goodluck, and I enjoyed your piece.

Kevin Kossowan said...

I often am a little self-conscious of my frugality, thrift, and do-it-yourself drive - as they don't seem to be terribly highly valued by most. But I have never equated it to freedom. It's a true point, and thanks for writing about it. I have a lot more freedom and independence than most, and the older I get, the more I value it.

Joel said...

I've found the city to be more of a Godly place, oddly enough.

I lived in rural areas with a mix of livelihoods rich in people who lived on direct government support, people who worked through the agricultural subsidy system to make their living, and people who tapped the stream of subsidized agricultural chemicals to manufacture methamphetamine in a bid for some measure of independence.

There were factory workers, shopkeepers, etc. out in the country, and of course the almost all of the problems I grew up around show up in urban environments too, but the overall character of the city I live in is much healthier than the tiny towns I grew up in. People rebuke their neighbors openly, rather than letting problems fester, for one. In general, I see more willingness to change course (literally, to repent) around me here than when I visit my home town.

I absolutely agree with you on the systemic benefits of producing from the land. I think we can learn a lot from the systems that made so many large cities nearly or completely food-independent in the centuries prior to industrialization, and return both urban and rural life to ways that make sense.

And I think that cities contain at least enough good people to argue against fire and brimstone.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic piece! We have just started turning our almost 1 acre into our own little homestead. There are so many reasons to do this and so many different segments of the population doing this now. The movement is truly growing faster than any of us really know. There are so many different reasons to do this. You can come at it from the environmental standpoint. You can start doing it because you are tired of feeding your family vitamin deficient genetically modified food that is covered in poison and fecal matter. You can come at this from the viewpoint of the animals and workers involved in the food industry. Thier lives are miserable so that we can have cheap food.Do it so that you and your family will survive if something disrupts the fragile global food supply. As a mother it's my job to make sure that my family is fed and I don't want to stand in a bread line. And now there is this viewpoint. Do it to save your country. Do it to regain your freedoms. Do it because you believe in independence and self sufficiency. Do it because you are a true patriot. Make sure you get this published somewhere. Don't give up. This is a very inspiring piece and more people need to read it.

A. Brown

Sean said...

I just came upon your blog and I agree with your lifestyle and am beginning a similar journey with my family. We're starting our homestead near Thomas Jefferson's hometown of Charlottesville, VA. Providing for yourself gives an unparalleled feeling of satisfaction and security. I see more and more people moving this direction and I think it's for the better. We live in a world much different than our forefathers intended- and need to get back to self-sustainability in order to give the next generations a chance.

seejanemom said...

When I am flagging, I read the essays of my foremothers and fathers. I draw great strength from their tenacity and objectivity. After twenty plus years of military service, my family is "retiring" to a life that we will surely find harder than being shot at (et al)---but we welcome it. I have added your salient essay to my regular reading list and have forwarded and recopied it ENDLESSLY in emails and in blog comment threads. Thank you for your Godly practical wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Actions speak louder than words. Jefferson's "independence" was reliant upon slavery. Jefferson also lived opulently above his means for most of his life. As he was an ex-President, his creditors let him die in the life style to which he was accustomed but left his family impoverished even after all his assets were sold, including the slaves.

Herrick Kimball said...

Regarding Jefferson's debt problems, I have written about it here at this link:

The Story of Thomas Jefferson's Personal Debt

IggyRules said...

Why not send it to 100 small town papers? Won't fall on deaf ears that way. I'll pitch in $20 to start a drive to collect postage.
Regards, Howard

Herrick Kimball said...

Howard,

You have given me a very good idea. Perhaps I'll do this after the first of the year. Thanks for the offer of a donation but I can submit the article by e-mail. It's free and just about every newspaper in the country is geared for getting letters by e-mail.

Thanks again.

Practical Parsimony said...

Jefferson thought the agrarian life to be the only one that was worthy for our country. He wanted to send our natural resources to England to their factories, rather than have eyesores on our soil. No factories would despoil our land. The laborers in England would work and send finished products back to America. He did not respect anyone who was not a landowner. And, factories were messy, sooty and not something he wanted in his vision of America.

Rural Reversion said...

Great piece! My family is in the beginning stages of our journey to a more rural, self sufficient life. I am glad I found your site!