Part 1 of
Allan C. Carlson's
"The Natural Family
Where It Belongs"
(a book review)

Dateline: 13 February 2014

I have received my hot-off-the-press copy of Allan C. Carlson’s The Natural Family Where It Belongs: New Agrarian Essays. This is the much-anticipated book that I blogged about (Here) a few weeks ago. It was hard to not immediately drop everything I was doing and just start reading the book. But I held off until the evening. Thus far, I have only read the Foreword and an introductory chapter titled, “The Natural Family at Home.” 

If the introductory chapter, “The Natural Family at Home,” were a sermon (and it could easily be adapted into a sermon) I would have been saying “Amen!” repeatedly, and I would have walked out of church thanking God for such a powerful exposition of fundamental truth. 

I can imagine, though, that “The Natural Family at Home” has been presented to a class as a lecture at Hillsdale college where Allan Carlson is a visiting professor. If it isn’t taught there, it should be. Better yet, this beginning chapter in the book could be adapted into a wonderful homeschool lesson. 

“The Natural Family at Home” presents the necessary elements for a strong, healthy, resilient social structure. First comes the “most crucial social bond” of marriage. Carlson explains that marriage, as a covenant between one man and one woman, for life, is the “foundation on which humans build other social bonds.” Carlson writes...

“Humans instinctively understand that the strength of their community is dependent, in the end, on the strength of their marriages. If the marital institution weakens—or worse, if it is politicized and subordinated to ideology—then the social pathologies of suicide, crime, abuse, poor health, and crippling dependency surely follow. If continued over several generations, these pathologies, born from the decay of wedlock will consume the community itself.”

Carlson states that marriage creates a household, and collected households make up the second tier of “natural social life.” Regarding these households he writes (read this carefully)...

“Successful households are the natural reservoir of liberty. They aim at autonomy or independence, enabling their members to resist oppression, survive economic, social, and political turbulence, and renew the world after troubles have passed. Complete households must have the power to shelter, feed, and clothe their members in the absence of both state and corporate largesse. Such independence from outside agency is the true mark of liberty, making possible in turn the self-government of communities. Households functionally dependent on wages, benefits, and services provided by an outside agency or the state have surrendered a significant portion of their natural liberty, and have accepted a kind of dependency indistinguishable, at its roots, from servanthood. Independence requires that responsible adults in a household be able to forego these forms of support, if necessary, and still be able to ensure the survival of themselves and other household members.
The basic human need for functional independence in food, clothing, and shelter dictates the eternal importance both of a household’s bond to property in land and of husbandry skills. Full autonomy requires the capacity to produce a regular supply of food, and the ability to preserve a substantial share of this bounty for consumption during the adverse seasons. The keeping of grazing and meat-producing animals, supplemented by hunting and fishing, adds further to the independence of households and their ability to survive wars, famines, stock market crashes, depression, inflation, and bad government. In arable climates, intensive cultivation of even a few acres of land can provide the necessary bounty that delivers such autonomy; ten to a hundred acres of soil and timber offer an independence more sure and complete.”

I would love to continue quoting from this introduction but I don’t want to overstep my bounds. If this book were an old and long-out-of print volume, like Liberty Hyde Bailey’s, The Harvest (from which I have recently excerpted long passages at this blog), I would post the whole chapter. It’s that good.

Suffice it to say that Allan Carlson goes on to explain the importance of “functional households” being a place where “responsible patriarchy” operates. 

Responsible patriarchy? Why, it was just a few days ago that I was quoting Liberty Hyde Bailey’s use (in his 1927 book) of the term, “independent patriarchal units” in a discussion about families on the land being a bulwark of freedom.

Allan Carlson has, undoubtedly, read Bailey. But Allen Carlson is a social and cultural historian. He has read far more than L.H. Bailey, and studied the historical evidence to support the validity of what he writes. I find it fascinating.

The third layer of a healthy social order, after the family and household, is the village, town, or neighborhood. Within this layer we find the natural bonds of things like shared religious faith, an extended network of kin, shared ethnicity and common history. 

Carlson also writes of the importance of attachment to the physical and biological environment of a place at this third level. I can’t resist giving another quote at this point...

“This grounding in a small niche of the natural world is vital to the full development of the human personality, and necessary to the attachments which define and hold households and communities together. Deep affection for a place is normally the product of growing up there, whether it be the lake country of Michigan or the soaring mountains of Switzerland. Persons without this sense of native place are left incomplete. They often become perpetual nomads, given to grand visions and ideological constructs designed to fill the emptiness of their hearts.”

That is profoundly insightful and it's a paragraph that I hope to further discuss in a future blog post.

The fourth tier of society is the state, then comes what Carlson calls the “wild card in human social relations,” which is the corporation. Of the corporation he writes...

“The common characteristic of the corporation is the manner in which it transcends the natural social constructs of family, community, state, and nation, by claiming the direct and primal loyalty of individuals. Persons joining the corporation weaken, or in some cases even abandon their bonds to the tiers of natural family order, accepting a new master.”

And there again we see shades of the agrarian writings of Liberty Hyde Bailey that I recently quoted here. Coincidence? I think not. Marriage and traditional family economies (working households), rooted on the land, are fundamental to the agrarian ideal, which is fundamental to freedom. 

To see these contra-industrial understandings clearly expressed in just the introductory chapter of Allan Carlson’s new book is a delight. 

These understandings are critically important to those of us who are looking to restore agrarian-based "islands of freedom" (a term I've borrowed from Kevin Swanson). These islands of freedom consist of families on the land, developing productive, autonomous family economies, to the best of their ability, within the industrial culture we live in.

These understandings, and these agrarian families, represent a way of life that is not only "natural" but biblical. As I've stated many times, I believe the agrarian context is the proper paradigm for Christian life.

Beyond that, these understandings will be especially important in the aftermath of the collapse of the industrialized economic and social structures of Western civilization. 

Thus far, I'm certainly enjoying Allan Carlson's new book, and I haven't even read Chapter 1 yet.


Click Here to read Part 2 of this book review


Cynthia (C.L) Lewis said...

I've been thinking of "investments" as of late and I think I need to see my growing library as one. One theory denotes wealth comes from the ground (80% Agrarian, 20% mining)but that is limiting. Intellectual and spiritual wealth are just as, if not more, important. Thank you for leading me to another worthwhile book.

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Cynthia,

Yes, all wealth originates from the earth. I wonder if the agrarian 80% includes the ocean-generated wealth?

Personally, I spend too much money on books. And not all of them end up being as good as I hope they will be. I've only read the introduction to this one. Maybe you should hold off until I get a couple more blog reviews posted for this book.

Oh, and by the way, I just can't get excited about buying an electronic version of a book. I can't write in the margins and underline with a pencil. And how do I read them if the grid goes down some day?

Thanks for the comment.

Herrick Kimball said...

Also, the book will probably be cheaper when it comes out in paperback.

I'm not trying to discourage anyone from buying this book. Everyone with an interest in agrarianism should buy and read every book they can find about the subject, and this one looks like it's going to be excellent.

I'm just pointing out that there may be a less expensive option in a few months, and less expensive is always better.

Cynthia (C.L) Lewis said...

I'm with you. I don't care for electronic reading options. I like a real book. A paperback option might be nice for this one. I don't have $$ to order right now anyway. Keep your reviews coming but if you like it this much already and haven't even gotten to chapter one, I'm feeling you're going to like the rest.

Darren (Green Change) said...

This book sounds fascinating!

I realise you've only just dipped a toe into it, but once you've read more you should consider writing a brief review on He doesn't have any reviews or stars yet, so there's not much to encourage curious book-browsers to purchase.

Looking forward to the next installment of your review!

Providence Acres Farm said...

IT soulds ike a great book! As a Christian agrarian, it sounds like a book I would enjoy and add to my collection.

I do read with an electronic reader most of the time. It just takes up so much less space. We are minimalists, in our space requirements as well as posessions.

Herrick Kimball said...

Well, I'm into the first two chapters now. The agrarian themes presented in the introduction are NOT in the first two chapters that follow. Stay tuned for my next installment of comments on this book.

Sharon said...

Thanks for sharing! Too many couples live together, thinking it superior to marriage. Where I work, I see this type of thinking destroying families and leading everyone involved to poverty and solitary living. They become needy and leaners on others to provide for them.

Maybe I could put this book somewhere visible. :-) I work in a church office. We're happy to feed the hungry, but at the same time, we can see how sin - yes sin - is the root cause of their physical poverty. The first words of your quote (Didn't read it all) explained this so well.

Sheila said...

Although we lived close to Washington DC, we were in, what was then considered, the deep suburbs. I grew up in a neighborhood that was so close, that if you did not know someone, it was really strange. Our neighborhood was also about 99% practicing Christians, and our world revolved around the community and the church.
Everyone was involved.
There were many, many thousands of members, and it grew to include other denominations, because of the "Spirit" of the people that shared their lives and the activities of the church.
To this day, anyone that grew up there, has the greatest memories of what it was like to care about others, to love where they lived, and even to have a website of the area, that has grown way beyond belief. These were people that believed in family, marriage, hard work, and right in the heart of industry. (most worked in DC)
God was always the center of our lives, and yes, some even grew gardens. Almost all of the families had grandparents that grew all of their own food, and believe it or not, no one in Washington would have been without a garden in my parents day. It was part of their history. Yes, talking over fences, growing food, and never would you live there, without roses in your yard. My mother and father gave us the most wonderful life in the world. We always knew what was expected of us, we believed in it, and we lived it.
I only pray that we can all share what it is to "really live" in the current world. Being independent and getting away from a great deal of "industry" would be the first step. I did, and I will never look back.
Thank you Lord!

Old Orchard Farm said...

Like you I waited anxiously for the delivery of Carlson's new book. Like you I salivated during the introduction and was prepared for a wonderful read. I must say though, the deeper I read into the book the more disappointed I became. I really, really tried hard to like this book. I kept reading, waiting on something that would turn my thoughts to family, farming or a return to the soil. I started to give up on even finishing after Chapter's 4.....5. This was not the reading content that I was expecting at all.
I did trudge through the middle and final chapters and was pleasantly surprised with a tidbit of material contained in the last chapter. In retrospect, this book contained more anticipation than content.
There is no doubt that Mr. Carlson is a brillent man and an excellent researcher, but other than the introduction along with Chapters 1 & 10 I gleaned very little from this work.
Sorry to seem so negative. but I really was disappointed.


Herrick Kimball said...


You are a faster reader than I am. I can relate to your analysis and disappointment. I'm hoping to blog a report on the first three chapters later today or tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kimball, I just purchased this book. Thank you for reviewing it and sharing your thoughts with others. I found myself thinking if these were the quotes you used, imagine what I was missing out in. Thank you again. I think I will be very pleased.

Ouida Gabriel