FIELDS WITHOUT DREAMS: Defending the Agrarian Idea by Victor Davis Hanson

FIELDS WITHOUT DREAMS: Defending the Agrarian Idea

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An unusually literate work, at once paean and dirge, on the decline of family farming, which also happens to mark ""the end of a historical cycle in America."" Hanson (The Western Way of War, 1989) is both a professor of Greek and a farmer in the Central Valley of California. This lends his book a refreshingly antiquarian air in the gloom-and-doom library of current, resoundingly modern environmental writing. Certainly few other writers share Hanson's comfort in likening the raisin farmers of Modesto to the hero Ajax of the Homeric epics or to Aeschylus's virtuous man, who ""did not wish to seem just, but to be so""; few even command the literary sources that would enable them to do so. His deep learning also affords the author a certain archness that is not unpleasant. ""Is it not odd,"" he writes with nice disdain for present orthodoxies, ""to rise at dawn with Japanese-, Mexican-, Pakistani-, Armenian-, and Portuguese-American farmers and then be lectured at noonday 40 miles away on campus about cultural sensitivity and the need for 'diversity' by the affluent white denizens of an exclusive, tree-studded suburb?"" In a ringing defense of the old ways of farming and of rural life, Hanson gives us the histories of men like Rhys Burton, who died at the age of 86 after a lifetime of working the land, and the raisin magnate Bus Barzagus, observing with passion and sorrow that their way of life will likely soon disappear, thanks in part to a federal system of agricultural subsidies that favors large-scale, industrial farm corporations over individual ""yeomen."" That system, Hanson suggests, hastens the decline of our democracy of freeholders and the rise of agro-corporate tyranny. The Southern Agrarians made much the same point in the mid-1930s, when agricultural apocalypse announced itself in the Dust Bowl. So today does Wendell Berry, alongside whose agrarian essays this intriguing book should be shelved.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Free Press