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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Agrarianism is a social and political philosophy which stresses a rural or semi-rural lifestyle, most especially agricultural pursuits such as farming or ranching. Proponents claim that it leads to a fuller, happier, cleaner, and more sustainable way of life for both individuals and society as a whole.



In the introduction to his 1969 book Agrarianism in American Literature, M. Thomas Inge defines agrarianism by the following basic tenets:

  • Cultivation of the soil provides direct contact with nature; through the contact with nature, the agrarian acquires the virtues of "honor, manliness, self-reliance, courage, moral integrity, and hospitality" and follows the example of God when creating order out of chaos.
  • The farmer "has a sense of identity, a sense of historical and religious tradition, a feeling of belonging to a concrete family, place, and region, which are psychologically and culturally beneficial." The harmony of this life checks the encroachments of a fragmented, alienated modern society that has grown to inhuman scale.
  • In contrast, farming offers more independence and self-sufficiency. It has a solid, stable position in the world order. But urban life, capitalism, and technology destroy independence and dignity while fostering vice and weakness. The agricultural community can provide checks and balances against the imbalances of modern society by its fellowship of labor and cooperation with other agrarians, while obeying the rhythms of nature.


Agrarianism was woven into the very fabric of early republic. A major proponent was Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in 1785 in a letter to John Jay:

"Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, & they are tied to their country & wedded to it's [sic] liberty & interests by the most lasting bonds."[1]

In the 1910s and 1920s, agrarianism garnered significant popular attention, but was eclipsed in the postwar period. It has been revived somewhat in conjunction with the environmental movement, and has been drawing an increasing number of adherents.

In 1930 the Southern Agrarians wrote in the "Introduction: A Statement of Principles" to their book I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition:

"All the articles bear in the same sense upon the book's title-subject: all tend to support a Southern way of life against what may be called the American or prevailing way; and all as much as agree that the best terms in which to represent the distinction are contained in the phrase, Agrarian versus Industrial. ... Opposed to the industrial society is the agrarian, which does not stand in particular need of definition. An agrarian society is hardly one that has no use at all for industries, for professional vocations, for scholars and artists, and for the life of cities. Technically, perhaps, an agrarian society is one in which agriculture is the leading vocation, whether for wealth, for pleasure, or for prestige-a form of labor that is pursued with intelligence and leisure, and that becomes the model to which the other forms approach as well as they may. But an agrarian regime will be secured readily enough where the superfluous industries are not allowed to rise against it. The theory of agrarianism is that the culture of the soil is the best and most sensitive of vocations, and that therefore it should have the economic preference and enlist the maximum number of workers."[2]

Recent agrarian thinkers are sometimes referred to as neo-Agrarian and include the likes of Wendell Berry and Gene Logsdon. They are characterized by seeing the world through an agricultural lens. Although much of Inge's principles, above, still apply to the New Agrarianism, the affiliation with a particular religion and patriarchal tendency have subsided to some degree.

Similar social movements

Agrarianism is not identical with the back-to-the-land movement, but it can be helpful to think of it in those terms. Agrarianism concentrates on the fundamental goods of the earth, communities of more limited economic and political scale than in modern society, and on simple living--even when this shift involves questioning the "progressive" character of some recent social and economic developments. Thus agrarianism is not industrial farming, with its specialization on products and industrial scale.

Famous agrarians

The name "agrarian" is properly applied to figures from Horace and Virgil, Pyotr Stolypin and Thomas Jefferson, Transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, the Southern Agrarians of the 1920s and 1930s (also known as the Vanderbilt Agrarians) and present-day authors Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon, Allan C. Carlson, and Victor Davis Hanson.

The leader of the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union, Aleksandar Stamboliyski, is the only president of an Agrarian Party to have been the prime minister of a one-party agrarian government, from 1920-1923.

Agrarian parties

See also


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