“Can one have an off day in giving the Jefferson Lecture (an off week or month in writing it)?” asks Matthew J. Franck in reference to the recent NEH honor afforded to agrarian Wendell Berry. “I’d like to think so. For judging by the text of the lecture Berry gave in Washington at the beginning of this week, his thinking can be fairly repellent.”
Titled “It All Turns on Affection,” his lecture is chiefly a catalogue of Berry’s hatreds. He hates wantonly destructive land use, soil erosion, mountaintop-removal mining. So far so good.
He hates “agribusiness” and large-scale farming, though it is a great success story in the battle against hunger. He hates “corporations” and derides the notion that they are “persons” in the law, sounding as much like a wise man as the average backbench Democratic hack in the U.S. Congress. He hates “industrialism,” “plutocracy,” and “capitalism,” explaining why his thought is popular among a certain breed of college professors. He hates “materialism” but seems unable to transcend it at any point in this lecture.
Taking a breather from his litany of loathing, he indicates that he loves Nature, which he capitalizes, and draws attention to capitalizing, just in case we might be too slow to miss his implicit pantheism. He loves the local, and he loves the land, and he loves the impressive but largely vacuous sentences he composes about them.