The current crisis in American agriculture is an ironic combination
of both abundant and weather-ravaged crops, but one common element is
that it has provoked the politicians, as usual, to come forward with a
plentiful crop of plans to save the family farm. Throughout the 20th
century, the five and 10 point plans of the politicians have come and
gone, and every time the result is the same — fewer and fewer family
farms. This consistent policy failure is a sign of something
fundamentally wrong in our approach.

Emergency help in the forms of loans and other assistance to enable
farmers to re-capitalize for the next season is necessary, of course.
But let’s not confuse that with a policy that actually aims to
perpetuate and strengthen the family farm. Temporary, emergency
expedients do not address the fundamental structural impediments,
particularly in finance, to the existence of this crucial American
institution. But the real key to saving it is not economic reform, but a
renewed understanding of why it is worth saving.

Family agriculture was put behind the financial eight ball early in
this century, when at the same time that we surrendered our economic
sovereignty by accepting a federal income tax, we also consolidated
centralized control of the distribution of our financial resources
through the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank. A centralized banking
system is incompatible with the existence of family farms. The branches
of national banks are not citizens of their local community, having no
stake in it that goes deep into the soil. One of the economic advantages
of a large superstructure is that any given part of it can be jettisoned
if economically necessary. Is this the kind of institution that will
pull out the stops to help a farming community get through hard times?
Our centralized banking structure has divorced the interest of the banks
from the actual interests of the people. We need
to restructure the way that capital flows into the farming sector and
reintroduce community-based banking structures that are dependent for
their survival on their relationship with people in grass roots

But why does it matter that we do so? The family farm is not crucial
because we absolutely have to have family farms in order to eat.
Actually, a consolidated farm system of big agri-businesses that had
squeezed out the family farm could theoretically feed the country. We
cannot sustain respect for family and mid-sized farms on the basis of a
food security argument. The politicians know this, and while they
promise to save the family farm, money from the big agri-businesses is
pouring into their coffers. In the end, this money will trump the
influence of all the votes that the supporters of the family farm can
muster. We can’t save the family farm with economic arguments, because
if Money is God in American politics, the agri-business corporations
will control agricultural policy in America.

So if we don’t need family farms for economic and food security
reasons, why should there be a national effort to save them? Why should
our politicians ask the demographically dominant urban and suburban
areas of the country to care about the size and character of the
enterprises that
produce their food? If we can maintain a strong agricultural sector
without family farms, why not let them go? Why not just let agriculture
“come into the 21st century” and move beyond the “cottage industry” to
take advantage of “economies of scale”?

To protect the family farm, we need to move beyond economic arguments
to generate a sincere and permanent commitment to the human institution
involved. Otherwise the pressures of a centralized banking system,
combined with all the special interest cash in the political system,
will work towards the extinction of family farming.

To understand why our commitment to this sector must transcend
politics and economics, we have to remember what men like Thomas
Jefferson thought was required for us to survive as a free people. He
pointed out the connection between the maintenance of liberty and the
characteristics that develop from a strong population of what he called
yeoman farmers. Yeoman farmers were characterized by a certain
combination of discipline, common sense, independence of spirit and
mind, love of liberty, and a deep sense of duty, responsibility and

The combination of independence of mind and spirit with a deep sense
of obligation to community does not arise frequently or easily in human
nature. More often, those who are strongly individualistic are selfish
and self-centered, and thus uncaring about what happens to their
community. And cultures with a strong concern for community too often
let individuality be suppressed so that people are cogs in a larger
machine. The balance between independent spirit and commitment to
community that is the essence of real liberty and self-government is
rare and precious in human affairs.

As America was built and sustained over the past three centuries,
this peculiar combination of independence of mind and concern for
community was so consistent and clear that it became identified as
typically American. An American is someone with a strong sense of his
own rights
and liberties, but who at the same time answers the call when it is
necessary to work for the common good of his community or state, or even
to make the ultimate sacrifice to save his nation. This spirit made
American soldiers some of the most unusual and yet, as it turned out,
most successful in the world. We showed this in World War II, when we
defeated an enemy, Germany, that had produced the best military in
Europe on the basis of rigid discipline, producing people who abased
their individual personality in order completely to accept social and
military discipline of command. Our extraordinary American balance of a
certain degree of discipline combined with the stubborn retention of
independence and initiative turned us into a uniquely effective fighting

force. Even when we appeared beaten, our soldiers continued to take the
initiative in order to create new opportunities for victory.

Where did we find people who could combine these traits in this way?
The backbone of this nation’s strength and character, the people who
were transformed from ordinary citizens into heroes on the battlefield
and leaders in the world, very often came from farming homes. On the
farm, their heart and soul had been fashioned by the requirement that
everyone stand on his own two feet, and yet work together when
cooperative work was demanded, because nature was so often harsh and
unforgiving. The resilience of our spirit as a people, the
characteristics that have made us strong and provided the foundations
for much of this nation’s success in the world, are rooted in the moral
culture of the family farm.

What will happen to us when we have let those great sources and
resources of our national strength and character be destroyed? Where
will we find the strength of heart and mind that is required to sustain
our liberty? I don’t think it is an accident that what may be one of the
culminating crises of the family farming sector is arising at the same
time as the culminating crisis of this nation’s moral life. We are
deciding whether we are going to sustain the character required for
freedom, or throw it away. In many areas, in many communities, we have,
unfortunately, already made the wrong decisions. We have given up our
economic sovereignty, and given up our educational sovereignty, backing
away from our responsibility as parents, and turning over control of our
schools to government bureaucrats and politicians. Our “elites” are
breathtakingly corrupt, yet we permit them to set much of our public and
political agenda in opposition to our own best judgment
and common sense.

On all these fronts we have surrendered those rights and
responsibilities that are required for self-government. It should come
as no surprise to us, therefore, that we have also begun to accept the
notion that we can simply allow the demise of America’s family farms.
The defense of the family farm is a rear-guard action in the battle to
preserve ordered liberty. The key to rediscovering our commitment to the
family farm is that we rediscover our commitment to renewing,
strengthening, and preserving the moral character that America needs to
survive in freedom.

If we are to remain free, we had better preserve the seedbeds of
liberty. We had better preserve those parts of our society and culture
through which we pass on the moral allegiance to American life, and the
kind of heart, mind, and character that will sustain it. Throughout the
history of our country, this task has been one of the primordial results
and responsibilities not only of the family, but especially of the
family-based system of agriculture.

There are no compelling economic reasons that prevent the survival
and flourishing of this critical institution, and we need not adopt
short-sighted socialist policies to do the job, points to which I will
return next week. But no arguments of economic viability or necessity
will carry the day unless we can recall Americans once again to an
understanding of the morally crucial role of the family farm. The family
farm has been the paradigm for family life in America. The desire to
retain it is not nostalgia, but is rooted rather in our resolve that the
deep things of the heart and soul shall endure in
America, regardless of the impersonal or anti-personal “tendencies” of
modern life. Once we agree again on this, preserving a place for family
farming in America will not be so difficult as the city slickers let on.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.