Another consideration of Wendell Berry's latest work

In my observation, conservatives who celebrate Wendell Berry’s ideas deal with the seemingly leftist elements of his thought—his condemnations of corporate power, finance capitalism, and libertarian individualism most obviously, but his highly selective and somewhat distanced engagement with the traditionalist pre-occupations that define so much of our never-ending culture war is perhaps even more important—in a variety of ways. Some downplay those elements, some appropriate them into a post-liberal framework, and some insist that the localist or distributist character of the agrarian beliefs which he holds aren’t in any substantive sense leftist at all, but rather are actually conservative, properly understood. All of these approaches have their value—though given that Berry never makes, in all this massive book exploring prejudices in America, an explicit Burkean defense of prejudice, I am doubtful how far any of them can go in their attempt to claim these ideas of Berry’s as “conservative” in any formal sense. Rather, while The Need to Be Whole will probably never be much read or appreciated by contemporary (and overly statist) socialists, I think his overarching intentions are clearly most at home with anti-capitalist radicals of the left. It is they, after all, who have most consistently lamented the destruction of the commons, and lamented all the divisive consequences which have followed its ruination at the hands of an expansionist capitalism which has, tragically, characterized American history from its beginning; their complaint is Berry’s as well.

Read all of "Thinking About Wendell Berry’s Leftist Lament (and More)" by Russell Arben Fox at Front Porch Republic.

An Overview of Wendell Berry's A Continuous Harmony

I suspect I am not the only one who thinks that all of Wendell Berry’s essays are just variations on a theme. But two things make “variations on a theme” either banale or briliant–the beauty of the theme and the skill of the composer. In the case of Berry, the theme is the utterly essential theme of living well in our place–our own patch of land, our community, our country, our planet. The variations include the disciplines that have shaped how we live in our place, the need to think little and local, the illusions of our industrial dreams, and the value of literacy and the importance of the language that we use.

Read all of "Review: A Continuous Harmony" by Bob Trube at Bob on Books.

Another response to Wendell Berry's The Need to Be Whole

Word is going around that Wendell Berry’s The Need to Be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice has caused something of a scandal. And we can easily understand the dismay: In his latest study of land, culture, and society, Mr. Berry not only argues against pulling down Confederate monuments, but even suggests that some of the Confederates had redeeming qualities. This is hardly a fashionable thesis in the Year of Our Lord 2023, nor is it what we would expect from a writer who received the National Humanities Medal from Barack Obama.

Then again, nobody should have been too surprised by Mr. Berry’s latest remarks. Left-leaning or no, the man has always been idiosyncratic, and has always admitted that his agrarian philosophy owes much to the politically-incorrect Vanderbilt Agrarians of the 1930’s. As Mr. Berry saw fit during his 2012 Jefferson Lecture to quote the poet Allen Tate—author of Stonewall Jackson: The Good Soldier and poems like “Ode To the Confederate Dead”—it should come as no surprise that he disagrees with those who would have Tate “canceled.”

Read all of "Wendell Berry's The Need to Be Whole" by Jerry Salyer at The Imaginative Conservative.

Reading Wendell Berry in a Wendy's

I was reading Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America while eating my 4 for $4 meal in a Wendy’s. I had never experienced cognitive dissonance so extreme before that moment and I don’t reckon I ever will again.

That moment felt like waking up. With a maybe-chicken nugget sopping with honey mustard between my teeth, I realized just how disconnected from the earth I was. All of a sudden I understood that my relationship with the ground and its produce was mediated to me through layers and layers of abstractions and processes and people, a relationship that, if mapped on to that between two people, could not sustain anything like intimacy and would be doomed to bitterness and failure. So it was between me and the earth under my feet, this separation represented materially by layers of cloth, rubber, asphalt, and concrete. We had a disordered relationship and while it would be easy to lay the blame at the feet of the culture to which I belong, in the end I was an offending party. Whether all the fast food spots in the country closed their doors or continued to sell their genetically modified wares in perpetuity, I needed to say sorry and mean it.

Read all of "Gardening, Wendy’s, and Wendell Berry" by Nathaniel Marshall at The Blue Scholar.

Another review of The Need to Be Whole

In every facet of modern life, we are being exploited, fragmented and alienated from the reality of the world and our own human natures. For over 60 years, Wendell Berry, writing from his farm near Port Royal, Ky., has attempted to draw back into relationship things that human sin, always wrapped up in “our destruction of precious things that we did not and cannot make,” has made separate through pride and greed. He has attempted to heal the great divisions that afflict us: our estrangements from the place where we are, the soil that we stand on, the people that surround us and the call of the natural law within us.

Now nearing the end of his life, Berry has looked back over what he has done, the long labor of one who has “entered the way of love and taken up its work,” and attempted in a new book, The Need to Be Whole, to give a glimpse of the undivided foundation that underpins all he has ever tried to think and say. Perhaps by necessity, he is only partly successful.

Read all of "Review: Wendell Berry on healing our divisions" by John-Paul Heil at America: The Jesuit Review.

Another reader responds to Wendell Berry's The Need to Be Whole

Wendell Berry has a lot of liberal fans, for thoroughly misguided reasons.  His latest book. The Need To Be Whole, has, for once, attracted some real honest criticism.  The negative reviews in my opinion don’t go nearly far enough into condemning Berry’s thoroughly bigoted worldview.  They correctly condemn the Confederate apologia, but never acknowledge that this has been part of Berry’s work since the very beginning.

Berry, as the Slate review indicates, gets a lot of love from some liberals because they see his work as being anticapitalist.  He condemns factory farming and mountaintop removal mining, so they think he must also be in favor of the basic liberal project of increasing individual autonomy.  He absolutely is NOT.  His work falls within a long tradition of right wing anti-market writing, lamenting the fracturing of ‘communities’ and families by market forces.  He is a defender of old, rigid hierarchies and has little use for the idea of concrete, legally enforceable rights.  

Read all of "I Read Bad Books So You Don't Have To" by Karen Cox at Daily Kos. And more here.

On Wendell Berry's new fiction and the Bible

Having grown up with the King James Bible, the first thing I noticed when I began reading Berry’s Port William stories is how interwoven they are with its cadences. His intimate knowledge of this greatest of English Bibles would not have been remarkable when Nathan Coulter was published in 1960; now, one wonders how many readers actually recognize Berry’s references. The concept of “the membership” itself was described by Burley Coulter in Wild Birds this way: “The way we are, we are members of each other. All of us. Everything. The difference ain’t in who is a member and who is not, but in who knows it and who don’t.” Berry took that concept from 1 Corinthians 12: 12: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.”

The phraseology of the King James is pervasive throughout the Port William record. Berry refers to “groaning and travailing” (Rom: 8) in A World Lost; he describes Andy’s amputated hand as a “help meet” that he misses like “Adam missed Paradise” in Remembering, and Elton Penn’s wife as a “help meet” in How It Went (Gen: 2); Hannah Coulter describes the membership as “those in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts: 17).

Read all of "Ties that Bind: Wendell Berry, the Bible, and Port William" by Jonathon Van Maren at The European Conservative.

Thoughts on Wendell Berry's new story collection

Had Berry left it at elegy, this book would not be all it is. But he did not. He is as urgent as ever in insisting that we again grasp the truths of the lives and communities whose passing he mourns. He doubts we can survive without them. True, we bandy around the word “community” in every sort of context, knowing it has signified something important we would like to have, or have others imagine we actually do have. But community as written of in this book and remembered by Berry is an all-encompassing reality that shapes our every action with consideration of those around us and the land upon which we depend.

Berry warns us: we cannot survive the absence of living and working as a community.

Read all of "Wendell Berry, Temple Grandin, and the Idolatry of Abstractions" by Shmuel Klatzkin at The American Spectator.

Another review of Wendell Berry's The Need to Be Whole

The Need to Be Whole positions itself as a spiritual descendant of two of these standalones: The Hidden Wound (1970), in which Berry took up the damage wrought by slavery and racial prejudice, and The Unsettling of America (1977), in which he considered the death of the small farm, and more generally the continual destruction of land that was settled even before Europeans arrived in the New World. The new book braids these concerns together, but it lacks a clear rationale: Berry attempts a summing up, but in the process spins out so many arguments and sub-concerns and asides (some of them in this 500-page volume long enough to be books on their own) that his reach towards comprehensiveness risks overwhelming his purpose. Furthermore, some sections, particularly those broadly concerning the Civil War, Robert E. Lee, and Confederate monuments, seem almost designed to spark controversy, though I take Berry at his word when he maintains his sincerity and abiding faith in love as his preeminent value. At the same time, Berry’s writing is marked by a strain of defensiveness I have not previously encountered in his essays, and while this does not necessarily mar the book, it renders it less than what it should be.

Read all of "Wendell Berry’s Peculiar Patriotism" by Benjamin J. Wilson at The Bulwark