A Review of Wendell Berry's "The Need to Be Whole"

For Berry, there are no autonomous people and no isolated social problems. Thus, while acknowledging that “it is obvious that race prejudice or white supremacy is the original and fundamental mistake in the European conquest of this country,” he sees questions of structural racial discrimination as part of a larger discussion about an economy founded on the abuse of the land and its inhabitants: displacing Native people, depleting the soil, destroying landscapes with extractive industries, and targeting the small family farm for extinction. “We need to remember,” Berry writes, “that we solved the one great problem of slavery while ignoring every issue raised by our manner of doing so, and that when the slaves were ‘freed,’ we resorted to an industrial system that exploits and enslaves people in other ways for other purposes, leaving them stranded and hopeless.”

Read all of "Labor, land, and racism" by Brian Volck at The Christian Century.


A Profile of Wendell and Mary Berry

Wendell Berry has spent a lifetime promoting an agrarian vision in which people and animals live in harmony with the land. As we drive around in his ancient pickup truck near his farm in Point Royal, Kentucky, he describes the way a farmer, plowing with a team of horses, understands when they need to rest.

“There’s sympathy when he looks at his team and he knows he’s asked enough of them,” Berry tells me. “By the same sort of sympathy, a farmer farming on the right scale knows the needs of the land.”

As we drive through Henry County, which includes Port Royal, Berry tells stories about the people who have lived here for generations. The winding country road rises and falls past small plots broken up by hollows and steep hillsides. Crumbling rock walls, more than a century old, line many of the fields. Nowadays, many of the people who live here are retirees or commute to jobs elsewhere.

Read all of "A Way of Life Being Lost" by Ruth Conniff in The Progressive.


On Wendell Berry and Christian Nationalism

I’d like to talk about two subjects that don’t seem to have much to do with one another: Christian nationalism and Wendell Berry. I think many people were as alarmed and horrified as I was – as pretty much the entire country was, and the entire world, at least momentarily – about the insurrection on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021. There were many things to be alarmed about in that moment, but maybe the thing that horrified me the most was seeing a sign that said “Jesus saves” in the same mob that had a noose for the vice president of the United States on a gallows made there. Many people have wondered, as they look at this and other expressions of religion used for cultural or political purposes and sometimes even violent purposes around the world: Where does this come from, and how do we answer it?

Read all of "Faith, Fiction, and Christian Nationalism" by Russell Moore at Plough.


A Profile of Wendell Berry

I first heard of Wendell Berry when I was ten years old. One evening in 1964, my father, Dan Wickenden, came home from his editorial office at Harcourt Brace, in midtown Manhattan, and described his new author: a lanky youth of thirty, who sat with his elbows on his knees, talking in a slow Kentucky cadence and gesturing with large, expressive hands. An image lodged in my mind—busy men in dark suits, their secretaries typing and taking dictation, while Berry told amusing stories in bluejeans and scuffed shoes. (Tanya disabused me of that part of the memory: “Khakis, maybe. Not bluejeans.”)

I remembered this encounter not long ago when I pulled from a bookshelf “A Continuous Harmony,” a collection of Berry’s essays that my father edited in 1971. With its homely brown jacket and yellowing pages, it looked its age, yet it spoke urgently to our current compounding crises. One of the pieces, “Think Little,” announced, “Nearly every one of us, nearly every day of his life, is contributing directly to the ruin of this planet.” Berry went on to say that he was “ashamed and deeply distressed that American government should have become the chief cause of disillusionment with American principles.”

Read all of "Wendell Berry's Advice for a Cataclysmic Age" by Dorothy Wickenden at The New Yorker.


Thinking About Wendell Berry's "Think Little"

In 1969 the agrarian writer, poet, and Kentuckian, Wendell Berry, published Think Little, a short essay dealing primarily with environmentalism and the principle of subsidiarity. I found it to be a well written and compelling piece. While it is brief, Berry’s essay contains striking observations that continue to be relevant in our own day.

As I began reading it, my immediate thought was how little has changed. This short essay could easily have been written yesterday. “First there was Civil Rights, and then there was the War, and now it is the Environment. The first two of this sequence of causes have already risen to the top of the nation’s consciousness and declined somewhat in a remarkably short time.” While the Civil Rights Movement itself has passed, the issue of race has again come to the forefront of the national and global stage. In 2020 the Black Lives Matter and George Floyd protests and riots dominated headlines, while in 2021 Critical Race Theory surfaced as a major point of contention. Then, though Berry speaks of Vietnam, one could easily replace that with the war in Afghanistan or even just the broader War on Terror. As for the Environment, there has hardly been a more prevalent and constant issue than Climate Change. The push for expanding renewable energy sources, building more electric cars, changing people’s diets, and reducing carbon emissions has been in the national and global discourse for decades now. Yet, as Berry points out, both Civil Rights (race) and the War (of your choice) have been short-lived in their prominence in the public sphere. This is not to say that racial issues have disappeared necessarily, but neither the protests of 2020 nor Critical Race Theory have actually lasted very long in terms of how important they are perceived as being and how much they dominate the political sphere. The protests came and went, and the Critical Race Theory debate has mostly given way to debates surrounding COVID-19 regulations and mandates (at least for now). Afghanistan is a similar story. While it took over headlines for a month or two, it has practically disappeared from the news and from public discourse. I doubt many people are actively thinking about our withdrawal and defeat at all, and likely will not remember it until it appears in midterm election advertisements.

Read all of "Wendell Berry’s “Think Little” Remains Relevant Today" by John Thomas at The New Utopian,.


Encountering Wendell Berry's work

The writing was lyrical but commonsensical and practical. Berry, who had returned decades before to the farming life of his childhood and was an advocate for time-tested agrarian living, drove home the point that the United States had been built on certain principles—respect for the land, shared small communities and economies, the handing down of tried and true traditions and lifestyles, an assumption that a life of faith was a natural one, a management of resources that allowed for seasonal cycles—that were all being abandoned, sacrificed to the gods of technological innovation, individualism, commercialism and unfettered capitalism.

Read all of  "Wendell Berry: the cranky farmer, poet and essayist you just can’t ignore" by James T. Keane in America.


Appreciating Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is willing to risk being called a curmudgeon to name something that we should be angry about. But his frustration and anger arise from affection because something beautiful and wonderful has been defaced. Berry’s thought reminds me of something I read by Cornelius Plantinga,  who wrote of the “vandalism of shalom.” Shalom is a term for the harmony and cooperation of humans, their land, and God, a local flourishing strengthened cooperation and embracing limits. Planting said that God is against sin because he for shalom

I admire Berry’s courage and non-conformity. Unlike so many politicians, Berry calls out the big corporations for destroying the environment and the local way of life. He is not afraid to embrace beauty, goodness, and truth out of fear of been called religious. Unlike so many preachers, Berry values the physical and doesn’t separate the Word from flesh. His character Jayber Crow, the seminarian-turned-barber of Port William, was frustrated by this tendency to hold “a very high opinion of God and a very low opinion of His works… They knew that the world would sooner or later deprive them of all it had given them, but still, they liked it.”

Read all of  "A Curmudgeon with a Sweet Song" by Mark J. Bair.


On Wendell Berry and Rebuilding Rural Communities

Wendell Berry has little use for politics and even less use for politicians. This is not to say that he does not participate in politics, because whether he likes it or not, his advocacy for rural people, rural community, and agriculture ultimately gets entangled with politics. But politics are not his end game. As a result, over the last 60+ years, Berry has alternately appealed to and infuriated politicians and activists from every point on the political spectrum.

In 2012, Berry told an interviewer, “my own inclination is not to start with a political idea or theory and think downward to the land and the people, but instead to start with the land and the people, the necessity for harmony between local ecosystems and local economies, and think upward to [policies].” People and place are Berry’s endgame and ultimately, he cannot abide any sort of movement that views people and place as dispensable cogs. I agree. Rural people and rural communities are my endgame.

Read all of "People and Place" by James M. Decker at Essays from West of 98.


Russell Moore on Wendell Berry's possible response to Lee statue removal

Around the time that I had sent my response to the student, I was out at the poet and novelist’s farm, where at his kitchen table I awkwardly brought up the subject of Lee. I say “awkwardly” because I was quite sure that Berry would disagree with my counsel. After all, I had just read a defense he’d made of Lee, and I was sure he would think that the picture’s removal was one more example of a mobilized and rootless modern society that refused to even remember the past.

Other than the one essay, however, I really had no reason to guess his response. Berry, after all, is an agrarian writer but decidedly not in the strain of “moonlight and magnolias” Southern agrarianism, which at best whitewashes and at worst romanticizes the violent white supremacist caste system of old Dixie. To the contrary, he has written poignantly on the “hidden wound” of white supremacy and the damage it has done.

Read all of "Good Riddance to the Robert E. Lee Statue" by Russell Moore in Christianity Today.


Interview with Jack Shoemaker, Wendell Berry's publisher

FF: One of your correspondents, Wendell Berry, famously wrote that he would never buy a computer. What do you think he got right, and what wrong, in that stance?

JS: Well, I just re-published Why I Won’t Buy a Computer, I just republished that little book in a pamphlet form. Wendell and I—we spoke this morning!—Wendell and I are working on a very big book, a very big book about racism and forgiveness and a lot of stuff. A five-hundred-page book. It’s going to be a book that a lot of people will look at as a kind of bookend to Unsettling of America, I think. And during the process, we’ve been doing this for about five years, we’ve been doing this really often, likely weekly, for two years—the editing. ...

You know, he writes on a long yellow tablet, by hand. And his wife Tanya types the first draft of the manuscript. And he is devoted to her and to her work and extremely responsive to it. After all these years, she becomes, really, in the process, his first editor. And then they make a typescript, and they used to make carbon copies. Now she goes into town and gets a xerox made and sends it to me. So that initial part of the process is all handwork. If he makes changes, I get substitute pages—in hard copy. I don’t get electronic things. I think we both have just so learned to deal at this pace, and when I’m dealing with my other writers, who are all electronic and they’re all hurry-up-and-wait kind of people, it can seem weird to me, compared to what Wendell and I do with each other, which is to take our time. And to be patient with one another. But it does elongate the process, there’s no question. We spend a long time in this work.

Read the whole Fare Forward interview HERE.