10 January 2010

The Return of Yeomanry

Phillip Longman is up with an excellent piece at MercatorNet, discussing underlying reasons for the comeback of small scale farming and manufacturing...and where these trends may take us in the future. Longman touches on many themes near and dear to this Yeoman Farmer, including:

This word “yeomanry” is now obscure in English, and may be impossible to translate into many other languages. But particularly in America during the 18th and 19th century, it stood for a clear ideal of human organization, which was small-scale production centered on a self-sufficient family unit.

One of America’s most prominent founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, for example, wrote frequently the superior virtue of the country’s then substantial yeomanry, which mostly comprised family farmers who owned their own land and small family business owners. Jefferson’s vision of America’s future was that widespread family ownership of small scale productive would remain the dominant form of social and economic organization, and that the influence of both Big Business and Big Government would be held in check.

Since then all manner of social philosophers in many different traditions and different generations, have articulated and defended this vision. It was the dream for example, of Pope Leo XIII. It was also the dream Bulgaria’s Alexander Stamboliski and the other leaders of Eastern Europe’s mostly forgotten democratic “Green” movement, who in the aftermath of World War I reconfigured the former Austro-Hungarian Empire by redistributing royal lands and converting tenant farmers into self-sufficient freeholders.

But until recently, real-life yeomen could be and were dismissed--often violently. Joseph Stalin, for example, made short work of Eastern Europe's land-holding peasant class. During the 20th century, both capitalists and communists, for different reasons, were hostile to the idea of a property owning, prosperous peasantry. Capitalists wanted agriculture to be industrialized, while Communists wanted it collectivized, with both opposed to any possible third way. For both Capitalists and Communists, the future would be one of ever greater division of labor and increasing economies of scale, with the family stripped of nearly all productive function.

Yet today there are signs that the yeoman ideal of small-scale ownership and production, having already out-survived communism, maybe be poised for a big comeback around the world. This is not to predict the end of globalism, if by that we mean simply high levels of interconnectivity. But it is to suggest that for reasons of technology, demography, culture, and efficiency, big is no longer necessarily better and the yeoman has a chance.
Later in the article, Longman talks more about agriculture in particular. The whole piece is definitely worth a read.

H/T: Zach Frey.

1 comment:

Michael Francis Saunders said...

I don't know much about Distributism which Chesterton and Belloc advocated, but Yomanry sounds a lot like it. Is it? Are they identical concepts, do they have a lot of overlap, or are they at root two opposing ways of addressing the same situation? Can you give us more insight on this?