Intellectuals Idolize Quaint Rural Farms… That They Never Worked On
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the elite have bashed capitalism for destroying community. You won’t find any of the rural folk who left dreary villages for jobs in urban factories criticizing it; most of it comes from the wealthy elite who owned vast estates while living in the city and who employed many of those who left. Others were intellectual with no understanding of rural life, such as G. K. Chesterton, T. S. Eliot, and Russel Kirk.
Kirk demonstrated in his book, The Conservative Mind, that conservatives have hated industry and revered agriculture since conservatism’s conception by Edmond Burke. They won’t say it, but conservatives want to conserve what they see as the idyllic villages of the 15th century. They think we could have achieved the wealth and health the West enjoys today without industrialization, unless they admire the poverty, disease and violence of that century. I’m not certain which posture best suits them because none have ever written about it.
Recently, Dani Rodrick, an economics professor at Harvard, joined the ranks of the communitarians by giving his blessing to two books that claim to show how global trade destroys community. Rodrick summarizes the disasters that pummel towns:
When a local factory closes because a firm has decided to outsource to a supplier across the border, more is lost than the hundreds (or thousands) of jobs that move abroad. The impact is multiplied through reduced spending on local goods and services, which means workers and employers across the entire local economy feel the hit. The local government’s tax revenues fall as well, so there is less money to spend on education and other public amenities. Anomie, family breakdown, opioid addiction, and other social ills often follow.
Every economist has to imitate Marx and give a grudging nod to capitalism for enriching us to such a great degree and Rodrick follows suit. Then he stabs it in the back:
But clearly something has gone wrong in the meantime. The economic and social divisions within our societies have provoked a broad backlash in a wide range of settings – from the United States, Italy, and Germany in the developed world to developing countries such as the Philippines and Brazil. This political turmoil suggests that economists’ priorities may not have been entirely appropriate.
What about Greece and Venezuela? Compared to those, the US, Germany and Italy look like bastions of peace and quiet. The problems in all of those countries stem from attempts to implement the community “friendly” (a euphemism for socialist) policies that Rodrick and the two authors promote. Socialism destroys jobs and impoverished the majority while it enriches the elite with strong political connections, just as it did in the USSR and China under Mao. The nations with the greatest political problems are those that traveled farthest down the road to Marxism.
The basic problem with communitarians like Rodrick is that they insist that villages should be permanent structures. But few groupings of any kind are permanent. From the beginning of time, someone moved to a new location and established a village, town or city. Even the ancient cities of Ur and Egypt were established by migrants. Communitarians want them to be permanent once established. In short, they are against change, not for communities.
Rural people have left for jobs in the cities for three hundred years and they’re still doing it. Often the villages they left turn into ghost towns. The western part of the US is pockmarked with former mining towns or farming communities inhabited only by the wind. But what happened to the people who left for the cities? They enjoyed higher paying jobs so they could feed their families better and provide better healthcare. They joined churches and clubs to reform communities and began to take part in civic activities.
Communitarians pretend that villages are temples and the state should do all it can to preserve them. In reality, they are nothing but places where people got together to create better lives at the time and when they have served their purpose the people will move to a place that better suits their needs and recreate appropriate communities. Where two or three are gathered together, they will have community.
Yes, change often dissolves some communities and people have to form new ones. But people are much more flexible than communitarians are willing to admit. Is that worse than the “idyllic” villages of the Middle Ages where no one could escape the poverty, misery, disease, long hours and hard work because they were permanent slaves to their village?
Boiled down, communitarians and conservatives are simply against change of any kind even if it is for the improvement of people’s lives. Their misguided attempts to make quaint villages permanent will only result in the far worse problems that socialist countries such as Greece and Venezuela suffer. Both need to quit worshiping villages and wake up to the communities that people are building around them, even in the big city.