Restoring an Agrarian Society in the South
[Editor’s note: Footnotes in the original are omitted.]
“Agrarianism” is defined in I'll Take My Stand as follows:
Opposed to the industrial society is the agrarian, which does not stand in particular need of definition. An agrarian society is hardly one that has no use at all for industries, professional vocations, for scholars and artists and for the life of the cities. Technically, perhaps, an agrarian society is one in which agriculture is the leading vocation, whether for wealth, for pleasure, or prestige — a form of labor that is pursued with intelligence and leisure, and that becomes the model to which the other forms approach as well as they may.In “The Pillars of Agrarianism” Frank Owsley complements this definition by writing, “. . . agriculture was the leading vocation . . . the agrarian population and the people of the agricultural market towns must dominate the social, cultural, economy, and political life of the state and give tone to it.” He adds that “subsistence farming must be the first objective of every man who controls a farm or plantation. The land must first support the people who till it; then it must support their stock.”
In “Happy Farmers” John Ransom defines agrarianism as “. . . old-fashioned farming; or the combination of subsistence farming of the first place with a money farming of the second place. . . . Agrarianism is a kind of amphibianism: the farmer, wonderful creature, is capable of sustaining his life in either or both of two different economic elements. It should be both, but in a certain order; his private or subsistence economy first, and his social or money economy second. . . . The technique of subsistence on good land, with inexpensive tools [means] . . . to raise the great bulk of the foods for the family . . . to do plain carpentering to the extent at least of repairs, to paint and whitewash, . . . to feed all the animals, as well as persons, from the land, to fertilize the land by the periodic use of grass crops.”
Owsley identifies the principal enemy of agrarianism as “. . . a system which allows a relatively few men to control most of the nation’s wealth and to regiment virtually the whole population under their anonymous holding companies and corporations. . . .” He states a major objective as the restoration of property and the abolishment of the proletariat. “The more widespread is the ownership of property, the more happily and secure will be the people and the nation.”
Both Owsley and Ransom advocate a free market, free trade economy, which would place agriculture on par with industry. (In this essay industry or industrialism includes manufacturing, commerce, and finance.) They identify the economic problems of America during the Great Depression (when they wrote) as caused in large part by trade restrictions, such as protective tariffs and import quotas. The trade restrictions gave the industrialist a protected market in which to sell his products at a higher price than he could in a free market. Trade restrictions reduced the price of agricultural products because the agriculturist could not trade his products for foreign manufactured goods. They identified part of the problem as the concentration of economic power into the hands of a few. Thus, they advocated the widespread ownership of property. Agricultural goods should have priority over manufactured goods. The tax system needed revising — especially property and land taxes. Although both saw a need for government intervention, they sought to keep it minimal, mostly at providing assistance to people to resettle on the land. Otherwise, farmers would become welfare wards. (Unfortunately turning farmers into welfare wards has come to past in the United States. Just suggesting a reduction in farm subsidies, raises a protest across the country in opposition just as suggesting a reduction in social security or any other welfare program.) Neither believed in nor advocated egalitarianism. Each person was to stand or fall on his own merit, abilities, and resources. Both outlined a program, which differed in some details, to bring about a revival of an agrarian economy in the South. Parts of their programs are still of value. Parts are dated and would be counter productive if implemented today.
Much has changed in the South since the agrarians wrote their essays in the early 1930s. The most obvious change has been the industrialization of the South. Many details offered by the agrarians 60 years ago to bring about an agrarian society and concomitant agrarian economic system are now out of date and would be difficult, even impossible, to implement without resorting to authoritarian government. However, the underlying principles are still valid. The essence of agrarianism can still be achieved in the twenty-first century South.
The essences of agrarianism are individualism, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency. Agrarianism stresses the importance of the family, the community, and social activity, especially religion. It requires decentralized ownership of property, both land and industry, and a decentralized political economy. Its economy is a free market, free trade economy with widespread ownership of property. Its political system is decentralized republicanism of concurrent majorities as opposed to a democratic, oligarchic, or autocratic political system. It social system is one of free association with respect for the various races of mankind and a desire to preserve them. Economic, political, and social egalitarianism is an abhorrence because it is unnatural. Hierarchies and authority are recognized and respected. However, they are not touted or protected by law. They are tempered because of the independents of subordinates. Agrarianism brings about leisure time to reflect and invest in the “finer things of life,” such as religion, the arts, philosophy, and craftsmanship. It creates time for community services both secular and religious and both social and political. (Politics becomes an avocation or social duty rather than a profession.) Sports, recreation, and vacationing, though important, are not the objects of leisure under agrarianism. Agrarianism stresses the high culture of the classics and folk culture of the people while it shuns the mass culture of democratizing television. It preserves traditions and heritage. It provides a feeling of belonging and a place, people, and past. Agrarianism stresses the spiritual over the material while recognizing the necessity and importance of the material.
To bring about an agrarian economy, which is an economy based on the essential principles of agrarianism, a three-part program is needed. The first part addresses the ownership of land, agriculture, and a program of returning people to the land. The second part addresses industrialism and the ownership of industry. The third part addresses the bureaucratic regulatory state. These programs should be implemented simultaneously along with programs to rectify the political and social systems to achieve an agrarian society.
A program is needed to address land ownership, agriculture, and returning people to the land.
Land in the South should be owned by the inhabitants of the South and preferably by inhabitants of the State in which the land is located. Land ownership by corporations and other associations, except churches, should be restricted to those organized in a Southern State and preferably to those organized within that State. Land owned by corporations and other associations should be limited to the minimal amount of land needed for factory and office buildings and concomitant parking, settling ponds, and buffer zone, but not to exceed some specified maximum amount, say 100 acres. Land ownership by persons residing outside the South who are not citizens of a Southern State should be prohibited. Likewise with associations, those organized outside the South should be prohibited from owning land in the South.
Ownership of land by government is in desperate need of restriction. The federal government should own no land. Whatever land it may need it should obtain by short to medium term leases, leases of no more than about seven years. State and local government should be restricted to owning no more than about 5 percent, which should include easements, of the land within their jurisdiction. They should own no land outside their jurisdiction.
Land that is not owned by a citizen and that has not been used for a number of years should be required to be auctioned to citizens who do not own land. Land that escheats to the State should be auctioned to citizens who do not own land.
The right of the heir apparent should be protected to assure that the land remains in the family. (The heir apparent is the person who would naturally and legally inherit the property where there is no will, e.g., the eldest son.) A modified system of primogeniture is suggested. The heir apparent is defined by law and cannot be deprived of his inheritance in the land, especially the homestead, without his consent. Furthermore, the land should not be sold or title otherwise transferred without the consent of the heir apparent. Such laws would tend to protect and preserve the land and homestead within the family from generation to generation.
To protect the land and homestead further, it should be made somewhat inalienable. Any land owned by a citizen could not be taken to satisfy a debt, civil suit, or tax lien. (The only time a court could alienate the land of a citizen would be when the citizen has been convicted of a felony, mala in se but not mala prohibita, and the land or money obtained from selling it is needed to pay restitution to the victim of the crime.) To prevent banks and other loan companies from refusing to lend to homesteaders, discrimination based on the ownership of the land should be prohibited. Such acts would achieve the agrarian goal of making land unmortgageable.
Besides these land reform programs, a program is needed to assist and encourage people to return to the land to become homesteaders. (A homesteader may take several forms. He may be a classic farmer described by the agrarians who is first a subsistence farmer and second a commercial farmer. He may be the type often found in the South today who owns a few acres up to occasionally several hundred acres and who raises much of his food on his land but who earns his money primarily with an off-farm job. Two subcategories of this type of farmer are the farmers who supplement their farm income with an off-farm job and the farmers who supplement their off-farm income by farming. Such a program would assist persons, primarily family units, in acquiring land and settling it. The principal form of aid would be in loans for the land (say up to 90 percent), dwelling (say up to no more than 50 percent of median price of a house in that area to encourage the homesteader to do as much work in building his own house as he is capable), and a small amount for initial living expenses, equipment, and supplies. Such a loan would be repayable within say 20 years. Rather than paying a compound interest rate as common on most loans, the borrower would pay say 10 percent more than the amount of the loan and some uniform minimal amount no matter the size of the loan. These fees rather than tax moneys would pay for all the salaries, overhead, administrative and other costs connected with these loans. No person should be eligible for more than one loan during his lifetime. Only citizens of the State where the loan is granted should be eligible for the loan. To ensure that the loan is used for homesteading purposes, the borrower should be required to raise a minimal amount of his food, say two-thirds or three-fourths, to provide his own water and sewage systems rather than connecting into community or public systems, and perhaps meet other requirements. Failure to meet these requirements could result in eviction. Title of the land would not pass to the borrower until the loan is repaid in full along with the accompanying fees. If the borrower died before he repaid the loan, the loan and land would pass to his heirs. If the borrower were evicted before he completely repaid the loan, he should continue to be obliged to finish paying the loan. Funding for this program would come from a very small land and property tax. After some years a trust fund should be built up, and this tax could be ended. Members of the board overseeing this program should guarantee any loans that are irredeemably uncollectible by paying off the loans with their own money. Such a program should greatly aid people who want to become homesteaders but who lack the necessary means.
The agricultural policies of the States (the federal government should not really have any except a foreign trade policy directed toward removing trade barriers) should be revised. They should emphasize homesteading and subsistence farming over commercial farming — the complete opposite of today’s policies.
A parallel program to the program of returning people to the land is a program to expand the ownership of industrial capital. This program would be another loan program. Loans would be made available to citizens of that State to buy shares of corporations organized in that State when they meet certain conditions. Examples of these conditions are (1) when the citizen registers his first marriage, (2) when the birth of a child is recorded (Both the parents and the child would receive loans.), (3) When a mother remains home with her minor children for the first five years of their lives, (4) when a citizen reaches certain ages, e.g., 20, 40, 60, 80, and 100, (5) when a citizen owns a homestead for a minimal amount of time, and (6) as a reward when a citizen performs certain outstanding services. The loans would be repaid from the stock dividends. Most dividends would be used to repay the loan while a small part would go to the shareholder. The shareholder could not sell his shares until the loan has been repaid although he could trade them for shares in other companies. The shareholder’s blood kin would inherit these shares as he may choose. The funds for lending would come primarily from a small corporation tax. After a significant trust fund has been built, this tax could be ended. This program would go along way toward spreading the ownership of industrial capital without resorting to some socialistic scheme.
The corporate structure itself should also be revised. Corporations should be organized so that both immediate and ultimate control rests with the owners and not with those who are merely managers. The stockholders, not the board of directors, should nominate and elect the board of directors and principal executive officers. The entire net income of a mature corporation (a corporation that has effective access to market sources of capital funds for new capital formation) during or immediately after the close of each financial period should be paid out in dividends to its shareholders (except perhaps a small percentage retained as working capital and contingent reserves) unless the shareholders vote in each financial period that part should be retained for expansion or debt retirement.
Cooperatives and mutualities (companies owned, managed, and operated by the workers) should be encouraged and developed. Perhaps a program modeled after that for assisting people to form homesteads could be developed to assist people to form mutualities.
The third and most difficult program needed to bring about an agrarian economy and an agrarian society is a complete overhaul of the bureaucratic state. What is needed is the complete elimination of many, probably most, governmental programs and a drastic reduction in others. Very few new programs would be needed. (Only a few areas of reform are discussed here and then only in general terms. To discuss all of the reforms needed, even in general terms, would require several books.)
Perhaps the most important reform needed is true tax reform — meaning tax reduction instead of the Washington definition of disguised tax increases. The federal and State constitutions should strictly limit taxes as to type, amount, and use.
The federal government should levy only two types of taxes. The first would be a tax levied by the federal government on the States in proportion to their population and the value of all real property therein. The other tax would be an export and import tariff. Such a tariff should be uniform, that is, the same rate is paid on every type of good imported regardless of origin without exception. Import tariffs should be limited to 5 percent. Export tariffs should be limited to 2 percent on manufactured goods and to 5 percent on raw goods except agricultural products, which should not be taxed.
State and local taxes are also in dire need of reform and reduction. The income tax should be eliminated. The sales tax should be eliminated or at least reduced to less than 1 percent.
From a strictly agrarian point of view, the tax in most need of reform is the property and land tax. The property tax should only be used to pay for those governmental services that are directly related to protecting property, e.g., for fire protection and for part of the police and defense. The property tax should not be used for those governmental activities that do not relate to the protection of property, e.g., parks and recreation (user fees should be used), sewage and water (again user fees should be used), welfare programs (they should be eliminated, but if they are not, participation in such programs should be voluntary and only the participants in such programs should pay for it), and public schools (they should be abandon, but if not, then they should be supported solely by voluntary gifts and a poll tax levied on the students actually attending public schools). Government should pay taxes on the land that it owns. Any government or company that has an easement across another’s land should pay the taxes on the part on which it has the easement. For tax purposes land should be appraised based on how it is being used rather than based on its best use. (An exception would be vacant land in, not adjacent to, built up commercial or industrial areas of towns and cities. Such land probably should be appraised as commercial or industrial land.) Such reform is necessary to make the land and property tax compatible with an agrarian society.
Inheritance and estate taxes should be abolished so that the homestead, family owned farms and businesses, and the family capital can be passed on to the next generation.
Rather than supporting government by general taxes that have no relation with the services received, taxes that have some relation with the services received should be the primary source of governmental revenue. Thus, a poll tax would become a major source of revenue. It should be used to pay for a good part of the police, defense, and general operation of government. (Another important aspect of the poll tax is that in a republic every citizen benefits, at least in theory, the same and equally from governmental activity; therefore, every citizen ought to contribute the same and equally to support the government. Also, if the poll tax is a principal source of governmental revenue, it will serve to keep government small, and by that, liberty great, because it is a direct, obvious tax that affects everyone the same. To believe that the populous would tolerate paying a high rate of such an obvious tax where everyone pays the same is absurd.) User fees (fees paid by the user of a service where the user has the option of using or not using the service without any penalty beyond not receiving the service, such as using a park) and service fees (fees paid by the user of a service where the user does not have the option of not using the service without a penalty beyond forgoing the service, such as registering a deed or transferring a deed) should be used to pay for most governmental services — especially the user fee. Such tax reform would go along way to facilitating agrarianism.
Government should be denied the power of eminent domain. Denying government this power should protect the homesteader from bureaucratic agencies that want to take his land without paying a fair market price for it. (A fair market price is the price at which an exchange takes place. That a homesteader refuses to sell at the price offered is proof in itself that a fair market price has not been reached. The buyer must also pay for intangibles.)
Licensing and permitting requirements should be abolished. Building codes, if retained, should be modified to encourage innovation and to facilitate rather than discourage the homesteader building his own dwelling and buildings.
Zoning and land use restrictions should be abolished. If they are retained, they should allow farming and livestock rearing in every district. They should allow multiple uses of property and more than one principal building, i.e., several homes and businesses and homes on the same lot or plat.
Environmental laws should not be used, as they are often used, to war against the landowner, farmer, and homesteader. Environmental laws are important and necessary, but those currently on the books go way beyond what is needed and desirable. They should be completely rewritten. They should be written from the point of view of protecting life and property from trespass, vandalism, battery, and, in severe cases, manslaughter. They should be modeled after these laws. They should not be used as they now are to take land without buying it or to control land use and development.
The current monetary and banking system should be dramatically changed. A decentralized free banking system should replace the current centralized banking system and its legal tender notes. The governmentally prescribed legal tender monetary system should be replaced by a free market monetary system where the market instead of politics determines what will be used as money — be it gold, tobacco, debt (which is what is currently used for money), or bank notes. Then inflation and economic contractions (panics, depressions, and recessions) would be mild and shot-lived and generally localized.
To facilitate the creation and maintenance of an agrarian economy and society, changes are needed in the political system and social system. Although a detail discussion of these changes is beyond the scope of this essay, they can be generally outlined. The present egalitarian democratic political system with its concentration of power in the central government needs to be abandoned and replaced by republicanism of concurrent majority where church and family are the state’s coequals. Each State acting in its own independent capacity as a state (body politic) should be the final judge of the acts of the federal and local governments as it has created both as its agents and should be able to veto any act of either that it judges to be contrary to law. (Each local government probably should be given enough home rule by its State’s constitution to veto acts of the States that it judges to usurp its proper authority.) Likewise the church and family, being the state’s coequals, could veto acts of the State or its agents when in their independent opinion the State or its agents usurp that which belongs to the church or family. Another needed political reform is to weight voting and representation in favor of homesteaders, agriculturists, property owners, and taxpayers.
In the realm of social reform, the current egalitarian social system of integrational genocide should be abandon. A system that respects and protects the various races of mankind should replace it. Adopting a system of separation as advocated by Lincoln and Jefferson can only obtain such preservation and protection.
Family and church should become the focal point of the social system. These political and social reforms are essential to achieving and maintaining an agrarian society.
The Southern States have no hope of becoming an agrarian society if they remain colonies of the United States. For more than a century, the doctrine of industrialism has guided the controlling regime of the United States. Mercantilism and commercialism with emphasis on finance now guide the regime. Industrialism seeks egalitarianism through a proletariat democracy with its deadening dehumanizing mass culture. It seeks to destroy all true individuality by amalgamating all into the oneness of an egalitarian integrated society stripped of all morality. It seeks a political economy of democratic fascism where a democratic government controls all and a democratic state is all and minorities (dissenters from the democratic order) are prosecuted (usually covertly rather than overtly — it is less messy and noticeable that way). Under this regime agrarians will continue to be hunted down and destroyed, for agrarianism is the antithesis of industrialism and of all that this regime represents.
Mercantilism and commercialism differ little from industrialism with respect to agrarianism. The major difference is that mercantilism and commercialism seek a plutocratic controlled democracy instead of a proletariat controlled democracy. Both want an amalgamated egalitarian society except the plutocrats do not amalgamate with the mass whom they intend to rule. Other than that they differ little from each other. Both are the eternal enemy of agrarianism.
The only hope that the South has of once again becoming an agrarian society lies in becoming a free and independent confederation of free and independent Southern States. Such Southern independence would not only bring hope to Southern agrarians, but it would bring hope to agrarians throughout the world.
Copyright © 1991, 2010 by Thomas Coley Allen.
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