Could a German economist be a southern agrarian at heart?

2 Aug

Wilhelm Roepke and Southern Agrarianism, a fine essay by Ralph Ancil (intro):

How can a German economist be called a Southerner? Obviously not geographically but in the important sense that Southern Agrarians came to understand, as a possession of the mind and spirit. That Wilhelm Roepke’s mind and spirit, embodying the best of the German tradition, share significantly in the essential features of the South­ern heritage is not too surprising when it is re­called that Southern culture itself was essentially European.

In evidence of this there are some sugges­tive comparisons that can be made here. For example, Richard Weaver went home in spring to farm his ancestral fields with horse and plow and refused the use of airplanes, preferring trains for long distance travel. Similarly, Roepke promoted urban gardening for the health of city-dwellers and refused to use ski-lifts, preferring to ride up the mountain slopes on shank’s mare. Or one may refer to the Southern fondness for the books of Sir Walter Scott whose stories of Saxon yeomen fighting Norman invaders parallels those of William Tell fighting Austrian conquerors as eulo­gized in Schiller’s famous poem, admired by Roepke. Then one may conjecture about the influence of Germans and Lutherans on Southern life. Certainly, Luther himself was a social medievalist and agrarian and longed for the non-commercial life of an earlier time. To what extent this affected Southern life is arguable as is the effect of his Lutheran faith on Roepke’s outlook. But the parallels are thought-provoking.

However that may be, in place of compar­ing the South with Ireland, as Weaver did, we could fruitfully compare it with early 19th century Germany. Just as the Old South was essentially a non-materialist civilization, we find pre-capitalist Germany similarly oriented as one of the last regions of traditional, agrarian life in Western Europe. Both patterns of life were highly decen­tralized, religious, historic-minded and industrially “backward.” England and France were to Germa­ny what the North was to the South. The French invaded with their armies and nationalist ideolo­gy, England with its economic doctrines. Both the peasants and nobility opposed the invasion of materialis­m and capitalism.

On a more authoritative, specific level, we may draw upon Theodore Hamerow’s study of 19th century Germany. The older German way of life was built around the concept of “economic equilibrium” and rooted in a stable communal order with a stable popula­tion. The markets were intended to support an “un­changing standard of living” and to offer supplies that were “local in scope.” It was a “pastoral economic world” with a belief that even in the economy there must be “social justice,” the odium of secular conserva­tives, between producers and consumers. Ham­erow writes: “The advantages inherent in mechani­cal efficien­cy and competitive individualism were renounced for the sake of security and order.” Economic security, a settled way of life, rejection of efficiency and mechan­ics as ends in themselves to be pursued without limit, all characterize the writings of the Twelve Southerners.

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