24 September 2005

Education, economics and (yes, once again) agrarianism

In this week's edition of Comment, three articles are on offer. First, Aaron Belz asks: What is to be done. . . about schooling? The author argues that the modern classroom can be a deadening environment, with energetic young people subjected to an artificial regimen more likely to kill than to encourage the joy of learning. What to do? Belz offers a five-fold strategy for reform. Remarkably, he neglects to mention an alternative gaining in popularity with especially christian parents: homeschooling.

Next, the formidable Mr. James Brink gives us his ideas on economics: Squares or Triangles? Cutting up the Market. Brink points out that the dominant neoclassical model of economics is based on a faulty anthropology — one unable to account for the relational character of the human person. With Gordon Bigelow, he argues for a "post-autistic economics" that refrains from reducing flesh and blood human beings to self-interested rational calculators.

Finally, if I had read Peter Scholtens' Agrarianism is misguided: another reply before I had written my book, I might have seen fit to include agrarianism (as distinct from the more modest affirmation of the agricultural calling) among the ideologies I treated. Scholtens critiques the notion that the agrarian way of life is any less subject to sin than other human pursuits. Following the biblical logic of Augustine and Calvin, Scholtens writes:

Farming is no more blessed than any other vocation, and the farming community is no more hallowed than any other community. The agrarian community is not a model society for mankind, for it is infected by the same evil that all other communities are infected with. Like every other vocation, farming must seek redemption outside itself.

Is that the end of the dialogue? Probably not, but Scholtens has definitely raised the bar. Any future respondent will have to meet the challenge of defending Wendell Berry's agrarian vision in such a way as to avoid the gnostic deprecation of one part of God's good creation while exalting (idolizing?) another.

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