Friday, March 19, 2010

Moving on

Writing 55 years ago in the first chapter of The Age of Reform (pp. 41-42), "The Agrarian Myth and Commercial Realities," historian Richard Hofstadter tries to inoculate us against the "professional optimism" of the mug books. In this passage he's talking more about Yankees than German and other immigrants:

What developed in America was an agricultural society whose real attachment was not to the land but to land values. . . .

For farmers who had made out badly, the fresh lands may have served on occasion as a safety valve, but for others who had made out well enough on a speculative basis, or who were beginning a farming "career," it was equally a risk valve -- an opportunity to exploit the full possibilities of the great American land bubble. Mobility among farmers had serious effects upon an agricultural tradition never noted for careful cultivation: in a nation whose soil is notoriously heterogeneous, farmers too often had little chance to get to know the quality of their land; they failed to plan and manure and replenish; they neglected diversification for the one-crop system and ready cash. There was among them little attachment to land or locality; instead there developed the false euphoria of local "boosting," encouraged by railroads, land companies, and farmers themselves; in place of village contacts and communal spirit based upon ancestral attachments, there was professional optimism based upon hopes for a quick rise in values.

Read the whole thing.

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