John Crowe Ransom
Edited by Jason PetersIntroduction by Jay T. Collier
The accomplished poet and scholar John Crowe Ransom made profound contributions to twentieth-century American literature. As a teacher at Vanderbilt University he was also a leading member of the Southern Agrarian movement and a contributor to the movement’s manifesto I’ll Take My Stand. Ransom’s Land! is a previously unpublished work that unites Ransom’s poetic sensibilities with an examination of economics at the height of the Great Depression. Politically charged with Ransom’s aesthetic beliefs about literature and his agrarian interpretation of economics, Land! was long thought to have been burned by its author after he failed to find a publisher. Thankfully, the manuscript was discovered, and we are now able to read this unique and interesting contribution to the Southern Agrarian revival.
After the publication of I’ll Take My Stand in 1930, Ransom, who provided the book’s Statement of Principles in addition to its lead essay, became convinced that the book had not adequately proposed an economic alternative to Northern industrialism, which had fairly obliterated the Southern way of life. Land! was Ransom’s attempt to fill this gap. In it he presents the weaknesses inherent in capitalism and argues convincingly that socialism is not only an inadequate alternative but inimical to American sensibilities. He proposes instead that agrarianism, which could flourish alongside capitalism, would relieve the problems of unemployment and the “permanently unemployed.” In particular, he argues that what he calls the “amphibian farmer”—who can survive in both a monetary and a non-monetary economy— would never, so long as he relied on himself for necessities, have to fear unemployment. America, Ransom claims, is unique in offering this opportunity because, unlike in European countries, land is plentiful.
“For students of American literature, for contemporary Agrarians, for historians of American ideas, and for all those who believe that a ‘third way economics’ deserves new attention in our raucous social-economic times, this is equivalent to a musicologist’s discovery of a long-lost symphony by Mozart or Brahms. John Crowe Ransom’s 1932 essay Land! is insightful American history, at once splendidly old and remarkably fresh.” — Allan C. Carlson, author of The New Agrarian Mind
“We owe Jay Collier and Jason Peters a debt of gratitude for a splendid edition of Land!, John Crowe Ransom’s Depression-era treatise on political economy. A wide range of Americans who find modernity at cross-purposes with traditional values hear the reverberations still. I’ll Take My Stand retains the power to ‘wake us up,’ and the audacity of the Southern Agrarians’ project is evident in Ransom’s economic sequel with its call to withdraw from the capitalist economy, to go forward by moving backward.” — Paul V. Murphy, author of The Rebuke of History: The Southern Agrarians and American Conservative Thought
“The question Ransom poses in Land! is as fundamental as it is perennial: how should people find their place in an economic order productive of the health and flourishing of the land and all its inhabitants? In proposing an agrarian solution, Ransom invites a rethinking of the bases of a sound and resilient culture. Far from being solely of historical interest, this text from the margins of mainstream economic thinking offers a fresh opportunity to reimagine the forms of our life together.” — Norman Wirzba, Duke University Divinity School
“John Crowe Ransom’s Land!, an idiosyncratic view of American economics in the early twentieth century, which has been intelligently edited by Jason Peters, adds a rich and considerable dimension to Agrarianism. Mr. Ransom’s highly original argument unfolds in beautifully written prose as he presents the various forms of modern economic practices ranging from capitalism in Britain and the United States to socialism in Europe. Serious students of Ransom’s work will want to read this engaging and thought-provoking book.” — George Core, retired editor of The Sewanee Review
“Now, Ransom’s 85-year-old cri de coeur has been found in the archives and released to the world by the University of Notre Dame Press and Front Porch Republic. Despite its age, you might say that Land! has gotten into print at just the right time. This three-generation-old work is exceedingly present tense. What Ransom articulates seems less a retreat to Eden than a critique of capitalism that would appeal to the inner anti-Davos protester in all of us: an indictment of a system that values accumulation, shareholder profit, and the pursuit of maximum gain over autonomy, self-sufficiency, and solidarity.” —Robert Neuwirth, author of Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy, in GrandHotelAbyss.com
“ Land!: The Case for an Agrarian Economy was written in the 1930s by the distinguished poet and critic John Crowe Ransom and only recently rediscovered and edited by Jason Peters for Notre Dame Press. In it Ransom joins Lauck in championing the values fostered by rural and small-town America. Is this just wishful thinking? Perhaps, and yet don’t we sometimes need to step back before we can leap forward?" — The Washington Post
“As reported in an excellent introductory essay by Jay Collier, Ransom undertook this project largely because he saw the 1929 crash as an opening in which the social philosophy articulated in I’ll Take My Stand could get a wider hearing. He intended to exploit this opportunity by framing agrarianism as a promising response to the obvious ills associated with severe economic downturn. . . . I commend the effort and I think that Land! deserves to be read as one additional thread in the larger fabric of agrarian thought. " — Agriculture and Human Values
“In Land!, his classic statement of agrarian economic thought, John Crowe Ransom offered a trenchant critique of capitalism. Writing in the early 1930s, at the onset of the worst economic crisis in American history, Ransom proposed not only a return to the land but also a retreat from the market as the surest means of ending unemployment. . . . in questioning the progressive ideologies that still enthrall liberals and conservatives alike with visions of inexhaustible power and relentless growth, Ransom . . . affirmed the goodness of life without also disavowing its tragedy. [This] is a legacy not of alluring though unsustainable expansion and wealth but of humane limits and durable hope.” — The University Bookman
“The modern reader cannot help but be struck by the current timeliness of Ransom’s observations about rootless people condemned as cogs in an economic wheel, liable to be cast aside when they no longer serve the purpose of the moment. Meanwhile, the flight from the farm has continued unabated for nearly a century, while the inherent problems of industrial capitalism that Ransom observed remain.” — The Abbeville Review