Minimalists in History: Nashville Agrarians

nashville agrarians

“If a community, or a section, or a race, or an age, is groaning under industrialism, and well aware that it is an evil dispensation, it must find the way to throw it off.”
– I’ll Take My Stand, the Nashville Agrarians

The Nashville Agrarians, also known as the Southern Agrarians and the Twelve Southerners, were a group of twelve American writers* who wrote a pro-Southern agrarian manifesto called I’ll Take My Stand: The South And the Agrarian Tradition.

This collection of 12 essays, published in 1930, argued that the South should sustain a culture of meaning instead of adopting the North’s culture of indiscriminate production and consumption.

The Nashville Agrarians believed that, as a result of the South’s agrarian culture, Southerners were more likely to focus on leisure time, enjoying life, conversation, hospitality and good food. The North’s industrialism had made people’s lives hurried and unbalanced.

“The capitalization of the applied sciences has now become extravagant and uncritical; it has enslaved our human energies to a degree now clearly felt to be burdensome.”
– I’ll Take My Stand, the Nashville Agrarians

I’ll Take My Stand encouraged a return to traditional rural culture and values, including small, local and humane manufacturing.

The contribution that science can make to a labor is to render it easier by the help of a tool or a process, and to assure the laborer of his perfect economic security while he is engaged upon it. Then it can be performed with leisure and enjoyment.

But the modern laborer has not exactly received this benefit under the industrial regime. His labor is hard, its tempo is fierce, and his employment is insecure.

The first principle of a good labor is that it must be effective, but the second principle is that it must be enjoyed. Labor is one of the largest items in the human career; it is a modest demand to ask that it may partake of happiness.

The Nashville Agrarians also railed against excess consumption and advertising.

It is an inevitable consequence of industrial progress that production greatly outruns the rate of natural consumption. To overcome the disparity, the producers, disguised as the pure idealists of progress, must coerce and wheedle the public into being loyal and steady consumers, in order to keep the machines running.

So the rise of modern advertising-along with its twin, personal salesmanship – is the most significant development of our industrialism. Advertising means to persuade the consumers to want exactly what the applied sciences are able to furnish them.

It consults the happiness of the consumer no more than it consulted the happiness of the laborer. It is the great effort of a false economy of life to approve itself.

‘A man can contemplate and explore, respect and love an object as substantial as a farm….  But he cannot contemplate nor explore, respect not love, a mere turnover, such as an assemblage of ‘natural resources’, a pile of money, a volume of produce, a market, or a credit system.”
– I’ll Take My Stand, the Nashville Agrarians

An agrarian society allows art, religion and education to flourish, said the Nashville Agrarians. Of course, they wrote about more than farming and simple living.

Some have criticized the movement as pro-Confederacy and pro-fascism. Others said they painted a romanticized view of the old South.

My library system doesn’t have the book, so I haven’t read it, but the introduction is available here for free.

Sorry, no field trip suggestions with this Minimalists-in-History post, but the Nashville Agrarians were based at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. I was just in Nashville for a couple of days this summer, and near Vanderbilt there’s a full-scale replica of the Parthenon. Check it out if you happen to be in the area.

*The Nashville Agrarians were Donald Davidson, John Gould Fletcher, Henry Blue Kline, Lyle H. Lanier, Andrew Nelson Lytle, Herman Clarence Nixon, Frank Lawrence Owsley, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, John Donald Wade, Robert Penn Warren and Stark Young.


2 thoughts on “Minimalists in History: Nashville Agrarians

  1. I don’t know where you find all these examples but I’m glad This group of men saw what so many didn’t that being that machines had increased productivity beyond what we needed. I find that really impressive for the time. I also agree with them that I’d rather spend my time in leisure than plugging away at a job to buy unnecessary stuff.

    • Thanks, Lois. I agree.

      Interestingly, this morning I read this from C.S. Lewis: “Every one is to work with his own hands, and what is more, every one’s work is to produce something good: there will be no manufacture of silly luxuries and then of sillier advertisements to persuade us to buy them.”

      The context is a description of what “a fully Christian society” would look like. I find it fascinating how there are threads of minimalism is so many writings about other topics.

I'd love for you to share your ideas and experiences.