A Thought-Provoking Letter

— Brad Van Dyke, Sanpete County, Utah

In Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Americans inherited a growing democratic republic, but remained spellbound by European style and fashion: romanticism, feudal chivalry, pretenses of class and education, etc. Huck tried escaping all this on the frontier, but got entangled with two con men posing as lost European aristocrats (the “king” and the “duke”). These bilked people of their wealth playing the roles of learned sophisticates, Shakespearean actors, etc.

Historian Henry Bamford Parkes likewise criticized American intellectual leadership’s submission to European trends and fashions. He claimed it was wrong to interpret American culture through the European theories of big business capitalism and big government socialism. These ideologies developed during industrial Europe’s struggle between “labor” and “capital” classes.

It was not the capital-labor struggle, but rather land, and the American experience with land, that nurtured the highest values of American civilization. Unless Americans could break the shackles of irrelevant European theory, rediscover their own land-based tradition, and adapt it to present conditions, they would lose their unique identity and national unity.

According to the one-dimensional, linear European model or spectrum, the world is a line with a midpoint between two sides or “wings.” Labor, liberalism, equality and community lie on the left wing, capital, conservatism, freedom, and individualism on the right. Compromises between big government socialism and big business capitalism are regarded as “centrist” or “moderate” (even though such compromises often resemble fascism).

Better to see the world as a whole bird, rather than two schizophrenic, warring wings. The line, and center (and head), between the wings of labor and capital are supported by the “legs” of land. Recent attempts to transcend the left-right conflict through the global “information age” or “radical center” ideologies failed because they failed to recognize the importance of land and the land-based tradition. There can be no radical center without a radical base of land. Capital, labor, freedom, and equality, are reconciled (not compromised) in land.

The land-based tradition emphasized land stewardship and cultivation, and democratic land distribution. It decried land and currency speculation as the enemy of American liberty and equal opportunity. Rather than big, centralized power (aristocratic or bureaucratic) it emphasized the importance of power decentralized amongst many small landholders, shopkeepers, and communities.

Pundits of left and right alternately claim the land-based tradition and reject it as irrelevant. But land-based economists warned us of the present economic crisis (based on land and currency speculation) that left, right, and center failed to forestall.

Leftists (like Michael Moore) blame current problems on free enterprise. Rightists (like Rush Limbaugh) were blind to the destructive force of privilege and speculation. But spokespersons of the land-based tradition, from Jefferson to the present, have understood that special privilege, and speculation in land and currency, destroy true free enterprise.

Meanwhile, the “kings” and “dukes” of Wall Street continue the game, playing both sides for the take. Likewise, cozy compromises between the finance-insurance-real estate sector overpower land-based, free, decentralist solutions for health care reform. Jefferson distrusted such “public-private partnerships” as threats to American equal liberty. Time again to declare American independence — in mind, in land.

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