A major theme of this blog has been the restoration of rural America, and the promotion of the idea that the future of the United States rests in its rural areas and small towns. I have often touted the affordability and the decency of the country as major selling points to those looking for a change of scenery.
So this piece at The Abbeville Insitute—Travis Holt’s “Thirty Pieces of Silver“—grabbed my attention. Holt is a native son of the Ozarks in Arkansas, and he writes movingly about how his ancestors carved a livelihood out of the rough mountains of a challenging wilderness. He details the sweat and toil that went into improving the land, and of gradually expanding small family plots.
Holt also describes a process all-too-familiar in the New South: the commercialization of those hard-won family plots. Holt does not denounce the sale of family lands in general, as he recognizes the economic hardships and the lure of better lives, but he does lament the sacrifice of heritage, history, and family to the whims of the market. His essay grapples with the complexity of that loss, and his own determination to keep his familial lands.
So much emphasis of the modern world is placed on mobility—being able to move for a job from one cookie-cutter development to the next is, supposedly, the American Dream, and the only way to guarantee a steadily rising income. In effect, we’ve become wage slaves to this notion of constant restlessness and rootlessness. Your family’s heritage and land is an inconvenience, one that holds you back from amorphous “opportunity.”
Like Holt, I acknowledge the complexity of life, and that our modern economy necessitates moving far and wide for work. I don’t condemn anyone who does so, and I even share in the celebration of rugged individuals and families who strike out to find their fortune. America is a nation of movers and explorers, and we’re good at putting down roots wherever we can.
But Holt has a point: does that mean we must give up our ancestral lands to out-of-State transplants and strip mall developers? That might be lucrative in the short-term, but is it worth losing the homes and graves of our ancestors?
G. K. Chesterton famously wrote that tradition is the “democracy of the dead.” It’s giving a vote, as he put it, to our ancestors. To a traditional conservative, this “vote” intuitively makes sense: they spent their lives building something up for us, their descendants; is it unreasonable, then, to consider their wishes, as expressed in their lives’ works?
As Holt’s piece illustrates, holding on to these lands—and, by extension, to our heritage—is no easy feat. Necessity is a cruel mistress, and our modern world places heavy demands on us all. But there are some things worth fighting to preserve. Our legacy is one of them.
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