Wendell Berry on the New World

One of my favorite writers, Wendell Berry never fails to awaken a longing in me for simplicity, for sustainability, for soul-life. He manages to get under my skin, to scrub at my philosophies and convictions until some of the ugliness underneath is revealed under the countless coat of self-righteousness I’ve applied.

This ‘essay’ printed at Orion Online is no exception. Arranged as a series of thoughts or declarations about life in the post-September 11 world, they are no less powerful for their age. As we approach the fifth anniversary of that day, Berry has me thinking. I’m not entirely convinced, but I’m certainly uncomfortable. A few excerpts, or you can go read for yourself.

In a time such as this, when we have been seriously and most cruelly hurt by those who hate us, and when we must consider ourselves to be gravely threatened by those same people, it is hard to speak of the ways of peace and to remember that Christ enjoined us to love our enemies, but this is no less necessary for being difficult.


What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being. We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness. We have, for example, several national military academies, but not one peace academy. We have ignored the teachings and the examples of Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other peaceable leaders. And here we have an inescapable duty to notice also that war is profitable, whereas the means of peaceableness, being cheap or free, make no money.

The first thing we must begin to teach our children (and learn ourselves) is that we cannot spend and consume endlessly. We have got to learn to save and conserve. We do need a “new economy”, but one that is founded on thrift and care, on saving and conserving, not on excess and waste. An economy based on waste is inherently and hopelessly violent, and war is its inevitable by-product. We need a peaceable economy.

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