Radical conservation

Wendell BerryReview by NICK MATTISKE

Book | The World-Ending Fire |  Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is a novelist, poet and essayist, a self-described ‘crank’, a critic of technology and the idealism that comes with it, a Kentucky farmer who uses horses instead of a tractor, and a writer who uses a pencil rather than a computer.

Berry has been criticised as an unrealistic Luddite. But others recognise that, in his prophetic writings over decades, he puts his finger on the problems of Western lifestyle that go beyond disputed global warming, issues of pollution, extinction, pointless materialistic waste, urban ugliness, the tyranny of corporations and their lackey politicians, and the hollowing out of communities.

He is also a critic of radical causes that, he says, aren’t radical enough and modern libertarianism that confuses freedom with individualism, at the expense of tradition, culture and family.

Berry is a conservationist for the places where people live. This book collects decades of essays that amount to, as he says, more-or-less one argument: we depend on nature, which is not something that can be sealed off in order to be preserved, but something with which human beings must interact with reverence and care.

We must be able to produce food and shelter in our local communities in a way that means our descendants will be able to do the same. He is a critic of an economy based on false premises, on agribusiness reliant on long-distance transportation, on quick fix chemicals, on the myth of endless growth, on profit and greed ‘debited to the future’.

It is not incidental that Berry is a man of faith. He notes that God’s creation is first-of-all not utilitarian, but a work of delight. He understands that a slow, locally centred, conservative (in its true sense) lifestyle makes us happy because it makes us healthy – physically, mentally and morally.

Available at: penguin.com.au RRP: $49.99

 

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