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Jefferson’s moral agrarianism: poetic fiction or normative vision?


  • M. Holowchak



Scholars today are divided on the motivation behind what is often called Jefferson’s “moral agrarianism”. On the one hand, some scholars take Jefferson at his word when he mentions that agrarianism is a moral vision. For these individuals, Jefferson’s agrarianism is a moral vision and an indispensible part of the good life. On the other hand, other scholars maintain that Jefferson’s moral agrarianism is merely a bit of propaganda that insidiously sheaths a political or economic ideal. For them, Jefferson is through and throughout a politician, and expressions of agrarianism as a moral ideal amount to mere cant. In this paper, I examine arguments for and against Jefferson’s moral agrarianism. I defend the position that Jefferson was an aboveboard moral agrarianist and that the ideal of agrarianism was not just one that was suited for Americans, given their surfeit of land and want of laborers, but an ideal that also applied universally. I end with thoughts on Jefferson’s recognition of the rise of manufacturing in American cities throughout his life. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Suggested Citation

  • M. Holowchak, 2011. "Jefferson’s moral agrarianism: poetic fiction or normative vision?," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 28(4), pages 497-506, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:agrhuv:v:28:y:2011:i:4:p:497-506
    DOI: 10.1007/s10460-010-9297-3

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Paul Thompson, 1990. "Agrarianism and the American philosophical tradition," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 7(1), pages 3-8, December.
    2. Gene Wunderlich, 2000. "Hues of American agrarianism," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 17(2), pages 191-197, June.
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