The Nature of Agriculture (I)

Joseph B. McDonald
1958 Laval théologique et philosophique  
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more » ... https://apropos.erudit.org/fr/usagers/politique-dutilisation/ Document téléchargé le 13 September 2016 01:45 The Nature of Agriculture The art of agriculture holds a unique place in this world. It is the first art of civilisation ; first both in time and in importance. To begin with, it is necessary for the continuance of human life itself. Except under the most primitive conditions, humans could not get enough food to survive without resorting to this art. The primitive arts of subsist ence, which may have preceded agriculture, are capable of supporting very few, and widely scattered peoples, even under the most favourable conditions. It is estimated that for one family to subsist by hunting alone, an area of ten to fifty square miles of virgin wilderness is required.1 People who live pastoral lives wander hundreds, even thousands, of miles to find pasture for their animals. And, given the most favourable conditions, a life lived by hunting or herding is hard, cruel and hazardous. People who follow these modes of life are always forced to supplement the meager and uncertain returns which they give with some agriculture, or by plundering their wealthier neighbors. But agriculture is even more necessary for a civilized life. By this art alone can humans acquire enough food and other necessities, in the abundance, variety, and with the regularity required for civilized life. Without this abundance men could not five together in numbers large enough for a political community ; nor could they live together peace fully, which is also a condition for political life. Friendship, the bond of political life, cannot be cultivated when people are widely separated from each other. The abundance of food which agriculture produces also makes it possible for many members of the community to devote their energies to other pursuits ; and the first of these are the other practical arts, by which other goods are produced for the community.2 Many of the earliest arts arose to minister to the needs of agriculture itself, such as the making of agricultural instruments. Moreover, the surplus of agricultural products is the first foundation of trade and commerce, by which more goods are brought into the community, thus helping to make it more self-sufficient, and capable of political life.3 And, finally, the surplus of goods permits some members of the co m m u n it y to be freed from the pursuit of wealth, and to be permitted to pursue the work of free men, such as the arts of defence and of governing, and even the 1. S e a r s , Paul, Deserts on the March, Norman, Oklahoma, Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1947, p.4. 2. St. T h o m a s , In I Politicorum, lect.6 : " et isti habent cibum elaboratum." -H o w a r d , Albert, The Soil and Health, New York, Devin Adair, 1945, p.3.3, " Until man had learned to add the cultivation of plants to his knowledge of hunting and fishing he could not emerge from his savage condition." 3. St. T h o m a s , op. dt., lect.7. THE N A TU R E OF AGRICULTURE pursuit of truth or science. For these reasons agriculture is called the mother of all the arts of civilized life ; a notion which is well expressed in the words of Daniel Webster : " When tillage begins other arts follow. The farmers therefore are the founders of human civilization." N ot only has civilization risen and flourished when agriculture has flourished, but civilization has declined when agriculture has declined or been abandoned. The oldest uninterrupted civilizations, those of Egypt, China and India, are also the ones which have a permanent and vigourous agriculture, as old as the civilizations which it has made possible. The Chinese people attribute divinity to the Emperor Shonnung (2,700 B.C.), " who cleared the land and taught the people to sow crops, and thus saved them from the hardships of the chase. " The subsequent emperors were, themselves, expert farmers, and many of them plowed their own fields. The development and improvement of agriculture became the main function of their government, which maintained a large department of agricultural experts, and enforced many agricultural laws.1 In Ancient India, according to Megasthenes, a farmer could not be arrested during harvest time ; and in the time of war, the farmer, his work and his crops were left unmolested.2 In contrast to the East, Africa never succeeded in establishing a permanent agriculture. Albert Howard says : " It may be observed here that the great misfortune of the African continent has been that it never came in contact with the agricultural peoples of the Far East and never revised its systems of cultivation in the light of the knowledge it might thereby have gained -the great lesson of the Nile basin was not truly apprehended and has had no influence outside Egypt, whereas over large parts of eastern Asia the central problem of agriculture was solved early, empirically and not by a process of scientific investigation, yet with outstanding success." 3 In the West, the story of agriculture is quite a different one. Both the Greeks and the Romans recognized that the strength and vigor of their nations was founded on the agriculture of a sturdy peasantry. In The Economist, Xenophon praises agriculture unstintingly, as the matrix of the other arts, the fountainhead of plenty, a school of virtue, and the source of many wholesome pleasures : All this I relate to you, continued Socrates, to show you that quite high and mighty people find it hard to hold aloof from agriculture, devotion to which would seem to be thrice blest, combining as it does a certain sense of luxury with the satisfaction of an improved estate, and such training of physical energies as shall fit a man to play a free man's part. Earth, in 1. S o b o k i n , P., Z i m m e r m a n
doi:10.7202/1019966ar fatcat:5bar3ulpgvbz5oxhxefioqusmy