Of Agriculture's First Disobedience and its Fruit

73 Pages Posted: 10 Sep 2006

See all articles by James Ming Chen

James Ming Chen

Michigan State University - College of Law


Fiat lux ....

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And as sin came into the world, so too did the possibility and the promise of redemption. The Book of Genesis' accounts of Creation supply three distinct ethics that inform agriculture as the profoundest point of contact between humanity and the natural world. The combatants in the debate between conventional and alternative agriculture have co-opted the dominion ethic of Genesis' first account of Creation and the stewardship ethic of the Scriptures' second account. But these intrinsically romantic accounts overlook a third ethic, the survival ethic that God pronounces upon expelling Adam and Eve from Eden.

Fiat lex ....

In the beginning was the farm, and the farm was with the law, and the farm was the law. Modern American agricultural law may have been born during the developmental dawn of 1862, but the beast had spent nine decades in gestation. The Constitution itself included the first two pieces of agricultural law in the United States: the accommodation of slavery and the apportionment of Senate seats by territory. The politics of slaves and Senators defined American agricultural policy well past the Civil War. The curse of slavery as American agriculture's original sin grips us still. So tight is the grip that the entire history of racial oppression in America can be succinctly stated in agricultural terms.

And the darkness comprehended it not ....

The Agrarian manifesto, I'll Take My Stand, provides a touchstone by which Americans can reflect upon their country's agricultural history and upon the South's unique contribution to that history. Agrarian romanticism, as embodied in Agrarian ideology, conceals the depravity and original sin of American agriculture. Look homeward, America, to the Dixie where you were born early on one frosty mornin', and you will reap the bitter harvest that your founding farmers sowed.

The first shall be last, and the last shall be first . . . .

Any redemption of American agriculture and the law it has spawned surely does not rest in the idolatrous attribution of divine power to the farmer. In a world without agrarian virtue, on face of an earth cursed for Adam's sake, the only redemption possible is a redemption without romance. Hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow, let us through Eden take our solitary way.

Keywords: agriculture, agricultural history, Genesis, creation myths, slavery, Civil War, South, Agrarians, Milton, Paradise Lost

JEL Classification: N5, N51, N52, O13, Q1, Q18

Suggested Citation

Chen, James Ming, Of Agriculture's First Disobedience and its Fruit. Vanderbilt Law Review, Vol. 48, p. 1261, 1995, Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-54, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=929097

James Ming Chen (Contact Author)

Michigan State University - College of Law ( email )

318 Law College Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States

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