Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community

In this collection of eight new essays, environmentalist Wendell Berry shifts his attention from the natural to the human environment, focusing on the process of community disintegration implicit in the self-liberation that began in the 1960’s. Berry views small, self-sufficient communities as ultimately the best protection for personal freedom against the pressures of rampant consumerism that leaves individuals dependent on large corporations for the necessities of life. In the place of a small, responsible local economy emerges a large, impersonal global economy of multinational corporations that colonize and extract resources without benefiting local communities. Fragmentation and a pervasive loss of moral responsibility—the consequences of which are apparent in the news every day—are the result of this process.

In the face of destructive government or corporate policies, Berry believes that meaningful grassroots economic reform must begin with personal responsibility. Berry is concerned about questions of scale: What is appropriate consumer behavior? How can we reduce our levels of consumption? What is worth conserving from the past and preserving in the present? What does it mean to live in community? To be truly free?

These are large, philosophical questions that move Berry from environmental issues to broader social concerns. The title essay uses the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings as a point of departure for a discussion of sexual harassment and current controversies over freedom of speech. “Peaceableness Toward Enemies” is a thoroughgoing critique of U.S. policy in the Gulf War, while “Christianity and the Survival of Creation” indicts Christians for failing to take biblical principles seriously. In these and other essays, Berry confirms his place as one of our most important social critics.