The Left and the Right Love Wendell Berry

There are certain artists and public intellectuals whose art appeals to both liberals and conservatives.

Historian Gordon Wood once said that his book The Creation of the American Republic appealed to conservatives who liked the idea that the founding fathers believed that public virtue was important, but it also appealed to socialists and communitarians who liked the idea of sacrificing personal interest for the greater good of the nation.

Bruce Springsteen’s musical message is avowedly liberal, but conservatives like his appeals to community, localism, and the tragic dimensions of life.

And, as John Miller writes in the July 30 issue of The National Review, the fiction and non-fiction of Wendell Berry has the same bipartisan attraction.  A taste:

On July 20, Berry will receive the Russell Kirk Paideia Prize, named for the author of The Conservative Mind and awarded by the CiRCE Institute, which promotes Christian classical education, for “cultivating virtue and wisdom.” Last year, ISI Books, the imprint of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, published The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry, a collection of essays that seek to illuminate, according to the dust jacket, the “profoundly conservative” ideas of its subject. And although the 2012 Jefferson Lecture was a product of the Obama administration, Berry was regularly a candidate for the same honor during the Bush years.

What’s going on here? Why has this market-bashing prophet of ecological doom won so many fans on the right? On June 17, I drove to Berry’s home in Port Royal, Ky., to find out. He welcomes visitors on Sundays. “There ought to be a day when you don’t work,” he says. He’s well known for these engagements, and for years admirers have made pilgrimages, seeking conversation or advice. On my visit, we sit on his front porch, discussing his life, his books, and his views on everything from farm policy to gay marriage.

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