Christians today are deeply divided on many issues that are vital to the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Some believe that the world has no future and that it is therefore a waste of time to debate what the future ought to look like. Others imagine a future that looks a lot like the present technological society, only cleaned up by the influence of a dominant Christian majority. A small minority of us see a radically different design for the establishment of God’s Kingdom in the world. We believe in a kind of Christian Agrarianism.
The technological model focuses on tools, while the agrarian model focuses on the task itself which God gave to man at his creation – to make the whole earth into a beautiful and fruitful garden. The Technologist believes that the key to a better future is better and better tools. Efficiency at all costs! If the institutions and conventions of society have to evolve to accommodate the quest for greater productivity and a higher standard of living – so be it! Of course Christians who are Technologists must draw the line at some changes (usually to retreat and re-draw the line somewhere farther back later on). The status quo dictated by the technological establishment generally prevails. Even Scripture must bend to accommodate it.
The Christian Agrarian, on the other hand, asserts that industrialism as it has existed historically is not an acceptable way for man to exercise dominion over the earth. He maintains that as a system:
(1) It is based on defective and unbiblical principles.
(2) It tends to the destruction of nature, rather than its cultivation.
(3) It is hostile to the institutions requisite to a godly social order.
To date, no work has appeared (to this author’s knowledge) which provides an adequate defense of Christian Agrarianism. Until this occurs, I know of no better critique of industrialism available than This Ugly Civilization, by Ralph Borsodi. Published in 1929, just before the Great Depression, this book clearly pointed to some of the problems which created the greatest economic downturn in the twentieth century. It is a wide-ranging, thorough-going and utterly damning critique of the causes, nature and ultimate results of industrialism. But it goes further, showing also how it is possible to resist, and proposing alternatives for the living of life as it was intended to be lived.
Though the world Borsodi bravely takes on is the world of the 1920s, I believe that his work is still relevant. High technology is, after all, just the advanced stage of industrialism. It is accelerated and intensified industrialism – the factory on steroids. As such. both the quantitative gains and the qualitative losses produced by the modern factory system are accentuated. And the already-stressful pace of change has been vastly accelerated.
It will be plain to the reader of Borsodi that he was not a Christian. I wish he had been, but he was in fact a militant atheist and a nihilist. His concern was only with the things of this life. Taking this into account, I would not favor the unedited re-printing of this book. However, its value remains, and I suggest we make use of it in a spirit of gratefulness to the One who is the source of all truth, wherever found, and who lays up the wealth of the wicked for the just.
The style is vigorous and passionate and exceedingly clear. As compared with the abstractedness of Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society, it is concrete and specific – both in its critique and in its proposal of alternatives to the status quo. (I was never quite sure what Ellul wanted us to do.)
Neither Borsodi nor Christian Agrarians are against the use or the improvement of tools. Rather, we insist that machines are to serve man – not man the machine. By destroying the village and the productive homestead, the Industrial Revolution has wreaked a calamity upon mankind of incalculable dimensions. Though enriched in the number and variety of possessions, we have been impoverished in terms of human values like community, family life, self-expression and fulfilling work.
Borsodi boldly asks the question, Where would we be today, if the genius of the Industrial Revolution had been applied for the benefit of domestic production, rather than to centralized mass production? I suspect we would see a very different world – one in which massive waste of resources, pollution, urbanization, social upheaval, displacement of small-scale farmers and craftsmen, degradation of work, socialization of national life, class warfare, reduction of product quality, weakening of the family, and the virtual extinction of the homemaker had never occurred.
Instead, if machines had been developed and refined for the improvement of the homestead, the quality of our lives would have been made better – not worse. And here is the bright spot in Borsodi’s assessment of our predicament. It is not too late for an industrial counter-revolution. Residential electric rates are low today. Power is cheap. Technology is being developed for homestead applications as never before.
Borsodi goes into detail to show us that it is economically feasible to build productive, more self-sufficient homesteads that will provide the satisfaction of living more meaningful, natural, comfortable lives. For Christian Agrarians, this is more than a bare hope: it is the shape of things to come. “Every man shall sit under his own vine and his own fig tree, and none shall make him afraid.”(Micah 4:4)