Saturday, April 02, 2011

Wikipedia :: The French Revolution :: Farming

Sometimes I find it amazing when I see mentions of farming in "out of the way" places, but then I need to take a second and step back realizing that farming has to be one of the main pieces of our foundation. Without farming our food would have to come from hunting and gathering (or something like that) ... and that might not be very sustainable for everyone ... at least not these days. But, just the other day the crazy thing that is my mind found farming at the totally logical intersection of 18th century naval warfare, the French Revolution, and of course Wikipedia (it's completely believable because it's on the internet right?).

Please allow me to explain how I ended up at farming the other night. As I mentioned in a previous post I'm currently reading The Line Upon a Wind: The Great War at Sea, 1793-1815. This book details the naval engagements and background surrounding the late 18th century and early 19th century. Obviously this meant that I needed to find out more about that time period and the events that were shaping the European navies. That is how I landed on the Wikipedia entry for the French Revolution ... more specifically the "Causes" section of that page. Within that section I read this ::
Economic factors included hunger and malnutrition in the most destitute segments of the population, due to rising bread prices (from a normal eight sous for a four-pound loaf to 12 sous by the end of 1789), after several years of poor grain harvests. The combination of bad harvests (due to abnormal/severe weather fluctuations) and rising food prices was further aggravated by an inadequate transportation system which hindered the shipment of bulk foods from rural areas to large population centers, contributing greatly to the destabilization of French society in the years leading up to the Revolution.
Of course I had to ask myself after reading that ... how does this relate to the 21st century world and what can we learn? Does this mean that if food prices begin to rise in the United States (which they are and they are predicted to keep rising) we will have a revolution on our hands (and heads rolling everywhere ... literally)? Does it mean that Earl Butz and his high-production ideas are the best way possible to farm in order to keep us from experiencing hunger and malnutrition? Does it mean that a food system based on import/export is ideal because it helps us deal with weather fluctuations? Does it mean that maybe a system based on transportation and centralized areas of agriculture is a system that in some senses is destabilizing for a country?

I don't really know what it means, but I do know that it is part of history and that there is something we can learn from it. I am also glad that Wikipedia (and a book about really cool sailing ships) helped remind me just how important farming is in the big picture. And, I am thankful for my mind that never misses an opportunity to head down a rabbit trail ... sometimes there are big things at the end of those fun little side tracks!


Rich said...

From my understanding, the French Revolution was about the Rights of Men vs. the Rights of Man idea of the American Revolution (I might have that reversed, but it is basically collective rights vs. individual rights).

No matter what, the revolution was going to come and the food shortages were just exploited to fuel the French Revolution.

From that perspective, I question whether or not there are actually any food shortages.

Or, are food prices increasing due to government overspending and the "printing" of money all around the world?

Ethan Book said...

Sure I would agree that the "rights" issue comes to the forefront ... but, wouldn't the shortages count for at least instigating it. The same thing happened in America ... taxes and representation just added the fuel to push it over the top.

I'm not sure about food shortages ... I didn't mean to make that comparison ... I guess just the rise in food prices and your reasoning for that is probably a big contributing factor ...

The main idea though is that food and farming obviously has a huge impact on the stability of a country ... my two cents ;)

Future Farmer said...

I'm a sophomore in High School, and I have decided that I'll become a farmer.
I've been writing a blog at,

Yeoman said...

On the French Revolution, and its nature, it partially serves to remember that it was a very urban revolution and rapidly came to pit the mob against everyone else. It is truly the father of revolutions, and you can look to the Bolshevik Revolution and see it very clearly reflected.

The French Revolution was largely the result of a dispossessed urban class rising up under radicals, and the natural result occurred, the revolution consumed itself and fell to a military dictator who ruled in its name.

In the countryside it never had any following, and the rural peasantry did not support it.

Yeoman said...

Okay, continuing on, did food shortages have a role in causing the French Revolution? Yes, but that misses a part of the story.

This period in history coincided with the onset of the Industrial Revolution in England and France. It was very early in it, but it was starting. This, in turn, also saw a mass immigration from the countryside into the cities, and it made the cities larger. It also created an idle, desperate, urban class that became disassociated with nearly everything and which also saw the concentration of vice.

As this also subjected this class to the swings of the modern business cycle, for the very first time, but without a "social safety net", they were easily lead and radicalized.

Yes, there were food shortages. And there was crime, and desperate poverty. And not only in France, but in the UK as well. The UK was better able to handle it for a variety of reasons, the availability of Empire being part of them.

Does this have any lesson applicable to us today? It probably does. The very same era we're looking at in this thread also gave rise to Jefferson's writings about the Yeoman farmer. It's ironic, really, as Jefferson, not understanding what he was seeing, admired the French Revolution as he wholly misunderstood what it was about. Be that as it may, he warned that urban classes were destructive to independence as they became dependent on government and politicians learned to promise the mob whatever it wanted. That warning is applicable to us.

And, what about the possibility of modern food shortages? We really can't completely discount that. Truth be known, this nation has passed the point of wisdom in terms of its population, and really ought to stop taking in new immigrants. That sounds terrible, but in actuality our current practice is keeping our underclass poor, as they cannot get a foothold in any economy, and we're easting up agricultural land at the same time that we're starting to see periods of the year in which we're a net food importer. That's not very smart, and it also points towards the era of "cheap food" potentially coming to an end in the US. That won't mean starvation, but it could really change the nature of the average family's budget.

Anonymous said...

If there were food shortages, how do you explain this:

"a 'scorched earth' policy was initiated: farms were destroyed, crops and forests burned and villages razed. There were many reported atrocities and a campaign of mass killing universally targeted at residents of the Vendée regardless of combatant status, political affiliation, age or gender."

Sounds like the French Revolution was driven by lust for power rather than any economic troubles. The economic troubles only serve as a tool to achieve the desired goal. My main point would be that you cannot frame every issue in the context of farming. Nor can you hope that farming will be the gateway to utopia. Man is fallen and our purpose in life is not material happiness but rather it is to save our souls. To know, love and serve Our Lord in this life and for all eternity in the next life.
Farming is a useful tool in that regard but it is merely the means not the end. When we reach the end (not everyone will) we will rest but until then "with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return." Gen 3:17-19

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