Wendell Berry: “It All Turns on Affection”

The Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities recognizes an individual who has made significant scholarly contributions to the humanities and who has the ability to communicate the knowledge and wisdom of the humanities in a broadly appealing way. Established in 1972, the Jefferson Lecture is the highest honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual and public achievement in the humanities. The lecture is delivered annually in the spring in Washington, D.C.

The 2012 Jefferson Lecturer is the Kentucky poet, essayist, novelist, farmer and conservationist Wendell E. Berry, who has been described as a “21-st century Henry David Thoreau.” Read a biography, appreciation, and interview. In his lecture, “It All Turns On Affection.” Berry laments the increasing divergence of modern man from the environment and local communities. Invoking the words of his mentor, the writer Wallace Stegner, Berry observed that throughout history Americans have been divided into two kinds:  the “boomers” who “pillage and run,” and the “stickers” who “settle, and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.” Inspired by a passage from E.M. Forster’s Howards End, Berry calls for for a land use ethic that is shaped by a sense of “affection” for land and place. “And so,” he said, “I am nominating economy for an equal standing among the arts and humanities. I mean, not economics, but economy, the making of the human household upon the earth: the arts of adapting kindly the many human households to the earth’s many ecosystems and human neighborhoods.”

Read full text of the lecture or watch the video.

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