Read CHAPTER XIX of The Farmer and His Community , free online book, by Dwight Sanderson, on


Just as we know a man by his bodily presence, so we recognize a community by its location and its physical structure. Yet the man is more than a body and the community is more than its material basis; the real community consists of the men, women, and children living together in a restricted environment. Dr. R. E. Hieronymous has well expressed the most fundamental aspect of the community when he says that its people “are coming to act together in the chief concerns of life." The life of the community consists of the common activities of its people. There can be no community where there is no devotion to a common cause. The cause may be now one thing, now another, it may be worthy or debasing, but in so far as the people of a locality are acting together in the support of various common causes they are living as a community. Just as the character of an individual is determined by his life purposes and the degree to which he conforms his behavior to them, so the highest type of community is that in which its people are consciously loyal to the common welfare and are “coming to act together” for the common good. Like the character of an individual, the community is in process of becoming; it necessarily exists on an unconscious basis, due to locality and heredity, but the strength of the community is measured by the degree to which its members become voluntarily loyal to common purposes.

Outside of early New England the circumstances of settlement of the United States were not conducive to community development. Most of the country west of the Alleghanies was settled by individuals who secured their land from the federal government and whose prime allegiance was to the nation. The federal government was the outgrowth of a revolution for the right of self-government. Liberty and Freedom were its watchwords and the conditions of life of the pioneer settlers and their rapid spread over one of the richest natural areas in the world favored individual independence. It was the natural reaction from the previous domination of a feudal aristocracy. For over a century our national philosophy has been dominated by a doctrine of rights, and only recently have we come to perceive that if democracy is to function in a complex modern civilization, there must be an equal emphasis on duties. This is the significance of the present interest in instruction in citizenship in our schools.

Most of us hardly appreciate how complete a reversal of the organization of rural life was involved in this sudden domination of individualism. Primitive agriculture was made possible by men associating in small village communities for defense and mutual aid. Their whole system of agriculture, until very modern times, was controlled and directed, not by the individual or family, but by the community. The typical peasant community of Russia or India was in many respects but an enlarged family and its economy and social control were based upon the customs of the family. Indeed, historically the community was the outgrowth of the enlarged family or clan. It is not surprising, therefore, that the peasant’s first loyalty is to his community. The nation or state is far away and beyond his ken; his patriotism is for his home village. So Park and Miller in their discussion of immigrants’ attitudes say: “The peasant did not know that he was a Pole; he even denied it. The lord was a Pole; he was a peasant. We have records showing that members of other immigrant groups realize first in America that they are members of a nationality: “I had never realized I was an Albanian until my brother came from America in 1909. He belonged to an Albanian society over here."

Prior to the last century the whole social organization of rural life in the Old World was built up around the community. The family, the community, and the state were the primary forms of human association. Obviously, therefore, when families dispersed over the new territory of the United States with no community ties and with but few contacts with the national government, there was a lack of that social organization to which the people had been accustomed and through which their whole mode of life, their customs and moral code had been built up. These forms of human association, the family, the community, the state, have been built up very slowly through centuries of human strife and suffering; they represent the experience of the race as to the best means of adjusting human relationships. Break down an essential feature of the structure of human society, as was done when American settlers abandoned community life, and men are compelled to find new methods of meeting their common needs and of maintaining standards of conduct essential for their common welfare. Had it not been for the influence of the school and the church, rural life over most of the United States would have inevitably degenerated, for wherever there is no form of associated control there humanity reverts to the level of the brute. Human life is what it is because for countless generations mankind has been learning how to adjust itself through association so that larger opportunity for the individual is secured through a larger measure of well being for all.

The devotion of the American settler to his family eventually necessitated his association for advantages which could be secured only through collective action. When he had subdued the land and established his home, when he commenced to raise farm products for market rather than primarily for support of the family, when better communication gave more contacts with the town and city, the farm family developed new wants and interests which could only be satisfied through association with others. We have already indicated the processes whereby the economic situation, religious life, public education, the need of local government, and the desire for recreational facilities, are inevitably drawing the people of the countryside together at the natural centers into communities. The locality group is again recognized as essential for the best organization of rural life. But the new rural community is a voluntary group, it is not determined by common control of the land or by common subjection to a feudal lord as was the village community of the old world; its people are free to come and go where and when they will. The community can compel only through the power of public opinion and its success must depend upon the voluntary loyalty of its people.

Thus the strength and the weakness of the community lies in the loyalty of its people. No community can permanently succeed whose people associate in it merely for the advantages which they may gain. There must be a genuine willingness to give as well as to receive, a real desire to do one’s share for the common life. Human association cannot succeed on a basis of organized selfishness. The joy of family life arises from the fact that each member is devoted to all and is willing to sacrifice personal interests for the family; without such devotion and sacrifice the true home is impossible. Just because human nature has arisen through long ages of association, man finds no permanent satisfaction in pursuing his own selfish interest; his greatest joy is found in his devotion to others. All human association therefore depends upon loyalty and the higher and more complex the association, the more essential is the loyalty of its members. As Miss Follett has well said, “Loyalty means the consciousness of oneness, the full realization that we succeed or fail, live or die, are saved or damned, together. The only unity or community is one we have made of ourselves, by ourselves, for ourselves."

Here social science and religion agree upon the ultimate objectives of life. Professor Josiah Royce has shown that the ideal of Christianity, the Kingdom of God, is but a universal community, what he calls the “beloved community,” which is made possible through the loyalty of all to love and service. There is a fundamentally religious sanction to community loyalty and only an essentially religious motive will inspire men to sublimate personal interests in devotion to the community. Only through loyalty to the highest ideals of community life can the Kingdom of God be realized on earth. No conceivable cataclysm could make its existence possible without the voluntary allegiance of mankind, for the Kingdom of God is the kingdom of love; it can exist only as the minds and hearts of men are devoted to it. Nor can the community universal, the “beloved community,” be achieved except each local community adjusts its own life to the highest social values. The community movement is but a means whereby the ideals of democracy and religion may be given concrete expression in a definite locality. Unless these ideals can be applied to local areas where it is possible to achieve some measure of common life, of community, there is little probability of their realization in the world at large.

But these higher values of human life cannot be brought about by a mere process of organization. They require the dynamic of a religious conviction in the hearts of men. The Gospel and life of Jesus of Nazareth furnish the essential inspiration for that spirit of loyalty without which all organization is in vain. Professor E. C. Lindeman has ably expressed this in his discussion of the relation of the Community and Democracy:

“The most formidable foe of Democracy, however, is the confidence which people place in schemes and plans and forms of organization. What the social machinery of our day needs is spiritual force to provide motive power. The modern Community Movement will fail to give Democracy its practical expression if it is not motivated by a spiritual dynamic. Such a dynamic force was unloosed with the message and life of Jesus of Nazareth. He lived his life on the basis of certain basic democratic assumptions, and He scientifically demonstrated those assumptions. In His eyes all individuals were of value; through the social implications of His message sin became democratic and the burden of all; in His aspirations all humankind were included. He assumed that Love would solve more problems than Hatred. He even assumed that to have a human enemy was a social anomaly. And He believed that religion was essentially a system of behavior by which the individual need not be swallowed up in the group, but by which the individual must find ultimate satisfactions in spiritualizing the group."

Community loyalty will give rise to a true provincialism which will do much to give smaller communities a satisfactory status and to make them more independent in their standards and purposes. It is common to deride provincialism, but what we deprecate is the inability of the provincial to associate with the outside world, and the city man may be as “provincial” as the farmer from the back hills. True provincialism, on the other hand, is essential to the progress of civilization. The tendency of city life is toward imitation and reducing life to a dead level. Eccentricity may be objectionable, but without individuality of persons and communities life would be stupid and monotonous. There is probably no greater need for strengthening rural life than a community loyalty which will prevent the unthinking imitation of urban life and will take justifiable pride in local ideals and achievements. The need of a larger appreciation of the value of a true provincialism has been well described by Professor Royce in his essay on “Provincialism”:

“Local spirit, local pride, provincial independence, influence the individual man precisely because they appeal to his imitative tendencies. But thereby they act so as to render him more or less immune in presence of the more trivial of the influences that, coming from without his community, would otherwise be likely to reduce him to the dead level of the customs of the whole nation. A country district may seem to a stranger unduly crude in its ways; but it does not become wiser in case, under the influence of city newspapers and summer boarders, it begins to follow city fashions merely for the sake of imitating. Other things being equal, it is better in proportion as it remains self-possessed, proud of its own traditions, not unwilling indeed to learn, but also quite ready to teach the stranger its own wisdom. And in similar fashion provincial pride helps the individual man to keep his self-respect even when the vast forces that work toward industrial consolidation, and toward the effacement of individual initiative, are besetting the life at every turn. For a man is in large measure what his social consciousness makes him. Give him the local community that he loves and cherishes, that he is proud to honor and to serve, make his ideal of that community lofty, give him faith in the dignity of his province, and you have given him a power to counteract the levelling tendencies of modern civilization."

Community loyalty is largely dependent upon leadership. There is a reciprocal relation between loyalty and leadership; leaders inspire loyalty and loyalty incites leadership. Thus the amount of leadership in a community and the willingness of its people to assume leadership are good indices of community loyalty, and the willingness to work under leaders is its crucial test. The leader is essential to group activity. Without a leader group activity is difficult or impossible. If men are to act together effectively some one must be spokesman and director.

Lack of leadership has ever been one of the chief handicaps of rural life as compared with that of the town and city, and with the growth of organization the need of rural leadership is increasingly apparent. Until very recently the vocation of agriculture has had but little call for leadership. Successful farming required strict attention to the work of the farm and leadership brought no pecuniary advantage to the farmer as it did to the business or professional man. Furthermore there seems to be an innate desire for equality among farmers and a disinclination to recognize one of their number as in any degree superior, which discourages the development of leadership among them. The town and city place a premium on leadership and a position of leadership gives a status which is coveted; but for the farmer any position of leadership is a burden or a public duty rather than an opportunity. For this reason the control of government, education, religion, and all the larger associations of life has been largely in the hands of urban leaders. This has been inevitable and the lack of representation of the farmers’ interests has been incidental to the nature of his vocation.

Whenever the need of adjustment to new conditions becomes sufficiently acute as to demand action for the preservation of interests of any group of men, the cause creates leadership; leaders either come forward or are drafted and the successful leaders survive through a process of natural selection and receive recognition and support. This is what is now occurring in American agriculture. New conditions have forced farmers to organize for cooperative marketing and are necessitating the better organization of the whole social life of rural communities for reasons which have been previously indicated. With better education and with more contacts with city life, farmers have come to appreciate that if they are to compete with other industries and if the rural community is to have a satisfactory standard of living, they must develop their own leadership and that those who are qualified for leadership cannot be expected to devote their time to the business interests of their fellows unless they are adequately compensated. On the other hand, there is gradually developing a new sense of responsibility for assuming voluntary leadership in community activities, and a larger appreciation of the need of leadership and the duty of supporting it.

One of the greatest benefits of the Extension Service and the Farm Bureau Movement is the definite effort to develop local leadership and the large measure in which this has been successful. The demonstration work and cooperative organizations produce a new type of leader, for he must be one who is successful in his own farm business and who understands the better methods of agricultural production and marketing if he is to be able to interest others in them and to wisely guide the policies of his group. The successful agricultural leader must first of all be a good farmer, for the basic ideal of his group is the best agricultural production. Not infrequently an unsuccessful farmer who is a good talker comes into prominence because he is willing to devote more time to public affairs, but he rarely attains a position of real leadership in his own community, for being unable to manage his own business he is unable to wisely direct that of the community.

Unselfish leadership is the highest form of community loyalty and is essential for permanent community progress. There are obvious satisfactions in leadership, but the true leader must have a clear vision, a strong purpose, and intense faith in his people, if he is not to become discouraged by the lack of loyalty in others and their slow response to his ideals. For the true leader must always be thinking in advance of his community. It is his function to see what is needed for the common good and then to gradually convince the group, and he must be willing to withstand the criticism and rebuffs of those who are as yet unwilling to sacrifice temporary personal advantage for the common good. The real leader will not attempt to do everything himself but will constantly seek to discover leadership in others and to inspire them with his own enthusiasm and faith in their ability. Not infrequently this involves the supreme test of leadership, for the leader must be responsible for the failure of his helpers, and although he may feel that a given undertaking would be more certain of success were he to assume direct responsibility for it or place it in the hands of some one who has demonstrated his ability, yet because of his belief in the distribution of responsibility as essential for a strong community and because of his faith in the individual and in the undertaking, he takes the risk and lends his influence to the success of the other. The discovery and training of leadership is one of the chief concerns of the true leader. Witness the devotion of the Master to the chosen Twelve and his willingness to leave his whole cause in their hands.

The willingness to assume leadership is the acid test of community loyalty, for only through the development of a maximum of leadership can the best life of the community be achieved. Every citizen has some ability which qualifies him to lead some group, however small it may be, or however humble the cause. Indeed the highest type of community is one in which there is a conscious direction of community purposes through a body of leadership which is divided among all its members, so that each feels responsible to the whole community for the success of his share of the common enterprise and has satisfaction in his contribution to the common achievement. In last analysis the success of the community rests upon the loyalty of its people as measured by their willingness to assume leadership in whatsoever capacity may best serve its interests.

As the farm people of the United States have more contact with towns and cities and as through better education and means of communication they come into a larger participation in all the ranges of human culture, they come to realize that only through collective effort can they secure many of their new desires. Although many associations for special interests attract their allegiance, their attachment to a locality and their common relation to the existing center of social activities, give rise to a devotion to the community, for only through the united effort of all interests can they realize their highest desires. Loyalty to the family is broadened into loyalty to the community, which finds its incentive and dynamic in devotion to the family. The family becomes less self-sufficient, but through its wider associations in the community, the relations of the members of the family to each other assume new and because they are more largely voluntary higher values, and the family attains its highest development through the larger fulfilment of its members.

The farmer no longer glories in his isolation, or magnifies the virtues of independence, for new conditions require the cooperation of the whole community if farm life is to be made satisfying. Willingness and ability to work with others for the common good win social approval. Next to devotion to the family, loyalty to the community is essential for the realization of the best possibilities of rural life.


“Strong, that no human soul may pass
Its warm, encircling unity,
Wide, to enclose all creed, all class,
This shall we name, Community;

“Service shall be that all and each,
Aroused to know the common good,
Shall strive, and in the striving reach
A broader human brotherhood.”