Witness first the unabashed love letter to him from National Review reporter and essayist John Miller, in the form of a profile as Berry prepares to receive the Russell Kirk Paideia Prize this Friday. It seems the 77-year-old liberal-talking, Democratic-voting sheep farmer who was honored to give the 2012 Jefferson Lecture at The Kennedy Center in April is getting a prize named for the author of The Conservative Mind. The prize is awarded by the CiRCE Institute, which promotes Christian classical education, for “cultivating virtue and wisdom.” If that weren't enough, notes Miller, last year ISI Books, part of the conservative 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.
Miller's trip to Berry's Henry County, Kentucky farm informs his essay, "A Jeremiah for Everyone: Why Left and Right like Wendell Berry." It's here where Miller remembers old-time conservative Kirk's words to make his case. Kirk, a longtime National Review contributor who, like Berry, opted for a rural life, discovered the Kentuckian around 1978. Kirk, writes Miller, "was probably the first prominent conservative to detect an undercurrent of conservatism in Berry’s work: suspicion of progress, support for local autonomy, and a preference for the old ways of doing things. Berry certainly doesn’t view himself as a conservative, and he seems both puzzled and amused that his work would find favor with conservatives." But he has conservative streaks, telling Miller, "Abortion for birth control is wrong. That’s as far as I’m going to go. In some circumstances, I would justify it, as I would justify divorce in some circumstances, as the best of two unhappy choices."
Miller concludes, "As Berry enters the final stage of his career . . . he appears content with the way he has lived out his convictions, no matter how they’re labeled. 'It’s been an extraordinarily rich life,' he says. At the same time, the contentment always fades to worry. The world is going to pot, and, if you leaf through Berry’s body of work, you’ll see that it’s been going there for a long time." (Read more)