The Oldest Divide: With Roots Dating Back to Our Founding, America’s Urban-Rural Split is Wider Than Ever
From Hesiod’s Works and Days to Virgil’s Georgics, the connection between farming and morality was always emphasized as a check on urban decadence and corruption. What was gained by the city’s great universities, monumental edifices, churches, and pageantry was often lost through the baleful effects of being cut off from nature and defining success through intangibles such as transient goods, status, and material luxuries. Physical and mental balance, practicality, a sense of the tragic rather than the therapeutic—all these were birthed by rural life and yet proved essential to the survival of a nation that would inevitably become more mannered, sophisticated, and urban. Jefferson idealized an American as a tough citizen who couldn’t be fooled by sophisticated demagogues, given his own steady hand guiding the plow or digging irrigation ditches. Rural folks didn’t romanticize the city, but rather, like characters in Horace’s Satires or the content rustic mouse of Aesop’s Fables, saw it as a necessary evil. Yet urbanites, though cut off from nature, dependent on government for their sustenance, and embedded within the politics and trends of the day, idealized the farm and pasture—if certainly from a safe distance.
The twenty-first century may at last see the end of a venerable consensus that rural citizens prizing liberty and freedom provide a necessary audit on the democracy of urbanites who prefer uniformity and demand equality at all costs.