Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


From the earliest economic thought there has existed the notion that agriculture is the most preferred of all forms of economic activity. This preference is grounded in the belief that when agriculture is the dominant form of economic activity a set of ends will be attained which are consistent with human nature and conducive to human happiness. These are the ends of limited wealth, internal and external freedom, and piety. Writers expressing this belief were engaged in a study of political economy which was not bounded by the methodological strictures of logical positivism. For these agrarian political economists there existed no distinction between the logical status of statements of what is and statements of what ought to be, no fact-value distinction. It was possible to arrive at a scientific knowledge of ends of values. Hence, unlike modern political economists seeking to provide people with the means to do what they will, agrarian political economists sought to provide people with the means to attain a set of ends believed conducive to human happiness. While not entirely ignoring the subject, historians of economic thought have failed to provide even a partial overview of agrarian political economy. The absence of such a study suggests that there exists the tacit supposition that no coherent meaning is to be found in the expressions of agrarian writers taken as a whole. It is argued here, however, that these expressions do constitute a coherent if heterogeneous body of ideas. Furthermore, it is suggested that the inherent orderliness of this body of ideas becomes clear as soon as agrarianism is recognized as a branch of pre-fact-value distinction political economy. In response to the objections of one historian, this study argues that a general definition of agrarianism is defensible if one is prepared to recognize that agrarian thought is grounded in pre-fact-value distinction methodology. As a way of revealing the orderliness of this body of ideas and at the same time gaining some insight into the methodology of pre-fact-value distinction political economy, this study makes use of a methodological tool which recognizes and gives form to the status the agrarian writers attached to ends and means. It involves an analysis and classification of writers first according to the ends which they found desirable and then according to the means by which they felt agriculture and an agrarian society would achieve those ends. By clarifying the relationship that they drew between ends and means this analytical classification scheme reveals the coherent and yet heterogeneous nature of agrarian thought. This study draws on the works of agrarian writers beginning with the ancients and continuing with the works of seventeenth and eighteenth French and British agrarians. The greatest amount of attention is reserved for the works of agrarian political economists of the American South. Southern Agrarianism has been sufficiently broad to encompass most of the recurrent themes of agrarian political economy. It is also leads directly to the question raised in this work regarding the value of a social science methodology grounded in the fact-value distinction. A brief look at the impact of this methodology on the study of welfare economics reveals the nihilistic consequences which logical positivism has had for the social sciences. These same consequences are also shown to be the basis for the explicit rejection of logical positivism by the twentieth century Southern Agrarians. As an alternative this study suggests a return to the methodology of the agrarians and over pre-fact-value distinction political economists which leaves social scientists free to engage in a reasoned discussion of ends as well as means.