This set me thinking about The Pirate again. In that book there is a character name Triptolemus Yellowley, an agent of the government, who has been sent to Zetland (Shetland) to improve agriculture there. He has nothing but contempt for the way the natives farm the land. Their methods are wrong, their crops are wrong, their tools and their Shetland Ponies are all wrong, he insists. He has no actual practical experience to support these criticisms, mind you – he simply went to an agricultural school and learned how the most progressive farmers are doing it in England. If it works in England, it must surely work here! Yellowley is a comic character – Scott doesn’t hate him, but he has a good deal of fun at his expense. He’s an amusing character, so long as he isn’t empowered to force his methods on actual farmers.
Yellowley is the avatar of future generations of government experts, dispatched by benevolent bureaucrats to meddle in the lives of common folk, especially rural folk.
To be fair, such people have done a lot of good in real life. I know that in Norway the peasants resisted the innovation of the potato for more than a century, until literal starvation under the British blockade in the Napoleonic wars forced them to eat them. Now potatoes are a revered staple of Norwegian folk cuisine. In other places, government experts have reduced soil erosion through new plowing methods, and soil exhaustion through the rotation of crops. They’ve taught people to fully cook their pork to prevent trichinosis, and to stop spitting to reduce tuberculosis.
But Yellowley is also the avatar of the Soviet commissar, organizing Russian and Ukrainian farms into communal operations, breaking up the old private holdings, treating people and land alike as statistics, and exploiting them all the same. He’s the avatar of Pol Pot, marching Cambodians out into the country to slave on communal farms in Year One.
One theme of Kirk’s book is that conservatism (ironically, in light of current disputes) stands for diversity, for localism and eccentricity and private genius. Liberalism, for all its rhetoric, is about flattening the curve of human individuality.