The National Farmers Union (NFU) would like to congratulate Christopher Stevers, who is the winner of the Beingessner Award for Excellence in Writing for 2017.

To the farmers who are trying to make a living, meanwhile feeding us: 

There’s something these days that’s affecting your business, your life, and the world you live in. It’s called social license. For those who don’t know, social license refers to the communal permission given to—or, as is more often the case, withheld from—business activities, farming or otherwise. It likely stopped the Energy East pipeline. It is helping to grow the practice of organic farming. It is being taken from animal farmers by vegan militias. Obviously, social license is common in farmers’ issues. And clearly it is something important to farmers of all sorts: the vegan with his vegetables; field crop/livestock men who are grappling with the morals of new ag-technologies; and the farm men and women of all sorts in between.

After study, social license hits me as a potentially dangerous weapon. It isn’t rule by the people. It’s rule by the loudest voice. And the loudest voice isn’t often the most reasonable voice. Right now animal rights activist are a major concern to the farming community, and rightly so. They threaten to shut down animal agriculture, which is most natural and nearly necessary. They’re pursuing their goals through “social licensing”. They are scaring/pushing politicians and bureaucrats into pursuing anti-agriculture regulations by withholding social license for animal agriculture. If you see a respectable person lampooned by those who disagree with him you will know what I mean. Rogue social licensing happens in other areas too, outside of farming. Excessive regulation, activism based policy, and the tearful or violent appeals that lead to those regulations and policies are other symptoms of well-intentioned but evil social licensing. Not to mention the soulless manipulation of people in order to get the desired social licensing.

This is not to say that social license is always evil or useless. If placed properly it’s a way to reward the corporations, industries, and business movements that are in the Right(and no that’s not necessarily the political Right). Take for example ecological farming. If biological farming is the right way to go social license has certainly found a useful niche there. Social license can encourage people to go against the grain. This is what allows my family to farm organically. Take for example corporate morals. Yes, the moral of large corporations may be to make the most money without incurring criminal charges or causing unrest. But social license in practice can sometimes make proper morals part of the urge to make money. Social license, because it is simply given by the active citizen is less often ruled top down like established media and political parties. It’s a tool in the hands of willing activists who want a better alternative to the present. Clearly, in spite of its obvious drawbacks social license is a powerful tool for good.

The problem is, when people get use to using social license they are going to use it improperly—either through their own will or manipulation by social scientists. Perhaps National Post said it right when it stated that we need a just third party speaking for the people and their society. From this perspective social license serves as just another reason to look for reform of modern States as is suggested by the outstanding open letter, Quadragesimo Anno: on Reconstructing the Social Order.

Social license is certainly food for thought. For the time being, we farmers just have to justly take advantage of it and hope it doesn’t injure us too much. Hopefully it will be replaced—or of itself lead to something better.

Sincerely yours,
Christopher Stevers