Monday, February 25, 2013
We Bought a House in the City
The Prolix Patriot believes that the future of conservatism will depend on restoring and rebuilding our cities after decades of liberal decay and neglect, so he and the Missus purchased a house in the city to put his money where his mouth is, as it were. For the first time in the history of the world, more people live in cities than do not. If conservatism is to remain a vital force in our civilization, we must bring our values back to the cities and our core institutions.
There are many obstacles to this project of course. In a map of precinct-level election returns, cities are the deepest of deep blue islands even in states that as a whole lean solidly to the right. Municipal elections are settled in Democratic primaries and the November elections might as well be like the Soviet Union where the only answer is "Yes." This is an unlikely place to look for conservative values. Living in the city is a decidedly counter-cultural proposition for us, especially when trying to have a large family.
However, because of this, conservatives in cities know the value of community perhaps more acutely than their liberal neighbors. Whereas for liberals the many boards and committees of municipal government provide numerous opportunities for civic involvement, for conservatives the first unit of organization (after the family of course) is the parish, and unsurprisingly, the most vibrant and conservative parish in Columbus is in the heart of the city, not at its periphery.
Fortified by communities of faith and family, conservatives are better prepared to engage with people of differing opinions instead of succumbing to the liberal tendency towards oikophobia. As conservatives, we can highlight the things that we do have in common with liberals without completely surrendering to radicalism. That said, instead of seeking to find common cause where none exists, we must use every opportunity to encourage our liberal neighbors to rethink their attitudes about conservatism—and perhaps even join our cause.
As one example, conservatives can demonstrate that conservation of nature (as opposed to radical environmentalism) is best achieved by making cities a desirable place to live instead of punishing people for the economically rational decision to live in the outer suburbs. As another example, horrible schools deter families from living in the city. Groups like Southside STAY in Columbus recognize this problem. Conservatives should emphasize our commitment to school choice and teacher accountability as the means to restore urban schools and make it easier for large families to thrive.
Many years ago, the Prolix Patriot wrote a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal defending the importance of cities even in an age where technology makes it easier to communicate across vast distances and sprawling infrastructure provides relatively quick access from the countryside to the urban core and vice-versa. These advances are wonderful in some ways but they also have their drawbacks, and they can never replace the value of proximity that nurtures and sustains communities and our society as a whole.
Conservatives recognize that human nature does not change. Instead of the Bloombergian nanny-state which tries to force people to live according to the latest fad, we recognize that the way to change behavior is by setting a good example ourselves and by providing incentives for others to do the right thing. It will take much time and effort to repair the damage (both physical and spiritual) that liberalism has inflicted on our cities over the past 50 years, but if we do not commit ourselves to the task, we cannot complain about the decaying and degraded society that our children will inherit.