Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Paradigm of place

I have moments when great ideas rattling around in my head converge on each other and coalesce into a paradigm with the power to explain the complex and convoluted. Lately, these moments are almost always aided by reading Public Discourse, First Things, and/or Rod Dreher at the American Conservative, so to them I owe a debt of gratitude.


The future of the republic depends on 2 factors. The first is a government that respects the people’s liberty. The second is the people’s judicious exercise of their liberty. If we fancy ourselves “free” from codes of conduct that restrain the passions, “liberated” from the facts of life, we prove ourselves incapable of self-government and undeserving of liberty; we essentially prove our need for totalitarian government.

Those codes of conduct that maximize our liberty by restraining it require great insight into human nature, the greatest object of human inquiry. They do not occur to us instinctively. For the most part they are ground into us as we grow up. A culture’s success can be measured by how well it instills moral discipline in the next generation.

Place has an undeniable place in culture. Place is more than geography; it’s the people and the history of their stake in the land. Civilization is the settling of man in a place, his roots digging deeper into the earth the longer he stays. As he matures, he learns to respect and to nurture that which elevated him above the savage, similar to how the parent raises the child, and the child cares for the parent in old age.

What elites deride from atop their ivory towers as “backward” is the closed loop of exclusive associations that naturally develop among people who live close to each other. Roger Scruton writes:

Such associations form the stuff of civil society, and conservatives emphasize them precisely because they are the guarantee that society will renew itself without being led and controlled by the state.

Preferred by the elites, a locality densely populated by transients lacking these associations is no place at all, but an impersonal, bloodless mob finding contentment in excessive consumption—of spirit, body, and earth. Is this the future of civilization in a “global” economy, denuded of place, fixated on temporary satisfactions, directionless in a moral vacuum? If so, the future is short-lived.


Texas has always been a big state, but it is much bigger than it was in 2007, when I left for Maryland. It will grow bigger still as more Americans realize they can prosper here better than in most states; people who lack a deep connection to this place; people who, having endured a big change themselves in moving to Texas, aren’t sensitive to natives’ qualified fears of change. I welcome them, just as friends and family I never lost touch with welcomed me back to Texas last year. But, in large numbers, they unwittingly corrupt the cultural rhythms that fostered a winning formula.

The Eagle Ford shale deposit is changing south Texas. There is great opportunity in the pursuit of oil riches for Texan and transient alike, but it will destroy the ranching culture that defined this area. It will replace a patient, earthy, symbiotic relationship with the land to one of violence, of clearing, drilling, and trucking. Landscape and wildlife are not the victims in this equation, as the environmental movement would have you believe. The victim is us whose identity erodes with the ever distant past.


Here are some articles that touch on this topic. The first two review Roger Scruton’s book, How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism:

“Green Conservatism” at the American Conservative.

“An Environmental Conservatism?” at Public Discourse.

“The Meaning of Place in America: How and Why it Shapes Lives” at Public Discourse.

“A Nostalgic Age” at RedState.

No comments:

Post a Comment