by Patrick Appel
A reader writes:
Richard Florida's post notes the history of anti-urbanism in conservatism, but the history extends longer than that into the industrialization of Europe during the 1700s and 1800s. Goethe depicted the city not just as the realm of the intellectual, but of the debaucher. Mephistopheles corrupts Faust, the intellectual, in the city. William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge rebelled against the artificiality and inhumanity of the city. Joseph Conrad coupled the city with the immoral impulse of business to colonize and dominate. Wheras Karl Marx, and other like him, viewed the city as a savior for the unintelligent farmer. At the core of all critiques of urban areas, from these first author's to Florida's neoconservatives, is the fear of disenchantment.
The city always represents the loss of enchantment, the increase of impractical knowledge, the dissolution of man's special nature. Krugman says this is an aesthetic problem conservatives have with the city, but it goes much further than image. Conservatives disdain the city not just because it threatens the image of the burly American, but also because it threatens them. Small towns are dying and cities are growing; a single city hold great political power equaled only by a multitude of suburban neighborhoods. No matter how one looks at the issue, the paragon of the conservative way of life is no longer the paragon of the American way of life. It realy is an ontological problem for conservatives: How do they exist in a country that no longer holds their values as essential to life? How do they live with the disenchantment of the way of life they hold dear? Then answer for some is the path chosen by Wordsworth and Coleridge. They rebel, decrying the city and its inhabitants for any number of supposed ills. If history of thought has taught us anything on this subject, it's that no amount of rebellion can stop the city.