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I’m trapped, for the time being, in a city. It’s a vivacious and proud city — arguably the state’s cultural capital; a place seemingly immune to economic malaise; a place teeming with little shops and well-manicured 19th-century neighborhoods. It appears on all the usual “best” lists — as the nth best place to raise a family, the nth most educated city in America, the nth greatest place for young professionals. It has much to offer … if you fancy yoga and craft beer and vegan cuisine.
If you’d care to join the Rudolf Steiner Anthroposophy Study Group, or the Astrology Circle, or the Lesbian Coffee House, or the Shamanic Journey Group. If you’d like to hear the local priest sermonize about social justice, then indulge in a little Catholic yoga afterward. If you’re interested in discussing “Cat Person” at the local library, or you enjoy the idea of perusing the city art museum’s collection of #Resistance artwork (which, when I last visited, included droopy hand-knit rifles with the name “Trump” stitched into them).
If you’re looking for a Dickens or Tolstoy or Chesterton discussion group, or a reasonably traditional bible study, or some other safe space for old souls, you’re out of luck. Now, a book club needn’t be political, and members needn’t pass an ideological litmus test. But for Buttigieg’s sake, it needn’t be a Margaret Atwood cult, either … which is what most American book clubs amount to. The same is true for just about every other cultural institution in the city where I happen to reside. The place has three saving graces — its architecture, its orchestra, and its jazz club. Those only go so far.
Graduate-student duties aside, there’s rarely a good reason for me to leave my apartment — except to sightsee, which I often do … alone. There’s little reason for me to feel invested in the city. There’s little reason for me to stay.
Kevin Williamson is half-right.* Conservatives, for all their praise of little platoons, do a shoddy job of creating and sustaining them, especially in the places where little platoons are most likely to thrive. I don’t blame them. It’s much easier to harumph at the world from the solitude of our homes than to found book clubs, study groups, coffee shops, art museums, theaters, think tanks, etc. But book clubs, study groups, coffee shops, art museums, theaters, and think tanks form the backbone of a city’s cultural life, and we renounce them at our peril. Obviously, the cities will never be conservative. It’s not unreasonable, though, to expect islands of anachronism within an otherwise woke-chic sea. In many places, those islands don’t seem to exist, perhaps because nobody bothers to make them. Heck, I don’t bother to make them.
Yet we wonder why conservatism is dying.
* I say “half-right” because Kevin’s defense of cities applies only to half of them. Old-fashioned high culture might survive in New York and Chicago, but it’s an endangered species in the average, small-to-medium-sized Middle American city.