now in its one-hundred-and-eightieth year
Spring is coming to my corner of the city, but I’ve hardly noticed it. Normally I would go out walking a lot at this time of year, to enjoy all the beautiful plants, the freshness of life, its fragility. This year I’ve been too preoccupied with my writing, with politics, to savor the season. I look out the window of the car while my husband is driving me to work, and this is spring: the picture that I take out the window at 50 miles an hour. At least this I can savor: this picture, showing the exact stages of the new leaf, the exact position of the gulls in the grass, the quality of the light, the fog just lifting off the craggy trees. Grant looking over it all. This is my spring. I’ve taken many photographs from the car this spring. I cheat sometimes and use the “posterize” setting on my camera to key up the city. Maybe it’s not such a cheat in a way, because the resulting images correspond to my state of mind, and to my subjective sense of the city, the moment.
I love writing this blog, not least because it forces you to consider why you’re bothering. If you’re going to write a blog, you can’t burn out, you can only burn. You have to lay your ideas on the fire, even the digressive ones, and after you’ve done that you can see what’s missing. You can see all kinds of gaps and divisions. For instance: what’s the connection between the beauty of my life and the political mega-crisis we are living? What’s the connection between my knowledge of political history and what I as a citizen should be doing? What’s the connection between all the smart moderates out there and the dismal do-nothingness of many of our “leaders” and the lowest-common-denominator politics they keep offering? The connections are weak, and they need to be stronger. Somehow, we need to marshal what is great and precious in ourselves and use it as a lever to create a better politics for our times.
I am conservative in the sense of honoring the great things that have been created in this country. On my drive to work, I see a great massing of buildings and capital. I see amazing parks and beautiful architecture, order and great vitality. The commercial streets are choked with the latest thing, with old mom & pop stores, the thundering arterial El, and every sort of pedestrian and vehicle. Generations of effort have made this amazingly complex and abundant society that’s ours. It could be better, but then look at the world news. We have basics, and a framework for becoming, that other peoples have never had and still dare not dream of. Who wants to think of it slipping away because we’ve been careless, arrogant, stupid, or lazy?
The Revolutionary generation wanted to establish a republic, but it was, at the same time, a form of government that made them anxious. They regarded it as a strenuous form of government, one highly dependent on the virtue and judgments of citizens, and they believed that, if the citizens weren’t up to it, the republic would fail. This was their worry.
Some among us are fond of touting individual enterprise, but everything that I value in our culture is the fruit of civic collaboration. Almost everything I see on my way to work owes something to an intelligent framework of laws, principles, and customs that we can’t even see. The many social goods we enjoy—whether it’s freedom of religion, the security of property, or the opportunity to gain an education or borrow money—exist only because generations of citizens willed them into being. The truth of our system is: we labor politically as a group so that the individual may thrive. To keep it going, each of us has to find something to give and lay it on the fire.