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December 16, 2006

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I'm struck by how many commentators these days see neo-conservatism as a foreign policy framework, when its roots are really in a right-tilting critique of urban policy and of urbanism itself. So many of  neo-conservatism's founding fathers, arrayed around the journal, The Public Interest, cut their teeth writing diatribes against 60s-style urban policy and against cities themselves. Edward Banfield's The Unheavenly City was a rallying point. It included an incredulous chapter called (I kid you not) "Rioting for Fun and Profit." The Public Interest published infamous articles like "The City as a Reservation," and "The City as a Sandbox,"  which argued that cities had become places where the poor and marginalized should be wharehoused.  Others offered prescriptions of "benign neglect," arguing that cities would come back only after prolonged disinvestment.  Current day neo-con anti-urbanism runs the gamut - from the Manhattan Institute, its City Journal, and the diatribes of Steven Malanga; to the back-to-basics style neo-conservatism of  Fred Siegel and Joel Kotkin, who take it upon themselves to regularly bash some of America's best urban mayors and blame "yuppies, sophistos, trendoids and gays" for exacerbating social cleavages,  to the more sophisticated "suburbs are where the action is" musings of David Brooks.

A new essay by Jeremy Adam Smith outlines what he calls,  "The Right's Vision of an America without Cities." 

"Millions of rural people have come to reject the larger framework of urban life," writes  Brian Mann ... "They despise the liberal modernism that shaped metro culture in the twentieth century and see it as an ideology that is every bit as foreign and threatening as communism." ...  Antagonism towards cities ... is an under-recognized, under-analyzed factor in right-wing organizing.... Mann coins the term "homelander" to describe largely white, anti-urban conservatives, including those whose country life exists only in their imagination. ..."It's important to understand that we metros are the ones who have changed - and with remarkable speed," Mann writes, referring to egalitarian families, gay and lesbian relationships, and other practices that are a part of everyday urban life. " On a wide range of social questions, homelanders  ... believe that their way of life and their set of values offer a real alternative for the future." Read the whole thing here.


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Becky McCray

Very interesting! Because I live in a rural area and write about rural business and economic development, I found this a fascinating idea.
I can clearly see these thought patterns in some of the people around me.
But I also see people who are thinking of creating quality places, being open to diversity, and improving our communities. Over my lifetime (36 years) I've seen enormous improvement in the acceptance by *most* of the people who live in rural Oklahoma.
And it seems to me that the minority of people who think exactly as described are becoming more extreme in their feelings.
Thanks for bringing up an interesting discussion.

Brian Knudsen


This is really interesting. Thanks for pointing this out! Related to this is an article just out in the January 2007 issue of Harper's entitled "Army of Altruists", by David Graeber. The piece is intricately argued, but a major thrust of it is that much of the outright anti-intellectualism (and therefore the anti-urbanism) prevalent today is likely related to how sealed off and inaccessible such a life has become to many many people. Thus begetting bitterness and rage. Graeber writes: "A mechanic from Nebraska knows it is highly unlikely that his son or daughter will ever become an Enron executive. But it is possible. There is virtually no chance, however, that is child, no matter how talented, will ever become an international human-rights lawyer or a drama critic for the New York Times....If that mechanic's daughter wishes to pursue something higher, more noble, for a career, what options does she really have? Likely just two: She can seek employment at her local church, which is hard to get. Or she can join the army."

I can't speak about the neo-conservatives too much, except that it might be the case that their anti-urbanism possibly stemmed from cultural disconnection with the democratizing forces and activism of the 60s - which they probably loathed. Maybe today's anti-urbanism is still partly derivative of those old sentiments, but also related to the perceived inaccessibility of the life lived by urban inhabitants. Anyway, I'm going to carefully read the article you suggested, and I HIGHLY recommend that everyone go read Graeber's piece, again in the January Harper's. An old version is available here: http://www.geocities.com/graebersolidarity/pdf/stupidity-final-really.pdf


Becky and Brian-Thank you both. I agree with Graeber, a very sharp guy with whom I've had an ongoing e-mail exchange on these issues. He's right: there is a great streak of anti-intellectualism in the United States today. And partly it's been real factor in our culture wars and political divide. One of the terrible legacies of the 60s is the sense of intellectual and cultural "superiority" that emerged for a whole host of reasons, some of them even legitimate, among new urbanites if you will. The assumption seemed to be "once people understand how much better this more cosmopolitan and open-minded way of life is they'll come around." That kind of thinking carried all the way through the Clinton-internet years. Few people understood the the powerful backlash that could be produced as a result of increasing fear and anxiety at the dramatic changes in both our economy (the shift to talent and creativity, the decline of manufacturing, and rising inequality) and culture (the shirt to open-minded, tolerant, post-materialist values). Part of this backlash, which I am very nervous about is the new economic populism, emerging everywhere from the Democratic party to Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanan that seeks to combine what "economic nationalism" with family-values style "social conservatism." That's why I've written that it's high time the creative class "grows up" and begins to reach out across these divides. I've written too about the need for a new "creative compact" a New Deal for the creative age which would extend the benefits of our current economic transformation to many, many more people. Remember a century ago when the Industrial Revolution was hitting full speed, manufacturing jobs were terrible low paying work in dreadful and dangerous conditions. We made them better jobs and also enabled working people to buy homes, send their kids to college and enjoy real upward mobility. We need to do the same thing for service and other jobs and for a large and growing group of our people today.

Michael Bindner


Interesting topic and comments. See my comments on the last entry about the fight for God. I know Rodney counseled against making this a focus, but I believe this question is where the action is. I was thinking the other night about how religion and egalitarianism can complement eachother.

A religiously centered egalitarianism seems more workable than a secular one - since secular egalitarianism has brought us Pol Pol, Mao, the Reign of Terror and other events where the movement went off the edge.

john trenouth

Ha, beat me to the punch Michael.

I was going to say this makes strange bed fellows of the neo-cons with folks like Pol Pot, Mao, Rousseau and Thoreau. Empty the cities, and return to a simpler more virtuous pastoral life!

Michael Bindner

Egalitarianism is not bad, per se, it just should not exist on its own. It must be balanced by individualism and even some hierarchy (not that I am a fan of the latter - however some organization is always necessary).

Kevin R. Kosar

Have you read Edward C. Banfield's "The Unheavenly City"? It is NOT a diatribe against cities. Throughout much of it, Banfield skewers those who spoke of an urban crisis, noting that many of their complaints were middle class gripes about inconveniences.

As for the chapter, "Rioting for Fun and Profit," again, have you read it? It directly challenges the then fashionable view that rioting was an expression of anger against social injustices. Banfield's review of the extent social scientific research found that reality wasn't quite simple, that many of those who riot have their own reasons for partaking in this activity. Are all rioters malevolent? Of course not. But, believe it or not, some of those who riot do so because they enjoy breaking windows, setting fires, and getting nice things for free. I'm perplexed that you dismiss this hypothesis rather than engage it. The sociological literature on rioting is copious.

Readers of this blog who would like to learn more about Edward C. Banfield would be advised to check out http://www.kevinrkosar.com/Edward-C-Banfield/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_C._Banfield .


First, I want to say that I really like your website and have found your academic work to be thought provoking.

Anyway, this anti-urbanism from neoconservatives in surprising. Generally, I've always thought of these people as being Urban types? Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol were both New Yorkers. Neoconservatives also claim to be "liberals who were struck by reality." However, if we think deeper about these people, I think we can understand why they have these attitudes.

The neoconservative political agenda depends greatly on adherence of rural whites to carry it out. After all, who's fighting the wars in the middle East? If we examine this, we find rural whites from the Southeast and Midwest.

Knowing this, it should be no surprise that the neocons found a new love for their rural gentile subjects. There's no question that in secret, these neocons have just as much disdain for these people as the inner city poor but realize they must suppress this distrust and animosity to achieve their political goals.

Next, on the other side of town, we find the liberal intelligentsia. It is with these folks we find the neocons biggest critics. These liberals-who'd rather see the trillions we're spending on the war go to various social programs that guarantee their incomes-are an inconvenient thorn in the side of the neocons. So the neocons label these people as "socialists" or "radicals" in order to gain favor with the rural folks who fight their wars. Besides this, urban liberals have the unmitigated audacity to criticize Israel.

This is the only reason neoconservatives seem to be anti-urban. If inner city kids fought the wars, they would be supporting every inner city program known to man. In fact, once the "mission is accomplished" in the Middle east, don't be surprised if the neocons are "struck by reality" again and come back to their leftest roots. After all, on many social issues they toe the leftest line. Whether is be illegal immigration, abortion, or gun rights, the neocons are with the program.

So the key to understanding the neocons IS their foreign policy aspirations. Without a need for rural folks to carry it out, they would be just as demeaning and hostile to rural people as any other leftest.


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