What’s Wrong with the World

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Giving the city its due


There are many reasons to take up residence in the countryside. Though I grew up on a small farm, I moved to the big city after high school and remained there for 20 years. I always wanted to return to rural surroundings, and the final push was occasioned by a billboard that went up downtown, just a few blocks from work, advertising an "adult" telephone service for an unfortunate demographic of men who have given themselves over to a ghastly perversion. Now then, how was I supposed to explain this to my young, homeschooled children who were keen on interpreting images and who could read every word? We moved as quickly as possible to what is arguably the most conservative rural county in the entire state (competing with Modoc for the honor, to be fair) - not far from that little farm where I grew up.

Despite the negative motivation in my case, there is much to love about rural and small-town life. At present the only sounds outside my door are chickens, a slight breeze, and the engine noise of a far-away piece of farm machinery. Two Sundays ago, the boys and I spent a couple of hours before church shooting clay pigeons in the pasture out back. The children practice their music outside and the neighbors don't complain. Last night I took a walk with the children up and down the length of our short country road without being passed by a single automobile. I discovered that there is a remote tree on the property I had never touched, but the children informed me that once they had touched it, because they made a pilgrimage to the great shrine of Fatima, and the tree was the shrine!

And yet, Plato's words convict: "Who lives outside the city is either a beast or a god."

We escape his condemnation only because so much of our lives are connected to the city one way or another. This is true of virtually all rural-dwellers today. The country needs the city quite as much as the city needs the country. He who would champion agrarian life must also champion the city. And vice versa. There's no getting around it. My own admitted anti-urban prejudice is not due to the fact that cities exist, but that cities are not (in my opinion) what they should be. That means that I have a vision of what a city ought to be, and so do you, and so should we all.

With that, I encourage you to spend a few minutes of your leisure reading "The Soul and the City: The House of our Realities", a penetrating essay by Dr. Wilfred McClay that is well worth your time and thought. The best introduction is found midway through:

"The very idea of conservatism itself, far from being intrinsically anti-urban, has in the West always been inextricably bound up in the history and experience of a particular succession of great cities. When Russell Kirk wrote his celebrated book on The Roots of American Order, he could have chosen to present that history strictly in terms of unfolding structures of ideas. But instead, he built it around the central cities of the history of the West: Athens, Jerusalem, Rome, London, and Philadelphia. Each city was taken to exemplify a foundational stage in the development of American liberty and American order. This was not merely a literary conceit, like a metonym. The clear message was that such developments could only occur in cities. The very civilization that conservatives wish to conserve is rooted in such cities. It is no accident that the Book of Revelation aims at the creation of the New Jerusalem, not the New Tara Plantation or the New Mayberry. We should think about why this is so."

Comments (21)

That means that I have a vision of what a city ought to be, and so do you, and so should we all.

I wish I did, Jeff, but I don't. When I read about the New Jerusalem in Scripture, my mind comes up with a lot of bright shining and not much else. A question mark. The river and the tree of life--those I can picture. The "city that is built foursquare," not so much. It's like one of those ineffable things to me: I can't imagine that a big city, a _really_ big city, could be beautiful eternally, but I take it on faith and will understand someday.

Not that I'm cut out for country living, either. The medium-sized for me, every time.

But one day my categories will be expanded, when the New Jerusalem comes down from God.

Meanwhile, the best route to it for me is Gospel music, which is chock-full of heaven songs: "I will meet you in the morning just beside the eastern gate." "...in that city that is built foursquare."

For my recent birthday, my eldest got me an interesting GK Chesterton book called "What's Wrong With the World". Which I had never read in full, so I finally took the time to read it front to back. One of the striking things he says is that when you tear out all the worries and fears about cost and sustainability and such, and without giving any scope for pride, vanity, or mere fits of excess, what EVERY man would like to have to live in his OWN house, his own house on his own land. This, in his mind, must constitute a kind of ideal of the rightful arrangement of successful civic planning.

But given sheer mechanics of large cities, the amount of space that must go into houses on their own bit of land if EVERY man has his own house, is certainly difficult to imagine. Eventually, as the numbers increase, the amount of land that must be used for transportation / communication in between all those citizens will crowd out the citizens themselves, at least near the center of things. As a result, there is a fundamental limit to size (as long as we are subject to time and space limitations) that a city can have where everyone has their own house on their own land.

Secondly, there is a real limit to the number of people any citizen can know or know of through immediate friends and family. When a city gets too large for a man to know even his own councilman by direct contact or at one remove through his family or friends, then the coherence of that civic entity begins to suffer.

I would submit that prior to the advent of the megalopolis, historically each famous city with a burgeoning civilization was less than 100,000 people, give or take. Many of the cities that were famous became much, much larger, but it is not clear that their claim to civilizing influence stems from the time of being much larger. That's a difficult matter to resolve: does Rome's true claim to fame (civilization-wise) stem from its senatorial days imposing the "rule of law" at 100 BC, when it was in fact much smaller than later, or was it the Augustus / Tiberius days of the Pax Romana, when its population was close to 1,000,000?

On the other hand: it is clear that the great works of civilization require men of leisure, and leisure requires that there be significant economies of scale. Men who have to break their backs to earn their bread for today and don't have enough for next week will not undertake an endeavor that requires years to complete, and they have no time for study and erudite discussion. There is certainly more leisure due to greater economies of scale in concentrated communities than in rural life.

It is my opinion, and I cannot begin to claim a way to prove it, that these forces ALL point in the direction of SMALL cities: the economies of scale benefits start to break down with respect to large cities, which invent new problems not imaginable in small cities. And the benefits of a community cease to have much meaning when 99/100ths of that community have never even heard of your entire extended family.


I want what you have though something tells me I will never see the farm and a couple of border collies before Eternity. The irony is that here in this suburb of Chicago I am constantly pestered by deer that are eating my hostas and coyotes than won't let me sleep at night. God has a sense of humor.

"And yet, Plato's words convict: "Who lives outside the city is either a beast or a god."

There are, of course, many other possibilities.

As is so often the case, Plato is simply wrong. If any conviction follows from his words, therefore, it might be not to employ false dichotomies.

Someone doesn't understand rhetorical hyperbole. Or is feigning ignorance in order to do a little Greek-bashing.

A reading of MacIntyre or Pelikan is in order, methinks.

Tony, small cities forever! (I suppose that's what I meant by "the medium-sized.")

It does make one wonder: In heaven, will we still know well only a smaller number of people? It seems like that must be true, because we aren't suddenly going to cease to be finite beings.

Yes, cities in general are good. But America doesn't have cities, it has hell-holes.

Catholic theology and practice makes a distinction between three types of honor/reverence: dulia, hyperdulia, and latria. Dulis is honor. All saints are honored; hyperdulia is the highest honor, reserved for the Blessed Virgin Mary as the mother of God (and following the fourth commandment); latria is reverence and is reserved for God, alone. Here is St. Thomas from the Summa Theologica II.II Q. 103 (sorry for the long quote - I am reproducing the entire question and subparts):

Question 103. Dulia

Is honor a spiritual or a corporal thing?
Is honor due to those only who are in a higher position?
Is dulia, which pays honor and worship to those who are above us, a special virtue, distinct from latria?
Does it contain several species?

Article 1. Whether honor denotes something corporal?
Objection 1. It seems that honor does not denote something corporal. For honor is showing reverence in acknowledgment of virtue, as may be gathered from the Philosopher (Ethic. i, 5). Now showing reverence is something spiritual, since to revere is an act of fear, as stated above (81, 2, ad 1). Therefore honor is something spiritual.

Objection 2. Further, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. iv, 3), "honor is the reward of virtue." Now, since virtue consists chiefly of spiritual things, its reward is not something corporal, for the reward is more excellent than the merit. Therefore honor does not consist of corporal things.

Objection 3. Further, honor is distinct from praise, as also from glory. Now praise and glory consist of external things. Therefore honor consists of things internal and spiritual.

On the contrary, Jerome in his exposition of 1 Timothy 5:3, "Honor widows that are widows indeed," and (1 Timothy 5:17), "let the priests that rule well be esteemed worthy of double honor" etc. says (Ep. ad Ageruch.): "Honor here stands either for almsgiving or for remuneration." Now both of these pertain to corporal things. Therefore honor consists of corporal things.

I answer that, Honor denotes a witnessing to a person's excellence. Therefore men who wish to be honored seek a witnessing to their excellence, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. i, 5; viii, 8). Now witness is borne either before God or before man. Before God, Who is the searcher of hearts, the witness of one's conscience suffices. wherefore honor, so far as God is concerned, may consist of the mere internal movement of the heart, for instance when a man acknowledges either God's excellence or another man's excellence before God. But, as regards men, one cannot bear witness, save by means of signs, either by words, as when one proclaims another's excellence by word of mouth, or by deeds, for instance by bowing, saluting, and so forth, or by external things, as by offering gifts, erecting statues, and the like. Accordingly honor consists of signs, external and corporal.

Reply to Objection 1. Reverence is not the same as honor: but on the one hand it is the primary motive for showing honor, in so far as one man honors another out of the reverence he has for him; and on the other hand, it is the end of honor, in so far as a person is honored in order that he may be held in reverence by others.

Reply to Objection 2. According to the Philosopher (Ethic. iv, 3), honor is not a sufficient reward of virtue: yet nothing in human and corporal things can be greater than honor, since these corporal things themselves are employed as signs in acknowledgment of excelling virtue. It is, however, due to the good and the beautiful, that they may be made known, according to Matthew 5:15, "Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house." In this sense honor is said to be the reward of virtue.

Reply to Objection 3. Praise is distinguished from honor in two ways. First, because praise consists only of verbal signs, whereas honor consists of any external signs, so that praise is included in honor. Secondly, because by paying honor to a person we bear witness to a person's excelling goodness absolutely, whereas by praising him we bear witness to his goodness in reference to an end: thus we praise one that works well for an end. On the other hand, honor is given even to the best, which is not referred to an end, but has already arrived at the end, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. i, 5).

Glory is the effect of honor and praise, since the result of our bearing witness to a person's goodness is that his goodness becomes clear to the knowledge of many. The word "glory" signifies this, for "glory" is the same as kleria, wherefore a gloss of Augustine on Romans 16:27 observes that glory is "clear knowledge together with praise."

Article 2. Whether honor is properly due to those who are above us?
Objection 1. It seems that honor is not properly due to those who are above us. For an angel is above any human wayfarer, according to Matthew 11:11, "He that is lesser in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist." Yet an angel forbade John when the latter wished to honor him (Apocalypse 22:10). Therefore honor is not due to those who are above us.

Objection 2. Further, honor is due to a person in acknowledgment of his virtue, as stated above (1; 63, 3). But sometimes those who are above us are not virtuous. Therefore honor is not due to them, as neither is it due to the demons, who nevertheless are above us in the order of nature.

Objection 3. Further, the Apostle says (Romans 12:10): "With honor preventing one another," and we read (1 Peter 2:17): "Honor all men." But this would not be so if honor were due to those alone who are above us. Therefore honor is not due properly to those who are above us.

Objection 4. Further, it is written (Tobit 1:16) that Tobias "had ten talents of silver of that which he had been honored by the king": and we read (Esther 6:11) that Assuerus honored Mardochaeus, and ordered it to be proclaimed in his presence: "This honor is he worthy of whom the king hath a mind to honor." Therefore honor is paid to those also who are beneath us, and it seems, in consequence, that honor is not due properly to those who are above us.

On the contrary, The Philosopher says (Ethic. i, 12) that "honor is due to the best."

I answer that, As stated above (Article 1), honor is nothing but an acknowledgment of a person's excelling goodness. Now a person's excellence may be considered, not only in relation to those who honor him, in the point of his being more excellent than they, but also in itself, or in relation to other persons, and in this way honor is always due to a person, on account of some excellence or superiority.

For the person honored has no need to be more excellent than those who honor him; it may suffice for him to be more excellent than some others, or again he may be more excellent than those who honor him in some respect and not simply.

Reply to Objection 1. The angel forbade John to pay him, not any kind of honor, but the honor of adoration and latria, which is due to God. Or again, he forbade him to pay the honor of dulia, in order to indicate the dignity of John himself, for which Christ equaled him to the angels "according to the hope of glory of the children of God": wherefore he refused to be honored by him as though he were superior to him.

Reply to Objection 2. A wicked superior is honored for the excellence, not of his virtue but of his dignity, as being God's minister, and because the honor paid to him is paid to the whole community over which he presides. As for the demons, they are wicked beyond recall, and should be looked upon as enemies, rather than treated with honor.

Reply to Objection 3. In every man is to be found something that makes it possible to deem him better than ourselves, according to Philippians 2:3, "In humility, let each esteem others better than themselves," and thus, too, we should all be on the alert to do honor to one another.

Reply to Objection 4. Private individuals are sometimes honored by kings, not that they are above them in the order of dignity but on account of some excellence of their virtue: and in this way Tobias and Mardochaeus were honored by kings.

Article 3. Whether dulia is a special virtue distinct from latria?
Objection 1. It seems that dulia is not a special virtue distinct from latria. For a gloss on Psalm 7:1, "O Lord my God, in Thee have I put my trust," says: "Lord of all by His power, to Whom dulia is due; God by creation, to Whom we owe latria." Now the virtue directed to God as Lord is not distinct from that which is directed to Him as God. Therefore dulia is not a distinct virtue from latria.

Objection 2. Further, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 8), "to be loved is like being honored." Now the charity with which we love God is the same as that whereby we love our neighbor. Therefore dulia whereby we honor our neighbor is not a distinct virtue from latria with which we honor God.

Objection 3. Further, the movement whereby one is moved towards an image is the same as the movement whereby one is moved towards the thing represented by the image. Now by dulia we honor a man as being made to the image of God. For it is written of the wicked (Wisdom 2:22-23) that "they esteemed not the honor of holy souls, for God created man incorruptible, and to the image of His own likeness He made him." Therefore dulia is not a distinct virtue from latria whereby God is honored.

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Civ. Dei x), that "the homage due to man, of which the Apostle spoke when he commanded servants to obey their masters and which in Greek is called dulia, is distinct from latria which denotes the homage that consists in the worship of God."

I answer that, According to what has been stated above (Question 101, Article 3), where there are different aspects of that which is due, there must needs be different virtues to render those dues. Now servitude is due to God and to man under different aspects: even as lordship is competent to God and to man under different aspects. For God has absolute and paramount lordship over the creature wholly and singly, which is entirely subject to His power: whereas man partakes of a certain likeness to the divine lordship, forasmuch as he exercises a particular power over some man or creature. Wherefore dulia, which pays due service to a human lord, is a distinct virtue from latria, which pays due service to the lordship of God. It is, moreover, a species of observance, because by observance we honor all those who excel in dignity, while dulia properly speaking is the reverence of servants for their master, dulia being the Greek for servitude.

Reply to Objection 1. Just as religion is called piety by way of excellence, inasmuch as God is our Father by way of excellence, so again latria is called dulia by way of excellence, inasmuch as God is our Lord by way of excellence. Now the creature does not partake of the power to create by reason of which latria is due to God: and so this gloss drew a distinction, by ascribing latria to God in respect of creation, which is not communicated to a creature, but dulia in respect of lordship, which is communicated to a creature.

Reply to Objection 2. The reason why we love our neighbor is God, since that which we love in our neighbor through charity is God alone. Wherefore the charity with which we love God is the same as that with which we love our neighbor. Yet there are other friendships distinct from charity, in respect of the other reasons for which a man is loved. On like manner, since there is one reason for serving God and another for serving man, and for honoring the one or the other, latria and dulia are not the same virtue.

Reply to Objection 3. Movement towards an image as such is referred to the thing represented by the image: yet not every movement towards an image is referred to the image as such, and consequently sometimes the movement to the image differs specifically from the movement to the thing. Accordingly we must reply that the honor or subjection of dulia regards some dignity of a man absolutely. For though, in respect of that dignity, man is made to the image or likeness of God, yet in showing reverence to a person, one does not always refer this to God actually.

Or we may reply that the movement towards an image is, after a fashion, towards the thing, yet the movement towards the thing need not be towards its image. Wherefore reverence paid to a person as the image of God redounds somewhat to God: and yet this differs from the reverence that is paid to God Himself, for this in no way refers to His image.

Article 4. Whether dulia has various species?
Objection 1. It seems that dulia has various species. For by dulia we show honor to our neighbor. Now different neighbors are honored under different aspects, for instance king, father and master, as the Philosopher states (Ethic. ix, 2). Since this difference of aspect in the object differentiates the species of virtue, it seems that dulia is divided into specifically different virtues.

Objection 2. Further, the mean differs specifically from the extremes, as pale differs from white and black. Now hyperdulia is apparently a mean between latria and dulia: for it is shown towards creatures having a special affinity to God, for instance to the Blessed Virgin as being the mother of God. Therefore it seems that there are different species of dulia, one being simply dulia, the other hyperdulia.

Objection 3. Further, just as in the rational creature we find the image of God, for which reason it is honored, so too in the irrational creature we find the trace of God. Now the aspect of likeness denoted by an image differs from the aspect conveyed by a trace. Therefore we must distinguish a corresponding difference of dulia: and all the more since honor is shown to certain irrational creatures, as, for instance, to the wood of the Holy Cross.

On the contrary, Dulia is condivided with latria. But latria is not divided into different species. Neither therefore is dulia.

I answer that, Dulia may be taken in two ways. On one way it may be taken in a wide sense as denoting reverence paid to anyone on account of any kind of excellence, and thus it comprises piety and observance, and any similar virtue whereby reverence is shown towards a man. Taken in this sense it will have parts differing specifically from one another. On another way it may be taken in a strict sense as denoting the reverence of a servant for his lord, for dulia signifies servitude, as stated above (Article 3). Taken in this sense it is not divided into different species, but is one of the species of observance, mentioned by Tully (De Invent. Rhet. ii), for the reason that a servant reveres his lord under one aspect, a soldier his commanding officer under another, the disciple his master under another, and so on in similar cases.

Reply to Objection 1. This argument takes dulia in a wide sense.

Reply to Objection 2. Hyperdulia is the highest species of dulia taken in a wide sense, since the greatest reverence is that which is due to a man by reason of his having an affinity to God.

Reply to Objection 3. Man owes neither subjection nor honor to an irrational creature considered in itself, indeed all such creatures are naturally subject to man. As to the Cross of Christ, the honor we pay to it is the same as that which we pay to Christ, just as the king's robe receives the same honor as the king himself, according to Damascene (De Fide Orth. iv).

To me, going to a city, especially a big city, is like going to the bathroom. You go there when you have to, get it done ASAP, and leave when you are finished.

My comment, above, was supposed to go in the On a More Serious Note post. Sorry.

The Chicken

"...the final push was occasioned by a billboard that went up downtown, just a few blocks from work, advertising an "adult" telephone service for an unfortunate demographic of men who have given themselves over to a ghastly perversion..."

So what do you want done about this "unfortunate demographic," Jeff? I'm genuinely curious.

America had great cities but they were turned into refugee camps.

So what do you want done about this "unfortunate demographic," Jeff? I'm genuinely curious.

Maybe nothing. Maybe he wants something done about the billboard.

I shd. think myself that the proper reaction by anyone to Jeff's carefully phrased reference to the billboard would be, "Yes, nobody should have to have such a billboard in his face and the faces of his children." And then there is the question of the service it advertised--I oppose such a telephone service for _any_ "demographic."

And that billboard would be a huge disincentive to live in a city, at least that city. I've never seen anything that bad in my own small city, but there have been one or two billboards that have been a problem, such as one for an infamous performance of monologues that came to the local university. Fortunately that was temporary.

Lydia - "ghastly perversion" is not my idea of careful phrasing.

Bill - if it's just the billboard that Jeff wants to get rid of, I'd be inclined to agree. In fact, were it up to me, I'd go a step further, and remove from the scene *all* of those banks of porno paper dispensers that seem to litter every other streetcorner in California.

I'm for getting rid of billboards altogether. They are eyesores and furthermore, why should we be forced to look at advertising for anything? If billboards were aural instead of visual we wouldn't put up with them for five seconds.

Please, NM, let's try to control the moral equivalence. A billboard for oranges or milk, however much its size may offend your aesthetic sensibilities, would doubtless not have driven Jeff C. to move out of the city!

Who said anything about morality? I'm talking aesthetics. But by all means, let's get rid of the morally questionable ones first, as they are both objectionable and ugly.

It was Aristotle, not Plato - and besides that, the text you are giving is grossly misleading.

Man is by nature a social animal, and an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something in nature that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society [greek: polis], is either a beast or he is a god.
- Aristotle, Politics (1253 A)

Tony and Lydia: On your preference for small-to-medium sized cities, I'm a huge sympathizer. But it's not the real world. Big cities are here to stay. The question is whether anything can be done to fix them.

Steve: I would deprive this unfortunate demographic of every public venue for promoting or accomodating its ghastly perversion.

Grobi: I pulled the quote and attribution from the linked article. Perhaps Aristotle was paraphrasing his teacher?

Steve: By the way, I've never seen those "porno paper dispensers" anywhere in California other than the streets of San Francisco. I'll bet you can find them in West Hollywood, too, but so far as I know they don't exist in Sacramento or any other major city in the valley. What made Sacramento such a decent place for so many years was the absence of this kind of thing.

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