Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Front Porch Republic

A number of us got to thinking. Why isn't anyone articulating what's gotten us into this mess? Why are the leaders of both parties trying to put it back together again, if its basic components are so broken? Isn't there a better way?

And so, we decided to pool our efforts, to get beyond Left and Right - symbols of somewhere where we are not, or perhaps where we are not centered, not in a place (to be Left or Right is not to be HERE) - and, we hope, alight some WHERE instead. We decided to call it "Front Porch Republic." And so it begins today.

I will be posting there about once a week, the idea being that I'll try to write something there each Monday. We have some heavy hitters among us; some utility infielders; some minor leaguers with dreams of the Bigs; and some fans who root for the home town. There's Dreher, Kauffman, Larison and Carlson, major authors who have been toiling for some time to carve out some new space; there's Jason Peters, Jeremy Beer, Mark Mitchell, Mark Shiffman and Susan McWilliams - all friends of some years now, kindred spirits all. There's more: and I hope it will be a place to bring together people of many persuasions who are less invested in maintaining our status quo in some form but rather seek instead a revitalization of the diverse tapestry of American communities across the land, the reduction of BIGNESS in every form - public and private - and the restoration and preservation of vibrant cultures that shape the decent human life. And maybe, by indirection and the power of ideas that cannot die if seem to be permanently out of fashion, things will begin to change.

So visit us there. My first post is up there today - entitled, appropriately enough, "A Republic of Front Porches." I give a taste below; for the complete story, visit our Front Porch.

A Republic of Front Porches

Names are important, and few can be more significant than what a new publication calls itself. Perhaps at first greeting the name will give pause, causing the new reader to think momentarily about what it means, how it came about, what its creators intended. After a time its explicit meaning will fade into the backdrop, becoming a label that is rarely reflected upon, barely registered, but still confers meaning - increasingly implicit - for the undertaking, and for those who originally named it, or who write under its banner. A name such as this one - Front Porch Republic - deserves some reflection before it fades into that subconscious role.

I can think of no better text by which to explore the meaning of our publication's name than an old essay - one few have encountered and even fewer still would remember - that I read during my freshman year of college in a course taught by the man who became my mentor and dearest companion still, though he has passed from this vale - Wilson Carey McWilliams. I've never forgotten the essay - it impacted me then, and remains with me still. It was written by a man named Richard Thomas, and was entitled "From Porch to Patio." (Published in The Palimpsest, journal of the Iowa State Historical Society, in 1975). It had such an effect on me not only because of what it taught me, but because so much of my childhood and young adulthood had involved being in various ways on our big front porch where I grew up in Windsor, CT. It was more than merely theory - it taught me about who I was, and why that was so.

In this simple but profound essay, Thomas explores the social implications of the architectural practice of building porches on the front of homes and its eventual abandonment in favor of patios behind the house (I've discussed this transition in relation to the film "It's a Wonderful Life" in comparing Bedford Falls to Bailey Park). As with any central feature in our built environment, this is more than merely a passing fashion trend or a meaningless design change: the transition from porch to patio was one of the clearest and significant manifestations the physical change from a society concerned with the relationship of private and public things - in the Latin, res publica - to one of increasing privacy. The porch, as a physical bridge between the private realm of the house and the public domain of the street and sidewalk, was the literal intermediate space between two worlds that have been increasingly separated in our time, and hence increasingly ungoverned in both forms.

Thomas expresses clearly some of the social dimensions of the porch, and contrasts them with the patio. The porch, he wrote, "presented opportunities for social intercourse at several levels."




Anonymous said...

Mark Shiffman of Villanova, the man who turned me on to the Great Books?

Hot damn!

brierrabbit said...

I went over there. Great site. Just whats needed to begin a real discussion about important things. The list of contributing writers is virtually my dream list. We've needed something like this for a long time. The National Review, and Rush Limbaugh show, along with others, simply can't suffice anymore. I heard Mark Levin ranting about Douthert, Frum etc, like he was a decending death angel. I want REAL discussions, not slash and burn rants. Front Porch Republic is the rest of us. One doesn't yell out insults, while talking to your neighbor, on the porch.

Ken said...

"I hope it will be a place to bring together people of many persuasions"

I was about to send this link to my liberal family members, but first I searched in vain for any actual liberal contributors to this site. I'm disappointed

Patrick Deneen said...

Send it anyway. They might like what they see - or, can voice what they don't like. Maybe there are no "liberals" in the conventional sense, but neither - I would argue - are there "conservatives" in the conventional sense. I think it's safe to say that none of the writers finds a good home in either political party or within the dominant political debate. I hope and suspect that we will be equal opportunity offenders of the conventional wisdom. And, to be fair, a few of its writers do indeed come from the political Left (Sue McWilliams for instance, and I'm pretty much a Tammany Democrat myself), even if we don't often find enough in the current Democratic party to agree with.

That said, there will be an effort to establish a voice and set of concerns that do not fall neatly on the current Left/Right axis. We'll look to include more voices as the site establishes itself, whether from Left/Right/Center or otherwise.