Plumb Lines

August 9, 2009

America’s Ancient Urbanism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 8:14 pm


Crunchy types are often cast as primitivists who oppose  halmarks of modern life like mobility and individualism. Anything short of an ideology of instant mobility and personal displacement is unrealistic and backward-looking.

The ironic element of such claims is that America’s mobile culture — best expressed in its love for automobiles — drew no small part of its justification from a romanticized view of American Indians living as mobile hunter-gatherers in a state of nature that would have to pass away before it could be rebuilt in rubber and steel in the form of the Pontiac and the Thunderbird.

Of course, some American Indians were nomadic, but far fewer than we think today. Note especially this fascinating article on a great city that flourished in America and was once larger than London. The apparent barbarism of this early American city will prevent it from becoming the basis for the crunchy’s own idealized past, but it serves as a reminder of how much cultural work is done by the simple and obvious falsehood that individual mobility is somehow a “natural” state.

-Matthew Schmitz

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