Sunday, June 07, 2009

Front Porch Cycle Chic: A bicycle on every autarchist's front porch

The Roberts and Gregory families, Kentucky, early 20th century. Click on image to enlarge. Image found here.

What follows isn't exactly a continuation of yesterday's post. It's more like a picking up of another thread and unraveling a perfectly good idea from Front Porch Republic so as to hastily (and, no doubt, clumsily) re-weave it here in combination with other recent concerns of mine as a garment to hang in cycling's metaphysical closet. I'm not sure, incidentally, whether the following, famous injunction from Thoreau's Walden--"I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes"--implicitly condones or condemns that re-weaving. But if the latter, I take some presumptuous hope from George Bernard Shaw's statement, "All great truths begin as blasphemies."

Enough preambling. On with the ambling.

One of the central causes of what the writers of Front Porch Republic contend is our current cultural and political predicament is a perversion of our understanding of property and the resulting policies and politics arising from that perversion. This matter gets addressed directly in James Matthew Wilson's "The Need for Autarchy": Following Hannah Arendt, Wilson argues that that perversion is the result of "the specious conflation of the idea of private property (which Aquinas was right in defending as necessary to a good society) with that nefarious invention of modern usury, unlimited wealth accumulation." Here's Arendt, as quoted by Wilson:

Private property is not a euphemism for anything I happen to acquire, but a reference to the place in the world that is necessarily mine if I am not to be reduced to dependence on another. The way to secure such property is not usually to expand it and widen its frontiers (though that may sometimes be the case), but to fortify it, to fill it with the productive means necessary to maintain it and for it to maintain me. That kind of security and self-sufficiency-in a word, autonomy and autarchy-requires stewardship and conservation rather than expansion and avarice. Such virtues serve the purpose of having the property remain my property with a permanence approximating to the solidity of its literal foundations. [. . . ] [W]e reply to the capitalist that he does not defend private property but, instead, rationalizes endless wealth accumulation, and in so doing he does not defend the one, best hope for the wide distribution of private property. He advocates, rather, the source of its usurpation and dissolution.
Wilson then sums up Arendt's argument: Private property, once freed of market capitalism's co-opting of it, "is a public good but also provides for the individual household the basis for what is itself a great good, the foundation of a family’s liberty: autarchy [which literally translates from the Greek as "self-sufficiency" and thus is not to be confused with "autocracy"]. And the autarchy of the family household, I contend, is the analogous foundation, the microcosmic model, for still another public good: the sorely needed autarchic independence of our country." (Wilson's italics)

So: what does all this have to do with cycling in particular and, more broadly, issues of livability?

The rest is here.

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