What is it that cities offer to humanity? The term civilization itself is connected to the cities from which civilization is thought to have sprung. It is widely believed that for culture to develop there must be enough people all together in one place, so that this concentration brings out the possibilities of specialization. In addition, the growth of cities requires that there be enough surplus above survival needs so as to allow artisans and bureaucrats and intellectuals and others to be able to live off of the food and other required resources that are provided by production workers who are generally not considered as particularly elevated or cultured or civilized people, even though it is their productivity that allows for such civilization as exists. This has always been a problem, in that rural people in general (except for elites in villas) and poorer urban dwellers have typically been viewed as being uncivilized even if it is their labor or political power, such as it is, that allows for there to be civilization. And it is all too common for those who have been despised by those who fancy themselves civilized to, in turn, take vengeance upon those who despise them.
Why is it that cities burn? Not too far away from where I live there is a city named Portland which has become a byword for terrible leftist politics and a strong streak of anarchism that delights in destroying the implements of civilization, the courthouses and other institutions of justice, the smashing of random statuary that show the artistic heritage of the city over the past 135 years or so, and a great deal of violence directed at those whose responsibility it is to keep people in order. The people engaged in such acts of urban terrorism view themselves as being more civilized and of a higher moral development than others, but they are acting as any barbarian does when faced with aspects of civilization that are feared and hated. To be civilized does not only require education, but it requires a certain type of education that leads to moral restraint. To be civilized is to recognize that uncivilized man or woman or creature is a barbarian because he (or she, or it) is ruled by animal instincts and longings and passions that are not properly governed. It is the job of education to provide encouragement and support of the internal capacity for self-restraint that allows people to be free and not a terror to their neighbors. It is the job of various social institutions to provide the external coercion that helps keep mankind on the straight and narrow when internal resources fail.
How is it that we accomplish anything in this world? To be sure, none of us can ensure that the works of our brains or hands will endure after we are gone. No matter how much we build, some barbarian may come along and destroy it out of hostility or incomprehension. The ravages of time will erode it. What we wrote will not be read or remembered. What we inscribed will be re-used by some later rule who wants to build something to honor himself without quarrying new stone or mining new materials. Once we are gone, we cannot defend ourselves from the libels of future historians. Once our regimes crumble, we cannot defend our reputations from the calumny of future political activists who will misquote us and damn us for our virtues which they lack the character to emulate. In this life we can suffer any number of indignities, and once we are gone such limited defenses as we have in this life are simply absent and we must rely upon the generosity of those who are strangers to ourselves but who respect and honor the legacy that we have left behind. The thread of civilization that ties us to the past is a fragile one that must be kept up each generation by a decision to honor what is good about what we have received and showing respect and appreciation for having received a firm cultural tradition that we did not earn and can only hope to be worthy of by beautifying it and taking care of it and pruning it and passing it along unmolested to future generations.
And this civilization is, quite obviously, in deep peril. It is in peril for a great many reasons. There are many barbarians–some of them immigrants who do not know or care about our culture, some of them children raised up by wicked tutors and instructors to hate their culture–who activity wish to destroy our society or who will stand buy without lifting up a voice or a hand in its defense. A great many barbarians fancy themselves to be civilized people but deceive themselves, for if they recognized that they were destructive and corrupt and decadent and errant fools they might then seek after wisdom and knowledge so that they may no longer be so. In order for us to become elevated, we must realize that we are abased. For us to be redeemed, we must recognize that we are corrupt and need purification. For us to be free, we need to realized that we are enslaved not so much by systems imposed from outside but because of self-deception and folly that we have come to believe. For our reality to improve, we must first see reality as it is and overcome our illusions. The challenge this presents to us demonstrates just how serious and grim our situation is.