Why Live in New York City?

Why live in New York? The contributors to this blog live in New York City. Given our politics and the reputation of our city it is fair to ask why. Lawrence Auster has given one answer, extolling the beauty of Central Park and Riverside Drive and the institutions of high culture that rival those anywhere in the world. It’s a good answer. My answer is very different.

T.S. Eliot is said to have remarked on some occasion that ‘it would appear to be for the best that the great majority of human beings should go on living in the place in which they were born.’ I was born in New York City, where my paternal great-grandfather Michael Carney (who was simply called “Carney” by all who knew him) immigrated in the first decade of the last century. Today I live just four city blocks from the apartment where my parents John and Lucy raised me. On Saturdays I spend time in the park where my brothers and I learned to play baseball and football, to ride a bike, and to climb an icy hill for sledding in winter. The difference is now I enter from the north, where as a child we lived on the west side. I go on living here because this city is my home.

There are ironies to being rooted in a deracinated and deracinating place like New York City. But is it better to live in a Sprinkler City among the patio men? Or maybe reactionaries belong here.

Between Pat Buchanan, who lives in a suburb on the opposite side of Washington D.C. from the suburb in which he was raised, and the editors of Chronicles, who have uprooted themselves to Rockford, Illinois, who has a better claim on living traditionalism?

I don’t mean to be flip about this. The lack of organic connections to intact communities and traditional patterns of life is a serious problem for many of us, and there is no obvious solution. Can we restore community through plans and projects? It’s true that Russell Kirk attached himself to the land of his forefathers. But none of his daughters now live in Mecosta, Michigan {although, I’m told that youngest plans to return following her tour of Italy). Wendell Berry has returned to Henry County, Kentucky but he lives as a sort of celebrity eccentric. Victor Davis Hanson, before his transformation into the conservative movement’s war-intellectual, lived and worked a California vineyard but constantly warned that agrarian life was doomed in America. Eustace Conway’s Turtle Island is an “education center” rather than a community. My brother Brian lived for a time on an anarcho-aquagrarian island off the coast of Maine. But its economy was in part dependent on tourism. Now he lives in in Belgium and writes for the Wall Street Journal. Perhaps the attempt to expatriate or repatriate ourselves into an organic community can work. But I’d like to see more evidence before I sever the really existing roots I have to my city.
Posted by at September 20, 2002 02:08 PM | Send


I don’t have much to add to my colleagues’ comments. What keeps me in NY is mostly a tangle of family, personal and practical connections. Like Mr. Auster I consider it a huge gift to live close to the Metropolitan Museum. Beyond the obvious attractions, though, New York is not just rootless cosmopolitans or Sodom on the Hudson. It’s also transplanted small towns that people hardly ever leave except on business, and networks of people of every kind imaginable. There are worlds upon worlds of human life here. There are also obvious problems, and if I could plan my life again from the beginning maybe I’d live someplace else. I can’t, though, and as they are things aren’t all bad.

Posted by: Jim Kalb on September 20, 2002 5:26 PM

Those are good reasons for staying put. Yes, New York is a wonderful city, and yes, the Met is excellent (I’m partial to the Byzantine collection myself). But is NYC the ideal place from which to launch a counterrevolution, if that is the goal? I’m not sure. There are still pockets of civilization in the city. But, like the country as a whole, it increasingly resembles occupied territory. White Americans are becoming a tribe of exiles. The history of the people of the West is one of travel, exploration, conquest. I see no contradiction between staking out new territory for settlement and being a traditionalist.

Posted by: William on September 21, 2002 11:57 AM

New York might not be the ideal place to launch a counter-revolution but it has the virtue of being the ideal place from which to observe the circumstances that demand counter-revolution. And I think it is useful to admit that there is at least a bit of tension between traditionalism and exploration. Who is more conservative: Tom Sawyer, who stays home and presumably marries Becky, or Huck Finn, who light out for the territories? Both are genuinely American types.

Posted by: John Carney on September 21, 2002 1:03 PM

Good point. Yes, as a case study NYC is certainly interesting. I agree. But maybe I should have put it another way: It’s suicide to remain inside a burning house. Perhaps my views have been influenced by time spent in South Africa, where people with roots in the country going back 350 years are picking up and moving to Canada, US, Australia, Europe. Isn’t it better to migrate somwehere else, as these people are doing, to live with people with similar views, values, and concerns? Maverick intellectuals have their uses. But eventually we’re going to have to consider some kind of political or social movement if we are to survive. The alternative is emigration.

How can Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn be called “conservative”? Well, I don’t know because I don’t know what “conservative” means anymore. I don’t think there’s anything especially unique about their characters. Hasn’t there always been a tension between those who stay at home and those who travel? And I’m not at all sure they’re “genuinely American types,” especially Huck Finn. You’ll find that the cultures of most White Settler Societies — i.e., Canada, US, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina — feature characters resembling Huck.

Posted by: William on September 21, 2002 1:50 PM

Just think, if Auster lives where I think he lives, his congressman is… Charlie Rangel. Hee hee, ho ho, ha ha!

So did you guys hold your nose and vote for Bloomberg or what?

Posted by: Jim Carver on September 21, 2002 9:00 PM

Ha ha! Except that it’s worse than that. My Congressman is Carolyn Maloney, who, though a North Carolina native, is one of the most vicious left-liberals in Congress, worse than Rangel.

And you know what? I did vote for Bloomberg. Why? Mark Green, his Dem opponent, is so obnoxious that even his fellow Dems can’t stand him. Bloomberg seemed half decent during the campaign. He said he would follow Giuliani’s policies, particularly with regard to crime. And he said some shockingly non-liberal things, such as that computers in the classroom are useless, what school children need is to learn to read and write and do arithmetic, etc. Then two days after he was elected, he shook hands with Al Sharpton, thus flagrantly betraying his promise to follow Giuliani, who had refused to have anything to do with Sharpton. The betrayal was so “in your face” that I lost any interest in Bloomberg after that.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on September 21, 2002 10:16 PM

And I forgot to mention about Bloomberg: A few days after shaking hands with Sharpton, Bloomberg hired as his police commissioner Raymond Kelly, who had been commissioner under Dinkins—whom, of course, Giuliani had defeated when he became mayor. It was Kelly who, on the day he was chosen by Dinkens, said that his top priority as commissioner would be … no, not fighting crime, but increasing diversity in the police department.

Anyway, I was extremely annoyed I had voted for Bloomberg, because it’s been many years since I’ve allowed myself to be suckered by a politician.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on September 21, 2002 10:19 PM

William wrote, “But eventually we’re going to have to consider some kind of political or social movement if we are to survive. The alternative is emigration.”

There is no alternative. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand aren’t the answer. Besides, big as they are, they’re only so big. California is big. So was South Africa. Look what happened.

We must take our stand.

We must take it here.

Posted by: Unadorned on September 21, 2002 10:21 PM

Voting: Take weapon. Insert clip. Chamber round. Aim carefully at foot. Fire.

Posted by: Matt on September 22, 2002 3:44 PM

The only possible hope lies in a rebirth of a conscious majority population in this country that begins to identify and resist that which is being done to it. Where exactly such a resistance will or can lead is unknown at this point. But this much is certain: without a restoration of the majority European-American people, acting AS the majority people, there is no hope.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on September 22, 2002 4:57 PM

“…Between Pat Buchanan, who lives in a suburb on the opposite side of Washington D.C. from the suburb in which he was raised, and the editors of Chronicles, who have uprooted themselves to Rockford, Illinois, who has a better claim on living traditionalism?… The lack of organic connections to intact communities and traditional patterns of life is a serious problem for many of us, and there is no obvious solution.”

Are you suggesting that you have found organic connections to intact communities in New York City? Or that you simply wish the same existed?

I wouldn’t know enough to dispute you with authority, but based on my admittedly brief visits to the place—filled as they always are with a desperate longing to escape—I can’t see much community, at least as we define the word hereabouts.

I live in a tiny town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. In this place, it is almost literally true that everybody knows everybody else. I once joked that you don’t have to give turn signals when you’re driving because everybody already knows where you’re gonna turn anyway. I haven’t locked my house or car in 30 years and have never had anything stolen.

I would not pretend that drugs and divorce and television haven’t damaged this place, as everywhere else. It’s not perfect. And yet, I think we have at least a reasonable facsimile of a real community here, with organic connections that span generations. It seems to me that NYC is simply too big for these things to exist.

Posted by: Seth Williamson on September 22, 2002 5:39 PM
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