…there are important differences, psychologically and otherwise, between the various regions of America.Grant Wood, “A Definition of Regionalism,” (1937)
Regionalists disdain the bland homogeneity of the national culture and celebrate genuine diversity.Bill Kauffman, “Write Home,” Front Porch Republic (March 11, 2009)
To understand what the Ciceronian Society means by “place,” we must begin with what it is not.
In contemporary America, place and particularity are disdained in favor of mass culture and professional advancement. Academia is guilty of this; few professors teach in or near their hometown, and even fewer are tenured in an institution near their birthplace. It is almost always the case that aspiring intellectuals must move away from the place of their birth. Perhaps it is to pursue university tenure, perhaps it is decamping for New York, Boston, or Washington DC to become speechwriters, policy experts, or pleaders for industries and ideas national or international in scope. Intellectuals are expected to be “global citizens.” Indeed, even nationalism, in our continent-bestriding a nation of almost 330 million, is looked upon by our intellectual class as parochial at best, sinister at worst.
The arts are little better. To be a songwriter, one must, eventually, repair to one of three cities. To be a visual artist, there is only New York. In the early twentieth century, pioneering sociologist Charles Cooley prophesied that the rise of new technologies would give greater democratic expression to local cultures. He was tragically wrong, and with each passing generation, that prediction shows itself more false.
We at the Ciceronian Society embrace an older, better tradition. We recognize it when the Psalmist rhapsodizes over Jerusalem, and in Aeschylus’s unabashed praise of Athens before Athenian audiences. We see it in the Life of Thomas Becket, where William FitzStephen praised whole-heartedly the twelfth-century London that produced England’s most famous saint.
America is also a place of places. With Robert Frost in New England and Wendell Berry in Henry County, Kentucky we honor rural America. We think also of the American love of cities – not for their power or prestige, but for the people who live there and the ways that they live: from the “Negro Harlem” of Claude McKay to Sandburg’s Chicago, from August Wilson’s Pittsburgh to Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles. We never forget that Our Lord grew up in the country, preached in small towns, and wept over a city.
Practically speaking, our emphasis on “place” has manifested itself most noticeably in our conferences and scholarship. Our events typically take place on college campuses, and we encourage attendees to resist the temptation to be mere “tourists.” We seek to appreciate and support the local economies and communities who graciously host us. The theme of place and particularity will also be a major topic in our podcast.
In the future, we will be developing tools and programs for assisting local churches, classical schools, and homeschooling families to support their intellectual discipleship. But we will not approach this as though we were brilliant sages imposing our own vision on these communities. Instead, we seek a partnership to support these groups where they are and in ways that celebrate and preserve the virtues and distinctiveness of the places they, and we, call home.
From Jefferson’s ward republicanism to Norman Mailer’s demand that New York City re-enter the union as its own state, the Ciceronian Society joins its voice to those who believe that the urban neighborhood, the village, the borough, and the family farm are worthy of our affection, our study, and our reverence. Within cities and without, in every region of the United States, small is beautiful, and the local and particular – whether city blocks or Kansas barnyards – are particularly beautiful.
Suggested Reading List:
Localism as an ideological abstraction is kind of an absurdity; a true appreciation of the importance of place must be realized in the particulars, The Ciceronian Society urges our friends to learn about New England from Robert Frost, and about Kentucky from Wendell Berry. We urge you to explore the South with William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Eudora Welty, and Pittsburgh with August Wilson. We also urge you to visit our friends at Front Porch Republic.
Having said that, here are a few authors and books we think are particularly helpful:
**View a full catalog of his works here but here are a few recommended books to start with:
- A Place on Earth (1967)
- A Continuous Harmony (1972)
- The Unsettling of America (1977)
- The Gift of Good Land (1981)
- Home Economics (1987)
- What are People For? (1990)
- Sex, Economy, Community, and Freedom (1993)
- Another Turn of the Crank (1995)
- Jayber Crow (2000)
- The Art of the Commonplace (2002)
- The Way of Ignorance (2005)
- The Mad Farmer Poems (2008)
- Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food (2009)
- Imagination in Place (2010)
- “It All Turns on Affection” (Jefferson Lecture, 2012)
- A Place in Time (2012)
- Also see Jack Baker & Jeff Bilbro’s Wendell Berry and Higher Education: Cultivating Virtues of Place (2017)
- Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette (2004)
- Look Homeward America (2006)
- Poetry Night at the Ballpark (2015)
- Ain’t My America (2008)
James Howard Kunstler
- The Geography of Nowhere (1994)
- A Sand County Almanac (1949)
Wilfrid McClay and Ted McAllister (eds.)
- Politics on a Human Scale (2013)
Henry David Thoreau
- Walden (1854)
Want to suggest other resources related to “place”? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org