Architecture is said to be a mirror of society and its aspirations. Historic building traditions embody a peoples' long held meanings and beliefs. Culture in this sense is literally constructed.
Dispossession requires a demoralized people who feel resistance is futile. People who maintain strong bonds and expectations for justice cannot be conquered.
Neoclassicism developed in support of civic aspirations
Widespread interest in all things classical in the late 18th and early 19th centuries idealized the democratic Republic of ancient Greece. Greek architecture remained an esoteric concern of historians and enthusiasts until about 1800 when temple-front Greek Revival designs began to appear in England. "Their sobriety and restraint could be seen in its wider social context as an assertion of nationalism..., the disastrous Napoleonic Wars, and a clamor for political reform." The empire was in trouble.
Neoclassicism soon dominated British architecture and was invoked for the most important buildings. In London alone between 1817 and 1829 twenty-three Greek Revival churches were built. In the northern regions of Europe, Scandinavia and western Finland, Greek Revival motifs appeared grafted to earlier baroque designs. But everywhere the Greek Revival flourished it was thought to express nationalism and civic virtue.
British trained architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820) arrived in the U.S. in 1796 and was commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803 to be U.S. Surveyor of Public Buildings. His first job was to oversee construction of William Thornton's design for the new Capitol building. Latrobe spent much of the next fourteen years on projects in Washington and assisted Jefferson with several of his own. Latrobe was the new Nation's first professional architect and trained apprentices who became the next generation of classicists.
The romantic Greek Revivalemerged in the 1820s but neoclassicism was a composite of many sources including the architecture of Classical Greece and Rome, the Italian Renaissance and its regional expressions throughout Europe. The revival of classicism was intended to show a continuity of intentions and the depth of historic precedent. Yes, the temple-front portico could be traced to ancient Greece, but the political associations were more important.
By the 1830s the Greek Revival was in full swing and seen as an affirmation of the Nation's civic culture. Americans regarded classical Greece a republic, while Rome an empire. The Founding generation had broken ties with an overbearing empire to become a republic. The Constitution they ratified was intended to thwart empire building and despotic rule by guaranteeing citizens equal protection under the law. It was democratic self-rule in ancient Greece the classical revival intended to evoke and support.
It was not surprising that Americans turned to ancient Greece for inspiration in the early nineteenth century. Both peoples had established political democracies based on ideals of harmony and moderation, and both embraced an architectural tradition that appeared to embody those principles.Alexander O. Boulton
In Colonial New England the means to self-government was the meeting house. All new settlements were required to build an assembly hall large enough for everyone to gather for worship and civic duties. They were built and maintained through taxation. When needed they were also used for criminal trials, protests, forts, barracks or hospitals. Sunday worship was their primary purpose but they also facilitated direct democracy through town hall meetings.
Meeting houses were built no larger than necessary so a speaker at the raised pulpit could be heard by everyone in the room. Buildings were roughly square in plan. The pulpit stood opposite the entry and was lit from behind by a tall window. A center aisle divided box pews on the main floor. For larger congregations a horseshoe balcony was built to draw everyone closer to the pulpit. From this position speakers could see every face and hear every voice in the room. The town gathered here to debate and make communal decisions, and while consensus was important, the majority vote always prevailed. But the authoritarian presence of clergy surely impacted many decisions and eventually led to a separation of church and state.
1834 Town Hall, Sandwich, MA built by
The New England Green during the Federal era was a central paddock for farm animals, not a public park. But as life became more secure it evolved into a civic space flanked by a town hall, church and perhaps shops and an inn. By 1900 the Green was so revered that even towns that never had one felt compelled to create one. Photo is by Samuel Chamberlain, ca. 1936
Boston's Quincy Market with Greek Revival portico was designed by
Alexander Parris in 1825. Faneuil Hall is seen in the background.
Carnegie Library, Lexington, KY Herman Rowe, Architect (1905)
This was surely one of the most memorable buildings in town.
Obsolete citizens-in-training from Miss Connolly's 4th Grade Classroom, 1943
Kennedy Elementary School, Portland, Oregon
Benjamin Latrobe, c.1804
Charles Wilson Peale portrait
An end to self-government and democratic rule?
Americans today would be startled to see a new Greek Revival school or library built. Would it remind them the republic was intended to be self-governed and the responsibility was theirs? Probably not. More likely they would wonder if it was a movie set.
In an earlier episode of the American Republic someone called to Benjamin Franklin as he left the 1787 Constitutional Congress, "What have we got, a republic or monarchy?" He shot back, "A republic, if you can keep it." America's Founding Generation would have been appalled to see how quickly their vision and cautions were ignored. The great American experiment soon devolved into the pattern of other empires, all the while denying it.
By "empire," we mean the uncoordinated and sometimes competing imperial policies of political elites who intend to dominate and exploit others less powerful. Washington's unacknowledged empire run by oligarchs and lobbies has become an impossible tangle of deception, corruption, and hubris. Overextended and more than $27 trillion in debt its collapse would seem inevitable. Really now, how could such a debacle have escaped the attention of the mainstream media (MSM) and a majority of citizens? It has through an enormous effort.
Only the independent middle class with the wherewithal to find reliable alternative news sources could know the extent of the corruption, and only some would have the fortitude to reclaim true democracy. Most Americans remain silent, clueless, and distracted as the nation falls apart. But they really have no way to reform the government. Worker bee citizens with ridiculed values like honesty, fidelity, and thrift must concede to life in the hive. If they cannot succumb to groupthink they will be demonized or go crazy. Lots of people are aware of the false narratives that must not by challenged. They foolishly imagine that if they just hunker down and work quietly to maintain their standard of living politics will eventually self-correct.
What happened to the vaunted Land of the Free and Home of the Brave? According to James Howard Kunstler it did not require a huge conspiracy, "Sinister as it seems, the process was simply emergent: a self-organizing evolution of forces previously set in motion." What emerged was conceived by an oligarchy of global capitalists, MSM and social media honchos, neocon think tanks, and special interest lobbies--all of them co-dependent. They act instinctively in concert to manage citizen perception, and convince Americans to act against their own values and interests.
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the habits and opinions of the [public] is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. Edward Bernays
To this purpose the corporate MSM supplies an endless 24/7 flow of disinformation to instill fear, dependence and cognitive dissonance that will keep the elite in power. Incessant repetition of false claims actually works; heard a million times they become the accepted truth. Those dominating American society have no real interest in justice, truth or democracy--only power. As Leo Strauss, the beloved father of neoconservatism, told his neophytes, citizens are just useful idiots to be manipulated.
The self-described legacy media is there to soothe, distract, and protect Americans from the truth. Citizens are expected to accept its claims without proof, and to see skeptics and truth-tellers as traitors. Media scholar Ben Bagdikian observed that "fundamental deception damages the public’s ability to maintain a rational view of the world. Once a basic untruth is rooted, it blurs a society’s perception of reality and, consequently, the intelligence with which it reacts to events.”
The six media giants (GE, News Corporation, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS) control about 90% of the news Americans receive, and their two hundred-some executives set the information diet for an audience of 277 million. They have shown remarkable discipline in presenting the same views, avoiding the same stories, and policing journalists to eliminate unwanted viewpoints. It is a system of rewards and punishments. If you want your voice heard, you must self-censor and avoid taboo subjects. Those who cross the unstated boundaries are cancelled from participation. In such a perverse system little wonder many Americans remain clueless.
Elites shape policy to encourage what James Bovard called the "attention deficit democracy" where cynicism is encouraged so people will accept the futility of fighting back. As the rule of law is turned on its head and a surveillance state erected many Americans remain captivated by endless sports spectacles, celebrity intrigues, and being the star of a Facebook page. Addicted to their smartphones and being wired-in, people show little resistance or independent thought. Techno-convenience on digital devices has fostered a dumbed-down and easily controlled society. You knew it would.
Political correctness is key to control and understanding the transfer of power from the many to the few. Promoted in the guise of a respect for diversity, its real purpose is to silence dissent. It undermines self-government by making all controversial subjects off-limits. Dissent is pathologized to suggest there could be no legitimate opposition. Enforced by media gatekeepers, a spiral of silence will envelop any unwelcome interpretation to imply anyone who could hold such a view is either a threat or nutcase. If citizens asking for proof can be labeled as conspiracy theorists their challenges may be safely ignored. If whistle-blowers are viewed as traitors and silenced by lawfare why would anyone speak out? Real power is getting people to self-censor and not reveal what they think for fear of reprisals.
Masters of deceit have been especially careful to avoid unscripted public discussions of foreign policy, loss of Constitutional protections or the intended checks and balances. When well-funded special interests and intelligence agencies can frame the issues, citizens will be easily duped. As long as Americans continue to ask the wrong questions, they do not have to worry about the answers.
The MSM provides the U.S. electorate with the wrong questions, and quislings as the onlyviable candidates. Fools receive generous media attention to drive support to preordained candidates. Any independent voices that emerge can be safely ignored and marginalized, or smeared if they refuse to go away.
When whistle-blower Edward Snowden revealed the massive illegal NSA spy program that targeted all Americans he was smeared by the MSM to divert attention from the facts. Former President Carter was asked for his reaction. As if talking to not the brightest of children he told reporters, "America does not at the moment have a functioning democracy." Few today would deny the reality of Deep State self-serving manipulation that shapes U.S. policy and is impervious to the will of the people. Its power increased as dissent was pathologized.
Americans are awakening to the fact that they have no voice in their governance, and their political actions will be of no consequence. Countervailing forces that once provided some balance have been removed. Independent news services were of course the first to go. Corporate off-shoring of U.S. manufacturing jobs effectively destroyed the labor unions. Deregulation of financial industry reversed citizen protections such as the Glass-Steagall Act (1933-1999) which prevented commercial banks from playing the stock market with their customer deposits. Universities and public institutions once regarded as impartial and above politics are now in a total PC lockdown, ready to ruin the career of anyone who does not conform. Congress with approval ratings barely above single digits is now a one-party hot-rhetoric Kabuki farce and available to the highest bidders.
The corporate media has conditioned Americans to believe authority resides in the President-As-Seen-On-TV, and the elected Congress and representatives at the state and municipal levels are of little or no consequence. The busy consumer's duty is merely to accept their expert viewpoints and vote. Imagine their rage when voters rebel. Those 60 million deplorables in 2016 who hoped to unplug from the matrix and drain the swamp in DC will never be forgiven!
In contrast, consider Parliamentarian governance in places like Sweden and New Zealand where the focus is on political platforms instead of personalities. No party enjoys majority rule, so the larger ones must cooperate with minority parties to form coalitions. The U.S. relies on separation of powers--an independent Congress, Judiciary and Executive--to protect citizens from corruption, but this was undermined long ago by influence peddling and intimidation.
Concentration of power in a unitary executive serves the interests of the Deep State. Only the strongest and most independent President could overcome their guidance, but such a person would never be tolerated. Checks and balances critical to a functioning republic have been dismantled, and the United States is careening toward disaster.
1 January 2021
Since the 1960s the Founding myths have been endlessly attacked by factions seeking some advantage over others. Through their myopic self-interest they ignore that the national consensus is being destroyed, or maybe that was the point. Whatever advantages they hoped to gain will be lost when civility collapses and 330 million Americans seek revenge for grievances. Will citizens somehow divert this Titanic headed straight for an iceberg? If America survives its corruption and civic neglect it will be because the adults finally arose from their sofas to save themselves.
The only way to break orthodoxy is with heresy. Open-up the public debate. Opponents to Washington's duplicity are America's still uncorrupted citizens who the corporate media now suggest could be domestic extremists or white nationalists--thenation's greatest threats! Elites and media stooges cannot embezzle from trusting Americans forever. Eventually, evidence-free claims from unnamed sources or undefined intelligence community will be seen as nothing more than propaganda. News viewer ratings are collapsing. Few expect to find facts, accountability, or balance from the MSM news and increasingly tune it out.
The six media conglomerates should be broken up, enforcing the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act. Only then could issues critical to the Nation's survival--like the neocons' pursuit of regime change, global hegemony and the destruction of defiant independent nations be discussed. International conflict is the lifeblood of the Deep State. Populism and a return to real democracy are its biggest threats.
A faux-social justice coalition is working tirelessly to crush the emerging populist movement. Party leaders are preventing Americans from knowing the truth as an essential part of their governance, the ultimate expression of contempt and condescension. Mike Whitney
Perceptions are rapidly changing with the polarization, multiple disasters, and lockdown of 2020. The culture wars have gained momentum and battle lines have formed. To restore a political consensus among competing factions the Nation's "arbiters of culture--academics, media, and Hollywood--will have to relinquish their multicultural grievance polemics and the preening pretense of defending the downtrodden." Virtue signaling is little more than pandering. Identity politics wasthe misguided 2016 strategy of the Democratic National Committee to achieve hegemony and it is tearing America apart.
How quaint and trivial the 19th century Greek Revival must sound today, yet tensions in the buildup to the 1861 Civil War were similar. In the background the Greek Revival served as a unifying presence. It represented a renewed commitment to civility, decorum, and the Founders' vision for a Constitutional Republic. The Greco-Roman architectural revival was an impetus for reform, an insistence that the U.S. recover the sense of purpose and civic aspirations of a self-governed Republic. The ideal was given a physical form and had a presence in the community.
The 1845 Orange County Courthouse in Paoli, Indiana was restored in 2010, bringing gravitas to the city's landmark.
Employing the classical tradition
Residences of ancient Greece were primarily courtyard housing. There were no standalone houses built with a temple-front until the neoclassicists. Italian farm complexes and villas began the trend and British manor houses followed. Americans freely adapted the classical portico for all types and sizes of houses. Early examples from the Federal period were modeled on Georgian precedents like the Belle Grove Plantation (1797) in the Shenandoah Valley. The portico became the signature detail of the Greek Revival. Decorative motifs were introduced through pattern books like Asher Benjamin's The Practical House Carpenter (1830 edition). The English details were for builders to follow. Since the books lacked house plans and elevations the style inspired a wide range of expressions. Greek Revival houses began to show up in New York, New England, the Western Reserves of Ohio and Middle Border states.
American cities that took shape between 1820 and 1860 also used the Greek Revival for public buildings and churches. Neoclassicism evoked virtue and honor in both Yankee New England and the Old South. The classical revival paralleled social and religious reforms seeking to advance a "tenor of idealism and the vision for an orderly and moral world." That impulse led predictably to a showdown between North and South over slavery and State's rights. After 1865 the reunited States took three decades to recover from that disaster.
The City Beautiful Movement emerged in the 1890s with the idea of enhancing social order through beautification. The earliest large scale project was the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. It was called the "White City" and stood like a mirage on open land south of the teeming city. Also significant was The McMillan Plan (1902) that redesigned the monumental core of Washington D.C. and created the National Mall. Throughout the U.S. classicism was employed for civic duty in the design of courthouses, post offices, schools and libraries.
Many cities and even small towns received funding for a public library donated by the Andrew Carnegie Foundation. Many of these designs were classical in the spirit of the City Beautiful Movement. In all, Carnegie funded 1,689 grants to build libraries between 1889 and 1929, and nearly doubled the total in the nation. Prior to this libraries were private or by subscription. The first tax-supported library opened in Peterborough, NH in 1833 and the Boston Public Library opened in 1848. Carnegie's expressed goal was to "bring books and information to all people." He seemed to understand that for a nation of diverse immigrants to cohere and prosper they required equal access. Only informed citizens would be able to maintain self-government.
1797 Belle Grove Plantation, Middleton, VA
Spring Valley, Minnesota.
Small town banks employed the Greek Revival to suggest they were durable and safe.
1772 German Meeting House in Waldoboro, Maine. Photos 2014.
I. Jenkins Mikell House, c. 1854, Charleston, South Carolina
Greek Revival house was the Charleston Free Library for thirty years. Photo features new (1948) Chevrolet bookmobile with sides raised as canopies. Its mission was to take the library's resources to rural residents.
America's global capitalists and too-big-to-fail banks surely have only their Nation's best interests in mind.
1750 Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Newport, RI, by architect Peter Harrison
Redwood Library and Athenaeum has been restored and sympathetically expanded since 1915 by architects Norman Isham, George Snell and George Champlin Mason.
1742 Faneuil Hall in Boston. Original meeting house was designed by John Smibert, but enlarged by architect Charles Bulfinch in 1806. Photo by David Brussat, 2016.
For example, take the New Castle Courthouse (1732). It was Delaware's first Capitol building and from this site a twelve-mile arc was cast to define the State's northern boundary. That's way it is curved. This 1936 view shows the façade after restoration by architects adept in the popular American Colonial Revival. It was lovingly "enhanced" to include features typical of the style but not original to the 1732 design. They intended to honor the building by making these enhancements in keeping with the original style.
W.S. Stewart photo for Historic American Building Survey
The New Castle Courthouse (2011) shows the building now restored to an earlier version. The sweet charms of the Colonial Revival--shutters, arched portal at entry, balcony corbels--were removed as "inauthentic," reverting to the austere version seen here. This reflects current orthodoxy of preservation profession: "The past is a foreign country" and not a living tradition.
Tim Andersen photo
Fortunately for them they can count on Bibi to identify America's enemies and suggest the order in which they may be attacked.
Deep State ideologues who enjoy lavish budgets and power must find enemies to justify their existence.
Zuck on the job managing perceptions for upcoming global techno-utopia, 2019
Dixon Square, Westerly Rhode Island, c 1950. Woodcut, Louis Novak
Architecture is said to be a mirror of society and its aspirations. Historic building traditions embody a peoples' long held meanings and beliefs. Culture in this sense is literally constructed.
We know communities can be turned around by reviving their civic character and participation. As Ralph Nadar said, a small number of determined citizens can make a big difference by inspiring their neighbors and mobilizing underutilized assets. In a small city, only a hundred people of diverse talents could perhaps clear a path to recovery and gain the majority's support. Recovery would be citizen-achieved from the bottom up, not in pay-offs from the top down.
Democratic self-government requires social capital, and this is created by strengthening families, communities, local institutions, and the bonds between them. Dispossession requires a demoralized people who feel resistance is futile. People who maintain strong bonds and expectations for justice cannot be conquered.
Whether the United States can cohere and is revived, or breaks-up into hostile factions is not at all settled. If personal liberty and the rule of law can be restored, some groups will likely rediscover the 19th century Greek Revival as a useful model. Its expressive powers will be seen as historical precedent for the kind of civic structures they will need--like meeting houses to convene citizens and schools to inspire the youth. Classicism is an ever-evolving two thousand year old tradition. It could again become an "expression of nationalism and civic virtue," and a response to the "clamor for political reform." How will the battered United States of America ever recover civility? By creating a civil environment in which it may be practiced.
Historical interpretation is a dynamic process that evolves within a culture. What are considered important sites and their significance will depend on what they mean for the present. A sustainable culture is able to cope with complexity and accept the reality that history is not always pretty or as one would approve. A functional society can cope with both good and bad in its past, appreciate context, maintain perspective, and not have to purge what today it finds unsavory. Nor are the places where history took place static. They too reflect the attitudes of the times.