1831 Schenectady County Courthouse, Schenectady, New York
Today, Americans would be shocked to see a new Greek Revival school or library built. Would it remind them the Republic was intended to be self-governed?
Architecture mirrors society and represents its aspirations. Historic building traditions embody a society's long held meanings and beliefs. Culture in this sense is literally constructed.
Neoclassicism developed in support of civic aspirations
Widespread interest in all things Classical in the late18th and early 19th centuries idealized the democratic republic of ancient Greece. Greek architecture remained a private concern of enthusiasts and historians until around 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, a response to the Act of Union, Napoleonic Wars, and clamor for political reform."
Neoclassicism soon came to dominate British architecture and was invoked for the most important buildings of the era. In London alone between 1817 and 1829 twenty-three Greek Revival churches were built. In Europe's more remote northern regions, in Scandinavia and western Finland, Greek Revival motifs were grafted to earlier Baroque designs. Significantly, in every country the Greek Revival flourished it was thought to express nationalism and civic virtue.
In the fledgling republic across the Atlantic, British trained architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820) was enlisted by President Jefferson to be Surveyor of Public Buildings of the United States. His primary task was to oversee construction of William Thornton's design for the new Capitol in Washington. The classical orders were not entirely bound by historical precedent. There are corncob and tobacco leaf motifs in the decorative scheme for column capitals, and cynics might wonder if lobbyists were already working the Hill. Latrobe was one of America's first professional architects. He supported Jefferson in several of his architectural projects. His influence on apprentice architects helped to shape the next generation.
The classical revival that emerged in the 1820s was labeled "Greek Revival," reflecting a romantic vision of Greece. Neoclassicism was actually a combination of sources including classical Greek and Roman, but also Renaissance, Vitruvian, Palladian and Georgian. The work was perhaps claimed a "revival" to suggest a continuity of intentions and depth of precedent. There was in fact little beyond the familiar temple front portico that could be traced directly to Greece. Its Hellenistic associations were more political than architectural.
America's classical revival became widely popular in the 1830s, and was seen as an expression of its civic culture. Americans were still acutely aware of the political distinction between Greek Republic and Roman Empire. It was an empire the Americans broke from to form their own republic. A republic was built on the rule of law with citizen protection from despotic rule, whereas Rome was ruled by an Emperor. Although both ancient cultures employed classical architecture it was Greek democratic self-rule Americans intended to emulate.
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 the 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 meeting house was the means to self- government. New settlements were expected to build an assembly hall large enough for all citizens to gather. The buildings served for both worship and town government, built and maintained through local taxes. Meeting houses were also used on occasion for a criminal trial, protest, defensive fort, barracks or hospital. While Sunday worship was the building's primary purpose it also facilitated direct democracy through town hall meetings.
The colonial meeting house was no larger than necessary, roughly square in plan, and included a raised pulpit on the long wall opposite the entry. Pulpit was the room's focal point, lit by a window behind it. A center aisle divided family boxes--later pews. The larger meeting houses had a horseshoe balcony above main floor. Layout was intentionally tight to draw the congregation close. The speaker at the pulpit could be seen and heard readily, but also everyone else in the room. When a communal decision was required the townspeople gathered here to debate. Few were excused and all were held accountable. Consensus was the goal, and the majority prevailed.
1834 Town Hall, Sandwich, MA
Builder Ellis Howland
The public green in New England evolved to represent the town's community life around church and state--separate, but spatially united--and became the iconic image of New England. The early 20th century colonial revival so idealized the image that those towns without a green felt compelled to create one. Samuel Chamberlain photo, 1940s
Boston's Quincy Market with Greek Revival portico was designed by Alexander Parris in 1825. Faneuil Hall is shown in the background.
1905 Carnegie Library, Lexington, KY, by architect Herman Rowe. In this era, the Carnegie-donated library was often the most elegant and memorable building in town.
Citizens-in-training from Miss Connolly's 4th Grade Classroom, April, 1943
Kennedy Elementary School, Portland, Oregon
Benjamin Latrobe, c.1804
Charles Wilson Peale portrait
Self-government and democratic rule?
Americans today would be shocked to see a new Greek Revival school or library built. Would it remind them the republic was intended to be self-governed? Not likely.
As Benjamin Franklin was seen leaving the 1787 Constitutional Congress in Philadelphia someone yelled, "What have we got, a republic or monarchy?" Franklin responded, "A republic, if you can keep it." The Founding Generation would have been appalled to see how quickly their vision and cautions were forgotten. America soon followed the pattern of other empires, all the while denying it.
By "empire," we simply refer to the uncoordinated, and sometimes competing, imperial policies of political elites who intend to dominate and exploit others less powerful. Today, Washington's undeclared empire is a tangle of deception, corruption, and supreme arrogance. Overextended and $20 trillion in debt its collapse seems inevitable. How can this have escaped the attention of the mainstream press?
Only the middle class, with ample access to alternative views online, could rise to assert its democratic authority. Worker bee Americans with ridiculed values like honesty, fidelity, and thrift have been frustrated with the nation's mismanagement for decades, but remain strangely passive. They have accepted the contingencies of life in the hive and stay within its limits. Many are aware of false narratives that must not be challenged, and see liberty eroded as elites consolidate power. Simply wanting to live their lives, these Americans have tolerated corruption since their standard of living has not collapsed yet. Despite a pervasive sense of foreboding, most keep quiet.
So, what happened to the "land of the free and home of the brave," first man-on-the-moon nation? It did not require a huge conspiracy. An American oligarchy of globalists, neocons, powerful interest groups, and purveyors of mainstream news are co-dependent. They must implicitly cooperate to manage citizen perception and convince people to act against their best interests.
"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized 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 mainstream media supplies an endless flow of propaganda to launder our brains, encourage fear, cognitive dissonance and related human frailties, to keep the elite on top. Incessant repetition of official stories and claims does the trick. Those who dominate American society today have no regard for truth or democracy. The public to them are "useful idiots" to manipulate to their ends, as Leo Strauss taught his followers.
The purpose of the self-described "legacy" media today is to soothe, distract, and protect Americans from the truth. Citizens are expected to accept its claims without proof, and view 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.”
Six giant media conglomerates control about 90% of the news Americans receive. They have shown remarkable discipline in presenting consistent stories and self-policing to eliminate voices of dissent. It is a system of rewards and punishments. If you want your voice to be heard you must self-censor, and those who cross the boundaries are banned from the "American Pravda." It should be no surprise that many Americans remain clueless.
Elites shape public policy by encouraging what James Bovard called an "attention deficit democracy" in which citizens become cynical, opt-out and accept their dispossession. As the rule of law has been turned on its head and a surveillance state erected, many Americans remain captivated with sports spectacles, celebrities, and being the star of a Facebook page. Addicted to endless distractions from their smartphones and screens they show little resistance or even capacity for independent judgment.
Political correctness is key to understanding the transfer of power in U.S. from the many to the few. Promoted in the guise of a respect for diversity, its real purpose has been to silence dissent. It undermined self-government by making almost all controversial subjects off-limits. The idea is to pathologize dissent, as if there could be no legitimate difference of opinion on the topic. Enforced by media gatekeepers, a "spiral of silence" envelops any non-approved political view to imply that anyone who could hold such an opinion is either dangerous or a nutcase. For example, if citizens asking for proof can be labeled "conspiracy theorists," their challenges can be ignored. If whistleblowers are presented as "traitors," few will come forward to expose government crimes. Is this power? Real power is getting people to self-censor, and not say what they know to be true.
The masters of deceit are especially careful to avoid any unscripted public discussions of foreign policy, loss of Constitutional protections, or checks and balances. When well-funded special interests and intelligence agencies frame the issues, citizens can be easily duped. Most people realize that "if they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers."
The mainstream media provides the U.S. electorate with the wrong questions, and offers quislings as the only viable candidates. Fools receive generous media attention to drive voter support to the preordained candidates. Although as they saw in the 2016 election, this exposure can backfire. Any independent and insightful voices that emerge can be ignored, marginalized, or smeared if they persist.
When whistleblower Edward Snowden came forward to reveal the massive illegal NSA spy program targeting all Americans he was smeared by the media to divert attention from the facts. Former President Carter was asked for his reaction. He calmly told reporters, "America does not at the moment have a functioning democracy."
Few today could deny the reality of deep state manipulation that shapes U.S. policy and is impervious to the will of the people. Its nebulous powers increased as resistance was pathologized. Although concealed and vehemently denied, as Mike Whitney writes, "There’s an alternate power-structure that operates completely off the public’s radar and has the elected government in a death-grip.”
Americans may be finally awakening to the reality that they have no voice in governance, and their political actions will be of no value. They see the countervailing forces that once provided balance have been removed. Independent news services were the first to go. Corporate off-shoring of U.S. manufacturing jobs effectively destroyed labor unions. Deregulation of the financial industry reversed citizen protections, like the Glass-Steagall Act (1933-1999) which prevented commercial banks from playing the Wall Street casino with customer deposits. Universities and public institutions that citizens once relied upon to be impartial are now in a total PC lockdown, poised to wreck the career of anyone who challenges them. Congress, with approval ratings barely above single digits, has devolved into a one-party hot-rhetoric political Kabuki, debating issues that many Americans recognize as false or pointless.
The corporate media has conditioned Americans to believe that almost all authority resides in the President-As-Seen-On-TV, and the elected Congress and officials at the State and Municipal levels are irrelevant. They suggest the busy citizen's duty is merely to approve the slate of candidates offered and pay their taxes. Imagine the elites' rage when voters rebel. Those 60-some million "deplorable" people who hoped to unplug from the matrix in 2016 will never be forgiven!
In contrast, look at Parliamentarian governance in places like Sweden and New Zealand where the focus is on political platforms, not personalities. Since no party enjoys majority rule, the larger ones must cooperate with minority parties to form a coalition. The U.S. has relied on separation of powers--an independent Congress, Judiciary and Executive--to protect citizens and avoid corruption, but this is clearly not working.
Concentration of power in the Executive serves the interests of elites and deep state. Only the strongest and most capable President could overcome their "guidance," and such a person would never be tolerated. Checks and balances critical to the republic have been dismantled, and the United States is careening toward disaster.
“An empire, by nature, must trample on nationhood, even its own, for it presents the empire’s ambitions as the nation’s necessities… Nationalism is simply the love of one’s language, culture, history and heritage, one’s very identity in short, but as wielded by an empire, nationalism becomes a murderous tool to violate one nation after another. The American empire is destroying the American nation.” Linh Dinh, 2017
Architecture mirrors society and represents its aspirations. Historic building traditions embody a society's 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. A small number of determined citizens can make the difference by inspiring their neighbors and mobilizing underutilized assets. In a small town, perhaps only a hundred people of diverse talents and ages could clear a path to recovery, and gain the majority's support. Real recovery will 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 coheres and is revived, or breaks-up into hostile factions we cannot know. If personal liberty and the rule of law can be restored, some citizen groups will likely discover the nineteenth century Greek Revival as a useful model. Its expressive powers will be seen as a historical precedent for the kind of civic structures they envision-- 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." It has happened before.
11 September 2018
Will Americans divert this Titanic with over 330 million aboard, and heading straight for an iceberg? If America survives its corruption and civic neglect it will be because the adults finallyarosefrom their sofas to save themselves.
The only way to break orthodoxy is with heresy. Open-up the public debate. Opponents of Washington's duplicity are America's still uncorrupted independent citizens--who the mainstream media now consider "domestic extremists." The elites and their media stooges cannot embezzle from trusting Americans forever. Evidence-free claims from unnamed sources and the "intelligence community" have become increasingly bizarre, presented with an almost hysterical bias. Credibility, balance, and rationality are disappearing in the fractured society. The six media conglomerates should be broken up, and the Sherman Antitrust Act enforced. Real issues, like the empire's desire for endless war, global hegemony, and destruction of Arab and Islamic nations, should be openly debated by Americans.
Restoring solidarity among an increasingly diverse population will require the "arbiters of culture-- academics, media, and Hollywood-- to relinquish their multicultural grievance polemics and the preening pretense of defending the downtrodden." Identity politics, the misguided Dem-Prog strategy to recapture power in Washington, is tearing the nation apart.
How quaint and trivial the Greek Revival must sound in this context. Recall that mid-nineteenth century Americans also lived through disastrous times when the Federation of States came apart. In the background the Greek Revival served as a unifying presence. It represented a renewed commitment to civility, decorum, and the Framers' vision for a constitutional republic. The revival was a quiet form of protest, an insistence that politics realign with the civic aspirations of ancient Greece. The ideal was given a physical form and presence in the community.
The 1845 Orange County Courthouse in Paoli, Indiana was restored in 2010, bringing gravitas and air-conditioning to the landmark structure.
Employing classical tradition
Residential construction of ancient Greece was apparently one story courtyard housing. There were surely no standalone single family houses with a temple front. Those are Neoclassical designs, and the Americans freely adapted them for all kinds of houses. Early precedents were Georgian and Federal manor houses like the Belle Grove Plantation (1797) in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Greek Revival details were popularized through pattern books, like Asher Benjamin's The Practical House Carpenter (1830 edition). The style was promoted through decorative details rather than house plans, so there were quite a variety of types. Greek Revival houses began to show up in northern New York, the Western Reserves of Ohio, and Middle Border states.
As American cities took shape between 1820 and 1860, Greek Revival became the preferred style for civic buildings and churches. Neoclassicism evoked virtue and honor in both Yankee New England and the Old South. The style coincided with social reform and a Christian revival that advocated a "tenor of idealism, and vision for an orderly and moral world." Americans for a time aspired to higher purpose. The ambition would be crushed by Civil War, and require decades to recover.
After 1900, the classical temple front was enlisted for civic duty in the design of courthouses, post offices, schools and libraries. Many small towns were graced with a single Neoclassical structure, a new library donated by the Andrew Carnegie Foundation. Carnegie provided 1,689 grants to build public libraries in the US between 1889 and 1929. His contribution was significant, nearly doubling the nation's libraries at the time. Before the mid-19th century libraries were either private or by subscription, and their resources accessible to only a few. The first tax-supported community library opened in 1833 in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and the first municipal library in 1848 in Boston. Carnegie intended to "bring books and information to all people." He understood that if this nation of working class immigrants was to cohere and advance, equal access and opportunity were essential. Only an informed citizenry could maintain self-government and democratic rule.
1797 Belle Grove Plantation, Middleton, VA
Spring Valley, Minnesota. Small town banks employed the Greek Revival to suggest they were honorable and durable institutions.
1772 German Meeting House, Waldoboro, Maine. 2014 photos
Circa 1854 I. Jenkins Mikell House, Charleston, South Carolina
Greek Revival house served as Charleston Free Library for about thirty years. This was the library's new (1948) bookmobile, a Chevrolet panel truck with sides hinged to form canopies. Its mission was to bring the library's resources to rural residents.
Surely, the globalists have only our best interest 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, Boston, MA Original meeting house was designed by John Smibert, but redesigned and enlarged by architect Charles Bulfinch in 1806. David Brussat photo, 2016.
1732 New Castle Courthouse was Delaware's first capital building. From this point a twelve-mile arc was cast to define Delaware's northern border. 1936 view shows restoration completed during the American colonial revival.
W.S. Stewart photo for Historic American Building Survey
2011 New Castle Courthouse. Preservationists insisted those sweet charms of colonial revival-- the cute shutters, arched entry portal, and balcony corbels-- had to go. Latest restoration depicts an earlier more austere version.
Israel's Prime Minister explains to his not-so-bright patrons who the Americans should attack next.
Out of view and enjoying lavish budgets, the Deep State must find enemies to justify its existence.