homeprojectsabout usCottage Classicsnewsopinioncontact us

Next Greek Revival
The Republic could rise again
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 northern Europe, Scandinavia and western Finland, Greek Revival motifs were 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 Federal projects and assisted Jefferson with several of his own. He was the new Nation's first professional architect and trained others, including Robert Mills, who became the next generation of classicists.  
A romantic Greek Revival took off in the 1820s but neoclassicism was a composite of many sources derived from the Italian Renaissance and regional expressions throughout Europe. The revival of classicism was intended to show a continuity of intentions and the depth of historic precedent. The temple-front portico could be traced to ancient Greece, but for Americans its political associations were more compelling.  

America's Greek Revival was in full swing by the 1830s and seen as an affirmation of the Nation's civic culture. Americans recalled 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 the democratic self-rule of ancient Greece the Americans sought 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 ideals of harmony and moderation, and both embraced an architectural tradition that appeared to embody those principles.  Alexander O. Boulton

Inventing self-government

In Colonial New England the means to self-government was the meeting house. New settlements were required to build one large enough for all townspeople to gather for worship and civic duties. Built and maintained through taxation, at times they were also used for criminal trials, forts, barracks and hospitals. Sunday worship was their primary purpose but they also facilitated direct democracy through town hall meetings.  

Meeting houses were no larger than necessary so the speaker at the pulpit could be heard by everyone in the room. The buildings were roughly square in plan with the pulpit opposite the entry and lit from behind by a tall window. A center aisle divided box pews on the main floor. Some meeting houses had a horseshoe balcony which drew participants closer to the pulpit. Speakers at the pulpit could see every face and hear every voice. To make decisions townspeople gathered here as equals to discuss the issue, come to an agreement, and seek consensus. Their society was cohesive with common beliefs, values and expectations. They understood that a decision would only be as effective as the strength of its support.
Sandwich Town Hall, Sandwich, MA
1834 Town Hall, Sandwich, MA built by 
Ellis Howland 

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 with a town hall, church and perhaps shops and a travelers' inn. By 1900 the civic green was so revered even New England towns that never had one were compelled to create one. Photo by Samuel Chamberlain, c. 1936
Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, Boston, MA
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
Carnegie Library, Lexington, KY Herman Rowe, Architect (1905) 
This beauty was surely one of the most impressive buildings in town.
Obsolete citizens-in-training from Miss Connolly's 4th Grade Classroom, 1943
Kennedy Elementary School, Portland, Oregon
Kennedy School, Portland, OR, 1943
Benjamin Latrobe, c.1804
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 early episode of the American Republic we saw someone yell to Benjamin Franklin as he was leaving the Constitutional Congress in 1787: "What have we got, a republic or monarchy?" Franklin shot back, "A republic, if you can keep it." The Founding Generation would have been appalled to see how quickly their vision and cautions were ignored. The great American experiment soon succumbed the typical pattern of 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 those 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 looks inevitable. Really now, how could this debacle have escaped the attention of the mainstream media (MSM) and a majority of American citizens? Through enormous effort. 

Only the independent middle class who have the wherewithal to find reliable alternative news sources know the extent of the corruption, and only a few have the fortitude to reclaim the republic. Most people remain silent, clueless, or distracted as the nation falls apart. But they have no democratic way to reform the government. The worker bees with ridiculed values like honesty, fidelity, and thrift must concede to life in the hive. If they do not succumb to groupthink they will be demonized and cancelled. Many are aware of the false narratives that must not by questioned. They foolishly think if they remain quiet their standard of living will not collapse and politics will self-correct.

So, what happened to the vaunted Land of the Free and Home of the Brave? James Howard Kunstler thinks 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, the 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 perceptions, in effect, to convince people 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 and tech giants supply an endless flow of disinformation to instill fear, dependence and cognitive dissonance that will keep the elites in power. Incessant repetition of false claims inevitably works. Heard a million times they become the accepted truth. Those dominating American society today have no real interest in justice, truth or democracy--only POWER. As Leo Strauss, beloved father of neoconservatism, told his neophytes, citizens are just useful idiots to be manipulated.

The self-described legacy media is the regime's media, eager 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 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 news and avoiding the same stories, and policing journalists to eliminate unwanted viewpoints. Theirs 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 U.S. "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 smartphones and constant stimulus, people show little resistance or independent thought. Convenience of our digital devices has fostered dependence--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 those who speak out are nut jobs and must be ignored. Their complaints are never addressed. Enforced by media gatekeepers, a spiral of silence envelops any unwelcome idea just as any theocratic society would deal with blasphemy. If citizens who are simply asking for proof can be labeled conspiracy theorists their challenges can be ignored. If whistle-blowers are traitors to be silenced and jailed why would anyone speak out? Intimidation, getting people to self-censor for fear of reprisals, is real power.

The masters of deceit have been careful to avoid unscripted public discussions of foreign policy, loss of Constitutional protections in the Bill of Rights. 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 only viable candidates. Fools receive generous media attention to drive support to preordained candidates. Any independent voices that emerge can be marginalized, or smeared if they refuse to disappear. 

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. 

Citizens are awakening to the fact that they have no voice in governance, and their political actions will be of no consequence. Countervailing forces that once provided some balance have been removed. Independent news services were 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 wreak the career of anyone who does not conform. Congress with its approval ratings barely above single digits is now a one-party Kabuki farce and its members responsive only to their donors.

The corporate media has conditioned Americans to believe authority resides in the President-As-Seen-On-TV reading a teleprompter and the 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 opinion and vote. Imagine their rage when voters rebel. Those 60 million deplorables in 2016 who hoped to unplug from the matrix and drain the DC swamp shall 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 has 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. 

4 July 2021
3,300 words

Since the 1960s the Founding myths have been endlessly attacked by factions seeking some advantage over others. Through myopic self-interest they ignore that the national consensus is being torn apart, or maybe that was the point. Whatever advantages they hoped to gain will be lost when civility collapses and 340 million people seek revenge for grievances, real or imagined. Will citizens 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--the Nation's greatest threats! Elites and media stooges cannot embezzle from trusting Americans forever. Eventually, evidence-free claims from unnamed sources or an undefined intelligence community will be seen as nothing more than propaganda. Viewer ratings for MSM news are collapsing. Few expect to encounter facts, accountability, or balance there, and are increasingly tuning out the noise.   

The six media conglomerates and search engine monopolies should be broken up, enforcing the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act. Only then can issues critical to the Nation's survival--like the ruthless pursuit of global domination and the destruction of independent nations be discussed. International conflict is the lifeblood of the permanent 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 conflicts, and Covid lockdowns. The culture war has accelerated quickly with the conquest of academia, corporations, and elected representatives almost complete. To reverse this and restore a political consensus among competing factions the "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 pandering. Identity politics was the Democratic National Committee's to achieve hegemony through divide and conquer, and it has worked as intended.

How irrelevant the 19th century Greek Revival appears, yet tensions in the buildup to Civil War were similar to today. 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 classical revival was an impetus for reform, an insistence that the Nation recover its founding purpose and civic aspirations as a self-governed republic. The ideal was given a physical form and presence in the community.
The 1845 Orange County Courthouse in Paoli, Indiana was recently restored, bringing gravitas to the landmark and town.
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 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 classical 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 these 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 predictably led to a showdown between North and South over slavery and State's rights. After 1865 the reunited States took three decades to recover from the 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 south of the teeming city. Also significant was The McMillan Plan (1902) that redesigned the monumental Federal core of Washington and created the National Mall. Throughout the States classicism was employed for civic duty in the design of courthouses, post offices, schools and libraries. 

Many cities and towns received funding for a public library donated by the Andrew Carnegie Foundation. Many of the designs were classical in the City Beautiful spirit. In total, Carnegie funded 1,689 grants to build new libraries between 1889 and 1929, nearly doubling the Nation's total. Before this libraries were private or by subscription. The first tax-supported libraries opened in Peterborough, NH in 1833 and in Boston in 1848. Carnegie said his goal was to "bring books and information to all people." He understood that for a nation of diverse immigrants to cohere and prosper they must have equal access. Only informed citizens would be able to maintain self-government.
 1797 Belle Grove Plantation, Middleton, VA
Spring Valley, Minnesota, bank
Spring Valley, MN bank, although tiny, employed Greek Revival style to confirm it was safe and durable.
German Meeting House, Waldoboro, Maine
Interior, German Meeting House, Waldoboro, ME
1772 German Meeting House in Waldoboro, Maine. Photos 2014.
Charleston Free Library
I. Jenkins Mikell House, c. 1854, Charleston, SC
This Greek Revival was the Charleston Free Library for 30 years. Photo commemorates new (1948) Chevrolet bookmobile with sides raised as canopies. Its mission was to bring library resources to rural residents.
Global capitalists and too-big-to-fail banks surely have only the citizens' 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.
Take the New Castle Courthouse (1732). It was Delaware's first Capitol building and from its site a twelve-mile arc was cast to define the State's northern boundary. Hey, that's why it's curved. This 1936 photo shows the façade after restoration by architects skilled in the American Colonial Revival. They lovingly "enhanced" it to include features typical of the style but not original to 1732 design. They intended to honor the building by making these change 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--have been removed as "inauthentic." The building has reverted to the more austere version. This represents current orthodoxy of the profession: "The past is a foreign country" and not a living tradition. 2011 photo by Tim Andersen 

Fortunately they can count on guys like Bibi to find America's enemies. 
Deep State ideologues who enjoy power and lavish budgets 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 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. 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.

The United States can cohere and be revived only if its "diversity" is joined in a common consensus. If personal liberty and the rule of law can be restored, some communities will likely rediscover the 19th century Greek Revival as a useful model to emulate. Its expressive powers will be seen as historical precedent for the kind of civic buildings they need--like a meeting house to convene citizens and schools capable of inspiring the youth. Classicism is an ever-evolving two thousand year old tradition. It has been employed as an "expression of nationalism and civic virtue," and a response to the "clamor for political reform." How can the battered United States of America recover civility? By creating a civil environment in which it may be practiced.

Tim Andersen

Historical interpretation is a dynamic process that evolves within a culture. What are considered important sites and their significance depend on what they mean for current citizens. A sustainable culture is able to deal with complexity and accept that history is not always pretty, or as one would approve today. A functional society can cope with both good and bad in its past, appreciate context and maintain perspective. Its citizens can learn from historic mistakes, and move on. Also, the places where history took place are not static. They will reflect the attitudes of the times.