Tuesday, February 08, 2005

THE WORLD AS WILL AND IDEA. A good deal of this Ann Marlowe piece is devoted to the sort of weird attribution of personal traits to political movements that mark one as a comer in the New New Right: e.g., wearing a Bush button is "punk rock," Democrats are "smugly self-righteous, prissy and joyless," etc.

The article purports to be a review of The Neocon Reader, but fails to seriously discuss the book's contents -- with one notable exception, James Q. Wilson's "Broken Windows" essay:
Wilson's title refers to a theory that if a window in a building is broken and left unrepaired, all the windows in the building will soon be smashed, and his article is frequently credited with sparking the new approaches to urban order that led to the revival of New York under Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

What is not so often recalled from Wilson's article is that the novel idea of placing officers on foot patrol did not actually reduce the crime rate; it only reduced citizens' perception of the crime rate. But that was enough. That turned out to be what urban vitality was
There's much more, but no references to any actual declines in the City's crime rate -- though these did come -- nor to the role of increased arrest rates (misdemeanor arrests in the City went up by 70 percent in the 1990s; felony arrests rose nearly as much). To hear Marlowe tell it, the perception of a crime drop by itself, the "feeling of public safety that allowed neighborhoods of poor and working-class people to flourish," as Marlowe puts it, caused the City's "revival."

Marlowe calls Wilson's essay "exemplary of neocon thought." If neoconservatism means a serious expectation of concrete results from public relations gestures, she may be right. A mindset that attributes our crime drop to good feelings, rather than to police work or demographic factors, could easily envision a democratic revolution in Iran brought about mainly by our good wishes. And it is not too much (or too little, depending on your point of view) to expect that when these wishes are finally effected by brute force, this mindset's sufferers will continue to believe that the will of the conquered nation's people was always with them, and that the little shove our armed forces gave to history was no more important than the tedious police work that accompanied the revival of New York.

Marlowe is much more specific in matters closer to home: in denigrating the hipness of present-day Berlin, she compares it unfavorably to "the East Village in the 1980s." Why of that decade, one wonders, and not the present time? I would guess because Marlowe remembers the East Village of those days, as I do, and knows that the upscale shopping and dining district the area has become does not generate the, to use her words, "cultural ferment and creativity" it generated in the days before our City was, to use her word again, revived. It's an instructive dodge. When you're pushing the power of ideas, it is helpful to ignore the collateral damage.

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