Virginia, the cradle of the American Republic, has proved to be a particularly tempting locus for the designs of the capitalist Utopians. Our own conservative Republican governor, George Allen, with the general support of the state party and Washington’s Republican press organ, has led the charge of the developers’ earth movers on the state’s countryside, the northern counties being the target of choice, despite the area’s very low levels of unemployment. Where Lee’s army and Mosby’s raiders and the Army of the Potomac once fought over the principles of preservation, the “conservatives” and the baying jackals of progress are sweeping down on the green Virginia pastures and the battlefields of our great national struggle, acting as the vanguard of the urban and suburban vandals they represent. They threaten our heritage, both regional and national, with strip malls and housing developments that spring up like mushrooms after a rain alongside “greenways” that pave over farms and villages and erase a whole landscape from our memory, detaching our postmodern world from the bedrock of our past and further eroding the viability of authentic communities.
For most of last year, the state’s political and capitalist classes devoted themselves to ramming through the state legislature the taxpayer-subsidized development of “Disney’s America,” a sprawling canker whose nucleus was to have been a history theme park near the town of Haymarket in Prince William County, only a few miles from the Manassas battlefield. Allen and company portrayed the successful (for now) anti-Disney movement as composed solely of anticapitalist liberals, green extremists, and selfish “elite” landowners who want to prevent Joe Sixpack from getting a minimum wage job at Disneyland east. Those who shape what passes for rightwing opinion in America lacked the imagination to picture conservatives opposing the creation of the Disney octopus, one that would probably have (and may yet) spread its spin-off limbs all around, threatening the area’s battlefield sites and the tranquillity and sense of community in the local small towns.
The Washington Times scoffed at the contention that the places where our forebears shed their blood during the Civil War might be sacred and, therefore, not for buying and selling; it mocked the opposition in tones reminiscent of the Bolshevik ideologues’ contemptuous assessment of the Russian people and their history: “It can’t be in Virginia,” the editorial page sneered, “not where Civil War horse droppings might have fallen. Or where Ken Burns might stumble across chicken bones from some century-old repast.” Horse droppings? Chicken bones? By these words, the Washington mouthpiece of the official conservative movement revealed the contempt felt by Wall Street Republicans for the people, culture, and yes, the land that is America.
The official right is intent on force-feeding us its ideological hemlock, the tasty poison that first numbs our individual brains, producing a false sense of well-being in the citizenry, and then dispatches the corporate body. James Howard Kunstler’s The Geography of Nowhere describes the transformation of much of the American middle class into what I call People From Nowhere, that peculiar version of nomadic mass man that the consumer-commuter culture breeds, one of the variations of 20th-century rootlessness: “Through the postwar decades Americans happily allowed their towns to be destroyed. They would flock to Disneyland at Anaheim, or later to Disney World in Florida, and walk down Main Street, and think, gee, it feels good here. Then they’d go back home and tear down half the old buildings downtown and pave them over for parking lots, throw a parade to celebrate a new KMart opening—even when it put ten local merchants out of business—[and] turn Elm Street into a six-lane crosstown expressway. . . .They’d do every fool thing possible to destroy good existing relationships between things in their towns, and put their local economics at the mercy of distant corporations whose officers didn’t give a damn about whether these towns lived or died. And then, when vacation time rolled around, they’d flock back to Disney World to feel good about America.” For now, Virginia’s Disney battle has subsided, but you can bet that the development-at-all-costs crowd will be back.
In any case, real Virginians count for less and less in the political and social struggles that are determining the future of the Old Dominion. The demographers tell us that just over half the current population of the state is native; that the suburban counties surrounding the Imperial capital across the Potomac, populated largely by transient white cosmopolitans, pride themselves on hating their WASP roots; and that a U.N.-lover’s “mosaic” of Sikhs, Central Americans, and assorted wetbacks constitute an urban tail that wags the rural body of the Virginia dog. Chuck Robb’s recent reelection to the Senate was, in part, the result of the urbanized and heavily populated counties around Washington outgunning the rural pro-Oliver North vote. The fact that people with roots here are being displaced by aliens, both domestic and foreign, and that the predominance of aliens is driven by the urbanization of the state, is reason enough to oppose further “economic development.”
The rootlessness and alienation that are so often the byproducts of unrestrained development are not, however, evident only in the capitalist West. Valentin Rasputin’s novella The Fire tells the story of Ivan Petrovitch, a former inhabitant of an ancient Siberian village who has been forced to move to a newly developed logging town because his old village has been flooded. Over the years the old village’s inhabitants are overwhelmed by an influx of deracinated migrant workers. These Soviet People From Nowhere have few of the residual feelings of place that the old-timers have, and one night, when the town’s main warehouse catches fire, Ivan Petrovitch catches a glimpse into modernity’s heart of darkness as the migrants and, finally, some of the town’s old-timers forgo attempting to put out the fire and indulge in an orgy of drunken looting.
Given the Soviet state’s initial efforts to destroy Russian identity and the immeasurable damage done to the Russian landscape by forced industrialization and collectivization, it is not surprising that environmentalist, conservationist, and preservationist efforts became an important part of the program of the nationalist dissident movement that emerged in the 1960’s. In the public arena, Rasputin was a prominent member of the school of so-called “village writers” who celebrated the authentic community of the precollectivized village and the majesty of the natural world, and who loved the Rodina, one’s native land, the feminine Motherland (in Rasputin’s case, Siberia), as an integral and indispensable part of loyalty to the Otechestvo, the Russian Fatherland. In Russia, it is the nationalist right that has protected and preserved the national patrimony, for what could patriotism be without respect and care for the soil of the Rodina? How could a national consciousness exist without the preservation of the national monuments, churches, and Kremlins of the Otechestvo?
As of late, Rasputin, along with a number of former nationalist dissidents, entered the ranks of the “irreconcilable opposition,” where nationalists of every stripe have joined forces with the neocommunists in an all-out political war against the Westernizing “democrats,” many of whom would like to install what the American official right has dubbed “democratic capitalism.” The nationalists call this capitalization process the “Snickersization” of Russia, a process whose symbols are the ubiquitous Snickers bar (seemingly available at every Moscow street vendor’s kiosk), the Russian edition of Penthouse, and McDonald’s Golden Arches, which even now are looming over the statue of Russia’s most revered poet on Moscow’s Pushkin Square.
I cannot and will not attempt to justify Rasputin and company’s embrace of their country’s former destroyers. The repulsive ideology of the “red-browns,” some of whom probably took part in the persecution of their now staunch allies, seems inconsistent, to say the least, with the anticommunism that Rasputin and company formerly espoused. At least the nationalists can take comfort in the patriotic rhetoric that has made its way into the speeches of their former adversaries. Still, when the “Snickersization” they so strongly object to is taken into account, one can grasp the fundamental motives of men who now say “better the communists than the democrats.”
I doubt that James Howard Kunstler, a frequent contributor to the New York Times Sunday Magazine and a former editor of Rolling Stone, is now or has ever been a conservative. I myself have frequently turned up in the company of granola crunchers and baby seal fetishists during some of our area’s preservation wars. I hope some of my Republican friends will understand why I say “better the Greens than the Republicans.” Better the Earth Shoe and the Volvo crowd than the Gucci and Mercedes set when it comes to saving what is left of the American landscape. Better the Woodstock leftovers than the Wall Street turncoats.
I will never again count myself among the “conservatives” who would destroy ground made sacred by the blood of the Blue and Gray warriors who are my ancestors. I will never again tolerate the whining of those who liken the Manassas battlefield to a mere pasture for fossilized horse dung, or the remains and artifacts of unknown soldiers to so many chicken scraps. I will never again let them tell me that I’m Standing in the Way of Progress and ask if I want to Take Us Back to the Horse and Buggy Days. For what they really mean is that they don’t care about America or Americans, that the first Allensworth to turn over a furrow on an 18th-century Virginia farm worked and strived solely for himself, without a care for his kin or country, that my kinsmen whose body parts decorated the American landscape during the War Between the States were suckers who fought for nothing, and that the gaggle of globalist freebooters who helped to send later generations to such charming spots as Omaha Beach and Saigon were just spouting so much bilge when they talked about honor, duty, and patriotism.
I want my children, and their children, to be able to look out across the fields of northern Virginia and picture their ancestors working behind the plow. I want them to be able to stand on the stone bridge at Manassas and picture the ebb and flow of that battle. I want them to feel real affection for their native land and for the lakes, rivers, streams, and forests where their grandfathers hunted and fished and where, God willing, they can do the same. They will not be People From Nowhere, either the consumerist clodhoppers of Kunstler or the besotted hooligans of Rasputin. I want them to know that they belong to their home country, to a particular place that will still be recognizable as such in a hundred years, and I want them to know that they belong to something bigger as well, to America.