Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Progressives" Against Progress

Back in my student days, I once had a revealing conversation with the leader of the campus Democratic Socialists. When he found out I was an Objectivist, he volunteered that he had read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and found it appealing—but, he explained, "I was raised to believe that compassion is a virtue." I was agog. Here he was, the big campus revolutionary—but underneath it all, he was just a momma's boy who couldn't bring himself to question the lessons he was taught as a child.

It is a pattern I have observed many times since. Scratch a "progressive" and you will find the most hidebound reactionary, whose socialist "radicalism" is simply a reaction against the modern system of capitalism and an attempt to restore some kind of imagined primitive tribal ideal.

One of the recent symptoms of this reactionary progressivism is the left's fascination with restoring the "unspoiled" small-town America they imagine from their youth, or from the 19th century. Michael Moore's first propaganda "documentary," for example, was filled with nostalgia for the lost glory days of the auto workers' unions in his Michigan home town.

And so we see another new "progressive" crusade: in a rebellion against rising American prosperity and the real-estate boom, there is now a movement to force us all to live in smaller houses, preserving the quaint atmosphere of the 1500-square-foot bungalow. And note the explicit goal: to keep everything looking the way it did a hundred years ago.

"Leveling Restrictions on McMansions," Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times, July 23 Fed up with seeing outsize houses popping up in open spaces or overwhelming the scale of established neighborhoods, cities and counties across the United States are declaring war on McMansions….

The restrictions come at the tail end of the largest residential building boom in US history. From 2000 to 2005, record numbers of single-family homes were constructed, often in place of older, more modest structures. That unprecedented explosion in homes "has produced so much change on the landscape that this is really a counter-response to it," said James W. Hughes, dean of Rutgers University's Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy….

In 1973, the median size of a new American home was 1,525 square feet; in 2006, it was 2,248 square feet….

The forces driving the backlash against big houses are in sharp relief in Boulder County, which begins in the suburbdotted prairies northwest of Denver and stretches to the high peaks of the Continental Divide.

The median size of a new home in unincorporated Boulder County grew from 3,900 in 1990 to 6,300 last year. That led officials to consider capping the square footage of mountain homes at 2,500 square feet—a number since modified.

But Boulder also highlights the hazards of the McMansion backlash.

Many rural property owners complained that the proposed regulations would interfere with their property rights….

Stan Huntting, 64, a retired technology executive who lives in a 2,800-square-foot home that he built in a pine grove, where it can't mar the landscape seen by drivers and hikers [says] "It's a treasure to people who live here, to people who visit here and spend a weekend, to be in an environment that's the way it's been for 100 years."

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