Strip Malls Across the Fruited Plain

When landscape is destroyed, culture is imperiled.

By Arthur Versluis

I grew up on, and still help on, our family’s farm on the west side of Grand Rapids, Mich. This past year, the last hundred acres of farmland within the confines of the city, just down the highway from our fruit stand, was destroyed to make way for a cheap subdivision. Now ours is the only farm left even partially within the city limits.

As Russell Kirk, who lived two counties north of us, wrote, “This brutal destruction … of the very landscape, in this age of the bulldozer, constitutes a belligerent repudiation of what we call tradition. It is a rejection of our civilized past—and a rejection out of which sharp characters may make a good deal of money.”

While the destruction of the natural world may be embraced by neoconservative “sharp characters,” such destruction cannot be accepted by the traditional conservative. If one affirms and seeks to preserve what enriches human life, then it is not possible to endorse the ruin of the natural world. Indeed, historically as well as etymologically, conservatism and conservation go hand in hand. What is a conservative if not one who seeks to conserve?

The traditional conservative identifies with a particular place, a particular family, a particular region and landscape. The very idea of conserving what has come to us from the past assumes that something has come to us from the past and that something has to be actual—a place, language, cultural inheritance, a particular forest, lake, orchard, vista. One’s fundamental impulse is to preserve what is actual, what has meaning and gives meaning.

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