The Blog


11:00 PM, Nov 26, 1995 • By MICHAEL ANTON
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Even the most enthusiastic proponent of the conservative political realignment must acknowledge that legislation alone will not be enough to ensure its ultimate success. Most successful political movments this century have been blessed with a great asset that conservatism -- in all its guises -- has always lacked: a robust, thriving bohemia.

A bohemia is, in my definition, an urban neighborhood where youthful eggheads live, eat, drink, smoke (yes, smoke; especially cigars), think, talk, and even write. The right considers bohemia a left-wing aberration, a place where kooks and commies, peaceniks and druggies congregate to live and do whatever it is they do. But there's no reason why bohemia can't become more comprehensive -- more bipartisan, so to speak.

There are indeed latent young conservative bohemians out there, people who are a strange cross-breed between supply-siders and philosophes. These are the people who could form the rank and file of the intellectual realignment. After all, Progressivism, liberalism, communism, and hosts ofother unsavory isms all had indispensable support from intelligent, literate -- if tragically misguided -- bohemians: thoughtful, somewhat quirky people who flourished in no small part due to their surroundings. If conservatives want to emulate the successess of these older, less-deserving movements, we need our own bohemia.

We can start small -- say, one neighborhood in New York. We'll take over a few apattment buildings . We'll become regulars at a few cafes and restaurants and turn them into places where deregulation, The Founders' vision of America, and classical music can be discussed openly. Mikail Gorbachev, Jacques Derrida, and John Cage have, after all, gotten more than their share of play in America's urban hot spots. Newt, Publius, and Beethoven now deserve their due.

Restaurants and cafes are only the beginning. We'll need a few bars. But our bars will be different -- they won't be places where screeching bands destroy patrons' hearing, where people whose haircuts suggest that their heads have been caught in threshing machines sit on their duffs and throw around words like "oppression" and "hegemony." The bars of conservative bohemia will have names like "Churchill's" and inside, people will drink Sam Adams and crusted port while the gentle cadences of Brahms and the ethereal voice of Ella Fitzgerlad sooth their savage breasts. Imagine what the conversations would be like: Instead of familiar bohemia assaults on the System, one would hear something like this: "So, you see, poverty programs are a prime culprit in the disintegration of the family" or I suppose Richard II is good on the problem of tyranny, but I think Macbeth gets much closer to the heart of it. Another round of Coors?"

Also, we must institute a dress code, unofficial or otherwise, for our bohemia. The familiar black turtlenecks, dingy berets, Birkenstocks, and pewter peace-sign pins an ancien bohemia will all be effectively banned and replaced with pinpoint button-downs, felt fedoras, cap-toed brogues, and American-flag lapel pins. The occasional pair of jeans might be tolerated, but absolutely no tie-dye. Unisex apparel, it goes without saying, will be unacceptable.

Just imagine the intellectual production that all of this would help engender. The next Hayek could well emerge from conservative bohemia. Or perhaps a real composer whose music doesn't sound like instruments being tuned. And dare I dream that impossible dream? Maybe even a true heir to the Reagan Revolution will bravely step forward from conservative bohemia and lead the stout-hearted to victory.

For only the stout-hearted should consider relocating thereto. All aspirant conservative bohemiaris must keep in mind that some aspects of urban life are always and everywhere intolerable: parking, driving, panhandlers, grime, and crime, to name but a few. And New York has a few problems all its own: dizzying expenses, sporadicat-best garbage collection, the East Village, etc. Not to mention the fact that living there can be a brutalizing experience for anyone to the right of Gore Vidal. It's just not socially acceptable to vote Republican; it is considered in poor taste to doubt the philosophic significance of the thought of Jean-Paul Sartre. Those of us who celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall can find making friends very difficult. And forget about receiving any dinner invitations, you critics of the welfare state. You'll have to take the Metro-Rail to Westchester if you want company.