Episode 26 - Urban Conservatism with Avi Woolf
Updated: May 30
Conservative thinkers from Russell Kirk to Irving Kristol to the Founding Fathers have, at best, cast a wary eye towards cities. And across the country today, Leftist safe havens are often found in dense, urban areas. Does conservatism only thrive in small towns? And, if so, what does conservatism have to say for city life? Should conservatives abandon cities in hopes of a renewal of rural America? Or might there be a way to forge a path that both respects cities as cities and cultivates traditional virtues?
Joining us from Israel is Saving Elephant’s first international guest, Avi Woolf. Avi is a translator and editor whose work has been published in Arc Digital, Commentary, National Review, and The Bulwark. He is chief editor of the online Medium publication Conservative Pathways, and hopes to help forge a path for a conservatism which is relevant for the 21st century while not abandoning the best of past wisdom.
In a four-part series appearing in Arc Digital, Avi laid out a detailed blueprint for how conservatism might be applied to cities. A true conservative, Avi cautions that, while a “thin” understanding of conservatism might provide some value to cities, what’s sorely needed is a robust conservatism that seeks to restore institutions and communities in our urban centers. To do this, Avi recommends focusing on four broad conservative principles:
Opportunity –Removing regulations and increasing opportunity for all city residents to live where they want, work how they want, learn where they want, and thrive as they wish.
Social Pluralism – Embracing real diversity, of the sort conservatives fight for in universities, where atheists and fundamentalists, family values people and social libertines, and Americans of all kinds live together, find ways to get along, learn from each other, and work for the common good.
Community – The approach of conservatives in city government should simply be this: Get out of the way. No forced development lumped on people unequally, but also no to zoning barriers and rules that prevent people from moving around. Let—and even encourage—people to find ways to move around, to form bonds, and to create community. If they need some material assistance, that’s fine—but at their request, not top down.
Tradition – For too long, we have effectively given up on the idea of cities as places with a “sense of the sacred” and the eternal, in every sense from customs to silly jokes and accents to history. We need to change that. Instead of places mired in presentism and opportunity solely for this generation’s residents or visitors, we need to think more carefully about creating cities which truly embody the covenant between the dead, the living, and the unborn that Burke spoke so highly about.