Anyway, Gaius put up a limited defence of Raymond Hain yesterday in the comments that I promised to respond to. Here is what Gaius said:
If any community is the equivalent of a natural language, it's some small village or city, preindustrial, local. Modern communities are all intentionally shaped to some degree or another by technology, regulation, administration, etc. That is to say that we're all already speaking esperanto, or newspeak. Hain thinks he can bring us back to speaking a natural language, but unfortunately he is limited to the same bureaucratic, regulatory techniques that already form the way we live.Let me start by conceding the point that we all live in intentionally shaped communities. All sorts of regulations and even detailed planning go into these places. Whether this amounts to Esperanto communities is an interesting question. I also think we could make some fine and valuable distinctions about the kinds of planning or the kinds of regulation involved. But let's not go there this time.
Instead I want to try and focus on a particular question. We might ask ourselves, is the problem the amount of regulating of human life that Hain has in mind or is the problem built right into the nature of the project he proposes? To put it another way, is Hain proposing a project whose very goals would necessarily require Draconian intervention into human life to implement? Short answer: yes he is.
And here I have to credit Hain for already seeing the problem, although I don't think he sees it fully. Here is how he begins the last paragraph of his piece:
Nevertheless, these three arguments in defense of new urbanism also remind us just how difficult the new urbanist project is. If the most basic reason we need new urbanism is that we need to integrate our lives with the help of others, whom we, in turn, help to integrate their lives, and both activities are made more likely if we cannot isolate our failures and their consequences from the rest of our life, then we face an obvious obstacle. It looks like all this is only possible if enough people agree on the end, the general shape of human happiness as a whole, and this agreement on what matters most shapes and makes possible all the other integrative activities of our community.But, as he goes on to say, the very existence of suburbs suggest otherwise:
But what if we no longer agree on this (and, frankly, this seems exactly the situation we face today)? Bess reminds us that suburbia represents a turning away from public life towards private life. Front porches have become back decks, and public squares have disappeared. Suppose we were to rebuild those public squares, and all of us spent our evenings on our front porches. We might discover, to our dismay, that we had almost nothing to talk about.I don't want to go on too long, but what Hain is missing is that the kinds of communities people live in now have been worked out through millions of people making choices in the marketplace. Regulated and planned as our communities may be, people have quite a wide variety of choices and they have consistently chosen to live in communities unlike what new urbanists would prefer. It wouldn't just be very difficult to implement the new urbanist project, to do so in a serious way would mean merging onto the superhighway to serfdom.