Wednesday, March 07, 2012

They Who Live In Cities

Cities are contradictions in themselves. A city brings thoughts together, it aggregates and transmits and disperses ideas. But a city also breeds close-quarters interaction, where difference becomes more important if one is not to lose one's identity. The polis then requires laws, regulations, social niceties — the polis must become a civis, the Greek democracy must become a Roman republic.

Cities militate against the rights of man. As one famous saying goes, free will ends where the reach of a hand meets the skin of a face. Free will and free expression are bound at the very least by the free will and expression of others. In a city, that physical landscape within which the metaphysical landscape moves, it means people are less free — they keep coming too close to each other.

And so humans may only enjoy the fullest extent of their rights when they are alone, separate from the logical demands of each other human. No man is an island, wrote Donne — but the hidden message in that meditation is obvious: nobody is free, and in a city, one is free least of all.

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