Magazine article The Spectator

Living in the Continuous Present

Magazine article The Spectator

Living in the Continuous Present

Article excerpt

Living in the continuous present

Alastair Goodlad

TOWN AND COUNTRY edited by Anthony Barnett and Roger Scruton Cape, 12.99, pp. 288

Town and Country is a collection of 30 essays edited by Anthony Barnett, who describes himself as a dedicated cosmopolitan, left-wing townie, and Roger Scruton, the country-dwelling Conservative philosopher and polymath. The editors see themselves as coming from different ends of the political spectrum but sharing a concern for the long-term perspective and a desire for negotiated rather than dictated solutions. The essays have their origin in a meeting convened by Scruton to discuss three issues that concerned him: the potential effects on the countryside of chemically driven agribusiness, the plan for four million new homes, and the mounting hostility to foxhunting.

The meeting led to the establishment of the Town and Country Forum, bringing together a group of experts qualified to discuss the future of town and country and the relations between them. The contributors to the book were chosen for the relevance of their arguments rather than their conclusions, and their interests range as widely as their political opinions -- anthropology, historiography, politics, economics, literature, music, geography, philosophy, architectural history, planning, journalism, teaching, farming and veterinary surgery. The editors believe that the issues touched on in the book are so deep and important that they should not be surrendered to what they see as the short-term view of party politics. The objective is to show, by stimulating a wide-ranging public debate, how town and country can grow, flourish and supply each other's needs in the modern world.

The debate is conducted in terms varying from the rancorous to the high-flown sometimes out of shot. Anthropomorphism, anthropocentrism, social entropy, participative democracy, concepts of history, envrionmentalism, Englishness, the urban jackboot, nature worship, the heritage, nostalgia and pet industries, urban decay and regeneration, car dependence, electronic road-pricing, patterns of travel,. the planning process, the National Trust, the CPRE, the veterinary profession, light pollution, genetic engineering, regional decentralisation, the culture of Maff ('More Aid to Farmers Fast') - all are on the palimpsest to resolve our mutual incomprehension - even funerary practices:

The line between the living and the dead is now broken, particularly in cities, and perhaps for the first time in human history we are in danger of creating a culture lived in the continuous present, with the past eradicated or denied in modern urban architecture and planning, and the future similarly rendered off limits by the reaction against all forms of teleological or utopian idealism. …

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