It Started with a Dis…


In the beginning there was Wendell Berry.

The seed—well, a seed—from which Front Porch Republic sprouted was an October 2003 Liberty Fund conference in Savannah, Georgia, dedicated to the thought of the Kentucky poet-farmer-novelist-essayist-prophet.

All was collegial and bibulous—with Jeremy Beer and Jason Peters on hand how could it be otherwise?—until one of the final sessions, when a pleasant woman, an academic who was, shall we say, not in complete alignment with the Berry-lovers around the table, opined that Berry Road led straight to the Khmer Rouge.

Talk about a trigger!

Many things, among them friendship and a few books—but no replay of the Cambodian genocide, thank God–grew from that weekend in Savannah. One offshoot was a March 2007 conference on “Liberty, Community, and Place” held in Charlottesville, Virginia, and sponsored by ISI, which is to say the independent-minded Jeremy Beer. The ghost of the late-onset radical decentralist Thomas Jefferson, he of the ward republics, perfused the air, as new friendships formed and existing ones deepened.

Jeremy and Mark Mitchell should pick up the story from here. If I recall correctly—and I really ought to preface every recollection with that qualification—they launched FPR in the last days of winter 2009 in a fit of March Madness. (We were the longshot. No one had us in his or her bracket.)

I wasn’t aware until recently that FPR was almost named The Modest Republic, but that was scrapped, praise be, as it made it sound as if we were against short skirts for women, spiking the ball after touchdowns, etc. (Which I suppose some of us are. A thousand flowers bloom here.)

The Empire did not fall the day Front Porch Republic rose. But in 15 years FPR has done much more than simply add weight to the human scale. It has revivified the most humane and practical traditions in American social, cultural, economic, and political life and thought. Where else are Robert Nisbet and Dorothy Day and Jane Jacobs and Wendell Berry revered elders, part of Our Gang?

Years pass. I still feel about 25 inside—then I look in the mirror, the great disabuser. I know we’re supposed to repine over the allegedly fragile younger generation. But the sight of all these young people writing for FPR and attending the annual conferences and thinking and talking and living like the good neighbors and insubordinate Americans they were born to be is a great roborant, a restorer of faith in a darkling time. Hope abides, baby. It always does.

Despair is a sin, and it’s boring withal. The American Empire is dying, and good riddance to the soulless monster, for it is the foremost enemy of American people and places. As it collapses—like the Martians in H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds, but maybe instead of being laid low by a germ it is brought down by love?—what say we keep up the conviviality, the conversation, the exploration, the tending to graves and solicitude for our descendants? And the laughter, too. Laugh often: the Empire hates laughter.

Happy birthday, friends.

Image Credit: Eustache Le Sueur, “A Gathering of Friends” (1642) via Picryl

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