Billy Bragg, one of my favorite singers once upon a time, had the following lines which came back to me recently:
To take the precious things we have apart
To see how they work
Must be resisted for they never fit together again
(“Must I Paint You a Picture”)
He was talking about love affairs – and describing the sort of affair those of my generation experienced so commonly, left on our own with no pressure to make a commitment, and indeed encouraged to “experiment.” I imagine the scenario is no less common today.
Yet the warning applies equally to the reckless stresses we are placing on our society. A conservative thought from Bragg, whose political philosophy was nevertheless precisely that described by Robert Frost in the following lines:*
A Case for Jefferson
Harrison loves my country too,
But wants it all made over new.
He’s Freudian Viennese by night.
By day he’s Marxian Muscovite.
It isn’t because he’s Russian Jew.
He’s Puritan Yankee through and through.
He dotes on Saturday pork and beans.
But his mind is hardly out of his teens:
With him the love of country means
Blowing it all to smithereens
And having it all made over new.
A nice description of the radical impulse! I believe Frost was thinking of the radical 1920s or maybe ’30s here.
The compulsion to destroy seems to rule our society today – though there is now much less of any solid society remaining to be smashed. Let’s hope for a revival of the conservative impulse – to save what we can of what we have left.