Texas is a beautiful state, but you’d never know it by driving I-35 from Dallas to San Antonio.
We just had occasion to travel both up and down that long stretch of interstate highway, and can report that it is an unrelentingly ugly succession of oversized shopping centers, smoke-spewing factories and refineries, unfinished construction, unappealing apartment complexes, proliferating pornography shops, and an endless string of electrified signs screaming their crassly commercial messages from atop towering poles that blight the formerly scenic Texas horizon. Most of the buildings were obviously brand new, sometimes with old-fashioned touches but always with that up-to-minute modernity suggesting they are meant to be impermanent, and the surviving older structures were all in an unlovely state of disrepair, as if all the state’s energy wasbeing devoted to something newer if not better with no regard for preserving the small town charm of the recent past. There was nothing distinctively Texas about the new landscape, save for the Lone Star insignia affixed to all the concrete pillars of the countless new overpasses, as the outlet stores and restaurant chains and even the Texas Roadhouse franchises were identical to those that can be found along the urbanized highways of any other state in the union.
Our leftist friends will say that this is what unrestrained capitalism looks like, and it is most painful to admit that they might be right. The conservative can rightly counter that the once gloriously empty Texas plains are filling up with people because of the opportunities created by the state’s low-tax and laissez faire policies, and that the multiplicity of up-to-date businesses provide greater freedom of choice to the hard-working proletariat that has clearly prospered from the resulting booming economy, but even so there is no denying that the results along the interstate are not pleasing to the eye.
Which is not to say that some bossy know-it-all with a supposedly more refined aesthetic sensibility should be given the power to tell anybody else what to do with their legally acquired property. The sterile housing projects of the old Soviet bloc and the starkly concrete public works of almost any major city controlled by Democrat pols prove that central planning can be just as hideous as anything that private enterprise can spew out, and nothing currently on exhibit at the more prestigious galleries suggests that today’s cultural elite has anything better to offer. Nor does it make any sense to impoverish a people with burdensome regulations and authoritarian aesthetic regimes just to spruce up their surroundings.
There is no good reason, though, that a truly free market shouldn’t be at least a little easier on the eyes. The pretty old parts of town that lie beyond the interstate were the products of free men and women exercising their right to express their own tastes, and indeed their beauty derives from that very individualism, so the only explanation for the contrast is that people had better taste back then. Our leftist friends will have to admit that their side has long controlled the educational system which is supposed to teach some appreciation for beauty, no matter how much that admission might pain them, and an even more oppressive uniformity seems to be the inevitable outcome of the modern liberal’s agenda, so surely capitalism shouldn’t bear all the blame, but that doesn’t mean conservatives shouldn’t stop from time to time to consider how their creations will look along the interstate.
Capitalism is an essential cornerstone of conservatism, but it is by no means the only one. The conservative project is to conserve all good things that civilization has bequeathed to is current cohort of descendants, from the Judeo-Christian ethic to democratic republicanism to the best of art, archictecture, and commerce. Conservatives should resist the contemporary culture’s obsession with right now, push back against its disdain for the past and disregard for the future, and insist on something that will stand the test of time. They should insist on an economic model that doesn’t bankrupt the coming generations, they should fight for social policies that reflect the time-honored values of freedom and individualism, and they should strive for a more pleasant drive along the interstate.
— Bud Norman