Walker looked at America today and saw his rich friends building their metaphorical buildings with gates on the outside and discos indoors. Gated communities. Home theaters. Private schools. Private jets. Privately run public parks. Private world-saving behind the backs of those to be saved. “Life goes more and more behind the gate,” he said. “More and more of our civic activities and public activities become private activities.” Inequality gave some the resources to build their own discos and sequester themselves indoors. But it took the further ingredient of culture to make this way of life desirable. People chose to live in this way when they lacked faith in what lay beyond their gates—in the public. They felt this way when “public” had been allowed to tumble to lower status than “private” in our imaginations, in a reversal of their historic rankings: There was a time, as the legal scholar Jedediah Purdy has observed, when we loved “public” enough to place our most elevated hopes in republics, and when “private” reminded us of its cousins “privation” and “deprived.” An achievement of modernity has been its gradual persuasion of citizens to expand the circle of their concern beyond family and tribe, to encompass the fellow citizen. Inequality was reversing that, eating away at Walker’s beloved country.
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