I don’t usually buy books about urban planning, but “The Twilight of Cities” (1962) by E.A. Gutkind recently caught my eye at a Salvation Army thrift store. Something about that title…
A quick perusal of the pages revealed more than the history of cities and proposed ideas for designing better urban living centers (decentralized, was Gutkind’s vision). To my surprise and delight, E. A. Gutkind inserted a few gems of what might best be classified as “social commentary.”
Knowing a little something about E.A. Gutkind is necessary to fully understand the quotes I am about to share with you.
Erwin Anton Gutkind was born in Berlin Germany in 1886. He became an architect of repute. Most of the buildings he designed in Germany are still standing, and are designated as historical treasures. But E.A. had a personal “problem” that prompted him to leave Germany in 1935. He was Jewish.
Gutkind was, evidently, an intelligent man. He saw the handwriting on the wall. He got himself out out of Germany before the Nazi ascendency started herding Jews into the ghettos; before it was too late to get out. He went first to Paris, then to London and, in 1956, he ended up in America. He taught at the University of Pennsylvania. He authored several books before his death in 1968. (my thanks to Wikipedia)
It so happens that sociology is an integral part of urban planning. Sociology is “the systematic study of the development, structure, interaction, and collective behavior of organized groups of human beings.” The sociological insights of E. A. Gutkind were, no doubt, influenced by his own personal observations and experiences. And now, 57 years after E.A. Gutkind wrote the following four quotes, his insights are profoundly pertinent to our times…
“Two antagonistic attitudes are visible today. There are the eternal conformists, who are ready to accept the ascendency of the State as an unavoidble fact, and consequently will listen to even the most superficial slogans with which a superficial propagnda tries to dull their independent judgment. But there are also those who are conscious of their own individuality and refuse to be lulled into the security of an easy conformity. These eternal rebels against the leveling embrace of group bondage under the cover of patriotism, nationalism, professional interests, and the like are ready to rely on their own responsibility and their own strength.”E.A. Gutkind, from “The Twilight of Cities” (1962)
“… The exponents of contemporary religion are money and material success. Their seats of power, their temples, are concentrated in the centers of cities, from which their high priests, the leaders of banking and commerce, manipulate the life of the masses. Cities of the past were built around temples and churches, palaces and town halls, as meaningful centers of society. They were small in scale, and organic entities. Today, the city centers, with their banks, insurance companies, and commercial palaces, are the strongholds of a fractional mass society, vast in scale and amorphous in structure.”E.A. Gutkind, from “The Twilight of Cities” (1962)
“Hence, we see the almost unlimited gullibility of the masses and the standardized manner in which they make use of their daily leisure. They watch the same films; they listen to the same radio programs; they read the same magazines filled with mediocre articles on “what the public wants.” In other words, their leisure is prefabricated for them, and psychological mass manipulation has a field day.”E.A. Gutkind, from “The Twilight of Cities” (1962)
“From the cities, growing more and more amorphous economically and socially, there have been spreading forces that exert an ever-increasing impact on the rural areas, disintegrating old ways of living and creating a new attitude toward life. These forces are moving toward the same goal, toward an integration of all parts of large regions. This development will grow in intensity and lead to unity in diversity encompassing whole countries.”E.A. Gutkind, from “The Twilight of Cities” (1962)
Few people care to resist the “security of easy conformity.” To do so requires an understanding of mass sociological manipulation, as employed by government, industry, and various special interests. To resist is to stand out from the crowd. To resist is to invite criticism, or worse.
But, from my perspective as a follower of Jesus Christ, resistance to the secular zeitgeist is integral to my faith. It is, I hasten to say, a passive, personal, and even respectful resistance. But it is resistance nonetheless.