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Farewell to the Imperial City

We should not forget the people on the rightward edge of Washington’s bell curve.

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The US Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, on March 16, 2022, across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. (Photo by STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

I have speculated often, in the course of the last three years, that Washington, D.C., must have the lowest average I.Q. of any city in America. I am not much for numbers, and I doubt my theory will ever be verified by the kind of people who are. But it’s a strong hunch, and those are usually correct.

For one thing, nowhere else in the country have I ever seen so many drivers go the wrong way down a one-way street. And the ten-directional cluster that ensues each time the offending hatchback tries to back up into an intersection is as good an illustration as any of how these people run the government.

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Yet there is another side to the city I’ve grown accustomed to calling home. For better and worse, Washington, D.C., is the capital of the most powerful empire this world has ever seen. Some truly gifted people have been drawn there, and bring with them all the varied experiences of the provinces. You just won’t have much luck finding them within a block of a government building (or any major think tank, for that matter).

I fled the capital for Texas this week, and hope that my departure might bump the average back up a little. I will not miss much from my sojourn there, but I will miss these people: the bright, honorable patriots who inhabit the imperial capital alongside unfireable midwit bureaucrats and slush-brained consultants with six-figure salaries. Washington may seem like a city of idiots because, on balance, it is; but we should not forget the people on the rightward edge of its bell curve.

The quirks of averaging come out on other rightward edges, too. When I would go home to Massachusetts, the cradle of American conservatism, people would always comment on how hard it must be to live in a lowdown left-wing cesspit like D.C. That was true in some ways; I will not miss the rodents or the vagrants or the slowly collapsing ceiling of my studio apartment. The capital is marked by all the dysfunction and misadministration that are stereotypical of blue America. But for all the talk of Bowserland as a bastion of progressivism—not to mention that old, reliable nuisance: statistical evidence—I never found it to be so.

In Babylon on the Potomac I found the densest, deepest concentration of lovable America-Firsters I expect to meet in my life. Granted, this is not the norm for the city; it is not even the norm for its Republican minority. The median right-winger in the capital city might be something like Ben Sasse in drag. But the mean right-winger reads reactionary European political philosophy and has the Pat Buchanan pitchfork picture framed above his mantle; his wardrobe ranges from MAGA gear to tweed; he has a few close-held opinions he won’t voice near any Apple products, and there is a pretty good chance he hears the old Mass every Sunday. It may seem counterintuitive to those who have never lived there, but there are enough true believers—enough real wingnuts—to shift the center of gravity in pockets of D.C. well to the right of red America.

Joining that community comes with real costs. You have to leave your home, your family, at least for a little while. The pay is no good, and you might get shot walking home any given day. The capital is, in many ways, a city without culture. Its museums are overfunded, overrated, and underwhelming. Its restaurants range from sad to downright criminal. Don’t let anyone tell you Le Diplomate is fine dining. For a city packed with squares and major parks, it is shockingly devoid of true communal spaces. For a town filled with history and littered with monuments, it is absolutely lacking in tradition.

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It is not, in any conventional sense, a great city. It is even further from a good city. Yet there is no place I would sooner advise an ambitious young American to go.

This is more out of necessity than anything. You can—and should—resist leviathan in Steubenville, in Miami, in Moscow, in Dallas; but you can only really fight it in D.C. That is, you can only really fight and have a chance at winning if you come to strike leviathan in the head. At the risk of stating the obvious: if we don’t come to Washington, everyone will be in Washington but us.

This is some shopworn American wisdom—the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, et cetera—but it is true. Some of our best and brightest will have to hunker down where they are: to lead towns, to farm land, to raise families, and to build up little sanctuaries across a continent in decline. Some will serve the Church, as some of the best and brightest always have and always must.

But some will enter the contest for the reins of the empire itself, and though it is a dirty business we should not dissuade them from it. It is a contest that is very much alive, very much undecided; its energy alone makes D.C., for all its faults, irresistibly magnetic to a certain kind of person.

A word of advice to that right kind of person: swallow your pride, swallow your sense, and join the fight. America’s next decisive generation will spend its formative years convening in the watering holes of D.C., observing the fall of the old order in real time and discussing (at first in whispers) what a restoration might look like. It is a vibrant subculture that has already begun to take form, like the first decisive generation’s councils in the taverns of Philadelphia, beneath the notice of a bumbling empire. Like that earlier incarnation, what began as a whisper may even come to define the time and place in which it went almost unnoticed.

And if any of you need suggestions for the bar, I happen to know a couple of decent spots.

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