In the modern day, old orders are forced to give way to new ones. This is the inevitable process of capitalism. In 1942, Joseph Schumpeter coined a phrase for this, that apparently became a buzzword in the dot-com boom of the 1990s. He called it “creative destruction.” It is a “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one” (http://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/creativedestruction.asp).
As I was reading further in Greenspan’s Age of Turbulence, he illustrated the opposite of this principle on a holiday with his wife in Venice. “Venice, I realized, is the antithesis of creative destruction. It exists to conserve and appreciate the past, not create a future. But that, I realized, is exactly the point. The city caters to a deep human need for stability and permanence as well as beauty and romance. Venice’s popularity represents one pole of a conflict in human nature: the struggle between the desire to increase material well-being and the desire to ward off change and its attendant stress” (181).
There we have it again. A deep human need for the once-familiar and once-enjoyed ‘rootedness.’ We wish we could have it again, and enjoy what once was – true community. “Sometimes you want to go / where everybody knows your name, / and they’re always glad you came.”
The Anstruther of Thomas Chalmers’ childhood was his Venice. It hadn’t changed in his memory, and it would never change in that sense. Only, Chalmers wasn’t going to let Anstruther remain locked up in the past or remain only as a quaint tourist attraction for future generations. He fully realized that the idyllic parish community of his childhood would never remain exactly the same; yet he sought to transplant its essential features to the slums of St. John’s in Glasgow and the West Port in Edinburgh. That is, I think, part of the genius of Chalmers. In an age of change, he didn’t pay homage to creative destruction. He reckoned with its reality, yes – perhaps successfully, perhaps not so successfully. But the past was worth preserving; or better, the past was worth reimplementing.