The Above Ground Underground

The first time I heard of modern supper clubs was from John Derbyshire. I don’t recall the specifics, just that he said he was a member of one in New York City. I want to say it was in one of his podcasts, but I don’t recall. That’s not important. I was surprised to learn such things were still going on. It seemed like a thing Victorians would do or perhaps rich people in the roaring twenties. When I think of supper clubs, I think of something clandestine and subversive, the sorts of things popular with heretics.

I decided to see if any of these things existed in my part of the world and sure enough, they were around and not very secret about it. One of my business acquaintances is in one that meets once a month. They have invited speakers who give a short talk and then socialize with the club members. In the case of my acquaintance, the theme of the club is civic activism. They help get rich people involved in various causes to improve the city or get some law changes they think needs changing.

Anyway, I saw this and was reminded of Derb’s clandestine supper club. It turns out they are not legal and perhaps even subversive, in a  strange modern way. Because everything in modern life is regulated, especially in a place like New York, not getting permission to have dinner with friends is something close to an act of treason. I suppose the next time we hear from John Derbyshire will be in the police blotter. It sounds absurd, but this is New York City. They want to regulate the amount of soda you can drink.

All joking aside, it is one of those little things, a blade of grass stabbing through the asphalt, that encourages me a bit. Tocqueville found American’s obsession with what he called associations to be an important part of what made American liberty work:

The political associations that exist in the United States are only a single feature in the midst of the immense assemblage of associations in that country. Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds, religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society. Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.

The fact that even in New York City, citizens are willing to commit little acts of subversion in league with others, often strangers, says the flame of liberty has not been extinguished entirely. Granular control of the lives of the citizenry has a cost, as people just won’t cooperate. The current arrangements cannot last and that means they will not last. The question is what comes next. If these little dinner clubs are any indication, maybe what comes next will not be so bad, perhaps even better than what we see now.

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10 years ago

Don’t get too optimistic.

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