Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Five Reasons the World Today is Ugly

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the iconoclasm of the leftist protestors in our cities. There is one tragedy in this phenomenon that I didn’t mention, namely, that on the whole, they are destroying beauty, and creating ugliness and disorder (the two are intimately connected).
As if to make the point, here is a video from Alain de Botton at the School of Life entitled 5 Reasons the Modern World is Ugly. I have one or two quibbles with his arguments, but broadly, I agree with what he says, although I am perhaps less inclined to make classicism the main cause of beauty in the West. I would say that classicism’s integration with Judeo-Christian values is the driving force, with Christianity being the primary driver.

In this, he clearly lays the blame on “modernists” such as the Austrian architectural theorist Adolf Loos, who, as de Botton puts it “forget human nature.”
Adolf Loos’ essay, Ornament and Crime was influential in pushing modernism into architecture
This is charitable. They do not forget human nature; they deny it. At ithe root of their worldview is the same materialism that drives the leftists. He also points out how the ideas of the elites were seized upon by property developers, who took the opportunity not to have to worry about building beautifully while being immune from criticism. The tragedy is that in their search for a “pure” utility, they couldn’t even guarantee that: a modernist, flat-roofed building is more likely to let in the rain than a traditional design.

Ironically, as he points out, this has led to the situation that only the old buildings are beautiful, and the demand for them is so high that only the elites such as university intellectuals and property developers can afford to live in them.

What is gratifying about this video is that de Botton is using rational arguments to support a traditional culture of beauty, but is not to my knowledge Christian or a believer in God. (This is perhaps the reason for his tendency to overemphasize, as I see it, ancient Greece and Rome as the primary driver of traditional beauty, rather than Christianity). It suggests a growing clamor for an end to our sterile, grey city centers.

A cursory look at the School of Life, which produced this and a whole range of other videos has the following stated aims:
At The School of Life, we’re devoted to helping people lead calmer and more resilient lives. We share ideas on how to understand ourselves better, improve our relationships, take stock of our careers, and deepen our social connections - as well as find serenity and grow more confident in facing challenges.
It seems that when human happiness - which is essentially what they are seeking - is the goal, then, as de Botton puts it, beauty is “as much as a necessity as a functional roof'.”

The corollary is also true: when the goal is discord, violence, and misery, - as it is for Marxists - then ugliness is as much a necessity as a dysfunctional roof.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: