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The building of tyranny

If our built environment is an image of what we believe about the world generally, then the ways the modernist ideology is imposed and maintained in architecture must be part of a more general process. With that in mind, this short essay by a Norwegian urbanist with a legal background takes on considerable interest even apart from its particular concern: why architectural modernism is so dominant when everybody hates it.

The answer seems to be that modernism overall is a totalitarian ideology that demands the remaking of human life in accordance with principles determined by bureaucracies, committees, and those claiming special expertise. The process requires rejection of normal ways of looking at things as relevant to how life should be carried on, a rejection that makes the authority of the official principles and those who propound them absolute. If you want respect and career advancement—if you want to be part of the ruling class—you have to buy into the ideology and its rejection of normal thoughts and feelings. It’s simply part of the price of admission.

As a ruling class ideology, modernism is backed by the usual means through which such things are maintained and enforced: control of the educational system, informal sanctions such as shaming of dissenters, nonstop propaganda, often funded by government, and so on. In particular, the people have to be bludgeoned into submission. For that purpose the incomprehensibility or downright absurdity of the propositions insisted on and the weakness of their official justifications is a feature and not a bug. It drives home the point that these things are not up for discussion.

Lord Shang, a Chinese political thinker of the Warring States period, thought the people should be punished for praising the government. He thought they had no business forming any view whatever on matters of state. Government by experts—which is part of modernism—establishes that same principle. The people know nothing and can know nothing, we are told in effect, so they should shut up and accept whatever experts say.

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