You are here

Salingaros interview

I interview the mathematician and architectural theorist Nikos Salingaros at the Philadelphia Society website. He goes into a variety of topics relating to his recent writings, including the evolution of living form, the cluelessness of modern man, the perfidies of the evil oligarchs. and what it all means for politics and religion.

Share/Save

Comments

Great interview!

In a previous blog entry Jim Kalb wrote “At bottom, the liberal principles that have determined the direction of mainstream moral and political discussion in recent decades are quite simple. They hold that value is based on individual desire, and morality on the equal essential worthiness of those desires. It’s human preferences that make things good, and since preferences are equally preferences, everything thought good must equally be good.”

This seems to be a good and useful definition of liberalism, and does well serving an analysis of many of the complexities of a liberal society. I wonder how the definition is consistent, however, with Salingaros’ theories about modern architecture and how it shows animosity toward human nature. Such a phenomenon in architecture seems to contradict the liberal mantra of human preferences and desires as the ultimate good. If modern architecture is actually inimical to the human senses, as Salingaros demonstrates, it seems that a liberal society would reject it in favor of something more desirable to humans.

I suppose one answer is that modern architecture is modernist rather than specifically liberal.

Modernism denies natural form, essence, and purpose, so that human will becomes the standard. The liberal version of modernism has generally won out in politics and moral thought. That version notes that all wills are equally wills, so they have an equal claim to satisfaction, so maximum equal preference satisfaction becomes the standard.

There are of course other forms of modernism, like Nazism, fascism, and Bolshevism. They tell us that it’s not everyone’s will but rather the will of the stronger, meaning the stronger race, nation, class, or party—as a practical matter, the will of the Leader—that sets the standard.

Modernist architecture has more to do with the latter version of modernism. A work of art has to be distinct and energetic and the latter version gives a more distinct and energetic result than the liberal version. Also, an expression of the will of the dominant gives people who run things the chance to express how they really feel about things without denying outright the pieties to which they appeal to justify their position.

I should mention that liberalism itself doesn’t stay altogether liberal. The goal is free human preferences but in order to fit the preferences into a manageable system you have to define unmanageable preferences as illegitimate or pathological or whatever. We’re only allowed to prefer things that fit into the system–career, consumption, private hobbies and indulgences. Those aren’t the things people usually value most highly, so maintaining the appearance of freedom requires a lot of propaganda and conditioning.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

My sense is that the ‘modernist’ turn in art and architecture - when artists stopped trying to create beauty and instead did various other things (create shock, disgust, social comment, revolutionary politics, exemplificiation of arbitrary abstract theories etc) was an instance of the Left/ Liberal/ PC movement of thought which affected Beauty before it affected Virtue and finally Truth.

So art was hit and overwhelmed by modernity first, followed by morality, and only in the past few decades was philosophy/ science subverted. I mean in mainstream popular discourse - not in the works of the major intellectuals.

So modern art and music came to dominate in the first decades of the 20th century, then the first totalitarian regimes closely followed within another decade or two, then the subversion of philosophy and science (and academia , education and government discourse) became generally evident only from the mid-1960s.

Why this order? Perhaps because beauty is perceived to be more subjective or simply less important - dispensible; morality is substantially natural and spontaneous (and needs more thorough education); while science and technology were the basis of the existence of modernity and so truthfulness survived until the process of insanity was far advanced and all standards of evaluation had vanished at which the process of the suicide of modernity began in earnest.

At this advanced level of modernity it increasingly ignored individual satisfaction in favour of an abstract focus. It is now possible for modernity to simply follow its logic while merely asserting via the mass media that the population is gratified - the mass media is now so pervasive, dominant, vast and varied that it has displaced instinct.

e.g. Apparently at least 1/3 of British younger people have voluntarility and permanently disfigured themselves with tattoos - especially women - and these markings are becoming ever larger and have extended onto the neck and even the face.

Tattooing in the modern context and of the modern type is a basic act of aggression against spontaneous human ideas of beauty: it is strong evidence of the extreme takeover of instinct by arbitrary inversions of ‘fashion’ - yet a fashion that is irreversible, de facto permanent. Tatooing is, in a sense, the democratization and internalization of the universal Western imposition by the intellectual elite of brutalist architecture in public buildings.

People are not any more striving for beauty, nor even for gratification; but are engaged in a nihilistic destruction of beauty - in the environment and in themselves. The source of nihilism is pride - and therefore evil. All these matters (subversion of beauty, virtue and truth) are, in a nutshell, aspects of the triumph of evil; the adoption of evil as a norm.

(Not so much that evil is now quantitatively more dominant than in the past - this is hard to ‘measure’ but that evil is now the objective; good is not being sought, indeed good is regarded as a meaningless (arbitrary, subjective, culture-bound, temporally labile) concept: which is simply another way of stating that evil is triumphant).

Was the sequence reversed at the highest level? It seems you had radicalism in abstract thought (the early modern philosophers, and before them people like Occam) before you had articulate political radicalism (Sade and Marx), with artistic radicalism last of all. I remember Burke saying something about how revolutionary politics just wouldn’t play on stage, because in the theater audiences follow their natural feelings.

Today it seems beauty is considered not only meaningless but oppressive, since it presents a standard that obstructs the will. Hence the will to violate.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

I agree that among intellectuals the sequence does seem to be the opposite. It is interesting to speculate why.

Perhaps abstracting intellectuals are intrinsically less concerned with truth than with beauty - rather like Hesse’s Glass Bead Game players: playing with ideas for aesthetic satisfaction, enjoying the tension between their formal schemes and concrete reality?

The general population, by contrast, are perhaps intrinsically less appreciative of complex aesthetics, being focused on primary beauties like children, the opposite sex, nature, good food etc; yet are perhaps more ‘common-sensical’ about facts?

(And of course, spontaneous common sense regards as obvious facts many thing that most intellectuals regard as nonsense; such as spirits, prophetic dreams, life beyond death).

The non-intellectual classes simply ignore or put up with ‘modern art’ - in no sense have they been converted to it; in no sense do they regard it as actually beautiful or desirable - and popular art (including the decoration of people’s own houses) has quite different characteristics, when choices are available. People visit natural beauties, old buildings, buy realistic art, prefer to live in traditional houses etc.

To my mind the sequence of development shows that man is indeed a rational animal. In the long run it is the most basic concepts—the most basic categories through which we make sense of ourselves and the world—that determine all else. It also shows the importance of elites and indeed the elite of the elite. It matters a great deal what position ultimately wins arguments as you go up the intellectual hierarchy. (That, incidentally, is why religious hierarchy and orthodoxy have been considered so important in the Catholic tradition.)

Rem tene, verba sequentur.