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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Sunday March 08 2009

This guy, who blogs from a “Libertarian Perspective”, left a comment on this, and I followed up the link he supplied to his own blog.  He is a Randian, that much is very clear.  But, like many Randians, he is not a completely blind follower of her (or perhaps it’s not a completely informed follower of her), because Rand herself abominated the word “libertarian”.

Randism, and with it the libertarian movement in general, gathers strength.  This new blog, started only this February, is a yet another straw in the gale.

I should now supply some Rand-related profundities, but I now tend to prefer gibbering about such things as Sheffield and potato crisps.  Commenters?

My most severe criticisms of Rand centre around architecture, i.e. on the principles she expounded in The Fountainhead, probably because architecture ("modern" architecture in particular) happens to be something I know quite a bit about.

Very briefly, just as a for-instance, Rand did not understand how architectural traditions embody knowledge.  Or traditions generally, for that matter (such as the traditions of good manners).  Hayek is hugely better on this kind of this.  Fountainhead hero Howard Roark, in order to be the perfect architect that Rand assures us he is, had to know everything and to have learned everything, all by himself, by going back to first principles.  Not possible.  Or as Patrick Crozier would put it (see potato crisp photograph comment below):  Not.  Possible.

Going back to first principles - i.e. to whatever damn-fool principles happen to enter an architect’s head without the moderating, error-avoiding influence of architectural tradition - is one of the many things that went wrong with architecture in the twentieth century.  To offer such thinking as a cure, when actually it is a big part of the disease, is absurd.

The problem was that architectural traditions had been destroyed by “Modern Movement” modernists of the European fascist/socialist sort, just as these people had pissed all over traditions of every other sort.  But the answer was not to collude with and welcome this destruction.  It was to reconnect architectural modernism (and modern life generally) with architectural tradition (and tradition generally).  (And I am not a “Conservative” because Conservatives are, on the whole, extremely bad at doing this.  They have a fatal tendency to ossify tradition rather than to renew it, and to make defying tradition illegal or following tradition compulsory.  Wrong.  Libertarianism is, I think, a superior tradition to the tradition of Conservatism.)

By “tradition”, I don’t necessarily mean (in architecture) making modern buildings look like ancient ones, although I definitely do include that kind of thing.  More generally, I mean following building recipes that accomplish things like avoiding leaking or collapsing roofs, and avoiding great ugly stains all over the outside of a building, below the windows for instance.

As Hayek would himself have pointed out if he had ever turned his mind to such matters, many so-called “classical” architectural devices are often impeccably functional, in this kind of way (in rather the same way that apparently irrational religious restrictions turn out, all unknown to those who follow them, to embody impeccably modern medical wisdoms, which Hayek did write about).  Classical motifs often, for example, turn the menace of moisture-staining on the outside of a building into something more like carefully guided make-up, which positively emphasises what the architect has done as the building ages.  This explains why cleaning an ancient building often makes it look worse and less characterful.  Contrast this with how modern buildings often look their best only during the first summers of their lives, when all the pictures are taken and the prizes awarded, but from then on rapidly become squalid and soiled monstrosities.  You see these tendencies - good and bad - everywhere you go in a city like London.  (And by the way, it is usually no answer merely to make the building look unmodern, so to speak.  With this kind of thing, you have to know what you doing, which in practice means that you have to have been taught.)

To bring this back to Rand, let me put the above like this, as I often have before, in bloggery and in conversation: I prefer that Roark-designed skyscraper with the ancient front door slapped on the front of it. Big front doors serve a purpose, as modernists have in recent years been busily rediscovering.  They tell you where the front door is!  Doh!  Forgetting about a thing like that is utterly typical of back-to-first principles Modernism.  What is the “function”, shreak the Modernists, of a big old ornate front door?  They give it thirty seconds thought and can’t think of a decent answer.  So, they get rid of the entire front door.  Did Rand herself give her hostility to big front doors for extremely big buildings much more thought than that?  I seriously doubt it.

Oh dear.  I’ve just been profound.  Oh well, that’s blogging for you.  You start out just waffling, but almost before you know it, you find you’ve actually said something.