The classic American path to technological success has been for driven tinkerers to obsessively work to solve a problem, from Eli Whitney to Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs. Such men strove to enrich themselves while benefiting others. SAM, the tale of one Scott Peters and his ten-year attempt to create a bricklaying robot, narrates such a story. True, his attempt was mostly unsuccessful, but then, most such attempts are. And in modern America, when excellence and achievement have been traded in wholesale for less-than-worthless “diversity and inclusion,” his is an inspiring tale.
I am a Sohrab Ahmari fanboy. I endorse his recent full-throated calls for creation of a post-liberal future, and admire that he has boldly claimed the mantle of leadership. What matter if Ahmari’s prescriptions are not yet fully coherent? The mark of a true leader is one who can inspire others to follow him. A man who claims to know with precision every step along the way, and the solution for every problem, is an ideologue or a grifter, not a man of destiny. This short book, Ahmari’s first, though barely three years old, is interesting primarily not for its topic, the ideological degradation of contemporary art. Rather, it’s interesting for what it shows about the arc of Ahmari’s thinking, about the march of post-liberalism, and about how art relates to post-liberalism.
High architecture, that of grand buildings, is a bridge between God and man, and a sinew binding state and people, the ruling class and the masses. Low architecture, that of daily living and daily use, is key to satisfaction in the life of a populace. Thus, a coherent and uplifting architecture, high and low, is, and has always been, necessary for any successful society. I will return below to what architecture we should have, why, and what needs to be done to achieve it. Today, though, we most definitely don’t have a coherent and uplifting architecture, and James Stevens Curl, in Making Dystopia, explains what the abomination of Modernism is and why it utterly dominates our current architecture.
I have always found structural engineering fascinating, though I’m a consumer of the results, not a producer like Roma Agrawal. No doubt the life of a structural engineer is number crunching, not glamour. But the result is something useful to mankind, and even sometimes beautiful, so it must be satisfying for an engineer to see what he creates. Both facets of the engineering life come through in Agrawal’s book, Built, an upbeat look at engineering through the lens of her career, though the book is marred by some ideologically driven fictions.
This long but smoothly written book, by the very recently deceased John Julius Norwich, scion of English nobility, covers more than a thousand years of Venetian history. Nowadays Venice is mostly known as an overloaded tourist destination, or as a victim of environmental degradation, rather than as the world power it was for most of its history. Norwich, who loved the city and talks in detail not only about its past but also its architecture, often tying the two together, ably restores the place of Venice in history. And in so doing, he manages to both be interesting and to show us viable alternatives to the dead end into which “liberal democracy” has led us.
This book, a brief work of cultural history, outlines four parallel aspects of three political systems: the American New Deal, Italian Fascism, and German Nazism. The point of Three New Deals is that these political systems shared core similarities in certain programmatic manifestations. The author, Wolfgang Schivelbusch, fortunately does not claim that the three systems were essentially the same. He offers, instead, a discussion of the interplay between the governed and the governors in each of these systems—how each shaped the other, in ways that can be compared and contrasted across systems. The result is a book of modest interest from which, perhaps, something more can be spun. While cultural history is interesting, my purpose is not to examine Three New Deals as a view on the past, but as an onramp to the future. What applicable lessons, what tools, can we learn from this look at the troubled 1930s, when, like now, liberal democracy seemed like a dying system? By lessons, I do not mean pedagogical lessons, helping us to get liberal democracy back …
Billed as a continuation, this book is really the chiral image of Michael Walsh’s earlier book, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace. That book was an attempt, with limited success, to outline and discuss the poisonous Frankfurt School of political philosophy, Critical Theory, through the prism of art. This book, on the other hand, aims to discuss art, with Critical Theory as the subtext. It is a largely successful attempt to outline and discuss the unparalleled genius of Western art, in its historical context and with its historical implications, and thereby to “restore Western culture to its proper place.” That restoration is necessary for our culture to cauterize the venomous bite of the Frankfurt School, whose view of art as politics, and of Western culture as worthless and evil, must be rejected if the West is to regain its path.
I read this book because it seemed like it would be an interesting companion to James Burnham’s “Suicide of the West.” Burnham’s book explains and analyzes the ideology of American liberalism, circa 1960. “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace” in a sense continues that story; it explains how that liberalism discovered the Critical Theory leftism of the Frankfurt School, and like Gollum discovering the One Ring, did not benefit from the discovery. “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace” is, indeed, somewhat interesting. But it generally fails at explanation and analysis, instead being mostly a rambling diatribe preaching to the converted.
Although the author, Stephen Mouzon, would doubtless not be happy to hear it, “Traditional Construction Patterns” is best viewed as supplement/complement to Marianne Cusato’s “Get Your House Right.” But I do recommend the book, if only because it is one of the few books on the market (though it is quite expensive) that covers this material. If you are planning on building a house based on traditional architecture, you should definitely get this book and focus on it. If you are just interested in the topic, you should stick to Cusato.
How can you go wrong with an architecture book where the forward is written by Prince Charles? Yes, the Prince is a political imbecile. But he is an excellent architectural expert and critic, and one of the first to push back against the fetid tide of architectural Modernism. (You can tell that he’s good on architecture from the vicious attacks on him conducted by the priests of Modernism.) He famously compared part of the new British Library to an academy for secret policemen. And the Prince enthusiastically recommends this book, which should mean something.