From Bauhaus to Our House

Tom Wolfe’s delightfully savage 1981 account of the rise of modern architecture, From Bauhaus to Our House, remains as relevant today as ever. Most of all it provides a fascinating insight into the bizarre and disturbing ways in which cultural elites work.

The roots of the horror that is modernist architecture go back to the early years of the 20th century, a time when the worlds of art, literature and music were all beginning to embrace the cult of modernism. In architecture things really got going when Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus. 
Of course no-one actually wanted the bleak, depressing and ugly architecture promoted by the Bauhaus. The only clients these architects got were socialist governments wanting to build housing for the workers. The workers, naturally, were not asked how they felt about having to live in these architectural horrors.
Modernist architecture got its big break when suddenly these European architects, people like Gropius and Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, arrived in the United States as refugees in the 30s. As Wolfe puts out, they were welcomed like great white gods who had consented to come down to earth and dwell among mortals. American architectural schools were falling over themselves to employ these godlike beings and young American architects eagerly abandoned any thought of trying to create distinctively American architecture in favour of a slavish colonial devotion to whatever the Europeans told them was the latest thing.
The result of all this was the abomination that became known as the International Style. Boxes. Boxes of glass, steel and concrete. 
The Bauhaus had been a kind of arty compound, cut off from the real world. The emphasis, as with modernist painting, was on theory. It was not necessary for the Bauhaus architects to have the buildings they designed actually built. Buildings that only ever existed on paper were just as good as real buildings. This emphasis on theory was something they brought to America with them. Getting academic posts was what counted. Once the modernists dominated the schools they could ensure that the International Style became the only approved style. It was the new orthodoxy and it was to be enforced.
An exclusive focus on theory was of course the hallmark of modernism in every field.
The horrors of modernism are of course mostly avoidable but architecture is kind of hard to avoid. People could not be forced to enjoy modernist paintings or modernist music but they could be forced to live and work in the soul-destroying boxes of modernist architecture.
Having done a brilliantly effective hatchet job on the modernists Wolfe then turns his attention to the post-modernists and proceeds to savage them as well, and rightly so.
In politics there is no weapon quite so devastating as ridicule and Wolfe is the master when it comes to wielding that particular sword. He’s in top form here. From Bauhaus to Our House is a very very funny book. Not just amusing but laugh-out-loud funny. But it’s not just funny, it offers extremely perceptive and important insights into the ways in which political and cultural elites operate. Wolfe understood right from the start just how vital cultural and artistic battles are.
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to control society first control the culture

A commenter at Oz Conservative recently stated, “Liberals can only mount their progressive tyranny on non-liberals through the power of the state.” I’m not sure I agree with this, not completely anyway.
The current dominant ideology, a combination of globalism and liberalism, has gained its ascendancy mostly through gaining control of the culture. This process began early in the 20th century. By the 1960s liberal leftists were firmly in control of the worlds of art and literature. They controlled Hollywood, and most of the world of entertainment. They controlled most of the news media. They controlled the universities. They had thoroughly infiltrated most of the churches. They were well on the way to controlling the culture. Their cultural control is now total.
In most cases they did not advance their agenda through direct political means. They did not control the power of the state. They have certainly been able to force the state to enforce their agenda but this has been a fairly recent thing. In every case the coercive power of the state has only been used to compel obedience to cultural changes that have already taken place.
Homosexuality had already been culturally normalised before legislation was passed to make homosexual acts legal. Marriage had already been undermined before divorce laws were relaxed to the point of making marriage nothing more than a temporary sexual arrangement. Feminists had already gained acceptance of most of their program before feminism started to be legally enforced by the state.
The use of the judiciary to accelerate the rate of social change is a recent phenomenon and it has only been made possible by liberal domination of the culture (both high culture and popular culture). 
Liberals haven’t actually needed the power of the state to push their agenda. Nor have they needed to win election victories. As long as their control of the culture remains total they can rest assured that the power of the state can and will be used to reinforce their victories. Those victories are however always won by cultural battles, not political battles. Politics is downstream of culture.
It logically follows that liberalism cannot be defeated by conventional political means. Liberalism can only be defeated by wresting control of the culture away from them. That can only be achieved by a more powerful, more attractive, more dynamic, cultural force. At this point in time such a cultural force does not exist. Until it does liberalism will remain in the driver’s seat.

the crisis of Late Democracy

You will often hear people talk about the age of Late Capitalism. These people are almost always those who identify as being on the left but they do have a point. Capitalism has mutated. The capitalism of today bears little resemblance to the capitalism of the age of Henry Ford.
What has been less noticed is that we now live in the age of Late Democracy. Democracy of course was always a sham. The purpose of democratic institutions is to thwart the will of the people. What has changed, and it has changed dramatically over the past twenty years,  is that the mask has been dropped. In the past great effort was put into maintaining the pretense that democracy expressed the will of the people. This is no longer felt to be necessary.
Political leaders like Tony Blair, David Cameron, Barack Obama, François Hollande, Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau and Malcolm Turnbull do not even pretend to care about what the voters want or think. 
The media no longer makes any attempt to hide the fact that it manipulates elections. Members of the real elite, the international finance elite, openly buy and sell politicians. Bureaucrats and judges openly despise ordinary people and openly defy the will of the people.
The contempt for ordinary people is palpable. And it is venomous. And it is openly expressed.
The question is whether this is sustainable in the long term. Governments have always felt the need for some sort of legitimacy. This was true even in the days when kings ruled rather than serving as figureheads. A king would think twice before taking any action that he knew would be repugnant to his people. A king reigned by the Grace of God but it was clearly understood that he was in a real sense the servant of his people. If he lost the confidence of the people he could be, and often was, deposed. Such a king no longer had any legitimacy and thus could no longer claim to rule by the Grace of God.
Even dictators usually only survive for as long as they serve the interests of the nation and the people. Like kings they can be, and often are, deposed.
We now have a new situation in which we are ruled by an elite whose claim to legitimacy is increasingly sketchy. Rule by a class which openly expresses its contempt for the people is also new.
Of course our current elites have much greater power in their hands than any king or dictator. Their control over the media is total and the power of the media is unprecedented in history. They control education. They control the police and the military. They control the “intelligence communities” which are now quite blatantly employed for the purpose of social control. They also control the economy. If you oppose them they can destroy your livelihood. They can destroy your family. They can also simply have you locked up and they are increasingly willing to do so.
In spite of all this power held by the elites the situation is inherently unstable. It can only continue as long as the elites remain united, and history shows that there is no guarantee that this will continue indefinitely. There are always groups that are on the margins of the elite and they would be happy to be on the inside, and in order to achieve this they will quite cheerfully displace existing members of the elites. New groups arise that want their share of the action and again they’re happy to take the place of existing elite groups.
The continuance of this situation also depends on the ability of the elites to navigate crises, and crises are by their nature impossible to predict.
Ruling classes also become, in time, decadent.
A ruling class without legitimacy is in a poor position to weather such storms, both internal and external. Whether or not our current ruling class can do so remains to be seen.

lies, damned lies and thruthiness

We have always taken it for granted that there are certain groups for whom lying is natural and habitual. No sane person has ever expected politicians, lawyers or journalists to tell the truth.
Today we have a situation in which many groups that we used to regard as being relatively trustworthy are now also habitual liars. Scientists, school teachers, historians, clergymen, even doctors are now quite likely to lie to us. Not all the time of course, but often enough to represent an enormous sea change in western society. If half the scientists lie to us half the time then that means that we have to assume that scientists are people who cannot be trusted.
There is of course a difference between outright conscious lying and merely repeating falsehoods. In some cases the people repeating falsehoods actually believe their own lies. Sometimes they know that what they’re saying is untrue but they’re too scared not to go along with the lies. I don’t think that many doctors deliberately lie but I am sure that they’re aware that there are certain things that it’s better for them not to question – it’s best to stick to the party line so you don’t get into trouble. I think that very few clergymen deliberately lie – I really think most of them believe it when they tell us that diversity is good for us and that homosexuality is A-OK. In the case of historians and other academics I think it’s a mixture – some believe their own nonsense and some are lying trough their teeth to protect their nice comfy positions in academia.
It doesn’t make much difference in practice. It still means that we now live in a world in which the safe assumption is that we’re probably being lied to most of the time.
We don’t just have fake news. We have fake science. We have fake medicine. We have fake religion. We have fake history. If everything is fake where do we find truth? Does it even exist? Or do we just settle for truthiness?
This is of course an ideal situation for the elites. It doesn’t matter too much to them if we don’t really believe the Narrative that they push. If lies are everywhere and truth cannot be distinguished from lies then we have little choice but to believe the Narrative. Or maybe not believe, but accept it even while knowing that that it is false. Anyone who has read his Orwell knows that from the point of view of the elites being able to force us to believe something that we know is a lie is even better than having us actually believe. It demoralises us even further.

the city vs country front of the culture war

One aspect of the culture wars that is often misunderstood and underestimated is the city vs rural antipathy. More particularly, the venomous hatred that city people nurse towards country people. Anyone who isn’t a city-dweller is assumed to be a moronic knuckle-dragging yokel and a hateful bigot.
This seems to be much more extreme in the United States than anywhere else. American city-dwellers really seem to hate and fear rural folk. The contempt of US coastal elites for the denizens of “flyover country” is well known. It’s partly class hatred but it seems to be more than that. There seems to be an extraordinary irrational fear at work.
This is not one of those things that suddenly emerged in the 1960s. In the US at least it goes back much further. Just as an example I watched a 1944 movie called Together Again a few weeks earlier. On the surface it was a harmless screwball comedy. At least that’s how it starts out. As you keep watching you discover that the nice people of the idyllic little small town which is the film’s setting are not nice people after all. They are actually hateful bigots. And the reason they’re hateful bigots is that they’re small-town folk, and being a hateful bigot is what small-town folk do. Here’s my full review of the movie in question.
So is it natural for city-dwellers to hate rural people? Or is to something that has been fostered by the cultural elites? The cultural elites have been liberal and/or leftist for a very long time, at least a century (particularly in the US). Rural people tend to be more in touch with traditional ways of life and more in sympathy with traditional values. It’s not really surprising that the cultural elites hated them. I think it’s fair to say it’s been a deliberate campaign to portray country people as stupid and dangerous.
It’s one of those things you don’t notice very much at first but when you do become aware of it you start seeing it all over the place in popular culture and especially American popular culture.

political, spiritual and cultural struggles

A recent post at Upon Hope offers Some Lessons from Nationalism in Britain. It looks at the political fortunes of both the National Front and the more recent British National Party. 
My take on this is that if you want a revolution to succeed (and by revolution I mean peaceful dramatic changes in the political landscape as well as violent revolution) you have to have some part of the elite on your side. You have to have at least a small number of supporters or sympathiser within the key institutions – the media, academia, the bureaucracy, the churches, the judiciary, the military, etc.
When the British Labour Party set out on its quest to achieve power through the ballot box it did have sympathisers within all these institutions. The same can be said for the Australian Labor Party and for left-wing parties throughout most of the West.
The celebrated Long March Through the Institutions of the Cultural Left succeeded because there were already leftist sympathisers within those institutions and had been since the late 19th century.
The National Front and the British National Party on the other hand had zero supporters within the elites. They therefore had to face the united opposition of every one of the institutions that hold the keys to power. Their chances of achieving anything through the ballot box were non-existent.
That unfortunately is pretty much the situation that faces any modern anti-establishment party. The current liberal/globalist establishment is much more united than the old establishment ever was. Much more united, and much more cynical in its methods.
Which leads on to a post at Vanishing American II which suggests (rightly I think) that the spiritual and cultural struggle is as vital as the political struggle. 
If politics really is downstream of culture then our only long-term hope is to find a way of turning the spiritual/cultural struggle in our favour.
Of course if we hope to win a spiritual struggle we will need to recapture Christianity from the SJWs, homosexuals and atheists who currently control most churches. That will be a difficult task but when you consider the virtual impossibility, at this stage, of recapturing the media or academia or the bureaucracy then it has to be admitted that retaking Christianity is at least possible. A goal that is extremely difficult but achievable is preferable to goals that are simply not achievable.

it hasn’t happened in my street so it doesn’t matter

So there’s been another terror attack in Britain. And what will change as a result? Of course you know the answer – absolutely nothing. There will of course be candlelit vigils and people will sing Imagine and one or two news reporters might cry on screen. But absolutely nothing will change. 
The reason for this is of course the “it hasn’t happened in my street so it doesn’t matter” syndrome. People don’t care about bad stuff until it gets very close to them personally. They don’t care about crime until houses in their street get burgled. They don’t care about unemployment until it’s their kids who can’t find jobs. They don’t care about immigration until their suburb starts to get culturally enriched. They don’t care about terrorism until bombs start going off in their street.
Partly this is quite normal and healthy. We can only deal with so many worrying things and most of us have quite enough worries in our own personal lives. If we worried about everything, even things that don’t directly affect us, we’d all be in straitjackets in the local mental hospital.
Partly it reflects the fundamentally unnatural and unhealthy nature of modern life. We were not meant to live in huge cities and we were not meant to be constantly awash in a sea of mass media. We suffer from sensory overload, and more to the point we suffer from emotional overload. We cannot get upset by every single bad thing that happens anywhere in the world. So we have three choices – we can go mad, we can increase our dose of Prozac, or we can filter out stuff that isn’t relevant to us. Most normal people choose option three.
So it’s actually quite normal to take the “it hasn’t happened in my street so it doesn’t matter” approach. The problem is that it’s very important to distinguish between events that happen elsewhere that really are irrelevant to us and events that happen elsewhere that are actually likely to affect us in the not-too-distant future. It’s also important to distinguish between events that we might conceivably be able to do something about and things that we can do absolutely nothing about.
A rail disaster in Bolivia or an earthquake in Guatemala are both events that can quite reasonably be put into the category of things that are irrelevant to us and that we can’t do anything about.
On the other hand if crime has suddenly skyrocketed in a neighbouring town that should concern us since it could be an indication that we’re about to experience the same thing in our town. Unemployment should concern all of us because our jobs could be next on the chopping block. Immigration should worry us all because it could slowly but surely destroy our whole society. Terrorism should worry us. It could happen in my street. All of these things could happen in my street.
The real problem is that democracy is based on the idea that ordinary people can make these distinctions and can identify the things that they can and should be worried about. Even worse, democracy is based on the assumption that ordinary people can not only identify the important issues but also understand them, and understand what needs to be done, and send the right message to their elected representatives.
Unfortunately the things that really matter tend to be rather complicated. Do you have a clear and thorough understanding of which economic policies are best for the country? I have to confess that I don’t. Crime is complicated. It’s easy to assume that the best way to fight crime is to have more police but in fact the type of policing is more important than the quantity. Understanding terrorism might seem straightforward but there’s the difficulty that cynical and wrong-headed foreign policy decisions really have contributed to the problem, and foreign policy tends to be fiendishly complex.
There’s a further difficulty facing us today. Making the right judgment as to which party or candidate is likely to solve these problems is not easy when the correct decisions have been declared to be politically incorrect, wicked and forbidden even to think about. Solving problems such as immigration then becomes effectively impossible.
And of course if there’s one thing that ordinary people do understand very clearly indeed it is this – no matter which party you vote for they will betray you, they will break their promises, in many cases their actions will be the exact opposite of what they promised, and they will lie.
It is natural to take the “it hasn’t happened in my street so it doesn’t matter” view, but that view becomes even more attractive when the issues are complex and you know quite well that the politicians won’t listen to you anyway.
There is a solution and it’s an easy one – simply boycott the mainstream parties. There are and always have been alternatives if only people will take the final leap of logic – if you can’t trust the professional political class then vote for outsiders. They couldn’t do a worse job than the mainstream parties and at the very least it’s a way of putting the fear of God into the establishment politicians. But people won’t do it because none of these bad things have happened in their street yet.