Yes, Mies van der Rohe is Antiseptic and Cold and Socialist

Yes, I know the political history of the Bauhaus and the International School, thank you very much. (That major in the history and philosophy of art is not worth nothing!) And I admit it does put a strain on my not-very-well-thought-out analogy, if that’s the modernism you had in mind. Of course, I had in mind houses that actually are very lovely and quite nice to live in. How about Frank Lloyd Wright (everybody loves him, right?) or Richard Neutra?

Perhaps the difference in mentality I had in mind is better captured by the difference between the person who is able to grasp why Mark Rothko, say, is a much greater painter than Bouguereau. If you don’t get it, well, then that just proves my point, doesn’t it?

Anyway, semi-silly aesthetic analogies aside, the point is that people’s natural tastes for social structure runs toward the tribal and teleological, but this isn’t actually that good for people. Market liberalism, which is too abstract or “thin” to seem really satisfying or meaningful, since there is no single common goal that transcends the goals individuals happen to have, actually leaves people better off than all the alternatives, and measurably so. It’s not hard to understand why people are so attracted to National Greatness, or to Bouguereau. But with a little inspection of the evidence, or a little development of taste, one can see why this is a mistake… is what I was getting at.

It’s not just that you should be ashamed of your vulgarity if you thrill to the idea of America uber alles, though of course you should, but rather that you should be ashamed of preferring a morally worse state affairs over a better one. People who thunder on about virtue like to complain about the immaturity and self-indulgence of individuals in commercial societies, but those people are very often the ones seeking to indulge atavistic social instincts that our moral culture has begun to mature past.

I don’t have a beef against virtue. Far from it; I’m a big fan of the attempt to study character strengths scientifically. But virtues, if they are worth caring about, are instrumental to well-being and relative to social and economic structure. McCain’s brand of military virtue isn’t admirable in a politician. It’s dangerous. And it does not seem to me that McCain has any worthwhile virtues that, say, Mitt Romney lacks. Indeed, I suspect that my man Mitt has modern managerial and leadership virtues that all the other candidates lack. If Romney is the candidate of virtue, it’s because he’s a first-rate capitalist, not an abstemious Mormon family man. And, as far as I can tell, Barack Obama has a much more inspiring capacity for leadership than does McCain, if that’s the sort of thing you like. The only reason a virtue-thumper would be touting McCain in particular is an infatuation with the virtues of war.