The Pursuit of Knowledge
American conservatives, still in a state of shock from President Obama’s victory, must now live with the man for whom they didn’t vote. We English conservatives have born a similar burden for the last 12 years, and maybe we are in a position to give the benefit of our experience. Here at least is the benefit of mine.
Axiom No. 1: There is no greater political virtue than the ability to accept the government of people whom you heartily dislike. In very few places in the world today do we see this ability properly exercised. Nowhere in Africa, only here and there in Asia, and only spasmodically in Eastern Europe or the Middle East, do people accept the legitimacy of a government of which they disapprove, even if that government was democratically elected. The strength of Western political systems lies in our ability to submit to laws that hurt us. This, which is our form of islam, is a real contribution to political stability--something that cannot always be said of Islam in its religious meaning.
I ATTENDED AN ordinary English state school in the late 1950s. In our history lessons we were taught that England is the heart of Great Britain, that Great Britain is the heart of an Empire, and that, thanks to this Empire, ideas of law, freedom, and democratic government had spread around the globe. We were therefore proud of the Empire, which we described as British, not English, and thought of it as proof of our national virtues and a contribution to the advancement of mankind. Our flag was the Union Jack, a striking synthesis of the emblems of our constituent peoples, and we believed that this flag represented a peaceful union, rather than the triumph of one nation over others. We sang “Rule Britannia,” the rousing chorus of which declares that “Britons never never never shall be slaves!”
All conservatives agree on one thing, which is that, before destroying things, we should pause to consider their merits. This principle applies to everything important, from marriage to monarchy, and also to architecture, which is a fundamental component in both those things. I was therefore pleased to be invited recently to debate the question of modern architecture, at one of the Intelligence Squared debates in London. The motion—“this house believes that Prince Charles was right, modern architecture is still all glass stumps and carbuncles”—was somewhat tendentious. After all there is good modern architecture and bad, and glass is only one part of the problem. Moreover, the debate was sponsored by the Royal Institute of British Architects and the chamber packed by the aspiring architects whom they represent. It was therefore unlikely that Simon Jenkins, Léon Krier, and myself, who had been invited to propose the motion, would win the vote.