The New Statesman magazine, a British rag, has apologized at last for using monkeyed quotes from an interview in April to defame Sir Roger Scruton, who lost an important government post as a result. Who knows whether Scruton would like to return as chairman of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, still run by the craven housing minister who sacked the conservative philosopher and architecture theorist virtually moments after the obviously bogus quotes emerged.
Read “An Apology for Thinking,” Scruton’s own eloquent description, in The Spectator, of how his words were purposely butchered by the deputy editor of the Statesman, George Eaton, who remains at his old post and, one may assume, unchastened. As usual, the Statesman’s deceit and media reports of it circulate widely but apologies, if they ever come, sink like a stone, read mainly by those already familiar with Scruton’s incapacity for thinking what he was wrongly accused of saying.
A rumor floated that Scruton’s replacement as chairman would be the head of the Royal Institute of British Architects, which is as staunchly modernist as the American Institute of Architects. But, miracle of miracles, the post was filled, at least temporarily, by a very sensible person – Nicholas Boys Smith, head of Create Streets, an organization with what we here would consider a New Urbanist outlook.
Throwing caution to the wind, Boys Smith recently said, “Beauty should not be just a property of old buildings or protected landscapes but something we expect from new buildings, places and settlements,” adding, “We need to deliver beauty for everyone, not just the wealthy.”
No doubt the modernists, who were part of the drive to oust Scruton that went into high gear following his appointment, are out there looking for ways to assure Boys Smith as brief a tenure in his post as Scruton had. Maybe those words will be enough.
That should wrap up this succinct response to the latest turn in L’Affair Scruton, except to regret that it is also the latest turn in the politicization of architecture. The style wars – which will and should continue until beauty resumes its rightful place in the design of buildings and cities – have long shown signs of a division between conservative traditionalists and liberal modernists. This is unfortunate, because people of all stripes would benefit from a return to beauty in the civic arts. However, the tactics that were used to attack Roger Scruton were tactics of the left – ostracism – which are rarely seen on the right. Similar tactics are used by the architectural establishment to keep traditional architecture down, even though (and indeed because) it is preferred by most people.
Since Britain and America are democracies, choice in how architectural commissions are distributed should be more broadly based. Perhaps the fact that a powerful journal has been forced to apologize for maligning Sir Roger suggests that what the public thinks about architecture is a rising factor in how cities are built. No less than beauty, fairness has long been absent from the world of architecture. Time to bring it back.