The Romanian tyrant Nikolai Chauchescu built grandly, huge buildings to hold and glorify his brutal regime. His largest building, the People’s House (later renamed Palace of Parliament), unfinished at the time of Chauchescu’s execution, has 3.5 million square feet of indoor space. It is now the world’s second largest building. The largest is the Pentagon.
Before Chauchescu the kings and emperors of Europe and Asia built grand palaces and castles. The Chinese Communists built the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmin Square. The Russians housed their tyrants, royal and communist in the Kremlin, and Rome housed its dictators in palaces. Hitler was a fan of grandiose architecture too. The interesting thing about this is that, as a general rule, the more repressive the regime, the more grandiose is the architecture in which it is housed.
Although we don’t know for sure what motivates this, it is a fairly safe guess that tyrants recognize a link between grandiosity in architecture and intimidation of the populace, a useful ingredient for tyranny.
But another aspect of monumental architecture is that it strokes the egos of those who work there. What member of the U.S. Congress, what staffer, would not have his ego inflated walking up the steps of the U.S. Capitol to go to work. What president wouldn’t feel more powerful and wise when living and working in the splendor of the White House, as compared to a normal home/commute/office experience?
How would you feel each morning walking up these steps to your office?
If you look around, you’ll realize that everywhere in this country the government buildings are larger, more lavish, more monumental than anything else around them. Is this really necessary? Couldn’t government workers and elected officials go about their business in regular commercial space, such as office towers and industrial parks, strip malls and detached office buildings? Wouldn’t this cost a lot less than housing government offices in monuments?
I’ve heard others respond that these monuments also bolster the patriotic pride of citizens. After all, “we are the government,” say my critics. We should take pride in these physical manifestations of American power and glory they say.
But let’s think about it clearly. Are we proud to be Americans because of government power and glory, or are we most proud of our freedoms and achievements as citizens. Do these monuments glorify America or the government they house? Is the government the master, or are government employees “civil servants”? Is there any symbol of patriotic pride more powerful or moving than the stars and stripes?
As for me, I think the monuments do more to destroy democracy than to glorify it. Even though the Lincoln Monument brings a lump to my throat and the capitol building leaves me in awe, I’d gladly see it all bulldozed and the ground salted over so nothing will ever grow there again. As part of that renovation only the essential constitutional functions of government should be relocated. They should be moved to quonset huts located in Kansas corn fields. This would provide government employees and elected representatives with an environment suited to the proper attitude about their importance and true role in American life.
See Quonset Hut below:
Mountain view optional: