Check out the chairs and bed linen BEFORE you elect your politicians
Interior design is, as serious people know, a bit of a self-indulgent and trivial topic, best handled on early evening TV shows or in the pages of inane glossies. These are suitably ‘low’ places to mull over what shape a door handle should be and whether garden furniture should be wooden or canvas this season. Intelligent people know their minds should be off elsewhere, for example, pondering questions of science, economics or politics.
Then, very occasionally, interior design pushes everything else aside and becomes unambiguously the most important item anywhere in the news. It happened when Saddam fell, it happened again when Gaddafi was hounded out and it just happened a third time when President Yanukovych of the Ukraine had to flee for his life.
Saddam’s favourite settee
Gaddaffi’s bed: was peach his only option?
Yanukovych’s estate: was the white piano really necessary?
At these moments, the attention of the world suddenly focuses in relentlessly on bathroom fittings, varieties of bed linen, styles of dining room lighting and options for wardrobes. And, in the face of overwhelming public interest, serious commentators pass judgement on matters that had previously been left in the hands of light-hearted decorators and style gurus.
The verdict is always the same: what bad taste these violent, thuggish men had. Look at how disgusting the sofa is! Who would ever have wanted to sit on those imitation Louis XVI chairs? A bidet for two!? Whose idea of a crockery set is that…
Then, soon enough, the agenda changes and once again, interior design recedes as a topic of geopolitical significance.
It shouldn’t. We shouldn’t reserve consideration of the interior design tastes of politicians simply for special moments of national crisis. A close look at visual taste should be a basic part of the evaluation of anyone’s fitness to administer the state. Before they get anywhere near the levers of power, we should ask anyone who wants to rule us to show us their idea of a decent sideboard, a pretty bedside lamp and good-looking office chair. Far more than a so-called probing interview in a TV studio concentrating on questions of finance or governance, this evaluation of interior design tastes will help to guarantee that we will from now on find our way more reliably to candidates truly best able to govern our nations – and that we will henceforth not have to reel in horror at the sight of the presidential suite when it’s far too late, after years of suffering and perhaps a bloody revolution.
Stop asking them questions, and ask them to show you their beds
Interior design is a matter of deep importance for reasons first suggested by the third century philosopher Plotinus. Plotinus argued that the categories of ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’ aren’t merely aesthetic, they are also profoundly moral and ethical. Any object of design will speak to us of a range of attitudes it supports. It isn’t therefore exaggerated to speak of adjectives like ‘authoritarian’ or ‘democratic’, ‘forgiving’ or ‘brutish’ when it comes to a lamp or a desk.
Democratic / Authoritarian
Works of design talk eloquently about the moods and attitudes they support and seek to encourage. They hold out an invitation for us to be specific sorts of people. They speak of particular philosophies of life. A feeling of beauty is hence no mere indulgence, it is a sign that we have come upon a material articulation of our deepest ideas of goodness and kindness – just as a chair or plate can strike us as offensive not because it violates a private and mysterious visual preference but because it conflicts with our understanding of truth and justice. Discussions about what is beautiful are at heart considerations about the values we want to live by – not trivial waffling about how we want things to look.
Let’s get clear about the tastes of rulers long before they’ve destroyed the nation and gone into hiding. Good taste is as good an indicator as any of the soundness of our national leaders.
Would we have elected him if we had looked more closely at the furnishings?