Stop putting your awe in
the week on radio
He found his first "paradox" standing, awe-struck and supposedly terrified (I don't actually believe in that terror), in the gigantic particle accelerators of CERN, a space "the size of Notre Dame cathedral": "It ought to be the case that what we build with our own hands we should understand and feel at home in." Ought it? I don't really see why. I don't really see that awe is, as Ignatieff claimed, something that used to be "reserved for the works of nature or the handiworks of God", that awe at human achievements is a novelty of our own time - Notre Dame cathedral itself is a pretty good counter-example, and there are plenty of others (you doubt that Ignatieff would express the same unease about the terror inspired by King Lear or Euripides' Medea: is inspiring terror a privilege reserved for artists?). He could have argued more plausibly that awe was once reserved for building built to glorify God (though you'd have to find a way of fitting coliseums and palaces into your argument); but even so, what's the problem with atom-smashing? CERN wasn't built to glorify creation but to try to understand it, which seems like a healthy sort of urge.
When he wasn't slagging off science, he was slagging off modern architecture, and showing a breathtaking intellectual laziness. Lumping together Speer's massive neoclassicism with the slender, gleaming art deco of the Chrysler Building in New York with the tag "Different ideologies, same result" suggests either sheer bloody ignorance or partiality that isn't interested in even trying to be objective. The title of the series, 20/20, suggests clarity of vision; but you can't see anything if you're not prepared to open your eyes.
A more interesting critique of the 20th century came in In the Kingdom of Klein (Radio 4, Thursday), which had Simon Dring buzzing admiringly around General Jacques Klein, who runs the UN Transitional Administration in Eastern Slavonia, a Serbian pocket inside Croatia. Here, at the end of the century, democracy and technology seem to have run out of steam, leaving General Klein to keep the peace and rebuild prosperity by sheer force of personality.
You didn't doubt that he could do it, either, once you'd heard him powering his way through meetings and telephone calls, oblivious to bureaucratic niceties. Dring's mannered, self-consciously colourful prose style can be distracting - introducing Klein at the start of the programme, he described "Fingers as thick as the Havana cigar clenched in his fist... I just know he's either going to brief me or deploy me." Here, given the appalling situations described and the Klein's bulldozing lucidity, it seemed tame. A fine programme, and evidence that if you look in the right places, the 20th century can be a source of inspiration.
Life & Style blogs
What marriage would look like if we actually followed the Bible
Overly-controlling parents cause their children lifelong psychological damage, says study
What do the emojis on Snapchat mean?
Star Wars BB-8 droid toy is real, should be impossible
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 250,000 back our campaign
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
- 1 President Obama leaves touching comment on Humans of New York photo from Iran
- 2 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 3 The Chinese city where men have 'three girlfriends because there are so many women'
- 4 German police forced to ask public to stop bringing donations for refugees arriving by train
- 5 Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This bespoke furniture and inte...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you get a buzz from thinking up new ideas a...
£14500 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...
£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This expanding, vibrant charity which su...