A well-known conclusion of political philosophy, as well as of the most elementary reflection upon life, is that not all human desiderata are compatible one with another. This is so because Mankind not only is capable of desiring, but always desires something and its opposite at the same time. We desire, for example, both security and excitement, both freedom and order.
The problem with freedom in Britain is that, once people exercise it, the most execrable taste becomes predominant and civilisation suffers as a result.
Anyone who doubts this should go to the National Gallery, where I went recently to see the exhibition of Veronese, a painter I dislike for his shallowness, lack of feeling, showiness, superficiality, etc (his mastery making his mastery all the worse, not better). The critics, however, said that this was the exhibition of a lifetime, if not longer, and nothing gives me greater pleasure, than to contradict received opinion.
To reach Veronese, aesthetes had to run the gauntlet of the English at play outside. Not a single one dressed with what one might call self-respect. They chewed the gum with which the paving stones were mottled. Some of them were chalking designs on those stones in the hope of raising a little money; one of them shouted across at another, ‘Why don’t you f…..g learn to draw?’ But worst of all, several of them had set up loudspeakers, down which they relayed their attempt at rock music. They obviously dreamed of celebrity, that ambition of the talentless.
One of them would have been bad enough, but several! Most of them looked unwashed, raddled by drugs and malnutrition. What a hideous cacophony, a descent into a circle of Hell! Why didn’t someone come and clear them away, to the many parts of the city where they would hardly have been distinguishable from everyone else? Must freedom and equality mean that everywhere is reduced to the aesthetic level of Streatham? Is it fascist not to want to be aesthetically and auditorily disgusted everywhere? Or is taste unimportant? After all, I gave some money to a Scotsman in a kilt who played the bagpipes just as in Paris I give money to those who play the accordion on the Métro.
Emerging from the Sainsbury Wing, there was a drugged young woman with dreadlocks collapsed in the portico. A policewoman was bending over her solicitously. The young woman awoke.
‘Get away from me, you bitch!’ she screamed, loud enough to be heard on the far side of Trafalgar Square.
I confess, however, that I found her more interesting than Veronese’s women.