I’ve just listened to the most deliciously bitchy exchange between pompous experts on Radio 4.

The interview was with professor of philosophy Roger Scruton and design consultant Stephen Bayley. The National Trust has organised a debate tonight that will consider whether Britain has become indifferent to beauty, and they’ll both be taking part. Scruton will argue that consumerism, selfishness, vandalism and litter prove that people are now indifferent to beauty (or at least prioritise it much lower than self-interest). Bayley says there’s evidence that this is not the case.

The part I loved best is when Bayley lists off a number of things that he says indicate that Britons are not indifferent to beauty:  that there are 9.8 million listeners to the very Today show programme they’re speaking on, that Britain has the best art education system in the world and produces leading fashion designers, that it has the most visually sophispticated advertising in the world, that it is a music capital, that it’s better to eat in London than in Paris, and that seven of the world’s top forty museums are in London and attendance of them continues to rise.

Scruton disagrees that all of these are examples of beauty appreciation, and that rather than being something to be proud of, advertising is a form of mass pollution.

Bayley interjects: “That’s such a philistine thing to say!”

There’s more back-and-forth, with the interviewer seeming to have a go at Bayley as well. It all ends with Scruton suggesting that his disagreement with Bayley on where beauty lies is simply “because I have a slightly superior sense of beauty to Mr Bayley.”

You can listen to it here. It’s only 5 minutes long.

My point of view? They’re both a bit right. There are newer forms of beauty, new ways of appreciating things, and most people do know beauty when they see it. But I don’t think people prioritise it as highly as they should. Getting a tan is not the same as visiting the National Gallery.


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