During some travel over the past few months, I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon: new apartment buildings and so-called “mixed-use” condominium complexes are sprouting out of developed land like dandelions these days. They look exactly the same, no matter where they’re located—North, South, East, or West, they share the same “blocky,” stark aesthetic. And they’re all, well, really ugly. 

A recent talk by The New Atlantis editor Ari Schulman affirmed my visceral reaction to these unsightly color-blocked chunks of fiber cement. They are really ugly, and as he explained, one of the reasons is that AI and the digital realm are increasingly flattening our desires, so we all subconsciously embrace the same aesthetic. In part, that’s why so many of these buildings appear in growing American cities, whether Seattle or Charleston or New York, without regard for the specific region’s landscape, its climate, or the specific needs and preferences of its populace.

At Mass this past weekend with my family, I was struck by the contrast between the new construction that dotted our entire route to church and the sacred building itself: one in which every design detail was intended to orient the bodies and minds of all who enter. This cathedral took years to build, and its staggering price tag stirred controversy when it was completed in 2017. But there is simply no denying its effect on the soul, from the soaring ceilings in the nave to the wave-like swirling patterns of the marble on the altar. It’s reminiscent of a shipintentionally soand its shape reminds us we are fellow travelers on a voyage to holiness, to heaven. 

That’s what Mark Dooley explained in his essay, the third in a four-part series on beauty this month: a fight to restore beauty in the structures in which we live, work, and worship is a fight for “the soul of civilization.” Beauty in architecture is far more than just pure aesthetic; it’s not just about paint swatches and fabric samples. Rather, good, solid, beautiful, timeless structures offer us “hope in place of despair” and reconnect us to the world, to others, and to what Dooley calls the world’s “sacred source.” It’s a true shame, he explains, that our purely utilitarian, shoddy modern construction reflects just how much we’ve lost sight of that truth.

Start your day with Public Discourse

Sign up and get our daily essays sent straight to your inbox.

Margarita Mooney Clayton shared her perspective on these issues through the lens of art. Good art, as opposed to the subjective self-expression that so often passes as art, is an important tool in forming our imaginations and opening us to truth and wonder. In a similar vein, Ivana Greco presented the craft and skill of homemaking as a true labor of love. And contributing editor Nathaniel Peters rounded out our series with a discussion of how studying the humanities can prime us to see and appreciate the beauty of truth and revel in the joy of knowing it.

In a way, our discussion of beauty extended beyond this four-essay series. That’s because, as a colleague pointed out to me recently, just as buildings and art can be beautiful or ugly, so too can arguments. This is why our work at Public Discourse matters: an argument could be true, can be logically sound, but still ugly. Unkind. Bellicose. Unwieldy. Confusing. Crude. But what we’re trying to do (and, we hope, we do well) is different. We work hard at every level of the editorial process to ensure that our essays are well-crafted, that our language is precise and that our arguments are sound. But most of all, we want to encourage and teach our readers to appreciate a well-formed argument, even if they ultimately come to a different conclusion than we do.

This was a banner month for PD, with our authors taking on a number of culturally relevant and rather thorny issues to a highly positive public response. R. J. Snell addressed the campus protests that have served only to further confuse and divide a generation already predisposed to despise the values that formed them. Mehmet Ciftci provided a glimpse of hope even in light of Canada’s continued leniency in allowing physician-assisted suicide. And Michelle Kirtley offered a human-centered framework for viewing the bevy of bioethical issues we’re currently staring down, from the continued controversy over IVF regulation to euthanizing depressed people.

Other Noteworthy Pieces From This Month

Because May is a month in which we honor mothers of many kinds, we’ve published a few pieces that recognize women who have been influential in intellectual history. John Doherty profiled Edith Stein, also known as Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, for her nuanced and rich contribution to the discourse about feminine virtue. And Nathaniel Peters interviewed Bronwen McShea about her new book on influential women of the Church.

Support Our Work

Public Discourse is completely free of charge to readers, which means we rely on the generosity of our donors. Please consider supporting our work.

What We’re Reading Around the Web

Our editors suggest the following as worth a click:

Here’s to seeking and sharing all that is not only good and true, but also beautiful. 

Alexandra Davis

Managing Editor

Image by  harmantasdc and licensed via Adobe Stock.