Sunday, July 23, 2017

When Charlie Chaplin met Einstein ...

Image from, regrettably with no source cited; informed of the quotation (in slightly different words,  cited below, by Dr. ZM on linked-in:)

Einstein visited Chaplin in Hollywood in 1931 ... he said to Chaplin: "What I most admire about your art, is your universality. You don't say a word, yet the world understands
you." "It is true", answered Chaplin, "but your glory is even greater: The whole world admires you, even though they don't understand a word of what you say."

Samuel Huntington, a prophet for the Trump era - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

Carlos Lozada, July 18, Washington Post

The writings of the late Harvard political scientist anticipate America's political and intellectual battles -- and point to the country we may become.

image from article

[JB: A key quote in the article: "As Huntington puts it, 'Americans divide most sharply over what brings them together.' ”]

Sometimes a prophet can be right about what will come, yet torn about whether it should.
President Trump’s recent speech in Warsaw, in which he urged Europeans and Americans to defend Western civilization against violent extremists and barbarian hordes, inevitably evoked Samuel P. Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” — the notion that superpower rivalry would give way to battles among Western universalism, Islamic militance and Chinese assertiveness. In a book expanded from his famous 1993 essay, Huntington described civilizations as the broadest and most crucial level of identity, encompassing religion, values, culture and history. Rather than “which side are you on?” he wrote, the overriding question in the post-Cold War world would be “who are you?”
So when the president calls on the nations of the West to “summon the courage and the will to defend our civilization,” when he insists that we accept only migrants who “share our values and love our people,” and when he urges the transatlantic alliance to “never forget who we are” and cling to the “bonds of history, culture and memory,” I imagine Huntington, who passed away in late 2008 after a long career teaching at Harvard University, nodding from beyond.
It would be a nod of vindication, perhaps, but mainly one of grim recognition. Trump’s civilizational rhetoric is just one reason Huntington resonates today, and it’s not even the most interesting one. Huntington’s work, spanning the mid-20th century through the early 21st, reads as a long argument over America’s meaning and purpose, one that explains the tensions of the Trump era as well as anything can. Huntington both chronicles and anticipates America’s fights over its founding premises, fights that Trump’s ascent has aggravated. Huntington foresees — and, frankly, stokes — the rise of white nativism in response to Hispanic immigration. He captures the dissonance between working classes and elites, between nationalism and cosmopolitanism, [JB emphasis] that played out in the 2016 campaign. And he warns how populist demagogues appeal to alienated masses and then break faith with them. 

It would be a nod of vindication, perhaps, but mainly one of grim recognition. Trump’s civilizational rhetoric is just one reason Huntington resonates today, and it’s not even the most interesting one. Huntington’s work, spanning the mid-20th century through the early 21st, reads as a long argument over America’s meaning and purpose, one that explains the tensions of the Trump era as well as anything can. Huntington both chronicles and anticipates America’s fights over its founding premises, fights that Trump’s ascent has aggravated. Huntington foresees — and, frankly, stokes — the rise of white nativism in response to Hispanic immigration. He captures the dissonance between working classes and elites, between nationalism and cosmopolitanism, that played out in the 2016 campaign. And he warns how populist demagogues appeal to alienated masses and then break faith with them.

This is Trump’s presidency, but even more so, it is Huntington’s America. Trump may believe himself a practical man, exempt from any intellectual influence, but he is the slave of a defunct political scientist.

Huntington’s books speak to one another across the decades; you find the origins of one in the unanswered questions of another. But they also reveal deep contradictions.  More than a clash of civilizations, a clash of Huntingtons is evident. One Huntington views new groups and identities entering the political arena as a revitalization of American democracy. Another considers such identities pernicious, anti-American.
These works embody the intellectual and political challenges for the United States in, and beyond, the Trump years. In Huntington’s writings, idealistic visions of America mingle with its basest impulses, and eloquent defenses of U.S. values betray a fear of the pluralism at the nation’s core. Which vision wins out will determine what country we become.
To understand our current turmoil, the most relevant of Huntington’s books is not “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” (1996) or even “Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity”(2004), whose fans reportedly include self-proclaimed white nationalist Richard Spencer. It is the lesser-known and remarkably prescient “American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony,” published 36 years ago.
In that work, Huntington points to the gap between the values of the American creed — liberty, equality, individualism, democracy, constitutionalism — and the government’s efforts to live up to those values as the central tension of American life. “At times, this dissonance is latent; at other times, when creedal passion runs high, it is brutally manifest, and at such times, the promise of American politics becomes its central agony.”
Whether debating health care, taxes, immigration or war, Americans invariably invoke the founding values to challenge perceived injustices. Reforms cannot merely be necessary or sensible; they must be articulated and defended in terms of the creed. This is why Trump’s opponents attack his policies by declaring not only that they are wrong but that “that’s not who we are.” As Huntington puts it, “Americans divide most sharply over what brings them together.”
The book looks back to the Revolutionary War, the Jacksonian age, the Progressive era and the 1960s as moments of high creedal passions, and Huntington’s descriptions capture America today. In such moments, he writes, discontent is widespread, and authority and expertise are questioned; traditional values of liberty, individualism, equality and popular control of government dominate public debates; politics is characterized by high polarization and constant protest; hostility toward power, wealth and inequality grows intense; social movements focused on causes such as women’s rights and criminal justice flourish; and new forms of media emerge devoted to advocacy and adversarial journalism.
Huntington even predicts the timing of America’s next fight: “If the periodicity of the past prevails,” he writes, “a major sustained creedal passion period will occur in the second and third decades of the twenty-first century.”
We’re right on schedule.
There is a cyclical nature to our passions, Huntington argues. Indignation cannot endure long, so cynicism supplants it, a belief that all are corrupt, and we learn to tolerate the gap between ideals and reality. (Today we might call this the “lol nothing matters” stage.) Eventually hypocrisy takes over and we deny the gap altogether — until the next wave of moralizing. In the Trump era, moralism, cynicism and hypocrisy coexist. Not peacefully.
The creed is relevant not just because it produces America’s divisions and aspirations, but because it provides a spare, elegant definition of what it means to be American. It is not about ethnic identity or religious faith, Huntington writes, but about political belief. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” begins the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, and Huntington uses the line to define us. “Who holds these truths? Americans hold these truths. Who are Americans? People who adhere to these truths. National identity and political principle were inseparable.
In this telling, the American Dream matters most because it is never fulfilled, the reconciliation of liberty and inequality never complete. Even so, “American Politics” is not an entirely pessimistic book. “Critics say that America is a lie because its reality falls so short of its ideals,” Huntington writes in its final lines. “They are wrong. America is not a lie; it is a disappointment. But it can be a disappointment only because it is also a hope.”
Over the subsequent two decades, Huntington lost hope. In his final book, “Who Are We?,” which he emphasizes reflect his views not just as a scholar but also as a patriot, Huntington revises his definitions of America and Americans. Whereas once the creed was paramount, here it is merely a byproduct of the Anglo-Protestant culture — with its English language, Christian faith, work ethic and values of individualism and dissent — that he now says forms the true core of American identity.
Threatening that core, Huntington writes, is the ideology of multiculturalism; the new waves of immigrants from Latin America, especially Mexico, whom Huntington believes are less able to assimilate than past immigrants; and the threat of the Spanish language, which Huntington treats as a disease infecting the cultural and political integrity of the United States. “There is no Americano dream,” he asserts. “There is only the American dream created by an Anglo-Protestant society. Mexican-Americans will share in that dream and in that society only if they dream in English.”
The Huntington of 1981, apparently, was just wrong. When listing academics who had — inaccurately, he now insists — defined Americans by their political beliefs, Huntington quotes an unnamed scholar who once eloquently described Americans as inseparable from the self-evident truths of the Declaration. Unless you recognize the passage from “American Politics” or bother to check the endnotes, you have no idea he is quoting himself. It’s as close to a wink as you’ll find in Huntington’s angriest book.
The principles of the creed are merely “markers of how to organize a society,” Huntington decides. “They do not define the extent, boundaries, or composition of that society.” For that, he contends, you need kin and culture; you must belong. He claims that Latin American immigrants and their offspring do not disperse throughout the country as thoroughly as past immigrants, worries they seek only welfare benefits, and warns they’ll leave behind fewer opportunities for native workers. Huntington also trafficks in stereotypes, even citing Mexico’s supposed “mañana syndrome.”
Maybe Mexicans are lazy except when they’re taking everyone’s jobs.
I don’t know why Huntington changed his mind. Perhaps he felt the abstractions of the creed could no longer withstand the din of America’s multiplicity, or maybe mixing scholarship and patriotism does a disservice to both. Either way, anyone arguing for border walls and deportation forces will find much to like in this new incarnation, because Huntington describes the Hispanic threat with militaristic imagery. “Mexican immigration is leading toward the demographic reconquista of areas Americans took from Mexico by force in the 1830s and 1840s,” he writes, stating that the United States is experiencing an “illegal demographic invasion.”
Huntington blames pliant politicians and intellectual elites who uphold diversity as the new prime American value, largely because of their misguided guilt toward victims of alleged oppression. So they encourage multiculturalism over a more traditional American identity, he says, and they embrace free trade and porous borders despite the public’s protectionist preferences. It is an uncanny preview of the battles of 2016. Denouncing multiculturalism as “anti-European civilization,” Huntington calls for a renewed nationalism devoted to preserving and enhancing “those qualities that have defined America since its founding.”
Little wonder that, long before Trump cultivated the alt-right and Hillary Clinton denounced the “deplorables” in our midst, Huntington foresaw a backlash against multiculturalism from white Americans. “One very plausible reaction would be the emergence of exclusivist sociopolitical movements,” he writes, “composed largely but not only of white males, primarily working-class and middle-class, protesting and attempting to stop or reverse these changes and what they believe, accurately or not, to be the diminution of their social and economic status, their loss of jobs to immigrants and foreign countries, the perversion of their culture, the displacement of their language, and the erosion or even evaporation of the historical identity of their country. Such movements would be both racially and culturally inspired and could be anti-Hispanic, anti-black, and anti-immigration.” The more extreme elements in such movements, Huntington notes, fear “the replacement of the white culture that made America great by black or brown cultures that are . . . in their view, intellectually and morally inferior.”
Yes, in 2004, Huntington warned of a racist tide focused on protecting that which makes America great.
Having redefined the substance of American identity, Huntington ties its continued salience to war. “The Revolution produced the American people, the Civil War the American nation, and World War II the epiphany of Americans’ identification with their country,” he writes in “Who Are We?” Born in principle, American identity now survives by steel. When the Soviet threat receded, the United States needed a new foe, and “on September 11, 2001,” Huntington declares, “Osama bin Laden ended America’s search.”
This is a conflict he had long anticipated. In his 1996 book proclaiming a clash of civilizations, he writes that the West will continue its slow decline relative Asia and the Islamic world. While economic dynamism drives Asia’s rise, population growth in Muslim nations “provides recruits for fundamentalism, terrorism, insurgency, and migration.” Much as Trump mocks politicians who refuse to decry “radical Islamic terrorism,” Huntington criticizes American leaders such as Bill Clinton who argued that the West had no quarrel with Islam, only with violent extremists. “Fourteen hundred years of history demonstrate otherwise,” he remarks.
Huntington’s clash has been caricatured as a single-minded call to arms against Muslims, and certainly the argument is neither so narrow nor so simple. He is probably more concerned with China and fears a “major war” if Washington challenges Beijing’s rise as Asia’s hegemon. Yet the threat Huntington sees from the Muslim world goes far beyond terrorism or religious extremism. He worries of a broader Islamic resurgence, with political Islam as only one part of “the much more extensive revival of Islamic ideas, practices, and rhetoric and the rededication to Islam by Muslim populations.” Huntington cites scholars warning of the spread of Islamic legal concepts in the West, decries the “inhospitable nature of Islamic culture” for democracy and suggests that Islam will prevail in the numbers game against Christianity. In the long run, “Mohammed wins out,” he states. “Christianity spreads primarily by conversion, Islam by conversion and reproduction.”
The vision evokes the zero-sum rhetoric of Trump political strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who was a force behind the administration’s travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries, and of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who authored a 2016 book heralding a multi-generational U.S. conflict against Islam’s “failed civilization.” Huntington, at least, has the grace to consider two sides of the clash.
“The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism,” he writes. “It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power. The problem for Islam is not the CIA or the U.S. Department of Defense. It is the West, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the universality of their culture and believe that their superior, if declining, power imposes on them the obligation to extend that culture throughout the world.”
He does not regard Western values as universal. They are ours alone.
While Huntington foresees an America roiled by self-doubt, white nationalism and enmity against Islam, he does not predict the rise of a Trump-like leader in the United States.
But he would have recognized the type.
Consider his earliest books. In “Political Order in Changing Societies” (1968), Huntington examines how Latin American, African and Asian countries in the throes of economic modernization struggled to adapt their politics and incorporate new groups with new demands. The result, Huntington explains, was not political development but “political decay.”
And what sort of authorities personify this decay? Across the developing world, Huntington saw “the dominance of unstable personalistic leaders,” their governments rife with “blatant corruption . . . arbitrary infringement of the rights and liberties of citizens, declining standards of bureaucratic efficiency and performance, the pervasive alienation of urban political groups, the loss of authority by legislatures and courts, and the fragmentation and at times complete disintegration of broadly based political parties.”
These self-styled revolutionaries thrive on divisiveness. “The aim of the revolutionary is to polarize politics,” Huntington explains, “and hence he attempts to simplify, to dramatize, and to amalgamate political issues into a single, clear-cut dichotomy.” Such leaders attract new rural voters via “ethnic and religious appeals” as well as economic arguments, only to quickly betray their aspirations.
“A popular demagogue may emerge,” Huntington writes, “develop a widespread but poorly organized following, threaten the established interests of the rich and aristocrats, be voted into political office, and then be bought off by the very interests which he has attacked.” Such interests include those of the leaders’ close relatives, he explains, because for them “no distinction existed between obligations to the state and obligation to the family.”
Huntington’s “The Soldier and the State” (1957), a study of civilian-military relations, is instructive on the self-regard of such leaders, especially when the author contrasts the professionalism of military officers with the imperiousness of fascist strongmen. “Fascism emphasizes the supreme power and ability of the leader, and the absolute duty of subordination to his will,” Huntington writes. The fascist is intuitive, with “little use or need for ordered knowledge and practical, empirical realism. He celebrates the triumph of the Will over external obstacles.”
Such obstacles take the form of popular protests against unpopular leaders. Today, some writers even find solace in our national upheaval, arguing that the activism and energy Trump’s election has wrought will strengthen U.S. democracy. But in a book titled “The Crisis of Democracy” (1975), Huntington examines a time of similar civic resurgence, and is not encouraged by the outcome.
“The 1960s witnessed a dramatic renewal of the democratic spirit in America,” Huntington writes. Not yet dismissive of identity politics, he praises the “markedly higher levels of self-consciousness” and mobilization on the part of African Americans, Latinos, students and women in that era, noting that “the spirit of equality [and] the impulse to expose and correct inequities were abroad in the land.” The problem, he explains, is that the political system also became weighed down by popular mistrust, however deserved, of American institutions. “The vitality of democracy in the 1960s,” he writes, “raised questions about the governability of democracy in the 1970s.”
The biggest questions involved the highest office. “Probably no development of the 1960s and 1970s has greater import for the future of American politics than the decline in the authority, status, influence, and effectiveness of the presidency,” Huntington writes. He fears that a delegitimized executive threatened not just national cohesion but national security. “If American citizens don’t trust their government, why should friendly foreigners? If American citizens challenge the authority of American government, why shouldn’t unfriendly governments?”
Huntington was writing in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, and now the current White House faces its own crisis of credibility. Trump, so obsessed with his electoral victory that a framed map of the 2016 results was recently spotted in the White House, would do well to heed warnings about governability.
“Once he is elected president,” Huntington writes, “the president’s electoral coalition has, in a sense, served its purpose. The day after his election the size of his majority is almost — if not entirely — irrelevant to his ability to govern the country. . . . What counts then is his ability to mobilize support from the leaders of the key institutions in society and government.”
It feels odd to write of Trump as a Huntingtonian figure. One is instinctual and anti-intellectual; the other was deliberate and theoretical. One communicates via inarticulate bursts; the other wrote books for the ages. I imagine Huntington would be apprehensive about a commander-in-chief so indifferent to a foreign power’s assault on the U.S. electoral system, and one displaying so little of the work ethic and reverence for the rule of law that Huntington admired.
What makes the professor a prophet for our time is not just that his vision is partially reflected in Trump’s message and appeal, but that he understood well the dangers of the style of politics Trump practices.
Where they come together, I believe, is in their nostalgic and narrow view of American uniqueness. Huntington, like Trump, wanted America to be great, and came to long for a restoration of values and identity that he believed made the country not just great but a nation apart. However, if that path involves closing ourselves off, demonizing newcomers and demanding cultural fealty, then how different are we, really, from anywhere else? The central agony of the Trump era is that rather than becoming great, America is becoming unexceptional.
And that’s not a clash of civilizations. It’s a civilization crashing.

Books cited in this essay:

  • The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations by Samuel P. Huntington. Belknap Press. 534 pp. 1957.
  • Political Order in Changing Societies by Samuel P. Huntington. Yale University Press. 488 pp. 1968.
  • The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission by Michel Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington and Joji Watanuki. New York University Press. 220 pp. 1975.
  • American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony by Samuel P. Huntington. Belknap Press. 303 pp. 1981.
  • The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington. Simon & Schuster. 368 pp. 1996.
  • Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity by Samuel P. Huntington. Simon & Schuster. 428 pp. 2004.

The Irony of Trump's Election Victory

The irony is that Trump was elected not because of a majority of the popular vote, but thanks to the electoral college -- which the Founders had established in part to prevent demagogues from becoming president of the United States ("Hamilton was also concerned about somebody unqualified, but with a talent for 'low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity', attaining high office").

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Eastern promise: How Stalin rebuilt Moscow in his own image

[JB-Pardon the technical problems in fully displaying the content of this article.] CNNDeyan Sudjic is director of London's Design Museum. This is an edited excerpt from "Imagine Moscow: Architecture, Propaganda, Revolution," the book accompanying a new exhibition at the museum.
(CNN)When you look at Europe's capital cities, you see, spelled out in physical form, the nature of the ideas that brought them into being.
Today's London is the fruit of unintended consequences. Its skyline is dictated by a market economy, distorted by the demands placed on it by politicians who have tried to shift the provision of civic amenities onto private finance.
Paris has a historic center built for Napoleon III by Baron Haussmann in an attempt to create the image of an imperial capital, though not successful enough to discourage the Paris Commune or the Prussian invasion of 1870.
Moscow has different roots. With the Kremlin at its heart, it still has a structure bequeathed by a medieval autocracy. Since 1917 it was the subject of a concerted effort to make it the capital not just of Russia or of the Soviet Union, but of a new world order. A capital shaped not by the market, but by an idea of what a city could be.

Abandoning tradition

When the Alekseyevsky convent was built on a water meadow just outside the Kremlin wall in 1347, Moscow was a city still being fought over by Poles, Lithuanians and Russians. The city was just a couple of centuries old, and still had memories of being burned to the ground by the Tartars. Over seven centuries this particular site reveals the violent shifts in the nature of not just Moscow, but Russia too.
The remains of the convent were demolished to make way for the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the largest Orthodox church in the world, paid for with the kopeks of Russian peasants dropped into collecting boxes all over Russia, as a celebration of national deliverance from Napoleon's troops.
Czar Alexander I had commissioned Aleksander Vitberg to design a cathedral of a scale and grandeur that would reflect Russia's ambition to be seen as a mighty and expansive state. With a dome more than 750 feet high, it would have been twice the size of the Vatican. But there were doubts about its feasibility.
After Vitberg was accused of embezzlement and exiled to Siberia, Alexander's successor, Nikolas I, handed the project over to another architect, Konstantin Ton, who redesigned it in a more traditional Russian style, and on a more modest scale.
Nevertheless, at 360 feet to the top of the cross on its biggest dome, it was still as tall as London's St Paul's. When it was finally completed, Tchaikovsky wrote the 1812 overture in celebration.
A taper lit at one of its altars was believed to bring good fortune, provided that you could get it home without it blowing out. Easter services attracted thousands of worshipers to the vast white marble structure.
Stalin dynamited the church in 1931. He was determined to recast the center of Moscow, and he wanted the site for the Palace of the Soviets, the symbol of his regime.

A new vision

Under the supervision of Stalin's close political ally, Vyacheslav Molotov, a competition was organized to find a designer. The brief was to produce a "monumental structure outstanding in its architectural formulation," according to the May 1940 issue of The Architecture of the USSR.
Molotov's men searched the world for suitable candidates. Walter Gropius and Hans Polezig, competitors for the chance to build Hitler's Reichsbank just two years earlier, took part alongside Erich Mendelsohn, Auguste Perret, Le Corbusier, Naum Gabo and three Soviet architectural teams.
The eventual winner after several rounds was Boris Iofan, a well-connected architect from Ukraine, who was not yet forty.
After studying in Odessa, Ukraine, Iofan had spent ten years in Rome working in the studio of Armando Brasini, the man who became close to Mussolini and worked in Libya and on the replanning of Rome.
His design, guided by what he went on to describe as Stalin's genius would have been as tall as the Empire State Building, topped by a representation of Lenin, pointing at the Kremlin, that itself would have overshadowed the Statue of Liberty.
The Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow in 1925
Together reaching 500 meters (1640 feet) high, the scale would have been without historical precedent.
Stalin asked the finalists to incorporate "the best of the past, with modern technology," per to the May 1940 issue of Architecture of the USSR. To this end, Iofan teamed up with officially approved architects Vladimir Shchuko and Vladimir Gelfreikh to build the project. But it was Iofan that Stalin chose to rebuild Moscow in his image.
Living in the House on the Embankment, the sprawling city within the city he had built himself to house the party elite, Iofan could have watched the dynamiting of the basilica from the window of his apartment. He might have looked on as ill-fated residents were marched away by the NKVD (known in English as The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs) on many nights during the purges. The survivors would ask the doormen for the names of the disappeared.
Justifying the destruction of the basilica, Iofan claimed that the old church was "huge, and cumbersome, looking like a cake, or a samovar ... which (symbolized) the power and the taste of the lords of old Moscow."

Growing challenges

Those still brave enough to challenge Stalin's determination to destroy every trace protested angrily. Several priests who tried to salvage religious relics were summarily shot, while two technicians who refused to take part in dynamiting the remains of the hulk were sent to the gulags. Remembering the sacrifices of the Russian people in defeating an invader from Western Europe was off the agenda.
Having destroyed the Holy Savior, the leaders of the new Moscow started on building its replacement in 1935.
"Why is the podium raised so little above the hall?" Stalin demanded, according to Architecture of the USSR. "It must be higher. There must be no chandeliers, the illumination must come from indirect light."
The main hall was increased to a capacity of 21,000 seats, under a 380-foot high dome. It was ringed by six smaller halls, each thematically expressing a section of the six-part oath Stalin took when he succeeded Lenin, including the Stalin Constitution Hall, and the Hall of the Building of Socialism, as well as a Museum of World Revolution.
The tower was designed in classical fashion, in three related parts. The base was to represent the precursors of socialism, the shaft of the tower Marx and Engels; the whole was crowned, of course, by the vision of Lenin. The tips of his fingers, 20 feet long, would have been lost in cloud on many days.
The Soviet Union, however, did not have the skill to build the structure. Accounts of the troubled construction of the original basilica, which had been plagued by flooding caused by a high water table and pressure from the river, were ignored by Stalin's cowed experts.
Things seemed to go well at first. The foundations for the palace had been dug by the end of 1938 and work started on the steelwork. Clearing the entire site would have involved jacking up the Pushkin Museum, mounting it on huge rollers and moving it bodily out of the way, which the Politburo were fully prepared to do.
Joseph Stalin with Vladimir Lenin  in Gorky, USSR (now Nizhny Novgorod, Russia) in 1922.
By 1939, the road closures necessary to prepare for moving the museum out of the way had been announced. But the site was getting increasingly waterlogged and nothing that Iofan tried would solve the problem. The retaining walls were tanked with tar and lined with tombstones, but neither stopped the water rising for long.
Many far more powerful men were executed as saboteurs for much less conspicuous failures, but Iofan evidently had a special rapport with Stalin that saved him from the gulag and the Lubyanka. He was left to build the Soviet pavilion at the New York World's Fair in 1939.
The process of building was as important for Stalin's purposes as the finished product. Moscow's shop windows in the 1930s and 1940s could offer little in the way of food, let alone consumer goods. But they were filled with images that depicted the Palace of the Soviets, in that distinctive dreamlike style favored during the Stalin years.
The dictator had himself portrayed as the fount of all this magnificence, its creative genius, infantilizing the Soviet Union in the process. The Architecture of the USSR May 1940 issue devoted twelve pages to Iofan, printing his picture next to the latest version of the Palace of the Soviets, with pages reproduced from his sketchbook showing watercolors of the Pantheon and the Roman amphitheater at Syracuse.
He was described as a master of Soviet architecture, and the piece documents the transformation of the conference hall from its original 1932 design to its final incarnation. In the first version, three concentric drums surround the dome. They sprout classical wings in the shape of twin crescents equipped with an endless procession of giant Corinthian columns flanking the entrance.
After that came the tower, and the ever more colossal statue of Lenin.

After Stalin

It was only the German invasion of 1941 that stopped work. The palace's structural steel, by this time reaching as high as the eleventh floor, was dismantled for war use; Iofan and his models were transferred to a new studio on the eastern side of the Urals.
After the war, Iofan returned to his apartment, and continued to work on the project, offering Stalin a number of options for its completion, none of which was adopted.
Instead, Stalin decided on another project to transform Moscow by building a ring of highrise towers that in their impact recalled some of the Constructivists' proposals from the 1920s, but used a very different architectural language, one that drew on Iofan's work for the Palace of the Soviets.
The project to build eight towers was announced in 1947. Moscow State University, designed by Lev Rudnev, is the largest. Along with the Hotel Ukraina, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Leningradskaya Hotel and three other towers, it was completed by 1952.
After Stalin's death, Khrushchev was ready to denounce the crimes of his predecessor in a closed session of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He turned the remains of the palace into the largest swimming pool in the city, a perfect circle with a 100 meter (328 feet) diameter, presenting a less autocratic, more populist version of the Soviet system.
From his increasingly shabby apartment, Iofan could again have looked down on a demolition site. This time, though, the destruction was of the project for which he had surrendered his integrity to the dictator of the twentieth century with more blood on his hands than Hitler. Iofan died in 1979.
The Soviet Union had only another thirteen years left. In the last years of the Soviet Union, the pool closed and the water was drained. Even before the collapse of the old system, the state had given permission for a new church to be rebuilt on the site.
The first post-Soviet mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, demolished the pool and began to build a replica of what Stalin had destroyed in one of the first and most conspicuous projects of his 18-year reign.

Moscow today

Emerging from Moscow's Kropotkinskaya metro station today, you pass the loafers drinking beer at the café table. You turn, and are confronted by a vision so dazzling that you can hardly see anything else. The five golden domes of the Basilica of Christ the Savior hurt the eyes, gleaming in the sun with a patina that seems to turn a vivid shade of turquoise.
A bronze relief frieze of figures runs around the exterior, charting Russian history. Warriors clutch their spears and bearded priests brandish the word of God, held aloft on metal tablets, like the digital cameras raised by supplicant tourists.
The basilica is protected by a metal fence and ringed by elaborate cast-iron lamp posts, stone balustrades, and endless sequences of steps. It sits on a band of putty-colored granite with a gray, rusticated stone base. Get closer and you discover that under the surface is a subterranean complex of ramps, roads and underground parking lots, all of which betray the whole gleaming confection as a faithful hallucination.
This is a replica of the church that Stalin destroyed. The bronze doors, sculptures, inscriptions, gaudy flower beds, lamp posts and carved stone are all the work of late twentieth century craftsmen. It is the kind of thing the people who make hyper realistic effigies for Jeff Koons would do if left to themselves.
The new church, like the memorial to Peter the Great across the river, is the product of the ex-mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, and the sculptor Zurab Tsereteli. Boris Yeltsin himself laid the foundation stone, and lay inside the completed basilica when he died. It is the church in which the five members of Pussy Riot filmed their 40-second protest against the connections between the Orthodox church and Putin's regime.
Some years ago, I was given a tour Iofan's apartment in the House on the Embankment. From the bedroom window, I looked out to see the rebuilt domes of Christ the Savior. The room had been neglected for decades. A plastic shower curtain had been slung over boxes of the architect's papers, but it did little to protect them from the dust caused by the workmen attempting to modernize the kitchen.
There was a plaster maquette of the Lenin statue from the Palace of the Soviets under the desk. In one box I found sheaves of black-edged envelopes. I opened one to find that it contained a telegram from Stalin. Iofan's plea to have one of his assistants released from fighting the Germans so that he could join the evacuated architectural studio beyond the Urals had been granted.
There were ancient photo albums. Here was Iofan shaking hands with Frank Lloyd Wright as they tour the Soviet pavilion that he designed for the New York World's Fair of 1939, an incongruous tribute to the proletarian revolution in Queens.
The chaotic mess of books and papers, medals and ancient electrical appliances, felt like the residue of an entire system. Which is exactly what it was.
"Imagine Moscow: Architecture, Propaganda, Revolution" is on at the Design Museum in London from March 15 to June 4, 2017.