‘Symbols of Tyranny in American Life’

by Ramesh Ponnuru

“Tyranny” seems to me too strong a word, but I think Peter Berger is right about this:

Before I leave this topic of symbols of tyranny, there is one more I want to mention: The physical arrangements of Congressional hearings: The senators or representatives in charge of the hearing sit on a raised platform. The witnesses sit at tables well below the platform, to which they have to look up. Let me propose that this is an inappropriate  arrangement in a democracy—even if the characters up on the platform do not harangue or insult the witnesses, as happens all too often. The physical trappings of political life are not unimportant. I think that the architecture of the Kremlin strongly symbolizes tyranny. By contrast, there is the simplicity of the White House, suggesting a government open to the citizenry (even if today the basement is full of individuals with submachine guns and rocket launchers). That is indeed an architecture of democracy. It should also mark the interior furnishings of hearings in the Capitol.

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