The Present Order is one of five works Ian Hamilton Finlay created using the words of French Revolutionary Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Just (1767-1794). Each group of stone blocks is carved with the phrase, “The Present Order is the Disorder of the Future” and the surname of its author, written in Dutch, English, French, German, or in this case, Italian. A controversial figure owing to his zealous support of the Reign of Terror and close relationship with Maximilien de Robespierre, Saint-Just believed that a new society, one which fully recognized the working class, could be realized. The Present Order, placed along The Carell Trail, achieves a similar contrast between the grand ideals of neoclassicism and traditional garden design. Positioned at the base of a long allée leading up to Cheekwood’s Historic Mansion & Museum, the words of Saint-Just, spread across eight stones, becomes a fragment, unavoidably recalling ancient ruins or tombstones.
Finlay, who began his career as a writer and leader of the concrete poetry movement, in which the author uses a word’s visual qualities to convey meaning, was deeply influenced by classical philosophy and the ideals of the French Revolution. In the late 1960s, Finlay began working with collaborators, like Nicholas Sloan who carved the inscription of The Present Order, to translate his writings and selected textual fragments into different types of objects, including sculptures made of stone, glass, and neon. He is best known for Little Sparta, the classical garden he cultivated on his property in Scotland and filled with his work.