I was the beneficiary of many professorial dressings-down during architecture school. The one I probably deserved most (and I did deserve most of them) was for citing, as precedent for a colonnaded columbarium project, the grandstand that Nazi architect Albert Speer built on the Nuremberg parade grounds, because it too had rows of columns. I pinned a picture of it on the jury-room wall, alongside a plan of the Stoa of Attalos and my smudgy pencil-on-vellum renderings. The instructor was quick to reprimand me for my naïveté about the relationship between design and ethics.

I had found the image in the school library, in Albert Speer: Architecture 1932–1942, a 1985 monograph by traditionalist Léon Krier. Monacelli Press released a new edition last month. Krier’s enthusiasm for Speer was (and still is) controversial. His position: The Nazis spoiled classicism for the rest of us, in an unfair case of guilt by association. “Classical architecture was implicitly condemned by the Nuremberg tribunals to a heavier sentence than Speer the Reichsminister,” he wrote in his original essay. Of course, classicism was marginalized in postwar Europe for the same good reason that Germany banned the swastika: Both had come to represent an abhorrent political ideology.

All architecture is political, as Peter Eisenman notes during his conversation with Krier. In such matters, one typically takes the good with the bad. I’m comfortable separating my love of Bernini’s baldacchino in St. Peter’s from my sadness about the Inquisition’s mistreatment of Galileo, though Pope Urban VIII was responsible for both. But regardless of how talented Speer was or how compelling a case Krier makes for his work, it’s difficult to separate the architecture of National Socialism from the clientele.

What Krier didn’t anticipate, while writing the Speer monograph in the early ’80s, is just how far and how quickly classicism in general would rebound. At the time, the postmodernists were already reviving interest in historic design vocabularies and planning patterns. Within a decade, Berlin itself was being rebuilt along traditional lines, both architecturally and urbanistically. And today, Krier teaches at Yale, boasts the Prince of Wales as patron, and can fairly claim to be godfather of New Urbanism. These are not the circumstances of an underdog.

In a new preface to the book, Krier outlines an aggressive position on social and environmental issues. “We consume goods that may be produced by slave labor, use machinery that may ruin the conditions of life on the planet,” he writes. “How can we behave ethically and responsibly if we are an organic part of an unsustainable world economy?”

Globalization has its discontents, but Krier considers it is as corrosive as the Third Reich was, which strikes me as hyperbole. Manichean thinking leads to logical fallacy. Globalization is evil, Krier maintains, and modern architecture is its agent. Therefore modern architecture is bad. His antidote, not surprisingly, is classical architecture, and lots of it, built using traditional construction methods. But by Krier’s own argument, shouldn’t classicism be condemned for its Nazi affiliation?

Speer believed that his stripped-down, monumental classicism would bring order and purpose to the machine age, but of course he was really producing brick-and-mortar propaganda, a high-culture cover for assembly-line slaughter. “I repeatedly reproached Speer for his unrepentant belief in industrial civilization,” Krier recounts. “ ‘But Mr. Krier,’ he boldly answered, ‘There is nothing to think about, industry is right, there is no going back.’ ”

What a chilling conversation, this clash of extremisms. Don’t be fooled by the fact that Speer and Krier have classicism in common. The former was an out-and-out technocrat and the latter is a Luddite. While there is a growing consensus that architecture’s 20th-century stampede toward progress was not an absolute good, it wasn’t all bad, either. And while the profession has much to learn from history, going back shouldn’t mean unconditional surrender to nostalgia, or total abandonment of innovation. Building a better world—reworking the machine for living to be more equitable and sustainable—requires a careful sense of balance.