There is an artistic temperament, and most people with it are concentrated on one particular side of the Great American Divide.
I’ve written on this topic before, discussing how “conservatives” seem unsuited to be good artists and culture creators. Hyper-individualism, a “desire to be just left alone, man!” and a focus on economics as every human being’s raison d’être lead them to not be artistic in the least. Or maybe it’s that modern mainstream conservatism is attractive to the un-artistic and actively anti-artistic. I don’t know.
Yes, I understand the right-leaning are frozen out of the arts and entertainment world. But their refusal to offer real resistance led to this predicament in the first place.
In the interests of full disclosure, I need to let you know that while I may have identified as a conservative in the past, I have fundamentally rejected that label for at least three years now, if not longer–I may have applied it to myself at some point on this blog, but what I used to consider “conservative” and what actual conservatives consider “conservative” have proven to be very different things. So for those of you Smart Boys and Girls who would try to catch me in a “lie,” go screw.
An excellent piece passed my way by friend Alexandru Constantin by Paul Krause of the (sigh) Imaginative Conservative called “The Culture of Conservatism” touches on a lot of these points, though in a much more eloquent way than I am capable of. I’m going to focus on the money quotes near the end, although the entire article is worth reading in full.
First, Krause starts with an important point: defining what culture is and is not matters:
What is culture? “Culture War” has reentered the vocabulary of many people as of late, yet there is little evidence that people who openly embrace the concept of culture or “culture war” know what they are speaking of. Most reflections on the culture wars focus on anti-cultural things, namely, purely political ideals and policies. That is not culture.
He’s right, of course, that politics is not culture. Culture informs and drives politics, not vice versa. Everybody seems to have understood this until fairly recently.
Skipping ahead to the end, we see that Krause understands what really moves people to act and change the way the think:
So-called conservatives who reduce culture to mere political principles and ideology show themselves as culturally deracinated. Conservatism is anti-ideological precisely because it is premised on a defense of culture and not the whimsical and fanciful dream of class and social rearrangement. Those who claim conservatism is ideologically centered on principles like free speech, equality, or freedom know not what they’re speaking of. That defense of culture is based on a defense of the history, identity, and mythological symbolism of the people that constitute the core of the culture. Conservatism is rooted in an enchanted aesthetic concerning the past which turns the consciousness of the contemporary generation to gaze fondly on the past and see the present as something beautiful and therefore worth preserving and growing forward.
Here, Krause distinguishes from the “so-called conservatives” of his first sentence, those focused on political principles, from what I’m assuming he considers actual conservatives, who understand what culture IS and how it must be defended.
I differ with Krause on the idea that being “anti-ideological” is somehow a good thing, which this seems to imply. You need to be for something if you want to get anywhere. You have to have a coherent plan. Further, basing an entire movement on playing defense is destined to lose. Nobody wins a war by not taking enemy ground or breaking the enemy’s will. And if it’s a culture war so-called conservatives or conservatives in fact want to fight, they’d better be prepared to get their hands dirty.
However, the idea that the ideals of the past, and a people’s culture–and therefore the present–are worth fighting for and preserving is a good thing. I just wish it was coupled with a desire to get out there and take a few scalps, metaphorically speaking.
Those who mock the arts, the humanities, and “candlelight poetry reading” (as I’ve heard on “conservative” talk radio before) have not the slightest inkling of understanding the phenomenon of culture, how it rises and how it dies. No wonder these “conservatives” constantly lose the culture war.
I have no quibbles with Krause on this score. So many conservatives don’t seem to understand the maxim they love to repeat ad nauseum, that “politics is downstream from culture.” If this is the case, where are the conservative millionaires and billionaires funding conservative culture? Where are the conservative movie studios designed to counter Hollywood’s propaganda? Isn’t that what the mainstream American right always talks about doing, building alternative institutions? So where’s the money? Where’s the infrastructure? A large part of creating the alternative has to be top-down, and I know this rankles many conservative’s inherent distrust of (certain) authority, but too bad. You don’t win a war, cultural or otherwise, without some type of organization. And spare me the “The Revolutionary War!” talk. The American army was organized and had leaders, don’t kid yourselves.
By reducing culture and civilization to a few political principles, like free speech or free enterprise, these self-declared conservatives throw away everything that is necessary for conservatism to flourish: our history, our heroes, and our living tradition known as the humanities. Conservatives have a 4,000-year history stretching back to the Trojan War, Greek settlers, Rome, Christendom, to the Normandy Beaches. American conservatives, whose very existence in this long and enchanted understanding of the world and history depended on the Athenian victory at Salamis to Charles Martel’s victory at Tours and to Christopher Columbus’ fateful voyage, have the richest and deepest conservatism precisely because it is not parochial but expansive and takes in so much history and tradition. American conservatism (and Anglo conservatism more generally) has the roots of Hebraism, Greece and Rome, and Christendom as the base of its garden. Filled with all those heroes, poets, and battles; labors, miracles, and triumphs; it would be shameful to let that richness dry up and blandly talk about how free speech, open debate, and rule of law is all that constitutes culture.
The success of the Left in the culture war shows that the Left understands culture better than most conservatives do. The Left understands culture is rooted in memory and symbolism and so, in order to change a culture, they must make the contemporary generation look upon the past not with fondness but with hatred and revulsion. Because aesthetics is central to culture, those who see the past—the historic and mystic chords of memory—as something beautiful will defend it, nurture it, and pass it on to the next generation. Those who see the past as something ugly, filled with crimes, filled with injustices, will seek to “change” and do away with it. More acutely, they will destroy the past through the destruction of memory and promoting a negative receptivity to history and heroes.
This is beautifully said. The American conservative movement likes to reduce everything to economics and law. These things don’t get people fired up to act the way, say, a moral argument does. This is another way in which the left understands how to motivate people, while the right does not. However, the key point Krause makes that I want to highlight is the idea of aesthetics. THIS IS THE KEY.
What is the aesthetic of the left? You might sneer and say “Hippies!” and “Pink-haired SJWs!” and you’d be right . . . but that’s not the entire story. Hollywood is an aesthetic of the left. The music industry is an aesthetic of the left. These are far more powerful than any think tank whitepaper extolling the benefits of corporate tax cuts. There is also the fact that moral arguments are more powerful than economic arguments, but let’s stick to the cultural and aesthetic component for the purposes of discussing Krause’s piece.
On a darker note, you know what other movements had really good aesthetics and were able to influence a whole lot of people, to the tune of millions, to join their cause? The Nazis and the Soviets. Now, by contrasting a communist like Vladimir Lenin with one like Bernie Sanders, you can see that the contemporary American left doesn’t always win the aesthetics and culture game . . . but then again neither do dorks like Richard Spencer and other neo-Nazi LARPers with a Third Reich fetish.
The point is that an aesthetic, whether it’s a visual or an attitude, conveys much more on a deeper level than any well-reasoned intellectual argument. Rhetoric trumps dialectic. I wish this wasn’t true either, but that’s the way it goes.
People want to join the winning team, or the team that seems like its winning. People want to be a part of the group that looks like it’s having fun. And people like the cool kids. Real life is high school with money.
Conservatives who think that going to college campuses to advocate for free speech constitutes a culture war are so behind the game it is almost comical to hear them stylizing themselves as culture warriors. Politics is downstream from culture. That has always been the prevailing wisdom of conservative thinkers. Turning political ideology into culture shows how far one has drifted from culture. To put it simply, “free-markets and free-speech,” however good and noble these things may be, will neither conserve the enchanted chords of memory and historical receptivity that conservatism is predicated on, nor pass on the rich treasure chest of the humanities to the next generation. With those enchanted chords of memory severed, the positive receptivity of our history and heroes turned to hatred and revulsion, the culling of the humanities complete—there is no culture to enjoy or pass on. The task of the conservative is to revive culture; this will be no easy task, but then again, neither was Aeneas’ journey or Virgil’s composition of “our classic.”
Krause saves his best indictment of modern American conservatives for last. ToTaLlY dEsTrOyInG cAmPuS sOcIaLiSt SnOwFlAkEs does nothing to move the needle. Nothing. And you prove nothing by going to a campus and whipping up a fervor of angry students who think you’re a literal genocidal monster. This is a complete and utter waste of time that I can only cynically see as a ploy of individual conservatives trying to make a name for themselves, generate publicity, and sell extra copies of their forthcoming books. Yes, preaching to the choir doesn’t move the needle either, but neither does preaching to people who are never going to come over to your way of thinking anyway. You need to use your choir to get to the middle, the normies, the ordinary folks, who will see the wrongness and danger and extremism of the other side.
I understand the argument that, by seeing the campus crazies freaking out and burning their school down, the normies will turn against them. That’d be the case if the people who run and work in media didn’t overwhelmingly support the campus crazies. The intended message isn’t getting out. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see college lectures changing the cultural landscape one bit.
I also get that one must get to the youth if there is to be change. Millennials are set to be the largest voting block very shortly, after all. But most of that particular generation is old enough to be set in its ways. What those who actually want to change hearts and minds need to do is think like the other side. You don’t go at the college-aged. You go younger. You joint the school board and the PTA. You become teachers and professors. You get the jobs where you can design the cirricculum. You have to–yes–indoctrinate.
Everybody is indoctrinated, and everybody indoctrinates. Indoctrination in and of itself isn’t a dirty word or a bad thing. The question, as always, is whom is being indoctrinated, who is doing the indoctrinating, and what are they being indoctrinated into?
By refusing to ever use power, conservatives play right into their supposed enemies’ hands. After all, unilateral disarmament has never, in the history of the world, won any victories. And I say “supposed” enemies because at this point it’s not hard to see American conservatives as controlled opposition.
The Imaginative Conservative is an interesting site that seems to understand what culture is and how to participate in and influence it. The writers over there seem like an erudite bunch, far too professional and sophisticated for a guy like me, but it seems that, temperamental differences aside, we agree on many points, particularly when it comes to diagnosing the problem.
Now, what to do about it?
If you consider yourself a conservative, here are my recommendations, some reiterated from past blog posts:
- Get over yourself. It isn’t about you. Put your hyper-individualism, your supposed hatred of any and all groups, and your desire to be left alone aside and support those who are in the trenches.
- Create. Arts are not for artsy fartsy nobodies without any talent at “useful” pursuits. Many artists put a lot of hard work, time, and dedication bending their will and intelligence towards their art. Maybe you have an artistic talent but have been repressing it for fear that your conservative friends will ostracize you. Let them.
- Support. If you’re not a creator, then support those who are. Buy something. Throw a few bucks someone’s way. Spread the word.
- Don’t spread despair. Nobody likes a black-piller. Things might seem rough, but oh well. Listen: the other side (of any conflict, actually) thinks they’re losing. So what differentiates an actual winner from a loser? Morale. Keep morale up. If you have misgivings or are feeling down, discuss it privately. But don’t sew discord, despair, and disunity out in the open. Yes, this requires discipline.
- Stop giving money to people who hate you. If you’re opposed to X movie studio or Y musician, why pay money to see their movies or download their music or attend a concert? Why even complain about them, thereby giving them attention and free publicity? Boycotts aren’t “anti-American!” or “anti-capitalist!” They’re the most powerful way to send a message the way our economic system is set up. Whether an organized boycott or a boycott of one, if you’re fundamentally opposed to some artist and their art, please kindly refrain from dropping your coin in the slot.
We got this!
I practice what I preach by producing culture of my own. My hat is in the ring. Support my work by buying my books or spreading the word to sci-fi and fantasy fans you know looking for stuff that doesn’t insult them and wants to entertain! I make my art for everybody.