Monday, April 21, 2008

Libertarian Culture, Libertarian World

I"m reading a book on art by the critic Danto titled "The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art," in which he observes that philosophy has treated art as "superstructure" rather than a "base" activity. Marxism took this idea up, declaring economics to be the base activity, with art remaining superstructure. I bring this up because I just has these two terms brought up again by Mickey Kaus, in context of Obama's elitist comments.

Danto challenges this placement of art in the superstructure, pointing out that if Marxists (or anyone) really believed this, then there would be no censorship, since art is merely a reflection of the problems at the base, meaning we need to change the base. If art is a reflection of the world, and can change nothing about the world, why be upset by it? Isn't it because we actually believe art can and does change the world?

Of course all of this assumes that economics is primary, and that everything goes back to it. No one can have actual belief -- it will be overshadowed by their economic situation. If this were true, then explain away the fact that the leadership of al Qaida are all wealthy and educated. If people only cling to their guns because of lack of jobs, explain those people who quit their jobs every hunting season -- especially deer season. Economics is A factor, but it's not THE factor in everyone's lives. For many, it's not even the main factor, once the basic needs are met. And with some religious practices, basic needs are even shunned. What is the materialist to make of those who abstain from food or sex as part of their devotion to God? Or who are homeless and impoverished for that reason? The Cynics of ancient Greece famously lived homeless as a reflection of their philosophical beliefs. Of course, one could put philosophy at the base -- but if you do, then how can you classify yourself as a materialist anymore? And why exclude art from the base?

Danto suggests that Plato and the other philosophers want to exclude art because art, like rhetoric (which Plato also has issues with), is designed to move people rather than convince them using logic and reason. But what if art becomes more like philosophy, or vice versa? What if philosophy becomes increasingly rhetorical -- as the postmodernists have indeed made it? What if art becomes increasingly philosophical -- as writers like Milan Kundera have made it? What if the history of Western philosophy is just plain wrong, and art is a base activity? In other words, what if in addition to being Rational Man, we are also Emotional Man? What if we are Integrated Man?

Larger questions now emerge. Is it rational for those of us who support free markets and are of a more libertarian stripe to ignore the culture, especially the arts? The Left certainly doesn't. We need to move beyond a culture where the Left supports the arts and the Right attacks what is done in the arts. Further, how much progress can be made in our struggle to change political economy if the culture at large is Left-leaning? Won't those efforts be undermined long term?

The word "pattern" comes from the word "patron." If we want the culture to pattern itself after a libertarian world view, we need to patronize the arts. We need to support the arts and encourage the creation of great works of art that reflect the realities of the world -- and not just Leftist fantasies. We need an active group or think tank to provide the support -- both theoretical and financial -- needed to create a libertarian culture. If I am right that once the basic needs (and sometimes not even those) are met, and that they are met more often than not, that people need culture to be fully human, then we need to work on affecting the culture if we want to have a freer world. If culture is at the base, then we need to work at changing the culture just as much as we need to work at changing the economy and the government. Especially if we are serious about long-term change.
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