Saturday, June 27, 2009

What Aesthetics?

The tragic death of Michael Jackson seems as good an opportunity as any to reflect on the 'aesthetics of modern economies', as Koz put it in a recent email exchange which gave rise to my invitation to blog here. Michael, as talented as he undoubtedly was, owed his extreme popularity to the very capitalistic arrangement of the modern recording industry, which has proven itself less able to generate, say, a Mozart.

Koz observes that many on the cultural right get themselves in a jam because they support modern economic arrangement, but lament the poorer level of cultural quality that emerges from the patronage of the mass public as opposed to, say the Esterhazy's or King Ludwig, not to mention the Church. There are some on the right, namely the stricter libertarians and Objectivists, who are fine with the trade-off, but others in the current coalition, variously labelled as the neo-Amish, Cunchycons, paleocons, et al, experience 'aesthetic revulsion about the lifestyle and media of the mainstream Right', the 'Hannity-Palin axis'. This obviously is a larger field than what I would strictly call aesthetics, but there is a continuum here, so my point about royal patronage still relates. For example, Sean Hannity would have a harder time making a living getting his opinion listened to if he didn't have the very capitalistic Fox network and the mass following it generates in programming propping him up. Sarah Palin is more intelligent, I think, but all the same seems to have emerged less, in my opinion, because of her inspired pronouncements on policy, than because of her appeal with the cultural milieu of Fox broadcasting.

I'm of several minds in this, and hope that the opportunity to work on a conversation will clarify some points.

Would it be inaccurate to consider the Hannity-Palin axis to be allied with the neocons? In listing the groups in the conservative coalition (such as it is right now), it strikes me that those I usually consider neocons seem to exhibit quite little in the way of actual culture (with the notable exception of the Catholic variety, such as Weigel and the late Neuhaus, may he rest in peace). Let it be known that I harbor no great appreciation for the neocon ideas. It seems that part of the neocon difficulty is that they bring from the left ideas about 'human nature' in the abstract that don't translate well on the ground. The idea, for example, that Iraqis would naturally desire and embrace democracy is based in an ideology about the human person that is divorced from what we observe in actual cultures.

When I say that neocons lack culture, I don't mean that Cheney, the Kristols and Podheretz aren't well-read, don't enjoy fine wine, listen to Mahler or whatever; it just that their personas come off as tone deaf to the connection between culture and locality; they tend to view the globe as a monolithic thing, and where it isn't, it needs more sameness, as in American policy. Rod Dreher or Joe Sobran or Mark Shea will more often drop in references to things like food, music, literature (and not just to make facile military points in the fashion of VD Hanson), etc. I should add that I do not intend to write off the neocons, though I've been tempted to in recent years; their thought has so influenced thinking on the right that it makes no sense at this point to pretend that the right can make any headway without the neocons.

The other groups (excepting again the libertarians and Objectivists), are more closely connected with local traditions, or at least small-scale cultural phenomena, as the name 'neo-Amish' especially evokes. But certainly Paleos have always been extrememly suspicious about over-arching ideologies and reluctant to favor, say, federal policy over state and local policy.

I will break there for now, though my thoughts in the area are numerous. Back to you, Koz.

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