Victor Davis Hanson is no Luddite. A classics scholar, he appreciates culture in the health of a society. But he’s had enough. He’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore! So tune in? Turn on? Nah. Drop out. Many of us can relate. The crassness of American culture that at every turn contradicts and ridicules our deepest held beliefs is hard to take.
Of course this has been going on a long time. And the basic response of those on the right has been what? Whatever it has been for the last 50 years obviously isn’t working very well, because we don’t see much improvement and things appear to be getting worse. Sure there are flashes of light here and there, but generally the hegemony of the secular left in professions of cultural influence is almost absolute.
I have some confessions to make, not because any of you readers are particularly interested in my views; but rather because I think some of you are in the same boat: Have you stopped reading, listening, watching, and paying attention to most of what now passes for establishment public or popular culture? I am not particularly proud of this quietism (many Athenians did it in the early 4th century BC and Romans by the late 3rd AD), but not really ashamed of it either.
This is unfortunate, because the battle for the soul of America and American’s souls is not politics, as the right has concentrated on almost exclusively for decades. It is culture, and the ubiquity of popular culture and it’s all pervasive influence means it is something we cannot afford to ignore, write off or simply criticize. We need to engage.
But what does that mean? We’ve started an organization to address just this question. It is called The Culture Alliance. Our conviction is that the right can no longer afford to think that some election or candidate or public policy initiative is going to change the fundamental direction of American culture. As important as those things are, they are simply not sufficient. Fifty years of evidence should be enough to convince even the most committed political animal.
Unfortunately Hanson hasn’t come to that conclusion:
A final, odd observation. As I have dropped out of contemporary American culture and retreated inside some sort of 1950s time-warp, in a strange fashion of compensation for non-participation , I have tried to remain more engaged than ever in the country’s political and military crises, which are acute and growing. One’s distancing from the popular culture of movies, TV, newspapers, and establishment culture makes one perhaps wish to overcompensate in other directions, from the trivial to the important.
This is sad. Culture, including these areas he’s mentioned, as well as education and academia, are anything but trivial. They determine the very worldview of the American people, their assumptions about what is important, their choices as to what is moral and right and good, as well as what is evil, bad or corrupt. It also determines the American people’s political choices.
How could we ever write off something so important, so influential, and so determinative of the essence of a people? I’ll tell you how. Spend 50 years on the outside criticizing culture as if it had some life of its own. Primarily take an adversarial role toward something we feel we have no power to influence. That’s how. All that criticizing and critiquing, and look what we have to show for it. Squat! I’m outta here: an understandable but tragic response.
Let’s think strategically about culture, as we have obsessively done about politics, about how we can influence those professions of such profound influence. Simply that means more journalists, screenwriters, authors, teachers, academics, artists, actors, directors, studio executives, school superintendents, and you get the idea, who appreciate, embrace and proclaim America’s founding values. If we leave the cultural influence professions to the left we shouldn’t be surprised at the results.
Given the state of higher education, I’m left wondering why Professor Hanson doesn’t quite teaching. A cynic might respond, “Because they pay him to teach. No one’s paying him to watch television, go to the movies or read the latest bestselling novel.” While that statement is true as far as it goes, it does not advance the dialog. I daresay Prof. Hanson continues to reach out to and inspire young students because he believes that is what creates an informed polis. Once those students leave the hallowed halls of academe, however, the greatest influence in their lives will not be politicians enacting legislation in Washington D.C or the 50 state capitals, but rather by writers, artists, and journalists working in Hollywood and New York.
VDH recognizes the poor product that is American “establishment public and popular culture.” Rather than encourage a better product, he turns his back, shakes the dust from his sandals and leaves the people to the mess the Left has created. I am starting to think how incredibly selfish it is of these vaunted public intellectuals on the Right, who retreat to their institutions or, in this case, farm and hurl stones at those that which works everyday to, as Pres. Obama stated when he began his tenure in the White House, “fundamentally transform America.”
If Prof. Hanson honestly had the courage of his convictions and wanted to fully embrace “this quietism,” this desire to stop “reading, listening, watching, and paying attention to most of what now passes for establishment public or popular culture,” then he would stop teaching, stop writing, stop speaking. He would simply till his fields and wait for the day that he was called to his great reward.
Of course, that course would be absurd, and not something I’d like to see Prof. Hanson do. He is a strong voice for the values that made this nation, and Western Civilization in general, great. Why he would encourage those who agree with him to take the path of retreat and defeat when it comes to our cultural institutions is truly baffling.
That’s exactly it, Pascal. We need to think strategically about culture, at least as much as we have and do about politics. Imagine millions of classically liberal oriented individuals and organizations doing this, building communities and networks, and money flowing to back it up. It will take a long time, but change will come.
The destruction of American Culture, Western Culture, appears to have started in the early 1900s. In 1943 C.S.Lewis wrote of the noticeably deleterious effects of that “little green book” designed for teaching teachers that he broadly criticized in his “Men Without Chests” lecture.
I suggest reversing the process. Teach people how to appreciate fine art and to discriminate the good from trash, and how to teach others what they’ve learned. Set them loose on the Internet charging fees for their services, thereby circumventing the established order. The star teachers that arise will breed even more. In the process, the Ivory towers will be overrun by thorns.
That is simply one prescription off the top of my head. I’m sure a more effective cure will develop once people who are currently starved for really uplifting art are trained to develop a real appreciation for what is good and then demand more of it.
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