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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Embrace your inner liberal!

Ann Althouse, middle-aged conservative law prof by day, teenaged rock and roller by night, blogging in between to try to reconcile those two sides of herself, and somehow always managing to discover that to be a conservative is to be a teenaged rock and roller, says that all great artists, from rock and rollers to painters, are conservatives.

To be a great artist is inherently right wing. A great artist like Dylan or Picasso may have some superficial, naive, lefty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that.

(Scroll down when you go to her post; she makes that assertion in her comment section.)

Someone must have given Althouse a copy of The Fountainhead at a too impressionable age.

Great artists in her mind, apparently, are all Howard Roarks, tall, manly, strong-willed, independent, healthy-minded, violent, anti-social proto-fascists, not a Mozart, a Van Gogh, a Henry James, a George Eliot, or a Miles Davis among them, nor a reality-based version of Picasso or Bob Dylan neither.

And apparently she has extrapolated from this Randian fantasy the notion that the American Right is made up of an army of Howard Roarks and isn’t the club of Babbitts and Elmer Gantrys it appears to be to the rest of us.

Nevermind that an army of Roarks is an oxymoron, that in fact the world would be better off if all Right Wingers were Howard Roarks because they would not have anything to do with one another on principle and there’d be no organized political movement mucking up the governing of the country right now.

Althouse isn’t really thinking like a conservative, or a Randian, here.  She’s thinking like a third-rate literary critic.  She has decided that great artists like Dylan and Picasso don’t know their own minds, that she knows them better than they know themselves, and it turns out they happen to think just like Ann Althouse.

We’ve all met people like this.  People who can’t appreciate a work of art except as a mirror.  Heck, we’re all guilty of this sometimes, usually, though, when we’re 20.

It’s not peculiarly conservative of Althouse to believe that because she likes a work of art or an artist that work or that artist must reflect her own beliefs, virtues, ideals, prejudices, and vanities.

(Didn’t G.K. Chesterson try to make the case that Dickens was a closet Catholic?  Was Chesterson a conservative?  That’s not a rhetorical question.  I’m asking for my own information.)

It’s immature to think that an artist or work that she likes, and which therefore is an image of herself, cannot also reflect things she doesn’t like about herself.

If she likes a song by Bob Dylan, but that song seems to express some “naive,” “superficial” lefty politics, then that message can’t possibly really be there, because Ann Althouse wouldn’t like anything lefty.

This would be like me deciding that Dostoevsky wasn’t an anti-semite because I like Crime and Punishment.

As I said, this isn’t peculiarly conservative of Althouse.  But what is, is her assumption that certain virtues---being a strong individual, taking responsibility for one’s own place in the world---are not simply conservative, but exclusively conservative.

Liberals don’t have ‘em.

The idea that Liberals are anti-virtue---anti-family, anti-religion, anti-American, godless!---has come more to the fore since the Right Wing Fundamentalists joined the party, but it has been a driving force of the American Right for a long time, a long time.  In fact, that’s how the Republicans attracted the Christian Right.

To be conservative is to be good and to be for what is good.

Conservative would-be culture vultures like Althouse, Jonah Goldberg, and John Podhoretz tie their minds into knots---and paint themselves into corners---because of this assumption.

If you can only like and admire what is good---what is conservative---you are forced to find political meanings that aren’t there, ignore political meanings that are there, and, when you can’t do either you, like or dislike movies, books, songs, paintings, comic books, TV shows, and cereal boxes because of and exclusively for their political meanings.

In this way, Cinderella Man becomes the best movie of 2005.

(The hero, boxer Jimmy Braddock, climbs back into the ring to keep his traditional, nuclear family together and uses his winnings to pay back the dole money he got from the New Deal, because real men don’t need no government handouts.  Get it?)

This kind of ideological self-straight-jacketing is perfectly demonstrated in the National Review’s list of the top 50 conservative rock songs, as Amanda showed here the other day---Jon Swift takes it a step further, hilariously.

Many things in life are not political, or at least not primarily so, and should not be politicized.  One’s own taste in art and music, for instance.

And an individual’s public political actions have never, ever been proof of that individual’s personal virtue.

It’s just plain foolish to say that because a people are liberals, or conservatives, they can’t be good persons (or great artists).  Virtues aren’t gifted upon us by ideological angels.

For the sake of argument, though, let’s say that some beliefs, ideals, virtues even, are inherently conservative.  Conservative in that they support and enforce the status quo and legitimize established and traditional authorities.

A conservative might put it that conservative values support and enforce a stable society, but liberals can reply that if that’s the definition of conservative than liberalism is more truly conservative than the corporate capitalistic ethos of the American Right.  Another time, another post, and at my place, because my time here at Michael’s is drawing to a close.

Althouse’s definition of great artists as Howard Roarks makes them very much not conservatives.  Howard Roarks are not stablizing influences on society, nor do they go in much for legitimizing traditional authorities.

But let’s say that to believe certain things and practice certain virtues is to be conservative.

I can be conservative.  I can believe that a two-parent family is best for raising children, I can believe in God and go to church, I can admire policemen and support the troops, I can be against abortion---seriously; not just in that I wish nobody would have to have one, but in that I think it’s wrong (but!)---I can coach little league and be a Cub Scout den leader, I can believe and do all these things (and I really do and have), I can be in many ways very conservative, and still not vote like one because of other things I think and believe that are more important to me, or which I think are more important for the country, and because I don’t think conservatives are any good at governing, which is to say that they can’t bring about a stable and safe society.  Ask New Orleans.  Ask Badgad.

And in that way, as conservative as I am, I’m a liberal.

Doesn’t stop me from admiring some businessmen and women whose politics I know are to the right of Barry Goldwater’s.  Doesn’t stop me from admiring some conservative politicians.  And it sure doesn’t prevent me from liking the work of some artists.

I love John Wayne movies.

Well, except for The Green Berets.  But that was plain awful.

I also think Charlton Heston’s a lot better actor than he gets credit for being.  Sue me.

What I’m saying to you, all my many conservative readers, is suppose you are basically pro-choice, socially libertarian to the point of thinking that heck, a little premarital sex is no big deal, even if it’s two men doing it and especially if it’s two women, and you can think the drug laws are ridiculously draconian, and you can be a conservationist if not an out and out environmentalist, and you you can oppose preventive wars, and think that while God is to be found in the details He’s not necessarily found in church and shouldn’t be found in science text books, and you can believe in the redistribution of wealth (just not that the government should be the redistributor), and be essentially egalitarian and want people to smile on their brother, everybody to get together, and try to love one another right now---you can think, believe, and even work for all that, you can be in many, significant and sincere ways liberal, and still not vote Democratic or consider yourself a liberal, because you think there are more important things for yourself and the country.

As it happens this is one of things that’s the matter with Kansas.

I have been in churches that have had wonderful social outreach programs, whose congregations are alive with real charity, that do all kinds of “liberal” good, and yet are firmly in the category of Right Wing Fundamentalist.

It’s possible to be conservative and liberal.

So embrace your inner liberal!  You’ll be happier.

You won’t have to reconcile your artistic tastes with your political opinions.

You can admire Dylan and Picasso for who and what they are, not for what you wish they were.

And you won’t have to watch Cinderella Man anymore.

Yesterday at my place I tried to do my bit to reclaim at least one song from the Conservative Top 50, Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

Posted by Lance Mannion on 05/31 at 07:35 AM
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