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Culture shield

If you haven’t seen it yet, you should read Mark Wallace’s excellent piece on cultural bias from last week’s ToryDiary. His argument is that while the BBC and other broadcasters have made some progress in achieving political balance in their news and current affairs output, drama and comedy programming is still strongly skewed to the left.

As the late Andrew Breitbart always said, “politics is downstream from culture” – meaning that the right often loses the political battle because it hasn’t bothered to fight the cultural battle.

What, then, do we do about it? Rod Dreher gives his take in a post for the American Conservative – first of all in explaining why the conservative movement has been so slow in recognising the importance of culture:

“It seems so ethereal compared to politics, policy, and economics, all of which is measurable. How do you measure the effect of subsidizing a writing program, or patronizing a humanities center? Often you can’t, not directly. But that doesn’t mean they are ineffective.”

When US conservatives have tried to invest in cultural projects – especially those with a religious theme – the results have often been dire. Those responsible have forgotten the fundamental principle of ‘art for art’s sake’:

“…art and culture should not be approached from an instrumental point of view. This is why, for example, so much contemporary Christian filmmaking is so bad: it’s designed to culminate in an altar call. It’s about sending a message, not telling a story.”

The same could be said of the various dreadful adaptations of Ayn Rand’s fiction – and, indeed, of the novels themselves.

Dreher argues that instead of funding propaganda, the “conservative donor class” needs to find “reliable advisers from the arts and humanities who could help them identify worthy causes and artists — and then trust those advisers.”

Moreover, before nurturing new cultural talent, conservatives need to reconnect with the achievements of the past:

“…donors have to adopt a more expansive idea of what culture is, and what cultural institutions and artists need support. The Dallas Institute of Humanities & Culture is an extraordinary institution that more conservatives should know about and support. It is not a political institution, not at all. What it does is teach classes and foster discussion groups about the Great Books and the Western tradition. Every city should have a Dallas Institute, and monied conservatives ought to be among their patrons. If we are not about preserving and passing on the literary and artistic patrimony of our civilization, what, exactly, do conservatives want to conserve?”

This is a hugely important point. Conservatism does not lack for cultural resources. Leftwing academics may insist on interpreting the Western tradition through the flawed prism of political correctness, but they can’t erase the source material – it is still there, waiting to be discovered anew by anyone who is given the chance.

If conservative donors really want to make a difference, then they should set up new colleges and universities – institutions where the Great Books, Great Paintings and Great Buildings are allowed to speak for themselves.

Far from trying to fight the leftwing cultural establishment with a countervailing political agenda, the really radical thing to do would be remove political agendas altogether. Or, to use Rod Dreher’s wonderful turn of phrase:

“Do you want to illuminate our beautiful, tragic, mysterious world, or do you want to dominate it? How you answer that question matters more than you can possibly imagine.”

2 comments for: Politics is downstream of culture – and it’s time to clean-up the pollution

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