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Frederick Hart's Adam - National Cathedral

Frederick Hart's "Adam" at the National Cathedral

Why should a dissertation on beauty be addressed specifically to conservatives? Does the topic of beauty hold more relevance for conservatives than, say, liberals? If the answer is yes, as I propose it does, why hasn’t there been more attention paid to the subject of beauty by Republican and conservative leaders? This blind spot about cultural issues has hurt conservative credibility with the public. But, more importantly, it hurts true conservatism at its moral, spiritual and philosophical core. At this critical post 9/11 time of world terrorism, this nation finds itself culturally disarmed, its moral strength sapped. This reason for this decline is no mystery. Conservatives abandoned the culture some time around the end of the First World War. By century’s end much of the old master legacy was being ignored, and major art museums were aggressively collecting postmodern minimalist and neo-Dada works. Beautiful architectural treasures such as Pennsylvania Station were torn down to make room for highways and high-rise glass boxes that destroyed the soul of inner cities in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. If one political party stands more responsible for the precipitous decline in cultural standards, the other blindly ignored it.

Conservatives clamor to lead in the twenty-first century, but they choose to ignore the legacy of 2,500 years of Western civilization, which could elevate their cause to a higher level. The cultural direction isn’t to the left or right, it’s hierarchical. Beauty provides the key to a door that conservatives have been trying in vain to unlock for almost a century. That door leads to a world that reflects the timeless values and permanent truths that conservatives hold dear: faith, transcendence, virtue, freedom, God, patriotism, natural law, conservation. In short, what I am suggesting is that beauty provides the epistemological structure of a good society—not only through the ideological infrastructure, its laws, religion, customs and government, but in the physical structure of its architecture, homes, public works, monuments, roads and bridges. Most importantly, beauty resides in works of religion, in offerings to God. This is not a new idea. Indeed, it is a very old idea, older than ancient Greece and Egypt, going back to the first evidence of civilization, the cave paintings of Paleolithic man, when art and the spiritual were one. …

In 1990, the then-senior art critic of The New York Times, Michael Brenson, in a full-page editorial titled “Is ‘Quality’ an Idea Whose Time Has Gone?” wrote: “The quality issue works overwhelmingly to the detriment of artists who are not heterosexual, male and white.” Brenson summed up the ideological agenda of a cultural consortium who believed that high culture, particularly Western culture, is oppressive, hierarchical, racist, homophobic and misogynist, oppressing women, non-whites, homosexuals and the poor. Although there is some historical justification for these views, the resolution to dumb down the arts and humanities, to remove standards of excellence, and eliminate the classics and old masters from the curricula of universities and secondary education has lowered cultural standards for the entire nation. When another art critic for the Times subsequently denounced an exhibition of Athenian sculpture from the golden age of Pericles, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, as “empirical, racist, xenophobic and misogynist,” it effectively ended the long tradition of serious art criticism at The New York Times. The primary function of an art critic is to analyze the success or failure of the artist within the context of a given work of art. The Times was now saying that aesthetics is irrelevant compared to “important” social issues such as poverty, gay rights, gender and racism. The Times position on the arts—all the arts—henceforth would be based on politics. Conservatives wasted the next twenty years protesting the blasphemy and pornography in the art world. What they should have been doing is helping create an alternative. …

No nation in history as powerful as ours, engaged in a clash of civilizations, has been left so culturally defenseless to its enemies. When the Marxist Antonio Gramsci wrote that the soft underbelly of Western civilization lies in its culture, not even he could envision the damage our intellectual class could inflict upon the soul of our nation. Conservatives, who roused themselves to a fury in protest over a few ill-advised fundings in the arts made by a tiny government agency with a budget less than it costs to build one stealth aircraft, missed the entire point. What they should have been concerned about were not the so-called objectionable grants, but what was not funded. …

It has taken forty years of wandering in a cultural desert for conservatives to realize that their leadership, economic and military victories will not supply what is sorely missing from American society. Things continue to get worse. Cultural values and standards continue to decline. Public architecture, monuments and memorials are a national joke. Education has become a matter of class warfare, with children of the poor and middle class shunted into prison-like warehouses. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who controls the White House, the Congress, state and local governments, or even the Supreme Court. The lens through which most Americans view the world has been ground by the liberals. We see the world as defined by a cultural elite increasingly out of touch with reality. By “lens” I mean the culture: the arts, media, education, history, architecture, literature, music, popular culture, television, movies, fashion and, most importantly, the epistemology of language. Many conservatives revere Ronald Reagan. They should study his Farewell Address to the Nation, in which he warned that “the diminution of cultural values, the loss of civic ritual, will result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.”

— James F. Cooper, “Defense of Beauty: Conservatives and the Arts

The essence of theological modernism is the denial of the supernatural (miracles, Christ’s divinity and resurrection, Heaven and Hell, the Second Coming, and the divine inspiration of scripture). These fundamentals of the faith are labeled “fundamentalistic”—modernity’s other F-word. Modernism reduces religion to morality, morality to social morality, and social morality to socialism.

In fact, its instinctive gravitation to socialism is natural. For socialism and religion are the only two answers to a problem Lewis poses in The Abolition of Man: the problem of the Controllers versus the controlled, the Conditioners versus the conditioned. To see this, we must first review his argument in that book.

Lewis’ argument in chapter 3 is absolutely stunning, both in the sense of intellectually brilliant and in the sense of emotionally terrifying. It is that “man’s conquest of nature” without the Tao must necessarily become nature’s conquest of man. For “man’s conquest of nature” must always mean, in the concrete, some men’s power over other men, using nature as the instrument. Lewis’ examples of the wireless, the airplane, and the contraceptive show this: some men wield the newly-won power over others as its patients. Perhaps they are its willing patients, but they are its patients. Now as long as both the agents and the patients of these powers over nature admit and work within a common Tao, or moral law, they have the same interests, rights, and values. Monarchy is not oppressive if the king and the people are working for a common goal under a common law and share a common dignity. But if the power elite, whether king, voting majority, or media elite, cease to believe in an objective Tao, as is clearly the case in our society, then they become Controllers, Conditioners, Social Engineers, and the patients become the controlled. Propaganda replaces propagation. Propagation is “old birds teaching young birds to fly.” Propaganda is programming parrots. Propagation is the transmission of tradition. Propaganda is the invention of innovation. Which of the two is piped into our brains daily by our media?

— Peter Kreeft, From “Darkness At Noon: The Eclipse of the Permanent Things,” Chapter 2 of C.S. Lewis For The Third Millennium

Part 1

Part 2

Glenn Beck recently attacked some public art that has graced New York’s Rockefeller Center since the 1930s. Beck targets what he describes as “progressive, communist and fascist” propaganda. His comments have created a great deal of heat, and very little light, since they aired.

Los Angeles Times art critic, Christopher Knight wrote Beck donned his “tin-foil conspiracy hat,” and that he is “[a]s nutty as usual.” Tyler Green, at Modern Art Notes, asserted Beck was “appealing to the black helicopter crowd.” Tyler might actually have a point on that one. Beck contributes little to art history and much to Right-wing conspiracy theorists, as he urges his viewers to be “awake” so as to “see the things that are hidden in plain sight.”

The Huffington Post’s Nicholas Graham writes, “Trying to discern Beck’s ultimate point from this is difficult,” but not impossible as Graham then goes on a tear about Beck linking Rockefeller, progressives, communists, and fascists, that cannot help but make one chuckle.

Who are behind these communist and fascist works “hidden in plain sight?”

While the American polis does not (yet) face the same totalitarian controls on speech that Solzhenitsyn suffered under in Russia (known in his time as the Soviet Union), one cannot help but find some commonality in what he wrote for Under the Rubble and today’s journalistic and educational institutions. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a prophet for his time. We would be wise to ponder his words in light of what we face today in the form of politically correctness and speech codes .

The transition from free speech to enforced silence it no doubt painful. What torment for a living society, used to thinking for itself, to lose from some decreed date the right to express itself in print and in public, to bite back its words year in and year out, in friendly conversation and even under the family roof.

But the way back, which our country will soon face – the return of breathing and consciousness, the transition from silence to free speech – will also prove difficult and slow, and just as painful, because of the gulf of utter incomprehension which will suddenly yawn between fellow-countryman, even those of the same generation and same place of origin, even members of the same close circle.

For decades, while we were silent, our thoughts straggled in all possible and impossible directions, lost touch with each other, never learned to know each other, ceased to check and correct each other. While the stereotypes of required thought, or rather of dictated opinion, dinned into us daily from the electrified gullets of radio, endlessly reproduced in thousands of newspapers as like as peas, condensed into weekly surveys for political study groups, have made mental cripples of us and left very few minds undamaged.

— Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “As Breathing and Consciousness Return,” From Under the Rubble

If he really loves his kind, he will, as far as he can, and in the great mass of things, play the parts given him. He will preserve this gay and impetuous conservatism; he will throw himself into the competitive sports of nationality; he will walk with relish in the ancient theatricals of religion.

Because the modern intellectuals who disapprove of patriotism do not do this, a strange coldness and unreality hangs about their love for men. If you ask them whether they love humanity, they will say, doubtless sincerely, that they do. But if you ask them, touching any of the classes that go to make up humanity, you will find that they hate them all. They hate kings, they hate priests, they hate soldiers, they hate sailors. They distrust men of science, they denounce the middle classes, they despair of working men, but they adore humanity. Only they always speak of humanity as if it were a curious foreign nation. They are dividing themselves more and more from men to exalt the strange race of mankind. They are ceasing to be human in the effort to be humane.

— G.K. Chesterton, “The Patriotic Idea,” Reprinted in The Chesterton Review, Fall/Winter 2004

Originally published in England: A Nation, 1904

If he really loves his kind, he will, as far as he can, and in the great mass of things, play the parts given him. He will preserve this gay and impetuous conservatism; he will throw himself into the competitive sports of nationality; he will walk with relish in the ancient theatricals of religion.

Because the modern intellectuals who disapprove of patriotism do not do this, a strange coldness and unreality hangs about their love for men. If you ask them whether they love humanity, they will say, doubtless sincerely, that they do. But if you ask them, touching any of the classes that go to make up humanity, you will find that they hate them all. They hate kings, they hate priests, they hate soldiers, they hate sailors. They distrust men of science, they denounce the middle classes, they despair of working men, but they adore humanity. Only they always speak of humanity as if it were a curious foreign nation. They are dividing themselves more and more from men to exalt the strange race of mankind. They are ceasing to be human in the effort to be humane.

— G.K. Chesterton, “The Patriotic Idea,” Reprinted in The Chesterton Review, Fall/Winter 2004, originally published in England: A Nation, 1904