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December 06, 2004



Quick answer for now, because I'm still at work (and with a lot to do!), but many of the Romantics would surely be counted as 'Right'? Not in the sense that you or I might necessarily agree with them, but many held to a radically conservative, reactionary message: against the tide of modernity, albeit as an itch emanating from within modernity.

Mr. Peperium

When work gets less hectic, please persue that thought. I myself am up to my red-rimmed eyeballs in assignments right now, and so will look upon any delay in a spirit of complete commiseration.


Let me tell you something Mr.P, you can't beat numbers. Hundreds of years ago, the rabble was kept under the thumb of their betters (whether their betters were good, bad or indifferent) and this pretty much guaranteed that the exercise and flourishing of art would be a contolled and conservative process. As things lightened up politically and the rabble crawled out from under the thumb (i.e. Reformation, Enlightenment, et. al.) both the exercise and judgement of art increasingly passed to a broader, more vulgar segment of society. Today, with the liberation of the masses complete (or nearly so) art is the business of whomsoever wishes to participate and, unfortunately, the results are fairly predictable.

You and I may call it garbage, but we're in the minority now. Just two more white males from the dying West only deserving of contempt.

Art is what those in control say it is, just like it's always been. (But at least you and I know it's garbage, right?)

Lynn S

-- "Art is what those in control say it is, just like it's always been. --

Yes. Exactly. The modern Leftists are the new elitists. They are supposed to favor equality, tolerance and the needs of the downtrodden. But, just like the elitists of old, they don't want to get dirty brushing up against the downtrodden. It was easy for artists of past centuries; all they had to do was please their wealthy patrons. Now, in order to separate themselves from the Great Unwashed, artists creat art that is incomprehensible to anyone outside their elite circle and when a few more people start to (or appear to) "get it" the artists are forced to create increasingly outrageous and incomprehensible "works of art," thus we have reached the age when an unmade bed is hailed as high art.

Mr. Peperium

I agree completely with both Monty and Lynn S. Both are uncovering the Dirty Little Secret of the Modern Left. Brought to power politically by the demand that the proverbial "little guy" get a break, they have to keep insisting that that state of affairs has not yet come to pass, making their grip on power all the more necessary.

Brought to power culturally by an insistance that culture be less elitist, they themselves have become the elite. They occupy the wheelhouse and steer the boat, all the while screeching that they're outsiders doing things like "Speaking Truth to Power". What a joke! They ARE the Power!

i, squub

I'm fascinated by this, but pretty damn confused, too. The majority of what comes out of Hollywood is miles away from the esoteric and intentionally opaque "art" of unmade beds and framed holes in the wall. It seems to me that subversive art can and does come out of whatever the established culture is at the time. Certainly not all artists are subversive; but those who are are by definition rebelling against conformity. If you define the right as conformist and the left as non-conformist, those subversive artists are leaning to the left.

The problem here for me is, as always, in trying to define left and right, liberal and conservative, when the those terms fundamentally can only speak to someone's personal ideology in relation to that of society as a whole. So it means nothing at all to me to say that Hollywood is liberal. It's gibberish.

Mr. Peperium

Mr i,squub makes an excellent point. Or rather, asks an excellent question.

"Left" and "Right" have their political meanings, true. And as you say, those meanings change over time (I noted that Pope's Liberalism would make him Conservative today). But I wasn't clear enough in my original post: For me "L" and "R" aren't so much political as philosophical labels.

As a Conservative I am constantly annoyed by everyone's assumption that because I believe in cultural and artistic conservation I am necessarily an enemy of cultural and artistic innovation. Instead,I hope that innovation happens in honest relation to the whole past and present of the culture. Instead of "L" and "R" I might identify the two sides as "Nihilism" vs...what? Some word that means hopeful and noble and honest and even pious. Whatever the second term is, those are two poles that do not change. Call them chaos vs. stability or stable change.

A work of art that doesn't feature a framed hole or an unmade bed can still be subversive. Framed holes and unmade beds are just the eye-candy of the trendy elites who then turn around and give us the novels and films that attack society in a much less thinky, more entertainment-oriented way.

But I gotta go. My boss just called and I have to write more radio spots that subvert the culture. Great comment, thanks for posting and I'll get back to you!


Mr. P - you know I'm in sympathy, but it simply won't do to postulate a political divide between nihilism (them) and "something hopeful and noble and honest and even pious" (us). This is getting dangerously closethe trap the Left (I use the term heuristically) have fallen into: demonising the other side, rather than taking them seriously.

I might post on this at my place properly tomorrow (I owe quite a bit on political theory type stuff), but for now:

Allan Bloom (in "Closing of the American Mind") posits a typology of Left and Right at some point: originally, Right meant Throne-and-Altar and Left meant materialist Marxism; the difference between them is the belief in hierarchy, and whether it should be maintained or destroyed; the New Right (fascism) was an attempt to assert a hierarchy on the basis of a nihilistic acceptance of no ground; the New Left is an attempt to destroy hierarchy by reducing all distinctions to nothing.

I mention this because I don't think Left and Right can yet be simply understood outside of Modernity. Hugh Cecil (I think) said a hundred years ago that it was idle to talk of conservatism before the Reformation - because there was nothing besides it.

Nevertheless, within Modernity (and perhaps after it), I think Bloom's onto something with his hierarchy distinction. Our problem is that we still see things through that Marx-materialist lens. For me, there is:

Tory, conservative, Right: a belief in authority, the power above (spiritual and temporal), institutions, the givenness of life, the common good, nurturing and evolving to avoid destroying, and consequently, prudence before ideology. This is the premodern view, that right is given to us to follow as best we can.

Whig, liberal, Left: pure individualism, consent, choice, freedom as wilfulness, adherence to systems, conscience, progress and perfection. This is the (late-)modern view, that right is determined by the choice of the individual conscience alone, moderated only by the vagaries of the Harm Principle or such like.

To underline them still further (following Butterfield, of course), think of their views of history: the Tory view is a story of random chance, events, and great heroes and villains; the Whig view is one of wider social and economic forces determining the future.

Peter Augustine Lawler's recent work has a lot to say on this too - he emphasises that although the American Right has been for the free market, it ultimately affirms a given, limited, view of human existence, and is willing to intervene to secure it; by contrast the Left believes in individual choice, and does not accept any such limits.

This does (and while I might rip off this comment for my post, this bit will be the added value) leave us with an interesting question. Most of us today think of ourselves as being in keeping with that older liberalism - and in many specific policy issues, we are. But overall, are we? Fundamentally, if Pope (and I am ignorant here) was a liberal then - even though he might've been right on the specific issues in his day, where does he sit underneath it all? What is his view of human life, of the ways of power, of the primacy of individual will or the common good?

Mr. Peperium

Wow, Blimpish. As I have had occasion to say before, this is why I started this blog in the first place.

I knew I was starting something when I typed the word "pious". I take your point about the mistake the Left has made and not repeating it. In the hurly-burly of the office I snatched it out of the air in hopes that it would express a reverence for the Past, Tradition, Authroity, "the giveness of Life" as you say, and everything else in your sixth paragraph.

I in no way meant to imply an angel-devil dichotomy, as tempting as that is when one considers what the Left--at least in this country--stands for these days. And even on those issues where I do believe there's genuine evil afoot (abortion) my Catholicism keeps me on an even keel. As a Protestant I found it very easy to go overboard and see myself as a shining example of how everyone should be. Catholicism is a massive counterweight to all that. The sacrament of confession has a way of reminding you of your flawed humanity. Still, as far as taking the Left seriously, it's kind of hard to do that these days. In the aftermath of our recent election they just get loopier and loopier. (You may not have heard one of their talking-head celebs opining that born-again Christians shouldn't be allowed to vote. Since I'm born again every time I receive the Eucharist, this made me purse my lips somewhat.)

Also, please remember that this is not a critique of Protestantism, either. It simply reflects my experience in both Churches.

I would also suggest that fascism was not the New Right but another expression of the New Left. The label "Hitler" just keeps getting applied to Conservatives over here and even people who don't care have fallen into particular assumptions about that supposed connection.

The acceptance of Limits is, I believe, one of the most precious inheritances of real conservatism. Limits to government, limits to human ambitions, as opposed to the airy, lethal promises of Heaven on Earth that we've heard from the French Revolution onward.

As fas as Pope goes, I believe I probably mispoke. He is far more a man of the Enlightenment (you find over and over again the standard take on the Middle Ages in his work: darkness and superstition). Not that the Enlightenment was all bad, of course. But it was the cradle of the materialistic, intellectual and (personally) spititual hubris we are contending with now. I need to sit down and read him again. I'll start with the Essay of Man.

Speaking of reading, please share a list of the books on this subject that you enjoy. I have an aunt who sends book money every Christmas.

Still, isn't there nihlism afoot when someone operates on the assumption that there is nothing in the world greater than himself? I've been a Christian long enough that that vision of things always strike a mild terror in me. Seen through those lenses, what a lonely place the world seems.


Quickly for now:

I agree with the problems of linking fascism and conservatism, but within modernity I think Bloom has a point: fascism is a nihilistic assertion of hierarchy, and this is more 'Right' than 'Left'. That hierarchy is also linked to a belief in particularity: again, more of the 'Right' than the 'Left'. Mine and your (and Dubya's) politics could not be further from Hitlerism, but that's because we stand against nihilism rather than Right vs Left.

Limits are, as you say, the critical difference. Will report more when I get around to posting, but this is one of my objections to libertarianism - that it is ultimately a species of the Whig-Left, in that it doesn't recognise these limits. (That isn't to say all self-described libertarians fit this category: many are more concerned with freedom than liberty-as-licence.)

In terms of reading, for now - the best book I've read this year, and speaking primarily on this question, is "Aliens in America" by Peter Augustine Lawler.

Mr. Peperium

Cool. Thanks. I'm waiting for a meeting to errupt so can't go further. Point taken about fascism, too. I started Bloom's book back when it came out, which was when I was too young and Liberal to really grasp it (also when all my friends told me Bloom was evil). Should pluck it off the shelf and dust it off and try again. Cheers!


Bloom's book is worth reading, but as much for what it doesn't say and how it is written as what it does say. And he did have a way with words.


There is a place for creative left handed people to swap ideas and meet other left hander's. The community is new and growing fast. Check it out if your left handed:

(nice site)

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