Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Beauty within American Government

Humor me here as I divert my posts on regulatory law, into riffing off of two recent short posts by Bill Hennessy, 'Drowning Beauty' and 'Is Glenn Beck helping?', that have been rattling around my attic, I want to try to tie them all together here.
In the first he notes that totalitarian regimes typically either destroy or hoard beauty,
"’s important to remember what’s at stake in America, in the world, this election: beauty.

Totalitarian regimes despise beauty. They bury it in palaces where the rulers roam, their cancerous eyes raking over someone’s masterpiece the way raw sewage pollutes a clear stream after a pipe’s failure...
I heartily agree with this, and then he notes something which isn't often recognized, that "high art" never made a big splash in our popular culture, because for Americans, we've never lacked it or needed to have it boxed and displayed in the standard artistic forums; it'd be like selling snow to Eskimo's, it already fills our daily lives around us. This is an important point which the typical 'intellectual' is blind to in so many ways.
Beauty doesn't require museums and halls in order to exist in our lives - don't get me wrong, they can enhance, deepen and spread beauty, but they are more of a magnifier of it, not it's source, as those who promote such venues like to presume. Bill notes that,
"...In free America (remember it?) high art never made it big because such beauty surrounded everything. Little country churches with their Godly whiteness graced the eye, their choirs the ear, with a love no painting or opera could equal...."
It's an extremely important subject, one I hope he posts more on soon.
I've posted on this more than a few times on also, and it's something which I think should be front and center in all of our minds, particularly during elections, because just as the eggheads miss the beauty which surrounds us, we typically miss the impact that high art has on the beauty the egghead fails to see. To see what I mean, next time you are driving around town, take note of the twisted metal lumps put up in our parks and labeled as 'Art'. The magnifying ability of 'high art' goes both ways, and it goes so much further than simple aesthetic tastes and appeals, if you can diminish and corrupt what would be thought of as a beautiful sculpture, painting, play or symphony, then the peoples ears begin to long less for their choirs, and their eyes fail to see the grace in their churches.
Bill say's "If freedom dies, beauty hibernates", and I'll say that the reverse is also true, if beauty hibernates, freedom dies.
The Good, the Beautiful and the True are a package deal; you can't slight one, without degrading the others. Fellows like Antonio Gramsci knew that first and foremost in order to reduce America, they would have to make us less good as a people; his recommended assault path to the Soviets and sundry leftists, was to target the Art world because he knew that a regard for Beauty and a regard for Justice, go hand in hand - degrade one, and you degrade the other. This was a once commonly understood concept that has been noticeably absent from our schools for decades, if not downright opposed in them.
(Hmmm... wonder if that's important? Seen a textbook lately? Is 'Beauty' a word that pops into mind? How about with what used to be the foundational 'texts' of education, Homer? Virgil? Aeschylus? Shakespeare? I'll try to avoid getting distracted here, but a word to the school reformers seeking to 'improve' the textbooks: if you expect blood from a stone and don't get it, how the stone is being squeezed, probably isn't the issue which should concern you. Moving on.)
Relevant to this, here's something from one of the posts I made on this a while back, Forgotten Beauty and lost Justice,

"...from an essay at the excellent Art Renewal, Good Art, Bad Art:

Is it a coincidence that that fall was followed by the most blood soaked series of tyrants and wars the world has ever known? Such a coincidence would require a strong belief in coincidences - I don't buy it - the two are related. Deeply..."
"The art of painting, one of the greatest traditions in all of human history has been under a merciless and relentless assault for the last one hundred years. I'm referring to the accumulated knowledge of over 2500 hundred years, spanning from Ancient Greece to the early Renaissance and through to the extraordinary pinnacles of artistic achievement seen in the High Renaissance, 17th century Dutch, and the great 19th century Academies of Europe and America. These traditions, just when they were at their absolute zenith, at a peak of achievement, seemingly unbeatable and unstoppable, hit the twentieth century at full stride, and then ... fell off a cliff, and smashed to pieces on the rocks below."
The 19th century poet and critic, Matthew Arnold, famously (though mostly forgotten today) recorded his thoughts on travelling across America in the mid 1800's in "Civilization in the U.S", and he described it as it being a drab, ugly landscape, devoid of "Sweetness and Light", and though he scored with this one,
"It is often said that every nation has the government it deserves. What is much more certain is that every nation has the newspapers it deserves."
, I think his prejudice led him astray with this,
" What really dissatisfies in American civilisation is the want of the interesting, a want due chiefly to the want of those two great elements of the interesting, which are elevation and beauty. And the want of these elements is increased and prolonged by the Americans being assured that they have them when they have them not. "
I think he missed something, which Bill caught the edge of in his post, that beauty is not only to be found in paintings, opera's and local architecture, it is also in, and more substantially so (though less easily identified) in the manners, habits and culture of the people, and visible in
"...Little country churches with their Godly whiteness graced the eye, their choirs the ear..."
, and these are potent enough to outshine the selected objects on display in even the finest of galleries.
Which brings me to his second post from a while back, that has been popping up in my mind now and then, "Is Glenn Beck helping?". Now, I'm not really interested in hearing anyone's opinion on Glenn Beck, pro or con... but I suppose I've got to at least give a quick blurb myself, and will say that for several years people I worked with had tried to interest me in him to no avail. His humor mostly annoyed me, his occasional political comments were usually too shallow for interest and too often even when he was correct, it was for no more reason than a stopped clock has for being correct twice daily.
But IMHO (!), Beck has been making some remarkable, though uneven, headway since starting his show on Fox. I gave a cheer when I first heard him say Woodrow Wilson was a monumentally bad President, and I nearly came out of my chair to hear him say on Nat'l T.V. that the sainted Teddy Roosevelt was a bad President as well. Finally someone else said the obvious! It's been fun watching Beck do something very rarely seen these days, especially for a public figure, not only has he changed his mind, but he's visibly, continually, revising positions, as he has discovered more and more information and history - whether and how much he has left to go, is beside the point - watching someone actually learn is a thrill, pulling along millions of viewers with him - priceless. And his continual refrain of: "Don't take my word for it... look it up yourselves!" while pointing them to the sources where they can go look it up for themselves at, that warms the cockles of my ever-linking heart.
I do wish he'd get the heck past the 'Wilson was an evil dude' kick though. And although I did once hear him mention William Godwin (very much closer to the source of the spread of modernity’s sickness), that one mention was all, and his pre-20th century interests seem to be confined to the figures of the Founding Father's only.
I don't want to spend any more time on those other sources here (see the "Greatest Hits" in the right sidebar of my blog for more), I'll just mumble out 'Godwin, J.S. Mill, Bentham, Condorcet, ROUSSEAU, Descartes, and then back out through Kant, Hegel, Fichte, Pierce, Dewey...' and move on.
What I would like to say in response to Bill's question,
"But does Beck’s presentation help or hurt?...I love Glenn, but he needs to offer solutions. Bring on guests who give people a path to survival. Offer some hope that America will return to a Constitutional Republic sometime in our lifetimes...."
, is that incomplete as his foundation is, redundant as his Wilsonian sniping is, and myopic as his focus upon only the leading figures of our Founding Father's era is, and shallow as some of his advice might be, yes, what he is saying, matters.
Beyond the enthusiasm I have for his relentless exposing of Proregressives follies and evils, the fact is that he has been far more effective than any school or agency has been in stirring up some semblance of real educational reform among Americans - their own. The point of his daily jaunts has been to focus people on what is the true beauty and ultimate point of America - not our Constitution (and you know how much I revere that document), but in rekindling the idea of, and desire for, Self Government.
For all of our calls for tax cuts and legislative repeal, if in the end we do not find our way back past public and national politics, to the desire and insistence upon being a self governing people, it will all be for naught, and will only usher in a new, slicker, better packaged tyranny to take the place of the present one.
Making people aware of what lays behind the problems we're facing is extremely important, and it is the only way to restore us to ourselves, and so yes, even though he offers no specific plans, I think that he is helping, and I'll give you a recent example of what I mean.
Government of the other, by the other and for the other... is ugliness incarnate.

That old once and future tyranny is just itching to ride in among us on the exact same horse it came in on with T.R. & Woodrow Wilson, merely saddled differently. Several of us saw that horse, and it's road apples, earlier this week when two "Prop B" activist's (sorry, I didn't get their names) brought their passive aggressive act to a group discussion at Tea Party Headquarters.
During the discussion we were having on the roots of our current situation, they said they'd really like to talk to us about the "Prop B Puppy Mill" issue; several people replied, no thanks, we'd looked at that and didn't think it was a good issue or in any way worthwhile or of interest to us.
They immediately pulled the
"Oh! You are so Rude! Why won't you be tolerant and allow us to takeover your quaint discussion with what we know you should be talking about?"
I managed to listen for a few minutes more while they made their points and passed around their talking points, listened while they patronizingly denied that there was any validity to any of our groups responses with a condescending "That's simply not true", and assured us that all Prop B was, was a few very, very, necessary regulations needed to correct a dire situation (which the previous regulations somehow didn't correct), it was "a People's initiative!" and so of course it would not restrict anyone's freedoms or cost any more money to carry out, and these additional regulations would simply make all of our lives better, and spread happy puppies across the land.
Well... hearing anyone talk up the wonders of regulatory law clicks my un-mute button pretty quickly, so I asked them if they could point to a single area where such regulations had ever actually worked, a single area where regulations didn't spawn more regulations and deprive us of more of our freedoms - and their answer was:
"Yes, the field I work in, Bartending. Regulations covering selling alcohol and the amounts a person can drink. Those are great examples of regulations that have worked."
Had she never heard of Prohibition? Was she aware that in several states all liquor is sold in govt stores only? How about DUI's? These are examples of what has worked and not creeped and grown into all areas of life? Seriously? And when she attempted to talk over me and change the subject, I'd had enough, stood and used my best outdoor voice to remind her that,
"You're free to bring up your foolishness here if you want to, but you're bringing it to a group whose purpose for gathering is centered around opposition to our expanding government and opposition to more and more regulatory control over our lives... and you bring in a proposal for MORE regulations to our discussion, and attempt to cow and control our discussion to conform to your agenda, and then have the nerve to whine about how unfair we're being to your pro-regulatory views, and all the while denying any validity to our opinions and comments - and you expect hushed tones and respectful acceptance? Please ... grow up, get over it, and feel free to move on."
They had no interest in the purpose of our discussion, they never had any intention of debating or even discussing our concerns about their Prop B, they were only interested in our accepting and complying with what they had to tell us, and finding that that wasn't going to happen, they stammered about for another couple minutes, then with a farewell of how conservative they actually were and how rude we all were, they finally left.
Reason is not their focus, force is. The purveyors of regulatory laws in particular, and big government in general, are not content with principled laws that are reliant upon judgment to live by and apply, they want to define every last particular of what they think is best for us, whether it's 50 and not 51 puppies per owner, or restricting campaign ads before elections, or telling us what we can and cannot eat, they are unwilling to allow you to govern your own life, and they are eager for the institution of government to define your every thought and act for you.
And that's it in a NutShall, their answer for every problem and grievance, is for more regulation, and when those regulations fail to reform us into better drones, then they will demand even more regulations and more control being given to the government, and for us to give up more responsibility for our own actions and manners - their goal is that our responsibilities should be given and ceded to an external central government, instead of strengthening and reinforcing the truly American form of government: Self Government.
And this was where I saw that Beck is in fact helping. From our discussion group, a dozen or so very typical working class people, with one or two who fancy themselves 'better educated' (yeah, that'd be me), I heard coming from them over and again about "The 5,000 year leap", "Frederich Bastiat" and "The Federalist Papers", and not just the names, but quotes and concepts, and how they applied to and opposed the fundamentals of the activist's puppy mill bill.
Thought I'd died and gone to heaven.
The Path Home

That was beautiful, and with this group I know for a fact that the content of their responses, where they found the sources for them themselves, were largely the work of Beck. He not only mentioned those sources they drew on, but he has been pushing people to read them themselves - and they did, and they are, and THAT is our path home, not through detailed action plans, but by rebuilding the structures within us all for Self Government. Of course those detailed action plans will be needed for the tactical wins, but because of Beck, they don't need to come from Beck, because of what he has pushed people to rediscover and recreate with themselves.
Those action plans will come, and are coming, either from themselves, or from people like Bill Hennessy, and the people are able to see, understand and recognize the need for them, and that rediscovery is driving this election as it will the future elections and propositions to come. We would have no place to take America back to, if we are not prepared within ourselves to refound and defend it, and I think Beck is very much helping to prepare the ground for that.
Self Government is the key to America, and it is the key to our morality, to our economic system, and to our Constitution, if we seek and insist on governing ourselves, the rest will follow and we will have and be a self correcting system of government, if not - then we are doomed to becoming just another run of the mill country, defined by it's borders and 'heritage', no more exceptional than any other.
But we are not that.
The source of American exceptionalism is found in the eternal and universal ideas of liberty and Natural Law, and in our desire and willingness to be a self governing people. For all that Socrates got wrong, he got that part right, Self Governance is the key to being able to entrust government with the power it necessarily must have, and it is the only path to true freedom and liberty.
There is no contradiction here, only a good and self governing people can withstand the rigors of freedom and liberty. The basis of our Federal Government, as well as our State, County and Municipal governments, is the individual ability, willingness and responsibility of the people to govern themselves. As the quote popularly attributed to de Tocqueville puts it:
"America is great because she is good. If America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great
That is where we have been attacked, that is where our schools attack us most, always turning our eyes from what is good and beautiful within ourselves and towards more and more centralized, removed, anonymous authorities, and ever further removed sources (now pushing us towards an "I.B."!). We must be a moral, self governing people, jealous of our rights and privileges, and insistent upon restricting the power which external governance can have over us, going any further beyond what is needed to uphold and defend everyone's individual rights - We The People must be that, or we will cease to be.
When Matthew Arnold travelled across our land, he made the mistake of looking for outward appearances and displays of beauty, and he failed to see where the greatest most glorious beauty of America lays, all around and shining through each of us, the American choice for Self Government, and the beauty of it still, even today, shines out through,
"...Little country churches with their Godly whiteness graced the eye, their choirs the ear, with a love no painting or opera could equal..."
From sea to shining sea, that is America, the Beautiful.


Sal said...

A timely post, Van.
Our parish had the dedication of our new church yesterday. We began ten months ago with a nondescript former Baptist church and put the final touches on its renovation as a home for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (a.k.a. Traditional Latin Mass) around dawn before the Bishop arrived at 9 a.m.
Progressives would think it corny for words- too much stuff to look at and much too representational- but we think it is very beautiful. Our altars, the baptismal font, the holy water fonts and the Stations are all reclaimed from old churches and have been given a new home with us, where we will cherish them.
Because they are beautiful and they mean something.
A progressive might argue that we're just putting God in a box- but they would underestimate us. We know the difference between the Real and the image, but we also know that without the image, we tend to forget the Real, b/c our attention spans are short. And b/c our lives are in a 'vale of tears', we need all the beauty we can lay our eyes on, either by nature or art.

Anonymous said... of the greatest creeps in human history.

Van Harvey said...

Anonymous said " of the greatest creeps in human history."

Absolutely. In everything I've dug in to, philosophy, education, politics, aesthetics, manners - the stink nearly always comes back to Rousseau in the end. Yet in any Textbook in America, you'll find his smiling face with a caption of "Defender of Liberty!"... it's like putting Jack the Ripper up as a lover of women.

I did a post on Rousseau and Hobbes, which goes into some of his weirdness Two Mis-States of Nature, and hits some of his lowlights.