Left vs Right Pt CCLXI

by Kieran Healy on September 28, 2005

Via Volokh we come across the latest in a long line of nonsense about whether the left or the right has a monopoly on virtue x or vice y. (Surely that should be vice x. Never mind.) This time it’s Ann Althouse chancing her arm:

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.

To which one can only say, piffle. In point of fact, exactly the opposite is the case. It’s obvious that to be a great artist is inherently left wing. And why? Because although a great artist like Mozart or Pollock may have some superficial right-wing things to say about their purely individual genius and how they want to forge in the smithy of their soul the uncreated conscience of their race, underneath, where it counts, there is a goddamn parasite constantly sponging off of friends with real jobs and looking for handouts from the Emperor Joseph II, Peggy Guggenheim, the local Arts Council or what have you. QED.

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1

nolo 09.28.05 at 4:53 pm

Not to mention stealing albums (and chops) from friends.

2

nate-dogg 09.28.05 at 5:12 pm

Jesus, what an absolute load of bollocks. Artists are (in)famously left wing.

Reading Althouse and Reynolds is like stepping through the looking glass. They say the most inane things as if they are just God’s own truth.

Training the finest legal minds of tomorrow…

3

Walt Pohl 09.28.05 at 5:31 pm

Are they actually insane? Has it come to this, that the insane now have tenured positions in law schools across the country? It’s clearly a product of wrongheaded liberal do-gooders in the 70s who made it harder to commit the delusional.

4

Vance Maverick 09.28.05 at 5:32 pm

While it’s absurd on its face, there’s a sense in which I’m quite sympathetic to Althouse’s claim. When we say “X is a great artist,” we mean among other things that X’s work affects us, intellectually and emotionally, to an extraordinary degree. It’s only natural that this feeling should spill over, as it were, into a sense of a personal bond, transcending differences of time, culture, and even political sympathy. I can certainly remember feeling that JS Bach, for example, must have been like me in various ways (a devotion to good food, for example), simply on the evidence of the music. These intuitions show a warm heart and a sincere response to art, but they don’t stand up as argument.

5

Delicious pundit 09.28.05 at 5:47 pm

What the hell is “inherently right wing” about “taking responsibility for your place in the world,” anyway? The actual, existing, right wing President allows himself one accountability moment every four years.

And does “taking responsibility for your place in the world” mean that others need to “take responsiblity” for their place in the world — i.e. the serfs need to stay in their place and be terrified with religion, Joseph de Maistre-style?

That sounds right wing. But more like The Upper Crust than Dylan.

6

MTraven 09.28.05 at 5:59 pm

Gads, did you catch the link to an entire site devoted to right-wing Dylan interpretations?

But, please, let’s not get away with letting the right grab “being a strong individual” as their own. The right is not about individualism, it’s about preserving existing power relationships. The left is about blowing these out of the water, or at least reforming them and making them more equitable.

Libertarians and other devotees of the cult of the individual are just the useful idiots of the right in this struggle. If society is premised to not exist, in Maggie Thatcher’s words, then it isn’t available to be changed.

I don’t see either side as having any particular claim to artists, although given the poverty of thought on the right it seems somewhat natural for artists to drift left.

7

engels 09.28.05 at 6:31 pm

So if you are a “strong individual” you are “inherently” a right winger, whether or not you are a right winger? Only a lawyer could come up with that.

BTW it looks like we just lost Stalin. And Emma Goldman. Damn.

8

dp 09.28.05 at 6:34 pm

The smug drivel that Althouse and pals get up to on that page are just the kind of thing that a younger Dylan liked to satirise. I can see him getting up their noses just to prove them wrong.

Of the bits I read, the most inept was an intimation that the Sex Pistols were product/victim of the ‘capricious and trend driven nature of popular music’. Hello? Might as well say that about John Peel just to make one’s lack of insight uneqivocally clear.

9

radek 09.28.05 at 6:39 pm

I’ve always thought that if one can caricature artists into political pigeonholes then on average it’d go:

Painters (and other ‘fine artists’) = left wing
(no shortage of examples here)

Writers (excluding poets) = right wing
(LF Celine, Cela, Hamsun, Dostoyevsky …)

Poets = mostly left wing with some obvious exceptions

Musicians = left wing, at least in this century

There are obvious counter examples to the above, Pollock, as mentioned above, Steinbeck, TS Elliot, Andres Segovia… But I said ‘on average’. And it’s just a joke hypothesis.
(actually writers are probably mostly left wing too, though proportionally there seems to be more right wingers there then in other branches).

And now we can proceed to the annyoing threads about which side can claim rightful ownership of Orwell and Hemingway, and which side must accept the responsibility for Ezra Pound..
(And then there is the anarcho-monarchist contingent)

10

brother 09.28.05 at 6:40 pm

I’m glad actual musicians don’t waste their time thinking about this crap.

11

engels 09.28.05 at 6:55 pm

#9 Nope, “literary” types are mostly lefties too. Righties have been whining about this for years. It’s particularly distressing for them as they can’t write it off as institutional discrimination á la “The Librul Professoriat”. See this embarassing foray into speculative sociology by Robert Nozick.

12

David Sucher 09.28.05 at 6:58 pm

Ann Althouse is obviously not a great anything.

13

engels 09.28.05 at 7:01 pm

She is a great something…

14

Tom T. 09.28.05 at 7:20 pm

Country music probably skews right.

15

Victoria 09.28.05 at 7:34 pm

The smug drivel that Althouse and pals get up to on that page are just the kind of thing that a younger Dylan liked to satirise. I can see him getting up their noses just to prove them wrong.

I’m amused that whilst Althouse and her “pals” (just say it! They’re groupies!) are the object of scorn, that people who sniff their noses at her, otherwise follow her in such depth, that a deeply embedded comment would make the rounds of the more celebrated blogs.

BTW it looks like we just lost Stalin. And Emma Goldman. Damn.

A lucky escape.

Cheers,
Victoria

16

radek 09.28.05 at 7:46 pm

Actually I don’t think Nozick’s essay is all that bad, though it is a bit goofy just to take the question itself seriously. In other words, for once I agree with Kieran (if I’m getting his drift right) – this sort of ‘political analysis’ really is not capable of progressing beyond the point of a witty joke. Apparantly you seem to think that the initial question can be taken seriously, you just want a different conclusion from Nozick or Althouse.

And I did concede that writers are probably mostly lefties too – just that among writers there is more righties then among other types of artists. Oh yeah, another obvious one: Kipling. Let’s also throw Yukio Mishima and Solzhenitsyn out there too.

17

jet 09.28.05 at 7:48 pm

“Country music probably skews right.” Heh, ya think?

Classic liberalism stands in stark contrast to socialism and the paradox of social democracies, so it is conceivable that those on the right would lay claim to anyone who epitomizes the virtues of individualism.

18

anon 09.28.05 at 8:04 pm

You’re all missing the point. It’s nothing to do with the stated, conscious beliefs of successful artists.

To be a great artist is inherently right wing.

Althouse is trying to say this:

“Great talent offers an inspection proof of the fundamental principle of right-wing politics, which is that some people are superior to others.”

Discuss.

19

engels 09.28.05 at 8:17 pm

Radek – I know you said that lower down, so you can take my “nope” as agreement with your concession, or something. What I think of Nozick’s conclusion wasn’t my point: his essay begins from the premise that “word-smith intellectuals generally oppose capitalism”, which was, and which I reported as “literary types are mostly left wingers”, although, to be more accurate, Nozick’s “opposition” also includes ultra-conservatives like Eliot and Pound. I personally think the essay is very silly, although it is fun to read, but that’s a different topic, I suppose.

20

Jim Harrison 09.28.05 at 8:32 pm

For self-proclaimed individualists, right-wingers are remarkably uniform, each one bravely defying the party line of political correctness with the same stereotyped rhetorical gestures. What is more predictable, more shallow, more merely dull than the umpteenth libertarian celebrating his depth and originality by quoting Hayek? They are like middle-aged guys who think buying a Mustang makes you a rebel.

By the way, what are the great literary monuments of contemporary conservatism. Are they overlooked or merely Left Behind?

21

Stephen Stralka 09.28.05 at 8:51 pm

I wonder how Althouse would reconcile her depiction of Dylan as a “strong individual” who “takes responsibility” with her implication that he’s just too naive to realize he actually agrees with her about everything. I guess she could always get out of it by quoting another great artist:

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

22

Bosko 09.28.05 at 8:53 pm

Artists, indeed all humans, are always derivative. The only question is how artful, clever, true, etc. we can be. And regardless of how well – or badly – we play the game, the left-right dicotomy has nothing to do with art other than “approved” taste.

23

Matt Weiner 09.28.05 at 9:07 pm

12: She seems to be a pretty good cartoonist or graphic novelist or whatever. (tip)

It’s not surprising that the right would lay claim to anyone who is an individualist, but it’s still laughable.

24

Matt McGrattan 09.28.05 at 9:10 pm

““Great talent offers an inspection proof of the fundamental principle of right-wing politics, which is that some people are superior to others.”

Discuss.”

The idea that some people are better than others (at something) isn’t a definitively right-wing idea.

Lots of lefties can buy into that too. What they probably wouldn’t buy into is the idea that being good at something should carry some special moral weight.

You can be an egalitarian and believe that all people have equal moral worth and deserve equal treatment, you can even believe they deserve equality of various kinds of outcome, all without rejecting the idea that some people are just better than other people at some kinds of stuff.

You can even believe that some people are better than others at some kinds of stuff for non-sociocultural reasons — that certain kinds of talents have an innate component — without giving up on egalitarianism.

25

David Sucher 09.28.05 at 9:34 pm

I don’t believe that salaried employees like Althouse are qualified to speak about independence.

She’s an employee, for god’s sake! What does she know — except by peering over the fence — about individual responsibility? She is taken care of..she is institutionalized.

26

radek 09.28.05 at 9:39 pm

What’s funny about all this is that in Althouse’s view, the assholness of Picasso, the bohemian lifestyle of Dylan or the drinking and womanizing of say, Bukowski somehow become ‘right wing’ (drugs, drink and wanton promiscuity is essentially what ‘individualism’ means when talking about artists), while on the other side, Kieran’s post implicitly admits that left wingers are just a bunch of social spongers… my god! Have we stumbled upon an honest discussion? Quick, change the topic!

(yes I know, the difference is that Kieran was kidding and Althouse was serious – though even there that comment seemed more like an offhad remark)

Anyway, people who get their panties in a twist over this one (The artists are on our side! No, on our side! Gandalf could beat Yoda in an arm wrestling match! No he couldn’t!) basically fail to understand the true relationship between aesthetics and ethics. I.e. there is none. You can have a pretentious asshole like Picasso producing some trully awe inspring stuff, or my friend Jack, who’s a very nice guy (leftie, btw) who really wants to be an artist, but well, he sorta sucks, deer in the forest and all that…

Which is another way of saying who cares if Bob Dylan should be considered left wing or right wing, what matters is that he’s helluva songwriter. And Hamsun is a great writer, even if he DID support Quisling. &c. &c. &c.

27

Atrios 09.28.05 at 10:00 pm

I think the Balrog was the true hero of Lord of the Rings.

28

Phoenician in a time of Romans 09.28.05 at 10:12 pm

To be any sort of decent visual artist inclines one to being left-wing. It comes from being taught a sense of perspective…

29

nolo commentre 09.29.05 at 1:11 am

“Althouse is trying to say this: ‘Great talent offers an inspection proof of the fundamental principle of right-wing politics, which is that some people are superior to others.’”

I think her point was more of the “the individual vs. the collective” variety.

In the film, Joan Baez points out, perhaps somewhat poignantly, that her interest in working for (left-wing) social causes was not shared by Dylan, who simply wanted to pursue his career, or art. Others (like Van Ronk) make similar points; there seems to be sort of an undercurrent of Dylan’s individual goals taking precedence over left-wing political aims.

I don’t know if it’s an interesting question whether this sort of behavior or thinking is really “right-wing.” I do think it’s kind of an interesting question whether Dylan’s preferences in such matters would be, assuming Dylan was a great artist, something to be expected, or not.

30

radek 09.29.05 at 1:49 am

“I think the Balrog was the true hero of Lord of the Rings”

I feel for the guy. There he was, living in Moria for millennia minding his own business. Probably tidied up the place a bit. Developed the real estate. Decorated. Upgraded. Home-improved. Installed amenities. At first it was lonely being a demon and all but then he settled down expecting to enjoy a comfortable retirement. And then come the squatters and tresspassers. First the dwarves, then the orcs (or which ever came first) then the fellowship on some damn crusade. I’d be pissed off too. No respect for property rights. And the law does say you get too shoot’em, or whip’em, as the case may be. What was he supposed to do?

31

Jo Wolff 09.29.05 at 2:01 am

Well, it is certainly true that British rock stars typically have no love for progressive income tax. Although having said that I can only think of a couple of songs which mention tax.

32

abb1 09.29.05 at 2:25 am

The righties have Wagner. But the gay-rights liberals have Tchaikovsky.

33

yabonn 09.29.05 at 2:42 am

a long line of nonsense about whether the left or the right has a monopoly on virtue x or vice y

I’d say the right has a monopoly on this one, no? I didn’t remark these jaw dropping inbecilities popped up with so much insistence on the left.

Althouse is offering her rightist buddies equal status (somehow! in a way! don’t blow a gasket! as she precises later in her blog) with great artists. It’s one part circle jerk, one part wishful thinking, and overall pretty amusing.

The world as a mary sue-ism, in a way.

34

John m 09.29.05 at 2:51 am

The quote in the blog above is undoubtedly one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read, which is really saying something.

35

bad Jim 09.29.05 at 3:02 am

Das ewig Einträglichkeit zieht uns an.

36

radek 09.29.05 at 4:29 am

“But the gay-rights liberals have Tchaikovsky.”

Then we all have Franciso Franco!
(who, btw, is still dead)

There used to be days, way back when, being gay meant being right wing, although with mixed feelings and all. After all, Marx considered homosexuality an aberration produced by the inherent moral degeneracy of the middle class. No gay people there would be in the proleterian utopia. Which is bad enough. But no lesbians either. Would you really want to live in a world with no lesbians? The thought of it is enough to make a guy an anarcho-monarchist or, worse, a liberterian. I’d much rather be alienated from my labour, exploited in my toils, paid below my marginal product, and shake my chains in glee then live in a world without lesbians, who in my own personal experience have been the most sensible people I’ve ever met in my life.

37

a 09.29.05 at 4:39 am

So it’s a left-wing trait to be a parasite constantly sponging off friends?

1/ Speak for yourself.
2/ Someone is suffering from foot-in-mouth disease.

38

nick s 09.29.05 at 5:34 am

Althouse’s sudden bout of insanity must be a result of seeing all those Ayn Rand novels on the shelf and realising that explicitly right-wing art (as opposed to some bullshit extrapolation) offers fairly meagre pickings.

The biggest fallacy is the notion of the ‘strong individual’. Um, let’s just say that the rise of political individualism in a society, be it the 18th century or today, plays absolute havok with creative artists. See, there’s this whole ‘Muse’ business in classical literature, and with that comes the notion that artists actually have to surrender themselves to an external agent and become a medium for expression. In the last few centuries, invoking the Muse is more of a historical hat-tip, but there’s still something tenacious — for writers themselves — about the idea that they’re not in total control of their output.

(Edward Young’s writings on ‘originality’ in poetry are fairly instructive here.)

39

abb1 09.29.05 at 5:58 am

Was this guy left or right? Seriously?

The political ramifications of Stirner’s work are generally described as a form of individualist anarchism. Stirner however does not identify himself as an anarchist, and includes anarchists among the parties subject to his criticism. In particular, Stirner’s political doctrine repudiates revolution, and ridicules social movements aimed at overturning the state as tacitly statist (i.e., aimed at the establishment of a new state thereafter), putting forth instead a unique model of self-empowerment and social change through “union activism” –although the definition and explanation of the latter is unique to Stirner, and does not resemble a standard socialist doctrine of trade unionism.

40

Ann Althouse 09.29.05 at 7:55 am

Over at Volokh Conspiracy, a commenter wrote, “I feel somewhat disconnected from the discussion. How do ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’, political classifications, apply to art and artists? Since 99% of artists who try to be ‘political’ an any which way, end up failing miserably and ebarassing [sic] themselves, I’m lincined [sic] to believe that good artists are neither left or right wing; and I don’t mean that in a sesame street way.”

I answered this way:

You’re asking a question that very nicely represents the way people keep misunderstanding my statement. I’m not saying that the great artist adopts a right wing political ideology. If fact, I agree with you that the great artist needs to separate himself from politics and certainly to get it out of his art. I’m saying there’s something right wing about doing that. My comment arose in a discussion of the Scorsese documentary on Bob Dylan, which shows how he did not fit in with the left wing folksingers who tried very hard to keep him in their fold and felt betrayed when he alienated himself from them. My observation is that he was, at heart, a great artist, and it was not possible to do what was needed to be a good lefty, which would require a strong focus on group goals and communal values. He certainly wasn’t switching to right wing politics. He was getting out of politics.

I’m calling that right wing. It’s certainly antithetical to left wing politics, which requires you to remain engaged and would require the artist to include politics in his art. The great artist sees that those requirements will drag him down. That’s what I’m theorizing. Feel free to debate that and reject it if you want. All I’d like to ask is that you get your mind around what I’m trying to say before reflexively rejecting it. I’m not surprised that lefty bloggers and commenters can’t do this. They’ve got to enforce the kind of values that freaked Bob Dylan out and made him want to disengage from their clutches. And don’t even get me started on my experience with lefty bloggers. They treat me miserably, and if I tried to get along with them, it would guarantee mediocrity. And thus, I am a right wing blogger – even though I don’t share many beliefs with right wing politicos.

So, thanks, CT folk. You’re lovely people, as I know you know.

41

djw 09.29.05 at 8:41 am

Oh my God, she’s serious.

42

Kieran Healy 09.29.05 at 8:42 am

So it’s a left-wing trait to be a parasite constantly sponging off friends?

1/ Speak for yourself.
2/ Someone is suffering from foot-in-mouth disease.

Um, yeah. I think it’s you, a. Try reading my post again.

And hello, Ann:

I’m not surprised that lefty bloggers and commenters can’t do this.

Can’t … resist … this … dichotomy.

My observation is that he was, at heart, a great artist, and it was not possible to do what was needed to be a good lefty, which would require a strong focus on group goals and communal values. He certainly wasn’t switching to right wing politics. He was getting out of politics.

I’m calling that right wing.

Ann, it’s clear from this that you are just saying Dylan did not want his evolving personal views bound by any orthodoxy or party line. This is certainly true of Dylan, but it applies to any independent-minded, loner-type artist or thinker. It even applies to _Marx_, for crying out loud, who was cantankerous to the point of absurdity with most of his fellow-travelers. (“All I know is that I am not a Marxist.”) So I am honestly at a loss to see how you can write the consecutive sentences, “He certainly wasn’t switching to right wing politics. He was getting out of politics. I’m calling that right wing” and think that the third somehow follows from the first two.

43

wage slave 09.29.05 at 8:45 am

“the great artist needs to separate himself from politics and certainly to get it out of his art…It’s certainly antithetical to left wing politics, which requires you to remain engaged and would require the artist to include politics in his art. The great artist sees that those requirements will drag him down.”

Did Dostoevsky separate his art from his politics? No. Did he avoid being engaged in politics, outside of his art? No. Was he left-wing? No. So was Dostoevsky a great artist? I certainly think so.

See also Wagner (who bounced from left-wing socialist to right-wing nationalist).

44

Ted 09.29.05 at 8:48 am

Just posted this over on Althouse’s blog:

“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.”

Conflating individualism with right-wing politics immediately leads to embarrassing rah-rah non sequiters like this. It’s another link in a long chain of National Review-style “everyone I like is on my political side, whether they know it or not” arguments. Don’t your musings imply something like this:

“To be a soldier is inherently left wing. A soldier may have some superficial, naive, righty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, a person who will put aside his personal preferences and goals to obey orders, even laying down his life for his fellow man, shows a powerful recognition of the greater good.”

Or:

“To be a priest is inherently left wing. A priest may have some superficial, naive, righty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, a person who would sublimate his own will to dedicate his life to obedience to God and the service of his fellow man is one of the most powerful example of left-wing politics imaginable.”

It’s self-evident piffle, isn’t it? Only an utterly self-delighted hack would brush aside the actual, observed political leanings of their subjects as superficial and naive. Only a fool would equate “obedience” with “left-wing politics.” It’s as embarrassing to read as it is to write.

45

Bro. Bartleby 09.29.05 at 8:51 am

What is art?
Once the motley crew in Paris wrestled ‘art’ from the Church in Rome, all definitions of art were forever changed. Further, once the individual could define what is art, wealthy secular patrons grabbed the ball and ran, leaving the Pope with a fine art collection, but without artist. With the secularization of art, art was now up for grabs. While the Blue Rider group in Germany was delighting itself with a gush of color and the abstraction of painting, the Russians left behind in Moscow had other ideas. The Marxist used art in much the way Rome used art, to their own benefit. Then the Roosevelt administration saw the light — the WPA! And so it went, until the solo artist was funded by the solo patron, and what did this symbiotic relationship produce? Money! And in the end? … art has nothing to do with it.

46

yabonn 09.29.05 at 9:02 am

I’m calling that right wing.

Personnaly, i’m calling the good, the beautiful and the true, “left wing”. But i would never, never write it seriously on a blog. Fear of ridicule, y’know.

I’m not surprised that lefty bloggers and commenters can’t do this. They’ve got to enforce [...]

Damn, my fellows enforcers! Our enforcing plans are discovered! Let’s go enforce something else! Someone pass me the clutches!

47

Jeff Z 09.29.05 at 9:10 am

Did any of you people actually read (or even just skim) the thread and put a moment’s thought into placing AA’s remarks in context? It’s a free-flowing conversation, not dialectic.

If you do so, you will see that the terms “left-wing” and “right-wing” are being used in a very casual way, referring essentially to those who more-or-less accepted the very American soft New Left hippie-version beliefs of the late 1960′s and those who who were dubious. I know that a lot of CT readers are not American, and of those who are, doubtlessly many are too young, but what AA and her threadwriters are specifically talking about was that the 60′s ethos condemned strong individual ambition, striving, and the egocentric “me-first” attitude that being a first-rate artist so often requires. This is what she and the threadwriters mean by “left-wing” and “right-wing.”

It’s a very narrow, historicist, definition, unrelated to Stalinism or Renaissance patrons or Europeans slaughtering each other by the millions to settle which ideological inanity they will suffer horribly under.

Sheesh–get a grip.

48

duus 09.29.05 at 9:48 am

“Country music probably skews right.” Heh, ya think?

Not historically. The bubble gum country that’s been taken up by big studios does, as does often the bubble gum rock. Historical country is very left-wing.

Individualism is not the same as taking responsibility, i think that’s a strange conflation that Ann seemed to make. They are, in general, the opposite. Liberals are willing to acknowledge responsibility in causal chains that involve more than two variables, and the right-wing is not: anything other than black-and-white direct responsibility is ignorable. It is right-wing to avoid responsibility, as an inherent part of the political philosophy. This is deeply rooted, it’s not just a function of the current president who avoids owning up to things.

49

anon 09.29.05 at 9:56 am

To the extent that the relationship between “the left” and “art” is accurately represented by the mush-headed folksinging cliques of the 1960s, Ann Althouse is exactly right.

However, perhaps an even better example of a “left wing artist” who was “engaged”, would be that dirty little socialist, Jack London. A conformist if there ever was one!

50

Uncle Kvetch 09.29.05 at 9:59 am

Oh my God, she’s serious.

LOL! Many thanks to djw for summing up my own reaction so economically.

51

a 09.29.05 at 10:06 am

Read the post again, still understood that you think (as a joke) that artists qualify as “inherently left-wing” because they’re parasites. Could be malparsing, of course…

52

jlw 09.29.05 at 10:21 am

Shit! The secret’s out.

Ann Althouse is the Medium Lobster.

Fafblog will never be the same.

53

Scott Lemieux 09.29.05 at 10:38 am

“He certainly wasn’t switching to right wing politics. He was getting out of politics.

I’m calling that right wing.”

And, of course, it’s this bizarre non-sequitur that made your original remark the object of criticism. The thing is, there is great good sense in your critique of people who try to reduce Dylan to a political pampleteer, or claim him on behalf on a political movement; this kind of political reductionism has nothing to do with art.
I haven’t seen the Scorsese documentary yet, but if you characterize it accurtaely I would share that part of your argument wholeheartedly. But the obvious conclusion to be drawn is not that Dylan is right-wing; it’s that Dylan is an *artist*–or, more prescisely, is interesting and worth thinking about as an artist–and trying to impute your political convictions to him is just as silly as when his old 60s friends try to do it. (As for your apparent claim that leftists and only leftists reduce aesthetics to politics, I would suggest consulting the work of Michael Medved, the post-John Simon National Review, Veritas, the Brent Bozell empire, etc. etc.)

54

DaveC 09.29.05 at 10:39 am

Goddamn well I declare,
have you seen the like?
Their walls are built of cannonballs,
Their motto is Dont tread on me.

used to seem like a liberal sentiment way back when, but now I see that it was pushing the conservative agenda.

55

abb1 09.29.05 at 11:12 am

The rightists also have on their side one Saddam Hussein – tough guy and a prominent novelist.

56

Uncle Kvetch 09.29.05 at 11:34 am

(As for your apparent claim that leftists and only leftists reduce aesthetics to politics, I would suggest consulting the work of Michael Medved, the post-John Simon National Review, Veritas, the Brent Bozell empire, etc. etc.)

And if you don’t have the stomach for that, just read Roy Edroso, who slices, dices, and filets self-appointed “cultural critics” on the Right with a skill, grace and fluency unmatched this side of “Iron Chef.” Roy’s had several posts in the last couple of days that speak directly to the unintentional hilarity that ensues whenever professional Bushistas attempt to establish their pop cultural bona fides.

57

Hogan 09.29.05 at 11:36 am

I’m calling that right wing. It’s certainly antithetical to left wing politics, which requires you to remain engaged and would require the artist to include politics in his art.

It’s true! And you know what else? Black people are all VROOM VROOM VROOM, but white people are all BDEE BDEE BDEE. Ever notice that?

58

nick s 09.29.05 at 1:07 pm

Ah, now that Ms Althouse has chipped in, I understand. In short: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

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MQ 09.29.05 at 1:13 pm

“lefty bloggers…treat me miserably, and if I tried to get along with them, it would guarantee mediocrity.”

Since Althouse is already mediocre, I don’t see the problem here.

“the 60’s ethos condemned strong individual ambition, striving”

Confusing then how the 60s-early 70s period managed to produce so many strong, original, individual pop artists, in fact produced more than the 80s-90s culturally conservative period, which was marked by mediocre art.

What the 60s ethos (sometimes, but not always) condemned was materialistic greed — in other words, striving for the sake of money alone. Contrary to contemporary American right wing beliefs, materialism does not equal originality, strength, or individualism.

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nick s 09.29.05 at 1:13 pm

Furthermore, Althouse’s ridiculous definition is perhaps about as far away from reality as you can get.

For instance, Ezra Pound: great poet, fascist. And the embrace of politics is a very large part of the art. Now, some people say that he’s at his best when he’s not consciously cheerleading Mussolini, but that’s apologist bullshit. The opening to the Pisan Cantos is both astonishing poetry and an elegy for Mussolini.

Even more exemplary, TS Eliot: great poet, anti-semite and supporter of nasty right-wing nationalist parties. In Eliot’s case, it’s much harder to separate the art from the politics, especially in the Criterion days.

I can only assume that Althouse is going to play Humpty Dumpty in this year’s panto season, since she’s decided that ‘right-wing’ means what the heck she wants it to mean.

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nick s 09.29.05 at 1:16 pm

And as far as Dylan’s concerned, I’ll take Christopher Ricks’ analysis over La Althouse’s any day.

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99 09.29.05 at 3:32 pm

Country is right-wing? How far up Dylan’s arse is your nose? Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Steve Earle — even the Dixie Chicks (remember them taking a stronger stand than most of our purportedly liberal film stars?). Excepting the bubble gum Nashville drivel you think of as ‘country’, it’s a solidly left-wing as any drippy coffee shop folk singer wanna be. Note that the bubble gum country folk are, well, rich people, and skew right as much as do many hip hop artists, or the Boston Red Sox.

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serial catowner 09.29.05 at 4:27 pm

It kinda depends on how you define ‘greatness’. If you mean ‘great’ like Frank Gehry, who I understand is having a 20-year old building of his pulled down this year because it leaked and was generally crap, why yes, they are right-wing and suck up to the rich people who patronize them.

If you mean ‘great’ like the generations of Englishmen who built and rebuilt the village church, until it became one of the most attractive buildings in our mind’s eye, then no, they were not right wing. They believed in community and made it happen by doing a lot of stuff Ayn Rand or Knut Hamsun would never do.

Like any of these people know from art, anyway.

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bob mcmanus 09.29.05 at 9:38 pm

Not a very interesting thread. Nor is Althouse.

Aeschylus,Sophocles,Euripedes,Aristophanes,Dylan,
Martin Carthy, Tom Stoppard, Johnny Rotten.

How often are artists reactionary? “We have forgotten or fallen away from the old values and eternal truths and I will use my art to remind people that rock and roll is about three minute fast songs that your parents can’t stand.”

Or folk roots. Or blues. Or the old masters. Or the delusion of progress. Or the archetypes and ancient passions and instincts. It has nothing to do with what Ann Althouse was talking about but is “Les Demoiselles D’Avignon” a conservative or liberal work? I would say conservative, tho few “conservatives” would agree.

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Seth Edenbaum 09.29.05 at 10:49 pm

Avant Garde: of what!?
The boobeoisie

I’m with bob mcmanus.
Art is always conservative in that it seeks to ‘conserve.’
it describes the present and gives it order; manifesting either a hate so complex that it becomes respect- or love- or a love so complex as to admit all the flaws of it’s object. Either way revolution is foreign to it.
And Jules Verne described the 19th century as Isaac Asimov described 1955. The cerebral pretensions of sci fi are no different than those of socialist realism (though that falls on deaf ears here.)

And Manet was not revolutionary, he was honest.
That was shocking enough.

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radek 09.30.05 at 4:34 am

“rock and roll is about three minute fast songs “

Except that you’re about a minute and a half too long you old fart! Get to the point. Now!

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dale morris 09.30.05 at 5:36 am

Probably a dead conversation, and I haven’t looked through all the commentary yet, but this stands out for me:

“To be a great artist is inherently right wing…there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that”
(your quote of her article)

When exactly did having a strong sense of personal responsibility make you right-wing? I would have thought that it was exactly a strong sense of personal responsibility that made you left-wing.

For example, concern for the medium and long-term environmental impact of an action betokens a strong sense of personal responsibility. It’s also a card-carrying leftie stance.

Similarly, concern for the poor betokens a strong sense of personal responsibility – I live in a society; I benefit therefrom; he is poor in the same society; he does not benefit therefrom; it behoves me to find out whether it’s my benefiting that causes his suffering, on grounds of personal responsibility. Concern for the poor is an equally identifiable left-wing issue. (Generalising, yes.)

I could go on.

I have always understood it to be the case that it’s the fact of holding the individual in high esteem that makes one left-wing. If you hold individual worth to be a good, then you cannot possibly structure societies in such a way as to demean that good.

It’s the right-wing and its various ideologies that have no respect for individual worth and personal responsibility. It’s under right-wing ideologies that people become ‘human capital’, ‘resources’ and the like, and it’s in service of right-wing ideologies that we have been encouraged to ignore our responsibilities willy-nilly.

So that seems a little weird to me, and it worries me that the political equivalent of axe-murderers can unblushingly claim to serve our best interests (‘it’s just culling, see?’)

Secondly, the rest of the contention is just garbage. Artists are routinely apolitical, for the very simple reason that remaining free of stifling systemic conventions of thought best engenders creativity. When they do become politically active, they seem to gravitate leftwards more often than not, though the reasons are often so idiosyncratic that no rule can be generalised.

The whole mythos around artists types them as eccentric, non-conformist visionaries, and not without reason. The idea that great creative vision and social non-conformity are synonymous with the right-wing is risible.

Are these folks for real?

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dale morris 09.30.05 at 6:42 am

All right, now I’ve read a bit more commentary, including Ann Althouse’s contribution, and she just shines for me:

“He certainly wasn’t switching to right wing politics. He was getting out of politics. I’m calling that right wing.”

Good. A number of thing might follow. Either:

– everyone currently engaged with politics is left-wing by stroke of definition, which is one way for Ann to say that she’s to the right of Atilla the Hun (who remained devoutly engaged in politics and was therefore leftwing), or

- the correct action for those of right-wing beliefs is to get out of politics or lose their integrity (a grand idea, thanks Ann), or

- anyone we want to be right-wing will be right-wing and we’ll find a way to rationalise that.

This is what happens when you give only superficial thought to a proposition, deciding that it’s inherent attractiveness to you (I am right-wing; great artists are right-wing; I share some attributes of great, visionary creators; it might even be genetic!!!) obviates the need for further thought before the proposition is championed.

You get caught out sounding dumb, if any reality-based person quizzes you.

Ann’s thesis is:

“left wing politics…requires you to remain engaged and would require the artist to include politics in his art. The great artist sees that those requirements will drag him down (and rejects them and this rejection makes him right-wing) That’s what I’m theorizing.”

I have inserted my own italicised conclusion in there to make the formulation a little clearer.

First part: The Mistaken But Necessary Premises

1. “…left wing politics…requires you to remain engaged”.

Let’s call this the engagement premise.

Left-wing politics, like right-wing politics, cannot be captured under a single heading. It follows that you cannot substantiate the contention that left-wing politics requires you to remain engaged to any more significant degree than right-wing politics does.

(In practice, they’re probably the same. Right and left-centrists agree on government infrastructure, they disagree on its domain and duties. Since the overall infrastructure is the same, the degree of engagement is pretty much the same. Unavoidably, if you live in groups, you will have structures. Structures enforce behaviours. This is engagement.)The premise is junk, but necessary, in order to support the contention/leap of faith that:

2. “left wing politics…would require the artist to include politics in his art”

Let’s call this the inclusion premise. Turning to reality for a second…both left and right wing governments have insisted that artists include politics in art (Spain, Italy, China etc). Other left and right wing governments have not. There is no generalisable rule here. Is Ann saying that is it inherent in the principles uniting left-wing thinkers that they would first press-gang artists if they came to power? Insist on political art? Seems so.

It would be nice if she’d identify this universal principle, but she doesn’t. I suspect, though, that that’s the purpose served by the first premise, the engagement premise, and that’s why the two are linked by ‘and’. It suggests causation without having to claim it. (I don’t think she could bring herself to write ‘therefore’, as the sound of cognitive gears clashing would be too loud, but a nice, safe, suggestible ‘and’. That’s the ticket.)

You can see the set up around now. Ann says that left-wing politics maximises civic engagement (in some undefined way, that differs from the ordinary obligations of citizens under Fascism, for example). Because it maximises civic engagement, it will insist the artist ‘include politics in his art’ (it seems to be assumed that forceful leftie pressure to engage, engage, engage will necessitate artists ‘including politics’, whatever that means.) But the artist rejects this intrusion onto his creative territory, and in so doing rejects a fundamental tenet of deviant left-wing politics (that all artists must include left-wing politics in their art), and is therefore right-wing. QED.

For any of this to hold, you have to ignore the fact that the history of art is more often than not the history of the search for patronage, and government patronage at that. Both Mozart and Bach devoted vast amounts of time to attempting to get government positions, and there are an infinity of other examples. The artist as romantic loner, rebel and loser is a relatively recent invention. It has a lot to do with Pre-Raphaelite harking back to the days of (invented) yore, with Rousseau, and other similar forces. (Feel free to correct me here, someone who knows more.)

It’s a cultural phenomenon, and hardly sufficiently universal an experience to build a religion on.

It doesn’t hold up, and its major flaw seems to be oversimplification (that is apart from unstoppable wishful thinking). It is a form or Mary-Sueism, as an earlier commenter noted. Could it be that being right-wing in much the same way, I must share some of that gigantic creativity, visionary insight and splendid thighs of Michelangelo? Who can say?

Pity. Creativity is a complex and interesting subject. Best not conscripted though.

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dale morris 09.30.05 at 6:55 am

The short version of my post:

things are more complex than that

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Bro. Bartleby 09.30.05 at 9:13 am

Maybe Melville was trying to tell us something in ‘The Confidence Man’ when we the readers board the river boat and are greeted by every sort of huckster that Melville can conjure up. So, back to the question, what is art and who are artists?
Who can become something by self proclaimations? The Artist!
Who can define that ‘something’ that one proclaims to be? The Artist!
So, anyone can say, I’m an artist, and then tell the world what art is. At least that is the modern definition of art and artist.
Of course we have millions of these ‘artists’ busy making art, all unknown and more than likely will remain unknown. So, who are these artist that we find exhibiting works in galleries and museums? The Melville hucksters! Those self-proclaimed artists who were able to con the gallery owners and the critics by talking about themselves, writing about themselves, and doing everything that is required to convince the patrons and critics that they indeed are artists. As Melville seemed to be saying in The Confidence Man where on the river boat all the hucksters of the world gathered — birds of a feather flock together. Artists, critics, patrons — birds of a feather. And what is the motivation of these birds? Money. Or maybe we should say ‘comfort’ — that which money promises.

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BiggerBill 09.30.05 at 11:32 am

Ayn Rand. End of discussion.

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Jeremy Osner 09.30.05 at 12:00 pm

Shorter Bartleby — “I would prefer not.”

(sorry)

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Oskar Shapley 10.02.05 at 12:29 pm

Shorter A.Althouse: “Great people are just like me!”

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W.B. Reeves 10.02.05 at 4:26 pm

This whole dispute strikes me as more evidence of the degeneration of our political discourse.

The reduction of the Left/Right dichotomy to the simplistic opposition of collectivism/individualism is one that can only thrive with a selective reading of history.

There’s neither space nor time to recapitulate the developement of this terminology but a few observations are in order.

The terminology is European in origin dating to a period when monarchism and medieval theories of absolutism were very much the order of the day. Right and Left in this context did not represent an opposition between individualism and collectivism as we understand the terms. Neither side was interested in liquidating the primacy of communitarian interests, they were arguing for competing schemes for ordering those interests.

To the degree that we can talk about individualism in this conflict it would appear that those who called for abolishing Aristocratic caste and privilege, an end to Autocracy and state sponsored religion, in short, the demolition of the pyramidic social order inherited from the past, were objectively preparing the conditions for greater liberty for a greater number of individuals.

The whole notion of Individualism being the sine qua non of the Right Wing is of relatively recent vintage and has little currency outside of the U.S. Try, for example, explaining to a European that Franco, Mussolini, Hitler, et al were all Leftists since they subjugated the individual to the collective demands of the State. They would likely point out that in this, the above were doing nothing more than extending and expanding upon the model inherited from the old autocratic regimes. In Europe the Right has historically oriented towards defending the privileges of the few against the demands of the many. The only individualism ever embraced by the European Right was the individualism of the ubermensch.

Of course, being Americans, we don’t normally feel constrained by history. Which is why we often find ourselves in a state of bewildered denial and incoherence when it catches up to us. I think Althhouse’s formulation is a good example of this.

Althouse posits that the individual is at the heart of Right Wingness. From this presumption she proceeds to lump all individual distinctions under the same heading. It follows from this perspective that anti-individualism is the essence of the Left Wing.

Unfortunately for Althouse this abstract model doesn’t stand up to the facts of American experience anymore than it applies to European history. Every great advance of individual liberty in our history has been largely opposed by the Conservative wing. From abolition through women’s suffrage to the Civil Rights movement, the Right Wing has played an obstructionist role. In contrast, all these expansions of individual freedom were largely supported by the Left.

Given all this, the question remains, how can Althouse buy into the spurious algebra that equates Right Wing with Individualist?

I think the answer lies in the fact that there is more than one sort of individualism. There is, for example, the individualism of the exceptional personality as opposed to that which is rooted in the inalienable rights of the individual human being. The former is dear to the hearts of those who inhabit the heirarchies of power and influence since by it, each of them may define themselves as exceptional and therefore completely entitled to whatever perqs they receive or authority they may exercise over others. The latter is directly subversive to the first since it argues that every individual, however exceptional, is obliged to respect the rights and liberties of all other individuals regardless of personal distinction.

As the old adage goes, “The right to shake one’s fist ends where another’s nose begins.” This definitely constitutes a limitation on the individual but it hardly amounts to anti-individualism. Except, perhaps, in the mind of the fist shaker. In some ways our entire political history could be read as a struggle between these conflicting schools of individualism.

All this aside, the assertion that “great artists” are Right wing by virtue of being individuals of distinction has more than a whiff of the mystical about it. It implies that political orientation is something innate, organic and irrational rather than the product of analysis and conscious choice. This is on par with arguing that a person’s politics are dictated soley by national, ethnic, racial, class or sexual identity. The sly implication being that Right Wing politics represent some intrinsic natural order while Left wing politics are a perverse and authoritarian delusion.

I don’t mean to suggest that Professor Althouse would necessarily follow her premise to its logical conclusion. In my experience people who embrace such Randian symplicities seldom do.

Nevertheless, to give credence to the notion that individualism (even that of great artists) is an exclusive characteristic of the Right, is to remove oneself from the gritty, often contradictory, reality of politics in favor of the airy regions inhabited by Platonic idealists and ideologues of every stripe.

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