Saturday, May 14, 2011

Communism and the Culture War


Life magazine has an interesting slideshow of different photographs comparing capitalist with “commie” architecture. While my general impression is that the differences between the two are not as large as some would have it, I found some photos to be rather interesting. For example, while Life was sure to show a picture of a modest wooden house from Siberia, where were the pictures of dilapidated housing or trailer parks that you might see in many areas of the United States?

However, what struck me the most was the contrast between tacky symbols of American consumerism such as a Wal-Mart store and the Mall of America, and the National Gallery of Armenia and the Yerevan Opera House, also in Armenia. While I admit the economic superiority of capitalism, I sometimes wonder if, culturally speaking, we are worse off under modern capitalism than the peoples of Eastern Europe were under communism. In 2009, Zsuzsanna Clark wrote an excellent article about the positive aspects of growing up in Communist Hungary, including the promotion of high culture by the government. 

While I enjoy some of the sillier aspects of American popular culture, such as kitschy velvet paintings of Elvis Presley, contemporary American pop culture is now exceedingly vulgar. Reality television invites us to be mean-spirited and to take joy in the misery and embarrassment of others, and not in an innocuous, slapstick manner, but in a very cruel way. This cultural degradation likely has its most destructive impact on working-class and poor people, who are not only debased in our popular culture but debased by it. 

While communism had a bloody and cruel history, including the often violent suppression of religion, there might be something that social conservatives can learn from the communist experiment. Social conservatives often rail against the vulgarity of modern popular culture but often seem to miss the fact that it is the business world that creates most of our junk culture, not the government.

Social conservatives can complain about Marxist professors and Hollywood liberals, but the fact is that businessmen such as Hugh Hefner were probably much more influential than Leftist academics when it came to spreading the Sexual Revolution among the masses. Social conservatives would do well to look to some of the better ideals of socialism and communism, such as spreading high culture among the masses, while socialists and communists would benefit from recognizing the important role that religion has played and can continue to play in the development of cultural excellence.

3 comments:

  1. The decadent social libertinism of the 1960s did in fact set the scene for the extension of the same principles into the economic sphere, and thus their entrenchment by, in, through and as the decadent economic libertinism of the 1980s.

    Here in Britain, the same Oliver Smedley who bankrolled the union-busting, drugs-and-promiscuity-promoting criminality that was pirate radio, went on to bankroll the proto-Thatcherite Institute of Economic Affairs.

    You cannot believe in the "free" market unless you believe in unregulated drinking and gambling, and in legal access to drugs, prostitution and pornography.

    Hugh Heffner’s Playboy Foundation is a major financial backer of efforts to retain abortion on demand up to and including partial birth in the United States, and it funds "Catholics for a Free Choice", as that organization’s own accounts make clear. More than shades of Alfred C. Kinsey’s funding by organized vice.

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  2. 'Social conservatives would do well to look to some of the better ideals of socialism and communism, such as spreading high culture among the masses, while socialists and communists would benefit from recognizing the important role that religion has played and can continue to play in the development of cultural excellence.'

    I'd agree with this, but also think that we need to step back from looking at culture in a modern perspective.

    For me Ancient Greece and Rome really had so many wonderful ideals and aesthetic achievements. I often think that there should be a kind of 'pan westernism' to compete with modern political ideology, that all kids should be taught about the ancients and their writings and ideals.

    A friend of mine is reading The Iliad and pointed out that this text which was written 2,500 or so years ago is a lot more grave about warfare than many of our modern politicians. Whilst I've not read it, I do think that the Ancient Greek playwrights were very honest about dilemmas of freedom and the cruelty of warfare.

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  3. Mr. Lindsay,

    Great comment, especially with regard to the Playboy Foundation. Hefner was a major proponent of legalized abortion in the 1960s, as were other men who wanted sex without any responsibility or attachments.

    Gregor,

    Great points. I agree that a classical, Western education should be open to everyone. While I don't think higher education is for everyone, I believe that all students should receive a solid liberal arts education, even if they plan to go to vocational school and not university.

    I would also agree with you about Pan-Westernism. While I believe Westerners need to be critical and honest about the past, we need to stop being ashamed of the West and its achievements.

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