The Clare Spark Blog

October 9, 2012

Big Bird, Prostrate

http://tinyurl.com/9roa6er (Read this first)

Henry Geldzahler of the NEA

 Several questions are raised by Governor Romney’s suggestion that he might cut federal funding for PBS, with the example of a prostrate Big Bird subsequently pounced upon by even bigger birds on the Left. This blog considers the vexed question of government funding of the arts and humanities, a subject that interests me, for I have not only been the recipient of small grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, I served on the radio panel of the NEA from 1978-1980, so saw at least one bureaucracy in action.

Here are my major arguments on behalf of cutting subsidies to CPB, PBS, NEA, NEH, Pacifica, and public radio in general:

  1. The history of the arts and humanities in Europe demonstrates that patronage determined the content of “high culture” artworks created by authors, composers, painters, sculptors, and architects. Patronage was supplied by the Church, by aristocrats, and by the new merchant princes in places such as the Netherlands and the city-states of what would become Italy. Iconoclasts such as Spinoza worked at an occupation to support himself, while his writings were often circulated anonymously and in subversive bookshops that also handled pornography.  Censorship in Europe was fierce and effective. The lower orders meanwhile created their own, usually traditional, folk forms, often co-opted by artists seeking reinvigoration for their own productions. That process continues today in popular music and in the fashion industry.

Artists in America, from its founding on, depended upon commercial success, for the U.S. lacked a hereditary aristocracy accustomed to providing sinecures for its pet artists and intellectuals. In spite of initial difficulties over copyright enforcement (Britain frequently pirated books by American authors, to the chagrin of Herman Melville, for example), artists in the New World (especially in theater and in the burgeoning mass culture that was managed by recent immigrants in the 20th century) became successful, mostly through publishing and performance. Such “commercial art” became objects of derision by a vanguard supported by bohemian, wealthy individuals such as Peggy Guggenheim or the modern museums that sprang up after WW1. But American artists were comparatively neglected, as the colorful and highly educated Europeans were favored over the native born. For many decades, American artists and authors expatriated, turning their backs on an American public they saw as philistine and unworthy of their attention.

Enter the Depression and burgeoning Fascism in Europe. Communists and progressives  were interested in celebrating the Common Man, often at the expense of the big capitalists/businessmen who were viewed as their exploiters. There was a major market for such Americana, and WASP elites supported their efforts to show their devotion to ordinary Americans. But the anti-Stalinist Left had its own contingent of writers, authors, and publishers. The arts worlds of the late 1920s, 1930s, and 1950s were roiled with conflict and it is exciting to study their productions, which have not been surpassed in a later period as government stepped in under the administrations of Democrats (see the NEA as founded in 1965, preceded by the WPA in the 1930s), to encourage both established and budding authors, etc.

Big Blue Eagle

Lost in the cultural histories of the twentieth century is the record of social psychologists affiliated with the Roosevelt administration, who viewed the national government as an appropriate locale for a national morale service (see https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/). Keep this in mind as we move into the cultural work of the 1960s and 1970s New Left and counter-culture, many of whom, it seems, have parented children who want to live the “cool” life of the artist, without the degradation of waiting tables or some other menial job to support themselves. (On the Blue Eagle see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Recovery_Act.)

II. Enter now my own active participation in government granting agencies. This is what I found out as both grant recipient and as participant in the NEA radio panel . First, the grants are so tiny as to fund at most one project, and the amounts awarded are rarely sufficient to support even that one (vetted) endeavor. Second, multiculturalism as a strategy for containing and co-opting the civil rights and feminist movements, determined what organizations and individuals received government sponsorship. Third, the NEA radio panel was rife with corruption and cronyism. Moreover, the staff of the NEA had the power to overrule the panel’s recommendations, so that our contributions could be ignored safely, if the aims of the NEA were in any way thwarted.  In many cases, NPR, I noticed, did not even bother describing the programming content for which they applied; apparently it was taken for granted that they would be subsidized.

It was frequently the practice to award small grants as a lure to attract matching grants from corporations and foundations. Such matching grants were tax-deductible, so it can be argued that the taxpaying public is now the primary patron of the arts, replacing the European elites of old. This diffuse patronage system contained individuals objecting to the [anticapitalist, anti-urban, anti-American, in your face] offerings by government grantees, who were exhibited, performed, and published, then presented to a broad public, some of whom were offended that they were paying for materials that undermined or mocked their religions and values.

On the other hand, some grantees enjoyed such popular success (Sesame Street, Prairie Home Companion) that it was obvious to all that they could survive on the market, without government support. This is the situation in which we find ourselves today. Apart from considerations of the proper role of government in funding the arts (on  Constitutional grounds), there is the disputed question of government direction of creative work, especially given the heterogeneous makeup of the American electorate. The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were remarkably alike in their sponsorship of State-approved icons of heroic workers along with those arts that were comprehensible to “the People.”

Conclusions. An education in the arts and humanities should be made available to every American child. But along with these life-affirming activities should be offered, at appropriate ages, instruction as to the social and political conditions that brought the arts into being: patronage, censorship in the period under discussion (what can and cannot be said at any given period), the message of the artwork (closely observed as to both form and content). I have been harshly critical of populism on this website, but it is in the interest of all the people to understand both the form and content of high culture, mass culture/pop culture, and folk arts. I don’t expect this outcome to be realized in my lifetime. Meanwhile, the government should get out of the business of funding the arts, for such powers will always be politicized on behalf of some faction or another. The European governments that subsidize grand arts projects do so because social democratic governments have taken over the responsibilities of the old aristocracies, and are as hostile to a fully-realized modernity as their forebears. “Excellence” to them, entails rule by a self-perpetuating oligarchy of Platonic guardians. pleased, unlike Plato, to permit a sprinkling of subversion to demonstrate how ‘really’ pluralistic and open these societies are to criticism, innovation and freedom of expression. Marcuse called such strategies “repressive tolerance.”

Banned in Berkeley?

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September 26, 2009

NEA, NEH, and state worship

Friedrich Meinecke

Readers of this blog might profit from an earlier one: https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/. What follows is the mission statement  for the NEA and NEH. I have emphasized in bold face those items that demonstrate a fear of a science-driven market, hoping to use the arts and humanities (i.e. art as a substitute for religion) to moderate narcissism and to impose order on a dog-eat-dog modern world: i.e., history, insofar as it is solely “materialist” (fact-based) cannot illuminate either past or present, nor is it wise or a guide to an (orderly) future. Government funding of the multicultural arts and humanities seems to me to be directed toward state worship. What is not spoken is intellectual independence as a value in itself and as a route to discovery, apart from any contribution to social cohesion. The Renaissance notion that the individual has dignity and power is the essence of “humanism.” Do you find these qualities in the protocols? Is “multiculturalism” (the “democratic” recipe du jour) really intended to “empower” minorities or is it a sophisticated form of social control?

   First I present the mission statement of NEA and NEH, then provide quotations from Friedrich Meinecke, J. G. von Herder, and Fichte to demonstrate the intellectual lineage of government funding for the arts and humanities. That lineage is German Romanticism and its counter-Enlightenment thrust. But that genealogy also rejects or “moderates” the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolutions–all seen in undiluted form as the precursors to “totalitarian” ideologies.

NATIONAL FOUNDATION ON THE ARTS AND THE HUMANITIES ACT OF 1965, NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS APPROPRIATIONS AS OF FISCAL YEAR 2006, AND RELATED LEGISLATION

20 U.S.C.

§ 951. Declaration of findings and purposes

The Congress finds and declares the following:

(1) The arts and the humanities belong to all the people of the United States.

(2) The encouragement and support of national progress and scholarship in the

humanities and the arts, while primarily a matter for private and local initiative,

are also appropriate matters of concern to the Federal Government.

(3) An advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology

alone, but must give full value and support to the other great branches of

scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the

past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.

(4) Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster

and support a form of education, and access to the arts and the humanities,

designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of

their technology and not its unthinking servants.

(5) It is necessary and appropriate for the Federal Government to complement,

assist, and add to programs for the advancement of the humanities and the

arts by local, State, regional, and private agencies and their organizations. In

doing so, the Government must be sensitive to the nature of public

sponsorship. Public funding of the arts and humanities is subject to the

conditions that traditionally govern the use of public money. Such funding

should contribute to public support and confidence in the use of taxpayer

funds. Public funds provided by the Federal Government must ultimately serve

public purposes the Congress defines.

(6) The arts and the humanities reflect the high place accorded by the American

people to the nation’s rich cultural heritage and to the fostering of mutual

respect for the diverse beliefs and values of all persons and groups.

(7) The practice of art and the study of the humanities require constant dedication

and devotion. While no government can call a great artist or scholar into

existence, it is necessary and appropriate for the Federal Government to help

create and sustain not only a climate encouraging freedom of thought,

imagination, and inquiry but also the material conditions facilitating the release

of this creative talent.

(8) The world leadership which has come to the United States cannot rest solely

upon superior power, wealth, and technology, but must be solidly founded

upon worldwide respect and admiration for the Nation’s high qualities as a

leader in the realm of ideas and of the spirit.

(9) Americans should receive in school, background and preparation in the arts

and humanities to enable them to recognize and appreciate the aesthetic

dimensions of our lives, the diversity of excellence that comprises our cultural

heritage, and artistic and scholarly expression.

(10) It is vital to a democracy to honor and preserve its multicultural artistic heritage

as well as support new ideas, and therefore it is essential to provide financial

assistance to its artists and the organizations that support their work.

(11) To fulfill its educational mission, achieve an orderly continuation of free society,

and provide models of excellence to the American people, the Federal

Government must transmit the achievement and values of civilization from the

past via the present to the future, and make widely available the greatest

achievements of art.

(12) In order to implement these findings and purposes, it is desirable to establish a

National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities. [end, mission statement]

 These items respond to 1. A particular aristocratic interpretation of the appeal of fascism/Nazism to one-sided technocrats and technical workers who are not “spiritual” (i.e., Nazism, like Communism, was atheistic, hence materialistic).

     [from Hunting Captain Ahab:] The concept of ethnopluralism could redirect and absorb the class resentments of the potentially explosive redundantly educated–the “disillusioned” worker or petit bourgeois, overtrained (in technology) and underemployed in the Depression, who had been spotted by other conservative intellectuals as shock troops for fascism between the wars. The famous historian Friedrich Meinecke’s postwar explanation for “the German catastrophe” resonates with the ruminations of earlier organic conservatives:[i]

[Meinecke:] “It often happens nowdays…that young technicians, engineers, and so forth, who have enjoyed an excellent university training as specialists, will completely devote themselves to their calling for ten or fifteen years and without looking either to the right or to the left will try only to be first-rate specialists. But then, in their middle or late thirties, something they have never felt before awakens in them, something that was never really brought to their attention in their education–something that we would call a suppressed metaphysical desire. Then they rashly seize upon any sort of ideas and activities, anything that is fashionable at the moment and seems to them important for the welfare of individuals–whether it be anti-alcoholism, agricultural reform, eugenics, or the occult sciences. The former first-rate specialist changes into a kind of prophet, into an enthusiast, perhaps even into a fanatic and monomaniac. Thus arises the type of man who wants to reform the world.

   Here one sees how a one-sided training of the intellect in technical work may lead to a violent reaction of the neglected irrational impulses of the spirit, but not to a real harmony of critical self-discipline and inner creativeness–rather to a new one-sidedness that clutches about wildly and intemperately…A technical calling, however, does not necessarily precede the world reformer’s intemperance. Men with hot heads, ambition, and an autodidactic urge for advancement, when forced into the technically normalized working conditions of the present day, may easily lose their inner equilibrium in the conflict of the spirit with the world about them and flare up in a blaze. The petty painter and quarellist Hitler, who once had to earn his scanty bread in construction work and in the course of it whipped up his hatred of the Jews into a general philosophy of world-shaking consequences, is a case of this kind (36-37).”

    In the transition from Homo Sapiens to Homo Faber, Meinecke explained, we had lost the integrative powers of religion:

[Meinecke:] This was no specific spiritual force, but a spiritual need springing from and existing for the totality of the soul, and called upon to preserve the inner community of the life of men and to knit the ties between the simple workingman and the cultured man of developed individuality (38).”

   Martin Dies and James Conant, along with other American Progressives, had been similarly alarmed by the rupture in human history, a rupture that had prompted the desire for a complexly developed individuality in previously “simple” workingmen; hotheads and ambitious autodidacts were to be cooled out through incorporation into an organic community; special attention would be paid to suppressed metaphysical desires, unpredictably erupting in misguided attempts to reform the world. With class, the materialist analytic category par excellence, translated into the soulful völkisch discourse, the irrationalism of Conservative Enlightenment watered the growing field of social psychology, a developing discipline ever alert to the monomaniacal propensities of the one-sidedly educated and upwardly mobile protofascist middle class. [end, book excerpt, Hunting Captain Ahab]

     And earlier, the German theologian and founder of cultural anthropology, J.G. von Herder explained his counter-Enlightenment, anti-materialist views on patriotism and sacrifice: “Do We Still Have the Public and Fatherland of Yore?”:

“…do we yet have the fatherland, the love of which will move us to the unselfish sacrifice of our selves; do we yet know the passion of the ancients to court the fatherland’s love, its honor and reward, as the patriot’s finest garland?–Whoever entertains noble feelings even for those above him, whose heart beats warmly in his breast for his brother, who seeks to be a link in the chain of the whole, and is so joyfully, will not answer no to this question.

    Only a Helvetius, who claims to find only selfish urges in man; a Mandeville, who transforms us into mere bees; a Hobbes, who inscribes hostility upon each man’s forehead; a Machievelli, who creates that monster of a despot who sucks the blood through tax collectors, vampires, and ticks; only these base and cold misanthropes deprive us of the gentle sentiment of patriotism; and each rotten soul that tears itself away from its fatherland and after the Ptolemaic scheme of the world makes the self’s terrestrial clod the center of the whole, will deprive itself of this gentle sentiment.—

…If one should take away from a monarch, from an empress, the sweet awareness of laboring for a fatherland, of caring for subjects as children, what would he be but the image of Machiavelli, what should she be more readily but the mechanical queen bee of Mandeville? If one should take away the invigorating thought of the fatherland from a judge, from an authority who must sacrifice private business to the public weal, who exhausts himself and surrenders the advantage of the family and personal pleasure to the benefit of the whole, is it to be wondered at when such a one, instead of petty laurels, dons the green Jew’s cap, when such a one, instead of holding court, goes out to dig where no one will notice for gold and ecclesiastical treasures?…[1]

 2. These items respond to the liberal foundations’ beliefs that racial and ethnic conflict could be moderated through better communication, not changes in the funding of scientific education or political organization by those with grievances concerning the unequal application of the law.  [The Ralph Bunche Papers contain his indignant protests that upper-class foundations were oblivious to the material conflicts that perpetuated racism and kept blacks in their places. Such foundations offered better communication and inter-racial understanding instead of political and economic education for the downtrodden. I have published work on this topic.]

 3. These items echo the belief that there is no hierarchy in culture, that all diversities are equal, while, on the other hand, there is in fact a hierarchy of civilized expression that speaks to us today. (The greatest achievements of civilization has continuity irrespective of its meaning to those who created it. In practice, this privileges “Christian humanism” and a daisy chain of differing cultural expressions, each one rooted in blood and soil.)

 [J.G. von Herder, “On Diligence in the Study of Several Learned Languages,” 1764:]  That flourishing age is gone when the small circle of our earliest ancestors dwelt round the patriarchs like children round their parents; that age, in which, in the simple and noble message of our revelation, all the world was of one tongue and language. Instead of the burden of our learning and the masks of our virtues, there reigned rough, simple contentment. Why do I sketch a lost portrait of irreplaceable charms? It is no more, this golden age.—-

   As the children of dust undertook that edifice that threatened the clouds, the chalice of confusion was poured over them: their families and dialects were transplanted to various points of the compass; and a thousand languages were created in tune with the climes and mores of a thousand nations. When here the native of the Morn glows under a blazing noon, the rushing current of his mouth streams forth a heated and emotive speech. There, the Greek flourishes in the most sensuous and mild of regions, his body–in Pindar’s words—is bathed in grace, his veins pulse with a gentle fire, his limbs are charged with sensitivity, his vocal instruments exquisite; and thus there arose among them that exquisite Attic tongue, Grace among her sisters.

   The Romans, sons of Mars, spoke more forcefully, and only later gathered flowers in the garden of Greece to embellish their tongue. More masculine yet is the speech of the martial German; the sprightly Gaul invents a skipping, softer language; the Spaniard gives his own an appearance of gravity, though this be merely by means of echoes. The languorous African mumbles weakly, waning away in broken tones, and the Hottentot, at last, loses himself in a stammer of gibberish. So this plant transformed itself according to the soil that nourished it and heaven’s breeze, that quenched its thirst: it became a Proteus among nations. [Note that Herder has a hierarchy, unlike the multiculturalists who invoke him.]

    If thus, each language has its distinct national character, it seems that nature imposes upon us an obligation only to our mother tongue, for it is perhaps better attuned to our character and coextensive with our way of thinking. I may perhaps be able to ape haltingly the sounds of foreign nations, without, however, penetrating to the core of their uniqueness.

…[However, through commerce] state policy links languages together into a universal chain of peoples, and precisely in that way they also become a great bond of learning. So long as the scattered crowd of scholars is not governed by a monarch who would set one language upon the throne of the ruins of so many others, so long as the plans for a universal language belong among the empty projects and journeys to the moon, so long will many languages remain an indispensable evil and thus almost a genuine good.[2]

4. These items strongly suggest that the arts and humanities, funded by the government, bind the citizen spiritually to the State, and discourage an excess of “Egotism.” Through rooted cosmopolitanism, we, like the German Romantics, spin the divinity out of the nation, and sacrifice ourselves for the higher good, a gesture which is not submission, but an expression of national character.

  [Germans, the sole inventors of “philosophy” and Fichte resolve the conflict between nationalism and cosmopolitanism, 1806-7:] “The patriot wishes that the purpose of mankind be reached first of all in that nation of which he is a member. In our day this purpose can only be furthered by philosophy (Wissenschaft). Therefore philosophy and its widest possible dissemination in our day must be the immediate purpose of mankind, and no other purpose can or should be fixed for it.

   The German patriot wishes that this purpose be attained first of all among the Germans and that from them it spread to the rest of mankind. The German can desire this, for in his midst philosophy has had its origin and it is developed in his language. It may be assumed that in that nation which has had the wisdom to conceive philosophy there should also rest the ability to understand it. Only the German can desire this, for only he, through the possession of philosophy and the possibility given thereby to understand it, can comprehend that this is the immediate purpose of mankind. This purpose is the only patriotic goal. Only the German can therefore be a patriot. Only he can, in the interest of his nation, include all mankind. Since the instinct of Reason has become extinct and the era of Egotism has begun, every other nation’s patriotism is selfish, narrow, hostile to the rest of mankind.

The Germans as the Urvolk, the original people, have learned to regard the state and the nation with truly religious spirit. Not in the manner of tyrants who preach religion as a cloak of despotism, urging submission, but in the manner of freemen who have learned to love their nation. For “a nation is the totality of all those living together in society, continuing its kind physically and spiritually, living under a special law of  the development of the divine out of itself.”  This law of development produces national character….The state must find its chief task in the education of its citizens for these higher ends.[3]


[1.]  Friedrich Meinecke, The German Catastrophe, trans. Sidney Fay ( Boston: Beacon Press, 1950), 36-38. Though he is writing after World War II, Meinecke’s analysis is typical of other organic conservatives. Similar identifications of the class base of fascism were made by Harold Lasswell before the war, and CIA-affiliated social scientists during the 1940s and 50s. George Mosse built an entire academic career on the claim. Cf. the mid-nineteenth century views of Radical Republican Charles Sumner, who vigorously advocated an excellent popular education for all American

[2.] Johann Gottfried Herder, Selected Early Works 1764-1767, ed. Ernest A. Menze and Karl Menges. Transl. Ernest A. Menze with Michael Palma (University Park, Pennsylvania, Penn State UP, 1992), 29-31.

[3] Ibid., 61-62.

 [4.] H.C. Engelbrecht, Johann Gottlieb Fichte: A Study of his political writings with special reference to his Nationalism (N.Y.: AMS Press, orig. publ. 1933): 98, 117-18.    

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