Saturday, 2 September 2017

Emancipatory destruction

Anybody interested in the causes of present-day cultural erosion, should take notice of what happened in academia in the last century, where the generations were formed who would enter society's cultural institutions and produced a climate of superficial, light-hearted contempt for the achievements of the past which were created with such great efforts and faith in the value of civilization. In the departments of 'cultural studies', a vague but intense smell of cynicism and incompetence drew numerous feeble minds towards 'culture', comparable with the enthusiasm with which flies are attracted to the dunghill.

A good example is the career of literary historian Stephen Greenblatt, analysed in this interesting article:

www.newcriterion.com/issues/2017/9/the-case-of-stephen-greenblatt-8753

Now, the 'New Criterion' has the odium of being 'conservative', but the premisses which are at the basis of the approach of the author, are not 'conservative' at all: that there is value and meaning in cultural products of the past which are still valuable in the present and will be so in the future, that there are distinctions between excellent, mediocre and flawed works, that critical assessment in the cultural sphere is functional because it helps understanding and clarification, and supports preservation of what is of crucial importance for our civilization and for humanity in general. All this is mere common sense and has no political or ideological meaning, it is too basic for that. But the many emancipation movements of the last century, which were rightly motivated by indignation about injustice, created - next to appropriate corrections in society - also a climate in which every cultural deed became suspect and every exploration of works an ideologically-charged undertaking, breaking-down the receptive framework of meaning, quality and context. In short, a misunderstood emancipatory movement wrought havock in the cultural field. Given the intellectual feebleness of the methods, it attracted many more students than ever before to the cultural studies departments, because the human pyramid of endowment gives more weight to the greater numbers at the bottom and thus, the financial advantages which play such a crucial role in a liberal, capitalist, egalitarian society could not easily be ignored by the educational system.

Sir Roger Scruton has already refuted this trend in a hilarious way in his 'Modern Culture' (Continuum, 1998, 2000, 2005, 2007; in chapter 12: 'The Devil's Work'). The above-mentioned article reflects a similar sharp and common-sense mind. If these authors are 'conservative', are they conservative because of preserving a common sense and analytical mind? Why would such characteristics be conservative? In times of erosion, preserving things which are of value is the most progressive attitude possible if progress means improvement. If anything deserves to be preserved, it is an analytical mind and common sense, increasingly rare goods in the context of rising tides of populism.

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