Practical to a Fault


Rawle Nyanzi picks up from my previous post on the continued failures of conservatism with his theory on why conservatives have totally abdicated their former dominance in the arts.
Mainstream conservatives are too practical, and this is why they ignore the arts.
The US conservative ethos can be summed up as: Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Make money to support your family and improve your lifestyle. Handouts are shameful. In following this ethos, they select careers with a practical application that would get them earning right away. It’s not bad advice; you need money to live, and more money is better, for bills need to be paid. With this conventional mindset, conservatives relentlessly focus on “what works,” emphasizing careers like engineering, resource extraction, skilled trades, and other things of that nature. Since these are skills immediately useful to society, conservatives have a reputation of “getting it done.”
And it’s this exact temperament that makes them unsuited for the world of art — and by this, I mean all forms of artistic expression, not merely paintings or installations.
Art is not immediately useful; it neither grows your food nor supplies your energy. Except for a handful of megastars, art is low-paid. Most artists rely on either a job or on other people to support them in their endeavors; “don’t quit your day job” is a cliche for a reason, as is “starving artist.” It requires the mind to break with conventional modes of thinking and spend much time speculating on bizarre possibilities. Art requires one to focus on emotion.
This is as far from the conservative mindset as one can get.
As a result, conservatives do not view the arts as particularly important; to them, it feels like a useless indulgence. To the liberal (whether SJW or not), the arts pose no psychological obstacle since their self-concept does not derive from accumulating wealth, being the hardest worker, or having a conventional family life. They’re fine with being supported if that’s what it takes. They’re fine with making less money if that’s what it takes. They’re fine with not getting married or having children.
Thus liberals have the psychological advantage for art. Thus liberals put in the work to become successful at it. Thus liberals shape popular culture through it.
Though art appears useless, it is quite real — every bit as real as anything conservatives prefer to deal with. People love to engage with it to relax or to gain some emotional thrill, and such things are highly addictive. The small buildup of every little piece of art over time eventually shifts the culture. Though most entertainment is chosen, the mere availability of high-quality works can brighten someone’s day. People like being entertained.
And few conservatives provide this entertainment because they consider art to be beneath them.
It’s ironic, isn’t it? Conservatives avoid going into art, then they complain that all the art is liberal. If conservatives are to make any headway in the world of art, they have to let go of their doubts and do what they do best: get to work and get it done.
No one reads think tank papers for fun.
Rawle is on to something, here. To clarify, I think that contemporary conservatives' temperamental aversion to the arts isn't natural, but is a rather recent ideological development. After all, the days when most movie studios, and even major comic book companies, were controlled by what would now be considered arch-conservatives, are within the living memory of any American over 60.

But the question remains: how did conservatives let their cultural hegemony slip through their fingers? I'm convinced that certain axioms of their philosophy made this reversal of fortune inevitable.
Each of these positions is precisely backwards. Economics is downstream from culture. Speculative reason has primacy over practical reason, because practical reason can't explain which of the two is preferable. Leisure is the end purpose of work; not wasting time when you aren't working.

Modern conservatism has sidelined speculative reason and leisure, and without these there can be no culture.


  1. Brian:
    But is this a vice of Anglosphere conservatism? I really don't see this aversion with the European and Latin America right. Remember they had to fight both the very crude pistolero Marxism (aka Leninism) and the sophisticated Marxism (Trotksy and Gramsci
    Could this be due to the early roots of Protestantism which was rather anti intellectual?
    Also how do we recuperate Josef Peiper's book on leisure? If so how to make it appealing to the Anglophone conservatives who've always misunderstood leisure with sloth?

    Ya know what Jeffro's observation of recuperating what's been lost in pulp seems to extend in other areas of society. Interesting.

  2. One major difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives, as a matter of principle, believe in a free market and in a voluntary exchange of goods and services for cash.

    A conservative may do unscrupulous things to get an edge on the competition, but believes that competition is an inherent good and that consumers will naturally purchase the best product available.

    Liberals are opposed to free markets and competition, and feel that consumers will make poor choices if allowed to shop a multitude of products.

    Thus liberals seek to control the marketplace and prevent any competing media from being available. If possible, they gravitate towards taxpayer funded media, in order to force the population to pay for the art that is "good for them" rather than the art that they want to buy.

    When conservatives are offended by art they will not buy it, or if forced to buy it, will object. When liberals are offended by art, they want to prevent it from being produced or sold.

    Contrariwise, conservatives think that people should be allowed to buy art that promotes conservative values. Liberals think that people should be forced to buy art that promotes liberal values.

    1. Misha Thanks for your post. Question: it's getting really hard to not buy stuff because...so how do we eschew stuff which offends us?


    2. It's the "captive audience" issue. SJWs want the only art available to be their preferred art; everything else must be squeezed out.

  3. "A conservative may do unscrupulous things to get an edge on the competition,""

    While I'm not arguing your point about liberals/conservatives, I would point out that those "unscrupulous things" often lead to higher prices for everyone. Ergo, leftyism....

  4. A part of it was due to the power of Marxist dialectic. They pushed the idea of the world of total work out, and corportism has embraced this wholeheartedly. Meanwhile, the Protestant culture of the USA wasn't strong enough to maintain the idea of feast days, days of fasting and prayer, and beauty as a focus for embracing the spiritual.

    This said, do we maybe want to have a public discussion of Piper's Leisure?

    1. I'm down for discussing Pieper anytime :)

    2. I haven't the book but know of it. And I've been meaning to read it
      I wonder if Ignatius press still publishes it?

  5. I think Brian's response might be more accurate in that the stark ideological divide is rather recent. Some of the factors that play into that divide is cultural but not as in conservatives are uncultured but that they stick out and are made to feel uncomfortable at cultural events. I'm not a great artist but I can do some stuff, and if I'd taken a different path it is possible I could have had the quality of work I'd need to get an art show, but would I? Would the big, rough, blonde guy from blue collar stock have fit in, felt welcome, or been welcome in that culture? From the experience I've had hovering around the edges? No chance. I'd have had to present myself differently, I'd have had to hide my opinions, I'd have had to lie in order to not be shunned. I have no use for that, it's not something I would do, therefore I feel safe in saying that no matter the quality of the work, even if I were extraordinarily talented, I would not make it in that specific culture.

    That's one factor. Another prime factor is that I think a lot of the support structures in the artistic communities (whether books, painting, theatre, movies, whatever) are explicitly left wing and unwelcoming to conservatives. You can join, you can participate, but if you run afoul of the group opinion you will be denied actual help. Some will offer help but as a means to damage your confidence. Others will offer opportunities up to network, to promote, to submit work early and straight to the gatekeeper (whether that's a publisher, gallery owner, producer) but not to the people with whom they disagree. Not to you. It does not matter if the work is better by the conservative, it only matters how they personally feel when they extend their help. If you're a 'bad person' in their eyes? They'd feel bad helping you.

    That is where I feel conservatives hurt themselves in that I'd be shocked if a conservative didn't help someone, even an ideological enemy, or didn't give honest feedback, or didn't present opportunities equally to all in their community. I am never surprised when someone on the left does the reverse to conservatives.

    Should we form our own communities? Our own support structures? I'd say yes and I'd point out that it's happening now, because conservative creative can go online and find others like themselves and get the support that they may not even have been aware had been denied to them. Because of that the creativity divide between the left and the right is closing. Partly because the left is constraining their creativity due to fear of being othered, but also because conservative creatives are waking up and discovering the gatekeepers are standing in front of a rusted gate set in the middle of a crumbled down wall which means they can unleash their creativity on the world and have an actual chance of seeing results.


    1. In my opinion trying to form a parallel top down structure is counterproductive. It is not so much that the all of the existing promotion apparatus is Left-leaning, it is that the very concept of a promotion apparatus is inherently Leftist.

      What we need to do is to unchain the marketplace. The strength of artistic conservatism is its appeal to the people. The trend of technology has been in our favor for some decades now, from cheap CD and DVD duplication to POD and ebooks.

      Leftists control of art is dependant on centralized control of the means of production and distribution of art. The power of the Fifth Avenue publishing houses and art galleries only works as long as Fifth Avenue is the only place you can get art.

      Going head to head against an entrenched artistic monopoly by trying to create another one is a losing battle. That's playing their game. Instead, what will bring them down is being hit by a thousand small voices coming from all directions.

    2. Agreed that decentralization is the way to go.

      I had long suspected a gatekeeper effect in the arts but the last few years have been a real revelation on just how big it is.

  6. @xavier Both ignatius and liberty fund publish leisure right now.