The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
10.4 (Fall 2010)
courtesy of artrenewal.org
Don’t Forget to Educate the Spirit
“Talk radio” is supposed by many to be the oracle of the Tea Party movement, the home-school movement, and any other upheaval whose thrust is the preservation of our political or cultural traditions. Yet the giants of this medium share (as far as I can tell) a very disturbing indifference to genuine cultural tradition. They know the Constitution upside-down and may well cite from the private correspondence of Washington or Jefferson; but they have never read Cicero (or “Tully”, as he would have been styled in the Colonies), or Virgil, or Seneca, or Sallust, or even Julius Caesar–not even in English translation, let alone in the original Latin, as our Founding Fathers would have done. They may recall a little Shakespeare from high school, but they do not read the more obscure plays for pleasure and are unlikely (I imagine) to sit through BBC productions with a bowl of those beloved potato chips whose survival they so zealously wish to wrest from Michelle Obama’s oppressive clutches. They may recommend Ayn Rand, but Solzhenitsyn has receded into the mist of foreign-looking names they can’t spell. If they extol any book on the air in the course of the week, it will surely be so-and-so’s latest thriller about what might happen if our central government continues to mushroom in size and power… but Huxley’s Brave New World is lost in the same closet as holds a dog-eared high-school edition of Romeo and Juliet.
Culture must be cultivated. Its maintenance cannot be consigned to the same market forces as peg the price of eggs and apples. Great art results from decades of the artist’s learning his or her medium and centuries of the civilization’s refining the artist’s genre. A boor cannot simply walk into an art gallery off the street and understand Monet or Ingres, or even Rembrandt; a teenager cannot be expected to choose Rimski-Korsakov over Fifty-Cent in the CD section of Hastings if he or she has not previously been “made” to listen to the former. Kids prefer a Snickers bar over a cheesecake. The market draws the masses by infusing its wares with sugar and sex, with conflagration and hallucinogen. Free enterprise will NOT ensure that our children are raised as they should be. You wouldn’t entrust the market with teaching your children sexual morality, would you? (What man would give his son a snake when he asks for a fish?) Do you look to the capitalist mechanism to teach your children appropriate dress and personal grooming? Are you comfortable with the option of their learning appropriate language from bestselling movies and top-rated TV shows?
Culture is a labor of conservation. The old never sells as well as the new, and the mainstream never draws as much curiosity as the marginal. In our economic system, selling “decency” and “respectability” is about as easy as selling plain vanilla from among a Baskin Robbins rainbow of flavors. With apologies to the radio’s most golden mouths, we cannot merely fight off government takeover of the private sector and expect civic virtue to return to our nation. The great challenge in any capitalist society is to keep marketing from eroding taste and trend from undermining morals. This is not a temporary or aberrant conflict: it is the permanent condition of a humane society struggling to coexist with a progressive technology.
An uneasy truce may be struck, I am convinced–and such pacts are really the best outcome for any issue whose tentacles extend throughout a culture or a body politic. Lasting peace is not of this world: the quest of enduring solutions leads to tyrannical police states (of the sort that eternally give practical form to the Leftist’s hazy utopia). By all means, let us affirm the marketplace’s freedom; but let us do so as we would affirm the utility of rat snakes in controlling odious pests: i.e., with a certain squeamishness.
The parent’s role in this truce is key. To him or her falls the responsibility of telling a child, “No, you cannot have this,” and, “No, you cannot watch that.” Home-schooling parents are assuming an especially large share of the burden if they undertake to teach their children Stoicism as well as the Constitution, Jules Verne as well as biology, painting as well as debating. The reason for our political freedoms is that we humans have such staggering talents and imaginations–that our spirits can find such sublime expression if uninhibited by the lock-step decrees of despots. Should we forget how to tap into these spiritual riches–should we become mere consumers who demand their right to a Hummer or a Big Mac–then I really can’t see how our freedom would significantly differ from the condition of slavery. ~ PTS