Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Scenes from the culture war

I was in the library at the Fundy Post headquarters, Unheimlich Haus, with some Juvenal and a glass of Madeira, when a thought struck me. These conservative chaps and chapesses, the ones who blog about the clash of civilisations and all that stuff, talk a lot about culture but they never show any evidence that they have any of it.

Every day I see countless blogs written by Conservatives, neo-Conservatives, Christian Conservatives, Conservative Catholics and Catholic Conservatives. All have the same message, that our culture, our civilisation, is under attack: from the Muslims, from the Secular Humanists, from the Post Modernists. The barbarians are at the gate. Everything we apparently hold dear apparently is under attack. But what is absent from these blogs is any apparent interest in what the bloggers are defending.

Take for example, my dear friends at NZ Conservative. Throughout all their furious blogging, the only cultural references I have found are one each to GK Chesterton, Norman Rockwell and Groove Armada. There may be many others which haven't been discovered, but I doubt it. Take also, if you will, the blog called The Gates of Vienna; its subtitle is "At the siege of Vienna in 1683 Islam seemed poised to overrun Christian Europe. We are in a new phase of a very old war." But inside there is not so much as a bar of a Strauss waltz, a glimpse of Klimt or even a strudel.

I am not expecting the cultural interests of conservatives to be necessarily traditional, although that would go with their political stances. Any taste, ancient or modern, would be a glimmer of hope. If they simply showed some sort of passion for something outside the dismal world of their political opinions, that would be a bonus. It would also be a relief from the relentless grind of resentment that fills the pages of the rightosphere. A little joy, once in a while, is no bad thing.

Now, I am not suggesting that a Conservative blogger should throw a reference to La Bohème into his earnest discussion of stem-cells or that an argument about the failings of the education system should be illustrated with passages from Middlemarch. I would simply expect someone who wanted to defend our cultural heritage to occasionally take an interest in parts of it. I grant that, sometimes, such bloggers might mention some cultural conservative in the course of an argument. Harold Bloom, for example, is often cited for his canon of literature and his attacks on popular culture. But the bloggers never show any interest in or knowledge of Bloom's enthusiams, such as the poetry of Wallace Stevens or the inner thigh of Naomi Wolf.

At the very least, I would expect a conservative blogger to display some erudition, some breadth of education. If these people are concerned to preserve all that is good about our western cultural heritage, one would expect them to be familiar with some of its high points. But most of their writing is jejuene, in both senses of the word. And time and time again they make the most obvious clangers. Some time ago I mocked the Maxim Institute for quoting Yeats without understanding the meaning or context of the verse (which at least was not from The Second Coming) and I could easily make such work a full time job.

Take for example this page from the aforementioned Gates of Vienna. Notice the painting Socrates by Jean Luis-David. I am not familiar with this artist but I assume he is the Spanish cousin of Jacques-Louis David, who painted an identical work. And what of the subject? Apparently, "Socrates was the first philosopher and founder of all ancient Greek culture, and with that the founder of democracy, the rule of law, and science." Really? That would come as news to a lot of people, including the Pre-Socratic philosophers.

Of course, it is easy to point and laugh; it is also an awful lot of fun. But these examples show a serious problem. Not only do these commentators show no interest in the civilisation they are defending, they know nothing about it. Nor, it seems, do their readers, because nobody ever notices these rather obvious mistakes.

I suppose I should stop mocking and try to help. Perhaps the Tory bloggers could occasionally have a look at The New Criterion, 25 years old this year, arty, cultured and conservative. Perhaps Yggdrasil, the author of the passages about Socrates, could have a look at the online university founded by another Yggdrasil, who comments:
This page is dedicated to electronically-accessible books that form the core literature of Western Civilization. Many of Yggdrasil's students wonder what it means to be 'white' - or European. Many are unaware of their own cultural heritage that stretches back over 4,000 years. I present to the sons and daughters of Magna Europa this collection as a tribute to that heritage.
I forgot to mention that this Yggdrasil is a "white nationalist," what we lefties call a "fascist," but then it is not just Conservatives who are interested in Western Civilisation. Incidentally, Mr Yggdrasil also provides a fascist film list and, surprsingly, enjoys The Gilmore Girls.

Fundy Post readers, of course, are cultured and clever. They also like Neko Case, so they have Taste, both in music and redheads.


Lyndon said...

When I was in Vienna all the Klimpts in the museum of the city were on loan to Japan.

Andrei said...

"Anything too stupid to be said is sung."

And while the music of Neko Case is pleasant enough it is hardly the epitome of western musical culture but ephemera suitable for the background ambiance while you sip your chardonney and discuss the cultural boorishness of conservatives.

τι δε βλεπεις το καρφος το εν τω οφθαλμω του αδελφου σου την δε εν τω σω οφθαλμω δοκον ου κατανοεις

Paul said...

Lyndon, probably they sent them away because they feared the Ottomans would be invading.

Andrei, you'll have to do better than that: premises, arguments, that sort of thing.

Lyndon said...

"τι δε βλεπεις το καρφος το εν τω οφθαλμω του αδελφου σου την δε εν τω σω οφθαλμω δοκον ου κατανοεις"

... Damn. I was hoping it would be from a classical tragedy.

Lyndon said...

Two can play at that game.

Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent: Σίβυλλα τί θέλεις; respondebat illa: ἀποθανειν θέλω.

Andrei said...

Well Paul perhaps I was too kind to point out that those who use big words like jejune when criticizing others should learn to spell it correctly first.

"But most of their writing is jejuene, in both senses of the word. And time and time again they make the most obvious clangers."

Lucia Maria said...

My life is not on display on my blog. For which I make no apologies. But, I suppose assuming what I am interested in that I do not blog makes for a fun attack.

Anonymous said...

You know what they say, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”? Well, what I like right now is Simon Schama’s "The Power of Art", currently showing on TVOne at 10.30pm Sunday nights (wouldn’t you know it?). If you can’t stay up that late it’s also available in a book and on DVD. Plenty of stuff for the Christians to think about.

Anonymous said...

I meant to add that one of the most powerful pieces of art I’ve nearly seen is Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes. I queued outside the Uffizi for three hours on a hot summer’s day to see it, only to find it was in storage for maintenance.

I like Neko Case. I was introduced to her music by a Fiji Muslim living in North America, who knows more about contemporary western culture than I do.

Paul said...

Rita, I like Schama; I had no idea this programme was being screened; they only advertise the cop shows.

I agree about the Gentileschi. I advise getting to the Uffizi at about 7am to queue.

Neko Case is the hit of the month. I shall add more.

Hans Versluys said...

My hunch is that the lack of knowledge about civilization among conservative bloggers is because they are actually hankering after a period of "civilization" before all this horrible renaissance, enlightenment and industrial scientific nonsense happened. When people could rely on what was said by their priests, elders and kings. Conservatism has nothing to do with western civilization, only the preservation of ignorance.

Lyndon said...

andrei - I see now you were baiting an elaborate trap when you misspelled chardonnay.

Anonymous said...

Modern soc cons are populists. They rant about the greats of western civilisation, but they prefer watching dross like Limbaugh, the 700 Club, and assorted other subcultural luminaries to actually reading them. Let alone the greats of eastern civilisations...

Craig Y

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling said...

Quiduid Latinae dictum sit, altum viditur.

That is all.

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