the imaginative conservative logo

Political scientists should not think about moral and intellectual phenomena in terms of culture because doing so ultimately muddies things…

Sept-1-A-SM-American-Painting-Symposium-SCIn order to examine the achievements and failings of contemporary political science—the topic assigned to us for this twenty-fifth-anniversary edition of the Political Science Reviewer—we necessarily begin with or take for granted some articulation of the subject. In this, we are not different from academic political scientists themselves, who must also employ some sense of the scope and meaning of political science in order to guide their work and judge its results. One obvious split from which to start is the one that scholars usually make among political theory, comparative government, American government, and international relations. If we employed this articulation, we would proceed to ask about the state of inquiry and discovery in each of these four areas. Another path would be to follow some sense of what counts as science, and discuss the state of inquiry in scientific terms: how many secure empirical generalizations (or even “laws”) have we discovered about, say, voting behavior or log rolling; how many deductive truths have we uncovered about, say, bargaining; which concepts, say power or culture, are most fruitful, empirically or deductively.

The scholars’ fourfold division, unfortunately, is less sensible and crisp than it seems at first, because it is neither practically nor theoretically compelling. Within politics itself, one sometimes deals with “American government,” but, more often with constituents and representatives; one sometimes considers “international relations,” but more often foreign policies; one almost never treats the amalgam “comparative government,” though one often works with other countries; and one never palavers with “political theory” or theorists, at least if one can help it. The academic division, this is to say, does not simply follow practice. Nor is it theoretically trenchant, because it jumbles and equates a way of studying, an area of policy, and all countries of the world save one. The root of the academic articulation, one is forced to conclude, is as much accidental and historical as it is thoughtfully practical or intellectual.

The notion of political “science” to which we might then turn to orient ourselves in our subject also proves inadequate. For a notion of science as some compound of strict deduction and robust generalizations about facts observed in experiments seems much too narrow to allow us to search for or catalogue all that we might reasonably know about politics after study and reflection that rises above ordinary opinion.[1] The American Founders’ science of politics, for instance, is not fully available without the intellectual work of reflection, comparison, and generalization, but it does not as such count as science, in the contemporary sense. Moreover, proponents of a deductive and experimental social science that would imitate natural science still deal poorly with the challenge of “post-modern” attacks on science in the name of Nietzsche, deconstructionism, and gender and ethnic conceptions based upon them. Science, or at least social science, does not defend itself well against the charge that its practices, categories, and facts are merely elaborate leaps of faith. And when it does defend its notions of fact and generalization, it often appeals to the common sense terms it wishes to ignore or overcome. The notion of science that political scientists employ to define their subject is, in short, too narrow to encompass much that should count as scientifically reflective knowledge, and too impoverished to admit the standpoints that it might employ to defend its own validity.

To assess the contribution of contemporary political. science intelligently, therefore, we need a better articulation of the subject of “political science,” than academic political scientists now employ. We require a conception that looks more usefully both to the practical perspective of the statesman or politician (i.e., to politics) and to a richer understanding of knowledge (i.e., to science).

II

We can begin to seek and lay out such an articulation if we recall that in one way or another all political science has in mind some notion of what can be “common”; some notion of what can be sought and secured in common, i.e., what can be a common “good;” some notion of what the most important common units are in fact—state, country, “community,” group, or culture, for instance; and some notion of the concrete goods—say, wealth, justice, and safety—that this common serves, enhances, and depends upon.

It would be especially useful to examine the leading sense of what is common and of the goods that can be held in common that underlie our social science and political practice, and to explore one crucial contemporary idea of the central practical unit, namely, culture. This utility stems from that fact that, in addition to their intrinsic importance, these subjects are relevant to two significant areas in today’s political science, the rational choice school, and the attempt to understand politics through various notions of culture.[2] I do not wish to say that these concepts are simply clear for contemporary intellectuals or practical men, or that their sway is unmixed and unchallenged. Rather, one part of my intention is precisely to explore what is murky, and a second part is to show some similarities and differences between today’s articulations and the still powerful older reflections that they resemble. Indeed, to develop these articulations and their links and to examine the writings in which such questions become most clear constitutes a “research agenda” for political studies in general, especially as they are informed by political philosophy, beyond any utility for illuminating the limits, assumptions, and contribution of contemporary academic political science.

In what follows here, I will limit myself to considering the question of politics and culture. Beyond what I have said, this issue is especially interesting because it is one of the few places today where questions of political philosophy obviously intersect with questions of politics.[3]

III

Every conservative save perhaps libertarian, now says that the problem of “the culture” is a central political problem—for some, the central problem. How can we save it, fix it, improve it: this is the question heard again and again. Before their presidential victory in 1992, and today also, though more episodically, Democrats were saying the same thing, in a different way: greed, selfishness, lack of community, continued racism and sexism—these were the real scourges, perhaps even the underlying causes of our woes.

So, culture is now seen as a great political problem. But, obviously, culture also somehow involves art and thought, moral habits and dispositions, and taken-for-granted expectations about who does what in daily, usually private, life. Much of this seems to be the territory of political thought, or of thought generally, not of political action, and certainly not of government. This is especially true in liberal democracies. But whatever the form of government, at least some of what goes under the rubric “culture” transcends any particular country or political order. At first blush, at least, Mozart is not caused and cannot fully be controlled by any political regime. It is not only Austrians, or Austrian aristocrats, or the Austrian upper middle class who can enjoy him. To say the very least, he was a hit in Prague, and would have been a hit in London. And, he has been a hit in the musically diseased United States as well as in the politically diseased Soviet Union.

To understand culture, therefore, and to see how useful a concept it might actually be, requires that our thinking not be limited to what is practical, and not be restricted to the life of a particular country. But, additionally, if we want to understand the practical import of culture, we cannot simply think artistically or theoretically. As I said, the question of culture and politics is especially interesting because it is one of the places in our time where politics and political philosophy visibly intersect. In fact, I will claim that talking about “culture” hides from sight, or, at least, makes more difficult to see, the phenomena about which we should be talking, both for theoretical understanding and for useful practice. My attempt will be to shed some light by trying to uncover from a natural or common sense perspective the phenomena that become muddied up when we employ (or take for granted) the vague term “culture.”

IV

Let us begin the analysis in this way. Many groups now offer seminars and luncheons on questions of culture and politics. When I arrived at the first in a series that several colleagues were offering, I realized that some observers would have been astonished to see that it contained as many people whom in the old days were called book burners as it did people whom one thinks of as book readers, as many square heads, as it were, as pointy heads. If anything, there were many more burners than readers. In one way this was perfectly appropriate, because most people at the meeting were talked about and saw themselves as leading figures in what conservatives call the culture wars. In another way, it was perfectly bizarre, because our observer might have thought that supporting culture involves defending thinkers and artists against what could have appeared to him as intolerance, priggishness, and political resentment, rather than making common cause with it.

This leads one to reflect first, on the varied meanings of culture, second, on the phenomena that underlie these meanings, third, on the possible unity and necessary tensions among these phenomena, and, fourth, on the place of the student of political philosophy in protecting thought and action from each other because he seeks constantly to find the limits of both. From here on, I will very roughly follow this order.

V

The first problem with the term “culture,” and with clearly conceptualizing a problem of politics and culture, is precisely that culture means different and contradictory things. Most visibly, “culture” means art, music, thought. It is an intellectual term, and it refers to intellectual things, things that are beautiful, even if useless, and things that are true, even if dangerous. A “cultured” man loves ballet and is no less cultured because he ignores his family in order to indulge himself in dance. But as we have said, culture these days also appears to mean habits, mores, and dispositions. It is a moral term. T.S. Eliot’s well-known Notes Toward the Definition of Culture, for example, found religion and culture to be inseparable. The question that arises, therefore, is this: What is the link between our moral life and our intellectual life?

Culture also means good art, serious thought, and classical music. To be “cultured,” as we say, is to learn something about Brahms and Matisse, not about George Michael, Steven Seagal, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Culture is a term of refinement and distinction. William F. Buckley, Kenneth Clarke, and Alistair Cooke are cultured men. Martin Heidegger and Albert Speer were cultured men. Gore Vidal is a cultured man. T.S. Eliot was a cultured man. Cultured men are not vulgar. But I have chosen my examples to make clear that they are not necessarily moral.[4]

So, culture in this sense is a term of distinction. But, we can see that culture also means popular, entertainment, multiculturalism, the language and religion that we have in common. It is a term of equality and comprehensiveness, sometimes even of vulgarity, as well as a term of refinement and exclusivity. The common cultural milieu of the men and women now in power is the television and popular music of their 1950s childhood as much, so it seems, as the world of Freud, Marx, and Sartre that shaped their college years.[5] The broader, comprehensive, culture can be immoral, or—as with the great religions shared in common by rich and poor—it can be the foundation of everyday virtue.

So, the first set of distinctions and contradictions is this: Culture stands for intellectual things as well as moral things, and for exclusive things as well as equal or comprehensive things. And, the two sets of distinctions are crosscutting:—the man of refined culture can be an immoral beast; the man of common taste can be suffused with religious piety. Ultimately, of course, one would like to think that the coarse and the immoral are somehow connected, as are the fine and the refined.

Another way to make a similar point is to consider the connection between culture and education. For a long time, “culture” has been connected to growth, and human growth, the growth of the soul, involves education. In an important sense, “culture” as we use it today refers to moral education, and, especially, to the context outside the home within which habits, dispositions, and expectations are formed: But culture also refers to intellectual education, and it is a mistake to downplay this. (The only “cultural indicator” in William Bennett’s “Index of Leading Cultural Indicators” that is not obviously related to morality is the measurement of trends in SAT scores.) The difficulty this dual use of culture as education often hides is that what we need for a good moral education is not identical to what we need for a good intellectual education. Indeed, they may conflict. The areas of similarity (the need for “discipline” in both, for example) should not blind us to the areas of difference—the need, for example in one but not the other, to be unconventional and, even, irreverent.

VI

Let us deepen the discussion by considering some of the other things, some of the other phenomena, to which the term “culture” points. We often talk today about corporate culture, gang culture, the culture of poverty and so on. What phenomena do social scientists and journalists have in mind with these terms? Corporate culture seems to refer to issues such as these: is the business firm very hierarchical, or more free wheeling; is it very centralized, or decentralized; are units and individuals free to make many independent judgments, or are they rigidly controlled; is the daily atmosphere relaxed or strict? And, corporate “culture” also apparently refers to the ways in which loyalty to the firm is developed through “love” and paternalism, through fear, or hardly at all. Gang “culture” seems to refer to many of the same things: us vs. them; who leads and who follows; proving loyalty; camaraderie and care. The “culture of poverty” appears basically to concern how we form expectations about what is right and wrong, about proper occupations, about our own capabilities. And, beyond this, it involves how these expectations are strengthened or weakened, reinforced or destroyed.

If we add up and distil these meanings that we take from discussions of corporate and gang “culture,” and reflect further, I think that we see the following. In addition to its intellectual or strictly moral sense, culture, as we have come to use it, points to questions of loyalty, hierarchy, and independence—that is to say, to questions of rule—largely in private life. Beyond this, culture also refers to how we come to know and sense what we should do with our lives: That is, what kind of person am I, and what is good for people such as I? In a word, much of what we call phenomena of culture are actually phenomena of justice, or of justice and love, justice and care: Who should do what, for and with whom? This is one of the reasons why the issue of culture and politics is so much the issue of culture and the family. And it is why the relation among men and women is perhaps the thorniest issue of our everyday culture because so many of our expectations about equality, independence, and devotion in everyday life have been exploded.

In all these areas, “culture” refers less to the abstract understanding that we have than to the embedded expectations and mores that we take for granted. Culture, in this sense, refers to the way in which embedded generalities organize and are expressed in our particular affairs: If I am intelligent and consider myself equal to everyone else, for example, which are my possible occupations, and, of these, how is one chosen? This particularism is one reason why culture seems to so many to be a matter of historical change. (The other chief reason is variance among artistic products in different places and times.) But the particular occupations and mores are less essential for first guiding our actions than are the general opinions we hold about human abilities and human differences, and the variety among these opinions is more permanent and natural than it is conventional.

Now, clearly, this use of culture to refer to phenomena of justice (and love) broadly construed is related to the moral sense of culture, culture as connected to habits and dispositions. When “culture” refers to rule, expectations, and choosing what is good (forming “preferences,” as we say) it seems to make this moral sense of culture concrete. But it also goes beyond this to refer to mores and opinions that are not simply moral in an obvious sense because they are not simply matters of character. When we say that “culture” refers to questions of how one chooses occupations, how one treats superiors and inferiors, how one brings up children, the relations between men and women, and so on, we are saying that culture refers to the places where character and the actual goods with which character deals (the pleasures, fears, wealth, and honors on which virtue measures itself) intersect. We are using “culture” to refer to the areas where equality and inequality, rule and subordination, are played out in everyday non-political life.

In a sense, culture in its “moral” meaning amounts to Aristotelian ethical virtue broadly, together with friendship and love. But more pointedly, as I said, it stands for phenomena of justice in everyday life. For, justice is the virtue that most obviously leaps from the individual character to deal with others, and, in turn, it defines and governs the public distribution of goods that shapes the development and expression of character. As we use it, then, culture in the “moral” sense basically refers to the intersection of private character and opportunities with the public understanding of proper rule, and the proper distribution of goods. Those conservatives who say that the open celebration of single parent, “illegitimate,” families is a problem of culture, for example, and not just a moral problem, are pointing beyond any man or woman’s habits and character to the issue of how expectations are formed, possibilities approved, and goods available outside one’s own home distributed. As the political questions of public support, fathers’ and mothers’ rights and responsibilities, and the proper degree of legal control over the media indicate, these questions are best seen as questions of justice. Culture refers to concrete, particular, goods insofar as an embedded understanding of justice allows, disallows and ranks these goods especially, but not only, privately. In this sense, indeed, when we say “culture,” we come very close to much of what the Greeks mean by a regime in the flesh, a country except that we do not usually include political institutions (“government”) as such, or the economy as a whole.

I would argue, then, that some broad understanding of justice, justice in the classical sense, is at the heart of and is the larger framework for the “moral” sense of culture.[6] If this is true, what more can we say about our current situation? And, how is this “moral” notion connected to the intellectual and refined sense of culture?[7] Now, the basis of justice is equality and inequality. So, the real heart of our culture is the reigning and changing notion of who deserves equal amounts of what, and of what we do with our freedom, that is, with what is unequal, or not simply controllable, about us.

VII

Let us pursue this. Why are the questions of liberty and equality so important? One reason is that opinions about them govern what it is respectable to say. Indeed, what it is publicly respectable to say is the horizon common to—and forms the link between—our moral and intellectual culture. For serious intellect, the publicly respectable is that to which it must pay rhetorical attention; for the less serious, it is that which it is not able to see beyond—as is true of the moral culture. Our movement in the United States has been to greater equality in principle, namely, the conversion of equal natural rights to completely equal civil rights, where every issue becomes an issue of civil rights. Therefore, the public discussion of private questions—relations among men and women, who is capable of and ready to enter which occupations, what counts as respectability and responsibility in the arts, in journalism, and in the forming of public opinion—all this discussion is governed by the great presumption in favor of equal access to, and equal availability of, all modes of living, working and “communicating.” And, where this equal access does not exist, we try to bring it about, even at the expense of liberty. So, the reigning notion of equality pushes strongly in a direction where broad public qualitative distinctions are often surprisingly difficult to make—or, more, are difficult to make and defend publicly with sufficient respectable resonance. Witness former Vice President Quayle’s troubles when he defended the superiority of families in which children are reared by a father and mother, and decried Hollywood’s casual perniciousness in teaching the opposite. Respectable opinion will sometimes relax its mocking condemnation of sensible distinctions, but it remains strongly influenced by egalitarian sympathies.

The fact that it is more difficult than it ought to be to make respectable arguments about genuine ranks and distinctions among our activities also means that a vacuum occurs into which particular unreasonable assertions of special status and hierarchy thrust themselves—the special privileges of this or that group; the strength of gangs; rootless, violent, individual anarchy; arrogant selfishness. The result is our peculiar current American combination of growing egalitarianism and the rise of assertively intolerant private groups and individuals.

This notion of equality and its implications are connected to our reigning view of liberty. In America, liberty is the principle by which excellence—that is, inequality—defends itself in practice: This or that difference results from the just, the proper, assertion of freedom. What is centrally interesting today is that the public defense of liberty, the public understanding of liberty, is so much losing its implicit aristocratic flavor: “Liberty” is now simple self-assertion, with little public sense of its true conditions and justification—its connection to pride of ownership and economic growth (rather than to oligarchic accumulation), high art and music, genuine thought and science, serious faith. Liberty has become almost another name for equality, in the sense that it means, for so many, mindless, disconnected, individual pursuit or group assertion; and, in the sense that it is so often defended only in terms of its contribution to equality.

By mentioning this increasing separation of freedom from genuine liberal excellence—from political responsibility and intellectual effort—I mean to bring us back to the sense of culture as refinement in the pursuit of intellectual and artistic (spiritual) things, and to begin again to discuss this issue.

VIII

Now, taken on its own, the question about intellectual culture is this: Why has serious thought that does not use the methods of biochemistry and mathematical physics, and quality in the arts, largely declined? Taken politically, the question is: How does this decline affect the political/moral health of the country? How does it affect the quality of our moral “culture,” the view of what it is good to do and for whom it is good to do it that sets the horizon within which character develops?

My first point is that the decline in intellectual and academic rigor and quality is as much a result of our weak understanding of virtue and our overly permissive understanding of justice—of liberty and equality—as it is of developments internal to the arts and thought. We can see this by recognizing two qualities that are largely missing in our arts and our thinking: the passion for honesty (“integrity”)—the devotion to truth as opposed to getting away with what brings reputation; and, an understanding of the effects of art and thought on the country at large that is mature enough to lead to sufficient self-restraint among artists. Our contemporary moral “culture,” is an important cause of dishonesty in arts, humanities, and social sciences because the restrictions on what it is defensible to say publicly about equality, distinction, and freedom corrode the self-understanding of apparently transpolitical art and thought. It becomes difficult to discuss excellence, and, thus, to recognize it, and, thus, to muster the integrity to seek to emulate it. This fog then leads to art and teaching that exacerbate the problem morally and politically. Too many American academics are at ease with scholarship that subordinates truth to gender, race, or fashion, and to criticism that subordinates the beautiful to the mundane. At the least, they are afraid to take a stand against this subordination.

The moral and political context, however, does not simply control the fate of the arts and of thought. They are necessarily somewhat independent. They transcend any political order to some degree because they stem ultimately from an attachment to, a love for, truth and beauty that cannot fully be captured by any community. This is especially true of the intellect. But it is at least partially true of beauty—as my example of Mozart was intended to show. This transcendence is more obvious for the best art and thought—and science—but it has its echoes in the mediocre as well.

Looked at internally, what has happened to too much in thought and the arts since the Second World War—and before—is this: (1) there has been an odd narrowing, so that significant composers, artists, writers, and thinkers no longer have very much to do either with each other or with the non-specialist public. (2) Each of the arts has retreated too far either into technique without substance or into arbitrariness—few today would dare to say substantively what beauty or literary understanding are; few make genuine qualitative judgments. Sounds, words, meters, and designs are often abstracted from their basic images and uses in much “serious” art, and, therefore, they are abstracted from beauty and understanding. In those cases where something substantial is attempted, there are no clear grounds for distinguishing good from bad. (3) This is not to say that there are no attempts to counter this—to find what is good in the past, or to write and paint in “old fashioned” ways. Intellectually and politically, the harmful trends do not simply destroy other natural alternatives. But they govern and restrain them. (4) What does loosely hold the arts and thought together today is precisely the dominant general view that they are all part of a single context in which no art is qualitatively attached to beautiful images that move us and speak to us naturally. Rather, all arts are assertive impositions, willful productions that at best display manipulative technique in dealing with, elements of pure sense—as I said, isolated sounds, meters, and so on.

Now, this broad context of subjective assertion is connected to the moral and political situation that I mentioned earlier. But it also has its own, though related, roots in theoretical developments themselves. What are these roots? Chief among them is the very belief that thought and the arts are part of the amorphous entity called culture, that is, that they are cultural “products,” and that all cultures are equally arbitrary, This notion is that the worth and truth of every culture is relative to time and place—that is, is largely an historical accident in the sense that anthropologists mean it. Ours, therefore, is too. But we today have a new, fancy sense of the grounds of such relativity. It is a sense that goes beyond Hegel, the originator of this thinking in terms of culture for many derivative academics, to Nietzsche, who is the key figure (along with Heidegger) at the root of such thinking now. Everything stems from structures of domination—deeply creative, deeply forming and, yet, ultimately inescapable assertions of willful overcoming. Our arts and sciences are all loosely connected as part of our arbitrary, assertive, culture, freed from visible and audible standards. Everything in Nietzsche is at once individually and politically arbitrary and historically inevitable: It is “perspectival.” This is opposed to a classical view in which we have practical choices in the light of the unchanging but unreachable. For Heidegger, too, as for Nietzsche; but on a different level, everything is supremely separate—epochs of Being, human possibilities, theory and practice, but also completely connected—within epochs of Being; or in Being itself.[8]

So, our intellectual and artistic world is affected by these Nietzschean and Heideggerian thoughts. It interprets itself in terms of these thoughts—apart from the moral/political sense of justice and equality. But, the moral and the intellectual interpenetrate. Clearly, the current view that Nietzsche somehow equates all class and gender relations as equal systems of dominance is affected by our own political egalitarianism. And, our assertive moral egalitarianism is extended by academic acquaintance with Nietzsche. In this sense, the moral and intellectual in our country largely reinforce each other’s difficulties—rather than limiting and controlling each other’s difficulties. In my view, this is the problem of our “culture,” and a leading problem of academic political science.

IX

The view that every art and science is a matter of “culture,” and that this artistic “culture” can be equated, as “culture,” with moral culture is, ultimately part of the problem of assertive egalitarian relativism—not a solution to it. We are intellectually and politically better off if we point to the phenomena of justice, thought, and art that the term “culture” hides. Rather than agglomerating phenomena by saying that they belong to culture, we should properly differentiate and connect them. And, rather than implicitly yielding to the relativism inherent in claiming that phenomena are cultural, we should say concretely what they are, and thereby increase our ability to uncover natural standards.

Let me conclude by summing up my major points. There are two major differentiations in the notion of culture: culture as something moral vs. culture as something intellectual; culture as something comprehensive vs. culture as something rarefied. The key element in the moral sense turns out to be education and habituation toward character, and, especially, justice as the virtue that governs the concrete hierarchies and opportunities that shape character and are dealt with by it. The key issue in the intellectual sense is properly to differentiate the arts and thought from the moral and to see what has happened to them—where they have gone wrong—by their own lights. Our moral and intellectual phenomena are related, especially to the degree that both are governed by what counts as publicly defensible speech about equality and liberty. Ultimately, too much today is seen within a horizon of assertive egalitarianism. But, intellectual phenomena are not simply reducible to effects of political causes.

Political scientists, I would, therefore, argue, should not think about moral and intellectual phenomena in terms of culture but, rather, in some version of the terms that I have been using. Thinking in terms of culture, whatever its utility in uncovering phenomena that much political science disguises, ultimately muddies things. It either agglomerates matters too much (everything is “culture”) or it splits things too much (everything is seen as separately assertive.) More, it leaves political scientists and other intellectuals too trapped within our own culture, because thinking in terms of “culture” restricts access to standpoints that seek to transcend the orthodoxies that are dominant here and now. The better approach is to hold out the mutual limits of politics and thought.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Republished with gracious permission from the Political Science Reviewer (Volume 25, Number 1, Fall 1996).

Notes:

1. Consider here Aristotle’s Ethics, Book VI.
2. But what exactly does “culture” mean? Many social scientists, most obviously anthropologists, treat “culture” as the central subject of common life, not merely as an important fact: to describe a common life is to describe a culture. Other social scientists, among them political scientists such as Almond and Verba in The Civic Culture, or Putnam in Making Democracy Work, use “culture” more to denote a pervasive set of attitudes and habits than to denote a system in general. Culture is the heart of democracy, or the variable that best explains the existence of democracy, but it is not itself democracy, or oligarchy, or patriarchy, nor is it the country or region whose politics is being explained.
3. To examine what culture means, we might start by exploring in detail what scholars say about it. But how can we judge the acuity and intelligibility of their analyses unless we consider “culture” for ourselves? The best way to begin this exploration, I believe, is to examine the phenomena that cultural activities and discussions of culture point to and consist of in everyday practice.
4. Nor are they necessarily “creative,” for they are often readers, listeners, and viewers who love the arts but do not paint, write or compose.
5. President Clinton prides himself on being able to name the flip side of Elvis’s early hits, and for some this ability is the President’s most impressive skill.
6. The benefit of thinking of issues of “moral” culture primarily as questions of justice in the comprehensive sense familiar from Plato and Aristotle is not only that the issues then become better and more clearly organized for analysis. It is also that questions of justice are matters, ultimately, of choice, however embedded a sense of justice has become. “Culture,” especially when its historical and anthropological resonances dominate, can conjure up a mistaken sense of what is unchangeably given, and not practically choosable.
7. The discussion that follows is intended to specify more concretely the major questions that should govern a properly understood “cultural” analysis of politics, and to situate the place of political science as part of “intellectual” culture.
8. One can gain some useful distance from all this by, roughly, tracing thinking about the arts historically as follows. In Plato, the “perspective” from which we understand art is that of the almost perfect spectator of perfect things. In Kant, it is the perspective of the universally equal spectator of what is universally formable for the senses. In Nietzsche, the perspective is that of the powerful and rare creator—the “artist” himself, not the spectator. In our democratized Nietzscheanism, it is the perspective of each of us understood as an artist or creator equal to each of the others.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
"All comments are subject to moderation. We welcome the comments of those who disagree, but not those who are disagreeable."

Please leave a thoughtful, civil, and constructive comment: