by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
David Marcus uses a column at The Federalist website to set out basic principles for conservatives working in the cultural arts world. Principle No. 1: A free and open marketplace of ideas.
[T]he influence of the non-profit sector on American live and written arts cannot be overstated. The three-legged stool of the Academy, the non-profit giving sector, and non-profit arts-producing companies has a liberal lock on almost all of our stages and most of our pages. The free money floating around, supposedly because art cannot pay for itself, keeps these sectors immune from audience influence. The important competition is for grants and donations, not participation. This means that liberal arts funders and producers have little need to appeal to conservatives. Unlike Hollywood, American theater gives us very few “American Snipers” or “Junos” outside of the work of David Mamet.
But the conservative counter-culture should not try to mirror this network of wealth and ideology in bringing more conservative art to life. There is a place for donated resources, in developing content creators and establishing infrastructure. But the works themselves should compete without the overbearing influence of these funds—not only because free markets are conservative, but because they produce the best products. As the Progressive arts entrench their narrative and play to smaller and smaller groups of sycophants, conservative artists should be focused on work that pays for itself. This doesn’t mean work that makes the most money is the best, it means the work that attracts the most participation is. Participation can always be monetized. In popular work we will find our strongest messages.
Another principle: advocacy of American values.
Artists have always provided an important critical lens on their societies and governments, often with more power to move people than either the press or politics. But their criticism has not always been, and need not always be radical or revolutionary. Artists can criticize while respecting and promoting the basic values of their culture. Mark Twain had many bad things to say about the American government and American society. But in “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” when Hank Morgan finds himself in the oppressive society of Arthurian England, almost all of his solutions are American. From government to industry, even the arts, Twain saw basic American values as the gold standard. When he criticized America or Americans, it was generally for failing to live up to those very values.
Too often today it is the core values of our country that come under artistic attack. So steeped in oppression, it is argued, was our founding and development that little is redeemable from that admittedly checkered past. But this ignores that fact that all of human history is checkered, and every society is steeped in flaws and oppression. The conservative counter-culture needs find ways to celebrate our society’s unique and wonderful contribution to the world without the constant caveats of history’s crimes. Shows like “Sons of Liberty” may suggest we are ready to do just that. What is good about America and free markets and democracy? These are the questions we should ask ourselves. There are already enough artists here telling us what is bad about them.
Perhaps conservative arts and culture will fit well in a world that has room for expressly ideological media.