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Posts tagged Crispin Sartwell

Political Aesthetics available free online

Good news, everyone. From Crispin Sartwell’s blog comes the announcement that his study on Political Aesthetics is now available for free online:

cornell tells me we can’t expect a paperback of political aesthetics anytime soon, so i’m putting the pdf of the proofs up onlne. i really think this is my best book.

— Crispin Sartwell at cheese it, the cops! (25 February 2013)

PDF is available here through Google Docs, and I’ve mirrored a copy here. Contents and a bit of the thesis:

Crispin Sartwell, Political Aesthetics

  • Introduction: The Idea of Political Aesthetics
  • Ch. 1. Leni Riefenstahl Meets Charlie Chaplin: Aesthetics of the Third Reich
  • Ch. 2. Artphilosophical Themes
  • Ch. 3. Dead Kennedys and Black Flags: Artpolitics of Punk
  • Ch. 4. Prehistory of Political Aesthetics
  • Ch. 5. Red, Gold, Black, and Green: Black Nationalist Aesthetics
  • Ch. 6. Arthistorical Themes
  • Ch. 7. Political Power and Transcendental Geometry: Republican Classicism in Early America
  • Ch. 8. Conclusion: Political Styles and Aesthetic Ideologies
  • Appendix: Suggestions for Further Study

Introduction: The Idea of Political Aesthetics

There are, of course, many connections between art and politics. For example regimes of all sorts–democratic, monarchical, communist, and all the rest–use and repress the arts in various ways for propagandistic purposes, to control or deflect public opinion. And much of what we take as fine art has explicitly political themes; this is truer now than ever, or was truer twenty years ago than ever, as artists expressed feminist, antiracist, animal rights, or AIDS activist ideology in their work, for example. These are important areas for investigation. But what I am calling the program or inquiry of political aesthetics begins with a claim that I think is stronger and more interesting.

Not all art is political, but all politics is aesthetic; at their heart, political ideologies, systems, and constitutions are aesthetic systems, multimedia artistic environments. The political content of an ideology can be understood in large measure actually to be–to be identical with–its formal and stylistic aspects. It’s not that a political ideology or movement gets tricked out in a manipulative set of symbols or design tropes; it’s that an ideology is an aesthetic system, and that this is what moves or fails to move people, attracts their loyalty or repugnance, moves them to act or to apathy. But the political function of the arts–including various crafts and design practices–is not merely a matter of manipulation and affect: the aesthetic expression of a regime or of the resistance to a regime are central also to the cognitive content and concrete effects of political systems. . . .

— Crispin Sartwell (2010), Political Aesthetics

Too many farewells

R.I.P. Adrienne Rich (1929-2012).. This is from a letter of hers written in July 1997:

… [T]he meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. … There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art–in my own case the art of poetry–means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage.

–Adrienne Rich, Letter to Jane Alexander Refusing the National Medal for the Arts (July 3, 1997). In Voices of a People’s History of the United States (eds. Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove), p. 580.

And this is from one of her poems, On Edges (1968).

… Crossing the bridge I need all my nerve
to trust to the man-made cables.

The blades on that machine could cut you to ribbons
but its function is humane.
Is this all I can say of these delicate books, scythe-curved intentions
you and I handle? I’d rather
taste blood, yours or mine, flowing
from a sudden slash, than cut all day
with blunt scissors on dotted lines
like the teacher told.

–Adrienne Rich (1968), On Edges

R.I.P. Earl Scruggs (1924-2012). This is from Crispin Sartwell’s blog:

earl scruggs was among the handful of great instrumental innovators in twentieth-century american popular music. comparable figures are people like louis armstrong, little walter, jimi hendrix. the banjo in his hands yields an amazing combination of rhythm and melody: it’s the most percussive of the string instruments, and scruggs created the role of the banjo virtuoso in bluegrass: during his solo, he drives the band faster and faster, like an accelerating train….

Who needs the state more: Robert Rubin or Rodney King?

From opposite of obvious, in eye of the storm (10 January 2012).

perhaps it seems obvious that it is in the interests of poor people to have an extremely powerful and pervasive state; perhaps it seems obvious that it is in the interests of rich people to have a tiny powerless state. however, looking at the thing squarely, this is the opposite of obvious. it seems obvious because people keep repeating it or always conceive the terrain this way. but it’s just wackily false with regard to reality. who needs the state more: you know, robert rubin or rodney king? the idea that robert just wants to be left alone while rodney wants to be constantly entwined in police and welfare programs seems rather odd. or: which of these people needs to be left alone, and which coddled or beaten? when the state leaves robert rubin alone, he’ll be broke. when it leaves rodney king alone, he’ll have better brain scans.

now tom frank or corey robin believe that the road to equality is the non-stop growth of a hierachy of power: the state is the representative of the poor. now, what in the world could be the empirical basis for a belief this ridiculous or even contradictory (create equality by distributing power hierarchically)?

— Crispin Sartwell

State-ing a Fact

In comments on Those Damned Statists!, Gene Callahan gets pissy about the claim that he’s being fussy about word usage. Thus:

One of the most telling rhetorical tics one finds amongst radical libertarians is to refer to every single person who does not buy their entire program as a ‘statist’. Now, when Mises used that term, he was referring to people like, say, Mussolini, who were engaged in some form of state worship, who were making the State a God on earth. This made sense.

But many rad-libs today apply it to every person who does not want to destroy the State as a social institution. This is an extraordinary usage….

And so:

I am not being fussy about word usage; I am noting the extraordinary phenomenon of a group that represents .1% of the political spectrum lumping the other 99.9% under a single label.

You mean like when Jews (about 0.2% of the population of the world) refer to all of the other 99.8% of the people in the world as “Gentiles,” or when priests (about 0.03% of the total membership of the Roman Catholic Church) refer to all of the 99.97% of the Church as “laity” or atheists refer to absolutely everyone who believes in any way in any gods at all a theist? My, how extraordinary. Ah-HA! Gene will say, clutching his New Science of Politicsall of your examples are religious; isn’t that telling? Only if you think it’s equally telling that the residents of every country on earth refer to the 6.5+ billion or so other people in the world as foreigners, that gay men and lesbians took to using the word straight to refer to absolutely everybody who’s not gay, when BOFH types took to describing absolutely everybody outside of their subcultural circle of technical expertise lusers, etc.[1] It seems to me the most ordinary thing in the world for members of a relatively coherent, exclusive group to spend some non-zero amount of time discussing (whether politely or abusively or neutrally) the much larger number of people who are not a part of that group, and to come up with a word to name them. (This does, of course, tell us that radical libertarians are a small group in a much larger world who spend some time arguing about the things that make them radical libertarians. Well, yes.)

Let me offer an alternative story here about what has happened, linguistically speaking, with statism. I haven’t done a lot in the way on paleontological research on the past uses of statism, so I am going to recklessly presume there isn’t much to say about it before where Gene starts — with the use of the word by Mises and the rest of the mid-century minimal-governmentalist coffeeklatsch. Now, those folks frequently employed a political term which was transparently polemical and had more or less no neutral analytical use. (State worship? Really?[2]). They applied it to Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon quite as freely as they did to explicit totalitarians like Mussolini or Stalin.[3] This certainly had its uses, but it was more or less an overt example of a persuasive definition, and had no descriptive content except by reference to the moving target of how much government, in what direction, the speaker considered decent or worthwhile.

Then some Anarchists came along, found this empty polemical term in the discourse, and gave it a new meaning — more or less, someone who accepts the legitimacy of government as a social institution, or someone who does not believe that the state as such must be abolished. Unlike the use by Ludwig von Mises or Ayn Rand, this use of the term statist included minimal-statists like Mises and Rand, since they too believed in at least some government. Their use of the term lumped together something like 99% of the population of the world under a single label, since it defined everyone else by contrast with laissez-faire/laissez-passer limited-governmentalism; our use of the term lumped together something like 99.9% of the population of the world, since it also tossed out folks who believed in minimal government. On the other hand, it also gave statist a non-polemical, descriptive, and analytically useful definition. Statist as non-anarchist meant something that the person being so described would probably accept as a self-description; it is analytically useful because it turns out that sometimes we argue about whether or not any government can be legitimate, and this gives a handy descriptive term for each side of the debate — anarchists on the one hand and statists on the other.[4] Admittedly, this is an appropriation of the term and a redefinition of it. But, well, so? Planet used to include Pluto and New York City used to refer only to Manhattan. We take the words we find and apply them to our own circumstances; sometimes existing words get jiggered to have a narrower or broader extension, or a more technical usage, in order to make them more useful for purposes of discussion or analysis.

Then Gene Callahan came along and took it as another reason to gripe about the language that libertarians use rather than identifying any specific problem that this language-use has caused in any specific conversation. No doubt there are examples where this has happened, but I think that if you go looking seriously, you will actually find that the old, empty polemical use of the term in the hands of mini-statists like Mises or Rand (the use that Gene insists made sense) has caused far more conversational misfires than the newer, more descriptive meaning employed by libertarian anarchists.

See also:

  1. [1]In spite of the religious subject matter, the structured relationships between Jews and Gentiles, priests and laity, atheists and theists, etc., are in any case really nothing like the kind of relationships between the initiated and the uninitiated in Voegelian Gnosticism.
  2. [2]Of course, I myself have frequently drawn parallels between religious devotion and the ways that states legitimate themselves. I hope there’s some insight in that. But the insight is insight by means of an acknowledged metaphor: hardly anybody accused of being engaged in some form of state worship … making the State a God on earth would accept that as a non-tendentious description of what they do or believe. And the talk about worship is clearly meant polemically — the real application of the term is wherever the speaker finds devotion or deference significantly beyond whatever she herself considers acceptable. For Mises, the critical point was supposed to be whether the person believed in limited government or unlimited government. But of course limited and unlimited in that context were just as contested as the terms they were supposed to define. Limited government for Mises certainly didn’t just mean any government with any constitutional limits whatever. Most mid-century welfare-state liberals, for example, believed very strongly that government should be subject to some constitutional limits. Just not the specific limits that Ludwig von Mises thought it should be subject to.
  3. [3]Mises in any case explicitly included both socialism and American-style state-capitalist interventionism as forms of what he called statism or, as in Omnipotent Government, etatism. The claim that he reserved it for people like, say, Mussolini, is pure bosh.
  4. [4]We’d use archist — Tucker, for one, sometimes did — but, ew.

Wednesday Lazy Linking

Don’t forget.

  • The world is awesome.

  • People are awesome. You don’t need plans, or politics, or power. Put them up against people, and people will win every time. People came up with that video. Also, other people came up with this.

  • Technological civilization is awesome. (In case you’re wondering, it’s awesome because it’s made of people.)

  • Books are awesome. Verlyn Klinkenborg, New York Times (2009-05-29): Some Thoughts on the Pleasures of Being a Re-Reader

  • To-day is awesome. It’s an anniversary. My love and I were married three years ago today. If the normal online rounds are held up for a while, well, that’s why.


  • In memory of George Tiller. feministe (2009-05-31): In honor of Dr. Tiller (if you would like to donate in memory and in honor of Dr. Tiller’s work). Among others, the National Network of Abortion Funds has established a George Tiller Memorial Abortion Fund.

  • IQSN, L.A. I.M.C. (2009-05-27): Solidarity with Queer Bulgaria on 27 June 2009. A day of international actions in solidarity with the LGBTQ Pride march in Sofia, Bulgaria. Last year’s march was attacked by neo-Nazi groups who decided to Keep Our Children Safe with a campaign of roving basher gangs and by slinging molotov cocktails and small explosives at the marchers. International Queer Solidarity Network calls for a European mobilization, with support from the United States, that will stand in solidarity with Queer Bulgaria for this year’s march.





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