October 1, 2019
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
Who Wins the Culture War, Wins Everything!
Most installments in the MY CORNER series, in addition to a stated concentration on the South, address deeper cultural issues: questions about what is happening in our educational system, how Western culture is being transformed before our very eyes, the attacks on the visible symbols of our past, and, perhaps more insidiously, examining assaults on our history, on our memory and on our very language, that is, how we communicate with each other.
For up-to-the-moment, blow-by-blow accounts of the latest attempt—indeed, conspiracy—by the Deep State to take down and impeach President Trump, there are such voices as Rush Limbaugh, John Solomon, and others. From time to time, I can provide such information, or a certain slant or focus, but given the nature of what is transpiring and the headlong rush, my attention is drawn to what I consider more basic, more fundamental questions that underpin and shape our current conversations and debates.
I have heard it said that it was the great English prelate and author, Cardinal John Henry Newman, who declared that “all political issues involve basic religious questions.” But while studying in Spain I read something very similar written by the Spanish traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortes (d. 1853): “The momentous political questions of our time, when examined closely, reveal deeply philosophical and religious roots. Unless these foundations are understood, debate will be like fighting the symptoms of a disease but not the cause.”
Knowing how to fight our enemies, knowing how to react and what to say and what, finally, to do, involves as the late Southern writer Mel Bradford used to say, first, “knowing who we are,” that is, knowing that we are creatures made and given life by a Creator, that we are given stewardship over this planet, that there are both Natural and Divine Positive Laws that govern us and our existence; and that to transgress them will bring disastrous consequences, perhaps not at once, but certainly eventually.
And that is why the cultural and essentially religious battles—the conflict over who we are and our place in Creation—are so critical. It is why I have a very poor view of much of what passes for “modern kulchur,” including much of the architecture, the so-called literature, the cinematic excrescence, the painting and sculpture, and the music that is spewed forth by our contemporary society.
Certainly such products reflect our current dominant culture, for art follows and is inspired by reigning beliefs and standards in any society, while at the same time helps to shape that society’s future vision and conception of itself. And, no doubt, most of the artists in our society today fancy themselves just like artists of the past, using their creative intelligence to create works of art. Has this not been the self-appointed role of such persons throughout history?
The arts, in their major role, reflect a society’s beliefs and aspirations—think here architecturally of the Acropolis in Athens, the incredible monuments in Rome, the great cathedrals of Chartres and Rheims in France, representing the aspirations and thought of those foundations of our own civilization. Think of the great artwork of a Giotto, a Michelangelo, a Rubens, a Gainsborough; and in music, of Gregorian Chant, plainsong and polyphony, the great symphonic and liturgical works of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Bruckner.
Some of you may recall the great BBC series, “Civilization,” hosted by the late Sir Kenneth Clark and then shown in American theaters (circa 1970) and later on television. Lord Clark attempted, quite successfully, to connect the dots and illustrate both the complexity and the unity of our cultural inheritance and its organic development. As Bernard of Chartres declared nearly 900 years ago, “we are as dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.” Our ancestors built upon and added to what was vouchsafed to and inherited by them, as a trust, as a precious legacy. And traditionally, this was thought to be the essential role of the artist: to create based on what he had received, to make it finer if possible, to enhance it, but never to disparage it or destroy it, and always to preserve it.
But since at least the early twentieth century artists have more significantly emphasized the radically transformative, even revolutionary, at times highly political element. Of course, artists throughout history have used their talent to advance new ideas with social and political import; that’s always been the case.
But, I would suggest, not with the same demonic fervor or determination, not with the same ideological commitment and involvement that we have witnessed in our time. And not with the same type of influential dominance by the Marxist Frankfurt School and its votaries in almost every field of knowledge, a dominance which fully comprehends the role of culture in the success of the revolutionary activity it advocates.
Whether in such enterprises as “critical theory” in literature, deconstructivism in architecture, or the use of music as a weapon to undermine societal mores and standards, too often it seems that “the arts” have been weaponized and have become critical elements in the destruction of our civilization, rather than estimable and valuable additions to it.
Where—what—are today’s monuments to rival the cathedral at Chartres, music to compare with Mozart’s Requiem or Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, or paintings to be set beside the work of a Rembrandt or El Greco? And even more recently, where are the architects to rival a Ralph Adams Cram (d. 1942) or a Daniel Burnham (d. 1912)?
Some of us are old enough to remember when the “Ed Sullivan Show” on CBS featured the then-new English sensation, the Beatles (1964), at almost the same time that NBC cancelled the long-running, classical music standard “The Voice of Firestone” (1963). Irrespective of the talent, or the inventiveness, or the catchy tunefulness of the Fab Four—something most of us would readily acknowledge—that appearance and what then followed like an avalanche represented a seismic cultural shift, and the opening of the floodgates, as it were. Soon, weekly national broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera were also off NBC, relegated first to public radio, and finally to a few private radio stations. And I am old enough to recall all sorts of rock groups which soon crowded out almost all other musical programming from national networks and local stations, largely exiling both country music and classical music to niche markets. (The country musical variety show Hee Haw only lasted on CBS for two years, 1969-1971, before cancellation and going into syndication. Other non-Rock programming soon followed.)
The most egregious offense in all this was the disconnection of citizens, of the populace, from our civilization’s very rich musical inheritance. While my parents were not what I would call “classical music experts,” they at least understood and appreciated its value and importance in our society and to our culture. Just consider some of the scores (and subjects) of films of the 1930s until the early 1960s, think about the music used in early popular television programs like “The Lone Ranger” (1949-1957), or “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon” (1955-1958), think of those memorable Warner Brothers cartoons, especially Elmer Fudd’s “I Killed the Wabbit,” or those Woody Woodpecker cartoons we also grew up with. How many of us still associate Rossini’s William Tell Overture with “Hi-Yo Silver!” any time we hear the final gallop of that piece being played?
And, sure, the use of such music has continued in film, but certainly not with the broad influence or significance it once had. Nor with the role of connecting average, everyday citizens with their inherited culture. In our day the classical tradition occupies, it seems, a niche which grows smaller by the year, with fewer listeners and devotees, and with music impresarios attempting frantically to remedy the situation by heavy mixes of “pop” cross-over concerts, neither truly classical nor truly rock.
It has been a great accomplishment of cultural Marxism and its adepts in the arts to separate in large measure our population from its heritage—a major step in the conquest of our culture and the transformation of our civilization. And the resulting atomistic individualism—a formless anarchy—is the exact condition desired by the enemies of our civilization. In the words of the late T. S. Eliot our foundations have been destroyed, made largely inaccessible or beyond our reach, “to make ready the ground upon which the barbarian nomads of the future will encamp their mechanized caravans.” [Notes towards the Definition of Culture, 1948]
At the very base of our conflict today is this imperative: to recover those bonds which unite us to our heritage, for it is in retrieving that inheritance (and the faith which accompanies it) that we gain strength and renewal for the battles that lie ahead of us.
With these thoughts in mind, I pass on a link to my latest essay published by The New English Review. It’s titled, “Richard Strauss and the Survival of Western Culture.” I hope you’ll see the connections and even relevance in what I’ve written. Please access the link below, and there are several Youtube excerpts included:
Richard Strauss and the Survival of Western Culture
by (October 2019)