April 30, 2021
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
The Survival of Western Culture:
The Response of Richard Strauss
Readers of these occasional pieces will know that in addition to political issues, I also sometimes take a look at cultural questions, especially the role that film, music, and the arts play in determining the direction of our civilization. The arts are both the natural product and the creative work of our culture, a kind of essential gloss which more than most anything else expresses our values, our innermost beliefs, and, yes if within the Christian tradition, our devotion and thanks to our Creator. Thus, mankind from the earliest times has demonstrated its innermost convictions and understanding of who it is in the scheme of things and its place in that creation by artistic activity.
But the arts are more than just an emanation, more than a creative outflowing which expresses what a culture means or represents. Just as the great cathedrals of the High Middle Ages in architecture and Gregorian chant in music illustrated the religious—as well as artistic—sensibility of that society, the environment created by such works of art redounded also to strengthen and support the beliefs and understanding of those in that society.
Years ago, when I was in grad school in Spain, I recall engaging in a long-running discussion with another grad student, from England, over the role that cultural environment—our cultural ambiance and what we hold dear in it—plays in buoying up and offering real sustenance to a population. A culture—a society—in which its symbols and public iconography offer a reflection of what that society holds dear and believes can also strengthen and confirm the weakest of its members.
The late philosopher Frederick Wilhelmsen used the term “anneal,” in that a cultural environment bursting with symbols and reminders of its innermost beliefs acts similarly on a personal level to strengthen how friends with like views buttress each other: I am confirmed in my perspective by the fact that the friends surrounding me, who may be more precise and more adept in expression, give me encouragement, affirm me, and, in effect, make it easier for me to express myself without feeling isolated or perhaps doubting my own veracity.
In the older rural regions of France and Spain, dotted with ancient roadside crosses and small rural chapels and churches—or, in the landscape of the American South with its once very visible public display of the iconography and symbolism of monuments to its heroes and heroic epic, its Second War of Independence, 1861-1865—such public honor and significance indicated what that society held dear and important, but also reminded us, as the late Mel Bradford once wrote, “who we are” as a people and, indeed, as a civilization.
The unforgivable sin against Creation made by every Puritan reformer or iconoclast, whether a Cromwellian devil intent on uprooting the rich heritage of English culture in music and architecture, or a Communist commissar presiding over the despoliation of an ancient Russian Orthodox chapel, comes down essentially to the same thing: the destructive and anti-natural tendency that suppresses and separates man from His Creator and the creative inspiration implanted within man that enables him to both render honor to the Creator as well as express that divinely-granted gift through the arts. The arts—music, painting, architecture, film, and other areas of human creativity—present publicly the essential symbols of civilization, what it esteems and holds dear, they give it a certain continuity, add to and enrich its traditions, while, as I have said, strengthening us and the weaker among us in our beliefs and understanding of ourselves.
It has been a major accomplishment of the progressivist social justice warriors—the “woke” demonic revolutionaries—to understand that to defeat and undo the hated West, our Western and Christian civilization, the most effective means was through education and the arts, through corrupting our cultural environment and our system of learning (and its transmission to our progeny). Not so much through head-on attacks politically, which as Marxist theoretician Antonio Gramsci admitted a century ago had been largely ineffective, but via a “long march” through our educational and cultural institutions, the artefacts of our culture, would victory come.
This is why, in effect, the supposed “opposition” of the establishment conservative movement—“Con Inc.”—and Republican Party to the progressivist revolution has not only been ineffective, but at times positively nugatory and disastrous to the defense of Western culture. You can’t win a battle…a war…by half-measures, by splitting hairs, by attempting to placate the ravenous Beast of Revolution by sacrificing, even tepidly, some principles which form part of the whole of that culture in hopes that other principles (and maybe your financial assets!) will somehow survive the assaults.
Thus the utter foolishness and insanity of “Con Inc.” in eagerly giving up and joining the maddened herd demanding the eradication of memorials and symbols of Southern heritage, those monuments to our great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers, to their courage, their suffering, and their resilience. That attempt we now see every night on Fox News or spouted from the mouths of a Senator Tim Scott or Senator Lindsey Graham.
In the words of the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “If you do not live what you believe, you will end up believing what you live.” If we do not oppose the Revolution and the destruction of our culture root-and-branch to its face, we eventually become like the isolated and deserted Aleksandr Kerensky in the Winter Palace in late 1918 who, after disauthorizing and disarming real opposition to the Bolsheviks, hoping to somehow placate them, ended up with nothing and no one to halt their victorious take-over of power in Russia.
The modern progressivist Left understands this all too well; it is a truth that too many of our self-declared modern defenders of Western culture have either forgotten, or due to their fear of the Left, refuse to understand. It is why St. Pius X that “…the true friends of the people are neither revolutionaries, nor innovators: they are traditionalists.”
Our battle, and it is a battle to the death, must encompass not just our faith but our art, music, literature, our entire culture, what we surround ourselves with, what we teach our children and expose them to, what we pass on, and, if possible, add to. And it is precisely why we must appreciate and praise those giants of our civilization who have preceded us and made our culture richer and more agreeable by their creativity.
I pass on an essay I originally wrote back in late 2019; recently, I very slightly updated it, and it was published by The Unz Review. I offer it today, as a contribution to that battle.
Richard Strauss and the Survival of Western Culture