Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Red, blue, and high culture

One of the other elements of Jeffrey Hart’s WSJ piece that I overlooked yesterday was this:

Conservatives assume that the Republican Party is by and large conservative. But this party has stood for many and various things in its history. The most recent change occurred in 1964, when its center of gravity shifted to the South and the Sunbelt, now the solid base of "Republicanism." The consequences of that profound shift are evident, especially with respect to prudence, education, intellect and high culture. It is an example of Machiavelli’s observation that institutions can retain the same outward name and aspect while transforming their substance entirely.

Matthew Yglesias heartily endorses this point:

Can anyone seriously dispute that the vast majority of America’s premiere institutions of education and high culture are located in the "blue" areas? That’s not to say the South is some kind of total wasteland -- I visited the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum earlier this year and it’s first-rate, albeit a bit small -- but on the whole this stuff is primarily in the Northeast and to a lesser extent on the Pacific coast. At the same time, these institutions used to be bastions of conservatism and now -- as conservatives are wont to complain -- go the other way politically.

This is a complicated issue. I want to respond first to Hart and then to Yglesias.

Hart’s argument seems to be that the "modern" (post-1964) Republican Party--the party of Goldwater and Reagan--gained votes and power at the expense of its contact with "prudence, education, intellect, and high culture." Given the fact that these four attributes are going by and large to be the preserve of a relatively small minority, any party that gains voters, wherever it gains them, will lose some of its cultivated aspect. As recently as the brouhaha over the Miers nomination, some commentators noted tensions within the Republican coalition between the intellectuals (neo-conservatives and NR traditionalists, among others) and the base, whether it be the business class or the evangelical social conservatives. What I’ve found remarkable, however, is how well they’ve gotten along over the years. "Cowboy" that he was, Ronald Reagan provided the principal conduit for the influence of conservative intellectuals of various stripes in Washington.

Of course, Professor Hart might reply that a policy wonk or an economist isn’t the same thing as a painter, poet, or critic. But not all the conservative intellectuals in Washington, D.C. were trained at Virginia Tech or George Mason. Some came from places like Harvard, Toronto, Claremont, and Chicago. (I hasten to note, lest I offend, that these are not the only universities in the country and that the study of public choice theory does not necessarily render one incapable of appreciating the good, the true, and the beautiful, nor, for that matter, does the study of Plato and his successors render one simply unappreciative of the way in which interests are often, if not always, appropriately understood.)

Now on to Yglesias, who makes a more narrowly geographic point, but one not properly informed by history or demography. Yes, the great museums, symphonies, and universities are by and large located in blue states. When you’re settled first, established first, and start building collections and endowments a century or more before the competition, that’s going to happen.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that most of those institutions, wherever they’re located, are now essentially national in their outlook. The top figures in Atlanta’s "regional" theatre, for example, are recruited from, or leave for, other parts of the country. To take another example from my little slice of the world: my department, consisting of seven full-time faculty members, counts Ph.D.’s from Harvard, Penn, Chicago, Ohio State, Toronto, and Emory; my colleagues hail from Cambridge, Providence, Eugene, Chicago, southern California, and Paris. In other words, you have to dig pretty deeply before you find a pronounced regionalism in cultural and educational institutions in even as red a state as Georgia.

Finally, Yglesias celebrates what I would hope Hart would deprecate as a kind of "treason of the clerks": our great cultural and educational institutions by and large no longer regard themselves as transmitters of a tradition, but rather as deconstructors and ironic critics of that tradition, often in service of a political agenda. By contrast, for example, classical learning is quite alive in "classical and Christian schools", the majority of which are located in red states. Higher education and the patronage of fine cultural establishments are certainly not inconsistent with a genuine appreciation of "the permanent things," but they have long since ceased being guarantors of that appreciation.

Hat tip: Jonah Goldberg, who has more.

Update: Things are still hopping at The Corner, while this site is helpfully trying to sort things out.

Update #2: Armavirumque provides some helpful context for Hart’s WSJ essay.

Discussions - 17 Comments

The notion that the Republican shift to the South and West has somehow caused the loss of intellectualism
and rise of populism among conservatives is flawed for two major reasons.

The first problem is definitional. Even you seem to be accepting the idea that the paramount institutions of intellect and culture are the same as those defined as such by the left. If this is the case, it simply doesn’t matter that the Ivies, the NYT, and Hollywood are in blue states because nearly every college, print media, and film/television media is a pocket of blue even if found in the middle of the reddest of states. So long as we accept the premise that high culture or intellectualism must be affiliated with a university or a premiere newspaper, conservatives will appear populist or not sufficiently nuanced.

The second problem is that Hart is recognizing a correlation but he’s getting the causation backwards.
If we accept the premise that high culture or intellectualism must be affiliated with a university or a premiere newspaper, the important shifts were the liberal takeovers of academia and MSM, not the Republican shift to the South and West. This might descend into a bit of a chicken and egg argument, but I’d wager the traditional symbols of intellectualism turned against conservatives before the shift in voting patterns occurred.

I tend to disagree with the idea that the average conservative voter is less
intellectual than the average liberal voter -- have you ever listened in on Air America? These guys all
repeat the same catch phrases and then pat each other on the back. Conservatives may sometimes come off as
less polished, but that’s probably because they haven’t been given marching orders and soundbites -- starting with their teachers and professors.


I agree that our "great" universities aren’t doing the job they were by and large established to do and that the kind of education that many conservatives (Professor Hart included, I guess) cherish (which is cultural, not ideological) is more likely to be found in less prestigious institutions (or in small, often embattled, enclaves in the high prestige places).

Tocqueville’s America is alive and well in "red" areas, whereas the institutions that have been taken over by liberals in "blue" areas have become parasitic. That is, in keeping with Tocqueville’s assessment, "red" America’s culture isn’t "high" but rather functional and egalitarian. "Blue" areas have become more like Europe, and those institutions use raw power, exploitation, and snob appeal to stay on top. I’m sad to say, we help them along any time we send our children to Harvard or Princeton.

In the early 90’s, Cobb County, Georgia, a very conservative area, passed an "anti-gay" measure of some sorts (I forget the details.) A "pro-gay" group came out with the following print poster against the measure:

Picture of the Mona Lisa, caption: "This is art".

Picture of The Big Chicken*, caption: "This is art in Cobb County"

Cute, right? The dumb hicks think a big metal chicken is art.

Except that a vast swath of "elite" culture, of which the "pro-gay" group was surely a part, would consider the ML and DaVinci part of the dead white male culture, a irrelevant if not oppressive thing to be gotten rid of.

The elitist lefties have been the barbarians at the gate in tearing down our cultural heritage, surely much more than the supposed hicks whom they disdain.

Modern Art=cr&p. Often literally.

*Cobb County Landmark. It is a gigantic metal chicken atop a KFC.

Prof. Knippenberg, I think you hit a key point about the failure of our "elite" institutions. The more I think about this issue, the more I’m convinced the politicization of the academy needs to be a bigger part of this discussion. The handful of small colleges that still champion a traditional liberal education are usually dismissed -- by the media, the Ivies, and liberals -- as backwards and individuals espousing views that don’t jive with modern liberalism are labeled neanderthals, no matter how logical or well-supported their positions. As long as we let the left define intellectual refinement, the right can be dismissed as simplistic and anti-intellectual.
Conservatives haven’t abandoned our classical intellectual roots, but the elite cultural institutions that we too-often let define the terms have.

The other thing I can’t stand about the whole "blue states are smarter than red states" thing (which has also borne itself out in the snopes-worthy email forwards about state IQ scores and who voted for Bush, Kerry, etc...) is that it assumes everyone in a blue state is a Democrat and everyone in a red state is a Republican, and that every single person votes.

I read Hart’s critique of the "conservative mind" yesterday. Yet it seemed, to me, that his "hard and "soft" utopias drove his entire critique. What I mean is, first came some form of liberal utopia, seemingly embraced to some degree by society, and then came the "conservative mind" as a rear guard reactionary force, later.

Ergo, against the collectivist commie tide, a Russell Kirk rises... once Kirk succeeds (Goldwater ala 1964), a new collectivist revisionism (multiculturalism?) tide begins to arise, which is met with a new conservative challenge (ala Limbaugh circa 1994) and on and on the Schlesinger cycle goes.

But, in Hart’s mind, whether it’s conservatism or "neocon," it is the great liberal who truly leads... we merely are a spent reactionary force taming the barbarians along the way of history.

Which is about as trite and stupid version of American history as, say, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s: which is to say, any conservative (ala Dubya), who might be trying to "lead" like a liberal, is above all else a manic tyrant.

Which is about as trite and stupid version of American history as, say, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s: which is to say, any conservative (ala Dubya), who might be trying to "lead" like a liberal, is above all else a manic tyrant.

Which is, by the way, why liberals nuked Nixon. As Mr. "Imperial Presidency" Schlesinger might say, "Mr. Nixon was quite unworthy to abuse the Pentagon or the IRS the way JFK did."



Your last post reminds me of Harvey Mansfield’s quip (possibly in a review of Schlesinger’s "Imperial Presidency") that the FDR-bred enthusiasm of Democratic-leaning intellectuals for a strong republican presidency would never survive the advent of a strong Republican president.

"Your last post reminds me of Harvey Mansfield’s quip... that the FDR-bred enthusiasm of Democratic-leaning intellectuals for a strong republican presidency would never survive the advent of a strong Republican president. "

Gearing up for the 1972 presidential campaign, NYT’s James "Scotty" Reston giddily noted that "Ever since the campaign of 1932, the Democratic Party’s coalition of... [among others] Eastern universities, had dominated politics and kept Democrats in the White House for 28 out of 38 years." Obviously Nixon’s 1972 landslide over McGovern signaled a threat to this "dominance." Thus, Nixon had to go!

Yet, who really lost the Watergate saga, huh? As we gear up for the 2008 presidential campaign, NYT’s Thomas Freidman will no doubt mournfully observe that "Ever since the campaign of 1968, the Republican Party’s coalition of... [among others] Middle-American universities, had dominated politics and kept Republicans in the White House for 28 out of 40 years."

The only question that remains is, will the Republicans manage to destroy the house they built, like the Democrats did?

In light of the recent release by Young America’s Foundation of the 12 most bizarre and politically correct college courses, I don’t see how anyone can maintain a straight face and talk about how "education and high culture are located in the ’blue’ areas. Much of the filth of Hollywood is also firmly located in that liberal bastion of California. There was a time when Harvard and Princeton were indeed the bastions of education and learning. But today, those institutions stand for far less learning and far more political correctness and all kinds of liberal conspiracy theories.

As for Professor Hart, he seems to forget the origin of the author of Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver (North Carolina). Conservatives like Weaver have long noted that the South is different from the rest of the country as it is the region that tasted defeat in the Civil War. Therefore, the South has long retained a love for the past, a very traditional conservative sentiment.

It is those traditional repositories of "high culture" such as New England and "Old Europe" which have done the most to destroy traditional values and repudiate conservatism. When "high culture" degenerated to mean a crucifix sunk in urine as "art", (Not displayed in Georgia, that’s for sure) I think I’ll take "low culture" instead.

Oh, come on - the Bush-lovin’, red-voting South has plenty of high culture. Has anyone ever heard of monster truck rallies or NASCAR, for starters???

And that arguably red state of Ohio has, as Julie Ponzi pointed out before, lawn mower racing. Between that and Ashbrook, Ohio comes off as downright snooty!

I thought about this for a couple of days and decided the entire argument is silly because it rests on a flawed premise. Hart seems to argue according to supply and demand. The existence of a good (supply) indicates demand. In this case the existence of premier cultural entities indicates a strong demand for these cultural entities in the location where they are at, and since demand comes from people, it indicates the people are cultured (since only cultured people would demand cultural entities). The argument goes, if New York has the best orchestra it must be because people there have a strong demand for it, a demand that people in other places lack. This argument is so fundamentally wrong that it has made me quite angry.

I will assume that money is what makes a cultural entity premier, I think this is mostly right. Cultural entities do not operate (at least modern cultural entities) according to economic laws. They are subsidized. There are two primary sources of subsidization: governments and corporations. 1. Government subsidization does not indicate demand for the cultural institution. It indicates that a particular group got the legislature to pass a law forcing everyone in the State or political subdivision of the State to support the institution, whether he wants to or not. 2. Corporate subsidization does not indicate demand either. It merely indicates that the person or committee in charge of gift giving likes the particular institution.

A couple of principles follow from this. 1. Corporations are probably the primary subsidizer of these institutions. Corporations have to have their headquarters in a particular location. The people in charge of giving gifts will likely be at that headquarters, and since they want to benefit themselves and their friends, and are more easily pressured by local groups where they are at, they will give more to institutions where the headquarters is located. Since NYC has the most corporate headquarters, it is not surprising that NYC institutions are premier, because they have the most money. 2. Corporations fund their gifts by use of other peoples’ money (investors in the original stock) and through profits derived from selling their goods or services. Since most big corporations are national, the entire country supports these institutions, not any particular place. If Ford were to give $1,000,000 to some NYC institution, no one would pretend that the people of Detroit had a strong demand for excellence in NYC arts, and the entire country (through purchase of Ford cars) supported this gift. It is obnoxious to pretend that a particular person is morally better or more high class because he resides in a place that has those things when the ENTIRE country is responsible for those things being there. 3. Because of interest, etc. many large gifts will continue to give after made. Merely because a place is currently good, would not indicate that demand for the thing still existed. The institution could be coasting.

A couple of examples to support my assertions:1. The Cleveland Orchestra is considered the best in Ohio. I do not know if this was always so, but it started to become very good when a wealthy widow left it a very large endowment. 2. The Toledo art museum is considered to have one of the best art collections in Ohio. It got a very large gift from the Heisey glass people in the early 1900s (I believe). Does this mean that Toledo is the most cultured city in Ohio? Maybe, maybe not. 3. The New York City Opera (The Met?) lost its major funder a couple of years ago (either Exxon or Mobil). It was scrambling around trying to find another one to replace it. Let’s pretend it did not and had to close up shop. Would this mean that the people of NYC demanded the Opera any less? No, it merely means the people in charge of corporate gift giving did not like the opera for whatever reason.

All of the above holds true for Universities as well. I had some other points I thought of, but I forgot them, but would like to see what people think of this argument. I think it is mostly correct, unlike the Hart thing.


I am quite confident that you’re right that no cultural institution survives on ticket (or tuition) revenues alone. Yoour focus on corporate giving is a little misplaced. Yes, there are corporate donors, but I suspect that in many cases it’s the wealthy families (the principal owners of the stock) that are the major givers. (Thus in Atlanta, where Home Depot is headquartered, the two founders--Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank--are major philanthropic players. The wealthiest local foundations were founded by people associated with Coca Cola.) Correct me if I’m wrong, but the largest gifts tend to come from individuals, then from foundations, and then from corporations. (Of course, I’m leaving aside government subsidies here.)

As you note, but don’t sufficiently emphasize, the "age" of the gift matters too. A significant gift given, say, in 1900 goes further than the same gift (in constant dollars even) given in 2000. Not only might it have earned interest in an endowment for 100 years, but it also probably purchased more "stuff" (art, physical plant, whatever) back then than it could today. A museum collection begun at the beginning of the last century (or earlier) has an excellent chance of being "more distinguished" than a collection begun in the last couple of decades.

In other words, all things being equal, older museums, older symphonies, and older universities are going to be better endowed than their newer counterparts. A Bill Gates can change some of that overnight, but even he can’t buy stuff that isn’t for sale. If, for example, you look at newer museums (like Atlanta’s), the impressive collections are in things like decorative and folk art, and perhaps modern art, which have developed as fields largely in the recent times. Good pieces were relatively available and not outrageously expensive.

O.K., I’ve said enough, which is to say that I’ve reached the limits of my knowledge, such as it is.

Joe - thanks for plugging the Association of Classical and Christian Schools. I teach at such a school where middle school students (and soon high school students) cut their teeth on the Bible, Homer, Plutarch, the Founders, and Lincoln in their search for immutable truths, and study formal grammar, logic, and rhetoric to become the statesmen and leaders of tomorrow. I am a conservative Catholic who prefers the Christian principles and classical education to teaching at the local public, preparatory, and Catholic schools that are filled with post-modernism, relativism, and multiculturalism, not to mention are floundering in the grammar stage of learning in their Advanced Placement classes, memorizing every last tidbit of information but not thinking one iota. If that’s small-town, red state living, give me that over my birthplace of New York any day.

I think in the long run no one and nothing escapes economic laws...

Would people consent to pay more money to live in New York City vs. other options if it did not have a certain culture that they liked/desired?

Of course not!

Of course not everyone lives in New York City or Boston or Los Angeles for the same reason... But people live in different places for a host of reasons.

"The argument goes, if New York has the best orchestra it must be because people there have a strong demand for it, a demand that people in other places lack."

But then again not many people are moving to New York... More of them are heading to Vegas, and other places like Arizona and Colorado, and the south...

States like Ohio and New York are dying relatively speaking, because the sum total of the best things about the state, balanced against cost of living just aren’t worth it.

Would I rather play a game of No-Limit Texas Holdem’ (illegal in Texas by the way, you have to go to Oklahoma or Louisiana) or go to an Orchestra? Bring on the poker!

So I agree that what part of the country you live in says something about your tastes and preferences...but like any economist I am not about to get tied down in a foolish hissy over which is "higher".

If Steve Sparks craves the orchestra and moves to NYC and John Lewis craves hot cars and women and poker at the bicycle and moves to Los Angeles each is better off. But of course Los Angeles is too over-priced and simplistically materialist for my tastes, while NYC is too liberal for poor Mr. Sparks... therefore I don’t move... or I don’t move there...

Steve, I think you can generalize that where people live says something about the tastes and preferences that they have, but it is impossible to argue that one is higher than the other without being circular in ones reasoning.

I think that recent demographic trends demonstrate increased growth in states where life is to be had at a better value, and slow or stagnant growth in states where life is less of a value.


I do not think you can generalize about a person’s preferences based on where they live.

Many people have little control over where they live. They have to move in order to work. When I lived in Colorado it was not because I had a strong desire to ski, or to enjoy the beautiful brown plains, rather it was because the job I worked at was out there. Mid-level corporate executives and managers have little control over where they live (assuming they do not quit their job). Furthermore, some cities have specialized jobs. If one wants to be a stockbroker, NYC is the place. If one wants to write Country Music, go to Nashville; movies, LA, theater, NYC, and so forth. I think economic factors play such a large role in determining living location that tastes and preferences concerning activities has little influence unless the person is free from meaningful economic constraints.

Can you clarify your second to last paragraph? What is higher?

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