Beck and Plato on Politics and Aesthetics

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"Beck and Plato on Politics and Aesthetics"

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Glenn Beck’s bizarre Connect Four antics Thursday afternoon were amusing, but the best part of that segment was actually Beck’s thoughts on the relationship between art and politics:

Landsman gave an interesting description of his job interview with Valerie Jarrett saying he’d “use art to change the world.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want art to change the world. I’d like people to change the world. Together, and out in the open. Not through some painting that makes me feel like that’s a great idea. Fox viewers are always called zombies and idiots. But who are the zombies, somebody who’s are getting real political discussion every day, or somebody making their decision through a painting or a broadway show?

At first glance, this seems like part of Glenn Beck’s continuing effort to get people to ensure the continuing relevance of Richard Hofstadter, by melding the paranoid style with anti-intellectualism. But another way of looking at it is that Beck is recapitulating an argument Plato makes in The Republic about the inferiority of art to philosophy. The complaint, essentially, is that art is a kind of cheating that bypasses the faculty of reason and can mislead the people. This leads him to the conclusion that poetry ought to be banned in a well-governed society.

In contrast to Plato, Beck at least superficially has a strong libertarian streak. But I think there’s reason to believe that authoritarianism is the main driver of right-wing politics in the contemporary United States. That’s part of the reason why these days some libertarians are strangely enthusiastic about unlimited government surveillance power (see also Jonah Goldberg who thinks cigarette taxes are fascism, but torture and indefinite detention are great) while others don’t seem very right-wing.

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