The American Conservative, 23 March 2009

Sun and Wind on the Roof, by John Sloan

Sun and Wind on the Roof, by John Sloan

 

Bill Kauffman takes on the idea of a federal department of Arts and Culture, a proposal long championed by someone he admires, Quincy Jones.  Kauffman quotes the painter John Sloan, who in 1944 said, “Sure, it would be fine to have a Ministry of Fine Arts in this country.  Then we’d know where the enemy is.”  He goes on to praise William Saroyan, whose pacifist principles led him to refuse to shake President Roosevelt’s hand at a reception during World War II, and William Faulkner, who rejected a social invitation from President Kennedy on the grounds that “the White House is too far to go for dinner.”  Kauffman himself once served on a National Endowment for the Arts panel, and the experience convinced him that Quincy Jones was wrong and these men were right.

Paul Gottfried argues that, contrary to what one might gather from cable TV, for most of the history of the USA it has been conservatives who have been the most prominent and most consistent opponents of the expansion of militarism and of presidential power.  For example, the only senator to vote against internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two was the original “Mr. Republican,” Robert Alphonso Taft.  Today’s “conservative” militarists, Gottfried claims, have succeeded because their approach enables them to combine two basically disparate impulses:

Neoconservative historiography prevailed against the Old Right because it could build on the Left’s moral assessments- treating Lincoln and General Sherman as great emancipators, for example- while at the same time tapping into the patriotic, pro-military sentiments of American Republicans and Fox News-viewing conservatives.

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