Good & Plenty, part one

Here is an excerpt from chapter one of my new book: Good & Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding, due out in a week:

Moving to yet larger questions, we cannot have a coherent political philosophy without bridging the gap between economic and aesthetic perspectives.  For instance critics charge that liberalism cannot satisfy the higher aspirations of the human race.  They compare liberal government to an innkeeper who looks after his guests but otherwise has little to offer in the way of vision or a common loyalty.  On the international scene, the U.S. is often seen as a military and economic behemoth, but as lacking in concern for cultural values or beauty.  I wish to put this picture to rest, and to reclaim America’s rightful role in offering a liberal vision for beauty and creative human achievement. 

I will use arts policy to begin a new sketch of a liberal state.  The public sector can encourage a proliferation of diverse cultural outputs and in that regard offer a rich menu of life-enhancing options.  At the same time, we do not have to abandon the values of free speech and neutrality across (non-coercive) competing lifestyles.  All of this can be done in a manner consistent with prosperity and other economic objectives.  A state – in particular the American state — can be involved with matters aesthetic without losing its liberal character.  We also will see that, counterintuitively, a rich diversity of artistic achievement is compatible with the ideas of cultural centrality and the use of culture to bind a polity together.

Summary paragraph:

I write with one foot in the art lover camp and with another foot in the libertarian economist camp.  I try to make each position intelligible, and perhaps even sympathetic (if not convincing) to the other side.  I try to show how the other side might believe what it does, and how close the two views might be brought together.  Furthermore, I use the fact of persistent disagreement as a kind of datum, as a clue for discovering what the issues are really about. 

You will get some more specific passages soon.


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