Curtis Yarvin on a potential restoration of art
The following paragraphs are excerpts from Yarvin’s substack article titled ‘The Frivolity of the Pundit Right‘. In this polemical article (addressed to one Scott Alexander) he engages in an interesting thought experiment about a potential restoration of art education.
“The essential problem with Alexander’s picture of this process is that, since like most smart people today he inhabits Cicero’s great quote about history and children, he simply cannot imagine replacing one kind of elite institution with another. Nor can he imagine high-IQ elites—human beings as smart as him—which are as loyal to a new sane monarchy as today’s elites are loyal, slavishly loyal, to our old insane oligarchy. Does he think that Elizabeth’s London had no elites? Caesar’s Rome?
If Alexander was analyzing the Soviet Union in the same way, he would conclude that elites are inherently devoted to building socialism for the workers and peasants. Since the present world he lives in is all of history for him, he cannot see the general theory which predicts this special case: elites like to get ahead. To genuinely change the world, change what it takes for elites to get ahead.
If the elites are poets and their only way to get ahead is to write interminable reams of “race opera,” as my late wife liked to put it, the floodgates of race opera will open. If the elites are poets and their only way to get ahead is to write interminable reams of Stalin hagiography, Stalin will be praised to the skies in beautiful and clever rhymes.
While either an oligarchy or a monarchy can do better than this, and the oligarchy we have once did—it never will again. Entropy is an arrow. Monarchy, like every form of government, can be good or bad. The principle of charity requires you to assume that we monarchists are proposing a good monarchy—but it is still on us to explain how we get, and keep, a good one.
Scott Alexander: “When elites use the government to promote elite culture, this usually looks like giving grants to the most promising up-and-coming artists recommended by the art schools themselves, and having the local art critics praise their taste and acumen. When the populace uses the government to promote popular culture against elite culture, this usually looks like some hamfisted attempt to designate some kind of “official” style based on what popular stereotypes think is “real art from back in the day when art was good,” which every art school and art critic attacks as clueless Philistinism. Every artist in the country will make groundbreaking exciting new art criticizing the government’s poor judgment, while the government desperately looks for a few technicians willing to take their money and make, I don’t know, pretty landscape paintings or big neoclassical buildings”.
No. There are two big strawmen here. Let’s turn them into steelmen.
First, “the populace uses the government” is non-Burkean. The populace (not all of it, just the middle class) installs the government. Then it goes back to grilling. So long as the commoners have to be in charge of the regime, and the commoners are weak, the regime will be weak. They need to “fire and forget.” Otherwise, they just lose.
Second, Alexander has clearly never heard of the atelier movement. No, this is not the same thing as your grandma in front of the TV copying Bob Ross.
What happens is this: every (oligarchic) art school and art critic no longer exists. Not that they are killed, of course. Just that their employers are liquidated (not with a bullet in the neck, just with a letter from the bank). They exist physically, not professionally. They were already bureaucrats—they had careers, not passions. Who gets fired, but keeps doing his job just for fun? Certainly not a bureaucrat.
And every (oligarchic) artist no longer exists—not that they are killed, of course. Just that the rich socialites who used to buy their stuff got letters from the bank, too. Libs sometimes talk about a wealth tax—a one-time wealth cap, perhaps at a modest level like $20 mil, will concentrate the rich man’s mind wonderfully on actual necessities.
Elites like to get ahead. The people who got ahead in the oligarchic art scene can no longer get ahead by doing shitty, bureaucratic, 20th-century conceptual art. Because there were so many of them, and because the demand for this product has dropped by at least one order of magnitude if not two, elite ambition is replaced by elite revulsion.
The enormous supply-and-demand imbalance for both art and artists in 20th-century styles leaves these styles about as fashionable as disco in 1996. “Paintings” that used to sell for eight figures will be stacked next to the dumpster. “Artists” once celebrated in the Times will be teaching kindergarten, tying trout flies, or cooking delicious dinners.
Inevitably, some of these people have real artistic talent. (The first modern artists had real talent—Picasso was an excellent draftsman.) They can go to an atelier and learn to draw. They will—because now, acquiring real artistic skill is a way to get ahead in art. And again, elites like to get ahead.
Not only does the new regime patronize and promote the ateliers, just as the old regime promoted its degenerate art, it creates a market for their products. Prizes and official commissions are great—but a real king can be even more creative. What if the photo on your driver’s license wasn’t a photo? What if it had to be… a portrait?”
Scott Alexander: The important point is that elite government can govern with a light touch, because everything naturally tends towards what they want and they just need to shepherd it along. But popular/anti-elite government has a strong tendency toward dictatorship, because it won’t get what it wants without crushing every normal organic process. Thus the stereotype of the “right-wing strongman”, who gets busy with the crushing.
So the idea of “right-wing populism” might invoke this general concept of somebody who, because they have made themselves the champion of the populace against the elites, will probably end up incentivized to crush all the organic processes of civil society, and yoke culture and academia to the will of government in a heavy-handed manner.
There is nothing “normal” or “natural” or “organic” about oligarchy. Does Alexander think “uncured” bacon is “organic” because, instead of evil chemical nitrates, it uses healthy, natural celery powder? He sure is easy to fool. But who isn’t?
Culture and academia is already yoked to the will of government in a “heavy-handed manner”—yoked not by the positive pressure of power, but the negative attraction of power. When the formal government defers to institutions that are formally outside the government, it leaks power into them and makes them de facto state agencies.
Power leakage, like a pig lagoon spilling into an alpine lake, poisons the marketplace of ideas with delicious nutrients. Ideas that make the institutions more powerful grow wildly. Eventually these ideas evolve carnivory and learn to positively repress their competitors, which is how our free press and our independent universities have turned our regime into Czechoslovakia in 1971, and our conversation into a Hutu Power after-school special. PS: Black lives matter.
The paradox of “authoritarianism” is that a regime strong enough to implement Frederick the Great’s idea of “free speech”—“they say what they want, I do what I want”—can actually create a free and unbiased marketplace of ideas, which neither represses seditious ideas nor rewards carnivorous ideas […].
I have never been able to explain this simple idea to anyone, even rationalists with 150+ IQs who can grok quantum computing before breakfast, who didn’t want to understand it. Ultimately it reduces to the painful realization that sovereignty is conserved—that the power of man over man is a human universal. (Also, we all die.)
No surprise that nerds who think of power as Chad shoving them into a locker can’t handle the truth. PS: I went to a public high school as a 12-year-old sophomore, was bullied every day for three years, and graduated college as a virgin. Whoever you are, dear reader, you are not beyond hope. You can handle the truth.