How are you spending your evening?
I’m grilling and chilling … and sharing some highlights of my research.
The following excerpt comes from Eric P. Kaufmann’s book Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities:
“Enlightenment individualism, which consisted largely of the rational, cognitive individualism of Descartes and Locke, gave way in the nineteenth century to a more romantic, expressive form of individualism. Expressive individualism advocates that we channel our authentic inner nature, or what H.G. Wells or Henri Bergson termed our life force, unconstrained by tradition or reason. Aesthetically, it tends toward what the influential American sociologist Daniel Bell terms modernism, rejecting Christian or national traditions while spurning established techniques and motifs. Not only were traditions overturned but esteem was accorded to those whose innovations shocked sensibilities and subverted historic narratives and symbols the most. Clearly something happened between the nation-evoking historical and landscape painting of a Delacroix or Constable in the early nineteenth century and Marcel Duchamp’s urinal of 1917. This ‘something’ was the rise, after 1880, of what Bell terms modernism and Anthony Giddens calls de-traditionalization.
For Bell, modernism is the antinomian rejection of all cultural authority. For Giddens, the shift is from a past- to a future-orientation and involves a decline in existential security. A brief revival of nation-evoking art in 1930s America known as Regionalism, featuring the rural-historic realism of painters like Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood was superseded in the 1940s by the Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock, Benton’s student. In the 1940s, the Regionalists were accused by modernist art critics of being fascists. The regalization worked, marking regionalism as a deviant in the art world. Never again would traditional themes ministering to mass sentiment be permitted to intrude into the high culture.
The adversary culture of left-modernism was grounded in the lifestyle category of the bohemian, first romanticized in Henri Murger’s 1845 novel Scénes de la vie de Bohéme. Unlike dandies, who dated from an earlier period and focused only on fashion, bohemians were artists and poets who embodied a more radical expressive individualism. They tended towards left-wing politics, though the relationship became strained when socialists insisted on doctrinaire art forms such as the soviet ‘proletcult’ of the 1930s. Importantly, the left-modernist form of positive liberalism has come through the major crises of the twentieth century with shining colours, meshing extremely well with global capitalism. The term ‘work hard, play hard’ encapsulates Bell’s ‘cultural contradictions of capitalism,’ combining a bourgeois puritanism at work with a bohemian consumerism at play. David Brooks’s Rise of the BoBos, published in 2001, echoes Bell’s bourgeois-bohemian synthesis, which underpins modern capitalism. The rise of an adversary culture is one of the most distinctive aspects of the modern West. This self-critique is an asset which has unlocked cultural creativity and advanced the struggle for freedom and equality. But problems arise when there are no checks and balances to limit its domination of the high culture.
For Bell, modernism replaces contemplation of external reality and tradition with sensation and immediacy. The desire to seek out new and different experiences elevates novelty and diversity into cardinal virtues of the new positive liberalism. To favor tradition over the new, homogeneity over diversity, is to be reactionary. Left-modernism continually throws up new movements such as Surrealism or Postmodernism in its quest for novelty and difference. The shock of the new is accompanied by a cosmopolitan pastiche of borrowings from non-Western cultures, such as with the Primitivism of Paul Gauguin. …”
“Much of this book is concerned with the clash between a rising white tribalism and an ideology I term ‘left-modernism’. A sociologist member of the ‘New York Intellectuals’ group of writers and literary critics, Daniel Bell, used the term modernism to describe the spirit of anti-traditionalism which emerged in Western high culture between 1880 and 1930. With the murderous excesses of communism and fascism, many Western intellectuals embraced a fusion of modernist anti-traditionalism and cultural egalitarianism, distinguishing the new ideology from both socialism and traditional liberalism. Cosmopolitanism was its guiding ethos. Unlike socialism or fascism, this left-wing modernism meshed nicely with capitalism and globalization. The left-modernist sensibility spread from a small elite to a much wider section of middle-class society in the 1960s with the rise of television and the growth of universities, taking over as the dominant sensibility of the high culture …”