How can you call for removal of government support for the arts?

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How can you call for removal of government support for the arts?

From Brian K. Yoder

Published before 2005


Q: How can you call for removal of government support for the arts? Wouldn't it help if we were able to divert more government money to better kinds of art?

What we need is not more socialism for the museums and symphonies or government regulation of record companies and schools. What we need instead is to replace the mis-education system that removes the audiences from the symphonies, museums, art schools, and galleries. What we need to do is shrink the vast resources at their disposal and keep on plugging away trying to educate people about the good stuff. We don't need socialism to support us. We just need the support for modernism that is extracted from the public by force to be eliminated. Suffice it to say that in cases where some genuinely desirable task is completed by the expenditure of government money, you always see manipulation of the process by those seeking special favors from the government. Generally the question in these genuinely desirable areas is not over whether the project will happen at all, but whether the government (with its typical lack of accountability, inefficiency, corruption, and power mongering) will do it or whether relatively more efficient and accountable private interests will do it.

There's another issue I should mention here too, and that is one of fairness. Though I love classical music and want to see it continue to be available in live performances, I know that my preferences are not shared by everyone. Some people prefer rock, jazz, country, rap, bluegrass, pretentious modernist cacophonies, and other kinds of music. What business does the government have forcing those people to support the production of my kind of music? I have no problem for footing my own bill if they foot their own. The same goes for art museums. All government money does is boost prices for art above where they would otherwise be, and then dilute the concentration of the good stuff by creating more museums than the market demand would support (assuming that that private funding couldn't justify as many museums as we have now). They don't on the whole make more good art or make it more available than it ought to be. There are a number of legitimate activities the government needs to do (police, courts, the military, etc.) and whether you call it a tax or not, people need to pay for those things. That's quite different from having the government tax people to pay for music, paintings, medical care, roads, or education. That doesn't mean that these things are unimportant or bad, on the contrary, providing them is much too important a task to be left to the government. We should take personal responsibility for our needs and our cultural development, not rely on the police to force them on us. Many people resent (and rightly so) being asked to pay for the arts AGAIN after they are already charged for it through the tax system, and I don't blame them, especially when they see how that money is being squandered.

Society and the government aren't the same thing. The government is needed to make sure that criminals and invaders don't deprive us of our freedom. There's no reason to pin the entire mass of our social needs on the government. Other institutions can do a far better, more efficient, and more morally sound job of providing our other needs. Furthermore, a society in which the citizens have to be forced to provide for their critical needs against their will can neither be democratic nor can it really survive for long if the only ones who want these good things are a powerful minority that is forcing these good things on the unwilling public. A strong society with just relations between citizens should feel no need to force its citizens to participate in constructive social activities. It is weak ones without public support that need to use force to make people conform.

Perhaps the real issue here is one of integrity. Perhaps people SAY that they want strong and vigorous arts and many other things, but they are just too inconsistent to follow through on their desire. If so then the problem is that the public lacks the integrity to do what they know to be right. There are two ways to deal with lack of integrity. One is to cultivate integrity by giving people more opportunities to exercise it and boosting the rewards for integrity and the negative consequences for lack of it. The other way is to write people off and enforce "choices" on people so that they have no say in what happens and making it so that they never actually have to make choices or abide by them. This latter approach doesn't cure a lack of integrity, it makes integrity impossible by removing choice and freedom from the equation and replacing them with obedience to authority.

Under which scheme do you think moral choices and integrity will thrive and in which will it be seen as an irrelevant or even harmful quality? Obedience or integrity: Which do you think should guide your actions? In a society which has replaced integrity with obedience, what kind of government do you think will develop? A principled one whose officials will themselves exercise integrity despite never having seen or benefited from it in the past? Or a despotic one where grabbing power and obeying the leader is all that matters? What is culture if not an aggregation of a large number of individuals? What claim does a government have to claim a right to form culture if not the assent of a large number of individuals? Do you think that the publicly funded art we have today makes us more "whole" or less? Or does it encourage racial and cultural strife through its messages and establish a system whereby the common people are forced to support a tiny elite whose wasteful nonsense they will rarely see and would almost universally object to? Do you look to government bureaucrats for your noble goals, your self-respect, and your personal aspirations? I sure don't. I look for them to keep me safe and get out of my way as I select my own aspirations, goals, and notions of nobility. I guess that's why I hold them so dear. They are my own, not ones imposed upon me by force because of where I happened to have been born.