Caravaggio was a murderer and Ezra Pound was a fascist

They also happened to create great art. When weighing art as art, I think the moral life and political views of the artist are entirely irrelevant as a general rule. You judge the work, not the one making the work. That’s why I empathized recently with John C. Wright on the tedious politicization of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Some people wrote me in a certain amount of dudgeon to complain that Theodore Beale’s neo-reactionary Dark Enlightenment racialism is vile and to denounce the views of various other blackballed figures. I’m not really familiar with the other people mentioned by John (except for Card, who has done some very good work), but I in fact agree that Beale’s DE racialism is vile. He indulges in and promotes the bullshit purveyed by the Dark Enlightenment crowd and, in fact, had a gleeful time when one of the DE types told me a cock and bull story a few months back which I stupidly believed. Such racist crapola represents the id of increasingly post-Christian “conservatism”. I detest it with every fiber of my being. If it comes to that, I loathe and detest a great deal of Heinlein’s philosophy as well.

And I think it entirely irrelevant to the question of whether Beale’s (or Heinlein’s) stories are any good or not. If the stories are good art, then they are good art. If they are crap as stories, then they are crap. But Beale’s filthy DE racialist views have nothing to do with it one way or the other (unless, of course, his stories are not art and are simply propaganda for DE bullshit).

Back in the day, when liberalism was healthier and did not politicize absolutely everything, it was possible for liberals to say, “I oppose every word you say, and I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Being something of a dinosaur, I think this should still be the case. Let Beale’s work be judged as art. If it’s crap, it’s crap. If it’s good, it’s good. But booting people out of a guild of storytellers for views that have no connection to their art as art just contributes to the further fragmentation of our culture. Have these people never considered the possibility that their own stories may talk a Beale out of the post-modern, heretical racialism of the Dark Enlightenment?

One of the marks of Protestant (and post-Protestant) culture (and such culture has widely infected the American Catholic Church, leading to endless calls for purges and pogroms against those deemed “not really Catholic” by the Greatest Catholics of All Time, who include even the pope in their bulls of excommunication) is that it tends to assume that it is more important to avoid being tainted and ritually impure than it is to roll up one’s sleeves and wrestle with sin. In this, it shares much in common with the Pharisees, who likewise could only respond to sin by gathering their skirts about them and avoiding contact with what was defiling. Their very name means “Separated Ones”.

Jesus, after promulgating the New Law of the Kingdom in Matthew 5-7, then comes down from the mountain and (as Matthew carefully catalogues) has a series of encounters with various people, every one of whom was ritually defiling under the Old Law. Lepers, Gentile Centurions, Matthew himself (a tax collector and therefore the lowest of the low in Jewish eyes), a woman who is hemorrhaging, a corpse. And in each case, it is they who receive life from Jesus while he is undefiled.

No small part of the post-modern curse of tribalism is that it is recapitulating the doom of the Pharisees by perpetually cutting off more and more of humanity as defiling because, having lost faith in Christ, it has lost faith in his power to overcome sin and evil. Are some of Beale’s views revolting and repellent? Sure. And I have not been shy about saying so. But that is not a reason to write him off. The answer of the Faith is not to ostracize, but to overcome the sin with grace and truth.

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  • PalaceGuard

    Actually, that was a paraphrase from Pound’s “A Pact”. And not too bad, considering I hadn’t read it in 45 years! Given Ginsberg’s consumption of various illegal substances, I’m not surprised he saw Whitman (who died in 1892) in a Cali supermarket. (Yes, I know it’s a poem!)

  • Gabriel Blanchard

    It isn’t often that one gets to read an appeal to artistic integrity on the basis of genuine, classically liberal principles. Thank you. (I don’t know if you read, but there’s an author there, Wayne Gladstone, who has something of the same style of thought — you might like him.)

  • Imrahil

    The problem seems to me that writers tend to write their standpoints into their works. (We might even say this is specially true about Science Fiction.) Hence, art is art, whether it comes from a murderer or, for that matter, from a sexual abuser. There is no simple distinction between art and propaganda; indeed the greater it is as art, the greater is its value for propaganda. Reportedly one of the best movies was a down-and-out Communist propaganda piece (i. e., Battleship Potemkin). And noone doubts that the movie Jew Süß is, purely considered as a work of art, excellent. Which is precisely why it is forbidden to see it.

    That said, if their view have no connection to their art, it’s a different thing.

  • Imrahil

    In fact, there’s not even much to say against good (artistically that is) characters who were wrestling with sin and temptation and lost, and can be pitied.

    I’m sorry to say it but I don’t think the American-Protestant-style community (Catholics joining in as far as it is orthodox) would qualify as the Christian community.

    Us Catholics have a Graham Greene, a Chesterton, a Tolkien, an Alfred Döblin, a Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (yes the Simplicissimus is downright edificational literature, only people generally have missed that point), culturally-speaking an Ödon von Horvath, and so on to offer.
    I don’t know much about the American-Protestant-style community’s artworks, but I have read “The Shack” and I cannot imagine a Catholic to write even the orthodox parts of it – throwing in an “of course he was a decent Christian and prayed a lot but” or “she had really a relationship with God” and what not. No literal quotes.

    • Eve Fisher

      I know. Most of the American-Protestant-style is, bluntly, crap. The best is the English Anglican school: Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, Charlotte Yonge, et al. I especially love Charles William, who does not hesitate to make humans capable of all evil and still capable of redemption and repentance. Or not.