The neo-cons’ love affair with Winston Churchill is pretty disgusting, but The New Criterion has just taken it to new lows in their January 2011 number, with The Anglosphere & the future of liberty, a symposium of five essays with an introduction by editor Roger Kimball.

According to Kimball and the five essayists, the city of London invented the following things: civilization, fair government, law, individualilty, and freedom, and Winston Churchill, with the help of the British Empire, made sure these things took root and spread to as many people as possible.

Think I’m kidding?

Think The New Criterion is kidding?

No, and no.

Pretty creepy, huh?

This is bound to happen with a publication that considers all “modernism” absolutely good and all “post-modernism” absolutely evil.

Modernism, for The New Criterion—named after T.S. Eliot’s Criterion—is sufficiently plain to support their prudish conservative views, sufficiently urbane to support their intellectuality, and sufficiently linked to T.S. Eliot to support their anglophilia.

Post-modernism for The New Criterion, however, marks the Fall: out-of-control sexuality replaces regal order.  Loud, mad Viv is released from captivity to harrass quietly dignified Tom.  For The New Criterion, the 60s, and its cult of victimhood, drowns Emersonian self-reliance.

Keith Windschuttle begins his essay:

In Winston Churchill’s famous 1943 speech at Harvard University on the common ties of the English-speaking peoples, he defined the bond in terms of three main things: law, language, and literature.

There is no mention, finally, anywhere in this symposium of five essays, of what this “literature” consists.  You’d think the Anglospherists would want to give us some idea, but no.

The New Criterion prides itself in placing art above mere “politics,” and they are always quick to point out when overt political messages (usually the ubiquitous leftist ones) spoil pure art.  (This is why The New Criterion adores modernist abstract painting—no annoying political messages!)  But here, in defining the Anglosphere, aesthetics is not defined, but government is, and that government values the individual over the state; in other words, the conservative canard of ‘small government’ is the mantra, which is no surprise, coming from the conservative New Criterion.  

According to The New Criterion, the political is not supposed to interfere with art, unless that art is political.  Then it can.  So runs the logic of the neo-cons:  Offensive art may be removed from museums, but not in the name of politics, only in the name of art.    That makes sense, right?

Winston Churchill giving a “famous speech” on the “common-ties of the English-speaking people” at “Harvard University:” It doesn’t get any better for The New Criterion!

Here’s Roger Kimball in his introduction:

“English, Bishop Sprat thought, is conspicuously the friend of empirical truth.  It is also conspicuously the friend of liberty.”

This is the way all the essays read.  It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Madhav Das Nalapat, writing one of the five essays for “The Anglosphere & the future of liberty” symposium, reminds us that Winston Churchill was not exactly pro-India (Nalapat leaves out Churchill’s overt racism and Stalin-like starvation policy towards his Indian nation, however) but he makes up for this lapse in Churchill-worship by roundly abusing those evil, non-English speaking, French and Germans.  Way to go, Nalapat!

Even if one were to agree with The New Criterion’s politics and cultural conservativism, one ought to be horrified by this bumbling, ahistorical, symposium.

Everyone ought to be ashamed of this simplistic boot-licking.


Hilton Kramer and his magazine the New Criterion’s sniffy attitude towards popular culture is well known.

Here’s what is not well known.

Conservatives have been betrayed by Hilton Kramer.

What Hilton Kramer has been ultimately doing is giving a conservative legitimacy to Modernism.  This was always the whole sneaky agenda from the beginning, when Kramer left his full-time position at the NY Times and started the New Criterion with Samuel Lipman in 1982.

Hilton Kramer’s whole raison d’etre was to forge an insidious alliance between the cretins of Modernism and decent folk who found themselves aligned with conservative beliefs.

The New Criterion professes ignorance of how the real high-brow culture of 19th century Romanticism, its Greek & Roman revival, its great musical composers like Brahms & Dvorak, Beethoven, its great poets like Heine and Keats and Shelley, the greatness of Poe in that tradition, how all that beauty and ecumenical  greatness was hijacked by hateful, crackpot, narrow Modernist con-men like Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Ford Madox Ford, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, John Dewey and William James.

It’s fine to appreciate the sort of abstract art found in the little New York art galleries advertised in the New Criterion; one can certainly adore Modernism and Abstract Art if one wants, but to pretend that High Modernism somehow represents the sole legitimate fine arts culture of our time is a lie—one that needs to be confronted and rejected, whether one is a liberal or a conservative.

The New Criterion, despite its free market rhetoric, is heavily subsidized; I doubt there’s much editorial freedom for change possible; its template is well-established, but nonetheless we make sincere a plea to Mr. Roger Kimball and anyone else involved in the production of that magazine to take a fresh look at so-called High Modernism and then join the rest of us in the real world who love fine arts and popular culture. We still hold out hope, that in the long run, this betrayal can be overturned.

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