It's getting harder to be soft....

I have not had time for any of my usual long-winded posts this week. Lots of personal stuff is going on including the sudden serious illness of a friend who was fine last week but who's now about to die. Death is something I am experienced with, so I am helping out the family.

In the blogosphere, there's so much stuff going on right now that it's tough to keep up with it all. Glenn Reynolds is so on top of everything in spite of illness and the crush of final exams that it makes me ashamed that I can't do a better job. Where he gets his stamina, I don't know.

However, something is still bugging me, and I touched on it earlier in the discussion of Kerry and O'Neill.

Like many people on the "right," I have a problem with the 1960s antiwar activists. The problem is compounded by the fact that I am not on the right, but neither am I on the left. I just don't like ideologues. A product of that period myself, I eventually came to realize that the activist left-wing political ideologues who came of age in the 1960s can be generally divided into two camps: the ones who grew out of it, and the ones who are still stuck in it. By "it" I refer to sympathy with the Marxist philosophy, and the general anti-American philosophy which seems to have occupied the ecological niche of Marxism. The whole deconstructionist, post-modernist, globalist, environmentalist crowd which wants to reach out and grab any and all identifiable minorities they can -- usually by telling them America is bad. Or, that America is good, but "we" can improve on it by implementing some form of socialism.

Socialism sucks and it does not work. I do not trust the 1960s people who still think that it can be made to work, but who are too lame to admit that this is their real agenda. They'll call people "Republican shills" for disagreeing with them, and they use the word "conservative" and "right wing" to tar anyone who doesn't toe the line. True, there are people on the right do the same thing in reverse, but this post is not about them. They can call me "liberal" and that term is about as accurate as is the term "conservative" when it comes from liberals. Much as I dislike being called "liberal" by conservatives, being called "conservative" for being opposed to socialism is intended to have more of a sting, because the prevailing culture in most intellectual circles is dominated by people who consider it a dirty word.

"Prevailing culture in intellectual circles." I don't think there should be such a thing. But there's no denying it. "Conservative" these days means being stupid. So, if someone calls you a conservative, he's saying that you're stupid.

Over at Harvey's Bad Money I found a link to a post by an old favorite -- Lynn at Reflections in d minor -- which may (and I repeat may) shed some light:

I suppose this is an elitist attitude but I'm uncomfortable with the notion that anything can be classical just because the composer says it is. I've always believed that classical should be kept special and separate from ordinary music. It should be elite but, on the other hand, it seems like the gatekeepers, the "high priests" of classical music have lost their minds and barricaded themselves inside the temple, fighting off all potential converts and all the while wailing that nobody listens anymore. It's no longer about preserving tradition, insuring quality and keeping classical music special. I don't know what it's about but it all seems so artificial and somehow incestuous. It seems like the academics are afraid - terrified of giving up control and letting nature take its course. They claim exclusive rights to decide what classical music is.

The more I think about it, the more I think we should just drop the label "classical" for new music. Classical should only be applied to art music that has stood the test of time.

I agree with Lynn. Does that mean I am conservative? If so, does that mean I am stupid? If so, then I submit that "stupid" simply means not thinking what you're told to think. Sorry, but I think that's the opposite of stupid.

Harvey touches on more when he says that classical music is itself limited by stupidity:

A little intellectual junk food is the spice of life, but most people subsist on it. They're barely aware anything else even exists, and their palates are too jaded by the pure sugar rush to appreciate the subtle mix of spices that classical has to offer. Or they would be, if they were born with any intellectual taste buds at all.

But when you stop to consider that an average person isn't that bright, and half the people are, by definition, dumber than that, and the first 30% or so above the half-way point aren't that far above (it's a bell curve, you know), you begin to see that the musical playing field is not level, the bats are corked, and classical music is out in far left field with the sun in its eyes and Bartman in the stands.

Which is a shame, because it's good stuff. But until genetic engineering eliminates stupidity from the human genome, Classical will have a limited potential audience.

Yet self-appointed intellectuals are (at least it seems to me that they are) trying to dumb down classical music! And in the process, they will label people who disagree as "conservative" and of course, "stupid." I think it's intellectual tyranny by people whose laziness (or arrogance) prevents them from realizing that it is they who are being stupid. Classical music light, classical music soft? It's bullshit -- like passing off work tools, plumbing fixtures -- or actual garbage -- as art, and then sneering at folks who don't "understand the complexities" of it.

I also think similar tyranny dominates what passes for political discourse. As goes classical music, so goes classical liberalism.

Perhaps it's even gone. Replaced by the modern labels of "liberal" and "conservative" which get in the way of people understanding each other.

Glenn Reynolds mentions Michael Barone's new book, which I wish I had the time to sit down and read. He sees America as:

....comprising two diametrically opposed characteristics: hard and soft. "Hard America" is characterized by competition and accountability, while "Soft America" attempts to protect its citizens through government regulation and other social safety nets. While Barone's book is not without its political overtones-he identifies Hard America with the political right and Soft America with the left-his book should not be seen as the latest installment in the conservative-liberal cultural wars. Rather, Barone provides a deeper look at the way in which ordinary people live and work and the meaning behind the decisions they make. His concrete historical examples highlight the advantages and disadvantages of Hard and Soft America, creating a compelling picture of two very different ways of looking at the world, without degenerating into mudslinging or name-calling,. Although Barone, a conservative, clearly favors Hard America, he appreciates the necessary difficulty that comes with balancing the two Americas. He concedes that a society without some softness would be a cruel one, but warns that "we have the luxury of keeping parts of our society Soft only if we keep enough of it Hard."
I don't know whether I am hard or soft, but I think that a lot of people realize you can't have one without the other. It doesn't help if each calls the other stupid or evil or liberal or conservative.

War is hard. There's no way to be soft about war. To call it conservative misses the point completely. It's common sense, and I worry that the 1960s antiwar crowd is unable to realize that sometimes you have to be hard in order to preserve the soft. (Something neither side fully appreciates, although I can understand why excessive softness is at least as big a mistake as excessive hardness. By way of example, here's a president who just didn't get it, in my opinion.....)

The ancients knew this intimately. The hardness of Sparta saved the softness of Athens. The Roman military enabled the soft aspects of civilization to thrive and grow. Looking at history, overly hard cultures become rigid and wither away and contribute little culturally, while overly soft cultures invite injury by leaving themselves defenseless.

The ancients didn't see it as an "either or" deal.

But I'm probably being too hard.

Or too soft.

UPDATE: Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that James Lileks links to a piece in CLASSICS TODAY about the hard reality of classical music:

The problem with classical music is that people too often feel that it’s a “take it or leave it” proposition. So they leave it, and who can blame them? As a public service, therefore, I propose to close this editorial by revealing ten of classical music’s dirtiest secrets, the kind of facts that you’ll find critics and writers vigorously denying in program note booklets, articles, and reviews. But admit it folks, deep down we all know the truth, don’t we? Judge for yourself:

1. Mozart really does all sound the same.

2. Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge is just plain ugly.

3. Wagner’s operas are much better with cuts.

4. No one cares about the first three movements of Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique.

5. Schoenberg’s music never sounds more attractive, no matter how many times you listen to it.

6. Schumann’s orchestration definitely needs improvement.

7. Bruckner couldn’t write a symphonic allegro to save his life.

8. Liszt is trash.

9. The so-called “happy” ending of Shostakovich’s Fifth is perfectly sincere.

10. It’s a good thing that “only” about 200 Bach cantatas survive.

Hey, as the 12-step slogan goes, "Take what you like and leave the rest!"

I tend to agree with Lynn's definition of classical music as "art music that has stood the test of time," and I would include some modern classical like Bartok. But modern "improvements" on the classics leave me cold. I attended a performance of "Alternative Bach" and, much as I respect choice, I kept thinking that the alternative really wasn't much of an alternative. Just because something is called "alternative" does not make it better! Next time I want Bach, I'll go for the old, unimproved version.

Enough of being a reactionary poseur!

posted by Eric on 05.06.04 at 08:05 PM


In some situations you have to be almost as hard as possible to bring back the lost soft. This is called war, and it's going on in Iraq. If it wasn't hard, if people weren't killed, things could never get easier. Sad but true.

Neoteronous   ·  May 7, 2004 1:05 AM

Sorry to hear of your new troubles.
Hoping for the best,

j. case   ·  May 7, 2004 2:00 PM

"The hardness of Sparta saved the softness of Athens."

I don't believe I know of any specific event where Sparta saved Athens from anything. For example, the Athenian navy was just as instrumental in winning the Persian War as the Spartan hoplites. In fact, Sparta packed up and went home before the war was over, leaving the Athenians to clean up the mess. Is there some situation I didn't cover in my Greek history class to which you're referring?

But I'm just nitpicking the insignificant details. Very good post overall.

Kacie   ·  May 8, 2004 2:11 PM

Thanks for the comments! Regarding the Spartans, the argument can certainly be made that culturally they contributed little, but I was thinking of their legendary performance at Thermopylae, which saved not only Athens, but arguably the future of Western Civilization.

See also this post by Professor Packwood (aka Ghost of a flea):

Later, of course, Sparta fell to Athens (and ultimately Greece fell to Macedonia) but notwithstanding that, I think the lesson of Thermopylae still stands on its own merit.

Of course, historians do not all agree!

Eric Scheie   ·  May 8, 2004 5:26 PM

I'm a reactionary elitist. Call me hard and conservative but I just spent a month off the Internet re-reading mostly old conservative books like Frank S. Meyer's "In Defense of Freedom" (1962) and Richard Weaver's "Ideas Have Consequences" (1948) and listening to classical music.

A more recent book I read, and of the Left, was George Lakoff's "Moral Politics", in which he tried to convince me that liberal "nurturing parent" morality is superior to conservative "strict parent" morality. Unfortunately for his point of view, he only reinforced my continuing perception that conservatives or those of the Right, even when I hate them, have or tend to have more or better _style_ than those of the Left. That's just the way I am.

Me again. I'll have to get that book, it may complement Lakoff's book. I keep thinking of these spectrumological polarities: Michael Barone's "soft" vs. "hard", George Lakoff's "nurturing" vs. "strict", Thomas Sowell's "unconstrained" vs. "constrained", Silvan Tomkins's "humanistic" vs. "normative", J. A. Laponce's "horizontal" vs. "vertical", etc., etc.... Spectrums, spectrums, spectrums, spectrums.... I love spectrums. Spectrums I do love.

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