The other night I happened upon a short video by Andrew Klavan, explaining God. And that led to another suggested Andrew Klavan video. And then another.
screen shot from Uncommon Knowledge interview
Andrew Klavan, a novelist and conservative Christian commentator (who has the talent of being simultaneously funny and insightful), talks about culture. A lot.
The first introduction I had to him was a Klavan on the Culture video in which he compares liberal ideas to zombies that keep coming back from the dead. This was around 2009. I didn’t know how to save a video, so I sat through it multiple times to transcribe it—just so I would always have it. It turns out he’s extremely prolific, so I couldn’t keep doing that.
Anyway, a couple of the videos I watched the other night were a bit of a look back in time, both following books he had recently written.
In this one, from 2013, he has written A Killer in the Wind, but the talk, he says, is about “Sex and German Philosophy,” two things you should never attempt at the same time, but that are related. In the end, he summarizes with this (around 20 minutes in):
The arts naturally, inherently, by nature, support the conservative view of man. They naturally—they cannot help, left to themselves, but produce a view of spiritual people with a right to choose for themselves.
And what we have to do, as we take back the arts, and take back the culture—and we will do it—is we have to keep from being seduced into being censors and scolds, and simply let the arts speak the truth. Because if the arts speak the truth about spiritual man and what makes him happy, then they will sing the song of human freedom. I know this for a fact, because they always have.
In other words, have faith in the truth. I agree.
The video that got me thinking I ought to write about culture, here in this early January 2017 post, was an Uncommon Knowledge interview (yet another of my favorite things) from 2008, following the publication of his book Empire of Lies.
Peter Robinson talks with Andrew Klavan about his journey to Christianity (from a non-religious Jewish upbringing, through atheism). And they talk about art—particularly in Hollywood, where Klavan both works and criticizes.
Toward the end they cover speaking truth to power—which he says is not what Hollywood does.
PR: So, last question in this segment: Do you get the feeling that Hollywood today—this notion that the arts are always avant-garde, the cutting edge—my feeling is, that’s nonsense. At the present hour, they’re a lagging indicator. You could parachute into Kansas, anywhere in Kansas, walk into the nearest diner and find people who have a much more acute grip of reality than you could by strolling up and down Wilshire Blvd.
AK: No question about it.
PR: And so, is it purely a question of time? All these studio heads who are in their 60s are going to retire soon…. My view would be, let’s buy them places, since we’re…. In other words, is there going to be just kind of a healthy turnover, or is there more kind of an enduring ideological fight that has to be fought?
AK: I’m very optimistic. I think there is an enduring ideological fight that has to be fought. I think the reason they’re a lagging indicator—perfect phrase for them, because they are straight-jacketed by their ideology; they’re the most conformist group of people, backward group of people, you can imagine. But we, conservatives, have let them get away with this.
I’ve said this again and again. But if you win the White House, if you win the Congress, if you win the Supreme Court and lose the culture, you will lose the country. It’s the culture… You know, Shelley was right, the poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. It will take a longer time, but if you lose the culture—if you let them drip this poison into the consciousness of America forever, they will win.
And I think it really is going to require—I’m very optimistic about it, but it is going to require an effort to take the culture back from these people, who are, as you say, conformist, backward, living in the ideology of a generation ago.
They end with a discussion from the novel, which I appreciate:
PR: OK. Let me put the same question in a slightly different way, and ground it in your Empire of Lies, your new novel. Here’s a quotation from Empire of Lies:
The day it began was an autumn day, Saturday afternoon in October. I was sitting in a cushioned chair on the brick patio at the edge of my backyard, looking down half an acre of grassy slope to where my two boys were organizing some kind of Frisbee game around the swingset.
I loved our neighborhood—Horizon Hill, the Hill for short. Big yards. Craftsman houses. Lake views. Friendly, mostly like-minded people. Hard-working dads, housewife moms. Not too many divorces. Lots of kids.”
Andrew Klavan, I charge you with having become irretrievably bourgeois. You are attempting to do something that cannot be done: you’re a novelist; you seek to inhabit the world of the entertaining, the hip, the cool. And yet here you are, as a Christian, a conservative, holding up for praise the square, the unhip, the conventional. You’ll never be cool again.
AK: I may never be cool again. I’ll certainly never be called cool again. And yet, and yet, I cannot help but think that at the center of the arts—because at the center of human life—is the experience of love. And that love is not excluded from the suburbs. It’s not excluded from the bourgeois life. It never was; it never has been. It frequently finds its best ground to grow in there.
My life is deeply affected by my marriage, which is an anomalous marriage in its romance. It’s been a 30-year romance. And I know that’s anomalous, and I know that’s not something that everybody gets. And yet it does give you an insight that this is a possibility—that love, in marriage, is a possibility.
It seems to me that that possibility has been excluded by the so-called avant-garde, who really are the behind-garde. It seems to me that that possibility has been excluded, and that putting it forward is in fact a revolutionary act. Putting it down is in fact saying, “You know what, you know, this is here. You can’t close your eyes to it. You can’t constantly tell us that all marriages are Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? without us coming back and saying, ‘You know, I live in this neighborhood, and I see marriages that aren’t like that at all.’”
Yes. Because family is the basic unit of civilization.
There’s a section near the end of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy that I’ve written about. When the Hobbits return to the Shire, and Sam Gangee musters the courage to go talk to Rosie—and begin what becomes a happy family life. That is, I think, what all the mission was to secure.
I’m often puzzled by the word bourgeois. I think it means middle class, but it’s pejorative, implying corruption. In the real middle class, where families live their lives, mostly happily, but with real life struggles, and love one another—that is where you're most likely to find civilization.
There’s a section of the Spherical Model where we talk about what civilization looks like, and it includes cultural arts:
Creativity abounds; enlightening arts and literature exceed expectations. Architecture and infrastructure improve; innovation and invention are the rule.
People feel free to choose their work, their home, their family practices, their friendships and associations. And they generally self-restrain before they infringe on the rights and freedoms of others.
When people are secure in their persons and property, and have the freedom to choose their own life paths, but are self-restrained by the love of one another—mainly because of family—then civilization is set up to thrive.
It is in the northern hemisphere—of the political, economic, and social spheres—that we get the good outcomes. Nothing that drags people into the southern hemisphere and keeps them there can get those positive outcomes.
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty”—that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.—John Keats
Andrew Klavan is right about culture: truth in art leads to conservative values--the values of freedom, prosperity, and civilization. We need to take this opportunity, while we have more outlets for expression, and find better ways of saying so.