Disdain for Culture and the road to Fascism

Auditorium at Glyndebourne from the opera house’s website, glyndebourne.com

In boarding school; back in the 1950s, I took piano lessons for a couple of terms. I was a lazy student, not prepared to spend my spare time practising.

My first encounter with the music teacher took place a year or two earlier when, during a music appreciation class, I was asked what classical composers I’d heard of. He scoffed when I named Strauss.

I’m not sure which Stauss I had in mind, but “The Blue Danube” was one of my mother’s favourite compositions, played on a wind-up gramophone in our cottage in rural England.

Back to those piano lessons. My teacher became so frustrated with my inability to get a particular passage right that he beat me over the head with his fists before storming out of the room.

He later attempted to make amends by awarding me the school’s music prize for the year.

In stark contrast to this cultural snobbery, several of us were pleased when a couple of younger members of staff discovered and encouraged our love of “Modern Jazz”, arranging for a group of us to attend a concert by “Jazz at the Philharmonic”.

The bill included Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Petersen and the incredible Ella Fitzgerald.

Of course, jazz, like all genres, had it’s cultural snobs who found it hard to accept rock and roll and everything that has followed in its footsteps from “Progressive” rock to Hip-Hop.

Literature, too, has it’s snobs. People who sneer at “Chic-Lit” as my parent’s generation did at “sloppy romances”.

The study of the great composers helps to inform the understanding of all forms of music, from folk to blues and beyond.

So too the study of literature is invaluable in developing an understanding of diverse cultures and an ability to appreciate different approaches to life.

When a nation’s government decides that the opera is not for the lower classes, or that studying literature is a waste of time, that nation is most surely on the path to fascism.

When the same government chooses to do business with authoritarian regimes in preference to it’s democratic neighbours, it demonstrates an unhealthy respect for totalitarianism.

A worrying proportion of the members of that government are too young to remember a man called Pol Pot who decided that food production was more important than studying and sent professors into the paddy fields on pain of death.

Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia from 1975-79

A generation that is denied the opportunity to study literature, or attend opera, is unlikely to learn the lessons of such horrors. And that cannot be good for democracy, even the broken version of it that prevails, now, in England.

9 thoughts on “Disdain for Culture and the road to Fascism

  1. I confess that the way the world is going, and the amount of ‘dumbing down’ to the lowest common denominator rather than educating up to the highest common factor leaves me glad I am at this end of my life rather than starting out. If we don’t value people in society, we end up with people with no value to society. It seems from my research into workers’ struggles over the last few centuries, that mass protests happen about every one hundred years, usually die to recession after war, and we are due another uprising around now.

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    1. Thanks. I agree absolutely. We had such hopes when we were young, back in the 1960s. How did the next generation allow themselves to become seduced by the political right? I’m pleased to be able to say that my own son still leans to the left. By

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  2. Love for the great cultural achievements of mankind is not a question of Right or Left (rather a question of Right or Wrong, but that’s quite another point). When the dispute about Right or Left comes into focus, culture comes to an end. That is a universal rule. Please, how can my son`s political leanings be a disappointment to me? In civilization, people of all political colours should be able to talk to each other. Or else, it’s no longer civilization, it’s open war, red in tooth and claw.

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    1. Hi Verlag. I agree that disdain for culture is not a left/right matter. By citing examples from both extremes I hope I made that clear. There is an irony in Mr Raab’s use of the “champagne socialist” gibe as it was originally used by sections of the left who questioned the sincerity of comparatively well off individuals who embraced left wing ideals.
      As for our children, of course we want them to grow up with open minds able to think for themselves.
      It’s also natural and healthy for them to question your views.
      Nevertheless, if you are a noted advocate for human rights and outspoken critic of right wing policies, you would not be too pleased to discover your child held opposing ideas.

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  3. Dear Frank, I absolutely see your point. But the world is round, and you being an outspoken critic of right wing politics, how great are the odds that your son or daughter makes friends with conservative ideas? The other way round, conservative parents grow progressive kids. The daughter of the banker reigns in the world of wokecraft, and tomorrow’s kids will be fed up with the activism of their parents. That’s the way the world goes. – Thanks for your great site, I eagerly read every contribution. Best wishes, Peter

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