Mass Culture and Liberal Education

I was all satisfied with myself for the ways I’d started to get my thinking around the American qualities of the class system I was thinking about in my post yesterday, and I was ready to continue — if you’ll indulge me in a bit of praeteritio — sputtering along in the slow lane today with my foundational readings in Resnick and Wolff. Was being past tense.

I was going to mention that I neglected to get to their discussion of Marxian theories of causality, which are basically all about overdetermination and the notion “that any event occurs as the result — the effect — of everything else going on around that event and preceding that event” (19). Inflation is shaped not only by monetary policy, but by. . . Well, everything. Which leads Marxian economists to point out, Wolff and Resnick suggest, that their explanations for phenomena are always necessarily partial because one can’t possibly take everything into account, now can one?

But then I stumbled across this wonderfully careful and considered post about class and education, and what is meant by a “liberal education,” over at Hector Rottweiller Jr’s Web Log (and also the subsequent post on the middle class, which seems to me to bear further thinking both about definitions and about technological determinism), and the highly worthwhile follow-ups at Wealth Bondage.

The post is well worth reading in full, since it has a lot to say about how people “defend the injustices of material inequity,” to use Curtiss’s words. The points of view — Sanguinetti’s ironic one (“our class has the historical merit of having discovered classes. It is the bourgeoisie, not Marxism, that declared class war and founded its possession of society upon it”) and Strauss’s non-ironic one from Liberalism Ancient and Modern (“Democracy is then not indeed mass rule, but mass culture. A mass culture is a culture which can be appropriated by the meanest capacities without any intellectual and moral effort whatsoever and at a very low monetary price”; “Liberal education is the counterpoision [sic?] to mass culture. . . Liberal education is the ladder by which we try to ascend from mass democracy to democracy as originally meant. Liberal education is the necessary endeavor to found an aristocracy within democratic mass society”) — are direct echoes, for me, of the glosses Raymond Williams gives Arnold and Leavis and Coleridge in Culture and Society, with perhaps a bit of Bourdieu’s Distinction and the inherent elitism of George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Languae” thrown in. I might only add to Curtiss’s analysis of “how the beneficiaries of material inequity defend it” — Strauss’s contention that such actions are “beautiful, natural, and sanctioned by history” — the observation that the defense is seen as necessary, and performed by Matthew Arnold or by the hypothetical “clerisy” of Samuel Coleridge with the best of intentions.

Beyond this, there’s a lot of thick, useful stuff in Curtiss’s posts and the ensuing discussions. More tomorrow.

Mass Culture and Liberal Education

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