Monday, 28 March 2011

Bastiat on subsidising the arts

"But, by a deduction as false as it is unjust, do you know what economists are accused of? It is, that when we disapprove of government support, we are supposed to disapprove of the thing itself whose support is discussed; and to be the enemies of every kind of activity, because we desire to see those activities, on the one hand free, and on the other seeking their own reward in themselves.

Thus, if we think that the state should not interfere by taxation in religious affairs, we are atheists. If we think the state ought not to interfere by taxation in education, we are hostile to knowledge. If we say that the state ought not by taxation to give a fictitious value to land, or to any particular branch of industry, we are enemies to property and labor. If we think that the state ought not to support artists, we are barbarians, who look upon the arts as useless.

Against such conclusions as these I protest with all my strength. Far from entertaining the absurd idea of doing away with religion, education, property, labor, and the arts, when we say that the state ought to protect the free development of all these kinds of human activity, without helping some of them at the expense of others — we think, on the contrary, that all these living powers of society would develop themselves more harmoniously under the influence of liberty; and that, under such an influence no one of them would, as is now the case, be a source of trouble, of abuses, of tyranny, and disorder.

Our adversaries consider that an activity which is neither aided by supplies, nor regulated by government, is an activity destroyed. We think just the contrary. Their faith is in the legislator, not in mankind; ours is in mankind, not in the legislator."

Frédéric Bastiat - "Should the state support the arts?", an extract from "What is seen and what is unseen". Bastiat fans will be enthused to know that Liberty Fund is publishing a six-volume collection of his writings, with the first volume, "Man and the Statesman" coming out in May 2011.


Anonymous said...

If government doesn't support religion and doesn't support other matters of personal conscience, then why should it waste money on arts. Let arts compete in the marketplace of ideas same as everything else. The only arts resulting in funding turns out to be subversive left-wing political propaganda anyway intended to destroy the sovereign free thought of the people, the real people, not the fake-imagined-people the leftists harp on about.

Who is John Galt? The movie comes out soon, the website just opened up BTW.

Trooper Thompson said...

"The only arts resulting in funding turns out to be subversive left-wing political propaganda"

And that's just the BBC!

It's partly self-fulfilling, as a libertarian is not likely to seek public funds.

Anonymous said...

"It's partly self-fulfilling, as a libertarian is not likely to seek public funds."

Good point, but unfortunately that also leaves the libertarian viewpoint less likely to be heard over the loud noise of constant state funded garbage.

Trooper Thompson said...

True, but we shall overcome.

The state control of education is, I would say, far more important in moulding the minds of the nation than its interference in the arts

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's even close to education anymore, I thinnk it's so far gone into indoctrination that it's clearly in Soviet territory, just my observation.

Tippex Monkey said...

Right.... I have to comment on this one though TT knows my feelings on the issue already.

As far as I'm concerned, funding for the arts is essential in the current climate. In an ideal world it would not be necessary but when children, teenagers and adults are living in a time where the notion of “give them what they want” is king, it all comes down to lowest common denominator things and that is because people are being trained to think that way.

When you look at the most watched shows of 2010 in the UK, you get The X Factor on top and I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, Britain's Got Talent and Strictly Come Dancing all star in the Top 10. This is what people want and given the choice between a show that would educate them and make them think or one where a fat lady trains her dog to piss on her face, the latter would receive the greater support because people are being dumbed down and the notion that our attention spans are getting shorter has become a badge of honour for many.

There were discussions recently as to whether or not Shakespeare should be taught in schools anymore because people were questioning its relevance. The question was also asked if the apostrophe and comma should be removed from English grammar because school kids were finding it too confusing. Why is education and knowledge being given the public vote treatment like the appalling programmes on TV? The “too hard basket” mentality is turning people into greater buffoons and that is because they're being pandered to from birth.

My fear for the arts is that if you only give the greater public what they want, the small percentage of worth-while films, theatre productions and TV shows would disappear in favour for a show where a man has to shave a cat in 30 seconds or else he'll get thrown into a pool of vomit. And if that starts to happen then that will be a society where people think even less for themselves than they do now.

In a world were celebrity autobiographies don't outsell classics and thought-provoking literature many times over then the arts would be able to fund themselves because people would be challenging themselves and be 'better' citizens. But that's not where we are and certainly not where we're headed.

I think tackling education, welfare and instilling a sense of personal responsibility is more important these days. Once that's been improved then by all means revisit arts funding because I believe then people would have the tools to do what I'm guessing most people who read this blog do which is the desire to challenge themselves and seek out knowledge. And when more people do that then yes, the arts would be self-sufficient. But for now, I think it's important to for a progressive society to ensure the arts produces not populist works but works that serve a purpose.

Don't get me wrong, a great deal of arts funding gets wasted by dicks in powerful positions (BBC3 serve no purpose whatsoever) but I still believe that until the tide turns and heads back to thought-provoking main-stream entertainment then arts funding is important as a lot of worthwhile works only get produced or developed through funding because commercially they appear pointless to the decision makers.

You can probably guess that I'm not a libertarian but I'm sympathetic to some of the causes.

Trooper Thompson said...


the first thing to say is that I posted up the Bastiat quote because it's interesting to see an argument which is contemporarily relevant being laid out in around 1849 (as a pedant I'll have to check that date), and the most relevant part for me is that he refutes the notion that if someone is against the state funding something it means they are against the thing itself, which is indeed not the case.

Secondly, if I was to advocate government 'support' I would suggest tax breaks for the film industry, but this isn't really support, just the government reducing its plundering of a particular part of the economy, and it should do this across the board.

Thirdly, if public money was truly spent keeping the flame of culture burning in this time of decadence that would be one thing, but it is often spent celebrating the very decadence. I do not wish my taxes to support plays about junky whores giving birth in alleyways.

Finally, it may only be a drop in the leaky bucket of public expenditure, so I'm not going to lose sleep over funding the arts, but look at British music, and note that this is not supported by the tax-payer, and still does very well.