If Not the Law, the Culture
Two well-placed articles — by virtue of their proximity to each other — in the September 21 National Review point to a necessary conclusion for a modern conservative political philosophy. The first item is an interior quotation by American Medical Association lobbyist William Woodward within a book review by Kyle Smith (emphasis added):
The trouble is that we are looking on narcotic addiction solely as a vice. It is a vice, but like all vices, it is based on human nature. The use of narcotics … represents an effort on the part of the individual to adjust himself to some difficult situation in his life. He will take one thing to stimulate him, another to quiet him…. And until we develop young men and young women who are able to suffer a little and exercise a certain amount of control, even though it may be inconvenient and unpleasant to do so, we are going to have a considerable amount of addiction to narcotics and addiction to other drugs.
The solution, in short, is cultural. Rather than struggling to stop our fellow Americans from doing something that they’ve decided they want to do, we should address that which sparks the desire. That point in itself could be the beginning of an extensive prudential and practical tangent, but let’s take it as given on principle and move on to the second item: Ross Douthat’s review of Quentin Tarantino’s latest gorefest, Inglourious Basterds. Douthat’s core dilemma is whether Tarantino’s film-making talent makes up for the characteristic violence:
As for whether the many pleasures of this counterfactual fantasia are sufficient to justify enduring the interludes of sophomoric and debasing violence, well, I’m still wrestling with that one. But it’s clear that where the wildly talented, permanently adolescent Quentin Tarantino is concerned, we’re unlikely ever to get the one without the other.
If, for item 1, we’re going to arrive at a solution along the conservative-libertarian compromise, then the conservative’s answer to Douthat must be “no.” It’s not impossible for violence to be redeemed within a work of art, but then it ceases to be sophomoric and debasing, because it isn’t gratuitous — much like the violence that God allows in life. But if the scale houses, on one side, a continued cultural desensitization to violence and pollution of the individual’s conscience, then placing aesthetic pleasure on the other side will hardly move the needle.
(Note for libertarians: I’m not, here, proposing a ban — just a posture for conservatives.)