Anything peaceful and voluntary.

It’s the Culture, Stupid!

“Of all the arts, for us the most important is cinema.” —Lenin, 1922

A year ago I was very distressed to learn that the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS, of which I am a HUGE fan and beneficiary) had shut down all of their Film and Fiction programs. I had went to an IHS summer seminar on Liberty, Art, and Culture six years ago and it was a major influence on my life in many ways, one of which was to show me that I can marry both the creative and intellectual sides of my career. While I can understand that they felt this was not one of their core competencies, it made me think of the deep void that it left for this kind of support, the kind that I believe is the most important to our freedom movement.

After all, how much more convincing must we do on the intellectual front? We offer cogent, well researched arguments for every issue imaginable. We have hundreds of think tanks spewing out policy study after policy study that lands on the desks of a few Capitol Hill interns and the mailboxes of donors. Not that these do not have their place. I am grateful for all those who have done and continue to do the intellectual heavy lifting. But at what point is there enough? At what point do we look at the 300th policy report on welfare reform for this year and realize that we will begin to engage in diminishing returns?

We are already there my friends. It is time for us to shift focus and shift funding to begin our efforts on the cultural front. We merely have to look at the title of Jerome Tucille’s book to understand this. It is this area that has been neglected, though it has brought so many to explore our ideas. A key factor in sticking with think tank funding is because of the fear that has been sparked by what seems to be our more pressing short-term threats. While I understand that these are very real, we are giving up the long-term health of our liberty. It is a tough sell to work the culture angle, as it is a longer, more nebulous road, but it is a richer path that will lead to a much more sustainable vision of freedom.

As an isolated example, John Papola (Emergent Order) with Russ Roberts (EconTalk) created a video that has introduced Austrian Economics to more people arguably than any other single force with over 2.5 million people watching to date! They were introduced to the ideas intellectually. But most people do not want to engage in the strenuous work required to immerse themselves in the ideas in this way. Why do we want to continue to set such obstacles in our paths? Why should we not meet people on their own terms and their own ways and educate while we entertain?

This is a vital mission that needs the support of people of greater means than most of our artists. Maybe those people who are boycotting electoral donations will instead help support cultural efforts to promote liberty. There is every reason for our large donors or even our think tanks to support our art as patrons and consumers. Stop subsidizing politicians who will break their promises (and, if they get elected, break their oaths to the people to uphold the Constitution) and start commissioning paintings, holding poetry contests, and most importantly funding narrative films. This is the way in which you will engage the rest of the world, especially those who do not already sing in our choir. We must start now, especially with film, before Lenin’s work is done by those who agree with him today.

(If you were wondering what got me on this rant, it was this article by Andrew Leigh, one of the founders of Taliesin Nexus with Patrick Reasonover, an excellent filmmaker with Ozymandias Media)

Robert Anthony Peters will be speaking at Libertopia Festival 2011 in San Diego

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6 responses

  1. lj

    I must say I agree with you. However, I can’t help but be reminded of Culture 11, the short-lived conservo-libertarian culture website of 2008. Of course, uncertain financial futures for its finders probably didn’t help matters, but I think any nebulous creative effort in the name of liberty is going to run into a big problem when seeking funding. That problem is the inability to provide any performance metrics. The people with the purse strings want evidence that they’re helping to move the needle. Now, if we could get our hands on some of that NEA money, that’d be subversive! (If hypocritical) 🙂

    August 18, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    • Thanks for reading LJ. You certainly do have a point. One can rather easily determine how many people have viewed a youtube video or bought tickets to see a movie, but it is tough to quantify the effect that viewing had on anyone. That being said, I think that the same can be said for the white papers, the books, the blogs, etc. that are being much more heavily funded. Hope to see you at Libertopia.

      August 19, 2011 at 3:08 pm

  2. RAP: I agree with you totally but think the above commenter unfortunately has a point. The libertarian obsession with economics is hard to overcome and quite tedious. However I don’t entirely agree that there is no way to measure such things. Just takes a bit of creativity. 🙂 Also depends on the vehicle through which they are seen–TV? Movie theaters? Local venues? Documentaries that make it to TV–well, that’s gold.

    Do you know about Pacific Street Films? They did a documentary on Emma Goldman. I also know some other people involved in documentary making who are libertarians. Let’s talk at Libertopia.

    August 18, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    • Thanks for the comment Sharon. I am not familiar with Pacific Street Films. I very much look forward to talking with you at Libertopia. 🙂

      August 19, 2011 at 3:09 pm

  3. JPM

    Robert, couldn’t agree more. I’ve started to put together some online lists of libertarian fiction and “culture” (movies, music etc.) over at

    Know any other resources to help people looking to promote libertarianism culturally?

    September 28, 2011 at 8:48 pm

  4. Robert,

    Thanks for covering the topic. We met at Libertopia 2010 and enjoyed exchanging conversation with you. Silver Circle is a great example of what you are talking about and I’m so proud to be a part of it. Please keep pushing this message…liberty is creative and no longer belongs to just libertarians, humans disenfranchised with politics also experience and enjoy liberty, let’s include them as well.

    October 27, 2011 at 11:01 am

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