Why the left fears beauty

News & Politics

A British museum owned by Cambridge University recently overhauled its art exhibits and introduced new signage warning that paintings of the British countryside could trigger “dark nationalist feelings.” Another sign in the exhibit explains, “Landscape paintings were also always entangled with national identity. The countryside was seen as a direct link to the past, and therefore a true reflection of the essence of a nation.” This part is true. Particular peoples live in a specific place, and beautiful depictions of that place can speak powerfully to their sense of identity and belonging.

What is interesting is how often the left feels compelled to warn us about the dangers of beauty. Our progressive ruling elites have created a small, ugly, and artificial world, and they are right to fear the power that natural beauty holds to shatter that illusion.

Beauty cuts through our nonsense excuses and demands that we become worthy of it.

Like many people, I have lived most of my life as a thoroughly modern Philistine. As an advanced and sophisticated person, I dismissed beauty as a value and often saw unnecessary adornment as an ostentatious waste that hindered efficiency.

I have been a Christian since I was young, but even in my interactions with the divine, I had a very Protestant understanding of sacred spaces. Why would anyone build a giant cathedral when the people of God could gather in a strip mall or warehouse and give the rest of that money to the poor? The notion of beauty as an elevation of the human spirit was always treated as a backward and outdated notion held by self-important aristocrats in less enlightened times.

We think of ourselves as highly rational, so it can be difficult to recognize how critical aesthetics are to our way of being. If the things we see every day are beautiful, if they stir our souls and connect us to the divine, that keeps us grounded in a way that is hard to describe.

Beauty confronts and convicts us in an uncomfortable manner. That which is undeniably beautiful holds an intrinsic value that reminds us that natural hierarchies are real, good, and inescapable. Beauty reminds us that there is a right way for things to be, and while we may not yet have achieved that right way of being, we must remain oriented toward the good and true.

In short, beauty cuts through our nonsense excuses and demands that we become worthy of it.

The world the left has created is entirely artificial and requires an incredible amount of abstract nonsense to maintain its illusions. Progressives hate the idea of hierarchy, human nature, and unchosen bonds. Everyone must be equal, everything must be interchangeable, and everything must be disposable. Gender, marriage, family, community, and every other aspect of human identity can be redefined at a moment’s notice. The compulsion to flatten every aspect of existence drives the left to sever the natural connections that define every person so that they can be utterly remade. The individual must be isolated from his natural systems of support and made entirely dependent on the state if everyone is to be made truly equal.

The more artificial and abstract a system progressives construct to support their culture of lies, the more dangerous truth becomes.

The best way to keep people trapped in an artificial environment is to deny them the knowledge that any alternative exists.

Leftists in Western countries are tearing down statues, destroying priceless paintings, and burning down magnificent cathedrals for a reason. In one sense, this rabid cultural vandalism is like the defensive thrashings of a wild animal. Progressives reflexively strike out and mar that which is beautiful so that it does not convict them in their own squalid existence.

But there is a deeper method to this vile iconoclastic madness. The key to cultural revolution is to sever the continuity between the past and the present. If the left can successfully bury the beauty of the past, then the people will have no memory of what made them great and they can instead be sculpted into whatever dismal monument to mediocrity our progressive elites have planned. Brutalist and depressing modern architecture, abstract and absurd modern art, formulaic and soulless modern movies are all engineered to ensure that we never glimpse that which makes us fully human.

As hilarious as trigger warnings on a landscape painting may seem, the museum staff recognized the very real power that such works of art hold and the threat they pose to the current progressive order. Leftists have worked very hard to eliminate the works of architectural, artistic, and musical beauty that might stir the soul to greatness, but the beauty of nature remains. Even if our entire culture is stripped of the truth of beauty, the very rocks around us still cry out.

One reason progressives feel compelled to drive the population into squalid cities is their contempt for the natural beauty that keeps rural populations firmly connected to reality. Whether in the Soviet Union or the United States, leftists always revile the independent farmer. The independent farmer is self-sufficient, cannot be controlled through the manipulation of a system on which he does not rely, and is too deeply rooted in the reality of nature to be taken in by absurd and artificial abstraction.

Above all the progressives fear beauty because it threatens their way of life. The more artificial and abstract a system progressives construct to support their culture of lies, the more dangerous truth becomes. Cultural revolutionaries instinctively attack the true and beautiful because they see it as an assault on the small, ugly, and plastic world they have constructed. While those in power work diligently to snuff out any instance of beauty left in our culture, they will ultimately fail.

As long as one rolling countryside, one soaring mountain range, one gleaming seacoast remains, the power and truth of beauty will still convict us.

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