Liberty And Art: How And Why Libertarians Have Failed

liberty artAs I have noted in my “Failure of the Libertarian Movement article,” libertarians have generally limited their activities to marginally useful areas like politics and economics but have seldom used them to illuminate and free the human spirit. Liberty is ideal for freeing the human spirit, but we really haven’t used it very well.

In fairness to the economic and political folks (and I’d have to include myself as one of the guilty), a lot of analytic ability was required to push through the thick web of statism that we grew up with in the 50s and 60s. Often, highly analytical people were the only ones who could push through it all without serious emotional damage. As a result, most of the early libertarians were moved, by both their skills and the situations they faced, into economics and politics.

But regardless of libertarianism’s unique past, politics and economics are not rich fields – they certainly matter, but they leave huge sections of the human experience unaddressed.

Music, on the other hand, is a much richer field, as are painting, sculpture, and a dozen other artistic endeavors.

Doing Art, Not Politics

There have been a few libertarians pursuing art (God bless them), but they have often felt a need to use the early libertarian model of political and economic analysis as fodder for their art. The results were not as good as they could have been.

Let me be clear about this: Mixing politics with art demeans the art. Actually politics plus art more or less equals propaganda. And it is not beautiful.

Mixing philosophy and art can be done, but it can’t be preachy, doctrinal philosophy. It needs to be immediate and real – the fruit of life lessons that you personally experienced – not someone else’s ready-made doctrine.

Art has to be fresh and exciting: authentic, soul-birthed emanations of light and love and passion. It can be wise passion, even intelligent passion, but it may NOT be formulaic or analytical.

There is nothing wrong with analysis, but it is not soul-breathed like good art. As much as I love passages from Rand, Rothbard, and Mises, they cannot be simply set to music and expected to take on a life-giving beauty.

Politics is external and economics is external; art is primarily about internal experiences and visions. Art is not at all mechanical; it is organic.

The Fields Are White for Harvest

The truth is that we libertarians hold the answer to the world’s problems in our hands, but we’ve never spread it beyond a few small and contained areas. There are vast areas lying open before us, and it is time for us to go out into them.

Liberty is the great handmaid of life and beauty on the earth. It is the great catalyst of new visions, the key that unlocks the barriers between people and their impossible dreams. Liberty empowers the life-force inside a billion individuals, and when touched by it they find new ways to release hidden talents, to remember lost epiphanies, and to reanimate their crushed spirits.

I am not trying to be poetic here – I am trying to describe the real situation that sits in front of us.

Let me say this again, in a slightly different way:

Liberty is really about life. The purpose of liberty is to allow human life to flourish. And it is art that reaches inside of people and touches the frustrated life inside of them, that draws it out of them and makes them believe that it can thrive in the world. Economics and politics, however necessary they may be, cannot do this.

What Now?

Here’s the great thing about art: There is – and can be – no plan.

Art is an expression of life. It must be planted and nourished separately in each of us. It grows differently in each of us, and it emerges differently from each of us and thus enters the world. We are each a unique womb of sorts, in which our art grows and matures.

It is our job as artists to take in the best seeds, to nourish them as best we can, and to be as purely honest with what we produce as possible.

When we create, we should not be focused on external things like approval, style or reward. (Though we must seriously develop our skills; they are essential to expression, after all.)

To create great art, we must focus on the thing itself: this new expression that is growing inside of us, the people we will give it to, and most of all, the unique nature of what we are producing.

Life improves every living thing it touches, and our job as artists is to birth these emanations of life into the world and to love the people we hope it will reach.

Each creation of yours will have its own nature and should be used in its own way, not according to anyone’s expectations. Plant and nourish the best seeds you can find, but let each thing that grows inside of you choose its own direction and nature.

But, most of all, go out and create. Don’t wait. Start small if you must, develop your skills at whatever pace you can, but do NOT sit still and wait for some magic day when “it happens.” Make passable art at first if you must start there, because passable art has a way of developing into good art, and that often becomes great art. But it will never develop at all until you are in motion.

And by all means, cooperate with other artists. Learn from them, teach them, collaborate. Think of this as cross-pollination: We are all unique, and we can pass those unique characteristics from one to another, and all benefit from the experience. To borrow a phrase from my economic training: Creation is positive sum game.

Creating art can be hard, frustrating and even disappointing. But if you give honest expressions to the things that really matter to you, to the things that mature within you, the effort will enrich you for life, and many others with you.

I wish you all the best.

Paul Rosenberg

14 thoughts on “Liberty And Art: How And Why Libertarians Have Failed”

  1. Thank you for this article. However, I would implore you not to attack those who mainly pursue political philosophy. There have been successful (and yes, principled) libertarians such as Ludwig von Mises, the people at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, the Austrian economists, F. A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard, Lew Rockwell, Ron Paul, and Tom Woods, who, while they may not work in the fields of art and culture, they do a fine job in history, political philosophy, and economy.

    1. Fear not, Anand, no attack was intended – those people are my friends. 🙂

    2. Fear not, Anand, no attack was intended – those people are my friends. 🙂

    3. Fear not, Anand, no attack was intended – those people are my friends. 🙂

  2. You say that it’s bad that libertarians have not pursued art as much as you’d like them to, but you also say that art and politics don’t mix. I think that the second statement is true, but the conclusion I reach is that good art can come from people whose politics is lousy as much as it can from people who are libertarians.

    I agree that it’s good to pursue art, but I don’t see the connection with libertarianism.

    1. Libertarianism is a way of viewing the world around you, and understanding the way things should work outside of the current social structure of most Western societies. Art, in my opinion, is a reflection of a human’s understanding of the world around them also.

      Art mixes with all believes. It doesn’t matter if you are a Catholic Nun, a neo-Nazi, or an one-legged dwarf from the Congo, the art you produce – if you do – reflects your knowledge and understanding. So, art is what the creator and viewer make of it. 🙂

    2. JdL – Here’s a platform plank I proposed for the Libertarian Party platform some time ago which perhaps may help make the connection, or potential, clearer to you:

      Art is a weapon against tyranny. The artistic spirit is anti-
      authoritarian, and stands in sharp contrast to the nature of
      bureaucracy, which is the nature of big government. Bureaucracy
      is deadening, art is enlivening. Bureaucracy upholds authority,
      art questions authority. Bureaucracy stands for repression, art
      for expression. Bureaucracy crushes the human spirit, art uplifts
      it. Bureaucracy is boring, art is passionate (this is reflected in
      the quote “boredom is counter-revolutionary — always”).
      Bureaucracy encourages conformity, art encourages nonconformity. The
      bureaucrat values law and order, the artist values freedom.

      Again and again throughout history, poets, painters,
      musicians, sculptors, novelists, actors, and others have played key roles
      in motivating people to stand up for their freedom and resist
      government oppression. The Statue of Liberty designed by Frederic Bartholdi,
      and the poem by Emma Lazarus that graces its base, “Give me your
      tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
      are both works of art which have inspired millions, and today Lady
      Liberty, the “Mother of Exiles,” serves as the unofficial symbol
      of our party.

      To put the fate of art in the hands of bureaucrats, politicians,
      or tyrants, either via the power to censor controversial works such
      as pornographic or “politically incorrect” material, or via
      the power of the purse by controlling which artists receive funding, is
      simply wrong. We favor the widest possible application of the First
      Amendment in protecting creative expression, and no less
      ardently insist that art not be degraded and robbed of its dignity by
      paying for it with blood money gained through government aggression.

  3. Paul Rosenberg said: “Mixing politics with art demeans the art. Actually politics plus art more or less equals propaganda. And it is not beautiful.

    Mixing philosophy and art can be done, but it can’t be preachy, doctrinal philosophy.”

    I’ve committed all of those sins in my song “Dreams [Anarchist Blues]”:

    Maybe it still works for _somebody_ out there?
    Regards onebornfree

  4. I accidentally stumbled on a list of libertarian-themed science fiction books. You do your part, let your neighbor do his, keep spreading the word of the Golden Rule if you’re Christian, or the non-aggression principle if you are not…

  5. Check out Jim Kirwan! Fantastic libertarian artist.

    Also, must see: Joan Lehmann Glover.

    For YA Fantasy, “The Prophet Walker!”

  6. Paul Rosenberg offers some good insights here, especially his thoughts on the subject of art itself, and why it can’t be approached in the same way as things like politics or economics. Well worth reading for any aspiring libertarian artists.

    I count myself in that category; I believe I have some artistic gifts, but have not really managed to find an artistic niche to pursue. Perhaps unlike “natural born artists”, I’m not so driven to create art that I find it easy to really devote a lot of time or energy to it outside of a supportive community.

    An online forum like this may have its uses, but what I long for is something like an in-person artistic salon with its spontaneity and conviviality.

    For what it’s worth, I’m in San Francisco, if any others here happen to be in the area and interested in such a thing. I have an idea for a novel (trilogy, actually) that I’d love to develop around others who write and are of a libertarian bent, and would also appreciate some technical assistance to help me get into making music, but really I’m open to creating all kinds of art, with the caveat that I don’t necessarily have any particular skills beyond being naturally very creative.

  7. Post deleted. Three strikes you’re out. I respect your private property choice to “not associate”. Since you supress trurh, that is not your agenda. I’m outa here, never to return.

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