the extension of culture has to be considered within the real social context of our economic and political life. All studies of the growth of particular cultural institutions show a real expansion, which of course is continuing, but show also the extent to which this is affected or determined by other facts in the society. In the 1960s, the rate of growth seems promising, and we are busy with plans to maintain and increase it. Yet here, very clearly, is a major contradiction easily overlooked by following a simple rising graph. For while real art and argument are being more widely enjoyed, the distribution of a bewildering variety of bad art and bad argument is increasing even more rapidly. We are reaching the point where the contradiction between these different lines and rates of growth is serious and inescapable, yet even those who see this situation feel particularly uncertain about what can be done.
We must look first at a particular and local contradiction which can quickly confuse any such discussion. If someone proposes ways of extending good art and argument, and of diminishing their worst counterparts, someone else usually answers that we mustn’t be snobs: that football, after all, is as good as chess; that jazz is a real musical form; that gardening and homemaking are also important. Who exactly is someone like this arguing with, since it is usually obvious that he is not really arguing with the man to whom he replies? Unfortunately he is arguing with actual people and a familiar way of feeling. It is true that certain cultural forms have been used as a way of asserting social distinction, and that much wholesale condemnation of new forms has been a way of demonstrating the inferiority of those two groups who have regularly to be put in their (lower) place: the masses and the young. This habit has to be resisted, but there is equal danger in a popular form of demagogy which, by the use of selective examples, succeeds in avoiding the problem of bad culture altogether. Can we agree, perhaps, before passing to the more difficult questions, that football is indeed a wonderful game, that jazz is a real musical form, and that gardening and homemaking are indeed important? Can we also agree, though, that the horror-film, the rape-novel, the Sunday strip-paper and the latest Tin-Pan drool are not exactly in the same world, and that the nice magazine romance, the manly adventure story (straight to the point of the jaw) and the pretty, clever television advertisement are not in it either? The argument against these things, and the immense profits gained by their calculated dissemination, cannot afford to be confused by the collateral point that a good living culture is various and changing, that the need for sport and entertainment is as real as the need for art, and that the public display of ‘taste’, as a form of social distinction, is merely vulgar.
In a rapidly changing and therefore confused society, in which cultural forms will in any case change but in which little is done by way of education to deepen and refine the capacity for significant response, the problems that confront us are inevitably difficult. Two parallel efforts are necessary: on the one hand the maximum encouragement of artists who are seriously trying to create new forms or do significant work in traditional forms; on the other hand, the steady offering and discussion of this work, including real criticism and therefore its distinction at least from calculated and indifferent manipulation. It would be wrong to say that these efforts are not being made: some help, though still inadequate, is being given to the arts; some responsible offering and discussion are publicly underwritten. These policies fall within the evolutionary conception: a steady encouragement of elements of valuable growth. But while supporting them, and certainly wishing to see them extended, I find it difficult to feel that they go to the root of the problem. For it is usually not recognised that inferior and destructive elements are being much more actively propagated: that more is spent, for example, on advertising a new soap, and imprinting a jingle attached to it, than on supporting an orchestra or a picture gallery; and that in launching two new magazines, one trying to do a serious new job, the other simply competing to capture a share of a known popular market, the ratio of comparative investment is ludicrous, for hardly anything is behind the former, while huge sums of money are poured out on the latter. The condition of cultural growth must be that varying elements are at least equally available, and that new and unfamiliar things must be offered steadily over a long period, if they are to have a
Now I think many people feel the strength of this question, but feel even more strongly the difficulties of any possible alternative. Steady and particular encouragement, in the obvious limited fields, is quite widely approved, but any attempt to tackle the whole situation runs into major difficulties. For it is obvious that the amount of capital and effort required, to make any substantial change, can come only from public sources, and to this there are two objections. The first is the question whether such resources are really available, on the scale required. This goes back to the difficulty discussed earlier: that we find it almost impossible to conceive the financing of social policy out of the social product, and have never learned a system of accounting which would make this possible or even visible. For it is true, of course, that the present investment comes from the society and economy as a whole. The supply of advertising money (the contemporary equivalent of manna) can only come in the end from us, as workers and buyers, though it is now routed through channels that give control of this social capital to very limited groups. If we can realize that we are paying for the existing cultural system, by one kind of organisation of the economy, we need not be frightened by the scale of resources required, since that organisation is in fact subject to change. We should be much clearer about these cultural questions if we saw them as a consequence of a basically capitalist organisation, and I at least know no better reason for capitalism to be ended. It is significant that the liveliest revolt against the existing system, particularly among the new young generation, is in precisely these cultural terms.
But then the second objection is deeply involved with this point. What is the alternative to capitalism? Socialism. What is a socialist culture? State control. There are many good liberals, and many anxious socialists, who draw back if this is the prospect. Better even the speculators, they say, than the inevitable horde of bureaucrats, official bodies, and quite probably censorship.
This difficulty has a representative significance. It is not only in cultural questions, but in the whole area of thinking about change in our society, that this knot is tied. Here is the deepest difficulty in the whole development of our democracy: that we seem reduced to a choice between speculator and bureaucrat, and while we do not like the speculator, the bureaucrat is not exactly inviting either. In such a situation, energy is sapped, hope weakens, and of course the present compromise between the speculators and the bureaucrats remains unchallenged.
Democratic policies are made by open discussion and open voting. In relatively small bodies, contact between members and policies can be close, though even here some responsibility for decisions will be passed to elected representatives rather than to members as a whole, and where much administrative work is necessary will also be passed to officials. The principle of the official in a democratic organisation is quite clear: he administers within an elected policy, and is responsible to the membership for his actions. The practice, we all know, can be otherwise, but given an adequate constitution and genuine equality of membership it is still the best and most responsible system known.