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[Fernando Tesón (guest-blogging), December 15, 2006 at 5:15pm] Trackbacks
More on Political Art:

Thank you for the very interesting comments.

I stand corrected on political art being mostly on the left. I object to ALL political art.

My claim is not that political art is socially worthless. Rather, it is this: political art cannot count as evidence for the political position it tries to advance. I happen to believe that political positions should be supported by argument, not by force, deceit, or emotion. (Some have blasted me for this, but it is my view...) A work of art is not an argument.

And the issue is not merely theoretical. I have seen many young people in my own native country, Argentina, join political violence, their revolutionary conviction greatly strengthened and fueled by protest songs and other politically committed art. They were not only wrong on the merits. They are, sadly, dead.

Francis (mail):
political art cannot count as evidence for the political position it tries to advance.

ah, but it so often does. despite the author's clear desire that the human race act like Vulcans, there is substantial evidence [to use a legal term] that appeals to emotion are far more effective in the political arena than appeals to logic.

political art from the sublime [speeches in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar] to the ridiculous [modern campaign ads] exists because it works.
12.15.2006 6:37pm
Phutatorius (www):
Can a political argument be art? Or artful?
12.15.2006 6:48pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
I happen to believe that political positions should be supported by argument, not by force, deceit, or emotion.

Where in human history have you found such a political culture? Why do you want to become a part of it? Force, deceit, and emotion are what make life interesting. Political arguments that do not appeal to these instincts are, to be honest, dull and obvious.

By the way, Triumph of the Will is most certainly evidence for the central argument of the Nazis, along with being art that is most definitely not leftist. The power of the image in itself (costume, insignia, propaganda) gave rise to Hitler, and this film is pure powerful image.
12.15.2006 6:55pm
Seerak (mail):
A work of art is not an argument.

I'm curious to know who at whom this is directed. I'm not aware of anyone who says it is an argument, outside of the Left-- and that speaks more of the Left than it does of art.

Art is not so much a statement of fact, as it is an illustrative statement of what one thinks *ought* to be a fact. It is a dramatization of an idea. As such, it has an important purpose for rational men -- but the latter do not construe it as an argument per se.

Now, the Left certainly uses art in that fashion. Leftists love to attack under cover of humor (that's your "can't you take a joke?" bit), but this usage of art falls into the subclass "propaganda", agitprop etc. It is not a reflection on art itself, and it is not established that "political art" == "propaganda" either.

What the Left does with "political art" does not generalize to all art, any more than what a mugger does with a gun generalizes to all guns.
12.15.2006 6:58pm
Marc :
Apologies for the repetition -- I didn't see this update when I just posted this comment at the previous post:

Aaargh!

For a bunch of lawyers, you all y'all aren't defining your terms very well.

What do you mean by political art?

Beethoven's 9th, Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, Palestrina's Pope Marcellus Mass each have strong political attitudes and contexts. I do not find them to be failures. Verdi's Don Carlo is wobbler, Britten's War Requiem is a masterpiece of political music and on and on...

I tell my (music) students that if they start a piece of art with a political message it will probably fail as art and likely be embarrassing as a political statement due to the necessary reductionism. However, if in the course of writing they organically intertwine the dynamics of the piece they are writing with some sort of 'message' they feel is practically inevitable and follows from their technique, then the success of the message (or, I guess discourse as you would say) will still be dependent on how the piece functions as art qua art.

Oooo...legal latin.....I got a thrill!


There is a huge amount of political art that fails because it expects its message to be sufficient to enable the art to succeed as art jsut because it has that message. But there is still also a large body of work that does in fact succeed deeply as political art.

The reason that the unsuccssful examples are so visible is that the 20th century is fuller of them than other periods and we are only now barely beginning to come to terms with what from that repertoire is good and what is bad, to form a sort of canon. In every era there is a boatload of terrible, unsuccessful art. It jus tso happens that the most recent era had more than its share of political art.


And, yes the vast, vast, vast majority of political art is in fact somewhat to the left (as Beethoven and Mozart would have been considered if the terms had been relevant.)

My own feeling as to the reason that is so is that most artists who are successful (in the aesthetic, not financial sense of the word) do not easily fit into the worlds or worldviews conservatives hold dear.
12.15.2006 7:01pm
Phutatorius (www):
. . . I ask because you wrote a pretty "artful" argument just now: one that is anecdotally selective, with a well-crafted rhetorical kick at the end.

I'll buy that a song about revolution probably doesn't alone furnish a sound basis for the revolution itself, much less the ensuing revolution. And I'll grant you that the chief attraction of Marxism isn't so much the underlying ideology as the fact that you get to wear a beret and fatigues instead of a suit and tie. But berets and singalongs aside, couldn't a well-made documentary exposé on a politically-charged issue make a positive contribution to the discourse?

Of course it could. You might counter that then the documentary isn't political art, because it adds value to discourse, but at that point you're arguing a tautology that, while self-contained, doesn't say much.
12.15.2006 7:03pm
Arvin (mail) (www):
A work of art is not an argument

Why not? You've mentioned Guernica as political art. The argument in Guernica is as follows:

The scenes I've depicted in Guernica are horrific

Theses scenes were caused by the bombing of Guernica

The bombing of Guernica was caused by the military

If you do not like the scenes I've depicted, that is one reason not to like the military.

If you DO like the military, you must at least acknowledge or accept that part of their actions have caused the scenes that I have depicted.


That seems to be a sound, logical argument to me. Granted, Guernica doesn't say this explicitly, but it's left for the viewer to imply. Sort of like when certain people say "it's a matter of national security!" they're leaving the listener to imply (and therefore if you don't let us do what we're doing, your families will be threatened).
12.15.2006 7:27pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I'll be the radical here. Art isn't good--at least the visual arts or the written word--aren't good, unless it is political. Is there one significant piece of literature that isn't political--at least loosely defined. Certainly not the plays of Shakespeare. Certainly not the any of the great Russian novels or even the most classic texts of Greece. Name one great novel of the twentieth century that isn't political.

As for the visual arts. What captured the horrors and alienation of World War I better than German Expressionism and All Quiet on the Western Front (both the book and the film).

Is it any wonder that dictators fear art and literature?
12.15.2006 7:27pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
And I'll grant you that the chief attraction of Marxism isn't so much the underlying ideology as the fact that you get to wear a beret and fatigues instead of a suit and tie.

And all this time I thought it was because they threw the best parties and had the loosest women in college!
12.15.2006 7:41pm
Dan28 (mail):
Art is one of the most basic ways that people express their humanity. A society where art is totally disenganged from politics will soon become a society in which values are disenganged from politics. The result will be the triumph of ideologies that treat people as machines.

I know this is long, but I share the following as a defense of political art. No analytical analysis could ever express these ideas in a way that is more powerful and compelling as Milan Kundera:

The bloody massacre in Bangladesh quickly covered over the memory of the Russian invasion oc Czechoslovakia, the assassination of Allende drowned out the groans of Bangladesh, the war in Sinai Desert made people forget Allende, the Cambodian massacre made people forget Sinai, and so on and so forth until ultimately everyone lets everything be forgotten.

In times when history moved slowly, events were few and far between and easily committed to memory. They formed a commonly accepted backdrop for thrilling scenes of adventure in private life. Nowadays, history moves at a brisk clip. A historical event, though soon forgotten, sparkles the morning after with the dew of novelty. No longer a backdrop, it is now the adventure itself, an adventure enacted before the backdrop of the commonly accepted banality of private life.

Since we can no longer assume any historical event, no matter how recent, to be common knowledge, I must treat events dating back only a few years as if they were a thousand years old. In 1939, German troops marched into Bohemia and the Czech nation ceased to exist. In 1945, Russian troops marched into Bohemia, and the country was once again declared an independent republic. The people showed great enthusiasm for Russia - which had driven the Germans from their country - and because they considered the Czech communist party its faithful representative, they shifted their sympathies to it. And so it happened that in February 1948 the Communists took power not in bloodshed and violence, but to the cheers of about half the population. And please note: the half that cheered was the more dynamic, the more intelligent, the better half.

Yes, say what you will, - the Communists were more intelligent. They had a grandiose program, a plan for a brand-new world in which everyone would find his place. The Communists' opponents had no great dream; all they had was a few moral principles, stale and lifeless, to patch up the tattered trousers of the established order. So of course the grandiose enthusiasts won out over the cautious comprimisers and lost no time turning their dream into reality: the creation of an idyll of justice for all.

Now let me repeat: an idyll, for all. People have always aspired to an idyll, a garden where nightingales sing, a realm of harmony where the world does not rise up as a stranger against man nor man against other men, where the world and all its people are molded from a single stock and the fire lighting up the heavens is the fire burning in the hearts of men, where every man is a note in a magnificent Bach fugue and anyone who refuses his note is a mere black dot, useless and meaningless, easily caught and squashed between the fingers like an insect.

From the start there were people who realized they lacked the proper temperament for the idyll and wished to leave the country. But since by definition an idyll is one world for all, the people who wished to emigrate were implicitly denying its validity. Instead of going abroad, they went behind bars. They were soon joined by thousands and tens of thousands more, including many Communists, such as Foreign Minister Clementis, the man who lent Gottwald his cap. Timid lovers held hands on movie screens, marital infidelity received harsh penalties at citizens courts of honor, nightengales sang, and the body of Clementis swung back and forth like a bell ringing in a new dawn for mankind.
12.15.2006 7:50pm
Bottomfish (mail):
It seems to me that if this discussion is going to get anywhere, we must make a distinction between pure and applied art, just as people draw a distinction between pure and applied mathematics.

Pure art is the most general type of art, and tries to show the relations between objects, but not just any objects. A computer manual certainly shows relations but it is not art no matter how well written it might be. The objects that art deals with are human beings and general truths about being human, and also relations between human beings, and their direct sensuous perceptions and emotions, and their recollections of these things. The relations between these objects are not stated but implied and they may lie deep below the surface of the work of art.

Applied art is a form of art that subordinates the relations of the work to the objective of proving some kind of point. Pure art does not requre that there be a point. I would say advertisements and many stories in newspapers could be described as applied art. The problem with applied art is that there seems to be no reason to use the methods of art merely to prove a point when the general method of art deals with a more subtle and more complex relationship.
12.15.2006 8:01pm
Steve:
Plato's Symposium presented a convincing argument that logic and rhetoric are, in fact, the exact same thing.
12.15.2006 8:27pm
Jay Welch (mail):
Mr. Tesón,
Based on the reasons you have given for objecting to all political art, is it safe to assume that you have the same feelings about religious art as about political art? If not, why not?
12.15.2006 9:07pm
Bottomfish (mail):
Steve: I have not read the Symposium. But I am not aware that Plato envisioned of a separate science of logic. I believe that was Aristotle's invention.
12.15.2006 9:15pm
Scrivener:
Art forms among its viewers opinions about right and wrong, just and unjust, moral and immoral; it forms for a society the aims that the political process tries to achieve and to balance against each other.

Art in the political context argues the worth of aims, rather than the effectiveness of means.
12.15.2006 9:16pm
Ken Arromdee:
You've mentioned Guernica as political art. The argument in Guernica is ... The scenes I've depicted in Guernica are horrific ...

But the horror of the scene in Guernica doesn't come from the fact that it depicts war. It comes from the fact that Picasso intentionally drew the scene in a horrific manner. The viewer's horror at the scene comes from Picasso's ability to depict the scene, not from the actual nature of the events depicted. It so happened that Picasso used a real event with some genuinely horrible aspects, but he did not have to do that; he could have as easily painted a picture of, say, Jews drinking Christian blood. Or if Guernica had never been bombed, he could have painted exactly the same thing.

I suppose in some technical sense it's an argument, but it isn't a *good* argument, because the first step--the viewer's reaction to the picture--has no connection to any facts.
12.15.2006 9:37pm
Arvin (mail) (www):
But the horror of the scene in Guernica doesn't come from the fact that it depicts war. It comes from the fact that Picasso intentionally drew the scene in a horrific manner.

Sure. But that's the "persuasive" part of an argument. For example, "In Iraq, 0.003% of the population were fatally injured in a military action" vs. "In Iraq, 1000 people were burned alive by exploding napalm." As you state, "The [listener]'s horror at the scene comes from [the speaker]'s ability to depict the scene, not from the actual nature of the events depicted."

It so happened that Picasso used a real event with some genuinely horrible aspects, but he did not have to do that; he could have as easily painted a picture of, say, Jews drinking Christian blood.

Just so. And one can make a verbal argument based on those "facts" too.

I suppose in some technical sense it's an argument, but it isn't a *good* argument, because the first step--the viewer's reaction to the picture--has no connection to any facts.

And that's the point -- to say that art is not an argument is disingenuous. To say that art relies upon style to cause a certain initial reaction is true -- but it is no different than a speaker using tone modulation, choosing one word instead of another, etc. Those nuances are selected to cause a certain reaction in the listener, just as Picasso depicted Guernica in a certain way to cause a certain reaction in the viewer. The medium is different, but the technique is the same. Thus, it is as wrong (or right) to use art to make an argument as it is to use words, spoken or written.
12.15.2006 9:51pm
beguemot (mail):
Argentina, join political violence, their revolutionary conviction greatly strengthened and fueled by protest songs and other politically committed art. They were not only wrong on the merits. They are, sadly, dead.

Yeah, sure, and Videla took communion daily but his political ideas were NEVER influenced by Christian art. Because we all perfectly know that a cathedral is not a political statement, a poliphonic mass is not political art, and literature representing how good it is to be a good Christian is not political art. ONLY protest songs are political art. The rest are just harmless art. Sure.

What I am saying is that art didn't kill them. It was the torturers and murderers who were members of the military. But, oh, let's blame protest-song writers. The military was just saving Argentina from subversives, no?
12.15.2006 10:18pm
beguemot (mail):
By the way, those who consider that overtly political art only comes from the left are plainly ignorant. Just read Bulgakov's novel "The Master and Margarita" for a great, wonderful work of art that is, among many other things, a devastating critique of Stalinism.
12.15.2006 10:26pm
beguemot (mail):
Last comment tonight (sorry if I didn't put all of them together). In "Don Quixote", we learn just in the second sentence that Alonso Quijano eats eggs and bacon every Saturday (it's a strange phrase and sometimes it's not translated correctly). That is, he makes an effort to eat pork every Sabbath to prove he's not a "converso", at the time when the Inquisition terrorized everybody with a single drop of Jewish blood in their veins. And then, after all this pressure, he goes mad (or pretends to go mad) and spends 1000 pages feeling paranoid about enchanters and wizzards and whatnot continuously harassing him, while at the same time he is the wisest character in the novel. Is it me, or is this a powerful political statement against the Spanish Inquisition? Sr. Tejon, were people burnt at the stake because Cervantes decided to write a novel that, among many other things, is a political novel?
12.15.2006 10:43pm
solon (mail) (www):
Since two replies commented on Plato and Aristotle, here is a brief explanation on their position:

Plato problably coined the term "rhetoric" but he distrusted rhetoric and rhetoricians (usually called sophists) in Ancienct Greece (see The Republic and Gorgias for an explanation on his negative views of rhetoric and the Phaedrus for his positive views on rhetoric). He believed it was a knack and flattery as compared to true knowledge, the knowledge that only a philsopher could attain.

Aristotle, Plato's student, differed with Plato and told him so in the beginning of On Rhetoric. For Aristotle, rhetoric is a practical art ("the faculty of observing in every given case the available means of persuasion") that a speaker used in opposition to violence. His "textbook" on rhetoric (his students compiled it) is a work that allows students to create and criticize messages.

In On Rhetoric, Aristotle recognized two types of proofs inartistic (proofs the speaker does not create, such as records &laws) and artistic proofs (arguments the speaker creates). There are three types of artistic proofs: ethos (the credibility of the speaker as determined by the audience), logos (the "rational" argument based on claims, evidence, values, and beliefs that the audience will accept), and pathos (the emotions the speaker instills in the audience). According to Aristotle, you cannot separate the three-- Ethos, Logos, and Pathos are always conencted. In every argument, the audience judges the ethos of a speaker, may or may not be moved my emotions in the speaker's argument, and may or may not accept the claims &evidence of the speaker.

As far as the original post and pathos, the writer asserted:

<blockquote>I happen to believe that political positions should be supported by argument, not by force, deceit, or emotion. (Some have blasted me for this, but it is my view...) A work of art is not an argument.
</blockquote>

The problem with this statement is that it neglects the audience in a very Platonic sense. It is the audience that determines if the speaker is credible, if the arguments (logos) are acceptible, and whether or not the emotions persuade.

For example, in the 2004 and 2006 US elections, some Republicans ran on a plaform that suggested if Democrats are elected, then the United States will be defeated in the War on Terror (see Cheney's comments in 2004 about large scale desctruciton in a major US city if Democrats won). While a pro-Democratic audience may not accept the causation in the argument, a pro-Republican audience may-- Cheney may have stated that the Democrats will not fight the war, not support the troops, or may not fund the military. In this example, Cheney created an argument- he made a claim, supported it with evidence (in this case societal beliefs-- which are valid forms of evidence), and let the audience detemine the extent of the fear appear and the causation.

You may want to read some argumentation theory, such as Aristotle's On Rhetoric or Chaim Perelman's The New Rhetoric, to avoid making the distinction that arguments are either rational or emotional.

Furthermore, artwork can serve as argument: it depends on if the audience accepts the position in the work of art. A work of art may contain claims &evidence, though both may not be as clear to someone who examines the work of art. The work of art may not be as clear as a speaker; however, this does not mean it is not an argument.
12.16.2006 12:39am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
I mostly agree but as I remarked in the satire piece some time ago sometimes these strategies are necessary to overcome other irrational biases.

Satire, in particular, is necessary to make people examine views they assume are 'obvious' or 'just common sense'. By showing that the same views that the other side assumes are clearly right can be twisted into something laughably wrong it forces the other side to genuienly try and mark out where these views are right and wrong not merely dismiss any criticism out of hand.

Once again my example is the recent child-molester monitoring proposition in California. Quite clearly many people adopted this because they thought 'obviously knowing where child molesters are and keeping them away from places with lots of children makes my kids safer.' Trying to rationally engage these people with argument or data on this point was fruitless as they dismissed anything that disagreed with this 'common sense' as obviously false and weren't interested enough to figure out why.

Now if into this fray you throw Jon Stewart's remark that went something like, "Ohh great. Let's create roving bands of homeless child molesters, that will keep our kids safe." This satire penetrate the defenses of the pro-proposition people and forces them to at least admit the possibility that their 'common sense' is only true so far.

In short art is never an argument itself but it can open people up to an argument they were irrationally refusing to hear before.
12.16.2006 1:06am
Ken Arromdee:
Sure. But that's the "persuasive" part of an argument.

The entire "argument" in a painting pretty much *depends* on the emotional nuances. An argument using words can, and frequently does, fail or succeed based on the strength of its reasoning and the truth of its facts. The anti-Iraq argument may be phrased as "1000 people were burned alive", but it could use less emotional words and still be something that could be reasoned about. If Picasso's painting used a less emotional depiction of the Guernica bombing, his argument would be reduced to nothing at all.

And yes, words can be used in the same way as paintings, in which case they aren't "arguments" either. Someone chanting a slogan isn't making an argument.

And one can make a verbal argument based on those "facts" too. (Jews drinking Christian blood)

Not one similar to the Picasso painting. Picasso didn't show what the bombing of Guernica looks like; he showed distorted images, symbols, etc. designed to convey the idea that the bombing of Guernica was horrible. A similar painting about blood-drinking Jews wouldn't show a Jew pouring a bag of O-negative into matzot; it would use symbols and lines and colors to associate horror with Jews in the mind of the viewer.

Even if a painting just showed Jews drinking blood as a pure "fact", it (and the similar verbal version) wouldn't be arguments, but statements. While such a statement does carry an implied argument, this implied argument is trivial. Anyone disputing the claim would take issue with the original statement, not the steps of the implied argument.

to say that art is not an argument is disingenuous.

A bad argument and a trivial argument are types of arguments, so you're literally correct. But this isn't how we use English. "Not a" often means "is a poor example of a".
12.16.2006 1:23am
solon (mail) (www):
Ken-

I am seeking two points of clarification on your post.

First, When you state, "someone chanting a slogan isn't making an argument," what do you mean by this?

Are you stating that the person is not making a claim and providing evidence for this? (The speaker, or in this case chanter, may be providing a the conclusion or minor premise of an enthymeme, which would still then consist of claim &evidence).

Or do you mean that the person chanting the slogan is less likely to engage in the give-and-take or dialogue with another to have an argument, meaning that to have an argument, both sides need to be open to peruasive means.

Are you limiting persuasion to changing beliefs rather than reinforcing beliefs (those listening to the chant may accept the change based on shared beliefs).

Second, can you expand on your implied argument section. In any argument, there are implied statements ("facts," values, beliefs, or attitudes) that make the persuasion process stronger (or weaker), depending on the audience. (Toulmin refers to them as warrants, Aristotle as either premises or conclusions in the enthymeme.)

I mention this because in your example about the painting and the blood, there are certain audiences (historically and maybe presently), that may accept the claim without further statements because they are implied (cultural beliefs which serve as the major premise to enthymemes).

An example of this, similar to your discussion, would be by the Italian painter Paolo Uccello and his works "Miracle of the Desecrated Host." (you can find the work here: http://www.flholocaustmuseum.org/ history_wing/antisemitism/crusades.cfm). (there is no space after wing/). These images are visual "arguments" that reflect the cultural beliefs about Jews in 15th century Italy.

As far as arguments go, it would be best to judge these paintings in terms of their audience reception, especially to know if these pieces were persuasive. However, these are major works by a master. Further, these works rely on the "implied" claims or pieces of evidence from the 15th century.
12.16.2006 2:14am
John Quincy Public:
An argument I've seen repeated several times in these discourses is roughly that "art is an argument". This is usually followed by a rather sterile example of art critique to provide evidence of the point; which is not to say that the critique was sub-standard in any way.

But giving a tortured monologue of how the arguer *could* pull a 5-minute rational argument out of viewing Guernica is not the norm however. The norm is "Wow. That made me feel [insert desired, or unintentional, heartstring to molest]."

Nor is this surprising. What is surprising is how often one needs to remind that half of the population is of below average intelligence. Couple this with the "Bugs Bunny" concept of false memories from Pickrell and Loftus. Couple this with that portion of the population that are of above average intelligence and passionate. Couple that with the fact that a disagreement of belief kicks in the fight-or-flight center of the amygdala before anything else.

The natural outcome is that the best way to prevail in your argumentation is not to worry about things like rational points at all. Why waste all that effort going against biology when you can simply pluck the heart by moving pictures or a contrived painting? Propaganda is made to appeal to the emotion -- and yes, this includes humour -- so as to circumvent all the problems that discussion may bring.

It is the car salesman's method of politics. The salesman doesn't care about the "worth" of the product he's selling or whether he's pushing the best product for the customer. All he cares about is whether he gets paid. Whether he wins or not. In that a car salesman is very much like a lawyer. It's not about guilt or innocence -- it's about winning the case by pushing your wares on 12 average men and women. Well, hand-picked as much as possible to be easy to sell to.

And given that the political class is almost exclusively from a legal background it becomes unsurprising why we see such theater in professional politics as well. None of which is meant to impugn lawyers; that's just the nature of the game. Especially when you have such a limited time in front of the jury to make your case.

But no, art is not the same as making a rational argument just as Mr. Tesón states. A rational argument is a dialogue that presumes that either yourself or the other party may be wrong in part or in whole. Art? Well, I could show you a painting of how Bugs Bunny died from friendly fire in Bagdad and isn't that horrible?

You could say it was the death of American ideals under wrong-headed notions of empire building. You could say it showed how we were justified by invading as the terrorists are striking out at our citizens and our culture. You could probably work in some statement about global warming.

Most people will just think worse of the War in Iraq because the painting made them sad. But I don't think anyone would claim that to be a rational argument or outcome.

And just in case the trial balloon doesn't float... Disclaimer: This post is just a joke. Don't y'all have a sense of humour?
12.16.2006 10:46am
liberty (mail) (www):
The thing about political art including satire, jokes, comics and film, is that it can simplify even further than an economist can get away with. It does not need to make its assumptions explicit, and it certainly tries to make converts to its point of view - win the implicit argument.

Given all of this, if you agree with it you will often find it to be be great. You will decide that the assumptions are true and obvious and it makes its point well. If you disagree with it, you'll call it propaganda instead of humor or art and it might even make you mad - because it depends on false assumptions and so on.

Because you can simpify so much, you can make broad sweeping statements in a single frame of a comic. I have a book here that my father gave me (he is friends with the author) called How 2 Take an Exam and Remake the World. The author is a Marxist and the book is full of cartoons. On page 41 there is a short "argument" made about businessmen being theives that runs essentially like this "Al Capone was anti-Bolshevik and wanted to prevent workers from becoming communists and he believed that everyone in America had opportunity - and he was a thief, therefore capitalism is thievery." Then he has a comic with the president of a bank watching it get robbed at gunpoint who mutters "amateurs."

Marxists are the masters of political art - propaganda - as we learned all through the 20th century. The simplified and agry, revolutionary worldview is attractive. Its easy to make the accusation and people want to believe it. Many of the comics in the book and the simple explanations are so alluring, I even want to believe them and I am a supreme anti-communist.
12.16.2006 11:53am
Salieri:
Not one similar to the Picasso painting. Picasso didn't show what the bombing of Guernica looks like; he showed distorted images, symbols, etc. designed to convey the idea that the bombing of Guernica was horrible.

I don't think the purpose of political art is to convert people to the artist's point of view by accepting the truth of position depicted. Guernica could be useful discourse in that it encourages people to pay closer attention to the events that inspired it.

In that sense it's fair to say political art cannot be used as evidence for its positions, but it's absolutely not a failure of discourse. You can contribute a lot by suggesting there are aspects of an issue your opponents may not have considered even if you aren't advancing an actual argument.
12.16.2006 11:55am
Mahan Atma (mail):
I disagree with the premise that emotion has no place in an argument.

One of the best video pieces I've seen regarding the war in Iraq was simply a collection of interviews with the families and friends of soldiers who had been killed in Iraq. The sheer intensity of the emotional pain displayed in the piece brought me to tears repeatedly.

Why isn't it entirely appropriate to consider the emotional pain and tragedy of death when judging the wisdom of war?

I'm not saying it's the *only* thing one should consider, but it is absolutely a substantial factor in the argument -- and it's something that you cannot adequately convey or demonstrate using only logic or statistics.

I think one of the main reasons we made the terrible mistake of invading Iraq in the first place is the fact that so many people were emotionally distanced and separated from the true impact of war. Perhaps if there had been more consideration for the potential tragedy that would ensue, we never would have made such a hideous blunder...
12.16.2006 12:19pm
liberty (mail) (www):
I think one of the main reasons we made the terrible mistake of invading Iraq in the first place is the fact that so many people were emotionally distanced and separated from the true impact of war. Perhaps if there had been more consideration for the potential tragedy that would ensue, we never would have made such a hideous blunder...

Maybe if we had felt the emotional impact of each of the American dead, as they died during WWII, we would have pulled out of that crazy war -- after all, fewer died at Pearl Harbor than at 9/11. Americans should never have gotten into that crazy war. If only we would have had embedded soldiers at that time and could have seen the greusome scenes of Normandy, of American soldiers jumping from planes and dying in trees before even landing on foreign soil. We should have interviewed their mothers to ask whether they wanted to see their son die before ever engaging the enemy. Besides, it was really an intra-European conflict and we had no business butting in. Is it our business whether some dictator invades his neighbor or kills his own people? And it wasn't Germany but Japan that attacked us! What were we doing invading Germany! If we took out every two-bit European dictator, what else would we ever do? And we allied with as brutal a dictator as Hitler in order to do it! If the American people knew how brutal Stalin was, would they ever have agreed? Maybe we should have interviewed some of Stalin's victims in the gulags, just to be sure to understand emtionally who we were joining forces with.
12.16.2006 12:40pm
Salieri:
I can see we haven't all been convinced by Teson's argument against sarcasm.
12.16.2006 12:50pm
Ken Arromdee:
Are you stating that the person is not making a claim and providing evidence for this? (The speaker, or in this case chanter, may be providing a the conclusion or minor premise of an enthymeme, which would still then consist of claim &evidence).

Right, that's what I'm stating.

It's always possible to read an implied argument into a slogan, or a painting. But if you do that, you're not treating the statement the way the speaker is intending. Yes, you could treat "down with the king" as a conclusion to an argument that has not been stated. But nobody chanting it expects the listener to analyze steps of a logical argument that has "the king should go down" as a conclusion and rationally decide whether the claim has merit.
12.16.2006 1:12pm
Ragerz (mail):
Tesón writes:

"I happen to believe that political positions should be supported by argument, not by force, deceit, or emotion."

How does one argue against, say, murder without reference to emotion (including least long-term sentiment)? There is no purely "rational" argument against what from the objective perspective of Physics is merely a rearrangement of atoms in the universe.

That Tesón's view makes it impossible to establish any morality at all is why it should be rejected.

Extreme fringe minority views like Tesón's are close to useless. Since his argument starts from an unreasonable premise, it cannot be persuasive to anyone.
12.16.2006 2:00pm
solon (mail) (www):
"It's always possible to read an implied argument into a slogan, or a painting. But if you do that, you're not treating the statement the way the speaker is intending."

I do not think your reasoning supports the conclusion in this case for two reasons.

First, in the case of the chanters, it may be very easy to determine the intent of the speaker, especially in relation to the context, which would most likely be some form of protest. It would be easier to deny this as an argument because there is no dialogical relationship between the sender and the receiver, or, the chanters and the audience.

Second, unless you speak in "syllogistic form," there are always implied components to an argument. This is separate from the "intent" of the speaker. For example, working with the "Down with the King chant," this would work as one premise to an enthymeme. No person, whether it was a chanter or speaker, would list off the major premise, minor premise, and conclusion within an argument-- it is neither practical nor desirable. Instead, an interlocutor will imply certain aspects of the argument and the audience will “fill this in.” This has nothing to do with intent of the speaker.

Further, with any argument, the intent of the speaker may be accepted or ignored—it depends on the audience, context, and argument. When claims are implicit there may be more room for the audience to alter the meaning of an argument, but this is inherent in any argument. This is not to imply any form of relativism; however, at times, arguments are unstable because meaning, either through language or other symbols such as art, is unstable.

Finally, you stated: “But nobody chanting it expects the listener to analyze steps of a logical argument that has "the king should go down" as a conclusion and rationally decide whether the claim has merit.”

I am not sure if any speaker asks the receiver to analyze every aspect of the argument. Even if you agree, disagree, or are unsure about a messgae, you may not think about each individual part of it. Analyzng every aspect of a message is part of a larger ideal speaking situation that may not occur in everyday life.
12.16.2006 2:09pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"Maybe if we had felt the emotional impact of each of the American dead, as they died during WWII, we would have pulled out of that crazy war"

I already stated that emotional pain and tragedy should not be the *only* factor considered, just that it should be considered, among other things.

Are you saying emotional damage to the victims of war is irrelevant?
12.16.2006 2:13pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Are you saying emotional damage to the victims of war is irrelevant?

No. My point is that if you make sure to bring the emotional pain of just some affected to the fore and it is the soldier's families of the country fighting, you will never get support for any war. In my example I highlighted that the same argument about emotional pain and suffering could have been made during WWII and there were an incredible number of victims in that war including hundreds of thousands of American soliders, their families, and an even larger number of allied soldiers and victims of the allied regime. Bringing all of that emotional suffering to the American people would quickly have sapped our will to fight that war.

Should we have done so anyway?

An argument can be made that we should have; but notice what is missing: the suffering of Hitler's victims. If we had also been shown the death camps it would quickly reverse the impact of the knwledge of our own suffering. This is your "other factors" to consider.

But did you suggest that we should have intimate accounts from the victims of Saddam's torture chambers, mass executions, war, chemical attacks, oppression and terror?

No, you only suggested that we interview families of American soldiers.
12.16.2006 2:37pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"No, you only suggested that we interview families of American soldiers."

Actually, I simply offered that as an example. I would have had nothing against looking at the emotional impact on Saddam's victims as well.

And given how much additional misery we've created among Iraq's civilian population -- undoubtedly more than Saddam would have if he'd been left in power -- I have no doubt that the balance of miseries would have dictated that we not invade.

And in retrospect, the majority of sensible people recognize this now.

"Bringing all of that emotional suffering to the American people would quickly have sapped our will to fight that war. "

I actually doubt that, myself. I think people are perfectly capable of considering emotional pain without abandoning all other considerations.
12.16.2006 2:45pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
But did you suggest that we should have intimate accounts from the victims of Saddam's torture chambers, mass executions, war, chemical attacks, oppression and terror?

Not to go off thread, but that's really not why we went to war in Iraq. First of all, nobody ever argued that the mass executions and chemical attacks were ongoing. The last mass executions in Iraq occurred in 1991 after the first Gulf War, and all the chemical attacks occurred during the period of the Iran-Iraq war with our tacit approval. So if we went to war to stop those we were at a minimum of twelve years too late.

As for the other nasty acts Saddam committed, he was hardly alone in that part of the world and barely the worst offender. In fact some of the people we buddied up to fight the war on terror make Saddam look like a choirboy. Remember our buddy Islom Karimov in Uzbekistan? Now there is a piece of work.

And btw, Germany declared war on us in World War II. You could at least try and get your historical facts right.
12.16.2006 3:04pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
political art cannot count as evidence for the political position it tries to advance.

Hm. So making us feel the plight of the poor either (1) isn't evidence, or (2) isn't political art? Where does that leave Les Miserables (the novel, NOT the musical)?

What the prof is doing is confusing an ethical position -- we *should not* let political art affect our political choices -- with a statement of fact.
12.16.2006 3:56pm
liberty (mail) (www):
"As for the other nasty acts Saddam committed, he was hardly alone in that part of the world and barely the worst offender. In fact some of the people we buddied up to fight the war on terror make Saddam look like a choirboy. Remember our buddy Islom Karimov in Uzbekistan? Now there is a piece of work."

As I said, if we tried to take out every two-bit dictator... (Hitler was not alone at that time either) and we buddied up with Stalin in WWII. I not only conceded that point, but I raised you some analogies from WWII.

"And btw, Germany declared war on us in World War II. You could at least try and get your historical facts right."

You could at least quote me correctly, I said Japan attacked us, not Germany, and this is historically accurate.
12.16.2006 4:25pm
markm (mail):

By the way, Triumph of the Will is most certainly evidence for the central argument of the Nazis, along with being art that is most definitely not leftist.

Fascism was (and is) a form of leftism. Socialism crushes individuality and elevates the state to absolute power; Hitler and Mussolini merely differed from other leftists in admitting these effects, and regarding them as among their goals. Socialism opens up opportunities for massive corruption; Hitler wanted to create those opportunities for his thuggish buddies. Socialism often causes such privation that the government has to distract the population with foreign enemies; Hitler rather went overboard that way...

There are plenty of real examples of non-leftist art. Some of them (Ayn Rand's books, for instance), are even as bad as most leftist propaganda...
12.16.2006 8:50pm
Waldensian (mail):

Fascism was (and is) a form of leftism.

The fundamental areas of agreement between Hitler, Barney Frank, Mussolini, and Jane Fonda are not apparent to me.

People who describe everything that is bad as "leftist" are, in the end, simply using the word "leftist" to mean "everything that is bad." So used, the word becomes largely devoid of meaning. But it is fun to use the word this way. For example:

The Backstreet Boys were (and are) a form of leftism.
12.17.2006 12:11am
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
Fascism was (and is) a form of leftism.

When describing relationships in such vague terms, up can be a form of down, death can be a form of life, plants can be a form of animals... We get that you think liberals are Nazis; did you have something to say about Triumph of the Will?

---

People who describe everything that is bad as "leftist" are, in the end, simply using the word "leftist" to mean "everything that is bad."

Actually, I think markm's rant is a product of "fascism" and "socialism" losing their meanings and becoming "everything that is bad."
12.17.2006 12:44am
Crunchy Frog:
Anderson - after slogging through 1600 or so pages of the unabridged version of Les Mis, I feel much more edified from the eight chapters devoted to the 18th Century Parisian sewer system. Or having the first 95 pages telling me why the bishop gave Jean Valjean his candlesticks. If any author ever needed an editor, it was Victor Hugo.
12.17.2006 1:07am
Andy Freeman (mail):
The surgery scenes I've depicted are horrific

These scenes were caused by the surgery

The surgery was caused by doctors

If you do not like the scenes I've depicted, that is one reason not to like doctors

If you DO like doctors, you must at least acknowledge or accept that part of their actions have caused the scenes that I have depicted.

That seems to be a sound, logical argument to me.
12.17.2006 2:54am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
You could at least quote me correctly, I said Japan attacked us, not Germany, and this is historically accurate.

What you said was:

And it wasn't Germany but Japan that attacked us! What were we doing invading Germany! If we took out every two-bit European dictator, what else would we ever do?


While it may have been true that Japan physically attacked us, Germany formally declared war on us December 11, 1941. The German Charge D'Affaires and the First Secretary of the German Embassy hand delivered the declaration, signed by Ribbontrop, to the Chief of the European Division of the State Department (they had requested a meeting with the Secretary of State, but he was unavailable). What were we supposed to do, ignore it? And Germany had already violated our neutrality by sinking American-flagged ships, and Roosevelt in turn had ordered that all German warships and planes be sunk or shot down on sight.
12.17.2006 8:57am
markm (mail):
Waldensian: "The fundamental areas of agreement between Hitler, Barney Frank, Mussolini, and Jane Fonda are not apparent to me." Keep studying, and don't just stop with what they claim to want; look at what the policies they advocate actually accomplish.
12.17.2006 8:31pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Keep studying, and don't just stop with what they claim to want; look at what the policies they advocate actually accomplish.

The definition of fascism is an authoritarian and militaristic regime marked by extreme nationalism. Considering that the right consistently calls Jane Fonda and Barney Frank traitors and worse, I think the comparison fail on that point alone.

While it is true that both the Italian fascist and Nazi party were nominally "socialist" in their roots (and Mussolini started out as an honest-to-God putative socialist), and may have spouted socialist rhetoric in their respective marches to power, their use of power was hardly socialist. Just because the fascists in Spain called themselves "Republicans", doesn't mean the Spanish fascists were conservatives either.

If you look at the goals and policies of the Nazi party once they reached power, their economic policies were certainly crony capitalism with a good dose of kleptocracy, and plain old fashioned modified feudalism (in that the lands would be owned outright by the tenants, not held in trust for the Fuhrer) for the occupied territories of Eastern Europe. The plan for Eastern Europe was to give the confiscated lands of the untermenschen to good German stock for farming. The surviving slavs would become serfs on their former lands working for German landlords.
12.18.2006 9:31am