On Beauty Saving the World
Throughout this twenty-five year exploration Wolfe has struggled with the most nagging characteristic of the time, i.e., the tendency of modern consciousness to reduce all forms of cultural expression to the status of propaganda, leaving those who would strive for the spiritual redemption of our culture with few strategies other than political action. Wolfe, like many religiously committed and philosophically grounded young people during the “Reagan Revolution,” aligned himself with conservatives, as they offered the best hope for preserving the cultural and religious traditions that the progressive left seemed bent on replacing with a secular materialist worldview. Unfortunately, the conservative resurgence that began in the 1950s was so focused on economics, politics, and diplomacy that its chief architects largely ignored culture, other than to malign the eccentricities of “modern” art and literature. Owing to what Wolfe describes as an “aversion” to the imagination, conservatives have both yielded the cultural turf to the left, and set themselves in permanent opposition to it. Wolfe’s experiences as a young politico led him to the conclusion that “conservatives were so deeply alienated from modern culture that they had retreated from any serious engagement with it.”
Christians too (although it is probably safe to assume that Wolfe is referring primarily to conservative Christians) have been guilty of this dis-engagement from culture. As he observes:
It is my conviction that the Christian community, despite its many laudable efforts to preserve traditional morality and the social fabric, has abdicated its stewardship of culture and more importantly, has frequently chosen ideology rather than imagination when approaching the challenges of the present.
There is no shortage of evidence, particularly in recent years, to show that the religious right has been indifferent if not inept on questions of culture, and Wolfe knows that the solution to the cultural—and moral—gap between left and right will not be solved merely by an expansion of conservative power. He suggests, rather, that if we recognize that “art is one of the few things that can still bind us together (15),” and that artistic creativity is “a constant invitation to virtue,” we may recapture the artistic aspirations of our pre-modern Christian heritage—through the modalities of modern aesthetics. This, Wolfe argues, is the single best hope for redeeming the mind, soul, and spirit of a divided world.