Sohrab Ahmari’s The New Philistines is a crisp and concise polemic. While the book’s focus is “a crisis in the art world,” Ahmari’s dissection of modern art’s failure has implications for the trajectory of the entire liberal Western project.
As Ahmari notes, the complaint that bad art is being considered good is as old as civilization. Ahmari argues persuasively, however, that what is going wrong now is “qualitatively worse than all that came before” because the custodians of our heritage have not redefined the standards of objective beauty and at least a search for truth but have discarded them.
In place of the old standards is a cult of identity politics—a mix of “radical feminism, racial grievance, anti-capitalism, and queer theory”—that has no need for truth-seeking; “truth” is only a means of inflicting upon people an order that is racist, sexist, and homophobic by design, according to the identitarians, which is why their pre-set answers and simply inept art is acceptable, because it advances the cause of challenging this unjust system.
Identity politicization is “one calamity among many” in the art world, yet it has implications far and wide. The identitarians’ own relativistic logic divides the human species into competing tribes whose only interest should be a search for power. With this, the identitarians lay bare their illiberal heart and the danger they pose well beyond the art world.
Ahmari has three chapters. The first covers the reopening of Shakespeare’s Globe and its takeover by the identitarians. The second examines Artforum, the leading contemporary arts magazine in the United States. And in the third Ahmari gives a tour of the London arts scene. Continue reading