What does a twenty-year-old article tell us about conservatives?


The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) “is an independent federal agency that funds, promotes, and strengthens the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation.” The NEA “works with other federal agencies, state and local governments, state and regional arts agencies, and private nonprofits on national initiatives.” NEA funding “is project-based and goes to thousands of nonprofits each year, along with partnerships and special arts initiatives, research and other support that contribute to the vitality of our neighborhoods, students and schools, workplace and culture.” In fiscal year 2016, “the NEA recommended more than 2,400 grants in nearly 16,000 communities in every Congressional District in the country.” Its budget for fiscal year 2017 (which ended on Sept. 30, 2018) was about $153 million.

Although the NEA was established in 1965, most Americans probably never heard of the agency until the late 1980s when it was revealed that it had funded blasphemous and pornographic art like the photograph “Piss Christ” by Andres Serrano that depicted a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass tank of the artist’s urine and the self-portrait photograph of Robert Mapplethorpe with a bullwhip inserted in his anus.

I recently came across an article written in 1997 by a conservative and published by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. In “Ten Good Reasons to Eliminate Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts,” Laurence Jarvik gave ten reasons to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for Arts:

  • Reason #1: The Arts Will Have More Than Enough Support without the NEA
  • Reason #2: The NEA Is Welfare for Cultural Elitists
  • Reason #3: The NEA Discourages Charitable Gifts to the Arts
  • Reason #4: The NEA Lowers the Quality of American Art
  • Reason #5: The NEA Will Continue to Fund Pornography
  • Reason #6: The NEA Promotes Politically Correct Art
  • Reason #7: The NEA Wastes Resources
  • Reason #8: The NEA Is Beyond Reform
  • Reason #9: Abolishing the NEA Will Prove to the American Public that Congress Is Willing to Eliminate Wasteful Spending
  • Reason #10: Funding the NEA Disturbs the U.S. Tradition of Limited Government

Although these things are all true, and although Jarvik nicely supported each reason with relevant facts and figures, they are not good reasons to eliminate funding for the NEA.

Jarvik’s ten reasons inadvertently reveal what is wrong with conservatives.

Suppose the arts would not have enough support without the NEA. Suppose the NEA did not just benefit cultural elitists. Suppose the NEA did not discourage charitable gifts to the arts. Suppose the NEA did not lower the quality of art. Suppose the NEA did not fund pornography. Suppose the NEA did not promote politically correct art. Suppose the NEA did not waste resources.

Suppose the NEA was not beyond reform. Suppose abolishing the NEA would not prove that Congress is willing to eliminate wasteful spending. Suppose funding the NEA did not disturb the U.S. tradition of limited government.

Then would it be okay for the federal government to fund the NEA?

Of course it wouldn’t.

What conservatives lack when it comes to the question of government funding of the NEA is any philosophical objections to unconstitutional federal agencies, illegitimate purposes of government, and income-transfer programs. And the same thing is true today. Why else do you think we have a federal budget of over $4 trillion with Republican control of both Houses of Congress and a Republican sitting in the White House?

The attitude of conservatives toward agencies like the NEA is the same as their attitude toward medical grants by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and programming by NPR. It is only when the NIH doles out money for outrageous things and NPR blatantly promotes liberal causes that conservatives generally get upset. They are otherwise content that these agencies exist.

Here are some good reasons to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts:

  • Reason#1: The Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government to operate an endowment for the arts.
  • Reason#2: The Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government to fund the arts.
  • Reason#3: The Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government to give welfare to any individual or group for any reason.
  • Reason#4: All funding for the arts should be private and voluntary because all charity should be private and voluntary.
  • Reason#5: The government has no business taking money from some Americans and giving it to other Americans—for any reason.
  • Reason#6: The government should not subsidize the arts because it should not subsidize anything.
  • Reason#7: It is not the purpose of government to do anything that can be done by the free market.
  • Reason#8: All government programs should be abolished, not reformed.
  • Reason#9: If artists can’t sell their work on the free market, then they should change careers.
  • Reason#10: The NEA should be abolished immediately, all of its grants canceled, and all of its employees laid off.

Why don’t we ever hear reasons like these from conservatives? I thought they believed in the Constitution and limited government?

Although, like last year, President Trump proposed in his budget to drastically cut the NEA’s funding for the next fiscal year, Republicans in Congress are on course, again, to increase the agency’s funding.

The Interior, Environment, Financial Services and General Government, Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act, 2019 (H.R.6147) would fund the NEA in fiscal 2019 along with a host of other unconstitutional government agencies. The bill passed the House by a vote of 217-199. All of the Democrats and only 15 Republicans voted against it. The bill, amended, passed the Senate by a vote of 92-6. Only 6 Republicans voted against it. And yet, every Republican in Congress runs on a platform of how conservative he is.

Conservatives haven’t changed. The only limited government they desire is a government limited to control by conservatives.

This article was originally published at LewRockwell.com, and is reposted here under a CreativeCommons 4.0 license.

Laurence M. Vance
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