Robert Hughes was a grumpy old leftie but he could see some things coming that he did not like. A few extracts from The Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America, 1993.
We create an infantilized culture of complaint, in which Big Daddy is always to blame and the expansion of rights goes on without the other half of citizenship – attachment to rights and obligations. To be infantile is a regressive way to defy the stress of community living: Don’t tread on me, I’m vulnerable. The emphasis is on the subjective: how we feel about things, not on what we think or can know.
On anti-westernism and the corruption of the arts.
It means separatism. It alleges that European institutions and mental structures are inherently oppressive and that non-European ones are not. This process has gravely distorted current ideas about the political capacity of the arts, just at the moment when the pervasiveness of the mass media have driven them to the nadir of real political effect. The frame of mind that this creates is a rich compost for phantom cultural issues, and a poor environment for clear thought about real ones.
On the decline of reading and liberal eduction
Most American students don’t read much anyway and quite a few, left to their own devices, would not read at all. In 1991 the majority of households (60%, the same as in Spain) did not buy one single book…No American university can assume that its first-year students are literate in a more than technical sense. It is hard to exaggerate the narrowness of reference, the indifference to reading, the lightly dimpled shallowness of many young products of American TV culture, even the privileged ones…Politics ought not to be all-pervasive. Indeed, one of the first conditions of freedom is to discoer the line beyond which politics may not go, and literature is one of the means by which the young find this out.
…a barely concealed longing for cultural segregation. It corresponds to one of the most corrosive currents in the Amerian polity today – corrosive I mean to any idea of common civic ground – which is to treat the alleged cultural and educational needs of groups (women, blacks, Latinos, Chinese-Americans, gays, you name it) as though they overrode the needs of any individual and were all, automatically, at odds with the allegedly monolithic desires of a ruling class, alternatively fiendish and condescending, of white male heterosexual capitalists.