To what degree should museums, artists, or theatres be devoting their efforts to political issues, to use their art to highlight the threat of climate change, the plight of refugees, or other pressing questions? The question is not a new one. In the late 1930s, emerging from the Great Depression, and with a global war looming only two decades after the end of a vastly destructive world war, artists and presenters were asking the same question. In 1939, the literary journal Scrutiny, edited by the renowned scholar F.R Leavis, invited a group of public intellectuals to weigh in on the “Claims of Politics” on the arts. The British conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott was one of the contributors, with the view that artists best served humanity not by immersing themselves in politics, but rather by maintaining the arts as a mode of human interaction removed from the political world.
The Michael Oakeshott Association is meeting this September in Lisbon, and Michael Rushton will discuss Oakeshott on the Claims of Politics, the influence of R.G. Collingwood’s Principles of Art on Oakeshott’s thought, the environment in which the Scrutiny symposium was convened, and comparisons to the debate in the present day.