The Politics of Apolitical Culture: The Congress for Cultural Freedom, the CIA and Post-War American Hegemony

The Politics of Apolitical Culture: The Congress for Cultural Freedom, the CIA and Post-War American Hegemony

The Politics of Apolitical Culture: The Congress for Cultural Freedom, the CIA and Post-War American Hegemony

The Politics of Apolitical Culture: The Congress for Cultural Freedom, the CIA and Post-War American Hegemony

Synopsis

This book analyses a key episode in the cultural Cold War - the formation of the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Whilst the Congress was established to defend cultural values and freedom of expression in the Cold War Struggle, its close association with the CIA later undermined its claims to intellectual independence or non-political autonomy. By examining the formation of the Congress and its early years of existence in relation to broader issues of US-European relations, Giles Scott-Smith reveals a more complex interpretation of the story. The Politics of Apolitical Culture provides an in-depth picture of the various links between the political, economic and cultural realms which led to the Congress.

Excerpt

This book is something of a 'crossover' text, covering political economy, Gramscian theory, intellectual history and archival analysis of a particular episode in the early Cold War period. It looks at the formation and consolidation of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) by placing its history in the context of post-war US-European relations between 1945 and 1955. This was the period when there was a clear coalescence between the intellectual concerns and the political and economic interests of key groups on both sides of the Atlantic. By the mid-1950s, with the Atlantic alliance secured, the Congress began to turn its attention to relations with the Third World, a path that will not be followed here. the ccf can best be seen as a vital cultural-intellectual component to that Atlanticism, a 'normative' institution that linked with broader political and economic motives.

In order to explore these linkages between the political, economic and cultural realms, the ccf is viewed via the conception of hegemony put forward by Antonio Gramsci. To approach the Congress via Gramsci raises some important questions. If the ccf was to a degree a hegemonic instrument of American foreign policy, what were the ideas and cultural values that were being instrumentalised, and how did they link with the dominant political and economic interests of the time? What were the political and economic interests that led to this instrumentalisation of cultural activity in the first place? If it is accepted, as it should be, that these ideas and cultural values had their own semi-autonomous development aside from any instrumental political intervention that occurred, what was their importance in the cultural realm itself? One of the most important aspects to the Congress as a normative institution is that it made more explicit the cultural-intellectual concerns that were already present. Recognition of this fact, and the complexity that it involves, is necessary in order to better appreciate the CIA's role and the historical context in which these events occurred.

Any analysis of political influence in the cultural realm can tend to undermine the actual legitimacy of the culture as culture, and the intricacies of the semi-autonomous, contingent development of cultural-intellectual activity. Arguments are often reduced to an emphasis either on the autonomy or the dependence of art, neither being particularly satisfactory for the broadening of

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