“Morton Feldman once had a spirited argument with Stefan Wolpe about the ends of art. Feldman, the avant-gardist, championed a conception of art for beauty’s sake, whereas Wolpe, the Marxist, insisted that art was for the people—for the man in the street—for that guy over there, he said, pointing out the window of his austere studio in Greenwich Village to a pedestrian at the corner waiting to cross. When they looked more closely at him, at the random figure who was representative of the people, they saw that he was Jackson Pollock. A funny story, except that the dream of democratic deliberation is something like it.
Here is Mill’s version of the dream: “to enable average human beings to attain the mental stature which they are capable of.” The egalitarianism of the intellect! The aim of freedom of thought, Mill contended, is not “solely, or chiefly, to form great thinkers,” but to create “an intellectually active people.”
“An intellectually active people”—is this idealism, or is it a hallucination?
A democracy imposes an extraordinary intellectual responsibility upon ordinary people. Our system is finally determined by what our citizenry thinks. This is thrilling and this is terrifying.”