Especially considering that aesthetic criteria are essentially individual matters, and that certain works and performances may be regarded as offensive by some part of society

There is also a pragmatic argument that some such spending ends up generating money, employment, tourism and the like, but I'm more interested in the issue of "government acting as arbiter of taste", so to speak.

  • "should" according to what standard? And allowed by whom? Please edit to clarify
    – Lowri
    Commented May 2 at 19:22
  • @Lowri answers are expected to pick some reference/framework and use them; this much should be obvious
    – ac15
    Commented May 2 at 19:25

4 Answers 4


You ask:

in a democratic society, should governments be allowed to pay for or fund artistic/cultural works and performances using taxpayers' money?

And in response to "'should' according to what standard?", you clarify that:

answers are expected to pick some reference/framework and use them

For this answer, I will pick and use the reference/framework of democratic legitimacy.

Under the framework of democratic legitimacy, governments should be allowed to pay for and fund artistic and/or cultural works using money that came from taxpayers. I am assuming that the taxation legislation was enacted by a democratically legitimate legislature, and that the government making the spending decisions is either elected directly (in a republic) or supported by Parliament (e.g. Canada or the U.K.).

  • 2
    That is the model. I just wonder if things aren't rather more complicated now than under previous democratic situations? And people less uniform in their preferences. What if we outgrow democracy?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 2 at 21:26
  • 2
    In a sharply split society, there are no common values that people can trust their government to propagate into the masses. Republicans removed liberal books from school libraries in Florida, and so on. Commented May 2 at 21:27
  • 1
    This answer could be improved by explaining why democratically legitimate legislature helps justifying this (e.g. because it makes sure that the law furthers a common interest)
    – wra
    Commented May 3 at 4:04
  • @wra is right: as is stands, this answer is a 'link-only answer', and not informative at all
    – ac15
    Commented May 3 at 14:15
  • @ac15 but what if it is the correct answer?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 3 at 19:52

A democratic government exists to implement the will of the population.

If the population wants there to be publicly available art, then the government should make it so.

If the population does not, they should not.

The problem is of course that "the population" is not a uniform group. They have different opinions on what is important and what is not. This is what makes democracy so difficult.

Weather Vane made a good comment to the question:

Maybe but to me (as said) the question extends to be more general: "Why should my tax revenue be spent on anything I don't like?"

This is true.

  • 2
    We could have a system where people decide how their personal tax contributions will be allocated. Businesses want this power too, they already try to decide what medical care their employees can receive through the employer-funded healthcare. The highest form of government is for everyone to be dictator of their stuff, I guess. We just need a much larger planet.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 3 at 12:19
  • the question is not so broad to include " 'anything' i don't like", read the first paragraph
    – ac15
    Commented May 3 at 14:17
  • @ScottRowe Businesses want this power too, they already try to decide what medical care their employees can receive through the employer-funded healthcare Perhaps you have a typo here? If it is employer funded, they have every right to decide how their money should be spent, unlike taxation, where others' money is in question.
    – Vector
    Commented May 3 at 20:50
  • A very good answer, and it brings us to the important question: what is the role of the elite in modern western democracy? Can the educated professional minority decide what is good for the less educated and even ignorant majority? Commented May 3 at 21:23
  • The Soviets tried that with mixed results. What was good for the people was bad for society as a whole. One system benefited the development of the human bean while the other stimulated economic growth. What is more important? Can you combine these systems? Commented May 3 at 21:30

Yes, because if you take the German perspective (Read The Management of Opera by Agid on European opera funding model, for example), art exists outside of the profit arena and in the “being mode”. People need to go to places of belonging, and exchange perspectival learning. This is thought along the lines of philosophers like Erich Fromm. Art should be subsidized as public good and protected by free speech in order to give tools to critique power, to “become”, to integrate, etc. - the being mode

  • 1
    If the German government paid for music, could they also order the music? Meaning, if they pay money, can they also choose what is good for people and what is not so good? Commented May 3 at 18:17
  • 1
    In popular culture (music, movies, TV shows), the lowest denominator is always beating real high art, similar to fast food. Commented May 3 at 18:23
  • 1
    Stupidification of the masses is a big problem that no one talks about. Commented May 3 at 18:29
  • 1
    "And what is good, @TheMatrixEquation-balance, and what is not good. Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?"
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 3 at 19:49
  • 2
    @TheMatrixEquation-balance the problem was that in the USSR, after a while they blamed all the smart people and then imprisoned or killed them. Not a good incentive system. Lots of people in the USA have been blamed unfairly also. Don't bite the hand that's getting enough food to grow, and making electricity for the fridge, and healing your sick children, and and and... We deserve what we create and support. If we cut support for things that help, we deserve to fail. Evolution always wins.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 4 at 0:15

This is an extremely important question. But this topic is taboo in American politics even though their model of imported (by European immigrants) culture and values does not work anymore.

A large portion of people in the US grow up like grass, with an absolute minimum of cultural and intellectual background. If you don't agree with me, just watch what kids watch on TV.

At the same time, any investment from the government in good books, good movies, good music for kids - is considered propaganda and strictly prohibited.

But as always, there is a positive side to it. A lot of Americans try to fill this cultural and intellectual void by putting all their energy into their professional activities.

  • 3
    Yes, we are surpassing Japan in deaths from overwork.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 2 at 21:24
  • 2
    When I was younger, I was afraid of the Mad Max world. But we ran out of sense before we ran out of oil.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 2 at 21:52
  • 1
    If we develop fusion, there's no limit. We could go on for millions of years.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 2 at 21:59
  • 1
    @ScottRowe for some, at least as far as Golgafrincham. Commented May 2 at 22:03
  • 2
    @wra - Philosophy is like a family doctor, and treats all kinds of disorders. Commented May 3 at 14:23

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