Inauthentic Culture and Its Philosophical Critics


218 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-1676-X
DDC 306'.01





Reviewed by Peter Babiak

Peter Babiak teaches English at the University of British Columbia.


The issue under consideration in Newman’s book is the “social
problem” of inauthentic culture. “Culture” does not simply refer
to literature, art, and music, but includes all things “that people
create or promote that are in some way appropriated or taken up, or
meant to be appropriated or taken up, by other human beings.” As for
the problem of “inauthentic culture,” this points to the dilemmas we
feel—dishonesty, lack of respect, irresponsibility—when cultural
producers “have not lived up to some at least implicit
understanding” of what we expect of them. The argument, briefly
stated, is that the existence of inauthentic products symbolizes “the
devaluation of such fundamental moral ideals as justice, responsibility,
dignity, integrity, and concern for others.”

Unfortunately, Newman delays providing examples of what all this means
until the final chapter, although it is very clear he is a cultural
conservative. The strongest of the first six chapters are those where he
devotes himself to the expository tasks of his discipline (he is a
professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph). He provides a
convincing reconsideration of Plato as a “cultural” critic who saw
in intellectual and religious creations “certain fixed patterns that
later came to be understood as ‘cultural.’” And his claim that
Nietzsche, after Plato, is the most influential philosopher of culture
is relevant for no other reason than that it refutes the nihilism so
thoughtlessly attributed to this German aristocratic radical and
reclassifies him as a cultural “perfectionist.” In particular,
Newman’s claim that Nietzsche believes culture develops only when
bright people “cultivate in themselves and their society a unified
‘artistic style’ that is in harmony with the highest potentialities
and aspirations” will affront academics still charmed by the silly
idea that Nietzsche is a professed enemy of all standardized values.

The closest Newman comes to a substantive core in this book is the last
chapter, “Contemporary Applications,” where he brings his classical
and conservative preferences to bear on modern society: television—an
obvious target for cultural conservatives—represents the collective
hallucination Plato criticizes in his allegory of the cave; public
relations people are like the inauthentic sophists of ancient Greece;
environmentalists and health aficionados are modern exemplars of
Plato’s “simple life”; academics can advocate cultural reforms
provided the academy is protected from the “corruptions” of the
world, as both Plato and Nietzsche thought it should be. Many political
pundits but few cultural critics would embrace classical and
conservative ideals with Newman’s tenacity. It may be an outdated
thesis, but it is a useful book for precisely the same reason.


Newman, Jay., “Inauthentic Culture and Its Philosophical Critics,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 22, 2024,