I’ve been reading Virginia Postrel’s much-discussed The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness, and finding it stimulating, though I’m struck by the failure of most reviewers to see how fundamentally political it is. Postrel, after all, is an ideologue. Specifically, she’s a libertarian, one who believes that individual liberty is an absolute value, a universal trump card that tops all other values. This conviction is indissolubly commingled with her belief, stated at the beginning of The Substance of Style, that “aesthetic value is subjective and can be discovered only through experience, not deduced in advance.” Me, I’m not a libertarian, and so am able to recognize that the first half of that sentence is untrue, even though I agree completely with the second half.
I’m also struck by the fact that Postrel, for all the delight she takes in the aesthetic appeal of our hyper-designed, choice-driven world, seems oddly, even weirdly indifferent to certain fundamental values of art. Consider the following passage from her book:
A new art market has developed: upscale wall d