This dissertation defends state support of the arts as an educational public good. It begins with a critique of the traditional justification for subsidy, the appeal to cultural perfection. By challenging the perfectionist position from two distinct perspectives--political and aesthetic--this critique reveals the potential value of constructing a plausible, nonperfectionist alternative. The dissertation then works to develop such an alternative by appealing to the instrumental potential of art as an educational public good. Unlike the perfectionist approach based on the intrinsic value of art, this justification is founded on a general commitment to democratic self-rule. After defending a particular account of this commitment and its implications for educational policy, the dissertation works to show how art can serve as a valuable component in an overall scheme of democratic education.
The positive argument for art's democratic value consists of three distinct elements. The first draws on Aristotle, Kant, and Hannah Arendt in explicating several structural similarities that exist between aesthetic and political judgments. The second element describes how interpretation is essential to both engaging art and participating in politics. Taken together, these first two elements of the argument describe how art and politics both engage--and thus practice--many of the same skills and abilities. The third element of the argument explores the potential political value (and political risks) of the state's encouraging citizens to engage a diversity of cultural expressions.
The dissertation concludes by describing several policy implications of the democratically-based justification of subsidy (e.g., increased local control over subsidy decisions), and by evaluating the justification in light of the best arguments against subsidy. These include a libertarian argument from self-ownership, Joel Feinberg's argument based on the Benefit Principle, an objection from moral offense, and several objections from state neutrality.