Institutional criticism is the aesthetic equivalent of the planned economy. Rather than leave populational cultural preferences and reactions to the aggregate of individual responses, with all the error and redundancy that this implies, we will have critical planners that teach the appropriate modes of engagement and, through penalising exams, the acceptable judgments.
This trend has deep roots, as do all inclinations to determine globally chaotic and locally complex phenomena according to a rationalized plan with a narrow intellectual base; but the emergence of the main phase at the end of the nineteenth century, and the beginning of the twentieth, is closely correlated with other similar movements in British thought. Academic literary criticism is about as old as fashionable socialism in Britain.
But planning has in any case a strong aesthetic element. Planners are guilty of that elementary error, the confusion of map and territory. They mistake the plan's informational purity for freedom from error and waste, not appreciating that this is authentic poverty and that opulent redundance is inherent in the real world, and in fact desirable, being part of the wealth of opportunity that mounts what defences can be brought against changing circumstances and emergency.
Furthermore, insofar as planners are able to enforce the plan's purity, they weaken that society since it will lack the variety of intellectual content – some of it error in the prevailing contexts – that makes it able to respond to the changes and the crises that emerge in spite of the plan. Mistakes can be saved by the passage of time, and become unexpectedly valuable.
The concept of the excluded context is also relevant here. In aesthetic situations we know that it is possible to guillotine off or edit out information that pollutes the tableau with ancestors or consequences, or with tediously clarifying detail. The framing of the picture, the temporal territory before and after the start and end of even the most spiritual of novels, the lost behavioural soil from which the psycho-plant grows and produces a lyric blossom, all these contribute to its qualities. Similarly, the 'plan' suffers from a tendency to presume a static, atemporal society, from which external shocks are excluded by simple neglect.
This suggestion, that economic planning has an aesthetic element, is a sharp edged blade, and not to be neglected due to an apparent or superficial distinction, namely that the dismal science is notably lacking in joy, though that is also true. All philosophic systems, and socio-economic planning is an attempt to apply a worldview like any systemic philosophy, have their aesthetic attractions, not least that they offer the reader the potential of taking an intellectual purchase on a world that otherwise slips through our nervous fingers.
Like a pure philosophical system, the plan must be couched at a level of abstraction so high that it can claim to universal descriptive, explanatory, and predictive power. It is this level of abstraction that renders aesthetics open to error, for some phenomena are so complex that abstract accounts are only very approximately true, however pleasing they may seem to be. And in the realm of economics this approximate nature is more or less fatal, since micro-economic phenomena are a fertile source of developments that may lead to systemwide transformations rendering the plan redundant.
The aesthetic attraction of fiction, that it presents depleted, informationally poor, but hyper-integrated networks of causal relations with little or no redundancy, is also true of socio-economic plans. Moreover, just as this scheme is shielded by arbitrary termination from the problem of infinite extension (no novel need or should have an end), all plans have a state in which no further change is deemed possible that is worthy of notice. History comes to an end but, paradoxically, they all live happily ever after.
Still, it should never be forgotten that novels are written for the satisfaction of those outside the story, for the author and the reader. Plans, too, are aesthetic in this respect; they serve the interests of those making the plans and of those observing them. They are a joy to behold, rich in links and satisfyingly comprehensible, unplagued by clutter, unknowns, unknowables, redundancy, and, most delightful of all, they have a sense of an ending, an arbitrary termination that is dressed as a necessary and inevitable stop. – Peace, stability, the just society. History comes to an end.