Indeed, it seems to me that in trying to argue against swift dismissals of filmmakers like Fellini who make "art for arts sake," you have yourself suggested a swift dismissal of anyone who would advance a political reading of film. Art doesn't "transcend" politics; it exists in a productive and uneasy tension with politics, history, and life. I think we should embrace the difficulty of keeping this tension alive rather than trying to resolve it one way or the other.
Well I do think it's problematic when someone dismisses Persona or Stravinsky on such political grounds but then goes on to make a case for Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45 or Tony Scott.
What I dislike is when people use work that's vastly inferior on an aesthetic level as a club with which to beat say Persona or Rite of Spring on political grounds. In other words, yes, I do have a problem with vulgar auteurism, as if it were a more noble egalitarian replacement for the traditional notion of "high culture". It's one thing to merely prefer Bunuel or Fassbinder to Bergman, but it's something else entirely to make a case for Tony Scott while suggesting an affection for Bergman or Haneke is indicative of nothing more than pseudo-highbrow bourgeois notions of culture.
Now you could certainly suggest the films of Fellini, Bergman, and even Haneke for that matter aren't all that radical or disruptive from a formal standpoint, but again, I'd say that remains open for debate. Then again, perhaps in spite of my general predilection for the likes of Rivette, Akerman, and such, I just happen to have a huge soft spot for traditional "arthouse" cinema, which I need to address and resolve.
As a comparison to one's affection for traditional "arthouse" cinema, how can one be a Francophile and not love foie gras, even if consuming it in excess may eventually be harmful, even if taking in the flavor in moderation enriches the soul. I don't know.
The thing about the high modernists is if they were elitist, reactionary, and so intent on bringing us back to a "better" time where the aristocracy had the final say why would they create such formally radical work? We can't exactly take a work's "content" or an artist's "political" views at face value. Does a 'socially conscious' but formally derivative writer like Arthur Miller honestly disrupt the status quo anymore than Pound or Stravinsky does? Are the Arthur Millers and Diego Riveras a viable solution to the Pounds and Heideggers of the world?
I agree Godard and Bergman were not misogynist, although many people don't. Picasso on the other hand...