Political Art and Artful Politics

We speak as readily of the art of politics as we do of the art of cooking or writing, and what we have in mind in each case is what the French call savoir faire. This sense of "art" claims excellence for the activity of which the term is predicated, and since to know what to do and how to do it makes perhaps more difference in politics than in anything else, this well-established usage seems unobjectionable. And yet, praising politics as an art is somewhat misleading and may have disastrous consequences, because politics is not really an art, and its excellence is in some essential respects diametrically opposed to all but the most limited sense of "art."

Cooking is indeed an art, but we may do better contrasting politics with poetry or composition or painting, that is, the so-called "fine arts," which most philosophers see as our way of rising above our earthly daily experiences. For instance, Schelling describes a work of art as "the infinite finitely represented." Similarly, locating its essence in what he calls "style," Goethe believes that art penetrates "the essence of things, insofar as it is granted to us to know this in visible and tangible forms." Croce may be said to translate that thought into Italian when he proclaims that "an aspiration enclosed in the circle of representation—that is art." And Maritain may be said to do Croce one better...

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