The Tyranny of Democratic Politics

In his classic history of the Lombard Communes—the finally doomed medieval republics of Northern Italy—W.F. Butler suggests that the creative and individualistic nature of the Italian people favored a rich cultural life over a stable political one.  This could explain why modern Italy, historically a politically dysfunctional country, is nevertheless a civilized and delightful one.  She represents the triumph of the cultural over the political.  The United States, by comparison, suffers from the supremacy of politics over culture.

Americans have always preferred the political to any other aspect of civilization.  It is as much our national sport as baseball or football, perhaps even more so.  Americans would rather watch political talk shows in the evening than attend an operatic or theatrical performance, or go to a formal dinner party; they prefer to read the memoirs of some utterly ephemeral contemporary politician rather than a novel by Austen, Turgenev, or Faulkner.  Tied only with sports heroes, nationally recognized politicians are America’s ultimate celebrities in a society where publicity, the creator of celebrity, guides, dominates, and determines everything.  In America, the quickest way to fame and fortune is politics, an activity for which no real talent is required.  It is unsurprising that politicians should be at once the most desirous of us all for celebrity status and the least...

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