European Diary

The Capitalist Nonesuch

When the first of the truly modern “modern politicians” straddled the front page, even the meliorism junkies of the New York Times deemed it proper to lament the creature’s arrival and to bemoan its lack of substance.  But the journalists, as always, had no clue.  In an age when money is not only paper but paperless, an age in which democracy has the manners, though not the morals, of a Thai lady­boy, an age in which substance, in nearly every field of endeavor, is pretty much a hanging offense, deriding a politician for doing nothing is not only outmoded, it is naive.

This past July, Moscow was the scene of a remarkable spectacle.  It was remarkable chiefly for being a repeat of the spectacle of the year before, because, as those familiar with Huckleberry Finn will know, charlatans try to leave the town they have fleeced and do not ordinarily hang around in the expectation of another big score.  Not in the new age, though.  Today, the “Royal Nonesuch” show put on by the Duke and the Dauphin in Arkansas would win international acclaim as performance art, with the Turner Prize an all but unavoidable accolade for the Mississippi duo.

Admittedly, art has inhabited the borderlands of reason since time immemorial.  The show on the Moskva River, however, was only marginally concerned with art, its official designation being a charitable concert.  The first time, in...

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