Art, Democracy, Empire

Their effect is especially pervasive and pernicious in respect of empires, as Clyde Wilson has cogently noted.  The American empire, at the opening of the 21st century, might be offered as Exhibit A.  In the political sphere, corruption is engendered by the magnitude of the stakes contended for; in the economic realm, greed is stimulated by imperial richesse unprecedented in the history of the world.  Wilson reminds us (in From Union to Empire), however, that imperialism is always much more than a political and balance-of-trade phenomenon.

The abandonment of responsibility to remote and abstract power is simultaneous with the decay of will and identity in nonpolitical institutions. . . . We no longer judge by result and results no longer depend upon will and effort.  In more and more areas of life success depends upon political manipulation, luck, and advantage.  Cunning and bluster, the hallmarks of politics, become more important than accomplishment in more and more areas of life, as these are increasingly politicized.

At the beginning of the 21st century, no area of American life is more politicized than the arts, for the very good reason that artistic success in the fabulously wealthy, and wholly secularized, society of today entails the salary of a business tycoon, the glamour of a film star, and the priestly aura of a demigod.  In the arts, as in presidential politics, the world...

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