National security and intellectuals

I say this with some confidence: No one in the Bush Administration cares about John Adams. He is an undeniably good composer, and that alone guarantees him a resounding yawn from the least intellectual government in recent memory. If he's on a list, it's not because the men and women into whose hands we have entrusted the Republic, but rather because, probably, of Klinghoffer or because he shares a name with some IRA terrorist from the late 1970s.

I've pointed this out before, and it still blows my mind: Angela Merkel has interesting things to say about Wagner and various directors, though the things are interesting, probably, because of the low standards for cultural awareness to which most Americans hold their leaders. George W. Bush would probably be hard-pressed to name one or two of Wagner's music-dramas. I'd even spot him Walküre. If one of the titans of Western music doesn't register on the Generalissimo's radar, then I doubt John Adams is even in the same universe.

That's the tragedy here. I don't ask that the First Magistrate be able to hold forth intelligently on Thomas Mann or Friedrich Nietzsche, but I would like him to know who Mann and Nietzsche were. Our leaders, regardless of innate intelligence, have been forced to pander to the base (take that how it's meant) to the point where you'd have a hard time telling them apart from barely literate teenagers.

John Adams might be under surveillance or an INS flag, but it's not because he's an intellectual. It's either because some Google-searching flack in the bowels of one of the government agencies managed to get a hit connecting "John Adams" and "Palestinian sympathies" (from Klinghoffer), or because some terrorist has the same name. Intellectuals don't matter in the current equation of the Republic. Thanks to Pliable for the point.
Posted by Patrick J. Smith on The Penitent Wagnerite and reblogged here. It's Patrick's post, so please copy any responses on his blog. Music from Palestine here.
Photo is, of course, from John Adams' Nixon in China. It is the English National Opera production, image credit MV Daily. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Daniel Wolf said…
The "knowledge-of-particular-cultural-artifacts-by-politicians" meme always falls apart. Bush may not know his Wagner, but Tom "The Hammer" DeLay, former congressional Republican Whip and Texan bug exterminator by profession, a solid advocate of the religious right agenda, is a devoted opera-goer. In the US Supreme Court, far right justice Antonin Scalia and moderately liberal justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg are such opera fans that they have appeared together as extras on the local opera stage, so operatic familiarity seems to be bi-partisan.

In the end, it just doesn't matter that Bush doesn't know his opera or that DeLay does, what matters is their knowledge of facts on the ground, the design of policy appropriate to those facts and their skill in its administration, and that is precisely where their deficits — which, being blinded by nonsensical ideology, they fail to recognize — are most appalling and dangerous.

Thanks for the reblog.

By way of third-order response to the above comment, I should note that the "'Knowledge [...] politicians' meme," despite being endlessly amusing to anyone paying attention, is not finally the point. Everyone -- even politicians -- knows something about something; the problem is that, for whatever reason, they're forced to moon around like morons.

The problem is that some politicians seem to enjoy the condition more than others.


Pat. Smith

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