Slouching Toward Bethlehem: American Barbarism

“The arts are essen­tial to any com­plete national life. The State owes it to itself to sus­tain and encour­age them … Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due.”

Thus spoke Sir Winston Churchill about the special, vital place of arts and culture in the national life. Churchill was a staunch defender of the values and accomplishments of Western Civilization: liberal democracy, the rule of law, a vibrant press, and the fine arts. As noted in a past post, Churchill was a respected author and an artist of some talent. Ironically enough, President Trump names Churchill as one of his historical and political heroes.

wwi-poster
Is this our current moment? If so, we’re failing to answer the call. Poster by James Montgomery Flagg, 1917 (Courtesy of Library of Congress).

Certain figures within the Trump administration subscribe to the theory that a declining Western world is under attack by militant Islam and a reinvigorated China. For a moment, let’s presume that this idea is true. If American and Western civilization are besieged and endangered, shouldn’t we study, promote, and cherish what makes us unique, essential, and daresay superior? Namely, our history, our culture, and our art. These images and stories can empower and inspire us to struggle and fight for our people, our nation, and our way of life.

During the darkest days of World War II, the forerunner to the Arts Council of England was founded in Great Britain to promote British culture in 1940. While consumed by the Allied war efforts and preparing for America’s inevitable entry into the conflict, Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. in March 1941. Clearly, art and culture matter, even in wartime.

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