Principalities & Powersrnbv Samuel FrancisrnBeam Us OutrnOn a morning in April 1990, practitionersrnof the journalistie eraft received inrntheir mail a communication from onernJack Liehtenstein, at that time the directorrnof public affairs for the NationalrnEndowment for the Arts, an agency thenrnembroiled in a desperate onslaught by anrnarmy of Philistines, voters, and taxpayersrnwho imagined that they ought to havernsome voice in determining what theirrngovernment does. Mr. Lichtenstein’srnpurpose in reaching out to the purveyorsrnof news and opinion was to do whateverrnhe could to keep the hordes at bay andrnsave the NEA and his own job from thernappointment with a brick wall that thernoutraged citizens had in mind for them.rnIn the course of expatiating upon all therngood things the federal art munehkinsrnhad spawned upon the Republic, Mr.rnLiehtenstein let slip his insight that “thernarts, once found only in metropolitanrnareas, today are flourishing in Alaska andrnAlabama, in Maine and Montana, andrneverywhere in between.”rnSo far as I know, the editors and editorialrnwriters who were the objects ofrnMr. Lichtenstein’s solicitations ignoredrnhis entire package, and to this day thernawesome banality he emitted in thernabove passage has remained undiscovered.rnIt apparently occurred to no one tornupbraid the director of public affairsrnfor the ignorance of “the arts” that hernbetrayed, the contempt in which hernevidently held the rest of the country,rnor—most interesting of all perhaps—rnthe facile conceit his insight revealed.rnThat conceit, of course, is the assumptionrnthat the only civilized parts of therncountry are Mr. Lichtenstein’s luminousrn”metropolitan areas” and that the nonmetropolitanrnportions of the land—^Alaska,rnAlabama, Maine, Montana, and allrnthose unnameable and unpronounceablernregions “in between”—are naturallyrnimmersed in such an impenetrablerncultural darkness that only the bureaucraticrnenlightenment of the federalrnleviathan could lift them out. Thernwhole burden of Mr. Lichtenstein’s impassionedrncommunication to journalistsrnwas that if the rubes and vahoos then besiegingrnhis beloved endowment shouldrnsucceed, the nether portions of the landrnwould once again be delivered into therniron grip of Chaos and Old Night.rnIt does not occur to those of Mr. Lichtenstein’srnpersuasion that art, so far fromrnbeing dependent upon or the inventionrnof the state and the monopoly ofrn”metropolitan areas,” is inherent inrnman’s nature and that it will flourish andrndoes flourish even when the state andrnthe metropolitan areas with which thernstate naturally allies itself do not exist. Ifrnthe famous prehistoric paintings in thernpaleolithic cave dwellings of centralrnFrance prove nothing else, they confirmrnthat no sooner had human beings separatedrnthemselves from their tree-swingingrnancestors than they began to creaternart, and the careful depictions on thatrndark stone by primeval Raphaels andrnMichelangelos of elk and bison, religiousrnrituals and hunting adventures, display arndeveloped technique of art that most ofrnthe recipients of NEA grants today arernunable to match. Had Cro-Magnonrnmen enjoyed the assistance of Mr. Liehtensteinrnand the United States governmentrnin their aesthetic efforts, it isrnlikely that the emergence of human civilizationrnwould have been retarded forrnseveral millennia and that even todayrnthe whole planet would remain engrossedrnin the same darkness that Mr.rnLiehtenstein imagines still holds swav inrnMaine and Montana.rnMr. Liehtenstein, of course, is notrnalone in harboring this conceit, and thernmain reason his banality passed unnoticedrnwas that most of the journalistsrnwho received it share the conceit andrnnever entertained an inkling that he hadrnmade a fool of himself by disclosing it.rnThe idea that the arts, and with themrnthe whole of human civilization, arc thernexclusive inventions of metropolitanrnareas and the federal government is onernof the central assumptions of the bodyrnof men and women who in recent yearsrnhave come to be known as the “culturalrnelite,” and it is through this idea thatrnthe elite not only legitimizes its existencernand activities but also establishesrnthe rationale for its continuing warrnagainst the real culture of the AmericanrnOutback. It is precisely for the waging ofrnthat war that the NEA was created in thernfirst place, and the more bizarre erotodigestivernescapades in which the endowmentrnindulged in the 1980’s (andrnwhich it continues to this day) after thernStupid Party took it over are only thernmost extreme examples of its continuingrnmission.rnIt is entirely appropriate that therncultural elite the NEA serves shouldrnentrench itself in bureaucratic form.rnEarlier cultural elites—of PericleanrnAthens, Augustan Rome, RenaissancernFlorence, Elizabethan England, 17thcenturyrnFrance, etc.—also often alliedrnthemselves with the state, but the staternin those regimes was not bureaucraticrnbut a personal despotism of one kind orrnanother, and neither the elites nor therndespots employed themselves in the destructionrnof the culture of the peoplesrnthey ruled. Today, however, all ehtesrntypically assume bureaucratic forms, notrnonly because bureaucracy provides thernmost efficient means yet invented forrnorganizing power but also because, lackingrnany deep support or roots in the civilrnsociety, today’s cultural elites have nornother organizational basis for their power.rnUnable to peddle its garbage on thernmarket, incapable of duping or flatteringrnwealthy patrons into supporting it, andrndespising the prospect of working for arnliving like everyone else, the cultural eliternhas no other recourse but to rely on bureaucraticrnmechanisms to sustain itself,rnits privileges, its productions, and itsrnpower.rnIndeed, what is true of that part of therncultural elite supported by the NEA andrnsimilar federal agencies is true of therncultural elite as a whole, even those partsrnnot directly subsidized by the state. Thernexpression “popular culture” originallyrnmeant those elements of culture producedrnby the people. Today, it meansrnnothing of the sort, but rather culturernproduced for the people by elites, andrnthe elites, whether “publicly” or “privately”rnendowed, are invariably entwinedrnwith bureaucratic organizations. A numberrnof scholars, from Daniel Bell tornJacques Barzun to Russell Jacoby, havernremarked on the singularity of a culturernthat is increasingh lodged in bureaucratizedrnuniversities in the form of art de-rnAPRIL 1994/11rnrnrn