trot out official dissidents like Yevtushenko to prove that theynwere really open-minded. American radicals are, in a literalnsense, the loyal opposition, because they support the culturalnand moral goals of the regime: social dissolution, decay ofncommunity, and the sense of helplessness and anomie thatnencourages dependency. Where’s the danger in that? Younhave only to read their poems to realize how really harmlessnthey are.nBut much of this degradation might have been accomplishednthrough serious and technically proficient works ofnart. Why the insistence upon funding incompetent garbage?nAh, but here is the essential point. There have always beennrakes and devils in the fellowship of great artists and writers.nIn modern times, it seems sometimes as if there are no goodnmen in a literature dominated by Shelley and Byron,nBaudelaire and Gide and Lawrence. But rakes have a way ofnreforming, and men who take great risks are sometimesntempted to take the ultimate risk by putting their faith innGod. As Screwtape tells the audience at the Tempters’nTraining College dinner: “The great . . . sinners are madenout of the very same material as those horrible phenomenanthe great Saints.” Rochester repented, and Baudelaire’s laternpoems could convert a legion of minor devils. The nastiestnwriter of this century, Celine, was after all a reactionarynrightist.nNo, you simply cannot count on a craftsman of any kind.nAn honest carpenter or a competent poet will both rebelnagainst the mediocrity and cowardice required by an ideologicalnregime. Edward Abbey was a liberal, after all, butnwhen he believed something he could not bring himself tonlie about it. Besides, an important aspect of today’s officialnart is the cabdriver’s reaction: “My kid could do better.” Ofncourse she could, and that means that standards of excellencendo not really exist. All of us really are equal, not just innthe sight of God, but in our talents and abilities. We are allncreative, aren’t we, all endowed with the inalienable right ofnexpressing our inner selves, whether it is by collecting junknor flashing our private parts in public. When there are nonobjective standards, we are all on the same level until a panelnof experts bends down from the sky and gilds our pile ofnexcrement with golden grants from the NEA or from one ofnthe countless private foundations that exist only to subvertnthe moral and aesthetic order. Then upon these poornephemera of humanity “a heaven-sent ray of sunlight fallsnand life flows like honey.”nSKIP THIS PARAGRAPH if you are in a hurry, becausenI am going to insert the usual mealymouthed and equivocatingnqualifications that are required whenever an Americannspeaks his mind. Yes, of course the NEA and Guggenheimnand MacArthur occasionally slip up or get pressured intonrewarding a writer or artist with real merit, and of coursenthere is an occasional honest and intelligent person drivennby poverty and despair into accepting a job with a governmentnagency, and of course I have friends, more than I likento admit, who have sat on the councils of the NEH andnNEA (in one case both) and whose intentions I regard asnentirely honorable and praiseworthy, although I can hardlyncite an instance where their presence has done enough goodnto offset the mere fact that their participation lends legitimacynto an illegitimate operation. “But I can see to it that somenof the money is spent wisely,” they argue, “and it would ben16/CHRONICLESnnnworse if we let the crazies dominate the council.” This isnwhat I call the humane-concentration-camp-guard argument:n”Think how much worse it would be if we let thenNazis run the camps. At least I can treat the prisoners withnsome decency and humanity.” Go ahead, I admire yournstrength of will in humbling yourselves in the seats of power,nand I stand in awe of the way you can plug your nose whilenattacking the Augean stables with a Handi-wipe.nBad poetry and obscene photographs are only the mostnrevealing instruments of the official propaganda. Governmentneducation, from Headstart to graduate school,nsends a similar message. Apart from the scientists and theirnapprentices, whose penchant for truth we indulge both outnof necessity and out of religious awe, the people in charge ofnAmerican schooling are simply the less flamboyant counterpartsnof the artists. They are equally committed to mediocrityn(which they call equality), incompetence (in pursuit ofnequality), and dishonesty (in the service of equality). Thenpresent generation of humanities professors can scarcelynrecall what a real man of learning is like, although they mustnhave run into a few doddering examples in their studentndays, and by the year 2000 the art and discipline that wentninto making a genuine scholar or man of letters will be anhistorical curiosity, like stained glass. There are exceptions,nbut they are as rare as grammatical Latin must have been innthe sixth century.nLike scholarship, poetry and painting and the other highnarts were once traditional skills handed down from master tondisciple and from father to son across the generations. Theynwere not far removed, in spirit or status, from humbler crafts.nThe Roman artists’ guild, the Academia di S. Luca,nincluded mere craftsmen (such as gilders) among its membersnin the days of Caravaggio, and in later years it continuednto induct them as second-class members.nArt as a skill or craft partakes of the guild mentality, whichnat its best sets quality above profit. Since the 19th century,nhowever, artists and writers have seen themselves not asnmembers of a craft guild but as participants — or enemies —nof the marketplace. Some writers, like Dickens and Trollope,nbecame successful entrepreneurs; others rebelled against thennotion that “to kalon is decreed in the marketplace,” butnuntil this century the rebellion most often took the form of annostalgic longing for an older Christian community of thenMiddle Ages or early Renaissance. This is the thread thatnruns from the Romantics through the aesthetes and decadentsnto the generation of Pound, Wyndham Lewis, andnEliot (to say nothing of their older contemporaries, Bellocnand Chesterton).nThe First World War destroyed a great many illusions,nand I’art pour I’art was vaporized along with the convictionnthat civilization could somehow be restored. Nonetheless,nthe 20’s and 30’s seethed with possibilities. The movementnmost pregnant with circumstance was not the reactionarynmodernism of Eliot, Pound, and the agrarians, but thenprogressive modernism of Dada and futurism, whose leadersnresolutely turned their backs on the past and set out tonoverturn all aesthetic and moral conventions. To realize hownuncreative an age we live in, one only has to compare thenmost outrageous stunts of the past twenty-five years with thenmanifestos and projects of Tristan Tzara and Marinetti.n