Every third editorial written this electoral season prophesizes that American decline, manifested this year (our decline is frequently predicted) in the tragicomedy of our politics, has set in for good. Depending on the ambitions of the writer, a parallel to ancient Rome is thrown in so we know we are getting good analysis. And while Rome’s decline and fall does illuminate aspects of our current situation, the democratic soul of America —in all its variations—finds a more useful antecedent in the history its Greek forbearers. It is thus a treat to be taken advantage of when the largest exhibition of ancient Greek artifacts in a generation makes its way to Washington’s National Geographic Museum, the final stop of a four-city tour.
Art critics, like Oscar Wilde’s definition of the cynic, know the price of everything and the value of nothing, Roger Scruton says in an essay about kitsch that begins his latest book, Confessions of a Heretic. Today critics praise modern art filled with so much that “tells you how nice you are: it offers easy feelings on the cheap.”