Our democratically demotic culture

Our democracy-run-riot is based on the assumption that reaching a certain, barely post-pubescent, age is a sufficient qualification for voting. The underlying belief is — and inevitably has to be — egalitarian: a tattoed, facial-metalled delinquent is deemed as able as, say, a doctor or engineer to make a contribution to the political process. This is as sure a way as any of vindicating Joseph de Maistre’s comment that every nation gets the government it deserves. Since we have considerably more juvenile delinquents than doctors or engineers, we deserve nothing better than our current spivocracy.

But it’s not just government that gets poisoned by toxic egalitarianism — education and culture are writhing in suffocating agony too. As anyone who has ever taught at school will tell you, the very notion of comprehensive education is an oxymoron. Forty-odd years of that, and British education, which at the time of grammar schools and secondary moderns was the envy of the world, has become its laughing stock. Education Secretary Michael Gove seems to realise this, which is why he is talking about reintroducing ‘elitism’ to our education. Good idea, that: excellence in any area is a pipe dream in the absence of a hierarchy, fluid as it should be. But the well-meaning Mr Gove is missing the point: we are now into the third generation of comprehensively ‘educated’ populace. Arranging millions of pupils in a hierarchical order commensurate with their attainment and potential will take hundreds of thousands of teachers capable of achieving such noble aims. Where are they going to come from? Most of the current lot are only barely more literate than their pupils, and almost as barbaric. It’ll take another two generations to get out of this vicious circle, by which time it’ll be too late, if it isn’t already.

If there is one lesson history teaches us, it’s that, in addition to its immediate destructive effect, egalitarian social experimentation has a knock-on effect. Once those dominoes start tumbling, there’s no stopping them. And there’s also another lesson, not yet learned by many: this institutionalised barbarism doesn’t result from a past mistake. There was no mistake. Our governments have achieved exactly the result for which their statist loins ached. Mass availability of real education would endanger their self-perpetuation. For a literate population would realise that our rulers are capable of committing dozens of solecisms in a short address. A numerate population would know that the cock-and-bull sums peddled by the government don’t add up. A population educated in the moral foundations of the West would be inclined to toss this bunch of self-serving nonentities out on their ear. Can’t have that, can we?

The venom of egalitarianism is all-pervasive — just look at what’s happening to our music. By this I don’t mean the pop flatulence that even in our conservative papers solely qualifies for the name of ‘music’ with no modifier. No, I’m talking about the modified ‘classical music’ that too has fallen victim to the universal lack of discernment cultivated by every institution in our society. The public definitely gets the music it deserves. Since, as a rough assessment, no concert audience these days contains more than a few people capable of telling a rotten performance from a sublime one, extra-musical factors are sole contributors to a performer’s career. That’s why, say, our piano scene is dominated by talentless hacks like Lang Lang who play the instrument with the dexterity of circus acrobats, and an artistic sensibility to match. The public doesn’t mind — any performance, no matter how inept, gets the same decibel level of ovation. Perhaps Mr Gove should cast his eye over this as well, for real music was composed for few by fewer. It’s hierarchical (‘elitist’ in today’s parlance) — or it’s nothing but cheap amusement. Make it egalitarian, that is universally available and paid for by the masses democratically voting with their cash, and you’ll end up with performers whose ignoble spirit is no higher than that of their audience, even if they have what these days passes for technical mastery. This doesn’t mean they have no talent — just that it lies in areas other than music. Tireless self-promotion, hard-working shilling, photogenic appearance, crass commercialism, cynicism, contempt for their art, and an avid devotion to all the deadly sins except gluttony and sloth all come to the fore.

One example, if I may, coming from a report by a highly reliable informant. The orchestras of Ljubljana and Zagreb recently joined forces to perform Mahler’s 8th Symphony, perhaps the largest-scale work in the choral repertoire, nicknamed the ‘Symphony of a Thousand’ in reference to the number of musicians required (but seldom reached). The project had ramifications going beyond music — it was a symbol of unity between Chroatia and Slovenia, countries that haven’t always seen eye to eye. Hence it attracted much attention from TV stations, and not just in the cities involved. And that’s why the orchestras invited a star conductor from Russia to guide the project through. A lot of work was needed for an undertaking of this magnitude, and many rehearsals. He was seen as the right man for the job.

Yet the conductor didn’t deign to turn up in that part of the world for a single rehearsal, not even one immediately before the performance. He made his entry backstage 15 minutes late, when the public was already beginning to slow-clap and the TV folk to worry about their time slots. The maestro then sequestered himself in his room and wouldn’t come out. Finally, the desperate orchestra delegated one of the first violins to find out what was what. The violinist deferentially opened the door a crack, only to hear the conductor discuss the sale of a huge consignment of timber with his business manager. Now can you imagine Sir Thomas Beecham behaving that way? Klemperer? Fürtwangler? Toscanini? Mengelberg? And musically the Russian wouldn’t have been fit to carry their scores to the concert hall.

Considering that the chap already has (as opposed to earns) an income in high seven figures, one would think he’d be able to show more respect for his art. But, a product of modern egalitarianism that he is, he doesn’t even understand what’s required. Like any modern spiv he pursues nothing but money, power and fame, devoting his time to flogging from one venue to the next (sometimes two in different countries on the same day). And he is a typical rather than exceptional figure, allowed to prosper by a comprehensively educated public, money-grabbing impresarios and concert organisers assisted by illiterate musicologists, including those working on our increasingly demotic BBC 3. (One cretinous critic wrote in the Telegraph a few years ago that Maxim Vengerov is ‘not only the greatest violinist of our time, but the greatest of all time’. Now Vengerov is a vulgarian with a quick bow who wouldn’t be out of place playing at a wedding somewhere in Siberia. Even to utter his name in the same breath as Menuhin, Szigeti, Stern, Oistrach, Szering and countless others is chronically stupid. Saying he’s superior to them goes beyond ignorance and stupidity, entering the area of conscious subversion.) How similar, how very similar to our politicians.


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