The novelist Howard Jacobson on the virtues of art and literature over politics and politicians…
It doesn’t follow from what I say that we should hand over the reins of political power to artists. They wouldn’t make a better job of it. But we would all make a better job of thinking about politics – indeed of thinking about anything – if we refused that daisy-chain of affiliation which the ideological hang around our necks, with the promise that we’ll never again have to make a decision of our own. Only believe “a” and it will follow as night follows day that we will believe “b”, and so on through the corrupt alphabet of the doctrinaire, as though a single code can crack the mystery of life, and we can purchase every article of faith we need – anti-colonialism, anti-monarchism, environmentalism, ecofeminism, anti-capitalism, anti-Zionism, libertarianism, vegetarianism, absurdism – for the price of one.
Our beliefs should come as a surprise to us, and a shock to one another, just as Anna Karenina’s humanity came as a surprise to Leo Tolstoy and his principles of ascetic renunciation based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Otherwise we are no better than those historians who went on hymning the praises of the Soviet Union in the face of the show trials and the gulags and assassinations, because their systems of thought wouldn’t permit them to do otherwise.
They are the dead men, who peg out their postulates on a single line, and cannot start again each day, noting the flowers individually, finding beauty in what will not cohere, and giving thanks for everything that makes a fool of their convictions. [added emphasis]
But read the whole thing.