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December 2, 2010
In Defense of Elites

The man on the radio was angry about an art exhibit at the Smithsonian he didn't like. Why should the government fund any museums? he fumed. He never goes to them. Most people don't go to museums for entertainment. Why should government fund some people's entertainment?!?

Hmmm. Entertainment? Is that what a museum is? Is that all art of any kind is, entertainment? He likened it to professional wrestling -- more people like pro wrestling than go to museums, he said. Should government fund professional wrestling?

To say art is just entertainment is like saying sex is just socializing. Art is not society's frill, an unnecessary adornment we don't really need. Human beings reflect our creator when we create. Living into the fullness of God's image in us is fully using the gifts we've been given, rather than tossing them rudely into the dustbin.

These are hard times for the lovers of excellence. People have campaigned successfully for public office on the platform of little more than their own mediocrity, proud of being just like you, whatever that means, snarkily denouncing anything more nuanced than a five-word slogan as "elitist." But I don't want leaders who are just like me. I want mine smarter, and stronger, and braver than I am. I want in a leader what I want in an artist or a writer: the very best there is.

Art is the striving of the human being for something that transcends the merely useful or the merely popular, something that lives beyond right here and right now. Leadership is the marshaling of every ounce of power and wit the leader has in the service of the common good, and it must include a willingness to set aside one's own interest for the sake of the whole. More simply put, sometimes one must be willing to lose an election in order to do the work one has sworn to do. It's not enough for our leaders simply to mirror us. They must lead.
Copyright © 2019 Barbara Crafton
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