Why the persistence of this delusion that good writing flourishes when there is a left wing government?
In a recent article about Anthony Burgess, Irvine Welsh writes, “There are notable exceptions, but generally speaking the embracement of a reductive conservative political philosophy seldom heralds an era of flowering for an artist.”
I can attach no meaning to his use of the word “reductive,” but Welsh is certainly right about the notable exceptions. Plato under the rule of a strict oligarchy. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in Tsarist Russia. Nietzsche under Bismarck. Eliot, Pound, Wyndham Lewis and T.E. Hulme all wrote in a very conservative period. Sisson says somewhere that, in paying due respect to such fine writers as these, the lefty critics always feel somehow they have to make excuses for their politics as if this were some sort of inexplicable lapse. Do the lefties never notice that it was these conservatives who did the really original work in the English literature of the 20th century? They don’t come much more conservative than Pound and his slogan was “Make it new.” There is a good reason for the fact that it is the conservatives who are actually the avant garde. For conservatives are traditionalists and it is only those who understand tradition who can develop the tradition. Has Welsh not read Eliot’s Tradition and the Individual Talent – an essay which discusses precisely this truth?
Most of the world’s great literature – and its music and visual art – was published under “reductive” dictatorships. Or are we to imagine that Bach lived on hand-outs from The Arts Council?
Welsh says, ”Burgess read, wrote, drank gin… lambasting socialist Britain with its high rates of taxation. For this we must forgive him.”
These are words spoken from a very great height and I must say it is unusual to hear absolution pronounced by a leftie lit crit with such a restricted awareness of what actually goes on in the world of English letters.
One thing is clear though: Welsh, as a writer, is the living refutation of his own argument.