All Is Not Politics, Or Is It?

Author: Gary Hart

Some months ago the famed conductor Riccardo Muti presented the Verdi opera Nabucco at Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera. The opera concerns the plight of the Jews in Egypt and was believed by many to be a metaphor for the liberation of Italy from its occupiers and oppressors. It’s most famous, and repeated, number is the chorus of the Hebrew slaves, “Va, pensiero” (Fly, thought…).
Muti had been publicly critical of the Berlusconi government’s cuts in financial support for the arts. During the prolonged applause following performance of this chorus, a voice shouted, “Viva Italia.” From his conductor’s chair, as the audience quieted, Muti gave an impromptu soliloquy that began, “Si, Viva Italia” and then , turning to the large audience, he said that culture was the cohesive that held a society together and was its civilizing distinction and that the life of Italy could not be distinguished from its long and rich culture.
The audience responded vigorously and Muti, signaling the large on-stage chorus and the orchestra for an encore, invited the audience to join in. Together, the chorus and audience, virtually all of whom knew the words by heart, sang the beautiful and moving lyrics. Both the chorus and the audience wept.
This is not a story about opera, Muti, Nabucco, or Italy. It is a meditation on the nature and character of a nation, about what that nation values, about what holds it together, about what makes it more than simply a random collection of individuals out for themselves, about national character and purpose.
Every time a state (government) intervenes or withdraws intervention, it makes a statement about what it values. Prosperous times are easy. Lean times require choices, difficult choices. As with individuals, those we elect can make those choices brutally and dismissively; or they can make them humanely and with a view to the horizon and history.
Riccardo Muti believed Italy could not be separated from its culture and that, if necessary, those with the means to do so should be asked to preserve that culture and the nation it bound together. It would be interesting to know what song, other than our national anthem, would bring an American audience to its feet, to shed tears, and to shout “Live, America.”
The chorus of the Hebrew slaves contains this line: “Ah, mi patria, si bella y perduta.” Oh, my country, so beautiful and so lost. America is so beautiful. And it is not lost. At least for now. Live long America.

[The video of the episode referred to can be found at: gmt06JnRs]

[As always, comments are welcome but posting may be delayed due to travel.]

8 Responses to “All Is Not Politics, Or Is It?”

  1. Ken Ngakui Says:

    I didn’t expect any politician would touch the subject on culture and its true value. It’s long time ago, 1976 (I believe) I read an interview with French Cultural Minister at that time, George Mathiew, an abstract painter. Existing Cultural Ministry itself is unthinkable in the United States. An abstract painter becomes a minister (secretary) is even more so. But, what he said gave me a strong impression, still is sticking in my mind like a tatoo: (paraphrasing) “Today’s our world, the value system we hold is scandalously upside down. In this value system economy comes first, politcs the second, and culture the third. As a Cultural Minister, my ambition is to make this order completely the other way.” Without pursuing quality of culture what is a “civilized” nation is about? So, the cultural value should come first. Politics should be the way to discuss how to implement it. Economy should merely mean to support this materially. In my view even envilonmental issue would be settled in naturally in this order since culturally conscientious society cannot possibly destroy natural envilonment.

  2. Forest Book Says:

    All of ‘this’ is Culture. Human Culture. Global Culture. WIthin that purview our Creativity, our Human Beingness that is our nation, our world, our shared lives; in every way does become marvelous. Every dynamic creates for us options of realizing the wonderment that Democracy is meant to bestow; or its opposite. The inalienable Culture of Humanity that we are each born with gives us all meaning. It is the process of defining meaning, defining our shared Culture; and making what matters real that is the poetry of this life. For me, at this hour; our national maxim of ‘God Bless America’ is not truly a Democracy maxim until it becomes: ‘God Bless America. God Bless Us All.’ > Thank you for your wise, and inspirational voice in our Culture Mr. Hart. > Here is a poem you and others may find both relevant and worthy of sharing.

    The Moral Welfare:

    When Freedom, on her natal day,
    Within her war-rocked cradle lay,
    An iron race around her stood,
    Baptized her infant brow in blood;

    And through the storm which round her swept,
    Their constant ward and watching kept.

    Then, where our quiet herds repose,
    The roar of baleful battle rose,
    And brethren of a common tongue
    To mortal strife as tigers sprung,
    And every gift of Freedom’s shrine
    Was man for beast, and blood for wine!

    Our fathers to their graves have gone;
    Their strife is past, their triumph won;
    But sterner trials wait the race
    Which rises in their honored place;
    A moral warfare with the crime
    And folly of an evil time.

    So let it be. In God’s own might
    We gird use for the coming fight,
    And, strong in Him whose cause is ours
    In conflict with unholy powers,
    We grasp the weapons He has given –
    The Light, and Truth, and Love of Heaven.

    – John Greenleaf Whittier

  3. Pat Boice Says:

    Beautifully stated! We so desperately need to come together.

  4. Katherine Hahn Says:

    Dear Mr. Hart,

    I don’t expect my comment to be published. I have an humble suggestion: that you use dark text on a light ground, and include a space between paragraphs. The white on navy, as pretty as it is, is very hard on my eyes. I don’t know if that’s the case for others, just putting in my 2 cents.

    Your blog is aesthetically pleasing, and its content compelling. I really can’t tell you how grateful I am to have your thoughts to look forward to each week- I only with they had a wider audience.

    I did especially appreciate this one. I’m an artist, and inarticulate where politics are concerned, and yet I want to be informed and to play my part, however small.

    Thank you,

  5. Paul G Says:


    Our Honorable Gary Hart was chastised earlier this month by Obama/Biden/Geithner supporters for his “Can Anyone Be Trusted?” observation that “anger toward government is directly related to the noxious and incestuous networks in Washington …”

    Of course, being ever the gentleman, Hart apologized that his question may be “too graphic.” But he shouldn’t have. Bloggers may be enlightened and, perhaps, even humbled to take a look at those same powerful media interests attacking Gary Hart in New Hampshire this week and consider the callous trappings of power their record reveals, beginning with the following two exhibits:

    Exhibit 1: August 10, 2008. US Representative Neal Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) said in response to ABC reporter Cokie Roberts’ criticism of Obama’s visit with his sick grandmother in Hawaii: “Don’t forget Cokie Roberts and the whole Washington crowd live in a kind of an incestuous relationship to one another. They talk to one another, they see one another. They know nothing about ordinary people.”

    Exhibit 2: October 12, 2009. While working in Guatemala, Sister Dianna Ortiz, a Catholic nun from New Mexico, was raped and tortured by members of a death squad until a US supervisor recognized that she was from the US.[14] Although there was no doubt of Ortiz’s torture and ample evidence to corroborate her claims of an American supervisor, Roberts insisted that Ortiz was lying in a 1996 interview with Ortiz on the TV show “Nightline.” [Roberts’ brother, Tom Boggs, working for the law firm of Patton, Boggs, & Blow, was paid by the Guatemalan military to promote a more positive image of the death squads and the military dictatorship in Guatemala.][15]

    “We The People,” of last resort, trust these exhibits are not too graphic, and hope we’re done with the chastizing. We have a republic to restore.

  6. Tim Davidson Says:

    I believe that voluntary support of the arts (and many other causes) is an important aspect of society. That being said, what is being advocated here is the the involuntary support of the arts by the state. The state is not about choices. I was not asked if I supported the wars we are currently fighting, the $500 million plus we gave to politically connected solar firms, the bailout we gave to Detroit or Wall Street. Our overlords made those decisions based upon who was lining their pockets.

    Here is the real question: Is a given program clearly needed to support our nation? Is it worth either a) Taking the money from our citizens or b) Putting it on our credit card?

    I would suggest that there is nothing in the US Constitution that supports the expenditure of public funds for the arts or a large number of noble and good causes. I would further suggest that one (of many reasons) that we have not emerged from our current recession is the level of concern that businesses have over how our nation is currently being run in terms of our expenditures.

    Or put in very simple terms: Is support of the arts (or any other pet cause) good enough reason to tax another $100 from someone who would like to use that money to buy clothes for their children?

  7. Tom J. Flaherty Says:

    American Tune by Simon and Garfunkel do a lot for me. Some of the patriotic songs we learned in grade school as well are uplifting as well.

    A thank you to you sir for your devotion to principles and a focus on the ideals envisioned by the founding fathers.

    Finally of course it will eventually return to a we society because I is unsustainable at it’s best.

  8. Gary Hart Says:

    In response to Mr. Davidson, I repeat that this blog was less about “the arts” and more about the longing in democratic societies for ideals and principles that bring us together. It is well established in our system that revenues can be raised for legitimate public services favored by a majority. The key is the “necessary and proper” clause that encompasses social commitments that do support our nation…and our society. If a majority of Americans want to promote activities deemed to unite the nation, and the courts do not rule them unconstitutional, they are entitled to do so. Mostly I was telling a story about Italians finding unity in their rich cultural heritage.

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