30 July 2020, The Tablet

The death of beauty

Art and politics

The death of beauty

John Milbank
Photo: Page One, James Grimstead


Historically the greatest writers and artists were on the radical right. Today, the overwhelming majority of them are on the secular, liberal left. But artists are not naturally libertarians, and the increasingly reductive politicisation of the arts threatens their very survival

Our contemporary popular image of the artist remains that of the romantic rebel and bohemian outsider. Yet watching the recent TV series, Being Beethoven, concerning one of the greatest architects of the Romantic sensibility, I was struck by three things.

First, his enforced ascetic isolation. Secondly, his unshakeable faith that he was mediating a sublime, transcendent beauty. Thirdly, his sense that in breaking the musical rules he was obedient to a new inevitability, a new rigour of a hitherto unsuspected sort of order.

These three dimensions are interestingly similar to our primary modes of access to God according to Simone Weil: the lonely suffering of finite and fallen creatures; the sudden intrusion of beauty and the acceptance of the mathematical patterns of necessity that structure our world – patterns that seem inexorable, but that cannot be reduced to logic and keep revealing new dimensions.

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