The Heroine Who Wasn’t
Beyond the making of art, what can we or should we expect from great artists? In particular, do their gifts excuse them from the ordinary ethical responsibilities of other human beings? Or should they be held to generally accepted standards of conduct—if not higher ones? No matter how self-evident the answers to these questions may seem, history proves them to be less obvious in practice.
In the case of music, no historical event has been more telling in this regard than World War II. While some well-known European musicians responded with integrity to the rise of the Hitler regime, far more collaborated more or less willingly with the Nazis. And now that historians have begun to apply stricter scrutiny to the wartime conduct of European artists, it is becoming evident that most—including some whose conduct was once thought impeccable—were opportunists who behaved no better than they had to.
About the Author
Terry Teachout is COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, runs through November 4 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.