I finished reading The Aneid a little while ago and was struck by how transparent some of the propaganda was. I am, of course, not an expert, but it seems as if the narrative is composed of something very close to 100% pure bullshit. The aim of the bullshit was, you may have heard, creating a deeper link between the Roman (then) present, and the high-Hellenic past (although, in fairness, doing it by claiming descent from the noblest of enemies is exemplary of the sort of perversity possessed only by a genius.)
At any rate, I closed the book and glibly thought to myself, “That Virgil guy was like the Shill Oliely of his day!” And then I thought, “No, Joaquin, Virgil was awesome and Shill is. . . umm, whatever it is that he is,” or something. There were probably more obscenities in that sentence at the time. I’m a fan of those. Once I was done cursing, however, it was time for some idle speculation about why people who prostrate themselves to the powerful were once capable of being brilliant artists, but can’t get away with that sort of thing any more.
Like everything else that I feel ambivalent about, I’m pretty sure that a large part of this can be traced to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the hilariously outdated trash-fest The End of History and the Last Man Frankie Fukuyama, like Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel Jinkelheimer Schmidt before him contends that we’ve pretty much come to the end of history, and there is just a tiny bit of cleaning up (by which he means shooting Arabs) to be done before we can all be confident that we’re living at the pinnacle of human progress (even if some people have to live in cardboard boxes to support the greatness of our achievements.)
What Frankie accidentally predicted in all that garbage was that the arc of progress has really floundered. In the absence of a real opposing ideology to draw adherents away from, The West has basically stopped bothering to think of market economies as engines of progress. Without at least some vague hand-waving in that direction, great art, even great art as flagrantly political as The Aneid will only ever work as part of a counternarrative.