The old century—and we hardly need a longer perspective to see this—was beset by, and in cultural life almost defined by, an unteachable enfant terriblisme. From Dadaism to the Sixties to postmodernism, it was sufficient to throw tomatoes at tradition to get a full-page spread from the intellectual paparazzi.

Let us not spend more time recalling any more of the isms and idiots of the culture of complaint, as the process of forgetting them is already well advanced and it may be unethical to impede it. Instead let us remember the possibilities that existed for those who wished to retain their sanity. Where to escape to? In the world of the humanities, there was always the past, and many a cultural refugee from various modernisms recuperated through communion with Monteverdi or Vermeer or Jane Austen. But for those who preferred their culture still living and breathing, the most extensive vandal-free space was...


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