. . . political movements rest not so much on rational attitudes as on the fantasies, images, words and archetypes that come together to make up this or that political kitsch.
—Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
It is high time for you to realize that politics is a dirty business in which you would do better not to meddle.
—Lenin to Maxim Gorky, 1918
The strange progress of Romain Rolland—the once internationally celebrated novelist, biographer, and musicologist— raises questions about the nature and relationship of art and politics that have plagued literature since the French Revolution. Do artists as such have some special or superior insight into political affairs that gives them the privilege or obligation to act as guides and to hold forth on the subject? Have art and politics anything to do with ethics? Is the order of art the same as the order of...