Political Power is its Own Reason for Being

The Golden Age CoverThe heading to this article won’t bear much scrutiny in its logical construction.

The real story is that men, typically but not exclusively men, seek political power because they like being powerful.

But again no: those who choose elective politics as their realm of interest MUST seek power simply because something in them desperately, at any cost, needs to achieve it.

There. This is what’s revealed in Gore Vidal’s fascinating, necessary, semi-fictionalized history of the USA beginning in 1939, “The Golden Age.”

I say “necessary” because it shows that the general angst, the cultural and, therefore, political divisions in American society today are no worse and probably less heated and intense, even less dangerous, than during the period covered.

In the novel are expositions on the sins and foibles of humanity, including false witness, assassination, espionage, conspiracy, perfidy, cuckoldry, etc., at the highest levels of “polite” society and national and international politics.

In that many of the main fictional characters were owners of newspapers and reporters, we learn of the depth and extent of the intersections of the publishers and editors of the press, the “talking heads” (when they were newspaper columnists instead of today’s TV personalities), politicians, advertisers, and the general elite with whom all these are entwined.

It is telling that, throughout the novel, reverential reference is made by several characters to Henry Adams (1838-1918), the grandson and great-grandson of presidents, who also wrote about Washington, D.C. and national politics. I reviewed his book “The Education of Henry Adams,” heading the article. “A Friend in Power is a Friend Lost,” which conclusion Adams reached after a lifetime of deliberately “learning” about American politics and power.

There are many reviews and commentaries on this novel available on the Internet so I will not summarize it here. To show how the author had the insight necessary to use real historical characters, intertwined with the main, fictional characters, here is an excerpt from the afterword starting page 465 in my paperback edition:

Goe Vidal, 1983

…I had lived through the period… I knew a number of the historical figures that I describe. Also, as one who had grown up in political Washington, D.C., I was an attentive listener to the many voices which sound and resound in that whispering gallery.

Much of the narrative is between and among fictional elite whose lives are so far removed from mine, and probably yours, that it seems almost like a fairytale of power, privilege, and social ease. It is tempting to skim over these conversations and easy to lose track of the complicated relationships among them all, but these scenes are instructive as to the lesser uses of power, the world that really makes or allows things to happen.

I recommend “The Golden Age” to provide perspective and balance for the seemingly chaotic times in which we currently live.

I have read other novels by Vidal, most recently (and for the second time), “Creation,” which I also recommend.