Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Elite of Their Times

State of the Union: One should visit the Hillwood museum to observe what can be lost.  


It is particularly jarring to go to the gift shop at the Hillwood Museum and Estate, a building dedicated to the art and treasures of the French and Russian nobility, curated and collected by a true-blue American elite, only to find cups and mugs with the faces of Sonia Sotomayor, Ketanji Brown Jackson, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Marjorie Merriweather Post, Hillwood’s owner, donated to the Democratic Party in her time; the question isn’t whether a museum gift shop in her estate should have merchandise featuring liberal Supreme Court justices. It is that they only have those mugs, and not one of, say, Amy Coney Barrett. This is clearly not about successful women. It is about amplifying one particular ideological subset of them. 

Merriweather Post was a socialite and a Russophile, a crime that would earn ostracism in current upmarket American circles. In that exemplary modern bastion of “liberal democracy,” Ukraine, it would perhaps earn a prison sentence. The museum, hidden just outside the city, is a testament to a lost United States. Post went to the USSR immediately after the revolution, with two specific purposes in mind. First, to save and collect as many imperial and religious artefacts that could be saved from “Godless” Bolshevik destruction. Second, to collect and create a museum for the intellectual and historical development of her own country. It is said every society deserves the elite of their times. How many of our current elite are dedicating a section of their wealth in collecting artefacts for a museum, for posterity? 


It is interesting to walk around the solemn Eastern Orthodox and royalist iconography, art, statuettes, and treasures while imagining what Post would have thought of the current state of her country and the political apparatus she once supported. Post was a devout Christian who went to the Soviet Union at a unique time to see unleashed social forces that she ended up abhorring. Parts of her country are now post-religious, and the party she once donated to now supports child mutilation, opposes parental rights, promotes rampant unchecked open borders, lawlessness, and an egalitarianism enforced by the ever-bloating bureaucracy—a movement with one particular flag and devoted to spreading one specific radical ideology across the globe, even by force if necessary.  


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