The paper explains the meaning and function of concepts like “décadence” and “dilettantism” in the context of Thomas Mann’s Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen. In this frame the influence of the French critic Paul Bourget and of the Viennese essayist Hermann Bahr are highlighted. With reference to the fact that the Betrachtungen account for a cultural fresco with polemical intention, the illustration of what Thomas Mann understands for art is closely connected to how critique is understood and exerted by an artist – by the artist Thomas Mann at the beginning of the 20th century. Read in this perspective, the Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen represent both the upshot of Mann’s artistic and critical attitude of the previous time and the workshop for a new attitude based on emancipation and engagement. The thesis to argue is that criticism expressed against the modernity and the western civilization, that constitutes the critical core of Mann’s war essay, supplies the artist with intellectual and faith resources for overcoming the decadence and the common tendencies to cultural downfall.