Libertarian Literature

As a lifelong reader with a bachelor’s degree in English literature, I feel qualified enough to make the casual and probably unobjectionable observation that most great art, film, or literature often comes with a decidedly socialist or at least social democratic bent to it. (I tend to feel that, in most cases, the piece of work in question is great in spite of and not because of this philosophical slant). One of the first examples that comes to mind is the 2009 film Moon , directed by Duncan Jones and starring Sam Rockwell. It’s a likable film for several reasons, one of which being that it’s a very cleverly executed recreation of the Marxian theory of “labor alienation.” I think there’s something worth appreciating in that, even if I don’t endorse the theory itself.

I’m not going to take on why so many great artists, actors, writers, and musicians tend to take on more leftist, collectivist, or social democratic philosophies, because others more knowledgable than I have provided more interesting theories than I could probably ever manage to put together. (Paul Cantor, for example, advances the thesis that artists reject the market test as a valid criterion for success in art, since the mass appeal on which they would need to rely to pass such a test is at odds with the Romantic vision of the solitary, misunderstood genius that is so pervasive across the arts). My aggressive philosophy kick over the past few weeks, however, has tired me out a little bit, and I’ve decided to return to my roots with a little bit of fiction reading, which I’ll hope to post on here in the weeks to come. Since I’ve mostly studied literary fiction, however, I’ve decided to branch out and try to evaluate some more libertarian leaning literature.

It’s no secret that the worlds of libertarianism and literature generally collide in what is often disparaged as the “lowbrow” world of science fiction, so to that effect I’ve started to read Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. I’m aware that Card himself is not a libertarian science fiction writer, and Ender’s Game is decidedly not a libertarian book. But one of the most interesting things about science fiction is that its works tend almost inherently to be concerned with the same questions of political philosophy that interest libertarians, regardless of how any work in particular answers those questions. To that end, I’ve added Frank Herbert’s Dune, Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, and Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris to my list.

In addition to this scatter-brained approach to political philosophy in the form of sci-fi, I have also begun rereading The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and finally intend to get around to reading recent Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, one of few well-respected literary writers who takes a decidedly individualist tone in his work. As far as Vargas Llosa goes, I’m looking at The Feast of the Goat and The Dream of the Celt .

Any further thoughts or suggestions are welcome, as is any playful ribbing from hardcore sci-fi fans who can’t resist the urge to poke fun at my innocent and uninformed approach to their genre of choice.

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6 Responses to Libertarian Literature

  1. I’m, unfortunately, not a big literature reader. I’ve reader a number of books, but I can’t remember the last novel I’ve read in the past four years. But, you mention that a lot of literature has a socialist bent, and you mention Cantor. Have you, by any chance, read the volume he co-edited and published with the Mises Institute, Literature and the Economics of Liberty ? Despite not having a glamorous background in fiction, I found the book pretty interesting.

    • Hamsterdam Economics says:

      I’ve read several of Cantor’s essays, but I haven’t read Literature and the Economics of Liberty or any of his other books. I’m familiar with his work because I studied under one of his former students during my undergraduate education. I had this particular professor for a class on political philosophy during my first semester in college, but was too young and inexperienced at the time to be intellectually involved. As I made my way through my English courses with other professors over the years, I started to get tired of rehashing the same tired Marxist literary critiques day in and day out, and was beginning to feel pretty disillusioned with the field in general. It was about that time that I reconnected with the professor from freshman year–Cantor’s old student–who really introduced me to Austrian economics, libertarianism, and a bunch of related areas of scholarship. I signed up for several of his classes, and he gave me the freedom to write my literary criticism from these perspectives. I wrote on the confusion of capitalism with corporatism in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 , for example, or on the labor theory of value in Samuel Beckett’s Molloy. Anyway, to get to the point, I ended up doing an independent research study under his guidance in my final semester as an undergraduate, on the subject of political philosophy and depictions of the state in the American western films of the past century. We talked extensively about Cantor’s work throughout all of this, so that’s where most of my experience with his ideas have come from (although his books are high on my list).

      If you haven’t seen/listened to them, I cannot recommend his Mises Institute lectures highly enough. They’re great if you’re an English dweeb like me, but I think you’d really enjoy them as well. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qr1yBzJ4tf8 . They’re also available for free from the Mises Institute’s iTunes U page.

  2. Watch Star Trek. The decades long series and movies constantly deal with current and potential future issues in politics. They constantly address the inherent problems with their beaurocratic idea of the future, and they address ideas of self-ownership with Data. And much much more of course.

    • Hamsterdam Economics says:

      Robert,

      Thanks for commenting! I’ve always wondered about Star Trek, so this may be the recommendation that pushes me over the edge. I’ve always been a little bit intimidated by the sprawling collection of series and movies though…could you recommend a good starting place for me?

  3. It is quite an interesting read and an informative one as well….posts like these increase the thirst of knowing more about literature and different kinds of books, movies and other kinds of content.

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