Thursday, August 30, 2012

Liberal Canon

A recent interview on NPR talked with Beverly Gage, a professor at Yale, about her article in Slate entitled: "Why is there no liberal Ayn Rand?" on why Conservatives have literary canon (Rand, Friedman, Hayek, among others). It's an interesting article and I won't rehash it here, you can read it for yourself (it's not too long). Liberal Canon.

It got me thinking - why don't we have a liberal canon, and what can we do about that? How far back would we go? Do we include classical liberalism, or leave that that the "conservative" canon? Of course economic works are important, but what about political or social, or literary? There are obviously countless texts that could be included. The important part, after determining that long list, would be to have a more narrow, defined list. Something that all liberals would be able to read and digest to some extent.


James R said...

No! No! No!
[This is without reading the article, so I apologize in advance if I fail to "not to embarrass oneself"]
When did it become an us vs. them war? A liberal vs conservative confrontation. Once upon a time there were issues. The issues had arguing points and you went with what you felt was the best solution at the time. Sometimes your highest priority was one thing (balance the budget, save hurricane victims, maintain the economy). Sometimes your priority was something else. For many issues, I'm not sure what is conservative and what is liberal. Sure there are tendencies. Some may place helping others before helping themselves, but we all want to help ourselves.

We have enough problems with issues, forget liberal and conservative. Like race, I think liberal and conservative are figments of society's imagination. I'm 'conservative' on some points at certain times and 'liberal' on others.

Secondly, could we just recognize that ideologies are mostly evil. Embrace people, not ideologies. When a person (like Ayn Rand) called an ideology "his truth, and tried to live by it, he became grotesque and the truth became a falsehood." (Sherwood Anderson)

[Now I will read the article.]

James R said...

She has some interesting points, but overall she is misguided and dead wrong. Ask all the failed ideological states. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will never be captured by an ideology. And even with that statement, you should be only "slightly confident."

Big Myk said...

It’s funny, I saw this article when it first came out a couple weeks ago and was going to mention it in a blog. (Again, great minds thinking alike.) Originally, I thought perhaps it had a point, but now I think mostly the piece is a little dopey. I’m not so sure there is a liberal or conservative canon to begin with and, if there is, I’m not certain that any conservative canon is more fixed in the firmament than a liberal canon. The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith comes to mind as a nomination from the left.

But, here’s something that I am more certain of: anyone like Paul Ryan who finds Ayn Rand somehow compelling is a moron. A while back I read an article about literary deal breakers: those books that, if you found them in your date’s bookcase would cause you to break up with her/him. See It’s Not You, It’s Your Books. I actually thought that I had blogged on this earlier, but a blog search revealed that apparently I hadn’t.

Well, there’s little doubt that the number one deal breaker in America is Atlas Shrugged. A distant second was The Da Vinci Code.

Laura Miller, a book critic for Salon, had this to say. “I did have to break up with one guy because he was very keen on Ayn Rand. He was sweet and incredibly decent despite all the grandiosely heartless ‘philosophy’ he espoused, but it wasn’t even the ideology that did it. I just thought Rand was a hilariously bad writer, and past a certain point I couldn’t hide my amusement.”

Other comments: “When it comes to dating, I have only one simple rule. If I go over to a girl’s house and she has a copy of The Fountainhead, or — god forbid — Atlas Shrugged, then I’m out the door in 0.5 seconds. Liking Ayn Rand novels is a guaranteed sign that someone is crazy, and though crazy people are often good in bed, it’s really just not worth it.”

“Back when I was dating, I had a rule to avoid guys who were so into Ayn Rand that they mentioned it on the first date. Like it was fine if they read some of her books, but if they read them and ascribed to her philosophy so thoroughly that they were preaching to me about it, that was a deal breaker. This was after a hot guy tried to pick me up at a bar and then proceeded to spend the next 40 minutes telling me about Objectivism like he was doing me a favor. From then on, I considered a strong interest in Rand a warning sign that the guy was annoying, and that rule served me well a couple of times afterwards.”

If you want a book that is in every possible way the opposite of Atlas Shrugged, I suggest Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. It’s an astoundingly good book; it creates characters and suggests ideas 10 times more interesting than anything Ayn Rand wrote about; and it doesn’t promote self-interst as the highest virtue. Plus, at one point it describes a turtle’s effort to struggle up an embankment and cross a highway The turtle is tough, tenacious, and unstoppable – the best press this creature has received since The Tortoise and Hare.