Friday, October 1, 2010

What Should Literary Austrians Be Doing?

What should Literary Austrians (to coin a term) be doing? Doing Misesian analyses of characters' actions? Trying to understand the sociological/spontaneous order origins of storytelling, genre, etc.? Trying to explain, using spontaneous order and entrepreneurial theory, why some works of literature are successful, and why others fail? Finding hints of Austrian-style (and other free market) economic understanding in works of literature? (Others I'm not thinking of at the moment?) Some combination thereof?



  1. Troy,

    I wouldn't say that what I'm doing is what Literary Austrians should be doing, but I'm happy to share some ideas. I've been writing on the way E.M. Forster (not a free-market guy, but someone interested in the individual and personal relations) favors the "law" of Brahman Hindu (which is actually an anarchist form of jurisprudence) as a sort of spontaneous order in the novel A Passage to India. Building off Rothbard's critique of Benthamite utilitarianism and John Hasnas's critique of rule of law, I suggest the Forster seems to prize a system of polycentric law inspired by (but not mimicking) Brahman Hindu philosophy. Forster calls into question the ideological premises of rule of law, which is always bound up with the power of the Raj and not individual freedom or human rights.

    I'd welcome any thoughts, comments, or suggestions about this project.

    Allen Mendenhall

  2. Actually, to my mind, this would fit in quite well with what I have in mind -- using the idea of spontaneous order theory. Hayek certianly opens up the use of the legal spontaneous order as properly Austrian in the sense I am using it.

    I'm afraid I haven't read A Passage to India, so I'm not in a good position to weigh in on it. But the idea sounds like an interesting one.

  3. Dickens is often taken as a pseudo-communist author, yet he clearly champions individual charity over philanthropy and government intervention, spontaneous order between individuals based upon their predilections and shared interests. In all cases, including in the Old Curiosity Shop, Bleak House, Oliver Twist A Christmas Carol and Hard Times (the five great anti-utilitarian and anti-monopoly texts)all focus upon the individual and the individual's reactions to their economic circumstances in which a new order emerges out of the removal of external cohesion. Literary Critics need to invert the tactics of the left (the inversion of presumed aims to gain insight and understanding) by inverting the supposed history of the left as an appeal towards individual freedom and free association. (Wow, a full stop!)

  4. Indeed, I had heard all about how Dickens was a socialist -- and then I read Oliver Twist, where the government-run orphanage and the criminal underground were the clear villains in the story, and the wealthy older man, who had gotten his wealth by being a capitalist, was the hero. I had no earthly idea what the leftist professors had been talking about at that point.

    You might also check out the Cantor book, where Dickens is actually quoted in his support of free markets.

  5. I am an undergraduate English student and currently exploring the implications of Austrian ideas to the relationship between reader, author, and society and comparing a potential Austrian interpretation to other thinkers ranging from the Romantic theory of Expressivity to Barthes'"The Death of the Author". I think that Austrian type literary analysis can be useful to respond to a variety of important questions within literary studies. Just like criticism based on Marxist principles has grown and developed to deal with an immense amount of issues from our reading of particular novels to the most general questions within literary theory.

    By the way, I love the blog! For a while there I was starting to be convinced that I was the only student of literature out there who saw the connection between Austrian Economics and Literature! Great to hear from more of you!

  6. Well, I hope you read everything here and comment. Many of these are preliminary ideas. Add to them, develop them. That's what we need to be doing. More more discussions we can get, the better this blog is going to be. Share with us what you're doing and what you're thinking.