Monday, December 1, 2008

libs. are indivs., too

[A]ttention to individual liberty would prove to be the signal contribution of English liberalism to political thought and an important heritage for its American admirers. In succeeding centuries, "liberal" thought on property would shift and change, but the primacy of individual liberty would remain axiomatic. It was a curious axiom, in an important sense an obstacle to democracy rather than a contribution to it. Liberty could be invoked by the citizen to defy a tyrant - but equally to defy democratic majorities. Furthermore, by promising citizens that they were free to live the life they chose, Locke's conception of liberty challenged the ancient concepts of civic virtue at their roots.


gabbagabbahey said...

"Locke's conception of liberty challenged the ancient concepts of civic virtue at their roots."

I know he says thought on property would shift, but what about individual liberty vs. wider social responsibility? ... I was just reading about that recently.

I don't know if you read much Updike (I don't myself) but his most famous novel Couples supposedly illustrates, inter alia, how "the vague dissatisfaction of members of the middle class with the Lockean resolution of the relationship between moral obligation and the individual frequently leads to a search for alternatives denied by the shallowness and inadequacy of the Lockean liberal cultural heritage" - Ethan Fishman, 'Natural Law and Right in Contemporary American Middle-Class Literature' in Yanarella, E. and Sigelmann, L. Political Mythology and Popular Fiction (New York, 1988)

so there.

lex dexter said...

"I know he says thought on property would shift, but what about individual liberty vs. wider social responsibility? ..."
(- so said blabba blubba bay)

i think that ideas around "wider social responsibility" shift as well. in the latter half of the 20th century, we peaked at a pseudo-welfare-state (LBJ's great society) only to arrive at the "privatization" of social care through church groups, voluntarism and the emergent non-profits and public/private hybrids that speckle what some fantasists like to call "civil society."

indeed, all that really remains are the highs/lows of individualism... and shucks, it's amazing how many more of the "highs" obtain if you're independently wealthy. cue the literary conversation.

i have a lotta problems with the whole swath of US swinging-typewriter dude-novelists of the 1960s* and on. as per updike, i only ever made it through _Rabbit Run_... but really, I felt like my time could've been better spent bumrushing some WASP, asking him about his history of marital infidelity, and then waiting for the inevitable WASP-weep. i guess Updike throws in some basketball scenes, fwiw.

i appreciate that you're always willing to dance to the academic emo, btw.

* i do like P. Roth a lot (tho not Portnoy, his most famous)... but Bellow, Mailer, et. al. have rarely managed to rock my world. i far prefer the sorta kerouac-burroughs-pynchon-delillo tributary, tho that last is not a very homgenous group. mebbe somebody'll come along, read this thread, and force me to defend it.

gabbagabbahey said...

I can see that historical trend, and yes, reading Updike isn't the most efficient, or least tiresome, way of getting at bourgeois worries. Still, I thought the idea of Lockean liberalism as a flawed basis for society was interesting.

the reason I had noted down that passage, btw, was that I was writing an essay ('paper'?) on the '9/11 novel' and political communication using DeLillo and Auster. Those two I disovered, incidentally, from the back cover of Palahniuk's FighT Club and pretty much independent
of my Kerouac. I was going to include Updike's Terrorist in the essay, but I decided since I never really liked it that much in the first place, at least to DeLillo's Falling Man, I cut it out. So I had to use my notes for some purpose!

lex dexter said...

I know I've done my job when people freely use academic emo threads as a repository for otherwise-obviated but nonetheless interesting bits of from their own disciplines.*

Regardless of whether or not that discipline is lit crit or underwater demolition, btw...