Marxists Dominate the Field of Literary Criticism. That’s a Problem.
Re-reading Economics in Literature: A Capitalist Critical Perspective
by Matt Spivey
Lexington Books, 2021
Matt Spivey asks an important question. Literary critics often use economics to interpret the texts they consider, but often they have mistaken ideas about economics. They oppose the free market and are frequently Marxists. Spivey, an English professor at Arizona Christian University who specializes in American literature, asks, Why not use correct economics instead? And by “correct” economics, he means Austrian economics. In carrying out his project, Spivey continues the pioneering work of Paul Cantor and Stephen Cox, eds., in Literature and the Economics of Liberty, and it comes as no surprise that Cantor calls Spivey’s book “a welcome breath of fresh air in its field.” (See my review of Cantor and Cox here.)
Spivey has set himself a hard task, in that four of the five books he discusses are written from perspectives opposed to the free market and he often has to show how insights in the books undermine themes the authors suggest. The first book he considers, though, the Narrative of Frederick Douglass, was written by a committed supporter of individual enterprise. “He was against collectivist economic systems and viewed any attempt at eradicating or revolutionizing the fundamentals of capitalism as completely unrealistic…he knew America was different from anywhere else in the world for its singular freedom.” (p. 39)
Austrian economists stress the entrepreneurial aspect of human action. Individuals must seize chances of gain through their appraisal of their situation, and here Douglass was a master and not a slave. Douglass constantly sought to increase his knowledge and skills. He did not allow his starting point in slavery to get the better of him. “Douglass, though enduring a horrific existence of enslavement, remains an acting individual whose life choices, though severely limited due to his abhorrent circumstances, are still varied and available” (p. 37). Spivey calls Douglass’s enterprising efforts an attempt to build up his “human capital,” and though this, as Peter Klein explains here, is a term Austr
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