A Tale of Two Hazlitts

I had no idea that the great economic journalist Henry Hazlitt was indeed related to the great essayist William Hazlitt. Turns out, according to this archival Time article about H. Hazlitt succeeding H.L. Mencken as editor of the American Mercury, William was Henry’s great-great-great uncle. I’m grateful to Scott Lahti for bringing this to my attention.


Something For the Weekend: Thomas Woods on Culture and Enterprise

Last Thursday I attended the Culture of Enterprise event at the Cato Institute, “What Should Be a Culture of Enterprise in an Age of Globalization.” Thomas Woods gave a talk that was an absolute tour de force and, fortunately, it’s available on-line. Hear it here (MP3), or watch it here (Real video). Those links also inclue Olaf Gersemann’s talk following Tom’s; Gersemann was thought-provoking in his own right, though he acknowledged that coming after Tom’s talk put him at a tremendous disadvantage.

The later panel with Ed Stringham, Bryan Caplan, and the Acton Institute’s Kevin Schmiesing is also worth a viewing or a listen, particularly for Caplan’s discussion of “political culture” versus “personal culture” as factors in producing prosperity.

Power Plays

Stephen Greenblatt on “Shakespeare and the Uses of Power,” from the New York Review of Books. The best thing in the April 12 issue, though, is Hayden Pelliccia’s “Let Virgil Be Virgil,” which reviews the new Aeneid translations by Robert Fagles and Stanley Lombardo. (Maybe I should be more circumspect about claiming that the Pelliccia piece is the best thing, since there are a couple other promising essays in this issue that I haven’t read yet, such as Richard Holmes’s piece on Wordsworth and Coleridge.)

Jonathan Bate’s cover story on Shakespeare in the April Harper’s is also well worth picking up.

Skepticism About Islamo-Democracy Gets Mark Helprin Fired

From Kelly Jane Torrance’s fascinating interview with Mark Helprin (be sure to read the whole thing here):

MH: …I gave a speech that lasted 45 minutes or an hour, followed by a long question period. And one of the questions was about the democracy initiative, about changing Iraq into a democracy, and I am on record as saying—I don’t quite remember exactly, but I said more or less—I think it’s insane. I emphasize it like that, because among other things, if you count intensive language courses I took there in the summer as preparation, I spent almost three years in graduate school at Harvard in Middle Eastern Studies learning about Middle Eastern history, Arabic. And it was very clear to me, from the very beginning, that it’s impossible. If you know anything about Islamic civilization, or about the contemporary Middle East, about the sociology and the anthropology of the people who live there, and their recent history, and their religion, and their motivation and everything, then you realize that it’s not going to happen.

Even if it could be done, I don’t think it’s a desirable goal. Particularly as a Jew, I don’t like missionary work. I’ve had it focused on me, and I don’t like it. Let people be what they want to be. Now that doesn’t mean that we can’t explain what our point of view is. I would never back down from the American ideals, and we should make them known, whatever way we can, but the idea of actually embarking upon—and a crusade is a perfect word for it—a crusade to transform a culture, another culture . . . well, has it ever ended up in anything other than war? When we did it with Japan and Germany, it was after the war. They made on war on us, we hit them, and then we said, Okay, this is what we’re going to do. But the object of the war was not to—even though the propaganda may have said so—was not to change Japan and Germany into democracies. They both were democracies, to a large extent, already, but the object was to check them. My positions on this are complicated, but simple—and they’re all available.

DT: Have you found that your colleagues at places like the Wall Street Journal are unhappy with your criticism?

MH: Yes, I no longer am with the Journal.

DT: Is it because of this? Your thoughts on these issues?

MH: Pretty much, yes…

Shakespeare the Catholic?

Probably not. A few days back, Tim asked if I would solicit Paul Cantor’s opinion on Clare Asquith’s arguments for a crypto-Catholic Shakespeare. Professor Cantor said he hadn’t read her book but has been skeptical (to say the least) of the claim whenever it’s been made by others. He referred me to one of his pieces from the Claremont Review of Books (actually, two of his pieces, but I don’t think the other is on-line) for some of his thoughts on the matter — particularly his thoughts on the anti-Catholic themes of Measure for Measure. He suggested that one reason even left-wing scholars sometimes jump onto the Shakespeare-was-Catholic bandwagon is that it might be the only way they can claim him for a minority group.

Not-Quite-Live Blogging

I’ve just arrived in Auburn, Alabama (home of the Ludwig von Mises Institute), where I’ll be attending the “Commerce and Culture” seminar with Paul Cantor this week. At spare moments in the evenings, I’ll post some thoughts on the lectures.

I didn’t have the chance to get through everything on the recommended reading list, but the volumes I did read — The Economy of Literary Form by Lee Erickson, Tyler Cowen’s In Praise of Commercial Culture, Frederic Spotts’s engrossing Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, and Mises’s Anti-Capitalistic Mentality — were all well worthwhile. I’d recommend any of them. (Cowen can be reductionist in places, particularly when he’s discussing what he calls “cultural pessmists” — i.e., anyone who thinks that there’s something seriously wrong with high and low culture today — but as a primer on the economics that make culture possible, the book is valuable indeed.)

It’s been a few years since I read Professor Cantor’s own Gilligan Unbound, but time hasn’t eroded any of my admiration for the work. It’s a penetrating look at the social and cultural significance of four American television series (“Gilligan’s Island,” “Star Trek,” “The Simpsons,” and “The X-Files) emblematic of their eras. The book should have garnered a great deal more attention; unfortunately, it was released early in September 2001. (Sept. 10, if I recall…)

(Here’s a very brief Nick Gillespie interview with Cantor. And here’s Cantor on irony after 9/11.)