Libertarian History/Philosophy

Zora Neale Hurston, Libertarian?

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Philosophy professor Roderick Long has a fascinating post up at his Austro-Athenian Empire blog about the arguably libertarian politics of novelist and cultural anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. A snippet:

Again and again in the academic literature on Hurston, one finds some version of the puzzled question "Why does she seem so sensibly left-wing on some issues and so horrifically right-wing on others?" Libertarianism is so far off their radar that they don't even recognise that that's the best label for her. Hurston makes most sense when placed in conjunction with such other "Old Right" literary figures as H. L. Mencken, Isabel Paterson, Albert J. Nock, Rose Wilder Lane, Garet Garrett, and Ayn Rand—but their works are largely terra incognita in contemporary academia.

And from a lengthy passage Long excerpts from her autobiography, Hurston's less than flattering take on liberal icon FDR:

President Roosevelt could extend his four freedoms to some people right here in America before he takes it all aboard [sic, presumably for "abroad"], and, no doubt, he would do it too, if it would bring in the same amount of glory. … He can call names across the ocean, but he evidently has not the courage to speak even softly at home. Take away the ocean and he simmers right down. … Our country is so busy playing "fence" to the mobsters that the cost in human suffering cannot be considered yet. …

Whole thing here.

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  1. Our country is so busy playing “fence” to the mobsters that the cost in human suffering cannot be considered yet.

    Amen sister.

  2. Wow, what a brave and accomplished woman of that era. Reading more about her life just now has brightened my day considerably.

  3. “Why does she seem so sensibly left-wing on some issues and so horrifically right-wing on others?”

    I know that’s a characterization of mainstream academia, but it’s truly sad that it’s so close to the reality.

  4. Their Eyes Are Watching God is a fantastic book. It takes a bit to get into the language, but after you do it is well worth the effort. Hurston is one of the great American novelists of the 20th Century. Everytime I see some mediocrity like Alice Walker overrated in the name of “diversity” I just want to scream.

  5. I was impressed when I saw Hurston’s biography several months ago. Now, I’ve got to find some of her articles. Thanks for the introduction.

  6. I remember being assigned Their Eyes were Watching God in a college African-American literature class, long before I even knew what a libertarian was. I’ll have to dig it up and read it again. What a thoughtful and insightful woman!

  7. TJ,

    It is a shame she gets ghettoized into African American Lit courses. That book ought to be read in 20th Century American lit courses.

  8. “Why does she seem so sensibly left-wing on some issues and so horrifically right-wing on others?”

    Because she’s a thinking individual who doesn’t get all of her ideas from one place like a lot of self-professed Libertarians?

    Generally speaking, independent thinkers often come off that way at times because they’re not scared about what their adopted peer group will think of them.

    “I know that’s a characterization of mainstream academia, but it’s truly sad that it’s so close to the reality.”

    Uh, mainstream academia is known for being “horrificly” right wing on certain issues? That’s a new one.

    You guys need to get off of this whole anti-academia kick that you’re on. I know the inherent bitterness comes from the whole tax obsessions, but enough already.

    In fact, some of you could use an academic influence in your life.

    1. Hey Mort, What makes you think we don’t have academic influence in our lives? I grew up in a college town, my dad was a (liberal) psychology professor, and I attended the University of Chicago. And I agree that academics are out-of-touch and quite liberal. What are your credentials?

  9. Mort,

    The quoted text is supposed to be an academic’s perplexed response to Hurston’s unconventional views, not itself a characterization of the state of academia. No one mistakes anything coming out of the academe for right-wing.

    I can’t speak for the rest of the people on this board, but a few of the academics I’ve met have been some of the most hide-bound of ideologues. Having advanced degrees conferred upon them by their philosophical fellow-travelers does not grant them any higher moral status.

  10. Uh, mainstream academia is known for being “horrificly” right wing on certain issues? That’s a new one.

    One of the few remaining benefits of a liberal academic education is learning the ability to read quotes in context. To bad you seem to have missed that bit of academic influence in your life.

  11. John,

    I understand your point, that Hurston’s work should be read along with all the great 20th Century writers, but I don’t think this work was out of place in that course. IIRC, Toni Morrison’s book Sula was the next book assigned, and Morrison credits Hurston as an influence.

    I remember Hurston’s book stood out in that course because it was the first work we had read to that point that was not a form of political protest; rather, it was the story of an independant-minded woman’s journey to happiness (this is what I recall from my fuzzy memories of more than twenty years ago, so forgive me if I oversimplified it a bit. As I said, I’ll have to read it again.)

  12. There’s a festival every January in honor of Zora Huston. It takes place in Eatonville, the town mentioned in the FA. Eatonville is just northwest of Orlando.

  13. In fact, some of you could use an academic influence in your life.

    Et tu, Mort? The reading comprehension skills here are apparently better than yours. Get back to school.

    Anyhow, what amused me was

    Ayn Rand-but their works are largely terra incognita in contemporary academia

    I don’t think Ayn Rand is unknown in contemporary academia, just known and almost universally loathed. Of course, they did assign Fountainhead to us in high school, so who knows?

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