Print Media Author Paul Cantor on The Economics of Literature


Paul Cantor, professor of English at the University of Virginia, is an anomaly in world of literary criticism and the study of popular culture. While many academics employ an economic approach to the study of literature, they are invariably informed by Marxist critiques. Cantor, who attended the New York lectures of Ludwig von Mises as a teenager, argues that there is much to be learned from a pro-capitalist reading of literature. In August, Cantor sat down with Reason senior editor Michael C. Moynihan to discuss "Literature and the Economics of Liberty," a new book of essays he edited with Stephen Cox, that looks at the work of Walt Whitman, Willa Cather, H.G. Wells, and others through the prism of Austrian economics.

Approximately 6:45 minutes.

Shot by Meredith Bragg and Dan Hayes.  Edited by Josh Swain.

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  1. I wish I was a paid lackey of the capitalist class.

    1. You have to be certified by the government for that job. Certification only requires a year long training course, a $50,000 certification fee, and that you be a paid lackey of the capitalist class.

  2. Wow. Thanks for this. I spent four years majoring in literature at a college steeped in Marxist pedagogy. They really do hate books, it’s true. In non-market economies, the only people who can be authors are the aristocracy (as in the early days of novels, 17th and 18th century) or government propagandists (Soviet Union). Spot on, start to finish. Thanks again.

    1. You too, huh? I feel your pain. The worst class I took was a mandatory women’s studies class that analyzed feminism from a purely Marxist perspective. The grad-student teacher never left any room open for alternative analyses. I still cringe when I see fat women with buzz-cut hairdos and glasses.

      I must pick up this collection of essays. Hope it’s available for Kindle.

  3. John dos Passos (does anyone read his great USA trilogy these days?) took a major hit as a result of his switch to conservatism/ pro-markets.

  4. Ah, look. Reason and LvMI are playing nice. Take a picture while it lasts.

  5. Aha! I’m retired now, but if I were still teaching, I would definitely assign this book of essays in the basic early course required of English majors. Economic critiques are not the only frames to place around literary works, but they are important ones. Cantor is absolutely right that students should have access to more than just the Marxist frame.

    As I write I’m trying to think of former colleagues who would be receptive to this collection of essays for their classes. Not many, I fear.

  6. Mr. Cantor was one of my favorite professors at UVA (I had him for Literature of the British Empire fifteen or so years ago), and, as a dual Economics and English major, I’m looking forward to reading this new book he edited. I actually had no idea he had libertarian leanings; I just knew he wasn’t typical of many modern professors in that there seemed to be a more traditionalist bent to his way of analyzing literature. Of course, I had a number of good, somewhat traditionalist English professors at UVA; I would guess most are probably no longer there.

    1. By “a number” I mean three that I can think of off the top of my head…but still, that’s more intellectual diversity than you’d get at most colleges.

      1. Agreed. I had Cantor’s Imperial literature class as well and it was one of my favorite classes at the university.

    2. Yeah, I’d like to hear more from him. I’ll try to convince my local library to get his book.

      most lit teachers will insist that Austen or Shakespeare are liberals or akin to modern day social critics and get angry if a student disagrees.

  7. The day literary criticism dies will be a good day indeed. I hope it kills itself soon, as it has mutated into something gross. It is not a literary critics job to criticize authors for their political or ethical beliefs, it is to create a more complete frame for the reader. I don’t see literary criticism getting better, so I hope it dies soon before it can become more perverse.

  8. Its nice keep it up….

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