People Should Learn the Canon More

Schools and universities should do more to ensure that people who graduate from them know something about the traditional canon. The second most obnoxious type of people to talk to about anything are the people who think people should be canonized based on their gender or race rather than quality. The most obnoxious type are people who may agree with teaching the canon, but are entirely ignorant of it.

Rachel Moran, whose motto could be “I’m violent toward homeless people and proud of it,” is an example of the latter. In her latest diatribe about homeless people, she says,

On the way to the Benz, I saw a homeless gentleman that I’ve seen for some time.  He looks disarmingly like Snoop Dogg, with very handsome, canine features and clean, thick cornrows and a long, blue jacket (I wear my shit on the left side, ’cause, yeah, that’s the Crips side).  He is perfectly non-intrusive, but lives off your money, simply by asking for it, without providing service in return.  Read your Locke.  Yes, it’s common.  I don’t care.

The above paragraph clearly demonstrates not only that Rachel flunked or didn’t take any serious writing class, but also that she hasn’t read Locke. Locke’s methodology was to go to a hypothetical state of nature and look for the rights people enjoyed in it, whence he got the triad of life, liberty, and property.

However, his view of property was very pre-capitalist. In the state of nature, he showed, people (he wrote “men”) have the right to the fruits of their own labor. In a Lockean system, there are no employers and employees, only individual producers who trade with one another. This served to contrast mainly with feudalism and absolutism, where people had to surrender the fruits of their own labor to the aristocracy.

Smith (who, unlike Locke, I haven’t read) then appropriated that to argue against mercantilism, in the process throwing out much of the stuff that was too outdated. Smith and Ricardo were no Jeffersonians; although unlike such industrialists as Hamilton they were adamantly for free trade, they were also for growth and free labor.

Obviously, their economic theories say nothing about homelessness. Why would they? Homelessness is associated with a form of poverty that only arose after the industrial revolution. Basing one’s view of homelessness on pre-1850 writers is like basing one’s view of evolution on pre-1800 writers or one’s view of airborne transportation on pre-1900 writers.

Reading canonized writers, philosophers, economists, and political theorists is priceless. In contrast, whining about how a homeless person is a parasite based on a misreading of canonized figures marks you not as an intellectual but as a faker who someone like Skatje would characterize as a waste of oxygen.

6 Responses to People Should Learn the Canon More

  1. This is one of the consistent frustrations I have in arguing against many libertarians on economic and political theory. They attempt to claim canonized figures as their while ignoring political context and very important differences between their philosophy/ideas and theirs.

    A case in point would be Adam Smith, as you mention him. Libertarians often try to portray him as a pure laissez-faire theorist when he was nothing of the sort. Reading the Wealth of nations shows any reader that he found plenty for government bodies to do (he advocated prototypical forms of anti-trust law, for instance) and advocated ideas that are not only far outside of the current economic mainstream, they are directly at odds with libertarianism (he espoused a theory of monetary value that was similar the Marx’s “labor theory of value”, for instance).

    In essence I think that such right-wing economic and political theories are the equivalent within such disciplines to creationism. Just like Intelligent Design “theorists” try to resurrect the outdated ideas of Paley, so do libertarians attempt to resurrect the long rejected ideas of Marshall, Ricardo, etc.

  2. SLC says:

    Re DiPietro

    It should also be pointed out that many of Adam Smiths’ ideas parallel Darwinian evolution. In fact, it would not be entirely out of line to call Smiths’ theories economic Darwinism (or Darwins’ theories biological Smithism). Generally, Malthus is given more credit for influencing Darwins’ ideas then Smith but clearly Smiths notion of the invisible hand of the market bears a stark resemblence to Darwins invisible hand of natural selection.

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