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The American Founders and Natural Law Jurisprudence

In America, American History, American Literature, Arts & Letters, Books, Britain, Christianity, Historicism, History, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Law, Laws of Slavery, Liberalism, Literature, Philosophy, Slavery, Southern History, Thomas Jefferson, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on April 9, 2014 at 8:45 am

Allen 2

The American founders, many of them, validated their political cause and secession from Britain by resorting to natural law theories and paradigms.[i] Thomas Jefferson memorialized these theories and paradigms in the Declaration of Independence.[ii] While studying nature and the physical world, Jefferson extended natural law jurisprudence while revising it to fit the needs and settings of the New World.[iii] Rather than looking to divine or moral prescription to ground his natural law theories, Jefferson looked to nature. He borrowed from Newtonian ideas about the laws of the universe and applied them to the laws of man.[iv] A human law was, by this logic, akin to the law of gravity.

The American insistence on natural law was a reaction to the analytical positivism gaining credence in Britain.[v] This school of jurisprudence found its fullest expression in the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and John Austin. These men treated laws as linguistic constructs: commands that attained the status of law because people followed them, not because they reflected a priori or transcendent rules of the cosmos. American founders such as Jefferson saw natural law as a way to distinguish themselves from their British counterparts and to define what it meant to be American. William Blackstone, one of the few British jurists still clinging to natural law principles,[vi] enjoyed vast success from American purchases of Commentaries on the Laws of England.[vii] The popularity of this treatise in America had to do with Blackstone’s support for ideals that, from the colonials’ perspective, affirmed Revolutionary rhetoric and philosophical principles.[viii] Blackstone died in 1780. His death ushered in the age of positive law jurisprudence in England.[ix]

In America, however, natural law picked up momentum in the wake of the Revolution and American independence.[x] That ideas of natural law flourished during the Enlightenment, especially in America where institutions were supposed to reflect—indeed embody—Enlightenment principles, is curious because the Enlightenment glorified reason and humanism: progressive concepts seemingly incongruous with a moral theory derived from ancient church teachings and philosophical orthodoxies. This disjuncture reveals the extent to which colonials sought to divorce their culture and communities from the British. Á la Blackstone, colonials would go great lengths to “prove” their natural law theories through application of the scientific method and appeals to reason.[xi] Natural law jurisprudence did, in fact, fit within a scientific and rational framework in many important respects. For instance, natural law, like laws of the natural world putatively discoverable by reason, logic, and experiment, were by definition universal. Just as truths about the external world allegedly were deduced through sustained study of specimens and species, so truths about the human condition were, natural theorists argued, deduced through sustained study of human behavior and the history of the races.[xii] In this sense, colonial jurists viewed natural law not as retrograde, superstitious, or religious, but as cutting-edge and scientific. Americans were not alone in their attention to the scientific elements of law. In Western and Central Europe during the mid-to-late eighteenth century, rulers and leaders “sought to rationalize their legal systems, to make law scientific, to extend it in a vernacular language evenly over their territories, and to put an end to the earlier jumble of customs, privileges, and local rights.”[xiii] Save for Blackstone’s efforts, however, this scientific trend did not gain much traction in England.[xiv]

Early Americans, particularly northerners[xv] but also Virginians such as Jefferson and George Mason, celebrated the ideals of natural law and natural rights appearing in the Declaration, but they found those ideals difficult to implement in everyday practice. Although staunchly committed to the principles of natural law, the colonials, at least those with representation or voice in the political sphere, discovered that abstract philosophy did not readily translate into workaday rules and regulations.[xvi] “It was one thing,” submits David Brion Davis, “to state abstract propositions, and quite another to decide how the law applied to a particular case.”[xvii] Above all, the “peculiar institution” of American slavery called into question the Enlightenment values upon which American natural law jurisprudence depended. Cries of freedom and liberty rang hollow once Americans were no longer up against an oppressive British Empire. These cries began to sound hypocritical—if they did not seem so already—as the institution of slavery became a mainstay of the economy of the fledgling nation.[xviii] How could colonists extol freedom, liberty, and equality yet enslave masses of people? This American philosophical “inconsistency pinched harder when slaves began to speak the language of natural rights.”[xix] As Samuel Johnson, the eminent British Tory and man of letters, quipped, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”[xx]

 

NOTES

[i] “The American Revolution, as it ran its course from 1764 to 1776—from the first beginnings of resistance down to the Declaration of Independence and the creation of new colonial constitutions—was inspired by the doctrines of Natural Law.” Ernest Baker, in Natural Law and the Theory of Society: 1500-1800, ed. Otto Gierke (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1934) at I, xlvi. See generally Clarence Manion, “The Natural Law Philosophy of the Founding Fathers,” University of Notre Dame Natural Law Institute Proceedings (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1949). See also Raymond Whiting, “The American Interpretation of Natural Law,” A Natural Right to Die: Twenty-Three Centuries of Debate (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002) 109-118.

[ii] “[T]he argument of the Declaration is a subtle, if ambiguous, blending of empirical historical analysis and the metaphysics of Natural Law. To prove its central contention—that the revolution was made necessary by British policies—the document enumerates twenty-seven specific events in recent history which reveal precisely how Britain acted to establish despotism. […] But the revolutionaries meant to transcend arguments of expediency, for such arguments were always subject to the vicissitudes of opinion and opinion might lead one to conclude that a revolution was in fact unnecessary and therefore unjustifiable. To remove their claims from the arena of opinion and to ground them with certainty, the revolutionaries felt constrained to found the argument for justification on the principle of Natural Rights which was rooted in the theory of Natural Law as applied to politics and society. Thus the grievances enumerated in the Declaration, weighty in themselves for some readers, were for others concrete examples of how one nation attempted to subordinate another to an ‘absolute despotism.’ The grievances, taken together, demonstrated that British policies had violated the fundamental principles of Natural Law itself.” Lester H. Cohen, “The American Revolution and Natural Law Theory,” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 39, No. 3 (1978) at 491-92.

[iii] See generally Allen Mendenhall, “Jefferson’s ‘Laws of Nature’: Newtonian Influence and the Dual Valence of Jurisprudence and Science,” Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. 23, No. 2 (2010).

[iv] See generally Mendenhall, “Jefferson’s Laws of Nature.”

[v] See generally David Lieberman, “Mapping criminal law: Blackstone and the categories of English jurisprudence,” in Law, Crime and English Society, 1660-1830, ed. Norma Landau(Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2002 ) at 159-162. See also David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1975) at 343-385. Davis explains this English phenomenon as follows: “In England there was no ‘fundamental shift in values’ that mobilized the society into revolution. There was no counterpart to the American need for self-justification. No new hopes or obligations arose from an attempt to build a virtuous republic. Such phrases as ‘created equal,’ ‘inalienable rights,’ and ‘the pursuit of happiness’—all of which appeared in classic liberal texts—were qualified by a reverent constitutionalism that looked to Saxon precedent to legitimize ideals of freedom. The notion of man’s inherent rights, when assimilated to the historical concept of British ‘liberty,’ implied little challenge to traditional laws and authorities. And by the 1790s the very idea of inherent rights was giving way to radical and conservative forms Utilitarianism.” Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution at 343.

[vi] In short, Blackstone believed that the common law reflected natural law principles and that any law contradicting natural law was invalid. Consider, e.g., the following quotation: “This law of nature, being co-eval with mankind and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding all over the globe, in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force, and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original. […] Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.” Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book I at 41-42.

[vii] See Russell Kirk, America’s British Culture (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1993) 36-40.

[viii] See Albert W. Alschuler, “Rediscovering Blackstone,” 145 University of Pennsylvania L. Rev. (1996) at 4-19. See also David Schultz, “Political Theory and Legal History: Conflicting Depictions of Property in the American Political Founding,” 37 American Journal of Legal History (1993) at 483-486.

[ix] The jurisprudential split between Blackstone and Bentham, while stark, was not as hostile as some first considered: “Until recently Bentham’s claim to have made a sharp break with Blackstone has won wide acceptance, and that fact, combined with Bentham’s ascendancy, was chiefly responsible for consigning Blackstone to obscurity. […] No doubt this outcome resulted in part from Bentham’s mastery of invective, and in part from the fact that the elderly Blackstone did not deign to notice the attacks of an upstart critic, much less reply to them. Even the strongest partisans of Bentham have conceded that much of his criticism directed at Blackstone was misplaced[…]. In spite of Bentham’s efforts, most historians of the relationship have acknowledged that Bentham, despite his implacable hostility, combined relentless criticism with passages of praise that became as famous as some of his barbs.” Richard A. Cosgrove, Scholars of the Law: English Jurisprudence from Blackstone to Hart (New York University Press, 1996) at 52.

[x] See generally George W. Casey, “Natural Rights, Equality, and the Declaration of Independence,” 3 Ave Maria Law Review 45 (2005). See also Philip A. Hamburger, “Natural Rights, Natural Law, and American Constitutions,” 102 Yale Law Journal 907 (1993). See also James Lanshe, “Morality and the Rule of Law in American Jurisprudence,” 11 Rutgers Journal of Law & Religion 1 (2009) at 11-15. See also Kevin F. Ryan, “We Hold These Truths,” 31-WTR Vermont Bar Journal 9 (2005-06) at 11-16.

[xi] “[Blackstone] presented law as a science, a ‘rational science,’ that included an extensive discussion of natural law. To Blackstone, the principles of natural law are universal and superior to positive law, including the common law. […] Natural law, according to Blackstone, is either revealed by God or discoverable through human reason. […] American jurisprudents readily accepted Blackstone’s natural law orientation. […] [N]atural law provided a convenient and useful justification for the adoption of English common law in the various states of the burgeoning nation. Especially in the decades following soon after the Revolutionary War, if the common law had been understood merely as an English institution distinctive to Britain itself, then an American reliance on the common law would have seemed impolitic or even treasonous. If, however, the common law arose from universal principles of the law of nature, which were revealed by God or discovered through human reason, then the common law would be legitimate everywhere, including in America.” Stephen M. Feldman, “From Premodern to Modern American Jurisprudence: The Onset of Positivism,” 50 Vanderbilt Law Review 1387 (1997) at 1396-97.

[xii] Thomas R. R. Cobb, a jurist from Georgia and an expert on slave laws, took pains to show how science validated the idea of slaves as naturally inferior and in need of white supervision. Consider this quote by Cobb: “The history of the negro race then confirms the conclusion to which an inquiry into the negro character had brought us: that a state of bondage, so far from doing violence to the law of his nature, develops and perfects it; and that, in that state, he enjoys the greatest amount of happiness, and arrives at the greatest degree of perfection of which his nature is capable. And, consequently, that negro slaver, as it exists in the United States, is not contrary to the law of nature.” Thomas R. R. Cobb, An Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America (Philadelphia: T. & J. W. Johnson & Co., 1858) at 51.

[xiii] Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford University Press, 2009) at 403.

[xiv] Ibid. at 403-404.

[xv] “Southerners considered themselves law-abiding and considered northerners lawless. After all, southerners did not assert higher-law doctrines and broad interpretations of the Constitution. Rather, as Charles S. Sydnor has argued, they understood the law in a much different way and professed to see no contradiction between their code of honor, with its appeal to extralegal personal force, and a respect for the law itself.” Eugene Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll (New York: Pantheon Books, 1974) at 44.

[xvi] See Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford University Press, 2009) at 405-408.

[xvii] David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1975) at 470.

[xviii] See generally David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1966) at 3-28. For a synthesis of the historical scholarship on this point, see Peter Kolchin, American Slavery, 1619-1877 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993) at 63-92.

[xix] David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1975) at 276.

[xx] See James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (New York: George Dearborn, 1833) at 132.

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Can the Humanities Be Saved?

In Arts & Letters, Humanities, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, News and Current Events, Pedagogy, Teaching on December 1, 2011 at 12:00 am

James Banks is a doctoral student studying Renaissance and Restoration English literature at the University of Rochester. He also contributes to the American Interest Online. He has been a Fellow with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute Honors Program; in addition to The Literary Lawyer, he has written for the Intercollegiate Review, First Principles and The Heritage Foundation’s blog The Foundry. A native of Idaho’s panhandle, he lives in upstate New York and serves in the New York Army National Guard.

 

Humanities professors hear the bell tolling and are probably beginning to wonder if the next toll will be the last. In response to the impending crisis of student debts, the Modern Language Association (MLA) issued a “formal statement” condemning the rapid increase in tuition and calling on federal and state institutions to do something about it:

Public attention has been directed recently to the educational debt students accumulate in the course of undergraduate, as well as graduate, study. A major contributing factor has been the increasing portion of educational costs students must bear in the form of loans. To reduce debt burdens in the future, we call on Congress, state legislatures, and institutions of higher education to calibrate educational costs and student aid in ways that will keep student debt within strict limits. We also call on them to hold in check tuition increases, which often far outpace inflation, and to ensure that degree programs allow for timely completion.

This statement may be gobbledygook; it’s easy for academics to call for keeping student tuition within strict limits, but it is very hard to actually curb tuition rates. If the MLA wanted to make news, it would have issued a few recommendations for how to, say, tear down the gymnasium, privatize student housing, experiment with virtual conferences, or limit salary increases.

MLA’s concern about student debt and funding for the humanities is still news, though. It indicates that humanities departments are getting wind of the fact that, in tough economic times, they are going to be the first to lose students, and with state governments and universities tightening their belts, programs losing students are going to be first to get axed, if that’s what things come to.

Humanities departments won’t save themselves by doing what they have always done, which is to make moralist pronouncements and then leave the hard work of paying the bills to the administrations and government. Survival of these departments will require a more radical stance. Critics of the humanities predictably responded to the MLA statement by saying that humanities departments have brought the impending crisis on themselves by teaching classes with names like “GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender and Identity” instead of the good old-fashioned “Introduction to Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton.”

It’s true that humanities departments would probably have more students if they stuck to a more traditional curriculum (which would also make for less embarrassing conversations between students and their grandparents, who want to know what their grandchildren are studying at school), but humanities departments have changed less than conservative critics claim. Although curriculum content in the humanities has evolved, humanities students can still read Shakespeare if they want to, and the place of the humanities in universities has not changed radically. 

The idea behind departments like English, philosophy and history was not to help people live longer but to help them live better. Writers, philosophers and historians may not be more moral than the average human being—in many cases, they are less so—but wrestling with the moral dilemmas that the humanities present could at least train tomorrow’s leaders to exercise their moral instincts. Humanities departments still see themselves as being the moral conscience of the higher education system, and, by extension, high culture.

However, as the moral standards of the academy and America’s mainstream culture have diverged, humanities departments have been demoted from being moral authorities to being moralistic beadles; to the rest of the academy, humanities faculty are ivory tower preachers who occasionally publish articles on America’s promiscuous history of imperialism and who host forums about cultural failures at the nexus of race, class and gender. Read the rest of this entry »

Outline and Summary of Sylvia R. Frey’s Water from the Rock

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, History, Politics, Slavery on February 20, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Allen Mendenhall

Sylvia R. Frey, Water from the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1991) 

ONE

The Prerevolutionary South: Foundations of Culture and Community

This chapter describes the landscape and characteristics of the South before the Revolution.  The Chesapeake was much different from the lower South, which depended on the production of rice for economic competition.  Rice cultivation was common in states like South Carolina and Georgia, but less common in states like North Carolina.  Virginia and North Carolina grew tobacco.  In some places in Virginia, the slave population equaled the white population; in some places in South Carolina, slaves outnumbered whites.  Whites and blacks worked together and lived in close proximity, but they developed different cultural norms.  Big homes, churches, and courthouses served to unify the white community.  Symbols of power like plantation homes served to unite whites.  The bigger the plantations, the greater the separation between masters and slaves.  Criminal codes for slaves expanded in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as the slave population increased.  The Stono Rebellion of 1735 led Southern states to pass laws to deter slave insurrection.  County courts retained ultimate punishment power over slaves.  The most common religion in the South at this time was Anglicanism, although religion generally was spread out and not institutionalized.  The gentry tended to be Anglican.  The first effort to Christianize slaves in the South came from a missionary sect of Anglicans called the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.  This sect evangelized to blacks from roughly 1705-1760, at which point other denominations such as the Baptists and Methodists took up that role.  As whites gradually sought to ensure their dominance through institutions, laws, and architecture, they also allowed slaves to cultivate a unique culture.  The emerging black culture fused West African traditions with various, competing African American practices and with a new religious culture centering on the church.  By the late eighteenth century, most slaves in America had been born in America.  Slaves in the lowcountry, especially in the coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia, were able to nourish and sustain an African-influenced culture.  Family became the site of cultural cohesiveness for slaves and even helped to determine which African customs to retain and which to discard.  By the eve of the Revolution, the monogamous slave family was not an established model partially because slaves lacked the legal and religious protocols for marriage.  Polygyny was common among slaves and in keeping with West African traditions.  Many slaves sought to preserve West African religious traditions.  Gradually slaves adopted a Christian religion alongside but not within white Christianity.  The growth of organized religion among slaves was a product of the Revolutionary era and was spearheaded by slaves themselves.  The synthesis of republican ideals and religious sentiment emanating from the Great Awakening made for the budding antislavery movement.   Read the rest of this entry »

Outline and Summary of Ira Berlin’s Many Thousands Gone

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Dred Scott, History, Slavery on February 9, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Allen Mendenhall

Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998).

Prologue: 

Race is a historical construction.  It is continually redefined by various parties and for various reasons.  The experiences that defined race in North America were volatile; they changed over the course of two centuries.  The definition of race—and of slave—transformed alongside and because of human interaction.  Slaves defined their history as much as masters did.  Slavery was a “negotiated relationship.”  Even though masters maintained a position of dominance over slaves, slave agency constantly forced masters to revise their relationship to slaves.  Masters and slaves had to concede power to one another.  As the master-slave relationship changed, so did the dynamics of the slave system.  The master-slave relationship was always renegotiated and remade, and the power of the master or the slave was always contingent.  Therefore, the reality of a slave’s life was different depending upon time and place.  No slave experience was the same.  Rather than examining the commonalities and continuities of slavery across time and space, this work seeks to emphasize differences and contingencies.  Discussions of paternalism in the master-slave relationship have dominated slave studies and reinforced the idea that slave conditions were static and fixed in time.  As a result, historians have established misleading tropes.  The author seeks to challenge and undo some of those tropes.  He seeks to unsettle the master/slave binary opposition by emphasizing the messiness in between.  Slavery made class more than it made race.  Nevertheless, slave history is irreducible to labor, even if labor is indispensable to slavery.  Focusing on the workplace, as this author does, provides insights into the quotidian operations of slave life from place to place and time to time.  It reveals, for instance, how slaves resisted their masters through dance and song (among other things).  The author separates North American slavery into distinct regions and experiences to suggest the variety of slave experience from locale to locale.  A society with slaves is different from a slave society because the former does not depend upon slavery in the economic realm, does not produce as many slaves, and does not press the master-slave dichotomy.  The way that societies with slaves transformed into slave societies differed from society to society, but each such society had brutality in common.  Labor and the struggle of master and slave over labor are instructive starting points from which to examine slavery in general.  The ideals of the Enlightenment, as well as democratic movements in America and elsewhere, gave slaves leverage to challenge their bondage on colonials’ own philosophical terms.

Quote:  “Locating the seat of social change in the workplace, rooting those changes in the material circumstances of African-American life, and connecting such material changes to the development of African-American institutions and beliefs offer a structure for historicizing the study of slavery.  The struggle over labor informed all other conflicts between master and slave, and understanding it opens the way to a full comprehension of slave society and the integration of the slave experience into the history of the American workingclass.  It also provides the material basis for an appreciation of agency within the confines of slavery and how resistance that fell short of revolution could be effective.” (11)

This book strives to avoid a totalizing or essentializing narrative of slavery.  It treats slavery on a case-by-case, place-by-place basis. Read the rest of this entry »

Shakespeare, Othello, and Science in America: An Argument I Might Make (If I had the time)

In American History, Arts & Letters, Literary Theory & Criticism, Shakespeare on September 27, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Kris Collins interrogates the mutually affirming racial discourses of the theater and the natural sciences in nineteenth-century America.

“The nineteenth-century scientific community’s fascination with the black body,” Collins explains, “provides a contemporary analytical template for the racialized anxieties expressed in both minstrelsy and mainstage productions of Othello: white America’s struggle to define and defend the whiteness of their own bodies” (88).

Collins focuses on the work of several white Euro-American scientists: George Gliddon, Josiah Nott, Herman Burmeiter, Cesare Lombroso, Samuel G. Morton, and Louis Agassiz. All of these men classify races hierarchically and by taxonomies putatively dependent on racial intelligence. Because of the inherent differences between the races, these scientists argue, the white population should not mingle, sexually or otherwise, with the black population. Collins thoroughly debunks these claims, which she relates to nineteenth-century minstrel performances of Othello that solidify racist significations of the black body.

While the scientists that Collins identifies opined on racial distinction, another scientist, the young Charles Darwin, dissertated on theories of natural selection and evolution. One wonders whether Darwin’s ideas about genetics and heritable traits influenced the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century stage as much as Collins’s subjects influenced the stage in the preceding era.

More to the point, Herbert Spencer’s appropriations of Darwin—epitomized by the phrase “survival of the fittest”—may have justified and authorized racial divisions at the same time that high brow / low brow and elite / popular distinctions began to congeal. This simultaneous segregation (scientific and socio-cultural) was not so much coincidental as mutually (re)affirming.

Bardification and Shakespeare idolatry proliferated along with scientific discourses suggesting that whites were “better adapted” or “more advanced” than people of color. Shakespearean performances—most notably blackface performances of Othello but also early twentieth-century performances starring African American actors as Othello—gradually and perhaps unwittingly reflected the Spencerian drive to “preserve” the “favored” races.

This argument is the logical extension of Collins’s work; it compels a look at the continued influence of natural science on the next generation of American actors, directors, and theater-goers. Although the display of scientific racism and its corresponding effect on the theater may have changed, the underlying idea of racial superiority remained in place.

For further reading:

Collins, Kris. “White-Washing the Black-a-Moor: Othello, Negro Minstrelsy and Parodies of Blackness. The Journal of American Culture 19.3 (June 2004), pp. 87-101.

Shakespeare, Whitman & Emerson

In American History, Arts & Letters, Emerson, Literary Theory & Criticism, Shakespeare, Walt Whitman on August 9, 2010 at 9:55 am

In Repositioning Shakespeare, Thomas Cartelli situates Whitman’s Shakespeare in contradistinction to Emerson’s Shakespeare.

The phrase “Whitman’s Shakespeare” is, in a way, an odd construction because Whitman did not seek to claim “ownership” of Shakespeare so much as he sought an “appropriation and critical transformation” of Shakespeare (32).  Cartelli submits, in fact, that Whitman “brought a contentiously critical approach to bear on his assessments of Shakespeare” (30).

Although Cartelli pays lip-service to Emerson’s ambivalence about Shakespeare, he concludes that Emerson transformed the Bard of Avon “into a virtual founding father” by attempting “an act of wishful appropriation in which the (literary) model that cannot be superseded is annexed by the (political) model that supersedes” (33).

Cartelli thus seems convinced that Shakespeare shaped Whitman’s and Emerson’s thought, but he seems unsettled about how and why.

Read the rest of this entry »

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