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Posts Tagged ‘Diderot’

Henry Hazlitt, Literary Critic

In American History, Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, Book Reviews, Creative Writing, Creativity, Economics, Essays, Ethics, Fiction, History, Humane Economy, Humanities, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Philosophy, Politics, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy, Writing on March 20, 2012 at 9:05 am

Allen Mendenhall

The following appeared here at Prometheus Unbound and here at

Remembered mostly for his contributions to economics, including his pithy and still-timely classic Economics in One Lesson (1946), Henry Hazlitt was a man who wore many hats. He was a public intellectual and the author or editor of some 28 books, one of which was a novel, The Great Idea (1961) — published in Britain and later republished in the United States as Time Will Run Back (1966) — and another of which, The Anatomy of Criticism (1933), was a trialogue on literary criticism. (Hazlitt’s book came out 24 years before Northrop Frye published a book of criticism under the same title.) Great-great-grandnephew to British essayist William Hazlitt, the boy Henry wanted to become like the eminent pragmatist and philosopher-psychologist William James, who was known for his charming turns of phrase and literary sparkle. Relative poverty would prevent Hazlitt’s becoming the next James. But the man Hazlitt forged his own path, one that established his reputation as an influential man of letters.

In part because of his longstanding support for free-market economics, scholars of literature have overlooked Hazlitt’s literary criticism; and Austrian economists — perhaps for lack of interest, perhaps for other reasons — have done little to restore Hazlitt’s place among the pantheon of 20th century literary critics. Yet Hazlitt deserves that honor.

He may not have been a Viktor Shklovsky, Roman Jakobson, Cleanth Brooks, William K. Wimsatt, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Lionel Trilling, Dwight Macdonald, or Kenneth Burke, but Hazlitt’s criticism is valuable in negative terms: he offers a corrective to much that is wrong with literary criticism, both then and now. His positive contributions to literary criticism seem slight when compared to those of the figures named in the previous sentence. But Hazlitt is striking in his ability to anticipate problems with contemporary criticism, especially the tendency to judge authors by their identity. Hazlitt’s contributions to literary criticism were not many, but they were entertaining and erudite, rivaling as they did the literary fashions of the day and packing as much material into a few works as other critics packed into their entire oeuvres. Read the rest of this entry »


Jefferson and Information Policy

In Arts & Letters, Information Design, Jurisprudence, Literary Theory & Criticism, Politics, Rhetoric & Communication on May 18, 2010 at 7:11 pm


Since the emergence of the Internet and the innovations of information technology, intellectual property law (IP) has become an increasingly important and contentious field.  Applying old ideas to new inventions can lead to heated debates.

IP has always stood on shaky footing in light of claims that rights to intangible products such as ideas, or tangible products that amount to artistic or commercial creations of the mind, are legal fictions.

IP involves monopolistic privileges for inventors to incentivize inventing.  Opponents of IP argue that monopolies are inefficient, uncompetitive, exploitative, and unjust, even when granted to artists or performers.

David Opderbeck, a scholar of IP, has examined information policy, which studies the interface of information technology and government.  He argues against social constructivism as an approach to information policy and for a combination of critical realism and environmental virtue ethics.  The latter approach breaks from what he calls “modern positivism” and “postmodern skepticism,” insisting that social constructivism is itself grounded in deeper realities.

Opderbeck brings to mind Bruno Latour’s description of the vacuum pump experiment: although the conditions of the experiment are artificial or socially constructed in that they never would appear naturally, the results of the experiment are real (i.e., natural).  Social constructions are means to natural ends, but to reduce the entire experiment to social constructivism misses the point.

The same is true for information technology.  Social constructions influence the ways in which information, broadly conceived, interacts with government, just as they influence the ways in which humans interact with nature.   Read the rest of this entry »

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