Literature and Liberty: An English Major’s Place in the Movement


As a student, I have taken my turn reading through the sappy, statist pages of “The Jungle,” as well as the contrasting pages of “Animal Farm.” These books are powerful because they portray important ideas in an entertaining, understandable way. Properties like these make literature a powerful tool in any intellectual movement, and although some would claim that free-market literature lacks the emotional appeal of that which promotes more government intervention, there is still compassion and power in many novels which promote liberty.

I received much of my personal inspiration and knowledge of the workings of the free market and alternate economic systems from books like “1984” and “Atlas Shrugged,” and can testify firsthand to the effect they had on me. However, looking beyond the usual suspects for “liberty literature,” it is interesting to note that some literature which at first glance appears to be sympathetic to big government actually has some free-market leanings. One example is found in Charles Dickens.

In “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge refuses to give money to the sweet and needy Crachit family in a classic example of the heartless actions of big business owners… or does he? When the men first come to his door with a collection for the poor, he turns them away, grumbling that there are jailhouses, union workhouses and poor laws to take care of the problem that he already pays his taxes to. It is only when the ghosts make him aware of the needs in his own neighborhood, his personal experiences and knowledge of the needs of his neighbors enables him to give generously in a way that makes the maximum positive impact on all involved.

When one starts looking with a close eye at every media one is presented with, many hidden philosophies will emerge. For instance, while watching “Jaws” with my fellow interns, we noted the surprising role the mayor played in insisting the beach be kept open despite the dangers it posed. The police chief had no power to overturn this decision for the safety of the people. In the end, it is the privately contracted boat and the help of a scientist (who buys all his own equipment with no federal help, by the way) and freelance shark killer that get the police chief where he needs to be to protect the people of the town.

Following free-market ideals does not mean ignoring the plight of the poor or endangered. Instead it encourages personal responsibility in reacting to these situations. Sometimes when there is trouble in the town, the cloud which has covered the hopeful rays of help is in the shape of “Big Government.”

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