In a historic decision of the US Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade was overruled on Friday 24th June 2022 by the new precedent of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organisation. Dobbs was the Mississippi state health officer who was sued by the state’s only abortion clinic to challenge the constitutionality of a law which banned abortion after 15 weeks. Prior to Friday, the enforcement of this law had been halted by lower court injunctions which prevented states from banning abortion before foetal viability at around 24 weeks, based on the 14th Amendment granting the right to privacy. Roe v Wade never legalised abortion across the board, it only prevented states from enforcing laws which banned abortion prior to 24 weeks, and was thus interpreted as a constitutional right to abortion until that period.
As was to be expected, delegating law-making around abortion back to the states was interpreted with the greatest hysteria and hyperbole imaginable. Despite the explicit constitutionality of delegating the greatest possible powers to the state level, it should be of no surprise that the same people who ascribe more power to feeling than to the first amendment had no consideration at all for the rights of states to form their own laws on sensitive issues.
Instead of rejoicing at the approximately 300,000 female lives saved as a result of a so-called ban on abortion (which this is not), feminists were quick to scream that this violates their bodily autonomy and is the result of male overrepresentations in positions of power. This is despite the fact that the judge who made this possible was Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic mother of seven and one of three women who are currently serving on the Supreme Court of the United States.
They simultaneously claim that the decision to have an abortion is that of the woman concerned, and that no man (including the father) should have any say, while maintaining that parental responsibilities should be split evenly between both parents (and in many cases other parties such as nannies, nurseries, and the state through the education system). Furthermore, not only should parental responsibilities be split evenly, but the woman concerned has a permanent claim on the financial resources of the man.
This claim begs the obvious question of how it is in any way feminist to allow men to abscond from their parental responsibilities by allowing abortion, in which both mother and child are gravely affected, but the father can walk away scot-free? Given that a study which interviewed women who considered abortion and decided against it found that in five out of six cases, they did not regret their choice, it seems likely that in many cases the women concerned face significant pressure to end the pregnancy.
Looking in the abstract, this raises questions about who the culture of no-consequences sex really benefits. Despite increasingly reliable contraception, rates of abortion are increasing, which demonstrates that there will always be greater ‘risk’ of sex for women. Additionally, a culture which praises hedonistic sexual lifestyles inherently delegitimises the mature, committed lifestyle which most women want, leading to women adopting more and more masculine ways of being. Given how early feminists stressed the equal value of women, this delegitimisation of femininity seems a far cry from their initial intentions.
However, despite the inevitable reaction of hysteria, there may yet be a positive outcome for those on the opposite side of the fence. The calls for a sex strike will not just reduce the hedonistic sexual behaviour of much of the population and all its negative consequences (including unwanted pregnancy), but in doing so may encourage them to develop a more nuanced outlook on sexual behaviour and morality than ‘put whatever you want into whatever you want as long as there is consent’.
Spending less time on Tinder may also have economic benefits, as well as tanking the share price and punishing the individuals who have endorsed and profited from a company which aims to take all moral value out of sexual behaviour. In the longer term, the sex strike among liberal women may force on-the-fence men into the arms of more conservative women, thus leading to the creation of a far more conservative next generation. And yet it makes sense that those so committed to the principle that killing babies is acceptable would allow their entire ideology to die out just for the sake of proving said point.
To sum up, there is no feminist case for abortion. In this way as with so many others, ‘equality’ has been a trojan horse with which to tarnish traditional, feminine, childbearing women in order to create more wage workers. This ultimately benefits those at the top of the capitalist system (men), while making the women concerned insecure and miserable. In encouraging women to deny their reproductive capacity, abortion not only kills children but also kills part of the women concerned. The way to be a good woman is not to bend to the will of a modern man.
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By Tom Sullivan — 3 months ago
“There are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen.”
This quote is (dubiously) attributed to Lenin but I like it nonetheless as it appropriately captures the times we live in.
That’s not to say nothing’s happened for decades, far from it. The years following the last financial crisis have seen seismic changes across Western societies and the wider world. The Eurozone crisis, Middle East civil wars, tsunamis of illegal migration, Ukraine torn in two, Brexit, Trump, plummeting birth rates, economic stagnation, and the explosion in political corruption that resulted in the criminal psychological operation that was the pandemic and continues through war and ‘green’ policy. The weeks following Russia’s so-called ‘Special Military Operation’ felt like weeks when decades happened. Yet something about these last few weeks – with a war (even more senseless than the intra-Slavic trench slaughter) threatening to suck in the whole world – feels like we have moved into an accelerated phase of global change.
This is a familiar motif of history. Decades of failed rebellion against the Tsars eventually led to the February and October Revolutions. Newly educated generations in Africa and Asia quickly used their power and influence to kick out their colonial masters. The ticking time bomb of financialisation that started in the 1980s didn’t explode until decades later. Likewise, the absolute failure of decades of collective Western foreign policy, as dictated by the U.S. via NATO and other organisations, has now started to show some of its very worst consequences.
Never in living memory have we as a nation been more ignorant about international relations and had less perspective about our place in the world. The dumbing down of our foreign policy debate (and its incorporation into the ‘culture war’) is a far cry from even the Brexit era, when millions of Brits followed the machinations of our foreign entanglements with interest, engaging in relatively honest debates about what they should be and where our national interest lies.
In 2014, one of Nigel Farage’s major criticisms of Brussels was its ‘militant’, ‘expansionist’ and ‘absolutely stupid’ foreign policy. In a debate with then deputy PM Nick Clegg, he said the Lib Dems represented hatred and extremism by ‘constantly screaming out for us to go to war’, adding he was ‘sick to death of this country getting involved in foreign wars’. Farage said the EU had ‘blood on its hands’ for encouraging the Maidan coup in Ukraine, as well as ‘bombing Libya’ into becoming an ‘ungovernable breeding ground of terrorism’, and arming rebel militias in Syria ‘because they didn’t like Assad, despite being infiltrated by extremists’. How prescient.
Now, this type of critical discourse is almost entirely absent from our political spectrum and media. There has been a chilling uniformity of message on the blood-soaked meatgrinder that is Ukraine – more weapons, more money, Putin is Hitler, Slava Ukrainii. A feeling engineered by the unquestioned, key narrative of an independent democracy facing an unprovoked invasion (a narrative which is demonstrably untrue). With the latest conflict in the Middle East, the right has fallen behind Israel in complete lockstep, calling for deportations and arrests for speech expression, and taking a harder line than many Israelis. The left, barren of a moral compass and mentally ill, has resorted to second-hand asabiyyah and strange attempts to pinkwash Hamas, joined on the streets by the usually out-of-sight 3rd-gen Islamist yoof. It’s an ugly sight.
What is missing from all of this is Britain. What are Britain’s interests in this rapidly deteriorating international system? No one, it seems, has bothered to ask. This is a problem. The points I have made so far often provoke accusations of ‘isolationism’, and not realising that a stable globe is one of our most immediate needs. That is not in any doubt. What is highly questionable is the way we go about promoting that stability, as it clearly hasn’t been working.
In the West we still believe that we make alliances and enemies based on good and evil, or ‘shared values’, and we think this is the same as our interests. Whether ‘humanitarian intervention’ or ‘supporting democracy’, the arguments made against the abuses of certain countries must be applied equally or not applied at all, otherwise it is not a reason for action, but a pretext. The onus should be on those who argue for action, not on those who argue for not getting involved, to make their case. Especially with the mountain of evidence that outside intervention, militarily or otherwise, almost always makes countries worse.
A good case is made for this in A Foreign Policy of Freedom: Peace, Commerce, and Honest Friendship, a compilation of Ron Paul’s speeches to Congress over 30 years, each containing dozens of examples of foreign interventions and interference being counterproductive to U.S. interests. Yes, other countries are very often not nice places to live and have disagreeable cultures, but the best way to deal with them is engaging economically and not getting involved in their domestic politics. Our strategy has been to bomb countries and organise armed coups. Importing millions of people from these same countries has also turned out to be a bad idea.
So, if we step back from ‘policing’ the world, how then would we be able to ensure a stable international environment? Like charity, order starts at home. We preach to the world about how to run their societies when we have so many problems of our own. We defend the sanctity of others’ borders and sovereignty while making a mockery of our own. We accuse our selected ‘enemies’ of criminality, propaganda, and deception when we do a pretty good job of all that ourselves. In other words, we don’t speak softly and carry a big stick, we bark and scream. ‘Be change you want to see in the world’ – another made up quote attributed to a world leader – is a motivational meme but it should be an axiom of a ‘moral’ foreign policy if that’s what we want.
The hegemony of the West is coming to an end and there are no two ways about it. According to comedian turned IR expert Konstantin Kisin, ‘Multipolarity requires a decade-long process of the unipolarity disintegrating. And will inevitably result in an eventual return to unipolarity with a different hegemon. This is why this process should be opposed with everything we have’. I hate to break it to him, but that disintegration has been happening for a long time already and is not something that we can now ‘oppose’ with centre-Right politicians. Their neoliberalism is why we are so exposed, having exported our manufacturing and imported the world’s poor, while crippling ourselves with manmade social and economic breakdown.
The second point made by Kisin is interesting to dissect. Is it inevitable that the West ceasing to be the dominating ‘pole’ of international power will result in another power taking its place? No, it’s not. Unipolarity is a freak of human history. The positions of the U.S. and USSR after the Second World War created the bipolar world, and their respective empires. When the Cold War ended, the U.S. subsumed communist remnants becoming the pole of global power by default. It was the end of history, and liberal democracy was the endpoint of all human social evolution and the final form of government. On this basis the position of hegemon was squandered and abused.
The reality is that most of history has been a multipolar world and as we return to that state, it will not be peaceful or pretty. The man who coined the ‘Big stick philosophy’, Teddy Roosevelt, described his style of foreign policy as ‘the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis’. To apply that to Britain today would mean gearing up to be a Switzerland-on-Sea; a discerning, independent, and sovereign nation.
When it comes to defence, Switzerland is (like the UK) blessed with fortunate geography and a long military tradition. Unlike the UK, it is not in NATO, it conscripts its young men, invests in its defence infrastructure, and does not take part in foreign wars. It is also a natural home for mediating and resolving international disputes, trusted by most countries around the world.
This strategic neutrality seems to work quite well for the Swiss and they do this while still aligning with the U.S. They even enjoy a boost in arms sales as other neutral countries prefer to buy Swiss weapons. Would Western civilisation collapse and the world be taken over by an Axis of Evil if the UK also left NATO, rebuilt its army, and took part in peacekeeping missions instead of wars? Probably not (If it collapses it will be for reasons of our own making). It is accepted as fact that we must dominate the world to protect ourselves from it, when in reality our attempts to do so have created the fragile state of affairs that exist today.
The fundamental mistake we make is being so certain that other countries will think and behave exactly like us. China is an ancient civilisation-state that has shown limited expansionist tendencies over many centuries. The last time Iran invaded a country was in the mid-18th century. Russia is psychologically bound by its size, geography, and history to be obsessed with feeling secure. These complicated civilisations have all been UK allies at various points during the 20th century and there is no reason why we can’t deal with them as unpleasant neighbours as opposed to mortal enemies. Unfortunately, our entire discourse ties us to the fate of the dying American empire. By taking on others’ enemies we expose ourselves to becoming targets.
Today in Britain, unchecked thousands of fighting-age purposeless men from the most turbulent, radical and traumatised parts of the world, are entering the country illegally via fleets of boats, the state seemingly powerless to stop it happening. Some would call that an invasion. Meanwhile, Tel Aviv has become the new Kiev as Prime Ministers old and new rush to get involved helping another country. Despite our politicians saying otherwise, the claim is always that they are there to create an outcome and environment that is in the UK’s interests. Well at the very least that would entail calling for a ceasefire, and at most it would mean pushing for a comprehensive political settlement. Trying to avoid a new wave of refugees, an oil price crisis and global recession would also be in our interest. There is no sign of this on Sunak or Johnson’s agenda, but there is a lot of talk about ‘finishing the job’, sticking to the narrative and facing down Iran and its proxies – the stuff of wet dreams for many a lobbyist in Washington DC.
It may be comforting to buy into the expertly packaged narratives being put out about this latest conflict, but some of us have seen this film before, and it doesn’t end well. In fact, it ends up in situations like Syria, where Hezbollah ends up defending the world’s most ancient Christian communities while Israel supports ISIS. It ends with the Jewish President of Ukraine overseeing neo-Nazi brigades fighting against Muslim and Buddhist soldiers over derelict villages. Clearly, the world is a complicated place. We used to know this. When will we give up our simple, black-and-white way of looking at it? When will we stop falling for the simplistic narratives fed to us?
Why should we have to listen to the arguments made about supporting a side in some conflicts, but not others? We are not asked to choose between supporting Azerbaijan or Armenia – because the media hasn’t told us to get angry about that. We are not asked to condemn Pakistan for expelling hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees – a humanitarian catastrophe in the making – because the media hasn’t told us to get angry about that. Have you even heard of the ongoing massacres in West Darfur? Why the hierarchy of atrocities? If the military-industrial complex does not have an interest in these places, you will not hear about them. You will hear about the corrupt oligarchies you are supposed to hate but not about special interests that run Washington DC. In this environment, the way we see the world and our place in it becomes highly distorted.
Instead of harnessing Russia’s vast oil and gas supplies and integrating it into a pan-European powerhouse, we have made it into an enemy and pushed it towards China (our genuine rival). Yes, Russia is a deeply problematic country, scarred by a century of communism. Yet they are people who you can do business with if you respect their interests and treat them equally. Instead of trying to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia together to heal and develop the Middle East (which China successfully started doing), we are now seizing on this opportunity to bang the drum for war with Iran while arming Saudi Arabia to the teeth. Yes, Iran is also a seriously problematic country, but we have meddled in their affairs and waged hybrid war against them for decades. We deposed their first democratic leader replacing him with a decadent monarch who sparked an Islamic revolution. Since then, our aggressive stance in the Middle East encouraged them to develop nuclear weapons. The P5+1 deal was a step in the right direction, and there is no reason we can’t go back to that kind of preventive diplomacy. Their resilience to our sanctions shows they are at least enterprising.We are not as powerful as we were, and the world isn’t as weak as it was – they want to make money and develop. Whereas we don’t even know what we want. So, we can either up our own game and grow together with emerging countries or die trying to maintain unipolar dominance.
The Monroe Doctrine, one of the founding foreign policy doctrines of the United States, holds interference into the affairs of South and Central America as hostile. In other words, it’s their turf. Yet we deny other major powers any legitimate sphere of influence. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ isn’t cutting the mustard anymore. Just for a moment think of the anger up and down the land over the weekend, as foreign conflicts played out on our streets, at the same time as one of the few remaining events of ancestor worship in Britain. Now imagine how larger this anger would be if China had military bases in the Republic of Ireland, or if Russia was funding a violent Republican overthrow of Stormont. We need a sense of perspective.
At a time of peak ignorance of the rest of the world, our domestic woes in the UK have never been more connected to global goings on. This is the sad paradox we find ourselves in. Our soft power erodes as we dilute our culture and destroy the fabric of traditional, family life. Our hard power is under-resourced and overstretched, leading to no strategic objective, and resulting in a lot of dead or traumatised soldiers and many more people who hate us with a vengeance. Our foreign policy – which is completely dictated by the U.S. – has radicalised parts of the immigrant populations we have brought in and left us exposed to unknown numbers of hostile actors. Sanctions warfare is paid for by the heating and shopping bills of the working class.
Brexit exposed the reality of how deeply controlled the UK is by international organisations. If you thought trying to decouple from the EU was an impossible task, detangling ourselves from NATO and the U.S. intelligence apparatus will be an entirely different ballgame. Brexit also revealed a genuine desire by the British public to be that global, independent, sovereign trading-nation making its own deals with countries across the world, not beholden to outdated policies and the groupthink of corporate-controlled politicians and the technocrats under them. Well, to actually do that we need to embrace a multipolar world and have a bit of confidence in ourselves.
Just as Remainers said we were too small and insignificant to survive outside the EU, so too will people say that we are too small and insignificant to survive outside the NATO/U.S. umbrella. It is doubtful there will be a NATO in a decade from now, so we might not have a choice. It is also likely the U.S. will suffer greatly (along with the whole world) from the eventual collapse of the dollar, finding it hard to avoid some form of civil conflict. Until then the music will still play on the titanic, but will the UK have the sense to get on the nearest lifeboat? As much as a military alliance provides protection from potential enemies, it also forces members to take on enemies that they might not ordinarily have, leaving them more exposed and then in need of protection.
Those imbued with the neoconservative zest for spreading liberal values by the bullet and bombing the world into democracy will no doubt be horrified by the suggestions made here, not being able to conceive of a Britain that doesn’t play the role of shit on the U.S. jackboot. I recall a different Britain, however. One that had the best diplomatic service in the world, staffed by the greatest linguists. A Britain that had state capacity and the ability to execute its will. A country that despite its allegiances was able to identify and pursue its own genuine national interest. To return to this state we ultimately must fix ourselves domestically and as a society. Until then, it would do no harm to pursue a more sophisticated approach to dealing with the rest of the world.By learning the difference between being allies with a country and being stuck in a political-military straitjacket with them, the West has an opportunity to revitalise itself and thrive in a multipolar world.
Deprived of global empire, the U.S. will be able to fight off its leviathan corporate oligarchy and develop to full potential. Europe will be able to pursue its own security and economic interests, not just American ones. Realpolitik will make its triumphant return. The UK, perhaps in the best position of all, will be able to take advantage of not being a subordinate and truly become ‘Global Britain’. I urge readers to reject those who want a war of civilisations and embrace this positive, sensible, and more human way to approach our future and the world.
Post Views: 445
By James Clay — 1 year ago
In light of Boris Johnson’s recent attempts to cling onto his own personal power, many within the media commentariat have proposed the idea of a written and entrenched constitution. Such a solution is historically ignorant: as will be developed in the succeeding paragraphs, the miracle of Britain’s constitution is that its conventions have weathered all storms and continue to stand strong today. Whether it be the unequivocal adherence to Erskine May or the continued existence of Habeas Corpus, Britain’s conventions are to be proud of and cherished. For utopians, too blindly obsessed with rationalism and rigorous state planning, Johnson’s escapades provide the perfect alibi for constitutional reform. But they are as wrong as they have always been, even in the interesting times in which we live.
Many of these misguided pundits have suggested that the answer to Britain’s political woes is that it should look to the various nations across Europe and the West that decided long ago to adopt a codified and entrenched constitution, but what does such a constitution actually look like? For one, all the key constitutional provisions would be drawn up in a single document which would then be protected by a court of law. This would inevitably go far further than the current Supreme Court which only considers the principles laid down in the Human Rights Act (1998) which are, of course, in line with the European Convention of Human Rights. All future laws would be required to stand in compatibility with this document. Any executive which desired the alteration of this document would be naturally required to achieve a super-majority within parliament.
For a considerable amount of time, such an idea has stood at the forefront of many constitutionalists’ minds. Given the fact that the British public tend to spend more time worrying about the accessibility of public services, rather than constitutional issues, the idea of a written constitution has not quite permeated through to the masses. Brexit for many may have been about the sovereignty of the United Kingdom but the constituent vote that tipped the scale in favour of withdrawing from the European Union saw the threat of mass migration on public services. Why is it that the growth of the Eurosceptic movement peaked only a few years following a financial crash? It is unwise to use worn out clichés, but Bill Clinton was correct in asserting that “It’s the economy, stupid.”
This, however, may not remain the case. Class dealignment and the absence of any real proletariat movement has shifted many people’s interests away from economic issues and towards constitutional and political issues instead. With the insistent obsession amongst media apparatchiks, the Prime Minister’s drawn out occupation of No.10 Downing Street has really lit a touch stone amongst the British public. Johnson has rightfully been described as someone who throws caution into the wind when bending the rules to further the interests of himself or, in some cases, the British public. To list a few of his more provocative actions over the last three years, he prorogued parliament, watered down the ministerial code and restricted certain forms of protest. The point of this article is not that his actions were wrong, but rather that they have inspired a rejuvenation amongst radicals to further pursue constitutional reform. It is perfectly reasonable to desire high levels of robust executive scrutiny and accountability but codifying the law is not the way that one should go doing about it.
Even in an age in which nation-states increasingly subscribe to the same hegemonic notion of what a liberal democracy should look like, Britain remains nearly alone in that the roots of certain constitutional elements can be found centuries ago. Exemplifying this perfectly is the fact that the bicameral nature of parliament grew eventually out of the 8th century practice of Witan-based council rule. Even if one takes a strictly anti-anachronistic view of history, the first official parliament was called in 1236, a few years subsequent to the signing of the Magna Carta. The unique majesty of Britain’s constitution is that its legitimacy is found in virtue of its longevity. Such a system, when working effectively, is both natural and superior to any other constitutional format. A system built upon the trust of politicians to uphold constitutional conventions is both perennially fragile yet also preferable to anything else.
Yet, such an argument for the maintenance of our constitution has to be framed with the recent Westminster scandals in mind. As is already becoming apparent, the ongoing Conservative Party leadership election will have a great focus upon propriety and ethics within politics. Candidates, whose prior lives fell short of the squeaky-clean standards expected of them, will be faced with a considerable uphill battle. Media pundits love to jump on the bandwagon of criticising Sir Keir Starmer for being too boring but the reality is that, after the last few years of political chaos, much of the British public will want a prime minister who is serious and trustworthy, even if that means being a bit on the dull side. Ordinary people do not want to go about their lives worrying about politicians; they have far bigger concerns. As a result, I suspect that the next few prime ministers will bend over backwards to ensure individual decency and political stability.
On a different point, it is worth refuting the conservative argument which can be made for a written and entrenched constitution. Such a constitution would prevent radicals from unwisely or unthinkingly bringing a sledgehammer to the political system. One has only to look at the toxic legacy of New Labour. Admittedly, even David Cameron, a Conservative prime minister, attempted to abolish the House of Lords with a simple majority within the House of the Commons. It is perfectly true to argue that the preservation of a particular constitutional setup would remain existent for a long time if codified and entrenched behind a naturally conservative law court. However, if moderation is a fundamental conservative principle, then to alter the constitution in such a dramatic and radical way, even in an old-fashioned or nostalgic manner, would be, by definition, an unconservative thing to do. Purely in a hypothetical conservative utopia, a written constitution would be naturally the constitution of choice. We don’t live in a utopia though; we live in reality.
In contrast to the unwritten and uncodified dignity of Britain’s ancient constitution, the American constitution is constantly the source of unnecessarily bitter political debate and congressional blockage. If one were to take the second amendment, the right to keep and bear arms, there is still a decades-old, unresolved debate around whether or not to alter it. Discussions around laws that may appear to violate such amendments centre around whether or not the law is constitutional, rather than whether the law would actually be effective in practice. Debating the constitutionality of federal states banning the right to an abortion is an entire debate in itself and not one that an Englishman should necessarily engage with, however the recent decision to overturn Roe vs Wade does raise an interesting point. Following British tradition, it is far better that law-based decisions are determined by elected politicians, not by unaccountable judges. This point was rightfully raised at the despatch box by Dominic Raab while deputising for Johnson. To be a 21st century conservative, one must commit to upholding the democratic will of the people. Despite the influence of pro-Atlanticist conservatives, it is wrong to look to the USA as a political model.
Despite the temptations of a written constitution, politicians and activists must remain ever vigilant in their defence of Britain’s unwritten constitution. In order for our political system to develop naturally, prominent conservatives must put aside any admiration they may have for the American system and stand strong against historically-ignorant reformers. Preserving the way in which things are done is one of the core building blocks of being a conservative. This principle cannot be undermined by constitutional reformers, even if they are paradoxically trying to prevent radical reform. The checks and balances within the British political system have survived far worse than Johnson.
Post Views: 322
Current Criticism on Austen: An Overview of the Norton Critical Pride and Prejudice, 4th Ed.’s Back MaterialBy Dustin Lovell — 1 year ago
“Short and easy will be the task of the mere biographer. A life of usefulness, literature, and religion, was not by any means a life of event…to the little disappointments incidental to human life was never added, even for a moment, an abatement of good-will from any who knew her.”
No, this quote does not refer to the late Queen Elizabeth II—though several aspects of it, from the humble understatement to the positive rapport among her acquaintances, could just as well describe the late monarch (ignoring the lacking a “life of event” part) as they do its actual subject, Jane Austen.
Written by her brother Henry and included as a preface to the posthumous volume containing Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, the brief biography is one of the many resources found in the 2016 Norton Critical Edition (the fourth) of Pride and Prejudice, edited by Donald Gray of Indiana University and Mary A. Favret of Johns Hopkins. Besides confirming that one cannot understand Austen without understanding her, as he puts it, “thoroughly religious and devout” faith (another parallel between Austen and Her Royal Highness, and many others), the biography gives several details that lend insight into not only P&P but Austen’s other novels, as well.
This is, of course, the purpose of Norton Critical Editions, which I have used since my first essay as a California kid at Oxford (due on a Monday after meeting my tutor on Friday). The Norton Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, bought, read, and cited in a two-day scramble, saved my grade that weekend, and it still graces my bookshelf for whenever I or mine might need it.
While pieces contemporary with the books’ printings, like the above biography, letters from the author to family and friends, and subsequent reviews at the time (for P&P from Scott, C. Bronte, Emerson, Twain, and others) provide a great context, as a student I found most useful the critical excerpts included in each edition, which attempt to give an up-to-date view on the literary conversation surrounding a certain work. For undergraduates who may not know where to look for sources on a certain author, I usually suggest Norton Criticals (and, by God, the several-page-long Selected Bibliography in the back—my brother and sister in Christ, THEY DO YOUR WORK FOR YOU), if only as a primer for larger critical discussion.
But the editions aren’t, and shouldn’t be, limited to the student; indeed, fans of Austen (or whom have you) might wear down their editions faster and more thoroughly than the student who buys it for a two-week paper. Although written with the academic in mind, works like Norton Critical Editions might very well contribute to the canon being preserved outside of the university, providing, as they do, the tools for a historical and critical understanding of one’s favorite work.
Literally one of the greatest novels ever written, and second in my mind only to The Brothers Karamazov, qua novel, Pride and Prejudice needs no encomium from me. Based on and in parts expanding my Goodreads review, what follows is a summary of and, at times, response to the recent critical sources in the 4th Norton Edition. I hope it will prove useful to Austen lovers as much as students.
D.A. Miller, “No One is Alone,” from Jane Austen; Or the Secret of Style (2003).
Discusses the break between Austen’s style and her characters, with the former being omniscient and the latter being little-knowing. Recounts how Austen’s style developed from reading 18th-century writers like Sam Johnson and how she novelized several aspects of their articles. Discusses the paradox of Elizabeth’s marrying Darcy (Miller cynically sees it as an unfortunate contradiction) by supposedly eschewing the very wit (or “impertinence”) that made her unique.
Jeff Nunokawa, “Speechless in Austen,” from Differences 16 (2005).
Discusses the timelessness in Austen (both narration and characters), whose writing seems to have no idea of the enormous cultural changes that were to come in the 1800s. Nunokawa identifies this confident changelessness as being part of why we read P&P, which, despite readers’ approaching it with nostalgia, has very little actual nostalgia within its pages. Discusses, like Elfenbein below, Austen’s use of space-as-social dynamic. Also contextualizes and discusses silence within P&P, and how Darcy must learn to open up because it is through sociability and inclusion, not mere rank, that one succeeds in P&P. Reasons that in Austen one can only know themselves through social interaction, and so Darcy’s attempting to only speak when he has something perfect or great to say ironically reduces him. Finally, examines the certainty of tone often used by both Austen’s narrator and her characters.
At times syntax/language felt a bit overwrought, but it may be because it’s an excerpt and, its being the first article I read after finishing the novel, I was still reading with Austen’s rhythm.
Andrew Elfenbein, “Austen’s Minimalism,” from The Cambridge Companion to Pride and Prejudice (2013).
Examines how and why Austen leaves out descriptive details; identifies her as not being a realist (as has been argued) because of this selectivity. Contextualizes Austen with Johnson’s 18th-century advice to make writing timeless by avoiding too many details; shows how Austen nuances this by using detail to enhance beauty of characters/scenes, like the then popular picturesque school (which suffuses the book – see Knox-Shaw below). Identifies rooms and the outdoors not as physical places but as identifiers of distance and a context for the social interactions that make up the book. One of the best articles in the edition, both for historical context and argument flow.
Peter Knox-Shaw, “Pride and Prejudice, A Politics of the Picturesque,” from Jane Austen and the Enlightenment (2004).
Identifies the Picturesque as finding a medium between the Burkean-Romantic poles of pacifying Beauty and provoking Sublime. Follows the picturesque as a running metaphor through the book for Elizabeth and Darcy’s love, and thus, for Elizabeth’s breaking of gender stereotypes/politics. Argues that, like the picturesque, Elizabeth’s development depicts a nuancing of (if not campaign against) conventional beauty, while showing that beauty and attractiveness are not synonymous in the book (see Michie below). In conjunction with the other articles on the picturesque, Knox-Shaw’s was one of the more enlightening articles in the material.
Felicia Bonaparte, “Conjecturing Possibilities: Reading and Misreading Texts in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,” from Studies in the Novel 37.2 (2005).
Places P&P within the contemporary philosophical debate between the rationalists and the empiricists. Establishes how P&P identifies Jane Austen as an empiricist in the line of David Hume due to its consistent focus on skepticism regarding secondhand accounts, texts, and assumptions. Stresses how often characters’ epistemology is discovered to be faulty, and how the book encourages a general skepticism regarding first impressions. Argues that the Bennet sisters each, in their own way, undermines one’s ability to interpret reality with certainty, and that Elizabeth’s developing a “practical empiricism” is “the bildung of the novel.” Goes further to argue that Austen was even an early Nietzschean post-modernist in how she incorporates her characters’ mutual and self-reflective interpretations into their construction of, rather than deduction of, reality. Probably my favorite of the edition’s essays, for its historical context and depth of substance, as well as readability.
Vivien Jones, “Feminisms,” from A Companion to Jane Austen (2012).
Argues that, despite her focus on primarily women characters and their circumstances, Austen should not be classed as an early feminist because of her reaffirmation of marriage, which Jones interprets as an endorsement of the patriarchal structure she sees throughout the book. Identifies Austen, rather, as a postfeminist author, who (she thinks mistakenly) argues in her characters and scenarios that the inequalities facing early-19th-century women had largely been dealt with and that many problems experienced by women could be surmounted not by societal revolution and polemic but by individual reflection and reformation. Identifies Elizabeth as being in the vein of Mary Wollstonecraft, but Austen as aligning more with the conservative female writer Hannah More. Accuses Austen of contextualizing the benefits achieved by Wollstonecraft within a conservative/Tory context of twenty years later that reaffirms the social structure. Reads P&P as conservative reinterpretation of previous feminist ideals through the onus for individual, rather than broader social, reform. In my opinion, Jones’s view that Elizabeth’s marriage is a renegging on her previous independence (rather than a full expression of it) misses the point of the book, which his her growth out of her own pride and prejudice (an impetus and growth Austen notably gives to Darcy, too).
Janet Todd, “Jane Austen’s Hero,” from The Cambridge Companion to Pride and Prejudice (2013).
Argues that Darcy’s place in society allows him to begin the book as a boor, whereas Elizabeth’s requires her to adapt through the book. Sees Elizabeth as having no individuality in either Darcy or Collins’s eyes. Follows Alistair Duckworth’s 1971 Marxist reading of the book’s property entail (arguably refuted below by Macpherson), applying it to gender and property. Like Jones above, interprets Elizabeth’s growth out of her pride and prejudice as a negative, a product of her social standing and gender, and thus misses the point of the book.
Elsie B. Michie, “Social Distinction in Jane Austen,” from The Vulgar Question of Money: Heiresses, Materialism, and the Novel of Manners from Jane Austen to Henry James (2011).
Interprets P&P as Austen’s attempt to find the proper relation to wealth. Reads book as a response to Hume and Smith’s writings on the problematic effects of wealth on English society. Elizabeth as the opposite of Miss Bingley and Lady Catherine, both of whom present the negative effects of status via inherited wealth (shallow, arrogant, etc). Examines the growth of manners to replace the traditional virtues of the landed aristocracy (both shown in said characters). Points out how Elizabeth’s manners, as well as her disregard for inherited virtue or status, make her attractive despite her lack of apparent beauty (see Knox-Shaw above). Looks at what Darcy’s growing attraction to her says about him. A good essay for understanding and contextualizing the different dynamics in the Elizabeth-Lady Catherine interactions, as well as the changing social mores of the time.
Sandra Macpherson, “Rent to Own: or, What’s Entailed in Pride and Prejudice,” from Representations 82 (2003).
Lays out the laws of property entail—and, Macpherson points out, ironic humor surrounding the issue—that undergird the plotof P&P. Debunks Duckworth’s Marxist view that the book’s society is structured along class and gender lines (see Todd, above). Showing how entail cannot be blamed on any one person or group, explains the implicit joke in both Mrs. Bennet’s expecting something to be done about the entail and Collins’s continual apology for it (both of which Austen’s readers would have seen as ridiculous). Reads Austen as not being against entail, per se, because it is an image of social obligation, not one of exclusion. Examines Austen’s contrasting renting vs owning as makers of different personalities and virtues (vis, Bingley and Darcy). One of the more enlightening, historically based, and easy/fun to read of the back material; possibly my favorite, contending with Bonaparte.
Andrew Maunder, “Making Heritage and History: The 1894 Illustrated Pride and Prejudice,” from Nineteenth-Century Studies 20 (2006).
Examines the role illustrations play in forming (and revising) later perceptions of an artist and their work. Explores how, “Illustrations play a central role in how readers construe novels,” and “modify, challenge, and even dictate readers’ understandings,” of the novels. Argues in a footnote that later illustrations of P&P like , rather than the text itself, are to be attributed with the reading that Darcy becomes more emotionally responsive by the novel’s end; conversely sees the text as validating Darcy’s cold “legal and ethical formalism,” and pushing Mr. Bingley to emulate it. Explores the effect the 1894 edition had on how the novel was interpreted, despite it’s being merely a “gift book” among many similars flooding the market. Presents and critiques key illustrations by artist Hugh Thompson and describes others, unpictured; interprets Thompson’s stated desire to show Austen’s “sense of fun,” as going too far, into reinterpretation. Although Thompson and editor George Allen caused a revival of interest in Austen, implies the popularity had more to do with the reinterpretive lens than with Austen’s work, itself (see my own critique of the recent Persuasion adaptation, linked above).
Tiffany Potter, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” from Women, Popular Culture, and the Eighteenth Century (2012).
Reads Seth Grahame-Smith’s book/reinterpretation, P&P&Zs, as more than a pulp piggyback off of Austen. Presents book as a concretization of the implicit, unspeakable aspects of P&P, with the zombies being “a literalization of the threat of a social death in spinsterhood…in opposition to the socially constructed life-and-death quality of the marriage plot.” Interprets several moments from Grahame-Smith’s book as helping readers better understand Austen, such as Lydia’s becoming an “unmentionable” zombie as an image of the unspeakability of her adultery in Austen, or the steady death to zombiehood of Charlotte as a picture of her intellectual death in marrying Collins. An interesting piece that treats P&P&Z seriously, though Potter ultimately interprets certain aspects of Austen (e.g. Jane and Elizabeth’s marriages) negatively, like others above.
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