Essays in Austro-Libertarian Literary and Media Criticism – A Volume in Memory of Paul A. Cantor (CFP)

The groundbreaking research of the late Paul A. Cantor (1945-2022), Clifton Waller Barrett Professor of English at the University of Virginia, ranged from canonical English authors the likes of Shakespeare and Shelley to popular American television series such as Gilligan’s Island and South Park. His scholarship was so prolific and all-embracing that it led some to question whether the same person could have authored such a breadth of work. “Yes,” replies Peter Hufnagel, creator of the website prof.Cantor, “the Paul A. Cantor who writes about Averroism in Dante’s Divine Comedy is the same Paul A. Cantor who writes about Walter White as a tragic hero in Breaking Bad.”

Yet it is not simply the scope and copiousness of Cantor’s scholarly output to which the proposed volume intends to pay tribute, but also, and especially, to his pioneering interdisciplinary method which turned to the Austrian School of economics and libertarian philosophy in the interpretation of literature and media. As Alberto Mingardi has recently commented, “Such an interest in Austrian economics brought him to be that rare thing: an intellectual in the humanities—even more, a literary critic—who had some sympathy for capitalism. At one level, this sympathy emerged in the very fact that he was not a snob: together with his Shakespeare studies, he cultivated an interest in popular culture that he understood as a living thing, and sometimes a beautiful thing too” (“Paul Cantor RIP”).

When I was corresponding with Paul about a volume I planned to co-edit with Carlo Lottieri, eventually titled Speaking Truth to Power from Medieval to Modern Italy, he reflected on the difficulties he had faced when trying to track down libertarian literary scholars in the early 2000s: “When I first planned what became LITERATURE AND THE ECONOMICS OF LIBERTY I hoped to micro-manage the volume and get just the essays I wanted. But I found that I couldn’t get people to write exactly the essays I wanted them to. In the end, I settled for the best people I could find and letting them write about anything they wanted, and that pretty much involved the whole range of literature, across the world and across the centuries. And I had so few people to draw from that in the end I had to write half the essays in the volume myself” (email, March 29, 2013).

The volume in question, Literature and the Economics of Liberty: Spontaneous Order in Culture (Mises Institute, 2009), contained ten essays by five contributors, including two by co-editor Stephen Cox and five by Cantor himself. Consisting of a whopping 510 pages despite the small number of contributors, the volume indeed spanned the globe and encompassed various time periods, with studies on canonical European and American authors (including Cervantes, Jonson, Shelley, Whitman, H. G. Wells, and Cather) and the contemporary Nigerian novelist Ben Okri. Beyond the insights found within the individual chapters, what is of special importance, as the co-editors explain, is the fact that this is “the first collection of essays that accepts the idea that economics is relevant to the study of literature, but offers free market principles, rather than Marxist, as the means of relating the two fields” (x). The introduction to the volume, which could be read as a manifesto, argues that Austrian economics, “which focuses on the freedom of the individual actor and the subjectivity of values, is more suited to the study of literature and artistic creativity than a materialist, determinist, and collectivist doctrine such as Marxism” (12). As Matthew McCaffrey notes in “The Importance of Literary Criticism from a Free-Market Perspective” (2014), that volume “helped lay the foundation of a libertarian literary criticism.”

Although Austro-libertarian literary and media scholarship may still be off the radar of most English Departments, since the early 2000s it has engaged increasing numbers of scholars whose interests have ranged from ancient Chinese writers (Roderick T. Long, Rituals of Freedom: Libertarian Themes in Early Confucianism, 2016) to modern American cowboy movies (Ryan McMaken, Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre, 2012). Matt Spivey’s recent Re-Reading Economics in Literature: A Capitalist Critical Perspective (2020) and the forthcoming Show and Biz: The Market Economy in TV Series and Popular Culture edited by María Blanco and Alberto Mingardi attest to the field’s current vibrancy and future possibilities. The growing body of libertarian-leaning scholarship is listed in the bibliography “Austrian Economics, Libertarianism, and Academic Writing in the Humanities” (2022).

In short, literary and media criticism grounded in the Austrian School of economics and libertarian philosophy opens up largely uncharted paths for researchers to recognize and investigate the form, nature, and effect of economic systems and political power structures in creative works across media during any time period and at any point on the globe. This volume aims, therefore, to present cutting-edge research that will contribute to the continued development of this exciting new field.

If you are interested in submitting an essay that analyzes literature or media from the perspective of the Austrian School of Economics and/or libertarian philosophy, please send an abstract of 150-200 words, together with a bio of 75-100 words, to me at by January 15, 2023. You will be notified of acceptance of the abstract by January 30, 2023. The abstracts and bios will be used in securing the interest of a suitable publisher, and completed essays will be due one year from that time. Please feel free to contact me in advance of sending an abstract if you have queries or would like to discuss any aspect of a potential submission.

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