Published Humanitas, Volume XX, Nos. 1 and 2, 2007

Do novels or poems of high literary merit provide any particular guidance about the idea of revolution, or can we say only that different novels and poems express different points of view? Part of the issue, certainly, depends on how and where one draws the line in regard to the works worth considering. There are those who would argue that even if one can agree on a common list of literary classics, moral chaos reigns among the great works themselves, whether they are novels, poems or plays. Richard Posner, arguing that literature has no wisdom to offer about the nature of justice, declares that “the world of literature is a moral anarchy; immersion in it teaches moral relativism.”1 Declaring that “the classics are full of moral atrocities . . . that the author apparently approved of,” he cites the apparent approval of “rape, pillage, murder, human and animal sacrifice, concubinage, and slavery in the Iliad,” “anti-Semitism in more works of literature than one can count, including works by Shakespeare and Dickens.” He points to novels of high literary merit that “disparage the modern project of liberty and equality” and others that “presuppose an organization of society in which a leisured, titled, or educated upper crust lives off the sweat of the brow of a mass of toilers at whose existence the novelist barely hints” (312).

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