I propose to show why Leftism is antithetical to Literature. The more you have of one, the less of the other.
Usually, it is my habit not to make caveats, because honest readers do not need them and dishonest readers will not read them. But in this case, there is a chance of honest misunderstanding, so two caveats must be mentioned first.
First, the claim is a generalization, not an absolute. A single flower does not the springtide make, nor one drop a storm. The mere fact that a story reflects some or many Leftwing ideas is, by itself, not enough to ruin the story, and may not even wound the story. But the more raindrops you have, the less sunshine.
Second, there are ideas and themes which the Left seems to think are unique to themselves which are, in truth, common to all Christendom, or universal to all mankind. I have heard that the film maker Terry Gilliam of Monty Python’s Flying Circus fame is said to have been surprised that conservatives embraced his dystopian film Brazil, for apparently it never occurred to him that conservatives oppose rather than embrace Orwellian bureaucracy, torture chambers, and destruction of all dreams of flight and fancy. In this column, I speak only of what is truly theirs and theirs alone. The desire to help the poor is not Leftist, that is, not unique to them. Calling for the abolition of private property is.
It is proper at the outset to define terms. What is Leftism? What is Literature?
Leftism, also called Political Correctness, is defined as the substitution of ideology for Christianity.
No ideology can fill the vacuum of a suddenly godless, irrational, ugly and absurd cosmos, and so all ideologues, in order to appear to be able to fill this void, must silence any criticism which points out this crucial failure. The ideas, words, and clamor Leftism uses to silence criticism orbit around the following seven self-contradictory ideas:
- truth is personal,
- virtue is relative,
- beauty is subjective,
- reason is impotent (and free will is illusion),
- emotions and passions are sovereign, unfettered by decency, nature or morals,
- all thought is vain, for all verities are merely narratives,
- there is no law above the state.
For brevity’s sake, we can call these seven bad ideas epistemological solipsism, moral relativism, aesthetic subjectivism, determinist irrationalism, pervertarianism, philosophical nihilism, and totalitarianism.
What is Literature? For this column, I restrict my comments only to that brand of romantic or adventure literature which springs out of Christendom, which gave rise to the novel. All cultures have tales. Only Christianity produced the roman, the chivalric romance, the romantic adventure, with its emphasis on heroic exploits or quests aiming at victory and romantic courtship aiming at love, or the novel, with its novel emphasis on the character arc. The thread leads from Mallory to Ariosto to Cervantes to Mary Shelly and Walter Scott, Jane Austin, Dumas, Poe, Victor Hugo, Tolstoy, Tolkien. I will suppose my readers sufficiently familiar with novels and tales from the Middle Age to the Modern Day to recognize the seven salient elements of the novel.
For brevity, these elements can be summarized as the setting, characters, style, plot, moral, and theme. Creativity in the use of these elements is what makes literature a form of art rather than merely a craft like newspaper journalism, and may be considered a final element.
First, the setting must have its own consistency and character to be a novel. Alice in Wonderland can have a series of events where anything and everything might happen, but it is deliberately nonsensical, and, true to life, is discovered to be a quaint and meaningless dream at the end. For Alice, truth was indeed whatever she dreamed it to be.
For all literature properly so called, however, truth must be true, even in fiction, or else there is no story. Even a well-crafted tale that takes place in a private reality of the protagonist means nothing and accomplishes nothing. Even a story that is framed as a dream, such as the film version of The Wizard of Oz, or Lovecraft’s novel-length phantasmagoria The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, must for the duration of the story take place in a setting that is (as Dorothy exclaims) ” a real, truly live place.”
Hence, all literature tales must have a setting, a truly live place whose difficulties cannot be wished away. No story can take place in a setting where truth is personal.
Second, the protagonist must be a character, that is, an actor able to make moral decision, not merely the reactive automaton programmed by circumstances. The decisions must have real consequences, positive for good, and negative for bad, or else the decisions make no difference and no drama exists because nothing is at stake. His virtues must prompt his good actions and his vices his bad, or else he has no character, no internal struggle, nothing to overcome.
Hence, all literature must have, if only tacitly, standards of virtue and vice in their setting, and these standards cannot change or be merely personal, or else the character has no character. No character development can take place with characters whose virtues and vices are arbitrary.
Third, the fair things in the tale must be fair and the ugly things ugly. An artist with no standards of beauty can only produce absurdity, and, when he produces absurdity, if he is an artist, he sees and understand the divine standards of beauty and rebels against them, out of party-loyalty to hellish ugliness, a desire to destroy the taste and refinement of the audience, seduce them into crude and degraded lives.
Hence, all literature must have, if only tacitly, a style that reflects the beauties of creation, including the drama of what is foul and uncouth, as in a horror story. But a rebellion against the standard itself makes the whole work not art, but its opposite.
Fourth, the tale must have a plot. A plot is a conflict between two possible outcomes, success or failure, where the outcome turns on what the protagonist does or fails to do, is or fails to be. In a strictly deterministic universe, there are not two possible outcomes, hence (if the author fairly portrays the matter as such) no possible drama. It is like watching an avalanche fall, or a row of dominos: entertaining, to be sure, but not literature.
This means the characters must have free will. One might write a boring but self-indulgent character study, or a heavy-handed anti-war statement, about a blind, deaf, and dumb quadruple amputee merely hallucinating in his hospital bed, but the character is not properly a protagonist, because he can take no actions, and there are not two possible outcomes of success and failure.
Hence, any tale that portrays men as automatons, or as the victim of an unintentional and unbreakable deception produced by their nature or upbringing, there is no drama, no character arc, no possibility of redemption or rebirth. No drama can take place in an irrational universe, one where the main characters are the helpless by products of their evolutionary or social destiny. Fate kills story. Fighting fate is story.
To be sure, Leftism believes in free will to an ultimate degree, saying that a man can freely be a woman merely by willing it, or a falsehood be truth. But they also believe in fate under a variety of names. That these two principles contradict each other does not concern them.
Fifth, all proper tales have a moral. Even tales where the author has no conscious intention of making a moral point unintentionally display a moral simply by what he author portrays as winning behaviors, and when he portrays a villainous, or vain.
If the moral is that nothing matters and nothing is worth doing, this is as deliberate a rebellion against the mainstream of literature as is the ugliness of absurdity. It is absurdity on the moral plane as absurdism is absurdity on the aesthetic plane.
The point of morally absurd tales is not to instruct the young in right and wrong, nor to awaken their proper and natural emotional responses to natural affections and natural beauty, but to quench the desire for morality just as the absurdist aesthetic is meant to quench the thirst for beauty.
The more subtle Leftist literature do not quench the desire for morality, but pervert it into a taste for self-righteousness. For this reason we see the logically absurd modern phenomenon of crimes and sin being portrayed not merely as glamorous or regrettably necessary, but as positive goods which it is a monstrous evil to reprimand, criticize, or fail to celebrate with fulsome flattery.
Sixth, Literature must have a theme, and preferably a noble and inspiring one. Leftism is in rebellion against all high, fine and noble things, and embraces whatever is crass, ugly, violent, filthy, unnatural, and perverse. There are some Leftists who do not hurl themselves with a fervor as great as their fellow into the cesspool, but if you ask them on what ground they oppose the cesspool, they will earnestly tell you that there is no cesspool, and that all affections and emotions may be properly aimed at any objects whatsoever, that it is just as fair and fine for a youth to fall in love with a maiden as a man, and that nothing but madness or cruelty says otherwise.
The point of Literature is not merely to instruct the young in the due and proper emotional reactions to natural affections, and to refresh the weary soul with dreams, but also to offer escape from the sins and monstrous ugliness, the dreary pointlessness of merely material and mortal existence, a reminder that higher heavens await us, and that we are strangers here on earth.
Even the crudest boy’s adventure tale about the Lord of the Jungle traveling by zeppelin to a hidden land at the core of the Earth to wrestle cavemen and dinosaurs has this elevated and noble mission: because it fixes the boy’s eyes on the idea that the narrow jail of daily life is not all there is.
But the Leftist is in rebellion against life and happiness as he is against logic and beauty. The point of Leftism is not to instruct, but to deceive; not to refresh, but to weary. The point is to drain hope, crush joy, bring despair, save for that one bitter and angry hope, the hope of hate, which is the stock in trade of the Left, namely, hope in the overthrow of the world system. I challenge anyone to read the favorites of Leftist writing and to say the themes are hopeful and joyous rather than bitter and ironic. Start with Ulysses by James Joyce or Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck.
For the Leftist, the moral of a tale is always to screw the fetters more tightly against the tender wrist, to tell the boy his society is unfair, marriage a trap, life a mirthless joke, God an absurdity, the Devil a dashing and admirable fellow, and sodomy or other sexual malfunctions worthy of tolerance, admiration and imitation.
In the Leftist worldview, there are no individuals, only grievance groups, victims. They are helpless, and so there is no drama there.
Their enemies are faceless system of economic or genetic process under no human control. There is no drama there.
Materialism dictates determinism, and so all men are robots made of meat. There is nothing to admire. Sex is a biological function, not a sacrament. Love is meaningless except when used as a tool to rebel against the sacrament of marriage, to desecrate what finer thinkers one glorified.
Now certainly there are heroes in Leftist literature, usually rebels who overthrow the bourgeoisie system stifling and oppressing the downtrodden. These rebels routinely display the self same conservative virtues and values the Leftists mock in other areas. The rebels have the heroism of soldiers and the creativity of businessmen, and the self-sacrifice of martyrs, the three people the Left most hates and wishes blotted from existence. Heroism enters their literature only by hypocrisy.
In this matter, as in all others, Leftism is a parasite on the host of Christian Civilization, able to exist only by the grace and tolerance of the host whom the parasite forever seeks to destroy.
For the Leftist, the point of life, hence the point of literature, is to drain all humans of humanity, and make them beasts, to drain all high things of glory, and make them psychological drives, to remove all boundaries between right and wrong, good and bad, natural and unnatural.
For the Left, all choices lead to the same end, because humans, on the one hand, make no choices about the material world, because it is a soulless machine. Everything in the natural order is compulsory, hence nothing matters.
But, for the Left, on the other hand, any and every choice about the soul is permitted and none is forbidden, because every man can redefine himself to be whatever he imagines, because there are no horizons and no morals and no bad outcomes to any choice. Hence, for the opposite reason, the infinity of choice in the spiritual realm leads to the same void. Everything is permitted, hence nothing matters.
Nihilism is the philosophical posture that there is no truth in philosophy and no good in life is in direct contradiction to the need of theme in Literature. The more nihilism you have, the less theme, since nihilism is the belief that life itself has no theme, no moral truth behind it. I suppose a nihilist author could write a tale with a theme, but in so doing, he has departed from portraying life as he sees it. Then again, hypocrisy is precisely the vice the Nihilism is designed to hide and encourage.
The final bad idea of Leftism is socialism, which, after the grandiose failures of socialism in every sphere, has mutated into Political Correctness, a desire for uniformity of worldview, word, and thought, where no dissent is tolerated. Socialism sought control of economics; Political Correctness craves control of the soul. In Literature, Political Correctness constrains the artist only to address the same few predictable themes in the same few predictable ways. It is the death of creativity, which is the life of literature. Political Correctness only allows for one narrative, that is socially conscious rebellion against tyrannous oppression.
Art serves truth, virtue, beauty, and the artist is as humble as the philosopher or the scientist, letting truth, virtue and beauty speak for themselves. Leftism serves the Party, the Cause. Leftist literary works are attempts at Social Engineering through the manipulation of language. Pure Leftist art â€” if such a chimera could be imagined to exist â€” would be pure propaganda, pure message fiction, attempts to manipulate and condition. It is the mere opposite of literature.
Leftist literature is literature only insofar as it is impure, that is, unleftist.
John C. Wright is a retired attorney and newspaperman who was only once hunted by the police. He is a graduate of St. John College (home of Mortimer Adler’s “Great Books Program“). In 2004 he foreswore his lifelong atheism and joined the Roman Catholic Church. He has published over 10 SF novels, including one nominated for a Nebula award, and was described by Publisherâ€™s Weekly as “this fledgling centuryâ€™s most important new SF talent.” He currently lives in fairytale-like happiness with his wife, the authoress L. Jagi Lamplighter, and their four children.
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