Best of the blog, Part 2: Was Shakespeare a libertarian? Has cancel culture peaked? And what was that crossword puzzle clue mentioning the LFS?

By Michael Grossberg

Was Shakespeare a libertarian?

Has the “cancel culture” trend peaked, or will it continue in 2024?

With Shakespeare increasingly in disfavor among some elite precincts of academia and popular authors like Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming posthumously having their classic fiction bowdlerized and edited to be politically correct, what artists and authors will be next?

Will 2024 deepen disturbing trends undermining artistic freedom and other civil and economic liberties? Or will a new year bring fresh hope for civility, voluntarism, tolerance and respect for other people’s rights?

Such questions continue to linger in the back of my mind as I recall some of my favorite posts in 2023 on the Prometheus Blog.

Although it’s now the start of 2024, it’s not too late to look back again at the past year to savor (and perhaps reread) a few especially timely and relevant favorites from the blog – beyond the three already highlighted last week.

WAS SHAKESPEARE A LIBERTARIAN?

Although no one to my knowledge has argued that Shakespeare was a libertarian or anything close, one 2023 Prometheus blog brought to readers’ attention the more subtle, sophisticated and surprising arguments of essayist Michael Lucchese reviewing and comparing two books about the Bard and his views on liberty and authority in the Law and Liberty journal.

Macbeth, Julius Caesar and Richard III are among the Shakespeare plays that soberly dramatize the horrific consequences of power-lust and common State abuses and excesses of power. So it isn’t surprising that Lucchese finds ample evidence in the two books of the Bard’s wisdom about the downsides of tyranny and the upside potential for freedom.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Shakespeare is the Renaissance’s greatest champion. The Renaissance was a great intellectual movement to put the human person at the center of Europe’s political and cultural life, liberating the people from political oppression and, at the same time, reintroducing them to the classical philosophical tradition,” Lucchese writes.

“In this context, Ranasing (the author of Shakespeare’s Reformation) holds that Shakespeare’s plays offer “an esoteric vindication of the human soul itself,” the heart of the Renaissance, “against the looming backdrop of the Counter-Reformation in Europe and the Puritan perversion of English Anglicanism.” In his “re-telling of Classical and English history,” Ranasinghe argues, “Shakespeare is thus tying poetry to history and giving us an alternate, if playful, account of Western civilization.”

But the whole blog is worth reading for its intelligent discussion of art, Shakespeare, the pleasures of liberty and the perils of authority.

ART, LIBERTY AND CANCEL CULTURE

Far more sobering – and sadly, of continuing relevance as 2024 begins – were a series of 2023 blogs commenting on the progression of “cancel culture” to the point that classic works of literature are being re-edited and bowdlerized.

As I wrote in “Cultivating virtue, respecting liberty & remembering history,” a bog commenting on sf author J. Daniel Sawyer’s incisive column on the “new censorship” undermining the fantasy classics of Roald Dahl and the James Bond novels of Ian Fleming:

Author Roald Dahl (Creative Commons license)

“This is a troubling time for libertarians, classical liberals and all lovers of liberty and art – which is why it’s important to seek out, read and digest the best insights about the roots of this anti-authoritarian trend and how we might strive to better support both liberty and literature that reflects the intent of its creators.

Perhaps the most illuminating, historically aware and wisest commentary I’ve come across about this disturbing modern recurrence of bowdlerization was written recently by J. Daniel Sawyer as a guest post on the Substack blog of Holly Math Nerd.

Sawyer, who ends his must-read essay with apt references to two Prometheus Hall of Fame winners – Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four  is a prolific and published author of both non-fiction and science fiction, fantasy and mystery.

After the Prometheus blog article (March 29, 2023) bringing Sawyer to the attention of LFS members for the first time as a cogent commentator on current events and illiberal trends, a follow-up article (April 2, 2023) introduced Sawyer’s Heinleinesque fiction – and nonfiction.

Not only does Sawyer pay tribute to Heinlein in two non-fiction books about the legendary Grand Master of modern sf and 14 of his “juvenile” novels targetted at young readers, but Sawyer explicitly structured and billed one of his nine novels as a “Heinlein juvenile.”

The blog entry focuses on Sawyer’s insight that Heinlein’s juveniles were innovative and influential, eventually creating “a new literary form that many writers have attempted, but very few have successfully executed.”

The latter post, in particular, is must-reading for Heinlein fans – which pretty much means all LFS members and many members of the wider sci-fi community.

OUR FIRST LFS MENTION IN A CROSS-WORD PUZZLE

After such serious subjects, it’s nice – and something of a relief – to end my retrospective of 2023 blog favorites with something lighter and more fun.

So I can’t resist recalling an amusing and unexpected milestone in the history and visibility of the LFS and the Prometheus Awards – a felicitous reference to the Libertarian Futurist Society (and a sci-fi author beloved by LFS members) in the weekly crossword puzzle feature recently launched by Reason magazine.

Not only was this the first mention of the LFS I’m aware of in any crossword puzzle, but the clever and accurate reference actually sparked interest in our organization – and brought us at least one new LFS member.

Welcome – and please help us spread the word in 2024 about our blog and the LFS’s other Prometheus-awards-related programs!

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE LFS:

 

* Prometheus winners: For the full list of Prometheus winners, finalists and nominees – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to all published appreciation-reviews of past winners since 1979.

* Watch videos of past Prometheus Awards ceremonies (including the recent 2023 ceremony with inspiring and amusing speeches by Prometheus-winning authors Dave Freer and Sarah Hoyt),Libertarian Futurist Society panel discussions with noted sf authors and leading libertarian writers, and other LFS programs on the Prometheus Blog’s Video page.

Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards and support a cultural and literary strategy to appreciate and honor freedom-loving fiction, jointhe Libertarian Futurist Society, a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans.

Libertarian futurists believe that culture matters! We understand that the arts and literature can be vital, and in some ways even more powerful than politics in the long run, by sparking innovation, better ideas, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights, individuality and human dignity.

Published by

Michael Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been an arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Michael has won Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio and Best Arts Reporting (seven times). He's written for Reason, Libertarian Review and Backstage weekly; helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades; and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword for J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among books he recommends from a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist & How Innovation Works, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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