Saturday, May 22, 2010

Robert Pippin's "Hollywood Westerns and American Myth"

Robert B. Pippin is the Evelyn Stefansson Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, the Department of Philosophy, and the College at the University of Chicago.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hollywood Westerns and American Myth: The Importance of Howard Hawks and John Ford for Political Philosophy, and determined that "p. 99 is actually not a bad 'sample'." Here is a brief description of the book:
Robert Pippin argues here for the importance of political psychology for any adequate political philosophy, and so encourages a re-animation of a philosophical concern with those dynamics of the human soul relevant to any life in common. Traditionally, such a psychology concerned the core political passions: among others, love, especially love of one’s own, fear (fear of violent death, of suffering and insecurity), desires for ease and luxury and pleasure, and a powerful passion called by many names: thymos, amour-propre, vanity, self-love, the desire for recognition, the need to secure one’s status with others and even to elevate one’s status above and even at the expense of others. Secondly, he argues that while these issues are not in the foreground of much political thought (concerned almost exclusively with the problem of legitimacy), they are treated in subtle and compelling ways in many of the great Hollywood Westerns. For many such films are about the founding of modern bourgeois, law-abiding, property owning, market economy, technologically advanced societies in transition situations of, mostly, lawlessness (or corrupt and ineffective law) that border on classic “state of nature” theories, and so such Westerns adopt a mythic form of narration about founding. The question often raised is the question of how legal order (of a particular modern form, the form of liberal democratic capitalism) is psychologically possible, under what conditions it can be formed and command allegiance, how the bourgeois virtues, especially the domestic virtues, can be said to get a psychological grip in an environment where the heroic and martial virtues are so important. Pippin singles out for special attention three films, Red River, directed by Howard Hawks, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and The Searchers by John Ford.
Learn more about Hollywood Westerns and American Myth at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue