Monday, November 10, 2008

moral economy

i found on my computer today a short piece commenting on edmund burke, jane austen, and the idea of a 'moral economy' that i'd written senior year. my curiosity was roused to read it again in light of the present state of our own economy, and it struck me as very much relevent.

i had written it after listening to my english professor, beth lambert, stand up and discuss her views of what she called burke's 'chivalrous' ideals for government when he advised parliament to rethink their treatment of the american colonies.

jane austen, too, touches on this in the microcosm of her country villages. above all else, above her wit and her charm and her ability to see through all of the bullshit of the world, her first and primary goal is to show her readers what it means to act in the name of social justice.

though small worlds, her examples of moral and immoral leaders are subtle reminders of the dangers of social irresponsibility. sir thomas bertram in mansfield park struggles to control his slave populations in antigua, while back in england his children think of nothing but vanity, money, adultery and drinking. meanwhile elizabeth bennet teases that she really began to fall in love with mr. darcy "from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at pemberly."

but of course she does. that is when she discovers his humanity–that he is a competent and fair landlord, doting on and protective of his sister, and runs a moral household.

i hope we have come to a point where we will begin to consider more deeply, as i think we have as of late, of how the character of those whom we elect to represent us, reflects the our own character. i don't mean that the private lives of our leaders need to be splashed on every tabloid–but to quote a line from an old film, "my pa always said, 'never do anything you'd be ashamed to see written up on the front page of the news.'"

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