Jane Bennet and Barack Obama

(or The New Politics)

After apologising for combining Jane Austen with more contemporary, worldly topics in the blog, it would be as well to make an explicit connection. This I will try to do with Barack Obama and his New Politics.

As with practically every philosophical article on this blog it is about how we are losing our minds because we are losing sight of our minds—the modern tendency to fixate on and overemphasise the external play of phenomenon, to the extent that we lose sight of inner, psychological factors, in this case, losing site of the distinction between cynicism and candour.

By candour I mean the classical meaning understood by Jane Austen before the modern, romantic period, sharing its roots with candle and derived from the Latin candor, meaning dazzling whiteness, brilliancy, innocency, purity, sincerity (see the OED entry for candour and Candour, Pride and Prejudice).

Candour was an important theme in the early Austen novels, Sense and Sensibility, and especially the ‘light and bright and sparkling’ Pride and Prejudice, where the novel can be seen as a dialectic between Jane Bennet’s candour and the early, latent cynicism of Elizabeth Bennet (see Hobbes, Moral Pessimism and Pride and Prejudice), with the novel pivoting on Elizabeth’s realization in Chapter 36.

“How despicably I have acted!” she cried; “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable mistrust! How humiliating is this discovery! Yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind! But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself.” (36.8)

From this moment Elizabeth is as surely on her trajectory towards Darcy and resolution as she was travelling away from it beforehand. This point really determines the reader’s understanding of the novel, and is also key to understanding the disagreement between the idealists that advocate Obama’s new politics and their sceptical (or is it cynical) realist opponents—and make no mistake this argument cuts across all party, ethnic, national, sex and generational lines. If we can better understand Pride and Prejudice this might shine some light on the contemporary political conversation.

Next: The Candour of Jane Bennet

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