Monday, February 28, 2005

Attention must finally be paid

The neoconservative Weekly Standard offers a rebuttal to the hagiographic obituaries of the recently deceased Arthur Miller. The writer, Steven Schwartz, offers many salient points but is off target in places. For example, his dismissal of Miller's best known work:

Death of a Salesman hasn't aged particularly well. In the post-Reagan era of triumphant entrepreneurship, a drama proclaiming the uselessness of hard work and devotion to a job lacks the force it once seemed to have.

I beg to differ. For if Americans have more opportunities for economic independence than they did when Miller wrote the play--and I believe they do--than the forces that conspire against them have multiplied as well. If we've learned anything in our post-industrial, globalized economy, it's that loyalty and hard work often go unrewarded. Corporations ship jobs overseas and default on their pension plans, and even white-collar workers who once believed they were safe from downward pressures on wages find themselves downsized and outsourced. And besides, Death of a Salesman was as much a statement on Americans' demanding definition of success and the premium we place on personal ambition as it was a warning against the perils of being overly devoted to one's job.

The essay's writer, Stephen Schwartz, also takes issue with The Crucible, Miller's allegory against McCarthyism:

The Crucible effectively dramatizes the terror of false accusation and persecution. And yet, as Peter Mullen wrote in the London Times, "There were no witches in Salem, Mr. Miller. But there were plenty of communist enemies of the state in America."

It may be true that liberals have exaggerated the excesses of the Red Scare. But the conservative counterargument, that there really were communist spies in America, misses the point. The fact that America has real enemies, then as now, is no reason to deprive citizens of their basic rights, nor to ostracize them merely for their political beliefs. It is also undeniable, then as now, that some politicians exploit genuine threats for their own political gain. Somehow, I fail to see how that makes us safe.


Anonymous geoff said...

Check out Schwartz's dismissal of Hunter S. Thompson:

There are any number of blowhards in this world capable of defending their opinions. I don't know how guys like these get jobs.

12:27 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Wow. His Miller piece was more nuanced than that. There are plenty of leigitimate critiques you can make of Thompson, but that essay simply screams "I didn't like anything he wrote so I'm glad he's dead."

9:08 AM


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