Negative Liberties

Patell, Cyrus R. K.




Since the nineteenth century, ideas centred on the individual, on Emersonian self-reliance, on the right of the individual to the pursuit of happiness have had a tremendous presence in the United States - and even more so since the Reagan era. But has this presence been for the good of all! In "Negative Liberties", Cyrus R. K. Patell revises important ideas in the debate over individualism and the political theory of liberalism. He does so by bringing two new voices into the current discussion - Toni Morrison and Thomas Pynchon - to examine the different ways in which their writings embody, engage, and critique the official narratives generated by U.S. liberal ideology. Patell shows that Pynchon and Morrison reveal the official narrative of U.S. individualism as encompassing a complex structure of contradiction held in abeyance. The official narratives imagine that the goals of the individual are not at odds with the goals of the family or society and actually obscure the existence of an unholy truce between individual liberty and forms of oppression. By bringing these two fiction writers into a discourse that has been dominated by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Isaiah Berlin, John Rawls, George Kateb, Robert Bellah, and Michael Sandel, Patell unmasks the ways in which U.S. culture has not fully shed oppressive patterns of reasoning that were dominant in the slaveholding culture from which U.S. individualism emerged. With its interdisciplinary approach, "Negative Liberties" will appeal to students and scholars of American literature, culture, sociology, and politics.