Libertarian Jackass

"Life is short, but truth works far and lives long; let us speak truth." -- Schopenhauer

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Agatha Christie as a Burkean conservative

For Agatha Christie, justice is a private pursuit. While many of you are not at all conservative and several of you (McCarthy, of course) are obsessed with neoconservatives, I found this piece on the political themes of Christie's work interesting:

Her work conforms to Burkean conservatism in every respect: justice rarely comes from the state. Rather, it arises from within civil society -- a private detective, a clever old spinster. Indeed, what is Miss Marple but the perfect embodiment of Burke's thought? She has almost infinite wisdom because she has lived so very long (by the later novels, she is barely able to move and, by some calculations, over 100). She has slowly -- like parliament and all traditional bodies, according to Burke -- accrued "the wisdom of the ages", and this is the key to her success. From her solitary spot in a small English village, she has learned everything about human nature. Wisdom resides, in Christie and Burke's worlds, in the very old and the very ordinary.

The novels are shot through with a Burkean fear of enlightenment rationalism. There is a persistent fear of the young and those with grand Archimedean social projects. Christie's greatest anxiety, she once explained, was of "idealists who want to make us happy by force." The minute a character is described as an idealist in one of her novels, you've found your murderer. Any rational attempt to supersede the "natural order" is terrifying for her: she could have scripted Stanley Baldwin's comment about David Lloyd George that he "is a dynamic force, and a dynamic force is a very dangerous thing." In "They Came to Baghdad", a rational plan for a New World Order is revealed to be a veil for absolutist fascism. In "They Do It With Mirrors", a plan to establish an island which would be administered by (and eventually rehabilitate) young offenders degenerates into psychosis. In "Destination Unknown", a communistic scientific community turns out to be a veil for a crazed megalomaniac. This list could go on for a very long time.

Her protagonists stand, novel after novel, against those who seek to disrupt the natural order and interpret the world with a misleading "rationalism." As one of her heroes explains, "We're humble-minded men. We don't expect to save the world, only pick up one or two broken pieces and remove a spanner or two when it's jamming up the works." Or, as another heroine asks, "Isn't muddle a better breeding ground for kindliness and individuality than a world order that's imposed?"

Despite a clear love for the natural order of Burke, Christie's loveliest stance is on the question of feminism. In an interview she stated that "the foolishness of women in relinquishing their position of privilege obtained after many centuries of civilisation. Primitive women toil incessantly. We seem determined to return to that state voluntarily." Call me a jackass all you want, but I'm pretty sure that working more is not necessarily a sign of the advance of civilization. (Necessary disclosure: The LJ is obviously in pursuit of a trophy wife, preferably an Italian, Spanish or Latin American model. Thanks)

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