Synopses & Reviews
In this pathbreaking book one of Americaand#8217;s most distinguished philosophers brilliantly explores the status and authority of law and the nature of political allegiance through close readings of three classic Hollywood Westerns: Howard Hawksand#8217; Red River
and John Fordand#8217;s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
and The Searchers.
Robert Pippin treats these films as sophisticated mythic accounts of a key moment in American history: its and#8220;second founding,and#8221; or the western expansion. His central question concerns how these films explore classical problems in political psychology, especially how the virtues of a commercial republic gained some hold on individuals at a time when the heroic and martial virtues were so important. Westerns, Pippin shows, raise central questions about the difference between private violence and revenge and the stateand#8217;s claim to a legitimate monopoly on violence, and they show how these claims come to be experienced and accepted or rejected.
Pippinand#8217;s account of the best Hollywood Westerns brings this genre into the center of the tradition of political thought, and his readings raise questions about political psychology and the political passions that have been neglected in contemporary political thought in favor of a limited concern with the question of legitimacy.
"There's a strange moment near the end of John Ford's The Searchers
, which, if you believe the argument of Robert Pippin's new study of the mythic narratives in classic Westerns, has much to say not just about the meaning of the film, but about the very nature of our political life. John Wayne, as Ethan Edwards, has just scalped Scar, the Comanche chieftain he has been tracking for the better part of seven years in search of his kidnapped niece. As Wayne exits the tent holding his trophy, Ford focuses on his face in close-up. His expression is a puzzle; it's supposed to be the punctuation mark on the scene, but instead it's an open door." Jacob Mikanowski, Bookslut
(Read the entire Bookslut review
About the Author
Robert B. Pippin is the Evelyn Stefansson Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, the Department of Philosophy, and the College at the University of Chicago.