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A Political Companion to Walker Percy

edited by Peter Augustine Lawler and Brian A. Smith

Publication Year: 2013

In 1962, Walker Percy (1916--1990) made a dramatic entrance onto the American literary scene when he won the National Book Award for fiction with his first novel, The Moviegoer. A physician, philosopher, and devout Catholic, Percy dedicated his life to understanding the mixed and somewhat contradictory foundations of American life as a situation faced by the wandering and won-dering human soul. His controversial works combined existential questioning, scientific investigation, the insight of the southern stoic, and authentic religious faith to produce a singular view of humanity's place in the cosmos that ranks among the best American political thinking.

An authoritative guide to the political thought of this celebrated yet complex American author, A Political Companion to Walker Percy includes seminal essays by Ralph C. Wood, Richard Reinsch II, and James V. Schall, S.J., as well as new analyses of Percy's view of Thomistic realism and his reaction to the American pursuit of happiness. Editors Peter Augustine Lawler and Brian A. Smith have assembled scholars of diverse perspectives who provide a necessary lens for interpreting Percy's works. This comprehensive introduction to Percy's "American Thomism" is an indispensable resource for students of American literature, culture, and politics.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Political Companions to Great American Authors

Front cover

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pp. 1-4


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p. 5-5


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pp. v-vi

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Series Foreword

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pp. vii-9

Those who undertake a study of American political thought must attend to the great theorists, philosophers, and essayists. Such a study is incomplete, however, if it neglects American literature, one of the greatest repositories of the nation’s political thought and teachings....

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Introduction. Walker Percy, American Political Life, and Indigenous American Thomism

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pp. 1-10

Why do two political scientists say that an American Catholic novelist can teach us what nobody else can about our nation’s political life? In fact, we think it’s important that Percy was an American, a Catholic, and a novelist, not to mention a physician and a philosophical essayist. Percy explains that...

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1. Walker Percy: A Brief Biography

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pp. 11-28

William Buckley once wittily remarked that all future presidents should be made to take a double oath of office. They should swear not only to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America but also promise to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Walker Percy’s novel of 1971, Love in the Ruins. “...

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2. The Moviegoer's Cartesian Theater: Moviegoing as Walker Percy’s Metaphor for the Cartesian Mind

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pp. 29-45

Binx Bolling is the moviegoing protagonist of The Moviegoer (1961), Walker Percy’s first published novel. In an interview, Percy once referred to Binx as a “victim” of Descartes, to whom Percy attributed “many of the troubles of the modern world.”1 Did Percy intend some connection...

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3. Walker Percy's Critique of the Pursuit of Happiness in The Moviegoer, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, and The Thanatos Syndrome

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pp. 47-68

Americans have exercised magnificently the right to pursue happiness. Americans enjoy, on the whole, comfortable lives and unprecedented political and personal freedom, but, as happiness studies show, not much happier lives. While happiness studies indicate that happiness levels remain...

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4. On Dealing with Man

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pp. 69-86

Aristotle often compares the quest for happiness with the quest for health. With his medical background (a background Aristotle also seems to have shared with his own father), Walker Percy was quite aware of the difference between what a doctor does and what a novelist does. The one describes...

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5. Walker Percy's "Theory of Man" and the Elimination of Virtue

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pp. 87-117

It is no overstatement to say that throughout his entire authorship, the critique of our current cultural anthropology, together with the formulation of a new “theory of man,” was Walker Percy’s central concern. In many of his earliest essays, most of which predate his first and highly acclaimed novel,...

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6. Confessing the Horros of Radical Individualism in Lancelot: Percy, Dostoyevsky, Poe

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pp. 119-144

Lancelot is Percy’s richest and most challenging novel. It is challenging because its narrator is so beguiling and intelligent, so clearly right about many of the shortcomings of his society, and yet at the same time deadly wrong. To a degree the same might be said of Percy’s two other first-person narrators...

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7. Walker Percy's Alternative to Scientism in The Thanatos Syndrome

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pp. 145-157

Walker Percy’s The Thanatos Syndrome is often read, and rightly so, as a critique of scientism. Scientism is the belief that science alone can make truth statements about the world. For Percy, such a perspective always dehumanizes. Because man is viewed as matter, all personal and social...

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8. Love and Marriage among the Ruins

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pp. 159-178

Walker Percy intimated in several addresses and essays his belief that the South was strangely capable of teaching the United States enduring truths of man’s nature and being.1 Separated from the larger country since the 1830s by political rebellion, racial oppression, and economic torpidity, the...

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9. Walker Percy's Last Man: Love in the Ruins as a Fable of American Decline

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pp. 179-206

Walker Percy set out to write novels that examined both obvious and latent maladies in our public life. Laden with allusions to philosophy and addressing the gamut of modernity’s political and social quandaries, Percy’s novels present images of our existence as wayfarers in a profoundly disturbed world....

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10. The Second Coming of Walker Percy: From Segregationist to Integrationist

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pp. 207-236

This essay looks at three strands of Walker Percy’s thoughts through the decade or so before his 1956 Commonweal article, “Stoicism and the South.”1 These three strands of thought are semiotics, Catholicism, and Stoicism. Percy’s work on semiotics, his reading of Kierkegaard,...

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11. Walker Percy, Alexis de Tocqueville, and the Stoic and Christian Foundations of American Thomism

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pp. 237-265

According to John Courtney Murray in We Hold These Truths, the task of American Catholics is to supply a theory adequate to the greatness of our Founders’ practical accomplishment.1 The dominant theory of our nation is Lockeanism, the theory of a middle-class country. We Americans, so...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 267-269


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pp. 271-272


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pp. 273-285

E-ISBN-13: 9780813141893
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813141886

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Political Companions to Great American Authors