Walker Percy is one of America's great novelists, and he ought to be known as a political thinker as well. In Walker Percy and the Politics of the Wayfarer, Brian A. Smith makes the case that we should understand Percy's novels and essays together as a guide to living in a complex world. Percy cultivated a philosophical and literary approach that revealed the fault lines in the modern mind. He portrayed man as a wayfarer: peristantly unsatisfied and wandering in search of a perfectly complete solution to life's dilemmas. His writing captures the restlessness of the human heart and allows us to comprehend our temptation to escape our sense of alienation and longing. Drawing ideas from philosophy, psychology, linguistics, and literature, Percy's multidimensional account of American political life shows the ways that today's approaches to life often fall short and leave us more unsatisfied with ourselves and others than ever. Percy hoped we would evade the temptations to escape the life of the wayfarer and accept our misplaced longings, alienation, depression, and anxiety as part of the human condition.
Failing to do this might lead us to accept ever more extreme political and social ideas as the basis for life. The promise of embracing Percy's political teaching is that we might then be able to accept ourselves as we really are in order to join with others in authentic community.
Brian A. Smith is associate professor and deputy chair in the Department of Political Science and Law at Montclair State University.