By Hillsdale College Online Courses August 19, 2015
Larry P. Arnn agrees with Percy Bysshe Shelley that poets and storytellers have the power to sway public opinion with their winning portrayal of the truth in the details they choose to include in their work.
The following is a clip from Q&A 1 of Hillsdale’s Online Course, “Great Books 102,” featuring Larry P. Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, and John J. Miller, director of the Dow Journalism Program.
John J. Miller:
Shelley said something else, though, and he's most famous for saying this other thing, I think, his best-known statement… He said, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” What does that mean, and do you agree with it?
Larry P. Arnn:
Sure. Well, if you mean by poets, all contrivers of stories, stories are powerful with us because they're representations of the way things are, and poets, when they're capable, can contrive the story so that [it’s] more powerful than anything you might see with your own eyes. The greatest poets have better eyes than we do. And so… you know… in ordinary, day-to-day politics, it's always better to have a story. It's always better to cite a case and say, ‘this is a terrible thing, and we have to have this law to fix this terrible thing.’ Well, that's [be]cause there's a story in there, and it does exemplify something. And, of course, the right and wrongs of any situation and the meaning of any situation is partly in the details of the situation, and poets can give those details.