As journalist John Chamberlain was a prominent figure on the libertarian right, and novelist B. Traven an important writer of the libertarian left, it’s of some interest to see what the former thought of the latter. Hence this excerpt from Chamberlain’s 1935 review of Traven’s novels The Death Ship and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre:
“The Death Ship,” a sea story that came not from a Conradian aristocrat of the deep but from the depths of the forecastle …. was shot through with the corrosive and bitter cynicism that is the surest sign of an underlying affection for a humanity which alternately betrays itself and permits itself to be betrayed. B. Traven is, at heart, a philosophical anarchist; he would approve of Professor Giddings’s definition of the origin of government, as quoted recently by Charles A. Beard: “Government originated with the first successful getaway.” One of the most wryly hilarious parts of “The Death Ship” was a comedy of the man who, after being shunted across border after border, began to doubt his own identity and even his existence. No more devastating arraignment of Red Tape and legal interference with the freedom of personality and movement has ever been written. …
“The Treasure [of the Sierra Madre]” proves to be a philosophical anarchist’s commentary on greed for possessions. … Until they find the gold, Dobbs and Curtin have the cynical wisdom of the uncorrupted underdog, the straight vision of men who, having nothing to defend, no property, no traditional conception of themselves, are not bought by their own money. …
Unlike most thrillers, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” has its social and political inferences. … When the Indians and mestizos of the story turn bandit … Traven always manages to have a character on hand with a deep sense of poetic justice to point the moral …. that a man who has been taught to expect violence and injustice will not scruple to use his opponent’s choice of weapons.
Underneath it all there beats the outraged heart of a man who cannot believe the evidence of his senses that the human race is only human when it can afford to be. B. Traven’s sense of outrage, which is rigidly controlled in the interests of formal story-telling, is what gives “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” its fine moral power.
(John Chamberlain, “Books of the Times,” New York Times, 11 June 1935.)
Is Chamberlain making a pun on “betrays … betrayed … B. Traven” in the first paragraph?