SELECTED INTERNET POSTS
Part 3: 1 July 2003 - 2 December 2003
Part 1 (13 December 2001 - 16 May 2003); Part 2 (18 May 2003 - 30 June 2003); Part 3 (1 July 2003 - 2 December 2003); Part 4 (3 December 2003 - 29 January 2004); Part 5 (3 February 2004 - 17 April 2004); Part 6 (16 May 2004 - August 2004); Part 7 (12 December 2004 - June 2005)
By Chris Matthew Sciabarra
Chris Matthew Sciabarra participates on occasion in several Internet discussion forums, including several Objectivist lists (including The Atlantis Discussion List [ATL], Atlantis II, Mudita Forum, Objectivist Outcasts, Philosophy of Objectivism List [OWL], Secular Individualism List, SOLO HQ, SOLO Yahoo Forum [SOLO], Starship Forum, among others), and lists devoted to Nathaniel Branden, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Karl Marx, psychology, Randian feminism, ifeminism, and so forth. Below are a few posts from the various lists.
Table of Contents
Rationalism & War, Flames & Oxygen (2 December 2003)
The Reciprocal Relationship between Tribalism and Statism (30 November 2003)
Al Qaeda and More (28 November 2003)
The Primacy of Politics in Explaining Modern Tribalism (27 November 2003)
Even More on Iraq (26 November 2003)
More on Iraq (25 November 2003)
Objectivism versus Randianism? (24 November 2003)
Even More on Osama, Saddam, and More (23 November 2003)
More on Osama, Saddam, and More (22 November 2003)
Osama, Saddam, and More (21 November 2003)
Changing the Intellectual Culture (18 November 2003) [plus follow-up]
Re: List of Objectivist Humanities Professors (4 November 2003) [follow-up]
Re: List of Objectivist Humanities Professors (3 November 2003)
Aristotle and Zen (Take 3,243) (28 July 2003)
Aristotle and Zen (22 July 2003)
"You Say You Want a Revolution . . ." (9 July 2003)
Ayn Rand and Russian Literature (9 July 2003)
Random Thoughts on Aristotle (4 July 2003)
A Note on Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (3 July 2003)
RATIONALISM & WAR, FLAMES & OXYGEN
(Atlantis II; Posted: Tue, 02 Dec 2003 10:05:02 -0500)
J, on Sunday afternoon, I read that Charles Murray article to which you refer. Thanks for citing it here. When Murray writes, "So the possibility arises that Aristotle, the same man who did so much to bring science to that edge, also supplied the tool that distracted his successors"... that's like blaming the father for the sins of the sons (or daughters). The problem was not in Aristotle's logic, but in the Scholastics sclerotic applications of logic to matters of faith, making the logical and the dialectical the "handmaidens" of religion. What the Renaissance thinkers reacted against was not Aristotle, per se, but this dogmatic wedding of the Aristotelian and the religious. Ironically, however, it was the application of Aristotelian logic to religious matters—via Aquinas and others—that paved the way for the secularization of the human mind. And the religious thinkers of the Middle Ages ~knew~ it and struggled mightily, at first, against it. (I discuss this in Chapter 2 of my book, TOTAL FREEDOM: TOWARD A DIALECTICAL LIBERTARIANISM).
As for the "Newtonian"-inspired belief that man could remake the world from scratch: this too was not a failure of reason or science. It was a failure of ~rationalism~. And the application of the physical sciences to human action was a failure of ~scientism~. Not a failure of reason or science. So, yes, J, you are 1000% correct about the Cartesian perversions at work here. And yes, reason gets "the full blame for the failures of its nominal adherents"---just the way capitalism has gotten the blame for the failures of statism. All the more reason, indeed, to "man the barricades and stick to the fundamentals."
Now, onto C's comments. C admits that past US foreign policy may have "had *some* level of influence on the Al-Qaeda network," but he "fail[s] to see how, when considering the ultimate religious nature of the Al-Qaeda network itself and its goals, Bin Laden's sources of revenue, and Al-Qaeda's consistent 'low tech' methods of attack, how they would be 'a lot less lethal' if we could turn back time and correct US foreign policy 'mistakes.'" C adds that "[i]t is tempting to assign short-sighted and flawed US governmental actions the same level of direct influence on the goals of Al-Qaeda as one would on, say, the Columbian government, or other tyrannies that have been given genesis and/or the necessary tools of survival directly or indirectly by foolish US policies. 'Anti-drug' policies in conjunction with the near global criminalization of certain substances, *creates* the black-market of violence, destruction, and death. The link is direct and nearly irrefutable. However, such a clear relationship does not exist between Al-Qaeda and the US government's actions."
I don't agree.
Let me make a more direct analogy with another war. Does anyone honestly believe that World War II would have happened ~anyway~ without World War I and the events that transpired in its aftermath?
Ayn Rand often said that World War I—the war "to make the world safe for democracy"—led to the birth of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Soviet Russia, and that World War II led to the surrender of three-quarters of a billion people into communist slavery. These were "unintended consequences" writ large, on a scale that was previously unimaginable.
With Rand, I would agree that ideas, especially philosophical ideas, are the driving force of history. If human beings accept a virulent strain of philosophy, it is no less lethal than being exposed to a deadly strain of virus. But there are all sorts of inoculations and vaccines that one can take to prevent a virus. And there are all sorts of things that one can do, once a virus has hit, to shorten its course, making certain, for instance, that it doesn't spread.
Thus, if one looks ~strictly~ and ~only~ at the ~philosophy~ of Nazism, outside of any historical context, one could certainly conclude that this was a militant, racist, anti-Semitic creed that ~had~ to lead, by its very nature, to death and destruction. But just because the logical implementation of an idea ~can~ lead to death and destruction does not mean that it ~must~. When Rand endorsed the view that ideas have efficacy, she didn't endorse the view of philosophic determinism: that ideas ~must~ result in certain outcomes, ~regardless~ of context or circumstance. There is nothing inevitable or inexorable about it. Nazism, the flame, needed ~oxygen~ to flourish. The loss of Germany in World War I, the Treaty of Versailles, and the Great Depression were all its sources of oxygen.
In a sense, therefore, I would agree with C when he says: "Al-Qaeda is no different." Indeed. Everything about Islamic fundamentalism reeks of death and destruction. But there is nothing ~inexorable~ about this. Such ideas do not exist or flourish in a historical vacuum. They can only become lethal in the context of a certain constellation of historical conditions. ~That~ is why Rand emphasized the political conditions of tribalism's rebirth (which I mentioned in an earlier post). ~That~ is why I've emphasized that so much of what is happening today is a product of the collision of fundamentalism with a particularly short-sighted, "pragmatic," interventionist US foreign policy, which created the conditions for the empowerment of autocrats, despots, and fundamentalists. You cannot abstract virulent ideologies from the ~conditions~ that allow them to rear their ugly heads. If such things are deadly flames, past US foreign interventions have been their oxygen. (And, furthermore, you cannot abstract US foreign policies from the ~system~ of interventionism that Rand characterized as the "New Fascism," since such policies emerge from, and perpetuate, that system.)
So too, we can't abstract the current situation from the history of US foreign policy: from US enrichment of the Saudis—who export fanatical Wahhabism to the rest of the world; from US involvement with the Shah of Iran—which led to the rise of the Khomeini theocracy; from US encouragement of Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war—which bolstered the Hussein regime; from US encouragement of the mujahideen in Afghanistan—which empowered the Taliban.
Granted: We can play the game of "what if" forever. So, let me play that game, briefly, by quoting from Thomas Fleming's book THE ILLUSION OF VICTORY: AMERICA IN WORLD WAR I (Basic Books, 2003). Fleming is worth quoting at length:
"If the United States had refused to intervene in 1917, would a German victory in 1918 have been a better historical alternative? The answer is debatable. By 1918, the Germans, exasperated by the Allied refusal to settle for anything less than a knockout blow, were contemplating peace terms as harsh and vindictive as those the French and British imposed, with Wilson's weary consent, in the Treaty of Versailles.
"There is another possibility in this newly popular game of what-if. What would have happened if Wilson had taken William Jennings Bryan's advice and practiced real rather than sham neutrality? Without the backing of American weaponry, munitions, and loans, the Allies would have been forced to abandon their goal of the knockout blow. The war might have ended in 1916 with a negotiated peace based on the mutual admission that the conflict had become a stalemate. As a genuine neutral, Wilson might even have persuaded both sides to let him be a mediator. Lloyd George's argument—that unless the United States intervened, Wilson would have no place at the peace table—was specious at best. Both sides would have needed America's wealth and industrial resources to rebuild their shattered economies.
"Germany's aims before the war began were relatively modest. Basically, Berlin sought an acknowledgment that it was Europe's dominant power. It wanted an independent Poland and nationhood for the Baltic states to keep Russia a safe distance from its eastern border. Also on the wish list was a free trade zone in which German goods could circulate without crippling tariffs in France, Italy, Scandinavia and Austria-Hungary. It is not terribly different from the role Germany plays today in the European Economic Union. But the British Tories could not tolerate such a commercial rival in 1914 and chose war.
"Some people whose minds still vibrate to the historic echoes of Wellington House's propaganda argue that by defeating Germany in 1918, the United States saved itself from imminent conquest by the Hun. The idea grows more fatuous with every passing decade. A nation that had suffered more than 5 million casualties, including almost 2 million dead, was not likely to attack the strongest nation on the globe without pausing for perhaps a half century to rethink its policies. One can just as easily argue that the awful cost of the war would have enabled Germany's liberals to seize control of the country from the conservatives and force the kaiser to become a constitutional monarch like his English cousin.
"A victorious Germany would have had no need of political adventurers such as Adolf Hitler. Nor would this counterfactual Germany have inserted the Bolsheviks into Russia and supported them with secret-service money. Lenin and Trotsky might have agitated in a political vacuum in Switzerland unto a crabbed old age. Or ventured a revolution in their homeland that would have come to a swift and violent end. On the eve of the war, Russia had the fastest-growing economy in Europe. The country was being transformed by the dynamics of capitalism into a free society. The war created the collapse that gave Bolshevism its seventy-year reign of blood and terror."
Let me conclude by reiterating a Hayekian point: All human action—by its nature—leads to unintended consequences. But war ~especially~ leads to far-reaching unintended consequences, and most of these are negative. The reason for this is that it creates a dynamic that feeds on destruction: destruction of life, liberty, and property. It creates a host of institutions geared toward such destruction, and these institutions—no matter how important they might be to a relatively free society's defense of life, liberty, and property—have had long-lasting effects on their diminution over time. That's because the institutions left in place ~after~ the war are almost always consolidated in the peace, and used to further erode the very values that they were put in place to "defend."
If war is necessary against those who have attacked innocent American lives, then it is all the more necessary to pay careful attention to the kinds of strategies and institutions that are created to forge this battle. The Iraq war was unnecessary, in my view, to the defense of American security—but it has now extended the dynamics of unintended consequences in ways that we have yet to understand fully. We have not learned the lesson of the complications that result from "pragmatic" US intervention abroad. We don't wish to concern ourselves with the new oxygen that we may be providing for future flames—that will consume more American cities and lives.
Karl Marx said it best when he declared that history repeats itself: first as tragedy, then as farce.
And the joke, I fear, is on us.
THE RECIPROCAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TRIBALISM AND STATISM
(Atlantis II; Posted as "Re: More on Iraq and Islam": Sun, 30 Nov 2003 00:28:53 -0500)
Yes, of course, I too agree that the ultimate factor in driving human history is "philosophy," and that, ultimately, it is "bad" philosophy that is the primary cause of global deterioration. But at her best, I do not believe that Rand endorsed a simple one-way, mono-causal theory of history; I think she was very much aware of mutual implications and reciprocal connections among various factors.
The reciprocal connection between "bad philosophy" and "bad politics," then, is precisely what Rand was driving at in her discussion of the ways in which advancing statism made tribalism possible---just as advancing tribalism made statism necessary. The ~whole~ thing is driven, underneath it all, by philosophic premises that attack the authenticity and dignity of the individual. But, in Rand's view, that does not relieve one of the responsibility of understanding the myriad ways in which these factors interrelate. That's why she focused on the primacy of the political in any attempt to grasp the contemporary power of tribalism. Each ~required~ the other.
I don' t think Rand's comments on tribalism and statism are any less applicable to areas of the world that have never emerged from tribalism. I think that her focus in the essay, "Global Balkanization," is ~precisely~ the ~global~ nature of this reciprocal connection between advancing statism and tribalist fragmentation.
Additionally, I don't believe I changed the focus in our discussion from Islam to America's deterioration. In your previous post, for example, you drew a direct correlation between the spread of "Multi-culturalism, Identity politics and religious super-toleration" in America and the spread "of anti-American hatred in Islamic countries," particularly "strong among the most educated---especially American educated." I was accepting the principle that just as Islamic intellectuals have not been hermetically sealed from tribalist developments in American intellectual life, so too the politics and economics of the Islamic world have not been hermetically sealed from the statist developments in American political life. Tribalism and statism go hand-in-hand; they advance through mutual reinforcement---on any and all levels of social life, and on a global scale. The developments don't cease at America's national borders. Rand recognized how America's "New Fascism" was exported abroad, with statist businessmen, the overwhelming profiteers of the system, key to the internationalization of the mixed economy and its tribal warfare. As I write in my article, "Understanding the Global Crisis"
[Rand] lamented the internationalization of the New Fascism; given “the interdependence of the Western world,” all countries are “leaning on one another as bad risks, bad consuming parasite borrowers.” She recognized how the system’s dynamics propelled such internationalization, but advised: “The less ties we have with any other countries, the better off we will be.” Suggesting a biological analogy in warning against the spread of neofascism, she quips: “If you have a disease, should you get a more serious form of it, and will that help you?” (“Egalitarianism and Inflation” Q&A tape, 1974). In discussing a section of the 1972 Communique between the U.S. and Red China, Rand suggests a universal principle. “[L]ike charity,” she writes, “courage, consistency, integrity have to begin at home . . . [w]hat we are now doing to others . . . we began by doing it to ourselves. We are the victims of self-inflicted bacteriological warfare: altruism is the bacteria of amorality. Pragmatism is the bacteria of impotence” (“The Shanghai Gesture,” Part III).
I should mention in this context too that I am not dismissing the "Islamic threat"---though I stand by my contention that the "Islamic threat" is no more hegemonic than was the Communist one during the Cold War. There is simply too much rivalrous and lethal conflict among twenty-first century Islamicists---just as there was too much rivalrous and lethal conflict among twentieth-century Communists---to constitute a single, monolithic "Islamic threat."
Yes, the irrationality of Islam in general is a ~necessary~ ingredient in any structure of explanation for the current global crisis. It is just not ~sufficient~ to explain the current global crisis. That's why we can't minimize the role of US intervention in the Middle East: it is the ~sufficient~ ingredient, the catalyst, for this combustible situation. It is part of the broader historical context that can't be dropped without doing damage to the nature and character of our understanding of, or our proposed solutions to, this crisis. (BTW, for one "proposed solution," check out my Liberty & Power Group Blog posting: "The Three-State Solution (scroll down).")
Now, it's true that Islam has been at the heart of "periodic aggression over 1400 years," but I think the same can be said about Christianity. There have been plenty of wars of aggression that have been rationalized and legitimized by those who seek to bring Christ to the heathen. So much of European colonization was accompanied by Christian missionary zeal. There are some fanatics who would argue that even the Nazi Holocaust was payback for Jewish deicide.
I'm ~not~ defending Islam ~or~ Christianity here; I'm simply acknowledging the role of religious ideas in the genesis of war and oppression throughout human history.
As far as Islam's inability to come to grips with modernity: All the more reason why the ~essential~ war should remain a ~cultural~ one, not to be aggravated, diluted, or distorted by continuing long-run US political and military machinations in the Middle East. Such US intervention continues to benefit some groups---especially autocratic Islamic regimes---at the expense of others. If the cultures of Islam are "sick," then US and Western political and military intervention on behalf of even sicker autocratic political structures has done ~nothing~ to improve the cultural health of Islam. If anything, this intervention has stultified the cultures further, leading to the entrenchment and exportation of, for example, Wahhabi fanaticism, which is propped up by Saudi-ARAMCO profits.
Understand, therefore, that it's not merely the US being "scape-goated" by Islamic fundamentalists. It's that the whole irrationality of the US neo-corporatist political economy, which has pitted one Islamic group against another in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and so forth, has come crashing into the whole irrationality of Islamic culture---creating a situation that is far more lethal in its totality than any of its constituent parts taken separately. It therefore matters a great deal what the US does or doesn't do in that section of the world, because the US has become an entrenched aspect of the problem, internal to the dynamics as they unfold.
And that's why, fundamentally, I agree: this is a philosophical and cultural battle. It's one that will require a philosophical and cultural revolution to overturn the irrationality on both sides of this divide. And it's a battle that can never be won by acceptance of Wilsonian internationalism of a liberal left-wing or neoconservative right-wing character. "Nation-building" is impossible when the cultures upon which one is trying to build have no understanding of freedom, and when the builders themselves have destroyed freedom within their own country.
AL QAEDA AND MORE
(Atlantis II; Posted as "Re: More on Iraq": Fri, 28 Nov 2003 09:44:21 -0500)
I actually have my doubts about the full story of 9/11 as well; I have a hunch that we're going to find out a lot more about that "day of infamy"---just as we found out a lot more about another "Day of Infamy" that took place on December 7, 1941.
But just as I am confident that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, so too am I confident that Al Qaeda operatives were behind 9/11. I have seen enough tapes ~outside~ of US government sources (Al-Jazeera broadcasts, etc.) and enough evidence of the connections between the 19 hijackers and Bin Laden to conclude that this terror network exists and is lethal to the security of Americans. It would be a lot less lethal, as I said, if the US got out of the habit of sowing the seeds of its own destruction---across a variety of modalities.
One other brief point about war in general: I would agree with WS that it is far better to have a "marketized" Germany and Japan, than a "militarized" Germany and Japan. But when you consider how the seeds for World War II were sown from World War I and its aftermath, when you consider how World War II led, additionally, to the surrender of half of Europe to the Soviet Union, billions of US taxpayer dollars in Lend Lease to Soviet dictators, and the birth of the Cold War, I'm not entirely sure that it was a "good war." I'm ~not~ saying that Nazism, fascism, and Japanese militarism should have been appeased or left alone; I'm simply saying that a lot of what led to that war, and a lot of what happened in its aftermath, could have been---should have been---avoided. (Rand herself argued that the US should have avoided WW 1, and that the US should have allowed the Nazis and the Soviets to destroy each other in the European theatre of WW2---before entering that conflict.)
In any event, this is all historical speculation... something that never leads to any definitive conclusions. However, for a very interesting take on World War 1---perhaps the ~defining~ war of the modern times---and what could have been, see Thomas Fleming's superb book, THE ILLUSION OF VICTORY: AMERICA IN WORLD WAR I (Basic Books, 2003).
THE PRIMACY OF POLITICS IN EXPLAINING MODERN TRIBALISM
(Atlantis II; Posted as "Re: More on Iraq": Thu, 27 Nov 2003 11:54:16 -0500)
The heart of J's argument is expressed here:
"I'd argue that Islam is the cause of the hostility to the West and to America as the cultural, political, economic, and military giant of the West. Whatever actions we may have taken are used as excuses for an irrational hatred that needs no excuses. Our past failures may have had an effect on the timing, the exact place and particular events. However, the general developments are driven by and determined from the ideas of our Islamic enemies."
First, I ~agree~ that there is a profound antipathy between Islam and the ideals of reason, individualism, and capitalism---which the West has ~traditionally~ embraced. Please understand, however, that when I emphasize structural (political and economic) factors in the genesis of ~this~ wave of anti-US terrorism, I do so because the antipathy between Islam and "Western" ideals is ~nothing~ new. It's been fomenting for centuries, ever since Islam itself turned against the Aristotelian ideas of its own premier philosophers, Al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes. Why does ~this~ terrorism come out at ~this~ time, in ~this~ place, in ~this~ particular fashion? The broad philosophical/cultural issues are important; but they are ~still~ broad generalizations that don't ~explain~ this ~particular~ global crisis.
Second, it would be nice to think that the West is reason, individualism, and capitalism incarnate. Relatively speaking, it is. But, in actuality, it isn't. As J himself recognizes, the West's intellectual and cultural establishment has been cutting its own throat for many years, teaching the poisonous doctrines that have undermined rational values. Hand-in-hand with this embrace of an anti-rational, anti-individualist philosophical framework, the West has adopted a profoundly anti-capitalist politics for well over a century. The intellectual ~crime~ is that the West has come to symbolize "capitalism," but the "capitalism" it practices is that of a neo-corporatist "mixed economy," a system that Ayn Rand rightfully designated as the "new fascism." But it is "capitalism" that gets the blame for all the social distortions---the boom-bust cycles, the wars, and the social fragmentation---that state intervention makes possible.
It is because of the centrality of the state in social life that Rand recognized the ~structural~ as central to any explanation of global crisis. In her essay, "Global Balkanization," she writes:
"... there can be no doubt that the spread of tribalism is an enormously anti-intellectual evil. If, as I said, some elements of 'ethnicity' did remain in the backyards of civilized countries and stayed harmless for centuries, why the sudden epidemic of their rebirth? Irrationalism and collectivism---the philosophical notions of the prehistorical eras---had to be implemented in practice, in ~political~ action, before they could engulf the greatest scientific-technological achievements mankind had ever reached. The political cause of tribalism's rebirth is the ~mixed economy~---the transitional stage of the formerly civilized countries of the West on their way to the political level from which the rest of the world has never emerged: the level of permanent tribal warfare."
And this is the point: Tribalism has always existed. But it became a ~geopolitical force to be reckoned with~---as I pointed out---precisely because of the implementation of the political ideology of collectivism and the implementation of pragmatism as a policy tool. The "mulitculturalism," "identity politics," and "religious super-toleration" that we all despise---the ethnic, tribal, and religious warfare that we all decry---therefore becomes possible only because it is driven by the political, by the ~structural~. "There is no surer way to infect mankind with hatred---brute, blind, virulent hatred---than by splitting it into ethnic groups or tribes," Rand states. "Tribal or ethnic rule has existed, at some time, in every part of the world, and, in some country, in every period of mankind's history." But in order to explain its ~specific~ incarnation in the modern world as a force of conflict and war, Rand knew that she had to look ~elsewhere~ in her model of social explanation. She knew that the structural---the politico-economic---was the ~catalyst~ for these historically ~specific~ manifestations.
This does ~not~ mean that the revolution we seek is primarily ~political~. It is, indeed, philosophical and cultural. But it took centuries to secularize the Western mind---and even the West is struggling for its survival because its intellectuals have embraced the most anti-rational doctrines imaginable. In order to deal with this crisis, however, it is essential to focus on the political as much as the cultural and the personal. Objectivism requires a multidimensional revolution. Nothing less will do.
Happy Thanksgiving to all,
EVEN MORE ON IRAQ
(Atlantis II; Posted as "Re: More on Iraq": Wed, 26 Nov 2003 09:14:33 -0500
Just a few comments in response to the ~many~ that have been made on various threads:
1. J, you make some very good points. Objectivism is, indeed, "a philosophy, and the value of a philosophy is the power of using fundamentals." But I also believe that Ayn Rand used Objectivism to construct a framework for the critical analysis of social problems---not analysis for the sake of analysis, but analysis for the sake of changing society (like Marx, in this regard, who said: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.")
Toward that end, I believe that Rand's framework is an engine of integration, one that can help us to analyze any and all social problems on three levels---interconnected, inter-related, not to be sundered:
Level 1: the personal (which includes an analysis of the ethical, psychological, and psycho-epistemological factors at work);
Level 2: the cultural (which includes an analysis of the aesthetic, linguistic, pedagogical, and ideological factors at work);
Level 3: the structural (which includes an analysis of the political and economic factors at work).
A graphic model and discussion of this can be found in my AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL (Penn State, 1995) and in my TOTAL FREEDOM: TOWARD A DIALECTICAL LIBERTARIANISM (Penn State, 2000). Here's one diagrammatic illustration of the model.
And here's a link to some reflections on how the model might be applied to the construction of an Objectivist analytical framework for global politics (... scroll down to the bottom of that post, which is at the Light of Reason blog of Arthur Silber).
A philosophical analysis of the deep differences between Western and Islamic cultures is essential---but it is primarily a Level 2 analysis. Rand went beyond a strict Level 2 analysis and conjoined it to Levels 1 and 3; her criticism of many libertarians was, essentially, that they reified a Level 3 analysis as if it were the whole. Let's not make the same mistake of reifying Level 2 as if ~it~ were the whole.
But you are right, J: Culture is crucial. And you are also right that Marxism has often led an attack on the basis of fundamentals "with considerable success." The success of the Marxists is derived, partially, from the powerful integration of their model; the premises upon which the model is based may be wrong, but the ~integrated~ structure of the model fueled the methodological ~radicalism~ that Marxism offered to its adherents.
Objectivism has an integrated structure too; it has the added attraction of being, in essentials, correct. So, yep: "Let's keep our focus on the fundamentals."
2. Good points made by D; I, too, applauded the US withdrawal from Saudi Arabia. And, yes, the Saudis are making concessions---and may even move toward the appearance of elections. My central point, however, is that much of what has happened in Saudi Arabia is traceable to the insidious relationship of the US, Saudis and corporatist ARAMCO partners at the heart of the oil business in that region of the world.
3. On the peacenik, warmonger, "screw you" and other muck-raking comments of C: Thanks much, C, for the civility of your most recent response.
4. When I said that the US made Al Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalism into a "geopolitical force to be reckoned with," I did mean that past policies of previous administrations---from the time of US assistance to the mujahideen during the Soviet-Afghanistan war, to US support for the Shah of Iran, to US support of Hussein's Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, to US support of the House of Sa'ud---has contributed to an environment in which such fundamentalism coalesced around anti-US sentiment. That anti-US sentiment is ~not~ simply the outgrowth of anti-Western cultural views---even though these views are surely a factor in the current crisis. And yes, of course: The theocratic fundamentalists may have fought against the oppression of Hussein and the Shah and so forth, but they have merely sought to replace one form of oppression with another.
5. I do not claim that Hussein was a "potential" evil. He was/is evil, if by "evil" we mean: anti-human life. And, for the record, I ~was~ outraged when Clinton attacked Haiti and Kosovo, and condemned those actions as well. Presidents have been intervening all over the globe for more than a hundred years; I condemn all such intervention---unless it is in response to a real or imminent threat to the security of the United States.
6. As for the conflicting evidence given the President: It seems to me that it is now coming out that there was not much "conflicting evidence" at all. It seems to me that the evidence was molded to fit a preconceived model for the Iraqi invasion. I could be wrong---but given the US government's penchant for ~lying~ to get into a war (Vietnam, anyone?) and the endless paper trail provided by all sorts of Pentagon Papers over the years, I really don't trust Washington. (See an article by Richard Cohen, who was pro-war as I recall, in yesterday's NEW YORK DAILY NEWS.)
What I find rather remarkable, actually, is how so many Objectivists get so indignant over the religiosity and domestic economic interventionism of the Bush administration---the invocation of Christian symbolism, the Medicare boondoggle, the steel tariffs, and so forth---but they give the administration a virtual "free pass" on matters of foreign policy. It's as if there's this disconnect: the administration that can't be trusted in domestic affairs is suddenly the paragon of honesty in foreign affairs. Whassup wit dat?
Ayn Rand once wrote: "Foreign policy is merely a consequence of domestic policy." She understood that government intervention had consequences that did not cease at the nation's borders. That radical insight seems to have been lost on a whole generation of her followers. The administration that you oppose ~domestically~ is doing the same thing in global affairs. And the actions it takes abroad are having horrific domestic effects---rising deficits and debts, an endless array of Patriot Acts that will reinvigorate a network of domestic spies on the American people, and the endless threat of a resumption of military conscription.
7. As for the administration's ability to adapt to reality: Yes, Rumsfield and Wolfowitz think it might be self-defeating to have a long-term occupation. Why weren't these concerns voiced prior to the invasion?
But on another level, the whole issue of long-term occupation is not about the level of troop commitment. The problem is that once the US invaded, it set into motion a ~system~ of Iraqi occupation and reconstruction, involving ~billions~ of dollars of corporate-military-government largesse, all at the expense of the American taxpayer and at the expense of American lives. That ~system~ takes on a life of its own. One can't simply "opt out." That's the dynamic of government intervention---whether it takes place within the United States, or without. When I talked about this for ~months~ prior to the US invasion, I was shot down by my Objectivist colleagues who told me that worrying about the occupation was no reason to oppose the invasion: as if, suddenly, Rand's maxim to plan ~long-range~ didn't apply. Bush is not going to "cut and run." The US will not "cut and run." The ~system~ that was put into place by this invasion makes such an action a virtual impossibility.
8. On another subject entirely: I never had a chance to thank JS for his kind comments, and SR---for sharing with us his reflections of the 40th anniversary of the JFK assassination, which took place in 1963, when I was 3... and my recollections of it are pretty vivid too.
9. Finally, a Happy Thanksgiving to all ...
MORE ON IRAQ
(Atlantis II; Posted: Wed, 25 Nov 2003, 08:45:24 -0500)
I have not denied the fact that Al Qaeda must be crushed. (And I do believe Al Qaeda exists, and I have seen those video tapes of Osama Bin Laden ~boasting~ about the 9/11 attacks---and relating the story of how he told his comrades to be "patient" after they'd seen the first plane hit the North Tower... because something bigger and better was about to happen.) But more importantly, I believe that the whole ~framework~ of US foreign policy made Al Qaeda and this insanity of Islamic fundamentalism into a geopolitical force to be reckoned with. Unless this framework is fundamentally altered, nothing is going to change in the long run.
Yes, Hussein once possessed WMDs---the US gave him the wherewithal to produce them in the first place. Hussein was a disgusting, despicable despot. There are lots of despots on the planet Earth. If we dispense with the doctrine of imminent threat, then there is nothing stopping the US government from going to war everywhere and anywhere there is "evil" or even the ~potential~ of "evil." There's no reason why the US couldn't ~contain~ any threat by Hussein; the US contained THE SOVIET UNION... which makes Hussein look like a pip-squeak by comparison. And the US didn't have to invade and occupy the Soviet Union to achieve such containment through deterrence.
As for J's comments that my "original remarks [on the "Nuke Mecca" crowd in the aftermath of 9/11 were] a considerable distortion of the truth": Please understand that the comments I made, to which you refer, were written on October 3, 2001---one month after the terrorist attacks. We were all reeling from those attacks here in NYC (and if you're from NYC, you'll appreciate that). These comments were "personal reflections," not a full-fledged analysis of all the subtleties in the various arguments that were being presented. I referred to the "Nuke Mecca" crowd because, at the time, ~everywhere~ I turned on all the Objectivist lists, there was a sizable contingent of people who were calling for the nuclear incineration of the Islamic Middle East. And if you do go to the Pisaturo article to which I linked, you'll see that the viewpoint was real, and needed to be addressed.
C, I never said to stake your "life on the inept United Nation's ability to determine objective facts." I am not a fan of the U.N., which is indeed a "center of global corruption"---and also part of a network of foreign aid institutions that work closely with US corporate-statists---and I think the building in Manhattan would be better used for office space.
But you can't pick and choose your "intelligence"---not when the Bush administration was being told by various intelligence sources that Hussein ~didn't~ possess nuclear weapons and that the evidence just wasn't there.
I've ~never~ projected "hidden" motivations onto people's actions: I take them at their word. Bush stated he wanted to go into Iraq to engage in "regime change"---and his administration plotted that prior to 9/11---and he stated he wanted to nation-build in Iraq... and I am against those ~stated~ goals. No reason to impute other motives here; the stated ones are good enough for me to repudiate. But once you add the whole network of corporate-statist reconstruction to this picture, it gets uglier and uglier.
As for not supporting "the Wilsonian doctrine of external 'nation building' or the 'democratization' of a 15th Century tribal culture," it doesn't matter. Not one bit. You, C, are not in power. No Objectivists are in power. No libertarians are in power. The Wilsonian doctrine is the ~stated goal~ of the neocons in the Bush administration. ~They~ are the ones exerting a dominant influence on public policy. In the end, all you "pro-war" Objectivists have become the equivalent of Lenin's "useful idiots" for the neocon program. And, as an aside: I have ~never~ asserted that the neocons constitute a "Jewish cabal." I am ~second to none~ in my disgust with racism and anti-Semitism; this is not about ethnicity or religion... it's about ~ideas~... and the neocon ideas---STINK, as my Sicilian uncle would have said: "from the head." Or as another old cliche goes: The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. The derivative ~fruit~ that is neoconservatism comes from the ~tree~ that is Wilsonian internationalism. I reject the former ~because~ I reject the latter. (And I learned to reject the latter ~from Ayn Rand~. One thing that seems to have gotten lost in this whole discussion, on a list inspired by Rand's philosophy, is just how ~Rand~ dealt with these issues. As I've maintained, her larger critique of the "New Fascism" is something we can learn from and apply.)
There will be ~no~ "short-term military occupation to reduce the likelihood of SH being replaced by something worse"---the US is in Iraq to stay for as far as the eye can see. That is the way of US foreign policy. We can deny all we want that ~history~ had anything to do with 9/11. But we'll be doomed to repeat it---as Marx said: first as tragedy, then as farce. (And ~I~ never said that US foreign policy was the ~only~ "cause" of the current crisis; it is part of a complex picture... an important part, but not the only part.)
As for any comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam: Iraq ~is~, indeed, Iraq---and the situation is potentially ~much~ worse... because whereas the Vietnam War was, essentially, a civil war between North and South, Iraq is not even a homogeneous nation. It is a makeshift by-product of the British colonization of Mesopotamia, made up of warring tribes... Sunnis, Kurds, Shiites (indeed, multiple tribes within the Shia), Turkomanns, and so forth. The US would stand a better chance of "building" new nations if it broke up Iraq and started from scratch. But that won't happen---especially since Turkey, the US ally to the North, would be dead-set-against any independent Kurdistan on its borders that might inspire a similar movement for independence among Kurds within Turkey (who are already being blamed for the recent bombings in Istanbul).
This is a freaking mess. And it was dictated predominantly by a neoconservative political agenda. The fountainheads of terrorism in the Middle East are more likely to be found in Pakistan (another nation with nuclear weapons) and Saudi Arabia---but they too are US allies. And they won't be touched. Not in any significant way. And, no, this is not a call to Bomb Mecca. It is simply a recognition of the ~reality~ of US government and corporate ties to---and complicity with---oppressive, duplicitous regimes. The cycle won't end, until its broken---fundamentally, radically.
Finally, I thought we were debating ideas and policy. Is it really necessary, C, to say "screw you." That's a bit over the top, ya think?
OBJECTIVISM VERSUS RANDIANISM?
(Secular Individualism List; Posted: Mon, 24 Nov 2003 07:10:31 -0500)
At 06:03 PM 11/23/2003 -0800, in response to my point [I think that Objectivism is defined by adherence to certain core essentials in each of the major branches of philosophy, and that the best way to approach it---or any philosophy---is to apply these core essentials to the context of your own life], V writes: >>I agree with this point; one has to define a philosophy according to its position on core issues. Still, if your context leads you to disagree with at least a part of someone else's stand on the core issues, then you are subscribing to a different philosophy, not a different version of the same philosophy.<<
Chris replies: That's interesting. I think there are at least two ways of looking at this. If one agrees with every last aspect of a philosophy (in its core or fundamental elements), one can say: "I am an adherent of X." And those who don't agree with every last aspect of a philosophy, under this criterion, would have to say: "I'm not an adherent of X."
But I do think there is such a thing as a "school" of thought that develops around the core essentials, and not everyone who is part of that school is necessarily in full agreement---down to the last detail---with the founder of the school. In this way, we can talk about "Aristotelian" philosophy, in which one might say, for example, that Aquinas is as much an "Aristotelian" as he is the founder of Thomism. Rand herself saw Objectivism as "Aristotelian" in this broad sense---since she envisioned the history of philosophy as a broad clash between Aristotelian and Platonic traditions.
Likewise, I think that intellectual historians are still likely---years from now---to look at David Kelley, Nathaniel Branden, Leonard Peikoff, and others as "Objectivists," whatever the differences between them, for the same reason that such historians look at Engels, Bernstein, Lenin, Trotsky, Lukacs, and Marcuse as "Marxists." Now, it's true that Rand once felt sympathy for Marx, who said, upon hearing some of the formulations of his "followers": "I am not a Marxist." But that doesn't eliminate the historical reality that "Marxism" is a school of thought.
Perhaps what will happen with Objectivism is what has happened to Marxism. One can use descriptive adjectives to refer to the distinctions in the Marxist tradition, such as, for example: Engelsian Marxism; Marxist-Leninism; Maoist Marxism; analytic Marxism; Frankfurt school Marxism; and so forth. And, in a sense, some of this is already happening with Objectivism: the orthodoxy, the "neo-Objectivists," and so forth. Or perhaps there will be a distinction between "Objectivist" and "Randian" schools of thought: where "Objectivist" might designate strict adherence to every last detail of Rand's philosophic framework, and "Randian" might designate "of, relating to, or resembling" Rand's philosophic framework. In this instance, one can say that "Randian" is the broader designation, within which "Objectivist" is one possibility. (But, then, how does one designate those who believe that "Objectivist" must entail agreement with ~everything~ Rand ever uttered on ~any~ subject, from facial hair to Beethoven? Ah, well, that type of thing is more likely to be dismissed, correctly, in my view, as a manifestation of a Randian "cult"... but that's another subject entirely.)
V writes: So what counts as a "core issue" in philosophy? I'll concede that one's factual understanding of homosexuality as such does not define one's philosophy. Nevertheless, how one evaluates such facts may well depend on the fundamental philosophical principles one holds, so errors in evaluation may reflect fundamental philosophical errors and not just particular misunderstandings about homosexuality.
Chris replies: I think the core issues are the "philosophy on one foot" designations that Rand herself mentioned: adherence to objective reality, reason, egoism, and capitalism. But it is true that what matters is how Rand ~defends~ the core positions, and traces the interconnections among them. It is also true that she may have made errors of application, or errors in her core positions, which lead to errors of application.
V writes: It's true that Rand didn't spell out what "unfortunate premises" she had in mind, but I'm not sure that this really matters. What's important here is that sexual orientation is not merely a product of one's premises, notwithstanding the contrary assumptions Objectivism makes regarding the origins of human desires.
Chris replies: I think that's correct; then, I think, the question becomes: What is the Objectivist view of "emotion"? I discuss some of this in Chapter 7 of AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, where I suggest that there are more complexities to the theory than might appear at first glance. And I do think that both Branden and Peikoff have made statements that attempt to redress what is sometimes viewed as an imbalance between reason and emotion in Rand's formulations; Branden goes so far as to talk about sexual orientation as a complex product of many factors, from genetics and biology to the environmental and the volitional---and not every manifestation of a sexual orientation is necessarily the result of the exact same "mix" of factors.
So, the question becomes: If one has a slightly different view of the complexity of human emotion, but still adheres to the core principles of Objectivism in metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics (not Rand's aesthetic ~tastes~, rather her views of the nature and function of art in human existence), ethics, and politics---is one an Objectivist?
Well, I think so... but perhaps "Randian" is still the broader designation.
EVEN MORE ON OSAMA, SADDAM, AND MORE
(Atlantis II; Posted as "Re: Osama, Saddam, and More": Sun, 23 Nov 2003 10:20:38 -0500)
That was followed on October 3, 2001, with my FREE RADICAL article, "Personal Reflections from New York," where I make the same argument I'm currently making, voicing my opposition to "sustained domestic or foreign intervention, even if it is now necessary to fight the very terrorists our policies have nurtured." Here's a larger excerpt---to show that my opinion is virtually unchanged:
>>. . . The problem is that this war involves unrelenting and arbitrary terror. Terrorism, by its nature, undermines our need for efficacy in such a way as to almost paralyze our ability to act. It strikes civilians in unpredictable and violent ways; paranoia becomes a social disease as even the people who live next door suddenly become suspects. We want to resume our "normal" way of life, but some of us can't help but feel that our attempts at routine are temporary and illusory as we await the next catastrophe. . . . There is no room for moral relativism, as our mayor Rudy Giuliani declared before the United Nations. The individuals who planned this attack and who carried it out were evil. Their economic and political supporters are evil. The theocratic values to which they owe their allegiance can only lead to the continued destruction of human life. It is necessary to wage war against this evil, but how that war is waged is of the utmost importance to our future.
Ayn Rand herself recognized the "Roots of War"--and argued correctly that every time the U.S. government got involved in some foreign conflagration, it has had long-term deleterious consequences. The war to make the world safe for democracy (WW I) gave us Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Communist Russia. The second world war delivered Eastern Europe to the Soviets, and the Cold War that resulted brought us the Korean and Vietnam debacles. Rand was an "America Firster" in many ways. So am I. Ultimately, we should be patrolling our own borders and keeping our own civilians safe, rather than policing every potential hot spot across the globe. Many of these "hot spots" have been engaged in religious battles that have spread over millennia. We are not going to resolve their problems; we can't even resolve our own.
The current crisis cannot be disconnected from the history of American foreign policy. Understanding this context will never excuse the terrorists, but it does help us to understand why America is always being targeted. Yes, the terrorists oppose our libertarian ideals. But much of what we are experiencing today is a direct outgrowth of decades of misguided Cold War policy. This government was willing to pay any price to stop the Soviets, even though their Communist system was being taxed beyond belief to the point of self-annihilation. We supported the "Freedom Fighters" in Afghanistan--and now those very same "Freedom Fighters" constitute the Taliban, operatives of US intelligence in the early 1980s, who are among those warring against us. Our involvement overseas--manipulating everything from the international monetary and banking system to the creation of foreign aid networks that act like gigantic transfer-payment mechanisms for multinational corporations, our military presence in God-knows-how-many-countries--has created the context for the current nightmare. The chickens have come home to roost and innocent civilians are now paying the price. (And don't be surprised if among the future chickens one will find South American drug cartels bombing North American cities, because we are funding almost as many "unsavory" types down South in our immoral "war" against drugs.)
What disturbs me is that so many Objectivists seem remarkably insightful when it comes to understanding the genesis, history, and nature of government intervention in the domestic economy---advocating the complete elimination of subsidies, tariffs, taxes, regulations, and what-not---but that when it comes to the genesis, history, and nature of US government intervention abroad, there is myopia. We applaud the American founding fathers, but we seem to go blind to their call for no "foreign entanglements." Simply put: We have no business involving ourselves in the affairs of distant lands. Free trade, yes. State support of foreign investments, no. Economic liberty, yes. Political entanglements, no.
In the meanwhile, Leonard Peikoff is busy castigating the United States government for "appeasement," a policy, he says, that began in 1951 when Iran nationalized Western oil. Because of our "frightened silence," because we refused to threaten Arab oil states with nuclear annihilation back then, we have been suffering the consequences ever since. But it was not my understanding that the U.S. government should be protecting the investments of multinational corporations that were fool enough to do business with despots abroad. When you contract with people who do not recognize the sanctity of property rights, you do not have the right to force the American taxpayer and the American armed services to defend your failed investments.
We stand on the precipice of a new war economy that, if sustained over a long period of time, will eradicate economic and civil liberties and undermine the volunteer army. With Jack Wheeler calling for the bombing of Mecca (which would only "radicalize" the millions of "moderate" Muslims living in the United States, many of whom came here to escape theocracy abroad), and Peikoff advocating the nuking of Iran, I fear the permanent war economy and the culture of violence it must breed.
Force may annihilate a people, but it will never alter the ideas of a culture. This principle is as valid for us as it is for our enemies. If we want to fight tyranny, we have an idea, a more potent bomb than any nuclear device. That idea is freedom. It is time to fight for freedom, for all its preconditions and effects. It is time to put the enemies of freedom--at home and abroad--on notice. Our choice is not freedom OR security. It is freedom AND security. Laissez Faire MEANS hands-off. We will not stand for sustained domestic or foreign intervention, even if it is now necessary to fight the very terrorists our policies have nurtured.<<
So, I warned of the problems of a sustained war, but supported the war against the terrorists---and those who supported them. And I specifically mention the situation in Afghanistan as among those requiring a suitable response. If my emphasis was---and remains---on the interventionist issue, it is only because virtually ~nobody~ in Objectivist circles was talking about that back then, and only a very ~few~ are talking about it now. This is an aspect of the larger Randian critique that has been obscured, regrettably in my view.
While there have been notable exceptions within Objectivism to this---Russ Madden, Arthur Silber, and others here---the ~overwhelming~ majority of Objectivists have been trying to out-hawk the neocons. Many extol the virtues of the neoconservatives (take a look at Tracinski's praise for the "breathtaking" neocon vision)---without any understanding of the neocon's Wilsonian internationalist roots (indeed, these roots stretch back to Trotsky and the left-wing "social democracy" movement). In general, the Objectivist establishment objects to the ~way~ the war is being handled in Iraq---not to the war itself. The overwhelming majority of the articles in THE INTELLECTUAL ACTIVIST, NAVIGATOR, FREE RADICAL, and on the many, many Objectivist blogs in cyberspace are pro-US intervention in Iraq. And while most would probably agree with W that "nuking the entire area" would be a "rash" action, there are those, like ARI writer Ron Pisaturo, who would use nukes to conquer the "savages" in the Arab world: http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=1117 .
As for "Ba'athist's [who] believe that *all* Arabs should form *one* nation and unite under one leader": This is virtually insignificant, in my view, in terms of the broader realities in the Middle East. Yes, it is entirely possible that Ba'athists ~talked~ to Al Qaeda interests, but the Ba'athists are still, for the most part, Pan Arabists, and Pan Arabists have typically ~executed~ the fundamentalists in their midst (e.g., Qu'tb, and others), while the fundamentalists have viewed the Pan Arabists, especially the Ba'athists, as "infidels." Again: the Maoist Chinese and the Soviets both believed in world-wide communist revolution, but the US was still able to exploit the broad geopolitical differences between them.
Nobody I know on the "antiwar" side is denying that Islamic politics and political culture in the Middle East is ~horrific~. I have ~never~ dropped the context set by the anti-individualist ethos that informs the fundamentalists in the Middle East---and I spend quite a bit of time discussing it in my article "Understanding the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy." But while grasping this anti-individualist ethos might be ~necessary~ to an understanding of the full context before us, it is not ~sufficient~ to explain the hostility coming from the Islamic world. Japanese culture is not individualist---but the Japanese aren't flying kamikazes (any more) into US targets.
Much of what has happened in the Middle East is a direct or indirect result of US government action. The theocratic Islamicists oppose "capitalism"---but their notion of capitalism is not the "invisible hand" of Adam Smith; it is the very visible clenched fist of contemporary neocorporatism. They've seen US "capitalism" at work, bolstering oppressive regimes---from Saddam to the Shah to the House of Sa'ud---for the benefit of US companies operating abroad (take a look at the whole history of US-Saudi-ARAMCO ties and you'll see the perfect embodiment of what Rand condemned as the "new fascism").
As I said in the aftermath of September 11, 2001: It is time to put the enemies of freedom--at home and abroad--on notice. Our choice is not freedom OR security. It is freedom AND security. That requires the pursuit of a foreign and domestic policy of principle---one that banishes philosophic pragmatism from the halls of power. But that won't happen until this entire neocorporatist system is thrown on the scrap-heap of history.
MORE ON OSAMA, SADDAM, AND MORE
(Atlantis II; Posted as "Re: Osama, Saddam, and More": Sat, 22 Nov 2003 21:46:42 -0500)
Whoever had the burden of proof ~prior~ to the US invasion of Iraq---in terms of proving Hussein's possession of said weapons---it is clear that at ~this~ point, the burden of proof is on the US to provide evidence of said possession. The burden is on those who assert the positive. All these months of looking has uncovered ~nothing~... ABSOLUTELY NOTHING... of any significance. The Niger nuclear story was a farce, a fabrication, or worse; the chemical and biological agents and mobile laboratories are nowhere to be found. If the US was concerned about dispersal of weapons to terrorist groups, the invasion and the chaos it created ~could~ have led to the very dispersal it feared. But the fact is, the US practically walked into Baghdad. No WMDs were used against US troops, and no WMDs have been used against US troops even during the occupation (an occupation, btw, that has no end in sight, and that, the army reports today, will require at least 100,000 troops through 2006). So, where are they? If the threat to US security was so imminent, where in God's name are the WMDs?
And if nobody is in a position to draw "absolute conclusions" about this, why on earth did the United States go to war? We were sold a bill of goods: that Hussein had WMDs, and that the US needed to make a preemptive strike to get rid of them---and him. We were told that "regime change" was necessary not only to get rid of these weapons, but also to keep them out of the hands of terrorists---and the Bush administration did nothing to dissuade Americans from believing that Hussein had ties to such terrorists, including the Al Qaeda gang responsible for 9/11. We were also told by our latter-day neoconservative Wilsonian internationalists that democratic "nation-building" was essential to the future stability and peace in the Middle East.
When the US government lied its way into Vietnam, people accused the Johnson administration of suffering from a "credibility gap." We are now experiencing a credibility ~chasm~. If being appalled by the lies, distortions, and unrealizable plans for democratic nation-building in Iraq---a country that has no history of democracy and that does not even constitute a single nation---makes me a "bitter, cynical, crass, and overly simplistic pink-o commie peacenik," then visitors will have no trouble finding my home in Brooklyn. It will be the one with the Hammer and Sickle flying overhead.
Oh, and as for any ties between Bin Laden and Bush, as L suggests: The incestuous ties between the US government, corporate business interests, and foreign, autocratic despots---in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and so on, and so on, and so on---have contributed to the very context that has given birth to anti-American terrorism. None other than that "bitter, cynical, crass, and overly simplistic pink-o commie peacenik," Ayn Rand, provided us with a remarkable framework for understanding the systemic nature of these incestuous ties, as they have developed over the last century of US history. We ignore that framework and these ties at our peril.
OSAMA, SADDAM, AND MORE
(Atlantis II; Posted: Fri, 21 Nov 2003 10:03:14 -0500)
Just because there may have been talks between the Ba'ath Party interests and Al Qaeda does not mean that there was a formal alliance between these parties. During the Cold War, the Soviets talked to the Red Chinese all the time, but US foreign policy makers ~knew~ that there were profound conflicts between Soviet and Sino interests... so much so that the US was able to play off those conflicts considerably. Communism was not a monolith---and neither is Islam. And don't tell me that Saddam Hussein was more lethal to US security than Stalin, Khruschev, Brezhnev, or Mao.
Saddam Hussein was not an imminent threat to the security of the United States. Period. He had no "weapons of mass destruction," no nuclear capability, and probably no or very little chemical or biological stock: surely nothing that laced SCUDs sitting on launch-pads. Moreover, he had no formal ties to Al Qaeda. He was being fully contained without US invasion.
That invasion has now created a monumental US welfare state halfway across the globe that will continue to transfer the wealth of US taxpayers to Bechtel, Halliburton, and all the other politically connected corporations reconstructing Iraq. (Where are all those "oil revenues" that were supposed to pay for this boondoggle?) And the occupation has now created the very problem it sought to resolve: it has become a magnet for Al Qaeda and other anti-US terrorist groups who, formerly, did ~not~ have a foothold in Iraq in any substantive way.
The irony of all this is that Saudi Arabia---the birthplace of Bin Laden, the exporter of radical Wahhabism, and the home to 15 of the 19 September 11th hijackers---remains untouched, and will remain untouched throughout this "War on Terrorism." Do you want to know why? Because the US government and US corporate interests have been sleeping with the Saudis for 60+ years, and despite the House of Sa'ud's endless violations of human rights and duplicitous policies bolstering Islamic fundamentalism, they have the full sanction of the US government.
When are the pro-war voices going to confront the ~reality~ of this Iraq war, and the ~reality~ of the neoconservative Wilsonian internationalism, philosophic pragmatism, and corporate statism that Ayn Rand herself saw at the root of US foreign policy?
And for the record: I am ~for~ the war against Al Qaeda. I have supported ruthless strikes against Bin Laden's terror network. But I also believe that US foreign policy planted the seeds for the rise of this terror threat, and that it is only with a fundamental change in US foreign and domestic policy that this problem will be addressed, long term.
I'm ~appalled~ at the state of
Objectivist commentary on this subject. I've written a sequel to my "Understanding
the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy" (that article remains
All the best,
CHANGING THE INTELLECTUAL CULTURE
(Mises List; Posted: Tue, 18 Nov 2003 08:41:00 -0500)
I've enjoyed this discussion of blogs and Austrian journals.
P focuses on the means by which schools of thought advance: ideas, funding, and positions. While I'm in agreement that Austrians have the "ideas," I think we need to be sensitive to the multiple ~practical~ strategies of spreading those ideas---of which blogging and journal writing are two prime examples. I, myself, have had mixed feelings toward blogs---which was the reason for entitling my own "blog" page: "Not a Blog" (as in "To Blog or Not a Blog"). In one sense, it is simply a web-log index of my various posts and articles throughout cyberspace. But, in another sense, it isn't a formal blog, covering every thing from last night's dinner to the traffic in my neighborhood, with invited comments and such. I do contribute to Arthur Silber's "Light of Reason" blog, and was recently added to the "Liberty & Power" group blog (scroll down; along with Mises contributor, Roderick Long), mostly because I find myself so disturbed over the state of US foreign policy that I can't say ~enough~ about it. I welcome expanding outlets for that expression, and for engagement with those who both agree and disagree with my assessment.
In more general terms, I think "blogging" has become a market unto itself, which is profoundly influencing intellectual affairs. I find writers, talking heads on TV, and syndicated columnists referring with increasing regularity to material posted by various webloggers---from Andrew Sullivan to Instapundit. All the more reason for those of us who are so inspired to infiltrate that market and to present our views in ways that influence its shape. In any market, there will always be a qualitative differentiation among the products offered; all the more reason to present those views in ways that contribute to thoughtful and provocative dialogue.
I have always believed in a multi-pronged strategy for changing the intellectual culture. That means, among other things, celebrating the division of labor in the revolution that most of us seek: it means encouraging alternative "parallel institutions" in the blogsphere, in scholarly periodicals, and in think tanks, just as it means penetrating established journals and universities and influencing the mainstream. I see no reason to create strict distinctions among these tasks.
And, in many ways, my efforts to bolster Ayn Rand scholarship have followed this "both/and" rather than "either/or" strategy. I once declared that I would drag Objectivism and academia, "kicking and screaming, if necessary," into engagement with one another. I've written for many "Objectivist" and "neo-Objectivist" periodicals, while simultaneously publishing articles on Rand in established scholarly encyclopedias, and university press-published books on Rand---praise be to TD for mentioning the importance of books.
Moreover, my work as a founding co-editor of THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES (JARS) has led to its indexing in over a dozen established abstracting services across disciplinary boundaries in four short years. For the progress on this front, take a look here. Of course, I do recognize the practical issue of journal ranking that P highlights, which is why I encourage authors who contribute to JARS, to submit their work to other, "established" journals as well. And there is no doubt that Rand is, finally, slowly penetrating the academy. (Take a look here and here.)
Austrian economics scholarship is in a better position than Rand scholarship, in many respects, because it has a long history of development over the last hundred or more years. But if it is to be something more than a complex footnote in the history of economic thought, then I can see the need to replicate, as R says, "the success of public choice," for while Austrian "journals help the movement," it is necessary "to go beyond them . . . to gain credibility." Or to ~re-gain~ credibility.
Rather than looking solely to public choice, however, as an example---and I'm not denying that it's a good example---I think we can learn a lot by looking to the power of Marxism as a theoretical paradigm, which permeated and profoundly transformed, in an interdisciplinary fashion, the entire landscape of intellectual discourse. Marxism may have been undermined, ultimately, by the failure of twentieth-century socialism, but its ways of looking at the world have impacted on everything from political economy to cultural anthropology to sociology to literary criticism---and those ripple effects continue till this day.
Like Rothbard, I believe that Austrian theory can contribute fundamentally to a ~radical~ paradigm shift, in political, economic, and social theory, to transform the intellectual landscape. Anyone convinced of the power of Austrian ideas, therefore, should welcome the relentless application of those ideas inside ~and~ outside established institutions, in ~every~ way, in ~any~ way that is possible to us---from blogging to Austrian journals to mainstream scholarship.
Of course, there is a key distinction between Marxists and libertarians. The marriage of ideology and political action is that much more difficult for those of us who are libertarians. Rolling back state power is just not as sexy a task as becoming a court intellectual, as Rothbard once explained. The major difference between the Marxist and Austrian paradigms is that the Marxists influenced political actors who attempted to implement socialist ideas at the point of a gun. The reciprocal effects of political, economic, and cultural interpenetration thereby provided powerful institutional, dare I say, "hegemonic," means of influencing the global intellectual environment.
That's why I believe that those of us who work tirelessly to extend the ideas of the Austrians---and so many on this list are busting their butts doing so---can never let up in this struggle.
Amen to P's Galaxy Quest maxim: "Never give up, Never surrender!"
Our "lives, liberties, and sacred honor" depend on it.
Update: Mises List; Posted: Tue, 18 Nov 2003 19:36:08 -0500
Thanks, L, for your feedback. A couple of quick points:
1. When I said that Austrian economics should be "something more than a complex footnote in the history of economic thought," I really should have put quotes around that phrase. This is basically the line all of us were fed in mainstream economics classes, wherein questions about the Austrians were almost always relegated to lectures on the history of economic thought. Clearly, I ~don't~ believe that Austrian economics is a footnote. I'm tempted to paraphrase Rand here. In an interview with Tom Snyder, Snyder said to Rand that a lot of her critics thought she was "daft." She answered: "They don't think that. They want ~you~ to think that." A similar situation exists, I suspect, with dismissive critics of the Austrians; the critics relegate the school to the history of economic thought, because it lets them off the hook in trying to deal with the substantive arguments offered by today's Austrian theorists.
2. Speaking of quotes... when I said: >>Our "lives, liberties, and sacred honor" depend on it<<... obviously, I was paraphrasing, not quoting, the Declaration of Independence. If it were a direct quote, "fortunes" should have been used in place of "liberties"... alas, not many of us qua social scientists have "fortunes" to speak of. :)
Update: Mises List; Posted: Fri, 21 Nov 2003 07:05:36 -0500
I could be wrong, but I don't think ~anything~ that P has said in his posts here has impugned the integrity of any of the journals in Austrian economics, least of all the one he, himself, edits. As I've pointed out in a previous post: I am a founding co-editor of THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES, and I---like P with THE REVIEW OF AUSTRIAN ECONOMICS---am working very hard to make the journal "top-notch." That means, partially, playing the game of academic publishing: getting into as many abstracting and indexing services as possible (this helps in both getting the word out, and in attracting more contributors---who see that the journal is being recognized in reputable indices); working with established scholars to broaden the appeal of the journal, and so forth.
But I still encourage our academic contributors to submit and publish on Rand in top-notch journals in both the humanities and the social sciences. And I don't see any of this as mutually exclusive. There's no reason that we, as scholars, can't do both---especially if we're looking to penetrate the academy with tenure-track positions and make a substantial impact there.
Like I've said on numerous occasions---quoting Mao (sorry): "Let a thousand flowers bloom!" Our own think tanks, public policy institutions, books, and intellectual journals are fine. But so are established top-tier journals, universities, and university presses. It's all good. I agree 1000% with P when he says: "We should let all the alternative strategies be pursued in their different walks."
So, when P is urging his students to get published in top-notch journals, I am pretty sure, L, that he's ~not~ seeking to undermine the quality of RAE. He's doing a lot of work to advance Austrian economics in so many significant ways. And I don't think there is any contradiction between that task, and also advancing one's own work and the work of others in all those established journals. Yes, 1, 2, or 3 articles might get rejected, but at some point, something might be accepted. And it's not as if we write only 1, 2, or 3 articles in our lifetimes.
Anyway, just my 1, 2, or 3 cents worth. :)
RE: LIST OF OBJECTIVIST HUMANITIES PROFESSORS (A FOLLOW-UP, DEALING WITH RAND'S PRESENCE IN JOURNALS)
(Atlantis II; Posted: Tue, 04 Nov 2003 09:32:08 -0500)
M.H. asked about a "list of articles in journals." I think you can turn up quite a few articles that have "Rand, Ayn" as a keyword by doing a ProQuest search.
I can tell you that I authored an article on Rand scholarship for PHILOSOPHICAL BOOKS (put out by Blackwell).
And there are quite a few other journals in which Rand has been discussed: REVIEW OF METAPHYSICS, THE MONIST (a special issue on teleology, which included essays by Rasmussen, Binswanger, and others), THE PERSONALIST, SOCIAL PHILOSOPHY AND POLICY, CATHOLIC WORLD, AMERICAN JOURNAL OF ECONOMICS AND SOCIOLOGY, GERMANO-SALAVICA: CANADIAN JOURNAL OF GERMANIC AND SLAVIC COMPARATIVE AND INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES, COLLEGE ENGLISH, UNIVERSITY OF WINDSOR REVIEW, JOURNAL OF CONSULTING AND CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY, PSYCHOTHERAPY: THEORY, RESEARCH, AND PRACTICE, IMPACT OF SCIENCE ON SOCIETY, JOURNAL OF POPULAR CULTURE, CYCNOS, ARISTOS, HARVARD JOURNAL OF LAW & PUBLIC POLICY, THE OCCASIONAL REVIEW, REASON PAPERS, CRITICAL REVIEW, JOURNAL OF LIBERTARIAN STUDIES, THE HUMANIST, COMMENTARY, NOMOS, ENGLISH JOURNAL, JOURNAL OF THOUGHT, JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHICAL RESEARCH, NEW UNIVERSITY THOUGHT, JOURNAL OF BUSINESS ETHICS, LIBRARY JOURNAL, CHOICE, JOURNAL OF CANADIAN STUDIES, SOCIAL JUSTICE REVIEW, TEACHING PHILOSOPHY, RESOURCES FOR AMERICAN LITERARY STUDY, POLICY REVIEW, and many others.
Encyclopedia articles on Rand can be found in ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY, ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ETHICS, ENCYCLOPEDIA OF LIBERTARIANISM, ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NEW YORK STATE, AMERICAN AUTHORS AND BOOKS, AMERICAN NOVELISTS OF TODAY, ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORLD LITERATURE, CONTEMPORARY AUTHORS, CONTEMPORARY LITERARY CRITICISM, CONTEMPORARY NOVELISTS, A HANDBOOK OF AMERICAN LITERATURE, CONTEMPORARY WOMEN PHILOSOPHERS, OXFORD COMPANION TO AMERICAN LITERATURE, READER'S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN LITERATURE, TWENTIETH CENTURY AUTHORS, and so many others.
A lot of this information is available in Mimi Gladstein's superb NEW AYN RAND COMPANION, which also includes a list of university and doctoral studies of Rand (across many disciplines, including philosophy).
Supplements to Gladstein's list can be found at Matthew Stoloff's OBJECTIVISM REFERENCE POINTER: http://home.netcom.com/~magnus2/
Hope this helps.
RE: LIST OF OBJECTIVIST HUMANITIES PROFESSORS? (on the growth of Rand studies)
(Atlantis II; Posted: Mon, 3 Nov 2003, 09:35:33 -0500
M, you posted this message from a person on another list:
>> Quite literally no one who seriously studies philosophy anywhere considers Ayn Rand a philosopher. Hunt through the index of any philosophy book or journal you like, and you won't find her name cited; look through the philosophy section af any library, and you won't find books on her. Look through the course syllabi for any philosophy department you want and you won't find them reading anything she wrote.<<
Nonsense. That reality is changing rapidly.
There are, however, two issues here: 1) Are we talking about specifically ~Objectivist~ professors (which is, decidedly, a small population); or 2) Are we talking about ~attention~ being paid to Rand in the academy (which seems to be the subject of the above quote)?
With regard to (2), humanities/social science professors who are paying attention to Ayn Rand, the list is ever-growing (many of these people have been ~academic~ contributors to, or the subject of discussion in, THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES):
In literature/English: Stephen Cox; James Arnt Aune; D. Barton Johnson; Gene Bell-Villada; Mimi Gladstein
In psychology: Robert Campbell; Martin Dyer-Smith
In economics: Larry Sechrest; Pete Boettke; Steven Horwitz; Mark Skousen; Leland Yeager; Walter Block
In business studies: Ron Beadle; Lisa McNary
In philosophy: Lisa Dolling; Tibor Machan; Douglas Den Uyl; Douglas Rasmussen; Eric Mack; Aeon Skoble; Tara Smith; Lester Hunt; Randall Dipert; Roderick Long; R. Kevin Hill; Slavoj Zizek; Michael Huemer; Jonathan Jacobs; Wayne Davis; Stephen Parrish; Stephen R. C. Hicks; Fred Seddon; Allan Gotthelf (who is also Secretary of the Ayn Rand Society, an official 'group' of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association).
In political science: Me
(I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot of people; take a look at both the ARI and TOC scholars' directories for additional professors who are bringing Rand to their classrooms, or addressing her in their scholarly articles.)
Discussions of Rand can be found in a variety of textbooks on philosophy (e.g., James Rachels' texts), political science (e.g., Ken Hoover's texts), and economics, and also in many encyclopedias, including the Routledge ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY, the Routledge ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ETHICS, Scribner's AMERICAN WRITERS, and so forth. Some of the progress in Rand studies was noted by this 1999 CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION article: http://chronicle.com/colloquy/99/rand/background.htm
And if I'm to go by the mere volume of material being submitted to THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES, of which I am a founding co-editor, as well as the journal's progress over the past four years (see here), I can tell you that Rand studies are alive, well, and growing. (My own AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, which reaches out to a scholarly audience, is now in its seventh printing; my co-edited anthology, with Mimi Gladstein, FEMINIST INTERPRETATIONS OF AYN RAND, is part of the "Re-reading the Canon" series, in which the Rand volume sits alongside nearly two dozen other volumes devoted to philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche, Hegel, and so forth: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/fem/femrrc.htm ).
We are just at the beginning of scholarly attention being paid to Rand---and I expect that attention to grow exponentially in the coming years.
ARISTOTLE AND ZEN (TAKE 3,243)
(Objectivist Outcasts, posted under "Re: Aristotle and Zen." Posted: Mon, 28 Jul 2003 14:30:30 -0400)
As part of an ongoing dialogue on the subject on the Objectivist Outcasts List, Sciabarra replies:
R writes: Chris, I will put Aristotle on my reading list. But the impression I get is -- that after reading Aristotle you then make interpretation of the definitions of the Laws of Logic that are NOT there to someone who has not read Aristotle. So, a person NOT working from Aristotle, and just going by the Laws as they have been defined, would be going about things differently to you. (My impression on this matter, I will check after reading Aristotle.)
Actually, this is a very ~fair~ comment---as interpretations will differ from writer to writer. And my own interpretation is certainly not the ~only~ interpretation available. My chapter on Aristotle in TOTAL FREEDOM weighs the various claims in the secondary literature, and finds support for its arguments in the works of both Aristotle and, in my opinion, his ~best~ interpreters. There are a few interpreters, however, who disagree, and who, in my opinion, do great damage to his legacy.
Part of the difficulty of dealing with the history of ideas is that there is always a need to tear away the skins of interpretive distortion that are usually piled on any given thinker. It's kind of like a restoration art project: restoration technicians who view an old Renaissance painting, for example, may suddenly discover that a later generation of painters had added several coats of paint to the original canvas. Or sometimes, just through the aging process, the grime and soot that accumulate distort the images that were left to us by the original artist.
It took restoration experts totally by surprise when they pulled off all that grime from the Sistine Chapel, only to discover Michelangelo's use of brilliant and vivid colors. My suggestion here is that once you tear away all the distortions---the grime and soot---that have been piled on to Aristotle's canvas, you start to see just how ~brilliant~ he was: not just for his time, but for ~any~ time.
All the best,
ARISTOTLE AND ZEN
(Mudita Forum; Posted: Tue, 22 July 2003, 02:03:51 -0400)
I posted this to another discussion board, and thought members here would find it of interest. To set the context, a participant to the other discussion was suggesting that Zen and Aristotle are in conflict over the law of excluded middle. The participant said that a person could be ~both~ rich ~and~ poor, and that this is why Zen entails a "non-Aristotelian logic." Having discussed this in TOTAL FREEDOM: TOWARD A DIALECTICAL LIBERTARIANISM, I wrote the following:
I do want to emphasize . . . that I don't think this is an issue of endorsing contradictions. "Rich" and "poor" are relative terms, and a person can be "rich" in wealth, or "rich" in friends, or "rich" in health, or "rich" in the ownership of 12" vinyl records, ~relative~ to others across these comparative dimensions. They can be "rich" in one domain, and "poor" in another, or "rich" ~relative~ to person A, but "poor" relative to person B.
The law of noncontradiction, again, is not just "a thing cannot both be and not be so"... it is: "a thing cannot be both A and non-A AT THE SAME TIME AND IN THE SAME RESPECT." The moment you switch the time frame, or the respect (e.g., perspective), all bets are off.
I like to think of the law of noncontradiction as being sensitive to context---sensitive to switches in tense (time) and sense (respect).
I should also add that, like the Zen storytellers, Aristotle himself discusses contraries extensively in his work; he focuses on many relational oppositions, such as that between "master" and "slave" (in that each depends on the other for its meaning) and calls such opposites "correlatives," because neither can be isolated from the other without losing the meaning of each.
For a very interesting work on the parallels between Aristotle and Zen, see Stephen R. L. Clark's ARISTOTLE'S MAN: SPECULATIONS UPON ARISTOTELIAN ANTHROPOLOGY (Oxford, 1975). Clark places Aristotle in a "Chinese setting" and treats him as "something like a Mahayana Buddhist" for his remarkable grasp of "yin-and-yang" analysis, and reciprocal relations in contrariety.
"YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION . . ."
(SOLO Forum; a shortened version of this also appears on SOLO HQ. Posted: Wed, 09 Jul 2003 08:58:06 -0400)
My God! I stay away for one day from reading SOLO-forum and SOLO-HQ, and look what happens! People endorsing antitrust and PUBLIC EDUCATION!!! What's next???? Public roads? Post offices?
That's okay... I still love you guys. :)
Seriously... a couple of very brief comments:
1. On monopoly: Take a look especially at discussions of monopoly in CAPITALISM: THE UNKNOWN IDEAL, George Reisman's CAPITALISM, and Murray Rothbard's MAN, ECONOMY, AND STATE, and POWER AND MARKET. Each of these argue---correctly---that monopoly is, in essence, a grant of privilege by the government that seeks to limit or prohibit market entry. Such a destruction of competition is possible ~only~ by government action. And, historically, it is ~business~ that has embraced the power of government to create monopoly: whether by enforced cartel agreements, wage and price controls, subsidies, land grants, tariffs, the use of antitrust laws to crush competitors, and so forth. (And let's not forget that the biggest example of such a monopoly is the ~money~ monopoly, which generates inflation and depression, and is created and sustained by government central banking---the biggest source of system-wide poverty and privilege the world over.)
2. On public education: Excellent comments made by Barry Kayton. I should only add these suggestions for further reading: The sections in CAPITALISM: THE UNKNOWN IDEAL that deal with public education; Murray Rothbard's FOR A NEW LIBERTY and his EDUCATION: FREE AND COMPULSORY; the anthology THE TWELVE YEAR SENTENCE: RADICAL VIEWS OF COMPULSORY SCHOOLING, edited by William F. Rickenbacker; and the anthology EDUCATION IN A FREE SOCIETY, edited by Anne Husted Burleigh. The government's attempts to destroy non-public educational alternatives is no different than the government grants of monopoly to businesses. In this instance, it grabs its own monopoly, and, historically, it dictates curricula and the inculcation of "civic virtue"---which is merely a euphemism for social conformity. Its long-term embrace of "Progressive" methods of education are roundly criticized by Ayn Rand in her superb essay, "The Comprachicos" in THE NEW LEFT: THE ANTI-INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION.
What must be emphasized here is that all of this is part of one interconnected ~context~ (can you say "dialectics"???): government monopoly of education, advancing government control of domestic and global political economy, the inculcation of conformity, and the undermining of independent thinking. Each of these factors reciprocally reinforces the other. Indeed, they are mutual requisites for the success of statism. Statism requires a docile population, and there is no better way to disarm a populace than by miseducating its children. And I can think of no greater crime committed against the ~poor~ who are ~sentenced~ to this kind of "education" because they can't afford to take their educational business elsewhere. (I speak from inside knowledge as much as I do from observation; my sister has been a public school educator her whole life---and what she has seen over the last 30 years is enough to boggle anyone's mind.)
Now, granted, there was a time when public education was a lot better than it is now. But that's only because there was a time when ~culture~ was a lot better than it is now. That's why this battle is as much cultural, as it is personal and political. All the more reason to end government control of education and of the economy, and to fight for the transformation of the culture.
Malcolm X once said: "If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem." The ~problem~ with statism is that it makes all of us "part of the problem"---because we are ~embedded~ in this system. We go to government schools, we drive on government roads, we mail our letters through government post offices, we are alternately benefiting from some government privilege or being hurt by some government prohibition or exclusion, we pay government taxes, we die in government wars (not all of which are "defensive"---but that's another issue for another day). Being part of the solution requires change, therefore, on ~every~ level.
The famous Beatles song goes: "You say you want a revolution. Well, you know, we all want to change the world . . . But when you talk about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out?"
Fortunately, for the advocates of freedom, change is not about nihilistic destruction. It is about ~creation~: the creation of alternative voluntary institutions that supplant the old coercive ones. When the very first institution that children encounter is a compulsory one, teaching them to destroy the efficacy of their own minds, it is no wonder that the rest of the society accepts compulsion and coercion as an appropriate social relation.
I've been saying it for a long time... and I'll say it again---because it seems to get lost in the translation: Objectivists are ~radicals~ --- and the system, from top to bottom, requires a radical ~revolution~.
Nothing less will do.
Whew. There. That felt better.
AYN RAND AND RUSSIAN LITERATURE
(Nathaniel Branden List, posted under the thread "Re: Stephanie's scholarship." Posted: Wed, 09 Jul 2003 07:42:47 -0400)
S wrote: "I'm very interested in studying Rand's literature further, especially in the context of classic Russian literature. _We The Living_ is a bit more traditionally Russian than her other novels, I think. One of the things I find interesting is that Rand once explained that Kira must die in order to support her theme that Communism was an inescapable bloodbath, yet part of her sharp condemnation of Tolstoy in _Romantic Manifesto_ is Anna Karenina's suicide, which I believe occurs for similar reasons. I'm rereading both novels with an eye towards comparison now. It also seems to me that there is a distinction between her first two novels and her second two, in terms of characterization and style, which would be interesting to look at."
I think you've hit on something very important in Rand, S. Let me offer a few suggestions for further reading.
First, let me (obviously) recommend my own book, AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL. In one of its aspects, the book examines the Russian Silver Age and its impact on Rand's early intellectual development. This includes not only the philosophic revolt against dualism, but also the Nietzschean literary currents of the day, which greatly influenced the Russian Symbolist writers, some of whom Rand read. (In fact, she names Aleksandr Blok, a key Russian Symbolist poet, as her favorite poet.)
Other material has come out since 1995, detailing the parallels between Rand and various Russian writers. Some of these have been published in THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES (JARS), of which I am a founding co-editor:
In the Fall 2000 issue: D. Barton Johnson's "Strange Bedfellows: Ayn Rand and Vladimir Nabokov"
In the Fall 2001 issue: Gene H. Bell-Villada's "Nabokov and Rand: Kindred Ideological Spirits, Divergent Literary Aims"
In the Spring 2003 issue: Peter Saint-Andre's "Zamyatin and Rand"; Jane Yoder's "The Silence of Synthesis"
. . .
I should also mention that there is a book forthcoming with critical essays on WE THE LIVING, and you'll also find some interesting commentary in Valerie Loiret-Prunet's essay "Ayn Rand and Feminist Synthesis: Rereading WE THE LIVING," published in FEMINIST INTERPRETATIONS OF AYN RAND (Penn State Press, edited by Mimi Reisel Gladstein and me).
Hope this helps,
RANDOM THOUGHTS ON ARISTOTLE
(Objectivist Outcasts, excerpts from several posts dated between Tue, 1 Jul 2003 and Fri, 4 Jul 2003, under the thread "Re: Aristotle." The first posts of this series appear here, here, and here.)
[Tue, 01 Jul 2003 23:02:44 -0400]
Just a few brief points in response. First, thanks to R, S, and E for some very nice discussion. I'm especially happy that E notes the "golden-mean" parallel to my own emphasis on dialectical method.
R, I honestly don't disagree with you about some of the things that Aristotle did wrong in physics. My whole point is that we have to look at the big picture. Plenty of philosophers---even the masters of ancient Greece---were not consistent in applying their overall counsel to every area of knowledge. And fortunately, knowledge didn't ~die~ in ancient Greece.
As for the area of cosmology: You are right that few scientists would universalize cosmology as a metaphysics of explanation. I wish I could say the same thing about philosophers, however. The so-called "guardians" of knowledge have failed miserably through the centuries precisely on this point, and I discuss it in TOTAL FREEDOM. (I don't want to become a parody of myself in terms of self-citation, but it's just very hard to convey the complexity of these issues in short off-the-cuff posts when you've written books---indeed, a trilogy of books---on some of the subject matter at hand. :) )
R writes: "The way I would look at it is Contextualism is describing a situation relative to some context, and note the word 'relative' --- which makes Contextualism is close to being another way of talking about Relativism." Except as I said, relativism usually ~reifies~ a relative context ~as if~ it were the whole.
The Marxists have a word for this: "ideology." It is when a part or a particular perspective is represented as if it were the ~only~ perspective on a topic. The perspective is universalized. Contextualism, by contrast, counsels us to keep shifting perspective in analysis, and to piece together a comprehensive picture of the whole through perspectival shifts.
R writes: "Aristotle did his demonstrations the wrong way round. One starts from Pythagorean commitment and then makes the demonstration. Aristotle ignored Pythagorean commitment and went straight ahead to a fallacious demonstration."
But that depends what we're talking about; he wasn't completely consistent, but there are plenty of areas, namely his biology, and in his overall stress upon reason, logic, and dialectical point of view---which are foundational to ~any~ scientific inquiry.
[Thu, 03 Jul 2003 18:46:41 -0400]
Just a very brief reply (excuse my brevity, but I'm on deadline for quite a few articles currently).
1. It's interesting that R suggests that contextualism, as I've described it, is "relativity." It's interesting because he posits a conflict between Einstein and Aristotle, but on this, it seems, they are actual more "in sync" than out of sync. Except, of course, Einstein, obviously, moved far beyond Aristotle in the application of such principles.
2. R quotes Einstein. I don't think Aristotle ever claimed that science grows out of empiricism alone, though I do believe that the scientific imagination is something that has advanced dramatically since the ancients. In all honesty, I think it's actually a bit anachronistic to apply the "a priori-a posteriori" distinction to Aristotle. He had what is called an "ontological" view of logic itself; in other words, the laws of logic were both laws of being and laws of thought. I think Aristotle would have recognized that logic and experience could not be sundered in the scientific enterprise. One could fault him as to how ~well~ he practiced it in ~every~ discipline; but I don't think one can fault his overall foundation to human knowledge. Logic, quite simply, is the foundation for ~all~ human knowledge. Without a commitment to the laws of noncontradiction, excluded middle, and identity (all of which were implied in Aristotle's initial formulation of the first), nothing is possible. This was an enormously important intellectual articulation that nobody ever fully grasped prior to Aristotle. Plato comes close, but it is Aristotle who becomes the father of logic, the father of investigation, the father of dialectics. Fathers sometimes get lots of things wrong. That's why they leave it to their sons and daughters to get it right. My only point here is that all of us stand upon the shoulders of giants. The giants are not infallible, but we see further only because we're on their shoulders.
3. S writes: "Thanks for your information. This helps to clarify some points for me and to also fortify my defense for one of my personal stances. As I have noted previously, I strongly believe that no one person or philosophy has all the answers. It is important to examine a variety of perspectives and theories, even if we ultimately reject them. Therefore not only will we be able to defend those theories we support, but also those we do not. For example, I've noted in reading non-fiction works by Ayn Rand that she has a particular distaste for Kant. I've read comments by other writers who hail him as "one of the most important philosophers of his time". Who am I to believe? I thought it best to examine his theories myself and thereby be able to make my own judgements on them."
Absolutely: and if you ever use one person's pronouncements as an excuse ~not~ to read the original source, you thereby close the door to the judgment of your own mind. I can think of nothing that flies in the face of "Objectivism" more than to abandon the objectivity of your own judgment. For example, my own work in the history of philosophy re-examines thinkers such as Hegel and Marx; because I came to my own independent verdict on such thinkers, daring to suggest that we could learn something from them (note: that does not mean "agreement with" in overall viewpoint), a number of Objectivists have gone so far as to call me a "Hegelian" and a "Marxist." But if questioning what you've been taught qualifies you as an "Objectivist Outcast," make the most of it!
Thanks, too, S, for this comment: "A personal note Chris...I think it is admirable that you have published a trilogy of books, particularly on such a demanding topic. Kudos to you!" The topic is actually the history of dialectical inquiry. I argue for a dialectical defense of human freedom---very different from the Marxist stuff to which "dialectics" has normally been associated.
[Fri, 04 Jul 2003 08:24:49 -0400]
Thanks for your reply, R. I wanted to say a couple of things in response:
You wrote: >>If Aristotle was advocating "contextualism" and we notice its similarly to relativity (under Galileo ), then its a mystery to me why Aristotle thought that the Earth was the centre of the universe, he should have realised the Copernican perspective was possible. Aristotle must have been flawed in his thinking and could not follow through the proper reasoning from his starting point ---- The main conflict between Aristotle and Galileo, was that Galileo had Pythagorean commitment and Aristotle did not. So, they were in "sync" for a while, then Aristotle went wrong.<<
But R, again, you're making my point. Nobody is perfect. Sometimes people have good overall premises, and they still go about solving problems incorrectly. That doesn't invalidate what good they've done. You are, of course, right that "Some ancients had great imaginations," but not all ancients did, and nobody knows ~everything~. And even if Aristotle is "an example of a father who got things wrong," there is ~nothing~ in "the logic he created [that] is flawed." If there is something wrong with the law of non-contradiction, please do enlighten me. I don't mean that in any sarcastic way---I just fail to see how this principle is ~ever~ incorrect. (Unless you mean "the 'logic' of some of his scientific argumentation...")
Finally, as to the metaphor of standing on the shoulders of giants, R says: "What if some giants fall down an abyss ( I am proposing Aristotle as such a giant), those who then try to stand on such a giant also end up down the abyss. A person standing on the shoulders of such a giant down the abyss is not seeing any further."
~Every~ thinker who has ever existed must be analyzed with a scalpel, not a sledgehammer. That means dissecting what is right from what is wrong, and getting beyond the errors. The shoulders we stand on are the shoulders of those who get things ~right~. But since everyone is a mixed case, we need to stand on the "right" shoulder. I maintain that we see further ~because~ we stand on Aristotle's shoulders (to the extent that he got things right). And because our knowledge advances, we also get to see where he got things wrong. I fully recognize Aristotle's flaws, and I think the Age of Science gave him a good whipping on where he got things wrong. That doesn't mean it invalidated where he got things right, and to the extent that he did provide the very logical and dialectical foundation for the advancement of knowledge, his place in the pantheon of scientific achievement is unimpeachable.
And he had enormous achievements in many other areas as well---not the least of which were many of his ethical and political insights that influenced John Locke and the American founders, and that paved the way for the birth of America, which we celebrate today. He had an extraordinary intellect, writing on everything from metaphysics to politics to poetics. And when you consider that the bulk of his actual writings have yet to be found (they were probably destroyed forever), the writings that are extant constitute a truly remarkable contribution to human knowledge. Whatever his flaws.
A NOTE ON AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL
(Atlantis Discussion List, posted under the heading "Re: Georges." Posted: Thu, 03 Jul 2003 17:14:45 -0400)
Georges wrote: "I will try to locate a copy. I am currently reading his [Peikoff's] OBJECTIVISM: THE PHILOSOPHY OF AYN RAND. A friend has also recommended Chris Sciabarra's AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL. Does anyone on Atlantis recommend that work?"
Well, as the author of the book in question, I sure can recommend it. :) I should warn you, Georges, however, that the book does raise a lot of historical and methodological questions, and it has sparked debates on everything from Rand's early intellectual development to the meaning of dialectical method. There are endorsements, reviews, and critical discussions about the book featured on the RUSSIAN RADICAL site, which you may find of interest. Check out: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/randstar.htm
While the book is controversial in some respects, I think I can also say that the book itself is based on an extraordinary diversity of research sources, making use not only of virtually everything ever written by Rand and about Rand, but also virtually every tape and lecture and interview available (up to 1995) that is part of the vast "oral tradition" of Objectivist philosophy. It also re-integrates, into the larger discussion of Objectivism, much of Nathaniel Branden's work, especially those essays written during his association with Ayn Rand, and some of his post-Randian work as well. (You will be hard pressed to find ~any~ discussions of Branden's essays on psycho-epistemology, volition, alienation, etc., in any writings by Peikoff or others associated with the Ayn Rand Institute.)
The one virtue to reading the book: Feel free to write me privately, if you have any questions. :)
Happy 4th of July to all,
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