The following article appeared in December 2004 on the site of the History News Network for the Liberty & Power Group Blog.
PETER SCHWARTZ AND THE ABANDONMENT OF RAND'S RADICAL LEGACY
By Chris Matthew Sciabarra
In December 2004, I turned my attention to a five-part review of Peter Schwartz's book, The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America, published on the Liberty and Power Group Blog of the History News Network:
Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical
Legacy, Part I: Introduction / Schwartz's Core Arguments
(6 December 2004)
Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part II: Foreign Aid and the United Nations (7 December 2004)
Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part III: Saudi Arabia (8 December 2004)
Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part IV: The History of U.S. Foreign Policy (9 Decemer 2004)
Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part V: The Current War / The Folly of Nation-Building / The Inextricable Connection between Domestic and Foreign Policy (10 December 2004)
Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy
Part I: Introduction / Schwartz's Core Arguments
(6 December 2004)
For several years now, I've been engaged in a critique of the foreign policy writings of various Objectivists, who, I believe, have abandoned Ayn Rand's radical insights on the nature of U.S. politics. For those who are not Ayn Rand fans or who don't care one iota what Objectivists have to say on U.S. foreign policy, this week's five-part series (which begins today) might not provide the requisite excitement. But for those readers who are classical liberals and libertarians, and who see, on a daily basis, the erosion of the noninterventionist tradition of liberalism, this series will have some merit. Suffice it to say: In fighting for Rand's radical legacy, I'm fighting simultaneously for that noninterventionist tradition that stands opposed to the welfare-warfare state, while seeking to comprehend the inextricable relationship between the "welfare" and the "warfare" part of that equation.
In my essay, "Understanding the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy," I argued that too many Objectivist writers in the post-9/11 era were suffering from historical amnesia. It's as if they have forgotten most of what Rand said on the issue of foreign policy; one will be hard pressed to find any quotes from Rand's various foreign policy essays and lectures in any of the books, journals, and online periodicals to which Objectivists have contributed.
It's not fair, of course, to suggest that a lack of references to Rand is a sign of abandonment. Clearly, these writers have been influenced by Rand's broad ethical and political precepts, especially those concerning egoism and individual rights. But there is a disturbing pattern among Objectivist writers to ignore Rand's actual foreign policy pronouncements, which continue to have relevance for the modern world. When such writers are writing explicitly on the subject of foreign policy, that ignorance has far-reaching implications for the quality and persuasiveness of their arguments.
This pattern is on display yet again in the newest book by Objectivist writer Peter Schwartz, The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America (Ayn Rand Institute Press, 2004) --- which has exactly one quote from Rand, and this quote does not derive from any of her work on foreign policy. In his preface to the Schwartz monograph, Ayn Rand Institute Executive Director Yaron Brook tells us that this work is part of a series on "The Moral Foundations of Public Policy." For Brook, "[f]oreign policy is neither a starting point nor a self-contained field. It is, rather, the product of certain ideas in political and moral philosophy. ... It has failed because of the bankrupt moral philosophy our political leaders have chosen to accept: the philosophy of altruism and self-sacrifice" (5). Schwartz's work goes a long way toward explaining these ideas, and it succeeds in highlighting some very important issues. (Some of this work derives from a series of articles that Schwartz published back in March and April 1986, "Foreign Policy and the Morality of Self-Interest," in The Intellectual Activist.) Objectivist Harry Binswanger has gone so far as to say that Schwartz has provided us with "the foreign policy Bible for America and any other free society."
Ultimately, however, the book fails to recapture Rand's radical framework of analysis, which, from a political standpoint, seeks to understand and overturn U.S. government policies at home and abroad.
Of course, Rand's radicalism is not primarily political; it is a methodological radicalism, a radical way of thinking upon which political and social change is built. Karl Marx once said: "To be radical is to grasp things by the root" ("The Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right"). Though Rand repudiated Marx's communism and its collectivist premises, she championed the notion of the "radical in the proper sense of the word"; as she explained: "'radical' means 'fundamental.'" For Rand, "the fighters for capitalism have to be, not bankrupt 'conservatives,' but new radicals, new intellectuals and, above all, new, dedicated moralists" ("Conservatism: An Obituary").
But the power of Rand's methodological radicalism went beyond a search for roots. In seeking to understand the system of contemporary statism, Rand shows how various factors often mutually supported one another in sustaining the irrationality and injustice of that system. It was only by clarifying the various relationships at work that we could begin to alter them fundamentally.
Schwartz's Core Argument
Peter Schwartz certainly hopes to clarify the moral premises at work in U.S. foreign policy. Schwartz states "that self-interest can be successfully defended only if it is embraced as a consistent, moral principle --- a principle in keeping with America's founding values" (12). He continues: "Just as in ethics it is maintaining his own life that should be the individual's ultimate purpose, in politics it is maintaining its own citizens' liberty that should be the government's ultimate purpose" (14). For Schwartz, "[i]n both domestic and foreign policy, the proper role of government is to protect the citizen's basic political interest: freedom" (19). As such, Schwartz disavows "nationalism [as] a collectivist idea" (19). He rejects "diplomacy" as "the opposite of justice," because it presumes that "we must maintain cordial relations" with dictatorships and treat all regimes with respect, regardless of their moral legitimacy (20). He renounces appeasement, and the "pragmatist" policy of buying off "allies" with economic aid. In Schwartz's view, a practical foreign policy identifies liberty as the "central value," and develops the "basic means" to defend it.
For those who want the "bottom line," here it is: Schwartz may have correctly defined some key principles here, but his discussion is marred by a rationalistic streak. Such principles make the most sense only in a context where the government is strictly limited; today's government, however, is not focused on protecting individual rights, but on doling out privileges to those who are most adept at using the political process.
Schwartz is so caught up in his pan-and-scan black-and-white picture of foreign policy that his model fails to comprehend the full widescreen technicolor portrait, which his philosophic mentor grasped with relative ease.
I will begin to explore these topics in greater detail tomorrow, in part two of this five-part series.
COMMENTS on part one:
Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 12/6/2004
Thanks for your comments, Ken... stay tuned. :)
Kenneth R Gregg - 12/6/2004
I noticed years ago when Schwartz published an attack on libertarianism that he was making a fundamental error in his methodology, and has blindly followed in this line. I will probably not read his essay on foreign policy due to his errors, and have little doubt that the same mistakes have led him, reductio ad absurdem, to his foreign policy conclusions.
Best of luck to you in your analysis, as I suspect it will reveal a rather wide chasm between ARI and objectivist theory.
Yours in liberty,
Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy
Part II: Foreign Aid and the United Nations
(7 December 2004)
Foreign Aid and the United Nations
In part one of this series, I introduced this discussion of Objectivist Peter Schwartz's new book, The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America. I outlined briefly his core argument and suggested that it was marred by ahistorical and rationalistic elements.
One example of what I'm driving at can be found in Schwartz's discussion of foreign aid and the United Nations. "Multi-billions in U.S. foreign aid are doled out to countries that excoriate us as corrupt hegemonists," Schwartz asserts. "America is routinely vilified at the United Nations, while we blandly continue to provide the financial and political support which makes the existence of that dictatorship-laden body possible" (9). Now, I'm certainly sympathetic to Schwartz's repudiation of "that disgraceful organization" (44), and of any doctrine that compels the U.S. to act only with the U.N.'s "blessing" (49). I'm less inclined, however, to accept his argument that the U.S. financially sustains the U.N. "with a variety of welfare programs" that are steeped in an "altruist" ethos. Schwartz argues, for instance, that "if Africa needs money to deal with a medical crisis, America provides it. If Mexico needs another massive loan --- America arranges it. If China needs nuclear technology --- America furnishes it" (10) --- all on the basis of the irrational principle that America somehow "owes" it to the world. This is, for Schwartz, an internationalization of the domestic redistributive welfare state (18).
That's true, but not really in the sense that Schwartz means it. What Schwartz doesn't quite get is that the U.S. typically enters into these arrangements under an ideological veneer --- the "altruistic injunction to think of others before ourselves," as he describes it (10) --- while, in truth, it is embracing the other side of a lethal sacrificial coin. Instead of sacrificing itself for the good of other countries, it is actually sacrificing the wealth of its own taxpayers for the benefit of politically connected corporations and foreign "client" governments. This is not simply a left-wing "materialist" assertion; it is actually a claim made by Ayn Rand herself. (And, in this regard, Rand is part of a larger tradition of individualist, classical liberal, and libertarian thinkers who have exposed the biases at work in state interventionism. See especially part two of my book, Total Freedom.)
Schwartz does not focus on this reality because nowhere in his monograph is there any mention of the complex dynamics of American political economy. And make no mistake about it: The "mixed economy" that Rand derides as "neofascist" was most definitely a political economy. Rand had identified the "business-government 'partnership'" as the "economic essence" of the U.S. politico-economic system, which she characterized as the "New Fascism." (On the nature of this kind of "fascism," see here and here.) As I have written in my essay, "Understanding the Global Crisis" (the parenthetical references here are to Rand's articles):
This was --- and is --- a de facto, predatory fascism, the result of pragmatic expediency and of ad hoc, incremental policies that had enriched some groups at the expense of others ("The New Fascism: Rule By Consensus"). ... In such a system, [Rand] argued, we are all victims and victimizers; the whole society becomes a "class of beggars" ("Books: Poverty is Where the Money Is"). For once the rule of force begins to predominate, the institutional means for legalized predation expand exponentially. "If this is a society's system," writes Rand, "no power on earth can prevent men from ganging up on one another in self-defense --- i.e., from forming pressure groups" ("How to Read (and Not to Write)").
The New Fascism therefore "accelerates the process of juggling debts, switching losses, piling loans on loans, mortgaging the future and the future's future. As things grow worse, the government protects itself not by contracting this process, but by expanding it" beyond its national borders. Just as pressure groups had slurped at the government trough in seeking domestic privileges, so too did they benefit from a whole global system of foreign aid, involving financial manipulation (through, for example, the Federal Reserve System, the Ex-Im Bank, and the IMF), "credits to foreign consumers to enable them to consume" U.S.-produced goods, "unpaid loans to foreign governments, and subsidies to other welfare states," to the United Nations, and to the World Bank ("Egalitarianism and Inflation").
Note here that Rand recognizes these global institutions as constituted parts of U.S. political economy. These constituents express the neofascist "economic essence" of the system, while also perpetuating it and extending it. (A constituent, in this context, is an integrated part of a larger system, an "internally related" part, if you will; it expresses the logic of that system, and, when taken together with other constituents, makes up the system of which it is only a part.)
Rand goes further: "If looting collectivists did not exist, America's foreign aid policy would create them." The overwhelming profiteers of this system were those peculiar "products ... of the mixed economy," those statist businessmen who "seek to grow rich not by means of productive ability, but by means of political pull and of special political privileges." Rand observes "that there are firms here and there, in various businesses and industries, who are growing prosperous by trading with foreign countries, the specific foreign countries who receive American aid. In other words, there are businessmen who are selling their products to the foreign countries receiving American aid and who are paid by American funds --- who are paid by the aid money granted to those countries. In other words, some Americans are draining the money, the tax money, of other Americans, into their own pockets, via a longer tour through every corner of the globe which receives our foreign aid. This tax money is taken from some citizens, handed to foreign governments and pressure groups and then [it] comes back to some of our citizens, through those successful pressure groups who have pull in Washington." This was a "siphoning" process, in Rand's view, a "necessary corollary of a mixed economy, or rather the necessary expression of a mixed economy, now being carried to the international scene. It is a civil war gone international; it is pressure groups using foreign countries in order to destroy our own. That is the meaning of our foreign aid policy" ("The Foreign Policy of the Mixed Economy," tape).
Rand may have viewed this as American self-immolation in the grander scheme of things, but it is most definitely the kind of self-immolation on which parasitic corporations feast. And the iron triangle here has awful implications: the U.S. government enriches certain politically connected corporations along with the host governments that purchase those corporate goods and services. This introduces additional pressures on the U.S. from foreign lobbyists who profit from the political arrangements. Summarizing Rand's arguments, I write:
Thus, the New Fascism exports "the bloody chaos of tribal warfare" to the rest of the world, creating a whole class of "pull peddlers" among both foreign and domestic lobbyists, who feed on the carcass of the American taxpayer, causing massive global political, social, and economic dislocations ("The Pull Peddlers"). Whereas the Left derided "capitalist imperialism" for this state of affairs, Rand recognized that capitalism, "the unknown ideal," had taken the blame for the sins of its opposite. She 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 [fewer] 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).
Regrettably, Peter Schwartz captures none of these insidious political processes in his monograph because he doesn't even bother to ask the relevant questions on which Rand herself focused. And his analytical myopia is not confined to the issue of foreign aid.
Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 12/10/2004
There are tendencies among some in the Randian universe to forget about things like "methodological individualism."
Sheldon Richman - 12/10/2004
The Schwartz et al. thesis is evidence that there is such a thing as Randian collectivism: Foreign aid is an altruistic sacrifice of "America" to foreigners, as though all Americans constitute a homogeneous blob with one set of interests and no specific Americans benefit from foreign aid and other foreign intervention. Good show, Chris!
Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy
Part III: Saudi Arabia
(8 December 2004)
In part one and part two of this series, I outlined a few core points in Objectivist Peter Schwartz's new book, The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America. After discussing inadequacies in Schwartz's analysis of the U.N. and U.S. foreign aid policy, I now turn to his examination of the problem of Saudi Arabia.
The ever-expanding "neofascist" process that Rand identified in her critique of contemporary politics is further illustrated by the U.S. government's socialization of corporate risk across the globe, granting corporations access to American taxpayer dollars --- and the U.S. military if need be --- to protect their foreign investments. Schwartz seems to approve of this. Looking at how Western-developed oil fields have been expropriated by foreign governments, such as Saudi Arabia, Schwartz would have us believe that it is the U.S. government's duty to "safeguard American lives and property" abroad "by using retaliatory force against the initiators" (15). Hence, for Schwartz,
America could readily take over the oilfields [in Saudi Arabia] militarily (they properly belong to Western companies anyway, which developed them and from which they were expropriated decades ago by the Saudi state). The only explanation is that we have morally acquiesced to the Saudis. We are reluctant to pronounce judgment on them. We don't believe we are entitled to assert our own standards. We have concluded that we must compromise those standards --- i.e., that we have to give up some of our freedom ---in order to accommodate the wishes of tyrants. (38)
Well, this is not "the only explanation." Again, Schwartz misses the underlying dynamic at work in the current political system. That's because, almost without fail, he focuses on moral issues acontextually; he insists on pronouncing sweeping moral judgments on various global phenomena but frequently brackets out any discussion of the actual history --- the actual context --- within which these phenomena have evolved. We are left, in the end, with moral generalizations that are disconnected from the concrete circumstances with which Schwartz attempts to grapple.
I've long argued that U.S. companies short-sighted enough to enter into contracts with foreign governments like those of the former Soviet Union or Saudi Arabia --- which had/have a poor history of upholding private property rights ---should not have the right to hold American taxpayers and lives hostage to their stupidity. "We" do not have an obligation to bail out Western oil companies whose property was "expropriated" by the House of Sa'ud. A cursory look at the history of oil development in Saudi Arabia would show us, in any event, that the Western oil industry has been in bed --- "embedded" if you will --- with their 'expropriators' from the beginning. Nothing much has actually changed since the Saudi government 'took over' the oil by successively increasing its share of the Arabian-American Oil Company (ARAMCO); U.S. administrators, technicians, and personnel are still firmly in place and U.S. oil companies like Exxon-Mobil remain at the forefront of all new oil exploration in the country.
As I've argued here, the formation of the Rockefeller-controlled ARAMCO depended upon a 60-year monopoly concession from the Saudi Arabian government; that government didn't have the moral right to grant such monopoly concessions to begin with.
Let me emphasize a key point here: This was not homesteading. Western oil companies didn't simply arrive on the Arabian peninsula so as to "mix their labor" with the land in order to attain Lockean acquisition rights. They were granted monopoly concessions in advance of drilling. Such concessions entail monopolizing all the oil in a vast land area through state force, which bars competing oil producers who might seek out oil in that area. The monopolist, in other words, uses the host government to gain control over a land mass through ownership claims granted by that government, which has no such legitimate authority to grant ownership rights (see Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty).
ARAMCO, as such, was born of a political relationship. And the U.S. government facilitated this Saudi-Western oil arrangement over time. In the early days, the Rockefeller-influenced U.S. Export-Import Bank even paid $25 million to the Saudis to construct pleasure railroads, while Franklin D. Roosevelt provided $165 million in secret appropriations out of war funds to help in the construction of ARAMCO pipelines across Saudi Arabia. Over the years, the money made by the House of Sa'ud in granting the monopoly concession was pumped into the creation of institutions dedicated to the dissemination of fanatical Wahhabi ideology, which has been exported to the rest of the Arab world --- fueling fundamentalism and terrorism throughout the region.
Schwartz himself bemoans this Saudi Arabia-U.S. alliance and the financing of "an array of Wahhabi indoctrination schools, or madrasas, where new crops of Islamic holy-warriors are continually cultivated ..." But instead of focusing on the money that drives the establishment and growth of these schools, Schwartz is simply disgusted by the "utterly perverse" U.S. "readiness to grant [the Saudis] a moral endorsement" (34). That "moral endorsement" goes hand-in-hand with a politico-economic endorsement. And this is why it is a virtual certainty that the Saudi government will never be touched by the U.S. in the current "War on Terror." As I wrote in my essay, "A Question of Loyalty":
And throughout this whole "War on Terror," the poisonous soil from which Bin Laden emerged --- Saudi Arabia --- remains untouched. While the U.S. is busy fighting in Iraq, it sleeps with the Saudis, continuing a 60+ year-affair that most likely led the Bush administration to blot out 28 pages from a report on the failure of 9/11 intelligence, which might have embarrassed its Saudi "allies." U.S. corporations engage in joint business ventures with the Saudi government --- from petroleum to arms deals --- utilizing a whole panoply of statist mechanisms, including the Export-Import Bank. The U.S. is Saudi Arabia's largest investor and trading partner.
In the history of ARAMCO and the U.S.-Saudi partnership, we find the kind of "pull-peddling" that Rand condemned as "neofascist." And it is the U.S.-Saudi-Big Oil Unholy Trinity that continues to sustain an autocratic, undemocratic Saudi regime, one of the breeding grounds of Islamic terrorism. Yes, that regime finds itself increasingly at odds with the fanatical elements in its midst. As I argued at length here, "the fundamentalist ideology that the House of Sa'ud has long funded and exported is now undermining its very rule. While the failure of the Saudi state at this point in time would be an utter catastrophe, those who would take power --- the fanatical fundamentalists among them --- are, to borrow a Randian phrase, 'the distilled essence of the [Saudi] Establishment's culture ... the embodiment of its soul' and its 'personified ideal'." (An interesting article on this subject,"Al Qaeda on the March" by Ehsan Ahrari, was published today.)
None of these complexities are even mentioned by Schwartz in his book.
In Part 3 of Chris Sciabarra's marvelous review, he
makes an interesting point which might never have occurred to me. He disputes
the contention of "Peter Schwartz," (what a dick! ;-)) and a few other
Objectivists like myself, and argues that the oil doesn't really belong to the
West. I think this view is considerably mistaken and vastly important. Indeed,
the fact that we let these pitiful primitives and evil clowns ~steal~ Western
and American oil is ~most~ of the current problem! Without their ill-gotten
gains, moslem dictators and terrorists would have almost NO power to hurt their
fellow moslems or us Westerners.
Despite many financial, business, and political irregularitites -- in the end, I think those Western and American oil companies brought their fairly high level of civilization/culture and respect for justice/property rights with them to the Middle East. Despite the genuine corruption and immorality of certain "monopoly concessions" which Chris outlines above, once they were in Arabia, the semi-civilized Westerners probably made the best, most normal, most moral deals they could under exceedingly difficult and strange circumstances. I imagine that in many cases they were utterly alone in a vast wasteland, and had to walk/ride for days until they found the nearest semi-official nomadic tribal leader or half-starving vagrant camel rider; then they offered to "buy" the land which that person "owned." No doubt the Arabian nomads looked at the Westerner like he was mad. Still, the wandering "chief" and/or nomadic "camel jockey" -- people Ayn Rand tended to refer to with exquisite political incorrectness as "savages" -- was probably more than happy to take the foolish Westerner's money and then sign some remarkably silly and useless piece of paper transfering "ownership" of "his" land to the Western oil company, businessman, or speculator/investor. All this rigamarol in a place which had almost no concept of private property rights.
Seen in extreme context, the above business transaction was legit. The Western businessman or company did, in fact, successfully negotiate a sale and now possessed full legit ownership. His government should therefore back him on this. Trillions of dollars in Western property shouldn't be lost to tribal savages via the magic of the criminal term "nationalization." Of course, considering the difficulties and expense involved in recovering this property, and the corruption alluded to above, this oil property probably now properly belongs to the US people and our government should now auction it off.
The key point here is that in some overall and contextual sense Western Civilization created great wealth in a place which was otherwise filled with nothingness, desert sands, and starving nomads. In NO sense is it just for the vagrants to suddenly become stunning millionaires at our expense. In NO sense is it practical for the West to transfer trillions in dollars to people of raw savagery and/or their dictatorial leaders and then not expect evil results to follow such as the OPEC cartel, all those wars against Israel, and 9/11.
People nowadays feel great despair and hopelessness when confronted with islamic fanaticism. They simply don't know what to do. Well, I know something to do: STOP giving trillions to raw evil, tyranny, and terrorism. This means: TAKE BACK OUR OIL!
"Or the Taliban's against the Soviet Union." Oops...I meant to write Mujahideen here. Silly me.
My apologies to Mr. Garret for mispelling his name. I inadvertantly added an extra "t".
I'm happy to oblige. ;o)
I wrote: "Mr. Schwartz's characterization of US foreign policy seems to me overly simplistic and in many respects mistaken." And Mr. Garrett replied: "Of course it is. He deals with fundamental principles. There can be nothing more mistaken than that. Right?"
There is a huge difference between dealing with fundamental principles and being overly simplistic. It's a pity so many Objectivists have trouble seeing that.
As it turns out, I do indeed know what nationalist, statist, and altruism means.
It seems to escape Mr. Garrett's notice that minarchists and anarchists will define statism somewhat differently. Both will likely conceive of statism on a continuum of more statist and less statist. An anarchist will have a broader conception of statism, i.e., his continuum will include a wider range.
As for altruism, I'd like to see a good argument for how the Cold War was purely altruistic and not pursued with any significant degree of self-interest. I mean, really, did the American government oppose the Soviet Union solely to save the rest of the world from falling under the sway of communism? Or did it do so in order to oppose an ideology that was seen as threatening the American way of life? To use another example, let's take the US government's support for Saddam Hussein in his conflict against Iran. Or the Taliban's against the Soviet Union. Or Korea. Or Vietnam. Altruistic? I think not. American policymakers were concerned with self-interest, with protecting "American" national interest and security abroad. Balance of power politics and the occasional move to appease Europe and/or the UN are at least in part tactics employed in support of the overrall strategic interest of furthering "American" interests. Sure there are altruistic reasons for pursuing many of these policies, but there are self-interested ones as well. Now, if one drops context, as Chris has argued that Schwartz does, then one may very well see such policies as self-sacrificial and therefore altruistic, but this is why Rand stressed the importance of context.
As I'm in the middle of finals week, I'll leave the rest until after Chris's final post in this series. It may answer the other charges for me.
I wrote: "I am a neo-Aristotelian/quasi-Randian/libertarian-anarchist" And Mr. Garrett replies: "Do you say that with a straight face?"; "I get a kick out of you libertarians."
Yes, I did. As Mr. Garrett is obviously not interested in serious intellectual discussion but only with insulting and making fun, unless he changes his tune this will be my last response.
P.S. I may be earning a Ph.D. in political science but I am not a mainstream political "scientist." My field is political philosophy and I reject most of what passes for science in my department as "scientism."
"I am a
neo-Aristotelian/quasi-Randian/libertarian-anarchist" Do you say that with a
"However, I do think, based on what I have seen from him, that he is a nationalist and a statist." Then you have no idea what those terms mean. Since you said that you are a poli-sci scholar, its not wholy unbelievable.
"Mr. Schwartz does seem to find altruism or compromised moral principles (but chiefly altruism) to be the hallmark of US foreign policy over the past century. I think he is woefully mistaken here..." Then you have no idea what altruism means and no understanding of how to detect its influence on history. But that's not surprising becaue you are a "neo-Aristotelian/quasi-Randian/libertarian-anarchist". If you were simply an Objectivist you would have no problem with this.
"Mr. Schwartz's characterization of US foreign policy seems to me overly simplistic and in many respects mistaken." Of course it is. He deals with fundamental principles. There can be nothing more mistaken than that. Right?
I get a kick out of you libertarians.
Well then, I must be a moonbat crazy libertarian. Or
more precisely, I am a neo-Aristotelian/quasi-Randian/libertarian-anarchist.
Which goes to show that some of us are none too clear on what libertarianism is.
Interestingly enough, many Objectivists and even Rand herself would qualify as
libertarians (with a small L). Indeed, libertarianism encompasses both
minarchists and anarchists. So I hardly think it is fair to ascribe the
admittedly radical beliefs of a crackpot such as myself to all libertarians. Or
were the adjectives meant to distinguish me from more sensible libertarians? I
think not, however. In any case, perhaps I did exaggerate in my characterization
of Mr. Schwartz. However, I do think, based on what I have seen from him, that
he is a nationalist and a statist. If and insofar as I did exaggerate in my
characterization of him, it was a matter of degree and not of kind. I stand
ready to be proven wrong though.
On a different note, as I mentioned in my original comment above, Mr. Schwartz does seem to find altruism or compromised moral principles (but chiefly altruism) to be the hallmark of US foreign policy over the past century. I think he is woefully mistaken here. Some particular policies may indeed have been pursued for altruistic reasons. Some may have involved compromises on moral principle. More often, however, US foreign policy seems to be predicated upon a mistaken notion of what the "national interest" is and how to secure it; or a pragmatic realpolitick that eschews "dogmatic" moral principle altogether (though one might call this compromising moral principle); or sheer greed and corruption. And let us not forget underlying notions of nationalism and American exceptionalism that many possess. Moreover, contrary to the way many scholars in my profession (political science) operate theoretically and methodologically, the state is not an individual actor. Mr. Schwartz's characterization of US foreign policy seems to me overly simplistic and in many respects mistaken.
Pat Garret, it's rather funny, because "Dr. Diabolical
Dialectical" has almost always been accused of losing the trees for the
forest---given all my emphases on integration and unity. Alas, I've also been
accused of being a raving empiricist. :)
A few points in response:
First of all, I'm not an anarchist.
Second, I have been very respectful of Schwartz in my critique, and have a few very nice things to say about some of his arguments. Perhaps you might wait until the series is completed on Friday.
Third, it may be a given that there are plenty of statist businessmen out there and that Schwartz is aware of it. But anyone coming to this book from the outside will not find any such awareness in it.
Fourth, there is a big difference between Rand's radical take on foreign policy and Michael Moore's. Qua leftist, Moore practically equates capitalism with fascism; Rand understands that the statist businessmen who are benefiting from the interventionist system are the exact opposite of capitalism.
Fifth, it is not to be mired "in a million concretes" to focus on historical detail, especially when one is presenting a moral argument that allegedly stands in contrast to the given system. I'm well aware of the principle of abstraction, and devote more than a few sections to it in my book, Total Freedom. But part of the process of abstraction is the ability to understand a system on different levels of generality, from different vantage points, and by placing the units of that system in relationship to other units, and in relationship to the past, the present, and the possible future. Rand did all of these things. Schwartz doesn't do enough of it.
More to follow...
"but I imagine you'll more explicitly elucidate
Schwartz's unquestioning, nationalistic state idolatry in forthcoming posts"
You've got to be kidding me. State Idolatry? Only a moonbat crazy libertarian could write something like that. Schwartz's wole book is dedicated to reigning in the powers of the state and limiting its foreign policy to rational principles. But I forget myself. Libertarians dont really believe in a state. Just some fuzzy thing like "competing protection agencies." Oy Vey.
As for Sciabarra's criticism, well Sciabarra and Arthur Silber ought to start a club. Call it the "Wellfare / Warfare" club or the "down with Haliburton" club or something like that. I'll admit that Schwartz did not give enough historical backgroung material in his work. Many ARI Objectivists have criticized him for that. But Sciabarra's arguments are such straw men. Does he really thing that Schwartz doesn't know that on the opposite side of the altruist coin there are Wesley Mouches and Orrin Boyles waiting to cash in? Please. Its a given. But to suggest that this "good ole boy" business is driving foreign policy. Come on. Its not a far leap from that to Michael Moore.
Schwartz's book elucidates fundamental principles. It does not nor should it mire itself in a million concretes. It shows that altuism is at the philosophical root of current American foreign policy and has been for over a century. It didn't need to get into an exhaustive account of Saudi-American relations. Only a complexity worshiper like "Dr. Dialectical" would require that. In fact, Sciabarra's criticism of Schwartz underscores where he goes wrong with Objectivism. He refuses to grasp a principle. I think at root he denies man's power of abstratction. He always has to burry himself in the myriad details. In my opinion, he looses the forest for the trees. And when he comes up long enough to make a topographical map of the forest, he gets it wrong.
Schwartz's book could be a little more researched and contain more historical detail for better context and completeness, but its a good book. Binswanger is right. It should by the bible of American foreign policy.
Good points, and I agree. I look forward to the next instalments.
Thanks for your comments. I actually will be discussing this aspect of Schwartz's work in part 5 of my five-part series, so I'll hold off on commenting here.
There is something, however, that I do wish to comment on, and, perhaps, it is implicit in your observations here.
My own comments on the Saudi-U.S.-Oil Industry relationship are my views. I do not speak for Ayn Rand or for "Objectivism." But I do believe that my discussion of the statist character of the relationship is fully consistent with Rand's overall understanding of U.S. foreign policy and political economy.
I should point out, however, that when I say that I am battling for "Rand's radical legacy," there are clearly parts of her "legacy" that I do not regard as "radical" and with which I do not agree. These are aspects that I regard as quasi-conservative, if not in their basic premises, then certainly in their implications. Among those aspects are Rand's attitudes on such issues as "a woman president" or homosexuality, but there are other issues as well.
One area where Rand was not nearly as critical as she should have been was in her understanding of the history of the Middle East. A reader wrote to me and shared with me a transcript of one of Phil Donahue's interviews with Rand. Here's what Rand had to say, two years before she died, when, I might add, she was not at the "top of her game" so-to-speak:
MR. DONAHUE: All right. Okay. You also think if the
Middle Eastern countries want to charge -- hold us up for the oil at $5 a barrel
-- a gallon -- Excuse me. Five dollars. Will that day ever be back? They ought to
be able to do it. It's their oil. Is that your point?
MS. RAND: No. My point is, we should not have to admit it, altruistically, all those nations to nationalize what we built for them.
MS. RAND: They took our oil.
MR. DONAHUE: Well, what do you mean? It's not our oil. It's not our --- We don't own Saudi Arabia. they do.
MS. RAND: We own, by contract right, the installations which we devised to begin with, and we helped them to build.
MR. DONAHUE: But it sounds like you're saying because we exported our technology, therefore, they owe us --- That sounds like the altruism that you condemned a moment ago.
MS. RAND: How? Altruism is the unearned, and this we earned, and they nationalized from us. They have no right to their soil, if they do nothing with it. Rights are not involved in those primitive societies. But they make a deal with us. They want to bring us in to develop their oil, and then, they try to exploit and to literally murder us by means of that oil. That is an unforgivable crime.
MR. DONAHUE: They would argue that --- I mean, some in the Middle East would argue that it's --- First of all, it's their oil. They're grateful for whatever technology we were able to share with them, but they will claim that they paid for that -- That they responded by presenting us with monies that were appropriate to the services we tendered them, and that let's not expect any favors for them, and that the world markets -- laws of supply and demand should determine what the price of oil is.
MS. RAND: They wouldn't be in the position of monopolies, as they have today, if we hadn't calmly agreed to let them nationalize our oil production.
MR. DONAHUE: Okay. Then that's our problem. Then we should have been more foresighted when we ---
MS. RAND: --- Oh, certainly. I agree with you.
MR. DONAHUE: All right. Well, why should we make them pay now for what we failed to put into our contract with them?
MS. RAND: We're not making them pay. We're buying the oil---
MR. DONAHUE: --- Well, we are if we're insisting on getting oil at a cheaper price.
MS. RAND: We merely bargain and give in every time. And in a proper society, a government would never let it come that far. But let me answer one point you made, that this is our oil. No, it isn't. It was there for centuries, and they didn't know what to do with it. We don't export our technology. We export our minds and our knowledge, without which they couldn't exist, and they admit it. They nationalize oil in a lot of those countries, and then want the Americans, or a few Europeans to come and help them run it. They can't even run the oil in, you see, after they copied everything from us. It can't be done. So they're expropriating, you see?
I think Rand would have been a
much more careful observer of this reality in, say, the 1960s, than she was in
Here, Rand is obviously correct that the oil wells were developed by Western oil companies, by the minds, knowledge, labor both physical and mental, of those employed by these oil companies. What she fails to recognize is the ways in which those companies cashed-in on the monopoly concessions granted to them by the Saudis, or the ways in which "nationalization" did not alter significantly the politico-economic position of those companies. Rand makes the same mistake as Schwartz, in this instance, when she speaks of "we" this and "we" that. (And my reader observes that this blurs the distinction of what "we" refers to.)
In any event, Schwartz and some of Rand's other successors, clearly follow Rand in certain important respects. In my view, however, on these questions, they seem to be most in sync with Rand when Rand was wrong, and most out of sync with her when Rand was right.
More to follow...
It is curious that Schwartz should treat the subject as if American foreign policymakers were somehow either acting altruistically or compromising their moral standards by getting into bed with tyrants. What moral standards would those be? I hardly think the US government qualifies as "good Objectivists." In fact, it seems to me that neither are they acting altruistically nor are they compromising any high moral standards. Rather US foreign policy bears the markings of a pragmatic selfishness (in the base sense of the word). You've touched on this somewhat, Chris, but I imagine you'll more explicitly elucidate Schwartz's unquestioning, nationalistic state idolatry in forthcoming posts?
Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy
Part IV: The History of U.S. Foreign Policy
(8 December 2004)
In part one, part two, and part three of this series, I examined a few topics covered by Objectivist Peter Schwartz in his new book, The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America. Having discussed various problems in Schwartz's analysis of the U.N., foreign aid, and Saudi Arabia, I now turn to his examination of the history of U.S. foreign policy.
The History of U.S. Foreign Policy
Just as Schwartz ignores the history of U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, so too does he ignore the history of U.S. intervention in the Middle East, especially in his assessment of the current "War on Terror." Schwartz dismisses completely the view "that America invited attack by its 'overbearing' foreign policy," a view he attributes solely to "Libertarians and hard-core leftists" (33). (Schwartz has always considered "libertarianism" to be the "perversion of liberty." I deal with his critique --- not all of it misguided --- in my book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism.) This is rather surprising, considering that even George W. Bush has recognized the role that U.S. foreign policy has played in propping up authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, which have inspired reaction among the oppressed populations of that region. Even Schwartz's Objectivist colleague, Leonard Peikoff, has recognized this regrettable U.S. history, which forms part of the historical context by which to understand the current war. The U.S. policy of propping up the Shah of Iran, for example, was, indeed, partially responsible for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as an anti-American political force. It is not enough to say, as Schwartz does, that the Iranians simply revolted against a "Western-style state" (30). That tyrannical, despotic "Western-style state" was viewed as a client of "The Great Satan," which is why taking American hostages was among the first criminal acts of the Iranian theocracy. Moreover, U.S. support for Iraq in its war against Iran gave implicit sanction to the Hussein regime's pursuit of chemical and biological weapons. And U.S. support for Afghan mujahideen, so-called "freedom fighters," in their war against the Soviets, emboldened the very forces that became Al Qaeda and Taliban warriors. As Peikoff observes, this political obscenity "put the U.S. wholesale into the business of creating terrorists. ... Most of them," says Peikoff, "regarded fighting the Soviets as only the beginning; our turn soon came" ("End States Who Sponsor Terrorism").
There are no such admissions in Schwartz's monograph.
It's not as if Schwartz is ignorant of this history. For example, back in the days leading up to the Gulf War, Schwartz was very clear in his condemnation of U.S. foreign policy insofar as it "helped [Saddam] Hussein [to] launch his aggression in the first place" ("Missing Principles in Iraq," The Intellectual Activist, October 17, 1990). At that time, Schwartz observed that "[t]he man now likened to Hitler by [Bush Sr.'s] Administration is the same man our government eagerly courted and accommodated for years." This is the kind of critique that is utterly missing from his current monograph, however.
What is so remarkable is that there is a glorious tradition in the Rand literature of tracing current problems back to a history of previous political intervention. That tradition is hardly recognized by Schwartz. And yet, let us not forget that in her most important foreign policy essay, Rand viewed free trade as "[t]he essence of capitalism's foreign policy," and its undermining as one of the "roots of war" (the title of the essay). Though capitalism never existed in its purest form, Rand argued that its historic power was revolutionary: anywhere it flourished, it overturned feudalism, mercantilism, and absolute monarchy. With the rise of collectivist, paternalist, nationalist, and imperialist ideologies, advocated by such "progressive reformers" as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, free trade was undercut ultimately by government regulation and privilege. This had vast implications both at home and abroad. As I have written in my essay, "Understanding the Global Crisis":
The twentieth-century history of U.S. foreign policy, according to Rand, was a history of "suicidal" failure and hypocrisy ("'Extremism,' Or the Art of Smearing"). Failure --- because the U.S. had abdicated the moral high ground, destroying economic and civil liberties from within, and losing any rational sense of the country's moral significance. Hypocrisy --- because the U.S. often fought evil with evil. Rand maintained that Wilson had led the charge "to make the world safe for democracy," but World War I gave birth to fascism, Nazism, and communism. FDR had led the charge for the "Four Freedoms," but he only empowered the Soviets in the process ("The Roots of War").
Like some of her individualist allies (loosely categorized as the "Old Right"), Rand thoroughly condemned the U.S. role on the global stage. One of those allies, a close friend of Rand's in the 1940s, was Isabel Paterson, who was similarly opposed to U.S. interventionism abroad. Paterson's perspective on all this is valuable and relevant because she was a mentor to Rand on the subject of politics. As Stephen Cox tells us in his superb biography, The Woman and the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America (Transaction, 2004), "Paterson's largest influence [on Rand] ... was unquestionably political" (288). Cox writes about Paterson's attitudes toward "war and the intellectuals" --- attitudes, no doubt, shared by her compatriot (see here):
One of her strongest points of agreement with other intellectuals of her generation was a concern that America would be drawn into a war by its weakness for minding other people's business. The precedent was the Great War. Like most of the others, [Paterson] took that war as a benchmark of criminal stupidity; like many of them, she became an isolationist, of a certain kind, because she did not want to repeat the experience. (237)
Neither Paterson nor Rand were pacifists; but both were of the belief that the greatest horrors were perpetuated by the war-time attempts to collectivize human beings. "People are very seldom murderous as individuals; they become murderous when they become gullible followers of that monster, the state," writes Cox of Paterson's view. Paterson therefore opposed both the fascists and the communists and "advocated intervention against neither Germany nor Russia" (238). Cox quotes Paterson: "Whichever destroys the other, leaves a destroyer the less for the world" (239). Paterson was hardly amazed when Stalin and Hitler signed their "Communazi" 1939 pact, demonstrating their totalitarian commonality. And even as U.S. entry into the war became a foregone conclusion, Paterson was still fighting that "spirit of collectivism" (243), which war inspired. On these grounds, she rejected military conscription, wartime censorship and propaganda, and attacked FDR relentlessly.
Like Paterson, Rand had supported FDR in 1932. Rand actually called Roosevelt the more "libertarian" candidate, for his stance on prohibition (Barbara Branden, The Passion of Ayn Rand, Doubleday, 1986, 158). But by 1940, both Paterson and Rand, so violently opposed to the New Deal, and to FDR's unprecedented third term desires, supported the Republican candidate Wendell Willkie. Both women became increasingly disillusioned with the Republican Party and with Willkie's weak campaign, however. In later years, Rand's disillusionment with the GOP extended even to Ronald Reagan; she repudiated him not only for his stance on abortion and his ties to the religious right, but also because he had "exaggerate[d] the power of the most incompetent nation in the world," manipulating Americans with "fear" of a Soviet military build-up, something that was "not a patriotic service to the United States" ("The Moral Factor").
One wonders how Rand would have reacted to those who, today, manipulate the Crayola palette of "Alert Levels" to keep Americans in perpetual fear of terrorist attacks.
Rand and those associated with her Objectivist Newsletter had long argued that the Soviets were parasites on the military technology of the West, and that U.S. foreign policy had stabilized the Communist regime. Again, from my essay, "Understanding the Global Crisis":
Drawing from John T. Flynn's book, The Roosevelt Myth, [Rand's early associate] Barbara Branden stressed that FDR was inspired by Bismarck, Mussolini, and Hitler in establishing a liberal corporatist "New Deal" that further devastated a depressed economy (The Objectivist Newsletter, December 1962). Provoking war in the Pacific, Roosevelt used "national defense" as a pretext for resolving the unemployment problem by drafting American boys to fight and die in foreign wars, while sending $11 billion in Lend-Lease assistance to the Soviets, and developing secret post-war agreements with Stalin to surrender nearly three-quarters of a billion people into communist slavery. (Rand herself believed that this strategy made Russia "the only winner" of World War II ["The Shanghai Gesture, Part I"]. She also questioned the wisdom of entering that war's European theater on the side of the Soviets --- suggesting that a Nazi-Soviet conflict might have severely weakened the victor [e.g., see "Communism and HUAC" in Journals of Ayn Rand].)
As I have maintained, there is a quasi-Hayekian principle at work here that Rand fully acknowledged:
Government intervention in the economy and U.S. intervention abroad mirrored each other in one significant respect: each problem caused by statist intervention led to new interventionist attempts to resolve it. Just as World War I begat World War II, and World War II begat the Cold War, so too did the Cold War beget "hot" wars in Korea and Vietnam, in which more than 100,000 drafted Americans lost their lives. Vietnam especially had laid bare the inner contradictions of U.S. foreign policy. "There is no proper solution for the war in Vietnam," Rand counseled at the time; "it is a war we should never have entered. We are caught in a trap: it is senseless to continue, and it is now impossible to withdraw" ("From My 'Future File'"). Rand had opposed U.S. involvement in both Korea and Vietnam, and wondered why the U.S. had "sacrificed thousands of American lives, and billions of dollars, to protect a primitive people who never had freedom, do not seek it, and, apparently, do not want it" ("The Shanghai Gesture, Part III").
Again, one should hardly wonder what Rand would have thought about the neoconservative crusade to bring "democracy" to the Middle East --- this, of course, quite separate from any need to respond in kind to attacks upon the United States, like the devastating tragedy of 9/11. One thing is clear: Whatever Rand's own inconsistencies (some of which I discuss here), her opposition to virtually all of the major U.S. wars in the twentieth century has been obscured by many of her modern-day exponents. As she wrote in her essay, "Moral Inflation":
There still are people in this country who lost loved ones in World War I. There are more people who carry the unhealed wounds of World War II, of Korea, of Vietnam. There are the disabled, the crippled, the mangled of those wars' battlefields. No one has ever told them why they had to fight nor what their sacrifices accomplished; it was certainly not "to make the world safe for democracy" --- look at that world now. The American people have borne it all, trusting their leaders, hoping that someone knew the purpose of that ghastly devastation.
The "ghastly devastation" continues in Iraq, where, as of this date, the American people have sacrificed over $150 billion and over 1,200 lives, not to mention 30,000+ casualties requiring "medical evacuation" --- all for the privilege of giving "democracy" to a country steeped in tribal, ethnic, and religious warfare.
Rand denounced regularly the pragmatist politicians who had no understanding of the long-term consequences of their amoral "range-of-the-moment" global "manipulations" ("A Last Survey, Part I"). She frequently
invoked the spirit of the Old Right critics of U.S. involvement in World War II, who had been smeared as "America First'ers" ("Britain's 'National Socialism'"). She despised those who had coined the "anti-concept" of "isolationism" as a means of denouncing "any patriotic opponent of America's self-immolation" ("The Lessons of Vietnam"). ... Rand stood firmly against the "altruistic" evil of foreign "interventionism" or "internationalism" that had undermined long-term U.S. interests. She repudiated the claim "that isolationism is selfish, immoral, and impractical in a 'shrinking' modern world" ("The Chickens' Homecoming").
Rand's insights ring true as much for our generation as for hers.
Nice to have you contributing here, Eric!
Yes, of course, there was a context to this policy. It was the Cold War. I've not opened that can of worms because we might get into a discussion similar to the one I recently had about World War II (suggested at in part 4 of this series). Namely: What could the U.S. have done differently? I'm not sure how valuable that discussion would be because at this point, it's all moot.
What I can say is this: The U.S. often adopted a policy of propping up dictators and various authoritarians so as to check potential Soviet growth in various regions. The problem, unfortunately, was that it invariably opened up other cans of worms in the long-run. Indeed, as Paterson and Rand themselves suggested, it may have been judged strategically necessary to bed down with Stalin to oppose Hitler, but emboldening the Soviets had its cost. A huge cost in human life and human liberty. Would it have been better to allow Hitler to knock off the Soviets? Well, Paterson and Rand seemed to think so.
As I've said before, foreign policy needs a moral underpinning, but decisions are almost always one of cost-benefit. It's easy to be a "Monday morning quarterback" and to point out the long-term cost of having pursued a policy of propping up dictators throughout the world; but I do think those costs were among the foreseeable consequences, and the U.S. could have adopted other means of facing down the Communist bloc in the post-World War II era.
Schwartz may be ignoring the historical context of the U.S. propping up dictators in the past, but the act of propping them up also happened in an historical context. *Why* were these dictators propped up? It didn't happen in a vacuum. By treating the history of propping them up as an axiomatic "context" seems to be ignoring or dismissing some context itself.
Thank you very much for your kind words about the series (which concludes today), and thank you also for your interest in reading Total Freedom. I look forward to your critical comments! Also, thanks for the CEPR info.
I can't speak for all libertarians with regard to the U.N. I can tell you that I certainly do appreciate the principle of having a world body where political entities can discuss their differences and attempt to resolve them. There are international courts and organizations that attempt to facilitate this, and there is a need for such organizations, given that the global situation is a kind of "anarchy" in action.
That said, however, there are a number of problems with the U.N., and not simply the "moral" objection of having dictatorships and freer societies sitting side-by-side as if they were equivalent. One of the real problems I have with this organization is that it often provides the institutional mechanisms for the kind of global politico-economic intervention that I've been deriding in this series and in my various writings on foreign policy. There are valuable things the U.N. has done, and can do, but I'm not sure that the institution can be reformed in such a way that strips it of this interventionist dimension; as long as the global political system is predatory, it seems to me that the organization will be used in this manner.
Perhaps there might be a way for another, parallel, institution to emerge that might address the very issues you---and I---find so compelling.
Speaking of economists that I really like...Mark
Weisbrodt of the CEPR had a fantastic article the other day that dealt with
Turkey and its many similarities to Argentina of the 1990s before its crash. The
statements he makes in terms of foreign investment and capital are fascinating
in terms of your statements regarding Saudi Arabia below. I know it is on the
CEPR website somewhere...
being so heavily involved in human rights law and
international law, I am actually finding this reading to be an enlightening and
interesting experience. By the way...I did get my copy of Total Freedom...now to
see how long it takes to get to Cape Town...
I must admit that I was only vaguely aware of Rand's international leanings and opinions. I was and remain highly critical of what I find to be very misguided and fundamentally flawed economic ideals, but always found her stand on individual rights to be rather refreshing. This new information on her stances on US foreign policy has softened a bit more my dislike of her overall stance. It gets so much easier when we break peoples ideals down into different sections, doesn't it?
Chris...one question...not that it is universal...but why is there so much Libertarian opposition to the UN? If there is so much concern for having the proper insititutions...why is there not more support for the reshaping of what could be an institution that truly represents peace and human rights? The instruments are there in the form of the UN Charter and the precedents set by the ICJ, ICC, ICTY, ICTR, and other judicial bodies...there just needs to be a change in the UN to get away from the utter failure of the self interested nation-state sovereign philosophy and turn it towards universal individual rights and freedoms that were long ago declared to be inalienable and have been trampled ever since. Dating back to Wstphalia and Grotius overcoming the tyranny of religion and the church, can we not see a logical progression in this era of globalization away from the absurdity of the nation-state to the next progression...inalienable rights of the individual as a member of the global community? Even I admit that the nation-state is necessary in terms of local policies, but in terms of the international community, it is more a cause of problems than a solution. So eliminate the veto...eliminate the Security Council if you must...at least eliminate any semblence of permanent seats...allow more NGOs and non-state actors access...strengthen the authority of the ICJ and ICC...as well as the various Commissions. It could be a very viable working solution...
Thanks, Matthew. Stay tuned for the conclusion. :)
This entire series is just terrific!! It amazes me that so many of Rand's followers seem happy to totally dismiss her views on foreign policy.
I'm just sorry I haven't had much time to engage in debate on the various installments of this.
Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy
Part V: The Current War / The Folly of Nation-Building / The Inextricable Connection Between Domestic and Foreign Policy
(10 December 2004)
In part one, part two, part three, and part four of this series, I examined issues raised by Objectivist Peter Schwartz's new book, The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America. I've addressed problems with Schwartz's analysis of the U.N., foreign aid, Saudi Arabia, and the history of U.S. foreign policy. I now turn to his examination of the current war and his projection of a foreign policy ideal.
The Current War
To some extent, it can be said that Schwartz retains some vestiges of Rand's "isolationist" predilections. He is careful to emphasize that the freedom philosophy of the U.S. "does not mean we ought to declare war on every tyrant in the world. Before we decide to wage war," Schwartz explains, "there must exist a serious threat to our freedom. Our government is not the world's policeman. It is, however, America's policeman" (15). This is why, Schwartz maintains, foreign policy cannot be "divorced from the moral principle of freedom. If freedom is the basic value being safeguarded, then our foreign policy can give us unambiguous guidelines: we use our power to preserve that value --- and only to preserve that value" (65). For Schwartz, then, thankfully, "it is not our business to resolve some distant conflict centering on which sub-tribe should enslave the other." Indeed, when the proper moral goal is left undefended or undefined, "everything [becomes] our business," and what results is an unprincipled, "ad hoc foreign policy" (67).
In terms of guiding moral principles, Schwartz's argument is basically sound.
Moreover, by limiting the role of U.S. military action overseas, Schwartz justifiably leaves open the possibility for military response in the face of legitimate threats to security. Schwartz believes, however, that "Iraq ... was a threat to us --- not nearly the threat presented by some other nations, but a threat nonetheless" (44), and on this basis, he supported the invasion of that country.
Alas, he and I disagree on this. In my view, Iraq was most assuredly not a "serious threat to our freedom" and should not have been invaded or occupied by the U.S. military. As I have argued in many essays over the past two years, Hussein could have been contained and deterred from future aggressive actions.
Though Schwartz supports the Iraq war, he maintains that it is Iran that is the "vanguard" for all those Islamic groups that are merely "parts of one whole." Schwartz's emphasis here on the "ideology of Islamic totalitarianism" (24) --- and kudos to him for not using that tired phrase "Islamofascism," which distorts the meaning of the word fascism --- is important to note:
The promoters of Islamic totalitarianism wish to establish a world in which religion is an omnipresent force, in which everyone is compelled to obey the mullahs, in which the political system inculcates the duty to serve, in which there is no distinction between mosque and state. (25) ... America is a nation rooted in certain principles. It is a culture of reason, of science, of individualism, of freedom. The culture of the Muslim universe is the opposite in every crucial respect. It is a culture steeped in mysticism rather than reason, in superstition rather than science, in tribalism rather than individualism, in authoritarianism rather than freedom. (26)
Though Schwartz gets some crucial things right in this passage, I do think there are certain complexities he does not grasp; for example, it is not at all clear that the problems he cites are strictly the result of Islamic theology or some combination of that doctrine with specifically Arab cultures. (See this discussion with Jonathan Dresner and Gus diZerega on L&P, for example.) Schwartz readily admits too that, "[i]ronically, it was life in the Islamic countries during Europe's Dark Ages that was further advanced and less oppressive --- because the Muslims at the time were under the influence of a more pro-reason philosophy, a philosophy they subsequently abandoned" (27). In this larger ideological war, however, Schwartz argues that the U.S. "should always give moral support to any people who are fighting for freedom against an oppressive government."
But it is Iran that remains "the pre-eminent source of Islamic totalitarianism today" (30), and it is therefore "the government of Iran that needs to be eliminated," in Schwartz's estimation (32). By targeting Iran, "the primary enemy," "the chief sponsor of terrorism," all the other "lesser" Muslim states --- "Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Sudan ---will likely be deterred" (32-33).
I don't believe it's that simple. Schwartz tells us that a "principled foreign policy anticipates future consequences" (62). But, given the difficulties of invading and occupying Iraq, and the current drain on U.S. money, military, and munitions, I don't believe that Schwartz has given much thought to the long-term consequences of invading and occupying Iran, which is nearly 4 times the size of Iraq, and has more than 3 times the population. (And if Schwartz does not envision invasion and occupation, then it is legitimate to ask if he, like some other Objectivists, envisions the decimating of the entire country --- see here, for example.) Aside from the fact that a large-scale military option would almost certainly require the reinstatement of the draft and the expenditure of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, it would most likely short-circuit the existing and growing liberal tendencies among the vast majority of younger Iranians who yearn to topple the mullahs. It could very seriously destabilize Iraq as well. (See my various archived posts on Iran, here and here.)
It should also be pointed out that "Islamic totalitarianism" is no more of a monolith than Communism was. Just as there were deep divisions in the Communist "bloc" during the Cold War, so too are there deep divisions in the Islamic world. These divisions might be profitably exploited by U.S. policymakers, who must also be careful not to be consumed by them --- as in Iraq, where Kurdish, Sunni, and Shi'ite forces might opt for civil war rather than the ballot box.
There are, of course, consequences for a policy of inaction in the face of a real or imminent threat. But those of us who have opposed the Iraq war and any current extension of that war into Iran have not embraced "inaction"; what we have embraced is a strictly delimited strategic vision focused on precise military targets, which seeks to marginalize extremist theocratic forces --- and a much broader intellectual vision focused on the realm of ideas. Ultimately, this is an ideological and cultural conflict. And as Rand observed, while a military battle of any scope is like a "political battle" --- "merely a skirmish fought with muskets[,] a philosophical battle is a nuclear war" --- and only rational ideas will ultimately win it ("'What Can One Do?'").
The Folly of Nation-Building
To his great credit, however, Schwartz does recognize the futility of trying to impose liberal-democratic institutions on the Middle East, by empowering "various tribal and political factions" in occupied countries (49). Though he supported the Iraq war, Schwartz argues nonetheless that "[t]he U.S. government does not have a moral obligation to the Iraqis to make them free." He observes insightfully:
[C]ontrary to the claims of the Bush administration, freedom is not universally desired. It does not automatically come into being once a dictator is overthrown. The history of the world is largely that of one tyranny replacing another. It took millennia before a nation --- the United States of America --- was founded for the express purpose of safeguarding the freedom of each citizen. Across the globe today, individual liberty is still the exception rather than the rule. Freedom is an idea. It cannot be forced upon a culture that refuses to value it. It cannot be forced upon a society wedded to tribalist, collectivist values. In Afghanistan, for example, the newly drafted constitution contains such laudable provisions as: "Freedom of expression is inviolable." However, that same constitution mandates that "no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam" --- that the government be responsible for "organizing and improving the conditions of mosques, madrasasand religious centers" --- that no political parties may function if their views are "contrary to the provision[s] of the sacred religion of Islam" --- that the national flag feature the phrase "There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet." Is it conceivable that, under such strictures, the individual will be allowed to think freely? Freedom is such an alien principle in that culture of entrenched mysticism that it will take many years of rational education before it is understood, let alone accepted. (50-51)
But Schwartz subverts his own good insights with a dash of myopia:
To lead the Iraqis to freedom, whether in the next year or the next generation, requires that we "impose" our values on them --- i.e., that we expose them to the philosophy of a free society. They need to be given the Declaration of Independence to study. Their schools must teach the ideas of Thomas Jefferson and John Locke and Adam Smith. The Governing Council must be instructed to eject the communists and the jihadists. (51)
With all due respect, not even U.S. schools teach Jefferson, Locke, and Smith with any regularity, and if our universities ever ejected communists and other left-wing fellow travelers from the classrooms, the country's academic population would be decimated. How on earth is the United States going to promote an individualist ideological strategy in Iraq when it doesn't embrace one within its own national borders?
Yes, of course, I know: It's all relative. The U.S. may not be a genuinely free society, but it is much freer and more individualist than almost any society on earth. Yes, of course, the Iraqis need to understand the principles of a free society, the social system that is "capitalism, the unknown ideal," and the institution of private property that it subsumes. But how are Iraqis ever going to appreciate any of these principles when privatization is not on the menu for social change and crony corporatism for favored U.S. companies reconstructing Iraq is the meal of the day?
Schwartz is right to criticize the kinds of "ad hoc" policies that make for "irresolution and ineffectualness" in U.S. military campaigns (61-62). And he is right, and in sync with Rand, that the war we face is, ultimately, "a battle of ideas" (53). But how can the U.S. begin to wage this war when it has surrendered its intellectual ammunition, and routinely sabotages its own individualist political principles?
The Inextricable Connection Between Domestic and Foreign Policy
Rand argued that, to regain those principles, it is
necessary to understand the inextricable connection between --- and reciprocally
reinforcing insidious effects of --- government intervention at home and abroad. She
"[f]oreign policy is merely a consequence of domestic policy" ("The Shanghai Gesture, Part III"). This led her to demand a complete "revision of [U.S.] foreign policy, from its basic premises on up," which would entail a simultaneous repudiation of the welfare state at home and the warfare state abroad, an end to "foreign aid and [to] all forms of international self-immolation." For Rand, "a radically different foreign policy" required a radically different domestic one ("The Wreckage of the Consensus").
Schwartz comes close to recognizing, in an abstract way, the connections between domestic and foreign policy; he argues that America's "philosophic default ... pervades all areas of American politics, domestic as well as foreign." He recognizes, in one or two sentences here and there, that there is a relationship between foreign policy and "our expanding welfare state" (68). But he leaves unanalyzed all of the actual social and political relations that would make this connection fully transparent. In other words, he leaves unexamined what Rand thought crucial to the analysis.
In the end, Schwartz presents an unrealistic solution:
The challenge we face lies not in physically disarming al Qaeda, but in intellectually arming our politicians. If they truly grasp the meaning of freedom, they will readily undertake the steps to safeguard it. That is, if we can just get them to understand what it means to defend the individual's right to his life, his liberty and the pursuit of his happiness, we will have little difficulty in getting them to defend us against the ugly threats from abroad. (69)
This won't happen ... because it can't happen, as long as America is ruled by a predatory political system. It is not in the narrowly defined "interests" of politicians or the groups they serve to "grasp the meaning of freedom." As Rand argued so forcefully, the globalization of the predatory state and its neofascist political economy can only engender "parasitism, favoritism, corruption and greed for the unearned"; its power to dispense privilege, Rand emphasizes, "cannot be used honestly" ("The Pull Peddlers"). It will require far more than simply changing the views of a few politicians; it will require a comprehensive, systemic change.
What most strikes me about Schwartz's book --- and I've only been able to examine a few aspects of it --- is that it tends to deal too abstractly, too rationalistically, with the principles of a "moral" foreign policy. That is, it provides us with good core moral premises and deduces an ostensibly moral foreign policy "ideal" for America, without paying much attention to the concrete context and historical circumstances that have led America so far astray from the celebrated ideal. Rand could also celebrate an "unknown ideal" --- but rarely at the expense of a rigorous analysis of the past, and the present, the actual, as a means to evaluate the potential for real change.
I'll offer one other observation in closing: I'm somewhat uncomfortable with Schwartz's use of the phrase "self-interest" to describe any government's foreign policy, especially one that exercises territorial sovereignty not over an ideal capitalist social system, but over a mixed economy, the very kind of "neofascist" or liberal-corporatist social system that Rand regarded as an institutionalized civil war. In such a system, the pursuit of individual self-interest is not even possible without sacrificing somebody else's interests in the process. How, then, can a mysterious, ineffable government suddenly rise above this "orgy of self-sacrifice" in the realm of foreign policy and pursue the common "self-interests" of its citizenry? Governments are not separable from the groups and the individuals who compose them. "In a non-free society," Rand stated --- even in a society such as we have today, where freedom has been compromised by state intervention --- "no pursuit of any interests is possible to anyone; nothing is possible but gradual and general destruction" ("The 'Conflicts' of Men's Interests").
This is not a prescription for inaction; one cannot expect everything to change before anything can be done to thwart serious attacks on America. But Rand's insights provide us with a "warning label" for those who think that today's government, as currently constituted, can act as a panacea for our global woes. If we are to aim for "a moral ideal for America," then it will take more than a "foreign policy of self-interest." It will take a veritable philosophic and cultural revolution, one that radically overturns the welfare-warfare state and its sacrificial, collectivist ideological underpinnings: root, tree, and branch.
Just to update Chris's post, my tenure with Freedom Communications Inc., ended in October 2009, after 12 years of being the Adviser on Libertarian Issues at the media company, which went into Chapter 11 that year and emerged out the next but under entirely new ownership (the banks). I now hold the R. C. Hoiles Chair of Business Ethics and Free Enterprise (endowed by Dave a Judy Threshie) at Chapman University, where I have been teaching since January 1997.
I'm using radical to mean a search for roots or
fundamentals. But I'm suggesting that the process of searching for those roots
and understanding them is one that requires a certain means. No, I'm not saying
that all radicals are rational. What I'm saying is that to be a successful
radical, one must identify correctly the roots and fundamentals. If one does not
identify roots and fundamentals correctly, but proceeds upon mistaken roots or
fundamentals, all the coherence, all the system-building in the world, will be
A root or fundamental is something that strikes at the essence of a phenomenon. When Rand spoke of the "rule of fundamentality," she argued that "a fundamental characteristic is the essential distinguishing characteristic of the existents involved, and the proper defining characteristic of the concept." Well, I think this same rule applies in social theorizing. If one is to get to the root, or the fundamental, or the essence of a social problem, one must investigate. "Metaphysically, a fundamental characteristic is that distinctive characteristic which makes the greatest number of others possible; epistemologically, it is the one that explains the greatest number of others," as Rand pointed out.
How on earth (quite literally) is anyone supposed to identify roots and fundamentals without actually investigating the phenomenon at hand? One can engage in armchair philosophizing, suggesting that this or that premise stands at the root of this or that phenomenon. But without defining a context, and ruthlessly inquiring into the nature of the factors and the relationships among factors within that context, it is impossible to properly identify roots and fundamentals.
So, if an old-line Marxist simply asserts the labor theory of value as the root premise upon which all value is derived, and then proceeds to deduce a whole exploitation theory upon which the entire edifice of "radical Marxist economics" is built, I'm suggesting that the radicalism is built upon a house of cards (in the light of the mistakes that a whole host of other thinkers have identified in the very concept of a "labor theory of value"). This does not mean that a Marxist won't occasionally be right about this or that phenomenon. This does not mean that it is impossible to strike upon correct observations of reality if one is a Marxist theorist. But it does mean that the whole system of thought, the whole structure of explanation as such, is undermined in its radicalism because it fails to properly identify "roots" and "fundamentals."
So, it's not a question of whether Marxists recognize "collectivism" as the root of their system; some may, some may not. What matters is: Is the Marxist structure of explanation correct in the way it conceptualizes and seeks to resolve social problems?That is what concerns me here, not whether or not "collectivism" is the root of communism per se. My concern is with providing a radical social theory that lives up to its title of honor.
I have argued that, depending on the context (determined by such things as level of generality, vantage point, state of knowledge, etc.), Rand and other libertarians have properly identified those roots and fundamentals, and, hence, the potential for a genuinely radical framework of social inquiry is augmented. More needs to be done to construct a fully dialectical analysis of social phenomenon from a radical-libertarian perspective. But it is clear to me that a much healthier radicalism awaits, one that dispenses with the pitfalls of utopianism and that transcends the mistakes of previous "radical" theoretical approaches.
The "new radicals" of which Rand speaks transcend the mistakes of the old radicals (of which I speak above). But Rand would have said the same thing about the old egoists (her Virtue of Selfishness, after all, is subtitled "a new concept of egoism"), and the old advocates of capitalism (her Capitalism, after all, is subtitled "the unknown ideal"), and so forth. Her position is not that there was no egoism, no capitalism, or no radicalism prior to her. But that none of these positions was properly defended or understood because none of them adequately---that is, truly, fully and consistently---understood the essence, the roots, the fundamentals, of the phenomena they entailed.
Hope this is clearer.
Let's back up a second. Maybe you are misunderstanding my position or maybe I am not quite getting yours. I wasn't using radical to mean passionate advocate or consistent advocate. I was using radical to mean ~root~ or ~fundmental~. This is the dictionary definition.
You write: "What makes something radical is not merely a search for roots; it is a proper identification of those roots by various methods of logical and empirical inquiry, which includes the ability to abstract by vantage point, level of generality, and across time and systems."
You also write: "This is, I'm afraid, trivializing what it means to be a radical. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman, philosophers, and divines." What matters is not simply that one identifies the root of a position, or that one defend that position with passion and consistency. John Kerry had one good line in the Presidential debates about Bush's consistency and passion: "You could be wrong!""
Are you saying here, essentially, that all radicals are rational? Chris, could you please define for me what a ~root~ or ~fundamental~ is?
Is "faith" not a root or fundamental of collectivism? Granted, I would have had to "smuggle in" rationality when doing my inquiry but I could be grasping the essence, the fundamentality of the ethical code. Doesn't ~collectivism~ describe the essential structure, the root of the ethical code?
Let me take a couple of other angles at this. Is private ownership of the means of production not a ~fundmental~ or ~root~ of communism? Are you saying that it is not a "genuine root" because it is not an objective value? I would say this, a person who advocated partial privatization is not a ~radical for communism~ because he has not recognized this as a ~root~ of communism. A person who does advocate full-blown central control of the means of production is a ~radical for communism~ because he has grasped a ~root~ of communism.
Now, you often use AR's reference to "radical" from the article "Conservatism: An Obituary". Is AR not saying that Conservatives are acccepting the same essential structure (or root or fundmental) as the collectivists, ie. the morality of altruism. Isn't this a ~root~ or a ~fundamental~ of their belief.
Let's look at the quote you use in your article: "'radical means 'fundamental...the fighters for captialism have to be, not bankrupt 'convservatives,' but new radicals, new intellectuals and, above all, new, dedicated moralists."
Chris, who are the old radicals? What are their fundamentals? Are they not valid because they have different fundamentals then her? Clearly, she is indicating there are 'old radicals' have different ~roots~, different ~fundamentals~ than her; thus the need to distinguish herself as a "new radical".
I think something is being lost ... fundamentally... radically, if you will... from the current discussion. Granted, it's very hard in a series of brief exchanges for me to communicate what I've written about for 20+ years, stretching across a trilogy that fundamentally defends radical methodology wedded to political libertarianism. My trilogy of books is, in many ways, a defense of an indissoluble position---"dialectical libertarianism"---which might also be called "radical libertarianism," because I use "dialectical" as a virtual synonym for "radical." This is also a defense against what I call methodological utopianism, which has a penchant for disconnecting various factors from the conditions and contexts that give them meaning.
What makes something radical is not merely a search for roots; it is a proper identification of those roots by various methods of logical and empirical inquiry, which includes the ability to abstract by vantage point, level of generality, and across time and systems. It is, furthermore, the ability to integrate these various abstractions into a coherent explanation. Such is the mechanics of comprehensiveness, of integration, of "context-keeping." That's what I mean when I speak of dialectics as "the art of context-keeping."
But in order to do this, the investigator has to investigate. The investigator can identify basic metaphysical and epistemological foundations; she can go on and on about the need to take the needs and interests of an audience into account when presenting ideas. She can go on and on about the need to take action in the world. But without investigation, without an inquiry into the actual factors operating in the world, without the ability to clarify the character of their relationships, everything else is moot.
Now, insofar as any human being on the planet thinks, he or she will manifest aspects of what I call "radical" or "dialectical" methodology. But we trivialize that method by thinking that everybody does it successfully. The problem with many so-called "radicals" in social theory is that, at some point in their enterprise, they become decidedly nonradical, decidedly utopian: dropping context, or, worse, misidentifying the facts and the relationships among those facts in trying to understand that context.
As I write in Total Freedom: "It cannot be denied that dialectics has been used by the followers of many false gods. That it has the potential to enrich our understanding of facts and principles, that it can and must be put in the service of such facts and principles, is also undeniable. But the most important question that any project faces is this: Are its conclusions valid? To the extent that we substitute purely methodological concerns for substantive ones, we beg that question. There is, after all, a dialectical relationship of mutual implications between method and content."
You write above: "One can identify the roots of communism and be a radical ~for communism~. Let me put forth these questions before I carry my argument further: Could one be a radical for communism? Could one be a radical for environmentalism? Could one be a radical for country square dancing?"
A Marxist might identify the "roots" of communism (say, the labor theory of value) and be a "radical" (passionate and consistent advocate?) for communism. An environmentalist might identify the roots of environmentalism and be a "radical" (passionate and consistent advocate?) for environmentalism. (I'll leave country square dancing alone for a moment.) But it seems here that you are simply using the word "radical" as a synonym for "passion" or, perhaps, "consistency." This is, I'm afraid, trivializing what it means to be a radical. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman, philosophers, and divines." What matters is not simply that one identifies the root of a position, or that one defend that position with passion and consistency. John Kerry had one good line in the Presidential debates about Bush's consistency and passion: "You could be wrong!"
And the history of social theory is riddled with many "false" radicals for that reason; they may state their premises baldly; they may defend them passionately and with consistency. But if the premises are wrong and the inquiry is flawed, all the coherence and consistency and "context-keeping" in the world is moot. We need to think more dialectically about dialectics and radicalism, and about the indissoluble relationship between form and substance, method and content. Otherwise we trivialize radicalism. Ultimately, as Hayek suggested, it is a privilege to be radical, but to be a genuine radical demands much of us.
This is what I've been waiting for. You write:
"Rand was both a radical and a capitalist, with no dichotomy between these; in fact, I'd say in this context that each was an extension of the other."
In your first response to me, you also wrote: "Most of the traditions you point to, however, are "extremist" and "reactionary" because they misidentify the roots. Going to the roots is only effective if you identify the roots correctly."
One can identify the roots of communism and be a radical ~for communism~. Let me put forth these questions before I carry my argument further: Could one be a radical for communism? Could one be a radical for environmentalism? Could one be a radical for country square dancing?
I don't think the main purpose of my article was
necessarily "to apply Rand's methodology to foreign policy." It was to show that
Schwartz and other Objectivists had abandoned various insights into foreign
policy that Rand had readily included in her analysis. It is an example of
Rand's radical legacy if one understands that she was a "radical for
capitalism"---with emphasis on both the "radical" and the "capitalism." If one
speaks of "radical" apart from the point of that radicalism, one is adopting a
useless formalism; and if one speaks of "capitalism" apart from the ways in
which it can and must be defined, defended, and understood, one might very well
be reduced to an apologia for the status quo.
Rand was both a radical and a capitalist, with no dichotomy between these; in fact, I'd say in this context that each was an extension of the other. I've never described Rand's legacy by a formal similarity she shares with fundamentally opposite thinkers. That might be useful as a point of comparison, but it has never been my central concern. What I've done is to trace the mutual implications of Rand's dialectical approach and her substantive commitment to free minds and free markets. Surely my AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, which devoted extensive sections to Rand's "radicalism," spent an inordinate amount of time developing an understanding of those substantive commitments. What's the point of speaking of a formal radicalism without grasping the ways in which it is put to use?
Plenty of people before Rand defended metaphysical realism, reason, ethical egoism, and even liberal capitalism. What makes Rand unique? Partially, I would say, it is her ability to synthesize and integrate these positions into a coherent whole, an ability to grasp the full context, the "organic links" among seemingly disparate factors of that whole. In other words, I would say that it is partially an outgrowth of the very art of context-keeping that constitutes dialectical method itself. That method has no meaning apart from the substantive positions it relates to. And as a method, it is an important aspect of what it means "to reason." All I've done in my work is to highlight this aspect of Rand's methodology; I've never argued that it is the only characteristic by which to understand her. As in all things dialectical, even a one-sided focus on an important characteristic can have the effect of sometimes minimizing other characteristics. But that doesn't make the focus any less important insofar as it helps to illuminate themes that are absent in other foci. All the more reason to study Ayn Rand's "legacy" dialectically--i.e., from as many different vantage points as possible.
Ah, again I think your examples favor my argument. In
regard to the idea that "in some cases the non-essential characterisation will
be more useful than the essential ones", I would say no. In your example, you
are ignoring ~purpose~. The hypothetical doctor is diagnosing her physical
health, not engaging in philosophical detection. So in this case, which is
~essential~ to the doctor's purpose, her various physiologic functions or her
belief in "rational self-interest"? You even implicitly acknowledge this when
you write: "even though in *general* knowing she's an Objectvist is more
important." In *general* for what? For examining her philosophical beliefs--yes.
For diagnosing her physical health--no.
Now let's apply this to Chris. The main purpose of his articles, I think, was to apply Rand's methodology to foreign policy. Now if we recognize that this same method can be applied by fundmentally opposite thinkers (like Hegel and Marx), is this really recapturing her legacy? In other words, all the examples (like Hegel and Marx) are radicals. But not all those radicals are ~rational~. Indeed, only one of them is--Ayn Rand.
Implicit in both of our arguments is that Rand is fundmentally opposed to thinkers like Marx and Hegel. What makes them fundamentally opposed? And if we recognize this, is it appropriate to describe her ~legacy~ by a similarity she shares with fundamentally opposite thinkers? And if our purpose is to describe her methodological approach, wouldn't it be more appropriate to grasp itit by its essential characteristic? If we were to only note that Rand grasped ~roots~ and that she did not put these roots into a logical, philosophical hierarchy, would that accurately describe her methodological approach?
How about in the case of the hypothetical doctor? If he focused on your blood type and didn't take a more "complete" approach to diagnosing your health, would you want to go to that doctor? And it does not follow that knowing your blood type is without its importance, it is important.
Let me say at the outset that I am not arguing from some idea of "completeness", as you seem to suggest. This would require not only knowledge of all the present facts, but of all future facts as well. It would require omniscience. What I am saying is that when viewed in the light of purpose, grasp the object by its essential characteristic. To use your earlier example, if we wanted to examine whether the chipmunk, the human, and the salamander were mammals, would we note that all three possessed locomotion? True, they do. But this would not be describing mammals by their essential characteristic. Indeed, the characteristic is shared by an animal that is not a mammal, ie. it is nonessential characteristic. So when examining AR's methodological legacy, is it appropriate to describe it by a nonessential? I would say no. It seems you would say yes.
Certainly characterising something by a non-essential
property is going to be incomplete -- though characterising it by an essential
property is going to be incomplete too. (Both "omit measurements.") But that
doesn't mean either characterisation is going to be unhelpful in gaining insight
about someone. Indeed, in some cases the non-essential characterisation will be
more useful than the essential ones. (Analogously, if I'm a doctor treating Ayn
Rand, it may be much more important for me to know her blood type than to know
that she's an Objectivist, even though in *general* knowing she's an Objectvist
is more important.)
Chris argues that Rand's ideas have some interesting features in common with those of Hegel, Marx, and others; that her Soviet educational background probably plays some role in explaining these similarities; and that these features in turn are important in explaining various aspects of her philosophy. It seems to me, first, that Chris is right about all of that, and second, that all of that is perfectly consistent with saying that there are deep and massive differences between Rand's appraoch and the Hegel-Marx approach. Indeed, even if the differences turn out to be more important and enlightening than the similarities, that doesn't make the similarities unimportant or unenlightening.
Michael, I'm not saying that thinking of ideal, valid
alternatives is not appropriate. If it were not appropriate... what are we all
doing here? Why extol the virtues of freedom, free markets, free minds, etc., if
we were all simply stuck with what we have, unable to dream, unable to project a
Of course, we must look at things as they "might be and ought to be." But all discussion of potential must start with what exists, what is "actual." Potentiality is... must be... an outgrowth of actuality. We can't project what might be and ought to be by obscuring what is.
My Marxist mentor, Bertell Ollman, once made a statement to me about libertarians: "Libertarians are like people who go into a Chinese restaurant, and order pizza." Now, pizza may be delicious... but you're not going to find it in your typical Chinese restaurant. All he was trying to point out was that you need to deal with what's on the actual menu, what exists in a certain context. That is how all real and lasting social change must begin.
Of course, I could have said easily reversed this statement of his and directed it toward... Marxists. :)
I just have to make one further comment...
You wrote: "That depends on the context. Rand recognized that the institutionalized civil war of the mixed economy made each person act institutionally in ways that might be called self-protective or "self-interested." But as long as that self-interest was exercised within the context of the mixed economy, it frequently dissolved into an orgy of mutual self-sacrificing."
Yes, but that does not restrict man from defining self-interest properly. Context does not restrict us to the range of the moment, it is quite the opposite. What I was objecting to was this statement:
"In the current system, it is not a valid way of thinking about foreign policy because foreign policy is, as Rand said it was, "merely a consequence of domestic policy," and both are, at root, vestiges of collectivism"
No. It is a valid way of thinking about foreign policy. Could a person living in Soviet Russia not conceive of "self-interest" because the communist system makes that type of action almost impossible? If that were true, man would never be able to rise above the level of the cave because they would be restricted the current "social conditions".
I think this is ignoring context. We don't look at things just as they are, but as they "might be and ought to be". That is why the Soviet Russian desperately needs to define and seek out what is proper self-interest, because it provides a guide to get from here to there. It is more than necessary, it is essential that he do this. It would highlight the dynamics necessary to get from the state of complete collectivization to the state of individualism. Just because he lives in a state of mutual parasitism does not mean self-interest cannot be properly defined and understood and serve as a guide to what "might be and ought to be".
That is what I was objecting to in your article and your earlier statement, which denied talking about "national self-interest" because of our current system. Properly defined, it is more than reasonable to talk about "national self-interest", it is essential. It is a broad abstraction, which can provide a beacon to foreign policy as it "might be and ought to be". Just because our current foreign policy is wrought with "altruism" does restrict us from using the concept in the proper sense, nor is improper to speak in those terms because the present state of culture may not favor that type of action.
Man, I would love to comment more, but I have to learn to restrict myself.
Always a fruitful and fascinating discussion. There is
much here I would love to take on, but this could go on forever. (And we would
be rehashing many old arguments.)
Thanks...its always engaging and enlightening.
Yes, it would be fair to assume that if the Soviet Union
attacked the U.S. that Rand would have advocated a military response. So would
Chris Sciabarra. You and I may have our differences, Michael, but we're surely
not that different. :)
I think if you look at Rand's political mentor, Isabel Paterson, and her early thoughts on entry into World War II, btw, you will see just how much Rand was, in fact, a part of that "noninterventionist" tradition, however. Paterson, for example, recognized the differences between her "noninterventionism" and the "pacifism" offered as policy by some of the leftists in her day who claimed the same mantle (while the Soviet Union was busy signing a "Non-Aggression Pact" with the Nazis).
I wonder, btw, if this whole discussion is actually a part of another debate that we're not really engaging here: Might Rand be profitably viewed as a libertarian (lower-case "l")? I'd say "yes," and I suspect, Michael, that you'd say "no." "Libertarianism" like classical liberalism, is a political position, just as "egoism" is an ethical one. One can profitably place different thinkers in the same category, on the same level of generality, to note what they share in common---while pointing out what distinguishes them. I don't think this is "package-dealing." Not as long as you are self-conscious about the level of generality on which you are focusing.
As for the issue of "justice": There is always a context to the judgments we make. There have been terrorist actions taken against Americans for sure; but to argue that this is strictly a result of a 'clash of civilizations' and that none of it is due to blowback for U.S. policies that have impinged on Iran is, in my view, to drop context.
Let me be clear: Explanation is not justification. Understanding past policy implications does not "excuse" those who initiate force toward innocent civilians and noncombattants. But it does point to a much wider and more important issue concerning the scope of U.S. foreign policy in the past, and the ways in which it must be changed in the long-run.
You state: "To be sure, we have countless institutionalized pressure groups in our own mixed economy, so is thinking about individual self-interest not proper because it would perpetuate the civil war among pressure groups in our semi-collectivized mixed economy? No, of course not."
That depends on the context. Rand recognized that the institutionalized civil war of the mixed economy made each person act institutionally in ways that might be called self-protective or "self-interested." But as long as that self-interest was exercised within the context of the mixed economy, it frequently dissolved into an orgy of mutual self-sacrificing. Yes, there is a legitimate, "rational selfishness" that can and must be exercised by individuals if they seek to live and flourish. That's why Rand fought so valiantly in her advocacy of the proper social conditions that might make such exercise fully efficacious for the individuals involved. Otherwise, the "conflict of men's interests" was unavoidable.
Finally as for "rational" and "radical" as applied to other thinkers: Fundamentally, I believe that Lenin was mistaken. His framework was built upon a host of incorrect assumptions. Was he "radical"? Only insofar as he expressed a dialectical sensibility, I'd say he manifested some methodological radicalism (and I discuss this a bit in AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL). But it was completely undermined by the false assumptions and false content of his intellectual framework.
Alright...last one...I promise:)
(1) and (2) She left open the question of invasion. Would it be fair to assume she would advocate the use of force if the Soviets had killed/injured Americans on the scale the terrorists/terrorist sponsors have the past 20 years? I'll make that argument.
Again, I don't think it is correct to paint AR in the "noninterventionist" corner. To say that because she supported not entering WWII or the Vietnam war and look to certain other "nonintervenionist" thinkers who advocated the same policies is out of context. These are concrete applications. Her reasoning and her concept of "national self-interest" is just not shared by libertarian thinkers because her ethical framework is not shared by them. It is analogous to Conservatives who defend capitalism based on faith, or a utilitarian viewpoint of "greatest good for the greatest number". And can we say they are both in the "capitalist tradition" because they both may advocate eliminating tariffs? Two totally different animals. Can you argue that many of the libertarian "noninterventionist" thinkers are arguing foreign policy from the same ethical framework?
(3) My goal is not a cultural change in the Mid-east, nor is it a proper to base foreign US foreign policy on "cultural change". They have free-will and it is up to them to ~discover~ the value of capitalism. It is a question of the just use of force. Other options like leaving "regime change" to the Iranian younger generation is not just to the Americans who died as a result of Iranian terrorism. It is the responsibility of the US government to seek justice for its citizens, not young Iranians. Leaving a regime in place who is intent on obtaining nuclear weapons and destroying the West does not seem like a judicious use of force. I think our divergence is too great here so I'll leave it at that, I'm sure we could argue volumes. "Surgical strikes" seems like a highly improper military response when one considers the nature and scope of global terrorism.
(4) You emphasize in both your article and your response that it is not valid to think of "national self-interest" because of the collectivist underpinnings of our current system.
I disagree. I think it is essential. Would we not speak of individual self-interest in domestic policy because of our current mixed economy? Can you apply the same logic and say that talking about capitalism in domestic policy "in our current system" is an invalid way of thinking because of the various "pressure groups"? To be sure, we have countless institutionalized pressure groups in our own mixed economy, so is thinking about individual self-interest not proper because it would perpetuate the civil war among pressure groups in our semi-collectivized mixed economy? No, of course not.
Defining exactly what self-interest is is tantamount to forming a healthy, lasseiz-faire capitalistic society. Same is true for "national self-interest". Properly defined, it would serve as the anti-dote to "civil war among pressure groups". It would pave the way for a healthy, principled foreign policy based on the just use of force and self-defense.
No doubt we agree on a lot. Your continuing analysis of the neofascist aspects of American foreign policy is particularly insightful.
I know you mean AR's fundamentals in particular. But that was not my wider point and I know you are not excluding her ~substance~. But it is valid, I think, to consider others as "radicals" (eg. Lenin is a "radical" ~for communism~), even though you we would agree that the roots are wrong. The concept of ~radical~ still applies to them. By contrast, could we consider both Lenin and AR as ~rational~? I think this precision is essential when talking about an epistemological method.
I think I also approach the idea of US self-interest in the foreign sphere much differently, ie. the level of force that is appropriate and how it is applied, which is more than a difference of application...there is a ethical difference at work. Anyway, we both understand our differences.
A few additional points on specific issues:
1. Just because Rand said that it would be proper to take down a dictatorship did not mean that she supported doing so under all circumstances, or that she thought it an obligation for free countries to undertake. As I said: She objected to the US entering the European theater of World War II on either the side of the Nazis or the Soviets. And she opposed any US invasion of the Soviet Union in the context of her own time.
2. The noninterventionist tradition is really an extension of the classical liberal tradition, and I do believe that Rand is part of that tradition. Are there distinctions among those in that tradition? Of course. But there are things that unite the various individuals so identified as part of that tradition.
3. In an abstract sense, I am not denying the validity of "regime change." What I'm suggesting is that there are various ways of bringing forth such "regime change"; sometimes the military option is the least effective manner of doing so---especially if your goal is to change the underlying culture that makes the political poisons possible. Destroying Iran will not eliminate those poisons; they were not even the "sponsoring" state for the organization (Al Qaeda) that attacked the US on 9/11, even though they've clearly been involved in exporting their particular brand of poison for many years. So are the Saudis---even more so, since they've exported Wahhabi ideology to the rest of the Islamic world (and yet the US will never attack Saudi Arabia for the reasons I describe in my article).
That said: There is some hope that the youth of Iran may achieve something remarkable in their growing resistance to the mullahs. There may be ways to effectively exploit the growing divisions within that country. See here.
4. On the issue of "national self-interest," I made the point in the paper: In the current system, it is not a valid way of thinking about foreign policy because foreign policy is, as Rand said it was, "merely a consequence of domestic policy," and both are, at root, vestiges of collectivism. One cannot define a single "national self-interest" when the policies in place feed on and perpetuate an institutionalized civil war among pressure groups.
Michael, I appreciate your comments, but I know you're
familiar with my work, and I can't imagine that you'd ever think for a moment
that I was simply celebrating Rand because she's a "radical" per se.
The whole purpose of my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy (which includes Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom) has been to celebrate a distinctively dialectical defense of freedom---with an emphasis on both the dialectical method and freedom, that is on both the form and substance. In Russian Radical, I focus enormous attention on the precise ways in which Rand's structure of inquiry is, in fact, integrated and hierarchical. And the trilogy in toto is designed as a defense of a "dialectical libertarianism" not simply because I appreciate "going to the root," but because I believe that the roots themselves have been properly identified.
There's nothing here that you've said that I object to, and I made it a point of saying virtually the same thing: It doesn't matter if one claims to go to the root unless one identifies the actual roots of a problem. To that extent, my focus has always been on Rand's manner of grasping genuine roots, and her remarkable ability to understand the myriad relationships among disparate factors, each of which is illustrative of those genuine roots at work.
There is no reason to see these enterprises---or even our positions---as opposed. At least not from where I sit.
PS -- Thanks... now I understand how those numbers got screwy. hehe
This was not my objection. Allow me to elaborate with
your examples. Mammals have certain distinguishing characteristics (vertebrate,
hair, etc.) that define that concept with the measurements omitted (length of
spine, type of hair, etc.). So, animals who have those characteristics, fall
under that concept. The same is true for radical...it omits what one is ~radical
about~. AR was not just a radical, she was a radical ~for capitalism~. I am not
saying it is an invalid concept as such because it can be applied to
fundamentally opposite principles. What I am saying is that it is a
nonessential--it does not encapsulate the essence of what it describes--it is a
"package deal" in that sense that AR used it in the "Extremism" article, that a
principle (or method) is defined by its nonessential characteristics...it is the
setting up of a straw man.
Let me be even clearer. In is not just that AR grasped ~roots~, but it essential exactly what those roots ~are~. My further point was this, to describe AR's method as ~radical~ because she grasped roots is inadequate and incomplete. Her epistemological method was much more comprehensive than grasping roots--specifically she integrated these ~roots~ into a logical, hierarchal philosophical structure. It would be more correct and complete to describe this as ~rational~, not ~radical~. That is why I drew the distinctions with the ELF and Lenin, because they could also be accurately described as ~radical~. But I did not say that this invalids the concept, but rather it does not adequately encapsulate AR.
I don't think a concept like "radical" or
"noninterventionist" becomes an "anti-concept" or "package-deal" just by the
fact of applying to fundamentally different kinds of thing. After all, the
concept "mammal" isn't invalid, even though it applies to both humans and
chipmunks, which are pretty different. In lots of important ways, a chipmunk is
more like a salamander (a non-mammal) than it is like a human being. But humans
and chipmunks really do share features salamanders don't, features that license
placing them in a common "mammal" category. In order for a concept to be an
anti-concpet or package-deal, it's not enough for it to apply to wildly
different things; it's got to somehow incorporate into it some confusion about
Rand's objection to "extremism" was not that it applied to both Objectivists and Nazis. Lots of concepts apply to both groups (including "mammal"!). Her objection was that the concept "extremism" builds into it a false judgment that anything extreme is bad, be it extreme pro-liberty/pro-reason or extreme anti-liberty/anti-reason.
By the way, Chris -- if you originally typed your numbered list in MS Word then I think I know how the numbers got messed up ....
Did I forget to address the "national self-interest" concept you have a problem with? Properly defined, this is very accurate to describe AR's position...both the positive and negative aspects of rights. And the rights of individual US citizens as applied to the foreign sphere. I am unclear why this is not comprehensive enough for you and why seem to imply that it is only valid rather "narrowly". I think it is a rather "broad" way of proscribing US foreign policy and a completely valid concept. Why was AR not "perfect" on this point?
1) We do agree that one cannot divorce the method from the content about which it speaks. That's not really what I was disputing. Even if I accept your definition of "radical", grasping the ~essentials~ or ~roots~ is one aspect of ~rationality~. So when you describe her as "radical" by your own definition, it leaves out integration into a logical hierarchy. It would be more appropriate, epistemologically speaking, to call her method "rational", not "radical".
2) By today's standards, indeed, that would be a radical development. But you miss my point, it is essential to grasp what one is "radical" about. My wider point was that this description is a "package-deal" and misses the essence of what her position was, which was precisely the critique AR used.
3) Enblightened self-interest itself needs to be used in itself in a "in a strictly defined context". The same with just about any philosophical term. I am not sure what you object
4) Point taken on Rothbard. But you do lump her in the "noninterventionist tradition". This is rather broad, especially people like Rothbard do constitute the "noninterventionist tradition" as well as many libertarians, and AR diverges significantly from this viewpoint. Indeed, in the Playboy interview, AR states "at the present moment", which implies that future circumstances permitting, she would be in favor of invasion. She merelyWhen asked about the invasion of Germany or any other dictatorship, she had no problem with it and gave her sanction if it was deemed necessary.
6) Chris: "My point here is that all this Objectivist advocacy concerning destruction but not reconstruction is very nice, but when it ignores the dynamics that are in place because of the system that is in place, such advocacy amounts to very little, because it doesn't get to the root of the systemic issues that so distort our foreign policy. Rand understood those roots."
This sort of a off-the-cuff dismissal without arguing what is wrong with that theory. It is simply not "realistic" and ignores "dynamics in place". Are you sure? Leaving regimes in place that threaten the very existence of the US is more "realistic" and gets to the "root of the systemic issues"?
It seems to me that this ~military~ approach is rather impractical and immoral. Imagine the world-wide intelligence necessary to find and destroy individual terrorists in some 60 countries. Dismantling the major terrorist sponsoring states is impractical but "surgical strikes" against terrorist cells (a lot of which takes place in free/semi-free countries) is practical?
Can you describe a little more clearly how this approach would be "rather muscular"? How would this approach deal with major terrorist sponsoring states? "Surgical strikes" sounds nice, but it seems to me that this does not address the issue of terrorist sponsoring states and their "systemic" connections to a horde of terrorist organizations.
8) No, I am not implying destruction of the entire Mid-East. Does taking down major terrorist sponsoring states imply that? It seems to me that, if certain regimes were destroyed (especially Iran), that would be attacking the "root" of the problem. It would be a good place to start--the rest would fall of its own weight. It would not encourage any "half-assed" nation to support terrorism against the US as "surgical strikes" would. And it does not imply that massive "reconstruction" efforts should follow, nor does it mean occupation is necessary. Considering the altruism involved in "reconstruction" efforts and its grasp on our foreign policy, my suggestion here is indeed "radical". You are correct to point out that our current foreign policy and positioning would not allow this to happen, but it does not make the viewpoint any less valid...nor can it be so easily dismissed as "very nice" or amounting to "very little". It seems to me, that "surgical strikes" amount to very little.
Indeed, a self-assertive foreign policy should go hand-in-hand with a more individualistic/capitalistic approach domestically. The are born of the same character/essence. We are talking about a war of civilizations. We are talking about nihilists who are intent on carrying out the complete destruction of the West. We are talking about governments that are wholesale in the business of terrorist sponsorship. We are talking about men who would detonate a nuke in the middle of Manhattan if giving a chance. Surgical strikes, however "muscular", seems woefully inadequate military response to such a clash of civilizations.
some of those numbers got screwed up... not quite sure how... but you get the point. :)
Thanks for your extraordinarily comprehensive comments. I can only respond briefly; the points you raise would, of course, require several essays of writing---so this will have to suffice for now. :)
1. The use of the word "radical" is not an example of definition by non-essentials; it is simply an observation steeped in Rand's own use of the word radical to mean "fundamental": going to the root of a problem in order to resolve it. Now, many different theorists will claim to be radical, and there will necessarily be a battle over who has the right to use that word. Most of the traditions you point to, however, are "extremist" and "reactionary" because they misidentify the roots. Going to the roots is only effective if you identify the roots correctly. That requires empirical investigation and comprehensive inquiry. A "radical" methodology is only as good as the substance to which it is wedded. That's why I have long argued that radical libertarianism or "dialectical libertarianism" is the most promising: because it seeks to go to the root, and it identifies those roots correctly. There is no disagreement with you on this, and there is no reason to think that I would view dialectical thinking or thinking-in-context as opposed to empirical research and/or logical identification. These things go hand-in-hand. But you cannot advocate one without the other.
2. If Rand's views "took a systemic hold on the US foreign and domestic policy," the whole current system would be overturned. That would be a radical development. :)
3. My comments on "national self-interest" are clear; I am uncomfortable with it. Rand was not perfect; she may have used that term---but she was also careful to argue that the moral ideal (national self-interest) was opposed to the actual system in place. I tend to think of "national self-interest" in the same way that I would think of the term "common good"; it might be used in some meaningful manner---but it can only be used in a strictly defined context. I sometimes get the feeling that Schwartz---who does not note any of the inherent conflict within the "New Fascism"---just doesn't quite make the necessary "mediating" connections that Rand does with regularity. For Rand, the assertion of "national self-interest" is only genuinely possible when foreign and domestic policy have been radically transformed.
4. No, I'm not suggesting that "the UN is an arm of US foreign policy seeking to fill the pockets of corporate pull-peddlers." But it can be, and has been, used by pull peddlers to achieve such goals. The thing is, because it is a world organization, it is therefore used by pull peddlers from other country's governments too. Including Saddam Hussein's---and all the kickbacks he received from the oil-for-food program. My claim about corporate pull-peddlers went beyond the U.N. and was directed at the foreign aid program in general; some of that foreign aid is ploughed into the U.N. and there are corporate interests that lobby for that kind of aid, but that most certainly is not the only kind of "foreign aid" that goes into "corporate welfare." See, for example, here and do a general search at the Cato Institute for "corporate welfare" and "united nations" for additional info.
5. Where did I suggest that Rand shared Rothbard's view of foreign policy? I mention Rothbard once---in reference to his book, The Ethics of Liberty. In fact, I suggested that Rand shared Isabel Paterson's view, and that Rand herself used the word "isolationist" in scare quotes to make the very point. (She was angry at the liberal internationalists for using "isolationist" as a smear word to describe those who opposed their Wilsonian foreign policy goals.)
6. I've never argued for "immediate withdrawal"---not even in Iraq. You'll not find a single reference to "immediate withdrawal" in any of my articles.
7. Rand shared the political values of the classical liberal tradition; she opposed US entry into WW 1, WW 2, Korea, and Vietnam. But even in her Playboy interview, she said that invasion of the Soviet Union should not be undertaken "at present," that it was not "necessary," and that an "economic boycott" would lead to the regime's "collapse without the loss of a single American life." Most of Rand's "assertive" suggestions were of this character: withdraw the sanction of the victim, and evil will collapse of its own weight. Sounds good to me.
6. I do not believe that governments that support anti-U.S. terrorists should go unpunished, and I supported the destruction of the Taliban for that reason. But I think there are different strategies that should be adopted depending on the context of each country, and the strategic costs and benefits of various actions must be weighed. Iran, for example, is not ripe for invasion, and Iraq should never have been invaded to begin with, in my view... not because these are legitimate regimes entitled to moral protection, but because there were/are better ways of dealing with the potential threats such regimes posed other than full-scale invasion and occupation, with the costs of reconstruction being assumed by the U.S. Understand though: advocating the wholesale destruction of such regimes and not thinking that the U.S. will thereafter create an economic boondoggle of global proportions is simply not realistic. That's what the U.S. does as a matter of policy, given the current system, since the Marshall Plan (which Rand also opposed). My point here is that all this Objectivist advocacy concerning destruction but not reconstruction is very nice, but when it ignores the dynamics that are in place because of the system that is in place, such advocacy amounts to very little, because it doesn't get to the root of the systemic issues that so distort our foreign policy. Rand understood those roots.
7. On the issue of Iran, you can check out a number of my posts here:
8. Are you implying that the US should simply destroy the entire Arab-Islamic Middle East as a solution to the problem of global terrorism? I'm a little confused about where you might be going with some of the comments you make. Surgical strikes can be rather muscular; they don't have to equate with lobbing cruise missiles at a couple of shacks in the desert. The idea here is to marginalize Islamic terrorists and not to create the conditions that might further embolden them.
You're always an interesting and scholarly read. Although, as usual, there is much I disagree with. I meant to respond to your foreign policy articles from the last couple years, but, to be thorough, would require much more time than I have. Anyway, I would like to make a few passing points.
1) Rand's legacy as "radical". I've always had a problem with you defining Rand this way for the same reason she had a problem with the terms "extremism" and "radical". They are definitions by ~nonessentials~. She described them as essentially smokescreens for capitalism and patriotism. Let's quote AR for a second where she states that extremism is:
"a term which sounds like a concept, but stands for a "package-deal" whose defining characteristic is always non-essential".
She also writes on this methodology:
"man accepts a term by non-essentials, his mind will substitute for it the essential characteristic of the objects he is trying to designate."
This is, essentially, the method you are using when you describe her method as "radical". "Radical" about what? You quote Marx when you write "To be radical is to grasp things by the root". Indeed, but it is imperative what ~exactly~ those roots are. One could say that Marx, or Lenin, or the ELF, or Klu Klux Clan are "radicals"...do we want to recapture their "radical" legacy?
Ok, AR admits to being a "radical" in the sense that lasseiz-faire capitalism is not the prevailing or dominant trend. But what is essential is grasping exactly what the roots ~are~, not the fact that they are radical. What if her ideas of enlightened self-interest and capitalism did become the dominant trend and took a systemic hold on the US foreign and domestic policy...would the fact that they are no longer "radical" invalid them?
In terms of foreign policy, her works are littered with the term "national self-interest". Chris, you write: "I'm somewhat uncomfortable with Schwartz's use of the phrase "self-interest" to describe any government's foreign policy." Hmmm. In just about every article discussing foreign policy (and specifically the ones you quote like "THe Wreckage of the Consensus" and "The Lessons of Vietnam"), AR describes US foregin policy in terms of "national self-interest". You may disagree with this usage (which I don't) as you suggest throughout your articles, but it certainly wasn't AR's position.
In fact, I believe Rand's "National Self-Interest Legacy" would be more accurtate that describing her legacy as "radical" because it describes the essence of the actions she saw appropriate in the foreign sphere--namely, as asserting national self-interest. What this consists of is another debate.
2) Quick passing observation. Are you suggesting the UN is an arm of US foreign policy seeking to fill the pockets of corporate pull-peddlers? What about the billions funneled to NGO's who impart their socialist ideals from environmental policy to breast feeding. The UN is a massive redistribution of wealth organization backing just about every socialist policy known to man. Not only that, they are not accountable to any electorate and get US sanction, which would make any Socialist European nation green with envy. Besides, when it comes to the UN, is it US diplomats making policy decisions? Is it the US putting together these sundry conferences to denounce capitalism in general, and the US and Israel in particular? I think it is very hard to make the case that the US sets policy at the UN to feed its corporate interests.
Fascism and socialism, in essence, are the same--statism. No doubt, some US Corporations benefit from its schemes as they do from domestic corporate welfare, but to suggest that US corporations are forging UN policy to line their pockets is rather absurd. Just for my own personal edification, can you give me some US corporations and the manner in which they feed at the UN trough...I'm curious.
3) Another quick observation. To describe AR as "isolationist" in the same paragraph with Murray Rothbard or Libertarians is a gross misrepresentation. Is this the same Murray Rothbard that suggested the US was the aggressor against the Soviet Union? I believe, she departs significantly from him and libertarians. AR, correctly and in numerous instances, described her foreign policy as one of "national self-interest".
First of all, enlightened self-interest, does not seem to be the dominant sentiment of the Libertarian ethos. Philosophically, Libertarianism is all over the map.
You correctly noted that AR suggested coming to the defense of Israel and Taiwan. Let me present her reference in full quote:
"The first intended victim of the new isolationism will probably be Israel--if the "anti-war" efforts of the new isolationists succeed. (Israel and Taiwan are the two countries that need and deserve U.S. help--not in the name of internation altruism, but by reason of actual U.S. national interests in the Mediterranean and the Pacific.)"
Whe she speaks of "U.S. national interests in the Mediterranean and the Pacific" is that consistent with the Libertarian approach to foreign policy, which consists mostly of unilaterally withdrawl? Withdrawl without considering withdrawl from ~where~ and ~from whom~? You argue for this same immediate withdrawl. Is that consistent with AR? Does she argue from a "noninterventionist tradition"? There is plenty to suggest otherwise (eg. Playboy interview where she suggests invading the Soviet Union if necessary). I think you tend to ignore the ~assertive~ aspects of her foreign policy (militarily and economically) and clump her with "noninterventionist" Libertarian viewpoint that is not hers.
4) From what you term to be a "broader intellectual vision", you seem to suggest two main courses of action: (1) what seems to be an total, indiscrimate, and nonspecific withdrawl from the foreign sphere and (2) surgical military strikes against individual terrorist camps.
The main philosophical virtue that needs to be discussed in terms of the use of force (domestic or foreign) is "justice". Chris, do you just kill the individual terrorist ants and let the governments that are wholesale into the business of arming, training, and funding terrorists go unpunished? Are you ignoring the wider "context" of the structure that makes the actions of the terrorists possible? Would you prosecute individual gang-members and leave godfathers go unpunished?
I saw a recent study by the Hoover Institution that details the 10 or so terrorist organization that Saddam supported and the Americans that got injured and/or died as a result. Isn't it our government's job to protect those lives and seek justice against the perpetrators? What about the thousands of Americans injured and the hundreds killed over the past 20 years by sundry terrorist-supporting regimes? Does "surgical strikes" adequately address the integral, syetemic link between foreign governments and the multitude of terrorist organizations? Look at how the world gets into an uproar about Israel's even more discriminate "surgical strikes" against individual Hamas terrorists. The world will say nothing when the US does the same? There will be no retaliation from these regimes?
We both know Bastiat's "what is seen and what is not seen". You speculate the hundreds of billions spent and thousands of lives lost with further invasions of say, Iran. But let us not forget the the billions lost and the thousands of lives lost on 911. What if Iran gets a nuke and exports it to one of our cities? What will the damage totals (in lives and dollars) of that be? Where the leaders of these regimes suffer no reprecussions from "surgical strikes" on terrorist camps, will they be deterred to their avowed destruction of the US? Or will it encourage them?
I must make another note here. You conflate the US invasion of Iraq with the occupation. Now, certain prominent Objectivists (even the most prominent) advocated overwhelming destruction of the regime and no occupation, but rather the message that "if you seek to destroy us, you will be destroyed". Certainly, the US has no moral obligation to "rebuild" these societies or create a modern secular democracy, which the people don't understand and don't want. After all, nobody is rebuilding WTC for us. With use of force capable by the US military, the regime could have been destroyed rather cheaply and effectively. I don't think you have adequately addressed this viewpoint.
At the end of what you term to be a complex, involved, and "radical" analysis, I find the remedy of surgical stikes to be rather inadequate. Actually, when you think about the size and nature of global terrorism and its goals, the idea of "surgical strikes" to remedy the problem seems rather, well, ludicrous. Remember in "The Lessons of Vietnam" where AR argues that if appropriate force is not used in response to murderous thugs, "every 'half-asses nation' would have felt free to attack the U.S.". Again, I think you ignore the aspects of AR that urge assertive military force, and one of its manifestations is the use of "surgical strikes" to combat globalism.
5) Couple of salient points I agree on. The idea of "retaking" the oil fields is extremely unjust. That idea could be used to justify just about anybody's retaking of any square inch of land anywhere in the world. If some corporations make deals with the devil in the form of evil foreign governements, they deserve what they get.
The "exporting of democracy" is a terrible idea. Capitalism, a constitutional republic--these are values and the have to be ~chosen~. Trying to export these values by ~force~ is a blantant contradiction.
Pleasure as always,
Assuming Cubans really ~did~ rally to Castro in 1962, I think the reaction today would be vastly different. Your point about popular foolish reactionaryism is valid, but humanity tends to ascend, and communism isn't as popular as it used to be. Certainly the Iraqis in 2002 didn't much rally to Saddam.
Well, Andre seems to forget that JFK tried an invasion of Cuba and the population rallied around Fidel. It's amazing how people will rally around the worst dictators when faced with a foreign invasion.
I agree, Ken, that there were a lot of personal attacks
in that pamphlet. I knew quite a few people who were attacked, and one of my
friends (Marc Joffe) was singled out for his work with the NYU Students for a
Libertarian Society (an organization of which I was a co-founder).
Walter Block eventually published his response to Schwartz (in REASON PAPERS, I believe).
Thanks for your additional comments, gents. A number of issues are opened up here for discussion, which can't be adequately dealt with in a brief comment. I do think there is, btw, a history of classical liberal opposition to colonialism. Check out my comments here, for example.
Hi Andre and Chris,
The great majority of Objectivist and libertarian commentators on foreign policy seem to fall in to one of two camps - interventionish/hawkish and non-interventionist/doveish. At one extreme the ARI tends to be insanely hawkish, while many (though not all) of the paleo crowd at LewRockwell.com tend toward the other extreme. As I see it, the "Objective" appraoch is in fact a contextual one, supporting varying degrees of intervention where necessary and cautioning long and hard against it where it is unnecessary. This is of course exemplified by Chris' stances regarding Afghanistan and Iraq respectively ;-)
As for the connection between foreign policy and domestic, it seems to me that the strength of the connection depends at least in part on the extent of the intervention - a full scale invasion and occupation by a mixed economy nation tend to result in the exportation of the domestic policy (as is now happening in Iraq, and as I fear would occur in the above scenario of invading Cuba). This wouldn't be a problem with more limited surgical strikes.
Of course that doesn't mean Objectivists ought to oppose any full scale invasion of an outright dictatorship by a mixed economy western nation, but I do think we should be willing to consider alternatives before rushing into a major war.
I did not pay much attention to Schwartz until his
"Perversion..." piece. I found myself attacked, although without direct mention
of my name (I was one of the writers and lecturers for SLL, the Orange County,
CA-based Society for Libertarian Life) by him. Indeed, in many ways, it seemed
like his line of criticism was directed to at least one of my pamphlets, "What
ARE Libertarianism, Anyway," which sought to explain libertarianism as an
I decided not to write a response to his essay, mainly because of the personal manner in which he attacked people. I felt that a response would give his essay more sanction than it deserved. Perhaps that was a mistake, considering how long he has gotten away with such folly.
I first met Tibor around 1970, and I have always thought highly of him personally and of his writings, even though there are areas of disagreement. He has come a long way in his development of ideas and is always a person to be aware of. Several of his collections of essays I have highly recommended in lectures and classes on the history of liberty.
Chris, the essense of your views on foreign policy seem
to be that current pro-war libertarians and Objectivists "suffer from historical
amnesia" and can't seem to figure out that "intervention" and "interference"
abroad vary rarely works. And the isolationist Founding Fathers and Ayn Rand
back you on this. Thus you seem to have a Murderer's Row of intellectual power
on your side: history, America's creators, and Rand. You even have the current
situation in Iraq, and the fetid bozo intellectualizing of Peter Schwartz which
you could convincingly cite.
Still, I think this overall cautious and contextual approach (as seen in your 1995 book 'Hayek, Marx and Utopia' and much elsewhere) may not be necessary or appropriate to truly FREEDOM-loving states. Interventionism abroad ~worked~ with traditional colonialism and even WWII. Under colonialism, both parties benefitted in the 1700s and 1800s: the locals gained freedom and wealth and access to high civilization, while the foreign occupiers similarily profitted. After WWII, Japan and Germany had freedom and an alien culture "forced" upon them and the result was largely good.
The great problem in Iraq today is America is very much anti-freedom in its occupation policy. The US lets Iraq: keep their food subsidies for daily items, stay in OPEC, maintain nationalized and socialized oil, have evil islamicist and communist leaders, continue with drug tyranny and "vice" crimes, etc. All of this is the opposite of political liberalism and a ~huge~ problem.
Even still...Iraq is kinda "working" and moving toward freedom. If America would have been even ~remotely~ more loyal to the concept of democratic elections and providing general security (utilizing the hordes of unemployed locals), the situation would probably be much, much better. Current Western "nation building" and "teaching democracy" is highly inept and grossly irrational. But this doesn't invalidate the above interventionist concepts and ideals.
As for the historically intimate ties between the welfare and warfare state -- while the argument here is powerful indeed -- there's really no reason to suppose that this tie is natural or inevitable. What happens if the US invades and conquers Cuba, rapidly executes the top 100 supporters of communism, holds elections within a month, imposes the US constition on them for a year, and then ~leaves~, while taking some of the unowned dictatorship's islands in compensation? This gambit might work out well for ~both~ nations!
I don't doubt that I may have thrown in a few more
adjectives than is strictly consonant with Greek moderation -- or even general
sobriety ;-). But, lucky for me, "prudence" is ~not~ one of the seven
Objectivist cardinal virtues. (I really dodged a bullet on that one! ;-))
Still, I can't help but point out that in response to this truly serious and high-minded critique of ARI foreign policy, the evil and perverse zombie-followers of ARI will almost surely not say a single world. Certainly Schwartz, Peikoff, Brook, and Binswanger won't ~dare~ to confront you here -- or engage in anything remotely like fair, honest debate. They haven't even a hint of the requisite honesty, courage, integrity, or personal virtue which would allow them to engage in open, decent, direct discussion here at History News Network.
Hey, Andre, why don't you tell us how you really feel?
Truth is: I prefer to deal with the ideas of my interlocutors. I'll leave the personal stuff on the sidelines.
The most striking thing about this 5-part,
analysis-in-depth of proper free state foreign policy is the open, honest,
forthright, fair-minded way Chris Sciabarra considers the thought of Peter
Schwartz. Certainly the lowly Schwartz has never the done the same for Professor
Sciabarra -- nor is he ever likely to in this lifetime. The evil cultists of the
Ayn Rand Institute -- of which Schwartz is a full disreputable member -- are
absolutely notorious for their personal sleeze, intellectual dishonesty, and
cowardly traitorship to all healthy, virtuous norms of open discussion, honest
debate, and scholarly consideration. They seem to oppose ~on principle~ all
rational, moral, intelligent, properly ruminative, well-rounded, philosophic
So Chris is doing slimeball Peter and the whole contemptible ARI lot a great favor here with his intelligent, perspicacious, careful, high-quality review. He's helping to improve their thought (sic) tremendously, and in a way which these dogmatic religioso vermin absolutely do ~not~ deserve. These miserable ARI grand perverters of reason and philosophy have even gone out of their way to slander and mistreat Chris ~personally~, yet he still gives them a fair hearing and respectful consideration. I find this remarkable -- and far more than they'll ever get from me.
Thanks for the link to Machan's article, Chris. His story of Irving Kristol's presentation of a novel idea to traditional conservatives at a Philadelphia Society meeting - that we need a good war once in a while to promote unity - prompted me to post on my blog about the striking similarity of this idea to Hegel's ideas on the State and war. Here's the link: http://veritasnoctis.blogspot.com/.
Ken, thanks for your thoughts. Interestingly, I'm very
critical of Schwartz's "Perversion of Liberty" essay as well, but the most
important thing that is right about that essay---his emphasis that
individualist political principles need philosophical and cultural foundations,
i.e., a context---is the one thing he most often drops in the current foreign
And you are correct about other vestiges of rationalism in the Objectivist corpus; these mostly revolve around areas such as aesthetics and sexuality.
Fortunately, there are those in the neo-Objectivist or neo-Randian tradition, like Tibor Machan as you mention here, and others, who have crafted a more context-sensitive response on the issue of foreign policy. While we're on the subject of my long-time pal and colleague, Tibor, I should mention that he's taken a consistent "defensivist" position on foreign policy, and he's been profoundly critical of the neoconservative turn in the United States' political establishment. See here, for example. Machan has been an indefatigable writer, who has influenced the editorial writing of about 30 daily newspapers across this country, all of which have registered their objections to the Iraq war. This has largely been the result of Machan's efforts to help explicate the principles of libertarianism and their applications to foreign policy; in fact, he organizes Freedom Schools every 18 months or so to educate people in these principles, championing the kind of understanding of politics and foreign & military policy that I've suggested in my series.
It's good that we recognize these kinds of achievements.
Chris said: "What most strikes me about Schwartz's
book... is that it tends to deal too abstractly, too rationalistically, with the
principles of a "moral" foreign policy... without paying much attention to the
concrete context and historical circumstances that have led America so far
astray from the celebrated ideal. Rand could also celebrate an "unknown
ideal" --- but rarely at the expense of a rigorous analysis of the past, and the
present, the actual, as a means to evaluate the potential for real change."
This is a common theme with Schwartz, and I believe that you can readily identify this context-dropping in his childishly gleeful rantings in the "Perversion of Liberty" essay of some years ago and apply a similar analysis provided here in Chris' essay. By taking his notions out of context, Schwartz commits a grave error which takes his concept formation in a quite platonic direction, and contrary to the epistemological foundations in propounded in objectivist theory.
Like Rand describing homosexuality as "disgusting and immoral" (I think those were her words), she turns happiness upside-down and out of context, a criticism which most modern objectivists are willing to accept. In further analyzing such activity, objectivists recognize the weakness in her line of argumentation, that, considering the volitional nature of humanity and our need for emotional intimacy, there are always going to be some people for whom homosexuality is both quite "thrilling and moral."
It is necessary for objectivists (and others, for that matter) to place our concepts, and the application of those ideas within their proper context. Tibor has often, over the years, emphasized context in his writings, and I think that he, and Chris, in his essay here, are quite correct.
Just a thought.
I do agree that going into Afghanistan was at least
somewhat justifiable, unlike Iraq. However, I would have preferred a more
Hunting down Osama and his men should have been the priority in the so-called War on Terror. Instead, Bush and his administration have become distracted by Iraq.
Quite so. I was just wondering whether Rand developed (at least in part) her ideas on the subject before reading Mises's work or whether the picked it up from him. Academic curiosity on my part.
Thanks for your comments, Geoffrey. I don't have any
information on a Rand-Mises link that is specifically relevant to the
domestic-foreign policy interrelationship. But Rand surely read Mises, and
recommended his work highly; among the books that are listed in her Capitalism:
The Unknown Ideal bibliography, one will find these Mises titles:
The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality
Planning for Freedom
The Theory of Money and Credit
I understand where you're coming from, Bill. The short
answer is that none of us should really expect that such interventions would be
sensibly administered, even if they are justified, given the current
politico-economic system. That said, I am one of those libertarians who did
support intervention in Afghanistan to root out Al Qaeda, which was practically
the military arm of the Taliban. But perennial warlordism and the birth of a
Narcostate could have been predicted.
Nevertheless, I supported the intervention because sometimes you have to make do with the means that are available. Especially when your life depends on it.
Why should a libertarian support the
invasion of Iraq by the current administration,
even if under a hypothetical libertarian
administration, an invasion of Iraq might
I have sometimes wondered if a policy of
defeating Saddam Hussein, declaring victory
and withdrawing wouldn't have been superior
to maintaining the status quo of "containing"
Iraq with an embargo, flyovers, etc.
(Admittedly, making peace with Iraq would have
been even better. The more usual containment--
promising retailiation against future Iraqi
attacks would be better than this futile
effort to keep Iraq from getting weapons of
mass destruction. We could have even used
Iraqi promises of aid against Al Quaida as an
excuse for backing down.)
But what are the chances that Democrat or
Republican administrations would be willing to
engineer a punative expedition against Iraq,
crush the existing regime and then let the
Iraqi's deal with the aftermath?
Similarly, a hypothetical libertarian imperialism
seems more doable that trying to reconstruct the
Iraqi people so that they will generate outcomes
from unrestrained democracy similar to those generated
in the U.S.
Even Schwartz seems to imagine that the U.S. would
maintain Iraqi public schools and use them to
propagandize the Iraqi childen to become libertarians.
It is very unlikely that any Democrat or Republican
administration would either put Iraqi education in
the private sector and allow Iraqi parents to choose
what sort of schools their children attend. But
is equally unlikely that any Democrat or Rebpublican
administration would maintain public schools in Iraq
and require them to promote libertarian ideas.
The most likely outcome would be U.S. pressure to
replicate the disaster that are the U.S. public
Again, even if we can conceive of some kind of
interventionist libertarian foreign policy that
would reduce foreign threats against Americans
and even help the foreigners, how likely is the
U.S. government to do those things? Why would
we expect U.S. foreign interventions to actually
be sensible when the U.S. government is run by
people who reject libertarian values and ideas?
"To lead the Iraqis to freedom, whether in the next year
or the next generation, requires that we 'impose' our values on them --- i.e., that
we expose them to the philosophy of a free society. They need to be given the
Declaration of Independence to study. Their schools must teach the ideas of
Thomas Jefferson and John Locke and Adam Smith. The Governing Council must be
instructed to eject the communists and the jihadists." (51)
Here's a perfect example of Schwartz's statism. He may be an advocate of limited government at home, but he advocates the opposite abroad: a thoroughly statist foreign policy orientation that will be counterproductive at best.
Excellent series, Chris. I appreciate the emphasis on Rand's radical, dialectic legacy. I'm curious, however, if you know whether and to what extent Rand's recognition of the interrelationship between domestic and foreign policy was informed by Mises's work on this particular issue.
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