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March 31, 2005

Shifting Sands and Political Labels

All we did was welcome Anthony Gregory to L&P, and a chat has begun on the nature of political labels and their use in discussions of foreign policy and the legitimate use of force. See my comments under the thread "Greetings, 'Enemy Combatants' and Liberty."

Song of the Day #218

Song of the Day: I Like It, words and music by Stuart Crichton, Andy Morris, and Robert de Fresnes, is performed by the group Narcotic Thrust. Its great hook is wedded to a driving dance beat. Listen to an audio clip of one mix here.

March 30, 2005

Welcome to Anthony Gregory

I welcome Anthony Gregory to L&P.

Song of the Day #217

Song of the Day: King Porter Stomp, composed by the great Jelly Roll Morton, has been performed by Louis Armstrong and in big band arrangements by Fletcher Henderson, Glenn Miller, and Benny Goodman. My favorite version remains one performed by the Goodman band "on the air" in a live 1937 radio broadcast with a hot blazing trumpet solo by Harry James. Listen to a clip of that version here. Other Goodman versions include the 1935 recording here, with Bunny Berigan, and this one here from the 1956 film, "The Benny Goodman Story."

March 29, 2005

Song of the Day #216

Song of the Day: Yesterdays, music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Otto Harbach, is a jazz standard that has been performed by many artists. It was featured originally in the 1933 Broadway show, "Roberta," which became a 1935 film with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and a 1952 film, "Lovely to Look At." Listen to an audio clip from Frank Sinatra and a jazz rendition by guitarist Tal Farlow.

March 28, 2005

Song of the Day #215

Song of the Day: Yesterday is credited to both John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but was actually a McCartney solo in words, music, and performance. It was not included on the American release of the soundtrack for the movie "Help!" but was released as a single that spent 4 weeks at #1 on the Billboard pop chart. It has been recorded in many "cover" versions, making it the "most covered song in history," according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Probably because it's just a great song. (Oh, and a belated happy birthday to my pal Aeon!)

March 27, 2005

Song of the Day #214

Song of the Day: A Mighty Fortress is Our God is a beautiful hymn with words and music by Martin Luther. In addition to the German language version, this hymn has two English versions: the American Lutheran composite translation and one written by Frederick H. Hedge. I've loved this hymn since hearing it as a kid, as the opening theme of "Davey and Goliath," a TV classic of the great Art Clokey, whose wonderful "Claymation" brought us Gumby and Pokey too. This is a special greeting to my Western Christian friends, who celebrate Easter today. Eat, drink, snack on Peeps, and watch "Ben-Hur"!

March 26, 2005

Song of the Day #213

Song of the Day: Help!, words and music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, was a #1 Billboard pop hit in 1965, the title track from the rollicking Richard Lester-directed Beatles film. A classic foot-tappin' Beatles melody.

March 25, 2005

The Costs of War, Part II

My post "The Costs of War" has elicited more than a dozen comments so far, and if there are any additional comments to be made, I will be sure to reply in that thread. But I wanted to take this opportunity to expand on the points made in the former post, since I have benefited from a good chat with an offlist correspondent on these issues.

Comments welcome.

My correspondent would prefer to remain anonymous; it is more important for me to post comments that enable me to work through an issue, rather than to focus on who said what. I'd like to extend my appreciation for the offlist correspondence.

Let's call my correspondent "Dr. A" so that we can avoid using gender-identifiers. :) Dr. A writes:

I have to comment on your comparison of Ayn Rand to Ward Churchill. It's quite impossible to justify, try as I might. You were clear in saying that there is no moral equivalence, but to responsibly make the comparison requires a lot more explanation, qualification and context than you gave it.

I do, in fact, agree that much more discussion is merited. But, as I said in the comments section of that thread, not every blog post is meant as a full-fledged, finished article. I like using the blog to "think out loud." Unlike a few people I've met through the years, I don't wait to dot every "i" and cross every "t" before publishing anything, especially in an electronic era of real-time "give-and-take." (Books and professional journal articles are a different breed, of course.) I just think that dialogue on these issues is necessary. And I'm delighted to receive the feedback, especially when I'm clearly grappling with what I believe is a dilemma. Dr. A continues:

9-11 was an intentional act. The tunnel disaster in Atlas [Shrugged] was the result of a build-up of (domestic) evasion and irresponsibility that no person specifically intended. The tunnel disaster therefore invites the question: who was responsible and to what degree? Rand is pointing to the fragments of responsibility in many for the mosaic of negligent causes to a tragedy. We know who was specifically and fully responsible for the evil brutality that occurred on 9-11. It wasn't us.

Not only is the point well taken, but Dr. A drives home an issue that I should have articulated with much greater care. Given my Hayekian predilections, it's an obvious issue too. It revolves around the distinction between intended human action and unintended social consequences. No single person on the Comet intended for that tragedy to occur, and yet, through their ideas and actions, each person reflected and perpetuated a social and cultural milieu that made such a tragedy possible. And this, after all, is part of the very essence of the interventionist dynamic, as I described it in my "Understanding the Global Crisis" article. So much of what Rand calls the "New Fascism" arose by default, by an ad hoc process of moral and philosophical deterioration, over generations. For Rand, the neofascist US economy "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 key phrase here is "ad hoc." This is not meant to whitewash the growth of statism over the past hundred years. It's not as if it took place completely "behind people's backs," as Marx might have put it. There have certainly been groups that campaigned for, and that became adept at using, the political process to enrich themselves; these groups aim to achieve this enrichment. But it is not necessarily the case that each parasitic group intends to contribute to the growth of state power, which, in the long run, destroys the host that is required for such parasitism to exist. A good point on this topic was made by economist Karen Vaughn; I cite it in my book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia. While it may be

correct to note the class character of government interventionism, it does not follow that the overall growth of government has been intended by the various classes. It is still quite possible to see the overall growth of the state as an unintended consequence of the relative expansion of particular government agencies, programs, and regulations.

Or, as I stated in my L&P essay, "Ideology and Myth in American Politics," the reality of the mixed economy

nourishes the development of ad hoc groups, because groups become the only political units that matter. Simultaneously, it atomizes a society, as people-in-groups become increasingly fragmented and fractured across every dimension, in search of this or that privilege or exemption: a Hobbesian "war of all against all"—which goes global.

Rand herself understood that many groups were responsible for the growth of state power, but she never assumed that all were equally responsible; some are quite clearly more "equal" than others, to use an Orwellian phrase. As I pointed out in "The Costs of War," Rand focused on those who bolstered statism explicitly; she also recognized the key role played by certain structurally privileged interest groups in the rise of the "New Fascism" (Grinder and Hagel are even more explicit in their article, already cited, detailing the location of "ultimate decision-making" in neofascist political economy.)

But Rand, who grew up under Soviet communism, also understood that people trapped in specific circumstances not of their own making, must sometimes milk the inner contradictions of the system just to survive (see We the Living, for example). If that entails going to public schools, driving on public roads, taking public scholarships, Social Security benefits, unemployment compensation, etc., while the state is busy robbing your money through the tax structure, so be it.

Because there are differential beneficiaries in a mixed economy, I think it is valuable, then, to focus on that question highlighted by Dr. A: Who is responsible and to what degree? Perhaps these questions invite a hierarchy of "sins" in a corrupt social system. Rand might reserve a special place in hell for those who have consciously used the state to benefit themselves at the expense of others, as well as for those who have been part of the ideological vanguard, legitimizing the interventionist functions of the state.

But Rand also seems to distinguish between those whom she would hold morally accountable, and those who might be held legally responsible. In the Comet tragedy from Atlas Shrugged, for example, there are people who are responsible for the technical glitches that made the train accident inevitable. But there is nothing that Rand leaves to accident in the construction of her plot, from a moral perspective. In the general atmosphere of the novel, where the failure of statist intervention is dramatically illustrated, each action—taken, euphemistically, in the "public interest"—is actually a cover for exploitation, which undercuts private property, social accountability, and individual responsibility. As I write in my essay "Ayn Rand: A Centennial Appreciation":

Rand documents, painfully, how the destruction of the market economy and its specialization and division of labor is, ultimately, a destruction of the "division of responsibility." In a statist social order, where everybody owns everything, nobody will be held responsible for anything. "It’s not my fault" is the statist’s credo.

Given all this, I think there is much more to be said about moral complicity and the death of innocents in war. For example, one thing that still concerns me is this. Rand argues that, "[i]f by neglect, ignorance, or helplessness, [the citizens] couldn't overturn their bad government and choose a better one, then they have to pay the price for the sins of their government—as all of us are paying for the sins of ours." Here, she seems to be observing a fact: people will suffer the consequences, even through no fault of their own.

But, in other circumstances, she clearly believes that people should suffer the consequences. She argues: "If some people put up with dictatorship—as some do in Soviet Russia and as they did in Germany—they deserve whatever their government deserves." By using the word "some," however, Rand accepts the possibility that there may be citizens who do not "put up with dictatorship." And Rand would certainly not blame people held at gunpoint in a concentration camp, whether it is called Auschwitz, or whether it applies to a whole segment of an oppressed society. There are dissenters who don't have the means to get out of a slave pen. There are those who find themselves in very tangled, complex personal situations, involving family and other relationships. There are children who have no choice.

Some might argue that parents are responsible for children, and that governments who transgress put their own citizens at risk, and are thereby responsible, from a moral standpoint, for what happens to their citizenry. But a bomb doesn't discriminate between those who should and those who should not bear the consequences. Placing the moral responsibility for war on the outlaw government that uses its citizenry as a human shield does nothing to alleviate the suffering of those who are caught up in the conflict through no fault of their own.

It is for this reason that even if one is morally committed to one's cause, the decision to go to war, with full knowledge of its devastating effects and long-term unintended consequences, is a grave decision.

Returning to my initial essay on these questions of moral complicity and responsibility, I did make an explicit comparison between Rand, Churchill, and Bin Laden. Dr. A takes exception to the comparison, and to Churchill's own comparison of the WTC victims to "little Eichmanns." In this instance, Churchill compared these victims to a very "specific Nazi whose incredible evil/level of guilt is known," and on that point, Dr. A will get no argument from me. I too found it appalling. There is little doubt that Rand would have been equally appalled; her work invites "the reader to self-examination," as Dr. A puts it, not to make "moral excuses for evil."

So Dr. A wonders why I'd use Churchill in my "on-going quest to demonstrate Rand's 'radicalism'." But I don't think that in this particular instance I was attempting to demonstrate Rand's radicalism per se; in truth, I was merely confessing my uncomfortability with the unqualified ways in which this issue of moral complicity has been handled by people with such different ideological frameworks—including Rand, who, despite some qualifications, never developed a full treatment of the subject. (Most of her statements on this subject came in Q&A sessions, not formal essays.) I made the comparison because, if I accept Rand's maxim that people who are complicit in a situation bear some responsibility for it (albeit differential responsibility relative to their roles in it), then I must grapple with the equivalent use of that maxim by those who repudiate the moral framework that Rand enunciated, a framework I continue to accept.

I agree with those commentators, therefore, that it is always necessary to reintroduce the moral dimension; one cannot detach any single principle from its embeddedness in a rational moral perspective.

I should make one final comment here. In the past, I have made similar comparisons across political perspectives by focusing on methodological considerations. As many of my readers know, for example, I have used the word "dialectics" to describe the "art of context-keeping," and in so doing, I have invited comparisons among thinkers as diverse as Aristotle, Hegel, Marx, Menger, and Rand. But the point of my comparison was not to drain dialectics of all meaning; it was to isolate, for the purposes of analysis, a principle, and then, to trace how its embeddedness in different frameworks has made for huge applicative differences.

If I were not concerned about the moral and political framework, I'd only be an advocate of "dialectics," rather than "dialectical libertarianism." And in this day and age, that phrase helps to distinguish my own position from previous incarnations of both dialectics and libertarianism.

Ultimately, the battle is not over the applications, implications, or qualifications of principles or methods taken in isolation. It is over the philosophic and moral framework that gives such principles and methods their existential meaning. Otherwise, as Dr. A suggests, any "clinical comparisons" will have the unintended consequence of wiping out the very dimension upon which our lives, fortunes, and sacred honor depend.

Noted at L&P here.

Song of the Day #212

Song of the Day: Caught Up, words and music by Andre Harris, Vidal Davis, Jason Boyd, and Ryan Toby, opened the Showtime concert of Usher. It is featured on the album "Confessions" (audio clip at that link). Like "Yeah," this one's got a big bass line, minimalist instrumentation, and a great hook.

March 24, 2005

Song of the Day #211

Song of the Day: It Might as Well Be Spring, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, was featured in both the 1945 and 1962 incarnations of the movie musical "State Fair" (you can sample both versions of this song at that link). Sample an audio clip from Rosemary Clooney too.

March 23, 2005

Stormy Weather, Stormy Style

Apparently, the memo about the beginning of Spring never quite reached the hands of Mother Nature, who is throwing wet snow and sleet on Brooklyn, New York tonight.

To match the Stormy outside, Notablog retains its "Stormy" stylesheet for now. Our experiment with "Visual Preference?" had a few java script glitches and this has necessitated an end to the experiment. Jodi at NYU is working on fixing the bugs, and we'll try to get this thing back up and functioning before too long. So, in the meanwhile, those of you who prefer light backgrounds and dark print... bear with us!

Also, the Search function is out of commission, but it will be totally functional in another day or so.

Comments welcome.

The Costs of War

Last weekend marked the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. I have found myself thinking about the costs of the war, and of the many issues that war raises...

Comments welcome.

The Crusade for Democracy

With bubbling democratic impulses being felt from Lebanon to Iran, some neoconservative commentators have practically declared victory in this war. They are focused on the most recent news as if it demonstrates the Hegelian inevitability of some Brave New Democratic World Order. Whether or not this was the actual reason for going to war in Iraq or a result of that war, the causes of which are open to debate, it is clear that, from the beginning, neoconservative policy-makers have equated this democratic quest with the quest for American security and hegemony. It is the same kind of democratic crusade that served as the ideological motivation for Wilsonians in World War I and the liberal interventionists in World War II, and that led inadvertently to the creation of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Soviet Russia in the first instance, and a half-century of Cold War Communist tyranny in the second instance.

As I have stated in an ongoing debate on the Atlantis II Yahoo Group Discussion List, this crusade has come at significant cost, both qualitative and quantitative: billions of dollars, 1,500+ US dead, 11,000+ US wounded, and 30,000+ total US medical evacuations. And there are unknown thousands of Iraqi dead—which brings sobering irony to the oft-cited sentiment that if the US had done nothing in the face of Saddam Hussein's brutality, "many Iraqis were likely to be killed." I suppose some will decide the long-term value of this war by weighing the number of corpses on each side of the scales of justice.

In truth, some neocons understand (or at least understood) that democracy is not enough. Unlike Charles Krauthammer of today, Charley the K of yesteryear (circa 1993) got it right when he argued that "Democracy is not a suicide pact" (hat tip to Atrios):

Are we not violating the very tenets of democracy that are supposed to be the moral core of American foreign policy? No. Because democracy does not mean one man, one vote, one time. In the German elections of 1932 and 1933, the Nazis won more votes than any other party. We know what they did with the power thus won. Totalitarians are perfectly capable of achieving power through democracy, then destroying it.

Moreover, democracy does not just mean elections. It also means constitutionalism—the limitation of state power—in political life, and tolerance and pluralism in civic life. ...

The Growth of State Power

A "limitation of state power" is not consistent with the use of war as "politics by other means," as Clausewitz put it. That should come as no surprise; frequently, the use of war is the very means by which governments attempt to resolve problems that they themselves have either created or to which they have contributed decisively. And throughout history, war has been the most significant means to a vast increase in the size and scope of state power. I have examined, in countless discussions (see here, here, and in essays indexed here, for example), the role of US foreign policy in contributing to that cauldron of problems that is the Middle East. As much as these problems emerge from the caliphatic desires of Islamic fundamentalists and the tribal, ethnic, and religious strife in that region of the world, all of which long predates US intervention, the fact remains that the US has been targeted because of its foreign policy. And, in the long-run, it is only a radical change in US foreign policy, and, by extension, in US domestic policy, that will make a fundamental difference for the lives, liberties, and property of American citizens.

As Ayn Rand remarked so many years ago: "Foreign policy is merely a consequence of domestic policy." And both are reciprocal reinforcements of the system she identified as the "New Fascism":

While the government struggles to save one crumbling enterprise at the expense of the crumbling of another, it 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. The process becomes global: it involves foreign aid, and unpaid loans to foreign governments, and subsidies to other welfare states, and subsidies to the United Nations, and subsidies to the World Bank, and subsidies to foreign producers, and credits to foreign consumers to enable them to consume our goods...

... and so on, and so on. I'm tickled by the mere mention in this passage of the World Bank, which is oh-so-very-timely; some Rand-friendly writers applaud the New Reign of Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank, when they should be advocating its abolition. Remember how Alan Greenspan was going to lead the U.S. to a free society as head of the Fed? Ugh.

The important point to emphasize is this: These institutions are the levers of state power; they constitute a part of the nexus of ultimate decision-making in contemporary political economy, the means to a vast redistribution of wealth toward politically favored groups; fundamental change in such a political economy is possible only with the complete dismantling of its structures and institutions. And that's why I can't bring myself to applaud the elevation of more "efficient" managers who will do a "better job" of administering oppressive statist institutions and of consolidating the privileges of those who benefit from these institutions. (I should note that it is highly debatable just how "efficient" these managers have been; on Wolfowitz, for example, see Arthur Silber's post here; on Greenspan, see especially Larry J. Sechrest's article in the current Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, abstract here.)

Who? Whom?

All of this brings to the fore an important issue that was first expressed as an old Leninist question: "Who? Whom? Who is the oppressor, who the oppressed? Who is doing what to whom?" And there is a corollary issue: Who bears responsibility in a complex system of oppression?

I addressed these subjects to some extent in my book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism:

R. W. Bradford conceptualizes the difficulty in a discussion of the Randian argument that those who receive benefits from government or who take public jobs are “morally justified” only if they regard these as “restitution,” while those who advocate for such benefits “have no right to them.” As the public sector crowds out the private sector, it is self-defeating for libertarians to become martyrs, while ceding to the profiteers of statism all the alleged benefits of the system. Rand’s only warning to prospective public sector employees is that they ought not to take jobs that bolster statism ideologically or that require the enforcement of “improper” laws, i.e., laws that violate individual rights per se. Like Rand, [Murray] Rothbard argues that in a state-run world one should “work and agitate in behalf of liberty,” “refuse to add to its statism,” and “refuse absolutely to participate in State activities that are immoral and criminal per se.” When one realizes that, for Rothbard, the very existence of the state is criminal, one begins to grasp the significant problems. For as Bradford observes, it is often difficult to evaluate the propriety of jobs or benefits—public or private—under statism. Recalling the Ruby Ridge conflict, he reasons: “Sure, it’s easy to see that, say, the FBI murder of Vicki Weaver while she held her baby in her arms in the doorway of her home is an ‘improper’ function of government.” But he wonders: ". . . what about the secretary who helps the FBI agent, who killed Mrs. Weaver, with his paperwork? Is his job also improper? What about the cook in the FBI cafeteria? Is his? And what about the person who hauls the trash from the FBI headquarters? Does it make a difference if the trash hauler or the cook work for a private firm that contracts with the FBI? I suspect that Rand, and most libertarians, would reply that these tasks are peripheral to the murder of Mrs. Weaver, and that the person who prepared the FBI agent’s lunch is not acting improperly. . . . But this doesn’t really answer the question of where exactly the boundary between proper and improper action lies."

Bradford emphasizes that, while the inner contradictions and crimes perpetuated by statism are omnipresent, our evaluation of moral action in that context requires a precise understanding of the particular conditions within which a given person acts. One can only determine the propriety of an action by factoring into one’s evaluation such important issues as people’s knowledge of the situation, their causal distance from the crime committed, the enormity of the crime, and the mitigating circumstances. Without taking these important qualifications into account, libertarians might gain “credibility” for adhering strictly to their own principles. But such adherence translates into a rationalistic application of dogma that comes “at the price of human suffering.”

Rand, Churchill, Bin Laden, and Moral Complicity

Think of how much more important these qualifications are in assessing the level of responsibility for individuals who live under the concrete historical circumstances of a particular time and place during a war. Rand addressed, on more than one occasion, the issue of the killing of innocents in wartime. (Silber has dealt with this issue extensively here.) Rand was famous for arguing that the responsibility for so-called collateral damage in warfare rests with those who initiated force, not with those who retaliate against it. She stated further:

This is a major reason people should be concerned about the nature of their government. If by neglect, ignorance, or helplessness, they couldn't overturn their bad government and choose a better one, then they have to pay the price for the sins of their government—as all of us are paying for the sins of ours.

Indeed.

That's why we have to be interested in the philosophy of government and in seeing, to the extent we can, that we have a good government. A government is not an independent entity: it's supposed to represent the people of a nation. If some people put up with dictatorship—as some do in Soviet Russia and as they did in Germany—they deserve whatever their government deserves. The only thing to be concerned with is: who started that war? And once you can establish that it is a given country, there is no such thing as consideration for the "rights" of that country, because it has initiated the use of force, and therefore stepped outside the principle of rights.

Rand stated additionally:

If you could have a life independent of the system, so that you wouldn't be drawn into an unjust war, you would not need to be concerned about politics. But we should care about having the right social system, because our lives are dependent on it—because a political system, good or bad, is established in our name, and we bear the responsibility for it.

There have not been many more poetic illustrations of these principles, and of the maxim that "ideas have consequences," not only for politics but for culture as well, than that which is found in Rand's magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. The passage I have in mind is not about war, per se, but it is relevant. It comes at the end of the chapter, "The Moratorium on Brains," and it is a dramatization of the destruction of the Comet, the fastest train in the country. It's actually, for me, one of the most memorable passages in the novel. There are different ways to interpret this passage. Some would say that Rand is clearly placing moral culpability on the passengers of the Comet, who are, in fact, the actual victims of the tragedy. Some would say that it's not so much "moral culpability" as it is complicity in the tragedy: These passengers accepted some or all of the premises that made the tragedy possible, and, to a certain extent, Rand is simply concretizing an old Biblical and Karmic adage: "As ye sow, so shall ye reap." Ironically, this perspective is partially what led the infamous Whittaker Chambers to declare, in the pages of the right-wing National Review: "From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: 'To a gas chamber—go!'" Here's the passage:

It is said that catastrophes are a matter of pure chance, and there were those who would have said that the passengers of the Comet were not guilty or responsible for the thing that happened to them.

The man in Bedroom A, Car No. 1, was a professor of sociology who taught that individual ability is of no consequence, that individual effort is futile, that an individual conscience is a useless luxury, that there is no individual mind or character or achievement, that everything is achieved collectively, and that it's masses that count, not men.

The man in Roomette 7, Car No. 2, was a journalist who wrote that it is proper and moral to use compulsion "for a good cause," who believed that he had the right to unleash physical force upon others—to wreck lives, throttle ambitions, strangle desires, violate convictions, to imprison, to despoil, to murder—for the sake of whatever he chose to consider as his own idea of "a good cause," which did not even have to be an idea, since he had never defined what he regarded as the good, but had merely stated that he went by "a feeling"—a feeling unrestrained by any knowledge, since he considered emotion superior to knowledge and relied solely on his own "good intentions" and on the power of a gun.

The woman in Roomette 10, Car No. 3, was an elderly school teacher who had spent her life turning class after class of helpless children into miserable cowards, by teaching them that the will of the majority is the only standard of good and evil, that a majority may do anything it pleases, that they must not assert their own personalities, but must do as others were doing.

The man in Drawing Room B, Car No. 4, was a newspaper publisher who believed that men are evil by nature and unfit for freedom, that their basic interests, if left unchecked, are to lie, to rob and to murder one another—and, therefore, men must be ruled by means of lies, robbery and murder, which must be made the exclusive privilege of the rulers, for the purpose of forcing men to work, teaching them to be moral and keeping them within the bounds of order and justice.

The man in Bedroom H, Car No. 5, was a businessman who had acquired his business, an ore mine, with the help of a government loan, under the Equalization of Opportunity Bill.

The man in Drawing Room A, Car No. 6, was a financier who had made a fortune by buying "frozen" railroad bonds and getting his friends in Washington to "defreeze" them.

The man in Seat 5, Car No. 7, was a worker who believed that he had "a right" to a job, whether his employer wanted him or not.

The woman in Roomette 6, Car No. 8, was a lecturer who believed that, as a consumer, she had "a right" to transportation, whether the railroad people wished to provide it or not.

The man in Roomette 2, Car No. 9, was a professor of economics who advocated the abolition of private property, explaining that intelligence plays no part in industrial production, that man's mind is conditioned by material tools, that anybody can run a factory or a railroad and it's only a matter of seizing the machinery.

The woman in Bedroom D, Car No. 10, was a mother who had put her two children to sleep in the berth above her, carefully tucking them in, protecting them from drafts and jolts; a mother whose husband held a government job enforcing directives, which she defended by saying, "I don't care, it's only the rich that they hurt. After all, I must think of my children."

The man in Roomette 3, Car No. 11, was a sniveling little neurotic who wrote cheap little plays into which, as a social message, he inserted cowardly little obscenities to the effect that all businessmen were scoundrels.

The woman in Roomette 9, Car No. 12, was a housewife who believed that she had the right to elect politicians, of whom she knew nothing, to control giant industries, of which she had no knowledge.

The man in Bedroom F, Car No. 13, was a lawyer who had said, "Me? I'll find a way to get along under any political system."

The man in Bedroom A, Car No. 14, was a professor of philosophy who taught that there is no mind—how do you know that the tunnel is dangerous?—no reality—how can you prove that the tunnel exists?—no logic—why do you claim that trains cannot move without motive power?—no principles—why should you be bound by the law of cause-and-effect?—no rights—why shouldn't you attach men to their jobs by force?—no morality—what's moral about running a railroad?—no absolutes—what difference does it make to you whether you live or die, anyway? He taught that we know nothing—why oppose the orders of your superiors?—that we can never be certain of anything—how do you know you're right?—that we must act on the expediency of the moment—you don't want to risk your job, do you?

The man in Drawing Room B, Car No. 15, was an heir who had inherited his fortune, and who had kept repeating, "Why should Rearden be the only one permitted to manufacture Rearden Metal?"

The man in Bedroom A, Car No. 16, was a humanitarian who had said, "The men of ability? I do not care what or if they are made to suffer. They must be penalized in order to support the incompetent. Frankly, I do not care whether this is just or not. I take pride in not caring to grant any justice to the able, where mercy to the needy is concerned."

These passengers were awake; there was not a man aboard the train who did not share one or more of their ideas. As the train went into the tunnel, the flame of Wyatt's Torch was the last thing they saw on earth.

However much one agrees or disagrees with Rand's various characterizations here, or with the degree of moral culpability that she may or may not ascribe to various individuals living in oppressive social conditions, one thing is clear: For Rand, nothing less than a fundamental transformation of those social conditions, of the political and social system, will do. And this transformation must be founded upon a philosophic and cultural revolution. Under social conditions that institutionalize a war of all against all, where nobody and everybody is responsible for anything and everything, all become part of an "orgy of self-sacrifice." And all pay the price.

Try though I might, I don't think I find much that is essentially different here from some of the musings of that notorious left-winger Ward Churchill. Now before this comment induces a stroke in my readers, let me state a few necessary caveats: I am not interested in debating the life or viewpoint of Ward Churchill, or the truth-content of his statements. I am, quite frankly, appalled by any suggestion that the victims of 9/11 deserved their fate and by any comparison of these victims to Nazis. But there was a recent thread on the Nathaniel Branden Yahoo Group List that compelled me to reflect on the "ominous parallels" at work here between Rand's and Churchill's positions.

Churchill set off a firestorm in the days after 9-11-2001, when he suggested that the victims of that day were "little Eichmanns" insofar as they were involved in a politico-economic system, and its infrastructure, which Islamic fundamentalists had targeted. For Churchill, this is a testament to "blowback" from a history of destructive US foreign policy. Here's Churchill's explanation of his statement:

Finally, I have never characterized all the September 11 victims as "Nazis." What I said was that the "technocrats of empire" working in the World Trade Center were the equivalent of "little Eichmanns." Adolf Eichmann was not charged with direct killing but with ensuring the smooth running of the infrastructure that enabled the Nazi genocide. Similarly, German industrialists were legitimately targeted by the Allies.

It is not disputed that the Pentagon was a military target, or that a CIA office was situated in the World Trade Center. Following the logic by which US Defense Department spokespersons have consistently sought to justify target selection in places like Baghdad, this placement of an element of the American "command and control infrastructure" in an ostensibly civilian facility converted the Trade Center itself into a "legitimate" target. Again following US military doctrine, as announced in briefing after briefing, those who did not work for the CIA but were nonetheless killed in the attack amounted to "collateral damage." If the US public is prepared to accept these "standards" when they are routinely applied to other people, they should not be surprised when the same standards are applied to them.

It should be emphasized that I applied the "little Eichmanns" characterization only to those described as "technicians." Thus, it was obviously not directed to the children, janitors, food service workers, firemen and random passers-by killed in the 9/11 attack. According to Pentagon logic, they were simply part of the collateral damage. Ugly? Yes. Hurtful? Yes. And that's my point. It's no less ugly, painful or dehumanizing a description when applied to Iraqis, Palestinians, or anyone else. If we ourselves do not want to be treated in this fashion, we must refuse to allow others to be similarly devalued and dehumanized in our name.

The bottom line of my argument is that the best and perhaps only way to prevent 9-1-1-style attacks on the US is for American citizens to compel their government to comply with the rule of law. The lesson of Nuremberg is that this is not only our right, but our obligation. To the extent we shirk this responsibility, we, like the "Good Germans" of the 1930s and '40s, are complicit in its actions and have no legitimate basis for complaint when we suffer the consequences. This, of course, includes me, personally, as well as my family, no less than anyone else.

Now, again, I'm not interested in debating Churchill's particular formulations here. And clearly, there are many profound differences between Rand and Churchill on many issues. But they are both concerned with complicity in the workings of a system that each of them defines as unjust. And their concentric circles of "complicity" are wide.

What is even more provocative is that Osama Bin Laden himself has argued similarly:

In my view, if an enemy ... uses common people as human shield, then it is permitted to attack that enemy. For instance, if bandits barge into a home and hold a child hostage, then the child's father can attack the bandits and in that attack even the child may get hurt. ... The American people should remember that they pay taxes to their government, they elect their president, their government manufactures arms and gives them to Israel and Israel uses them to massacre Palestinians. The American Congress endorses all government measures and this proves that the entire America is responsible for the atrocities perpetrated against Muslims. The entire America, because they elect the Congress.

This intersection of viewpoints among stark ideological opponents reminds me of Rand's comment back in the 1960s, when she noted that the vanguard among religious, leftist, and Objectivist intellectuals genuinely understood what was at stake in the global arena: "Well, as a friend of mine observed," Rand wrote, "only the Vatican, the Kremlin, and the Empire State Building [where Rand's offices were then located] know the real issues of the modern world." Of course, Bin Laden is not the Vatican, and Churchill is not the Kremlin, but these individuals do represent strains of religious and left-wing thought, so the thematic parallel remains.

If we abstract from this discussion any consideration of Rand's or Churchill's or even Bin Laden's philosophical or political positions, if we abstract from this discussion any consideration of the lives and/or broader ideological commitments of these individuals, I find no way of avoiding the implication of comparability.

All the more reason to apply to these issues the significant qualifications raised by Bradford in the passages cited above. Without these qualifications, I fear that we would be left with the creeping rot of collective guilt, whereby each of us would be held responsible for every moral transgression committed by our respective governments or governing bodies.

Conclusion

There are still battles to be fought: cultural, political, and military. The costs of the current war in Iraq can be measured in casualties (both visible and "invisible") and in expenditures. They can be measured too in unforeseen and unwanted consequences. But there is one "casualty" that is to be welcomed: The death of analytical simplicity. The war compels us to think hard about the moral issues—the applications, implications, and qualifications—raised above. A recognition of historical and systemic complexity does not require us to collapse the distinction between "good" and "evil" or the distinction between retaliatory and initiatory force. What it requires is a simultaneous assault on those who seek to destroy American life, liberty, and property—and on those ideas and policies that have delivered Americans to this historic moment.

Also noted at L&P (note comments there as well), Light of Reason, The Node, Pirate Ballerina, and Rational Review News Digest.

Update: See "The Costs of War, Part II," for additional thoughts on the subject.

Atlantis II War Chat

I haven't been totally silent for the last couple of weeks; I've been hanging around Atlantis II Yahoo Individualist Discussion Group. If you'd like to get a sense of the foreign policy discussions that have been taking place throughout the month of March, sign up for the list.

If you'd like to see my own posts to the list over these last few weeks, check them out under the thread "Libertarians and Defense," as featured on my Selected Internet Posts, 12/04 - 6/05.

Song of the Day #210

Song of the Day: Spring is Here, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart, is from the 1938 Broadway show, "I Married An Angel." A season of hope gives way to such despair in song. Check out audio clips from the cast recording, and heartbreaking renditions as well from Frank Sinatra and Carly Simon. And listen to this audio clip featuring cabaret performer Bobby Short, who passed away the other day, with the arrival of Spring.

March 22, 2005

Visual Preference?

There have been lots of changes taking place at Notablog, even though it appears that it has been "business as usual": A "Song of the Day" every day, some posts here and there.

Thanks to the wonderful work of my pal Jodi Goldberg of the NYU Web Team, Notablog has instituted a "visual preference" choice for readers: The standard "Notablog" dark background with light text ("Stormy" as it has come to be known) or dark text on light background ("Georgia Blue," with my own stylistic tweaks for blue links), for those who prefer it. Play with it, if you will! Switch back and forth for fun!

Jodi is going to be making a few changes to the search function, so that might be unavailable for a day or two. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jodi!

I have a major post coming up tomorrow on "The Costs of War," so stay tuned. Meanwhile...

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #209

Song of the Day: Somewhere, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, who celebrates his 75th birthday today, is from the Broadway musical, "West Side Story." Hope springs eternal despite the "Romeo and Juliet" tragedy of the story. Listen to an audio clip from the 1961 film version here.

March 21, 2005

Song of the Day #208

Song of the Day: Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most, music by Thomas J. Wolf, Jr., lyrics by Frances Landesman, has been performed elegantly by Ella Fitzgerald (audio clip at that link) and so many other singers.

March 20, 2005

Song of the Day #207

Song of the Day: You Must Believe in Spring (Le Chanson de Maxence), music by Michel Legrand, French lyrics by Jacques Demy, English lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, is from the 1967 film "Les Demoiselles de Rochefort." Listen here for an audio clip of Legrand playing this sensitive song; here for a heartfelt audio clip of pianist Bill Evans, the title track of an album featuring Eddie Gomez on bass and Eliot Zigmund on drums; and here for a vocal version by Tony Bennett, featuring Evans on piano again. Also listen to an audio clip of a Jack Jones rendition. Cheers to the Vernal Equinox! Happy Spring, which arrives at 7:34 a.m., Eastern time!

March 19, 2005

Song of the Day #206

Song of the Day: Coming Out of Hiding, music and lyrics by James Lee Stanley and James Melamed, was performed by dance music artist Pamela Stanley. This "Paradise Garage" dance classic packed the floors in 1983-84. And I was among those dancing the night away to its rhymes and rhythms.

March 18, 2005

Song of the Day #205

Song of the Day: How Do You Keep the Music Playing? [full song audio clip at that link], music by Michel Legrand, lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, was an Oscar-nominated song from the 1982 film, "Best Friends," starring Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn. It was performed on the original soundtrack by James Ingram and Patti Austin. It can be found too on a James Ingram "Greatest Hits" package. Its tender lyrics have also been sung by Barbra Streisand (listen to an audio clip here).

March 17, 2005

Song of the Day #204

Song of the Day: Give My Regards to Broadway, music and lyrics by that great Irish composer, George M. Cohan, was immortalized by another great Irishman, James Cagney, who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the composer in the 1942 film, "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Listen to an audio clip here. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

March 16, 2005

Song of the Day #203

Song of the Day: I Hear a Rhapsody, words and music by George Fragos, Jack Baker and Dick Gasparre, was first recorded by the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, with Bob Eberly on vocals (audio clip here). There's also a wonderful duet version of this song on the album "Undercurrent" (listen to audio clip at that link), featuring guitarist Jim Hall and pianist Bill Evans.

March 15, 2005

Song of the Day #202

Song of the Day: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major was written by Johann Sebastian Bach. I'm particularly fond of a version played by the great classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin with the Bath Festival Orchestra. Listen to an audio clip here.

March 14, 2005

Idle American Idol

Okay, I admit it. "American Idol" is one of those shows that I watch regularly. I enjoy it. It comes from a grand talent show tradition that includes everything from "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts" to "Star Search" to "It's Showtime at the Apollo."

I've already got a few favorites among the Top 12 Contestants, who begin their all-out competition tomorrow night on FOX. And one of those favorites was Mario Vasquez, who dropped out last night for "personal reasons," and was on "Good Day New York" this morning to talk about it.

Oy. Lord help him, because now the media will be sniffing around big-time to identify those "personal reasons," looking for the next Frenchie Davis or Corey Clark or Donnie Williams controversy.

In any event, you can check out more Mario news on his fan site here.

Comments welcome.

New JARS: Ayn Rand Among the Austrians

Today, I've published on my website my newest article (co-written with Larry J. Sechrest), which is the Introduction to "Ayn Rand Among the Austrians," a brand new Ayn Rand Centenary Symposium in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. That article can be found in PDF form here (the abstract is also reproduced on my site here).

As for the new Spring 2005 issue of JARS (Volume 6, Number 2), it's truly a landmark anthology, surveying Rand's relationship to key thinkers in the Austrian school of economics, including Ludwig von Mises, Murray N. Rothbard, and F. A. Hayek. Here's the Table of Contents:

Introduction: Ayn Rand Among the Austrians
Chris Matthew Sciabarra and Larry J. Sechrest

Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises
George Reisman

Ayn Rand and Austrian Economics: Two Peas in a Pod
Walter Block

Alan Greenspan: Rand, Republicans, and Austrian Critics
Larry J. Sechrest

Praxeology: Who Needs It
Roderick T. Long

Subjectivism, Intrinsicism, and Apriorism: Rand Among the Austrians?
Richard C. B. Johnsson

Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond
Edward W. Younkins

Two Worlds at Once: Rand, Hayek, and the Ethics of the Micro- and Macro-cosmos
Steven Horwitz

Our Unethical Constitution
Candice E. Jackson

Teaching Economics Through Ayn Rand: How the Economy is Like a Novel and How the Novel Can Teach Us About Economics
Peter J. Boettke

Reply to William Thomas: An Economist Responds
Leland B. Yeager

Rejoinder to Leland B. Yeager: Clarity and the Standard of Ethics
William Thomas

For article abstracts, click here.

For contributor biographies, click here.

For information on subscriptions, click here.

Get your copy now; our last two issues are sold out, and this one, together with the Fall 2004 "Literary and Cultural" Centenary Symposium, is a keeper.

Also announced at the Mises Economics Blog (which features a few comments), L&P (see comments here), Ayn Rand Meta-Blog, SOLOHQ (see comments here), in addition to more than a dozen lists.

Comments welcome (but y'all need to get the issue if you really want to comment!).

Song of the Day #201

Song of the Day: Symphony No. 94 in G Major, particularly the famous "Andante" or what has come to be known as the "Surprise Symphony," was written by Franz Joseph Haydn. It is one of my favorite Haydn pieces, and also one that I learned to mangle, er, "play," when I studied violin in elementary and junior high schools. It was funny to see the audience jump when the loud "surprise" was played. Listen to a clip here, conducted by Sir Colin Davis with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. And a happy birthday to my friend Michael, #1 Haydn fan.

March 13, 2005

Song of the Day #200

Song of the Day: This Place Hotel is the actual name for a song that I've always called "Heartbreak Hotel." Composed by Michael Jackson, and performed by the Jacksons, the song's title was changed under threat of litigation, it seems, to differentiate it from Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel." Either way, this rhythmic track has a memorable melodic hook, and an interesting, jazzy arrangement. Check out the audio link, as featured on the superb album "Triumph."

March 12, 2005

Song of the Day #199

Song of the Day: Nuages, composed by the great Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, has been supplied with lyrics by singer Tony Bennett for his album "The Art of Romance" (listen to an audio clip of the re-christened "All for You" at that link). Dr. Frank Forte has also written lyrics for the song. Listen to an audio clip of Django with the Quintette of the Hot Club of France. Among my favorite instrumental renditions is one by Joe Pass, featured on his classic jazz guitar tribute album, "For Django." A Pass audio clip of another rendition can be heard here; it's a live recording from the 1975 Montreux Jazz Festival.

March 11, 2005

Song of the Day #198

Song of the Day: Almost Like Being in Love, music by Frederick Loewe, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, has been sung with swing and gusto by everybody from Nat King Cole to Natalie Cole (click links for audio clips). I also love a hot jazz violin version by Joe Venuti.

March 10, 2005

Islam and Pluralism

There is a thought-provoking article by Reza Aslan in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education. Entitled "From Islam, Pluralist Democracies Will Surely Grow," the article asserts that "it is pluralism, not secularism, that defines democracy," that "Islam has had a long commitment to religious pluralism," and that democratic change is therefore not as unreachable a goal as some might think.

Aslan is worth quoting at length:

For most of the Western world, September 11, 2001, signaled the commencement of a worldwide struggle between Islam and the West -- the ultimate manifestation of the clash of civilizations. From the Islamic perspective, however, the attacks on New York and Washington were part of a continuing clash between those Muslims who strive to reconcile their religious values with the realities of the modern world, and those who react to modernism and reform by reverting -- sometimes fanatically -- to the "fundamentals" of their faith. ...
When politicians speak of bringing democracy to the Middle East, they mean specifically an American secular democracy, not an indigenous Islamic one.
There exists a philosophical dispute in the Western world with regard to the concept of Islamic democracy: that is, that there can be no a priori moral framework in a modern democracy; that the foundation of a genuinely democratic society must be secularism. The problem with that argument, however, is that it not only fails to recognize the inherently moral foundation upon which a large number of modern democracies are built, but also, more important, fails to appreciate the difference between secularism and secularization.

Clearly, if the Western world itself had to wait for full and complete secularism in order to achieve even a modicum of freedom, it would still be waiting. But it is a key point, I think, to insist that the secularization of the Western mind took centuries and that such secularization has been a key ingredient in the evolution toward free insitutions. Aslan continues:

As the Protestant theologian Harvey Cox notes, secularization is the process by which "certain responsibilities pass from ecclesiastical to political authorities," whereas secularism is an ideology based on the eradication of religion from public life. Turkey is a secular country in which outward signs of religiosity, such as the hijab, are forcibly suppressed. With regard to ideological resolve, one could argue that there is little that separates a secular country like Turkey from a religious country like Iran; both ideologize society. It is pluralism, not secularism, that defines democracy. A democratic state can be established upon any normative moral framework as long as pluralism remains the source of its legitimacy.

I take certain issue with some of these claims, especially since the "normative moral framework" of an "Islamic democracy" might "force the rights of the community to prevail over the rights of the individual," when the individual's behavior (e.g., drinking or gambling) goes against "Quranic commandments." Alas, if prohibitions on drinking or gambling were the only thing to worry about from within the Islamic world, then it would not be much worse than old Sunday Blue Laws or gambling prohibitions in New York State. Still, I find this nexus of rights, pluralism, and secularization to be persuasive:

... neither human rights nor pluralism is the result of secularization; they are its root cause. Consequently, any democratic society -- Islamic or otherwise -- dedicated to the principles of pluralism and human rights must dedicate itself to following the unavoidable path toward political secularization.

Aslan thinks there is a certain inevitability in the democratic-pluralistic developments in the Muslim Middle East, but I'm not so sure. "It will take many more [years] to cleanse Islam of its new false idols -- bigotry and fanaticism -- worshiped by those who have replaced Muhammad's original vision of tolerance and unity with their own ideals of hatred and discord. But the cleansing is inevitable, and the tide of reform cannot be stopped. The Islamic Reformation is already here. We are all living in it," Aslan writes.

How might the United States encourage this kind of political secularization? It's one thing to introduce procedural democratic rules into countries like post-Hussein Iraq. But it's quite another to actually achieve some sort of liberal democracy, because, as Aslan suggests, political secularization is crucial to that achievement. There are hopeful signs that this process is underway in such countries as Iran, for example. But there is something to be said about a "laissez faire" U.S. approach to Iran under these highly volatile conditions. As Stephen Kinzer writes in "Clouds Over Iran," in the current issue of The New York Review of Books:

One of my Iranian friends, a graduate student in his twenties, recently wrote this to me: "The US government is helping Iran's government with its continuing hostility.... Every time the State Department or White House speaks about human rights conditions in Iran, our government uses this against reformers. It says that reformers are supported by the United States. Many reformers are in jail because of these accusations. Many newspapers have been closed. The United States should be concerned about Iran's problems, but this policy is hurting the reform movement. Non-intervention is the best help the United States can give to Iran's people." ...
There is every possibility that in time, Iran will return to the democratic course from which the United States so violently forced it in 1953. If Americans allow events there to proceed at their own pace, they will finally see the result for which they hope. It is also the result most Iranians want: an Iran that respects the will of its people and helps to stabilize a dangerously unstable region. ... Seeking to destabilize [Iran] will intensify its leaders' sense of isolation. Attacking it will turn its remarkably pro-American population into America-haters once again. Military intervention could set off a wave of patriotic indignation that will solidify the mullahs' regime rather than weaken it, and would probably set the cause of democracy back a generation. "Regime change" would probably not even turn Iran off its nuclear course, since most Iranians of all persuasions agree that their country has at least as much right to nuclear power as Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea. Treating Iran as a member of the world community with its own set of reasonable hopes and fears, however, might lead it toward responsibility, peace with its neighbors, and perhaps even democracy.

Alas, this might be wishful thinking. But it is certainly in keeping with many of my own observations (archived here) about the delicate evolution toward liberal democracy and cultural secularization that is required not only in Iran, but throughout the Middle East.

Cross-posted to L&P, where readers may leave comments. Comments can be read here, here, and here.

Rothbard, Rand, and Revisionism

My SOLOHQ essay on Rothbard continues to make the blogosphere rounds. The Gods of the Copybook Headings mentions it, and Le Revue Gauche discusses it as well.

In the meanwhile, today, I posted yet another comment on a running Rothbard thread at SOLOHQ. In it, I discuss the revisionist historical ideas to which Rand and her early associates subscribed concerning the growth of the welfare-warfare state in general, and the issue of World War II in particular.

Readers may comment at SOLOHQ.

Update: I left another comment relating to what I believe are the central questions Rand would have asked of today's military actions: Of value to whom and for what?

A Word About Links

Yesterday, I posted the following comment on SOLO HQ, which is worth reproducing here at Notablog. It also elicited additional follow-up starting here and continuing here (with a response from me here about a television interview I gave back in 1997). Here's what I said:

... You see, if you open any one of my books, you'll find lots of substance in the text, but a whole new world in the footnotes. I've been told by undergraduate and graduate students for years that I've got, in my footnotes alone, a treasure trove of follow-up for the curious to discover and explore. Plenty of student and scholarly papers have been borne of this footnote frenzy, I'm happy to say.
So, the moment I became aware of the possibilities of hyperlinks as cyber-"footnotes," it opened up a whole new electronic world. And, like footnotes in a book, instead of cluttering up the text with lots of asides and alternative paths of information, interpretation, or knowledge, I leave it to the reader to follow the links---or not.
Fortunately, I'm not the only one who does this. The blogosphere and the Internet are expanding exponentially through a network of links to links to links. It also has the added practical benefit of networking through search engines, thus making one's writing available to a much larger audience.
So, I suppose that as much as I joke about my "whoredom," it really comes down to my willingness to use the possibilities of electronic media and electronic networking. And it means a lot to me because I don't work in the traditional academic job market, and anything that expands the frontiers of electronic links potentially expands the number of people with whom I will come into contact.
Ironically, something like this happened to me some months ago. A link to my article on the movie "Ben-Hur" provoked correspondence from the producers of an upcoming DVD release of the film, and I was happy to be of assistance in this project.
The Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio, once told Derek Jeter, current shortstop of the New York Yankees, that he always went out on the field and played the best game he possibly could. He said, in essence, "you never know if people will be watching your game for the first time, and you want to give them the best opportunity to see what you have to offer."
I think of virtually every post I make, every article and book I write, as a window to the best I have to offer; if providing a link here or there allows people to explore what I have to offer in greater detail, I'm pleased.
And if it merely annoys others, at least they don't have to follow the links.
So here's a post and a reply---without a single link. :)[well... at least in the original post there was no link... but with "Ben-Hur", how could I resist?]

Readers can join the discussion and comment at SOLO HQ.

Song of the Day #197

Song of the Day: I Can't Help It, music and lyrics by Stevie Wonder and Susaye Greene, has been performed by both Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. Wonder performed this sleek, jazz-infused song on the January 9, 2005 United Negro College Fund Telethon in tribute to Quincy Jones, who, ironically, produced the track for Jackson's Top 500 Rolling Stone magazine album, "Off the Wall" (listen to the audio clip at that link).

March 09, 2005

Song of the Day #196

Song of the Day: I'm Beginning to See the Light, music and lyrics by Duke Ellington, Don George, Johnny Hodges, and Harry James, has been performed by countless artists. Listen to these finger-poppin' jazzy audio clips by trumpeter Harry James, singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Ella with the Count Basie Orchestra.

March 08, 2005

Foer and "The Joy of Federalism"

I'm a little behind in my reading, but I wanted to pass along a link to another interesting article by Franklin Foer (one of whose pieces I previously discussed here). In "The Joy of Federalism," Foer traces the historical development of a "liberal federalism" as a bulwark against the growth of the federal government under the Bush administration. As Foer puts it:

Like many of his predecessors, [Bush] entered office promising to rescue the states from federal pummeling. Yet his administration has greatly expanded federal power, and some conservatives have been complaining. Writing in National Review two years ago, Romesh Ponnuru observed that "more people are working for the federal government than at any point since the end of the cold war." State governments have their own version of this complaint. They say the Bush administration has imposed new demands—federal education standards, homeland security tasks—without also providing sufficient cash to get these jobs done. The Republican senator Lamar Alexander recently told The Times, "The principle of federalism has gotten lost in the weeds by a Republican Congress that was elected to uphold it in 1994."

The whole essay is worth a good read.

Cross-posted to L&P, where readers may leave comments. (Comments may be found here.)

Ayn Rand and World War II

The discussion over my essay on Murray Rothbard continues at SOLO; go here to trace the exchange or here for specific Sciabarra-related links.

My comment today, however, deserves special mention if only because it draws from a most interesting book by Robert Mayhew, entitled Ayn Rand and Song of Russia: Communism and Anti-Communism in 1940s Hollywood. In the book, Mayhew examines briefly Rand's own objections to US entry into World War II on the side of the Soviet Union. I discuss those objections here and cite relevant passages from Mayhew's study.

Readers may continue to leave comments at SOLO HQ.

Update: I made additional comments here and here, and on another Rothbard thread here, here, here, and here.

Song of the Day #195

Song of the Day: Stairway to the Stars, music by violinist Matty Malneck and pianist Frank Signorelli (a friend of my family), lyrics by Mitchell Parish, was originally composed for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra for a larger work entitled "Park Avenue Fantasy." Parish's lyrics were added later and sung by such greats as Dinah Washington (audio clip featured on the soundtrack for the Steven Spielberg miniseries, "Taken") and Ella Fitzgerald. The theme is also featured as background music for the romantic scenes between Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis (who does his best Cary Grant imitation) in the riotous Billy Wilder-directed 1959 film, "Some Like It Hot."

March 07, 2005

Song of the Day #194

Song of the Day: Giant Steps, music by John Coltrane, is one of my favorite Coltrane tracks of all time. Straight ahead, hot, and blazin'. Listen to various audio clips here (where the main theme can be heard) and here (where more improvisation is featured).

March 06, 2005

The Notebook

Last night, I saw a movie on DVD that really touched me. I'm sure some critics would pan it as a syrupy, cliched, old-fashioned tearjerker. So be it. I loved it. With fine performances by a cast that includes James Garner and Gena Rowlands, a sensitive score, and lovely cinematography, "The Notebook" is one of the most poignant love stories I've ever seen. I recommend it to all unreconstructed romantics and have added it to My Favorite Films.

A Primer on Murray Rothbard

SOLO HQ has published my brief discussion of the importance of a key thinker in the libertarian tradition: "A Primer on Murray Rothbard."

Also noted at the Mises Economics Blog, LewRockwell.com Blog (by Karen DeCoster), Cameron's Blog, and L&P (L&P dialogue can be found here).

Readers may comment at SOLO HQ starting here.

Update: Lots of debate on Rothbard and other issues at SOLO HQ. I comment here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, as well as here, here, here, and here, and, for the sake of frivolity, here, here, and here and here, with a serious comment about my links policy here; see also here and here, here and here for other Sciabarra references.

Song of the Day #193

Song of the Day: What'll I Do?, music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, was featured in the 1923 Broadway "Music Box Revue," and in the 1938 film, "Alexander's Ragtime Band." This poignant song can also be heard on Barbara Cook's Broadway; listen to an audio clip here. I also like a sensitive rendition recorded by trumpeter Chris Botti, with vocalist Paula Cole. Listen to an audio clip here.

March 05, 2005

Song of the Day #192

Song of the Day: My Arms Keep Missing You, music and lyrics by the UK hit team Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman, was a huge dance hit for Rick Astley. The song was a non-album club smash that was available only as an import 12" vinyl single, before finding its place on a Greatest Hits collection (listen to the audio clip at that link). I mixed it as a DJ and had a great time dancing to it.

March 04, 2005

Spider-Man and Jesus

Some incarnations of classic comic-book superheroes are ... well ... classic. Thanks to Aeon Skoble at L&P for alerting us to "Spider-Man's Greatest Bible Stories."

Readers can post comments in an L&P follow-up here, where I remind readers of the Steve Ditko-Objectivism connection.

Musings on "The West Wing"

At SOLO HQ, there has been a dialogue on the NBC-TV show, "The West Wing," prompted by a review by Michael E. Marotta. I finally posted my thoughts here. Yep. I'm a fan.

Readers may comment at SOLO HQ.

Song of the Day #191

Song of the Day: Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado), music and Portuguese lyrics by Antonio Carlos Jobim, English lyrics by Gene Lees and Buddy Kaye, is one of those lilting bossa nova standards that has been performed by everyone from Sinatra to Miles Davis & Gil Evans to Getz/Gilberto (check out the audio clips at each of those links).

March 03, 2005

More Rand "Inside Higher Ed"

For the second time in a month, Inside Higher Ed mentions Ayn Rand. In this instance, Scott McLemee, in his "Intellectual Affairs" column, "This, That and the Other Thing," cites a comment I made at SOLO HQ on an upcoming volume by James Valliant, which features selections from Rand's personal journals. McLemee writes:

Perhaps the most incisive comment on the volume comes from Chris Sciabarra, author of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical and other studies. "Reading Rand's personal journal entries makes me feel a bit uneasy," he recently wrote in an online forum. "As valuable as they are to me from an historical perspective, I suspect there might be an earthquake in Valhalla caused by the spinning of Ayn Rand's body."

Readers may comment at the site of Inside Higher Ed. Also noted at SOLO HQ. And see here as well.

Song of the Day #190

Song of the Day: In a Sentimental Mood, music by Duke Ellington, lyrics by Manny Kurtz (also known as Manny Curtis) and Irving Mills, has been performed by many vocalists and instrumentalists. Two of my favorite instrumental versions are a haunting saxophone synthesizer version, played by Michael Brecker, with the group Steps Ahead, and a sweet and smooth rendition by my friend trombonist Roger Bissell, from his album with pianist Ben Di Tosti, "The Art of the Duo" (audio clip here). This 1935 hit was also featured in the musical revue, "Sophisticated Ladies."

March 02, 2005

From Ryan to Sipowicz

I know this is old news already... but since I posted on this topic here and here back in November, I felt an obligation to report that the FCC ruled that the unedited showing of "Saving Private Ryan" did not violate its guidelines on "indecency." This should send a signal to those 66 ABC affiliates who chose not to air the film in the wake of FCC crackdowns and fines in the post-Janet Jackson Boob Era.

It's interesting that the FCC suggests that it's all a matter of context. Saying "FUBAR" ("Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition") in "Saving Private Ryan" is okay, but would probably be cause for a fine if, say, Chris Rock had uttered it on the Academy Awards broadcast. In this atmosphere, it's understandable why Steven Bochco, co-creator of NYPD Blue, which ended its 12-year run last night in a glorious finale, would be reluctant to launch such a show today. As Bochco puts it here: "I don't think today we could sell NYPD Blue in the form that it launched 12 years ago ... I had hoped, and I think probably everybody in television had hoped, that NYPD Blue would pave the way for a more open approach to programming, a more adult, 10 o'clock kind of programming. But there's no question that over the course of the last 10 years, the medium has become increasingly conservative."

Well, either way, I'll miss the drama of Andy Sipowicz and the cops at the 15th Precinct. And I'll switch over to premium cable channels if I'd like a dose of "blue" language and images.

Cross-posted to L&P, where readers may leave comments. See comments here, here, and here.

Song of the Day #189

Song of the Day: S.O.S., Fire in the Sky [audio clip at that link], music by Rick Suchow, lyrics by Suchow and Alan Palanker, is one of my favorite 80s dance tracks. It is featured on Deodato's "Motion" album, but I love a superior extended Disconet mix by Victor Flores (on volume 7) that jammed the dance floors back in the day when I was doing mobile DJ work. A lot of fun.

March 01, 2005

Changing Politics, Changing Culture

My pal, Cameron Pritchard, who has gone from opposing the Iraq war to favoring it (a condition that affects a growing number of New Zealanders), announced the beginning of his own blog here, for which I congratulated him here. Check out Cameron's Blog.

I had a recent personal correspondence with Cam about Iraq, the recent elections there, and Cam's own switch in position, which he credits to Christopher Hitchens. Given that Cam emerged from Objectivism, I found it interesting that he'd be convinced of the pro-war position by a neocon-ex-leftist.

Cam himself finds this interesting, and remarked to me that each of us is a "former something," and that focusing on where people came from might be relevant, but it may not help us much to dwell on it.

I told Cam, however, that in this instance, we're really not talking about the leftist lineage of some neoconservatives.

We're talking about the architects of neoconservatism as a political ideology. What those neocons have absorbed from their leftist background is precisely the "synoptic delusion" for which Hayek criticized the leftists: They've gotten rid of the insanity of central planning an economy, and have basically endorsed the central planning of international politics through an engineered "democratic revolution" that sees politics as the driving force, and culture as the follower.

I remarked too that just as the leftist intellectual lineage of neoconservatism has harmed that ideology, so too the former conservative lineage of many "Objectivists" has harmed Objectivism as a movement. "There is something about these movements' intellectual lineage," I wrote, "that seems to affect how that ideology is shaped over time. It's as if the genetic imprint remains ... and leaves its mark. And, in my view, in both instances, the trace that is left behind has corrupted a lot of the remaining ideology."

I added, however, that I didn't believe Ayn Rand herself was an intellectual conservative in her ideological lineage, but I do think too many of her followers were/are. About two years ago, I had complained about the loss of the "radical spirit of Objectivism," noting a point made by my friend and colleague, Larry Sechrest, that "far too many Objectivists act as if they are conservatives who simply don't go to church." (Larry and I have co-authored the introduction to the forthcoming Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposium, "Ayn Rand Among the Austrians.") Some of these conservative vestiges may be rooted in Rand's own pronouncements on such subjects as homosexuality, for example. Isolating these conservative vestiges, ripping them from Rand's broader, more radical, framework, however, is pure reification.

That kind of reification is on display in the Bush administration's attitudes toward "democracy" in the Middle East, which neoconservative policymakers believe can be implanted in foreign soil, regardless of the level of nutriment in that soil.

Cam has pointed out correctly that "culture is ... more fundamental" than politics, and that "cultural change is a requirement for lasting political change. But that does not mean, necessarily, that cultural change must precede political change." Cam draws from his study of South Korea, in this regard. Liberalization and democratization, he explains, are "essentially cultural problems," but

the cultural changes that have taken and are taking place there have been brought about often by institutional change. The opening up of South Korea's economy, for example, has led to a huge importation of foreign products and culture that are injecting a significant dose of individualism into Korea's younger generation, which is in turn strengthening the political and economic changes that have already taken place. That's a cultural change that came about through a political (or economic) change.

For Cam, "we mustn't underemphasise the possibilities even quite small institutional changes can herald for a culture. That's why I think Iraq has a chance."

Well, I agree. But note here that what Cam is pointing to is precisely the kind of cultural change that can only occur because of open markets in goods, services, and ideas. That is the kind of cultural change I've been arguing for in the Middle East—and worldwide. As long as cultural products can be exported to and absorbed by Middle Eastern societies, in the form of Western movies, books, journals, Internet publications, television, and so forth, there is a real chance for social transformation there. (I've written about this in entries archived here on the issue of Iran.)

It is indeed true that cultural change must start somewhere, even if it is in changing the political culture first. That's why it is, at the very least, a hugely symbolic first step for Iraqis to adopt procedural democratic rules in the crafting and selection of new governing institutions and political leaders. But planting a "constitutional democracy" in Iraq will not serve "US interests" if the "democracy" that emerges is an Islamicist theocracy.

I've long been skeptical of those on both sides of the political divide who seem to craft their political positions on the basis of short-run appearances. Who would have known that US support for the Shah for many, many years, would have been an important facilitating condition for the emergence and victory of a fundamentalist reaction in Iran? Or that a hostage crisis in Iran would have led the US into closer ties with Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war? Or that US support of Hussein would have eventually deteriorated into the Iraq war? It is usually the case that the results of action—or inaction—are not felt for many years. We will not be able to compute the costs of the Iraq war for a very long time to come. But I do not believe that the emergence of a more religious, fundamentalist, Shi'ite-centered regime in Iraq, more closely allied to Iran, is in the interests of freedom and democracy.

This is something that has been pointed out by people on opposed sides of the political spectrum. For example, while antiwar advocate Juan Cole examines "The Downside of Democracy," Ayn Rand Institute junior fellow Elan Journo is busy skewering George W. Bush's "betrayal of America" in the Iraqi elections:

Consider the beliefs of the Iraqis who will be voting for "freedom" in the upcoming election. Like so many peoples in the Middle East, Iraqis regard themselves as defined by their membership in some larger group, not by their own ideas and goals. Most Iraqis owe their loyalties—and derive their honor from belonging—to their familial clan, tribe or religious sect, to which the individual is subservient. This deep-seated tribalism is reflected in the parties running in the elections: there is a spectrum ranging from advocates of secular collectivist ideologies (communists and Ba'athists) to those defined by bloodlines (such as Kurds and Turkmens) to members of various religious sects. ... Whatever constitution those leaders eventually frame will reflect their desire to arrogate power to their particular group and to settle old scores, such as the longstanding enmity between the Shi'ite majority and Sunnis.

However much I opposed US intervention in Iraq, I shed no tears for the destruction of the Hussein regime. But in the wake of that destruction, a vaccum exists that is being filled daily with the blood of Iraqis and Americans. A predominantly Sunni-Ba'athist insurgency grows, as does the threat of a growing Sunni-fundamentalist insurgency allied with Al Qaeda. This doesn't begin to capture the threat of a growing majoritarian Shi'ite movement with closer geopolitical ties to Iran. The use of enormous resources of US manpower, money, and munitions for this war, we have been told, is "to bring the war to the terrorists abroad." But such a strategy may very well be like bringing oxygen to a flame, a flame that might very well incinerate the streets of New York City in a way that makes 9/11 a picnic by comparison.

In any event, as I've suggested above, the instituting of procedural democratic rules is a very small part of the tapestry of freedom. If, indeed, economic liberalization goes hand-in-hand with cultural transformation, I'm not even confident on that score. The US has not transplanted free markets to Iraq; it has transplanted crony capitalism at its worst and has done little to break the culture of dependency in that country. As I wrote in October 2003, in reference to a John Tierney NY Times essay:

Saddam Hussein kept the "culture of dependency" alive for political purposes, since he was seen by the populace as the source of largesse. After sanctions were imposed on Iraq, he used "300 government warehouses and more than 60,000 workers to deliver a billion pounds of groceries every month—a basket of rations guaranteed to every citizen, rich or poor." The occupation seeks to replace "rations with cash payments or some version of food stamps," aiming to move Iraqis to the practice of "shopping for themselves." Barham Salih, prime minister among the Kurds in northern Iraq, states: "This culture has become one of the biggest obstacles to rebuilding Iraq."
One hopeful sign, perhaps, is that many who receive the rations engage in resale of the items they don't want, contributing to the proliferation of gray markets. But free markets are being resisted by those in power, and some argue that the transition to direct cash payments will have to be accompanied by price controls and central planning. It makes the introduction of market prices and personal decision-making that much more difficult. Building a "nation" based on liberal democracy—on free markets, civil liberties, and procedural fairness—is not something that can be achieved by mere writ. It requires a fundamental cultural change. All of this brings to mind an important passage from volume 3 of Hayek's Law, Legislation and Liberty. Most important in this passage is Hayek's emphasis on the tacit dimension, which is 'embedded', if you will, in traditions, beliefs, and cultural practices, a dimension that forever threatens the articulated designs of central planners of any sort—be they current socialists or former ones (e.g., "neoconservatives"). Hayek writes:
"[V]ery few countries in the world are in the fortunate position of possessing a strong constitutional tradition. Indeed, outside the English-speaking world probably only the smaller countries of Northern Europe and Switzerland have such traditions. Most of the other countries have never preserved a constitution long enough to make it become a deeply entrenched tradition; and in many of them there is also lacking the background of traditions and beliefs which in the more fortunate countries have made constitutions work which did not explicitly state all that they presupposed, or which did not even exist in written form. This is even more true of those new countries which, without a tradition even remotely similar to the ideal of the Rule of Law which the nations of Europe have long held, have adopted from the latter the institutions of democracy without the foundations of beliefs and convictions presupposed by those institutions.
"If such attempts to transplant democracy are not to fail, much of that background of unwritten traditions and beliefs, which in the successful democracies had for a long time restrained the abuse of majority power, will have to be spelled out in such instruments of government for the new democracies. That most of such attempts have so far failed does not prove that the basic conceptions of democracy are inapplicable, but only that the particular institutions which for a time worked tolerably well in the West presuppose the tacit acceptance of certain other principles which were in some measure observed there but which, where they are not yet recognized, must be made as much a part of the written constitution as the rest. We have no right to assume that the particular forms of democracy which have worked with us must also work elsewhere. Experience seems to show that they do not. There is, therefore, every reason to ask how those conceptions which our kind of representative institutions tacitly presupposed can be explicitly put into such constitutions."

One last point needs to be emphasized: The world does not stop functioning in the process of attempting to remake it. In my view, the constructivist "remaking of the modern world" should not be the guiding principle of US foreign policy. The world is always in process, after all. It is one thing to try to affect that process; it is quite another to believe that one can guide it.

The guiding principle of US foreign policy should be the protection of the individual rights of Americans. I am in full agreement with the neoconservatives, however, that a freer world is more desirable and that it is a necessary (though not sufficient) ingredient in the creation of a more secure world; my fundamental problem with the neocons is that they do not understand the complex conditions that foster either freedom or security.

Comments welcome. (Noted at L&P as well, where additional comments may be found here and here.)

Update: There's a follow-up dialogue on this thread at Cameron's blog here, with an additional exchange between Cameron and me here.

Song of the Day #188

Song of the Day: Emily, music by Johnny Mandel, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, additional lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, comes from the 1964 film, "The Americanization of Emily," starring Julie Andrews in the title role. In many ways, its opening bars remind me of the "Love Theme from Spartacus." And it is just as melodically lovely. Film Music February may have come to an end but we usher it out, the way we ushered it in ... with a Barbra Streisand audio clip, this one from "The Movie Album.