« July 2008 | Main | September 2008 »

August 29, 2008

Song of the Day #906

Song of the Day: I Want You Back, music and lyrics by The Corporation, went to #1 on the Billboard Pop Chart in 1969. This "Grammy Hall of Fame" tune was also the first hit single for the Jackson Five. The lead singer of that group, Michael Jackson, turns 50 today. It's hard to believe that Madonna, Prince, and MJ are now all 50 years old! Check out a YouTube video of this classic track.

August 26, 2008

DNC, Moore, and Laissez-Faire Capitalism

The Democratic National Convention began last night, providing a few high moments for the party faithful. But I got a few chuckles while catching up on my reading last night.

Michael Moore tells the New York Daily News: "At this point, we need to try anything---and Obama is anything. And if he doesn't do the job we can throw the bum out in four years." (Just don't forget the old maxim: the job of the new president is to make the last president look good. Granted, a President Obama would have to go a long way to achieving that goal.)

Oh, and in a very interesting NY Times magazine article on "Advanced Obamanomics," David Leonhardt calls Obama a "free-market loving, big-spending, fiscally conservative, wealth redistributionist." A study in contradiction. What else is new? The article contains this classic howler:

The government has deregulated industries, opened the economy more to market forces and, above all, cut income taxes. Much good has come of this---the end of 1970s stagflation, infrequent and relatively mild recessions, faster growth than that of the more regulated economies of Europe. Yet, laissez-faire capitalism hasn't delivered nearly what its proponents promised. It has created big budget deficits, the most pronounced income inequality since the 1920s and the current financial crisis.

Laissez-faire capitalism? Laissez-faire capitalism?

It's a fairly typical exercise by contemporary political pundits; every so often, just "free-up" the mixture of regulation and market forces in the everyday see-saw of mixed economic policies and then blame laissez-faire capitalism for the mess.

Anyway, after some truly rousing Olympics in Beijing, the real political Olympics have only begun; pass the popcorn.

Cross-posted to L&P.

August 24, 2008

Song of the Day #905

Song of the Day: I Wanna Be Your Lover, music, lyrics, and performance by Prince, was released on this date in 1979, becoming the artist's first bona fide pop hit single. Like Madonna, Prince celebrates his 50th birthday this year (he was born on June 7, 1958). Listen to an audio clip here (from the self-titled album "Prince").

August 23, 2008

The More Things "Change"...

As we stand on the eve of our every-four-year national two-week circus, which, truthfully, I will watch with popcorn and soda at arm's length (hey, I'm already watching the Obama-Biden sideshow today!), I am utterly amazed at how enthusiastic some political commentators have been over the upcoming Democratic and Republican Presidential nominating conventions. The coronation of Barack Obama and John McCain as their respective party nominees will give us a spirited debate about ... nothing. That is nothing fundamental. We've heard a lot about "change" over the past year, but in reality, there is nothing that either major party will do to "change" anything about our current political-economic system.

I was looking back over a few older posts of mine, and decided that it would be an entertaining task to re-post some of that material here, with a few "changes" of my own. Back on November 1, 2004, I posted an entry on the "Liberty & Power Group Blog," entitled "A Vote for Nobody Because It Won't Matter." Let's see how some of the changes look:

For the first time in my life, however, I'm profoundly unenthused and/or fully disgusted by the choices. I have voted for major party candidates in previous elections, and am not opposed to it in principle. And I have also voted for the Libertarian Party candidates, at times, just to register my protest, but the Two-Party system is so entrenched that the prospect of even a symbolic third-party challenge is virtually nil. In any event, after reading [about] ... the LP convention ... , I just get the shivers seeing so many libertarians acting like politicians.
I must confess that my mind shifts among various levels of perversity: A part of me feels that [John McCain should] ... be [elected], only because his administration [would be an extension of the Bush years] and ... [the GOP still] ought to stick around and be held fully accountable for the disastrous policies they've instituted, though clearly we will all be paying the price for that. ...
On the other hand, if [Obama] wins, I am not at all hopeful. U.S. policies [abroad] have now been institutionalized. [Obama] gives no indication that he will change anything fundamentally, except, perhaps, his views, depending on which way the political wind blows.
Here in New York, of course, a Blue State by Definition that [Obama] will carry, my vote won't count one way or the other. I will go into the voting booth, vote defensively on a few local races and on various bond issues, and proudly walk out without having cast a single vote for President. As the old adage goes: It only encourages them.

Here's a bit more. How about this entry from November 5, 2004: "A Pox on Both Their Houses." Again, I'll just make a few modifications:

Since I now have a little track record for my soothsaying, I'll make another prediction, though this one is a lot easier: The Democrats will never present any radical alternative to the GOP. And those who think it possible are deluding themselves. ...
Nobody is going to get rid of FDR's "legacy," because it is now part of the American Third Way, one that repudiates both capitalism and socialism, while finding more "efficient" ways to deliver welfare programs. Let's not forget that this President [George W. Bush] has presided over the most expansive extension of Medicare since the days of Lyndon Baines Johnson. In fact, Bush has a lot in common with LBJ: ... he has endorsed all the "conventional Democratic planks: an expanding welfare state, budget deficits, and a war abroad." And let's not forget that the Democrats ... lined up like ducks on a lake to give this President the authority to go to war in Iraq. Democratic duplicity or, worse, self-delusion, is everywhere.
Gone is fiscal conservatism. Gone is opposition to the welfare state. Gone is any opposition to the warfare state, which was so much a part of the Old Right (like that Grand Old Republican, Robert Taft). ... Boy, American politics is God-awful, isn't it? ... [Yes,] even Bill Clinton declared famously "that 'the era of big government is over.'" Alas, it's not over. What is over, however, is the illusion of the limited-government Republican. George W. Bush has succeeded, partially, because he is a Big Government Conservative. [And so is John McCain.] ... One might say that the GOP success owes something to the ability of that party to absorb, rather than to repudiate, the legacy of Wilson, FDR, and LBJ. ...
[Democratic and Republican] positions start to morph into one another, and nobody, nobody on either side of this divide is repudiating Big Government. In the end, with both parties having mastered various forms of pragmatic moral appeasement, each remains a full-fledged defender of the activist state. Their constituencies may differ, their rhetorical emphases may shift, but neither party is questioning the fundamental premises upon which this politico-economic system is based. And neither will present the kind of bold, secular alternative upon which freedom might flourish.

Oh... for those who think that some of the above doesn't apply to Obama because he "opposed" the Iraq war... well, okay. He actually never voted on it one way or the other because he wasn't in the Senate at the time, but even if he had voted against the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, he has shown absolutely no desire to move against the core of U.S. foreign policy. He will not change the structure of U.S. foreign policy or the interests that drive it; he will not change the system that contextualizes virtually every political and economic decision made by Democratic and Republican administrations alike. A promise to shift or "redeploy" some of the resources (human resources) within that system is not an attack on the system as such.

For those who need to be reminded about the essence of that system, let me reiterate another old post, this one from February 4, 2005, "'Capitalism': The Known Reality":

U.S. capitalism as such is ... "crony capitalism" or ... the "New Fascism": the intimate involvement of the U.S. government in the protection of business interests at home and abroad through politico-economic and military intervention. ... [This] is what exists and it is what has existed, in an ever-increasingly intense form, from the very inception of modern "capitalism." Indeed, one of the most insidious forms of state intervention has been in the area of money, banking, and finance. And if Austrian economists are correct that the boom-bust cycle itself is rooted in the state-banking nexus, then that nexus and its destabilizing effects have been around in various incarnations ever since "capitalism" was given its name.

Whether we call it "crony capitalism," "political capitalism," neomercantilism, or neofascism, or "liberal" corporatism, the reality is the same: an evolved and sophisticated organic unity of warfare state and welfare state in which each aspect mutually reinforces the other.

I will have more to say about all this in the coming weeks and months... but for now, I just wanted to put a few things on record. If ever another old adage were true, it is this: The more things "change," the more they stay the same.

Mentioned at L&P.

August 16, 2008

Phabulous Phelps!

Swimmer Michael Phelps, with a little help from Team USA, takes home his eighth gold medal tonight at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. He writes himself into the history books, beating the 1972 7-medal Gold Haul of Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz.

Bravo, Michael! Bravo!

Song of the Day #904

Song of the Day: Give It 2 Me features the music and lyrics of Pharrell Williams and Madonna, who celebrates her 50th birthday today. This hot dance track is one of my favorites from her most recent release, "Hard Candy." Listen to an audio clip here and check out the YouTube video and a Paul Oakenfold remix.

August 13, 2008

Song of the Day #903

Song of the Day: Shaft ("Theme from") features the music and lyrics of Isaac Hayes, who passed away on August 10, 2008. Written for the 1971 film of the same name, the song won an Oscar for Hayes, a soul music pioneer. One of the most hilarious moments in Oscar history, was seeing, or not seeing, Isaac Hayes, during a 2000 Academy Awards performance, in which the dry ice effect covered him in smoke. Host Billy Crystal quipped: "How do you lose Isaac Hayes?" Check out a YouTube "Shaft" video clip, and additional audio clips from this classic soundtrack album.

August 10, 2008

SITL, Part 3: After Multiculturalism: The Politics of Race and the Dialectics of Liberty

Back in March 2008, I began a series that I modestly entitled, "SITL" or "Sciabarra In The Literature." As I explained in the first installment:

It is very fulfilling to find one's work discussed in the works of others. Since the publication of my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy, which includes the books Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, there have been a number of books that have been published that examine my ideas from a variety of perspectives.
Today and over the coming months, I hope to turn some attention to discussions of my work that appear in the literature. For me, it will provide an opportunity to delve more deeply into some of the ideas first presented in my trilogy. Readers will note that these blog posts will be preceded by the abbreviation: SITL ("Sciabarra In The Literature").

Part 1 of the series examined the second edition of the book, Marx, Reason, and the Art of Freedom, by Kevin M. Brien. Part 2 focused on the book, Socialism After Hayek, by Theodore A. Burczak.

Today, especially today... when this country finds itself on the precipice of what could be a titanic discussion of the relevance of race and racism ... I turn my attention to one of the most important books on the subject that I have ever read: After Multiculturalism: The Politics of Race and the Dialectics of Liberty, by John F. Welsh (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2008). Before delving into this book, I must note that Welsh audited one of my "Dialectics and Liberty" cyberseminars some years ago; his acquaintance with dialectical methodology, however, long precedes his engagement with my work. He published an article, entitled "Reification and the Dialectic of Social Life," in the Spring 1986 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Ideology, and another essay of his, entitled "The Unchained Dialectic: Critique and Renewal of Higher Education Research," appears in the 2007 volume, Neoliberalism and Education Reform, edited by E. Wayne Ross and Rich Gibson (Hampton Press).

I provided a blurb for Welsh's new book, which appears on the book's back jacket; here is what I said:

John F. Welsh provides a comprehensive survey of libertarian and individualist thought on race and multiculturalism. Examining such thinkers as Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Lysander Spooner, Albert Jay Nock, and Max Stirner, Welsh's provocative book demonstrates the analytical power of dialectical-libertarian perspectives. Exploring multiple, interconnected levels, Welsh offers a fundamentally radical critique of racism in all its guises, while challenging current models of thinking on this volatile subject. This is truly a much-needed addition to the growing scholarly literature.

Welsh opens his superb book with the following important observation:

Contemporary theory and policy discourse on race and racism in the United States are dominated by collectivist principles that entail a fundamental contradiction: Racism historically required and continues to require state power for its implementation, but the prevailing interpretations and challenges to racism are those that also foster collective social identities and seek to influence and direct the use of state power in the interests of particular racial and ethnic groups. (p. 1)

Welsh not only critiques racism, but also the multiculturalist perspective through which most contemporary discussions of racism are often filtered. He aims to move the discussion toward a more dialectical orientation. He argues that "[s]ocial reality ... is the result of [a] dialectical process in which people actively create the social world and are created by it." As such, he traces the interconnections between racism and the multiculturalist paradigm; he sees each as a mirror image of the other. For Welsh, multiculturalism (which "expresses the idea that concepts of identity, community, and political legitimacy are rooted in and ultimately constrained by race and culture," p. 2), in its opposition to racism, "reproduces significant features of racist theory and practice" (p. 12). Because multiculturalism mirrors the very phenomenon it ostensibly opposes, it is not likely to "promote the types of actions and changes that are necessary to overcoming racism in American society." By contrast, Welsh promotes "individualist and libertarian ideas [that] offer important contributions toward the realization of a social world free of racial domination" (pp. 2-3).

This is crucial to Welsh's thesis:

Racism is a statist ideology in that it requires political authority, power, law, and public policy to enforce the domination and subjugation of racial, ethnic, and linguistic groups. (p. 15)

Given the current statist context and historical conditions, and the statist influence on interpersonal and cultural dynamics, it is no surprise that those ideologies that have developed in the struggle against racism are themselves by-products of racism. As Welsh maintains:

Multiculturalism is also a statist ideology in that it looks to the state, public, and institutional policy and enforcement mechanisms to ameliorate, rectify, or eliminate forms of prejudice, discrimination, and violence. Multiculturalism's vision for responding to coercion against disadvantaged social groups is the acquisition of state power and the application of its coercive resources to assist them and defeat their enemies, all of whom are presumed to be racists. ... Multiculturalism is a statist ideology because it looks to the state for the solution of all critical social problems; like racism, it reveres the acquisition and exercise of state power. (p. 15)

In his development of his own highly dialectical mode of analysis, Welsh examines racism from a variety of vantage points and levels of generality; he sees reciprocally reinforcing interrelationships among racism, collectivism, cultural relativism, statism, tribalism, and determinism. He presents a theoretical perspective that expands "the dialectics of liberty." In rejecting racism as disease and multiculturalism as antidote, he argues that it is essential "to explore what individualism and libertarianism have to offer to those who are interested in reconstructing social life without racial and ethnic domination."

Welsh surveys the various critiques of racism offered by such theorists as Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, the individualist anarchists, and Max Stirner, among others, en route to defining a fundamentally radical dialectical-libertarian framework for interpretation, analysis, and praxis. He makes clear that the framework owes much to Sciabarra's work. Welsh writes:

In his book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, Chris Matthew Sciabarra outlines a philosophic perspective that seeks to integrate or fuse the basic elements of libertarianism with dialectical social theory. Total Freedom develops many of the ideas that Sciabarra initially presented in his studies, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical and Marx, Hayek, and Utopia. Sciabarra's basic argument is that there are some important points at which dialectical and libertarian theory converge. Total Freedom is particularly eloquent on the points that dialectical thinking does not, by necessity, result in the collectivist and statist utopias attributed to Hegel and Marx. In fact, if the understanding of dialectics is expanded and traced back to Aristotle, the compatibility between dialectics and libertarianism becomes more apparent. In Sciabarra's formulation, dialectical analysis transcends antagonisms between nations, races, and social classes, and is applied more broadly to include the conflicts between the market and the state, cultural ideals and social practices, and the self and other. ... (p. 19)
Sciabarra provides a compelling argument that dialectical social theory should be freed from its Marxian fetters. ... Sciabarra articulates a dialectical libertarianism as an integrated political philosophy that is distinct from other political perspectives, but every bit as comprehensive in its depiction of political sovereignty and legitimacy. ... Sciabarra envisions a tri-level model of power relations that emphasizes the reciprocal impact of each level on the others and opposes the isolation and abstraction of one level from the others, except for the purpose of analysis. Ultimately, each level cannot be extracted from the whole. (p. 20)

Welsh uses the tri-level diagram I first presented in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and through which I first explored Rand's own radical critique of racism (see especially Chapter 12 of that book, pp. 343-48; see also "Dialectics and Liberty," as a .pdf document). The tri-level model of social relations is expanded further in my book, Total Freedom (see Chapter 9, especially pp. 379-83). Welsh labels it "The Dialectical Libertarian Framework of Power Relations in Society":

Tri-Level Model of Power Relations in Society

Welsh summarizes this tri-level perspective, in the context of his central topic:

Level 1 (L1) refers to power relations as they are viewed from the perspective of the ethical and cognitive behaviors of the individual. When L1 is brought to the foreground of analysis, the focus is on the importance of individual and interpersonal ethical and cognitive behaviors that promote or challenge racism and alternatives to it. Level 2 (L2) refers to the analysis of power relations from the perspective of culture including language, values, norms, and ideology. When L2 is brought to the foreground of the analysis of racism and alternatives to it, the focus is on cultural traditions and ideologies that either promote, perpetuate, or challenge relations within and among ethno-racial groups. Level 3 (L3) refers to the structural level of the analysis of power relations from the perspective of political and economic structures, processes, and institutions. When L3 is brought to the foreground of the analysis or racism and alternatives to it, the focus is on laws, taxes, programs, and politics that either promote, perpetuate, or challenge racism. From Sciabarra's point of view, the dialectical libertarian framework requires an analysis and attack on the realities of racism at all three levels. He emphasizes the organic unity of the dialectical libertarian framework by quoting Rand's dictum that intellectual freedom, political freedom, and economic freedom are mutually dependent and mutually reinforcing. One cannot exist without the support of the others. (p. 22)

Welsh, however, extends the tri-level model significantly, and in this regard, his expansion is a worthwhile contribution to the literature. "Drawing from the framework Sciabarra developed," Welsh presents "the basic elements of a dialectical libertarian approach to the critique of racism and multicultural thought..." Methodologically, he emphasizes the "conflicts and antagonisms in theory and society," the statist mechanisms of "force and fraud," the importance of viewing social reality and social relations "in historical or processual rather than static terms," the distinction between the human and the natural sciences, and the "search for the sources of, and obstacles to, individual freedom" as the "goal of inquiry" (pp. 22-23).

By the time he reaches the conclusion of his brilliant work, Welsh presents us with a provocative comparative analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches he has surveyed throughout his book: Objectivism (Rand), Anarcho-Capitalism (Rothbard), Libertarianism (David Boaz, James Bovard, Charles Murray, Robert Nozick), Individualist Anarchism (Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, Albert Jay Nock), and Dialectical Egoism (Max Stirner). He summarizes the ways in which each perspective conceptualizes social relations on each of the levels of the tri-level model. We are left with a feeling of theoretical promise: That a "balanced assessment of the five perspectives" can yield a powerful research programme with revolutionary implications.

I do not recommend this book simply because Welsh's approach owes an intellectual debt to my work. I recommend it because Welsh is at the forefront of dialectical-libertarian scholarship. He is at war not only with racism and its mirror-image in multiculturalism, but with the kind of one-dimensional thinking that makes postracial, postethnic social change impossible. Welsh has provided us with a highly original, integrated, radical framework for the critical understanding of the social phenomenon of racism, and the means by which it can be vanquished.

There are many more installments of SITL coming soon; stay tuned. For now, get this book. Read it. You will not be disappointed.

Noted at L&P.

August 08, 2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, RIP

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Prize winner in literature, passed away on Sunday, August 3, 2008, at the age of 89. Solzhenitsyn was certainly no great defender of the West, but I shall always remember his brave attacks on the Soviet system of oppression. Before I read any Ayn Rand or Ludwig von Mises or F.A. Hayek or Murray Rothbard, I read Solzhenitsyn. In fact, I read virtually all of Solzhenitsyn's books, from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich to Cancer Ward, as a junior high and high school student.

But no book of his had a bigger impact on my early intellectual development than the first volume of his multi-volume work, The Gulag Archipelago, which came out in 1973. Solzhenitsyn wrote in his prefatory note:

I dedicate this to all those who did not live to tell it. And may they please forgive me for not having seen it all nor remembered it all, for not having divined all of it.
For years I have with reluctant heart withheld from publication this already completed book: my obligation to those still living outweighed my obligation to the dead. But now that State Security has seized the book anyway, I have no alternative but to publish it immediately.

The following passage, which opens Chapter 3, "The Interrogation," left an indelible mark on my consciousness. Intellectual and theoretical critiques of communism notwithstanding, it was this description of the sheer physical brutality of the Soviet regime that has remained among the strongest indictments of that system:

If the intellectuals in the plays of Chekhov who spent all their time guessing what would happen in twenty, thirty, or forty years had been told that in forty years interrogation by torture would be practiced in Russia; that prisoners would have their skulls squeezed within iron rings; that a human being would be lowered into an acid bath; that they would be trussed up naked to be bitten by ants and bedbugs; that a ramrod heated over a primus stove would be thrust up their anal canal (the "secret brand"); that a man's genitals would be slowly crushed beneath the toe of a jackboot; and that, in the luckiest possible circumstances, prisoners would be tortured by being kept from sleeping for a week, by thirst, and by being beaten to a bloody pulp, not one of Chekhov's plays would have gotten to its end because all the heroes would have gone off to insane asylums. (Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, I-II. Translated from the Russian by Thomas P. Whitney. New York: Harper & Row, 1973, pp. 93)

Whatever one's views of Solzhenitsyn's works or his wider intellectual impact or influence, I honor his courageous commitment to revealing the truth about one of the most horrific regimes in modern history.

Noted at L&P (under comments).