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February 21, 2017

Upper-Case "Objectivism". Why?

Today, on his "For the New Intellectual" blog, Anoop Verma asks: "Why Objectivism Must Have 'O' Capitalized?"

He says that Chris Matthew Sciabarra "always writes 'Objectivism' with capital 'O.' In the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, which he edits, all the authors are required to capitalize the 'O' in Objectivism." In personal correspondence, I had mentioned to Anoop that one of the reasons Rand capitalized her system, "Objectivism," was to distinguish it between classical (lower-case 'o') objectivism and traditional subjectivism. If Rand had not capitalized Objectivism, she would have been lumped together with all the other classical objectivists in history, and that would have been incorrect, from a categorical perspective. She was quite explicitly opposed to classical objectivism, which didn’t allow for agent-relative perception. All things are perceived objectively by a mind that allows us to view reality in a certain form, dictated by the organs of our perception. For Rand, the organs of our perception did not distort reality, as the classical objectivists would have maintained; they were the only means of grasping reality in a certain form. We do not acquire knowledge by some ineffable means to grasp the object (classical objectivism); and we do not distort the objects of reality by use of our organs of perception (automatic) or by defining and categorizing them arbitrarily, as the subjectivists would claim. We acquire knowledge of the objects of reality in a certain form as dictated by the nature of our own means of perceiving and identifying those objects; this is an objective reality as understood by a knowing subject.

But I've also looked at "Objectivism" in a more "hermeneutical" fashion, ever since the publication of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical was first published back in 1995 (it went into a second edition in 2013). I'll quote the relevant passages (I've eliminated the citations and references, which can be found in the published source):

In my view, there are distinctions between the "orthodox" interpreters of Rand's thought and those who can be termed "neo-Objectivists." The orthodox thinkers see Rand's philosophy as closed and complete. The neo-Objectivists accept certain basic principles, while expanding, modifying, or revising other aspects of Rand's thought. The "neo-Objectivist" label is not employed critically; for history, I believe, will describe all these thinkers simply as "Objectivists." Nevertheless, Rand did not sanction all of the developments proceeding from her influence. In the case of Nathaniel Branden, for instance, although Rand enthusiastically approved his theoretical work while he was her associate, she repudiated his subsequent efforts.
A later dispute between Leonard Peikoff and David Kelley centered on the question of what precisely constitutes the philosophy of Objectivism. Adopting an orthodox, "closed-system" approach, Peikoff has stated: "'Objectivism' is the name of Ayn Rand's philosophy as presented in the material she herself wrote or endorsed." Peikoff excludes from "official Objectivist doctrine" both his own work after Rand's death and Rand's unedited, unpublished lectures and journals, since she "had no opportunity to see or approve" of the material. Peikoff follows Rand's own pronouncements. At the time of the Branden schism, Rand maintained (in 1968) that she was a theoretician of Objectivism, which she characterized as "a philosophical system originated by me and publicly associated with my name." She claimed that it was her "right and responsibility" to defend the system's integrity, and she renounced any "organized movement" in her name.
Twelve years after this "statement of policy," when a magazine called The Objectivist Forum was established, Rand approved the journal as "a forum for students of Objectivism to discuss their ideas, each speaking only for himself." Rand stated that the magazine was neither the "official voice" of her philosophy nor her "representative" or "spokesman." Rand explained further that those who agree with certain tenets of Objectivism but disagree with others should give proper acknowledgment "and then indulge in any flights of fancy [they] wish, on [their] own." Anyone using the name of "Objectivism" for his own "philosophical hodgepodge . . . is guilty of the fraudulent presumption of trying to put thoughts into my brain (or of trying to pass his thinking off as mine---an attempt which fails, for obvious reasons). I chose the name 'Objectivism' at a time when my philosophy was beginning to be known and some people were starting to call themselves 'Randists.' I am much too conceited to allow such a use of my name." Upholding the consistency of her system as one of its virtues, Rand opposed the practice of those philosophers who "regard philosophy as a verb, not a noun (they are not studying or creating philosophy, they are ‘doing’ it)."
Thus Peikoff's interpretation of Objectivism as a "closed system" clearly mirrors Rand’s own view. By contrast, David Kelley views Objectivism as an "open system":
A philosophy defines a school of thought, a category of thinkers who subscribe to the same principles. In an open philosophy, members of the school may differ among themselves over many issues within the framework of the basic principles they accept.
The evolution of academic Marxist thought illustrates Kelley's point clearly. In defining the essence of contemporary Marxism, it is impossible to disconnect the statements of Karl Marx from the multiple interpretations constructed over the past century. These interpretations are as much a logical development of Marx's methods and theories as they are a reflection of the particular historical, social, and personal contexts of his interpreters. The interpretations also reflect different periods in Marx's own development. Some scholars stress the earlier, more "humanistic" Marx, whereas others argue for an economistic interpretation based on his mature works. Most scholars would agree, however, that one cannot detach Marx's unpublished writings from the corpus of his thought. Indeed, the great bulk of Marx's work was issued posthumously. For example, Marx's Grundrisse, composed of seven unedited workbooks, was first published in the twentieth century. It provides a cornucopia of material from which one can reconstruct his method of inquiry as a distinct "moment" (or aspect) of his dialectical approach. The Grundrisse is an essential complement to and reflection on Marx's published exposition in Capital.
In addition, a Marxist scholar cannot neglect the plethora of interpretive twists resulting from the combination of Marx's theories with compatible approaches in psychology, anthropology, and sociology. What has emerged is a scholarly industry that must take account of structuralist, phenomenological, critical, and analytical approaches, to name but a few. Finally, we have been presented with different philosophical interpretations of the "real" Karl Marx: the Aristotelian Marx, the Kantian Marx, the Hegelian Marx, and the Leninist Marx. None of these developments alter the essential body of theory that Marx proposed in his lifetime. One can empathize with the innovative theorist who, jealously guarding his discoveries, aims to protect the "purity" of the doctrine. Ironically, Rand suggests a spiritual affinity with Marx on this issue. She remembers that upon hearing the "outrageous statements" made by some of his "Marxist" followers, Marx exclaimed: "But I am not a Marxist."
Nevertheless, although one can debate whether a particular philosophy is "closed" or "open," scholarship must consider the many theoretical developments emerging over time directly or indirectly from the innovator’s authentic formulations. Much of current intellectual history focuses not on the ideas of the innovator, but rather, on the evolution of the ideas and on the context in which the ideas emerged and developed. As W. W. Bartley argues, the affirmation of a theory involves many logical implications that are not immediately apparent to the original theorist. In Bartley's words, "The informative content of any idea includes an infinity of unforeseeable nontrivial statements." The creation of mathematics for instance, "generates problems that are wholly independent of the intentions of its creators."
In this book, I have adopted a similarly hermeneutical approach. The principles of this scholarly technique were sketched by Paul Ricoeur in his classic essay, "The Model of the Text." Ricoeur maintains that a text is detached from its author and develops consequences of its own. In so doing, it transcends its relevance to its initial situation and addresses an indefinite range of possible readers. Hence, the text must be understood not only in terms of the author's context but also in the context of the multiple interpretations that emerge during its subsequent history.
I do not mean to suggest that Rand's ideas lack objective validity, that is, validity independent of the interpretations of others. Ultimately, one must judge the validity of any idea by its correspondence to reality and/or its explanatory power. But to evaluate the truthfulness of a philosophic formulation is not the only legitimate task of scholarship. Indeed, my primary purpose in this study as an intellectual historian and political theorist is not to demonstrate either the validity or the falsity of Rand's ideas. Rather, it is to shed light on her philosophy by examining the context in which it was both formulated and developed. In this book I attempt to grasp Rand's Objectivism as a text developing over time. As a concept, "Objectivism" is open-ended; it contains its history and its future. It must be understood in terms of both its historical origins and its post-Randian evolution. The existential conditions from which it emerged and to which it speaks are in large part what give it its very significance. So, too, its meaning continues to unfold through a clash of interpretations offered by followers and critics alike. By clarifying these conditions and factors, I hope to provide an enriched appreciation of Rand's contributions.
Such an assertion might imply that I claim to have grasped the implications of Objectivism even more thoroughly than did Rand herself. Although I would never presume to such intellectual hubris, it is true, nonetheless, that Rand could not have explored the full implications of her philosophy in her lifetime. Such a task is reserved necessarily for succeeding generations of scholars.

I know this is not the way Objectivists would approach the study of Rand's contributions; but then again, I've never claimed to be an Objectivist (at least not without significant qualification); I've been influenced by too many theorists, from Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard to Aristotle and Ayn Rand, to be pinned down to any one school. I've embraced the term "dialectical libertarianism", and have taken my lumps in doing so. But, for now, there are few people out there claiming to be "dialectical libertarians," so I don't think I'm in any danger of needing to jealously guard the intellectual niche I've carved out for myself. But one thing I'd never do is claim that my own philosophical hodgepodge is anything but my own. As I once wrote, citing an old Spanish proverb that Nathaniel Branden was fond of quoting:

I’m adhering to the old Spanish proverb that says: "Take what you want, and pay for it." I’m taking what I want from Rand’s legacy, and paying for it---by assuming responsibility for my own interpretations and applications. Call me a Randian or a post-Randian or a neo-Objectivist or an advocate of Objectivism 2.0, or even the founder of Sciabarra-ism. But don’t call me an Objectivist. I agree with Rand’s core principles. But I have never argued that my own innovations (on subjects like dialectics or homosexuality) are part of "Objectivism" as Rand . . . defines it. Yes, I do believe that my own viewpoint is fully consistent with Objectivism. And on the subject of dialectics, for example, I’ve even argued that Rand herself was a dialectician as I’ve defined it. But I would never argue that Rand embraced "dialectics" as such, explicitly and by that name. Ultimately, I believe that I’m carrying on Rand’s legacy in many substantive ways and the burden is on me to prove it.

I think I've done that job in my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy (which consists of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism and in many subsequent essays over the last two decades. But in the end, I'll let future generations of scholars have at it, to debate whether I got it right or wrong. However, I ain't dead yet. And there's lots more to come.

January 31, 2017

"Total Freedom": Never Too Late for a Review

I've always said it's never too late to review a book, especially if it is a book I've written. A classic display of this phenomenon is a nice review of my book Total Freedom: Toward A Dialectical Libertarianism, which was published by Pennsylvania State University Press back in 2000. Verma reviews the book on his blog "For the New Intellectual" and can be found at this link.

Verma also maintains a Facebook page, which is where readers will most likely find some discussion of the book; I am not clairvoyant, but I suspect it will include some familiar discussion among those who responded both favorably and unfavorably to my work. For me, it is only one more illustration of what Oscar Wilde once said: "There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

In any event, I've included the Verma review in my index of the reviews that has been written over the years of Total Freedom here. The Verma review is given a brief summary here, with a link to the full review on Verma's blog.

I would just like to extend my thanks to Anoop for giving some attention to the concluding book in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy," which began with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, continued with Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, now in a second expanded edition, and concluded with Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. The trilogy itself is nearly 20 years old, the first two installments having been published in 1995, and Total Freedom at the turn of the millennium, which proves it's never too late to find a review of one's work.

Postscript: I'm not a clairvoyant, but I could have predicted the avalanche of criticism waged against my work on dialectical method. I present below some of the comments I posted to the rather lengthy thread on Facebook:

First, I thanked Anoop Verma publicly on the thread:

I would just like to thank Anoop for focusing attention on the concluding book in my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. I know there are folks here that recoil in horror at the mere mention of "dialectics," and worse, that Sciabarra fellow. But with all due respect, it would just be nice to see a few people condemn something they've actually read. I've got no problem with criticism; my whole home page features all the reviews of all my works (both positive and negative), and while I might take issue with a reviewer here and there, especially if I believe they have misinterpreted my theses, at least the folks who reviewed the books took time to actually read them, and then took their best shot for the bleachers (in condemnation or celebration of what they'd just read).
Folks wanting to see a wide variety of reviews of the book can see the review index on the book's home page.

When a discussant claimed that dialectics was nothing more than the collision of opinion, and that Rand didn't arrive at truth through such a process of disputation, I replied:

You will find as many definitions of "dialectic" as there are opinions on the subject; It is difficult to discuss this with someone who has not read the book, but rest assured, I had to reconstruct, in the first three chapters of Total Freedom the meaning of dialectic as it evolved through the centuries, noting of course that it was Aristotle who was "The Fountainhead" of the enterprise. And his discussion of what it is and how he practices it has nothing to do with arguing from opinion; it is, in simple language, "the art of context-keeping," which requires that we study any object of inquiry, be an event or a social problem, on many different levels of generality and from many different vantage points, so as to get the "fuller context" of its meaning, both as it exists in a larger integrated system of other objects and problems, and has had a history of development across time. I devote considerable energy to showing what a masterful dialectical thinker Ayn Rand was. You can agree or disagree with it, but at the very least, disagree with me based on how I define it and defend it, rather than on words that I've never written or words that have never come out of my mouth.

The critic then claimed that "This desire to rescue dialectics stems from a desire to rationalize. To approach ideas from a deductive perspective, not inductive as Rand has done." To which I replied:

No it is not a desire to rationalize; it is to celebrate the principles of efficient thinking, so lacking in our educational systems and pedagogical practices. Context-holding is fundamental to efficient thinking, and if you read what both Rand and Peikoff have had to say about how educational and pedagogical practices have militated against the art of noncontradictory identification and the art of context-keeping and integration, you will have a better understanding of what I'm defending. It's got nothing to do with deducing anything; it is about actively going out and seeking evidence about the place of events and problems in this world and how they relate to the larger social system in which we live, and how they relate to the larger history from which they emerge.

The critic asks: "How does one think efficiently? Dialectics? How so, if there are as many definitions as there are opinions on dialectics? Doesn't seem very *efficient*. Unless dialectics means starting where one should start and building one's arguments on the proper foundations of reason, then I see no point in them as a technique." I replied:

I devote a whole chapter (Chapter Four) of Total Freedom to defining dialectics, and defending it, and it is virtually impossible for me to summarize the usefulness of the technique in a paragraph; but if you want a brief discussion of it in a magazine essay, check out "Dialectics and Liberty."

I added:

Logic and dialectics entail one another; one cannot have one without the other. Even the law of noncontradiction is defined within a specific context: A cannot be A and non-A "at the same time and in a certain respect." Folks used to ridicule Aristotle because "A is A" takes no account of how A evolves over time, and how A can be looked at in many different respects. But note, the Master understood that, and his critics, who sought to attack the laws of logic always seem to drop the proviso of the law of noncontradiction: "at the same time, and in the same respect." I could go on, but then I'd just have to cut and paste a whole chapter from Total Freedom.

But confusion with regard to the law of noncontradiction ensued; I continued:

You are totally misunderstanding what I just said. Aristotle himself would say that A thing is what it is and given its nature, all that it can and will become, given the circumstances in which it exists. One of the reasons Rand was so critical of a certain brand of libertarian thinking was because it focused its attention almost completely on political-economic issues, ripping these issues from the larger context in which they emerged, both historically and systemically. Rand paid attention to what I call the "personal" level of generality (which entailed understanding how people could be undercut in their psycho-epistemologies and cognitive capacities by the "Comprachicos"), and she also focused attention on the "cultural" level of generality, which required an understanding of how certain cultural ideas both contributed to and were reciprocal effects of the political system, which she so opposed. It is why she was opposed to the belief that simply getting rid of government intervention would create a free society. Something politicians forget at their peril, when they try to nation-build "democracies" based on individual rights on foreign cultures that are characterized by intense tribalism and have not a clue what such concepts as democracy or individual rights entail. Rand sought to undermine "statism" by a simultaneous attack on its political and economic irrationalities, but also on the extra-political institutions that undermined the development of reason, and a culture of individualism and creativity. That's what she meant when she said that libertarians were often guilty of dropping the fuller context upon which the achievement of freedom depends.

The critic relents: "Right, I get that. . . . Reading your article. Very good so far. I agree with your article, entirely." To which I replied:

Then you get my conception of a "dialectical" way of looking at the world; call it what you wish, but it is all about understanding the complex context within which social relations of power function, and the complex context that must be changed if freedom and individualism are to have a chance of surviving.

But the critic persists: "Well, I don't see how it improves on Rand's... Objectivism."

To which I replied:

It doesn't improve Rand; all it does is to help us appreciate her on a level that too many folks out there don't appreciate. They think she is a caricature of her "black-and-white" view of the world, with no nuance or sophistication to her analysis. Calling her a dialectical thinker does not invalidate any of the other fine ways of characterizing her; but it, at the very least, reveals a level of sophistication that some of her fans and most of her detractors do not understand. Sometimes if you just change the lens through which you look at a thinker, you bring into focus things that are often unseen or unacknowledged. Peikoff himself has always said that Hegel may have been wrong about a lot of things, but he was ~right~ methodologically speaking: "The True is the Whole". And it is no coincidence that this focus on the "whole", that is, the full integrated context is something that Hegel himself credited to, and celebrated in, the works of Aristotle, whom he called the "fountainhead" of dialectics, the father of the method, who was the first to articulate the principles of analysis so essential to a contextualized understanding of the problems we seek to resolve.

Another discussant equates dialectics with what Peikoff called "chewing"; to which I replied:

Well, I think it is more than simply chewing because it requires higher levels of abstraction to understand things on multiple levels and from multiple perspectives. But, indeed, if it is akin to "chewing", let's just say, first engage all five of your senses to make sure that what you ingest looks good, feels good, smells good, tastes good, and even sounds good as you chew it 30 times before swallowing; after that, however, unlike the automatic functions of your digestive process, take time to integrate what you've been chewing into the "organic unity" of your mind's integrative function, if you want to absorb its nutrients for better mental and physical functioning. :)
Peikoff would not equate "chewing" with dialectics; but, with all due respect to him, I think he thinks very dialectically in his work and his lectures. No doubt this came from Rand, but his Ph.D. mentor was Sidney Hook (who wrote the book, From Hegel to Marx), and Peikoff no doubt understands the importance of the Hegelian insight about integration in a totality. He has never tired of quoting Hegel's dictum that "The True is the Whole", and by that he means that one cannot enagage in pulling random strands out of the discussion of any philosophical or social problem without doing damage to our integrated knowledge of the real relationships among those "strands." It is no coincidence that the words "integrity" and "integration" come from the same linguistic root.

The first critic then made a claim: "Adding 'dialectics' is a term that is not clear, loaded with connotation and specifically geared to please the skeptics/academics in order to 'legitimize' Objectivism as a philosophy." I replied:

. . . I mean this with all due sincerity: if you think for one moment that I pulled dialectics out of my hat as a way of courting the favor of the folks in academia in order to bolster the "reputation" of Ayn Rand, well, as we say in Brooklyn: Fuhgedaboudit. First, understand, my book was published after the Berlin Wall fell; Marxism may not have been in decline in areas like literary criticism, but for the most part, the very last thing anybody would want to do is to pick up the mantle of "dialectics" and run with it as some kind of badge of honor, Secondly, NOBODY in their right mind in academia, was writing ANYTHING on Rand (with the exception of a few essays in the "Personalist" and the Den Uyl-Rasmussen collection published in 1984.) The only books that were of interest were those like The Passion of Ayn Rand and Judgment Day (and this is quite apart from whether you like these books or don't): they were of interest to the mainstream media because they had salacious details about the Rand-Branden affair.
Let me tell you about my experience trying to get Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical published; I went to no fewer than two dozen university presses who would not even review the manuscript because they did not believe Ayn Rand was a subject worthy of scholarly study or legitimation. I went to two trade presses that would have published the book, but they found it too "scholarly" for their commercial markets. In the end, Temple University Press accepted the book for publication, over the objections of one of its reviewers (a scholar who was of the more "orthodox" school of Objectivisw), but by that time, Pennsylvania State University Press gave me an offer I couldn't refuse and I went with them. So two years passed before I could even get a publisher; it did not help my academic career one iota in either proprietary rewards or scholarly reputation by combining the hated "dialectical method" with the hated Ayn Rand. In fact, it was the surest way of practically sinking my career.
But as it turned out, some reasonable reviews came out that didn't find it so explosively controversial to hypothesize that somebody might have learned something from their education and from the culture within which they came to intellectual maturity. It was largely because of the controversial nature of my claims that publications like The Chronicle of Higher Education and Lingua Franca ran stories on it. I don't claim to have opened the path to others or to have simply benefited from a rising interest in Rand. But the simple fact is that prior to 1995, there had not been a single full-length book discussing the historical genesis, systematic character, and radical implications of Ayn Rand's thought. And in the years that followed, a veritable avalanche of books began to appear on Rand. If my book had even the slightest effect on opening the market on Rand, I'm happy. All I know is that I wrote that book as a way of showing that Rand was an intellectual giant, but that she stood on the shoulders of giants to see further. I honor Rand, but Rand has never been the sole area of my scholarly work; I've done books on Marx, Hayek, Rothbard, dialectics, and written articles on subjects as diverse as sexuality and music.
In any event, I appreciate the attention given to my work; nobody has to agree with anything I say in any of the works I've written. But I'm not the enemy. There is a world out there that Ayn Rand sought to change; it is the same world that I want to change, in the direction of "free minds and free markets"; it was Rand who inspired me from my senior year in high school, and it is Rand who still inspires me to live each day, with conviction that my own life and productive work are deeply personal, life-sustaining values to hold dear.

I was also asked by one person: "Is contextually absolute definition a part of the process of dialectical reasoning?"

I replied:

An excellent question; I discuss precisely this issue in Chapter 6 of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, specifically on pages 161-166. I argue there that Ayn Rand rejects those who would view all characteristics as essential to a definition as well as those who would view nothing as essential (hence, implying that the identification of an "essential" characteristic is either subjective or socially arbitrary.) I actually quote Rand directly on page 162 that definitions are neither subjective conventions nor "a repository of closed, out-of-context omniscience." Rand understood that since everything belongs to one reality, all things are related, but since we are not omniscient, she always emphasized that everything is related in some sense (that is, in some identifiable context). As I write: "For Rand, definitions must be 'contextually absolute' since they must 'specify the known relationships among existents (in terms of the known essential characteristics)" The emphasis here is on what is essential within the context of knowledge."
That whole section of the book focuses on the mutual importance of the art of noncontradictory identification (logic) and the art of context-keeping (dialectics). Each entails and implies the other. (BTW, the pages I'm referencing are from the second edition of Russian Radical.) Every chapter that discusses the structure of Rand's philosophy in every major branch stresses the crucial role of contextual thinking, whether it be in epistemology, or in Rand's analysis of the social problems of the day.

In another discusssion, concerning Anoop Verma's essay, "An Enquiry Concerning the Objectivist Movement During the 1950s and 1960s", Anoop, prompted by his reading of the recent JARS symposium on Nathaniel Branden, remarks: "Chris Matthew Sciabarra, the editor of Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, is an outlier on the Branden issue. He blames the 'orthodox Objectivists' for spreading disinformation to distort Branden’s legacy." I responded to this comment on Anoop's Facebook thread:

To be fair, it's not that I believe that "orthodox" Objectivists have spread disinformation about NB; it's certainly not disinformation that he lied to Ayn Rand, used some important principles of psychology that he developed, not as a means to understand or explain, but as a psychological sledgehammer to manipulate and control Inner Circle members of the "Collective" for too many years.The central issue for me, as a scholar, was that for too many years, those who were affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute wrote articles and books---and readers could not find a single reference to any essay, lecture, etc. that Branden contributed ~during the years of his association with Ayn Rand~. Rand's statement of policy after her 1968 break with NB and BB emphasized that all their work up to that break was still considered to be part of canonical Objectivism, among the only "authentic" sources on her and her philosophy. So it was regrettable that up until the most recent "Blackwell Companion Series" book on Rand, one would strain to find a passing reference to NB and it would only be made by inference.
For example, I recall that at one point, one writer stated something like: "In an essay entitled 'Counterfeit Individualism'," and then offer a quoted passage, without even mentioning who wrote the essay; or, for example, in the case of Edith Packer (prior to her expulsion from ARI), she referred without attribution to the "Muttnik Principle" (a term coined by NB, in a discussion of experiences with his dog "Muttnik" that led him to understand and articulate the concept of 'psychological visibility'). What I most objected to was this fundamental violation of the common customs of attribution. It prevented a generation of ARI-affiliated scholars from citing any of the original lectures or essays on "self-esteem," "psycho-epistemology," "volition," etc. that Branden wrote. In some instances, such writers twisted themselves into intellectual pretzels to cite some derivative source rather than the original primary and still-officially-sanctioned sources written in the late 1950s and early-to-mid 1960s by NB.
I understand fully why many orthodox followers might not wish to sanction works by NB, but just because you think somebody is a bum, a liar, or a fraud, does not mean that you violate the customs of scholarly attribution to primary sources. This practice is, thankfully, changing; Gregory Salmieri (and his late co-editor Allan Gotthelf), have finally made a titanic shift in the recent Blackwell Companion, and it is a book that I cannot more highly recommend.

The person who raised the issue of "contextually absolute definition" was not fully satisfied with my response, and asked for greater clarification, especially since it appears that dialectics is a rejection of alternatives that are quite clearly true (like "good versus evil", "food versus poison", etc.). I responded more fully (on 6 February 2017):

You have misunderstood what I define as dialectics with a rejection of right versus wrong, good versus evil, food versus poison. Dialectics rejects ~false~ alternatives, not true ones. It can best be understood if one thinks of how Rand posited subjectivist versus intrinsicist "solutions" to philosophical problems, and arrived at a carefully reasoned, reality-based "objective" response that was in clear opposition to conventional false alternatives.
Now it is true that "dialectics" has its origins in "dialogue", which implicitly entails the discussion of problems from different perspectives. But the full, developed conception of dialectics that I have proposed (see especially Chapter Four of my book, Total Freedom) is one that involves much more than dialogue. It is the examination of any issue, event, or problem with an eye toward understanding its full context, which entails placing it in a larger system of interconnected issues, events, or problems, and understanding how these evolved over time. It entails the examination of issues, events, or problems on multiple, interconnected levels of generality and from different vantage points so as to arrive at a fuller, richer understanding of the issues, events, or problems at hand. Rand was a master of this kind of integrated analysis, and it was, at its core, a radical form of analysis, that is, one which sought to go to the "root" of problems in an attempt to uproot them fundamentally.
Now, a bit more about the "true" versus "false" alternatives distinction I mentioned above. Even when Rand looks at conventional false alternatives, for example, she does not endorse "the virtue of selfishness" over altruism. She proclaimed "a new concept of egoism" that opposed the conventional false alternatives of "brute" selfishness (sacrifice of others to oneself) versus "benevolent" altruism (sacrifice of oneself to others).
There is nothing in dialectics that is in opposition to the law of noncontradiction. To clarify this point, I'd like to quote a passage from the canonical lectures on the "Principles of Efficient Thinking", soon to be published by Cobden Press, which were given by Barbara Branden under the auspices of the Nathaniel Branden Institute circa 1959-1960 (and later revised with quotations from canonical published sources in 1969); note especially the interdependence of context-holding, integration, and noncontradiction:
"Context-holding requires integration. With regard to ideas, it requires the integration of one's concepts into a consistent, unified system of concepts. With regard to action, it requires the integration of the meaning, implications, and consequences of one's actions. With regard to values, desires, and goals, it requires the integration of the long-range and the short-range, of means and ends; it requires the integration of any particular value or desire or goal with one's total system of values, desires, and goals.
"Context-holding requires that one respect the Law of Non-Contradiction---that one not form political convictions which contradict one's moral philosophy---that one not form moral convictions which contradict one's view of the nature of man---that one not pass aesthetic judgments which contradict one's philosophy of art—that one not reach economic conclusions which contradict one's knowledge of economic theory, of politics, of the nature of man and the nature of reality—that one not choose values which contradict one's other values—that one not choose goals which contradict one's long-range goals—that one not set purposes which contradict the nature of reality.
"Context-dropping means holding a contradiction."
I hope this addresses the issues you've raised.

Anoop Verma added this comment: "In other words, . . . dialectics is a stepping stone to logic. You need to be dialectical to be logical is what your arguments in the book lead to." To which I responded:

And vice versa. By that I mean, there is an "organic" interrelationship here that cannot be sundered.

To which Anoop added: "Ok. But the question is why shouldn't we use the term 'logical analysis' or 'logical argumentation' for dialectics? Is it about preserving the Aristotelian lineage of the term 'dialectics' or is there some other significance to the word. Or is it important for us to take back the word from the Marxist universe (dialectical materialism.)" To which I replied:

We use a different word because it is a word that specifically focuses on "context-holding"; it's not just "logical argumentation," which can imply other, equally important, analytical tools. In Total Freedom and elsewhere, I spell out what I mean by context-holding and the types of analyses that qualify as such: That's why there is an emphasis on looking at any problem, event, or issue on different levels of generality and from different vantage points. I use this developed concept of dialectics to hone in on the specific importance of the means by which we hold context in our analysis of any issue, event, or problem.
On the issue of taking back the word from the Marxists, I think this is strategically important as well; after all, Rand fought to take back the word "selfishness" from those who viewed it in conventional ways, just as she tried to redefine "capitalism" as an "unknown ideal" (and note, as F. A. Hayek pointed out, the word "capitalism" was coined by the left as a way of denigrating what they believed was the "capital-class-centered" nature of free markets.)

The person who raised questions about dialectics thanked me for clarifying the issues, and I responded:

I genuinely appreciate the "dialogue" here, and I do hope that it has clarified some issues. But understand that I wrote a trilogy of books on this subject, which began with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, and continued with Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and concluded with Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. So it's a lot to "chew" in any brief discussion. Please feel free to get back to me with any further quesions in the future.

The discussion continues on this thread; one participant raised the question of what exactly is "Objectivism" and I commented on it; here is what I said:

John, you asked about whether the fuller context of freedom includes a base, and I believe it does. To this extent, I would say that I have accepted, in general, Rand's fundamentals in the central branches of philosophy (her "standing on one foot" summation is a good place to start if one wants to get the general spirit of those fundamentals). It is one of the reasons I've rejected the approach of certain "libertarians" who argue as if a focus on politics is all that is needed to revolutionize the world. It is not. There are "personal" and "cultural" issues that are just as, or perhaps even more, important, as the political-economic issues.
You know, ironically, John, I am in agreement with you. Objectivism is exactly what Ayn Rand said it was, and it includes all the sources that she endorsed in her lifetime as "authentic"; we can probably have disagreements over what specifically should be included in the philosophy and what should be excluded. For example: her views on whether a woman should be President, which grew out of her views on masculinity and femininity, her views on gays, her views on specific works of art or of specific composers. But yes, there is this body of work that we should honor and call "Objectivism".
I sometimes wonder if there is utility in distinguishing between Objectivists, who stick to everything that we would have to agree is "essential" to the philosophy and, say, Randians, or neo-Randians: those who are influenced by Rand, and who have gone in directions that Rand may not have agreed with. To this extent, now that Rand is gone, we are all Randians now, that is insofar as any of us (including Leonard Peikoff who has taken full responsibility for the various directions he has taken what he has learned from Ayn Rand) develops the implications of her thought for areas that Rand did not fully address: the theory of induction, applications of her views to different cultural contexts, and so forth.
I'm sure we're all familiar with what Marx said about some of his followers, who were taking his thought in directions that he himself opposed. These folks were self-identified "Marxists," and he is reported to have said "Je ne suis pas Marxiste" ("I am not a Marxist"). I suspect that if Rand were alive today, she'd be appalled by some of the directions that the Randians or neo-Randians have gone (and I, myself, would most likely fit into the "neo-Randian" camp on most issues, but then again, I'd also fit into a "neo-Misesian" camp on economic issues, and a "neo-Aristotelian" camp on methodological issues, and so forth).
There was an old saying that Objectivists used: "Take what you want and pay for it." I take that to mean: Take what you find of value in Rand, and pay for it, by taking responsibility for the fact that you may have gone in directions that Rand would not have endorsed, and do not put words into the mouth of Rand that she never uttered or misrepresent yourself as her spokesperson. She did pretty well on her own, I'd say. One need only read her words and realize that she is and will always be the spokesperson for the philosophy that she identified as Objectivism.

December 30, 2016

Nathaniel Branden Symposium Reviews Begin

Anoop Verma has written a review of the new Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposium on Nathaniel Branden. Readers can find that review here, though the review has sparked a dialogue on Anoop's Facebook page.

I made one comment on the current thread (and will update readers as time allows):

I would just like to make one comment here, having been a coeditor on this project. Nobody should be speculating on what the "movement" would have been like had Nathaniel Branden not been there; this is a completely ahistorical way of looking at the world. We are not soothsayers; nor are we fiction writers who can easily recreate alternative realities. Reality is what it is independent of what people think or feel; Branden was there from 1950 onward. Rand dedicated Atlas Shrugged to both Nathaniel Branden and Frank O'Connor; who knows how different Atlas would have been had Nathaniel not been in Ayn Rand's life? Would we have had the same plot and same romantic entanglements of Dagny with three men (John Galt, Hank Rearden, and Francisco d'Anconia)? Who knows?
Bottom line is: deal with what is, and form your judgments. Branden was there from 1950, and Rand and Branden went their separate ways in 1968. You may disagree with the directions that Rand and/or Branden went, but the fact is that Rand said explicitly that all the pre-1968 writings and lectures of both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden remained among the "only authentic sources" on Objectivism, in addition to her own work and the work of others featured in periodicals that she edited. As we say in Brooklyn: "Dems de facts." End of story. (And by the way, if there were no Nathaniel Branden or Barbara Branden in Rand's life, there would also have been no Leonard Peikoff, and so on...)
Those pre-1968 Branden writings and lectures are part of canonical Objectivism whether you like it or not; take them out of the canon, and you can take out all the essays and lectures that Branden contributed on perception, volition, the stolen concept, psycho-epistemology, self-esteem, pseudo-self-esteem, social metaphysics, psychological visibility, romantic love, and countless other subjects, including analyses of Rand's literary method. Not to mention the essays that made it into both The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (in the latter work, this includes all of the material that Branden integrated into the Objectivist corpus from the economic writings of Austrian economics).
And in terms of Barbara Branden, we have the only authorized course (a ten-lecture course) on "Principles of Efficient Thinking," which might as well have been renamed "Introduction to Objectivist Psycho-Epistemology," since it is the only course to deal extensively with that crucial subject in the entire Objectivist tradition (oral and written). Nathaniel Branden himself credits Barbara Branden with having introduced both he and Rand to this crucial area of study.
Also note that Rand counted Who is Ayn Rand? (co-written by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden) as among those only "authentic" sources containing information about her and her philosophy, and that that particular book has the only authorized biography written (by Barbara Branden) in Rand's lifetime.
I would prefer, of course, as a founding co-editor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies that if readers would like to participate in a thread on the symposium, it would be great if they actually read the symposium and offer their critical comments as Anoop has done here. The essays in the symposium are not purely "hagiographical"; yes, some of the reflections are deeply personal and laudatory. But the subject matter of the symposium is made up of many different perspectives coming from many different disciplines; it is the only anthology of such essays of its kind. In fact it is the first of what we hope will be many more studies of Branden's work to come.

Additional comments were made on this thread; on December 31, 2016, I posted three additional comments, all in response to questions posed by Anoop Verma, whose review of the symposium is the subject of the thread.

Anoop wondered about the timeline of the relationships between Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, and Leonard Peikoff, and about the relationships among these individuals; he also asked about the book Who is Ayn Rand?. I wrote:

Hi, Anoop: you can basically get all the facts from two sources; one is of course Barbara Branden's biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand, where she tells us on page 246 that after Nathaniel met Rand in 1950, and then she met Rand, they introduced Rand to others, including Barbara's dear friend Joan Mitchell (who had been briefly married to Alan Greenspan), and her 17-year old cousin Leonard Peikoff. Peikoff tells us in his essay "My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand," that he met her [Rand] when he was 17 in the spring of 1951. It should also be mentioned that almost the entire inner circle, that which became "The Collective", was made up of friends and cousins of Nathaniel Branden (then, Nathan Blumenthal) and Barbara Branden (then, Barbara Weidman): Elayne Blumenthal (Nathan's sister, who eventually married Harry Kalberman); Allan Blumenthal (Nathaniel's first cousin, who eventually married Joan Mitchell), etc. Others who came into the inner circle included Mary Ann Rukavina (who became Mary Ann Sures) and Joan Kennedy Taylor (who read an advance copy of Atlas and was daughter of Deems Taylor, composer). Hope this clarifies things; in essence, it was almost a family affair!

I added:

One other point: Barbara Branden was Rand's first biographer who wrote the first authorized biography in "Who is Ayn Rand?" but she also majored in philosophy and got a master's degree in philosophy under Sidney Hook at New York University (who was also the mentor to Leonard Peikoff, who completed his Ph.D. in philosophy at NYU). Barbara did review books for Rand's periodicals and delivered a course, "Principles of Efficient Thinking," which is on its way to becoming a print publication, published by Cobden Press, for which I have written the foreword. It is a fine work on one aspect of philosophy: psycho-epistemology (which pertains not to the content of awareness but to the methods, means, and mechanics by which we think).

I added:

Nathaniel wrote three essays for "Who is Ayn Rand?": "The Moral Revolution in Atlas Shrugged"; "Objectivism and Psychology"; and "The Literary Method of Ayn Rand"; this is followed by "A Biographical Essay": "Who is Ayn Rand?", the title essay of the book, the first authorized biography of Ayn Rand, written by Barbara Branden. Most of the material for this was gleaned from the many hours of biographical interviews of Ayn Rand conducted in 1960-1961 by both Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden. Check the materials I sent you and you'll find the authorized biography as the last chapter of the book.

I made an additional observation about Leonard Peikoff:

One other point, btw: None of my own admiration of Nathaniel Branden has affected any of my admiration for some of the important work, indeed--indispensable work--that Leonard Peikoff has done in the area of articulating Objectivist philosophy and extending some of the insights of Rand into areas in which Rand did not venture. Certainly his Ominous Parallels has some very important things to say about the phenomenon of Nazism, as well as the nature of social domination; his book on Objectivism includes crucially important material that was taken from the course he gave under Rand's auspices, but never put into print by Rand herself; his Understanding Objectivism is, for me, perhaps the most important series of lectures he ever gave, and I'm happy that it is now out in some form (even if not in its original packaging; that is, for example, we don't have Edith Packer's contribution to that course in print for obvious reasons: she and Peikoff parted ways some years ago in the split between Peikoff and George Reisman). I have learned immensely from Peikoff's work; a sizeable portion of my own Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical cites his published work and so much of the work he did in lectures that can only be found in the "oral tradition" of Objectivism, on subjects as varied as the philosophy of history and the principles of logic.

December 12, 2016

New JARS Symposium - Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy

Today, a sparkling new edition of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies makes its debut. It is a special symposium featuring the contributions of fifteen authors on the subject of "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." As a Pennsylvania State University Press periodical, the new December 2016 issue of the journal (Volume 16, nos. 1-2; Issues #31-32) will appear this week in electronic form on JSTOR, which is promoting it as the first double-issue in the history of JARS. Print copies are on the way to subscribers, just in time for the holidays! Since this is a double issue, it can be purchased as a stand-alone hard copy by nonsubscribers at the annual subscription rate (see the subscription page at the Johns Hopkins University Press, which handles all PSUP periodical distribution through its fulfillment services). In addition to our regular print and electronic publication, this special issue is also available through amazon.com as the very first Kindle edition in the sixteen-year history of JARS.
 
As the ad copy for the new issue informs us:

Nathaniel Branden (1930-2014) was a crucial figure in the life of Ayn Rand and her philosophy. A brilliant psychotherapist and "father" of the self-esteem movement, he made important contributions to the theory and practice of Objectivism. So far, however, his life and influence have never been the subject of a book or collection of articles. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS) long intended to fill this gap by publishing an interdisciplinary collection of studies about the many facets of his work. With his death on December 3, 2014, JARS received too many valuable essays to publish in a single issue. Now, two years after Branden's passing, and for the first time in our sixteen-year history, we offer not only a double issue but one that will be available in print and as a Kindle edition. Our contributors---who include Tal Ben-Shahar, Roger E. Bissell, Susan Love Brown, Robert L. Campbell, Stephen Cox, Walter Foddis, Teresa I. Morales Gerbaud, Mimi Reisel Gladstein, Roderick T. Long, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Andrew Schwartz, Duncan Scott, Deepak Sethi, Michael E. Southern, and Joel F. Wade---represent a wide array of perspectives and disciplines, such as political theory, history, philosophy, literature, anthropology, business, film, and both academic and clinical psychology. Also presented is the first print publication of a transcribed 1996 lecture (and its Q&A session), "Objectivism: Past and Future," by Nathaniel Branden, as well as the most comprehensive annotated bibliography yet produced on Branden and the secondary literature regarding his life and work.

NEW JARS: THE BRANDEN SYMPOSIUM


For a lengthier description of the purpose and contents of this symposium, I'd like to feature in today's Notablog entry, a few extended passages from the "Prologue" (full citations and endnotes can be found in the published version, along with much material omitted here), written by the coeditors for this very special issue:  Robert L. Campbell and yours truly (Chris Matthew Sciabarra).  We write:

Nathaniel Branden (born Nathan Blumenthal, 9 April 1930) passed away on 3 December 2014. In 2012, the Editorial Board of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies had approached Branden with a proposal to feature a symposium on his work and legacy. He and his wife Leigh were pleased with the idea, and gave the project their blessings. We are only sorry that he did not live to see its completion.
The symposium, we had explained, would encompass both his eighteen years with Ayn Rand and the much longer post-Randian period in which he became known as the father of the self-esteem movement. Ironically, in the latter period, Branden was gradually drawn back toward reexamining and ultimately reiterating the core principles that Objectivism encompassed. Despite criticisms of Rand in his later work, he became a veritable neo-Objectivist who spent much time on what might be called praxis, that is, the technology of moving toward the six pillars of self-esteem, as he defined them: the practices of living consciously, of self-acceptance, of self-responsibility, of self-assertiveness, of living purposefully, and of personal integrity . . .
Upon Branden's death, our ongoing call for contributions to the symposium suddenly elicited an enormous response. So many essays poured in that it was no longer possible for all of the accepted material to fit into a single issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Our colleagues at Pennsylvania State University Press, including Patrick Alexander, Julie Lambert, Rachel Ginder, and especially Diana Pesek, helped us to arrive at a workable solution. This would constitute the very first double issue in the history of the journal, and would be published simultaneously as an e-book . . . Kindle edition.
And so we are honored that the entirety of Volume 16, Numbers 1 and 2, is now "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." We did not wish to publish a hagiography. But we must say for the record that not a single scholar from the orthodox wing of Objectivism or from the Ayn Rand Institute, where criticism of Branden has been most common, submitted a paper, though some were specifically invited. So if the balance tilts toward the laudatory in many of the contributions here, that is because the people who took the time to write these essays actually respected and valued the subject, both personally and professionally.
It was our intention to allow scholars from different disciplines and perspectives and from many walks of life to offer their critical assessments of the legacy of a towering figure in the history of Objectivism, as a philosophy and a movement, and in the popular emergence of the self-esteem movement. Many of the contributors to these pages have never before published in any journal connected to Rand studies. For that very reason, it is our hope that this first anthology will be a watershed moment in critical thinking on Branden's work and legacy.
We dont know who else could have taken on this scholarly endeavor. An orthodox Objectivist periodical would surely not wish to sanction any study of the work of Nathaniel Branden. Professional psychology journals, especially those catering to academic audiences, have not particularly wanted to give legitimacy to the study of a writer who has often been dismissed as a popular psychologist---in much the same way that Ayn Rand was once (and still is, in some circles) dismissed as a cult fiction writer and pop philosopher.
 
Such views of Rand have undergone major change, with the recent publication of two major unauthorized biographies and an exponential growth in scholarly books and articles. Our own sixteen-year history and our collaboration with Penn State University Press are powerful illustrations of the trend.
We hope now to be at the forefront of a comparable change in attitudes toward Nathaniel Branden. A critical reassessment of the man and his work can only benefit our understanding of Objectivism, both theoretically and historically. We also believe that his eclectic clinical approach is bound to have an impact on the established orthodoxies in academic and applied psychology. Such an impact will come only from the kind of constructive engagement that this journal has always encouraged. . . .
As scholars, however, we have remained true to our word: this was going to be an open forum, allowing many perspectives on the man and his work to be expressed. We think we have succeeded, as the fifteen essays (and extensive annotated bibliography) in this collection will show.
Upon Branden's death, Sciabarra criticized orthodox Objectivist writers, who refused to cite Branden's works, even those that are still part of the "official" canon of Ayn Rand's philosophy. It must be remembered that despite their acrimonious personal and professional Break in 1968, Rand made it very clear that Branden's work prior to the Break would and should be considered as among "the only authentic sources of information on Objectivism," which included "my own works (books, articles, lectures), the articles appearing in and the pamphlets reprinted by this magazine (The Objectivist, as well as The Objectivist Newsletter), books by other authors which will be endorsed in this magazine as specifically Objectivist literature, and such individual lectures or lecture courses as may be so endorsed. (This list includes also the book Who Is Ayn Rand? by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, as well as the articles by these two authors which have appeared in this magazine in the past, but does not include their future works.) (Rand, "A Statement of Policy," The Objectivist, June 1968)
Sciabarra . . . argued further that those who excoriate the man still owe him a debt of gratitude, "for it was Nathaniel Branden more than anybody, save Ayn Rand, [who was responsible] for the formal development of the philosophy of Objectivism. It was Branden who created the Nathaniel Branden Institute, which brought Rand out of her post-Atlas Shrugged depression, and catapulted her into the role of public philosopher. It was Branden who presented the first systematization of the philosophy with his Basic Principles of Objectivism course (later published as The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism), . . .  a course that was given live, and heard by thousands of others on audio recordings, both on vinyl records and tapes. It was Branden who explored the psychological implications of Rand's exalted conception of self-esteem, and whose work was fully and unequivocally endorsed by Rand during her lifetime (indeed, his book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem is largely a collection of . . . the work he did while under Rand's tutelage, and it is, in many ways, the popular launch of the self-esteem movement in modern psychology). He also conducted, with the late Barbara Branden . . . a series of interviews that have formed the basis of nearly every biographical work that has been published."
Alas, the relationship between philosophy as the broadest of disciplines and psychology as a special science is precarious, at best. It cannot be denied that Branden significantly examined many psychological elements that were implicit in Rand's work, and contributed greatly to our understanding  of them. He did so in the magazines he co-edited with Rand (The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist), in a series of articles he wrote on self-esteem, pseudo-self-esteem, social metaphysics, and psycho-epistemology. He provided an explicit discussion of ideas that Rand did not fully explore in her own writings. But in applying these concepts, the early Branden fell into the error of using them not as tools of cognition with which to understand human behavior, but as tools of emotional abuse with which to control those in the growing inner circle of Randian admirers---and it cannot be said that Rand deplored this practice, for she often encouraged it, or used it herself. It was the employment of psychological ideas for social control that led Jeff Walker to characterize Branden not as the father of the self-esteem movement, but as "The Godfather of Self-Esteem". While the metaphor is over the top---Branden lacked both the fists and the guns available to Don Vito Corleone---it is nonetheless true that he was responsible for much damage.
This includes, of course, the damage that Branden did to his relationship with Ayn Rand and to the movement he worked so hard to create. As Sciabarra puts it, Branden, "like every other human being on earth had his faults." It was not that he conducted a relationship with a woman (Ayn Rand) twenty-five years his senior, but that he lied to Rand as that relationship collapsed . . .  It was for this dishonesty that he was ultimately exiled from Rand's life and from organized Objectivism for all eternity. But in self-disclosure, there is a path to self-redemption. As Sciabarra argues: "[I]t was in his post-Randian years that Branden made his biggest impact. He owned up to the damage he did to so many people when he used psychology as a sledgehammer in the Randian Inner Circle to the detriment of many talented and tender human beings. But he also traced the rationalism that was poisoning the philosophy; instead of being a path to uplift, it often became a path to self-repression, self-flagellation, pain, fear, and guilt. It was the height of horrific irony that a movement based on individualism would give birth to The Collective, where group-think discouraged independent thought. But Branden wrote Breaking Free and The Disowned Self, both of which began the very process of breaking free from the worst aspects of that legacy, to which he himself had contributed . . ."
Sciabarra observed . . .  that it was . . . Branden's path toward self-redemption [that] became a path for millions, among them many former Objectivists whose lives were damaged by the cultic aspects of the movement---aspects that Branden once fostered.
And that is one reason this symposium is necessary. . . .  It is surely time to reexamine Branden's contributions across the board. And this symposium leaves almost no relevant discipline untouched.
In Section I, "The Rand Years," we begin with filmmaker Duncan Scott's essay, "The Movement That Began on a Dining Room Table," which discusses the visionary role played by Nathaniel Branden in systematizing Ayn Rand's philosophy and launching an Objectivist movement. Branden's achievements, argues Scott, were accomplished despite deep skepticism and considerable resistance among those within and outside of Rand's circle. And yet, with highly unlikely odds for success, Branden inspired hardworking individuals to use their talents to launch what became a cultural and political phenomenon.
One of our advisory board members, a Professor of Anthropology at Florida Atlantic University, Susan Love Brown, follows with a truly controversial---dare we say, provocative---discussion of the personal relationship between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden. In "Nathaniel Branden's Oedipus Complex," Brown applies an Oedipal interpretation to this aspect of Branden's life story, one that ultimately resulted in his ability to break free and become his own person.
The last entry in Section I, "Objectivism: Past and Future," is the first appearance in print of a lecture and question-answer session that Branden gave in 1996 before the California Institute for Applied Objectivism. We thank the Estate of Nathaniel Branden, and Leigh Branden in particular, for allowing us to bring this eye-opening session to a wider audience. In many ways, it provides an intellectual culmination to the first section, because it allows Branden to articulate his agreements and disagreements with Rand, from the perspective of a man nearly thirty years removed from the official movement he practically created. It challenges us to think of his whole body of work as a part of Objectivism, or, at the very least, a kind of neo-Objectivism still rooted fundamentally in that which he learned from Rand.
Roger Bissell, who transcribed the Branden lecture, leads off Section II, which we've titled simply "Reflections"---by various individuals who came to know Branden from a variety of disciplines and walks of life. It was through Branden that Bissell, whose works on music, aesthetics, logic, epistemology, and politics have appeared regularly in these pages, came to read Rand, and his essay shows a special appreciation for Branden's wit, wisdom, and welcoming attitude toward new ideas.
Another JARS advisory board member, a Professor of English and Theatre Arts at the University of Texas, El Paso, Mimi Reisel Gladstein, tells us of "The Impact of Nathaniel Branden" on her career---how, if it were not for his initial encouragement, she would hardly have become the Rand scholar she is.
Tal Ben-Shahar, who taught two of the largest psychology classes in the history of Harvard University, provides a touching glimpse of his personal relationship with Branden, who greatly influenced the development of his approach to psychology. His essay, "My Aristotle," details the ways in which Branden helped him both academically and personally.
Deepak Sethi, the CEO of Organic Leadership, follows with his "Personal Reflections on Nathaniel Branden: My Guru and More," which tells the story of how Branden's work inspired him to collaborate with the trailblazing self-esteem theorist, not only on an article that made an impact in the business community . . . but on a series of leadership programs that integrated Branden's sentence-completion techniques into sessions, exploring ways on how to raise the levels of self-esteem among those in the work environment.
Michael E. Southern, a client, an intern, and an eventual friend to Branden, follows with an extraordinary personal memoir---"My Years with Nathaniel Branden"---which tells the story of how Branden helped to liberate Southern from a host of demons. It is also a wide-ranging explication of all of the eclectic, and often literally amazing, techniques that Branden used in his clinical practice.
This essay serves as a natural transition to Section III, to which we've given a Branden-style sentence-completion stem: "If Branden's Works Were Studied by More Academic and Clinical Psychologists. . . ." The section features five individuals in the field who examine Branden's works from diverse perspectives.
Coeditor Robert L. Campbell, Professor of Psychology at Clemson University, provides us with a personal testament to Branden's impact on the development of his career and research interests. He credits Branden's book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem, with having helped him to choose psychology as a career, and considers the gulf in modern American psychology between academic research and clinical practice, which Branden was only partly successful at bridging.
Walter Foddis, a clinical psychology doctoral student, gives his own suggestions about bridging. "Branden's Self-Esteem Theory within the Context of Academic Psychology" presents a new theory of self-esteem that synthesizes ideas from Branden and theorists from clinical, developmental, and social psychology. Foddis documents Branden's influence on his own development of a qualitative and quantitative measurement procedure, the Self-Esteem Sentence Completion Instrument, to assess people's sources of self-esteem.
A biochemist and doctoral student in clinical psychology, Teresa I. Morales Gerbaud provides us with an essay, "Nathaniel Branden's Legacy to the Science of Clinical Psychology," on Branden's essentially, not incidentally, biocentric approach. Branden had characterized "his approach to psychology and psychotherapy as 'biocentric'," which, of course, means "life-centered," focusing on "the study of human beings" from an evolutionary or "life-centered perspective" [quotes from Branden's Informal Discussion of Biocentric Therapy].  Morales puts into sharp focus Branden's concerns with the interplay of the conscious and nonconscious aspects of the mind.
Psychotherapist Andrew Schwartz takes on Branden's dialectical concerns with the whole organism in his essay, "Adler, Branden, and the Third Wave Behavior Therapists: Nathaniel Branden in the Context of the History of Clinical Psychology." In this examination, he situates Branden's contributions to clinical psychology in the traditions of cognitive and behavioral therapy. Specifically, he traces the way they were anticipated in Alfred Adler's "Individual Psychology" (a more accurate translation, as Schwartz reveals, would be "Holistic Psychology") and their similarities with contemporary developments, such as the functional contextual Acceptance and Commitment Therapy of Steven Hayes and the Dialectical Behavior Therapy of Marsha Linehan.
The section concludes with an essay by psychologist Joel F. Wade, "Nathaniel Branden and Devers Branden and the Discipline of Happiness." Wade explores his personal experiences with both Nathaniel and his wife Devers (born Estelle Israel; married to Branden in 1978, divorced in 2003), and the ways in which their techniques influenced his own approach. Wade emphasizes how Devers influenced Nathaniel's work in developing a conception of happiness as a discipline, and one approach that they developed together to build on this through their work with sub-personalities, which draws on an idea of Carl Jung's.
Our Epilogue is written by one of JARS's founding editors, Stephen Cox, Professor of Literature at the University of California, San Diego. "Nathaniel Branden in the Writer's Workshop" details the ways in which Branden was both inspired by imaginative literature and ambitious to create it himself. Cox traces the history of his remarkable literary relationship with Branden, and provides us with a moving perspective on the literary Branden, a man hitherto unseen.
We conclude the symposium with a Nathaniel Branden Annotated Bibliography, by far the  most extensive in print. It traces not only all of his books, articles, and lectures, but much of the secondary literature. It was compiled by Roger E. Bissell, Robert L. Campbell, Stephen Cox, Roderick T. Long, and Chris Matthew Sciabarra.
This symposium has been four years in the making; we hope our readers reap the rewards of an anthology that could have come into being only in a climate of intellectual diversity---a climate that this journal has championed since its inception in 1999.

Needless to say, there is much more in the Campbell-Sciabarra "Prologue"---and even our summary of the essays in this extraordinary symposium provides just a small indication of the treasures readers will discover within its pages.

For more information on the symposium, please consult the JARS page for its abstracts and contributor biographies.  And don't forget to explore the many new and wonderful features of our fully reconstructed website, courtesy of our webmaster, Michael E. Southern, himself a contributor to the Nathaniel Branden symposium. (And I'd also like to thank our indefatigable PSUP copyeditor, Joseph Dahm, for all his wonderful work on this and all of our issues, and to give a "shout-out" to Jennifer Frost, whose Grammar Check always offers helpful tips even to those of us who have been editing for decades!)

We believe this issue constitutes a seminal moment not only in the sixteen-year history of our journal, but in the evolving scholarly literature on the impact of "Ayn Rand and her times," one of the very purposes for which JARS was founded way back in 1999.

December 10, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life

I just finished reading a typical "libertarian" takedown of yet another classic Christmas tale, long celebrated in American culture: "It's a Wonderful Life," one of the finest Frank Capra films ever made. This critique is by Tom Mullen. Years ago, I read another typical "libertarian" takedown of "A Christmas Carol," (and Tom Mullen appears to be of the same school of thought on this story as well) and what occurs to me is that in both cases, the libertarian critics completely miss the point because they are too busy focusing on the dollars-and-cents issues of how businesspeople are portrayed in these tales. I'll grant the critics one major point: these tales do contain what Ayn Rand often called "mixed premises." Such "mixed premises" are on display in much of Western literature, film, and art in general. But anyone who shares in the larger, benevolent sense of life that Rand saw in American culture should learn to "bracket out" some of the conventional "pink" premises often slipped into films that give us cardboard-cutout portraits of greedy businessmen who operate in very one-dimensional ways almost always understood in terms of strict dollars and cents. Rand herself, however, often fell victim to being incensed by such portraits that she could not see the value of great films, like "The Best Years of Our Lives," which put forth such nefarious notions as "the banker with a heart." Rand didn't "get it": as a 1946 film release, like that of "It's a Wonderful Life," this movie reached deeply into the cultural psyche of a war-weary American public. Debuting about a year after the official end of the most horrific war in human history, the film provides its audience with a cultural catharsis. It does a terrific job of depicting the palpable struggles of World War II's survivng veterans. The film resonated with the audience, which saw on the silver screen riveting portraits of post-traumatic stress and the struggles of veterans trying to live "normal" lives, despite having lost their limbs in battle. In fact, Harold Russell who actually lost both his hands in the war, received an Oscar for Supporting Actor and an Honorary Oscar for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans."

Then again, I'm the kind of guy who identifies with the subtexts of films that are complex enough to appreciate on a level that might not seem obvious at first blush---hence, till this day, my favorite film of all time remains "A Tale of the Christ": the 1959 version of "Ben-Hur," directed by the same William Wyler who directed "The Best Years of Our Lives," and starring Charlton Heston in the title role. Of course, even Rand the atheist could appreciate great literature and great film, no matter how deep its religious context. As I state in my essay on "Ben-Hur":

Ayn Rand herself counted a Biblical work of historical fiction as among her favorites. She regarded Quo Vadis? by Henryk Sienkiewicz as one of the greatest novels ever written. In fact, Rand tells Ross Baker (Letters of Ayn Rand, 11 December 1945, 251): "A book expert in New York told me that the biggest fiction sellers of all times (and the surest recipe for a bestseller) have always been religious novels with a good story (Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis?, The Robe [all made into spectacular epic films--CMS] )--and that The Fountainhead is a religious novel [insofar as] it gives to . . . readers . . . a sense of faith, courage and moral uplift."

Well, then, for me, and for so many other viewers, there is both reason and rhyme in viewing such films as "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol" as providing precisely that "sense of faith, courage and moral uplift" that nourish the requisite spiritual inspiration sought by most of us on this planet we call home.

So let's turn to "It's a Wonderful Life," the newest punching bag among some critics in libertarian circles. Contary to what Tom Mullen has said in his essay, there is no evidence that George Bailey has been anything but honest with his customers. Even when there is a run on the bank in 1929, when the Stock Market crashes, George tries to explain to those who have put his money in the Bailey Building and Loan Company, that each of them signed a contract when they put their money in the bank, that their money would be secure and that if they wanted to withdraw all of their savings at any time, they would receive it within sixty days.

From the first moments of the crash, something engineered by the Federal Reserve System during the Roaring Twenties, Ol' Man Potter, the guy whom Mullen extols as the real "hero" of the film, offers folks 50 cents on the dollar if they come to his bank (not exactly the "generous offer" Mullen celebrates). He's the kind of guy who was probably involved in the Fed's 1913 formation, which made twentieth-century booms and busts both possible---and inevitable. And he's also the kind of guy who took pride in running the Draft Board, assisting his government to draft men into involuntary servitude on the precipice of World War II. Yeah, a real hero, that Mr. Potter.

And let's not forget [SPOILER ALERT!] that Potter is as guilty as sin for stealing $8000 from the absent-minded Uncle Billy, who was just about to deposit it. There is nothing redeemable about sending another business into a tailspin by stealing its deposits in an act of outright thievery.

Now, let's get back to the real meaning of "It's a Wonderful Life," and why it is that so many people regard it as a holiday classic. The irony is that when it was released, it wasn't as successful in its first run because people found it too "dark"; after all, the plot twist of the final reel reads like a script from an episode of Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone": at the end of his rope, with $8000 of bank deposits missing, the prospect of financial scandal and prison hanging over his head, George Bailey is ready to end it all by jumping off a bridge. And Clarence, Bailey's Guardian Angel, is looking to earn his wings, which he can't do unless he saves George. So Clarence jumps into the water and starts screaming for help. George Bailey, played beautifully by the great James Stewart, forgets his own intended act of self-sabotage, because inside of him is a benevolent sense of life, a sense of life so profound that at the moment of contemplating suicide, he saves the life of another man. When Clarence explains that he can't "earn his wings" without saving George, George is so mystified by all this "angel" talk, and he's beyond disgusted: "I wish I'd never been born."

In a moment of remarkable inspiration, Clarence grants George his wish. That's it, he says: You've never been born. There's no George Bailey.

So when George makes his way back to Bedford Falls, Clarence tagging along, he discovers that the town is now known as Pottersville, and it is like one gigantic speakeasy, violent and decadent. He goes into the local bar, and the bartender doesn't recognize him. George sees an old, haggard Mr. Gower, his first employer, enter the bar. He's just been released from jail, apparently, serving a prison term for manslaughter for having poisoned a child. Bailey tells Clarence that this is impossible: As a kid, George worked at Mr. Gower's pharmacy; Gower (played by the gracefully expressive H. B. Warner), distraught over the death of his own son from influenza, mistakenly mixes poison into a prescription meant for another child. But Clarence tells George that the boy died because George wasn't around to alert Mr. Gower of his carelessness. Angry exchanges ensue in the bar, and before you know it, he and Clarence are thrown out on their butts.

George tells Clarence that Harry, his brother, had just gotten the Medal of Honor for saving an amphibious transport by shooting down a Kamikaze pilot in the Pacific War against the Japanese. But Clarence tells George that Harry Bailey wasn't there to save the transport because George wasn't alive to save Harry, who nearly drowned as a kid, falling into the ice on a frozen lake in Bedford Falls. George has no wife (Mary became an "old maid," says Clarence), no children, and a bitter mother who doesn't know him. George is slowly degenerating into a raving maniac, inhabiting a universe that is as unknown to him as he is to it. As the cops chase after him, he runs back toward the bridge, the place where he sought to end his life, and he is crying: "I want to live again."

And suddenly, the nightmare is over: George Bailey lives again to see another day; and all the townspeople who were the beneficiaries of his Building and Loan Company come through for him, as does an old friend, to keep the Building and Loan solvent. Reunited with his wife and family, with the townspeople singing "Auld Lang Syne," his brother Harry alive, George is holding his little girl Zuzu in his arms, and a little bell rings on the Christmas tree behind him. Zuzu tells him that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings. He opens a gift, it's a book from Clarence, and in it, there is an inscription: "No man is a failure who has friends."

What Capra is telling us in this remarkable film (whose plot twist has been used as a device in so many other stories on both the big and small screen) is that each one of us has the capacity to lead a wonderful life by the very fact of our existence and by the choices we make that are essential to sustain our lives. We learn that every action we take is like a pebble thrown into still water, the ripple effects of our choices and actions moving out in concentric circles, affecting people, even some people we've never met, in ways that none of us could have possibly anticipated.

Now, it is true that sometimes action or inaction can cause bad unintended consequences. But the importance of Capra's story is that George Bailey is a beautiful soul, and that if we suddenly wipe out the existence of that beautiful soul, the ripple effects cease; it is as if the pebble never touched the still water. And all the things that were done are now undone. And even when we are at the end of our ropes, so-to-speak, it is valuable to pause and to think about all the good in our lives, all of our achievements, personal and professional, and, by that fact, all the effects we have had on those around us. What a truly wonderful testament to the power of a single individual to shape and alter the people and the realities around him. What a tribute to the honor and dignity and life-altering power of the individual that each of us has by virtue of our humanity.

Now, while we're at it, let me turn to another favorite film of the holiday season that has had its share of libertarian naysayers: "A Christmas Carol." In "Scrooge Defended," Michael Levin uses a tactic similar to Tom Mullen, this time in defense of Scrooge as a good businessman, like Ol' Man Potter of "It's a Wonderful Life." A long time ago, on the now defunct site of "The Daily Objectivist," I defended the famed 1951 film version starring the extraordinarily gifted actor, Alastair Sim, who gives a multilayered performance as Ebenezer Scrooge. As I said back in the year 2000:

I challenge Levin and anyone else who sees Alastair Sim in the classic film version of "A Christmas Carol" (1951) to walk away unmoved by this man's transformation. The central issue is a man so torn from his emotional side and from any concern with the effects of his actions on other human beings. His finding of his self is really wonderful to behold. Yes, the film and the book [by Charles Dickens] have lots of mixed premises, some that don't make us comfortable [as libertarians or Objectivists, etc.]. That is the case with many products in English literature. But the story does speak to all of us in many ways, about the need to live integrated lives.

So to the naysayers of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol," there are only two words appropriate in reply, and it's not "Merry Christmas." I say: "Bah, humbug!" Count this libertarian out if you think it's better to live in a world of Pottersvilles or that those who are less fortunate than us should die and decrease the surplus population.

November 23, 2016

George Smith on Rand's Insights on the U.S. "Slide Toward Fascism"

Just wanted to alert readers to a fine article penned by George Smith, "Ayn Rand Predicted an American Slide Toward Fascism" on the FEE website.

I was especially happy to see this discussion resurrected since Rand herself has often been tagged by her detractors as a "fascist"; my own essays on Rand's insights into the U.S. tendencies toward neofascism ("The New Fascism," as she called it) are indexed here. The discussion is particularly important in the days since the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States. Following Rand and others in the libertarian tradition, I've argued that the system of "crony capitalism" or what Roy Childs and others once called "liberal corporativism," is the system that exists in this country; it is not a free market and whether it is peppered with the authoritarian rhethoric (and policies) of the left or of the right, it all comes down to a civil war of pressure groups, each vying for special privileges at the expense of one another, a "class" warfare that not even Karl Marx could have imagined. For as F. A. Hayek so powerfully observed, once political power becomes the central means of gaining social control, it becomes the only power worth having. That is why he argued, in The Road to Serfdom, "the worst get on top." I've expressed my concerns for months now, but it remains to be seen just how much worse this tendency will be manifested in the new administration. Whatever the campaign rhetoric, time will tell. (Ed: And I am reminded by a colleague that in a country where, within a single week, the Chicago Cubs can win the World Series and Donald J. Trump can win the White House, anything is possible!)

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States; I want to wish all my readers a Happy Thanksgiving [YouTube link]. Be thankful that, for now, at least in some crucial aspects, this country remains, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, "a republic, if you can keep it." Which makes Rand's insights into the degeneration of the American republic all the more trenchant.

August 11, 2016

U.S. Foreign Policy: The Boomerang Effect or How the Chickens Come Home to Roost

Readers should check out an extraordinary full-length New York Times Magazine exclusive, "Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart."

So much of what is discussed in this article provides us with too many examples of the unintended consequences and boomerang effects of U.S. foreign policy, a lesson in how the "chickens come home to roost," whatever the intentions of the initial actors in history.

Of course, U.S. foreign policy cannot be evaluated as a sole causal agent in the history of the Middle East, and the Times series does not even suggest this; after all, the U.S. has been involved in the Middle East for a century or so, but the tribalist and ideological insanity that has been embedded in that part of the world has gone on for centuries. I've had a lot to say about this for over a decade now. So I've taken an opportunity to provide readers with an index to many of the essays I've authored on the subject over the years:

"Understanding the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy" (March 2003) [a .pdf file]

"History and Oil" (December 2003)

"Dick Cheney’s Words of Wisdom, Circa 1992" (27 December 2003)

"Flames and Oxygen"(27 December 2003)

"A Question of Loyalty" (November 2003 - January 2004) [a .pdf. file]

"Consequences: Intended and Unintended" (11 April 2004)

"The Birth of a Narcostate" (13 June 2004)

"Weighing in on a Foreign Policy Debate, Again" (29 July 2004)

"Education and Nation-Building in Iraq" (15 August 2004)

"Unintended Consequences Not Unforeseeable" (12 September 2004)

"Freedom and 'Islamofascism'" (6 October 2004)

"Fascism: Clarifying a Political Concept" (8 October 2004)

"America First" (10 October 2004)

In December 2004, I turned my attention to a five-part review of Peter Schwartz's book, The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America, published on the Liberty and Power Group Blog of the History News Network:

"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part I: Introduction / Schwartz's Core Arguments" (6 December 2004)

"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part II: Foreign Aid and the United Nations" (7 December 2004)

"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part III: Saudi Arabia" (8 December 2004)

"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part IV: The History of U.S. Foreign Policy" (9 Decemer 2004)

"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part V: The Current War / The Folly of Nation-Building / The Inextricable Connection between Domestic and Foreign Policy" (10 December 2004)

Additional essays followed:

"The Costs of War, Part 1" (23 March 2005)

"The Costs of War, Part 2" (25 March 2005)

"Iran, Again" (3 November 2005)

"ARI, Iraq, and Healthy Dissent" (22 December 2005)

"Iraq: A Perception Problem?" (22 March 2006)

"A Crisis of Political Economy (1 October 2008)

None of the above essays, intensely critical of U.S. foreign policy, has anything to do with my own thoughts about September 11th 2001, the date on which a vicious attack on the home of my birth forever altered our lives. I've written 15 essays, beginning on that infamous date, and continuing each year in an annual tribute to those who lost their lives, those who saved lives, and those who have lived and learned to build again. Check out the index to those essays "Remembering the World Trade Center." A new essay in that annual series will be posted on the 15th anniversary of the attack: September 11, 2016.

July 20, 2016

The Donald and Mercer's "Trump Revolution"

For a political junkie like myself, every four years, watching and retching over the major political party conventions is a rite of passage into the Fall Election campaign for President of the United States. This week, I've watched wall-to-wall coverage of the GOP convention, and I will somehow get through the Democratic Party convention next week. A rite of passage is a ritual, and not all rituals are pleasant, but in my political playbook, they are necessary.

As a prelude to some of my observations on the Trump campaign, I just added a 5-star amazon.com review, "A Must-Read Book for Trump Fans and Foes," of Ilana Mercer's newest book, The Trump Revolution: The Donald's Creative Destruction Deconstructed. Much of what appears here is taken from that review, though I have added links and a few additional observations.

Starting with a quote from Mercer's book, I state: "Donald J. Trump is smashing an enmeshed political spoils system to bits: the media complex, the political and party complex, the conservative poseur complex. In the age of unconstitutional government—Democratic and Republican—this process of creative destruction can only increase the freedom quotient." So begins Ilana Mercer's provocative take on The Trump Revolution: The Donald's Creative Destruction Deconstructed.

Ilana Mercer is no fan of Obama or The W who came before him, but she thinks that "Trump is likely the best Americans can hope for." She’s “not necessarily for the policies of Trump, but for the process of Trump.” This, in itself, is the most interesting of her arguments in a well-constructed book of essays that builds the case for that process. Quoting favorably the views of Justin Raimondo of antiwar.com, Mercer drives home the point, most crucial in my view, and perhaps the most appealing aspect of Trump’s foreign policy views insofar as we know them: that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way NATO functions and that the role of the United States in foreign affairs must be fundamentally re-evaluated. Trump takes pride in being an opponent of the Iraq war, which many of us predicted would lead to the kind of chaos that has developed in the ensuing years [a .pdf link to my article, "Understanding the Global Crisis"]. But no one man or even a movement of disaffected voters behind him, a mere echo of the Old Right that was “usurped by neoconservatives,” will be able to fundamentally alter the “military-industrial complex” that lies at the root of American foreign policy, or the overall government intervention that fuels it both at home and abroad.

Though Trump is probably the least homophobic of GOPers, I am still uncomfortable with his mixed views on same-sex marriage and his stances on abortion. I am uncomfortable with his talk about deporting 11 million people, and the police power that would be required to do so; I am uncomfortable with talks about building walls when it was Ronald Reagan who talked about tearing walls down (and if the reason for the Mexican wall is to keep out criminals and drugs, as claimed by Trump, then he’s not as radical a thinker as some would have us believe … since he needs to re-evaluate the whole “war on drugs” that has fueled the crime coming out of our southern neighbor). I look back at the history of stopping certain types of people from entering this country, and I see a mixed bag; after all, many Muslims have run from their own countries, ruled by extremist Islamic dictatorial ideologues, because they have faced discrimination, torture, and death in their struggles against everything from centuries-old tribalism to oppressive misogyny. This country has had a history of being afraid of outsiders, even though it was built on the backs of so many of those who came to America seeking the freedom to live and produce in peace (not to mention the shameful chapter in our history when people came to this country unwillingly to live and produce in a state of involuntary servitude). Do we need to be reminded of the Japanese-American internment camps constructed during World War II? Or of how many German Jews were denied access to America, because of highly restrictive immigration quotas, in the years leading up to and including World War II? Incredibly, widespread anti-Semitism in this country fueled the fear that some Jews were seeking refuge here and might very well be working as agents of the Nazis! How many of them ended up in gas chambers rather than in that “shining city upon a hill” that beckoned them to the promise of America?

Mercer is completely correct that much of what corrupts our political economy is the role of the state in economic affairs; such is the root of crony capitalism, championed by Democrats and Republicans alike. And like all businesspeople, Trump knows he has to wheel and deal with city, state, and federal politicians, who are corrupt almost by definition. Using things like eminent domain, however, is not the language of the free marketer; Trump can never be confused with a libertarian, no matter how much better he might be in the eyes of some, than the Establishment Politicians (and none of what I’ve said here is meant as an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, whose politics I’ll address at the end of next week’s Democratic convention).

In the end, however, it is a testament to Mercer’s muscular writing and clever reasoning that I was able to read her book in a single sitting. That is a compliment in and of itself. She challenges all of us to think about what so many thought unthinkable: that this guy often dismissed as a reality-show clown, just might become President of the United States.

I should say that I have only one personal proviso to add with regard to the Trump family; in the last year of my mother’s life, it was Blaine Trump, ex-sister-in-law of Donald (she was married to his brother Robert), who paid for Mom’s Make a Wish Foundation round trip, via luxury limousine, with her immediate family (me, my sister, brother, and sister-in-law) to Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. At a time when mom was in the throes of her five-year battle against lung cancer, it was a charitable gesture that we will always remember and cherish, and the Trump family has always played a big role in funding that foundation. That charity aside, it certainly cannot influence my views of this man’s candidacy, even if it says something positive about his character. In any event, this proviso has absolutely nothing to do with my views of Mercer’s controversial, wonderfully readable book. Buy it, read it. You won’t be disappointed.


So ends my review of the Mercer book. For Notablog readers, I would like to make a few additional points. I have long observed the pendulum phenomenon in politics, the one that emerges from the old adage: "The job of the new leader is to make the last one look good." So disgusted were Americans with the collapse of U.S. economic and foreign policy in the Bush years, that Obama was swept into office for two terms, no less, on the promises of "Yes, We Can!" Yes, we can change things fundamentally. Yes, we can end recession at home and a war without end abroad. Yes, we can. Well, as it turned out: We can't. So, disgusted Americans, especially those attracted to the GOP, but many of these partying among the Elephants for the first time as disenfranchised "blue collar" and "working class" people, have embraced Trump. They have given the Grand Old Party Establishment a Grand Middle Finger of revolt, precisely because they are revolted by the state of affairs in this country.

When I was 8 years old, I went to my first political rally, purely out of curiosity, with my Uncle Sam and my sister Elizabeth. We stood at the corner of 85th Street and Bay Parkway in Brooklyn, across from the Chase Manhattan Bank that still stands there (except the 4-sided clock that topped the building actually worked back then!)

In attendance was Vice President Hubert Horatio Humphrey fighting for the Democratic Party, in place of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who, despite having crushed the GOP's Barry Goldwater in a 1964 landslide, had announced that he would not seek re-election. The Great Society he sought to create was collapsing under the weight of an expanding welfare-warfare state. With the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, Humphrey was left standing, fighting for his political life. That night in Brooklyn, the antiwar crowd, which had blamed LBJ for the thousands of soldiers coming back from Vietnam to America in body bags, drowned out Humphrey's speech by a constant refrain, screamed louder and louder: "Dump the Hump! Dump the Hump! Dump the Hump!"

Humphrey's battle was lost to the newest "Law and Order" man in town, who was actually part of the older long-time GOP Establishment. A former virulently hostile anti-communist Senator, Vice President to Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, went on to lose the 1960 election to JFK, but by 1968, he had reinvented himself into a winning candidate. And we all know what happened after that. The anti-communist shook hands with Brezhnev and Mao, one of history's greatest mass murderers (which may help us to put Obama's handshake with one of the Castro brothers into perspective). But neither law nor order followed, in the depths of Nixon's political corruption. And so, the pendulums of U.S. politics swung with ferocity against the Watergate-corrupted administration, forcing Nixon to resign, as he handed presidential power over to the thoroughly un-elected Gerald Ford. Ford went down to defeat, in the Bicentennial Year, in another pendulum swing, handing the presidency over to the bumbling ineffectiveness of one-term Jimmy Carter. And then came the ultimate swing for the fences, as former Democrat-turned-Barry Goldwater advocate, Ronald Reagan, ushered in the modern conservative movement.

And so the pendulum continues to swing from W to Obama to ... I don't know. And right now, "None of the Above" is looking mighty good to me. Given the excitement that so many have for the Trump candidacy, but who drop the context of the real dynamics of American politics, it would not surprise me if those disgusted with Obama-Clinton carry the day. It would not surprise me if Trump became President. And it would not surprise me to hear echoes of those 1968 chants all over again, as they morph from "Dump the Hump!" to "Dump the Trump!" We've been hearing variations on that, for months, in any event. Cliché though it is, time will tell.

Postscript: In discussions on Facebook, I make a few additional points. In response to one comment, raising the issue of the Libertarian Party, I write:

. . . I don't endorse Trump. Honestly, however dishonest Clinton is--and what politician isn't?--she is a known quantity, but that's not exactly a rousing endorsement either. Gary Johnson and William Weld are good men, though I have my criticisms. I would have voted for Weld way back, but he stood absolutely no chance in a socially conservative GOP. To echo the opening words from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I": "These are dark times, there is no denying. Our world has perhaps faced no greater threat than it does today. But I say this to our citizenry: We, ever your servants, will continue to defend your liberty and repel the forces that seek to take it from you!" When those forces exist within your own country, you are in the darkest of times.

In reply to another comment, which stresses the point that we should concern ourselves with those things that are most within our power to control, things at the "local" level, I state:

. . . that's a very good observation. Unfortunately, however, what happens on the national level and even the global level can so intrude on the things that are more within our power to influence that it gets to the point where it becomes difficult even to make changes locally. The more complex and interrelated the world becomes, the more difficult it becomes for all of us. When an insane ideology from halfway around the world inspires local lone wolf nutjobs to attack a San Bernadino facility for people with developmental disabilities or to go into a gay nightclub in Orlando and kill 49 people, wounding another 53, the world starts to become smaller and smaller. That doesn't mean that I don't agree with your point that asserting ourselves on the local level is a good thing.

March 14, 2013

Left-Libertarian Musings

I have been remiss in not mentioning that references to, and republications of, my work have been featured on the website of Center for a Stateless Society. From the mission statement of the Center:

The Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS) is an anarchist think-tank and media center. Its mission is to explain and defend the idea of vibrant social cooperation without aggression, oppression, or centralized authority. In particular, it seeks to enlarge public understanding and transform public perceptions of anarchism, while reshaping academic and movement debate, through the production and distribution of market anarchist media content, both scholarly and popular, the organization of events, and the development of networks and communities, and to serve, along with the Alliance of the Libertarian Left and the Molinari Institute, as an institutional home for left-libertarian market anarchists.

One does not have to be a bona fide member of the Center, or an anarchist per se, to appreciate the fact that these folks are attempting to forge the way for a form of dialectical libertarianism, insofar as they refuse to focus strictly on the political, to the exclusion of the personal and the cultural, the social-psychological, the linguistic, the philosophical, and so forth. One of the reasons I've been critical of some forms of libertarianism is that there are what I have called "dualistic" tendencies among some libertarians to sharply separate the political from the personal and the cultural, as if dispensing with the state is all that is necessary to achieve a noncoercive society. As I have argued in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy," the political is as dependent on the personal and the cultural as each of these levels is dependent on the others. It is the classic case of reciprocal interdependence:

Tri-Level Model of Power Relations in Society

My "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy" consists of three books that proclaim the virtues of dialectical thinking in the service of a radical libertarianism. The essence of a dialectical method is that it is "the art of context-keeping." It demands that we study social problems by grasping the larger context within which they are embedded, so as to trace their myriad—and often reciprocal—causes and effects. The larger context must be viewed in terms that are both systemic and historical. By systemic, I mean that social problems need to be understood in ways that make transparent their relationships to one another—and to the larger system they constitute and that shapes them. By historical, I mean that social problems need to be grasped developmentally, that is, in ways that clarify their development over time. Grasping the larger context is indispensable to any "radical" politics worth its title. To be radical is to "go to the root." Going to the "root" of social problems requires understanding how they came about, where they might be tending, and how they may be resolved—by overturning and revolutionizing the system that generates them.

The three books of the trilogy are: Marx, Hayek, and Utopia; Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical; and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism.

The first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, published in 1995 with the State University of New York Press, draws parallels between Karl Marx and F. A. Hayek with regard to their surprisingly convergent critiques of utopianism. Both thinkers exhibit an appreciation of context in distinguishing between dialectical, radical thinking and nondialectical, utopian thinking.

The second book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, published in 1995 with Pennsylvania State University Press (and soon to be published in an expanded second edition) details Rand's approach as an instance of highly dialectical and radical thinking, which recognizes that social problems and social solutions must be understood systemically, across three distinctive, and mutually supportive, levels of generality—the personal, the cultural, and the structural, and dynamically or developmentally, inclusive of past, present, and potential future manifestations of the problems we are analyzing and attempting to resolve.

The third book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, published in 2000 by Pennsylvania State University Press, offers a re-reading of the history of dialectical thinking, and a re-definition of dialectics as indispensable to any defense of human liberty. It includes a critical discussion of the work of Murray N. Rothbard, who was one of my most important influences.

One can never be sure of every last implication of one's work when one creates it. That's the nature of what is often called an enterprise of "hermeneutics", which is a fancy term to designate the art, nature, and evolution of interpretation. As different people relate their own unique contexts of knowledge to one's work, they are more than likely to find implications in the work of which not even the author may have been aware. It therefore gives me great pleasure to see that those on the "libertarian left" are drawing from some useful aspects of my work.

Here are some of the references to, and republications of, my work at the Center for a Stateless Society:

On the Shoulders of Giants by Kevin Carson

They Saw it Coming: The 19th-Century Libertarian Critique of Fascism (translated into Spanish as Lo Vieron Venir: La Crítica Libertaria Decimonónica del Fascismo) by Roderick Long

Engagement with the Left on Free Markets by Kevin Carson

"Capitalism": The Known Reality by Chris Matthew Sciabarra (posted by James Tuttle)

A Crisis of Political Economy by Chris Matthew Sciabarra (posted by James Tuttle)

Dialectics and Liberty by Chris Matthew Sciabarra (posted by James Tuttle)

Support C4SS with Charles Johnson's "Liberty, Equality, Solidarity" by James Tuttle

September 10, 2012

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: The Best is Yet to Come

The new issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies will be on its way to subscribers within the next couple of weeks. And with it comes an announcement of a major breakthrough for the journal and for Rand scholarship as well.

First, let's take a look at the new issue, which is coming out in the thick of the U.S. Presidential campaign, and which includes a few essays that try to make sense of contemporary politics:

Preface - The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: The Best is Yet to Come - Chris Matthew Sciabarra

The Logic of Liberty: Aristotle, Ayn Rand, and the Logical Structure of the Political Spectrum - Roger E. Bissell

Ayn Rand Shrugged: The Gap Between Ethical Egoism and Global Capitalism - Andre Santos Campos

A Defense of Rothbardian Ethics via a Mediation of Hoppe and Rand - Cade Share

Ayn Rand and Deducing ‘Ought’ from ‘Is’ - Lachlan Doughney

The Childs-Peikoff Hypothesis - Dennis C. Hardin

New JARS! Volume 12, Number 1

The JARS website features both abstracts and contributor biographies.

In keeping with our current policy of archiving back issues, fully accessible and free of charge to all those who visit our website, today marks the online debut of Volume 11, Number 1 (PDFs for each of the essays in that issue can be found at that link). That issue, dedicated to the memory of one of our founding Advisory Board members, philosopher John Hospers, features provocative essays by James Montmarquet, Samuel Bostaph, Robert Hartford, Walter Block, Robert L. Campbell, and Fred Seddon.

Our online publication of any issue lags behind the current issue by a full volume (about a year). Which means that those who wish to read the new JARS need to subscribe today!

The new issue includes a Preface, written by me, announcing a major breakthrough for the journal: a trailblazing partnership with Pennsylvania State University Press that will greatly expand the journal's scholarly reach. Here is what I have to say in the Preface (a PDF link to the full Preface can be found here):

In the Fall of 1999, the first issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS) was published, beginning a biannual scholarly discussion of Ayn Rand: her work, her life, her impact, and her legacy. Since then, we have published over 250 essays, written by over 130 authors, working across many disciplines and specialties. Our essays have covered subjects in aesthetics, anthropology, biography, business ethics, computer science, cultural studies, economics, epistemology, ethics, feminist studies, history, intellectual history, law, literary craft, literature, metaphysics, methodology, ontology, pedagogy, philosophical biology, philosophical psychology, general philosophy, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, political economy, political philosophy, political theory, psychology, and sociology. We have featured symposia on Rand’s ethics and on Rand’s aesthetics, on Nietzsche and Rand, on Rand and Progressive Rock, on Rand’s literary and cultural impact and on “Rand Among the Austrians” (that is, the Austrian school of economics, which includes such thinkers as Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard, etc.). Our content is now abstracted and indexed, in whole or in part, by nearly two dozen abstracting and indexing services, expanding our scholarly and institutional visibility.
Moreover, the journal has built a unique scholarly forum that welcomes those working from remarkably diverse interpretive and critical perspectives. Just a cursory look through our back catalogue reveals essays by such writers as the late libertarian philosopher John Hospers, laissez-faire economist George Reisman, and market anarchist Sheldon Richman, on the one hand, and the writings of American literary critic Gene Bell-Villada, philosopher Bill Martin (a self-described Maoist), and radical leftist Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, on the other hand [names linked to JARS essays].
This new issue of our periodical begins our twelfth year of publication with the announcement of a major breakthrough that has the potential to enhance the quality of this publication and increase its scholarly reach. It will also guarantee the long-term historical preservation of our entire catalogue of back issues for the benefit of future generations of scholars.
The JARS Foundation and the Pennsylvania State University Press (PSUP) have entered into a formal collaborative agreement, commencing with the publication in 2013 of Volume 13, Number 1 (Issue 25), covering five years—and beyond.
Our Editorial Board will continue to solicit new articles and attract new writers, working closely with authors and peer readers toward the publication of essays of the finest quality and capacity for intellectual provocation. PSUP will take over the business end of the journal, while the Editorial Board will focus exclusively on the intellectual side of our project. PSUP will manage all aspects of distribution and subscription fulfillment in both print and online journal editions. Our arrangement with PSUP will also provide a more systematic framework for quality control, which will structure our workflow for the submission, double-blind peer review, and tracking of articles as they make their way to publication. And once our editorial work is done, we will submit approved, completed essays to the PSUP production department, which will provide a second level of copyediting and the typesetting of all content.
PSUP will set all institutional and individual pricing, which includes print-only, online-only, or print-and-online subscriptions, inside and outside the United States. There will be options for article downloads on a newly developed website. Indeed, a robust online edition of the journal will have the added, indispensable features and services on which the scholarly community relies, including XML codes on all files, which will be used to produce printable PDFs, as well as PDFs and html files for the web, all fully searchable.
PSUP has partnered with Project Muse and with JSTOR (both its Current Scholarship Program and back issue archive), making possible the extensive digital dissemination of PSUP journals. JARS will be potentially available to thousands of new readers from private and public, domestic and international institutions, corporations, and agencies.
The most important aspect of our collaboration, however, is our plan for the preservation of the journal and its trailblazing content. PSUP participates in CrossRef and all of its journals are now archived at Stanford’s CLOCKSS (Controlled Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe). In essence, JARS, including all of its back issues dating from its 1999 inception, will be a part of the dark archive at Stanford that will preserve its content for the use of scholars and historians in perpetuity.
The good news for subscribers is that there will be only a modest rise in subscription rates. Our domestic rates have been the same since our very first issue in 1999, and JARS will remain affordable for all those whose support we have valued deeply.
We will always be profoundly indebted to those who made this journal possible, especially to the late Bill Bradford [PDF link], whose vision continues to inspire us. We know that our new partnership with PSUP will vastly increase our exposure in the international community of scholars, providing a means for preserving all of the contributions of our authors, and a context for the ever-growing electronic dissemination of our content.

Taking a page from the songbook of Ol' Blue Eyes, I know that, for The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, "The Best is Yet to Come."

Announcement also posted on the Liberty & Power Group Blog.

July 28, 2011

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: The Second Decade Begins ...

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies begins its second decade with the publication of a brand new issue. As explained in my Preface to the Eleventh Year, the journal has dispensed with its Northern-hemisphere-centric "Fall" and "Spring" publication schedule, opting for real-time dates and the addition of an overall "Issue Number."

The new issue, dedicated to the memory of one of our founding Advisory Board members, philosopher John Hospers, features exciting essays in Rand studies, including:

Prometheus: Ayn Rand’s Ethic of Creation, by philosophy professor James Montmarquet

Ayn Rand’s Economic Thought, by economics professor Samuel Bostaph

A Political Standard for Absolute Political Freedom, by Dr. Robert Hartford

Ayn Rand, Religion, and Libertarianism, by economics professor Walter Block

The Rewriting of Ayn Rand’s Spoken Answers, by psychology professor Robert L. Campbell

Essays on Atlas Shrugged, by philosophy professor Fred Seddon

The Journal Begins Its Second Decade!

The JARS website features both abstracts and contributor biographies for the current issue.

Those who have been following JARS developments know that it is now our policy to publish back issues on our site, fully accessible and free of charge to all those who visit us online. However, publication on the site lags by a full volume, which means that online publication of the current issue won't occur for at least a year, depending on the timeliness of our publication schedule.

But the good news is that just as Volume 11, Number 1 (Issue 21) appears, those who wish to read Volume 10, Number 1 (the first of two Tenth Anniversary Issues) can now access its essays here! And what an issue that was, with key essays by Roger E. Bissell, Robert L. Campbell, Kathleen Touchstone, J. H. Huebert, Fred Seddon and Roderick Long, Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen, and Peter E. Vedder. So, in a way, every announcement of a new issue of JARS brings with it an announcement that the journal will be simultaneously publishing a back issue on its website.

It also means, however, that if you want to get in on the excitement now, don't wait a year! The new issue should start making its appearance in subscriber mailboxes by mid-to-late August. So if you have let your subscription lapse, renew today, by filling out this form and mailing it in with your check or money order. Better still: Take advantage of our online Paypal Express Service (see the drop-down menu here). Our basic individual domestic rate has been the same since our very first issue, unchanged in over ten years! So act now! (Lapsed subscribers and those in need of renewal after receipt of the new issue will be hearing from us in the mail.)

Finally, it delights me to announce that with this newest issue, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies begins a fruitful relationship with Scopus, "the world's largest abstract and citation database" of peer-reviewed research literature and quality web sources. Scopus covers nearly 18,000 titles from more than 5,000 publishers, providing "smart tools to track analyze and visualize research." Scopus will actually be abstracting and indexing JARS issues going back to 2009, providing researchers with "tools to sort, refine and quickly identify results ..."

With the addition of Scopus, and our ongoing relationship with EBSCO, JARS is now covered, in whole or in part, by 21 abstracting and indexing services in the humanities and social sciences.

I remember that in the early days of our existence, we worked diligently, clamoring at the doors of major abstracting and indexing services with the hope that they would add JARS to their databases. Such coverage is essential: It not only expands the visibility of the journal; it provides greater incentive to a diverse array of scholars to submit their papers to our peer-review process. Today, as our global reach continues to expand, it is all the more gratifying that abstracting and indexing services routinely approach JARS with invitations to add the journal to their databases.

This is an achievement that has been made possible by a team of editors, advisors, peer readers, authors, and very loyal subscribers. I extend my deepest, heartfelt appreciation to all those who have contributed to our growing success.

On to the second decade ... and beyond!

July 27, 2011

New(ish) Encyclopedia Entries

I have a very big announcement tomorrow about a brand new issue of a very special journal, but before getting to that, I just wanted to take note of a few encyclopedia entries, written by yours truly, which were recently published, and are now available on my site in .pdf versions:

"Libertarianism," Encyclopedia of Political Science, edited by George Thomas Kurian (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2011), Volume 3: H-M: 965-66

"Ayn Rand," Encyclopedia of Political Science, edited by George Thomas Kurian (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2011), Volume 5: R-Z: 1422-23.

"Murray Rothbard," Encyclopedia of Political Science, edited by George Thomas Kurian (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2011), Volume 5: R-Z: 1489.

Oh, and this entry...

"Ayn Rand," American Countercultures: An Encyclopedia of Nonconformists, Alternative Lifestyles, and Radical Ideas in U.S. History, edited by Gina Misiroglu (Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, Inc.; Sharpe Reference, 2009).

... is included in an encyclopedia (noted above) that won the RUSA Award for Best Reference Work, given by the American Library Association.

April 30, 2009

A Crisis of Political Economy (in The Freeman)

My essay, "A Crisis of Political Economy," which made its debut here on Notablog, appears in a slightly edited form in the May 2009 issue of The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty. Check it out here.

February 16, 2009

Nationalize the Banks!

I was watching "This Week" on ABC yesterday and was mildly amused by an exchange between Republican Lindsay Graham (Senator, South Carolina) and liberal Democrat from my own home state of New York, Charles Schumer. Graham said: "If you put most of our major banks under a stress test, they're going to fail. This idea of nationalizing banks is not comfortable, but I think we have gotten so many toxic assets spread throughout the banking and financial community throughout the world that we're going to have to do something that no one ever envisioned a year ago. Banking and housing are the root cause of this problem. ... I would not take off [the table] the idea of nationalizing the banks" (see here as well).

Now here's the height of irony: Chuck Schumer opposed the idea: "I would not be for nationalizing. Government's not good at making these decisions as to who gets loans and how this happens."

Well, good God... if we have to depend on the Democrats to tell the GOP that nationalizing isn't a good idea...

Of course, this is all One Big Joke anyway... there is virtually no difference between Republicans and Democrats, and the banks and the government are so incestuously intertwined, as I've argued here, that it is almost impossible to see where one entity ends, and the other begins. That's why we call it a "state-banking nexus." Democrat Maxine Waters of California understood this much, using Citibank as an example; with all the money that the taxpayers have given Citibank, that bank "is probably almost nationalized" already.

And the list goes on and on and on... from Citibank to Bank of America... the state is there for a taxpayer bailout that will further insulate the system from the kinds of revolutionary corrections that are required.

November 05, 2008

Recommended Reading for the New President

My goodness... the Obama victory last night seemed to have turned Times Square into New Year's Eve. Either they were celebrating the end of one of the worst presidencies in the history of the United States (Dubya), or the beginning of some new "era" ... or just the very real symbolism of the election. I have argued that nothing is going to change fundamentally under an Obama administration, but I'm sure many of those Times Square revelers believe, sincerely, that change is a comin'.

In the meanwhile, over at Inside Higher Ed, Scott McLemee conducted "an utterly unscientific survey of academics, editors, and public intellectuals to find out how — if given a chance — they might try to influence the incoming occupant of the White House." He asked, if we could recommend one book to the new President, what would it be?

I answered:

Given my own views of the corporatist state-generated roots of the financial crisis, I’d probably recommend The Theory of Money and Credit by Ludwig von Mises, so that he could get a quick education on how the credit policies of a central bank set the boom-bust cycle into motion. Perhaps this might shake the new President into a truly new course for US political economy.

Go read the whole article... it's got a lot of fascinating recommended reading!

October 30, 2008

In Memory of A Friend: Larry J. Sechrest

This evening, I spoke to Molly Sechrest, who informed me that her beloved husband, Larry, passed away this morning, October 30, 2008. A brief obituary appears at the site of the Mises Institute.

I had known Larry for over 15 years. He and I developed a deep respect and admiration for one another, and we loved one another as brothers. Larry was, quite simply, family. He was one of my closest personal friends and confidantes, an intellectual of the first rank, a superb thinker and writer, with a keen sense of humor. We shared so much over the years, including war stories of our various health battles. He'd had his ups and downs over the last several months in particular. But this shattering loss has come as a great shock to all of us who loved and honored him.

I hope to have more to say about Larry in the coming days and weeks... but for now, I just wanted to note his passing here at Notablog.

I will miss you, my dear, dear friend.

My love, always,
Chris

October 14, 2008

Saving the Free Market From Itself

This morning, President George W. Bush announced further "unprecedented and aggressive steps" that will help to "shore up" financial institutions and the U.S. economy during this time of crisis. He's delighted that globally, governments are moving to "strengthen" market institutions by providing more "liquidity," that is, by "purchasing equity" in major banks worldwide. The Federal Government will now purchase equity shares in this country's banks as part of its "$700 billion financial rescue plan." Oh, the banks will be able to buy back these shares with money from "private" investors when they get back on stronger financial footing. And, in addition to stepped up efforts by the FDIC, the Federal Reserve Bank will become a "buyer of last resort for commercial paper."

Inflate, inflate, inflate! And let's coordinate this on a global scale, if our national efforts are too puny!

Finally, Bush said that his economic advisors, led by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, will provide further details on how this "rescue plan" will take shape:

They will make clear that each of these new programs contains safeguards to protect the taxpayers. They will make clear that the government's role will be limited and temporary. And they will make clear that these measures are not intended to take over the free market, but to preserve it.

Up is Down. Right is Left. Freedom is Slavery. We come not to bury the "free market," but to save it... just the way FDR saved capitalism!

But, to paraphrase another Savior of the Free Market, who enacted wage and price controls to save "capitalism" from itself... "Let us make one thing perfectly clear": There is no free market. And the "capitalism" they are "saving" has nothing to do with "free markets." Call it "state capitalism," or "corporatism," or "neofascism." Call it whatever the hell you want... but don't call it a "free market."

As I argued recently, the state and the banks are virtual extensions of one another, two aspects of the same structure, a "state-banking nexus," if you will. The effective nationalization of financial institutions in this country is just a continuation of a long history of government intervention.

Cross-posted at L&P.

October 01, 2008

A Crisis of Political Economy

Oy, what a mess.

The "mess" of which I speak is, of course, U.S. Political Economy. And make no mistake about it: We are talking about political economy.

One of the things that I have long admired about Austrian-school theorists, such as Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, and Murray Rothbard, is their understanding of political economy, a concept that conveys, by its very coupling, the inextricable tie between the political and the economic.

When Austrian-school theorists have examined the dynamics of market exchange, they have stressed the importance not only of the larger political context within which such exchanges take place, but also the ways in which politics influences and molds the shape and character of those exchanges. Indeed, with regard to financial institutions in particular, they have placed the state at the center of their economic theories on money and credit.

Throughout the modern history of the system that most people call "capitalism," banking institutions have had such a profoundly intimate relationship to the state that one can only refer to it as a "state-banking nexus." As I point out in my book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism:

A nexus is, by definition, a dialectical unity of mutual implication. Aristotle (On Generation and Corruption 2.11.338a11-15) stresses that "the nexus must be reciprocal ... the necessary occurrence of this involves the necessary occurrence of something prior; and conversely ... given the prior, it is also necessary for the posterior to come-to-be." For Aristotle, this constitutes a symbiotic "circular movement." As such, the benefits that are absorbed by the state-banking nexus are mutually reinforcing. Each institution becomes both a precondition and effect of the other.

The current state and the current banking sector require one another; neither can exist without the other. They are so reciprocally intertwined that each is an extension of the other.

Remember this point the next time somebody tells you that "free market madmen" caused the current financial crisis that is threatening to undermine the economy. There is no free market. There is no "laissez-faire capitalism." The government has been deeply involved in setting the parameters for market relations for eons; in fact, genuine "laissez-faire capitalism" has never existed. Yes, trade may have been less regulated in the nineteenth century, but not even the so-called "Gilded Age" featured "unfettered" markets.

One of the reasons I have come to dislike using the term "capitalism" is that it has never, historically, manifested fully its so-called "unknown ideals." Real, actual, historically specific "capitalism" has always entailed the intervention of the state. And that intervention has always had a class character; that is, the actions of the state have always, and must always, benefit some groups differentially at the expense of others.

Mises understood this when he constructed his theory of money and credit. For Mises, there is no such thing as a "neutral" government action, just as surely as there is no such thing as "neutral" money. As he pointed out in his Theory of Money and Credit (pdf at that link), "[c]hanges in the quantity of money and in the demand for money . . . never occur for all individuals at the same time and to the same degree and they therefore never affect their judgments of value to the same extent and at the same time." Mises traced how, with the erosion of a gold standard, an inflation of the money supply would diffuse slowly throughout the economy, benefiting those, such as banks and certain capital-intensive industries, who were among its early recipients.

One of the reasons a gold standard was abandoned is that a gold standard is incompatible with a structural policy of inflation and with a system heavily dependent on government interventionism.

The profiteers of systematic inflation are not difficult to pinpoint. Taking their lead from Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard and such New Left revisionist historians as Gabriel Kolko and James Weinstein, Walter Grinder and John Hagel III point out in their classic article, "Toward a Theory of State Capitalism: Ultimate Decision-Making and Class Structure" (pdf at that link):

Historically, state intervention in the banking system has been one of the earliest forms of intervention in the market system. In the U.S., this intervention initially involved sporadic measures, both at the federal and state level, which generated inflationary distortion in the monetary supply and cyclical disruptions of economic activity. The disruptions which accompanied the business cycle were a major factor in the transformation of the dominant ideology in the U.S. from a general adherence to laissez-faire doctrines to an ideology of political capitalism which viewed the state as a necessary instrument for the rationalization and stabilization of an inherently unstable economic order. This transformation in ideology paved the way for the full-scale cartellization of the banking sector through the Federal Reserve System. The pressure for systematic state intervention in the banking sector originated both among the banks themselves and from certain industries which, because of capital intensive production processes and long lead-times, sought the stability necessary for the long-term planning of their investment strategies. The historical evidence confirms that the Federal Reserve legislation and other forms of state intervention in the banking sector during the first decades of the twentieth century received active support from influential banking and industrial interests. ...
Most importantly, however, cartellization of banking activity permits banks to inflate their asset base systematically. The creation of assets made possible by these measures to a great extent frees the banking institutions from the constraints imposed by the passive form of ultimate decision-making exercised by their depositors. It thereby considerably strengthens the ultimate decision-making authority held by banks vis a vis their depositors. The inflationary trends resulting from the creation of assets tend to increase the ratio of external financing to internal financing in large corporations and, as a consequence, the ultimate decision-making power of banking institutions increase over the activities of industrial corporations. Since the capital market naturally emerges as a strategic locus of ultimate decision-making in market economies, it is reasonable to assume that, by virtue of their intimate ties with the state apparatus, banking institutions will acquire an additional function within the state capitalist system, serving as an intermediary between the leading economic interests and the state.

So one of the major consequences of inflation (especially in a monetary system stripped of a gold standard) is a shift of wealth and income toward banks and their beneficiaries. But this financial interventionism also sets off a process that Hayek would have dubbed a "road to serfdom," for inflation introduces a host of distortions into the delicate structure of investment and production, setting off boom-and-bust, and "a process of retrogression from a relatively free market to a system characterized by an increasingly fascistic set of economic relationships," as Grinder and Hagel put it.

Just as the institution of central banking generates a "process of retrogression" at home, engendering additional domestic interventions that try to "correct" for the very distortions, conflicts, and contradictions it creates, so too does it make possible a structure of foreign interventions. In fact, it can be said that the very institution of central banking was born, as Rothbard argues in The Mystery of Banking (pdf at that link), "as a crooked deal between a near bankrupt government and a corrupt clique of financial promoters" in an effort to sustain British colonialism. The reality is not much different today, but it is a bit more complex in terms of the insidious means by which government funds wars, and thereby undermines a productive economy. (Of course, the funding itself benefits certain interests too, but we'll leave our sermon on the "military-industrial complex" for another day.)

So where does this leave us today?

Much has already been said about the most recent financial crisis, viewed from a radical libertarian and Austrian perspective, which helps to clarify its interventionist roots (see, for example, the links in "The Bailout Reader"). The seeds for this particular crisis were planted some years ago but the interventionist policies now being proposed and implemented have been around even longer. They are tried and true methods of further concentrating the power of "ultimate decision-making" in the state-banking nexus. (Indeed, as Robert Higgs notes, even the Federal "authority" to take over AIG is rooted in a Depression-era law. See also this post by David Theroux and the links therein, as well as commentary by Ron Paul and Sheldon Richman.)

On the current crisis, Steven Horwitz has written a superb open letter to those on the left, from which I'd like to quote at length. It explains the origins of the housing bubble in the creation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and places that crisis in a wider political-economic context shaped by governmental and Federal Reserve policies. By all means, read Horwitz's whole essay, and follow the links therein as well, which are missing in the passage cited here:

For starters, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are "government sponsored enterprises." Though technically privately owned, they have particular privileges granted by the government, they are overseen by Congress, and, most importantly, they have operated with a clear promise that if they failed, they would be bailed out. ... In 1995, Fannie and Freddie were given permission to enter the subprime market and regulators began to crack down on banks who were not lending enough to distressed areas. ... In addition, Congress explicitly directed Fannie and Freddie to expand their lending to borrowers with marginal credit as a way of expanding homeownership. What all of these [policies] did together was to create an enormous profit and political incentives for banks and Fannie and Freddie to lend more to riskier low-income borrowers. However well-intentioned the attempts were to extend homeownership to more Americans, forcing banks to do so and artificially lowering the costs of doing so are a huge part of the problem we now find ourselves in.
At the same time, home prices were rising making those who had taken on large mortgages with small down payments feel as though they could handle them and inspiring a whole variety of new mortagage instruments. What's interesting is that the rise in prices affected most strongly cities with stricter land-use regulations, which also explains the fact that not every city was affected to the same degree by the rising home values. ...
While all of this was happpening, the Federal Reserve, nominally private but granted enormous monopoly privileges by government, was pumping in the credit and driving interest rates lower and lower. [Ah... one way to keep those funds flowing for the Iraq war... --CS] This influx of credit further fueled the borrowing binge. With plenty of funds available, thanks to your friendly monopoly central bank (hardly the free market at work), banks could afford to continue to lend riskier and riskier.
The final chapter of the story is that in 2004 and 2005, following the accounting scandals at Freddie, both Freddie and Fannie paid penance to Congress by agreeing to expand their lending to low-income customers. Both agreed to acquire greater amounts of subprime and Alt-A loans, sending the green light to banks to originate them. From 2004 to 2006, the percentage of loans in those riskier categories grew from 8% to 20% of all US mortgage originations. ... The banks were taking on riskier borrowers, but knew they had a guaranteed buyer for those loans in Fannie and Freddie, back[ed], of course, by us taxpayers. Yes, banks were "greedy" for new customers and riskier loans, but they were responding to incentives created by well-intentioned but misguided government interventions. It is these interventions that are ultimately responsible for the risky loans gone bad that are at the center of the current crisis, not the "free market."
The current mess is ... clearly shot through and through with government meddling with free markets, from the Fed-provided fuel to the CRA and land-use regulations to Fannie and Freddie creating an artificial market for risky mortgages in order to meet Congress's demands for more home-ownership opportunities for low-income families. Thanks to that intervention, many of those families have not only lost their homes, but also the savings they could have held onto for a few more years and perhaps used to acquire a less risky mortgage on a cheaper house. All of these interventions into the market created the incentive and the means for banks to profit by originating loans that never would have taken place in a genuinely free market.
It is worth noting that these regulations, policies, and interventions were often gladly supported by the private interests involved. Fannie and Freddie made billions while home prices rose, and their CEOs got paid lavishly. The same was true of the various banks and other mortgage market intermediaries who helped spread and price the risk that was in play, including those who developed all kinds of fancy new financial instruments all designed to deal with the heightened risk of default the intervention brought with it. This was a wonderful game they were playing and the financial markets were happy to have Fannie and Freddie as voracious buyers of their risky loans, knowing that US taxpayer dollars were always there if needed. The history of business regulation in the US is the history of firms using regulation for their own purposes, regardless of the public interest patina over the top of them. This is precisely what happened in the housing market. And it's also why calls for more regulation and more intervention are so misguided: they have failed before and will fail again because those with the profits on the line are the ones who have the resources and access to power to ensure that the game is rigged in their favor.

This is precisely correct; indeed, there are those of a certain political bent, who might seek to place blame for the current financial crisis on the recipients of subprime mortgages, particularly those in minority communities. But if elements of the current housing bubble can be traced to Clinton administration attempts to appeal to traditional Democratic voting blocs, it's not as if the banks were dragged kicking and screaming into lending those mortgages. This is, in a nutshell, the whole problem, the whole history, of government intervention, as Horwitz argues. Even if a case can be made that the road to this particular "housing bubble" hell was paved with the "good intentions" of those who wanted to nourish an "ownership society," their actions necessarily generated deleterious "unintended consequences." When governments have the power to set off such a feeding frenzy, government power becomes the only power worth having, as Hayek observed so long ago. If our Presidential candidates wish to end the influence of Washington lobbyists, they should consider ending the power of Washington to dispense privilege. Because that privilege will always be dispensed in ways that benefit "ultimate decision-makers."

It is not simply that intervention breeds corruption; it's that corruption is inherent in the process itself.

It is therefore no surprise that the loudest advocates for the effective nationalization of the finance industry are to be found on Wall Street; at this point, failing financiers welcome any government actions that will socialize their risks. But such actions that socialize "losses while keeping the profits in private hands" are a hallmark of fascist and neofascist economies. They are just another manifestation of "Horwitz's First Law of Political Economy": "no one hates capitalism more than capitalists."

In the end, the proposed Paulson Plan is nothing more than a "heist," as Robert P. Murphy argues, "a grand scheme in which the public will end up owing hundreds of billions of dollars to holders of new debt claims issued by the US Treasury." Such a plan will only compound the problem. As Frank Shostak explains, government policies that try to prevent

a fall in the stock market cannot prevent a fall in the real economy. In fact, the real economy has already been damaged by the previous loose monetary stance. All that the fall in the stock market does is inform us about the true state of economic conditions. The fall in the price of stocks just puts things in a proper perspective. The fall in the stock price is just an acknowledgment of reality.

By not allowing market participants to work through the distortions therein created, government might very well plunge "the economy into the mother of all recessions."

Of course, there is a lot more that needs to be done to correct this economy structurally, but have no fear: Such structural change will not come to this economy without fundamental intellectual and cultural change. That, my friends, is not on the menu. The chefs who prepare the current menu of "choices" belong to a loosely defined political-economic class, centered around that "state-banking nexus" I mentioned earlier. The "choices" they offer might modify the regulations here or there, free up some institutions, while regulating others more heavily. They can only hope that their limited choices will guide them out of the current crisis, while still enabling them to retain their hold on "ultimate decision-making." And they have been, in the past, remarkably effective at steering a course between "extremes," which is why the system has never toppled. (With regard to the "stability" of the current system, I strongly recommend a book by Sanford Ikeda on the Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism, though it might make you feel that we're doomed and that nothing will ever change fundamentally.)

If all of this sounds diabolically conspiratorial, well, it is, in a sense, even if the "ultimate decision-makers" are not getting together in a single room trying to hatch the next great conspiracy. In fact, the reality is uglier: The culture of conspiracy is such that these plans are being hatched, ad hoc, by those within that state-banking nexus, presented to the public as the next great "rescue plan" for the "common good." Yet nobody inside or outside that nexus has the knowledge to coordinate any centrally-guided plan to "correct" the economy. But try to "correct" it, they will. Lord help us.

That's why, I maintain, it does not matter one iota who gets elected President. The emphases might vary slightly under Obama or McCain, but the fundamentals of U.S. political economy, and, I should add, U.S. foreign policy, will not change. Indeed, even for those of us who view the current Bush administration as the worst in our history, well, certainly the worst in our lifetime.... it is clear that nothing proposed by Obama or McCain is going to change the structural defects of this system.

It is the government's monetary, fiscal, and global policies that have created insurmountable debt and record budget deficits, speculative booms and bubble bursts. In such a "crisis of global statism," nationalizations and bailouts are not the only goodies in this "rescue package," being wrapped up as an unwanted gift for taxpayers. And because there is an organic link between domestic and foreign policy, be prepared for even more tragic fiscal and monetary irresponsibility at home, and an ever-expanding institutionalized war abroad.

Indeed, the "ultimate decision-makers" of U.S. political economy have a host of new battlefields on which to wage war, both literally and figuratively, in their efforts to stabilize the ship of state. None of the choices being offered will challenge their hegemony or topple them from their positions of power.

But a war beckons; it is primarily an intellectual and cultural one, and it must begin by questioning the fundamental basis of the current system---in any effort to overturn it.

Mentioned at L&P and Mises.org.

June 04, 2008

Sudha Shenoy, RIP

There is something about aging that must lend itself to looking back; of recent, I've been doing lots of "looking back" on this blog, noting the passings of many people, some of whom have been famous, some of whom I've known personally, all of whom have touched my life in various ways. (I suppose one knows that one is getting a little older when for the first time in one's life, one is older than one of the major party candidates for President of the United States.)

Still, though this blog is much more than songs and obituaries, there have been too many passings to note in recent months. And today is no exception.

I have just learned that Sudha Shenoy passed away after a long bout with cancer. Sudha was a colleague of mine on the Liberty and Power Group Blog, and a sometimes commentator on my work. I am so sad to hear of her passing, and I will always remember her as one of the great, and gentle, voices of the Austrian economics revival.

My condolences to her family and friends.

May 15, 2008

Louis M. Spadaro, RIP

I learned today that Louis Michael Spadaro, who was the founding dean of the Fordham University Graduate School of Business Administration, died on Saturday, May 3, 2008 at the age of 94. I met the warm-hearted Professor Spadaro many years ago at New York University at one of the weekly Austrian colloquia, and thanked him for having edited (and written the introduction to) a collection of essays that genuinely excited me as an undergraduate: New Directions in Austrian Economics. The book included thought-provoking essays by Israel Kirzner, Ludwig Lachmann, Mario Rizzo, Gerald O'Driscoll, Roger Garrison, and others... most of whom I ended up studying with at NYU.

My condolences to Professor Spadaro's family and friends.

April 18, 2006

Jason Dixon Interviews Me

Today, I publish a Notablog exclusive: An interview of me conducted by Jason Dixon. The interview was conducted in late 2005-early 2006, but is finally seeing the light of day here at Notablog.

Check it out:

An Interview Conducted by Jason Dixon

Comments welcome. Also noted at L&P.

January 05, 2006

International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology: Libertarianism

As I mentioned here and here, I wrote an entry on "libertarianism" for the International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology. The entry surveys those who have contributed to a libertarian "sociology," thinkers such as Herbert Spencer, Carl Menger, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and Ayn Rand.

I am pleased, today, to publish that entry, with permission from Routledge, on my website:

"Libertarianism"

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P and the Mises Economics Blog.

December 20, 2005

Philosophers of Capitalism

Today, I finally received my copy of a new book edited by Edward W. Younkins, entitled Philosophers of Capitalism: Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond.

A New Book with a Sciabarra Contribution

The book features contributions from a number of friends and colleagues, including, of course, Ed Younkins himself, along with Sam Bostaph, Doug Rasmussen, Barry Smith, Walter Block, Richard C. B. Johnson, Larry Sechrest, and Tibor Machan, among others. Some of the articles were previously published; my own is a revised version of a piece I wrote for Philosophical Books, surveying "The Growing Industry in Ayn Rand Scholarship."

Definitely pick it up; some very interesting articles therein. You can order it from LFB or Amazon.com

Update: Check out Neil Parille's review of the anthology here.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.

December 05, 2005

The Freeman: Dialectics and Liberty

The September 2005 issue of The Freeman includes my essay, "Dialectics and Liberty," which offers an introduction to dialectical method and its role in the works of such writers as F. A. Hayek and Ayn Rand. That essay finally makes its cyber-debut today! Another in a series of essays and interviews on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the publication of my books Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, the article is available as a PDF here:

"Dialectics and Liberty"

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P, with comments here. Also noted at Rational Review.

September 16, 2005

Bush, Krugman, and the Old Deal

Today's NY Times article by Paul Krugman, "Not the New Deal," gave me a few chuckles.

With George W. Bush projecting a huge federal government effort to reconstruct Louisiana and Mississippi and other areas affected by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, fiscal conservatives are already murmuring. But little stands in the way of this vast projected increase in government spending.

As my colleague Mark Brady has asked: "Did You Really Expect Anything Else?"

A Bush critic such as Paul Krugman is busy objecting to a Heritage Foundation-inspired plan that would include "waivers on environmental rules, the elimination of capital gains taxes and the private ownership of public school buildings in the disaster areas." But he also believes that "even conservatives" must recognize that "recovery will require a lot of federal spending." Since this will have an appreciable effect on the deficit, Krugman wonders "how ... discretionary government spending [can] take place on that scale without creating equally large-scale corruption." Given the Bush administration's penchant for awarding so much pork to favored corporations in places like Iraq, Krugman is understandably concerned about "cronyism and corruption."

This, says Krugman, is in marked contrast to the efforts of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose "New Deal" provided "a huge expansion of federal spending" without corruption or cronyism. The New Deal, says Krugman, "made almost a fetish out of policing its own programs against potential corruption. In particular, F.D.R. created a powerful 'division of progress investigation' to look into complaints of malfeasance in the W.P.A. That division proved so effective that a later Congressional investigation couldn't find a single serious irregularity it had missed." For Krugman, FDR was committed to "honest government," because he understood that "government activism works. But George W. Bush isn't F.D.R. Indeed, in crucial respects he's the anti-F.D.R."

Is Krugman kidding me?

Throughout his presidency, Bush has looked to such American Presidents as Woodrow Wilson and FDR for inspiration. Bush believes that FDR himself "gave his soul for the process" of taking America out of the Depression and into a world war against authoritarianism.

As for the New Deal: There are no "honest government" spending programs that don't involve some kind of structurally constituted cronyism and corruption. That's just the nature of the beast. And FDR's New Deal is no exception. It was, in many ways, a paradigmatic case, no different from the "war collectivism" policies of World War I or World War II, all of which entailed using the vastly expanding power of government to privilege certain groups at the expense of other groups. Not even Herbert Hoover's response to the government-engendered Great Depression was "laissez faire" (see Rothbard's "Herbert Hoover and the Myth of Laissez-Faire" in A New History of Leviathan, and, of course, his fine book on the subject).

A cursory look at Jim Powell's recent book, FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression reveals "why so much New Deal relief and public works money [was] channeled away from the poorest people." From its inception, the New Deal was inspired by the corporatist model of Italian fascism. Even Krugman's beloved Works Progress Adminstration was constructed on the basis of patronage schemes. Citing economic historian Gavin Wright, Powell tells us that "a statistical analysis of New Deal spending purportedly aimed at helping the poor" gives us evidence that "80 percent of the state-by-state variation in per person New Deal spending could be explained by political factors."

Mainstream politics offers no genuine opposition to FDR's Old "New Deal" or Bush's New "Old Deal," not when "conservatives" and "liberals" are united in their support for massive government intervention.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P and Mises Economics Blog.

August 29, 2005

Mises and China

Asia Times has a news item on "FX Trading" that mentions Mises and the Austrian business cycle theory. In focusing on cyclical phenomena in China, Jack Crooks reports also from Stratfor that "Beijing's inability to control local leaders, coupled with a pervasive culture of corruption and nepotism, has left an indelible taint on the government structure that reaches from the lowest levels to the highest." He tells us that "China, as far as we can see, is a real time test case for validation of von Mises boom-bust credit cycle analysis."

Read the whole article here.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to the Mises Economics Blog.

August 22, 2005

Dualism: A Difference With Distinction

The chat continues between Geoffrey Allan Plauche, Billy Beck, and me. Billy had originally questioned the very use of the word "dualism" to describe what he believes is mere "difference." He writes here:

What's with all this "dualism"? I'd wondered how they (Chris Sciabarra and Plauche) were using the term, starting with a review of Anaxagorean split of mind and matter. No; I conclude that they're talking about little more than definitions. In his fifth paragraph, Plauche recaps relations among various "monopolistic institution[s]" (what Plauche correctly spikes as Rand's "definition" in his third paragraph), but all this is really only different arrangements of the same basic thing. It's not about "types"; it's about the degree of application of the basic thing. Now; if we want to call it "dualism" to properly identify two different things and scrupulously discriminate between them, then I guess it's okay, but everybody should bear in mind that that's what it means.

Billy takes it one step further with these comments here:

On "dualism": Geoffrey says (quoting Chris Sciabarra, I'm pretty sure, but I think he missed the opening punctuation) that it is "an orientation toward analysis by separation of a system's components into two spheres." He continues diligently and you should go read it. I do understand that technical philosophynot cracker-barrel jaw-boningmust keep certain standards of concept and referent that are generally alien around the cracker-barrel, but I cannot understand why the plainly simple concept of "difference" would not suffice: it is what it is (which is: understanding that a thingmaterial, conceptual, whatever: the referent at issueis not what it ain't and cannot be substituted for with what it ain't), and I, for one, don't see a call for Rube Goldberging structures around "methodologies" when the Law of Identity not only works, but should be endorsed as effective at every turn throughout this currently advancing Endarkenment. K.I.S.S., fellas.

Anticipating the distinction between mere "difference" and "dualism," Geoffrey answers a query from John T. Kennedy, who asks: "Is the True/False dichotomy an example of dualism?" Geoffrey writes:

Nope. Not every dichotomy is a false dichotomy, and often it depends on the context. However, a dualist methodology encourages the creation and/or acceptance of false dichotomies. ... I should add that a dualist methodology will tend to lead one to drop or overlook at least part of the full context of a given phenomenon which will make it difficult if not impossible to identify and analyze it correctly, and failing to identify and analyze the phenomenon correctly will tend to result in any subsequent action/policy/solution being at least partially incorrect.

Everything that Geoffrey says here is accurate, from my perspective.

Let's backtrack a bit to clarify why we need the concept "dualism," rather than the concept "difference" to describe what are essentially "false alternatives."

In the above post, Billy mentions the Law of Identity. Let us recall Aristotle's first formulation of the law of noncontradiction (noncontradiction, excluded middle, and identity, being the first laws of logic):

[T]he most certain principle of all is that regarding which it is impossible to be mistaken. ... It is, that the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject in the same respect ... It is for this reason that all who are carrying out a demonstration refer it to this as an ultimate belief; for this is naturally the starting-point even for all the other axioms. (Metaphysics 4.3.1005b17-33)

In essence, Aristotle is telling us that A cannot be A and not-A, at the same time and in the same sense. That's a crucial italicized proviso, especially for those who seek to deny the law by introducing a temporal element or by viewing A from a different perspective or relationship, and who declare that A is somehow "different" than what it is, that A is not-A.

Well, we can and should accept this fundamental law. And since Aristotle presents the law as both a law of being and a law of thought, that is, as both an "ontological" and a "logical" principle, it is clear that identity implies "difference," and that there is a "difference" therefore between "A" and "not-A."

But there are "different" kinds of "difference." There are certain differences that are differences within a unity; Aristotle called some of these "correlatives." Such differences must be viewed in their indissoluble relationships; any attempt to create a mutual exclusivity between such terms does violence to the meaning of each, since the definition of each depends upon its relationship to the other. Here is Aristotle again:

For example, if a slave is spoken of in relation to a master, then, when everything accidental to a master is stripped offlike being a biped, capable of knowledge, a manand there is left only being a master, a slave will always be spoken of in relation to that. For a slave is called slave of a master. (Categories 12.7.7a35-39)

So, it is not good enough to say that there is a "difference" between master and slave, as if these are simply in "logical" contradiction to one another. Strictly speaking, in actuality, they are not logical opposites, like "true" and "false," but relational opposites. G. W. F. Hegel would pick up on this theme in later years, in his own discussion of "master" and "slave," which Robert Heilbroner has rendered into more understandable English than anything Hegel ever wrote:

[T]he point is that a Master is a being who can only be defined or described by using a concept that is its meaningful opposite or negation. Without Servants there are no Masters, and vice versa. ... The logical contradiction (or "opposite" or "negation") of a Master is not a Slave, but a "non-Master," which may or may not be a slave. But the relational opposite of a Master is indeed a Slave, for it is only by reference to this second "excluded" term that the first is defined.

This principle actually has revolutionary political implications that have been noted variously by thinkers as diverse as Hegel, Karl Marx, and Ayn Rand: The revolution consists not in a Slave becoming a Master or a Master becoming a Slave, but in stepping outside this whole relational dynamic. Rand understood, for example, that the independent individual is one who is neither master nor slave, one who neither demands nor provides sacrifices.

In Randian language, the fallacy of dualism is, in essence, the fallacy of "false alternatives." It might be said that a dualist looks at all distinctions as if they are logical opposites, rather than relational opposites. This has the effect of rigidifying all opposites as if they are stark "black-and-white" choices, rather than relations within a unity or terms or philosophic stances united by some common (false) premise. The dualist sees mind and body as fundamentally opposed, for example, rather than as part of some organic unity. The oppositions that emerge from this dichotomy are legion:

mind-body
ideal-material
reason-emotion
fact-value
moral-practical
theory-practice

... and so on ...

Now, in the history of philosophy those who adopt methodological "monism" do so as a way of resolving the "false alternatives" that have been posited by dualists. But these "monistic" solutions don't seek some "fuller context" within which to understand false alternatives; rather, they simply emphasize one pole of a duality to the detriment of the other pole, and the dominant pole becomes the means of "resolving" the dualism. That's the methodological pretext at work in the oppositions that one finds between

Materialism and Idealism
Intrinsicism (or what was known as "classical objectivism") and Subjectivism
Rationalism and Empiricism

... and so on ...

So, to repeat: "Dualism" is used to describe a specific kind of difference.

Now let's remember that dialectics is the "art of context-keeping." When I speak of a "dialectical" resolution of a false alternative, I am speaking of one that highlights the larger context within which to understand oppositions that are, in fact, relational, rather than logical. That's why it is an obscenity when conventional defenders and critics of dialectical method have attacked its relationship to the law of noncontradiction. As I put it in my book, Total Freedom (I have dropped the footnotes and references for now):

All concepts of method presume the validity of logic. We cannot even think about the world without adhering to the fundamentals of logic, which are as much about being as they are about knowing. Logic is "the fundamental concept of method," a tool of objectivity upon which the theoretical and applied sciences depend. Objectivity entails a recognition of the fact that we can only acquire knowledge of reality by means of reason in accordance with the rules of noncontradictory identification.
One implication of this caveat is that dialectics, as an orientation, is not in opposition to logic, but rather is a fundamental complement to logic, and, as such, cannot correctly be said either to undermine or to "transcend" logic. The widespread failure to grasp this fact has resulted in the irony that dialectics has been as seriously jeopardized by some of those who have sought to preserve and extend it as by those who have endeavored to destroy it. Those so-called dialectical theorists who champion dialectics as "superior to" logic fail to appreciate logic as the foundation of knowledge, an undeniable constituent of all concepts of method. Those who refer to dialectics as being "transcendent of" the axiomatic laws of noncontradiction, excluded middle, and identity are thus speaking nonsense every bit as much as those who claim that dialectics is destructive of those laws. Defending the rightful status of dialectics as a methodological or research orientation is thus made doubly difficult, because those most in need of keeping logic foundational to their dialectical inquiries do not think they need to, while those most capable of showing that logic is foundational to dialectics think that dialectics is antithetical to logic. Logic and dialectics are mutually implied: just as logic is the art of noncontradictory identification, dialectics is the art of context-keeping, and both arts entail various techniques for achieving these mutually reinforcing goals.

How all of this relates to the debate between libertarian anarchists and minarchists is discussed in my book Total Freedom. Since this whole discussion between Geoffrey, Billy, and me began with the question of anarchism, I'll relate these thoughts to that debate.

I think one of the fundamental questions one must ask, and answer, is this: Is the distinction between "market" and "state" a logical one or a relational one? Is there some sense in which it is both logical and relational? I think anarchists and minarchists provide different answers to these questions.

I think on one level, there is clearly a logical difference between the "market" and the "state" insofar as these institutions rely upon fundamentally different principles of organization. The former is based on voluntary exchange, the latter relies upon the initiation of the use of force.

But, on another level, for me, the really interesting questions focus our attention on the historical relationship between markets and states. Here is how I put it in my discussion of the work of Murray Rothbard in Part Two of Total Freedom:

Rothbard's persistent description of the state as an "external" intrusion, however, obscures the "multiplier effect" of state interventionism. Since each intervention engenders another, having multiple, and often unforeseen, social and historical consequences, it seems extremely difficult, if not impossible, causally to trace every consequence to either the market or the state. No theorist has such an omniscient view of social evolution. Though logic suggests that predation is a parasite upon production, evolution entails reciprocal patterns of development. The state may depend upon social production for its survival, but it sets the parameters within which social production has functioned. Indeed, the historical development of the interventionist economy has so deeply affected every social practice that it may be impossible to separate market and state influences cleanly. Each sphere is in a dynamic interrelationship with the other. Each sphere permeates the other. And if the very existence of the state constitutes "intervention," as anarchists claim, then the market has always existed within the parameters of state involvement. This includes a statist legal structure that defines the very form of property relations in a way that differs significantly from Rothbard's quasi-Lockean theory of "just acquisition." Will not the market continue to reproduce the injustices of state-influenced property distributions? Moreover, if individuals exist in a concrete historical context, and this context has always been tainted by "coercive" elements, how is it possible to create an accurate balance sheet by which to evaluate who is a producer and who is a parasite?

I concretize this abstract discussion by reference to an historical concrete:

These rigid distinctions create problems for individuals living in today's world. 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. Rands 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, Rothbard argues that in a state-run world one should "work and agitate in behalf of liberty," "refuse to add to [the world's] 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 benefitspublic or privateunder statism. Recalling the Ruby Ridge conflict, he reasons: "Sure, its 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 agents lunch is not acting improperly. . . . But this doesnt 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."

There is a lot to digest in this post. But I do believe that this whole discussion of "dualism" is not simply a floating abstraction on the level of what Billy calls "terminographologicality." It is a discussion that has real social and political implications. How we organize the data of our world will affect the strategies we adopt when we attempt to change that world fundamentally.

Comments welcome.

August 18, 2005

My Interview at Sunni's Salon

The tenth anniversary celebrations continue this afternoon with the publication of my interview at Sunni's Salon. I have known Sunni Maravillosa for a long time, and she's a total sweetheart. Her interview of me is comprehensive, wide-ranging, sometimes intimate, and always entertaining.

The 8-page interview starts here.

Comments welcome.

Ten Years After, Take 2

On this date, ten years ago, my book Marx, Hayek, and Utopia was published by the State University of New York Press. The book is near and dear to my heart because it was the very first book I ever wrote, a derivative of my doctoral dissertation that became the first installment of my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy." As I stated in my "Ten Years After" article:

Marx, Hayek, and Utopia was first accepted for publication in 1989 by a West German publishing house, Philosophia Verlag, which eventually went bankrupt. I took back the rights to the book and eventually secured a contract with the State University of New York Press, which published it as part of its series on the Philosophy of the Social Sciences. By the time it appeared in the same August 1995 week as my second book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, Germany had become a united country.

Reminiscing about all this, ten years after, I have posted several times this past week at SOLO HQ. (Readers can follow that discussion here, here, and here.)

Today, in fact, at SOLO HQ, Edward W. Younkins publishes a version of an earlier review he did of my book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. He mentions in his review that while I offer an interpretive, methodological, and historical discussion, I don't offer my own substantive "dialectical-libertarian" social theory. Here, I make two brief points in response:

1. It is true that I didn't develop a formal "Sciabarraian" dialectical social theory in my trilogy, but there is an implicit parallel of sorts, between my own work and the work of somebody like Isaiah Berlin. Now, I'm not comparing myself to Berlin (some love him, some hate him) or to Berlin's history of voluminous writing. Moreover, I disagree with a lot of what Berlin has written.
But something of Berlin's "approach" was imparted to me through my Marxist mentor Bertell Ollman, who was himself taught by Berlin. One of the things I learned was that if I wanted to do intellectual history, I could express my own substantive views through my interpretation of the views of others. While my trilogy does not offer a substantive social theory, it is interpretive, methodological, and historical, and one can glean where I stand by the enthusiasm that I bring to my reconstruction of [, for example,] Rand's "tri-level model" (in Part Three of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical) and of Rothbard's "structural" critique (discussed in Chapter 7 of Total Freedom).
2. I think of my own essays on domestic and foreign policy as applications of the tri-level Randian model that I discuss in Russian Radical, and that I endorse, while being fully cognizant of important insights from other theorists as well (including Menger, Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard). Some day, when I finish a whole host of planned articles, I hope to return to the enunciation of a more formal "Sciabarraian" social theory. But before I can do that, I need to work on a much more accessible exposition of dialectical method. Though I defend my own ability to speak "Polish," as Linz has put it (that is, to situate myself in some very technical contemporary debates on methodology), I also believe that the time is ripe for extended essays on "The Art of Context-Keeping"essays that not only present "Dialectics for Dummies" (so-to-speak), but that integrate and illustrate the concrete practice of the art.

Here, I have more to say not only about this issue of speaking "Polish," that is, of speaking a technical language in books that are aimed at a technical audience (at least partially), but also about the larger issue of civility in public discourse:

I, personally, have engaged in what I view as very strong criticisms of other's works. Take a look at my critique of James Valliant's book, for example. I'm not going to re-open the substance of that debate on this thread. But if I'd called Valliant a "maggot" because I disagreed with him, what would it have achieved? We would have spent hours upon hours upon hours debating the style of my essay, rather than its substance.
An interview conducted by Sunni Maravillosa goes up later today where I expand on these themes. I'll post the link later. But as I say there, "when people engage in rude and disrespectful exchanges, the topic of the discussion soon shifts from a debate over substance to a debate over style."
Now, I'll admit that Linz has a nice Goldwater-tinged maxim in his essay from yesterday:
"Civility in the face of evil is no virtue; rage in the face of nihilism is no vice.
People who have seen me post to SOLO HQ have surely seen that I get passionate about many issues. Take a look at former discussions here of everything from homosexuality to foreign policy. But there comes a point where I move on. Just because I have serious disagreements with somebody does not mean that I have to revel in that topic for eons, spewing the newest, freshest insults I could come up with. That's just not me. It's not even a difference between a "public Chris" and "private Chris." It's not that I think one thing privately and say another publicly. I am usually unwilling to throw epithets around on SOLO HQ because I don't see the point of making the style of my exposition the center of the debate, thereby detracting from the substance of my points. It's as much a tactical decision as it is an expression of who I am.

Readers who doubt that should simply read Notablog more regularly; the discussions here that have been most contentious never go "off the rails." I expect my readers and posters to adhere to a certain tone in my home, and I lead by example.

More from my SOLO HQ post:

But few people ever walk away from a dialogue with me wondering about that substance. People know where I stand on a subject, whether it be the Iraq war, dialectics, feminism, homosexuality, or countless other topics.
None of this means that I'm not entertained by other people's diametrically opposed styles. Vive la difference! I have been entertained, plenty of times, by people (like Jeff), who can use satire and parody in devastating ways. And I may not like it when Linz throws certain epithets in my direction, but he can sometimes be very effective in the style that comes naturally to him.
And let me state this for the hearing of the world: I have actually learned from Lindsay Perigo. Horrors! There is a distinctive difference between the style of my academic work, which enters into very technical scholarly debates over methodology and epistemology, since it is addressed to a very specific audience, and the style of my essays for The Free Radical, which is more accessible. Linz has helped me to tap into my Inner Pit Bull on many an occasion, in his editorial comments on my first or second drafts for TFR, pushing me toward far more colorful and effective communication in that context. But I stand by my ability to speak "Polish" (as Linz puts it) to the Poles because I believe that different contexts demand different approaches. They do not demand a compromise of the substance of my points. But they do demand that I take into account the interests, needs, and knowledge of the audience I'm addressing.
On these last points, see my essay: "Dialectics and the Art of Nonfiction."

I'll post the link to my exchange with Sunni Maravillosa later today.

Comments welcome. Also mentioned at L&P.

August 17, 2005

Austrians in Academia

At the Mises Institute site, Walter Block publishes a thought-provoking piece entitled "Austrians in Academia: A Battle Plan." In it, he makes a number of interesting observations about publishing prospects. He even mentions The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (to which he has been a contributor):

What about movement journals for Austro libertarians such as Journal of Libertarian Studies, Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, Review of Austrian Economics, Independent Review, Cato Journal, the American Journal of Economics and Sociology, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Advances in Austrian Economics, etc? (I call them movement journals because none of them is biased against Austrian or libertarian themes; indeed, the very opposite is the case).
If all of your publications are in these journals, e.g., you have none in any other refereed journal, the number of schools that will hire you will be limited. If you are aiming for a faculty position at an Ivy League school, you had better limit yourself to, say, 10% of your overall publications to journals such as these. The lower in (mainstream) prestige you go, the higher the proportion of such articles you can profitably have on your c.v.
Now that I have tenure, myself, I need not worry about such considerations, although there are still some slight pressures on me in this regard: if I want to be mobile, or get more of an annual salary raise, then I should look further afield for placement of my publications. As well, mainstream economists do not focus on these journals. If we want to have some impact on the profession at large, we should seek publication in their journals.

I think Walter is, of course, correct. I would hate to think that people in the academic profession who are interested in Ayn Rand, for example, would publish only in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (and Walter is right: JARS has published its share of Austrian theorists too). It is very important for scholars to publish work on Rand and on Austrian theorists in "mainstream" journals.

But the existence of "movement journals" is important, insofar as they advance scholarly study of the subjects in which they specialize. That study must proceed with established standards of double-blind peer review. In addition, such journals must gain greater visibility in scholarly abstracts and indices. That's one of the reasons I have been relentless in my quest to get JARS noticed; the journal is now indexed in CSA Worldwide Political Science Abstracts, IBR (International Bibliography of Book Reviews of Scholarly Literature in the Humanities and Social Sciences), IBZ (International Bibliography of Periodical Literature in the Humanities and Social Sciences), International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, International Political Science Abstracts, The Left Index, The Philosopher's Index, MLA International Bibliography, MLA Directory of Periodicals, Sociological Abstracts, Social Services Abstracts, and Women's Studies International. It is also linked to many online guides and resources. And there are many additional professional indices on the way.

In any event, as I said, Walter's article is provocative and merits your attention.

Comments welcome.

An Interview, Conducted by Sebastien Care

This is a Notablog Exclusive.

In keeping with my tenth anniversary activities, I am interviewed today by Sebastien Care French researcher and Ph.D. in Politics, on the subject of libertarianism. Here's the link:

An Interview, Conducted by Sebastien Care

Comments welcome.

August 14, 2005

Ten Years After

On this date, ten years ago, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical was published. It was actually not "officially" released until the fall, but its arrival on my doorstep in 1995 was a moment of celebration for me. Russian Radical was actually my second book, but it arrived from the printer four days before the release of my first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (which was published on 18 August 1995).

This week, I'm celebrating "Ten Years After" the publication of the first two books of my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy" (which culminated in 2000, with the publication of Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism). There will be articles, interviews, and discussions here and at various host sites.

Today, to kick it all off, SOLO HQ publishes an article that first made its appearance in print in the July-August 2005 issue of The Free Radical. (Subscription information for Free Radical is available here.) The article is entitled:

"Ten Years After"

Discussion is archived here.

Links to all of my previous Free Radical-SOLO HQ writings are available here, along with PDFs for many of my Free Radical essays, including the current one here.

Comments welcome here at Notablog, and at SOLO HQ, and at Liberty & Power Group Blog too (with L&P comments here).

June 28, 2005

Forthcoming Work

Readers may notice that I've had a lot of songs posted to my Notablog recently. I keep the music flowing, daily, even if circumstances sometimes get in the way of regular, more "substantive" posting (though I do encourage readers to take a look at my "Song of the Day" listings, like the one today that marks the Stonewall Riots.)

Among the circumstances currently preoccupying me: My editing of the Fall 2005 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS), which will include a new essay by me detailing the results of my investigation of new material unearthed from Russian archives on Ayn Rand's secondary school and university education. It is entitled "The Rand Transcript, Revisited," and is a sequel both to "The Rand Transcript" and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. And it has a few interesting historical curiosities and surprises...

It is only natural that I've been spending a bit more time on Rand Studies over the past year or so, given my own scholarship in this area, the Rand Centenary, the JARS Centenary issues (I and II), and the upcoming tenth anniversary (in August) of Russian Radical, for which I've authored several reflections that will appear in such publications as Liberty, The Freeman, and The Free Radical. Also forthcoming: my essay, "Atlas Shrugged: Manifesto for a New Radicalism," in Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion, edited by Edward W. Younkins (Ashgate, Spring 2007); and my essay on "The Growing Industry in Rand Scholarship," in Philosophers of Capitalism, also edited by Edward W. Younkins (Rowman & Littlefield, Spring 2006). In addition, I've authored a brief encyclopedia entry on Rand for The Encyclopedia of the Counterculture and separate entries on Rand and Nathaniel Branden for The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Finally, I'm writing a rather comprehensive critical essay on James Valliant's book, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics; the essay, which will most likely be pubilshed in July as a Notablog exclusive, will deal with larger issues of historiography, biography, and Rand scholarship.

In the midst of all this, I've been interviewed by French researcher Sbastien Car, who is preparing a doctoral dissertation on the libertarian movement in the United States; Car has given me permission to post our exchange on Notablog. It will most likely be published here during the week of August 14th.

August 14, 1995 is actually the date that the second book of my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, was published... ahead of my first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, which was published on August 18, 1995. It's a long story how this came to be; I discuss aspects of it in the various aforementioned reflections, which will be featured online in due course.

Other interviews are also scheduled, including one that will be published in Ama-Gi, the Hayek Society Journal of the London School of Economics. The interview, of course, is Hayek-centered, dealing with my own "dialectical libertarian" approach, which is the focus of the "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy that culminated in 2000 with the publication of Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism.

Other forthcoming publications include essays on "Karl Marx" and "libertarianism" that will appear in the Routledge International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology.

Finally, for those who have checked my "Forthcoming" page, and who have asked me for a progress report: My research and study of Aleksandr Blok, the great Russian Symbolist writer whom Rand named as her favorite poet, is a long way off from completion. And my continuing work with Bertell Ollman on the history of dialectical thinking is ongoing. I don't anticipate any publication of either of these projects in the near future.

I want to thank my Notablog readers for their continuing support. I value the comments I receive publicly and privately. Given ongoing complications from a serious life-long illness, however, it takes me a bit longer to respond nowadays. Because of these limitations, I've cutback rather dramatically on my posting to other Internet and Usenet forums and other blogs. And I will be unable to offer my Cyberseminar in the 2005-2006 academic year. I hope to offer that long-distance learning class again at some point in the future, and will post an update when the time comes.

Just know that I'm working very hard and doing the best that I can.

Thanks again for your warm wishes.

Comments welcome.

June 04, 2005

Luker and Rand

Ralph Luker posts his reply to my criticisms of his list of the ten most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries. A few other people have gotten in on the discussion too, including fellow HNN'er Irfan Khawaja and Grant Jones.

Luker titles his reply, "Listmania and Maturity," and then goes on to express surprise at my use of the word "obscene" to describe his inclusion of Rand's Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead on a list that includes Mein Kampf and Protocals of the Elders of Zion. He also expresses disapproval of a comment left at my blog by Technomaget, who calls Luker, in no uncertain terms, a "moron."

Let me clarify a few things.

First, I am not calling Luker "obscene" and I have not called him a moron either. What I thought was "obscene" was placing a pair of works by Rand on a list that includes titles written by mass murderers. I use "obscene" as a synonym for "offensive" and find that particular coupling of Rand and Hitler very offensive.

If Luker had called his list a list of the ten worst books he'd ever read, or a list of the ten most annoying books, or the ten most useless books, or the ten most immature books, I probably would never have noticed it. But "harmful" carries with it a certain stigma, as I explained in my L&P/Notablog post. Strictly defined it means "causing or capable of causing harm." And on those grounds, I just don't see any reasonable criterion by which to equate Rand's novels with Mein Kampf. As Grant Jones puts it succinctly: "Has any reader of her works built Death Camps?" (brings back memories of Whittaker Chambers' cry, upon reading Atlas: "To a gas chambergo!") As we say here in Brooklyn: "Fuhgedaboudit! You gotta be kiddin' me!"

Luker states: "In a moment of weakness (it just seemed like years of agony), I read Ayn Rand and I don't worship at her shrine! My lack of admiration for Ayn Rand is well known." Well that's fine. I admire her work but I don't worship at her shrine either. And, again, I would have had little problem if Luker had simply said: "These books suck." But suckitude is not the criterion for "harmfulness," especially when one is drawing up a list of books that crosses the line into Hitler territory.

As for Rand's work being serious or unserious, I'm afraid there's nothing in Luker's post that would give me a clue as to the nature of his assessment. Luker may not like Rand's philosophy, but let me assure him that it is not a "so-called philosophy," as he puts it. It may not be a philosophy with which Luker agrees, but it's a systematic philosophy, with integrated positions in ontology, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. It is a philosophy that includes a commitment to realism, ethical egoism, individualism, and capitalism. And it is being taken seriously by people on every end of the political and philosophical spectrum, not only in the pages of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies but in a growing list of professional scholarly journals (see here).

If Luker would like to broaden his realm of toleration to include a few of us who were at least moved by Rand's work, let alone influenced, and who don't manifest "immaturity" or a "cult-like psychological disorder" or "delayed adolescent omnipotence," maybe we could talk more seriously. Ad hominem masquerading as psychological diagnosis is no substitute for discussion.

Comments welcome.

Cross-posted to L&P, and mentioned at SOLO HQ here. I also left comments in a thread at Cliopatria here.

Update: I'm glad to see a few comments here, but wanted to mention that Luker has raised a number of important questions that I answer here (see here, here, here, and here as well). I republish it here because I think it's worth repeating. Luker asked: "Do you object to the appearance of Freud on the list with Hitler? Harm is done in different ways and on different levels. I said that and, yet, the Rand defenders continue to act as if I didn't. Why the Rand defenders and not the Freud defenders or the Mahan defenders?"

I replied:

Ralph, let me answer that question; it's a legitimate one. If you had listed Mises's Human Action or Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, I would have had the same reaction, and not out of any desire to defend "sacred texts." And, in fact, I also defended Spencer in my original post, but that point seems to have been lost. Mises left behind his library to escape from Nazi tyranny. Both Mises and Hayek were furiously opposed to Nazism, fascism, communism, and socialism (though there are differences of degree, I think, between Mises and Hayek concerning their positions on certain welfare-state regulations). So, any list that would have included Mises or Hayek along with Adolf Hitler would have ruffled my feathers as well. (And, apparently, you cite fellow "Cliopatriarch" Hugo Schwyzer, who came up with an "if only" mock list of banned books, and placed Hayek's works on that list.)

Libertarians have been defending against the charge that they are apologists for fascism for eons now. In the light of the fact that many libertarian theorists have developed a radical critique of fascism and contemporary neofascism, the charge is especially nonsensical.

Still, certain writers have been trying to pull this slipshod intellectual package-dealing of libertarianism and fascism for years. I've heard the same refrain for so long but I've never become anesthesized to it. So I speak up.

Now it's true: You did not say that you were necessarily comparing libertarians or Objectivists to Nazis, and you've made it clear that "Harm is done in different ways and on different levels." But the lack of any stated criterion or any reasoning for the inclusion of Rand, Spencer, etc., left this reader with a big Question Mark as to the nature of your assessment. And since I know too many people who are ready to declare that Mises, Hayek, and Rand were all fascists anyway, I decided to blog about it.

If this makes me especially defensive because my "sacred" authors are being attacked... well, fine. But sometimes I find it necessary to speak up when positions are not made clear, and comparative implications to Nazism are left dangling in the air like some lethal gas.

April 28, 2005

Spencer, Long, and a New Encyclopedia

In light of all the good discussion on Herbert Spencer that we've seen here and here on L&P, I wanted to share some good news.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to do an encyclopedia article on "Karl Marx" for the forthcoming International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology, to be published by Routledge. Amazingly, there was not a single entry offered for Herbert Spencer (who many view as one of the founders of sociology) or of any of the great classical liberals. I knew that Spencer had fallen out of favor with sociologists over the years, and that too many working in that discipline had a tendency to dismiss (wrongly, I might add) the work of classical liberals as somehow too "atomistic" and not worthy of the sociological imagination.

Whatever the reason, I was quite frankly shocked that nothing on Spencer, liberalism, or libertarianism had been scheduled for discussion in the encyclopedia. So, I asked the fine editor if he would be interested in one additional contribution from me: a general, broader piece on libertarianism, that is, on the relevance to sociology of theorists working in the classical liberal/libertarian tradition. The editor accepted my offer. And instead of writing a sole piece on Marx, I wrote two pieces.

The entry on libertarianism brought into the encyclopedia a discussion of the works of Herbert Spencer (to whom I devote much space, relatively speaking), Carl Menger, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, and others.

I've just been informed today that the encyclopedia is due out in October 2005; I'll be sure to note it here when the time comes.

Thus, this is my way of thanking Roderick Long doubly: not only for his continuing work on Spencer, but also for offering constructive commentary on my essays before they were submitted to Routledge.

Cross-posted to L&P.

Comments welcome, or readers may join the discussion at L&P (where Roderick leaves a comment here).

April 16, 2005

JARS Plugs

I noticed that David M. Brown (at the LFB.COM Blog) has a few things to say about the current issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Check out "Rand Among the Austrians" and "Boettke on the Economics of Atlas Shrugged."

Comments welcome.

April 11, 2005

To What Extent Was Rand a Misesian?

Long-time Misesian scholar Bettina Bien Greaves has written a review of the Spring 2005 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposium, "Ayn Rand Among the Austrians." The review appears as the Daily Article on the site of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Read the Greaves essay here. It is also linked at the Mises Blog here, with follow-up comments here. I've left one comment thanking Bettina, and mentioning Rand's marginalia comments on the works of Austrian writers.

Comments welcome, but readers are invited to join the discussion at the Mises Blog.

Update: This Greaves essay was also announced at L&P by Roderick Long here, leading to some good-natured chit-chat here, here, here, and here (where I post a few comments myself).

March 14, 2005

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!).

March 06, 2005

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.

February 23, 2005

A Question About Wal-Mart

In reply to a SOLO HQ article written by Andrew Bissell ("Wal-Mart: A Big Business With a Backbone"), I raise a question here about Wal-Mart's use of government subsidies.

Readers may comment at SOLO HQ.

February 16, 2005

Hayek and the Pitfalls of Rationalism

At SOLO HQ, I comment on Hayek's contributions to the critique of rationalism here, in reply to an essay by Edward W. Younkins, "The Road to Objective Economics: Hayek Takes a Wrong Turn."

Readers may comment at the SOLO HQ site.

Update: In addition to the archived discussion noted above, I make a point about Hayek's last book in a thread on "The Fatal Deceit."

February 07, 2005

Ayn Rand and Austrian Economics

I left a comment today at the Mises Economics Blog, in response to Stefan Karlsson's post, "Randians Go From Mises to Supply-Side Economics." In it, I refer to a forthcoming symposium in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, highlighting the relationship between Ayn Rand and Austrian economics. Larry J. Sechrest and I have written an introduction to this symposium (part two of our Centenary tribute), which examines the "anti-Austrian turn" among some Randian writers.

January 07, 2005

Remembering Murray Rothbard

It was ten years ago today that Murray N. Rothbard passed away. I note this anniversary at L&P: "Remembering Murray Rothbard." See follow-up discussion here.

October 08, 2004

Fascism: In All Its Varieties

In response to my L&P essay on "Freedom and 'Islamofascism'," there have been very interesting comments posted here, here, and here.

I simply could not do justice to the issues raised without addressing them much more comprehensively. So, today, I've posted an L&P essay entitled: "Fascism: Clarifying a Political Concept."

Finally, in another L&P essay that deals tangentially with "Islamofascism," I discuss the most recent CIA report on WMDs as well as the positions, both shifting and tenacious, on the war in Iraq: "Changes in the Intellectual Air."