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July 04, 2014

Song of the Day #1189

Song of the Day: Always, words and music by Irving Berlin, is a 1925 gem that Berlin wrote as a wedding gift for his wife. The song has been recorded so many times by artists from Frank Sinatra to Patsy Cline and Billie Holiday, who gives it a swing feel [YouTube links]. But its most memorable spin, for me, can be heard in the greatest sports film of all time, in my view, the 1942 Lou Gehrig biopic, "The Pride of the Yankees." Check out one scene from the film [YouTube link], featuring singer Bettye Avery, with Gary Cooper playing the immortal Gehrig and Teresa Wright, his wife Eleanor (Cooper and Wright received Best Actor and Actress nominations, respectively; only Wright walked away with the gold statuette, but for her Best Supporting Actress role in the Best Picture of that year, "Mrs. Miniver"). Seventy-five years ago today, Gehrig gave one of the most remarkable speeches in all of Americana, saying goodbye to 60,000+ Yankee faithful in attendance at a 1939 Indepedence Day ceremony at Yankee Stadium. Check out the speech as given by Gehrig, as emulated by Major League Baseball, and also as immortalized in celluloid history by the wonderful Cooper [YouTube links] (and that's the real Babe Ruth appearing in the film). Gehrig later passed away from ALS, a disease known to many as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." Gehrig was one of the Yankees' most memorable team captains; today's Yankee captain, Derek Jeter, in his final career season, recently tied Gehrig's franchise record for lifetime doubles. For Yankees fans, for fans of America's game, Gehrig will always be the Iron Horse; on this Independence Day, we say Happy Birthday, America, and we celebrate Gehrig and the national passtime with a song written by one of America's most celebrated songwriters.

June 29, 2014

Song of the Day #1188

Song of the Day: I Know A Place, words and music by Tony Hatch, was one of those perennial favorites requested by the regular clientele of the Stonewall Inn. On the weekend of 28-29 June 1969, the site became Ground Zero for a drag queen-led riot against police harassment of gay and lesbian establishments. It is among the events that gave birth to the modern American movement to protect the individual rights of gays and lesbians, and it is in honor of that event that I post this song on this date. The song was recorded most famously by Petula Clark, but has also been recorded by Sammy Davis, Jr., with the Buddy Rich Band [YouTube links], and Vi Velasco, whose rendition features jazz guitarist Carl Barry, my Bro.

June 16, 2014

Song of the Day #1186

Song of the Day: The Love You Save, music and lyrics by The Corporation, Motown's Berry Gordy, Freddie Perren, Alphonzo Mizell, and Deke Richards, went to Number One, the third of four straight number one singles released by the Jackson 5, which held that position on the Billboard chart for two weeks, 27 June through 4 July 1970. But Casey Kasem, who passed away yesterday, was always one week ahead of the curve, giving us a weekend countdown that reflected the chart of the following week's Tuesday release of Billboard. So the song had actually dropped to the number two position on the 4th of July debut show of Kasem's classic, "American Top 40 (AT40)." I can't help but credit Kasem with stoking my love of pop music as I grew up listening to his show on the radio, whether it was in the dead of winter or on the hot sands of Manhattan Beach through Brooklyn's steamiest summers. This song was one of my favorite early Jackson 5 songs, made all the more poignant because its lead singer is no longer with us either. Check out the original single here, and while you're listening, save a little love too for screen and stage actress Ruby Dee, who passed away on June 11th, the great and endearing Don Zimmer, who passed away on June 4th, and the ultimate gentle man of baseball, Tony Gwynn, San Diego Padres Hall of Famer, who sadly passed away today, at the young age of 54. All of them gone too soon.

May 06, 2014

Song of the Day #1182

Song of the Day: That's Jazz [YouTube link], an impromptu tune put together by Mel Torme and Ella Fitzgerald at the Grammy Awards, broadcast in February 1976. Sadly, Mel and Ella are no longer with us; but we are living in an era where jazz is almost never mentioned (or featured) as a category during the Grammy broadcast, so seeing something like this is like the discovery of a rare gem from some sort of paleolithic era in television history. Enjoy!

January 26, 2014

Song of the Day #1151

Song of the Day: Same Love, words and music by Ben Haggarty, Ryan Lewis, and Mary Lewis, is the fourth hit single from the album "The Heist," by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. A radical departure from within the world of hip hop, it is a tribute to sexual equality in the institution of marriage. For that alone, it deserves all the praise and attention it gets. The song is nominated for "Song of the Year," at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, which is on CBS tonight. Enjoy!

September 22, 2013

Song of the Day #1141

Song of the Day: All in the Family ("Those Were The Days") [YouTube link], music and lyrics by Charles Strouse, is recognized as one of the Top Fifty Television Themes of All Time. Its iconic status in the history of TV themes is only eclipsed by the iconic status of this remarkably daring show, which simultaneously made us collapse with laughter and confront the social prejudices that are as relevant today as they were when Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin introduced this show on the CBS Television Network. Part of what made the show work was the real chemistry between its two prime players; no less than Lucy and Ricky, Alice and Ralph, Edith and Archie have become part of the culture of television excellence. And this year, it is especially poignant to end our mini-tribute to TV themes with the song that introduced the world to Lear's comedy, and to the brilliance of Emmy-winning actress, Jean Stapleton, who passed away on 31 May 2013. Tonight, when they do that Emmy Awards "In Memoriam" tribute section to people who have passed away, expect an ovation for this wonderful actress. And take a listen to that opening theme once more. So comes the end of our mini-tribute to television music.

September 17, 2013

Song of the Day #1136

Song of the Day: The Fugitive ("A New Love"),composed by Peter Rugolo, captures the alienation of the central character, Dr. Richard Kimble, played with subtle brilliance by the great David Janssen, as he searches, week after week, for the One-Armed Man who killed his wife. Dr. Kimble would have been executed had he not been "reprieved by fate" in a train wreck that freed him en route to "the death house" (as told to us with characteristic authority by the narrator William Conrad). Each week viewers saw a man torn between his struggle to survive in pursuit of the justice he deserves, while encountering characters who either need him (and the strength of character he provides) or who test his integrity. Through it all, he proves as unshakeable as Lieutenant Philip Gerard (played with relentless obsessiveness by Barry Morse), whose concern is not the justice of the verdict, but in apprehending the convicted killer and carrying out the sentence the law requires. There are so many magnificent episodes in the four-year series (which I watched over the past year on DVD), including such gems as "The Girl from Little Egypt" (season 1), "Angels Travel on Lonely Roads" (a two-parter from season 1) and "The Breaking of the Habit" (season 4) (all three episodes of which provide us with a terrific star turn by the great Oscar-winning actress Eileen Heckart), and, of course, the final two-parter episodes of the series, "The Judgment," Parts 1 and 2, in which both Kimble---and Gerard---finally confront the One-Armed Man. Those episodes remain among the most-watched finales in the history of television (a 50.7 rating and a 73.2 audience share). This show was a morality tale for sure, with an obvious debt to Hugo's "Les Miserables." Its cast and guest stars were consistently splendid and its first three seasons were as close to classic film noir for television as has ever been seen (it went "in color" in the final fourth season). Fifty years ago today, the show debuted on the ABC television network. I can agree with Stephen King who understood how the series turned everything on its head, questioning the justice of 'the system'. As he put it in the Introduction to The Fugitive Recaptured by Ed Robertson, it was "absolutely the best series done on American television." After seeing the show for the umpteenth time, I confess to "A New Love" for it and its wonderful soundtrack by the great Peter Rugolo. Happy Fiftieth!!!

August 16, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: Supplying Answers, Raising Questions

This week's discussion of the forthcoming publication of the new, expanded second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical has provided me with an avalanche of enthusiastic feedback from many people. I hope to answer the email in time, but I just wanted to thank everyone for a show of support. (And a shout out especially to Danny at Penn State Press for his nice blog post on this week's Notablog festivities.)

Much more information on this book will be posted in the coming weeks and months. If you'd like to receive an email that will inform you of the publication of the paperback, its price and availability at Penn State Press, Amazon.com, Independent Bookstore, Powell's Books, etc., sign up here.

I would like to end this week-long series of introductory blog posts on the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical by addressing a question that has been asked by quite a few individuals in personal correspondence and discussion over the past week.

Many readers know that I spent an inordinate amount of time answering critics left and right, high, low, and sideways, almost every day, every week, for years, in the wake of the enormous controversy that was generated on questions both historical and methodological, by this book's 1995 first edition. And those discussions took place on various friendly and hostile online forums, Internet lists, and Usenet newsgroups, etc. Lord knows that the avenues for discussion have now multiplied exponentially with the expansion of social media, and it is almost impossible to keep count!

In addition to the almost daily engagement, I also replied to many formal and informal reviews, which were published online and in print. These are archived on my site (yes, the positive and the negative criticism can be found right there... by what right would I have to call this the "Dialectics and Liberty" site when dialectics itself originated in dialogue?!). The archives can be found here.

I also wrote a more extensive review essay, published in the 1997 issue of Reason Papers, which can be found here. That essay, entitled "Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical - A Work in Progress," sums up, and advances, much of the dialogue.

The subtitle also sums up something that is still applicable even to a second, expanded edition of this book: This is a "Work in Progress," and it will generate new questions that may require new answers. But we need to do a reality check: I can't and won't be able to do what I used to do, jumping from forum to forum and responding here and there to everyone left, right, center, high, low, and sideways. Occasionally, I will have something to say here at Notablog. But my time and energy are very different in 2013 at age 53, than they were in 1995, at age 35, when Russian Radical first appeared. And I've also got a lot of other "works in progress," that require my attention, including the enormously important work I'm doing with Penn State Press on The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

But there is a more important point to be made about "Works in Progress," a point that I have made several times in the second edition of the book, a million or so times online, and now, here again: As long as information is out there on Ayn Rand that has not yet been found or translated or interpreted or documented, there is work to be done by historians of many stripes. Some of this information is still to be found hidden deep in Russian archives long closed off to outside access. And some of this information also resides behind the walls of the Ayn Rand Archives. So I'd like to paraphrase the words of a President who stood before the walls that symbolized the closed environment that defined all that was Russian and Soviet: Tear Down Those Walls!

Yes, there is an enormous difference between the closed society of the former Soviet Union and the material that is rightly proprietary behind the walls of the Ayn Rand Archives, which has every right to set access policies. But archivists should not use these policies to stonewall those who may not share the views of the orthodoxy. Independent historians will never be able to assess the accuracy of what is coming forth, especially in published, edited form from those whose orthodox allegiance is not in question. Those of independent stripe need to see the original materials, unedited, unaltered, untouched by the visible hands of ambitious editors. I raised these questions first in 1998 in Liberty magazine, but my suspicions were confirmed by Jennifer Burns in her 2009 book, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. Burns writes:

Unfortunately, there are grave limitations to the accuracy and reliability of the putatively primary source material issued by Rand's estate. Discrepancies between Rand's published journals and archival material were first publicized by Rand scholar Chris Sciabarra, who noticed differences between the Journals of Ayn Rand (1999) and brief excerpts published earlier in The Intellectual Activist. After several years of working in Rand's personal papers I can confirm Sciabarra's discovery: the published versions of Rand's letters and diaries have been significantly edited in ways that drastically reduce their utility as historical sources. (Goddess of the Market, 291)

The Ayn Rand Archives deserves credit for having given Jennifer Burns access to its collections, but the multitude of legitimate scholars who have been kept out of its hallowed halls is utterly shameful.

Something here needs to be emphasized about the art of historical investigation and interpretation: The material in the Archives are calling out for the kind of detective work and interpretive work that cannot be done by those who are of an almost single orthodox mind-set. Facts are facts, but two people looking at the same material can come away from it with enormously different interpretations, because each scholar operates from a highly individualized context, with vastly different skill sets, and that means that many scholars looking at the same things can help to shed light where previously there was darkness.

It is my hope that the second, expanded edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical will provide additional light on the historical evolution and analytical importance of Rand's unique contribution to twentieth-century radical social thought. Even if it didn't benefit from any access to any source material from the Ayn Rand Archives.

I'm glad to have had the opportunity to have published this five-part introduction to the forthcoming second edition. But there's lots more work to be done. Stay tuned.

August 15, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: Preface to the Second Edition

Recently published on the Pennsylvania State University Press site is a sample chapter from the new 2013 second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Today, I publish that excerpt here, on Notablog.

Preface to the Second Edition (2013)

Nearly twenty years ago, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical was published. In its wake came much controversy and discussion, which greatly influenced the course of my research in subsequent years. In 1999, I co-edited, with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, part of the Pennsylvania State University Press series on Re-Reading the Canon, which now includes nearly three-dozen volumes, each devoted to a major thinker in the Western philosophic tradition, from Plato and Aristotle to Foucault and Arendt. In that same year, I became a founding co-editor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, a biannual interdisciplinary scholarly journal on Ayn Rand and her times that, in its first twelve volumes, published over 250 articles by over 130 authors. In 2013, the journal began a new collaboration with the Pennsylvania State University Press that will greatly expand its academic visibility and electronic accessibility.

It therefore gives me great pleasure to see that two essays first published in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies---"The Rand Transcript" and "The Rand Transcript, Revisited"---have made their way into the pages of the second, expanded edition of this book, providing a more complete record of the fascinating historical details of Rand's education from 1921 to 1924 at what was then Petrograd State University.

In publishing the second edition of any book written two decades ago, an author might be tempted to change this or that formulation or phrase to render more accurately its meaning or to eliminate the occasional error of fact. I have kept such revisions to a minimum; the only extensively revised section is an expanded discussion in chapter 12 of Rand's foreign policy views, relevant to a post-9/11 generation, under the subheading "The Welfare-Warfare State." Nevertheless, part of the charm of seeing a second edition of this book published now is being able to leave the original work largely untouched and to place it in a broader, clarifying context that itself could not have been apparent when it was first published.

My own Rand research activities over these years are merely one small part of an explosive increase in Rand sightings across the social landscape: in books on biography, literature, philosophy, politics, and culture; film; and contemporary American politics, from the Tea Party to the presidential election.

Even President Barack Obama, in his November 2012 Rolling Stone interview, acknowledges having read Ayn Rand:

Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we'd pick up. Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we're only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else, in which we're considering the entire project of developing ourselves as more important than our relationships to other people and making sure that everybody else has opportunity---that thats a pretty narrow vision. It's not one that, I think, describes what's best in America.

The bulk of this book predates the president's assessment, and yet it is, in significant ways, a response to assessments of that kind. First and foremost, it is a statement of the inherent radicalism of Rand's approach. Her radicalism speaks not to the alleged "narrow vision" but to the broad totality of social relationships that must be transformed as a means of resolving a host of social problems. Rand saw each of these social problems as related to others, constituting---and being constituted by---an overarching system of statism that she opposed. My work takes its cue from Rand, and other thinkers in both the libertarian tradition, such as Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, and Murray N. Rothbard, and the dialectical tradition, such as Aristotle, G. W. F. Hegel, Karl Marx, and Bertell Ollman. From these disparate influences, I have constructed the framework for a "dialectical libertarianism" as the only fundamental alternative to that overarching system of statism. In this book, I identify Rand as a key theorist in the evolution of a "dialectical libertarian" political project.

The essence of a dialectical method is that it is "the art of context-keeping." More specifically, it emphasizes the need to understand any object of study or any social problem by grasping the larger context within which it is embedded, so as to trace its myriad---and often reciprocal---causes and effects. The larger context must be viewed in terms that are both systemic and historical. Systemically, dialectics demands that we trace the relationships among seemingly disparate objects of study or among disparate social problems so as to understand how these objects and problems relate to one another---and to the larger system they constitute and that shapes them. Historically, dialectics demands that we trace the development of these relationships over time---that is, that we understand each object of study or each social problem through its past, present, and potential future manifestations.

This attention to context is the central reason why a dialectical approach has often been connected to a radical politics. To be radical is to "go to the root." Going to the "root" of a social problem requires understanding how it came about. Tracing how problems are situated within a larger system over time is, simultaneously, a step toward resolving those problems and overturning and revolutionizing the system that generates them.

The three books in my "Dialectics and Liberty trilogy"---of which Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical is the second part---seek to reclaim dialectical method from its one-sided use in Marxist thought, in particular, by clarifying its basic nature and placing it in the service of a radical libertarianism.

The first book in my trilogy is Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, which I published in 1995 with the State University of New York Press. It drew parallels between Karl Marx, the theoretician of communism, and F. A. Hayek, the Austrian "free market" economist, by highlighting their surprisingly convergent critiques of utopianism and their mutual appreciation of context in defining the meaning of political radicalism.

Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, the second book in the trilogy, details the approach of a bona fide dialectical thinker in the radical libertarian tradition, who advocated the analysis of social problems and social solutions across three distinctive, and mutually supportive, levels of generality---the personal, the cultural, and the structural (see especially "The Radical Rand," part 3 of the current work).

The third book and final part of the trilogy, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, was published in 2000 by the Pennsylvania State University Press. It offers a rereading of the history of dialectical thinking, a redefinition of dialectics as indispensable to any defense of human liberty and as a tool to critique those aspects of modern libertarianism that are decidedly undialectical and, hence, dangerously utopian in their implications.

That my trilogy places libertarian thinkers within a larger dialectical tradition has been resisted by some of my left-wing colleagues, who view Marxism as having a monopoly on dialectical analysis, and some of my right-wing colleagues, who are aghast to see anybody connect a libertarian politics to a method that they decry as "Marxist," and hence anathema to the project for liberty. Ironically, both the left-wing and right-wing folks who object to my characterization of a dialectical libertarian alternative commit what Rand would have called "the fallacy of the frozen abstraction." For Rand, this consists of substituting some one particular concrete for the wider abstract class to which it belongs. Thus, the left-wing and right-wing critics both freeze and reduce the concept of dialectical method to the subcategory of one of its major historical applications (i.e., Marxism). They both exclude another significant subcategory from that concept, whether to protect the favored subcategory (as do some conservatives, libertarians, and Objectivists) or the concept itself (as do the leftists). Ultimately, they both characterize dialectics as essentially Marxist. It is as if any other variety of dialectics does not or cannot exist. In each case, the coupling of dialectics and libertarianism is denied. The left-wing dialecticians don't want to besmirch "their" methodology by acknowledging its presence in libertarian thinking, while the right-wing proponents of liberty don't want to sully their ideology with a "Marxist" methodology.

But as I have demonstrated in my trilogy, especially in Total Freedom, it is Aristotle, not Hegel or Marx, who is the "fountainhead" of a genuinely dialectical approach to social inquiry. Ultimately, my work bolsters Rand's self-image as an essentially Aristotelian and radical thinker. In doing so, my work challenges our notion of what it means to be Aristotelian and radical.

I am cognizant that my use of the word "dialectics" to describe the "art of context-keeping" as a vital aspect of Rand's approach to both analyzing problems and proposing highly original, often startling solutions, is controversial. My hypothesis---in this book and in the two additional essays that now apear as appendices I and II of this expanded second edition---that Rand learned this method from her Russian teachers has generated as much controversy. Rand named N. O. Lossky as her first philosophy professor. Questions of the potential methodological impact on Rand that Lossky and her other Russian teachers may have had, and the potential discrepancies between Rand's own recollections with regard to Lossky and the historical record, were all first raised in Russian Radical. These issues, nearly twenty years after they were raised, have resulted in Rand's prospective "authorized" biographer arguing that Rand's recollections were mistaken. In my view, however, this turn in historical interpretation is itself deeply problematic. I discuss these issues in a new essay, which appears as appendix III, "A Challenge to Russian Radical---and Ayn Rand."

I am genuinely excited that the Pennsylvania State University Press has enabled me to practice what I dialectically preach: placing Russian Radical and its cousins in the larger context both of my research on Rand and of my Dialectics and Liberty trilogy enables me to present readers with a clearer sense of what I have hoped to accomplish. Thanks to all those who have made this ongoing adventure possible.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra
1 July 2013

[Notes and in-text citations have been eliminated from the above excerpt; they can be found in the new expanded second edition of this book.]

August 12, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: The Cover

In daily posts over the course of the next five days, I am marking the publication of the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, offically scheduled for release on "Atlas Shrugged Day", 2 September 2013 . . . though, in this home, we have always known that date to be far more significant: it's my sister's birthday! And she's slightly older than Atlas. Nevertheless, more likely than not, the book will be circulating by the end of September or early October.

Published nearly two decades ago, the first edition of Russian Radical is actually celebrating its 18th anniversary this month. Also reaching its 18th birthday is my first book: Marx, Hayek, and Utopia. Tomorrow, in Part II of this series, I will present "The Cover Story" on the origins of the second edition of Russian Radical. wherein I'll have lots to say about both books.

Today, it's just The Cover. Quite literally. The clearest and boldest symbol of difference between the first and second editions of Russian Radical is illustrated by the cover. The classic 1995 first edition cover design by Steve Kress provided images of Ayn Rand, philosophy Professor N. O. Lossky, and the Peter and Paul Fortress, where, in 1924, the young Ayn Rand (nee Alissa Rosenbaum) lectured on the fortress's history.

Ayn_Rand_The_Russian_Radical 1.0

The second edition's cover design is, if you'll pardon the expression, quite a radical departure from the first edition. Those familiar with Ayn Rand will recall that her original working title for the book that was to become her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, was: "The Strike." Considering how strikes were customarily tools of organized labor, Rand was engaging in a kind of linguistic subversion that was characteristic of one of her earliest philosophic influences, Friedrich Nietzsche. Rand would often use words that had negative connotations, and totally invert their meaning. Hence, for Rand, there was a "virtue" of selfishness and "capitalism" was not a system of class exploitation, but an "unknown ideal." Well, in this instance, her working title for Atlas Shrugged was her way of using the word, "Strike" in a typically ironic fashion. For Rand (spoiler alert), Atlas Shrugged explores what happens when "the men of the mind" go on strike, when men and women of distinction, across all disciplines and specialities, across the worlds of business and art, no longer wish to sanction their own victimhood. The new cover uses the strike imagery in the color scheme of the country to which Rand emigrated in 1926 (the red, white, and blue of the U.S. flag), while also using banners with touches of red and yellow (let us not forget that it was the yellow of the "hammer and sickle" that was starkly imposed on the solid red background of the communist Soviet flag). Here's the new cover, folks!

ARTRRMEDIUM978-0-271-06227-3md.jpg

April 18, 2013

Song of the Day #1125

Song of the Day: Sweet Caroline, words and music by Neil Diamond, was a huge hit for the singer. Today, a few days after the horrific massacre at the Boston Marathon, the song takes on an even more poignant tone than its original intent as a paean to the young Caroline Kennedy. A perennial at Fenway Park, it was played after the 3rd inning on April 16, 2013 in Yankee Stadium, as the New York Yankees faithful sang along in solidarity [YouTube link] with those whose lives have been forever altered by the events in Boston. On a day when Yankees and Diamondback players all wore #42 in tribute to a famed Brooklyn Dodger, this was as sweet a gesture as one could find among great sports rivals, who put aside competition for a day, in remembrance. The Fenway Faithful did the same in the days after 9/11, when they sang along to "New York, New York." I watched the Stadium crowd rise to the occasion, and I now can't listen to the song with dry eyes. Stand tall. Check out the full Neil Diamond recording.

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

January 01, 2013

Song of the Day #1092

Song of the Day: New Year, composed by Pat Metheny, is one sweet groove on which to start 2013. Metheny's Unity Band features Chris Potter on saxophone, Ben Williams on bass, and Antonio Sanchez on drums. Check it out on YouTube. And a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year to One and All!

December 31, 2012

Song of the Day #1091

Song of the Day: Call Me Maybe features the words and music of Tavish Crowe, Josh Ramsay, and Carly Rae Jepson, a young Canadian singer and songwriter who delivers the most infectious song of 2012. It provides what was probably "the year's most gripping hook," making it "one of the most irrefutable teen-pop songs in history," as New York Daily News music critic Jim Farber attests. It also sported an adorable music video with a gay twist [YouTube link], but before too long, as Farber reminds us, everybody got in on the act, from the college frat boys of Ramapo Kappa Sigma to the Tennessee "Call Me Gaybe" boys to the cast from "Glee" to the U.S. Olympics Swimming Team [YouTube links]. It's a song that should be on any year-end countdown. Tonight we'll be counting down till the ball drops in Times Square. Have a happy, healthy, and safe New Year's Eve!

December 25, 2012

Song of the Day #1085

Song of the Day: Rise, Ye Shepherds, music by Franz Waxman, lyrics by Mack David, is a wonderfully melodic carol original to the score for the 1962 film, "Taras Bulba," starring Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis. The entire film is on YouTube here; this rare selection is at 26:17. Merry Christmas to All (on that "Norad Tracks Santa" link, check out, especially, the U.S. Air Force of Liberty's jazzy rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" when Santa hits the Northeast)!

December 12, 2012

Song of the Day #1084

Song of the Day: The Dirty Dozen ("Main Theme") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Frank De Vol, is the percussive-heavy military theme to the memorable all-star 1967 film. Today is the last repeating date [12-12-12 12:12] of this century, and the cleanest of the 'dirty dozens' that we will see for a millennium.

November 22, 2012

Song of the Day #1081

Song of the Day: Spice of Life features the words and music of Derek Bremble and Rod Temperton, who has had many hits with Michael Jackson. Recorded by The Manhattan Transfer, this song was a Top 40 hit on both the pop and R&B charts, from the group's 1983 album "Bodies and Souls." It features a sweet harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder. Check out the track on YouTube. Today is a day of many spices giving life to so many wonderful foods on the plates of so many family members and friends who survived Hurricane Sandy in the tri-state area. We embrace our countless blessings on this robust Thanksgiving especially, a celebration of the spice of life.

October 29, 2012

Song of the Day #1080

Song of the Day: Swept Away, words and music by Sara Allen and Daryl Hall (who provides the guitar solo), was a terrific #1 1984 dance track recorded by Diana Ross. So, the Detroit Tigers Swept Away the New York Yankees in 4 straight, and the San Francisco Giants (not the New York Football Giants, who barely swept away the Dallas Cowboys yesterday) did likewise to the Tigers, winning the World Series in 4 games. And here in the New York tri-state area, we dig in so as not to be Swept Away by Hurricane Sandy. Check out the Arthur Baker 12" club mix on YouTube.

October 05, 2012

Song of the Day #1077

Song of the Day: Goldfinger ("Dawn Raid on Fort Knox") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by John Barry, expresses all the urgency of a classic James Bond score, from my all-time favorite 007 film, "Goldfinger." On this date, in 1962, the very first James Bond franchise flick made its debut: "Dr. No". On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Bond phenomenon, long live 007!

September 28, 2012

Song of the Day #1076

Song of the Day: Empire State of Mind features the words and music of Alexander Shuckburgh, Angela Hunte and Jane't "Jnay" Sewell-Ulepic, Bert Keyes and Sylvia Robinson (a sample from their "Love on a Two-Way Street"), Alicia Keys and Shawn Corey Carter, otherwise known as Jay-Z, both of whom perform on the recording. Tonight, Jay-Z opens up eight concert dates at Brooklyn's new entertainment arena: the Barclays Center, where Jay-Z's basketball team, the newly named Brooklyn Nets, will open their season in October. Professional sports will return to Brooklyn for the first time since Dem Bums left. This is a paean to the city where Jay-Z was born. And any song with a shout out to Sinatra gets Two Thumbs Up in my book, any day. Tonight, Brooklyn gives the Empire State another jewel in its crown. Check out the official video.

September 11, 2012

WTC Remembrance: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

This year, as part of my annual series, "Remembering the World Trade Center," I created a pictorial of my visit to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. That pictorial can be found here.

And here is an index of all of the pieces I've written for this series:

2001: As It Happened . . .
2002: New York, New York
2003: Remembering the World Trade Center: A Tribute
2004: My Friend Ray
2005: Patrick Burke, Educator
2006: Cousin Scott
2007: Charlie: To Build and Rebuild
2008: Eddie Mecner, Firefighter
2009: Lenny: Losses and Loves
2010: Tim Drinan, Student
2011: Ten Years Later
2012: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

Never Forget.

July 04, 2012

Song of the Day #1066

Song of the Day: The Andy Griffith Show ("The Fishin' Hole") features the music of Earle Hagen (who whistled the theme in the opening credits) and Herbert W. Spencer and the lyrics of Everett Sloane. Just as "The Andy Griffith Show" was a spin-off of an episode of "The Danny Thomas Show," so too did it give birth to spin-offs, including "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.," "Mayberry, R.F.D.," and the TV-reunion movie, "Return to Mayberry." Andy Griffith exuded an effortless warmth in his TV performances, from his self-titled show to "Matlock." And he had terrific acting chops (check out his remarkably jarring performance in "A Face in the Crowd"). He passed away yesterday at the age of 86. This theme and the famous TV show for which it was written have become part of Americana, something all the more noteworthy on this Day of Independence. Check out the main theme on YouTube and Andy himself singing it.

June 30, 2012

Song of the Day #1065

Song of the Day: New York City Blues, words and music by Quincy Jones and Peggy Lee, first appeared on Lee's album, "Blues Cross Country." The song, with Jones' swinging arrangement, can also be found on the TV soundtrack to the short-lived series, "Pan Am." Today, one of the great NYC landmarks is celebrating its 85th birthday with 25-cent rides (though it actually opened on June 26, 1927): the rickety wooden Cyclone roller coaster in Coney Island that I will never set foot on. Definitely not on my bucket list. Check out Peggy Lee's fabulous track on YouTube. Happy birthday to this Grand Roller Coaster!

June 10, 2012

Song of the Day #1061

Song of the Day: Everything's Coming Up Roses, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is from the Broadway musical, "Gypsy: A Musical Fable," based on the memoirs of American burlesque entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee. The 1959 musical featured the choreography of Jerome Robbins, and was nominated for 7 Tony Awards, winning none (the year of this tie!). But the Tony-nominated powerhouse, Ethel Merman, starred as Mama Rose, Gypsy's mom; she sings this song famously at the close of Act I. The role was played big by Rosalind Russell in the fine 1962 movie version, Angela Lansbury in a 1974 Broadway revival, Tyne Daly in a 1989 Broadway revival, Bernadette Peters in a 2003 Broadway revival, and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film for Bette Midler in the 1993 TV version. I saw the 2008 revival with an absolutely stupendous Patti LuPone as Rose; she won the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for the role. Tonight is the Tony Awards, for which everything will be coming up roses, at least for the winners! Check out versions by Ethel, Rosalind, Angela, Tyne, Bernadette, Bette, and Patti, and enjoy the show!

June 01, 2012

Song of the Day #1058

Song of the Day: I'm the Greatest Star, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, is a highlight from the classic 1964 Broadway musical, "Funny Girl," which starred a young Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice. Though nominated for eight Tony Awards, the musical won none, facing a tough competitor in "Hello, Dolly!" Streisand would win an Oscar for the role in the 1968 film version. Check out the Broadway musical version, the film version, and Chris Colfer as Kurt Hummel in a "Glee" cast version [YouTube links]. Today begins our tribute to songs from Broadway, in anticipation of the Tony Awards, on Sunday, June 10th.

May 27, 2012

Song of the Day #1057

Song of the Day: California Dreamin', words and music by John Phillips and Michelle Phillips, was a huge 1965-66 pop hit for The Mamas and the Papas, sporting a wonderful alto flute solo by one of my all-time favorite jazz musicians: Bud Shank, who was born on this day in 1926, and became one of the finest musicians in the West Coast jazz scene. It's not a "winter's day" in Brooklyn; we've had summer-like weather for awhile. But I'm dreamin' of a particular California attraction that celebrates its 75th anniversary today: Happy Birthday to the Golden Gate Bridge! Check out the original Mamas and Papas track, and instrumental versions by Wes Montgomery, George Benson, and, yes, Bud Shank too!

May 25, 2012

Song of the Day #1055

Song of the Day: No More Tears (Enough is Enough), words and music by Paul Jabara and Bruce Roberts, went to #1 in 1979 on the vocal strength of Two Divas kickin' butt (and a lousy man "out that door"): Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer. How appropriate that this duet, which ends our Donna Summer Tribute, contains the longest sustained note by a female artist (Streisand, 14 seconds) of any #1 hit on the Hot 100, when the song that started the tribute ("Dim All the Lights") contains the longest sustained note by a female artist (Summer, 16 seconds) of any Top 40 hit. It's hard to measure the influence of an artist on those who have followed. To be dubbed the "Queen" (not that one, great though he was) of a genre that some have viewed with disdain is a limitation, of course, because the work of Donna Summer transcended that era. Or maybe Disco itself has lived on. People stopped using the Dreaded D-Word to describe any popular dance recordings, but the genre's influence can still be heard (in house, techno. electronica and more). And Donna was The Queen; it's clear to this fan that later dance hit-makers, from Madonna to Beyonce to Lady Gaga, owe much to Her Reign. Today, after more than a week of looking back, we have "No More Tears" moving forward. And lots of dancing left to do; check out the single version, the extended version (from Streisand's "Wet" album), and the 12" extended mix (from Summer's album, "On the Radio: Greatest Hits, Volumes I & II").

May 24, 2012

Song of the Day #1054

Song of the Day: MacArthur Park, composed by Jimmy Webb, has been performed by many artists through the years, including one by an actor who first took it, in 1968, to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart: Richard Harris (whose endearing performance as Albus Dumbledore in the first two "Harry Potter" films is captured in that tribute clip). Check out these other renditions: Waylon Jennings; Sammy Davis, Jr.; Stan Kenton; Woody Herman; Maynard Ferguson (my favorite jazz instrumental version); "Weird Al" Yankovic (spoofed as "Jurassic Park"); and Carrie Underwood on "American Idol" in 2005 (see 4:03-4:36), who famously quipped that she hadn't the faintest idea what the lyrics were all about! [YouTube links]. And then there's the seminal dance version by Donna Summer, recorded initially as part of a nearly 18-minute disco epic: "MacArthur Park Suite" [YouTube link] and released in 1978 as a stand-alone #1 Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Dance Club Play single [YouTube link]. I used to chuckle when she let out that Snoopy-like cry, which kicked off the thumping disco beat (at 01:49 here), but her version will always rock my dance floor.

May 18, 2012

Song of the Day #1048

Song of the Day: I Feel Love was written by Giorgio Moroder, Peter Bellotte, and Donna Summer, who propelled this driving synthesized track (from her 1977 album, "I Remember Yesterday") to its exalted status in dance music history, influencing later dance styles, such as house and techno. Check out the original album version, the 12" extended mix, the famous Patrick Cowley underground 15+ minute megamix, and covers by Bronski Beat, Blondie, Madonna, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

May 17, 2012

Song of the Day #1047

Song of the Day: Dim All the Lights was written and recorded by the "Queen of Disco," Donna Summer, the five-time Grammy Award winner who died today at the age of 63. Featured on her hugely successful "Bad Girls" album, this song, produced by Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, was a massive hit in 1979. Its classic balladic intro shifts into the disco beat for which Summer was so famous. And the gal had amazing pipes; she was raised on gospel and electrified fans with her remarkably powerful vocal gifts. This particular song, for example, contains the longest sustained note in an American Top 40 hit ever sung by a female artist. Tonight, however, we "Dim All the Lights," as they do on Broadway in mournful tribute when a star dies; it is posted in genuine sorrow over the passing of a legend, whose music I've always danced to and loved. For the next few days, I will be offering a tribute in song that celebrates the continuing influence of Donna Summer on so many of the kaleidoscopic sounds of pop music to this day. Check out this selection on YouTube: the single and the classic 12" extended mix.

April 29, 2012

Song of the Day #1045

Song of the Day: Keep On features the words and music of Hubert Eves III and James Williams of D-Train. The group scored a huge R&B and Hot Dance Club hit with this track. I highlight it today because it was the kind of groove in heavy rotation on one of my favorite urban contemporary FM stations of all-time: WRKS-FM (98.7 FM). Today is the last day that this FM station will broadcast; it merges with that other great urban contemporary FM outlet, WBLS-FM (107.5), making way for an ESPN sports station that has been broadcasting on 1050 AM (it will, for now. simulcast). KISS-FM was well known for its unforgettable Mastermixes (one of which I've already featured: "Must Be the Music"). So today, in tribute to KISS-FM, check out the classic Shep Pettibone Mastermix [YouTube link] heard on a station that I will truly miss. Keep keepin' on.

April 18, 2012

Song of the Day #1043

Song of the Day: Forget Me Nots, words and music by Terri McFaddin, bassist Freddy Washington, and singer and pianist Patrice Rushen, received a Grammy nomination for "Best Female R&B Vocal Performance." This pop, R&B and dance hit from Rushen's album, "Straight from the Heart," includes a nice sax solo by Gerald Albright. The song has been covered and sampled by several artists (most famously, Will Smith for "Men in Black" [YouTube link]), but Patrice's version is tops for pure finger-poppin' pleasure. Check out her music video, the album version, the 12" dance mix, and a really jazzy live 2009 performance with guitarist Lee Ritenour at North Sea Jazz [YouTube links]. On a day when we lost "America's oldest teenager," at 82 years of age, we pause to celebrate the life of the irreplaceable Dick Clark, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who helped us embrace the promise of every new year with his New Year's Rockin' Eve specials, and who gave us countless productions and television shows, including the trailblazing "American Bandstand," on which Patrice Rushen performed this song (Season 25, Episode 29, airdate: 29 May 1982). We forget you not ... ever!

April 15, 2012

Song of the Day #1040

Song of the Day: Raise the Titanic ("Suite") [YouTube clip at that link; Nic Raine, conductor], composed by the great John Barry for the 1980 film, "Raise the Titanic," gives us a kaleidoscope of the majestic, the poignant, and the reverent. On this date, at 2:20 a.m. UTC-3 ship's time, the Titanic sunk, having struck an iceberg, en route to New York harbor. Its survivors, aboard the Carpathia, would arrive at that harbor by 18 April 1912, greeted by tens of thousands of New Yorkers (check out an interesting 1929 flick: Titanic, Part 1 and Part 2 on YouTube). They may never "Raise the Titanic," but this act of "raising," of "resurrecting," is appropriately noted on a day that Greek Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter with the phrase "Christos Anesti" ("Christ is Risen"). We raise the spirit by keeping the memory of Titanic, resurrecting its history and meaning, even in song. And so ends our 6-day tribute on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of its sinking.

April 14, 2012

Song of the Day #1039

Song of the Day: Titanic: A New Musical ("In Every Age"), words and music by Maury Yeston, opened on Broadway in 1997 and went on to receive five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Check out the Broadway cast album version [YouTube link]. My favorite version of this song, however, is a jazz interpretation by guitarist Frank DiBussolo. It can be found on his really nice 1998 album, "Titanic: A New Musical" [the amazon.com link provides a small sample of the piece]. So many other Titanic music projects are available and worthy of attention: "Disasters! The Disaster Movie Music Album" and "Titanic: The Ultimate Collection," both of which offer selections from several Titanic-inspired films; the lovely Alberto Iglesias soundtrack to "La Camarera del Titanic"; and a stupendous 4-disc set, "Titanic: Collector's Anniversary Edition," featuring James Horner's magnificent Oscar-winning score to the Cameron-directed film, which includes remastered versions of the two previous "Titanic" soundtrack albums, and 2 extra discs of music from the period (not to mention great liner notes and Titanic-White Star replica luggage tickets). Tonight, ABC presents the first part of a new miniseries, "Titanic," written by Julian Fellowes, co-creator of "Downton Abbey." Another 12-part BBC miniseries is forthcoming: "Titanic: Blood and Steel." It was on this date, at 11:40 pm, UTC-3 ship's time, that Titanic struck an iceberg. In a little more than 2 hours, it would sink.

April 13, 2012

Song of the Day #1038

Song of the Day: The Unsinkable Molly Brown ("I Ain't Down Yet"), words and music by Meredith Wilson, is featured in the 1960 Broadway musical, in which the lead character was played by Tammy Grimes, who won the 1961 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress. The 1964 cinematic adaptation garnered six Oscar nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for Debbie Reynolds who became the feisty Molly Brown on screen. Born Margaret, though her friends called her Maggie, she is known to history as Molly. A traveler on the Titanic, she was the quintessential strong woman and suffragist who, in Lifeboat No. 6, exhorted the crew to return to the waters of death, in search of survivors. On screen, so many have portrayed her, including: the independent, playful, and feisty Kathy Bates in the 1997 Cameron blockbuster; the ever-effervescent Thelma Ritter, who is named "Maude Young" but is clearly Molly, in the 1953 film, "Titanic"; and Cloris Leachman played her twice: as Maggie Brown in a 1950s dramatization for "Television Time" [YouTube link to that episode], and in the television movie, "S.O.S. Titanic". Molly Brown survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic. No wonder the character sings this song as a celebration of The Unsinkable. No better day to note it than on Friday the 13th, which happens to be both Good Friday for the Eastern Orthodox and Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. Check out Tammy Grimes in the Broadway cast version [amazon.com sample] and, my favorite, Debbie Reynolds from the film version and (watch her inspire Titanic lifeboat survivors) [YouTube links]. You'll be singing: "Told Ya So! Told Ya So! Told Ya, Told Ya, Told Ya So!"

April 12, 2012

Song of the Day #1087

Song of the Day: Titanic ("Main Title") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Lennie Niehaus, opens the 1996 4-hour CBS miniseries, starring Peter Gallagher, George C. Scott, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Eva Marie Saint. The theme manages to capture the grandiosity of the ship, while allowing us to reflect upon the ominous events yet to come.

April 11, 2012

Song of the Day #1086

Song of the Day: Titanic ("Main Title") [YouTube link to the film trailer], composed by Sol Kaplan (under the musical direction of Lionel Newman), is from the 1953 American film drama starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck. The film won a single Oscar, for Best Writing, Original Screenplay. On April 11, 1912, one hundred years ago today, Titanic stopped in Queenstown, Ireland before embarking on its fateful voyage to America. This fine movie begins on YouTube here, and the "Main Title" is contained therein.

April 10, 2012

Song of the Day #1085

Song of the Day: A Night to Remember ("Main Title") [not that one], composed by William Alwyn, opens the very fine 1958 British film adaptation of Walter Lord's famous book of the same name (some of the film is available on YouTube). This particular cinematic take on one of the most definitive 20th century catastrophes stars Kenneth More, who, for me, is best remembered for his role as Young Jolyon in the great BBC series, "The Forsyte Saga" (1967). One hundred years ago on this date, Titanic began its journey, leaving Southampton in England and stopping in Cherbourg Harbor, France. Today begins our own six-day tribute to the fateful maiden voyage of Titanic. Among the multitude of provocative books on the subject is one written by my colleague and very dear friend, Stephen Cox, entitled The Titanic Story: Hard Choices, Dangerous Decisions (1999). So much music and so many films have also been inspired by this tragic event, starting with a 1912 newsreel [YouTube link], featuring its own poignant piano accompaniment. Cinematic presentations by filmmakers the world over have been presented throughout this past century: even the Nazis produced a movie, portraying the disaster as the inexorable result of sinister British capitalist greed (that 1943 German "Titanic" is actually pretty good as a film; some of its frames may have been used, without credit, in the 1958 British film highlighted here). As film scores go, I will never forget the great James Horner score to my favorite "Titanic" film of all time, directed by James Cameron. The 11-Oscar Award-winning "Best Picture" has now been re-released to theaters in 3D to mark the centennial occasion. Today, however, we turn to the majestic opening of "A Night to Remember" on YouTube, as we begin our own voyage into history, film, and music.

August 22, 2011

Song of the Day #993

Song of the Day: It's a Man's Man's Man's World features the words and music of Betty Jean Newsome and the one and only James Brown, whose recording of the song was a huge hit on both the R&B and pop charts. Listen to two versions by Brown: the original, a jazz-influenced reworking from "Soul on Top" with the swingin' Louis Bellson Orchestra (both YouTube links), and two versions that invert the imagery: one finely orchestrated, grinding rendition by Cher (YouTube link), and a totally deconstructed powerhouse live performance at the 2007 Grammy Awards by Christina Aguilera (YouTube link). Aguilera is a Staten Island native, which is all the more appropriate today, as the NYC borough marks the 350th anniversary of its founding in 1661. Happy Birthday, Staten Island!

August 11, 2011

Melanie, You Can Dance

I'm a great fan of "So You Think You Can Dance," and am absolutely elated to see that Melanie Moore has been named "America's Favorite Dancer."

She was my favorite too! From the start of the season! Brava! (And three cheers to the show's creator, executive producer, and regular judge, Nigel Lythgoe, for telling some of these folks where to go!)

June 25, 2009

Ed, Farrah, and Michael... RIP

This has been a tough week for those of us boomers who grew up and came into our own in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. First, it was reported that Ed McMahon passed away. His presence on late night TV with Johnny Carson and on annual MDA Telethons was always a source of joy.

Then, word came early today that Farrah Fawcett had lost her battle with cancer. From "Charlie's Angels" to "The Burning Bed," Fawcett showed versatility, and acting chops. And even I bought that famous poster and Playboy issue.

This morning, I repeated to a friend of mine one of those old adages: "They say that famous people die in threes. Ed, Farrah... jeez... guess we should expect another one."

Late this afternoon, I found out that Michael Jackson passed away.

I can't even begin to communicate how stunned and saddened I was to hear this. We were roughly the same age, and I grew up on his music, from his early Motown years with the Jackson Five to his remarkable solo career; I danced to his beats, marvelled at his raw talent, and was fortunate enough to see him three times in concert: once on the Victory Tour, in the wake of his unbelievably successful album, Thriller (one of my favorite albums of all time); a second time on the Bad World Tour; and finally, on the Dangerous World Tour. Soft spoken in interviews, the man became a moonwalking lion on stage. I've never seen anyone like him in live performance ... before or since.

Unfortunately, in later years, so much of this magnificent talent was overshadowed by tabloid stories, sordid scandals, trials, and tribulations. None of it erased, in my mind, the talent of this entertainer, or the happiness his music, groundbreaking videos, and electrifying performances brought me.

Ed, Farrah, and Michael. All gone too soon.

May 19, 2009

American Idol 2009 Finale

I haven't written on the 2009 "American Idol" season, but I've been watching, and look forward to the final installments tonight and tomorrow. Here's an interesting piece by Stephen Holden in today's Times.

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.

August 10, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welsh opens his superb book with the following important observation:

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

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

This is crucial to Welsh's thesis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tri-Level Model of Power Relations in Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noted at L&P.

February 05, 2008

The Philosophy of TV Noir, The Fugitive, and Barry Morse

A sad note to report this morning: Barry Morse, who played the obsessive Lt. Philip Gerard in the classic 60s television show, The Fugitive, passed away on Saturday, February 2, at the age of 89 (hat tip to my pal, Aeon Skoble). I loved Morse in the series; his portrayal of the character could have been one-dimensional, but it evolved wonderfully over the course of that remarkable television show. (And will somebody please tell me why the character was renamed Sam Gerard in the action-packed film version?)

I should note for the benefit of fans of the original television series, starring David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, the DVD releases continue. Season 1, Volume 1 was released in August of 2007; Volume 2 is due out on February 26. I loved everything about this series... from its acting and morality-play plots to its classic score, it is one of the finest television series ever made.

While I'm on the topic of The Fugitive, you can read about that series and other great examples of "TV Noir" in an absolutely spectacular new anthology, edited by Steven M. Sanders and Aeon J. Skoble, entitled The Philosophy of TV Noir.

The Philosophy of TV Noir

The book is part of the University Press of Kentucky's "Philosophy of Popular Culture" series. I provided a blurb for it (which appears on the back book jacket), so I might as well reproduce that here, because it sums up my thoughts precisely:

Given the centrality of television as an organ of popular culture, this book is profoundly important to understanding the legacy of film noir. This anthology is a natural, necessary, and brilliant addition to the series.

The book includes chapters on Dragnet, The Naked City, Secret Agent, Miami Vice, 24, The Sopranos, CSI, The X-Files, The Prisoner, Twin Peaks, and, my favorite chapter, the one written by Aeon himself: "Action and Integrity in The Fugitive" (disclaimer: yeah, he gives me an acknowledgment in his notes, but this is no 'quid quo pro'... the essay is terrific!).

Pick up this book! Get the DVDs!

And remember Barry Morse...

Noted at L&P.

December 05, 2007

Inside Higher Ed: Around the Web

Scott McLemee takes a look "Around the Web" at Inside Higher Ed, and mentions me and some of my recommendations for blog reading.

Cross posted to L&P.

August 29, 2006

Back to Bourbon Street

There's not much that I can say about the one-year anniversary of Katrina that hasn't already been said. I do find it ironic, however, that some NYC politicians have been up in arms over recent comments by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who tried to defend his own sorry political record by taking a swipe at the fact that, five years later, there's still a "hole in the ground" at Ground Zero. Well, it is true that infrastructure is being laid at that hole in the ground, but let's face it: The WTC's Ground Zero has become a textbook illustration of internecine interest-group warfare, leading to interminable delays in construction... indeed, even in the planning for construction!

All this said, let us put aside the politics for a day, and remember New Orleans and its culture, which has had a past, and which will have a future.

This brings to mind a new CD that I'm listening to, put out by the Side Street Strutters, entitled "Back to Bourbon Street." From the poignant sounds of "Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?" to the swinging tempos of "There'll Be Some Changes Made," "King Porter Stomp," and "Royal Garden Blues," this is a wonderful album.

And, heck, it also features the terrific trombone work of one of my favorite trombone players in the whole wide world, my pal, Roger Bissell!

As Andy Waterman writes in the liner notes, "Back to Bourbon Street seems to be an appropriate place to musically congregate in this post-Katrina universe." The album reminds us of the vivacious, life-affirming culture that is New Orleans.

Comments welcome.

June 10, 2006

Privatizing Gay Marriage

I am a bit behind in my newspaper reading, so I was particularly surprised by an article published in Thursday's New York Daily News. Written by Rabbi Michael Lerner, "The Right Way to Fight for Gay Marriage" argues that all unions should be privatized. Lerner, who is chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, writes:

... marriage ought to be taken out of the state's hands entirely. Let people be wed in the private realm with no official legal sanction. Then, religious communities that oppose gay marriage will not sanction them, and those like mine that sanction the practice will conduct it. Rather than issuing marriage certificates or divorces, the state would simply enforce civil unions as contracts between consenting adults and enforce laws imposing obligations on people who bring children into the world.
This approach is far more likely to be a winning strategy for those who wish to beat back the assault on gay rights.

I suppose what is most surprising to me is that a genuinely libertarian argument for privatizing marriage made it to the Op Ed of one of the most highly circulated daily newspapers in America.

Cross-posted to L&P.

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.

April 08, 2006

The Gospel of Judas

I have watched with some fascination over the last few days, various storieson "ABC World News Tonight," "Good Morning America," and "Nightline," and today, I read this Elaine Pagels articleall on the subject of the so-called "Gospel of Judas." Once thought lost, the ancient papyrus made its way to the National Geographic, which airs a special on the book tomorrow night.

I am not a theologian, but I have always been a "student" of religion, an interest that goes far beyond my political stance on the separation of church and state, and on the corrupting influences of various forms of fundamentalism on cultural life. Perhaps some of this comes from the fact that I am the grandson of a man who was the founder of the first Greek Orthodox church in Brooklyn, New York. (His name was Vasilios P. Michalopoulos, but he died 7 years before I was born.) The Greek Orthodox certainly know how to put on a ceremony; many of their services are ripe with symbolism and aesthetic beauty. That family upbringing certainly fueled my own interests in grappling with many of these issues.

I have read the Old and New Testaments from cover to cover, and many of the so-called "heretical" Christian gospels of which Pagels speaks in her article. As I said, this hardly makes me an expert in Judeo-Christian religious matters, but the story of Judas Iscariot is one that has always puzzled me.

I know there are many conflicting and contradictory passages in the Bible, and my interest here is not in debating the pros or the cons of theism or atheism or any other -ism. What interests me is how this new "Gospel of Judas" is providing another look at a scorned character in the Christian corpus. Dante placed him on the ninth circle of hell, with Lucifer. It appears that the new gospel projects a Judas who was Jesus's best friend, one who was asked by Jesus to betray him so that the scripture could be fulfilled, so that the Son of Man might be delivered to those who would crucify him, leading to his death, and subsequent Resurrection.

But I don't think this message is entirely lost in the four main Gospels. At the Last Supper, Jesus certainly seems to know that Judas is going to betray him, even if we are left with very little information regarding Judas's motivations, beyond the "thirty pieces of silver." So I've often asked myself: If Judas is needed to tell the story of the Passion, and if his betrayal is predetermined by a divine plan, why on earth, or heaven, should he be condemned to the ninth circle of hell? Without him, there is no betrayal, no crucifixion, no resurrection. He is an essential part of the story, fulfilling a role that is necessarydare I say, "internally related"to the whole Christian drama.

In the past, I've asked some theologians why Judas should be condemned for doing what he was "supposed to do." In my own book of ethics, of course, there are no predetermined plans. There is only human choicecontextualized choice, for sure, but choice nonetheless. Some of my religious friends have claimed that Judas suffers that eternal damnation for committing suicide. But surely Jesus would have known that a guilty conscience would have driven his once beloved apostle to hang himself. When he said, from the Cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," he didn't add the proviso: "Except for Judas..."

I know, I know, this must all be a Trickster postmodernist plot to invert heroes and villains, taking us "beyond good and evil."

But I'm truly fascinated by all of this, and I'll be watching the National Geographic special, or at least recording itwhile I watch a key episode of "The West Wing," marking the passing of beloved actor John Spencer, who played the character Leo McGarry, and who, last we saw, was awaiting the results of Election Day in the great Santos-Vinick Presidential race. (For those who don't know: McGarry is the Vice Presidential candidate on the Democratic Santos ticket.)

And for those of you who are also interested in religious films, this week offers lots of old and new treats, including a new two-part miniseries of "The Ten Commandments" airing on Monday and Tuesday, and the re-airing of DeMille's classic 1956 version on Saturday, April 10th. Check your local ABC listings.

Comments welcome.

February 04, 2006

Jack Criss Aims Right

I have been working very hard on catching up with my reading and have had Jack Criss's book, Ready, Aim, Right! Editorials, Essays and Reviews, 1990-2004, sitting by the side of my computer waiting for a mini-review for much too long.

As discussions of "left-libertarianism" and "right libertarianism" proceed, I found it of interest that Criss discusses his own "odyssey" from "Marx, Ginsberg, Siddhartha, long hair and 'Rock Against Reagan' ... to Ayn Rand, Aristotle, Ludwig von Mises, Voltaire and business meetings," as he puts it in the Preface of his book. He praises "laissez-faire, individual freedom, high culture"values "most often identified with the Right," while having no sympathy for the Libertarian Party (though he clearly agrees with the LP's core principles and "party message").

All this seems pretty "Right-wing" to me, including some of his stances on the current war.

But Criss is no traditional conservative. As he wrote back in 1995:

Put up your Playboys and hide the liquor in the cabinet. They're at it again. I mean, of course, the Grand Ol' Party and their rather empty banter about family values. Emptycontent of ideas certainly has precious little to do with legislation in Washingtonbut potentially liberty-threatening. ... These men honestly seem intent on somehow defining a very intimate sphere of human existence as they see fit, and then enacting legislation to see that their definition is enforced. At best, this is amusing. At worst, it is moral totalitarianism. ...
Liberals interfered with families with the Great Soceity of the sixties and it got us to where we are today. ... But conservatives now wish to intervene again with government programs to cure what government botched in the first place. It won't work. It shouldn't even be considered as a viable option. Government already dictates entirely too much of what we can and cannot do in our economic lives; to allow the behemoth to enter our homes and regulate our most private and cherished institution is equally evil and should not be tolerated.

Dems fightin' words. In fact, Criss has a fightin' style to his writing: very colorful and very entertaining. Even when you disagree with him on any specific issue, you marvel at his way with words.

The book is not all politics, however; I was most enchanted by his various musings on his personal life. A tribute to his father and his reflections on becoming a father offer the most poignant moments in the book.

All in all: A very enjoyable read.

Comments welcome.

February 01, 2006

Gay Films Breaking America's Back!

It appears that a lot of people are very upset because this year's crop of "Best Picture" and other Oscar nominees are too blue for Red State America. Admittedly, I have only seen two of the "Best Picture" nominated films so far"Crash" and "Brokeback Mountain," which has inspired this ongoing lengthy thread at Notablog. As for "Crash": I thought it was a very provocative film in its examination of the dynamics of racial prejudice, and, unless we are going to start defining "bigotry" as an American value, I am at a bit of a loss as to why anyone would view it as "un-American."

This evening, however, I learned more about fundamentalist objections to the Oscars while watching "ABC World News Tonight."

Christian conservatives are telling us again that Hollywood is "out of touch" with mainstream America. Blah. Blah. Blah. But with "Brokeback Mountain" now nominated for eight Oscars, and "Capote" nominated for five Oscars, and "Transamerica" nominated for two Oscars, it appears Sexual Perverts Are Taking Over!!! Beware the Effects on Impressionable Youths!

Ironically, many Christian conservatives have written glowing reviews of "Brokeback Mountain"some saying that the film is a finely crafted piece of celluloid, "brilliant" and "moving," in many ways. But that is what makes the film so dangerous. It's precisely the kind of effective tool that will corrupt the morals of this Christian nation! It cannot be tolerated because it is so obviously a part of the "Gay Agenda."

Mind you, it's not exactly as if "gay" themes have never been portrayed in Hollywood films (see this "Gays in Movies" timeline at ABC). It's just that some of today's celluloid queers are ... RANCH HANDS!!! Of all the nerve!!!

Well, people "in Peoria" are just fed up! And they are voting with their wallets; "the summer comedy 'Wedding Crashers'," it has been noted, "has done more box-office business" than all five of the "Best Picture" nominees combined.

Halleluah!

Still, as the ABC report notes: "There seem to be dueling impulses in Hollywood right now. More gay-themed movies than ever were nominated for Oscars. But the movie studios have increasingly been courting Christians with films such as 'The Chronicles of Narnia' and 'The Passion of the Christ.'" Yeah. How about that?

I am, quite frankly, so sick and tired of hearing about all this crap. If Christian conservatives are pissed off because a couple of "gay-themed" films "broke" through into the mainstream marketplace, clearly nobody is compelling them at gun point to go see those films. And, likewise, nobody is compelling gays to go see the newest film installment of the "Left Behind" series.

Indeed, I'm amused that some Christian conservatives are screaming bloody hell over the use of "propaganda" in film. Pot. Kettle. Black. For a survey of how well the new crop of Christian fundamentalists have used various media for their own ideological purposes, see my article "Caught Up in the Rapture."

And I don't want to hear that I just have a prejudice against "Christian-themed" films. Hogwash. My favorite film is still "Ben-Hur," but that never stopped me from having an eclectic cinematic palette.

Comments welcome.

January 26, 2006

Not-a-Blog-ing

I've often told friends and correspondents that I am not a blogger. I am a writer and an editor who happens to blog occasionally. Even the name of this blog was born of a belief that it was "Not A Blog," though it has quite clearly evolved into one. It was for that reason that I altered the name of the blog subtly, some time ago, closing the spaces in its title and proclaiming it "Notablog."

I know there are many bloggers out there who comment on the events of the day ... sometimes on the events of the hour ... quite regularly. But I must admit that this sort of thing never truly interested me. How many times can I fulminate over this or that trend in domestic politics or foreign policy? How many times can I express my disgust with the Bush administration, while having equal animosity toward its Democratic "opponents"? How many times can I repeat the mantra that cultural change is a precursor to fundamental political change and that, for example, when you embrace democracy without certain cultural preconditions, you get majoritarian results in the Middle East that empower and legitimize theocratic, fundamentalist, and/or militant forces?

And so on, and so on ...

Though I don't post daily discussions on fiery political topics and substantive philosophical and ideological issues, I just don't see the usefulness of repeating myself over and over and over again about the same stuff day-in, day-out. And if I did, I'd get no other work done!

So, in its place, you get a "Song of the Day," that has run daily since September 1, 2004, except when I dimmed the lights for three days after my dog Blondie's passing. Yeah, you still get my thoughts on radical politics and my occasional fulminations, you still get articles and announcements, but, to paraphrase Emma Goldman: If I can't dance or sing, I want no part of the revolution.

Though I love engagement and participating in dialogue, I am curiously autocratic where my "Songs of the Day" are concerned: I continue the policy of closing those selections to all discussion because my choices are not up for debate. Yes, I can enjoy discussing the historical background of a song and the virtues or vices of a particular rendition, or even a particular artist or composer, and I do welcome private notes from Notablog readers on such topics. But I think it would be terribly counterproductive and awfully time-consuming to engage in a constant public reaffirmation of my musical tastes, which are quite eclectic, as Notablog readers regularly note. (They match my intellectual tastes, which are equally eclectic, since I've learned from the left, right, and center...) So, if you don't like my songs, or a particular song, fine. Get your own blog and make your own list! :)

In the meanwhile, if you don't see any non-Song entry posted on a given day, be sure to check out the lively comments pages. For example, the discussion of "Brokeback Mountain" continues, and should pick up steam as we enter Oscar season. I welcome additional comments on this and on any other subject open to reader input.

I should also state that I get lots of private email and I do answer every letter I receive. It may take me time, but I get to every note. And many of those emails are worthy of longer blog posts. But I treat private correspondence as personal, and unless I ask permission, readers won't see their private thoughts on public display here.

Occasionally, however, I get an email whose topic might benefit readers more generally. I hope to publish a few of these correspondences soon enough, including one later today on Rand studies.

So, for now, I just want to thank all of you for your loyal readership and your continuing personal support.

Comments welcome.

December 21, 2005

Eu-Damon-ia

The whole freaking world is falling apart, I know. The Iraqi elections have emboldened a religious element with ties to Iran. Iran has a President who spouts anti-Semitic garbage, boasts about nuclear ambitions, and bans Western music. The Transit Worker's Union has staged a damn strike as buses and subways ground to a halt in New York City. I'm having to get up at 4 a.m. just to help my sister get off to work. At least the courts struck down that Intelligent Design nonsense in Pennsylvania.

But if you were expecting predictable commentary about all the above, fuhgedaboudit.

All that matters to me this morning is that the New York Yankees have Followed Their Damon.

He's not the best fielding center fielder, but he is Johnny Damon, and this signing of the now-former Boston Red Sox leadoff hitter must surely be creating havoc in Beantown, among those who see the Yanks as the Evil Empire.

Poor Johnny is going to have to go for a haircut and trim his beard; for Yankee fans, however, let's just hope this trimming doesn't trim his stats, Samson-like.

Comments welcome.

December 14, 2005

Heart-Broke-back Mountain

I had the occasion to see the film "Brokeback Mountain," which, yesterday, received seven Golden Globe nominations. The Ang Lee-directed film, which has become known in certain circles as the "gay cowboy movie," stars Heath Ledger, who received a nomination for Best Actor in a Drama, and Jake Gyllenhaal, as well as the nominated Michelle Williams (of "Dawson's Creek" fame).

I don't like to say much about movies for fear of including too many spoilers, so I will just say this: The film is heartbreaking. It is a testament to the damage that is done to human lives by self-alienation, repression, and fear, internalized homophobia and the pressure to conform to certain "roles" in society. It can be tender, sad, and funny. The performances are superb; the cinematography is gorgeous; the minimalist score is effective; the nature-backdrop is awe-inspiring.

Right-wing scare mongers notwithstanding, the intimate scenes are not all that explicit (though the first sexually charged scene between the two main characters does have a Roarkian-Fountainhead quality about it... viewers will know what I mean when they see it). I suspect some people will always be upset at the thought of two guys kissing, or even touching. And still others will be upset because this film is not simply about two cowboys rolling in the hay, but two men who have a romantic-love connection.

I do wonder if the PR guys were scared for Ledger and Gyllenhaal, however; is it a coincidence that Ledger has a "Casanova" film coming out on Christmas day and that Gyllenhaal is featured in the recently released military-themed "Jarhead"? It's almost as if some "handlers" in the actors' camps said: "Let's make sure we get a few 'macho' flicks out there at the same time to counteract any misimpressions Americans might get about these two handsome gents."

In any event, the actors are both terrific in "Brokeback Mountain": I strongly recommend the film.

Comments welcome.

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.

November 15, 2005

Religious Marketing 101

For many years, I've been railing against the rise of the religious right as a political and cultural force in this country. Yes, of course: In many ways, that rise has been the effect of a cultural boomerang, a response to the "relativists" on the left. But this does not make fundamentalism any less of a threat.

The fact that the Bush administration has derived so much of its political power from an evangelical base is something that should give pause to all advocates of individual freedom. Quite frankly, it has greatly irritated me that so many people jumped onto the Bush bandwagon, in praise of its "War on Terror," while sweeping aside virtually all considerations of the administration's ties to the religious right.

As I wrote in my article, "Caught Up in the Rapture":

The Bush administration has thus become a focal point for the constellation of two crucial impulses in American politics that seek to remake the world: pietism and neoconservatism. The neocons, who come from a variety of religious backgrounds, trace their intellectual lineage to social democrats and Trotskyites, those who adopted the "God-builder" belief, prevalent in Russian Marxist and Silver Age millennial thought, that a perfect (socialist) society could be constructed as if from an Archimedean standpoint. The neocons may have repudiated Trotskys socialism, but they have simply adopted his constructivism to the project of building democratic nation-states among other groups of warring fundamentalistsin the Middle East.
Bush clearly believes that it is his role as President to change not only American culture but the tribalist cultures of nations abroad in the direction of democratic values. ... For a man who once campaigned against the Clintonistas penchant for nation-building, Bush seems to have made the building of nations and the building of cultures a full-fledged state enterprise. Bushs maximthat "[t]he role of government is to help foster cultural change as well as to protect institutions in our society that are an important part of the culture"is an attempt to use politics as a cultural and religious tool.

The rise of religion has both political and cultural ramifications. Indeed, pop culture is an interesting barometer by which to measure the growing influence of religion on American life.

Today, "Good Morning America" featured an interview with Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, authors of the immensely successful Left Behind series (which I discuss in my Rapture essay). They stopped in to promote their newest book: The Regime: The Rise of the Antichrist, which is the second of three "prequel" novels to the 12-volume Left Behind collection. These books have sold in excess of 60 million copies over the last decade. This new book comes on the heels of the third film release in the series, "Left Behind: World at War," starring Kirk Cameron. (I liked him better on "Growing Pains.")

The GMA segment focused on the question: "Is the End of the World Coming?" (ABC also publishes an excerpt from The Regime here.)

With a lot of natural disasters in the news, such as tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, and many human disasters as well, like war and terrorism, everybody, it seems, is worried that the End of Days is near. (If you ask me, I'd tell you to worry more about those human disasters.)

LaHaye argues that this is probably the "stage setting" for the end. But since the Rapture has yet to take place, we're not quite there yet. LaHaye, who is 79, thinks he might live to see it, however.

Jenkins was a bit more conservative in his estimate. He confessed that only God knows when the end will come, and it's "folly" to set a date. "It seems like we're heading toward something," however.

I'll give this much credit to Jenkins: He recognizes that in a pluralistic society, this Rapture thing can be a "divisive" and "offensive" message. Jenkins does not wish to be "condescending or spiteful or hateful" toward those of other faiths, though he does celebrate the fact that Christian fundamentalists are not like the "fundamentalists of other religions [who] become terrorists. You won't see evangelicals ... becoming terrorists because the whole point is people have the right to choose, they have free will, and if they decide to disagree, we still love them and care about them. We just worry."

Well, I can deal with Jenkins's worry. Bottle up your message of pluralism and disagreement, Brother Jenkins, and send it to the jihadists in the Middle East, if you please.

Despite the fact that our homegrown fundamentalists are a lot less lethal than the ones abroad, I have no doubt that I would not wish to live in a society dominated by them politically or culturally. Right now, however, religion is not merely a rising political or cultural force; it is a rising force in marketing and economics as well.

From the TV show "Revelations" to the new writings of Anne Rice, who, as Jason Dixon reminds us, has Left Behind the Vampire Lestat to embrace "Christ the Lord" ... "it seems like we're heading toward something, indeed.

That ol' time religion has even affected the "Material Girl," Madonna, who found Kaballah some time ago. Even Madonna is starting to sound like the preachers of fire and brimstone. As Rush and Molloy report in the New York Daily News:

Once, she told papa not to preach. But now, at 47, Madonna has come down from the mount with a message for you sinners. People "are going to go to hell, if they don't turn from their wicked behavior," the singer proclaims in her new film, "I'm Going to Tell You a Secret." Despite her many homes, the former Material Girl says she has renounced "the material world. The physical world. The world of illusion, that we think is real. We live for it, we're enslaved by it. And it will ultimately be our undoing."

I can't wait for her to start unloading her earthly riches! I can think of a few dialectical projects that need funding.

Rush and Molloy continue:

Reading from Scripture at one point in the film, the mother of twowho won't let her children watch TV or eat ice creamsays, "I refer to an entity called 'The Beast.' I feel I am describing the world that we live in right now." All this seems to have come from her embracing the mystical Jewish teachings of the Kaballah. But it might seem strange to those who remember that the Catholic girl, confirmed as Madonna Louise Ciccone, used to go out of her way to shred the envelope with nose-cone bras and three-way "Sex" shots. Catholic League President William Donohue likes Madonna's new morality: "For her to have this sudden wakeup callthat the kind of behavior for which she is infamous is not salutary for young peopleis refreshing."
But he doesn't like her proclamation, also made in the documentary about her 2004 Re-Invention tour, that "most priests are gay." Donohue adds, "We're glad to see she is no longer with us. Jews will have to make up their own mind about whether they're going to welcome her. Lots of them don't want to." But Madonna is clearly beloved at the Kaballah Center in L.A.

Well, okay, the Catholics don't want her, the Jews are ambivalent. What's a No-Longer-Material-Girl to do?

Release a new album, that's what! Today, in fact! And I like the lead single too!

In the end, you see, much of this can be filed under "Religious Marketing 101." Whether we fear being Left Behind or we just want to Shake Our Behinds on the Dance Floor ... the marketplace is meeting an ever-growing demand for this "product."

And God help us.

Comments welcome.

November 03, 2005

Iran, Again

After last week's pronouncements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Israel should be "wiped off the map," there's been a lot of saber rattling about Iran. (I've written on the subject of Iran a number of times over the past few years; see here, here, and here, for example).

There is nothing shocking or unexpected about Ahmadinejad's rhetoric. The Iranian theocrats have been talking like that for years. Their overthrow of the US-backed Shah was a clarion call for fundamentalists across the Islamic world to mobilize against both Israel and the United States. Many others in the Islamic world have uttered the same view, including those who reside in countries that are, ostensibly, current US allies.

The fact is, of course, that US actions in Iraq have emboldened the Iranian regime significantly; some are even suggesting that the US was the "useful idiot" for Iranian foreign policy goals to undermine a hostile Baathist regime in Iraq, substituting a friendlier Shiite majoritarian theocracy in its place. With the antagonistic Taliban held at bay in Afghanistan on its eastern flank, and Hussein gone on the western side, Iran has emerged as a central geopolitical power in the Middle Eastand was made so in significant part as the direct result of actions taken by the United States, purportedly in our own defense.

But it is a state that is in a deepening cultural crisis, a crisis that will have profound political ramifications over time.

Today, I've read an interesting NY Times essay about "Our Allies in Iran." It's the kind of title that is meant to surprise. The writer, Afshin Molavi, makes some very important points. Molavi states:

The new president's confrontational tone threatens to deepen the isolation of Iran's democrats, pushing them further behind his long shadow. Western powers have a dual challenge: to find a way to engage this population even as they struggle to address the new president's inflammatory rhetoric. By the time Mr. Ahmadinejad was elected in June, a sustained assault by hard-liners had left Iranian democrats disoriented and leaderless, their dissidents jailed, newspapers closed and reformist political figures popularly discredited. But democratic aspirations should not be written off as a passing fad that died with the failure of the reform movement and the replacement of a reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, with a hard-liner, Mr. Ahmadinejad. The historic roots of reform run deep in Iran, and support for democratic change remains widespread.

Iran's modern middle class, which is increasingly urbanized, wired and globally connected, provides particularly fertile soil for these aspirations. The Stanford University scholar Abbas Milani has described Iran's middle class as a "Trojan horse within the Islamic republic, supporting liberal values, democratic tolerance and civic responsibility." And so long as that class grows, so too will the pressure for democratic change.

Molavi warns, however, that war against Iran could have an adverse effect on that country's "democracy-minded middle class," providing "additional pretexts for the regime to frighten its people and crack down on dissent." Anything that undermines Iranian contact "with the foreign investors, educators, tourists and businessmen who link them to the outside world," says Molavi, undermines the movement toward political and cultural reform. That movement requires a strong private sector and a growing civil society in Iran, which can be encouraged by an extension of the global market. Such an extension would nourish "a strong and stable middle class" and the "inevitable winds of change" so crucial to peace and prosperity in the region.

It is ironic that those who speak glowingly about the need for "democratization" in Iraq as a key to Mideast peace are the same people who now speak about the need for military action in Iran, which would most assuredly sabotage the trends toward democratization in that country.

The saber-rattlers tell us that they are worried about the long-run problem of a "nuclear" Iran. Fair enough. But they don't seem to worry about the long-run consequences of military intervention in Iran, given the current context in Iraq, a context that the saber-rattlers themselves did much to create. As Arthur Silber writes here:

We now have a voluminous record, in news accounts, in government documents and in other forms, to prove beyond any doubt that the Bush administration gave almost no attention to the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. No one had any serious question about our taking down the Saddam Hussein regime, except about how long it might take and the details. Despite that certainty, we know that the Bush administration did not listen to many of its own experts and planners about what should be done once Saddam was gone. To put the point simply, the Bush administration never seriously addressed the multitude of inordinately complex issues encompassed in the question: What then?

This much is true, and this much we can agree with, as Arthur puts it: "Iran is run by viciously destructive and dangerous leaders." But as people clamor for military action against Iran, they are not asking and answering the crucial question: "What then?"

I often wonder, for example, how the Shiites in Iraq, with whom the US has cast its political lot, would deal with a US military strike against Iran. How long would it take for a strike against Iran to destabilize the situation with the US's Shiite-Iraqi allies? The Sunni insurgency against the Shiites in Iraq has been awful; I can't even begin to think of the conditions that might arise should a Shiite insurgency unfold against the USa Shiite insurgency aided and abetted by its own ideological brethren in Tehran.

And what then? In addition to the internal combustion of Iraq, might there not be counterattacks from other Arab governments? Might not the Mideast be thrown into further chaos? And what if additional US troops are needed to "finish the job" started by planes and missiles? Where are these troops coming from? How long before military conscription is reinstituted?

As Richard Cohen tells us today in the New York Daily News, in the Middle East, "bad could get worse."

The central problem in the Middle East is not strategic. The central problem is not the spread of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. The central problem is the spread of ideological and cultural weapons of mass destruction. And these weapons have been manufactured at a maddening pace for generations by countries like Saudi Arabia, a US "ally." As Jason Pappas reminds us (see here and here), the Saudis have been funding the worldwide proliferation of the very jihadist ideology that targets Western values and institutions.

But the odds are very slim that there will be any fundamental change in the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. That's because the House of Sa'ud remains a key player in US global political economy (see here). The dismantling of that neocorporatist politico-economic system is not likely to happen anytime soon.

And yet, despite its role in the proliferation of jihadist fanaticism, the collapse of the House of Sa'ud at this point could be catastrophic: it would most likely lead to the transference of power into the hands of the very worst jihadists, those who have been a by-product of Saudi education.

Yes, it's one gigantic mess of internal contradictions at work. But, currently, I have no reason to believe that a military attack upon Iran would resolve these contradictions, without engendering a host of newer and far more lethal ones.

Update: I see my pal Matthew Humphreys has drawn parallels between our views. Check out his post here, which preceded mine.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P, and take a look at L&P comments here.

October 31, 2005

John Leo on Dems and Rothbard

I got a little surprise today reading John Leo's NY Daily News column, "It's '72 All Over Again for Dems." Leo focuses on what he believes are the parallels between the failure of welfare liberalism, circa 1972, and the failure of liberalism in the post-9/11 era. He cites Austrian economist and libertarian social theorist Murray Rothbard at one point:

"The McGovernite movement," wrote Murray Rothbard, a prominent libertarian, "is, in its very nature, a kick in the gut to Middle America."

Leo argues, in essence, that it was the McGovernite movement that created the current-day phenomenon, the "modern split between red-state and blue-state America." He adds:

Many members of disfavored groupsCatholics, Southerners and much of the white working class and lower middle classdecamped for the Republican Party, while the Democrats emerged more clearly visible as the party of well-off liberals, the poor, identity and grievance groups, secularists and the cultural elite."

Leo is correct in one sense that the extreme swing toward identity politics in the late '60s and early '70s did create a cultural backlash of sorts. But that backlash has been as inspired by interventionist liberalism as the identity politics it views as anathema. As I have argued here and elsewhere, so-called "religious right" groups are just as enamored of statist intervention on their behalf as the so-called "left-wing" groups they oppose.

Much has, of course, changed since the 1960s, ideologically speaking. Some of these changes Leo ignores completely, like, for example, the emergence of neoconservatism as a political ideology, which integrates some of the worst left-wing and right-wing impulses.

In any event, it's an interesting read.

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

September 14, 2005

The Comic Book Geek Revolutionaries

Okay, I'm not a total Comic Book Geek; I did score 82% "comic pure," which does not make me a Comic Book Geek by any stretch of the imagination. But clearly, there is still 18% "comic corruption" in my soul. And when that impure aspect of my characterlet's call it my "Comic Book Geek Self" (CBGS)does a mind meld with my "Scholar Self," I end up producing such essays as this one.

I sometimes wonder how many radical libertarians began as Comic Book Geeks. I know a few myself who have long struggled with their CBGS's; such gents have only encouraged me in my Comic Corruption. Well. Actually. These gents don't struggle at all with their CBGS's. They completely embrace their Inner Geek. Some more flamboyantly than others. When a guy like Roderick Long devotes a whole webpage to Anarky, it's one thing. But when a guy like Aeon Skoble writes more than a few articles and even edits a book on an animated television program (i.e., The Simpsons... i.e., a cartoon!), one must take notice.

If one were to measure one's revolutionary quotient by the presence of an Inner Geek, however, Aeon might be called Our Fearless Leader. His interests extend from comics to comedic artists, but underlying all of this is a profound appreciation of the important link between philosophy and popular culture. He has written pieces on Seinfeld, Forrest Gump, and The Lord of the Rings; he even wrote a superb Spring 2003 paper for the American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues, entitled "A Reflection on the Relevance of Gay-Bashing in the Comic Book World." He's straight and "Married With Children," however. Not that there's anything wrong with that! He has a wonderful family, a great wife, and two adorable daughters (see those pics at the bottom of his links page). And he certainly has his priorities straight: He's a Yankees fan and has even written a piece on baseball and philosophy! And, by now, he's probably blushing reading all this praise.

As it happens, I recently got him to inscribe a copy of a new book entitled Superheroes and Philosophy: Truth, Justice, and the Socratic Way, edited by Tom Morris and Matt Morris. Aeon has a fine essay in the anthology entitled "Superhero Revisionism in Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns." He argues that these two graphic novels, the first written by Alan Moore, the second by Frank Miller, "invite us to completely rethink our conception of the superhero, and ... to reconsider some of the fundamental moral principles that have traditionally underwritten our appreciation of superheroes."

Many sophisticated elements of comics today that we now take as givensthe way they raise questions of justice and vengeance, their exploration of the ethics of vigilantism, and their depiction of ambivalent and even hostile reactions toward superheroes from the general public as well as from governmentare largely traceable to these works.

What follows is a discussion that references everything from Death Wish, the 1974 film with Charles Bronson, to Friedrich Nietzsche. The article motivated me to finally read Watchmen from cover-to-cover before I even attempted to digest Aeon's points. I found Alan Moore's graphic novel, featuring the character Rorschach, quite provocative on many levels. I agree with Aeon when he writes:

One of Moore's epigraphs is the famous aphorism penned by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you." ... Moore and Miller are asking us to look into the abyss, and then to use it as a mirror for seeing ourselves more clearly.

Aeon points out further:

The superhero's most fundamental attitude seems to be that, contrary to Locke, it's everyone's right, if not duty, to fight crime, and to do whatever we can to seek justice for ourselves and for our communities. Spider-Man famously realized that "with great power comes great responsibility," but [Moore's character] Rorschach shows us that the "power" to fight crime is largely a matter of will, or choice, which seems to create a greater responsibility for all of us.

Aeon suggests that Moore puts his finger on certain troubles inherent in the "Superhero" mind-set:

There are many important ways in which we can be led by Watchmen to rethink the superhero concept: Could anyone ever be trusted to occupy the position of a watchman over the world? In the effort "to save the world," or most of the world, could a person in the position of a superhero be tempted to do what is in itself actually and deeply evil, so that good may result? Is the Olympian perspective, whereby a person places himself above all others as a judge concerning how and whether they should live, a good and sensible perspective for initiating action in a world of uncertainty? That is to say, could anyone whose power, knowledge, and position might incline them to be grandiosely concerned about "the world" be trusted to do the right thing for individuals in the world? Or is the savior mindset inherently dangerous for any human being to adopt?

I found these questions to be significant especially in the light of my earlier reading of a book recommended to me by Joe Maurone: John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett's work, The Myth of the American Superhero, which deals with certain quasi-"fascist" elements at the base of the "American Monomyth" (discussions of the Lawrence-Jewett book can be found here).

Aeon rightly attaches crucial importance to these issues:

Questioning the concept of the superhero ultimately involves questioning ourselves. And the main question is not whether we as ordinary people would be prepared to do what a superhero might have to do under the most extraordinary circumstances, but rather whether we are in fact prepared to do whatever we can do in ordinary ways to make the world such that it doesn't require extraordinary salvation from a superhero acting outside the bounds of what we might otherwise think is morally acceptable. Against the backdrop of some bleak and nihilistic statements about meaning in the universe and in life, Alan Moore seems to be making the classic existentialist move of throwing the responsibility of meaning and justice onto us all, and showing us what can result if we abdicate that responsibility, leaving it to a few, or to any one person who would usurp the right to decide for the rest of us how we are to be protected and kept safe.

All excellent points.

It's interesting to me that Aeon focuses on this tension between taking individual self-responsibility and abdicating that responsibility to perceived superiors. It might be said that the same tension exists in the dynamics that propel social change. Whereas it might be true that the Philosopher Kings and Queens have a way of establishing broad and influential intellectual movements in historytheir ideas slowly filtering through many different levels of social discourse, including popular cultureit is also true that popular culture itself has a way of altering consciousness and fueling broad-based social change.

Indeed, one might say that there is a reciprocal connection between the forms of popular culture (films, TV shows, comic books, etc.) and the "consciousness-raising" necessary to all social change. As Aeon puts it in his Spring 2003 paper, "all social problems depend for their successful resolution on grassroots-level changes in peoples thinking, a shift in general perception from the bottom up, as opposed to edicts from the top down. ... Comic books both reflect trends in social change and help foster social change."

This doesn't mean that a Watchmen movie is going to usher in a political and social revolution; but it does mean that the forms of popular culture can have an important effect on social and political attitudes ... and realities.

Like I said: We "Comic Book Geeks" are revolutionaries at heart.

In any event, pick up one, or all, of the books in which Aeon's terrific work is featured. You won't be disappointed.

Update: Praise God! Aeon has finally posted (as a PDF) his APA article, "A Reflection on the Relevance of Gay-bashing in the Comic Book World."

Comments welcome. Mentioned at L&P.

September 06, 2005

Santorum and Big Government Conservatism

For several years now, I have been going on and on about the continuing growth of the religious right in conservative circles. My antipathy to theocratic conservatism had been at fever pitch long before I wrote my essay, "Caught Up in the Rapture," which, with its sister essay, "Bush Wins!," predicted a Bush victory a good six months prior to the 2004 election.

In this context, a recent Jonathan Rauch essay, "America's Anti-Reagan isn't Hilary Clinton. It's Rick Santorum," has been making the rounds all over the blogosphere; it's a dissection of Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum's anti-libertarian philosophy. The fact that Santorum is a Roman Catholic only adds weight to my own long-time contention that a growing coalition of Catholic and Evangelical ideological blocs poses a threat to individual liberty in this country.

What one will not find in Rauch's essay, however, are two words: "Bush" and "Iraq." In my view, Santorum's new book, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, is only the newest manifestation of a religious conservative movement, whose titular head is George W. Bush. Whereas the religious conservatives wish to remake the culture and politics of this country, the neoconservatives wish to remake the culture and politics of the Middle East. Together, these tendencies make for one very potent anti-libertarian, anti-individualist politics. As I wrote in my "Rapture" essay:

The Bush administration has thus become a focal point for the constellation of two crucial impulses in American politics that seek to remake the world: pietism and neoconservatism. The neocons, who come from a variety of religious backgrounds, trace their intellectual lineage to social democrats and Trotskyites, those who adopted the "God-builder" belief, prevalent in Russian Marxist and Silver Age millennial thought, that a perfect (socialist) society could be constructed as if from an Archimedean standpoint. The neocons may have repudiated Trotskys socialism, but they have simply adopted his constructivism to the project of building democratic nation-states among other groups of warring fundamentalistsin the Middle East.
Bush clearly believes that it is his role as President to change not only American culture but the tribalist cultures of nations abroad in the direction of democratic values. In an interview with Christianity Today, he asserts that "the job of a president is to help cultures change. ... I can be a voice of cultural change." This "cultural change," according to Bush, must begin "with promotingtaking care of your bodies to the point where we can promote a culture of life." It is from this essential principle that he derives his "position on abortion," and his advocacy of "the faith-based initiative," which "recognizes the rightful relationship between hearts and souls and government" (emphasis added).
Got that? For Bush, the role of government is to help construct "a culture of life" that protects the rights of fetuses and politically-funded religious social organizations. Whatever happened to the principle that the singular role of government is the protection of an actual human beings rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness?
For a man who once campaigned against the Clintonistas penchant for nation-building, Bush seems to have made the building of nations and the building of cultures a full-fledged state enterprise. Bushs maximthat "[t]he role of government is to help foster cultural change as well as to protect institutions in our society that are an important part of the culture"is an attempt to use politics as a cultural and religious tool. ...
It is quite revealing that, during his tenure, Bush has drawn lessons from the most activist Presidents in history: Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, Bush asserts, "gave his soul for the process" of taking America out of the Depression and into a world war against authoritarian tyranny.

What hope does a religiously based conservative administration have to inspire secular, liberal democracies in the Middle East when it is at war with both secularism and liberalism at home?

A recent NY Times article by Michael Ignatieff makes some of this clearer by reference to "Iranian Lessons." While the fundamentalist Shiite elements within Iranian society have embraced a "death cult," a younger generation of more liberal Iranians now longs "for 'a wall of separation' between religion and government, as Thomas Jefferson called it." These Iranians "found it puzzling, even disappointing, that religion and politics are not actually separate in the United States." Surprise, surprise. Ignatieff writes:

Democracy in Iran also means working free of what one student called ''the culture of dictatorship,'' a floating web of patriarchal controls over private life. All of the young people I talked to were under 30, invariably were living at home till marriage and were chafing under restrictions on their personal lives. For young women, living free means the right to choose whom you marry and how much hair to display around your hijab; it means leaving to get an M.B.A. in Australia and then coming back and running a business. For one young man, struggling to find how he might buy his way out of compulsory military service, it means the freedom, he confessed in a whisper, to be gay. Homosexuality is a crime in Iran, and seemingly the only time when conversations do become furtive, with anxious looks over shoulders, is when homosexuality is the topic.
The hostility toward homosexuality is not just a reflex of a deeply traditional family culture. The Shiite regime has waged a 26-year war on pleasures both homosexual and heterosexual. In Persian culture, however, the taste for pleasure runs deep. Just think of the music-making, dancing and the costumed beauty of the men and women in classical Persian miniatures. During the revolution, many of these Persian treasures were hacked off the walls of mosques and palaces by Shiite zealots.
Thankfully, Persian pleasure remains stubbornly alive. When I flew south from Tehran to Isfahan, the astounding capital of the Safavid shahs of the 17th century, I spent one night wandering along the exquisitely lighted vaulted bridges, watching men, not necessarily gay, stroll hand in hand, singing to each other and dancing beneath the arches, while families picnicked on the grass by the banks of the river and men and women passed a water pipe around. Though it cannot be much comfort to those who have to live, here and now, under public and private tyrannies, I came away from a night in Isfahan believing that Persian pleasure, in the long run, would outlast Shiite puritanism.

Give Santorum and his ilk a few years of unchecked political growth, and they'll start enacting laws that would make a Shiite fundamentalist proud. Ultimately, however, their battle is not primarily political; it is cultural. Make no mistake about it: The fundamentalists at home and abroad are at war with individualist culture.

Of course, the bout between secularism and religion is not specific to Iran or to America. It is a bout that is on grand display also within Iraq, that country which was "liberated" by the United States so that it might be free to pursue a majoritarian theocracy. With Shariah being bandied about as the governing code for women and marriage in the new Shiite-dominated government, it is no wonder that so many feel as if the US is "Off Course in Iraq." Yes, as Stephen J. Hadley and Frances Fragos Townsend put it here, "we face an enemy determined to destroy our way of life and substitute for it a fanatical vision of dictatorial and theocratic rule. At its root, the struggle is an ideological contest, a war of ideas that engages all of us, public servant and private citizen, regardless of nationality." But there is no way to "win" this war, ideologically or otherwise, when "our" side is so committed to compromising the very secular, liberal ideals necessary to victory. With mounting American casualties and mounting taxpayer-funded war expenditures, with growing rifts among Iraq's ethnic and religious groups, even some of the administration's former cheerleaders are fast abandoning any belief in the success of Iraqi "democracy." Frances Fukuyama, for example, who told us that we'd reached "the end of history" with the close of the Cold War, and who still fears premature US withdrawal from Iraq, had this to say:

The United States can control the situation militarily as long as it chooses to remain there in force, but our willingness to maintain the personnel levels necessary to stay the course is limited. The all-volunteer Army was never intended to fight a prolonged insurgency, and both the Army and Marine Corps face manpower and morale problems. While public support for staying in Iraq remains stable, powerful operational reasons are likely to drive the administration to lower force levels within the next year.
With the failure to secure Sunni support for the constitution and splits within the Shiite community, it seems increasingly unlikely that a strong and cohesive Iraqi government will be in place anytime soon. Indeed, the problem now will be to prevent Iraq's constituent groups from looking to their own militias rather than to the government for protection. ...
We do not know what outcome we will face in Iraq. We do know that four years after 9/11, our whole foreign policy seems destined to rise or fall on the outcome of a war only marginally related to the source of what befell us on that day. There was nothing inevitable about this. There is everything to be regretted about it.

But Fukuyama, who turned on the Bush administration prior to the last election, is still one of the neo-Hegelian founding fathers of today's neoconservatism, and it is this Republican administration's ideological marriage of neoconservative and religious conservative thought that is at the forefront of the very "Big Government Conservatism" at war with individual freedom.

There is only one remaining myth that must be put to rest. This "Big Government Conservatism" is not a fundamentally new development. As I wrote in this L&P post, "Brooks and the 'Progressive Conservative' Project," the GOP was never a "limited government" party to begin with. Yes, it has had its share of post-New Deal interventionist foes, and its Goldwater-Reagan libertarian rhetorical flashes, but in its inception, in its practice, in its essence, it has always been a party of Big Government. That some of today's conservatives are boldly embracing these "Big Government" roots, with a theocratic twist, is simply a return to the Republican Essence. As I put it back in August 2004:

... it is only in war that Bush has begun to solidify the "progressive conservative tradition," rooted in the neomercantilist politics of Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. This is the politics that forged government-sponsored "internal improvements" (today, we'd call it "building infrastructure"), the government socialization of risk, government subsidies for business, government land grants for railroads, and national bank cartelization and centralization.

Radical thinking is about integration; it is about connecting the dots dialectically, with an understanding of the full context within which each dot presupposes every other dot. And like the dots that make up a TV screen, it is only by viewing the whole that we can begin to grasp the reality before us.

It is only when we connect the dots between statist and religious barbarism that a genuine ideological revolution will begin to take shape, one that challenges fundamentally the zealots both at home and abroad.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted excerpt at L&P.

August 26, 2005

The Rose Petal Assumption

Back in July, when volatile discussions of James S. Valliant's book The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics were proceeding on a number of forums, Dennis C. Hardin at SOLO HQ made the following point, after a long, rather critical, dialogue in response to my own engagement at Notablog with Valliant:

Nathaniel Branden said the following a while back:
About ten years ago, I came across a saying from the Talmud that impressed me profoundly. I have not been able to stop thinking about it. ... The line that so impressed me was: "A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an enemy." ...
I will acknowledge that Chris has shown the true meaning of heroism in the sense described.

Well, given my long history of engagement with adversaries on all ends of the political and intellectual spectrum, I have always responded positively to that Branden-uttered line. But there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding that phrase and its various applications. Dennis himself has brought up the issue again in a recent SOLO HQ essay entitled "Nathaniel Branden vs. Ayn Rand on Morality," which has sparked another volatile discussion. As Dennis makes clear: "Branden made this comment in the context of discussing David Kelleys decision to address a libertarian group ... It is clear that Branden was using this quote to express his admiration for Kelleys decision, because Kelley saw that 'libertarians often supported their position with aspects of [Ayn Rands] philosophy, without necessarily subscribing to the total of Objectivism.'"

It's not my desire to re-open that tired, old thread over the appropriateness of speaking before libertarian groups; it depends on the group, of course, but I'd be the last one to object in principle, since I consider myself a (small-l) libertarian, and I have always believed that Rand herself was, in the sphere of politics, a (small-l) libertarianfor the same reason she was an "egoist" in ethics, despite sharing that label with Nietzsche and Stirner, for example, to whom she was profoundly opposed. (I have discussed these issues many times; see here, which, for nonmembers of the Branden Yahoo group, is referenced here; also see here.)

What I'd like to focus on, however, is that Talmudic expression. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a Talmudic scholar or rabbi, though I've read the Bible from cover-to-cover. I do like what Adam Reed says here:

I looked up "A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an enemy" in the Talmud. I would have translated it as "A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an opponent," because it is in the context of "makhlokhet l'shem shamaim," which in the context of the quote means "conflict between good and good." I suppose that Ayn Rand may have known of it, because in the social context that is what her heroes wind up doing. Kira turns opponent Andrei to her side, eventually. Roark turns "enemies" Dominique, and in a sense Wynand, to his. Francisco turns Rearden, and Galt turns Dagny.

Whatever the precise translation of the statement, it has had some personal significance for me. I cite it in a recent interview conducted by Sunni Maravillosa at Sunni's Salon. On this page and this page of the interview, I state the following:

I guess I've always operated also on what I call the "rose petal assumption." A friend of mine once observed that I was the kind of person who would find the one rose petal in a pile of manure. Instead of calling the whole thing crap, I'm busying myself searching for that rose petal, and sometimes getting pretty dirty in the process. But, the truth is, I do try to look for the good in people, even in my critics; I try to appeal to the best in everybody. Perhaps I would like to embody that Talmudic expression that Nathaniel Branden has often highlighted in his work: "A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an enemy."
This strategy, however, which is built into my very soul, as it were, does not always work. Some people are just constitutionally nasty and mean-spirited and it doesn't matter how many nonviolent responses one authors. It never makes a dent. I usually give such people three strikes. I mean, it is possible that in the rough and tumble of give-and-take on any particular discussion forum that a person might occasionally lose their temper in an exchange, perhaps once or twice. But beyond that, I've learned not to be somebody's punching bag. I've gotten better at drawing and re-drawing that "line between valid criticism and a crank's ranting," as you put it. Most of all, I've learned to stop tolerating rudeness. I am willing to engage anybody on any issue, but the moment my interlocutor treats me with ridicule or rudeness or disrespect, I stop the discussion and refuse to enable or sanction such behavior. I have also noticed that 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.
I know that in the cyber-universe and in the blogosphere, in particular, it's not just pro-freedom individuals who are loose canons in this regard. I've seen that same level of negativity, anger, fear, and hatred on display on left-wing forums as well. As for those in our own ideological home being unable to deal with criticism in a constructive way, I can only say that there is only one way to create a civil discussion: acting with civility. There is simply no substitute for actually practicing the very virtues one claims to celebrate. ...

I then draw a distinction between Rand's practice and my own:

Rand ... often speeds to the bottom line of a judgment on, say, a particular philosopher, which seems to sweep away any and all complexities in that thinker's corpus. So, while I'm more apt to look for the rose petal, Rand is busy taking the hose to the manure. And that function is needed. But it's not easy to reach people working in other traditions if one always approaches them with the hose. Or the sledgehammer.

Now, let's just explore these themes a bit more.

The phrase"A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an enemy" or an "opponent"has particular application to the context of civil and voluntary discourse and social relations. It has no applicability once the line has been crossed into incivility and coercion, especially coercion. Branden himself makes the point in a recent interview with Alec Mouhibian in The Free Radical. When the person you are engaging is quite clearly a "mad animal," such as a terrorist suicide bomber, the very last thing you should be doing is trying to turn that person into a "friend." As Branden puts it: "Theres nothing you can do except shoot him. ... [I]n action, one kills them, rather than getting killed by them."

As one who has spent some time trying to situate the whole post-9/11 world in a wider context that takes account of the evolution and structure of U.S. foreign policy, I have frequently made a very clear distinction between "explanation" and "justification." One can look to the past history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East as one factor in the modern development of fanatical Islamic fundamentalism; but an explanation of its development, or even of its goals, is not the same as a moral justification for the actions of those particular Islamic terrorists who killed nearly 3,000 civilians on September 11, 2001.

There is only one appropriate response to those who have destroyed life, liberty, and property: Justice. And justice demands that one act in self-defense against those who violate individual rights.

Quite clearly, then, the Talmudic expression applies to genuinely human social relations. It is not a pact of appeasement between those who live according to human standards and those who adopt the barbarism of the jungle.

The Rose Petal Assumption has allowed me to reach out to my critics and my intellectual adversaries in a spirit of rational, civil engagement. It is not a license or a sanction for rudeness or ridicule. It is not a license or a sanction for the violation of individual rights. Those who are rude are not entitled to civility; in my view, they're not even entitled to a reply, except perhaps "But I don't think of you." And those who violate rights are not entitled to the sanction of those whose rights have been violated.

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.

August 17, 2005

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 15, 2005

On Anniversaries

Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. All this week, I'll be "looking back" on the past ten years, through interviews, posts, and discussions.

Ironically, just yesterday, in anticipation of the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' Shea Stadium concert, a piece by Michele Ingrassia was published in the NY Daily News entitled "Reasons to Celebrate." Ingrassia asks the question: "What's behind our obsession with anniversaries?" She writes:

Behold, the anniversary onslaught. Not a morning goes by when someone isn't heralding, say, the 145th anniversary of the Pony Express, the 70th anniversary of the flat-top beer can or the 40th anniversary of the Slurpee. ... "It's a way for people to put their lives in context," says humorist Robert Lanham ... If anniversary mania has exploded this year, perhaps it's because 2005 is such a nice, neat number to subtract from. ... Lanham calls it a symptom of our "neurotic culture"baby boomers' need to explain everything through the prism of their own lives. ... "It's a way to recontextualize," [pop culturalist Robert] Thompson says.

Well, it's not necessarily the case that one is "neurotic" for seeing life through one's own eyes and one's own experience. Personal context does matter! And given my own obsession with the art of context-keeping, I can't think of a better way to mark my own tenth anniversaries this week than to extol the virtue of looking through the prism of my own life. It is an opportunity to "recontextualize" things, indeedto take stock, to look back, to see where I was, where I am, and where I'm going.

So there will be more to come throughout the week. Two new interviews make their debut this week. For those interested in past interviews and notices, take a look here.

Comments welcome.

August 13, 2005

Comments on the "Cultural Root of Parental Socialism"

I posted a few brief thoughts in reply to Steve Horwitz's L&P entry, "One Cultural Root of 'Parental Socialism'."

Comments welcome, but readers are invited to read Steve's paper and comment at L&P.

June 30, 2005

Iranian Death Throes?

Having seen various recent blog posts on Islam and secularization (including this one by Jason Pappas), I found this morning's NY Times essay by Abbas Milani of the Hoover Institution an interesting read. In "The Silver Lining in Iran," Milani argues, in essence, that the tightening of reactionary forces in Iranian politics is actually a sign that the reigning mullahs are in their death throes. For Milani, the ruling "cabal of conservative mullahs and Revolutionary Guards who have absconded to ivory towers with their dogma and greed for power" have ignored "serious signs of crisis [as] they masterminded Mr. Ahmadinejad's victory." This is the same President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that is being fingered by former US hostages of the 1979 embassy crisis as one of their captors.

Milani continues:

Nevertheless, contrary to the common perception, this election is not so much a sign of the Iranian system's strength as of its weakness. Last week's presidential election is only the most recent example of the tactical wisdom and strategic foolishness of Iran's ruling mullahs. ... In the process they may have unwittingly opened the door for democracy - because their hardball tactics have created the most serious rift in the ranks of ruling mullahs since the inception of the Islamic Republic. The experience of emerging democracies elsewhere has shown that dissension within ruling circles has often presaged the fall of authoritarianism.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's presidency will force a crisis not only in Iran's political establishment but also, and even more important, in its economy. Only a huge infusion of capital and expertise, along with open markets, can even begin to address the country's economic problems, which include high unemployment, a rapidly increasing labor force, cronyism and endemic corruption.

And only an "infusion" of "security and the rule of law" will help, says Milani. But the president-elect is too busy opining "that the stock market is a form of gambling with no place in a genuine Islamic society. Not surprisingly, Mr. Ahmadinejad's election brought about the single greatest plunge in the Iranian stock market's history. The day is already known as Black Saturday, and the president-elect has been scrambling to undo the damage since." As the ruling clique turns to "the old populist slogans of revolutionary justice, economic autarky and pseudosocialism, ... they have helped bring Iran one step closer to democracy."

When certain groups are threatened, it is only natural that they will fight that much harder to retain or expand their influence. I think an argument can be made that this is indeed the case in Iran, but the regime still has a lot of mileage left in its gas tank and can do a lot of damage to the growth of opposition forces.

I know that it's comparing apples and oranges to some extent, but I wish I could be as optimistic on the home-front, especially with regard to the US's own home-grown reactionaries among the religious right. One would like to think that in their successful attempts to bolster their own political power, their influence too is waning.

In any event, it will be very interesting to see how the anti-mullah, more "democratic" movement among Iranian youth (noted here in a number of posts) will proceed.

Cross-posted to L&P.

Comments welcome.

June 16, 2005

Skoble on Pop Culture & Philosophy

Aeon Skoble makes some good points about popular culture and philosophy at L&P in his post, "I Forgot My Mantra." I added a brief comment here.

Comments welcome, but readers are encouraged to join the discussion at L&P.

May 21, 2005

Darth Vader and Altruism

I haven't seen "Revenge of the Sith" just yet, but I enjoyed today's column by John Tierney in the New York Times: "Darth Vader's Family Values." I especially like the fact that he cites my pal and colleague Dan Klein on "The People's Romance." Tierney writes:

The People's Romance is [Klein's] explanation for why so many Americans have come to love bigger government over the past century. Their specific objectives in Washington differedliberals stressed charity and social programs for all, while conservatives promoted patriotism and spending on national securitybut they both expanded the government in their quest for a national sense of shared purpose.

The result, though, has not been one happy community because America is not a clan with shared values. It is a huge group of strangers with leaders who are hardly altruiststhey have their own families and needs. Tocqueville recognized the inherent problem with the People's Romance when he described citizens' contradictory impulses to be free while also wanting a government that is "unitary, protective and all-powerful."

People try to resolve this contradiction, Tocqueville wrote, by telling themselves that democracy makes them masters of politicians, but they soon find that the Force is not with them, especially if they're in the minority. Republicans used to rail helplessly at Democrats for taxing them for destructive social programs and curtailing their economic liberties; now Democrats complain about the money squandered on the Iraq war and the threat to civil liberties from the Patriot Act.

For those Democrats, the signature line in this "Star Wars" is the one spoken after the chancellor, citing security threats, consolidates his power by declaring that the republic must become an empire. Senator Padm listens to her colleagues cheer and says, "So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause."

She's disgusted with them, but their enthusiasm is understandable. The chancellor has tapped into their primal desire to unite in one great clan with a shared purpose. They're in the throes of the People's Romance.

I'm looking forward to seeing the concluding episode of George Lucas's myth.

Cross-posted to L&P.

Comments welcome.

May 08, 2005

Taking the Ad Hominem Out of Art Appreciation

This morning, I made comments (here and here) on SOLO HQ, in response to James Kilbourne's essay, "Yes? No!" A long-time opera fan, Kilbourne gave a negative review to "Going For the One," an album by the prog-rock group, Yes. I responded:

Continue reading "Taking the Ad Hominem Out of Art Appreciation" »

May 04, 2005

The Evangelical Crusade Marches On

ABC World News Tonight (in conjunction with BeliefNet.Com) is running a series called "Under God," and it is a revealing look at the cultural impact of evangelical Christianity on contemporary America. In the first report (aired on Monday, 2 May 2005), correspondent Erin Hayes told us about the growth of specifically Christian cheerleading camps. Founded in reaction to the "sexually suggestive" forms of cheerleading that are in vogue, Christian cheerleaders incorporate the "Holy Spirit" into their spirited routines. This means "no lewd dance moves, no bare midriffs and no routines that would embarrass parents." And it's becoming popular: 25,000 students attend Christian cheerleading camps each year. They are taught routines that demand gymnastic prowess, but they are also taught to honor the Lord. "We represent not only our selves, but the Lord," says one cheerleader.

In 1983, there were only 59 Christian camps and clinics in the country. Today, there are more than 500, and the Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders has also started camps and clinics in the Czech Republic and Russia. And the smaller Christian Cheerleaders of America is watching its attendance grow by about 25 percent a year.

The growth in Christian camps, like the growth in Christian literature, Christian music, and Christian radio, is viewed as a "faith-based alternative" to the "spiritual limitations" of a "coarsening," "secular," "popular culture." The aim is to help young people to understand that "God is not just one aspect or compartment of my life; He is my life."

The second segment of the ABC series focused on "tough-love parenting." Polls tell us that 65% of American adults approve of spanking to punish children; certain evangelicals have taken that practice to a higher, "spiritual" level, arguing that "Scripture clearly endorses, even encourages, the practice." Out of "faith and love," these evangelicals "regard corporal punishment as a religious and parental duty." The Old Testament book of Proverbs declares: "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly." As one parent puts it: "The bottom line is: people who do not think it is OK to paddle their children do not believe God's word."

Joey Salvati of New Kingston, Pennsylvania is one "carpenter who makes paddles and gives them away online," along with instructions as to how many swats each offense meritsas long as the swatting is never done in "anger."

Some Methodists and Catholics have responded negatively to this growing evangelical "spanking" crusade; they seem to draw different lessons from the son of another carpenter. "Jesus, for instance, said children are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven," says one dissenter. "And you don't treat people like that, like they're circus animals."

Ultimately, it's all a struggle over Biblical interpretation and the very "direction of Christianity itself." Al Crowell, director of the San-Francisco based advocacy group Christians for Nonviolent Parenting, asks: "Why don't we also keep slaves now? Stoning our daughters who may be gotten pregnant before marriage? All that is in the Bible [Old Testament] too."

This is not just about the direction of Christianity, of course; there may be a deeper issue at work: There is this portion of the evangelical movement that revels in the imagery of violence. It may even explain the fetishization of violence in such films as "The Passion of the Christ," which attracted both evangelicals and conservative Catholics in droves. As I wrote in my article, "Caught Up in The Rapture":

A blockbuster film such as "The Passion of the Christ"which was condemned initially as "anti-Semitic" by some criticshas now grossed nearly $400 million. That figure does not include director Mel Gibsons cross-promotional merchandising effortssales on such items as metal replica crucifixion nails and thorn-adorned necklaces and bracelets. The extremely violent content of the film seems to have inspired some churches to more realistically dramatize the redemption through most precious blood. Some of these dramatizations express forcefully a wrath for the secular "pagan" symbols of the Easter holiday. As the Associated Press reports, in one instance, at an Easter show in Glassport, Pennsylvania, children were traumatized as the actors whipped the Easter bunny and crushed Easter eggs on stage. Performers declared: "There is no Easter Bunny." One 4-year old child cried hysterically, asking his mother "why the bunny was being whipped." "It was very disturbing," said another parent. The youth minister at Glassport Assembly of God said that they were only trying "to convey that Easter is not just about the Easter Bunny. It is about Jesus Christ."

The key here is this: We are dealing not only with a political problem (one which Jason Pappas summarizes well here, where I have left a comment as well). We are dealing primarily with a cultural problem. And it is one that goes far beyond the growth of cheerleading camps or the use of corporal punishment.

Many religious people are, no doubt, reacting against what they perceive as the triumph of subjectivism, relativism, and nihilism in various aspects of popular culture. But in celebrating their own isolation from that culture, they make possible the further alienation of young people from a world that demands their rational engagement. Worse: the embracing of instrinsicism, which inculcates a faith-based adherence to moral "absolutes" regardless of context, is no genuine alternative. Humane values are passed on to children and young people by appealing to their growing, yet delicate, rational faculties. Reason is the only legitimate alternative to faith and force. And teaching children to use their minds is the surest way to raise healthy and happy adults.

P.S.: Be sure to check out Arthur Silber's post, "Why You Should Protest the Torture and Abuse of Children." He offers some provocative thoughts about the long-term psychological (and, in some cases, physical) damage done to children by some of the child-rearing practices at issue here.

Comments welcome.

April 27, 2005

Same-Sex Marriage and the 2004 Election

I've written ad nauseam about Election 2004, still of the conviction that the issue of same-sex marriage (and its connection to the broader issue of "moral values") had an important impact on the outcome. I have always believed "that other issues, especially the war, had an effect in shoring up Bush's winning coalition." Still, "the anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives were promoted by GOP strategists to bolster one aspect of the winning Bush coalition"; without "the socially conservative vote," which supported those initiatives, Bush could never have won such states as Ohioindispensable to his national electoral victory.

One recent analysis of the Presidential election comes to a similar though much more informed statistical conclusion. Gregory B. Lewis, in the April 2005 issue of PS: Political Science & Politics, concludes that the "same-sex marriage" issue "mattered ... less than some issues but more than most. ... At the state level, even after controlling for Bush's vote share in 2000 and the general conservatism of the state population, popular disapproval of homosexuality influenced Bush's share of the 2004 vote and may have contributed to party switches by New Hampshire and New Mexico." Lewis admits that "[t]he vote was close in Ohio despite relatively high disapproval of homosexuality." But the question remains: "Would it have turned out differently without same-sex marriage on the agenda?"

That question will inspire many different answers. But I think the evidence strongly suggests that without the support of socially conservative Protestant and Catholic voters, who came out en masse to vote against same-sex marriage, Bush would have lost to Kerry.

In the same issue of PS, even those with a dissenting view (such as Hillygus and Shields) argue that the "values-based appeals," though not the only crucial issue, served to reinforce Bush's appeal among his supporters. As I have argued for months, this was part of the Rove strategy: without that support among Bush's core constituency, Bush does not win re-election.

Whatever one's views on this subject, I think the implications are becoming clearer with each passing week. Social conservatives believe that the Bush administration owes them. Of greater importance is the apparent belief of the administration that social conservatives are owed.

Cross-posted to L&P. See L&P comments here and here.

Comments welcome on Notablog as well.

April 25, 2005

Democracy and Saudi Arabia

I've had a lot to say about Saudi Arabia, and about the Bush administration's Adventures in Mideast Democracy.

Well, in Episode #2,345 of this Quixotic Political Saga, the Saudi royal family, which has been a trusted US "ally," "has been under pressure from Washington to engage in political reform at a time of social tension and a two-year campaign against the state by militants associated with al-Qaeda." Today, the news tells us:

Candidates on an alleged "golden list" backed by religious clerics have swept the final round of Saudi Arabia's first nationwide municipal elections. Islamist candidates won all the municipal council seats contested in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. They also fared well in northern towns as well as the comparatively liberal port of Jeddah, according to results released on Saturday. Women were barred from the polls, which were presented as a step towards more popular participation in public life.

Of course, the regime itself will pick "roughly half" of 1,200 councillors, which might "dilute" the power of Islamicists. Not that the Saudi regime is all that liberal by comparison. After all, this election news comes on the heels of another news story that the Saudis had detained 40 Pakistani Christians who were caught "attending a service in Riyadh" in a private home. The police also found (horrors!!) "Christian tapes and books." Since one cannot practice any religion other than Islam in Saudi Arabia, this is a crime, in case you were wondering.

I get exhausted pointing out the obvious. This is a regime that is allegedly a "friend" of the United States government. Let's put aside the prospects for democracy among "unfriendly" regimes. Of what use is procedural "democracy" when a "friendly" regime schools its citizens in a fanatical ideology of intolerance, when it marginalizes and criminalizes women, non-Muslims, and freedom itself? Of what use is "democracy" when the dominant culture would bring about a political condition that might make the current Saudi regime appear "moderate" by comparison?

Comments welcome, or readers may comment at L&P, where this has been cross-posted here.

Update: In addition to L&P comments on this post here and here, readers should check out Matthew Barganier's antiwar.com blog entry, "Saudi Democracy: A Little Realism, Please." Matthew makes some excellent points in that post. I agree that the US presence in Saudi Arabia might have made that country a tad less illiberal, and I also agree that the US-House of Sa'ud relationship has been a focal attack point for fanatical Islamic fundamentalists. In many respects, however, the US presence has been a model of neocorporatist intervention, a symbol of everything that is wrong with US foreign policy, as I point out here, for example.

April 20, 2005

Welcome to the New Pope!

My pals Timur (Technomagnet) and Aeon Skoble (at L&P) offer some thoughts on the new Pope, to which I offer comments. At L&P, I write:

Good points.
But as my pal Timur says, the new pope "package deals" the bout against relativism and the bout against egoism. He's quoted as saying: "We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism, which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value ones own ego and ones own desires." And the Pope's biographer observes: "Having seen fascism in action, Ratzinger today believes that the best antidote to political totalitarianism is ecclesiastical totalitarianism."
The conventional anti-egoism and the positing of any kind of totalitarianism as an antidote to relativism ... gets me nervous.
But nothing gets on my nerves more than this proclamation: that rock 'n' roll is "evil" and full of "diabolical and satanic messages." According to the NY DAILY NEWS: "[H]e singled out the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Queen, and the Eagles as especially evil."

Comments welcome, but readers should feel free to post to the other blogs as well.

Update: This post has been noted by Liberty & Culture and Blank Out Times too. Thanks!

April 18, 2005

Mandate for a Man Date

Last weekend, I read a perplexing piece in the New York Times about how straight guys seem to be so insecure when they go out to dinner or to a movie together. The piece, "The Man Date," written by Jennifer 8. Lee, was amusing only because it struck me as such a caricature. I had even thought about blogging on the topic, but just couldn't believe that American straight men were typically twisting themselves into pretzels just to share a bottle of wine over dinner. I mean: This is the 21st century. What gives?

Well, apparently, most of the readers of the "Sunday Styles" section ask the same question. Take a look at a series of interesting letters, starting here.

Comments welcome.

April 11, 2005

Musical "Purists" and "Impurities"

The discussion that began over Miklos Rozsa and Mario Lanza has led to further contributions from me: here, here, here, here, here, and here.

One of those posts is actually worth reproducing here at Notablog because it deals with important issues on the complexity of different genres of music (including jazz and film scores) and on the nature of artistic integrity. With the great violinist Itzhak Perlman and the New York Philharmonic performing a concert of "Music from the Movies" tomorrow at Lincoln Center, these subjects have a certain timeliness.

Comments welcome, but readers are encouraged to join the discussion at SOLO HQ.

Continue reading "Musical "Purists" and "Impurities"" »

April 09, 2005

The Apocalypse Will Be Broadcast

I've been writing about the rise of the religious right for quite a while now, most recently in connection with the re-election of George W. Bush. Starting with my essay, "Caught Up in the Rapture," I have argued that the political impact of the religious right is second only to its cultural and economic impact, which is growing significantly:

Continue reading "The Apocalypse Will Be Broadcast" »

Selling Freedom

I comment briefly at SOLO HQ on an article posted by Joseph C. Maurone, "Selling Freedom: The Choice of a New Generation?," which holds me up as "one of the premiere Objectivist proprietors..." I reproduce those comments below.

Comments welcome, but readers may wish to join the SOLO HQ discussion that begins here.

Continue reading "Selling Freedom" »

April 07, 2005

Mars, Venus, Earth

Robert Bidinotto's SOLO HQ essay, "Objectivism, Venus and Mars" has elicited quite a few comments. I posted a comment that makes reference to my own work on Ayn Rand, and the various reactions it has elicited among people with different "thinking styles." See here.

Comments welcome, but readers are encouraged to join the dialogue at SOLO HQ.

April 02, 2005

Pope John Paul II Dies

My condolences to those mourning the passing of Pope John Paul II. Whatever one's thoughts on organized religion, Catholicism, or the Pope's applications of Catholic doctrine, I think it can be said that this was a gentle man with guts, one who lent his support to such movements as Solidarity during an historical period that saw the collapse of Communism.

R.I.P.

Update: At SOLO HQ, I reflected on the Pope's passing, and in reply to Lindsay Perigo's own homily, "The Pope, Objectivism ... and 'The Best Within'." I reproduce those comments below for readers of Notablog. Also note SOLO HQ follow-up here, here, here, and here.

Comments welcome, though you might also wish to join the discussion at SOLO HQ.

Continue reading "Pope John Paul II Dies" »

April 01, 2005

April, May, June, July ... Fools

So much in the news on this April Fool's Day, 2005. For example, the "final verdict" on prewar "intelligence" has been issued. It is, of course, nothing of the sort. The "final verdict" won't be issued for years and years. But this particular verdict does make it appear that there were plenty of fools running America's "intelligence" community. American "homeland security" is gravely dependent on the quality of its intelligence. That should make all of us feel very safe.

And then, on the heels of the departure of NBC's Tom Brokaw and CBS's Dan Rather, another Long-Time Talking Head will be Leaving the Airwavesthis coming December: Ted Koppel, long-time host of ABC News' "Nightline." I've actually been a fan of "Nightline" for many years, if only because it does offer an opportunity for a more comprehensive look at the news of the day, with more in-depth interviews and coverage than that offered on the nightly news broadcasts.

I'm also a religious viewer of the Sunday morning news broadcasts, but I have found them infuriating for the last few years. I spend most Sunday mornings doing a most un-Godly thing: Cursing at the TV Screen. Not only because of what is being said, but because it's the same people saying the same things. Ted Koppel puts his finger on it. As the NY Times reports this morning:

Mr. Koppel said he had been concerned about what he saw as the uniformity of all the Sunday public affairs programsparticularly when a viewer can flip from one channel to the other and see people like the secretary of defense or secretary of state interviewed on each. "That seems to be the general understanding in Washington these days," Mr. Koppel said. "The administration sets the tone and theme and presents the same guests to all the programs at the same time. I don't think anyone is served by that."

Quite honestly, let me put it another way: ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

There.

That felt better.

[begin rant] Why don't they just call the Sunday morning news programs: The Condi Rice Show? Or The Don Rumsfeld Show? Or The John McCain Show? Or (up until recently) The Colin Powell Show? EVERY DAMN WEEK, the same people, over and over and over again. On every channel. Sometimes simultaneously. Taped broadcasts putting to rest the maxim that one can't be in two or three different places at the same time. Who needs a Pentagon Channel? [/end rant]

April Fool's Day? The Washington establishment makes fools of all of us, every day of the year.

Comments welcome.

Cross-posted to L&P.

March 10, 2005

Islam and Pluralism

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

Continue reading "Islam and Pluralism" »

March 04, 2005

Spider-Man and Jesus

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

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

Musings on "The West Wing"

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

Readers may comment at SOLO HQ.

March 02, 2005

From Ryan to Sipowicz

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

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

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

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

March 01, 2005

Changing Politics, Changing Culture

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

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

Continue reading "Changing Politics, Changing Culture" »

February 09, 2005

HomoRandian.com?

There has been a lot of discussion at L&P about a wide variety of subjects, and keeping up with it all is virtually impossible. I did note however that Bill Marina made the following comment in his Liberty and Power Group blog post, "Reflections on Homosexual Behaviors":

Continue reading "HomoRandian.com?" »

January 31, 2005

Reflecting on the Ayn Rand Centenary, Part II

At L&P, I post a new entry: "Reflecting on the Ayn Rand Centenary, Part II." Be sure to check out the referenced article, "Rand, Rock, and Radicalism," a Fall 2003 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies contribution that is published on my "Dialectics and Liberty" homepage today. A PDF version of the essay is available here.

Update: See follow-up discussion here.

January 29, 2005

Insides and Outsides

Arthur Silber posts a provocative essay, "Living on the Inside...and Living on the Outside." A summary of the essay appears at L&P, where I've left a brief comment on the issue of sympathy, empathy, and Ayn Rand.

January 26, 2005

Culture Matters

I offer some thoughts on Arthur Silber's L&P post, "Sorry to Disagree, But...," which focuses on the brouhaha over Harvard President Lawrence Summers' comments on men and women: "Culture Matters."

January 21, 2005

Sex Bomb

I post at L&P on a rejected military proposal to develop a "Sex Bomb" for use on enemy troops.

January 18, 2005

Building a Civil Society

I've posted a new L&P entry about a publishing venture bringing translations of classic Western political philosophy to Syria: "Building a Civil Society."

Update: See follow-up discussion here and here.

January 11, 2005

Reclaiming Libertarian Feminism's Radical Legacy

Roderick Long and Charles Johnson presented a provocative paper on the topic of libertarianism and feminism at a recent conference. Long has linked to that paper in his L&P post, "Reclaiming Libertarian Feminism's Radical Legacy," and I left a brief comment here. Also check out Robert Campbell's L&P post, with its scores of comments: "Are Andrea Dworkin's Instincts Anti-Authoritarian?"

December 21, 2004

SOLO Christmas

I left a brief comment at SOLO HQ, where Matthew Humphreys tells us "Why Objectivists Should Celebrate Christmas."

I also left SOLO HQ comments here and here on the subject of sensitivity and toleration. That discussion continues here.

December 13, 2004

L&P Rules!

Perhaps there is a promising shift in the political-culture wars when so many of the writers at the Liberty & Power Group Blog are editing some of the most important journals in the libertarian universe. Congratulations to Roderick Long for his appointment as new editor of The Journal of Libertarian Studies. I posted a comment too in reply to Aeon Skoble's observation that "L&P Rules!"

November 28, 2004

God Hates Fags... But Shepard's Killers Don't

At L&P, I reflect on a recent 20/20 report concerning the 1998 Laramie, Wyoming murder of young gay student Matthew Shepard: "God Hates Fags... But Shepard's Killers Don't."

Update: Check out follow-up discussion at L&P, focusing on Falwell and Ben Franklin!

November 24, 2004

Of Locusts, Lincoln, and the Lord

An L&P post on the debate over films and books in use at national parks: "Of Locusts, Lincoln, and the Lord."

SOLO HQ Election Postscript

I posted a few more comments on SOLO HQ in response to continuing threads on Election 2004. See here and here. I also post pre-Thanksgiving good wishes.

Incredible Update

Take a look at additional, follow-up commentary on "The Incredibles" by David Brown at the LFB.com blog ("The Incredible Dialectic"), and a very interesting essay on the animated flick by my colleague David Kelley.

November 23, 2004

Hurd on Same-Sex Marriage

Michael J. Hurd has written a piece critical of "The Institution of Marriage." I comment on it at L&P: "Hurd on Same-Sex Marriage."

Update: Check out follow-up comments here and an essay here.

Doubting Thomas Doubts Again

George Cordero, who once before wrote me an open letter, has written "Yet Another Open Letter to Chris Matthew Sciabarra." And I respond to it here, all on the subject of the influence of religion on Election 2004.

Update: I have some further thoughts at SOLO HQ that explain my obsessive focus on fundamentalism and neoconservatism as the motivating ideologies of the current administration. See here.

November 22, 2004

SOLO Discussions on Election 2004

A developing discussion, similar to the one that ensued at L&P some weeks ago, is now taking place at SOLO HQ on the topic of Election 2004, an outgrowth of my "I Told You So" article. On the growth of a socially conservative religious bloc of voters, I contribute additional thoughts here, here, and here.

November 20, 2004

Building an Incredible Revolution

Discussion of my "Rand the Incredible" post continues at L&P (see the various threads at that link) and also at the LFB site. I've also posted comments on David Beito's entry, "Fundamentalists Question the Rapture." See here, here, and here.

Today's new L&P essay extends this discussion of the relationship between cultural and political change: "Building an Incredible Revolution."

Update: Take a look at comments here.

November 18, 2004

Rand the Incredible

I write about "Rand the Incredible" in a post at L&P dealing with Randian ideas in a new animated flick, and in popular culture in general.

Update: Check out the comments here, here and here.

November 17, 2004

FCC U Soon

I wrote an L&P postscript to last week's "Saving Private Ryan" drama: "FCC U Soon."

November 14, 2004

More on the FCC and "Saving Private Ryan"

I posted a brief comment on SOLO HQ about how "Fear of Bush's FCC Trumps Veteran's Day Film."

Update: Follow-up discussion at SOLO HQ here and here. Also, thanks to Roderick Long for his enlightening post (and plug of Total Freedom) at Austro-Athenian Empire, "God and the State."

November 12, 2004

The Force of Morality

In light of yesterday's "Saving Private Ryan" controversy, I discuss the problems of trying to force people to be "decent" and "moral." See my L&P essay: "The Force of Morality."

Update: In response to comments from Aeon Skoble and Jason Pappas, I write on "Moral Choices and Actions." Among those citing the essay and the comments are AgnostoLibertarianTechnoGeek.

November 11, 2004

Is Something Wrong with This Picture?

I've posted an L&P entry on the apprehensiveness of some ABC affiliates to show "Saving Private Ryan" tonight, in honor of Veteran's Day: "Is Something Wrong with this Picture?"

November 10, 2004

Rednecks, Greenbacks, and Democracy

I posted two brief comments today at L&P. The first comment is in response to Roderick Long's essay, "Rednecks or Greenbacks?" The second comment is in response to Aeon Skoble's essay, "Quagmire Exit Strategy."

November 07, 2004

Post-Election Talk Heats Up

The discussion continues at L&P, as Sheldon Richman, Arthur Silber, Irfan Khawaja and others here, here, and here, comment on the 2004 Presidential election.

I've added another lengthy reflection in response to all these comments: "The Base Secure ... Now Check Its Premises."

Update: Comments on my L&P essay can be found here and here.

November 06, 2004

Clarifying the Bush Victory: Understanding a Multi-Pronged Threat

I have had many public and private responses to my various post-election essays (including quite a bit of dialogue here). No electoral victory can be reduced to a single causal factor. But to minimize the evangelical vote, as some commentators are doing in response to an early media frenzy focusing on the religious bloc, is just plain wrong. I address this issue in my newest L&P essay: "Clarifying the Bush Victory: Understanding a Multi-Pronged Threat." And take a look at follow-up comments as well.

November 05, 2004

Post-Election Post-Mortem

I have a lot more to say about the election at Liberty and Power Group Blog. In a new post, I exclaim: "A Pox on Both Their Houses." My concern here is that there is no fundamental opposition to either the religious right or to the activist state that both Democrats and Republicans favor. (See follow-up comments here.)

I also have comments in response to various threads inspired by my "Declaring War on Religious Zealotry" post. On the issue of "Moderate Republicans," see here and here. With "thoughts on fundamentalism," and the relationship between libertarianism and cultural issues, see here. And a little discussion over what Irfan Khawaja calls "Garry Wills's Abject Hypocrisy," begins here.

I also weigh-in briefly at Washington Monthly, where Amy Sullivan guests for Kevin Drum's Political Animal, telling people to "Slow Down There," with regards to their view of the religious right's impact. See my comments here.

November 04, 2004

Declaring War Against Zealotry

At L&P, I posted a new piece, reflecting on today's Garry Wills NY Times essay: "Declaring War Against Zealotry."

Update: Comments on my L&P post can be found here, here, here, and here, along with a response from moi.