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October 12, 2013

Happy Birthday to Walter Grinder!

I want to take this opportunity to wish my friend and colleague, Walter Grinder, all of the health and happiness he deserves on the occasion of his 75th birthday! One fine resource for understanding Walter's gifts is a birthday link at the Free Banking site.

Walter was an important mentor to me especially during my formative years, while he was associated with the Institute for Humane Studies. His personal advice and guidance, his compassion and his wisdom, were indispensable to me. From a theoretical perspective, his work with John Hagel III on libertarianism and class analysis especially had a huge impact on the formation of my own "dialectical libertarian" perspective. I will forever be indebted to him for key observations on the nature of the state and for his encyclopedic knowledge of sources guiding me in crucially important intellectual directions.

More importantly, through the years, Walter has shown huge personal compassion toward me, in my own life-long health battles, perhaps because he, himself, has had his own share of health issues. I cannot begin to express in words just how deeply I appreciate his gifts.

A long and healthy life to a wonderful human being, colleague, and friend.

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 14, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: 1995 vs. 2013: What's Different?

The 2013 second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical offers a vastly expanded content over its 1995 predecessor. I have written a "Preface to the Second Edition," which I will publish here tomorrow. And whereas the first edition closed with the Epilogue, the second edition adds three new appendices, expanded notes and references, and an expanded index as well.

Readers will recall that I did not have access to Rand's college transcript when I published Russian Radical and that I had to piece together a portrait of a very turbulent time in the history of what was then Petrograd State University (and later became Leningrad University, and then, returned to its original name: the University of St. Petersburg). Nevertheless, I stated explicitly that the evidence I had collected and the conclusions I reached included a dose of reasonable speculation and a nod to "best explanation."

But I knew more evidence existed out there, and I was relentless in my quest to locate Rand's actual college transcripts. Some of this quest involved dealings with the Ayn Rand Institute discussed here. Not to be deterred by what I believed were unreasonable demands made by ARI, I was able to network globally with a remarkably cooperative and generous group of scholars and archivists, who eventually led me to the first college transcript. My analysis of its contents appeared in the first issue (Fall 1999) of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. The article was entitled "The Rand Transcript". As the abstract to the article states:

This essay discusses the major historical significance of the discovery and investigation of Ayn Rand's transcript from the University of St. Petersburg. The document provides evidence of Rand's study with some of the finest Russian scholars of the period, and helps to resolve certain paradoxes concerning Rand's relationship to the philosopher, N. O. Lossky. It also contributes to our understanding of those methods and ideas that may have influenced Rand's intellectual development.

But further investigation was required; more information and more detailed transcripts existed. Researching her biography of Ayn Rand (which was later published in 2009 as Ayn Rand and the World She Made), Anne C. Heller, working with Blitz Information Services, offered to share all of the information she recovered on Rand's education in the Soviet Union. My work on those materials subsequently helped her to piece together a more complete documentation for her Rand biography. It was truly a refreshing moment in scholarly cooperation.

It was not until the Fall of 2005 that I was able to publish my findings of the most detailed transcript analysis to date. As indicated in the abstract to that essay, "The Rand Transcript, Revisited":

In an examination of recently recovered materials from Russian archival sources, Sciabarra expands on his earlier studies of Rand's secondary and university education in Silver Age Russia (see the Fall 1999 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies essay, "The Rand Transcript"). He uncovers new details that are consistent with his historical theses, first presented in the 1995 book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. He reexamines the case for a connection between Rand and N. O. Lossky, and proposes a possible parallel between Lossky and a character Rand called "Professor Leskov" in an early draft of the novel, We the Living.

It therefore gives me great pleasure to announce that "The Rand Transcript" and "The Rand Transcript, Revisited" are now Appendices I and II, respectively, in the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. This is where this research belonged; they complete the historical investigations of part one of the book in ways that could not have possibly been anticipated in 1995, when the book was first published.

Up to 2012, no scholar anywhere had fully taken on the task of criticizing the actual historical case that I made in the first edition of Russian Radical or in the subsequent essays in JARS. Then, in 2012, ARI-affiliated scholar Shoshana Milgram wrote an essay entitled "The Education of Kira Argounova and Leo Kovalensky," which now constitutes a new Chapter Four of the expanded second edition of Robert Mayhew’s edited collection, Essays on Ayn Rand’s "We the Living". For the first time, some aspects of my historical detective work are found "problematic" by a writer who is actually the newly 'designated' "authorized" biographer of Ayn Rand.

Appendix III, entitled "A Challenge to Russian Radical---and Ayn Rand," written especially for the second edition of Russian Radical is my reply to her criticisms. I won't spoil the reading experience, but I'll just say that Milgram essentially dismisses my contention of any connection between Rand and Lossky, by dismissing Rand's recollections of Lossky... recollections, mind you, that were communicated to Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden in biographical interviews in the early 1960s, and that were published in Barbara Branden's biographical essay (and the title of the 1962 book): "Who is Ayn Rand?" That essay was the only published biographical essay in Ayn Rand's lifetime and had her full sanction even after her 1968 break with the Brandens.

My response to Milgram, therefore, is not merely a defense of my historical thesis, but a defense of the integrity of Rand's memory of a traumatic period in her life.

The three appendices are not the only additional materials in the second edition. I was able to update some of the scholarship, do a few nips and tucks, and provide a whole new sub-section for Chapter 12 ("The Predatory State"), which expanded considerably on material already present in the first edition. That new subsection is called "The Welfare-Warfare State," and it reveals things about Rand's views of U.S. foreign policy that might astound both her conservative and liberal critics.

A full "Table of Contents" comparison of the two editions can be found here. Readers will be able to trace even the page differences between the first and second editions at that link.

August 13, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: The Cover Story

Yesterday, it was about The Cover. Today, it's The Cover Story.

It was around the second or third week of August 1995, that both Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical made their first appearance, providing the illusion that this author would be the kind of prolific writer who would be publishing two books a week for the rest of his career. (Okay, okay, I didn't do too badly... but still!)

From the very beginning, however, these two books were conceived as part of a trilogy, which would seek to reclaim dialectics ("the art of context-keeping") in the service of a radical libertarian politics. The scheme of that trilogy came about in the planning stages of my doctoral dissertation in political philosophy, theory, and methodology at New York University, where I earned my Ph.D. under the direction of Marxist scholar, Bertell Ollman. There have been few scholars on the left or the right who encouraged me in my work on libertarianism as much as this dear friend and colleague. "Toward a Radical Critique of Utopianism: Dialectics and Dualism in the Works of Friedrich Hayek and Karl Marx" was completed and successfully defended with distinction in 1988. Two parts of that dissertation---those focusing on Marx and Hayek---became the basis of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, which was readied and planned for publication in 1989-90 by Philosophia Verlag, a West German publishing house that met its extinction around the time that West Germany itself integrated with the East to become, simply, Germany. (One of the parts of the dissertation, which focused on the work of the great Murray Rothbard, was revised and expanded considerably, and was later incorporated as part of the culminating book of my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy": Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism.)

With the Marx-Hayek book put on hold temporarily, I decided to begin work on what was to become the second part of the trilogy. And so began the massive (and that's an understatement) historical and methodological research project that eventually became Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. The book had been rejected by many university presses, which dismissed Rand as a figure not worthy of "scholarly" attention, and by many trade presses, which dismissed a book about a "pop" novelist and "philosopher" as being too scholarly. It eventually found a home with Pennsylvania State University Press. Under the brilliant, caring guidance of its director Sanford ("Sandy") Thatcher, the book was eventually published and began the process of dragging academia and Rand's "non-academic" Objectivist philosophy "kicking and screaming" into engagement with one another.

After a truly successful run of seven paperback printings, the book became one of the all-time Penn State Press sales champs.

Then, in 2012, the new director of Penn State Press, Patrick Alexander, had an inspired idea to re-release the book in an expanded second edition. More on that below.

In the meanwhile, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia finally found its own home at an American university press (the State University of New York Press) as part of their series on the "Philosophy of the Social Sciences" (and it is now available as an e-book; the first chapter is on the SUNY site as a sample PDF here). The book was published officially on 31 August 1995. And though the official date of publication for Russian Radical is listed as 19 June 1995, take it from me: both books finally made their way from their respective warehouses to my house in the same week of August 1995.

It was an odd coincidence, indeed, to have two books come out simultaneously; indeed, the second book in the trilogy (Russian Radical) actually made it to my home a few days earlier than Marx-Hayek! But it only made the intensive research and writing of the trilogy's finale, Total Freedom (published officially on 2 November 2000), all the more intellectually urgent for me. I knew that the first two books would generate even more questions than could possibly be answered in either of them, and that it required a re-reading of the history of dialectics and a re-definition of it that would make sense in the context of the radical libertarian political project to which I'd been aligned.

In the nearly two decades since the publication of the first two books of my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy," other projects, of course, took up enormous chunks of my time and intellectual energy. In 1999, I co-edited with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand and became a founding co-editor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. I wrote a couple of monographs, scores of articles for books, journals, magazines, and encyclopedias, and was deeply involved in online discussion forums for a long time, until I decided that there were only so many hours in a day, and opted to focus exclusively on my own work done my own way. That included the development of my own blog (Notablog) and an even greater focus on expanding the breadth, depth, and quality of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS).

And so, when I was approached last year by Penn State Press director, Patrick Alexander, to begin a collaborative publishing project with the press, I jumped at the chance. After all, it would allow the editors of JARS to focus 100% of our energy on editorial functions and would give the press control over the business aspects of the journal (design, page proof preparation, additional copyediting, printing, subscription fulfillment, and mailing), which were absorbing endless hours of my time.

The first Penn State Press issue of the journal, Volume 13, Number 1 (July 2013) was just published (its actually fulfilled in an arrangement with Johns Hopkins University Press), and our year-end edition, scheduled for December 2013, will include nearly double the number of articles as the current one. I would say that we are now receiving a record level of submissions.

But Patrick had other ideas too; he thought it was about time to publish a second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. I had done intensive research into Rand's education after my 1995 book was published, and two articles documenting that work were actually published in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies ("The Rand Transcript," Fall 1999; "The Rand Transcript, Revisited" Fall 2005). I agreed with Patrick; I was (and remain) convinced that the new evidence that I'd investigated and published in support of my overall historical thesis---that Rand learned from, and was heavily exposed to the dialectical methods central to the cultural milieu of a particular place (Russia) and time (pre-and-post revolutionary)---needed to appear in a second edition, where it would get the kind of exposure it deserved.

So our plan was to include these two articles, plus a new "Preface to the Second Edition," which would enable me to situate the work in the larger universe of expanding Rand studies, and in the particular context of my own dialectical-libertarian project. Soon enough, however, we'd added a third appendix, enabling me to reply to a recent critic of my historical research into Rand's education (Shoshana Milgram, Rand's newest "authorized" biographer). [Note: When I accessed that page on 11 February 2013, the Ayn Rand Institute mentioned the "authorized biography of Ayn Rand by Shoshana Milgram" as "in preparation"; that has now been changed (accessed 8 January 2014): to "Biography of Ayn Rand by Shoshana Milgram (in preparation)." Note how the word "authorized" has now been dropped in the online description. See my post here, which discusses the change made to the site, and questions its timing.] Moreover, I was given the opportunity to tweak the book from cover to cover, updating some of the scholarship, and, along the way, adding a much-expanded section of Chapter 12 ("The Predatory State") dealing with Rand's radical critique of the welfare-warfare state, so relevant to a post-9/11 generation. The book was re-designed and re-keyed, the index was expanded, and before too long, an e-book will be in the offing [it is now available in a Kindle edition on amazon.com].

Tomorrow, in my next blog post on Russian Radical 2.0, I'll be discussing some of the specific differences between the first and second editions.

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

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, 2011

Song of the Day #962

Song of the Day: I Can't Wait, written and recorded by Nu Shooz, reached #1 on the Billboard dance chart in 1986. The wait is over, though, and 2011 is here. January 1 was dedicated by the ancient Romans to Janus, a god of gates, doors, beginnings, and endings, one who looks back in time to the old and forward to the new. How very dialectical! A very happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year to All! Get up and dance!

April 30, 2009

A Crisis of Political Economy (in The Freeman)

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

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.

June 25, 2007

Atlas Shrugged Companion Published

I have finally received my own copy of a new book edited by Edward W. Younkins entitled Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion, published by Ashgate. I understand the book is already going into a second printing. It includes contributions from writers such as Douglas B. Rasmussen, Fred Seddon, Lester H. Hunt, Tibor R. Machan, Roderick T. Long, Mimi Reisel Gladstein, Jeff Riggenbach, Kirsti Minsaas, Roger E. Bissell, Peter J. Boettke, Larry J. Sechrest, Steven Horwitz, Karen Michalson, Peter Saint-Andre, Susan Love Brown, Robert L. Campbell, Stephen Cox, Douglas J. Den Uyl, Walter Block, and, of course, Ed Younkins too. Oh, and I have a contribution in the book, published as Chapter 2, entitled "Atlas Shrugged: Manifesto for a New Radicalism," which expands upon dialectical themes I've explored in previous works, especially my reconstruction of Rand's social analysis as a "tri-level model."

New Atlas Shrugged Companion Published

I noticed that all of the contributors mentioned above have something in common... they have all been published in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies! And some of them are either editors or advisors to the journal. (The Spring 2007 issue will be out a little late; I will post its contents and the cover design on my blog before too long.)

In any event, I have not read the new Younkins anthology yet, but the range of topics, from the philosophical, political, and aesthetic to the literary, economic, and historical, is quite impressive. The book's appearance coincides with the 50th anniversary year of the publication of Rand's magnum opus.

Cross-posted at L&P.

March 26, 2007

Dialectics and Liberty (in German)

I recently heard from Matt Jenny who, with a few of his libertarian friends, runs a small German left-libertarian groupblog named paxx:blog, which includes a webzine, paxx:zine. The webzine has already published translations of articles by my Liberty & Power Group Blog colleagues, Roderick T. Long (a German translation of "Beyond the Boss: Protection from Business in a Free Nation") and Sheldon Richman (a German translation of "U.S. Hypocrisy on Iran").

This week I join Roderick and Sheldon with a German translation of "Dialectics and Liberty" (links to the English PDF), which appeared in the September 2005 issue of The Freeman. The German translation can be found here.

Cross-posted at L&P.

August 09, 2006

This and That

After a month on summer hiatus, Notablog returns.

I have no clue what shape the blog will take at this point. While I am truly inspired by those who have the time to blog daily, and to blog with substance on such a regular basis, I have found that due to my own very personal circumstances and to my own professional commitments and responsibilities, it is virtually impossible to keep up with regular blogging or to post daily on the significant developments in the world today. Suffice it to say, while Notablog returns, and while I will resume my "Song of the Day" feature this weekend (and don't be surprised if this becomes a "Song of the Week" feature in time), I am still working diligently on many projects that demand my attention.

I should note that the Summer of 2006, which is a little more than half over, has been a productive one thus far. Aside from enjoying the sun and the sea and the lighting of the Coney Island Parachute Jump (Brooklyn's Eiffel Tower), I've been hard at work. I've completed three entries for the International Encyclopedia of Political Science and another entry for the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (more information on these entries will follow in the coming months). In addition to continuing my editing of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, I've also completed a piece for the forthcoming Ed Younkins-edited anthology, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which will be published next year to mark the 50th anniversary of the novel's publication. My contribution is entitled: "Atlas Shrugged: Manifesto for a New Radicalism."

On the subject of Ayn Rand, I have written a brief essay for the September 2006 issue of Liberty magazine. It's part of a special feature entitled "Ten Great Books of Liberty." My entry focuses on Rand's novel, The Fountainhead.

While I've been on hiatus, it came to my attention that I was memed by Nick Manley. The meme has considerable overlap with a blog entry I wrote on those works that had a significant effect on my intellectual development.

Much of that development has been influenced by dialectics, the art of context-keeping. But dialectics has taken various forms tnroughout intellectual history, and the Marxian dialectic is, of course, one of them. A new film, entitled "Half Nelson," apparently delves into the subject. I may not see the movie until it reaches DVD status, but it looks like it might be entertaining.

Marxian dialectics has interested me for many years, going back to my dissertation and to the publication of my first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia. Author Kevin M. Brien has published a second edition of his fine work, Marx, Reason, and the Art of Freedom, which addresses criticisms I made of his first edition back in the Fall 1988 issue of Critical Review. I hope to discuss Brien's rejoinder in the coming weeks.

In the next few weeks, I will also publish an exclusive Notablog installment of my annual feature, "Remembering the World Trade Center." This year's installment is particularly important; it comes on the fifth anniversary of that awful tragedy and it marks the first time that I will take readers inside the WTC. My interview subject was on the 89th floor of the North Tower when the first plane struck. That he survived to tell this harrowing story is a blessing to those of us who will never forget September 11, 2001. This was the most difficult interview I have ever conducted, but I trust that readers will agree with me that it is among the most important contributions to my annual series.

So stay tuned to Notablog. The music starts up again this weekend, and will include a 12-day tribute to Tony Bennett (who turned 80 on August 3rd), the return of my annual tribute to TV themes, and a September spotlight on The Four Seasons (loved "Jersey Boys").

Comments are open. Welcome back.

April 18, 2006

Jason Dixon Interviews Me

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

Check it out:

An Interview Conducted by Jason Dixon

Comments welcome. Also noted at L&P.

January 26, 2006

I Get Letters ...

Michael ("Mick") Russell (who has left comments on Notablog before) wrote me a personal email the other day, and I asked him for permission to reproduce it, in partnot because he was so complimentary, but because I thought he raised an issue of general interest:

Dear Chris,
Thank you for your wonderful site. And for your respect. I am a former socialist, seeking a new and improved way to change the world, for the better, of course. I have recently read Ayn Rand's We The Living. It confirmed the obvious (now) for me: collectivism is morally bankrupt and utterly wrong. I now totally reject socialism. Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism fascinates me.
But I must confess to being intimidated by its study. Leonard Peikoff? David Kelley? The split with the Brandens? Of all the Objectivist, or Neo-Objectivist blogs, I find yours to be the freest and most respectful of dissent. And I loved Blondie. My condolences.
Does my past association with MarxismI was a member of the Young Socialist Alliance and The Socialist Workers Partypreclude me from any activity within the Objectivist movement? I am an Atheist; not only do I reject God, I don't believe Ayn Rand is God. She was a brilliant but fallible mind. Am I an apostate before I even join the movement? I try to engage but am usually rejected by various pro-Objectivist blogs. I guess I'm a libertarian. I just want to further my mind and advance the cause of freedom. Any suggestions? Mick

I'll include here my answer to Mick, with a few additions too.

My first suggestion is that you do not worry about joining any "movements"; virtually all organized movements have their pitfalls, and it's not my intention here to list those that have been manifested throughout the history of "Objectivism."

My second suggestion is that you spend time actually reading Ayn Rand's work. Instead of navigating through all the conflicts within the "movement," you should focus on the ideas, and then, once you've read and digested Rand's work, I strongly suggest moving on to works written by those who were influenced by her (Nathaniel Branden, Leonard Peikoff, David Kelley, etc.), followed by works in the secondary literature.

Of course, as part of that secondary literature, I'd be remiss if I didn't suggest that at some point you might actually want to read my own book on Rand: Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (as well as other Rand-related books and journals with which I've been involved).

Whatever his other criticisms of my book, the late Ronald Merrill once called Russian Radical, "Objectivism for Marxists." I don't agree with Merrill's reasoning behind that quipthat I packaged Rand's work in the "language" of the left to make it accessible to the academic community. In fact, it was my belief then, and it is my belief now, that the "language" of dialectics was usefully employed because it captured something important in Rand's work, while enabling me to challenge the left's monopoly on an eminently radical methodology. It was not a marketing decision; it was an intellectual and theoretical choice that I made based on my view that it was a correct identification.

But if you began on the left, my work may, in fact, be something that helps you to situate Rand in the broader context of radical thinking.

As a supplement to your reading on Rand, let me make a third suggestion: Don't narrow your focus to all things Rand. If you're genuinely interested in libertarianism, let me also recommend all the works that I list here, which certainly made a huge impact on my own development.

Finally, I have to cite two essays: the first, published on the Lew Rockwell site back in 2002, entitled "How I Became a Libertarian"; the second, entitled "Taking It Personally" (PDF version). Both mention my interactions with the Young Socialist Alliance when I was in high school. I was a bit more conservative back in those days, but here's the relevant paragraph from the latter essay that should make you chuckle:

I had been an outspoken political type in high school, involved in some rather contentious battles with the Young Socialists of America who had plastered the schools hallways with their obscene propaganda. I had begun writing for Gadfly, the social studies newspaper, and had taken to quoting Ronald Reagan on the perils of central planning. I knew that I "arrived" as a political commentator when I walked into a school bathroom one afternoon to find a copy of one of my anti-socialist articlessitting, rather wet, in the urinal. Though Id heard of "yellow journalism," the article seemed to have been saved from discoloration because it had already been printed on goldenrod mimeograph paper. A small victory, that.

In any event, I hope you enjoy your new reading adventures; please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions, and I hope you'll feel free to comment here as well.

Comments welcome.

January 05, 2006

International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology: Libertarianism

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

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

"Libertarianism"

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

January 04, 2006

International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology: Karl Marx

I just received my copy of the International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology from Routledge. Some time ago, I told the story of how I came to author two articles for that newly published reference work. The 2006 volume includes two essays authored by me: one on "Karl Marx," the other on "libertarianism."

Today, with permission from Routledge, I publish an HTML version of the essay on "Karl Marx." Given my comments today in this thread, I am happy that the essay on Marx highlights one of the most appealing aspects of his work: his use of dialectical method. Readers should point their browsers to the following link to take a look at the essay:

"Karl Marx"

Tomorrow, with permission from Routledge, I will publish my Encyclopedia article on libertarianism. Stay tuned!

Update: Speaking of dialectics, I should mention that Michael Stuart Kelly is running a site called "Objectivist Living," wherein he features a "Sciabarra Corner." He's also re-published some excerpts from an article I wrote on getting published. Readers might wish to check out the forum.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.

December 05, 2005

The Freeman: Dialectics and Liberty

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

"Dialectics and Liberty"

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

December 01, 2005

New Sites, New Sights

Readers of Notablog know that SOLO HQ recently closed its doors. Those who try to access SOLO HQ here will now be provided with links to the two new sites that have emerged from the previous incarnation: Rebirth of Reason (run by Joe Rowlands) and SOLO Passion (run by Lindsay Perigo).

I posted welcome messages to each organization here and here, and I was given additional links here and here, given my long association with the former website.

Readers who try to access previous Sciabarra articles can now view these essays with a slight change to the URL addresses. I have made those URL changes to all the web pages on my main site (but not on Notablog). It now appears that my former SOLO HQ essays and posts are available on both sites. I feel as if I've been cloned!

For example, my essay, "Ten Years After" used to be here:

http://solohq.com/Articles/Sciabarra/Ten_Years_After.shtml

It is now accessible here:

http://solohq.solopassion.com/Articles/Sciabarra/Ten_Years_After.shtml

and here:

http://rebirthofreason.com/Articles/Sciabarra/Ten_Years_After.shtml

So, enjoy yourself. Twice.

I'd like to take this opportunity, however, to make a few comments about my own posting activities, which, as some readers have observed, have been much more limited recently. Though I was still posting on a rare occasion at SOLO HQ, my last published article was, in fact, "Ten Years After" (posted on August 14, 2005, and noted above). I have posted very infrequently to that site, and I don't believe I will be posting much to either of the new sites.

I still post on occasion to Liberty and Power Group Blog and the Mises Economics Blog (when the subjects of my posts are relevant to those forums).

Nevertheless, readers need to know that I have scaled back my participation on virtually all cyber-forums due to ongoing constraints on my time and health (see here, for example). Since my surgical procedure in October, I have re-focused my energy on the things that matter most to me: my own work done my own way on my own time.

That's why Notablog is still my home. I will continue to post here as the spirit moves me on subjects as varied as music and foreign policy, and I will cross-post to other forums when I think it is relevant.

Some people have written to me privately and have wondered if the rancor on other forums has been a factor in my unwillingness to participate more regularly. I've never made a secret of the fact that I am not pleased with the level of rudeness and hostility that is often shown on cyber-forums of whatever intellectual orientation (see my comments on "The Rose Petal Assumption," for example).

I'm the last one to complain about vigorous and rigorous debate; as a defender of dialectical method"dialectic" is, after all, derived from "dialegesthai," the Greek word for "to discuss"I am the first person to praise the importance of critical engagement. And for years I've been critically engaging my interlocutors whenever and wherever I get the chance.

But, all too often, discussions in cyberspace have disintegrated into slimefests with open use of ad hominem as a substitute for reasoned discourse.

Suffice it to say: That won't happen here. That doesn't mean I don't have a sense of humor or a sense of proportion. But as Ralph Kramden once said: "I'm the King of the Castle" in my own home. I welcome comments here from individuals of any intellectual or political persuasion, and ask only that posters show me and their fellow interlocutors the respect that is required in any civil engagement. If people can't or won't be civil, they can take their cyber-business elsewhere.

It's true: Civility is not a primary virtue. But it is a requirement of participation at Notablog.

So, to all those who post to the new forums and the old ones: Best of luck. I'll see you when I see you.

Comments welcome.

November 27, 2005

More on the International Ayn Rand Award

As I mentioned here, I was the recipient of the first annual International Ayn Rand Award at this year's London conference of the Libertarian Alliance and the Libertarian International.

I suspect that a video version of my acceptance speech will be made available in the near future; for now, however, Dr. Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance has posted a Record of Proceedings, at which one will find a link to a low-resolution audio version of my acceptance speech. It is archived here.

I wish to thank Sean Gabb for his efforts and Dr. Chris Tame for his kind words of introduction in presenting the award to me. I also wish to thank William Thomas of The Objectivist Center, for having accepted the award in London on my behalf.

If the video becomes available as a podcast, I'll post the link to Notablog.

Update: I note that Arthur Silber recently reposted his own discussion of my work at his new blog. See his post: "In Praise of Contextual Libertarianism."

Comments welcome.

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.

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 09, 2005

Rand and the Ad Hominem Fallacy

One would think after several years in the development of modern Rand studies that Rand scholars would not have to continue dealing with the fallacy of ad hominem, which is a familiar tactic used by Rand critics to discredit Rand as a philosopher.

This is quite apart from any genuine, substantive criticisms of Rand's work, which are needed, and which Randians should engage.

Granted, because Rand ended her postscript to Atlas Shrugged with the comment "And I mean it," suggesting that her life itself was a testament to the philosophy and morality she extolled, she virtually invited discussion of how well or how poorly she reflected Objectivism. And as I have said in my review of James Valliant's book here, "we can learn things about a philosophy by examining the ways in which those who adhere to it, or who claim to adhere to it, behave. But we cant reduce a philosophy to a study of biography. Ideas have analytical integrity quite apart from the people who enunciate them. And this is coming from a writer who has enormous respect for the necessity of placing intellectual figures in both a personal and historical context so as to better appreciate the process by which such figures came to their conclusions."

Nonetheless, the "commingling" of biography and philosophy continues, especially in discussions of Rand's work. The most recent example of this comes from Commentary magazine, in which Algis Valiunas attempts to dissect "the work of the high priestess of reason," whose "centenary has gone uncelebrated."

Hogwash! As my own Centenary articles make clear, the Rand Centenary attracted quite a bit of coverage. As I wrote: "Every publication from Reason, The Free Radical, and The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies to the Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, and New York Times featured something of significance in its pages. There were sponsored parties and panel discussions from California to New York to the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C."

But disparaging the Centenary isn't Valiunas's purpose; it's disparaging Rand's person as a means to disparaging her ideas that is most obvious here:

In Rand's psychology, reason unfailingly determines emotion, never the other way around. But in her own erotic life Rand was at the mercy of a turbulent unreason that pulled her under even as she burbled on about her unimpeachable rationality. As she could only love an extraordinary man, she endowed the man she married, Frank O'Connor, with all the qualities of a hero, even of a god. In fact, in almost everyone's eyes but hers, O'Connor, a failure as a movie actor, was a raging mediocrity. At the age of forty-nine, Rand fell for yet another god, Nathaniel Branden, the husband of her biographer and himself a disciple younger than she by 25 years. She expounded the perfect reasonableness of their adultery to each of the injured spouses, whom she expected reasonably to accept their twice-weekly scheduled trysts in the bedroom she shared with her husband. After years of this, the Brandens' marriage collapsed and Rand's husband swirled down the alcoholic drain. When Rand was sixty-one and Branden thirty-six, the sexual fire went out for him and he found a younger lover. Rand nearly went insane in her jealousy. Maintaining that she was entirely reasonable and right, and Branden purely evil, she destroyed his professional reputation and banished him from the Randian kingdom where he had been until then the crown prince. Heroic reason, heroic freedom, heroic love ended, as they began, in folly.

As I mentioned in my critique of Valliant's book, I have devoted only a few paragraphs in toto, in all of my Rand scholarship, to the discussion of the Rand-Branden Affair. When the critics focus on this Affair and reify it as if it were a whole unto itself, one must begin to question precisely what this strategy seeks to accomplish. They wouldn't do this typically with Plato, Kant, or Hegel, would they?

As Rand once said: "Don't bother to examine a folly, ask yourself only what it accomplishes."

Of course, we live in a culture that encourages a focus on prurient interests; that's why tabloids sell so well. And it's fairly typical that discussions of Rand end up becoming discussions of Rand's life. In these instances, however, biography doesn't supplement a discussion of ideas; it often supplants that discussion entirely. Even the New York Times, which has reviewed many Rand works, has never actually reviewed any books about Rand, unless those books are of a biographical character. Reading the Times, one would not even know that there is a growing secondary literature, a veritable industry, of scholarship focused on Rand's ideas.

As I acknowledged in my review of Valliant's book, "[t]he particular charges concerning Rands sex life can be traced to claims made in the Branden books. That much is true." But these charges are almost always used by others as the veneer to cover up an essentially ideological opposition. Back to Valiunas:

What is one to make of it all? In Rand, soundness and charlatanry commingle. In the end, charlatanry prevails. Having learned the lessons of socialist dystopia on her own body, she embraces a utopian fantasy of her own ... In her passion to reshape the world in accordance with her idea, Rand begins to sound like the tyrants she hates. Her capitalist revolutionaries speak of their opponents as "subhuman creatures," "looting lice." Galt's radio address to the nationhe has commandeered the airwaves by some electronic magicis positively Castrolike in its mad zealotry, running to over 50 pages and unfolding every half-truth and alluring lunacy Rand ever entertained. ... But compassion disgusts Rand; John Galt scorns it as love of the unworthy, a triumph of sloppy feeling over lucid reason. This is no doubt why, for all her continued popularity, Rand is anything but a commanding figure these days. Very few conservatives want any part of her, for she is the conservative bogeyman that liberals invoke to terrify their children: money-worshipping, absorbed in the pursuit of her own happiness, indifferent to the pain of others. Though she will no doubt continue to sell-there are certain effects she brings off as well as anyone, and they haye their undeniable appealit is hardly a matter for regret that her centenary has gone largely unmarked.

Now, even if Valiunas is absolutely correct in every assertion (and these are assertions, since nowhere does Valiunas actually provide any argument), what "commingles" here is ad hominem and an essential hatred of Rand's intellectual body of work.

If only more mainstream critics would focus on that body ... instead of, literally, Rand's body, or Branden's body, the state of Rand criticism and critical engagement would advance considerably. I know we are working very hard at The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies to advance that critical engagement (information about our new Fall 2005 issue will be posted here at Notablog on Tuesday, September 13, 2005). But more work needs to be done.

In any event, even if one wishes to focus on Rand biography, or on the particular issues surrounding the Rand-Branden Affair, then it is incumbent upon the critic to focus on all the material now available. Whatever one thinks about the Valliant book, I do believe that the publication of Rand's private journals changes the landscape considerably in any discussion of this particular aspect of Rand's biography. If Valiunas wishes to indict Rand's philosophy by assassinating her character, then it's important for Valiunas to at least weigh the evidence that is now available to scholars on this subject, for better or for worse. And though I have been intensely critical of how Rand's private papers have been edited up till now (see here, here, and here), I stand by my expressed belief that there is no reason to doubt the quality of Valliant's editing of those papers in his book. One may quibble with Valliant's parenthetical interpretive remarks. And one may still long for the unedited publication of all of Rand's private papers. But, in his publication of Rand's notes, Valliant is very careful to place any changes or substitutions in [brackets], unlike previous editors of Rand's letters, journals, and lectures. Such editors do not realize that their attempts to smooth out some of Rand's previously unpublished materials lead those of us who have not seen these materials to question their full authenticity.

Quite clearly, Valliant's book and my review of it are not the last words on this subject. Nor was my review or the lengthy dialogue on Notablog the last word on his book. In describing what is the essence of the "hermeneutical" enterprise, I state in my review:

The publication of [Rand's private] journals, however, will have unintended consequences; any published text is liable to generate such consequences, since it will be read and interpreted by many different people, each of whom brings a given context of knowledge and experience to the reading. And whereas people have been reading the Branden books and analyzing them for years, I suspect that even clinical psychologists will now have a field day poring over Rand's personal journals.

And so... the dissection of Rand's private life is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

In fact, Rand's private life has now been made the subject of a comic book! Writer Fred Van Lente and artist Ryan Dunlavey have just published this past June the newest installment of their "Action Philosophers" series. This one is an "All-Sex Special" that focuses on "the shocking contradiction of Thomas Jefferson," the "Hard-Drinkin', Hard-Lovin' Saint Augustine," and "Ayn Rand's Non-Objectivist Love Affair." Oy.

The cover design for Issue #2 of this series only hints at the contents. The comic tells the story of Rand's life from her beginnings in Russia. In the context of a comic book, it accurately renders Rand's thinking, but the last two pages of it tell the story of the Affair. And on that note, Van Lente concludes: "Rand liked to say that modern culture 'seemed totally indifferent to my ideas and to ideas in general.' She made sure that that would be a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Van Lente provides us with a "Recommended Reading" list at the end, which includes The Virtue of Selfishness. Though he "find[s] Rand's novels turgid and dated (the plot of Atlas Shrugged hinges upon the centrality of passenger railroads to the American economy, for example)," he believes "she is perhaps the most entertaining writer of philosophy since Nietzsche (whom she rejects as a non-rational pseudo-hedonist)."

The Rand-Branden Affair is not going away. And the rancor and divisiveness it provokes won't dissipate, I suspect, for a few generations. All the more reason for Rand scholars to insist that critics adopt a scrupulous focus on ideas in their engagement with Rand's philosophy. And if their subject is Rand biography, then they should do their best to assess all the information now at our disposal.

To reiterate: There is a place for biography and there is always a place for situating ideas in a larger historical context. But I don't think it serves the cause of Marxist criticism, for example, to criticize Marx's private life as a means toward criticizing his analytical framework. This tactic has been adopted by some critics of Marx (Gary North's essay, "The Marx Nobody Knows," published in the Yuri N. Maltsev volume, Requiem for Marx, and available as an mp3, comes to mind).

That kind of thing may be of interest to our understanding of the development of an idea. But it serves no purpose in grappling with the complexity of Marx's legacy.

If, in the future, Rand's legacy is treated with the same critical respect that has been given Marx's, it will be no small achievement.

Comments welcome.

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 22, 2005

Dualism: A Difference With Distinction

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

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

Billy takes it one step further with these comments here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

... and so on ...

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

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

... and so on ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These rigid distinctions create problems for individuals living in today's world. R. W. Bradford conceptualizes the difficulty, in a discussion of the Randian argument that those who receive benefits from government or who take public jobs are "morally justified" only if they regard these as "restitution," while those who advocate for such benefits "have no right to them." As the public sector crowds out the private sector, it is self-defeating for libertarians to become martyrs, while ceding to the profiteers of statism all the alleged benefits of the system. Rands only warning to prospective public sector employees is that they ought not to take jobs that bolster statism ideologically or that require the enforcement of "improper" laws, i.e., laws that violate individual rights per se. Like Rand, Rothbard argues that in a state-run world one should "work and agitate in behalf of liberty," "refuse to add to [the world's] statism," and "refuse absolutely to participate in State activities that are immoral and criminal per se." When one realizes that, for Rothbard, the very existence of the state is criminal, one begins to grasp the significant problems. For as Bradford observes, it is often difficult to evaluate the propriety of jobs or benefitspublic or privateunder statism. Recalling the Ruby Ridge conflict, he reasons: "Sure, its easy to see that, say, the FBI murder of Vicki Weaver while she held her baby in her arms in the doorway of her home is an 'improper' function of government." But he wonders:
. . . what about the secretary who helps the FBI agent, who killed Mrs. Weaver, with his paperwork? Is his job also improper? What about the cook in the FBI cafeteria? Is his? And what about the person who hauls the trash from the FBI headquarters? Does it make a difference if the trash hauler or the cook work for a private firm that contracts with the FBI? I suspect that Rand, and most libertarians, would reply that these tasks are peripheral to the murder of Mrs. Weaver, and that the person who prepared the FBI agents lunch is not acting improperly. . . . But this doesnt really answer the question of where exactly the boundary between proper and improper action lies.
Bradford emphasizes that, while the inner contradictions and crimes perpetuated by statism are omnipresent, our evaluation of moral action in that context requires a precise understanding of the particular conditions within which a given person acts. One can only determine the propriety of an action by factoring into one's evaluation such important issues as people's knowledge of the situation, their causal distance from the crime committed, the enormity of the crime, and the mitigating circumstances. Without taking these important qualifications into account, libertarians might gain "credibility" for adhering strictly to their own principles. But such adherence translates into a rationalistic application of dogma that comes "at the price of human suffering."

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

Comments welcome.

August 18, 2005

My Interview at Sunni's Salon

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

The 8-page interview starts here.

Comments welcome.

Ten Years After, Take 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More from my SOLO HQ post:

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

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

Comments welcome. Also mentioned at L&P.

August 17, 2005

An Interview, Conducted by Sebastien Care

This is a Notablog Exclusive.

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

An Interview, Conducted by Sebastien Care

Comments welcome.

August 14, 2005

Ten Years After

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

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

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

"Ten Years After"

Discussion is archived here.

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

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

July 28, 2005

Whetting a "Russian Radical" Appetite

The thread at SOLO HQ on the James Valliant book is now over 200 posts! While I decided to move on from the discussion, a number of points were made by a SOLO HQ participant dealing with my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. I intend to post a number of articles on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of that book in mid-August. My reply to the SOLO HQ participant is posted here. I reproduce much of it here for the benefit of Notablog readers:

My recent Free Radical essay marking the tenth anniversary of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, will be published ... on SOLO HQ in mid-August. ...

James Lennox and Allan Gotthelf agree on many things; they have known each other for many years and they co-edited a book on Aristotle's biology. I respect their work in that area and have cited both of them in my own work. And David Kelley is also a fine philosopher, and I have cited his work too.

That doesn't mean I always agree with Lennox, Gotthelf, and Kelleyfar from it; nor does it mean that Kelley agreed with Lennox's review of my book simply because he published that review in the IOS Journal. In fact, Kelley went out of his way to sponsor a live IOS discussion of Russian Radical before it was published, and he also published a Roundtable discussion of my book after he published Lennox's review. He also made a number of very positive comments about Russian Radical at the time.

Understand, however, that if we are to judge the validity of an argument by the number of scholars who object to it, then Ayn Rand's work itself would be among the most harshly judged philosophies on earth.

As for other colleagues and professionals who engaged my work, take a look at my website and the various relevant reviews posted here and here. Those links include a full index of all the reviews of my work, some quite positive (see, for example, philosopher Lester Hunt's discussion). Also take a look at the endorsements of my book by such philosophers as Tibor Machan, John Hospers, George Walsh, and Douglas Rasmussen.

But this is not about name-dropping. It's about a fundamental divergence between Lennox and me on a number of issues, including the very meaning of dialectics. To a certain extent, I am to blame for some of the problems that emerged in the aftermath of the publication of Russian Radical, but it was unavoidable. The book was part two of a trilogy of books that aimed to reconstruct and reclaim dialectical method for a (small-l) libertarian social theory. So, the full reconstruction of the history and meaning of dialectics was not published until the final (third) book in my trilogy, Total Freedom. I couldn't reinvent the wheel in one, two, or three booksbut I sure couldn't include my whole take on dialectics in a book about Rand, even if such a discussion would have clarified the points for many readers.

In fact, I have heard from many readers through the years who have said, upon reading part one of Total Freedom (TF): "Oh! Now I know what the hell you're talking about!" And, in fact, when I teach my trilogy, I actually begin with part one of TF before getting to Marx-Hayek and the Rand volume.

Aside from that, all of the historical speculations that I made about Rand's formative influences were based on inconclusive evidenceas I acknowledged. But I was building an historical narrative, and each step of the narrative depended on the presumptions before it. The initial speculations I made concerning what Ayn Rand was actually taught at Petrograd State University have now been bolstered by evidence that is as conclusive as it's going to get. The additional Russian archival material that I uncovered over the past 10 years has, in the words of William Thomas, lent "far greater warrant to [my] historical hypothesis .... successfully exploit[ing a] line of research [that] bolsters [my] key claim of a link between Russian philosopher N. O. Lossky, his followers, and the young Rand."

Comments welcome, but as I say at SOLO HQ: "Let that whet your appetite, and just shelve this discussion until mid-August. As long as we can chat with civility, I'm open to any and all points of contention."

July 20, 2005

Reason, Passion, and History

Today, a Notablog exclusive is published: My comprehensive review essay dealing with James S. Valliant's book, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics: The Case Against the Brandens (Dallas: Durban House, 2005):

Reason, Passion, and History

Comments welcome.

June 03, 2005

History Matters

Rather than clutter up previous Notablog posts (here, here, and here) with endless updates, I'm republishing today's SOLO HQ comments (from here) as a separate entry.

This has been an interesting discussion for me, because I'm in the midst of writing quite a few articles on the occasion of the tenth anniversary not only of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, but of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia as well. Both books were published in August 1995, and revisiting these themes, which touch upon important issues in historiography, has been refreshing for me. The anniversary material will extend into the Spring of 2006, when I publish in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies an article revisiting the issue of Rand's college transcript based on ongoing archival research (which I have not yet completed).

Read on...

Continue reading "History Matters" »

June 01, 2005

Context Matters

The discussion of Rand's intellectual beginnings continues at SOLO HQ (previous comments are here and here). In response to various comments by Rick Giles, I reproduce my post below. Its theme: Context matters.

Continue reading "Context Matters" »

May 31, 2005

More on Rand's Development

The discussion on Ayn Rand's intellectual development continues at SOLO HQ. Today I posted additional comments here and reproduce them below.

Continue reading "More on Rand's Development" »

May 30, 2005

How Did Ayn Rand Become Ayn Rand?

At SOLO HQ, Phil Coates has raised a few issues about Ayn Rand's intellectual development. I replied to some of his questions here and here, and reproduce my comments here:

Continue reading "How Did Ayn Rand Become Ayn Rand?" »

May 06, 2005

Turning a New Leaf on an Old Discussion

Over at SOLO HQ, somebody resurrected a year-old thread entitled, "ARIans Strike Again: SOLOists Count Your Blessings." I made a follow-up comment on that thread, which is worth repeating here.

Comments welcome, but readers might wish to join the conversation at SOLO HQ.

Continue reading "Turning a New Leaf on an Old Discussion" »

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 17, 2005

The Dialectics of Baseball

Some people, who admit to their own obsessions, have noted my obsession with baseball, and have wondered when I'm going to explain the sport's "dialectical significance," along with its "singular place in the fabric of liberty and of our nations cultural life."

Well. With the Baltimore Orioles sweeping my last place New York Yankees in a three-game set, I'm not feeling very baseball-friendly right now. Ah, the season is early... though I think owner George Steinbrenner has probably just set a record for the earliest moment in the season to express his disgust with his multimillion dollar ball club.

So. The only dialectical insight I have right now is that there is an internal relationship between Steinbrenner's disgust and the Yankee losing record, and that winning is the yin to the losing of yang.

We'll get 'em tomorrow.

Comments welcome. But Yankee haters... BEWARE.

This post is noted at Not PC too (with a suitably triadic title: Baseball v. Rugby v. AFL).

April 09, 2005

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" »

March 25, 2005

The Costs of War, Part II

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

Comments welcome.

Continue reading "The Costs of War, Part II" »

February 05, 2005

"Capitalism" and Other Isms

I'm delighted to see so much discussion over the issues raised in my last post, "'Capitalism': The Known Reality." I'd like to advance the discussion a bit, and to respond to some of the discussants as well.

Continue reading ""Capitalism" and Other Isms" »

February 04, 2005

"Capitalism": The Known Reality

Reaching out to the Left has been the source of much good discussion at the Liberty and Power Group Blog. So I'd like to pick up on that thread, yet again.

Continue reading ""Capitalism": The Known Reality" »

February 03, 2005

A New Look

I'm honestly not sure I like it... but a few people have remarked that the old "Stormy" stylesheet for "Not a Blog" has been a little hard on the eyes... white writing on dark background. I've been doing white-on-dark for the "Not a Blog" archives since they began.

But I'm open to change.

I've now done an inversion. How utterly dialectical! Everything that was dark is now light, and vice versa, and yin and yang, and so forth. It may change again... but this "Georgia Blue" stylesheet should be easier on the eyes.

Over time, I may be spending a bit more time on my own site. I'll be doing cross-posting, for sure. Indeed, I find myself among fellow travelers on a variety of sites, and I agree with some people on many significant issues. But it seems to me that there are no group sites that fully represent my dialectical-libertarian perspective. It's a perspective that has evolved over nearly two decades of work. So, a dose of cyber-individualism seems to be in order.

I don't know what this will mean in the long run, in terms of blogging activity, as I have quite a few projects on which I am currently working. But I do know this: There's no place like your own home. And this is my cyber-home, after all. It has emerged from a website that has been around for over ten years.

I am still resistant to opening up this home to "Comments." That may change if I find myself blogging here more regularly. For now, given my posting at other sites that are open to comments, I'm not wanting to field comments on simultaneous sites. There are only so many hours in a day. But if conditions change, and "Not a Blog" becomes ever-more blog-like... my attitude toward comments on this site might very well change. Indeed, since this post is not cross-posted anywhere, I'll open it to comments. Your feedback is welcome.

The New Look may, in fact, be a sign of a New Direction.

January 27, 2005

Rand the Dialectical

I left a comment on William Marina's post, "New Biography of Ayn Rand," that highlights Rand's dialectical dexterity as a thinker.