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September 11, 2014

WTC Remembrance: A Museum for the Ages - A Pictorial

My annual series, "Remembering the World Trade Center," turns this year to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, the latter of which had not yet opened when I visited the site in 2012. It is an extraordinary experience in contrasts: ranging from sensitivity to loved ones to the barbaric savagery that snuffed out the lives of nearly 3000 people.

I invite readers to take a look at that pictorial; it can be found here.

Here is an index for those who would like easy access to the previous entries in this annual series:

2001: As It Happened . . .

2002: New York, New York

2003: Remembering the World Trade Center: A Tribute

2004: My Friend Ray

2005: Patrick Burke, Educator

2006: Cousin Scott

2007: Charlie: To Build and Rebuild

2008: Eddie Mecner, Firefighter

2009: Lenny: Losses and Loves

2010: Tim Drinan, Student

2011: Ten Years Later

2012: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

2013: My Friend Matthew: A 9/11 Baby of a Different Stripe

2014: A Museum for the Ages: A Pictorial.

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 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

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.

September 11, 2008

A Judge Who Bore Witness

Father Mychal F. Judge is officially listed as Victim 0001 of the attacks of September 11, 2001. Judge was a Roman Catholic Franciscan priest who, in 1992, was appointed Chaplain of the Fire Department of New York. On that terrible morning in 2001, Judge arrived on the scene, comforting those who were working heroically in the rescue efforts. He administered last rites to many of the victims. But when the South Tower collapsed, and the debris filled the lobby of the North Tower, Judge became one of those victims.

Many remember that photo of the departed Father Judge, whose body was recovered from the Pit. A lifeless pose that resembled a modern American Pieta.

On Tuesday, I posted the newest installment of my annual series, "Remembering the World Trade Center," a portrait of firefighter Eddie Mecner. Today, I'd like to remember the efforts of Father Judge.

Last week, the New York Daily News published an excerpt from a new book about Father Judge, written by News correspondent Michael Daly. The book is entitled The Book of Mychal: The Surprising Life and Heroic Death of Father Mychal Judge. Daly reminds us that, before his death, Judge bore witness to some of the most horrific images in our city's history. Daly writes:

He and the firefighters around him were witnessing an elemental law of nature by which a falling object accelerates at 32 feet per second minus the particular air resistance, be the object a lead weight dropped by Galileo from the Tower of Pisa or a human being leaping from the upper floors of One World Trade Center.
Male or female, young or old, healthy or ill, urban or suburban, black or white or Hispanic or Asian, married or single, parent or childless, straight or gay, rich or poor, generous or miserly, kind or cruel, fierce or meek, virtuous or sinful, dreamy or practical, toned or flabby, Christian or Jew or Muslim or Hindu, all fell at the same ever increasing rate. The only variations were density and surface area. Mundane business papers wafted gently down, but even the most decent person was soon plummeting at nearly 150 miles per hour.
Those who leapt from the topmost floors of the North Tower fell for as long as nine seconds. The people on the floors closest to where the plane actually hit had maybe seven seconds, still time to think of loved ones and pray to their particular notion of the Almighty. A Roman Catholic, for example, would have been able to say a Hail Mary, but not an entire Act of Contrition.
Everybody had time to utter "Oh, God!" or "God, no!" or some another plea even nonbelievers cry at the onrush of death. All likely remained as keenly conscious as skydivers.
Some jumped together, holding hands. Most leapt one at a time, often tumbling as they fell. At least one man stayed feet first, his red and blue tie streaming above him. But most were on their backs as they reached the lower floors, facing the heavens if not necessarily heaven. Their last sight was of the perfect baby blue sky as they struck the pavement with a velocity that instantly turned a living person into a bright red splatter. The sound was jarring, loud, a body becoming a bomb.

As has been observed before, it is hard to fathom the awful conditions faced by those in the Towers, such that jumping was the better alternative.

There is so much politics that surrounds this date: The politics of the Middle East. The politics of US foreign policy. The context that these colliding forces provided as the backdrop for the events that were to transpire. And the tragic human consequences that have followed in its wake. Notablog readers know well my own views on many of these issues.

For those of us who lost friends and neighbors on this horrific date, however, there will always be the act of remembrance. It is a defiant act insofar as it compels us to comprehend causes and consequences. But it is also an act of honor toward Father Judge, and those like him, who went to their deaths seven years ago on this date.

February 19, 2008

JARS Call for Papers: Ayn Rand and War

The new issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has been published (see here). It marks the beginning of our ninth year.

This means, of course, that next year, JARS will be celebrating its Tenth Anniversary. As part of our Tenth Anniversary year, we are already scheduled to publish a major symposium on "Ayn Rand and Friedrich Nietzsche."

We are also issuing another Call for Papers on the topic of "Ayn Rand, Objectivism, and War." The deadline for proposals is July 1, 2008; the deadline for papers is October 15, 2008.

We are interested in papers that cover any aspect of this very broad topic: Rand's view of war; defenses or critiques of Rand-influenced views of "just war," the current war or past wars, terrorism, "collateral damage," torture, the relationship between domestic and foreign policy, etc.

We are less interested in discussions of "current events"—except insofar as they illustrate broader principles. Remember that we are a semi-annual and that the state of "current events" will change considerably before these essays are brought to print.

Submissions should adhere to our style guidelines; proposals should be submitted via email to me: chris DOT sciabarra AT nyu DOT edu

Cross-posted at L&P.

November 01, 2006

Mid-Term Elections, 2006

I've received a bit of email from people who were wondering why it is I have not commented on the upcoming mid-term elections. "Sciabarra, you're a political scientist, for Chrissake! What do you think?"

Well, let's leave aside the question of how much science goes into politics: It's always nice to know that some people find value in what I say. But with all due respect: There's not a dime's worth of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. I have not changed my views of this two-party, two-pronged attack on individual freedom by one iota: A Pox on Both Their Houses! In truth, however, the modern Democratic Party has always been honest about its Big Government agenda. But the "small-government" GOP has long embraced the politics of Big Government. As the majority party, they are a total, unmitigated disaster for individual liberty, whether they are religious rightists or so-called "progressive conservatives"—who are actually much truer to the GOP's 19th-century interventionist roots than so-called "Goldwater" or "Reagan" Republicans (those who embraced the rhetoric of limited government, while still paving the way for a growth in the scope of government intervention). You have to chuckle when even Hillary Clinton sees the hypocrisy: "The people who promised less government," she said, "have instead given us the largest and least competent government we have ever had."

Still, I must admit that my political perversity would like very much to see the Bush administration get a royal slap across the face, such that the Democrats take the House of Representatives and, at the very least, close the gap in the GOP-controlled Senate. This is purely a strategic desire: Party divisions can have utility in frustrating the power-lust on both ends. In any event, I think it's probably true that the GOP will suffer a setback, and I have been saying so for over a year.

Please understand, however: THIS WILL DO NOTHING TO CHANGE THE CURRENT DOMESTIC OR FOREIGN POLICY DISASTERS. I don't mean to shout, but with regard to foreign policy alone: The Democrats handed this administration the current foreign policy debacle on a silver platter. They will not challenge one inch of the Bush administration's Iraq policy or its ideological rationalizations for that policy: that "democracy" can be imposed on societies that have little or no appreciation of the complex cultural roots of human freedom.

Either way, I'll be watching the results of politics-as-bloodsport on Tuesday, November 7th.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted at L&P.

April 18, 2006

Jason Dixon Interviews Me

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

Check it out:

An Interview Conducted by Jason Dixon

Comments welcome. Also noted at L&P.

March 22, 2006

Iraq: A Perception Problem?

Today, ABC's "Good Morning America" reported on the Bush administration's claim that "negative" stories on the war in Iraq are playing right into the hands of the "enemy," and that the press is to blame for the sagging public support of the war. Bush's declining poll numbers are the result of negative publicity.

Such sagging public support, of course, has nothing to do with any erosion of the public's faith in the administration's competence, eh? Or the fact that Iraq is steeped in sectarian conflict, careening toward civil war? Nah. Nothing to do with those things.

On one level, of course, Bush is absolutely right: The press tends to focus on car bombs and murders and kidnappings as news. Well. DUH. Pick up any newspaper and the story is the same locally. Watch any local news broadcast and the story is the same there too. The news often reads or sounds like a police blotter. That has been the tendency in local news for as long as I've been alive. Why on earth would this tendency be different on a national or global level? Crime is news in this culture, and whether the criminals are local thugs or foreign ones, the play's the same.

But there is no direct correlation between news coverage and public perception, unless one believes that people are sheeple. Interestingly, even though NYC newspapers and newscasts focus on local crime all the time, it has not altered the public perception that crime is down in the Big Apple, as part of a long-term trend. And there is a good reason for this public perception: Crime is down. In reality. There were over 2,600 people murdered in NYC in 1990; that number dropped to under 600 by 2004. Whatever the continuing negative focus of the press, the reality of life in this city has inspired people's positive perceptions.

Perhaps the Bush administration needs its own reality check. The downturn in public opinion on the Iraq war is not simply the result of press brainwashing. The public perception has changed because things in reality are not going as well in Iraq as the administration claims.

I guess the administration is just frustrated with the "reality-based community." And here they thought that they created their own reality.

What is the administration's alternative? Planting positive stories in the press? Paying off journalists who ask sympathetic questions? Or maybe the press should simply be "embedded" into an official Ministry of Propaganda.

Sigh.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.

March 17, 2006

Chuck Hagel vs. Neocon Numbskulls

Readers of Notablog know that I've been hard at work on the Spring 2006 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. I anticipate completing the current issue sometime in April, and sending it off to the printer sometime thereafter. I should be returning at that point to more regular blogging beyond my "Song of the Day" feature.

In truth, however, I've been utterly uninterested in blogging about current events. What on earth could I possibly say about, say, U.S. foreign policy, that I have not already said time and time again? I am so utterly and completely disgusted by the state of American politics in general and the state of American foreign policy in particular. I don't know what I could possibly say now that I have not already said a thousand or so times over the past 4 or 5 years. For example, I warned about the dangers of sectarian violence in Iraq long before the US invaded that country. I have also gone on and on and on about the geopolitical farce of imposing "democracy" on countries that have no history of democratic institutions.

So, in lieu of saying anything new, I thought I'd cite a point made by GOP Senator Chuck Hagel. Take it away, Chuck:

You cannot in my opinion just impose a democratic form of government on a country with no history and no culture and no tradition of democracy.

Yeah. How 'bout that? Now, try explaining that elementary principle to the neocon numbskulls still inhabiting the Bush administration like Dino DNA in Jurassic amber.

I'll have more to say about all this and more when this JARS editing is done. For now, let me just say on this very narrow point: "Bravo, Senator Hagel!"

Comments welcome. Cross-posted at L&P.

February 02, 2006

Ayn Rand: Centenary Plus One

Having written quite a bit in celebration of the Ayn Rand Centenary last year, there is not much I can add this year, except to note a few very provocative posts on Rand published by my colleagues, Roderick Long and Sheldon Richman. At L&P, Roderick writes of "Ayn Rand's Left-Libertarian Legacy," and at "Free Association," Sheldon discusses Rand here and here. Both cite my own article on Rand's radicalism as applied to the realm of foreign policy: "Understanding the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy" (PDF version).

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the points therein made, I think it is terrific that more and more people are grappling critically with Rand's legacy, and practicing that Spanish proverb that Rand and her associates uttered on more than one occasion: "Take what you want, and pay for it"... that is, in this context, acknowledge what you've learned from Rand, and take responsibility for your own integrations and conclusions.

It's one of the chief means by which ideas filter throughout an intellectual culture.

Happy Birthday, Ayn Rand!

Comments welcome.

January 26, 2006

Not-a-Blog-ing

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

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

And so on, and so on ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments welcome.

January 05, 2006

David Mayer's Annual Report on "Prospects for Liberty"

Readers should check out historian David Mayer's whirlwind annual survey of the "Prospects for Liberty." Mayer examines everything from the "welfare-state mindset" and "the disappointing Bush presidency" to the threats posed by various stripes of fundamentalists (Islamic, Christian, "radical environmentalist," etc.). He also focuses some attention on the "Demopublican/Replicrat Monopoly" and the "Collectivist Bias of Intellectual Elites."

I always enjoy reading Mayer's work, and find myself in agreement with him on so many significant issues. Hardly surprising since I'd certainly qualify as among those he characterizes as "Radical Individualists."

Of course, it doesn't hurt that he cites my own work in his most recent survey. Mayer writes:

In an insightful essay, "Understanding the Global Crisis," published in the May-June 2003 issue of The Free Radical, Chris Matthew Sciabarra has written persuasively about the reasons to be wary of any long-term U.S. expansion in the region. As he has noted, "The lunacy of nation-building and of imposed political settlements which have been tried over and over again in the Middle East with no long-term success does not mean that there is no hope for the Arab world." Citing evidence suggesting a rising revolt against theocracy, especially among a younger generation of Iranians who "eat American foods, wear American jeans, and watch American TV shows" and thus are fed up with oppressive government, he adds, "I dont see how a U.S. occupation in any part of the region will nourish this kind of revolt. If anything, the United States may be perceived as a new colonial administrator. Such a perception may only give impetus to the theocrats who may seek to preserve their rule by deflecting the dissatisfaction in their midst toward the 'infidel occupiers.' I can think of no better ad campaign for the recruitment of future Islamic terrorists." Sadly, the story of the U.S. occupation of Iraq seems to have proved Sciabarras prediction to be right.
The United States and the rest of the Western world must use military force, as appropriate, to defend themselves against the threat posed by fanatical Islamists. Our past policies of appeasement toward Islamic terrorism have proven to be failures, but we should not adopt policies of overreaction that will be failure in the opposite direction. Of course, we are right to strike back against those who initiate force and even to strike preemptively or unilaterally against imminent threats to American security, as Chris Sciabarra notes. Nevertheless, I also find persuasive his argument that "America's only practical long-term course of action is strategic disengagement from the region," meaning the entire Middle East. Like Sciabarra, "in the long term, I stand with those American Founding Fathers who advocated free trade with all, entangling political alliances with none. If that advice was good for a simpler world, it is even more appropriate for a world of immense complexity, in which no one power can control for all the myriad unintended consequences of human action. The central planners of socialism learned this lesson some time ago; the central planners of a projected U.S. colonialism have yet to learn it."

Go read the whole of Mayer's article here.

Comments welcome.

December 22, 2005

ARI, Iraq, and Healthy Dissent

I received a note from my pal Chip Gibbons, who runs The Binary Circumstance. His post, "Ayn Rand: The Roots of War," which I applauded back in May 2004, has inspired a recent exchange. A voicer there states that Chip was being unfair in his criticism of the Ayn Rand Institute as an organization in favor of the war in Iraq. The writer states that "ARI scholars repeatedly and consistently attack the war in Iraqfrom Leonard Peikoff, whose essay 'Iraq: The Wrong War' is available on-line, to Yaron Brook who has lectured both on the morality of war in general and the immorality of US involvement in Iraq and of the neo-con position in general..." The voicer believes that only The Intellectual Activist has been "mildly pro-Iraq War" and has been "subjected ... to some heavy criticism of late."

Chip responds to the voicer, stating that he published this piece 18 months ago, and that even the commentators back then observed the pro-Iraq war stance of the ARI-affiliated writers of whom he spoke. (He notes too that ARI had even displayed the Israeli flag on its site back then.) But Chip is clearly encouraged by any change in opinion at this point.

In actuality, many ARI-affiliated writers have claimed that Iran was the country to attack, but, early on, they fully supported the war to topple Saddam Hussein as a way-station to get to Syria and Iran. (Yaron Brook's recent lectures on neoconservatism and Iraq, notwithstanding, he too favors military action against Iran.) The chorus of boos against the neocons is something, however, that is a bit more recent in ARI ranks. To my knowledge, those boos were not articulated anywhere on the ARI site in the lead-up to the war in Iraq.

To his credit, Leonard Peikoff has been the most critical of that war (but please note that the cited criticism of Iraq as the "wrong war" is an article he published in 1997 against the Clinton administration ... not anything he said in the immediate aftermath of 9/11). Peikoff has also been intensely critical of Bush, and, in my view, his repudiation of Bush's religious agenda is right-on-target.

Still, pre-Iraq war articles on the ARI site certainly advocated invading Iraq (a useful compendium of quotes can be found here, whether one agrees or disagrees with the overall thrust of the site on which it is published). For example, see an essay by Peter Schwartz, entitled "War and Morality."

To his credit, Schwartz has been critical of "nation-building," but he did support the invasion of Iraq. My critique of him is indexed here, and my discussion of Schwartz's position on the Iraq war can be found here.

Also see Robert Tracinski's essay: "The Iraq Charade." The voicer at Chip's place is correct that Tracinski's Intellectual Activist has been the most vocal ARIan proponent of the war in Iraq. Tracinski's magazine, in fact, published "The Case Against Iraq" in October 2002, written by Christian Beenfeldt. Beenfeldt wrote that "it is either war against Iraq or continued passivity. A successful campaign against Iraq could serve as a model of American unilateralism and preemptive response, thus becoming a stepping-stone for future actions against Iran and other states. We must make war against Iraq as a next step in a full campaign to eradicate the long line of regimes that want to destroy the West."

In May 2003, Tracinski himself applauded the war: "The war in Iraq is over. The only resistance that remains, as this issue goes to press, is a series of sniper and grenade attacks from isolated bands of fighters ..." And he too saw it as a stepping stone to Syria, Iran, etc.

And in the June 2003 issue of TIA, Tracinski also applauds the President for seeing this as merely one "battle" in a larger war, and he argues that "'nation-building' can be a legitimate task of our militaryif it is in America's interest. In the case of Iraq, it is clearly in our interests to ensure that, having overthrown one dangerous totalitarian regime, we do not allow another to replace it. And more: a pro-liberty, pro-American government in Iraq can serve as a strategic base from which to threaten neighboring regimes in Iran and Syriaand as an oil-rich ally to use as diplomatic and economic leverage against the corrupt Saudis. To achieve these benefits, America must remain in Iraq, using our military to help create and support a better Iraqi government, rather than hastily withdrawing and allowing others to fill the power vacuum."

I'd say that view is pretty much in-line with on-the-record and off-the-record Bush administration strategic statements on the war.

Now, it is entirely true and must be acknowledged that many articles written by ARI-affiliated writers after the war became increasingly critical of the Iraq policythank goodness. Readers can trace that development here. I, myself, have cited some of those articles approvingly, including Elan Journo's essay.

I'd like to think that people such as Chip, Arthur Silber, me, and others played a part in persuading some of Rand's latter-day followers of the problems inherent in the pro-Iraq war position, but I see no explicit indication or citation of anything any of us wrote at that time or since.

In light of all this, I do believe that it is incorrect to use a broad stroke in painting all ARI-affiliated writers as pro-Iraq war. I think it is a sign of healthy dissent that many writers affiliated with ARI are disagreeing with one another on these important issues of war and peace. There is no ARI ideological monolith on this question, and this is good.

This is not to say that problems don't exist in the views of some writers affiliated with ARI, TOC, or any number of Objectivist organizations. I conclude this post with a lengthy passage from my article, "Understanding the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy." That article was written in March 2003, and published in May-June 2003 in The Free Radical. I stand by every last word:

The response of Objectivists to the prospect of this kind of U.S. occupation [of Iraq[ has been mostly positive (with a few notable exceptions, e.g., Arthur Silber at The Light of Reason). Robert Tracinski, for example, rightfully criticizes the pragmatism and religiosity of the Bush administration, which pays no attention to "context or history" ("The Era of Muddling Through: How We Got Here and Why We're Still Moving," TIA, March 2003). But this does not stop Tracinski from applauding Bush for "a breathtakingly new grand strategy to remake the Middle East," a policy that Tracinski admits "is a kind of indirect colonialism. The colonial administrators will be the nominally independent leaders of Middle Eastern countriesbut the essence of their form of government and their foreign policy will be inspired or imposed by the United States of America." Deriding the muddling ways of "Old Europe," Tracinski suggests approval of the U.S. ambition "to remake the world, sweeping aside hostile regimes and securing America's safety" ("New Hollywood and Old Europe," TIA, March 2003).
William Thomas writes ("What Warrants War? The Challenge of Iraq and North Korea") that "[t]he Objectivist view of foreign policy derives from its view of morality. Just as each person should pursue his rational self-interest in his personal matters, so should a proper government uphold the interests of its citizens in its conduct toward other nations." Thomas goes on to say that it is a "basic tenet" of "Objectivist political philosophy . . . that the only just governments are the free countriesand all the free countries are natural allies. Free countries are those that essentially embrace the principles of liberty, including freedoms of speech and assembly, competitive elections, the rule of law, and property rights." In Thomas's well-reasoned discussion of principles, the New Fascism is never mentioned. And though he admits that certain foreign policy goals require us "to hold our noses" when entering into "alliance[s] of convenience" with less free countries, he does not seem to appreciate the extent to which such pragmatic considerations have brought the globe to the current crisis.
In the end, however, Thomas supported the war in Iraqand a possible war with North Korea as well. He sees the post-war reconstruction as a requirement, "the only means of eliminating the longer-term threat." Keeping the peace, funding our allies, and building a free Iraq, will require "billions upon billions of dollars . . . for reconstruction and re-education." Reconstruction? Re-education? Funding our allies? I am tempted to ask the perennial Randian question: At whose expense?
To his credit, Thomas recognizes that "if it is culturally or financially infeasible to transform . . . enemies into alliesor at least into stable, non-threatening regimes, then war will not resolve the longer-term threat . . ." To his credit, Thomas accepts the possibility that U.S. occupation might "fuel anti-Americanism throughout the region." To his credit, Thomas understands "that political policy is a symptom, but culture is the root cause." Still, he supports the risk of war and a long-term occupation that empowers "better educated" and "more secular" Iraqis, so as to "cement the transformation" of other Middle Eastern nations.
To "cement the transformation" is [ARI-affiliated writer] Ron Pisaturo's goal as well. Except that he offers a much more robust strategy. Writing in the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster, Pisaturo is an unabashed Objectivist advocate of a new U.S. colonialism ("Why and How to Conquer the Savages," Capitalism Magazine).
Pisaturo begins on the correct premisethat Americans have the right to defend themselves from murderous attacks. But he goes further: He urges the creation of a new Middle East as if from a state of nature; his regional tabula rasa, however, requires the "nuclear" incineration of millions of "savages" in order to start from scratch. Pisaturo stands, like Archimedes, outside the context he wishes to reconstruct. His canvas-cleaning strategy is the logically horrific conclusion and destructive essence of his utopianism. It applies literally to 'no-where' on earththough, in all fairness, the Brave No-World of Ron Pisaturo is far more dystopian than it is utopian.
According to Pisaturo, the U.S. must crush all the "evil governments" of the Middle East (e.g., Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other "murderous regimes"). This is a sentiment shared by his Ayn Rand Institute colleagues, including Yaron Brook (ARI Media, 10 April 2003) and Leonard Peikoff ("America versus Americans," Ford Hall Forum, 7 April 2003)both of whom see Iran as the next target in the war against Islamic fundamentalism. Pisaturo argues that the U.S. government must take back the oil fields for Western oil companies, appropriate Arab assets worldwide (including "real estate, bank accounts, and all other financial holdings"), and "isolate, colonize, and settle the lands the savages now roam." Sensing perhaps that such a proposal for massive colonization of the region might entail an exponential increase in U.S. tax rates and in the size of the U.S. militaryperhaps even necessitating conscriptionPisaturo declares that if the Western oil companies "agree to pay the cost of waging this war," then the U.S. government could continue "occupying and defending these oil-rich territories." Once the U.S. has seized the Middle EastI suppose after several years of waiting for the nuclear fallout to settleit will allow American pioneers to enter the region as international homesteaders. "Over time, pioneers, with the paid support of our military, can go into these isolated territories, subdue the remaining savages, install a civilized, colonial government protecting the rights of both the pioneers and the savages, and settle the landas American pioneers subdued the savage, murderous American Indian tribes and settled America." Of course, the "savages" will eventually realize that they will be the "most fortunate beneficiaries" of such colonialism.
In truth, Pisaturo's view of the Arab world finds inspiration in Rand's own condemnation of Arab terrorists as "savages" (on "The Phil Donahue Show"). She saw the "Arab whose teeth are green with decay in his mouth" ("The Left: Old and New") as living "a nomadic, anti-industrial form of existence" ("Requiem for Man"). But this is a far cry from Pisaturo's genocidal call for an American Lebensraum.
I submit that this "cure" is far worse than the disease.
Let's analyze Pisaturo's proposal more closely. The Western oil companies whose interests Pisaturo wishes to defend are the same Western oil companies that collaborated with the U.S. government and Middle Eastern governments to develop the oil fields. The U.S. government socialized much of their risk, and replaced the colonizing British as the chief power in the region. From the 1920s through World War II and beyond, the government and the oil industry worked hand-in-hand to win concessions from, and bolster the power of, various "pro-Western" Arab regimes, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan, trying to create stability with money, munitions, and political machinations (see Sheldon Richman's "'Ancient History': U.S. Conduct in the Middle East Since World War II and the Folly of Intervention"; ed: also see my discussion here). The "pull-peddling" between the oil industry and the various governments was a quintessential expression of the New Fascism. (Rand did not examine these oil industry-government ties; but she did believe, ironically, that U.S. foreign policy had "brought the entire Western world to the position of a colony ruled by Arab sheiks" ["The Energy Crisis, Part II"]).
When a neoconservative defends the ideal of a new U.S. colonialism, I am disgustedbut not surprised. Neoconservatism was foundedas a movementby a group of disaffected socialists and "social democrats." Its modern representatives are now the intellectual architects of U.S. foreign policy. Having given up the fiasco of defending economic central planning, they now embrace global social engineering to bring the ideal of "democracy" to the rest of the world. And if some of them get their wishof establishing a new "American Empire"they'll find out that the pretense of knowledge, which destroyed socialism, will similarly destroy their Wilsonian designs. We simply never know enough to construct or reconstruct, wholesale, social systems and nations from the ground up. (On this point, see especially Hayek's Law, Legislation, and Liberty, Vol. 3, pp. 107109.) Such schemes for a Pax Americana are fraught with endless possibilities for negative unintended consequences, however "noble" the intentions.
So "nation-building" as a neoconservative goal is understandablegiven the socialist lineage of its champions. But when an Objectivist advocates mass murder and U.S. colonialism and supports the oil industry's employment of the government like a mercenary private protection agency to secure its foreign financial and material holdings, it is beyond baffling. These are the same kinds of Objectivists who would accuse the U.S. Libertarian Party of "context-dropping" (in contradistinction to "atomic-bomb-dropping") for wanting to build political solutions on a fragile philosophic and cultural foundation. Pot. Kettle. Black.

Comments welcome.

December 21, 2005

Eu-Damon-ia

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

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

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

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

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

Comments welcome.

December 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 04, 2005

Antiwar Masters of Horror

I've long been a fan of so-called "horror" films, in addition to sci-fi and fantasy.

Unfortunately, the Showtime series "Masters of Horror," thus far, has been a bit of a disappointment to me; it's a mix of schlock and gore, with just a few thrills thrown in for good measure. I prefer horror to have a purpose, maybe a bit of "Twilight Zone"-like morality play at work. At the very least, it should be suspenseful, rather than predictable.

I did enjoy Friday night's episode, "Homecoming," directed by Joe Dante, which made a few biting political points. For me, the funniest right-wing caricature was played by Thea Gill, who was a "skank"-like right-wing pundit, curiously comparable to Ann Coulter. It was quite a change for Gill, who portrayed the mild-mannered Lindsay in "Queer as Folk."

The Dante-directed "Homecoming" gives us a zombie tale, in which fallen soldiers come back from the dead to right the wrongs of a Presidential administration that involved them in a no-win war. No spoilers here; if you haven't caught the episode, check it out.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.

November 18, 2005

The Illusion of the Epoch

President Bush and his VP have been railing against the "Democrats" for "rewriting" the history of the 2002-2003 march toward war. (Some good commentary on this can be found here, here, and here.)

In the meanwhile, the critics keep a comin' and most of them, indeed, were former champions of the war. Vietnam combat vet, and current Democratic Congressman John P. Murtha, who supported the war, now calls it "a flawed policy wrapped in an illusion..."

The flaws have been legion. And the illusion? Well, H. B. Acton once spoke of communism as "the illusion of the epoch." For me, the biggest illusion of this epoch is a neoconservative one: that it is possible to construct a liberal democracy on any cultural base whatsoever. Now, I'm not looking to re-open the tired debate over whether it was right or wrong to go to war in Iraq; but even the politicians realize that the time has come for a debate about the future of that war.

But that won't stop the administration from its tarring of critics, like Murtha, as a "Michael Moore ... liberal" because he is questioning the wisdom of the war. Except the charges won't stick this time, because even though the President doesn't read polls, apparently, the politicians in his own party are reading the handwriting on the walls of the Pew Research Center and the Gallop organization. The American people are becoming increasingly pissed off over this war and its conduct. And if current trends continue, the party in power, gerrymandering notwithstanding, is going to suffer in the 2006 midterm elections.

I'm tickled, of course, that the administration puts such a priority on "consistency" in its defense of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. As the ineffectual John Kerry said, effectively, during one of the 2004 Presidential debates: Consistency is great... but "you could be wrong!" Cheney is so busy reminding opponents of the war about how they've changed their positions that he doesn't even recognize how far he's come over the last decade or so.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.

November 03, 2005

Iran, Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 16, 2005

Bush, Krugman, and the Old Deal

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

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

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

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

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

Is Krugman kidding me?

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

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

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

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

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

August 26, 2005

The Rose Petal Assumption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments welcome.

August 18, 2005

My Interview at Sunni's Salon

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

The 8-page interview starts here.

Comments welcome.

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.

July 08, 2005

"Home" is Now London

Regular readers of Notablog know where I stand on many foreign policy questions, and debating those issues here is not my intention.

Suffice it to say, we have been told by the leaders of the "coalition of the willing" that "we" have to "take the war to the terrorists" and fight "over there" so that "we" don't have to face death and destruction "over here." Or as President Bush put it: "Either we take the war to the terrorists and fight them where they are ... or at some point we will have to fight them here at home."

Well, "home" is now London.

And fighting terrorists "where they are" does nothing to stem the tide of their ever-increasing numbers.

This is not an argument, pro or con, for military action in places like Afghanistan or in Iraq. I favored military action in the former case, but opposed it in the latter instance. I have argued that Afghanistan was a hotbed of Al Qaeda activity, and nothing less than the annihilation of that terror group would do in a post-9/11 era. Long-run, however, I have argued that the US needs to change fundamentally its foreign policy.

Putting all these questions aside, my heart goes out to my friends in the UK during this period. To say I empathize is an understatement. Mourn the dead, but keep your crying eyes open. Better to see what lies ahead.

It is very easy to give into fear. "Fear is the antonym of thought." I tell myself: Don't let the politicians manipulate your fear and take away your life and liberty in an effort to "preserve" them. But don't bury your head in the sand either, thinking that Al Qaeda and its affiliates are going to "give up" anytime soon.

I can tell my readers that since September 2001, I have had at least one fear. That someday, probably in late fall or winter, people, full of rage, will wrap themselves up in explosives, hidden carefully beneath layers of clothing typical for the season. And they will enter the subway system, by boarding subway cars in the outer boroughs of New York City, perhaps in Queens, or the Bronx, or my beloved Brooklyn. And they'll sit quietly in the subway car, among unsuspecting people on their way to work, until the train is pulling into a major Manhattan destination, like Times Square, or Penn Station, or Grand Central, or, perhaps, while going over an East River Bridge or through an East River tunnel crossing. And they'll just detonate themselves.

Thousands, tens of thousands of lives, could be snuffed out in a coordinated attack of this nature on the sprawling NYC subway system. And infrastructure could be devastated for months at considerable cost to the economy. Terrorists don't need nuclear material; they don't need biological or chemical weapons. They don't need planes. They need only the will.

Seeing Londoners brave an attack of this nature feels too much like a premonition of things to come. The expressions on the faces of New Yorkers tell me that the fear is real. And if terror revisits US shores, New Yorkers know that they are wearing a bull's eye on their backs.

Short-run, the protection of citizens' lives and liberties should be the most important priority. And, in fact, the protection of life and liberty is the only legitimate role to be played by any governing body. And this requires skilled intelligence, human intelligence. But no security system is 100% effective. And the creation of a police state through the manipulation of citizens' fears is not a solution either, since that merely replaces one form of terrorism for another.

That's why, in the long-run, a fundamental change in direction, in policy, will be necessary.

For now, my deepest, heartfelt condolences to those who have lost loved ones. My good wishes to those who are dealing with injury to body and spirit.

Comments welcome. Mentioned at L&P here and Technomaget's Journal

July 03, 2005

"If We Don't Change the World...

... the world's gonna change us."

That's what Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said today on "Meet the Press."

And in that simple phrase, Hunter has summarized one of the crucial constructivist principles at the foundation of the Bush administration's stated neo-Wilsonian initiative in the Middle East.

Cross-posted at L&P, where discussion can be found here.

Comments welcome. Noted by Jonathan Rick here.

June 30, 2005

Iranian Death Throes?

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

Milani continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted to L&P.

Comments welcome.

June 10, 2005

Wilson Lives

I am way behind in my reading but finally had the opportunity to read Barry Gewen's interesting review essay from the NY Times Book Review (5 June 2005), "Forget the Founding Fathers." Gewen's focus is on "the constantly change narrative of American history" and the move toward "a globalized history of the United States." He discusses, among other books, Margaret MacMillan's Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, which I have not read. Though I don't agree with Gewen on many points, his comments on how "American idealism can go wrong" are worth repeating:

MacMillan's focus is on Woodrow Wilson at the end of World War I. A visionary, an evangelist, an inspiration, an earth-shaker, a holy fool, Wilson went to Paris in 1919 with grand ambitions: to hammer out a peace settlement and confront a wretched world with virtue, to reconfigure international relations and reform mankind itself. Freedom and democracy were ''American principles,'' he proclaimed. ''And they are also the principles and policies of forward-looking men and women everywhere, of every modern nation, of every enlightened community. They are the principles of mankind and they must prevail.'' Other leaders were less sure. David Lloyd George, the British prime minister, liked Wilson's sincerity and straightforwardness, but also found him obstinate and vain. France's prime minister, the acerbic and unsentimental Georges Clemenceau, said that talking to him was ''something like talking to Jesus Christ.'' (He didn't mean that as a compliment.)

As a committed American democrat, Wilson affirmed his belief in the principle of self-determination for all peoples, but in Paris his convictions collided with reality. Eastern Europe was ''an ethnic jumble,'' the Middle East a ''myriad of tribes,'' with peoples and animosities so intermingled they could never be untangled into coherent polities. In the Balkans, leaders were all for self-determination, except when it applied to others. The conflicting parties couldn't even agree on basic facts, making neutral mediation impossible. Ultimately, the unbending Wilson compromisedon Germany, China, Africa and the South Pacific. He yielded to the force majeure of Turks and Italians. In the end, he left behind him a volcano of dashed expectations and festering resentments. MacMillan's book is a detailed and painful record of his failure, and of how we continue to live with his troublesome legacy in the Balkans, the Middle East and elsewhere.

Yet the idealistsnationalists and internationalists alikedo not lack for responses. Wilsonianism, they might point out, has not been discredited. It always arises from its own ashes; it has even become the guiding philosophy of the present administration. Give George W. Bush key passages from Wilson's speeches to read, and few would recognize that almost a century had passed. Nor should this surprise us. For while the skeptics can provide realism, they can't provide hope. As MacMillan says, the Treaty of Versailles, particularly the League of Nations, was ''a bet placed on the future.'' Who, looking back over the rubble, would have wanted to bet on the past?

Little has changed in our new century. Without the dreams of the idealists, all that is on offer is more of the samemore hatred, more bloodshed, more war, and eventually, now, nuclear war. Anti-Wilsonian skeptics tend to be pessimistic about the wisdom of embarking on moral crusades but, paradoxically, it is the idealists, the hopeful ones, who, in fact, should be painting in Stygian black. They are the ones who should be reminding us that for most of the world, history is not the benign story of inexorable progress Americans like to believe in. Rather, it's a record of unjustified suffering, irreparable loss, tragedy without catharsis. It's a gorgon: stare at it too long and it turns you to stone.

Take a look at the whole review essay here.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted at L&P, where comments are here and here.

Grinder and Hagel at L&P

I was delighted to see a contribution today from Walter Grinder and John Hagel, whom I welcomed to L&P last August. Grinder and Hagel, whose works have influenced my own understanding of political economy, discuss a book entitled Liberty for Latin America. Read the post here; I left a brief comment.

Comments welcome, but readers are encouraged to read and comment on the Grinder-Hagel entry, "South of the Border."

May 29, 2005

A Mothers' War

Of all the tributes that I've read this Memorial Day Weekend, this one, entitled "A Mothers' War," by Cynthia Gorney, had particularly poignant passages. The story centers on Tracy Della Vecchia, who runs a website for mothers nationwide whose children are fighting, and being injured, and dying, in Iraq. Tracy's son,

Derrick Jensen, has spent three birthdays in a row deployed in Iraq. There are about 140,000 American troops stationed in Iraq; 23,000 of them are marines. As this article appears, Corporal Jensen should be somewhere near Falluja. He is an infantry radio operator, which sounded to Tracy like a good, safe job until she found out that radio operators carry big antennas, which make them easier targets. She let me stay at her house for a while this winter partly because I am a reporter and happen to have a 22-year-old son who is not in the military. Tracy thought people like me might want to know something about what it's like to live all the time with that kind of information about your child, to go to sleep knowing it and wake up knowing it and drive around town knowing it, which makes it possible to be standing in the Wal-Mart dog-food aisle on an ordinary afternoon and without reason or warning be knocked breathless again by the sudden imagining of sniper fire or an explosion beneath a Humvee. Still. Derrick has been shipped home twice since President Bush delivered his May 2003 speech in front of the "Mission Accomplished" banner on the deck of an aircraft carrier, and shipped back twice. He has had one occasion of near death that Tracy knows about in some detail; there are others, she assumes, that Derrick has so far kept to himself. "During the first deployment," Tracy said to me once as we were sitting in her car, a lipstick-red PT Cruiser with a yellow "Keep My Son Safe" ribbon magnet on the back, "the only emotion I could imagine him having was fear." ...

Tracy's closest friends in the world right now are other parents whose sons and daughters have served in Iraq or are serving there now. Some of these parents think the war is righteous, some think it was wrongheaded from the outset and some, like Tracy, have made fierce internal bargains with themselves about what they will and will not think about as long as their children and their children's comrades remain in uniform and in harm's way. The women Tracy meets every week for dinner, each of whom has a son in the Marines or the Army, have a "no politics" rule around their table; this was one of two things I remember Tracy telling me the first time she took me to a gathering of the mothers. The other thing was that draped over a banister in Tracy's house was an unwashed T-shirt Derrick had dropped during his last visit home. I thought Tracy was apologizing for her housekeeping, which I had already seen was much better than mine, but she cleared her throat and said that what I needed to understand was that she hadn't washed the T-shirt because if the Marine Corps has to send you your deceased child's personal effects, it launders the clothing first. "That means there's no smell," Tracy said. She let this hover between us for a minute. "I've heard from so many parents who were crushed when they opened that bag, because they had thought they'd be able to smell their son," Tracy said. ...

When I woke the next morning, it was barely light outside, but Tracy was already at her computer. She was smoking at her desk, which she usually doesn't do, and her face was bleak. "I got a D.O.D.," she said. A D.O.D. is what Tracy calls a death notice from the Department of Defense. These notices come to her as e-mailed press releases, each with a headline that identifies the service the deceased American belonged to ... She had walked around with it all day ... she had known ... only that it wasn't Derrick, first because the Marines had not come to her house ... "The knocking on the door." ... Tracy jammed her cigarette into the ashtray, hard. "And the way I'd react: You've got the wrong house. I just talked to my son. This can't be right. Denial is the first thing. And knowing there's just complete and total despair in somebody's home right now. This is their Easter." She started to cry. "And I feel so grateful, and then so guilty," she said. "Nobody's going to say, 'Thank God, it wasn't my son.' But that's what we're all thinking."

Read the whole article.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.

May 20, 2005

Irritable over Iran and Iraq

An "unintended consequence" is a "side effect" of an action that was not intended by the actor. Whether we refer to these effects as "externalities" or the more pernicious, "blowback," one thing is clear: An unintended consequence is not necessarily something that is unforeseeable, as I have maintained here.

The brutal Hussein regime benefited from US complicity in its war with Iran back in the 1980s. Desperate to "even the score" with the Iranian Ayatollahs, who dumped the US-backed Shah and held Americans hostage until Inaugural Day, 1981, the US stood by while Hussein assaulted Iran.

Well, yesterday's pals become today's enemies, and, lo and behold, yesterday's enemies might become tomorrow's friends. Is this what the US intended when it toppled the Hussein regime? The NY Times reports:

In a move that is likely to inflame further Sunni Arab resentments, the Iraqi government publicly acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that Iraq was the aggressor in 1980 when it touched off a bloody eight-year war with Iran. In a joint statement at the end of a three-day visit by the Iranian foreign minister, Kamal Kharazi, the new Shiite-led Iraqi government said that Saddam Hussein, the overthrown Iraqi leader, and other officials in his government must be put on trial for committing "military aggression against the people of Iraq, Iran and Kuwait," as well as crimes against humanity and war crimes. It was an effort to bring to a close the bitter legacy of the war in which nearly a million people were estimated to have died and tens of thousands more were displaced as refugees.

Well, okay. But while the foreign ministry in Iraq argues that this is merely a way of "lay[ing] the responsibility for the war squarely on Mr. Hussein and other leaders of his government," the pronouncement carries with it other implications. A "gesture of warmth toward Iran" is a sign of "how the political landscape ... has shifted, with Iraqi Shiites, many of whom spent years in exile in Iran, now running the [Iraqi] government." A majoritarian Shi'ite regime in Iraq is much more likely to bolster its ties to the Shi'ite Muslims running the Iranian theocracy. This might be very good for Iran-Iraq relations, but I don't see how the consolidation of theocratic forces serves the cause of freedom.

The Sunni Arabs, who also have little interest in the cause of freedom, are none too pleased. While the Sunnis' former leader lounges about in his underwear (those photos don't quite rise to the level of a "crime against humanity," but don't push me...), the Iranians are cozying up to "the [Shi'ite] religious leadership in Iraq." The Times continues:

In another sign of just how far the relationship between Iraq and Iran has progressed since the administration of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was sworn in, the communiqu said Iran had agreed to open consulates in Basra and Karbala, Shiite-dominated cities in southern and south central Iraq. For its part, Iraq will open consulates in Kermanshah and Khorramshahr, cities in western Iran near the Iraqi border.

I shudder to think of the potential implications among the Shi'ites in Iraq, whom the US has emboldened, should the US decide to invade Iran. If US administrators think that the way to reduce US troops in Iraq is to endorse an exit strategy through Iran, would it be too much to ask that they contemplate, even briefly, the potential unintended consequences of such action?

Comments welcome. Also noted at L&P and LOR

May 17, 2005

Newsweak

With a hat tip to Arthur Silber here, here, and here, I have to say that I too am disheartened, on a variety of levels, over the whole Newsweek affair. Yes, if Newsweek screwed this story up, an apology and retraction are the least one would expect. Of course, this sidesteps a few issues: If the "screw-up" was due to the fact that Newsweek's government source had a change of heart about the story after being "talked to" by various superiors, there are implications here that demand discussion.

In any event, US government officials who demand apologies and retractions from Newsweek might profitably spend some of their time apologizing for their own policy gaffes (Downing Street memo, anyone?)

Yes, we live in volatile times where anything said in the media is liable to invite comparisons to yelling "fire" in a public theater (though there are real questions as to whether this gaffe "triggered" the riots in Afghanistan; see here).

But has anyone bothered to ask why on earth one should "blame" Newsweek for Muslim riots? Let's say, for sake of argument, we take the worst case scenario as true: "Newsweek Lied!" But to say that "People Died!" as a result is to miss a few steps in the causal chain. Michelle Malkin, are you kidding me? As you beat the tom-tom of media censorship, ask yourself a question: Did Newsweek put a gun to the heads of people in Jalalabad to force them to riot? The best conservative defenders of Second Amendment rights tell us, over and over again, that guns don't kill people. People kill people. That is: the actors themselves bear ultimate responsibility for the people whose lives they take. Isn't it amazing how this testament to individual accountability goes out the window when it fits the conservative image of an out-of-control liberal media of fifth-column jihadists?

Moreover, if the mere mention of a possible religious desecration is enough to set off such violence, perhaps nation-builders like Malkin should think twice about the folly of "democratizing" that region of the world. It will take a lot more than elections to create a liberal-democratic society, where flag-burning and book-flushing are among the rights of a free citizenry. The nation-builders will create Democratic People Power for surewith none of the individual rights that keep the tyranny of the masses in check.

Comments welcome.

Update (1): I got a kick out of the fact that the Atlasphere just posted (at 6:32 p.m.) a column by conservative economist Thomas Sowell entitled, "Newsweak." Of course, Sowell is more concerned about the media's liberal bias against the Bush administration rather than the irrationalities of that administration or the irrational savagery of those in Afghanistan who are responsible for deaths attributed to Newsweek. On these issues, check out Silber's follow-ups here, here and here (a Silber trackback is here), and a fine post by Ilana Mercer here (the May 16th entry).

Update (2): This post has been noted by Jonathan Rick in "The Newsweek Incident: Let Them Riot."

April 25, 2005

Democracy and Saudi Arabia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 01, 2005

April, May, June, July ... Fools

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

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

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

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

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

There.

That felt better.

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

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

Comments welcome.

Cross-posted to L&P.

March 31, 2005

Shifting Sands and Political Labels

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

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" »

March 23, 2005

The Costs of War

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

Comments welcome.

Continue reading "The Costs of War" »

Atlantis II War Chat

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

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

March 10, 2005

Islam and Pluralism

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

Continue reading "Islam and Pluralism" »

Rothbard, Rand, and Revisionism

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

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

Readers may comment at SOLOHQ.

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

March 08, 2005

Ayn Rand and World War II

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

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

Readers may continue to leave comments at SOLO HQ.

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

March 01, 2005

Changing Politics, Changing Culture

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

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

Continue reading "Changing Politics, Changing Culture" »

February 22, 2005

Islam and Democracy

I just wanted to recommend a new article by David Glenn, "Who Owns Islamic Law?," which has been published in the February 25th issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Continue reading "Islam and Democracy" »

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" »

January 27, 2005

On the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

At L&P, I recall Ayn Rand's words from 1946: "On the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz." See follow-up discussion here and here.

January 23, 2005

Quote of the Day

I post a comment from ABC News' Claire Shipman, reflecting on Bush's Second Inaugural Address: "Quote of the Day."

January 21, 2005

Sex Bomb

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

January 20, 2005

Channeling Woodrow Wilson

I reflect on the neo-Wilsonian message of George W. Bush on the occasion of his Second Inaugural: "Channeling Woodrow Wilson."

Update: Check out follow-up discussion here and here. Ahem. The post was also noted at Antiwar.blog.

January 18, 2005

Building a Civil Society

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

Update: See follow-up discussion here and here.

January 14, 2005

More on Iraq at SOLO

At SOLO HQ, I pose a hypothetical question to those who use a "liberationist" criterion for US military action abroad. Take a look at the continuing discussion. I make follow-up points here, here, and here.

January 12, 2005

Debating Iraq at SOLO

The debate over Iraq continues at SOLO. I think it is a bit repetitive of points made in former debates. While all of my posts are archived here, I do make some new points today with regard to a comparison between the former Soviet Union and Iraq. See here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Some related posts are archived starting here.

January 10, 2005

Comments on Pritchard on Hitchens

Cameron Pritchard of SOLO HQ has switched from the anti-Iraq war side of the debate to the pro-Iraq war side, and he credits Christopher Hitchens as the catalyst. At SOLO HQ, I offer some thoughts here.

Update: SOLO discussion on Iraq continues. I post additional comments here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

January 06, 2005

Foreign Policy Commentary

I have made brief comments on two different threads at L&P: At my own "Moving Toward Democracy?" thread, I respond to Sudha Shenoy. I also respond to points made by Jason Pappas in this exchange.

In addition, I respond to Shenoy's essay, "21st Century 'Imperialism' and 19th Century Empire: Some Thoughts."

January 05, 2005

Moving Toward Democracy?

As the Iraqi elections near, I discuss the prospects for "nation building" in that country, with reference to a recent Political Science Quarterly article written by Eva Bellin. See my L&P post: "Moving Toward Democracy?"

And read follow-up discussion: "Regarding Germany." See also comments here and here.

January 04, 2005

The Privatization of Foreign Aid

I posted a new entry to the Mises Economics Blog on "The Privatization of Foreign Aid."

December 23, 2004

Debating Iraq

There's a lot of repetition of points from previous discussions in a recent Atlantis II chat in which I participated. Nevertheless, I've collected my various posts and reprinted them here for archival purposes.

I've also posted a brief comment in response to Arthur Silber's L&P post on Iraq entitled: "No Kidding."

December 21, 2004

Invisible Casualties

As 19 more US troops have been slaughtered in Iraq, I've posted a new essay at L&P: "Invisible Casualties." In it, I discuss the emotional stresses of war that strike at a soldier's need for certainty and efficacy.

Update: Check out follow-up discussion as well.

December 19, 2004

What is Radicalism?

A very lengthy discussion about the nature of radicalism has developed from my exchanges with Michael Moeller and Roderick Long at L&P. Start here.

December 16, 2004

L&P Discussions on Schwartz Continue

Objections to some aspects of my recent series on Peter Schwartz's foreign policy book continue; see my exchange with Michael Moeller at L&P: "Rand's 'Radical' Legacy??"

December 13, 2004

SOLO Discussions Winding Down

Discussions at SOLO HQ on my five-part foreign policy series are winding down (I think). I have posted additional comments: here, here, here, here, and here.

December 12, 2004

Schwartz Discussion Continues

Discussion of my series on Peter Schwartz's foreign policy book continues here, here, and here, where I field questions and comments on everything from ARAMCO and libertarianism to the issue of colonialism.

December 11, 2004

Machan, Schwartz, and Foreign Policy

Part V of my series on Peter Schwartz's new foreign policy book has additional follow-up discussion. Take a look at this exchange with Kenneth R. Gregg, which discusses "Schwartz' Platonism" and the more context-sensitive foreign policy contributions of Tibor Machan. There's additional discussion here.

Also, check out this SOLO HQ discussion, which deals with rationalist tendencies in the writings of some Randians.

December 10, 2004

Peter Schwartz Series: Indexed

Readers of my five-part series, "Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy," which critiques Schwartz's new book, The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America, can follow the links to each of the five parts with this convenient index:

Part I:
Introduction
Schwartz's Core Argument
Part II:
Foreign Aid and the United Nations
Part III:
Saudi Arabia
Part IV:
The History of U.S. Foreign Policy
Part V:
The Current War
The Folly of Nation-Building
The Inextricable Connection between Domestic and Foreign Policy

The series is also indexed at SOLO HQ, and includes further discussion at that site.

Each of these links has follow-up discussion, and I encourage readers to post their comments.

Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rands Radical Legacy, Part V

The concluding fifth part of my five-part series has been posted to the Liberty and Power Group Blog: "Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part V." See also continuing discussion of Part IV, here, here, here, and here.

Update: Comments on Part V can be found in these threads: "Libertopia vs. positions on U.S. foreign policy," "Schwartz's Statism," and "Schwartz' Platonism" (which discusses the contributions of Tibor Machan, and here.

December 09, 2004

SOLO Discussions on Iran Continue

There's lots more discussion on the question of Iran at SOLO; I posted comments here, here, here, here, and here.

Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rands Radical Legacy, Part IV

The fourth part of my five-part series has been posted to the Liberty and Power Group Blog: "Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part IV." See also follow-up comments here, here, here, here, here, and here.

December 08, 2004

SOLO Discussions on Iran

At SOLO HQ, I respond to those who are itching to decimate Iran. This is a continuation of a discussion archived in my post on "The Problem of Iran, Again."

Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rands Radical Legacy, Part III

The third part of my five-part series has been posted to the Liberty and Power Group Blog: "Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part III."

Update: I have an exchange with Geoffrey Allan Plauche and Pat Garret who add their thoughts on "Schwartz's unquestioning nationalistic state idolatry." I discuss inconsistencies in Rand's own stance on the Middle East, among other issues.

December 07, 2004

Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rands Radical Legacy, Part II

The second part of my five-part series has been posted to the Liberty and Power Group Blog: "Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part II."

See comments also in this thread: Randian Collectivism.

December 06, 2004

Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rands Radical Legacy, Part I

The first part of my five-part series begins at the Liberty and Power Group Blog: "Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part I." And take a look at the follow-up discussion.

Also, check out the ongoing dialogue on SOLO dealing with "The Problem of Iran, Again." My newest contributions here and here deal with nuclear proliferation.

December 05, 2004

The Problem of Iran, Again

I comment here, here, here, here, here, here and here on George W. Cordero's SOLO HQ article, "One Down, Two to Go." Additional SOLO HQ comments on Iran are indexed here and here. For those interested in my recent writings on Iran, here's a convenient index to my various posts:

"Inside Iran: Twenty-Five Years After the Islamic Revolution"
"Laissez-Faire in Iran"
"Iran Update"
"Iran: The Anti-Beard Revolution"
"More Kristof, More Iran"
"Kristof's 'Nuts with Nukes'"
"Iran and the War on Islamic Terrorism"
"The Problem of Iran"

I will also address Iran very briefly in my upcoming five-part series, reviewing Peter Schwartz's book, The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America. The series begins tomorrow at the Liberty and Power Group Blog.

November 24, 2004

Ryan Sager Thread Continues

I have a few more comments posted to L&P on the "Ryan Sager Rethinks Libertarianism" thread. In the most recent comment, I address the issue of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

November 22, 2004

Ryan Sager Rethinks Libertarianism

Writer Ryan Sager has been making a lot noise at Tech Central Station and elsewhere about the need for libertarians to become more "muscular" in their foreign policy proposals. I respond more generally to Sager's points in an L&P post: "Ryan Sager Rethinks Libertarianism." I also posted a comment to Ryan's blog here.

Update: Check out follow-up discussion at L&P here

November 15, 2004

To Be or Not To Be ... Democracy?

At L&P, I post excerpts from two interesting NY Times articles concerning the issue of democratic nation-building in Iraq: "To Be or Not To Be ... Democracy?"

November 10, 2004

Rednecks, Greenbacks, and Democracy

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

November 09, 2004

The Problem of Iran

I've posted a brief L&P entry on "The Problem of Iran."

November 08, 2004

Conservative Crackup, Part Deux

As a follow-up to an old post from April 2004, I post briefly on the "Conservative Crackup, Part Deux" at L&P. And take a look at the comments too.

Also, check out a little L&P tidbit about chariot games in Iraq: "'Ben-Hur' Comes to Iraq."

November 06, 2004

Clarifying the Bush Victory: Understanding a Multi-Pronged Threat

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

November 02, 2004

Civility in Public Discourse

The discussion of U.S. foreign policy frequently degenerates into uncivil discourse. It's happened at SOLO HQ and many other forums. My SOLO HQ comments today (posted here) address discussion threads here, here, here, and here.

Update: The discussion continues, along with some comments about today's Election. See my follow-ups here and here.

November 01, 2004

Rand and Unintended Consequences Thread, Continued

A few more comments have been registered at L&P concerning my essay, "Ayn Rand and Unintended Consequences."

A Vote for Nobody Because It Won't Matter

At L&P: "A Vote for Nobody Because It Won't Matter," followed by an exchange with Matt Barganier. Also see follow-up from David Beito and Steve Horwitz.

October 25, 2004

Unintended Consequences Discussion

Some discussion of my post on "Ayn Rand and Unintended Consequences" is featured at L&P.

October 23, 2004

Ayn Rand and Unintended Consequences

In the light of recent discussion about the foreign policy positions of many Objectivists, I examine the topic of "Ayn Rand and Unintended Consequences" at L&P.

October 18, 2004

Suskind, Bush, and More

In his L&P post, "Empire and Imperialism," William Marina comments on my L&P post from yesterday. I return the favor, commenting, along with David Beito, on the need for an awareness of system in libertarian foreign policy analysis.

I also add my voice to a discussion that features Aeon Skoble and Charles Johnson, reflecting on Steven Horwitz's L&P post, "Faith-based Presidents and Reality-based Communities." In discussing Ron Suskind's NY Times essay on the political implications of Bush's religious convictions, I remind readers of my own essay on this theme: "Caught Up in the Rapture."

Update: "Caught Up in the Rapture" (originally published in The Free Radical) continues to make the rounds; The Revealer recommends it to readers: "Ayn Rand v. W." I also have additional thoughts at L&P on the libertarian applications of "Systems Theory."

October 17, 2004

Welfare and Warfare, Foreign and Domestic

A new essay of mine appears at L&P, dealing with the indissoluble link between warfare and the regulatory-welfare state: "Welfare and Warfare, Foreign and Domestic."

October 16, 2004

SOLO Foreign Policy Discussions

I have most likely made my final comments on foreign policy in the current SOLO HQ discussion thread concerning Barbara Branden's article. See here and here, and follow-up discussions here, here, here, and here.

October 15, 2004

An Index of My Major Foreign Policy Posts

... that's what today's comment on Barbara Branden's SOLO HQ essay, "Why Many Libertarians Are Voting Against America," constitutes. Read my commentary here and, if you have time, follow all the links to only a fraction of the essays I've written on foreign policy and American electoral politics.

October 11, 2004

Coalition-Building

In response to an L&P post by William Marina addressed to me, "Updating the Marine's Empire Handbook," and to points made by Matt Barganier here and here, I make a brief comment about "Coalition-Building" in opposition to the current administration's foreign policy adventures.

October 10, 2004

America First

At both the Mises Economics Blog and L&P, I post a brief entry highlighting an important article in today's NY Times that deals with the almost-forgotten anti-interventionist tradition of the Old Right on issues of foreign policy. This is a tradition that includes individuals as diverse as Albert Jay Nock, Ayn Rand, and Murray Rothbard.

October 08, 2004

Fascism: In All Its Varieties

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

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

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

October 07, 2004

"Islamofascism": Discussion

A discussion has begun on my "Islamofascism" post at L&P. Jonathan Dresner raises a very important point about the issue of specifically Arab civic culture. The exchange begins here.

October 06, 2004

The Problems with "Islamofascism"

I have a real problem with the ways in which some writers use the word "Islamofascism." That, and the issue of democracy in Iraq, is the subject of a post at Liberty and Power: "Freedom & 'Islamofascism'."

I also have one follow-up comment to Aeon Skoble's Dangerfield L&P obituary, "Looks good on you, though."

October 05, 2004

Newbie, Rozsa, and Twin Toes Threads

My posts from yesterday have elicited quite a few interesting discussions.

The question I posed at the Rozsa forum has generated some good answers.

My "Neocon Newbie" post at L&P has several threads. First, there's my discussion with Jonathan Dresner and Pat Lynch on the "three-state solution." I actually reproduce a much larger essay of mine on this subject from November 2003. Second, there's my exchange with John Arthur Shaffer on the implications for social policy that the current election might have. Third, there's my discussions with Aeon Skoble, here and here touching upon my favorite songs and what I'll be watching tonight. (Hint: Baseball trumps politics...)

Finally, the Sciabarra pronunciation thread continues, with a profound personal confession about my ... twin toes. And see other discussions here and here.

October 04, 2004

Neocon Newbie

In addition to some brief observations about the New York Yankees' post-season, I have some observations on another game: the game of politics. Check out my Liberty & Power (L&P) post on Kerry's growing affection for neoconservative foreign policy prescriptions: "Neocon Newbie."