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February 11, 2014

Song of the Day #1163

Song of the Day: The American President (Main Theme) [YouTube link], composed by Marc Shaiman, is a stately theme that opens the 1995 film, starring Michael Douglas as widowed President Andrew Shepherd, who falls for Annette Bening as Sydney Ellen Wade, an environmentalist lobbyist. The film has many of the trappings of contemporary liberalism in terms of its politics and its cast of characters, and it served as an inspiration to writer Aaron Sorkin, who launched the equally idealistic liberalism of the brilliant TV series "The West Wing," which began in 1997. But it is not the politics that interest me here. This is a film with a lot of heart, plenty of laughs, and much poignancy. In anticipation of President's Day, I highly recommend the Shaiman soundtrack.

January 26, 2014

Song of the Day #1151

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

December 21, 2013

Song of the Day #1147

Song of the Day: The Lion in Winter (Main Title) [YouTube link], composed by John Barry, is from the Oscar-winning soundtrack to the brilliantly acted 1968 film featuring tour de force performances by Oscar-winner Katharine Hepburn (who tied with Barbra Streisand in "Funny Girl" for the Best Actress award, a first in Oscar history) and Best Actor Oscar-nominated Peter O'Toole. O'Toole, one of my all-time favorite actors, passed away at the age of 81 on 14 December 2013. He was nominated a total of eight times without an Oscar win, a record (though he did receive a lifetime achievement award in 2002). In this film, O'Toole revisits a role that had previously earned him another Best Oscar nomination, King Henry II of England, in the 1964 film "Becket" where he played opposite the equally brilliant and (almost) equally winless Richard Burton (seven lifetime Oscar nominations without a win). In that earlier film, O'Toole's Henry II is a heartbreaking shattered man, destroyed over his obsessiveness for Thomas Becket, his friend, played by Burton, whom he names Archbishop of Canterbury in the hope of having an ally to control an increasingly unruly church. But Becket finds his integrity to the dismay of his King and the "unnatural" love they share is doomed. Both actors earned Oscar nominations and lost. Doom underscores the plot for "Lion in Winter," but in ways that display the corrupting machinations of power. The role earned O'Toole another Oscar nod, and another Oscar loss. Today marks winter's arrival in the northern hemisphere. It is all the more appropriate to tribute this great actor on this day as we march toward the light; he was truly a lion on stage who brought a great light to the art of cinema.

November 22, 2013

Song of the Day #1145

Song of the Day: I'm Leaving It Up To You, music and lyrics by Don "Sugarcane" Harris and Dewey Terry, was first recorded by them, as the Doo Wop duo Don and Dewey [YouTube link]. Their R&B-inflected version spent 2 weeks at #1 on Billboard's Easy Listening chart in 1957. Recorded also by Dale and Grace [YouTube link], it was also a selection on Linda Ronstadt's 1970 album "Silk Purse" [YouTube link here], with a lovely country lilt and a fiddle solo (most likely by Gil Guilbeau, as a nod to Don Harris who was himself a violinist). Even Donny Osmond and Marie Osmond brought the song to the top of the Adult Contemporary chart in the summer of 1974 [YouTube link here]. Technically speaking, the number one pop hit on this day in 1963 was "Deep Purple," but the Dale and Grace version of this song topped the chart on 23 November 1963, the day after one of the most infamous events in American history: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Whatever one thinks of JFK and his political legacy, the shooting in Dealey Plaza in Dallas on this day, fifty years ago, was a watershed event, a symbolic turning point, a signal of all the violence and brutality that consumed the decade to come: the Vietnam war, the urban riots, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Robert F. Kennedy, and the growing discontent and distrust in government, that ultimately brought down another president in the Watergate scandal: Richard Nixon, who lost to JFK in the 1960 election and resigned the office in 1974. Check out CBS's streaming video, beginning at 1:38 p.m. today, when Walter Cronkite interrupted the soap opera "As the World Turns" with a special bulletin. I was only 3 years old that day; we were at my grandmother's house because she had fallen and was badly injured. I remember a weekend of non-stop television coverage. I remember seeing Jack Ruby shooting and killing the alleged Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald [check out the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination, television coverage of the Oswald shooting, and various breaking reports from the major networks on November 22nd]. These events, for a 3 year old, seemed totally incomprehensible, but judging from the reaction of all my elders, they were truly horrific. Now, at age 53, I still look at that day and the days that followed with a degree of incomprehensibility.

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.

September 11, 2013

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

My annual series, "Remembering the World Trade Center," has taken many turns through the years, covering everything from painful personal testimonies to memorial pictorials. This year, I've decided to provide a brief sketch of one of the most important people in my life: My Friend Matthew. Matt was born on September 11, 1967, thereby laying claim to that date long before some nutjobs decided to slam planes into the Twin Towers. It's a personal portrait, and it happens to be his birthday today: so happy birthday, dear friend.

For those who have not read the various entries to the series over the years, I provide this index:

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

Never forget.

September 02, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: 12 September 2013 Release Date

Last month, in these five blog posts, I announced the publication of the second expanded edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.

I didn't have the opportunity to thank Paul Hornschemeier, for designing a cover that is as fresh as the content to be found in the new edition; here is a snapshot of the front and back cover design:

The New Edition

The book's official release date is now 12 September 2013. I look forward to seeing the final product myself!

August 16, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: Supplying Answers, Raising Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 15, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: Preface to the Second Edition

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

Preface to the Second Edition (2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Matthew Sciabarra
1 July 2013

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

August 14, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 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

February 04, 2013

Song of the Day #1096

Song of the Day: My Week with Marilyn ("Marilyn's Theme"), composed by Alexandre Desplat, is performed brilliantly on solo piano by Lang Lang on the wonderful soundtrack (with music by Desplat and Conrad Pope) to the 2011 film. The melancholy theme is restated on the tracks "Marilyn Alone" and "Remembering Marilyn" (YouTube clips at each link). It has a mournful quality to it, but also one of innocence and depth, all qualities captured by Marilyn Monroe, played well by Michelle Williams. The former Mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, gave this film a fine review on his "Mayor at the Movies," so it is only fitting to give that late Mayor a fine review for his colorful years at the helm of his beloved city. Today, he is laid to rest at Trinity Cemetery, having passed away on Friday, February 1, 2013.

November 22, 2012

Song of the Day #1081

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

September 11, 2012

WTC Remembrance: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

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

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

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

Never Forget.

September 10, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Childs-Peikoff Hypothesis - Dennis C. Hardin

New JARS! Volume 12, Number 1

The JARS website features both abstracts and contributor biographies.

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

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

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

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

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

Announcement also posted on the Liberty & Power Group Blog.

April 15, 2012

Song of the Day #1040

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

April 14, 2012

Song of the Day #1039

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

April 13, 2012

Song of the Day #1038

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

April 12, 2012

Song of the Day #1087

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

April 11, 2012

Song of the Day #1086

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

April 10, 2012

Song of the Day #1085

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

September 17, 2011

Song of the Day #1003

Song of the Day: ILGWU (Look for the Union Label) (YouTube link), music by Malcolm Dodds, lyrics by Paula Green, gave us the best television commercial song from an American labor union, in my humble opinion, even if it was parodied occasionally. My enjoyment of the song was most likely colored by the fact that my mom worked in the garment industry her whole life; it appeals to the proletarian in all of us.

September 11, 2011

WTC Remembrance: Ten Years Later

This year, my annual September 11 remembrance continues: "Ten Years Later."

On the 10th anniversary of that day, I revisit those individuals whom I interviewed over the past decade. As I write:

Ten years ago on this day, the city of my birth, the place that I still call home, was attacked in a way that has left the kinds of emotional scars none of us ever imagined even remotely possible in twenty-first century New York.
There had been Nostradamus-type warnings of disaster at the turn of the century, but when Times Square greeted 1 January 2000 with no Y2K apocalypse apparent, there was a sense that we were on the precipice of something epic. The end of the twentieth century, the bloodiest in human history, brought signs of real change, after all. When my 70s' high school classmates signed my yearbook with comments like "Love you, till the Berlin Wall falls!," there was such a sense of permanency in the inscription that nobody even thought to question its relative transience. The Berlin Wall did fall, the USSR dissolved, the Cold War ended. What could possibly go wrong for those of us who awoke on September 11, 2001 to a beautiful, cloudless, sky-blue, late summer morning?
When human ash rained down on my Brooklyn street, when the acrid smell of death stayed with us for what seemed like months, we knew that something epic had, indeed, happened.
Now, ten years later, a new "permanency" is emergent. A generation of kids has grown up with war as a natural part of their global landscape. It wouldn't surprise me if some of these kids—those who started kindergarten, first or second grade in September 2001—will soon be signing their high school yearbooks with the inscription: "Love you, till the War on Terror ends!"
But if the twentieth century taught us anything, it is that permanency is overrated.
And yet, there is something achingly permanent about these scars. Each individual, or at least each individual who experienced that day, and who has lived in the metaphorical and literal shadow of Ground Zero, bears spiritual (and, for some, physical) scars. Time may be a Mederma of the spirit, but the scars have never truly disappeared. They are now a natural part of each individual's own personal landscape.


The essay continues here.

Though the newest installment includes links to all the previous installments, I provide this index for ease of reference:

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

Never Forget.

July 28, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essays on Atlas Shrugged, by philosophy professor Fred Seddon

The Journal Begins Its Second Decade!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On to the second decade ... and beyond!

July 27, 2011

New(ish) Encyclopedia Entries

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

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

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

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

Oh, and this entry...

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

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

June 30, 2011

John Hospers, RIP

Philosopher John Hospers passed away on June 12, 2011. John was known for his work on libertarianism, and for being the first Presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party (and the only LP candidate to date, to receive, in 1972, with his running mate Tonie Nathan, an electoral vote from a rogue elector, Roger McBride, who, himself, went on to be an LP Presidential candidate 4 years later).

To me, John was a gentle man, a friend, and a colleague. He gave me much encouragement and support when I was writing my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and he was among the founding Advisory Board members of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

My deepest condolences to his family and friends.

April 30, 2009

A Crisis of Political Economy (in The Freeman)

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

February 16, 2009

Nationalize the Banks!

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

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

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

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

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

November 05, 2008

Recommended Reading for the New President

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

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

I answered:

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

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

October 14, 2008

Saving the Free Market From Itself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted at L&P.

October 01, 2008

A Crisis of Political Economy

Oy, what a mess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where does this leave us today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mentioned at L&P and Mises.org.

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.

September 04, 2008

RNC: Sarah Palin, Hockey Mom/Pit Bull

Boy, and I thought the DNC had epic entertainment value! Then John McCain picked a self-described "hockey mom" for his running mate, and all hell broke loose. GOP Vice Presidential Nominee-in-Waiting Sarah Palin gave a speech last night at St. Paul's Republican National Convention, and had the party faithful in a frenzy. When she joked that the difference between a pit bull and a hockey mom was "lipstick," I think most people recognized immediately that she was both.

As I indicated recently, I don't believe fundamental change is on the political agenda of either party; we are just going to get more of the same.. or worse. But I am truly entertained by this year's campaign. And though there's nothing to indicate that Palin is a "Mommie Dearest," she took on the ol' boys in a manner that reminded me of a classic scene in that film: after her husband, Pepsi Cola CEO Alfred Steele, passes away, Joan Crawford (played by Faye Dunaway) tells the Board of Directors: "Don't fuck with me fellas. This ain't my first time at the rodeo."

Anyway... more popcorn moments tonight, I suspect.

The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism

I am pleased to see that The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism has finally been published!

The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism

SAGE says the following about the volume, whose editor-in-chief is Ronald Hamowy:

As a continuation of the older tradition of classical liberalism, libertarian thinking draws on a rich body of thought and scholarship. Contemporary libertarian scholars are continuing that tradition by making substantial contributions to such fields as philosophy, jurisprudence, economics, evolutionary psychology, political theory, and history, in both academia and politics. With more than 300 A-to-Z signed entries written by top scholars, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism is purposed to be a useful compilation of and introduction to libertarian scholarship. The Encyclopedia starts with an introductory essay offering an extensive historical and thematic overview of key thinkers, events, and publications in the development of libertarian thought. The Reader's Guide groups content for researchers and students alike, allowing them to study libertarianism topically, biographically, and by public policy issues.

I authored two pieces for the book, which was a project for the Cato Institute: one on Nathaniel Branden, and the other on Ayn Rand.

August 26, 2008

DNC, Moore, and Laissez-Faire Capitalism

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

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

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

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

Laissez-faire capitalism? Laissez-faire capitalism?

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

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

Cross-posted to L&P.

August 23, 2008

The More Things "Change"...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mentioned at L&P.

August 10, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welsh opens his superb book with the following important observation:

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

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

This is crucial to Welsh's thesis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tri-Level Model of Power Relations in Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noted at L&P.

August 08, 2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, RIP

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noted at L&P (under comments).

June 04, 2008

Sudha Shenoy, RIP

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

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

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

My condolences to her family and friends.

April 22, 2008

SITL, Part 2: Socialism After Hayek

As I explained in my recent post, "SITL, Part 1: Marx, Reason, and the Art of Freedom," in the coming months, I will be turning some of my attention to discussions of my work on "dialectics and liberty," which appear in the scholarly literature (SITL stands for: "Sciabarra In The Literature"). Part 1 of this series discussed Kevin M. Brien's brief examination of my work on Marx and Hayek in the second edition of his superb book, Marx, Reason, and the Art of Freedom. In Part 2, I turn my attention to another book that highlights my comparative studies of Marx and Hayek: Socialism After Hayek, by Theodore A. Burczak, which is part of a series, "Advances in Heterodox Economics" (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006).

Burczak synthesizes the insights of Hayek, Marx, and even Aristotle, in developing a humanistic framework that hopes to advance arguments on the viability of socialism. Burczak is deeply critical of the classical soclialist project and attempts its reconstruction in the light of Hayek's work on the "knowledge problem," that is, Hayek's efforts "to understand the limited and socially constituted nature of human knowledge..." Or as Don Lavoie put it: the problem of "how best to coordinate the actions of scatterd individuals, each of whom is in possession of unique, partial, tacit, and potentially erroneous knowledge" (pp. 1-2). Burczak writes:

Karl Marx, the father of modern socialism, also recognized the dispersion of human knowledge in a market economy. But, as Chris Sciabarra argues in his fascinating Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (1995), Marx viewed the dispersal of knowledge as a result of workers' alienation from the means of production, a transitory side effect of the property relations of capitalism. This stands in contrast to Hayek, who views the strictures on human knoweldge as "existentially limiting," that is, as natural and transhistorical properties of human existence (Sciabarra 1995, 119). Sciabarra understands Marx to accept epistemic fragmentation as only a temporary feature of social development, to be overcome in a socialist or communist society. For Marx, development of the forces of production and cooperative work relations would allow tacit and dispersed knowledge to be articulated and integrated in consciously directed economic activity, thereby solving Hayek's supposedly permanent knowledge problems. Sciabarra calls this Marx's "synoptic delusion" (ibid. 46)---the idea that one can consciously design a new society to achieve social justice. Many interpreters of Marx have embraced and extended this premise to argue that a Marxian vision of communism or socialism could only be realized by a centrally planned economy. Sciabarra claims that Hayek's thought ultimately triumphs over Marx's---and free market capitalism over centrally planned socialism---because Hayek resisted the synoptic delusion while Marx and his followers did not.
For contemporary socialists, this raises fundamental questions. Is there any meaningful notion of socialism that can answer Hayek's epistemological critique? Can the goals of classical socialism be achieved without central planning and the abolition of private property? Can there be socialism after Hayek? (p. 3)

Burczak answers these questions affirmatively and seeks to develop a "libertarian Marxist" conception of socialism. He integrates "three heterodox traditions" in formulating his answer---Hayekian-Austrian, Marxian, and Aristotelian---wherein each "absorb[s] certain concepts and criticisms from the others to maximize its own contribution to human betterment" (p. 4). He wishes to preserve the Hayekian-Austrian appreciation of market process, the Marxian theory of class, and the Aristotelian capability theory of justice (extended by writers such as Nussbaum and Sen).

Burczak characterizes Hayek's work as postmodern insofar as it "eschews reductionist" methods, while embracing a "more dialectical ... understanding of social phenomena" (p. 5). He also examines the "Amherst school" of postmodern Marxism (arising from the work of Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff), which sees class exploitation persisting "in the presence of centralized planning and socialized property." He wonders if "these postmodern Marxists really escape the synoptic delusion that Sciabarra sees in Marx." He believes that "[i]n principle, they do," and that much is to be applauded in their critique of planning (p. 7). But he criticizes the "old Marxist faith in a utopian future ... [of] material abundance" transcending "material scarcities" (p. 8). He applauds the work of G. A. Cohen, which highlights the importance of so-called "bourgeois" concerns such as freedom and justice, and Stephen Cullenberg, who rejects the utopian dimensions of socialist thought, while accepting "Hayekian knowledge problems, albeit implicitly..." (p. 8).

There is much more to recommend in Burczak's book, especially his grappling with the hermeneutical turn in Austrian theory (the work of Lavoie, Boettke, Horwitz, Prychitko, Ebeling, Koppl and Whitman, Lachmann, and others). Throughout the book, his goal is a "post-Hayekian socialism," one that "speaks to the need for economics to return to the traditions of Hayek and Marx and to read them in a spirt of productive creativity elicited by the tensions between these two traditions" (p. 16).

I will leave it to readers to decide whether Burczak succeeds in this goal. My own evaluation of his effectiveness would take me far beyond the scope of this current series, because it would require an assessment of various concrete proposals for institutional reform. Nevertheless, I am deeply impressed with Burczak's willingness to engage diverse traditions, and with his embrace of the dialectical aspects of Hayek's brand of social theorizing. His evaluation of policy proposals is always made in the context of those "intractable Hayekian knowledge problems." Ultimately, he seeks new "sets of institutions [that] might make a system of labor cooperatives function well in a market economy" (p. 139), while staying clear of "Hayek's 'road to serfdom'" (p. 146).

In my next installment of SITL, I will be shifting gears to explore the remarkable work of John F. Welsh, whose new book, After Multiculturalism: The Politics of Race and the Dialectics of Liberty, genuinely advances the dialectical-libertarian approach in a critical examination of racism.

Noted at L&P.

March 18, 2008

SITL, Part 1: Marx, Reason, and the Art of Freedom

It is very fulfilling to find one's work discussed in the works of others. Since the publication of my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy, which includes the books Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, there have been a number of books that have been published that examine my ideas from a variety of perspectives.

Today and over the coming months, I hope to turn some attention to discussions of my work that appear in the literature. For me, it will provide an opportunity to delve more deeply into some of the ideas first presented in my trilogy. Readers will note that these blog posts will be preceded by the abbreviation: SITL ("Sciabarra In The Literature"). Part 1 of this series begins with today's blog entry.

Some time ago, I received the second edition of Kevin M. Brien's book, Marx, Reason, and the Art of Freedom (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2006). The first edition was published in 1987 by Temple University Press; this second edition is put out by Humanity Books, which is an imprint of Prometheus Books, publisher of many fine works that would be familiar to Notablog readers.

I had reviewed Brien's first edition for Critical Review... twenty years ago! I am pleased to post a (not so clear) facsimile of that review (as a PDF) on my website here.

Let me say that I truly enjoyed Brien's book when I first read it, and I think his second edition is superb. Brien treats Marx's corpus as an open-ended, developing philosophical whole. He argues that, despite some ambiguous formulations in the works of Marx and Engels, the Marxian dialectical approach is opposed fundamentally to economic determinism. Brien sheds much light on dialectics by incorporating insights from such non-Marxist philosophers as Brand Blanshard (quite a revelation when I encountered it the first time around). In his second edition, the author deepens his discussion of the parallels between Marxist and non-Marxist perspectives. He also examines the "spiritual dimension in Marx" and includes an extended addendum on the complementary relationship between Buddhism and Marxism. There is so much worthwhile material in this book, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone seeking a more nuanced understanding of Marx.

In this blog entry, I want to focus a bit more attention on Brien's response to my review of his first edition. In the "Postscript to the Second Edition," Brien devotes part 1 to a response to his critics. He turns to my review first and quotes the following relevant passages:

Brien's interpretation of Marx's project suggests inadvertantly that communism is fundamentally dependent upon a grandiose epistemological achievement. Marx posits an historically emergent cognitive efficacy which boggles the human mind. On one level, Marx's speculations about man's future imply that he has a synoptic grasp of the movement of history. It is not entirely clear how Marx has access to knowledge about the inevitable triumph of human efficacy which is central to the achievement of communism.
F. A. Hayek and Michael Polanyi . . . have suggested that a synoptic grasp of the whole is epistemologically impossible. Indeed, the idealist belief in the possibility of an exhaustive comprehension of the whole and its internal relations is the hallmark of utopian thinking. . . . Hayek correctly views utopian blueprints for social change as resting on what he describes as a "synoptic delusion." A "synoptic delusion" represents a false belief that one can consciously design a new society as if one had possession of holistic knowledge. . . . Marx does not accept the Hayekian-Polanyian thesis which places fundamental strictures on man's cognitive capacity. For Marx, these strictures are themselves historically specific to pre-communist social formations.
While Brien's book emphasizes the important links between reason and freedom, it does not adequately question the actualizable potential of Marx's epistemological transcendence. If, indeed, the strictures on human knowledge are ontological, rather than historical, then Marx's project may be leading many genuine radicals toward an inherently unreachable, utopian goal.

Brien begins his response with a question: "Why can one not consistently accept that there may be some significant ontological strictures on human cognitive capacities, while also holding that other strictures on cognitive capacities are historically conditioned?" Marx, Brien argues, does not believe in the infallibility of human knowledge; he views all knowledge as conditional and limited. But "just because it is impossible to explain everything exhaustively about various natural or social wholes, does not preclude the possibilities of explaining some significant structural features of those natural or social wholes." (Brien will get no argument from me on this point.) For Brien, Marx projects various tendencies in capitalism and in social evolution based on "empirically grounded theories" that "aim at a kind of holistic or synoptic understanding," but not in the sense that Hayek means. All of Marx's pronouncements, in Brien's view, are "partial, limited, fallible, and empirically grounded," for all human knowledge must have "some sort of contextual limits." But contexts change, says Brien, and knowledge evolves.

Thus, in Brien's interpretation, "Marx himself does not pretend to have carried out the kind of 'grandiose epistemological achievement'" that worries me. But he issues a cautionary note: "Quite unfortunately though, there have been many deluded, dogmatic, and totalitarian followers of Marx who, having been caught up in the kind of 'synoptic delusion' Hayek warns us about, believed they knew the absolute, complete, and certain truth about social wholes. But not Marx!"

Before responding to Brien's comments, I should point out that the discussion from which he quotes was published in 1988. My interpretations of Marx and Marxism can be found in slightly more developed form in Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (1995) and in Chapter 3 of Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (2000).

Following Hayek, I have long argued that there are traces of constructivist rationalism in Marx's approach, which poison its goal of human emancipation. While I think that Marx, arguably, does not fully succumb to a "synoptic delusion," I think it is also true that Marx's own sketchy blueprint for a socialist future invests the proletariat with some kind of higher efficacy that would give it "virtual omniscience about social reality," as I state in Total Freedom, "generating precisely determined effects while transcending the unintended social consequences of their actions. This is, for Marx, the birth of genuine human history." Granted: The most problematic tendencies in this regard can actually be found in the writings of Frederick Engels, rather than in Marx himself. As Engels states in Dialectics of Nature:

[T]he more [people] make their own history consciously, the less becomes the influence of unforeseen effects and uncontrolled forces on this history, and the more accurately does the historical result correspond to the aim laid down in advance. If, however, we apply this measure to human history, to that of even the most developed peoples of the present day, we find that there still exists here a colossal disproportion between the proposed aims and the results arrived at, that unforeseen effects predominate, and that the uncontrolled forces are far more powerful than those set into motion according to plan. And this cannot be otherwise as long as the most essential activity of men . . . social production, is above all subject to the interplay of unintended effects from uncontrolled forces and achieves its desired end only by way of exception and, much more frequently, the exact opposite.

Quoting now from my book, Total Freedom:

Engels takes his cue from Marx, who believed that people's social actions unconsciously reproduced the structures of oppression that grew behind their "backs," making them the "playthings" of forces beyond their control. For Marx and Engels, the onset of communism engenders conditions in which the forces of production are not unruly "demons" but the "willing servants" of collective humanity.
It may be objected that Engels is not speaking of omniscient or omnipotent control of social forces, but a condition in which there is less spontaneity, and increasingly greater conscious direction. He speaks of "more" and "less," of degrees of control. Marxists might actually agree with Hayek's anti-constructivism [as Brien himself suggests above], but they dismiss it as a "strawman" argument, since people require not perfect, but "sufficient" knowledge for social reconstruction. A collective in possession of such "sufficient" knowledge will be able to manage social decisions through a process of "trial and error."

While I agree with Brien that there are some significant ontological strictures on human cognitive capacities and that there may very well be other strictures on cognitive capacities that are historically conditioned, there is still

no reason to believe that some distant proletarian generation will be able to achieve that which is ontologically and epistemologically impossible for human beings as such. Disputing these facts by declaring that our myopia is historically specific to capitalism does not remove the burden of proof. That burden rests on those who assert the positive: that it is possible to conquer unintended social consequences and to achieve complete predictability.

Even if Brien is correct that Marx himself did not fully exhibit such epistemic hubris, he is also correct about those "dogmatic and totalitarian followers of Marx" whose "synoptic delusion" is all too apparent.

And that is the problem. That is the danger of aiming for what is ultimately a utopian goal. Over time, the utopian dream disintegrates into a dystopian reality. Again, from Total Freedom:

Because our efforts are a matter of degree, the danger is that planners will try to actualize the utopian illusion. Since the world does not stop functioning while it is being reconstructed, the planners will be unable to transcend the unintended consequences of their own actions. The experiments have left millions of human corpses in their wake. Statist brutality is not what Marx envisioned as a model for human emancipation.
Much of the impetus for totalitarian constructivism came out of Soviet Marxism. The Soviets found justification in the works of Engels. Approaching the model of a Unified Science, Engels saw dialectics as "the science of interconnections." . . . Leaning heavily on Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, Engels recognized that "[t]he world clearly constitutes a single system, i.e., a coherent whole, but the knowledge of this system presupposes a knowledge of all nature and history, which man will never attain." It is peculiar to find Engels agreeing with Hayek—and not grasping that which Hayek found so elementary. To the extent that he ignored the fundamental differences between the natural and social worlds, Engels overschematized and rigidified a dialectical approach that Marx had used with greater flexibility.
Many contemporary Marxists have sought to distance themselves from this scientistic Engelsian "category" error . . . The full development of Engels's dialectic, or what became known as "dialectical materialism," took place within the confines of Soviet "science" and politics. The very expression "dialectical materialism" was not used by Marx or Engels; it was popularized by the Soviet Marxist, G. V. Plekhanov. The doctrine became an ideological device to justify the control and distortion of science, engendering such debacles as the Lysenko affair. These controversies have led contemporary Marxists to reject the thoroughly "undialectical" and "tyrannical application of a mechanical and sterile Stalinist diamat."
[Howard] Sherman [in his book Reinventing Marxism] has provided one of the most trenchant critiques of this Soviet model. For him, the dialectical enterprise is properly relational and organic. It stresses reciprocal causation and interaction among many factors in a social totality. But this emphasis on totality is not, in Sherman's view, an apologia for methodological collectivism. Surprisingly, Sherman applauds Popper for "criticizing extreme collectivism, which has sometimes made glib or mystic accounts of social wholes greater than their individual parts." Legitimate Marxist dialectics provides a tool for the analysis of the whole forest, as seen from the vantage point of any tree. It must never lose sight of the fact that "the whole is composed of individuals. . . . But as Karl Popper points out, someone who tries to claim that the forest as a whole exists without or independently of the trees is talking nonsense." On this basis, Sherman asserts that the organic analogies in Marxism are metaphorical; they presuppose neither a collective mind nor an impersonal, inexorable force in history.
Sherman recognizes that Popper's critique is fully applicable to Soviet Marxism, which regarded dialectics "as an omniscient system explaining the whole universe, following the Hegelian tradition in this respect." . . . This scientistic distortion of dialectic provided a priori formulas by which to interpret and shape the world, as if one could understand the complexities of society without actually engaging in empirical investigations.

Kevin Brien, to his credit, recognizes the "pervasive and systematic distortion" of dialectical method that has resulted from the reification of certain abstractions in Marx's and, especially, Engels' presentation. He argues (on page 202 of the second edition of his book) that there is a crucial "contrast between Marx's method of scientific explanation and Engels' 'cosmic dialectic of development.' To adopt the first does not commit one to the second."

But in bidding "good riddance" (as Howard Sherman puts it) to the totalitarian model that has infected Marxism, more attention needs to be paid to the epistemic hubris or "synoptic delusion" that gave birth to this model in the first place. It is this same hubris that has led too many "progressives" to embrace a state-centered vision for political and social change. The state is not the repository of either "total" or "sufficient" knowledge to affect a genuinely radical social transformation. It has been a reactionary agency of violence, at war with both reason and freedom.

In Part II of SITL, coming soon, I will turn to another discussion of the "synoptic delusion" in which my work is cited: Theodore A. Burczak's book, Socialism After Hayek.

Noted at Liberty and Power Group Blog.

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.

February 09, 2008

D.C. v. Heller

My pal Daniel L. Schmutter has filed a brilliant amicus brief in support of the respondent in the upcoming gun control case District of Columbia v. Heller (07-290). Check out the PDF of that brief here.

Terrific!

January 30, 2008

Rudy Giuliani: A Preliminary Autopsy

If you are at all susceptible to the politics bug, it is very hard to innoculate oneself in the middle of one of the most dizzying political seasons in recent memory.

But some things are predictable. A very, very long time ago, when former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had launched his GOP campaign for the Presidency, it seemed that he would be invincible. I have long argued, however, that the conservative "coalition" within the Republican Party had suffered a huge crack-up, undermined by its most virulent strains (of the neo- and, especially, theo- variety).

In this context, "[i]t bordered on science fiction to think that someone as liberal on as many issues as Rudy Giuliani could become the Republican nominee," as GOP consultant Nelson Warfield observes.

With Rudy's crushing defeat in the Florida primary (and his imminent endorsement of John McCain), Giuliani's campaign is now history.

Now, let me be clear about a few things: I'm not one of those libertarians who utterly despises "Ghouliani." True, he could be an awful political opportunist (Joe Biden's statement rings true: "There's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11"). He was petty and authoritarian, and he pissed me off a few hundred times while he was "America's Mayor." But for New Yorkers who lived through an era bookended by John Lindsay and David Dinkins, Rudy did a few things that led even the New York Times to endorse him in 1997 for a second term (so much for their inherent bias against him).

That said, his acceptance of the Bush administration's reckless policies assured that I could never cast my vote for a Giuliani presidency.

So much more 2008 political theater to come... stay tuned.

Cross-referenced at L&P.

December 05, 2007

Inside Higher Ed: Around the Web

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

Cross posted to L&P.

October 19, 2007

Passings

Changes happening... some permanent... let me note a few:

o Deborah Kerr, whom I loved in such movies as "The King and I," "An Affair to Remember," and "Quo Vadis," passed away on Tuesday, October 16, 2007.

o Joey Bishop, whose humor made me chuckle in the 1960s and 1970s, passed away on Wednesday, October 17, 2007; he was the last surviving member of Hollywood's famed "Rat Pack."

o Laissez Faire Books is closing its doors after 36 years in business. I will always be enormously thankful to LFB for carrying my various books and monographs through the years. My very best wishes to everybody connected to LFB for providing liberty lovers with one of the most important sources of libertarian literature in the world.

o And, finally, I note the passing of the Joe Torre Era of Yankees Baseball. I still think that the Yankees greatest weakness is their starting pitching (and their long relief), not their manager. It's the pitching (or lack thereof) that has led to early exits from the postseason for several years running now. The organization is going a long way toward correcting its pitching weakness by re-investing in a long-depleted farm system. The rebuilding may take a few years, but I'm confident it will be for the best. Losing Manager Joe Torre, however, is not for the best, and I will miss his steady hand and stabilizing influence. Thanks, Joe, for a great run!

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.

August 29, 2006

Back to Bourbon Street

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

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

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

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

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

Comments welcome.

August 15, 2006

Fascism Revisited

After hearing recent remarks by President George W. Bush about "Islamic fascists," I was reminded of a few posts that I've already written on the subject. Just by way of update, check out:

"Freedom and 'Islamo-Fascism'"

"Fascism: Clarifying a Political Concept"

"Higgs and 'Participatory Fascism'"

"'Capitalism': The Known Reality"

Comments welcome.

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.

February 04, 2006

Jack Criss Aims Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in all: A very enjoyable read.

Comments welcome.

February 02, 2006

The Kings of Nonviolent Resistance

It is no longer news that Coretta Scott King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., passed away this week. She was 78.

An advocate and practitioner of nonviolent resistance, Martin Luther King Jr. once uttered a classic statement: "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."

While a lot of discussion has ensued over the nature of the "love thine enemy" philosophy that seems to underlie King's statement, I think there is a truth therein, which was made even more apparent by King's wife. Coretta Scott King often repeated her husband's maxim: "Hate is too great a burden to bear." But she added: "It injures the hater more than it injures the hated."

I've talked about the effects of hating in other posts dealing with everything from Yoda to my articulation of "The Rose Petal Assumption," so I won't repeat my reasoning here. Suffice it to say, there is an internal relationship between hatred, fear, anger, and suffering, and, often, the transcendence of one brings forth the transcendence of all.

I think what the Kings focused on was not "loving one's enemy" per se, but the practice of a positive alternative in one's opposition to evil. Nonviolent resistance is not equivalent to pacifism. It is not the renunciation of the retaliatory use of force; it entails, instead, the practice of a wide variety of strategiesfrom boycotts to strikes, which remove all sanctions of one's own victimization. One refuses to be a part of a cycle that replaces one "boss" with another. One repudiates real-world monsters, while not becoming one in the process. For as Nietzsche once said: "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."

Nonviolence is not a social panacea, and sometimes it is absolutely necessary to use violence in one's response to aggression. But much can be learned about how to topple tyranny from the lessons provided by the theoreticians and practitioners of nonviolent resistance.

It's fitting that today I've marked Ayn Rand's birthday, for Atlas Shrugged is one of the grandest dramatizations in fiction of the effectiveness of fighting tyranny through nonviolent resistance. It is no coincidence that, while writing her magnum opus, Rand's working title for Atlas was "The Strike." Of course, Rand was no theorist of nonviolence, but her novel is instructive.

For further reading on the subject of nonviolence, let me suggest first and foremost the books of Gene Sharp, founder of the Albert Einstein Institution. See especially Sharp's books, The Politics of Nonviolent Action and Social Power and Political Freedom.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.

January 26, 2006

I Get Letters ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments welcome.

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.

International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology: Libertarianism

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

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

"Libertarianism"

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

January 04, 2006

International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology: Karl Marx

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

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

"Karl Marx"

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

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

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.

December 13, 2005

The 9/11 Money Trough

I have been following the week-long series in the New York Daily News focusing on the "9/11 Money Trough," the entirely predictable corrupt financial feeding frenzy generated by the infusion of massive government funds in the months and years after the attacks on Manhattan. It brings to mind what Errol Louis said about the promised revitalization of New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina; he said that billions of dollars were about "to pass into the sticky hands of politicians. ... Worried about looting? You ain't seen nothing yet."

Well, we've seen it here in NYC. I highly recommend the series to readers.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.

December 05, 2005

The Freeman: Dialectics and Liberty

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

"Dialectics and Liberty"

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

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 15, 2005

Religious Marketing 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rush and Molloy continue:

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

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

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

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

And God help us.

Comments welcome.

October 31, 2005

John Leo on Dems and Rothbard

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

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

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

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

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

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

In any event, it's an interesting read.

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

October 11, 2005

Karl Rove and Me

Notablog readers may have noticed fewer posts from me over the past week or so. It can't all be blamed on my obsession with baseball.

In truth, I've been dealing with a medical issue that plagues many people, regardless of intellectual orientation or political affiliation. I know this is definition by nonessentials, but in truth, I have something in common with Karl Rove. Recently, NY Daily News columnist Lloyd Grove gave us the lowdown on Rove's trials and tribulations. He writes here:

Never mind those planned congressional hearings on the hows and whys of government incompetence in the attempt to cope with Hurricane Katrina. There were not only logistical and bureaucratic troubles but, astonishingly for the Bush White House, political snafus. Maybe there's a simple explanation: Karl Rove's kidney stones.
Washington insiders have been buzzing that President Bush's guru-in-chiefoften called "Bush's Brain"has been suffering from the painful urinary-tract malady for the past couple of weeks, causing him to miss some key Katrina strategy sessions. ...
My esteemed colleague and Daily News Washington Bureau chief, Tom DeFrank, who has also suffered from the condition, yesterday told me: "The pain, depending on the size of the stone, goes from horrible to excruciating." DeFrank added: "Karl may be a certified political genius, but there's no way he could be in a meeting dispensing advice to anybody. The only thing he could dispense would be low, pitiable moans."

I know this only too well, since this is now my third bout with kidney stones. I'll have some sonic blasting of these merciless objects next week, and may be out of commission for a bit. But if I avoid a hospital stay and further complications, you can rest assured that the music will go on.

Comments welcome.

September 26, 2005

Norms of Liberty

Some time ago, I was privileged to read significant parts of Norms of Liberty: A Perfectionist Basis for Non-Perfectionist Politics, authored by my friends and colleagues Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl. I was deeply impressed with the manuscript, and I am delighted to announce today that the book has been published by Penn State Press (the publisher of several of my own books).

Click Here to Purchase the New Rasmussen-Den Uyl Title

As the abstract states, the book asks how we can "establish a political/legal order that does not require the human flourishing of any person or group to be given structured preference over that of any other." Rasmussen and Den Uyl, who are on the Board of Advisors of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, examine the foundations of political liberalism. They are post-Randian neo-Aristotelians who have written a significant tract in political philosophy, continuing the fine work of such previous books as Liberty and Nature: An Aristotelian Defense of Liberal Order.

JARS will be reviewing the book, and we hope it will spark some good discussion. In fact, the upcoming Spring 2006 issue will feature a contribution from Doug Rasmussen, as part of a larger symposium on Rand's ethics.

I highly recommend this book.

Comments welcome.

September 24, 2005

Alexander Rustow

Walter Grinder and John Hagel III have posted a very nice essay on one of the most important books I've ever read: Alexander Rustow's work Freedom and Domination. In this thread, I left a few comments, which I reproduce here for Notablog readers:

Wonderful post, gents, about a very important work. My only quibble is in the use of the word "dialectical" here (I'd use it in a much wider sense to encompass radical-contextual analysis). I suspect you're using it as a way to distinguish it from a kind quasi-teleological "dialectical materialist" conception of history, or at least one that points to "resolution" of conflict (though Marx's conception itself is filled to the brim with discussions of struggle and conflict).
Ironically, I think one can find certain parallels between R?#39;s perspective and the Marxist conception. Rustow even objects to the "one-sided" view of "capitalism" advanced by Mises and Hayek. He sees "subsidy-ridden, monopolist, protectionist" policies as the reality of capitalism's essence and even defines capitalism as a form of "protocollectivism."
Rustow calls himself a "neoliberal"; I know that that label also has a variety of connotations.
So, while I think you're both absolutely correct that this work is crucially important for helping liberal scholars in the formation of a research-and-activist programme, I'm wondering where you see Rustow in relationship to today's libertarianism. How different is Rustow's "neoliberalism" from today's libertarianism?
Not having read the full original German work, I have always been very curious about Rustow's larger political sympathies. I've read a few essays about him here and there, but any further light you could shed on his politics would be greatly appreciated.

Comments welcome.

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.

September 14, 2005

The Comic Book Geek Revolutionaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aeon points out further:

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

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

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

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

Aeon rightly attaches crucial importance to these issues:

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

All excellent points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments welcome. Mentioned at L&P.

September 06, 2005

Santorum and Big Government Conservatism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katrina

After a week of watching, listening, and reading about one of the most painful episodes in the history of American life, I don't think there is much I can say that hasn't already been said, better. I remember Hurricane Camille, but the human and financial costs of Hurricane Katrina are likely to be the worst ever recorded in the United States. I am only thankful that friends and colleagues who lived in the area (including Journal of Ayn Rand Studies advisor, Eric Mack) survived the storm.

I've read a lot of very interesting, provocative, and instructive commentary from writers such as John Tierney, Stephen Murray, Radley Balko (e.g., here, here, and here), Will Bunch, Wayne R. Dynes, first-person accounts by Geoffrey Allan Plauche (start here, and also see his links to many other interesting libertarian discussions here), and Arthur Silber (e.g., here, here and especially here, with links to that Aaron Broussard appearance on "Meet the Press," which was heartbreaking to watch this past Sunday morning).

I must admit that I am morally outraged by the racist crap that I've read, which poses as sociological analysis in the blogosphere, in such places as this, where we are told that the "plain fact" is that "African-Americans ... tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups. Thus they need stricter moral guidance from society." Hence, this writer asks, why are we surprised over the catastrophe of New Orleans? After all, the city is two-thirds black!

I have always appreciated explorations of the sociological effects of interventionism on generations of African Americans, who have been subjected to a history of statist and collectivist coercion, from the injustices of slavery, Jim Crow, and hateful and murderous discrimination to the nightmare of public education, institutionalized poverty, and bureaucratic welfarism. I have no doubt that some of these injustices have affected the social psychology of some African Americans, the way it would affect the social psychology of any other groups in this country, indeed, all groups, to the extent that each is both parasite and host in the grand war of all against all that statism breeds.

But to blame the horrors of New Orleans on the "poorer native judgment" of African Americans is to sink into a fetid pool even worse than the one that has engulfed that city.

Let's not forget either that interventionism creates the underclass it attempts to quell with its welfare policies. Let's not forget either that interventionism creates and bolsters the privileges of other classes and groups through an ever-evolving network of corporatist policies, both domestic and foreign. (As if to emphasize the domestic-foreign connection, Kenneth R. Bazinet informs us "that Vice President Cheney's former company, Halliburton, which has handled much of the repair work as well as support services for the U.S. military in Iraq, was hired to restore power and rebuild three naval facilities in Mississippi that were wrecked by Katrina.")

It would be ideal for local, state, and federal officials to get out of the way, to allow entrepreneurial ingenuity to save the devastated areas of the South. But the structures and institutions of the system will not allow for this. There is a supreme politico-economic boondoggle in the making, in which billions of taxpayer dollars will pass through various levels of government bureaucracy. As Errol Louis puts it: "Ten billion dollars are about to pass into the sticky hands of politicians in the No. 1 and No. 3 most corrupt states in America. Worried about looting? You ain't seen nothing yet."

In the perfect storm of its first few days, the response to Katrina has revealed too the utter failure of local, state, and federal officials to grapple with crisis. It is not very reassuring in this post-9/11 world. It is also not very reassuring to know that tens of thousands of National Guard troops continue to do the work of an international army (hat tip to Ilana Mercer), even as their services are required here at home. There is an inescapable connection between this administration's foreign policy adventure in Iraq and the drain on domestic human and financial resources.

I'd like to make one final observation.

Many readers know the depths of my anguish concerning the nightmare that unfolded in New York City on September 11, 2001. This Thursday, I will be posting the next installment of my annual World Trade Center tribute (the remembrances are archived on each tribute page, starting here).

I was asked by several readers if I thought the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina was worse than 9/11.

I think the question compares apples and oranges.

The devastation of a natural disaster of this magnitude (and the accompanying man-made mismanagement) is worse on almost every level: Concerning New Orleans alone, we have witnessed the virtual obliteration of an entire city, with economic effects that will last decades. The thousands of deaths, the billions of dollars in property lost or damaged beyond repair, are simply hard to fathom.

But on another level, of course, 9/11 is worse: It was an attack, an act of war, which, unlike a hurricane, caught its victims completely unaware. The mismanagement of pre-9/11 intelligence and post-9/11 foreign policy adds yet another dimension to the level of tragedy entailed.

I think it matters not, however, to those who have been victims of the respective tragedies, to engage in a fruitless debate over whose hurt, whose pain of loss, is worse. There are certain things over which people have no control. All that matters is that they improve their ability to manage the things they can control, so that disasters of any kind are not an occasion for yet one more day of national mourning.

Comments welcome. Mentioned at L&P.

August 27, 2005

"Lost Liberty" on "Nightline"

Friday night's "Nightline" broadcast opened with a special segment on the "Lost Liberty Hotel," an effort by Logan Darrow Clements to use the power of eminent domain to condemn the New Hampshire property of Supreme Court Justice David Souter for uses that would provide a greater "benefit" to the community. (Souter voted with the 5-4 majority in the infamous Kelo decision.)

I must admit it was hilarious to see Clements with a very visible copy of Atlas Shrugged on the ABC broadcast, which he inscribed:

Dear Mr. Souter: A story about the importance of property rights. Enjoy!
Logan Darrow Clements

Talk about milking the inner contradictions of the system to prove a point.

Taking a look at Souter's property... I can understand why anyone would want it condemned. Are the taxpayers not paying Souter a good enough salary? Can't he afford a paint job for that house?

Comments welcome.

August 22, 2005

Dualism: A Difference With Distinction

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

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

Billy takes it one step further with these comments here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

... and so on ...

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

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

... and so on ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments welcome.

August 20, 2005

Anarchy and Dualism, Revisited

Geoffrey Allan Plauche over at Libertas revisits the subject of "Anarchy and Dualism" (which we'd discussed briefly here and here), mostly in response to a post by Billy Beck over at Two--Four.

Geoffrey discusses the fallacy of dualism, which I highlight in my own book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. What is of interest to me is that even though I have viewed anarchists as creating a dualism between market and state, they themselves view the state as the source of social dualisms and conflict. One might say that they are motivated by a desire to resolve the very dualisms in social life that even nonanarchists decry. (I have argued that the anarchist resolution is not dialectical, but that's a separate issue.)

In any event, check out the relevant links above for some interesting discussion.

Comments welcome.

August 18, 2005

My Interview at Sunni's Salon

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

The 8-page interview starts here.

Comments welcome.

August 17, 2005

An Interview, Conducted by Sebastien Care

This is a Notablog Exclusive.

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

An Interview, Conducted by Sebastien Care

Comments welcome.

July 26, 2005

Revolutionary Jokes

I really like the name of this magazine. In it, Carl Schreck reviews a new book by Bruce Adams entitled Tiny Revolutions in Russia: Twentieth-Century Soviet and Russian History in Anecdotes. I've not read the book, but it does look as if it is "No Laughing Matter," insofar as it shows how jokes served as a means of critiquing the Soviet police state.

Here are a few excerpts from Schreck's piece:

Jokes, or anekdoty, were indeed risky business in the Soviet Union, Bruce Adams maintains in the introduction to "Tiny Revolutions in Russia," his light if thoroughly entertaining recap of Soviet history told through a mix of amusing, tragicomic, baffling and plain unfunny jokes that will strike a familiar chord with any foreigner who has shared a couple bottles of vodka with a table full of Russians.

George Orwell was the first to dub jokes "tiny revolutions," but it's an especially fitting title for Adams' book, which reminds us that humor can have very serious consequences when the joke is on a totalitarian regime. The eight years Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn spent in prisons and labor camps came as punishment for jokes he had made about Josef Stalin in his private correspondence, Adams writes. "The anecdotes were necessarily underground humor shared only with close friends."

So, how about a few jokes?

When no African delegates showed up at a Comintern Congress, Moscow wired Odessa [a very cosmopolitan port city with a large Jewish population]: "Send us a Negro immediately." "Odessa wired right back: 'Rabinovich has been dyed. He's drying.'"

"Who built the White Sea-Baltic Canal? "On the right bank -- those who told anecdotes, on the left bank -- those who heard them."

Because the BBC always seemed to know Soviet secrets so quickly, it was decided to hold the next meeting of the Politburo behind closed doors. No one was permitted in or out. Suddenly Kosygin grasped his belly and asked permission to leave. Permission was denied. A few minutes later there was a knock at the door. A janitress stood there with a pail: "The BBC just reported that Aleksei Nikolayevich shit himself."

Read the whole article here. And check out Adams' book here.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.

July 13, 2005

Anarchism and Dualism

Geoffrey Allan Plauche, over at Libertas, engages my point that there is (or has been) a profound relationship between anarchism and dualism.

In my reply to Roderick Long's critique of Total Freedom, I wrote:

Though I identify certain problems with anarchism, Im equally suspicious of minarchism. I take very seriously some of the trenchant anarchist criticisms of limited government. I greatly value the contributions of anarchist thinkers to libertarian class theory and revisionist historical understanding. If my own perspective helps minarchists and anarchists to move toward a dialectical resolution of sorts, I will be pleased. And if it contributes to a similar transcendence of the conventional left-right continuum that both Long and I reject, I will be even more pleased.

In Total Freedom, I actually held out some hope for a "nondualistic anarchism." The fact that anybody other than Sciabarra and Long is even thinking about this issue makes me smile.

As for Geoffrey's points, I actually agree with him that statism introduces various dualities into social life. I also agree with him that there is a distinction between "government" as an ideal concept and, at the very least, every existing historical example of the "State." But I'm not fully convinced that "anarchism" and "statism" are not two sides of the same dualistic coin. Perhaps it all comes down to what Plauche says: "there are different kinds of anarchism" (just as there are different kinds of statism, of course).

My chief point in part two of Total Freedom was that Rothbard endorsed one kind of anarchism that seemed to reify (as "dualistic") a number of legitimate distinctions: personal morality v. public ethos; the voluntary v. the coercive; the contractual v. the hegemonic; market v. state; liberty v. power; culture v. politics. On one level, his analysis showed much more interaction between these distinctions than his more "monistic" resolution would allow.

In any event, good to see some discussion of this.

Comments welcome, but check out Geoffrey's post too.

May 27, 2005

John T. Flynn

I left a brief comment at L&P in response to David Beito's post, "Alfred Kohlberg, Joe McCarthy, and the China Lobby." He mentions a new book about John T. Flynn, Old Right opponent of the welfare-warfare state.

May 14, 2005

Political Economy & Liberal Democracy

Gus diZerega has a thought-provoking post at L&P entitled "Spontaneous Order, Liberal Democracy, and Classical Liberalism Again," which responds to a few questions I posed here.

Comments welcome, but readers are encouraged to read Gus's post and comment at L&P.

April 28, 2005

Spencer, Long, and a New Encyclopedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted to L&P.

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

April 02, 2005

Hayek and Spencer

At L&P, I made a comment on a review of Bruce Caldwell's recent book on Hayek here.

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 10, 2005

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

Foer and "The Joy of Federalism"

I'm a little behind in my reading, but I wanted to pass along a link to another interesting article by Franklin Foer (one of whose pieces I previously discussed here). In "The Joy of Federalism," Foer traces the historical development of a "liberal federalism" as a bulwark against the growth of the federal government under the Bush administration. As Foer puts it:

Like many of his predecessors, [Bush] entered office promising to rescue the states from federal pummeling. Yet his administration has greatly expanded federal power, and some conservatives have been complaining. Writing in National Review two years ago, Romesh Ponnuru observed that "more people are working for the federal government than at any point since the end of the cold war." State governments have their own version of this complaint. They say the Bush administration has imposed new demandsfederal education standards, homeland security taskswithout also providing sufficient cash to get these jobs done. The Republican senator Lamar Alexander recently told The Times, "The principle of federalism has gotten lost in the weeds by a Republican Congress that was elected to uphold it in 1994."

The whole essay is worth a good read.

Cross-posted to L&P, where readers may leave comments. (Comments may be found here.)

March 06, 2005

A Primer on Murray Rothbard

SOLO HQ has published my brief discussion of the importance of a key thinker in the libertarian tradition: "A Primer on Murray Rothbard."

Also noted at the Mises Economics Blog, LewRockwell.com Blog (by Karen DeCoster), Cameron's Blog, and L&P (L&P dialogue can be found here).

Readers may comment at SOLO HQ starting here.

Update: Lots of debate on Rothbard and other issues at SOLO HQ. I comment here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, as well as here, here, here, and here, and, for the sake of frivolity, here, here, and here and here, with a serious comment about my links policy here; see also here and here, here and here for other Sciabarra references.

February 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 19, 2005

The Fatal Deceit x 2

There are two articles currently circulating on Hayek entitled "The Fatal Deceit": One by Alan Ebenstein at Liberty that questions the authenticity of Hayek's last book (The Fatal Conceit); the other by Lindsay Perigo that questions the authenticity, so-to-speak, of Hayek's work in the battle for a free society.

I add my thoughts to Perigo's thread, starting here (and continuing here, here), here, and here.

February 09, 2005

Liberty and Freedom

In the light of our continuing discussion of various "Isms" (see recent additions to this conversation by Kenneth R. Gregg, "Capitalism, Mutuality, and Sharing" and Sheldon Richman's "I, Liberal"), I just wanted to bring a recent NY Times article to the attention of readers.

Continue reading "Liberty and Freedom" »

February 05, 2005

"Capitalism" Discussion at L&P

My post yesterday inspired lots of discussion at L&P. See here, here, here, here, and here.

Steven Horwitz posts a full response at L&P as well, "Thoughts on Sciabarra," which has inspired some responses too: here and here. Also see Roderick Long's post on "The Virtue of 'Selfishness'."

Finally, don't forget my newest post, "'Capitalism' and Other Isms," and the discussions that it has inspired here, here, and here.

"Capitalism" and Other Isms

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

Continue reading ""Capitalism" and Other Isms" »

February 04, 2005

"Capitalism": The Known Reality

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

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

January 29, 2005

Markets: Left and Right

At L&P, I respond to follow-up discussion over my recent entry, "The Market Shall Set You Free." At issue: Coalition-building on the left and the right.

Update: William Marina comments on yesterday's post, and I reply. See also here.

January 28, 2005

The Market Shall Set You Free... in the NY Times?

At L&P, I recommend an article by Robert Wright: "The Market Shall Set You Free ... in the NY Times?" And see follow-up comments here, here, and here.

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.

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 08, 2004

Libertas Quote of the Day

I comment briefly in response to Geoffrey Allan Plauche's Libertas post: "Quote of the Day (and for the Times!)."

December 07, 2004

Total Freedom Reviewed in RAE

The Review of Austrian Economics has published a review, written by Steven Horwitz, of my book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. Excerpts from this rather good review are posted to my site here. RAE is published by Kluwer Academic Publishers. (See also Roderick Long's L&P post on the new RAE issue here.)

November 24, 2004

Libertarian Cultural Studies

I left a comment on an L&P thread ("The Motorcycle Diaries...and a mea culpa") concerning cultural studies and libertarian social theory.

Update: There is more discussion on that thread, post-November 25th, dealing with individual rights and the issue of revolution.

October 09, 2004

Robert Higgs and "Participatory Fascism"

As a postscript to my recent discussions on fascism, I briefly note the contributions of Robert Higgs in an L&P post: "Higgs and 'Participatory Fascism'."

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."