NOVEMBER 22, 2018
Song of the Day: I've Got Plenty To Be Thankful For, words and music by Irving Berlin, made its debut in the 1942 film, "Holiday Inn." The soundtrack features some truly wonderful gems that would make their way into the Great American Songbook. This particular tune was sung in the film by Bing Crosby, accompanied by Bob Crosby and his Orchestra [YouTube link]. It's just my way of saying "Happy Thanksgiving" to one and all.
NOVEMBER 15, 2018
As anybody who is a baseball fan knows, there were few pitchers in 2018 who were better than New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob de Grom. The man had the misfortune of playing for a team that just couldn't score runs for him, explaining his 10-9 record. But as David Schoenfield of ESPN put it: "He ended the season with a stretch of 24 starts in a row where he pitched at least six innings and allowed three runs or fewer, an all-time record. Essentially, the man didn't have a bad start all season, so even though he finished with just 10 wins, it's no surprise that deGrom is your National League Cy Young winner."
The biggest tribute I can give de Grom is to say that as a New York Yankees fan, I wish he was pitching for the Yankees rather than the Mets. He's pure class all the way, and I tip my hat to "de Best" and to those who were not dissuaded from voting for him, despite his season's win-loss record. Bravo Jacob! Here's hoping that there are plenty more Cy Youngs in your future!
NOVEMBER 13, 2018
On Ryan Neugebauer's Facebook thread today, I offered these observations, after making a few tongue-in-cheek remarks about Ryan's proposal to write a book called "A Case Against Myself." At first, I observed:
Sounds a little schizo to me; what would the thesis be?
Ryan replied: "Basically, I would argue against everything I stand for in it. Become my best opponent." To which I responded:
Now that's what I call taking the "dialectical" very seriously. If Bill Evans, the great jazz pianist, could do an album called "Conversations with Myself" (where he basically overdubbed and recorded solos off of his own accompaniment), you could write a book called "Conversations with Myself" (just understand that some folks chuckled at Bill's title, with tongue-in-cheek, calling it "Playing with Myself." ;) )
On a more serious note, what you say is, of course, of the utmost importance. There is no greater deed in the clash of ideas than to truly understand not only your opponents' perspectives (because there are often multiple conflicting perspectives, and given your generally libertarian outlook, that means, at least in matters of politics, opposition from both the left and the right)---but to grasp your own perspective more fully, more comprehensively.
This also means truly understanding the best, rather than the weakest, arguments that your opponents offer. Perhaps it was fortuitous that my own mentor was Bertell Ollman, an internationally known Marxist scholar. But it is a credit to him that he was among the very first scholars of any kind who truly encouraged me to continue my exploration of libertarianism in my scholarly work. Ironically, he was a Volker fellow early in his academic life, who worked with Hayek at the University of Chicago; he later befriended Murray Rothbard and Leonard Liggio in the Peace and Freedom Party, in their mutual opposition to the Vietnam War.
So his respect for libertarians was profound. But without him, I would never have been truly exposed to dialectical method, which I champion in my works (especially in the "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy," which consists of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism---all books for which he provided high-profile back-cover blurbs).
One of the things that was always a part of his courses, and a part of the grade you would ultimately earn, was to keep a daily intellectual diary, centering on what we were discussing in class, or what texts we were required to read, evaluate and critique that particular day or week. I read not only virtually all of Marx's work under his guidance---but also some of the best secondary literature in defense of Marx's work, including Ollman's own books, such as Alienation and Dialectical Investigations, but also Scott Meikle's Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx and Carol Gould's Marx's Social Ontology, all of which revealed a serious Aristotelian aspect to dialectics. Which was no accident since even Hegel himself called Aristotle the "fountainhead" of dialectical inquiry. It was by engaging with these works by folks with whom I did not wholly agree politically, that I was able to mount (what I believed to be) more effective arguments in opposition to them. But in doing so, I also took away from their work some very powerful arguments in favor of a dialectical approach to social inquiry, which I adopted in my own defense of a "dialectical libertarianism."
You don't want to learn how to oppose the weakest arguments that your intellectual opponents have to offer; you want to seriously engage the best of their traditions. You do no service to the intellectual integrity of the ideas you oppose or the intellectual integrity of your own developing body of ideas by going after fallacious "straw man" arguments that are not truly representative of what your critics are saying.
So, to make a long story short: Despite my tongue-in-cheek responses above, this is an extremely helpful exercise that you propose, which can only help you, in the long-run, to develop the best, and most intellectually honest, presentation of the ideas that you ultimately support and defend.
NOVEMBER 11, 2018
Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day, when the guns of World War I were laid down on the Western front at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. In 2018, the United States marks this day as Veterans Day.
My family gave many of its native-born American sons to the armed services; my maternal grandparents came from Greece and my paternal grandparents came from Italy, and their American-born children went off to war---the Second World War, to be precise, a war that was not supposed to happen after the "war to end all wars," the "Great War," which led to the deaths of over 16 million people, including 7 million civilians. Some of those in my family who fought in World War II came home as veterans: my Uncle George Sciabarra and my Uncle Al, who fought in the European theater, as part of the Allied invasion of Italy, from which their parents had emigrated; my Uncle Charlie Sciabarra, who ended up in a German POW camp, liberated after the war; my Uncle Anthony "Tony" Jannace, who as a member of the Second Infantry Division eventually became part of Patton�s Third Army, in the second wave of the D-Day invasion on June 7, 1944, spending over 300 days in combat, involved in five campaigns---in Normandy, Northern France, the Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe---as they fought to liberate Paris, Belgium, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. My Uncle Tony got frostbite during the Battle of the Bulge, and after being hit by mortar on April 7, 1945, he received the Purple Heart. My Uncle Frank was not as lucky; he was killed in that battle, in which American forces suffered heavy casualties, under the weight of a German tank offensive. Other than my Uncle Frank, all of my uncles came home as veterans of World War II.
One of those veterans, my Uncle Sam (Salvatore) Sclafani, I had the honor of interviewing in 1976; that interview formed the basis of a 2004 Memorial Day tribute to him---but as a naval veteran of World War II, he was one of those Veterans of Foreign Wars who, perhaps more than any other relative, had the greatest impact on my early thinking about politics. I remember Uncle Sam telling me about a 1939 film, "Idiot's Delight," starring Clark Gable (in the same year in which he starred in "Gone with the Wind") and Norma Shearer. The film was an adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood's 1936 play, for which the playwright won a Pulitzer Prize. It was Uncle Sam who had introduced me to several antiwar films from the early days of cinema that had a profound effect on his thinking about the horrors of war. Among these films were the 1925 silent movie, "The Big Parade" and the 1930 version of "All Quiet on the Western Front," based on the Erich Maria Remarque antiwar novel.
And yet it was the 1939 Clark Gable movie that left a profound effect on my Uncle Sam, just for a couple of lines of dialogue that resonated with him through the years---precisely because he experienced first hand the nightmares of war, as he was stationed in the Aleutian Islands, the closest U.S. base in proximity to the Japanese mainland. The character Achille Weber (played by actor Edward Arnold) asks: "Who are the greater criminals [in war]? Those who sell the instruments of death or those who buy them and use them? It is they who make war seem noble and heroic . . ."
In fact, my Uncle Sam cast his first vote in the 1940 Presidential election for Franklin D. Roosevelt for his promise that American boys would not fight on foreign soil. As my Uncle Sam later observed: "He forgot to add: 'They'd be buried in it.'" His distrust of politicians from that moment on lasted for more than three decades, as he refused to walk back into a voting booth. He was outspoken in his political views, always politically incorrect, but whatever views he held were colored deeply by his experiences in World War II. I'd like to highlight a link to my 1976 interview with Uncle Sam, which was the basis of a Memorial Day tribute to him back in 2004, on the site of the History News Network. It's still a good read, especially on this 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. You can find the essay here.
Whatever one's view of war and peace, my Uncle Sam always honored veterans; coming from a family of veterans, I too honor them---because they lived to bear witness to the horrors of war, and fought for the ideals they held dear, despite the dishonesty of the politicians who helped to make the twentieth century the bloodiest century in the history of humanity.
NOVEMBER 06, 2018
The new December 2018 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has been published in its electronic edition today by JSTOR and Project Muse and its print version will be on its way to subscribers shortly. This concludes our eighteenth year of publication!
In keeping with our policy of adding at least one new contributor to the JARS family with every new issue, we welcome Sara Michelle Weinman to our pages.
Here is the cover for the new December 2018 issue (Volume 18, Number 2):
Our Table of Contents includes the following essays (abstracts can be viewed here and contributor biographies can be viewed here):
The Future of Art Criticism: Objectivism Goes to the Movies - Kyle Barrowman
What�s in Your File Folder? Part 3: Differentiation and Integration in Logic (and Illogic) - Roger E. Bissell
Ayn Rand�s �Integrated Man� and Russian Nietzscheanism - Anastasiya Vasilievna Grigorovskaya
Money, Morality and the Need for Entrepreneurship - Sara Michelle Weinman
On a personal note, I have had some very nice recent exchanges with Kyle Barrowman, who has published his second opus-sized essay in JARS with this issue. Readers might be interested in Kyle's essay on "Signs and Meaning: Film Studies and the Legacy of Poststructuralism," which serves as a bridge between his first JARS essay (published in our December 2017 issue) and the current contribution. (Kyle has a penchant for bringing up Rand in some of the most unusual circles, including in a debate centered on martial arts studies).
Of course, readers will definitely be interested in catching up with Roger E. Bissell's continuing work in epistemology, as this particular article in our current issue constitutes the third part of his ongoing series which began with essays in our December 2014 and December 2015 issues. And I am also happy to present the third consecutive essay in JARS from Russian scholar Anastasiya Vasilievna Grigorovskaya, who continues to probe the connections between Rand and her native Russian context, a topic that has always interested me (to say the least). Again, we welcome Sara to the JARS family, and look forward to the continuing expansion of both our readership and our scholarship in forthcoming issues.
Those interested in a subscription to the journal should look here and those interested in submitting essays to the journal should go through Editorial Manager.
Finally, I should mention that our website will be undergoing yet another facelift in the near future. I'll have more to say about that in the coming months. Watch this space.
Postscript: The journal's publication was also announced by one of our authors, Anastasiya Vasilievna Grigorovskaya, here.
NOVEMBER 01, 2018
In a comment on a Facebook thread begun by my colleague Susan Love Brown, I made a stark political admission, not without a lot of consideration as to the damage that Donald Trump has created in his wake. As I stated on Facebook:
I am sick of this President and virtually everything he stands for. He has done nothing to shake up the Establishment he allegedly fought against (the "Deep State", made up of the Fed, the National Security complex, and the regulatory apparatuses---all beyond the ballot box, are still at the core of U.S. power), and instead of pulling back on U.S. interventionism abroad, he has given us the largest defense budget in U.S. history, unprecedented deficits, and an exponentially expanding federal debt. The GOP, which once stood for "fiscal conservatism", has gone back to its nineteenth-century origins, with its advocacy of high tariffs and pronounced economic "nationalism," something this President now boasts as a political label.
Unfortunately, I am just as sick of both the Republicans and the Democrats who have voiced opposition to him, but have done next to nothing to stop the insanity. And if the Democrats offer nothing but "democratic socialism" to oppose him, they will be crushed in the next election. The U.S. has survived Civil War, two World Wars, a Great Depression, the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s (from the Vietnam War to the Civil Rights struggles to Watergate), and it is my hope that this too shall pass.
But what will replace it---when the bar has been lowered with each passing day that this man occupies the White House?
Now, for those who have claimed that Trump has reduced regulation and, to that extent, has freed up the economy, all I can say is: No action of the government is neutral and selective de-regulation benefits some interests at the expense of others. Likewise, no change in tax laws is neutral; the effects on higher standard-of-living (and hence, higher cost-of-living) states, like New York, and other Blue States that didn't cast their Electoral votes for Team Trump, have every indication of being catastrophic for those who pay higher local, city, state, and property taxes, but who cannot list these taxes as deductions on their federal income tax returns (beyond an individual ceiling of $10,000). My own family has felt the impact of the Trump Tax Plan up close and personal. It has been disastrous and it's going to undermine the economic health of the city of New York---which has provided nearly $150 billion in federal tax revenue, nearly 10% of federal income taxes.
As I state above, my opposition to Trump is not a vote of confidence in the alternative being presented by so-called "Progressives" in the Democratic Party, who favor "democratic socialism." One Facebook member took issue with my opposition to "democratic socialism" and I offered this response:
[When people mention "democratic socialism,"] I am not thinking central planning or Stalin at all. I'm thinking that power is fundamentally held by those Deep State elements I mentioned above. Nothing is going to change that reality; to adopt a larger "social welfare" net for those who are institutionally disadvantaged does nothing to solve the structural issues that have created the need for a welfare state or the sustained practices of a warfare state.
Every so-called "Progressive" advance advocated in the history of the United States, from the establishment of central banking to a host of regulatory agencies designed to "protect" the public have invariably protected the very industries they were allegedly established to regulate. That is because the real push for these "progressive" agencies came from the industries themselves as a way to stifle competition and destroy competitors. Note that the most powerful advocates of "Obamacare" were the largest health insurance companies, which benefit from the socialization of risk (those whom they would have had to insure regardless of pre-existing conditions), while augmenting their profits, and, of course, the pharmaceutical industry.
Whatever "democratic socialism" means, in the context of these United States, it will only be implemented if it can serve the needs of those already deeply embedded in the structure of privilege. That is the context we live in, and it is not likely to change. Except that it would most likely erode those remaining productive sectors of the economy that would be taxed out of existence in order to provide a whole host of new "progressive" programs costing trillions upon trillions of dollars.
If only "None of the Above" were a ballot choice, we might, at least, be able to de-legitimize the entire government. It would be a vote against the damage that government has done to human liberty---whether in the name of corporatist nationalism or corporatist welfare statism.
Sorry to disappoint Trumpsters and Non-Trumpsters alike. I'm just tired of voting for the lesser of two evils, and I've had it with this One-Party System that offers two variants of statist tyranny.
After posting this on Facebook, I offered some additional observations, and will update this blog entry should I have anything else to say (as of November 6, 2018, there have been 119 comments on the thread):
One thing that seems to go unnoticed is that Trump, who may or may not have read Machiavelli's sixteenth-century work, The Prince, has become the supreme Machiavellian in politics. Or to use another metaphor, he's played his supporters and his opponents in the language of Alice in Wonderland, where up is down and down is up. It's a great strategy for holding onto political power.
Another respondent claimed that in a choice between Trump and the left, the choice for Trump is clear, given the left's penchant for "identity politics." I responded:
As I have made clear, I do not support the left. The problem is, however, that identity politics has been fully embraced by the right, as well. As Rand herself once observed, statism and tribalism are fraternal twins; once political power becomes the central principle for the organization of social life, no power on earth can stop the formation of rival pressure groups warring against one another. This tendency will balkanize a society, splitting it into groups that emerge from virtually every distinguishing characteristic of human existence as a cause for the aggrandizement of political power. See my discussion in "Statism and Tribalism: Fraternal Twins."
That same respondent claimed that my comment that the right has embraced identity politics as much as the left was "utter bullshit" ("with all due respect," as he put it), to which I responded:
Well, "with all due respect," there are elements of the alt-right (which has supported Trump) that has cashed-in on identity politics by appealing to a whole panoply of disgusting racist and sexist attitudes. Pick 'em from this glorious list: those on the "right" who are anti-Semitic, anti-gay, misogynist, White Supremacist, anti-minority, anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, and so on and so on.
They play the game as well as the left, and have come out of the woodwork in the Age of Trump. But they've been around since long before even the age of Reagan; they are as woven into the tattered American social fabric as any other nefarious forms of identity politics that one sees on the left.
With all due respect.
Persisting in his attack on my perspective, the reader alleged that I had swallowed the "hysterical" "drivel" of the politically-correct Left, which blamed all white men for society's sins. I replied at length:
I don't accept the belief that all white men are irredeemably evil. In case you haven't checked lately, I'm a white man.
But you cannot for a moment doubt that there is an element on the right that has clung to racist, sexist, misogynistic bigotry. What the hell was Southern apartheid, which was rampant through the 1960s, if not the state using Jim Crow laws to keep the descendants of freed black slaves in their place? What the hell were all those lynchings by the KKK about if not to keep African Americans in their place? Do you honestly wish to embrace that legacy of right-wing bigotry as part of the classical liberal or libertarian ideal? That is not part of the ideals upon which the United States was founded, but it is part of the historical record of this country. And it is also a part of our contemporary society. Racism exists. Sexism exists. Anti-gay fervor exists.
And so does all the ugly identity politics on the left, which I equally abhor.
But this is what happens in a society in which the group becomes the only political unit that matters. This is why Ayn Rand condemned collectivism on the left (she was, after all, a refugee who emigrated to the United States because of the bloody collectivism that was practiced by Marxist-Leninists in the Soviet Union). I don't know if she would have gotten into the United States if she tried to emigrate today.
But she was equally abhorred by the collectivism on the right---as expressed in her essay on "Racism" in which she condemned Southern conservatism (dominated by the way, by the Dixiecrats of the Democratic Party) for what it was: a racist culture that sought to dehumanize people because of the color of their skin.
If you think that racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, misogyny, and anti-gay fervor are absent from this society, then you're living in some other country. It exists. It is real. But I do not accept the collectivist premise that all white men are to blame for this.
The central reason why this kind of culture exists is that it is both a precondition and effect of a society that emboldens the group as the only political unit that matters. A society at war with individualism is a society at war with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But Rand recognized that as statism spreads, so too does the balkanization of a society. That is what gave such political impetus to the insane identity politics of the left. As I wrote in my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical:
Rand argued that the relationship between statism and tribalism was reciprocal. The tribal premise was the ideological and existential root of statism. Statism had arisen out of "prehistorical tribal warfare." Once established, it institutionalized its own racist subcategories and castes in order to sustain its rule. The perpetuation of racial hatred provided the state with a necessary tool for its political domination. Statists frequently scapegoated racial and ethnic groups in order to deflect popular disaffection with deteriorating social conditions. But if tribalism was a precondition of statism, statism was a reciprocally related cause. Racism had to be implemented politically before it could engulf an entire society: "The political cause of tribalism's rebirth is the mixed economy---the transitional stage of the formerly civilized countries of the West on their way to the political level from which the rest of the world has never emerged: the level of permanent tribal warfare."
In Rand�s view, the mixed economy had splintered the country into warring pressure groups. Under such conditions of social fragmentation, any individual who lacks a group affiliation is put at a disadvantage in the political process. Since race is the simplest category of collective association, most individuals are driven to racial identification out of self-defense. Just as the mixed economy manufactured pressure groups, so too did it manufacture racism.
As the mixed economy careens from one crisis to another, warfare between and within pressure groups intensifies. In this social context of wild uncertainty, each group attempts to deal with perceived threats to its efficacy by relying on the state. State action provides an illusory sense of control, since in the long run, political intervention necessarily undermines the stability and efficacy of every social group and every individual. Rand was adamant in this regard: she maintained that every discernable group was affected by statist intervention, not just every economic interest. Every differentiating characteristic among human beings becomes a tool for pressure-group jockeying: age, sex, sexual orientation, social status, religion, nationality, and race. Statism splinters society "into warring tribes."
The statist legal machinery pits "ethnic minorities against the majority, the young against the old, the old against the middle, women against men, welfare-recipient against the self-supporting."
Last time I checked, Rand was not characterized as an hysterical member of the politically correct Left or an advocate of original sin.
She simply saw what you apparently refuse to recognize.
Another reader asked if I was giving a "moral equivalence" to the identity politics on the right to the identity politics on the left, and I responded:
I understand what you are saying; but as I believe I made clear in my reply above, the initial "identity" politics that infected this country came from the bigotry of the racist South, with its history of slavery and Jim Crow laws. The left's identity politics was almost an inevitable by-product of such social conditions.
It's not so much a question of moral equivalence; perhaps it is best for me to simply state that I abhor the social conditions that make such group identification a tool for the jockeying of political power. Under these conditions, it doesn't matter who on the right or the left is clubbing me over the head for some special privilege. It's the system that must be attacked and fundamentally overturned.
I was asked, given the choices, "What should we do?" I replied:
Of course, the cause of liberty will go on; as I said in my post, the United States has survived Civil War, two World Wars, a Great Depression, the turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s, and it will most likely survive our current political and cultural upheaval, which, as far as I can tell, does not light a candle to the other events I've just mentioned. That said: The system has had an amazing resiliency---some of it good, some of it not-so-good.
[Indeed,] given the massive devastation the U.S. has faced from war and depression, I don't think that we are as yet facing the death of the republic (or whatever is left of it). Unfortunately, I don't have any answer as to what we should do in the meantime except to keep speaking up. And to defend the rights of others to speak up, whether or not we agree with them. ("Speaking up," however, stops short once violence is introduced, whether by White Supremacists, Anti-Semites, or "Antifa.")
Trump has made a whole lot of noise about "Fake News." And we hear endlessly about how the "leftist media" is against him. But in truth, the whole media is not "leftist." In fact, the vast majority of loud voices on talk radio are of the "right"; and the largest, most popular news outlet is the right-of-center Fox News.
Let's also not forget that sometimes the media can become a good punching bag, but that's only because in the past it has exposed a lot of truth that has shaken the ground of the politically powerful (for example, in laying bare the outright lies that led to U.S. involvement in Vietnam, with the publication of "The Pentagon Papers", as well as the vast corruption of the Nixon administration in the scandal that became known as Watergate). Trump, however, has used his masterly social media skills and adversarial relationship with the press to his benefit.
On the other hand, a subservient press can easily become what Rand once called a "servile press," for its embrace of "voluntary 'self-enslavement'" that relies on government manipulation of the news "as an instrument of public policy." It was the basis for the "yellow journalism" that brought us the Spanish-American War to the galloping insanity that a mostly supportive popular press gave to George W. Bush in the lead-up to his Iraq adventure, which has had an unending series of both intended and unintended deleterious consequences.
We need to be vigilant against Trump's wholesale condemnation of the press and of political speech in general, or you can kiss the First Amendment goodbye. At which point, you better hold onto the Second Amendment to protect yourself against the powers that be.
I was criticized by another reader for my "moralizing and sanctimonious" post, somebody who wondered whether I was a "Never-Trumper." I wrote:
I was never a Never-Trumper, and I certainly did not vote for Hillary Clinton. And I don't find anything I've said as sanctimonious or moralizing. As an advocate of libertarianism, I reject economic nationalism, root, tree, branch, and leaves. It is a form of neo-mercantilist statism, and it is being opposed by Democratic politicians who favor yet another form of statism.
Ronald Reagan, for all his faults, would be rolling in his grave over Trump's nationalist rhetoric (Reagan was no libertarian, but his rhetoric made it possible to say the phrase "free markets" without being criticized as if one uttered some other "F-word" phrase.) And at least Reagan talked of tearing walls down, rather than building them up.
One thing Reagan said was clear: government has always been a part of the problem, not a part of the solution. Trump has instead used government as a tool to "solve" problems that government itself has created. And the tools at his disposal will never dismantle the central institutions at the heart of this system over which neither politicians nor voters have any power. And considering that the system has created a vast structure of dependency on government, it becomes an almost impossible task to uproot it fundamentally.
So what you see as "moralizing" is to me only an observation of fact. It is true: No one man, or even one party, can dismantle political institutions that pervade every aspect of our lives. As Hayek once said: When political power becomes the predominating principle for the organization of social life, then political power becomes the only power worth having. Hence, only those who are most adept at using political power (that is, the power to coerce) are the ones who tend to rise to the top. That is why, as Hayek put it in The Road to Serfdom, "the worst get on top."
Trump is certainly not the worst that we've seen. But I'll agree with you on one thing you've said: Give him a chance. :)
And, by the way, while we are on the subject of Reagan, I also wrote:
Just one word about New York [which is typically viewed as a Democratic-liberal stronghold]: Ronald Reagan won this state in both 1980 and 1984; and this very liberal Democrat-dominated city elected Republican Rudy Giuliani as mayor for two terms. Whatever your views of the current Rudy, his Compstat approach to crime brought this city from more than two thousand murders a year to around 300 murders a year. The Compstat approach has been so effective that not even a leading left-wing "progressive" Mayor De Blasio has abandoned it. Considering this is a city of nearly 9 million people, it is amazing to me how other cities (from Chicago to Detroit) have not learned something from the New York experience (which, yes, has had its ups-and-downs, but has largely kept crime rates way down).
Another comment questioned my views on Trump as a political outsider, and on Trump's approach to border security, the U.N., and aid to foreign states, and I replied:
I should state that the fact that he was not a political hack was one of the things I liked about him initially. If you see my review of Mercer's book on Trump, you'll see I voiced my concerns about the candidate, but applauded especially his anti-establishment views on neo-conservative foreign policy and his voiced opposition to both Bush's and Obama's policies abroad. I even predicted a Trump victory back in July 2016, and had a nice word to say about his family's support of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, which gave my mother, who was dying of lung cancer in 1995, and our family, an all-expense paid limousine round-trip to Atlantic City.
I certainly had no personal animus toward him, and given the endless cycle of the Bush-Clinton dynasties, I hoped there might be a sea-change in American politics. But my views have obviously evolved...
Oh, as to your other questions: I like the idea of auditing the Fed, but would much prefer abolishing the Fed.
I understand the Trump concern with the border (though too much of his rhetoric fans the flames of xenophobia and hatred of "the other"), but I have a much more radical view of what's wrong systemically. Certainly, I think that the most legitimate concern has been that gangs and drugs are flooding into this country across the Mexican border (but this does not stop the U.S. government from encouraging the production of opium in Afghanistan because it is a "stabilizing" influence on the Afghan economy---even though the money made from that opium production typically funds terrorist activities abroad).
If drugs and crime are at issue, then the solution is much more radical than "protecting the border": end drug Prohibition, for the same reason that it was ended in the 1930s: because it has done nothing but enrich drug gangs, cartels, and organized crime. I realize this is a controversial view, but even conservatives such as William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman, and George Will, have advocated a saner "medicalized" policy toward drugs (the current policy has given the U.S. the distinction of having the highest mass incarceration prison rate in the world).
On feeding the U.N. and other states: Trump is unfortunately talking out of both sides of his mouth. I'm no fan of the United Nations, but the "foreign aid" that goes to states that are even considered "allies", like Saudi Arabia, is, for Trump, a matter of U.S. jobs. "Foreign aid" has always been a tool of crony capitalism: the U.S. gives money to all sorts of despicable regimes around the world with the stipulation that it be used to purchase U.S.-produced munitions. That 17 of the 19 hijackers who rammed planes into buildings on 9/11 came out of Saudi Arabia, and that the regime was probably complicit in the horrendous attack on that day, means nothing---so why should the murder of a Washington Post reporter affect such "aid" (I'm still waiting for somebody to say: "Why make such a big deal over the death of a reporter from yet another 'Fake News' outlet?").
Another reader also questioned why I had not placed more emphasis on Trump's anti-immigration policies, and I replied:
I think I've clearly addressed that issue in many of the linked essays in today's Notablog post, and I have continued to address that issue. I agree that Trump has fanned the flames of xenophobia and hatred of the "other"---but to a certain extent, this is only one man we are talking about. He is a reflection of so much of what is wrong with America's tattered social fabric. And that is going to take generations to fix. Ultimately, in my view, his policies are an attack on basic values, the most important of which is liberty.
Another reader asks, given the conditions that exist, which side of the political divide in this country offers the most hope for repairing American society? I replied:
I guess deep down I do not believe that American politics can be repaired as long as we retain the current system. It is going to take a fundamental change in the cultural, social, and political conditions before any kind of sanity can be achieved in the United States.
I realize this sounds hopelessly pessimistic and perhaps not realistic, because I don't see either side of this divisive debate as offering the kind of fundamental change necessary for its resolution. Cliche or not, if one is to retain a sense of the radical, of "going to the root," then one sees more clearly that both sides are offering a state-centered approach to social change that can only lead to further social decay.
The Facebook discussion generated a lot of comments, not all of which I could possibly address, but I've tried to keep the essence of that discussion centered on this Notablog entry for the sake of posterity. One reader raised the question of Trump as a superior strategist, and I made the following comment:
I think we all know by now that Trump doesn't play by the rules---which gives him a strategic advantage. He also has been on outsider in dealing with governments in his life as a businessman, so he has seen the filth in business and the filth in politics from both sides of the camera. To what degree that filth has affected his personality or his policies is anyone's guess, but the man clearly can run rings around a lot of his opponents. People who dismiss him as dumb don't realize that he's a lot more savvy than most of his critics. Naturally, even though he fights the Establishment---he is now a part of it. And for anyone concerned about state-centered "solutions" to our political problems (which is what he offers as a self-admitted "nationalist"), you have to take pause.
The tantrums on both sides are likely to continue, but I do predict that if, in 2020, the Democratic Party embraces a full-throttled support of open "Progressive Democratic Socialism" (barring a major economic downturn), Donald Trump will be re-elected for four more years. Call it a gut instinct.
Now here's one that I've heard from the conspiracy theorists! Let's say we're all wrong. Let's say Trump is really trying to undermine the Deep State. If that's the case, the conspiracy theorists will tell you that he won't survive. There's this really terrible anecdote that has circulated for many years among those who embrace such conspiracy theories. But it goes a little like this: right before the President-elect is sworn in, the Deep State agents take him into a room and they shut the lights, and on a screen there appears the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination. The horrifying images flicker away into darkness... but the impact remains. The lights are turned on, and the agents ask the President-elect: "Any questions?"
Anyway, thanks for the kind words, and I enjoyed reading your post.
The discussion has proceeded through the weekend of November 3-4, 2018; I posted a few additional comments. On Trump being among those who could change history, I stated:
I don't accept the Great Man Theory of history; people are as much the product of their context as they are the producers of it. And as far as I see it: PC culture has not silenced anyone. It has had a deadening effect in many sectors of our society, but it certainly has not silenced conservative talk radio hosts or the people who run Fox News, or the people who voted for Trump. Yes, he put a voice to discontent---but the discontent is not monolithic. He gave voice to out of work blue collar workers, but has also given license to hate-mongering racists. As a lifelong native resident of Brooklyn, New York, who has always lived in a middle class neighborhood, I have seen this man in action for decades in New York City, and he rarely struck me as a soldier for the common man. Too often, he came across as a smart-ass blabbermouth demanding to be the center of attention.
My biggest problem with him, however, remains with his politics. It is not the politics of freedom; it is the politics of economic nationalism, which does little to quell social divisiveness, since the very principle of nationalism feeds off of such divisiveness quite explicitly. I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree.
I was asked to expand on who I thought might embody the principles of freedom, in contrast to Trump; my reply was not an optimistic one:
There is nothing neat about politics: the left, which used to embrace civil liberties (and now too often attacks free speech on PC grounds), has been consistently opposed to genuine economic freedom; the right, which used to embrace economic liberties, often attacked civil liberties. But the reality has changed so markedly over the years. Former left-wingers, even Trotskyites, having seen the failure of socialist central planning, have now embraced the idea of imposing democracy on the rest of the world through U.S.-nation-building, and the war hawks among the post-World War II generation of conservatives were all too willing to jump aboard that bandwagon. This formed the core of the neoconservative political agenda that candidate Trump opposed (correctly, in my view).
And former advocates of more free-market solutions to economic problems have instead embraced more "pro-business" economic nationalist "solutions" that have encouraged higher tariffs, and manipulation of fiscal and monetary policy to encourage booms (while paying little attention to the busts that inevitably follow). (This is a policy that President Trump embraces, incorrectly, in my view.)
There is no current politician who embodies the ideals of a free market politics that is also friendly to civil liberties. And that is the tragedy of the current system: every political strain has a stake in bolstering some aspect of government power to regulate those areas of social life it considers most important. And neither the left nor the right have stood up to roll back the "Deep State" elements that are the most protective of the privileged: the Fed, which protects the big banks---and those high-debt, capital-intensive industries that benefit from inflationary monetary policies---all of which are deemed "too big to fail"; the National Security State, which eradicates our civil liberties, while emboldening what even Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against, in his farewell Presidential address: the rising influence of the "military-industrial complex," which emboldens industries tied to the production of military hardware, while crowding out peaceful commerce and trade; and the regulatory apparatus, which has grown exponentially to include a host of alphabet soup regulatory agencies whose policies benefit the larger, more powerful industries they allegedly regulate, for the "common good," while, in essence, destroying smaller, up-start competitors and the entrepreneurial spirit that they embody.
So, that is why I remain extremely pessimistic about the future of freedom in America. The possibility of resurrecting an industrial "base" is almost non-existent, given how much outsourcing there has been over these many decades; blue collar workers have been screwed; the middle class has been crushed, while "entitlement" programs are out of control; the tax base has been eroded; those who are "too big to fail" are ultimately bailed out by the U.S. taxpayer, and the U.S. remains deeply involved in every area of the world that it deems "strategically" valuable (which led candidate Trump to say, correctly, "Do you think we're so innocent?"---when asked to compare U.S. foreign policy actions to those of Russia).
I'm sorry to say, I have very little hope for the future of the United States. Sanford Ikeda, in his book, The Dynamics of the Mixed Economy, gives us a provocative thesis: governments that often regulate an economy too much such that they start to strangle the host upon which the parasitical privileged feast, may loosen up an economy just enough to encourage freer production. But this is a dangerous game---of loosening up and tightening up controls over economic life---because it introduces massive chaos into markets over the long run.
As Keynes once said, "In the long-run, we are all dead." I guess that's one of the reasons folks see economics as the "dismal science."
On November 5, one of the original discussants on Susan Love Brown's thread asked me once again to address the central question: "Would you choose fascism or 'democratic socialism' (which I believed I also identified as 'welfare capitalism')?" The reader claimed that I seem to be relying on a "deus ex machina" resolution that would entail people waking up one day and miraculously turning to libertarianism as a cure-all. But this is hoping for a "miracle," which the reader defined as "something outside of the ordinary course of experience and events." The reader continued: "At least the guys on the street corners who proclaim 'The End is Near; offer a solution. Since you apparently believe there is no solution, I continue to be puzzled about why you spend all this time discussing ideology." I provided two replies, reiterating points already made, but giving both the case for pessimism and the case for optimism:
I have not "answered" that central question because I reject both. However, if you are defining "welfare capitalism" as generally what we have today, I would be forced to say that if a gun were put to my head, I'd prefer what we have today than an even more authoritarian form of fascism. I have pretty much repeated myself about a dozen times in this thread, so I'll try one more time.
I believe that what we have today is, essentially neofascism, or a form of "liberal fascism" or "liberal corporatism," or "state capitalism", terms that are all, more or less, synonymous. The current situation meets all the economic criteria of that type of system: It features governmental action that largely operates to protect the most powerful economic interests through three insidious forms of support: 1) the Federal Reserve System, in which the state and the banking system are in an incestuous relationship, such that neither can exist without the other. Inflationary central banking is required for the growth of both the welfare and the warfare state. The banks and its largest debtors (capital-intensive industry) benefit from extensive inflationary policies, and when the inexorable busts come, they are bailed out for being "too big to fail." 2) The National Security Apparatus is another central feature of this system, and it is everything that Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against: a vast military-industrial complex that undermines our civil liberties and benefits industries that are intimately related to munitions production and foreign military aid and intervention, protecting corporate interests both at home and abroad. And finally, (3) the entire alphabet soup of regulatory agencies that has been built over a long period of time, in which the most privileged businesses use regulation as a means of crushing competitors and consolidating their political and economic power (in some cases, drawing monopoly profits).
I do not believe that one day the people will wake up and embrace libertarianism. I am extremely pessimistic about the future of global politics and I do not believe that current social or cultural conditions favor the establishment of a libertarian politics.
What is outside the ordinary course of experience and events is that the state can be used in any way that fundamentally benefits the "common good": it is an institution that has evolved over time that can only benefit some interests (those who are able to wield the apparatuses of political power) at the expense of other interests. Because state action serves those who are most adept at using politics as a means of achieving their goals, as Hayek pointed out in The Road to Serfdom, the more political power comes to dominate social life, the more political power will be the only power worth having---which is why "the worst get on top." The network of social welfare agencies that has arisen over the last century has largely been a way of quelling popular discontent against problems that have largely been caused by the booms and busts of monetary policy, the structural problems caused by various fiscal policies, and the expansion of the warfare state and its effect in "crowding out" peaceful commerce and trade.
What is outside the ordinary course of experience and events is to believe that somehow a "democratic socialism" can come to this country that is not molded in such a way as to preserve the essential power structures that exist while throwing a few more bones to the disenfranchised at the cost of trillions of dollars that can't be sustained---since it will necessarily choke off those who do produce goods and services and who would be taxed out of existence to support such a system. Either way, don't kid yourself: The system is rigged, and has been rigged for more than a hundred years, to structurally benefit those who are among the most privileged politico-economic interests. So I say again: Any form of "democratic socialism" that arises out of this structure will find a way of enriching those interests even more, by continuing to socialize their risks, while exponentially expanding their profits at the expense of the rest of society.
So no, I don't believe in political miracles. It would take a massive cultural change that is unlikely to occur for any society to emerge in which people deal with one another in ways that are noncoercive. I don't know how many other ways to say what I've already said, without being redundant.
I then added the following:
I've made the case for pessimism. Now here is the case for optimism. But it's not so simple.
Essentially there are two ways of looking at the world in terms of social analysis: the first posits some utopian goal that can somehow be imposed on the conditions that exist. This is a very simplistic way of looking at social change and thinkers as diverse as Karl Marx and Friedrich Hayek criticized it for its "nondialectical" character: that is, it paid no attention to the given context and tried to impose social change as if from an Archimedean standpoint. Marx's critique of the utopian socialists and Hayek's critique of the constructivist rationalists are parallel in this regard; utopia, after all, strictly translated, means "nowhere."
The second way of looking at social change is to view it radically, or "dialectically": that is, taking into account the conditions that exist as the context from which any possible solution might emerge. One must understand these conditions by studying them in all their complex interrelationships within a larger system that has developed over time and that continues to develop. Just as we can trace where we came from by looking at where we are, so too can we attempt to project what real possibilities for social change exist by comprehending the context that has shaped current conditions.
So, yes, I do believe that there is a possible solution: but it is a long-term one, and it involves changing the underlying culture. That would take several generations and a massive shift in thinking or, more precisely, in how to think about the nature of social change.
In terms of practical things that can be done now, it might involve the development of "parallel institutions"; to this extent, libertarians can learn a lot from the Marxist Antonio Gramsci, who himself warned that a Marxist "state" could not usher in a better society until all the institutions of civil society had been changed fundamentally, involving a shift in cultural attitudes, education, pedagogy, and so forth, which would support the kind of political change that he, as a Marxist, envisioned. (Some would say that the left's dominance of educational and cultural institutions has already laid the basis for the kind of change that Gramsci embraced.)
To this extent, as Ayn Rand once said, "Those who fight for the future live in it today." As libertarians, we can try to work within the system by milking its inner contradictions, while also working outside the system, to develop alternative institutional means that undermine the current political and economic structures. But ultimately, it is a massive cultural shift that will be required if one wishes to change a society radically, that is, by "going to the root." Revolutions are possible. They have happened. They are real. But none of us wants to simply change the slate of bosses; those who are libertarians aim to shift the whole dynamic of power such that coercion is not the fundamental means by which human beings relate to one another.
Hence, the institutions that would have to "wither away" could not do so in the absence of this kind of fundamental, radical shift. It took over a hundred years to produce the welfare-warfare state; it might take another hundred years to dismantle it. The power of ideology lies not in its projection of a utopian future or in its imposition of a utopian goal (with all the dystopian consequences such an imposition would entail), but in its commitment to radical change that emerges from a fundamental understanding of the real conditions that exist. Understanding these conditions, how they interrelate, how they work---is the first step toward undermining them.
That's about the best I can offer you as an answer, which would at least allow us to drop those placards proclaiming "The End is Near."
On November 6, the Day of Midterm Madness (Election Day), I responded to readers who had questions about how to get "from here to there":
[I have been] trying to present a short-run versus a long-run view of how things could/might happen. Power is held by many groups, including those who have a stake in the bureaucracy that perpetuates it, and the reason it is so difficult to alter such power is because whole groups of people have a vested interest in holding onto it, and will do virtually anything to keep it. And they often have the means (and the guns) to do it.
If I had a step-by-step manual on how to get from here-to-there, I would have published it a long time ago and become a best-selling author. Instead, I have presented at least two fundamentally different ways of thinking about how to get from here to there, and I have rejected one of them as fundamentally utopian. Unfortunately, that utopian (or dystopian) pattern---of simply trying to impose solutions on societies as if they have no systemic or historical context---has been tried across the world with literally bloody intended (and unintended) consequences, over and over again.
I must admit a certain fondness for the practical strategies outlined by Gene Sharp, author of numerous books on the effectiveness of nonviolent opposition to power and its ways of de-legitimizing current institutions and undermining them (I recommend especially his work, The Politics of Nonviolent Action).
Now, as to how far away we are from getting from here to there, I'd say in some respects you're correct---that we may be further away from such a goal today than we were thirty years ago---precisely because we are often dealing with a larger population that has been cognitively stunted in its ability to think about things in an integrated fashion. As technologically savvy as the general population is, the ability to write (and "think") in 160 characters per text is something that does not lend itself to analytical depth.
On this point, Rand had some interesting things to say about "The Comprachicos" in today's educational institutions, whose pedagogical methods militate against integrated thinking and who mold too many minds into obeying authority. One excellent book about how this process works was published in 2017, a transcription of lectures by Barbara Branden entitled, Think as If Your Life Depends On It: Principles of Efficient Thinking and Other Lectures. Branden presents a fine overview of the kind of dialectical (that is, contextual) techniques that are necessary to radical theorizing. (And I promote this book not just because I wrote the foreword to it.)
I agree [with Wyatt Storch] that there is at least a potentially revolutionary implication to the technological changes we have witnessed: There is an upside to this technological age, though I say this with a big caveat: Because so many folks have so much access to social media, there is a democratizing effect on the spread of information, and hence more opportunities to undermine the Establishment's "narrative." But there is also a democratizing effect on the spread of dis-information. Sorting this out is something made all the more difficult when you factor in interests who purposely spread dis-information and who hack into the net in ways that are meant to disarm, disinform, and disrupt.
While I don't have the "How To Get From Here To There" manual on hand, I will do a little more promotion with regards to another book that I am coediting with Roger Bissell and Ed Younkins, which will be published by Lexington Books in 2019-2020, entitled The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom." It brings together the work of nearly twenty high-profile authors who write in the libertarian/classical liberal tradition and presents a variety of perspectives that have important strategic implications for the "here-to-there" problem. I'll have more to say about this when the book is published.
On another thread initiated by Anoop Verma (but on a related note to much of what has been discussed above), the question at hand was: "What will be the verdict of the intellectual historians, who are living more than 100 or 150 years from today, on the twentieth century?" and my answer was:
The twentieth century gave us the worst atrocities in the history of humankind: two World Wars, the rise of totalitarianism and various other forms of statism, a Cold War and the consequent rise of fanatical terrorism, that in toto probably brought about the deaths of around 180 to 200 million people. It also gave us the technology for weapons of mass destruction that could wipe out the rest of the human race. That makes it the blackest century in history.
But it also gave us the hopes of a technology used for peace, the rebirth of the freedom movement (no matter how small it still is), and some terrific cultural milestones---from the development of radio, film, and television to the triumph of film scores and the evolution of such American art forms as jazz, the Great American songbook, and Broadway, not to mention some of the greatest moments in the history of sports. Which goes to show you that despite War and Depression, the human spirit lived on.
On November 10, 2018, I added a link to an essay by my long-time colleague and friend, Barry Vacker, who has contributed a controversial, thought-provoking piece to Medium, "Texas vs. the World: Cruz, Beto, and Planetary Civilization in the Lone Star State" that is worth a read.