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November 01, 2018

Midterm Madness

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.

August 29, 2018

The Dialectics of Liberty: A Forthcoming Collection

I am honored to announce that our contract with Lexington Books, a subsidiary of Rowman & Littlefield, has been signed, sealed, and delivered [Hat Tip to Stevie! YouTube link] and that a superb new collection entitled The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom will be published in 2019-2020.

The book, co-edited by Roger E. Bissell, Edward W. Younkins, and yours truly, features the contributions of eighteen extraordinary scholars in fields as diverse as aesthetics, business, economics, higher education, history, the humanities, law, philosophy, politics, psychology, and social theory. Despite spirited disagreements among them, and the diversity of perspectives represented, all of our authors work under the Big Tent that is "dialectical libertarianism"---a form of social analysis that seeks to understand the larger dynamic and systemic context within which freedom is nourished and sustained.

The homepage we have developed is sparse right now, because we are in the process of collecting, editing, and organizing essays from our contributors and integrating them into an organic unity; in other words, you might say that the very creation of this trailblazing volume will be an unfolding dialectical process---so, for now, we are purposely not providing a list of our contributors. That will come in time; indeed, very soon, we'll unveil our stellar cast of authors.

But the news of the book's acceptance for publication was just too wonderful not to share with you. I look forward to filling in the blanks very soon. But most importantly, I look forward to the publication of the volume itself.

And speaking only for myself, as a person who felt as if his was the voice of one crying in the wilderness over the past forty years, in championing the very notion of a "dialectical libertarianism" with my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy" (Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism), I have immense personal satisfaction in having played a part in bringing together this remarkable group of contributors from whom I've learned so much---and who have honored us with their presence in what promises to be one of the most important and provocative contributions to the scholarly literature of its generation.

July 11, 2018

Marx, Hayek, and Utopia: Kindle Edition Finally!

For the first time, the first book in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy," is available in e-book form. SUNY Press had long made it available as a Google ebook on Google Play, but it was not a searchable document. Today, for the first time, my book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, has been made available in a searchable Kindle Edition! Of course, as editor of an academic journal, on these "wages", I can barely afford to purchase it! But it's still nice to know that "MHU" is now available as an e-book. (Special thanks to Janice Vunk at SUNY for making it all happen!)

mhuamazon.jpg

Soon, I'll have some great news to share about the forthcoming Kindle edition of Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, because when that finally happens, with the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical already Kindle-ized, my trilogy will have finally entered the twenty-first century!

Stay tuned!

June 09, 2018

John Hospers: On the Centenary of His Birth

Today, I posted on the Timeline of my "Facebook friend," John Hospers, who died on June 12, 2011. But it is on this date in 1918, that this gentle man was born, and it is in remembrance of his wisdom, sincerity, and warmth as a human being, that I celebrate the Centenary of his birth.

John was one of the most important figures in the formation of the modern libertarian movement. Yes, he was the first (and only) Libertarian Party presidential candidate to receive a single Electoral Vote (made by Roger MacBride, a renegade Republican from Virginia, who refused to cast his vote for Richard Nixon in 1972; MacBride, himself, would later go on to run for President on the LP line in 1976). But more importantly, he was the author of the monumental book, Libertarianism: A Political Philosophy for Tomorrow, not to mention a veritable library in philosophy, political theory, and social commentary.

On a personal level, I will always be thankful to John for having been among the very first scholars to offer praise for my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and went on to become one of the first members of the Board of Advisors to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, back in 1999. That journal was founded as the first nonpartisan double-blind peer-reviewed biannual periodical devoted to a discussion of Ayn Rand (with whom John Hospers once shared a friendship) and her times. And here we are still, on the precipice of the beginning of the eighteenth year of our publishing history, now a journal published by Pennsylvania State University Press. We could never have come so far if it were not for John's unwavering support for (and contributions to) the journal.

I will forever be indebted to this man for his accomplishments and his guidance. All the more reason to celebrate the Centenary of his birth and the joy that he brought to so many during his life.

June 05, 2018

RFK Assassination: Fifty Years Ago

I was only three years old when President John F. Kennedy, had been shot and killed in Dallas on November 22, 1963 [graphic YouTube link]. I was at my grandmother's house that day; she had fallen, and my mother took me in her arms and ran to the house to help out. While there, "As the World Turns" was on TV, and Walter Cronkite had interrupted the broadcast with a series of special reports about the JFK shooting in Dealy Plaza. For days thereafter, all the TV networks devoted 24-hours of coverage leading up to the funeral and burial at Arlington Cemetery. Among the shocking events that unfolded before my young eyes was to witness live, on television, the shooting of the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jr., by Jack Ruby [graphic YouTube link].

This was my introduction to the 1960s. Those who speak much today about how polarized our society is tend to suffer from a case of historical amnesia. I don't think I ever lived through a more turbulent period than that which lasted from 1963 through the mid-1970s.

By the time I was 8, I had already seen a President shot, followed by years of nightly news coverage of civil rights and antiwar protests, both violent and nonviolent, along with scenes of carnage coming from Southeast Asia and thousands of body bags of U.S. soldiers returning to American soil each week. Within a few years, there were revelations of government lies about that war coming to light from the "Pentagon Papers," followed by all the lies that could be summed up in one word: "Watergate." Trust in government institutions was at an all-time low. Sound familiar?

On April 4, 1968, I felt bewildered by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We watched as the special reports came in on television, around the time of the evening news, with regard to King's assassination [YouTube link]. That night, Robert F. Kennedy gave a famous speech about the assassination in Indianapolis, Indiana [YouTube link], as cities across the United States were lit up with riots and violence. I returned to my neighborhood school the next day; it was P.S. 215, and our principal's name was Morris H. Weiss, and we were all encouraged to talk about the events of the previous day. (By the time I had graduated from that school, it had been renamed the Morris H. Weiss School!) But I remember all-too-well, the sadness that I saw in the eyes of one of my classmates. Her name was Wanda and she was a young, bright, African American girl. She said to me: "One of your kind of people shot one of my kind of people." And I said to her: "That white guy was a bad man. Not all white people are bad. There are good and bad in every group." And she seemed to relax after I had said that. What I said wasn't as profound as the speech RFK had given, but it seemed to have had a similar effect.

Little did I know that almost two months later, to the day, Robert F. Kennedy would fall to another assassin's bullets. It was June 5, 1968, around 3:30 a.m., fifty years ago today, when the phone rang. Usually, when a phone would ring at that hour in our home, it could only be bad news. It was my Aunt Georgia, who was a late night TV watcher, back in the days when Johnny Carson was hosting "The Tonight Show" on WNBC and WCBS was showing movie after movie with something it dubbed "The Late Show" and "The Late Late Show," and so on. She told us to turn on the TV: "Robert Kennedy was shot!" [graphic YouTube link].

We turned on our black-and-white television, and what we saw was pure pandemonium [YouTube link], but I remember seeing photos of RFK laying in a pool of blood. I don't recall going to school after daylight arrived, and the following day, June 6th, was Brooklyn-Queens Day, when schools in Brooklyn and Queens were closed. And it was in the early morning hours of that day, nearly 26 hours after being mortally wounded, that Robert F. Kennedy was pronounced dead.

We watched the RFK funeral, which took place at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on June 8th, and I remember well the eulogy given by another Kennedy brother, Ted, as he spoke through his tears [YouTube link]. Ted quoted RFK's words, which were actually a paraphrase from a work of George Bernard Shaw. It is a quote etched on the side of a building in downtown Brooklyn, once belonging to the Brooklyn Paramount, taken over in 1954 by Long Island University: "Some men see things as they are, and say 'Why?' I dream things that never were and say 'Why not?'".

It was an inspiring quote to me at the time. And I suspect that with all the intense news coverage that I watched as a child, my interest in history and politics took root. It was not all doom and gloom, because I was also a kid enthralled with the space program, and the images of seeing Neil Armstrong taking his first steps upon the moon on July 20, 1969 [YouTube link], were heroic enough to make me truly realize that the things that never were, could be.

And so I mark today's fiftieth anniversary of RFK's assassination. It makes no difference if you were a fan or an opponent of his politics or the politics of other public figures who were shot down in the 1960s. I mark this date because, like other moments from that difficult time period, it was one of the defining events that shaped my own political consciousness and that of a generation to come.

June 02, 2018

The Beginning of the End for NYC's Specialized Public High Schools

I don't usually write on matters of local politics, but this particular matter has gotten me so incensed that I felt an obligation to say something public about it.

I will put my biases upfront so that there is no question as to my knowledge of the NYC public schools, as I, myself, was a product of the largest public school system in the United States, serving over 1.1 million students. I am an alumnus of John Dewey High School, which was, in its time, one of the finest high schools in the system, offering a highly individualized curriculum within which students could pursue their academic passions guided by teachers of the highest caliber.

I should also mention that my sister, Elizabeth A. Sciabarra, has been a lifelong and gifted educator within the system, and has fought for years to provide quality education to the thousands of children whose lives she has touched. She was a teacher of English and an Assistant Principal at Brooklyn Technical High School, a principal at New Dorp High School on Staten Island, the Deputy Superintendent of Brooklyn and Staten Island High Schools, and then the Superintendent of Selective Schools. Under Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, she became the founder and CEO of the Office of Student Enrollment in 2003, a job that she held until her retirement from the system in 2010. She helped to augment educational choice in the public schools (which now includes a promising movement toward enterprising Charter Schools). Elizabeth is currently the Executive Director of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation.

Anything that I say in this blog entry is a reflection of my own views and I take full responsibility for them; in no way should they be interpreted as being an echo of my sister's views, whatever they might be.

Suffice it to say, I have always taken a radically libertarian stance on the state of public education in this country (something that is being addressed by such organizations as the Reason, Freedom, Individualism Institute, of which I am an advisory board member). But I've always been one to think dialectically; we live in a context in which public education is the primary vehicle for the education of children in the United States. Given this reality, it is all the more encouraging when one finds that there are certain institutions of learning within the current system that should be nurtured. It is in the interests of gifted and talented students to be nourished as potential candidates for entrance into these schools.

For years, students gained entry into the specialized high schools of New York City via a single admissions test (known as the SHSAT or "Specialized High School Admissions Test"). In 1971, the Hecht-Calandra Act institutionalized this test as the sole determinant for entrance into these schools, via ranking.

Now, I've never been a fan of specialized tests; my own test scores on such tests have varied immensely. I once considered going into a joint degree program in History and Law, which required me to take the LSAT, which lasted eight hours, and was more of an endurance test than a test of my intelligence. The following weekend, I took the three-hour GRE, a kind of graduate-level SAT. I had applied to the joint degree programs at the University of Chicago, Columbia University, and New York University, which would have led to a J.D. and a Ph.D. in history. As it turned out, my scores on the LSAT weren't high enough to be accepted to any of the law schools of those universities, but my GRE test results were so high that I was accepted to the graduate schools of those universities. In the end, I did not go into a joint degree program, and decided to pursue my interests in political philosophy, theory, and methodology with a graduate and doctoral program at New York University, from which I had received my B.A. in economics, politics, and history (with honors). Those GRE test results ultimately enabled me to get my degrees in higher learning virtually free of charge, since I was rewarded full scholarships to pay for my education. Given the cost of education in this country, I figure that I received three college and graduate level degrees that, in today's dollars, would be over $400,000 in tuition and fees. I did receive, as an undergraduate, one $450.00 National Direct Student Loan, which I paid back on the day I got my BA. Otherwise, my education was fully funded and paid for by New York University, which explains why I bleed "violet," as they say.

And to make matters clearer, I graduated with a Grade Point Average of 3.85 overall as an undergraduate (with a 3.9+ in each of my majors, except economics, which was 3.7+), and a 3.84 GPA overall as a graduate and doctoral student. So, I don't believe that specialized tests are necessary indicators of how well one will do in the larger scheme of things.

But standards there must be, and for state law to require the taking of a specialized admissions test in which students are ranked according to their scores and placed in various specialized high schools, based on the ways in which students prioritize their schools and the number of seats available at such schools, seems an eminently reasonable way to proceed.

Well, not according to the Diversity Police. A new bill, Bill No. A10427, is being introduced by New York State Assemblyman Charles Barron that spells the beginning of the end of the last remaining gems in the New York City Public School System, among them: Stuyvesant High School, Brooklyn Technical High School and the Bronx High School of Science. These high quality educational institutions have among their gifted and talented alumni an array of Nobel laureates in biology, chemistry, physiology and medicine, physics, and economics, Pulitzer Prize winners, Academy Award winners, and an almost countless number of accomplished leaders in politics, law, business, science, technology, athletics (including Olympic gold medalists), music and the arts.

To attack the admissions test as the basis by which students gain entrance into these schools is a misplaced priority. If certain students are not scoring high enough in their rankings, the blame should be placed on their pre-high school educations, which are not preparing them well enough to have the opportunity to enter these institutions. The priority should be on improving the quality of pre-high school education, not on eliminating the one 'objective' standard by which students gain entrance into the system's preeminent high schools.

Those who are most concerned about the relative decrease in the number of African American students in the specialized high schools ought to consider one statistic. Back in the 1980s, to take a single example, Brooklyn Technical High School had a student population that was approximately 46% African American. These gifted and talented students all ranked high enough to get into one of the great specialized high schools. And back then, there were only three specialized high schools (the ones mentioned above) that based their entrance requirements on the test. So, if anything, that statistic shows that African American students were doing well enough in an environment that was even more competitive, since there were fewer schools and fewer seats to fill.

What happened? We can argue all day and all night over the reasons for the changing student demographics in the specialized high schools, but clearly something has happened to the quality of pre-high school education that must be addressed. For Mayor de Blasio and his new chancellor, Richard Carranza, to advocate the abolition of the test for entrance into NYC specialized high schools is hypocritical at best. As Chalkbeat, an online education publication put it, "[a]fter a long wait," De Blasio, who has always advocated for more "equity" in school placement, is now looking to scrap the test entirely.

How convenient. I wonder if the mayor waited to launch his long-promised attack on the specialized high schools until his son Dante had graduated from Brooklyn Tech. The mayor is married to an African American woman, Chirlane McCray, and Dante was not admitted to the school based on either his race or ethnicity or his relationship to the man who would become Mayor of New York City. Dante de Blasio got in because he scored and ranked high enough on the SHSAT to earn admission into Tech. He had an outstanding record as a student of one of the city's most prestigious schools. He and one of his Tech classmates captured the state high school debate championship in March 2015, and he is now a student of Yale University.

So, with one of his own children having benefited from the high quality education offered by one of the city's "elite" high schools, our "progressive" mayor can now attack the institutions that certainly nourished his own son's academic excellence. What the mayor now proposes is to begin the process of eroding the key entrance requirement for the specialized high schools, the first step toward destroying the high quality that they offer to students who qualify. He should concentrate his energies on raising the standards of the public school system in toto---particularly education in New York City's elementary and middle schools---rather than attacking its gems at the high school level. Achievement is not a matter of quantity or quotas, but of quality and enrichment.

The fact that this amended bill was introduced last night, right before an early June weekend, preceding a Sunday press conference by the Mayor and the Chancellor, gives us an indication of the kinds of strategies that are being used by the opponents of quality education.

These politicians need to be put on notice: We do not raise the quality of education by attacking standards; we raise standards to generate and nourish quality.

Postscript (4 June 2018): On Facebook, I expanded on my Notablog post. Here is what I had to say:

DeBlasio and his new chancellor were sloganeering yesterday at their press conference, saying "It's the system, not the student."
Well, they got that much right. It is the system, not the student. It is a system that has to be fixed from the root up. And the root begins in the elementary and middle schools. These schools are failing the kids---whether it is due to destructive pedagogical techniques that undermine the development of young minds, or to the horrific social conditions within which certain schools are situated, making them incapable of delivering a quality education, or any number of other factors. Resources need to be shifted toward the elementary and middle schools to prepare children for the kind of quality education that is offered by the specialized high schools in New York City. You can't hope to fix the system at the level of the high schools, when the damage has already been done at the pre-high school level.
And you can't raise the quality of education, by eliminating quality standards altogether. If you don't have a single test that might provide for at least one objective measure for a ranking of students, then what you will see is the liquidation of all standards, and the substitution of a host of "subjective" factors---including, by the way, favored treatment of particular schools by the politically powerful who will ask the administrators of these schools to give entrance to this student or that student, if they want to retain their "specialized" status. Don't kid yourselves: This has been attempted in the past, but the practice has been thwarted fundamentally because there is a legalized process that was put into place to guide entrance into the specialized high school curriculum.
Now with regard to specialized tests: One point I made in my Notablog entry was that clearly a single test does not always predict the level of achievement for any particular student, and I used myself as an example. So, if the NYC Department of Education wants to compel the specialized high schools to look at a broader range of criteria by which to measure entrance into these schools, that's one thing. It is something entirely different to seek the total elimination of the specialized high school exam.
But then another factor will have to be addressed: Many of these specialized high schools have benefited from donations from their most prestigious graduates---those who have achieved greatness in their careers and who seek to "give back" to the specific schools that nurtured them. If the politically powerful seek to destroy specialized education, I suspect that private donations to these schools that have nurtured the gifted and talented will eventually dry up. Because of limited state and local funding of education, the effects of the proposed policy changes could be catastrophic for specialized education.
In the end, it is typical of political "solutions" to pit class and ethnic groups against one another. We are hearing a lot about whites versus African Americans and Latinos. Interestingly, however, the "solution" being offered by this administration will ultimately disadvantage Asian students, who come from "minority" immigrant groups in New York City and who make up by far the greatest proportion of students in these specialized high schools at this time. So this politically charged issue is indeed full of potholes, and it will only exacerbate ethnic and racial division.
Finally, let's talk a bit about one specialized high school that does not base its admissions policies on the specialized test rankings: LaGuardia High School, which owes its origins to an integration of the High School of Music and Art and the High School of the Performing Arts. Children are admitted into this school based on their auditions and portfolios, taking into account academic and attendance records as well.
Nobody has suggested---at least not yet---that students must be admitted by not auditioning at all. Or that students must be admitted even if they have shown absolutely no experience or accomplishment in the areas of music (whether instrumental or vocal), art (whether the fine arts or the technical arts), drama, dance, or theater. These are as essential to a good education as any of the other subjects students are compelled to take in their pre-high school years. Music and art were requirements when I went to elementary and middle schools here in NYC, back in the stone age. It was one way of helping to discover and nourish the artistically talented among an amazingly diverse student population.
By the time De Blasio and his cronies are finished, the first casualties will be the children---whose talents are stunted by a system that is incapable of raising them up, because it is so busy crushing their dreams.

April 15, 2018

Great Connections: Light Your Own Path

I wanted to alert folks to a wonderful introduction to The Great Connections Program, an outgrowth of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute (of which I am an advisory board member). It is written by my very dear friend and colleague, Marsha Familaro Enright. "Light Your Own Path: The Science and Educational Principles of the Great Connections Program" can be accessed (in PDF format) here.

It is a call to creativity, inspiration, and the importance of pedagogical integration as essential to education. Bravo, Marsha!

January 21, 2018

Folks Interview: Postscript

I have been utterly overwhelmed by the public and private response to the Robert Lerose-conducted interview of me that appeared in Folks magazine here, which has already had over 160 shares from the Folks page alone (and climbing rapidly). [Ed.: As of the morning of 20 June 2018, it has 307 shares! Will update when appropriate.]

I've also had scores of questions that have been asked of me about the 60+ surgical procedures I've had through the years. Without putting my entire medical history online, let me just give a more detailed picture of the effects of Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome (SMAS), and the intestinal by-pass surgery that was required in order to save my life. The "blind-loop" or so called "dumping" syndrome that can sometimes result from such a procedure has caused side effects that nobody could have quite predicted. Obviously, I do not regret having had the surgery; I would not be here today to talk about any of this, if I had not had the initial operation at age 14.

But to give a very brief summary of some of what this has led to, I'll provide a checklist:

o Chronic dehydration from the condition led to the chronic formation of kidney stones, which has required countless lithotripsies over the years to break up the stones. (In my very first lithotripsy, back in 1995, a stone fragment got lodged in the ureter and after a week of being in utter agony, despite a morphine drip, a stent was placed within to dilate the ureter---under general anesthesia---and was later removed under local anesthesia. NOTHING on earth compares to the pain of a lodged kidney stone or the medieval removal of a stent. Passing such a stone is like giving birth to the planet Jupiter through a pin hole. Hmmm... I see some of you folks crossing your legs. So, end of story!)

o Chronic internal bleeding led to such severe anemia and iron deficiency, that I was required to undergo countless blood transfusions and IV iron supplementations, before I underwent more than two dozen ligation procedures to stop the bleeding. I am no longer anemic.

o Intestinal strain has led to many hernias requiring surgical repair.

o Bouts of everything from impactions to minor perforations to acute diverticulitis, all outgrowths of the condition, have required treatment.

I have used all of the tools of Western medicine and Eastern medicine (including biofeedback, meditation, herbal and nutritional supplements, acupuncture, "energy" meridians, you name it!) to combat these side effects. No stone has been left unturned. I exercise to the best of my ability and try to maintain a healthy diet (but all restrictions be damned, for pizza will always be a part of the special "Brooklyn" diet I practice!). I also surround myself with a positive support network.

Ultimately, however, as so many doctors have said, it is less about "what" I eat, than the fact that I eat, because this is a motility problem, and everything ingested is going to go through the same screwed up mechanics. Fortunately, there are ways of combating the side effects; unfortunately, the underlying cause of all those side effects, rooted in the initial SMAS condition and the by-pass created to save my life, is something for which there remains no cure.

Some folks, with other medical conditions, including both mental and physical health problems (we are integrated beings of mind and body, after all), have debated in various Facebook threads, who has it worse?---folks with gastro-vascular issues or neurological issues or cancer or countless number of other health problems.

Let me just be a little theoretical at this point. As I stated in one of the Facebook threads, this is not about "I've got it worse than you." Economics teaches us that there can be no interpersonal comparisons of utility or disutility---that is, in this context, there is no single scale upon which to measure one person's problems versus another. Or in more philosophical language: everything is agent-relative. Everything is embedded in our personal contexts. Most folks on this planet have some "cross to bear," to use an old metaphor. That's the nature of life, which is why Ayn Rand once claimed that life is the standard of moral values. But this is not a matter of merely taking those actions that further one's survival; it is about surviving and flourishing as human beings---with all that goes into the very definition of being human.

What matters is that you do not lay down and crucify yourself on any cross you might bear. What matters is how you rise to the occasion to combat it---how well you deal with it, using all the medical and personal resources at your disposal, including the nourishing of social networks of support.

If the interview at Folks does anything to bring attention to the SMAS condition that nearly killed me, that's great. But the message was more universal than that: it is that we all have to develop survival skills that emphasize our personal worth and that nurture a healthy sense of self-esteem. For me, the works of the late novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand and the late psychologist Nathaniel Branden, articulated in a more detailed fashion that which I understood on a "gut" level, if one can pardon the pun.

I no longer have a terminal disease; I'm still kickin', and I'm a warrior. I allow myself the grace of owning my condition, but not allowing it to define who and what I am. I own my emotions, and allow myself to be happy, to be sad, to laugh, to cry, but mostly to revel in the fact that where there is life, there is hope. Celebrate the fact that you are alive, and focus on all those things that help you not merely to survive, but to flourish. Celebrate your individual creativity and productivity. Celebrate your connections to all things that are living on this wonderful planet.

Once again, I want to thank each and every person, probably more than a hundred "folks", who have responded with such support, admiration, and affection. It's not about sympathy. It's all about embracing and nourishing life-affirming values---values that both sustain life and are reflections of a life worth living.

A big Brooklyn hug to all!

January 20, 2018

Folks Interview: "How the Queen of Selfishness Taught Me to Accept My Disability"

Freelance writer Robert Lerose recently interviewed me for Folks, an online magazine "dedicated to telling the stories of remarkable people who refuse to be defined by their health issues." The interview is featured in this week's edition and can be read here---though for some reason, it also appears here. (Disclaimer: I am not responsible for the title of the essay or the accompanying links provided at either site.)

The piece focuses on my lifelong medical adventures with the congenital gastro-vascular disorder, Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome (SMAS); an intestinal by-pass (known as a duodenojejunostomy), performed by the gifted surgeon, Dr. Bochetto, saved my life at the age of 14.

I was diagnosed with this extremely rare condition when I was literally near death. It was my family physician, Dr. Karounos, who did a GI Series in his office (they did that back then!), and who suggested after years of misdiagnosis, that I might have SMAS. It was the great Japanese doctor, Hiromi Shinya, who nailed the diagnosis with an upper tract endoscopic procedure known as an esaphagogastroduodenoscopy. As the pioneer of gastrointestinal endoscopic and colonoscopic techniques, Dr. Shinya developed and taught its most fundamental principles to a whole generation of doctors who, to this day, stand on his "Atlas"-like shoulders (including the utterly brilliant, affable, terrific, musical[!], Dr. Mark Cwern, one of Dr. Shinya's proteges, who has supervised so much of my quality healthcare for nearly three decades now).

There have been severe complications caused by this condition and the body's manner of coping with the surgical changes that were necessary to my survival. Today, on the eve of my 58th birthday, with 60+ surgical procedures since that 1974 surgery, I am alive and kickin', thanks to the efforts of so many wonderful physicians and the love and support of family and friends.

Interestingly, in all my years on this planet, I have never heard this condition mentioned anywhere. It was only recently that I saw its potentially devastating effects dramatized in Episode 2 of the first season of "The Good Doctor," starring Freddie Highmore as Dr. Shaun Murphy, a brilliant surgical resident at San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital, who just so happens to have autism and savant syndrome. In the episode, Murphy is able to visualize in his mind certain troubling symptoms present in one of his young patients. It sends him running to the child’s house, banging on the door in the middle of the night to the consternation of the child’s parents. He refuses to leave unless he can see the child to make sure she is okay. As it turns out, he saves the child’s life because he correctly diagnoses her as having a terminal condition in which the small intestine is twisted around the Superior Mesenteric Artery.

This was the first time in my entire life that I ever saw anyone in any medium—be it film, television, radio, or literature—even mention or suggest the condition known as Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome. The disorder is that rare. It is my hope that the mere mention of SMAS on national television might bring more attention to its causes, treatment, and perhaps, someday, to its complete eradication from the human condition.

My deepest appreciation to Robert Lerose for making "folks" aware of this medical problem---and of the possibility that individuals can survive and flourish despite the limitations that they may face from health issues. Again, check out the interview at Folks.

I'd also like to express my gratitude to my friend Don Hauptman, who thought my story was worth telling, and who put Robert Lerose in touch with me. (Only once before this interview, back in 2005, had I discussed the impact of Ayn Rand on my capacity to deal with---and transcend some of the limitations of---a lifelong disability. See here.)

Postscript: Various folks shared my Facebook post of this interview, and there have been so many wonderful comments from so many caring people. Some of the comments have been hilarious. My friend Steve Horwitz, for example, picked up on one of the phrases in my interview and said: "I am amused that Chris Matthew Sciabarra chose this turn of phrase to describe his inner life: 'I am constitutionally incapable of keeping anything in.'" As I remarked in my reply to Steve, I chose that phrase quite consciously. I guess my inner life or my way of dealing with things emotionally is a reflection, in part, of, uh, the nature of my physical disability.

But one comment that I found interesting came from a discussion with regard to an individual who, like Dr. Shaun Murphy in "The Good Doctor" (mentioned above) is on the autism spectrum. Some folks think there is just no comparison between a person suffering a neurological disorder versus a person like myself, who has had 60+ surgeries for a congenital gastro-vascular condition. I responded:

I've learned one thing about the nature of disability, and perhaps it is a lesson that comes from economics: one cannot make interpersonal comparisons of utility or disutility. If you have a disability, the nature of that disability is almost irrelevant, from the perspective of "Mine is worse than yours." If it is your disability, it is something you must come to terms with, and it is as much a 'burden' for a person who has a gastro-vascular disorder as it is for a person who has a neurological one.
I would like to think that my interview has a more universal message: that it is possible to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities, regardless of the limitations that one faces, and to make the most of them.

I emphasized that point of "interpersonal comparisons of utility" in another comment in the same Facebook thread, where I declared that there was no room for shame in thinking that one's problems seem to be minute in comparison to the problems faced by others:

We all can be Stoic in the face of life's difficulties, but no amount of pretending can cover the real pain each of us feels carrying the burdens of health and other problems that are unique to each of us in our own lives. To use an old metaphor, we all seem to have some cross that we are carrying---the trick is not to allow yourself to be crucified on it. But as long as it is your cross that you're carrying, it is still your cross---and each person knows how heavy the burdens can be. Economists are correct: No room for interpersonal comparisons of utility or disutility; let us just be happy that we can have friends and build a community around the idea that there is something heroic about celebrating that which is good, creative, and productive inside each of us. That's one of the gifts I got from Rand's work.
As I said in another thread, I'm, uh, constitutionally incapable of keeping anything in, including the words that come flowing out of my own mouth! Best to get it off your chest, your gut, your mind, whatever! It's positively unhealthy to hold back, especially with those who can be empathetic and supportive.

The Facebook post has been shared by quite a few people, and the Folks story has over 150 shares already. My friend David Boaz remarked: "I am amused to discover that my good friend Chris Sciabarra first encountered the work of Ayn Rand in his days at John Dewey High School. This is an interesting interview about how Rand and Nathaniel Branden helped him deal with a congenital illness that has plagued him throughout his very productive life." I replied:

I chuckled at your opening remark. :)
Regarding having discovered Rand at John Dewey High School (and we all know how much Rand loved Dewey as a pragmatist philosopher), I do have to say that the school was truly the embodiment of individualism in education---we were able to construct our major around five 6-week cycle semesters, which were specialized courses in virtually every discipline, with vigorous independent study. Back then, it was truly one of the gems of the NYC public school system!

January 14, 2018

RIFI: The New Great Connections

The Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute (RIFI), on which I serve as one of the members of the Board of Advisors, has launched its dynamic new website. As the Founder and President of the Great Connections Seminars, Marsha Familaro Enright tells us:

When we think of free societies, we often think of industry, free markets, and minimal government. But real freedom starts within, with self-understanding, self-responsibility, self-direction, determination, and a nimble ability to adapt to life’s challenges. Autonomous people do not easily tolerate being ruled.
Yet, the modern classroom, from grade school to graduate school, relies heavily on a top-down structure of a single arbiter of knowledge, often in the position of lecturer and discussion leader as well as knowledge and moral authority. This structure embodies collectivist ideals of social control and strongly helps to foist their ideas and values onto students, such as: social justice, moral relativism, and limiting free speech. By controlling the ideas and the way they are taught to young people, the collectivists have come to control the ideas in the culture.
This educational structure needs to be examined, questioned---and overthrown. . . . where do individuals learn how to live autonomously and use that information in their lives? The free future requires an educational---a psychological---technology that suits the needs and reflects the aims of the free human being.
The Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute (RIFI) has developed and implemented such a psychological technology in our Great Connections programs.

Take a tour of this new exciting "Great Connections" website, starting here.

January 04, 2018

Rothbard, Rand, and "How I Became a Libertarian"

A discussion on Facebook on the relationship between Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand prompted me to post a few observations:

Just as an aside, it must be noted that in The Passion of Ayn Rand, Barbara Branden writes: "Though disagreeing with Ayn Rand's key concept of limited government, Murray Rothbard has stated that he 'is in agreement basically with all her philosophy,' and that it was she who convinced him of the theory of natural rights which his books uphold" (page 413). I should also note that while the Circle Bastiat (which consisted initially of Rothbard, Robert Hessen, Leonard Liggio, George Reisman, and Ralph Raico) had their infamous interactions with Rand, Rothbard is on record as having defended Rand and Atlas Shrugged in print, in the publication Commonweal, back in 1957, where he stated: "The difference between Miss Rand’s concept and the usual Christian morality is that there is compassion for a man’s fight against suffering, or against unjustly imposed suffering, rather than pity for suffering per se.” (Quite a different view than that presented in "Mozart was a Red" or "The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult".)

Whatever his faults, and whatever his twists and turns, from the New Left in the 1960s to the paleo-libertarian days of his later years, I think it should be noted that Rothbard was among the most prolific writers of his time, and his works on Austrian economics and history (from the colonial period to the Progressive era to the emergence of the "Welfare-Warfare" state) present some of the most significant, insightful, and integrated radical analyses of the emergence of statism in the United States. I devote a considerable part of my book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, discussing the positive and negative aspects of his system of thought, which is certainly worth serious study.

[Now,] it is entirely possible, from the stories I've heard, that he certainly did everything he could to avoid citing Rand as any kind of influence on his ethics, as there was a lot of bad blood between the two figures (but as that 1957 quote from Commonweal suggests, this was something that happened after the break between them).
But in looking at his whole body of work, though I am highly critical of him in Part Two of Total Freedom, I don't think it can be denied that he was remarkable at integrating the insights of Mises (especially Mises's view of the boom-bust cycle: see his monumental Man, Economy, and State and Power and Market) and those of the New Left (especially Gabriel Kolko, James Weinstein, and others--see especially his books on the colonial era, Conceived in Liberty, and his analyses of The Progressive Era, and America's Great Depression, not to mention his work as coeditor, with Ronald Radosh of A New History of Leviathan), in coming up with a very radical, libertarian perspective on the emergence of statism in the United States. He also presented a more thoroughly developed understanding of a libertarian "class analysis" (which has influenced a whole generation of thinkers, including Walter Grinder and John Hagel, who, themselves, made important contributions to this perspective.)
I think one can learn from his approach, even if one rejects key aspects of it (as I do---and make no mistake about it, I am extremely critical of what I view as the "utopian" and "nondialectical" aspects of Rothbard's approach).
I should add a little "truth in advertising" because Rothbard certainly made a personal impact on my own intellectual odyssey on "How I Became a Libertarian."

July 25, 2017

Barbara Branden's POET Print Published!

It gives me great pleasure to announce that the print version of Think as if Your Life Depends on It: Principles of Efficient Thinking and Other Lectures [link to ordering information] by Barbara Branden is now available. I had previously announced the publication of the Kindle edition of the book.


POET Print Cover


As readers may know, I have written the Foreword to the book, and Roger Bissell offers us a fine introduction. But the real "meat" of this book lies in its lectures, originally delivered in 1960, updated later in 1969, and beautifully delivered by Barbara Branden. The book also includes three additional lectures, providing us with a glimpse of Barbara's later thinking on the various topics touched on in her original series, which was offered initially under the auspices of the Nathaniel Branden Institute.

It is a work that merits discussion, critique, but most of all ... attention. Up to this point, it has only been available in .mp3 form, but there is nothing like a printed copy of lectures so as to genuinely study its contents. I heartily recommend it to your attention.

May 29, 2017

Rothbard's Impact on "How I Became a Libertarian"

On a day when I memorialize those who fought and put their lives on the line during times of war (like my Uncle Sam), I also remember those who dreamt of a world without war, whatever differences of opinion I may have had with them. Among these was the Austrian economist and libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard, who had a huge impact on how I became a libertarian. I wrote on a Facebook thread:

All I know is that Murray Rothbard had an immense impact on me personally and on the libertarian movement generally; his scholarship---from his multivolume Conceived in Liberty and his work on The Panic of 1819 and America's Great Depression to his mammoth Man, Economy, and State and Power and Market and his Ethics of Liberty and his polemical For a New Liberty---is remarkable in its breadth; and his work on Left and Right certainly made its mark. I own a copy of A New History of Leviathan, a work he coedited with Ronald Radosh, and therein are terrific essays coming from revisionist historians among the new left and the libertarian right (including Rothbard and the great libertarian historian Leonard Liggio). [In fact, my own copy of that wonderful volume is inscribed by both Radosh, who wrote "Towards democratic socialism!" on one page and Rothbard, who wrote "For liberty and anti-Leviathan" on the next page!]
It was Rothbard who introduced me to the trailblazing work being done by folks like Gabriel Kolko and James Weinstein on the new left (especially their valuable revisionist scholarship on the Progressive era) and Walter Grinder and John Hagel on the libertarian right. My mentor, Bertell Ollman, a Marxist political theorist, praised Rothbard, despite their disagreements, for the depth of his scholarship and the principled stances he took against the Vietnam War, when they worked together in the Peace and Freedom Party. (And Ollman was no stranger to libertarian and classical liberal thinking; he was actually a Volker fellow who worked personally under Friedrich Hayek at the University of Chicago.)
Whatever flaws Rothbard had (and who doesn't have their blindspots?), he was a huge presence in the emergence of modern libertarianism and was among the folks who were part of my own journey of "How I Became a Libertarian" (now a part of the volume I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians).

March 27, 2017

I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians

I feel like I've been living under a rock.

Some years ago, I contributed an essay, "How I Became a Libertarian" to the Mises Institute; it's now archived at LewRockwell.com. I had forgotten that it was Walter Block, my esteemed libertarian colleague (and a past contributor to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies), who was compiling short autobiographies for a collection that would feature the stories of how so many individuals came to embrace the promise of liberty. Block's collection of these profoundly personal entries was published in 2010, but I just picked up the hardcover from the site of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. The book is also available as a pdf or epub file and can be accessed here.

I Chose Liberty_Block.jpg

The autobiographies are organized alphabetically and I must say that the book itself is astonishing in its breadth. I am so elated to recognize so many of the names of folks who are not only fellow travelers on the freedom road, but dear, dear friends. Some of them, sadly, are no longer with us.

I highly recommend this work; I know seven years may seem a little late, but I just wanted to say "Thank You" to Walter, once again, for having provided us with a testament to memory, which might serve as an authentic guide, as Walter puts it, to "the younger generation," illustrating the deeply personal paths and processes by which so many have come to embrace the cause of freedom.

December 20, 2016

JSTOR Publishes JARS' Branden Symposium Prologue

As readers of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies know, our journal is available not only in print, but also online through Project Muse and JSTOR. And this year's double issue is actually available in a Kindle edition, the first Kindle version ever published in the journal's history. Folks interested in ordering the Kindle edition, should check it out at amazon.com here.

But JSTOR has for the first time made fully accessible to the public the Prologue to this year's symposium, "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." You can read that Prologue here. Some of the Prologue was featured in my announcement of the issue's publication. But now you can read it in full; you don't have to be a subscriber to JSTOR!

December 13, 2016

Ralph Raico, RIP

I have just learned from friends and colleagues that historian extraordinaire, Ralph Raico, passed away. I first met Ralph when I was an undergraduate at NYU, attending various liberty intensives sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies. He was a celebrated member of the Circle Bastiat, which constituted an intellectual and activist salon; it included folks like Murray Rothbard, Ronald Hamowy, George Reisman, and Robert Hessen, and had some celebrated encounters with the Rand circle of the mid-to-late 1950s (with Reisman and Hessen joining the growing circle around Ayn Rand). Ralph's recollections of those encounters bordered on classical theater.

I remember Ralph as being a remarkably passionate lecturer, and a wonderfully kind and considerate scholar, who gave me deeply appreciated personal and professional advice in our various encounters through the years. And he never lacked for a hilarious sense of humor. A founder of the New Individualist Review, he was a libertarian who was often unwilling to cede to contemporary liberals the label of "classical liberalism." A principled and decent human being he was; another light of liberty has dimmed.

RIP, Ralph.

July 18, 2016

Russian Radical 2.0: The Three Rs

Today's post will discuss the Three Rs, as they relate, ironically, to the second edition of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical: Reviews, Rand Studies, and Rape Culture.

As readers of Notablog know, my 1995 book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, went into a grand second edition in 2013, on the eve of its twentieth anniversary (readers can see all the blog posts related to this edition at a new page on my Russian Radical site). As is the fate of most second editions, even vastly expanded ones like the current book, few reviews seem to surface. But it has been a pleasant surprise to see that the book has made an impact on the ever-growing Rand scholarly literature. I have updated the review section of the Russian Radical page to reflect some of the reviews and discussions of the book in that literature. My own reply to critics ("Reply to Critics:  The Dialectical Rand") will not appear until July 2017 in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (Volume 17, no. 1). The delay in that reply has been primarily due to the fact that we, at the journal, have been working relentlessly on what promises to be, perhaps, the most important issue ever published by JARS: a double-issue symposium, due out in December 2016 (Volume 16, nos. 1-2): "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." It is a book-length version of the journal that will be print published and available online through JSTOR and Project Muse, and to those who wish to purchase single print copies or single copies of the first e-book and Kindle editions of JARS ever published. We are proud of the final product, which includes sixteen essays by people coming from a wide diversity of disciplines and perspectives, including political and social theory, philosophy, literature, film, business and leadership, anthropology, and, of course, academic and clinical psychology. It also includes the most extensive annotated bibliography of Branden works and of the secondary literature mentioning Branden yet published.

What makes this issue so important is that it will bring to a wider audience the work of many writers who have never appeared in any Rand-oriented periodical, while also bringing attention to the work and legacy of Branden to the community of clinical and academic psychologists. It is an issue that only JARS could have produced. Such a study would never come forth from the "orthodox" Objectivists, who have virtually airbrushed even Branden’s canonic contributions to Objectivism out of existence (the new Blackwell Companion to Ayn Rand a notable exception), or from the established orthodoxies of the psychological community who have dismissed Branden's work as "pop" psychology—in much the same way that the established scholarly orthodoxies locked out Rand from the Western canon by referring to her as a cult-fiction writer and pop philosopher, an attitude that has slowly been eroded over the years by increasingly serious work on her corpus, something to which JARS has contributed with pride.

In any event, readers can find excerpts from some of the commentaries made on Russian Radical in the recent scholarly literature by checking the updated review pages here.

Ironically, among the reviewers is Wendy McElroy, who discussed Russian Radical in the pages of JARS (in a review that appeared in the July 2015 issue). I’m happy that Wendy had the opportunity to review the book, given that she has been so hard at work on so many worthwhile projects. One of those projects was just published: a truly provocative new book, entitled Rape Culture Hysteria: Fixing the Damage Done to Men and Women. I’ve just posted a mini-review of the 5-star book on amazon.com; here is what I had to say (which relates directly to my view of "The Dialectical Rand"):

Wendy McElroy's new book, Rape Culture Hysteria: Fixing the Damage Done to Men and Women, is certainly one of the most provocative books on this subject ever written. The freshness with which McElroy approaches the subject is in itself controversial, though it is hard to believe that approaching any subject with reason as one's guide could possibly be controversial. Whether one agrees or disagrees with any particular point made by McElroy, what she accomplishes here is to show the power of a nearly all-encompassing ideology to corrupt the very subject it seeks to make transparent.  The power of her analysis lies in the intricate ways in which she approaches not only the problems of rape culture ideology but in the documentation and analysis that she uses to undermine many of the arguments that its proponents put forth to support their various positions. It is a startling display of analytical power so strong that it must challenge people on all ends of the political spectrum.
The sad part of the Politically Correct doctrine of the "rape culture," however, is that it actually undermines the power of some doctrines that I, as a social theorist, accept, with provisos.  For example, the doctrine that "the personal is the political," rejected with good reason by McElroy, is used by PC feminists in a way that does not illuminate the mutual implications of the personal and the political; rather, it folds everything personal into the political.  That such a doctrine could have emerged out of postmodern New Left thought is doubly disturbing, however, given the Marxist penchant for so-called "dialectical" analysis, that is, analysis that aims to grasp the wider context of social problems by tracing their common roots and multidimensional manifestations and undermining them in a radical way.  The same penchant exists, in my view, among many of those in the libertarian and individualist traditions, including in the work of the self-declared "anti-feminist" Ayn Rand, who, for all her anti-feminism, may have done more to empower women than any PC feminist could have ever dreamed… this, despite her views of man-woman relationships or of homosexuality, both of which one can take issue with, while not doing fundamental damage to her overall philosophic system.
The fact is that even Rand believed that there were mutual implications between the personal and the political; one's view of oneself, how one uses one's mind, the methods of one's thinking processes (so-called "psycho-epistemology", etc.) and the origins of the doctrine of self-esteem, and of the self-esteem movement championed by her protege, Nathaniel Branden, show how certain cultural, educational, and political institutions have virtually conditioned individuals to accept authority and certain destructive ideologies in ways that ultimately undermine their ability to think as individuals and accept self-responsibility, thus paving the way for the rule of coercive political power. Rand and her intellectual progeny have grasped these phenomena by showing how they operate in mutually reinforcing ways across disciplines and institutions within a system, and across time.I don't think McElroy would disagree with this, even if she fundamentally questions the doctrine of "the personal is the political," for she, herself, shows that there are indeed both personal and political consequences to the ways in which that doctrine is used by its so-called champions. But that is the kind of fundamental rethinking McElroy's book provokes for any reader who approaches her work with a critical mind. Bravo!

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.

September 08, 2005

WTC Remembrance: Patrick Burke, Educator

Starting in 2001, I began an annual series that I entitled: "Remembering the World Trade Center." I subsequently posted my comments "As It Happened," and I have revisited the subject each year: in 2002, a tribute to "New York, New York"; in 2003, a tribute to the World Trade Center; in 2004, reflections on the tragedy by "My Friend Ray."

I will be posting these remembrances for as long as I can. "Never Forget" is no cliche here. It is a matter of life and death.

This year, as we near the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, I publish the fifth, and newest, installment of my series:

"Patrick Burke, Educator"

Patrick was previously interviewed, briefly, by The Advocate for that magazine's October 23, 2001 issue. He was the principal of the public high school closest to Ground Zero. I am honored that he agreed to have this discussion. It is an important one.

Update: I've heard from Patrick, who tells me that a 20-minute documentary film was recently made that depicts the therapeutic art project (referenced in the interview) conducted by St. Vincent's Hospital at the High School of Economics & Finance on the anniversaries of 9/11. That film will have its premier at the Museum of the City of New York (Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street) at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, September 11, 2005. The program will begin with a musical segment followed by the film at 3:00 p.m. and then a Q & A session. The event should conclude by around 3:30 p.m. It is open to the general public. The film will also be shown at a number of locations across the country.

Comments welcome. Noted also at L&P and the Ayn Rand Meta Blog.

May 12, 2005

12 Books, 12 Articles

Over at L&P, Aeon Skoble, inspired by Don Boudreux (here and here), gives us a list of the 12 books and 12 articles that really influenced him. I suspect this list is not a list, necessarily, of 12 "favorite" books or articles from childhood through adulthood. If I had to assemble such a list, I'd have to start with Harold and The Purple Crayon.

So, here we go. In no order of influence, I give you The Twelve (x 2, + a few others) that were a significant part of my intellectual education (though I'm sure I could come up with twice that number, and I'm probably forgetting a few in this very list):

Continue reading "12 Books, 12 Articles" »

December 10, 2004

Robert Campbell on USM

My friend and colleague Robert Campbell has been doing quite a job analyzing the problems at the University of Southern Mississippi. I comment briefly on his newest L&P post: "University of Southern Mississippi's Accreditation is Threatened."