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September 17, 2019

Rothbard Lectures on American History: Lost and Found

The following essay can be found on the Mises Wire; check out the newly available Murray N. Rothbard lectures on "Libertarian Paradigms in American History" and "The Crisis of American Foreign Policy" on that site.

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As Jerome Tuccille famously wrote: "It usually begins with Ayn Rand."

For me, it began in my senior year of high school. I took a year-long "Advanced Placement" course (for college credit) that offered an in-depth survey of American history, from the colonial period to the modern era. My early political views, shaped by both relatives and influential teachers, always tended toward a pro-free market stance. Invariably, the contentious discussions I was having in class were shared at home with my family. One afternoon, after listening to my tirades concerning the current events of the day, my sister-in-law told me that she'd been reading a novel called Atlas Shrugged, and that a lot of what I was saying seemed to echo the themes in this book. When she showed it to me, I took one look at it and saw that it was more than a thousand pages and said: “I have homework. I’ve got no time for that! No way!"

But as I thumbed through the back pages of the book, I noticed that there was an advertisement for a collection of essays by Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Branden, Alan Greenspan, and Robert Hessen called Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. So in lieu of the hefty novel, I bought a copy of that much shorter book—and as I began reading it, I was completely stunned. Here was the most stylized moral, practical, and historical defense of the free market that I'd ever read. So, before I stepped foot into college---and in place of reading a 1000+ page novel---I swiftly devoured all of Rand's nonfiction works before reading a single work of her fiction.

Perhaps the greatest revelation of Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal was the vast free-market literature referenced by its contributors. Austrian-school economist Ludwig von Mises was prominently cited throughout the essays, and in the bibliography, no fewer than eight of his classic works were listed. In addition, there were citations to classic works by Frederic Bastiat, Eugen von Boehm-Bawerk, and Henry Hazlitt, along with books by such Old Right thinkers as John T. Flynn and Isabel Paterson.

I had learned that Ludwig von Mises had once given seminars at New York University's Graduate School of Business, and I had applied to New York University partially because of my knowledge that there was actually a program in Austrian economics that had taken shape there. Even though my intended major was history, I eventually took on a triple major in economics, politics, and history. Among the first talks I heard on campus were those given by Richard Ebeling and David Ramsay Steele, who gave me further insight into the remarkable diversity within the libertarian and Austrian scholarly community. It didn't take me long to register for courses with one of Mises's finest students: Israel Kirzner. Courses with Mario Rizzo, Gerald O'Driscoll, Stephen Littlechild, and Roger Garrison would follow later, as did attendance at regular sessions of the Austrian Economics Colloquium (which met weekly) and the once-a-month Austrian Economics Seminar, where I was privileged to see presentations by everyone from Ludwig Lachmann (also a member of the NYU Economics Department) and Murray Rothbard (on "The Myth of Neutral Taxation"). It was at these and other sessions that I met such folks as Don Lavoie, Larry White, George Selgin, Joe Salerno, Roger Koppl, and Ralph Raico. For me, it was as if I'd stepped into Scholarly Nirvana. Even between classes, I could just walk on over to the corner of Bleecker and Mercer Streets and thumb through the literature on display at Laissez Faire Books. And when the academic year was over, there was always a whirlwind summer weekend libertarian conference to go to, sponsored by either the Cato Institute or the Institute for Humane Studies.

History remained my deepest passion. By the spring of my sophomore year, I had been an active member of the NYU Undergraduate History Club and enrolled in the History Honors Program. Hand-in-hand with my scholarly studies, I was a co-founder of the NYU chapter for Students for a Libertarian Society (SLS). With the Soviets bogged down in Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter was calling for a return to draft registration. It was fortuitous that on April 30, 1979, the House Military Manpower Subcommittee voted unanimously to have the House Armed Services Committee consider the resumption of Selective Service registration. A planned protest in Washington Square Park on May Day became that much more prescient, as SLS joined a diverse coalition of groups to resist the growing political support for conscription.

Time spent as a growing libertarian activist took nothing away from my deepening academic studies. When I returned in the Fall of 1979, the beginning of my junior year at NYU, I had already taken courses with some of the finest historians that the Department of History had to offer, including Richard Hull and colonial historians Patricia Bonomi and Gloria Main. Simultaneously, my acquaintance with Murray Rothbard had developed into a collegial friendship; Murray's work had an enormous impact on my growing libertarian perspective and he never hesitated, in countless phone conversations, to provide me with insightful guidance and advice on the development of my professional course of study (see "How I Became a Libertarian"). Virtually every term paper I wrote---covering everything from the colonial era to the Progressive era, from the “war collectivism” of World War I to the Great Depression, from the New Deal to World War II and the postwar emergence of the welfare-warfare state---reflected a maturing libertarian perspective, informed by Rothbard's unique interpretation of American history. This work culminated with my first professional article published in The Historian (the NYU undergraduate history journal) in 1980 on "Government and the Railroads in World War I" [pdf] and in my undergraduate senior honors thesis, directed by labor historian Daniel Walkowitz, "The Implications of Interventionism: An Analysis of the Pullman Strike" [pdf].

In fairness, many years later, I criticized aspects of Rothbard's work in a full scholarly exegesis of its scope, as a segment of my doctoral dissertation, from which I derived Part II of my book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, the culminating work of my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy" (which began with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical). That critique, however, is itself evidence of the impact that Rothbard had made on my libertarian studies---since it was simultaneously my attempt to make visible, and to grapple with, his many contributions, something that too many contemporary scholars had simply ignored.

It was in part my commitment to making those contributions visible that I approached Professor Richard Hull in the fall semester of 1979. At the time, Professor Hull was the amiable advisor for both undergraduate students of history and The Historian. I told him that there was, indeed, considerable interest among the members of the Undergraduate History Society in Rothbard's iconoclastic approach and I urged him to extend a departmental invitation to Murray to speak before students and faculty of the Department of History. The result of that invitation was Murray's talk on "Libertarian Paradigms in American History," a lecture that he gave on December 4, 1979 at 4 pm in room 808 of the Main Building. Professor Hull encouraged me to introduce Murray to a standing-room only crowd of well over 200 people. I highlighted virtually all of Rothbard's historical works, in particular, while cautioning the crowd that it would not be easy to pigeonhole him as a New Right or New Left historian; clearly, I suggested, Murray Rothbard was forging a unique interpretive approach to the study of history.

Virtually all of the department's historians were in attendance that afternoon; Murray knew many of them personally, and after the lecture, he exchanged some warm words with Gloria Main, since he had referred in his talk to Jackson Turner Main, her husband, whose work on the Antifederalists he recommended highly.

The central theme of Rothbard's lecture was the conflict between "Liberty" and "Power" throughout history. He did not deny the complexities of historical events and did not disapprove of alternative approaches to the understanding of history. Drawing from Albert Jay Nock, however, he believed that the contest between "social power" (embodied in voluntary institutions and trade) and "state power" (in which certain interests used the coercive instruments of government to expropriate others for their own benefit) was central to understanding the ebb and flow of historical events. Social power, which reached its apex in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, breeds prosperity, civilization, and culture; state power, which came to dominate the twentieth century, produced the most regressive period in human history—as government expanded its powers through warfare and a maze of regulatory agencies, central banking, and welfare-state bureaucracies. Throughout his talk, he drew on the pioneering scholarship of Bernard Bailyn on the ideological origins of the American Revolution; Jackson Turner Main on the role of the Antifederalists in restraining, through the Bill of Rights, the "nationalist" forces that forged the counter-revolutionary Constitution; Paul Kleppner, who provides an enlightening take on the struggle between "liturgical" and "pietist" cultural forces, the latter viewed as a key element in the emergence of the Progressive Era and the growth of government intervention; and Gabriel Kolko, whose revisionist work on the role of big business in the move toward the regulatory state explains much about the rise of corporatist statism in the twentieth century and beyond.

The entire 90-minute talk, which included a brief question-and-answer session, is peppered with that edgy Rothbardian wit, which entertained as much as it informed. By the end of the lecture, Rothbard was given a standing ovation.

So enthralled was I by the success of that December 1979 lecture that in September 1980, I extended an invitation to Murray to be among the speakers featured in a nearly week-long "Libertython" sponsored by the NYU chapter of Students for a Libertarian Society---dedicated to exploring the politics, economics, and philosophy of freedom. On September 23, 1980, he gave the second of six scheduled lectures that day. His lecture focused on "The Crisis of American Foreign Policy," wherein I introduced him to a slightly smaller audience than the event sponsored by the History Department. The size of the audience didn't matter; for Rothbard, there was nothing more important than the issue of war and peace. As he put it, libertarians were usually quite good in opposing the regulations of OSHA or criticizing the destructive effects of price controls. But when faced with the role of the warfare state as the single most important factor in the expansion of government power: "Blank out"---a turn of phrase he used, giving credit to Ayn Rand---was the typical response he'd witnessed from far too many libertarians. By not focusing enough attention on the role of "war and peace," all the other issues concerning price control, free will versus determinism, and so forth, become "pointless ... if we're all washed away" as a species. With a bit of gallows humor, he couldn't resist criticizing the U.S. military's plan that would whisk away politicians to safety as nuclear warfare becomes imminent such that the "goddamn government" will go on in bomb shelters, while the rest of us perish. As the antidote to war, he cited W. C. Fields, who, when asked by the Saturday Evening Post how to end World War II, remarked: "Take the leaders of both sides or all sides, in the Hollywood Bowl, and let them fight it out with sackfuls of guns." The Post didn't publish the comment, Rothbard says, but he yearns for a world that gets back to jousting between the leaders of warring governments, rather than a policy of what Charles Beard once called "perpetual war for perpetual peace," in which twentieth-century technology had made possible mass murder on an unimaginable scale.

Some will have difficulty accepting Rothbard's argument that in any clash between "democratic" and "dictatorial" countries, the latter is not necessarily the source of contemporary conflict. In fact, Rothbard argues, the foreign policy of the "democratic" United States has been at the root of many of the global conflicts in the post-World War II era.

During the Q&A session, folks who are familiar with the voice of Don Lavoie will recognize him instantly. Included here as well are several self-acknowledged "digs" that Rothbard takes at the Libertarian Party's 1980 Presidential candidate, Ed Clark, with some surprising comments on subjects such as immigration policy.

Except for those who were present at these two events, these two lectures have not been heard by anyone since 1979-1980. I had been the only person with recorded copies of these Rothbard lectures and it is remarkable that these recordings survived. Indeed, an apartment fire in October 2013 nearly consumed my library—and my family. Fortunately, we survived, as did most of my books, audio and video cassettes, and other recordings. The "lost" Rothbard lectures were found under two feet of ash and sheetrock. I later digitized them for the sake of posterity and have donated these materials to the Mises Institute, which has become a repository of so much of Rothbard's corpus. I am delighted that they will now be heard for the first time in nearly four decades.

September 09, 2019

Controversy: Left or Right?

In 1981, the late singer, songwriter, and musician, Prince, put out the title track and lead single to his album, "Controversy." With words and music by the gifted musician, Prince wrote:

I just can't believe all the things people say (controversy)
Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay? (controversy)
Do I believe in god? Do I believe in me? (controversy)
Controversy (controversy)
...
Some people wanna die so they can be free
(I said) life is just a game, we're all just the same...(do you wanna play?)
...
People call me rude, I wish we were all nude
I wish there was no black and white, I wish there were no rules

The song was a break-through hit for Prince [YouTube link], going Top 3 on the Hot Black Singles chart and to Number 1 on the Hot Dance Club chart.

If I could have co-written the song for re-release, I'd have to add one more line (in keeping with the spirit of things; after all, "I wish there were no rules" comes pretty close to the conventional "definition" of anarchism!):

I just can't believe all the things people say (controversy)
Do I embrace the right-libertarian or the left-libertarian way?

Well, my Facebook friend, Cory Massimino put up a post today on FB discussing left-libertarianism, providing a breakdown of its four distinct (though interrelated) meanings. I quote him here in full, with his permission:

The term "Left-Libertarian" has taken on four distinct, yet related, meanings. I see them conflated with each other constantly, so it's worth clarifying the differences.
1. The first sense, which is most common in academia, refers to a synthesis of self-ownership and neo-Georgism. Popular proponents of this view are Peter Vallentyne, Hillel Steiner, and Michael Otsuka.
2. The second sense refers to "classical libertarianism" or communist anarchism. Popular proponents of this view are Emma Goldman, Petr Kropotkin, and Noam Chomsky.
3. The third sense refers to "liberal-tarianism," which sees one's leftism and libertarianism as *moderating* each other. Hence, this camp mainly consists of market liberals. Popular proponents of this view are John Tomasi, Brink Lindsey, and Will Wilkinson.
4. The final sense refers to "left-wing market anarchism," which sees one's leftism and libertarianism as *radicalizing* each other. Hence, this camp consists of anarchists. Popular proponents of this view are Benjamin Tucker, Roderick Long, and Gary Chartier.

Naturally, I had to have my say. In response to this, I wrote:

Apparently, according to Wikipedia, I seem to be in camp (4):
Some thinkers associated with market-oriented American libertarianism, drawing on the work of Rothbard during his alliance with the left and on the thought of Karl Hess, came increasingly to identify with the left on a range of issues, including opposition to war, to corporate oligopolies and state-corporate partnerships, and an affinity for cultural liberalism. This left-libertarianism is associated with scholars such as Kevin Carson, Roderick T. Long, Samuel Edward Konkin III, Sheldon Richman, Chris Matthew Sciabarra and Gary Chartier who stress the value of radically free markets, termed "freed markets" to distinguish them from the common conception which these libertarians believe to be riddled with statist and capitalist privileges.

Though, to give credit where credit is due, another Wikipedia entry, mentions that "Chris Sciabarra is the only scholar associated with this school of left-libertarianism who is skeptical about anarchism; see Sciabarra's Total Freedom." In actuality, I have never taken a formal position on minarchism versus anarchism (I've had enough trouble, over the past forty years, defending the concept of a "dialectical libertarianism," so give me a break.)

But if we take even the Randian conception of the ideal limited government (which is closer to a Weberian ideal-type than it is to any concept rooted in the "facts of reality," that is, the reality of current and historical conditions), then there has never been a government on earth, which has been funded voluntarily and fully committed to the protection of the individual's rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. For me, that essentially means that there isn't a single "legitimate" state on earth. But we try our best to live as freely as we can, under the circumstances. And, yet, if we take the typical libertarian conception of "anarchism," with its stark dualistic emphasis on "state power" versus "social power," we are led to believe that by simply lopping off the state, Nirvana is in reach. This gives absolutely no attention to those personal and cultural conditions, which reinforce various forms of repression---so essential to the sustenance of statism. In truth, I merely "punted" the issue in Total Freedom, stating in a footnote (page 168 n. 53): "As to the possibility of a nondualistic libertarian anarchism, some hints are provided in Part Two." And in Part Two, I provide a few hints, but nothing beyond that.

These were my final comments on Cory's thread:

I've never come out as an anarchist ---but did go through a heavy anarcho-capitalist phase, only to critique it in part two of my book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. But a later essay by Charles W. Johnson (who, I might add, once took my cyberseminar eons ago on "The Dialectics of Liberty"), which appeared in a wonderful book [Anarchism/Minarchism: Is a Government Part of a Free Country? co-edited by Roderick Tracy Long and Tibor R. Machan]---may have pushed me closer to the anarchist wing. [Indeed, Johnson titled his essay, "Liberty, Equality, Solidarity: Toward a Dialectical Anarchism"---obviously a man after my own heart. :)]
I've always said that even by minarchist standards [see above], there is not a single state in history or in the world, that is legitimate. If you scratch me hard enough, you'll find not just the green-red-and-white of the Italian ancestry or the blue-and-white of the Greek ancestry, but that good ol' black-and-white flag of anarchists! ;)

These kinds of discussions, sadly, often degenerate into variations on "how many angels dance on the head of a pin." Because, in truth, this world is so far away from a society free of government intervention and social repression, and it is going to take a massive cultural and structural change for the very idea of "freedom" to become a historical force to be reckoned with.

But I'm happy Cory gave me the opportunity to provide additional thoughts on this topic. Someday, I'll have lots more to say about all this.

September 06, 2019

Song of the Day #1676

Song of the Day: The "Fish" Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag, written by Country Joe McDonald, was first released as part of a 1965 extended play vinyl, "Rag Baby Talking Issue No. 1," recorded by Country Joe and the Fish. In 1967, it became the title song of this psychedelic rock band's second studio album. With its biting satire, this was one of the most iconic counterculture protest songs ever recorded in opposition to the war in Vietnam. And so our Summer Music Festival (Woodstock Anniversary Edition) continues with this classic song. Check out the original EP version and then the unedited live Woodstock performance [YouTube links] that ended the group's Saturday afternoon set on 16 August 2019.

September 05, 2019

In Praise of Footnotes!

For years, I've heard from "fans" and "foes" alike that I had a curious obsession in my scholarly reliance on extensive footnoting. A former professor of mine once said that virtually every footnote in my books was so extensive that each could provide a portal to a whole other book! But my critics dismissed it as "scholarly dressing" for preposterous theses bolstered by the "trappings of scholarship" (in other words: footnotes!).

Not counting in-text "author-date" citations in my books, I count a total of 2,045 notes and 89 pages of bibliographic references in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy" alone: Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (429 notes; 21 pages of references); Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (second edition; 999 notes; 20 pages of references); and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (617 notes; 48 pages of references).

But I have now learned from historian Karin Wulf that the very practice of footnoting is a bulwark of our democracy! In a recent Washington Post essay, "Could Footnotes Be the Key to Winning the Disinformation Wars?" (hat tip to my pal Brandon!), Wulf argues that the practice of footnoting has been aligned with the emergence of the Enlightenment and democracy, important to information transparency, the art of argumentation, and the noble practice of giving credit where credit is due. As Wulf states:

But footnotes do even more: They also teach us how to be active and knowledgeable citizens. The transparent exposure of the evidence being used to make claims puts the reader in charge of assessing their relationship. This is precisely the deliberative process that self-governance asks of us. … Accurate, full and contextualized information is the most important weapon wielded on behalf of accountable and transparent government. That is why despotic regimes want to control and restrict it. It is why we have the First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of the press. It is the heart of the Freedom of Information Act. Information itself is democracy’s shield and sword, and the footnote every American’s birthright.

Well, damn! Footnote Fetishists of the World Unite! You have nothing to lose but your despotic governments---and a world to win!

September 04, 2019

"Conversion Therapy": From Straight to Gay

My friend, Ryan Neugebauer, posted a piece from People magazine, "Conversion Therapy Founder Comes Out Publicly as Gay After 20 Years of Leading Homophobic Program," which I've shared on my Facebook Timeline. I stated there:

As I commented on this thread, posted by Ryan Neugebauer, there is a similarly sad story portrayed in the book "Boy Erased," a memoir by Garrard Conley, and adapted into a well-received 2018 film starring Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, and Lucas Hedges.
In "Boy Erased," the character Victor Sykes, based upon real-life "conversion therapist", John Smid, underwent his own similar "conversion" to same-sex relationships---after all the damage he'd done. Indeed, prior to this self-realization, he had been "director of the Memphis, Tennessee ex-gay ministry Love In Action, a group that claims to convert lesbians and gay men to heterosexuality," as a Wikipedia entry states. In his memoir, "Ex'd Out," he admits to having "wounded" many young teens during his years at "Love in Action." The entry on Smid states: "In 2011, three years after leaving Love In Action and stepping down from its leadership, Smid announced he was still homosexual and stated he had 'never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.'" Further:
"In the 2018 film 'Boy Erased', based on the book of the same name, the character Victor Sykes, portrayed by Joel Edgerton, is based on Smid.
"A November 2018 Radiolab podcast titled "UnErased: Smid" features Smid's life story. Before claiming he had changed from homosexuality to heterosexuality, Smid lived for years married to a woman and fathering children. It was during this marriage that he realized he was gay, divorcing his wife in 1980. Four years following his divorce, Smid became a Christian and sought conversion from homosexuality to heterosexuality. In November 2014, Smid married his same-sex partner, Larry McQueen. The couple live in Texas."

When will these folks ever learn the first principle of healing from the "Hippocratic Oath": "First, do no harm"?

Or as Johnny Fontaine, played by Al Martino, sings in "Godfather III": "To Each His Own" [YouTube link] (the Livingston-Evans song, with an Italian twist, is more like "Salsiccia His Own"... translated colloquially as "to each his own sausage", no pun intended!)

Ed.: In response to one critic who argued that my "worldview" blinded me to the ways in which children are "indoctrinated" into being gay, I wrote a series of replies:

Before I begin, I am not adopting any "worldview" in this post; I'm discussing how certain folks involved themselves in so-called "conversion therapy" that has destroyed lives---including the lives of those who ostensibly were trying to do the "conversions."
Now, confusion and evolution are human conditions; what you say about folks who might be confused and who engage in same-sex activity is just as applicable to folks who might be confused and who engage in opposite-sex activity, when in reality, they have a same-sex orientation. In fact, I suspect that the proportion of folks doing the latter is far greater than those doing the former. That's where the very notion of "living in the closet" came from. Culture, religion, conventional parental upbringing, etc., favor heterosexual relations, and it takes a lot for individuals who are experiencing same-sex feelings to face potential rejection from loved ones, fear of social acceptance, and even fear of self-acceptance, should they act on these feelings.
I also believe that you have to distinguish between an orientation and behavior; just because a man is able to marry a woman and have children does not make him a heterosexual---not if he's spending all his spare time "in the closet" looking at gay pornography or engaged in self-destructive actions (often manifesting themselves in substance abuse, etc.) to repress feelings that are part of who he is.
And just because adolescent experimentation often spills over into same-sex interaction does not mean that the adolescent is "gay" through-and-through.
Personally, I believe that there is much more fluidity to human sexuality than most people are comfortable to admit.

This was followed by yet another exchange that provoked this response from me:

Do you honestly think that children are being "indoctrinated" into being gay? Please do tell. I'd like to meet these kids. If you're referring to the actions, say, of priests who abuse children, and how these kids emerge from their time as altar boys as drug addicts and psychologically damaged---that's got nothing to do with indoctrination and everything to do with criminality.
But I've never met anyone who was "indoctrinated" into being gay. I think the socialization process that goes on throughout childhood is complex, but the deck is way stacked against kids who are "different."
And why on earth would anyone choose to engage in an activity that is condemned by virtually every religion, and that is still illegal in over seventy countries worldwide, which have used imprisonment, flogging, and torture to punish those who are different---and in ten of those countries, such behavior is punishable by execution by stoning, hanging, beheading, or being thrown off buildings as official government policy, legitimized by various states' interpretations of Islamic law?
It seems to me the most significant conspiracies that have been advanced worldwide are the ones mounted against those who express the "love that dare not speak its name"---and who have paid with their lives.

Yet another exchange was provoked, in which the critic insisted that I was still blind to gay "indoctrination" that led to a disproportionate number of kids engaging in same-sex activities because they were being "exposed to propaganda" and that "most gay men report some sort of abuse scenario in their childhood." (As an aside: the data on this is not as clear as the critic thinks: most gay men were not molested as boys and men who were molested as boys do not necessarily "become" gay. One thing is fairly certain: among the most socially abused and bullied members of our society, one finds that one in four pre-teen suicides are LGBTQ-related, a catastrophic indication that, "propaganda" to the contrary, those who are perceived as "different" are disproportionately victims, rather than victimizers.) Somewhat fed-up with the continuing exchange, I gave this final response:

Do you have any clue what you're talking about? I mean, truly? Every cultural signal that bombards every child from the moment they are brought into this world is of a heterosexual nature. We are taught by virtually every religion that homosexuality is immoral. Just because the government now applies equal protection under the law to folks who are gay who serve in the armed forces and would like to get married legally does not mean that the entire culture has changed into this massive Gay Onslaught!
The whole celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion was about basic individual rights. It wasn't about ramming down your throat, or anybody else's, the idea that everybody should be gay. This is the last I'll have to say about the matter and we'll have to agree to disagree.

Boy, this subject really does get folks riled up. Sheesh.

Checking out "Truth" on The Policy of Truth ...

There is a nice discussion of Truth on "Policy of Truth: The website and group blog of Irfan Khawaja", featuring comments by Stephen Boydstun, Roderick Tracy Long, and Irfan himself who, in his comment, truly honors me---and the indefatigable resistance necessary to a genuinely human survival. Irfan writes (and then quotes a passage from Ehrenreich):

A decidedly non-Augustinian take on truth that I encountered in last night’s reading. Almost Sciabarra-esque?
I aspire here to something more modest than objectivity, which is truth. It is a slippery creature, and elusive, one that lives most of the time in contradiction. Its pursuit requires not only the employment of rigorous doubt and thorough research but the capacity for empathy and discernment, qualities available only to individuals embedded in bodies, places, histories, and points of view. There is blood in us, to paraphrase Eid Suleiman al-Hathalin, whom you will meet [later in the book], and spirit and a heart. This is not a handicap but a strength, and the source of our salvation. I brought a lot with me when I set out to write this book. You carry no less as you set out to read it. If our meeting is fruitful, and I pray that it is, it will be because of what we both brought to it, and not in spite of that.
There are surely arguments contained in its pages, but I do not intend this work primarily or even secondarily as a polemic. The arguments it makes, it makes along the way. It is first of all a collection of stories about resistance, and about people who resist. My concern is with what keeps people going when everything appears to be lost. These pages represent an attempt to understand what it means to hold on, to decline to consent to one’s own eradication, to fight actively or through deceptively simple acts of refusal against powers far stronger than oneself. It is also a reckoning with the consequences of such commitment, the losses it occasions, the wounds it inflicts.
–Ben Ehrenreich, The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine, p. 3.

Speaking truth to power. Ain't it the truth? :)

September 03, 2019

"Enemy Aliens": The Italian American Experience

For years, I've commemorated a "day of remembrance" in February, where I've focused attention on the internment, during World War II, of Japanese Americans, by executive action from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Less known is the internment of German Americans during that same period, and while I was aware of similar actions taken against Italian-Americans (and I'm half-Sicilian by ancestry), I was taken aback by the level of political and cultural repression faced by my ancestors.

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently completed an enormous re-organization of my library and file system and have quite a collection of newspaper clippings, which I've organized by topic and which will become the subject of various blog entries in the coming months. I am going to get into the habit of posting on Notablog and on Facebook, links to some of these articles, which, I believe, provide enlightenment on topics of interest.

As some may know, there was a recent Twitter war that erupted when Chris Cuomo of CNN was caught on a YouTube video, going ballistic in public. Out with his family, he was confronted by a person who referred to him as the "Fredo" of the Cuomo family. President Trump had a little devilish Twitter fun with Cuomo (brother of the current New York governor, Andrew Cuomo), after Cuomo's "meltdown" over being so characterized. Cuomo saw it as an ethnic slur against Italians. Trump responded that he too believed Chris to be the "Fredo" of the Cuomo family. And Trump's son, Donald Jr., piled on, saying: "Take it from me, 'Fredo' isn't the N word for Italians. ... It just means you're the dumb brother."

Now, with all due respect to the Trump and Cuomo 'families' (no ethnic slur intended), I couldn't care less who scores points in any Twitter slug-fest. But aside from a note in a Roderick T. Long Reason Papers essay, "The Justice and Prudence of War: Toward a Libertarian Analysis," I have to confess to an embarrassing ignorance of the history of bigotry and violence against Italian Americans in this country. I remain an unreconstructed fan of "The Godfather Epic" and don't agree with some of what Rosario A. Iaconis states in a New York Daily News op-ed piece, "Cuomo was Right to Be Offended" about "The Godfather" reference. Iaconis believes that the Coppola classic "has been as toxic to Italo-Americans as 'The Birth of A Nation' was to African Americans." To me, there are fewer films that depict so brilliantly the rise of organized crime in America with such transparency, or that illustrate the corruption of the human soul through the inversion of values, allegedly designed to protect loved ones from harm. From its sprawling, truly epic storytelling to its magnificent editing, cinematography, and score, it remains one of the triumphs of the American cinema.

But here's the takeaway material from the Iaconis essay that shattered my illusions of the government's relatively "hands-off" policy toward Italian Americans in the wake of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, which drew the United States into World War II:

In his landmark book Vendetta, Prof. Richard Gambino states that between 1870 and 1940, "Italians were second only to blacks in numbers of lynch victims." And this murderous spree spanned such states as Colorado, Mississippi, Illinois, North Carolina and Florida.
In a missive to his sister regarding the 1891 massacre of Italians in New Orleans, Theodore Roosevelt wrote: “Monday we dined at the Camerons; various dago diplomats were present, all much wrought up by the lynching of the Italians in New Orleans. Personally I think it rather a good thing, and said so.”
After Dec. 7, 1941, as the result of FDR’s executive order, some 600,000 Italian Americans were labeled “enemy aliens.” On both coasts, Italian-American homes and businesses were confiscated; newspapers ceased publishing; and draconian curfews were established. Fishermen were not permitted to sail their boats and earn a livelihood.
In California, 10,000 were evacuated from coastal areas and sites near power plants, dams and military installations. Another 257 Italians were shipped to internment camps for up to two years.

Sacco and Vanzetti and the Mafia to the contrary, many of my own relatives fought and died in World War II for the Allied cause.

As Karl Marx once famously said in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon: "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."

With continuing talks of the "enemy aliens" among us, it's a sobering reminder that my own ancestors were often treated as enemies of the state. My crystal ball tells me that both tragedy and farce will continue to haunt the American experience.

August 26, 2019

Song of the Day #1670

Song of the Day: You Need to Calm Down features the words and music of Joel Little and Taylor Swift, who released this as the second single off her new album, "Lover." Swift ties Ariana Grande with ten nominations each for tonight's MTV Video Music Awards. The truly bold video single [YouTube link] to this infectious song has more cameos than one can count and its message of tolerance (which extends even to her long-time feud with Katy Perry!) has led to over 100 million views on YouTube alone. Check out Swift's live "Prime Day" performance of the song as well [YouTube link]. And check out the Video Music Awards tonight! Missy Elliot will be the recipient of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. In three days, we'll be marking the 61st anniversary of MJ's birth with a new song that has an interesting history.

August 17, 2019

Song of the Day #1666

Song of the Day: Green River, words and music by John Fogerty, was the title track to the third studio album of Creedence Clearwater Revival. The song was a Certified Gold Single that peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Check out the single version [YouTube link] and the live version [YouTube link] of the song, which the group performed on this very day fifty years ago at Woodstock (it was the second song in their set, which lasted from 12:30 a.m. to 1:20 a.m.). The song has been heard in several films through the years, including "The Post" (2017), in which it is used anachronistically---since it plays over a scene in 1966 Vietnam, three years before this single was released! One film that it was not heard in was "Easy Rider," which debuted on 14 July 1969 (during the same month that our song of the day was also released). This is therefore the Golden Anniversary Summer of a landmark "counterculture" film, which starred Peter Fonda, who, died at the age of 79 yesterday (16 August 2019). Fonda considered himself a part of the counterculture of the 1960s and was "Born to Be Wild" [YouTube link], indeed. It was all the more ironic then that, in 1999, he would receive a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor for a Miniseries (for the Showtime movie version of Barbara Branden's book, "The Passion of Ayn Rand"), playing Frank O'Connor, opposite Helen Mirren, who assumed the role of his wife, Ayn Rand, and who would go on to win a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Television Movie.

August 15, 2019

Song of the Day #1664

Song of the Day: Pinball Wizard, words and music by Pete Townshend, was featured on "Tommy," the rock opera recorded by The Who in 1969. Check out the original album version [YouTube link]. Today marks the first of four days coinciding with the Golden Anniversary of the Woodstock Festival. I will be focusing primarily on some of the songs and artists who appeared at that festival (with one quasi-exception tomorrow). But our Woodstock tribute will continue until the end of the Summer (in September). Since I will be posting entries over these next four days, which coincide with the dates of the original festival, I think we should note a few things about Woodstock itself---given the bad press it received with its legendary rampant drug use and "free love" in the mud on open display.

This festival took place on Max Yasgur's 600-acre farm in Bethel, New York. Having received $75,000 for the use of his private land for the very public festival, Yasgur, who was a pro-Vietnam War conservative, was also deeply committed to the American principle of free expression. He addressed the crowd that had come to his property and openly celebrated the "kids" in attendance at the event [YouTube link]. He observed correctly that this was one of the largest gatherings of youth "ever assembled in one place"---one marked by no violence, despite some very real "inconveniences" (like severe rainstorms and shortages of both food and toilets). Even the local community rose to the occasion; the largely conservative, rural town residents, who would not have ordinarily sat down with anyone from the "hippie" generation, gladly donated food, water, and other resources to aid the young people who were overwhelmed by the sheer size and unpredictable scope of the event and its hardships. Even the Medical Corps of the armed forces flew in supplies---to monumental applause from the hundreds of thousands of people who were there.

The Summer of '69---which we have been commemorating in this year's installment of our Summer Music Festival---is a study in contrasts (Ayn Rand herself saw it as a battle between "Apollo" and "Dionysus"). But it is also a study in convergence. In July 1969, two human beings walked on the surface of the moon for the first time, while in August 1969, nearly half-a-million human beings embraced the music and message of a festival, featuring more than 30 artists and/or bands, embracing 'cosmic' peace (I'm sure some of the participants thought they were walking on the moon themselves, at various times over that four-day period!). Whatever one's attitudes toward the views of that era, of its culture or its "counterculture", this remarkable convergence of events demonstrated what was possible when people reached across a "generation gap." At Woodstock, the "counterculture" [pdf to one of my encyclopedia entries]---many of them left-wingers who were not particularly enamored by the institution of private property---nevertheless assembled on private land to very publicly voice not just their disenchantment with the Vietnam War and the draft, but to nonviolently celebrate "peace" and "love" through the music of their day, at the end of one of the most turbulent, violent decades in American history. In the summer of 1969 alone, there were thousands of military and civilian casualties in Southeast Asia, not to mention ongoing unrest and violence at home, including a sensational murder spree in early August committed by the Manson cult that led to the horrific deaths of five people in Los Angeles (including actress Sharon Tate, who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant). And yet, for all its "countercultural" hoopla, only two people died at Woodstock (one from a drug overdose; another from a tractor accident). It's as if a Wizard had simply waved a wand to show, in a single unforgettable summer, what was possible---in the stars and on earth---when people of different ages, backgrounds, views, and perspectives could claim to have "come in peace for all mankind."

And so we kick off the height of our Woodstock Summer with a song of Wizardry. It was featured about half-way through The Who's set at the festival [YouTube link], in the wee hours of 17 August 1969, followed by what has become known as the "Abbie Hoffman incident" [YouTube link] (one of the few disruptions during any musical set, not counting delays due to pouring rain!). Of course, for those of us who saw the 1975 film version of "Tommy," it's not possible to forget Elton John's performance of this song [YouTube link] or its re-imagining in this year's Elton biopic "Rocketman" [YouTube link]. But wizards work magic, and in that summer, fifty years ago, there was pure magic on display in so many significant ways.

July 26, 2019

Song of the Day #1657

Song of the Day: We Shall Overcome is a gospel song descended from a 1900 hymn by Charles Albert Tindley and other African American spirituals. It was sung by many folk singers, such as Pete Seeger, Frank Hamilton, Joe Glazer, and others, as a protest song during the civil rights era. But it was the Staten Island-born Joan Baez, who had first met and befriended Martin Luther King, Jr. back in 1956, that would become most associated with this song. A civil rights and antiwar activist, she sang it at the 1963 March on Washington, near the base of the Lincoln Memorial, in front of 300,000 people. During her set at Woodstock, the visibly pregnant Baez spoke eloquently about how her husband at the time, David Harris, who opposed conscription [YouTube link to a Johnny Carson interview with Ayn Rand, who opposed both the draft and the Vietnam War], was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for draft evasion in July 1969. (He would later be paroled in October 1970). So it was no coincidence that she'd close her own Woodstock set with this song [YouTube link] in the wee hours of Saturday, August 16, 1969.

July 20, 2019

Song of the Day #1655

Song of the Day: Moon Maiden, words and music by Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, was commissioned by the ABC News Network to debut on the day of the Apollo 11 moon landing and moon walk. Awaiting the first walk upon the surface of the moon by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, while Michael Collins orbited above in "Columbia," the command module, ABC anchor Frank Reynolds introduced the piece. This performance by Duke was actually recorded live on 15 July 2019 but aired on the ABC network on this date fifty years ago, after the lunar module, "Eagle," touched down in the Sea of Tranquility. Check out the rare footage of its debut by Duke Ellington and a later studio recording [YouTube links] with Duke "speaking" the lyrics, accompanied by his own playing on the vibes-sounding celeste. As a 9-year old kid, I cannot even begin to describe the level of utter elation I felt watching the grainy images of human beings on the surface of a celestial body other than the Earth. I had followed the space program from the earliest moments of my consciousness of such things (the politics of it never crossed my mind at the time); I remembered John Glenn's orbit around the earth, the Apollo 1 fire, and the Christmas Eve moon orbit of Apollo 8. But nothing could compare to the excitement I felt watching my TV fifty years ago this day [YouTube link], the sense of awe I felt hearing Neil Armstrong's first words on the lunar surface, and the sense of hope that was inspired in me, hearing him enunciate the words on the lunar plaque: "We came in peace for all mankind" [YouTube link]. It gave credence to Robert Browning's poetic tribute to human potential: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?" The promise of that which seemed impossible made real inspired me to use that line from "Andrea del Sarto" as an epigraph to Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, the first book in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy."

July 19, 2019

Song of the Day #1654

Song of the Day: Dark Star, lyrics by Robert Hunter, music by the lead guitarist of the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia and his bandmates, is best remembered in its 23+ minute rendition [YouTube link] from their 1969 live album, "Live/Dead," which blended psychedelia, jazz, and jam elements. By contrast, the original single version, at 2 minutes and 44 seconds [YouTube link] sold only 500 copies and "sank like a stone," as band member Phil Lesh put it. The song was also a respectable 19-minute highlight from their set at Woodstock [YouTube link]. Today's "Dark Star" is a prelude to our commemoration tomorrow of a fundamentally bright cosmic event in human history.

July 04, 2019

Song of the Day #1651

Song of the Day: The Star-Spangled Banner features lyrics taken from an 1814 poem by Francis Scott Key, "Defence of Fort M'Henry," written during the War of 1812, with music based on a popular British drinking song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men's social club for amateur musicians. In truth, my personal all-time favorite "patriotic" song remains "America the Beautiful" (especially as delivered by the great Ray Charles [YouTube link]). Quite apart from the controversies that have surrounded the U.S. national anthem over the years (and to all my 'anarchist' friends, chill a moment!)---from those who claim that one of its rarely sung stanzas expresses racist content to those who have taken to kneeling during its presentation prior to sports events---I have marvelled at the way it has been performed by some of the most diverse artists through the years, including Yankee stadium stalwart, the late opera singer Robert Merrill, the late Whitney Houston [YouTube links], who delivered a heartfelt rendition at the 1991 Super Bowl XXV, and the "controversial" Latin-tinged, acoustic version performed in Detroit in Game 5 of the 1968 World Series by Jose Feliciano [YouTube link]. His version became the first recorded rendition of the anthem that ever charted on the Billboard Hot 100 (peaking at #50; Whitney's version peaked at #20). But in keeping with the theme of our 2019 Summer Music Festival, there remains one truly electrifying instrumental rendition of the anthem by rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who performed as the last artist to appear at Woodstock [YouTube link]. To some, this performance was a sacrilege; to others, it was a sign of the turbulent and violent era to which it spoke. Hendrix actually plays a couple of notes from 'Taps' to drive home the point of a nation at war abroad---and at home. Nearly all the critical commentators on the event have viewed this as the most iconic performance of the four-day festival. It reflects both the fireworks of its time and, in a twist of irony, the fireworks set off on this day in 1776 when American rebels---whatever their own flaws, embodied in the contradictions of their time---pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, in declaring their independence from the British Empire. A Happy and Safe Independence Day to all!

Postscript #1: Context: I'm a native Brooklynite and a lover of film scores.

Having been on the Brooklyn Promenade back in 1983, when there was a fireworks display to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, I thought I'd never see a better fireworks display. But the Macy's Fireworks display tonight, which focused its attention on NYC's East River and the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the world's great, iconic spans, against the backdrop of some of the greatest film themes ever written (by everyone from Alfred Newman and Max Steiner to Elmer Bernstein and John Williams) was one of the best I've ever seen.

If the program hasn't reached your time zone yet, I'm sure it will be on YouTube or the NBC site soon. But definitely check it out! You won't be disappointed. Truly wonderful. (Yes, and they even included the love theme from "The Godfather." :) )

Postscript #2: Here is a link on YouTube, starts about 16 seconds in, from the national anthem to Alfred Newman's Fox Fanfare to Casablanca (Steiner), and so forth. Somebody on the YouTube thread objected to "The Godfather" being included. But what's America without the Family? ;) And don't miss Jennifer Hudson's wonderful rendition of "Over the Rainbow," which includes the rarely heard opening verse or that absolutely spectacular John Williams segment. At 55 mins., the fireworks display is shown again, with an introduction by historian David McCllough, discussing the Brooklyn Bridge---built by immigrants---completed in May 1883.

Postscript #3 (6 July 2019): Remarkably, one reader interpreted the fireworks display as symbolizing the destruction of the Bridge. My response was light-hearted, but I think it made a few essential points. As I stated:

Maybe you need a high-definition television. :) I mean, they were by no means "covering" the bridge [with explosives]. They were cascading off the bridge like waterfalls; they were shooting straight out of the cathedral towers of the bridge. And they were---believe it or not---in complete sync with the magnificent film score medley; even during the love theme to "The Godfather" there were red, heart-like shapes forming over the bridge; rainbow colors accompanied "Over the Rainbow", and "celestial" shapes accompanied the John Williams segment, and so forth. But as I said: To each his own. I opened the original thread about this fireworks display with "Context": That I was a native Brooklynite and a lover of film scores. I was also there when the Grucci Family celebrated the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge; here is a link to that fireworks display; Macy's actually adapted the very same "waterfall" and cathedral firework effects from that celebration, as a paean to the Centennial display. Why on earth are we debating this display as if it were a symbol of celebration or nihilism? Inquiring minds want to know...

The reader responded that there was a distinct difference in context between the 1983 display and any displays after 2001. I replied:

Well I appreciate that; but I truly am not interpreting this as some kind of expression of post-9/11 terrorism. Remember that part of the glory of fireworks on the Fourth of July is that despite all the explosives, the iconic image still stands (whether it be the flag in "The Star-Spangled Banner" or the Brooklyn Bridge). To me, the effects highlighted the Bridge and its glory; to you, it is destruction. I just think we should agree to disagree. You're no less a Brooklynite if you despised the display then or now. Cheers!

June 28, 2019

Song of the Day #1649

I introduced this song and essay on Facebook with the following preface: Whatever your social, religious, philosophical, or cultural views, if you embrace the basic principles embodied in this country's "Declaration of Independence"---and its enunciation of the individual's rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness---then it is time to take a "Stand" for Stonewall on its Fiftieth Anniversary. Indeed, as the lyrics to today's song of the day state: "Stand! You've been sitting much too long. There's a permanent crease in your right and wrong." Check it out:

Song of the Day: Stand!, words and music by Sly Stone, was recorded by Sly and the Family Stone in 1969. This was the title song to the group's fourth studio album and was the last song they played on their set list at Woodstock---this year's first bona fide Woodstock Golden Anniversary moment, the theme of our 2019 Summer Music Festival. It was also a song that was featured on the jukebox of the Stonewall Inn, which in the wee hours of this very day, fifty years ago, was raided for the umpteenth time by the New York City Police Department. Perhaps the police didn't get the payola they expected from the Mafia-owners of the bar, since bars that served alcohol to people engaging in "disorderly conduct" (code for simply being gay) would be denied a liquor license in New York City. But this time, the patrons had had enough; they were, indeed, 'mad as hell and not going to take this anymore' [YouTube link]. They pushed back, rioted, and fought for six days in a siege against political oppression---giving birth to the modern gay liberation movement.

For those who are uncomfortable with this whole subject, as if it were some "leftist" expression of "identity politics," we need to make one thing perfectly clear (a phrase often attributed to President Richard Nixon, who took the White House fifty years ago this year): Both "liberals" (going all the way back to the policies of FDR) and "conservatives" (of both the McCarthyite and religious right variety) have played a part in crafting repressive laws in the United States aimed at crushing homosexuality. It is neither our job nor our responsibility to change the minds of those who find "alternative lifestyles" repugnant or who believe that same-sex relationships are a sign of "sickness" or "sin". Whatever one's cultural, religious, philosophical, or political views, it all comes down to liberty. If one values human liberty, one must recognize that state-sponsored terrorism against individuals---simply because of who they love or how they love---continues to this day across the world. Seventy countries still maintain laws that make it illegal to engage in same-sex sexual activity, and so-called "leftist" regimes have been among the most repressive, in this regard. Whether in the name of politics or religion, these countries have used imprisonment, flogging, and torture to punish those who are different, and in ten countries, execution---by stoning, hanging, beheading, or being thrown off buildings---is government policy, legitimized by various states' interpretations of Islamic law. The battle cry of Stonewall is as prescient today as it was fifty years ago. Indeed, "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." And those who value liberty need to embrace a future in which the Rainbow Railroad [CBS News link] is no longer required to save those who are being persecuted in other countries for their sexual orientation.

In the United States, there were heroes in the battle for individual rights prior to Stonewall, who fought government entrapment and discrimination against "the love that dare not speak its name"---going all the way back to the 1920s, with the Society for Human Rights and into the 1950s, with organizations such as the Daughters of Bilitis, the Mattachine Society, and, among individuals, the courageous Frank Kameny, who challenged "The Lavender Scare" [PBS video link].

But the significance of the Stonewall Uprising by a group of individuals who were too often marginalized and brutalized by the police, the courts, and the culture-at-large is that, in its fundamental premises, it was based upon a sacrosanct libertarian principle: that every human being, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, race, or sexual orientation, has a right to equal protection under the law, a right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness, without infringement by the coercive, oppressive tools used by municipal, state, and federal governmental institutions. This month, New York City's Police Commissioner James O'Neill apologized for the NYPD's actions fifty years ago at the Stonewall. This was no mere nod to "political correctness." The commissioner recognized that "[t]he actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple. The actions were discriminatory and oppressive and for that I apologize." Even the New York Yankees unveiled a plaque in Monument Park to commemorate this date in history.

We can listen to the lyrics of today's song as an expression of the libertarian spirit of the Stonewall Rebellion: "Stand! There's a cross for you to bear. Things to go through if you're going anywhere. Stand! For the things you know are right. It’s the truth that the truth makes them so uptight. … Stand! You've been sitting much too long. There's a permanent crease in your right and wrong. … Stand! They will try to make you crawl. And they know what you're saying makes sense and all. Stand! Don't you know that you are free. Well at least in your mind if you want to be. ... Stand! Stand! Stand!" I stand in solidarity with those brave men and women who fought for their rights half-a-century ago on this day. Check out the album version of this song and its energetic performance by the group at Woodstock [YouTube link].

Postscript (29 June 2019) Justin Raimondo, Outlaw, RIP. Justin lost his battle with lung cancer and has died at the age of 67, on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. I knew JR from way back when---going all the way back to when he wrote that monograph for Students for a Libertarian Society, "In Praise of Outlaws: Rebuilding Gay Liberation," which saw Stonewall and the rise of the gay liberation movement as a distinctively libertarian event. And he was right. A lightening rod for many people, antiwar.com was his passion, and though we had our disagreements through the years, he was always fighting against the policy of "perpetual war for perpetual peace."

Postscript #2 (30 June 2019): In another thread on Facebook, I had a bit of a discussion with regard to whether the struggle for "gay rights" is over in the United States, and I made the same point in that thread that I make here in my Notablog post: Seventy countries across the world still treat same-sex activities as a crime punishable by imprisonment, flogging, and torture, and ten of those countries treat it as a crime punishable by execution (beheading, hanging, and being thrown off buildings).

It was suggested that I might be implicitly advocating trying to intervene in those other countries to change their domestic policies; as a firm non-interventionist in foreign policy, I am totally against such intervention even for the purpose of human rights abuses abroad. But that does not mean that I favor the long history of foreign aid policies practiced by the United States, which involves expropriating the American taxpayer for the purpose of sending "foreign aid" to despotic regimes abroad, like Saudi Arabia, which are then required to use that "foreign aid" to purchase US munitions, which they can use in their wholesale slaughter of people in Yemen and elsewhere. US relationships with such despotic regimes is legion, and our current President believes "it is good for the economy."

Considering that the Saudis gave us 17 of the 19 hijackers who flew planes into the Twin Towers and elsewhere and that they were probably complicit in the 9/11 attack, I would say that what might be "good for the economy" is most definitely not good for the stability of the Middle East and other hot-spots around the globe, where the US has a record that even Trump himself once said was not so "innocent."

No, we cannot change the domestic policies of foreign governments that engage in violations of human rights. But that doesn't mean the U.S. taxpayer should be subsidizing them. This is not a battle for "gay rights"; it is a battle for individual rights, and individual rights don't cease at the borders of the United States.

But yes, Stonewall 50 is a a cause for celebration for all those who believe that individual rights apply to every person regardless of sexual orientation. And I stand in solidarity will all those who sacrificed their lives over the past century to get this country to recognize those rights.

Postscript #3 (1 July 2019): I added this comment to a Facebook post by Tom Palmer, who provided a link to a fine 2016 article by David Boaz, "Capitalism, Not Socialism, Led to Gay Rights:

Good piece by David Boaz and thanks for posting, Tom!

I've heard from quite a few of my very orthodox Marxist colleagues over the years who believe that homosexuality is one of the decadent offshoots of capitalism (guess they missed all that stuff that went on in the ancient world) and that it would wither away, like the state, under full communism.

They also leave out the part that gulags will play in helping the withering-away process.

Of course, orthodox Marxists actually reject the whole development of 'identity politics' (which the fight for same-sex individual rights is most certainly not) as a way of obfuscating the "essential" conflict between proletarians and capitalists.

I've argued this past weekend that the Stonewall Rebellion was in its essence a libertarian expression of the fight for the individual's right to live his or her own life, socialize in privately-owned establishments without police harassment, and pursue happiness without the interference of state-sanctioned terrorism. That fight goes on globally and even within this country; the battle for "gay rights" is not over, as James Kirchick says in "The Atlantic." If it is over, I invite anyone to go into the reddest of red states (or any sections in "blue" states in which "tolerance" is not a key cultural value), holding hands with their partner, and in open spaces, sharing a romantic kiss as the sun sets. Then we'll take a poll and see how many folks get their heads bashed in.

On all these issues of markets having changed traditional notions of the family, women, and sexuality, over time, I highly recommend the work of Steve Horwitz, especially his book Hayek's Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions and, of course, his essay in The Dialectics of Liberty: "The Dialectic of Culture and Markets in Expanding Family Freedom." Check out the abstract here.

I agree that the essential political and legal battles have been won, but changing political culture and mores is a long-term process, and often leads to a kind of political/legal backlash against which one must always be vigilant.

And as a noninterventionist in foreign affairs, while I would never advocate interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries, the fact remains that seventy countries still categorize homosexuality as a crime punishable by imprisonment, flogging, and torture, and in ten of those countries, it is punishable by execution (beheading, hanging, or being thrown off buildings). No, the US has no business being the world's policeman on violations of human rights, but the least it could do is to stop expropriating its taxpayers into providing "foreign military aid" (a fancy phrase to describe providing U.S. financial assistance to foreign governments that are then obligated to purchase U.S.-manufactured munitions) to reactionary governments, such as Saudi Arabia, which has a horrendous human rights record, and is using all those munitions to slaughter people in Yemen.

Ah, but our President says it's "good for the economy."

June 27, 2019

The Dialectics of Liberty: Some Nontrivial Thoughts About Its Meaning

I've written on quite a few threads throughout Facebook, and am collecting on Notablog, as I go along, all the random (though not unrelated) points I've made in response to those who question (again) the very meaning of "dialectical method", which is the basis of the new anthology, coedited by Ed Younkins and Roger Bissell: The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom. Check this link periodically, if you're not following the multiple threads on which I've commented, with regard to this work:

o In my use of the term "dialectics", it is a prism through which to understand social problems. It is the "art of context-keeping", which asks the social theorist to grasp the larger systemic and historical context within which social problems arise. No social problem is to be looked at as if it were an atomistic, isolated unit, separable from the context in which it is embedded. So in "exploring the context of human freedom" (our subtitle), we're asking libertarians to show a profound regard for that larger context, which includes personal, cultural, and structural (political-economic) elements especially if their aim is to change society. It's not simply: Get rid of (or minimize) the state and everything will be fine. There are other, deeper issues that must be addressed in understanding social problems and attempting to resolve them. This way of looking at the world may have been taken up by the left, but it originated with Aristotle, who wrote the first treatise on dialectical method ("Topics"), even though his discussion of viewing issues from multiple "points of view" is peppered throughout the entire Aristotelian canon. Hegel himself called Aristotle "the fountainhead" of this dialectical method. I'm not going to deny that I learned much about dialectical method from a very high profile Marxist scholar, my mentor Bertell Ollman---and it was through him that I learned to use the method as one of social analysis. My "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy" (which consists of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism) was geared toward taking back the method for use by libertarians to bolster their approach to the study of freedom---and of the forces that constrain it.
o Even logic can be abused if it is based on false premises; some philosophers have deduced whole systems of philosophy from a single faulty premise. Dialectics is the handmaiden of logic, and can be undermined by false premises, faulty induction, incorrect identification or interpretation of historical facts, etc. And each "art" can be used as a rationalization for any kind of lunacy. All the more reason to fight against its ties to lunacy. One of the guiding purposes throughout my entire intellectual life has been to take back dialectical method and to build a paradigm by which to strengthen libertarian thinking, which itself can succumb to nondialectical, utopian lapses. And if implemented would lead to dystopian consequences.
o The Soviets---and the Nazis---were masters of distortion and propaganda; it was one of the elements that they used to defend their authority and maintain their power over their own populations. Whether it was the claims to being based on "scientific socialism" in the case of the Stalinists or of admiring the eugenics work of U.S. scientists in the case of Hitler and his genocidal tyranny, each regime had a propaganda machine that allegedly used "science" as the basis for their claims to power. The irony is that not even Marx would have approved of the "Soviet" application of "scientific socialism"---given that he believed genuine socialism could only emerge out of a very advanced stage of capitalism that had basically solved the problem of scarcity (to the point where the society could afford to give 'from each according to his ability to each according to his needs'). Of course, as I argue in two of the books of my trilogy, scarcity is never resolved (because, at the very least, we are all mortal and time for each agent is inherently scarce), and Marx's predictions of a post-scarcity society were a product of what Hayek called a "synoptic delusion." Not a very "dialectical" insight on the part of Marx; where he was so good at criticizing the "utopian socialists" for their contextless proposals, he, himself, succumbs to the very utopian pitfalls he criticized.
o I think that even if Marxists are not into post-scarcity as a goal, they can't have their cake and eat it too: they can't endorse the maxim "from each according to his ability to each according to his needs" if there is not enough ability---and not enough goods and services to go around. That's why Marx predicated the achievement of communism as an outgrowth of a very advanced stage of capitalism, which, in his view, would have essentially solved the problem of scarcity. If everything is abundant, no need to worry about expropriation, and the state will wither away. If you believe that, I have a nice bridge in Brooklyn I could sell you.
o I think that in the case of conservatism, for example, there is a very real understanding of what conservatives believe is essential to the sustenance of a free society. For them, it is typically tradition and the slow evolution of mores over time (at least in the Burkean and Hayekian sense) that serves as the context upon which a stable free society can be built. My disagreement with the approach of many conservatives on this issue is that though they understand the need for a larger cultural context that is supportive of free institutions, they don't recognize how free markets themselves often undermine traditions and challenge traditional mores. As I may have mentioned, Steve Horwitz's article on the family, in The Dialectics of Liberty (and in his own book on Hayek and the family) makes this case quite well. As for "dialectical objectivism"---I can think of one book in particular that reconstructs Rand's philosophy through that prism of interpretation, but the title escapes me at the moment. :)
o A postscript to my above comment, something I shared with my friend Ed Younkins: While it is true that we can use "dialectical" as an adjective to modify any "ism", it is also true that just about anybody can be "dialectical" and "logical", for as Aristotle said, dialectical thinking is like the "proverbial door, which no one can fail to hit" (or even a broken clock can be right twice a day). The point however is that we aim for it to be anchored to the facts of reality, which is why, even at their best, when conservatives try to be dialectical, they are missing something in their contextual arguments--namely, that the market itself challenges the very mores they claim to be the only basis upon which a stable market society can be built. Every person and virtually every school of thought can exhibit dialectical and logical thinking -- since these are constituents of thinking as such. That doesn't make them fully dialectical (or fully logical) by a long shot; hence--the need for a "dialectics of liberty." But even in our book... we don't settle on one vision of what that means. I would like to think that we're getting closer than anybody else toward hammering out a more context-sensitive, fact-based model for thinking more clearly about liberty and the context it requires for its sustenance.
o I agree that the Marxist appropriation did much to destroy what was a supremely important methodological approach. All the more reason to resurrect it with a throwback to its realist Aristotelian beginnings. The Marxists didn't own dialectical method, and in many ways, destroyed the enterprise altogether by falling into the pitfalls of nondialectical, utopian thinking. We hope not to make the same mistake---and suffer the same dystopian consequences.

In response to those who think that "dialectical method" is a fancy phrase for a "trivial" mental process, I state:

o The point, however, is that as "trivial" as it sounds, there are not many folks who can think in a consistently logical or dialectical manner---look at the entire field of U.S. politicians for a lesson on how disintegrated their views are, and the effects that such views can have on the world at large. Indeed, right here in New York City, capital of the world, the DeBlasio administration is engaging in a systematic attack against education for the gifted and talented, those few schools that actually do teach children in a more enriched and systematic way.
o Ayn Rand herself talked about how modern education often put children on an unequal cognitive footing because pedagogical methods tended toward dis-integration and rote memorization, while also teaching a whole generation of kids about the nature of obedience to authority. That which seems "trivial" is, in fact, not trivial at all. Training children in the principles of efficient thinking, providing them the tools by which to think through an argument, follow it to its logical conclusions, understand its potential unintended consequences, and trace the interconnections between topics and problems within a larger system across time (in which those topics and problems often become preconditions and effects of one another) is a highly sophisticated art. It's not something that is typical of American education, whether in the early grades or in college. In fact, as "specialization" has proceeded, and as studies have become more and more compartmentalized, integrated, interdisciplinary work is put at a disadvantage. One of the best things about The Dialectics of Liberty and the series of which it is apart, edited by Ed Younkins ("Capitalist Thought: Studies in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics") is its emphasis on the interconnectedness of the humanities and the social sciences. I'm delighted that our new book is part of that series, thanks to Ed and his monumental efforts. [And check out one of Ed's new entries in the series, Perspectives on Ayn Rand's Contributions to Economic and Business Thought]

I'll add to this entry, if and when I say anything more on this subject. Of course, it would really be nice if folks read the new collection before commenting on its themes, but I've been through this before and have been blessed with the patience of a saint---even if what I say sometimes does not sound too saintly. :)

June 26, 2019

Pope Francis and the Caring Society: A Review

A couple of years ago, I received Pope Francis and the Caring Society (Oakland, CA: Independent Institute, 2017) from David J. Theroux of the Independent Institute. I very rarely review books for Notablog, but this sure did look like an interesting work. And it is, in fact, a challenging volume worthy of attention.

Consisting of seven chapters written by a diverse group of authors, it is edited by Robert M. Whaples and includes a foreword by Michael Novak. The book engages in a dialogue of sorts with Pope Francis specifically on matters of political economy and social justice. Novak states upfront that "the book shares [the Pope's] commitment to Judeo-Christian teachings and institutions. In the process, the book's authors are seeking constructively to engage and educate civic and business leaders and the general public to understand the legacy and meaning of the natural law, moral and economic principles of liberty, personal responsibility, enterprise, civic virtue, family and community, and the rule of law" (xix).

But editor Whaples makes it clear in his Introduction that this book is designed "to advance the dialogue at a critical juncture" in Pope Francis's papal reign (2). It seeks to educate the papacy on the virtues of free markets in resolving many of the problems that the Pope has blamed on "capitalism"---whatever that term means. Indeed, referring to Pope John Paul II, Novak suggests that "capitalism" means different things to different folks: for some, it is about the liberating force of free trade and open markets; for others, it is about special privileges vested in the wealthy by a state that bolsters their power at the expense of the poor (xxv). And nothing could be more un-Christian than embracing a system that is designed to exploit the least-advantaged people in a society.

One of the most important contributions of this book is that it places Pope Francis's views of capitalism in an understandable context. This is a man who came from Argentina---with its history of Peronist corporatism, which enriched its business clients. And if this is what Pope Francis views as "a model of capitalism," one "that friends of free markets rightly reject as capitalism at its worst," not reflective of how markets work under different institutional and cultural contexts (3), then it certainly helps to explain the Pope's "much lower opinion of capitalism and market economies than most economists" (25). This is a crucially important point in any exploration of the Pope's economic perspective. As one who has embraced dialectical method, the supreme "art of context-keeping," I have grown wary of using the very term "capitalism"---despite Ayn Rand's own projection of the "unknown ideal" that such a social system would embody. Her concept of "capitalism" is almost a Weberian "ideal type," organically connected to the notion of individual rights, in which all property is privately owned. But even she argues that such a system has never existed in its purest form. In many ways, her ahistorical re-conceptualization of terms such as "capitalism" and even "government" (ideally viewed as a voluntarily funded institution strictly limited to the protection of individual rights)---differs fundamentally from "the known reality."

Indeed, as Friedrich Hayek reminds us in "History and Politics," his introductory essay to Capitalism and the Historians: "In many ways it is misleading to speak of 'capitalism' as though this had been a new and altogether different system which suddenly came into being toward the end of the eighteenth century; we use this term here because it is the most familiar name, but only with great reluctance, since with its modern connotations it is itself largely a creation of that socialist interpretation of economic history with which we are concerned” (14-15, 1954 edition, University of Chicago Press).

Given this reality, I found Andrew M. Yuengert's chapter, "Pope Francis, His Predecessors, and the Market," to be especially important. Yuengert argues that, as a "citizen of Argentina---a country that is without political institutions capable of putting the economy at the service of the common good and that instead uses and is used by business and political interests to increase the power of business and political elites," the Pope witnessed "a prime example of how crony capitalism and statist control of the economy can wreck a country that deserves better" (43-44). Nevertheless, it is also true that the Pope's analysis of the market economy has been in keeping with an emerging tradition of "Catholic social teaching" that is increasingly at odds with the very idea of a market society (47).

Samuel Gregg, in his chapter, "Understanding Pope Francis: Argentina, Economic Failure, and the Teologia del Pueblo," reinforces Yuengert's points. He argues correctly that the Pope's views of the market economy "did not emerge in a vacuum" (51). Likewise, Gabriel X. Martinez focuses on the oligarchic nature of Argentinian economic nationalism, pointing out that even attempts to "liberalize" the economy have benefited entrenched interests. All of this is the prism through which the Pope views market societies; is it any wonder that he is at odds with those who offer market solutions to government-created problems? Instead, he has adopted a state-centered approach of massive government redistribution as the means to alleviate poverty.

Lawrence J. McQuillan and Hayeon Carol Park take on this issue with vigor. The authors point out the obvious: A market economy generates the wealth that makes possible charitable giving on a scale hitherto unknown. Government "redistribution" does not generate wealth; it can only "coercively" take money from one group and give it to another (89). They argue that "[f]orced government transfers actually destroy genuine charity within society. They serve primarily to make people more accepting of the use of force to achieve ends they consider worthy and produce resentment and division among those forced to give to 'charitable' endeavors they do not choose to support. Freedom of choice and the exercise of conscience are better suited to making people more compassionate citizens" (90)---something that should resonate with the Church's teachings. The authors also analyze Pope Francis's early writings (under his given name, Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires), in which he focused on "the limits of capitalism"---which accepted many of the premises of the Marxist-hued liberation theology that bloomed in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s (92). The authors make fine use of the Hayekian argument on "the knowledge problem" that permeates nonmarket societies, and why governmental intervention is not the best way to achieve the equality that the Pope seeks.

My favorite quote in this chapter comes from none other than President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who gave us the corporatist New Deal as an answer to the government-induced 1929 Stock Market Crash and the Great Depression of the 1930s that followed. FDR saw the dangers of fostering a "culture of dependency" in the welfare state he himself was building: "Continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit" (109). For the same reason, these authors argue, Papal support for increased governmental redistributive efforts will only undermine the ability of entrepreneurs to produce the wealth that can support private charity. They warn that "[t]he road to hell and to poverty is paved with good intentions" (111).

While this book does not address this Pope's views on non-economic topics (e.g., on the sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic Church or any evolution in Church teachings on birth control and sexuality), it does focus some additional attention on the environment, conservation, and the family, in chapters written by A. M. C. Waterman, Philip Booth, and Allan C. Carlson. Booth is especially good on the "tragedy of the commons" (164) in generating environmental decay and industrial pollution.

Robert P. Murphy provides a bold conclusion to the volume: "Historically, there has been an undeniable tension, if not outright conflict, between religion and economics" (199). He laments the "impasse" (199) and hopes that the current work can contribute to "a foundation of mutual respect" as each side engages the other (201).

All I can say is: From Murphy's lips to God's ears.

June 08, 2019

It Arrived!

It Arrived!

My New Ben-Hur T-Shirt!

Oh, and so did my very first hardcover copy of The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, co-edited with my friends and colleagues Roger E. Bissell and Edward W. Younkins.

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Don't laugh. I'm trying to stand still in that photo, and not to Jump, Jive, an' Wail!

June 06, 2019

Song of the Day #1642

Song of the Day: I Love You, words and music by Cole Porter, was the #1 song on this day, June 6, 1944, for the fifth week in a row, as sung by Bing Crosby with John Scott Trotter and His Orchestra. The song came from Porter's 1944 stage musical "Mexican Hayride." It was first recorded by Wilbur Evans (who played the character David) in that musical, but it was Bing Crosby's recording of the song that took it to the top of the charts. This weekend, other musicals will be honored at the Tony Awards. But it is of particular interest that the American public had embraced a sentimental song of love for the five weeks leading up to the Allied invasion of Normandy, the largest air, land, and sea invasion in human history that proved to be the beginning of the end of World War II. That war, which led to estimated fatalities of 70 to 85 million people, may have signified the "nadir of the Old Right"---but it also brought forth the intellectual seeds of a libertarian resurgence in the decades to come. Nevertheless, I post this song today as an expression of love to my own family members who fought and died in that most horrific of wars, and in honor of those who survived that battle on the beaches of Normandy, and who have returned to those beaches today, to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of that invasion, knowing that, in the words of Herman Wouk: "The beginning of the end of war lies in remembrance." Check out the original Wilbur Evans version of this song and the #1 Bing Crosby hit [YouTube links] that serenaded Americans at home, who listened to the music on the radio, with news bulletins that, they prayed, would move the world one step closer to peace.

May 27, 2019

Memorial Day Tribute: In Honor of My Uncle Tony

Back on Veteran's Day 2018, marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, I wrote:

My family gave many of its native-born American sons to the armed services; my maternal grandparents came from Greece and my paternal grandparents came from Sicily, and their American-born children went off to war---the Second World War, to be precise, a war that was not supposed to happen after the "war to end all wars," the "Great War," which led to the deaths of over 16 million people, including 7 million civilians. Some of those in my family who fought in World War II came home as veterans: my Uncle George Sciabarra and my Uncle Al, who fought in the European theater, as part of the Allied invasion of Italy, from which their parents had emigrated; my Uncle Charlie Sciabarra, who ended up in a German POW camp, liberated after the war; my Uncle Anthony "Tony" Jannace, who, as a member of the [Second Engineer Combat Battalion] of the Second Infantry Division, which eventually became part of Patton’s Third Army, in the second wave of the D-Day invasion on June 7, 1944, [spent] over 300 days [337 to be precise] in combat, involved in five campaigns---in Normandy, Northern France, the Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe. ... [T]hey fought to liberate [certain areas of France], Belgium, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. My Uncle Tony got frostbite during the Battle of the Bulge, and after being hit by mortar on April 7, 1945, he received the Purple Heart. My Uncle Frank was not as lucky; he was killed in that battle, in which American forces suffered heavy casualties [by some estimates, over 20,000 killed, 20,000 taken prisoner, and over 40,000 wounded], under the weight of a German tank offensive. Other than my Uncle Frank, all of my uncles came home as veterans of World War II.

As readers of Notablog know, back in 2004, I wrote a Memorial Day Weekend tribute to my Uncle Sam (who fought in the Pacific theater of World War II); that essay can be found on the Liberty and Power Group Blog. This year, I'd like to highlight a recent tribute to my Uncle Tony (mentioned above).

My own memories of Uncle Tony are of a warm, loving family man, who took me to my first baseball game back in 1970, where we saw the New York Yankees beat the New York Mets in the annual Mayor's Trophy Game, which that year was held in the original, iconic Yankee stadium, before its mid-1970s facelift, and long before the construction of the new Stadium. He suffered from rheumatoid arthritis in his later years, but that didn't stop him from walking us along the Belt Parkway to get a glimpse of the July 4th fireworks display over the Statue of Liberty to honor the Bicentennial celebration of the American revolutionaries' Declaration of Independence.

Earlier this month, my cousin William Jannace, one of my Uncle Tony's sons, attended the annual Pilsen Liberation Festival, held in the Czech Republic, marking the anniversary of the Allied liberation of Czechoslovakia from its Nazi occupiers. For this Memorial Day, I wanted to highlight William's letter to the citizens of Pilsen, which appears on the site of "World War II in the Words of My Uncle," and includes a photo of my Uncle Tony (under the name of Anthony E. Jannace). I should note that the site itself, maintained by Peter Lagasse, includes over 200 letters written by his Uncle Charlie (Charles David Knight) to his parents. Peter began sharing these letters with his readers on 31 July 2017 and they are a remarkable memoir of his "uncle's feeling, fears, hopes, and concerns [as] a soldier while serving his country overseas in World War II in the European Theater of the war." Check out the site from the very first entry.

Whatever one's historical or political views with regard to the roots of war, none of this matters in the hearts of those whose family members fought---many of whom died---in the wars of the twentieth century. My Uncle Tony was lucky to have survived and flourished, bringing much joy and happiness to all those whose lives he touched.

William praised the people of the Czech Republic not only for their ability to transcend years of Nazi occupation, but for having endured another 45 years under Soviet oppression. After his attendance at the annual Pilsen Liberation Festival, William wrote a letter of appreciation to the citizens of Pilsen, for their deeply moving tribute to their liberators: "To the credit of the people of the Czech Republic who persevered another 45 years after the end of the war, you never relented in your desire for freedom---very much evident on display this past weekend." He emphasized that "the desire for freedom, democracy and rule of law can be temporarily side-tracked but never eradicated."

Read William's moving tribute here.

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In Calverton National Cemetery, Calverton, New York

May 21, 2019

The Dialectics of Liberty: Cover Design and More

I am happy to unveil the new cover to The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom.

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I'd also like to share with Notablog readers the endorsements that appear on the back cover, from my long-time friends and colleagues Stephen Cox, Lester Hunt, and Mario Rizzo:

"The Dialectics of Liberty is a remarkably wide-ranging study of libertarian ideas, conducted by writers of great authority but of different views and approaches. Mature yet lively, it is full of surprises. If you want to know the state of libertarian thought right now, you will need to read this book."

--- Stephen Cox, University of California, San Diego

"This book of original essays by thinkers from a very wide array of disciplines opens the fascinating possibility of recasting the libertarian and classical liberal points of view in terms of "dialectical libertarianism." This way of looking at the matter promises to lay to rest once and for all the charge that these points of view are atomistic and ahistorical. I hope it inspires further research along these lines."

--- Lester H. Hunt, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"This stimulating collection maps out exciting new directions in the philosophy of liberty. The essays are authored by some of the best minds in scholarly libertarian thought today. Whether you are a libertarian or not, you will find many important---and challenging---ideas developed here. An important and lively book."

--- Mario Rizzo, New York University

For those interested in obtaining a hardcover or e-book edition of this book at a 30% discount, download the promotional offer here. Visit the Lexington Books website or Amazon.com for additional information. A softcover edition is sure to follow in early 2020. Stay tuned!

Much more information will follow as we near our release date of June 15, 2019. Thanks to everyone who has made this trailblazing volume possible. The best is yet to come.

May 14, 2019

Marx vs. Trump on Free Trade

On Facebook, I shared a thread by a buddy of mine, Doug Henwood, with whom I used to regularly correspond on the group marxism-thaxis (of which I was a co-founder). I reproduce here my comments on that thread:

Nice discussion thread that I've shared for my readers; Nick Manley linked to an essay at Reason magazine, and added: "the author of Marx, Hayek. and Utopia aka fellow free market libertarian Chris Matthew Sciabarra would prolly agree: it is insulting in my view that someone would even think Trump is remotely close to someone like Karl Marx in intelligence, so I rolled my eyes at the "even Karl Marx" part. I've never believed Marx and Marxists to be dummies!"

I wrote in reply:

I think the more compelling argument for Marx was simply this: He believed that capitalism was a revolutionary, progressive force in advancing the material conditions upon which, he argued, socialism would be able to emerge. Marx was so awestruck by capitalism's capacity to outproduce all other modes of production that he even projected its resolution of the very problem of scarcity; it was on the basis of having triumphed over scarcity that a society could *then* emerge "from each according to his ability to each according to his needs."
Now, I disagree with this fundamentally: I don't think relative scarcity is ever resolved, and even if a freer global "capitalist" system were to produce an abundance of goods, there will still be agent-relative-scarcity, if only because we are mortal beings, and time itself is scarce. [In Total Freedom, I present Rothbard's views on this issue: "The price system, reflecting relative scarcities, enables individuals to plan accordingly by relating the data to their own context of knowledge and their own purposes and goals. Even if it were possible to realize the Marxist dream of superabundance, 'scarcity' could never wither away, because, essentially, it is a function of time. Even in the Garden of Eden, time is scarce. For Rothbard, the notion of 'postscarcity' is illusory.] But that's another issue for another day.
Marx clearly understood how freer markets could destroy feudal and old mercantilist structures; Trump's neo-mercantilism and economic nationalism speak to certain segments of the current class society, but I think that, ironically, Marx would have viewed his policies as retrogressive.

I added:

I was speaking strictly in terms of capitalism's powers as a mode of production; clearly, Marx believed that the system caused all sorts of inequalities, which benefited the capitalist class, and systemic miseries for workers. And the internal contradictions of the system, which enriched one class at the expense of the other, would fuel the dynamics of its demise. You'll get no disagreement from me on this issue. Marx also argued, however, that the state, almost by definition, became an organ of class rule. In fact, one can find some rather remarkable parallels between Marx's views of the boom-bust cycle and those of the Austrian school of economics, who saw the state-banking nexus as the means of creating an inflationary boom that benefited debtors (usually capital-intensive industry) at the expense of creditors, but that such inflation of what Marx called "fictitious money-capital" would lead to the inevitable bust.
One other thing should be mentioned, of course: Neither Marx nor the Austrians---who are typically viewed as being on opposite ends of the spectrum---have ever believed that free markets have existed in their purest, unadulterated form. The state has always been involved in markets, and the whole birth of the regulatory apparatus was itself fueled by the demands of larger businesses to use the power of the state to destroy upstart competitors and to solidify their control over markets. Even the birth of central banking was fueled by those banks that believed they were "too big to fail"---but it is also no coincidence that central banking made it possible for the further growth of "crony" capitalism, the welfare state, and most importantly, the warfare state.
On this point, the views of New Left revisionist historians from William Appleman Williams, Gabriel Kolko, and James Weinstein are almost indistinguishable from the views put forth by the likes of Murray Rothbard, Leonard Liggio, Roy Childs, and other libertarians. It's no coincidence that Rothbard and my mentor, Bertell Ollman, were in the Peace and Freedom Party together, in their opposition to the corporatist state and the Vietnam war. In fact, in days of old, Rothbard edited a wonderful volume of essays by historical revisionists, Left and Right, in a book entitled A New History of Leviathan--co-edited by Rothbard and (then "democratic socialist") Ronald Radosh! Those were the days .... long gone...

Nick added a comment as well to Doug's thread, worth reproducing here:

Looks like this thread has died down or at least for now, but a quick follow up to Chris Matthew Sciabarra's book mention:
Not much of a fan of the Mises Institute gang with a few exceptions, but they are the only site I know of with a free pdf version of this history of the corporate state Chris mentions. It was indeed a cooperative effort between radical free market libertarians of that time and democratic socialist New Left types like now neocon but then radical leftist Ronald Radosh. If anyone is interested! [See A New History of Leviathan.]

I wanted to add one point of personal interest. Many years ago, I attended a talk by Radosh, and many talks by Rothbard, and I own a copy of the paperback inscribed by Radosh on one page and Rothbard on the next. I reproduce those inscriptions here for the sake of posterity; it's one of my cherished possessions:

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For those unpersuaded by the arguments for free trade, even in the face of restrictive tariff policies from other governments abroad, I don't know of a better answer to those arguments than that provided by my friend and colleague, Richard Ebeling: The Best Answer to Trump’s Tariffs: Free Trade."

There are a few additional issues that need to be addressed (and I addressed them on various FB threads). I summarize them here:

1. There are many reasons why the U.S. lost its manufacturing jobs over the past two decades; a lot of it has to do with the freeing up of previously constrained markets overseas, now providing cheaper labor costs for the production of goods outside of the U.S., and the consequent downward pressure it put on the pay of U.S. workers. See here.

2. Trump ignores this monumental change at his peril; if he thinks he can get back all those manufacturing jobs by adopting the policies of "protecting" U.S. industries, he simply fails Economics 101. One does not move toward freer markets by adopting economic nationalism as a public policy. Furthermore, no government action is neutral. Tariffs penalize the American consumer, who has to pay higher prices for goods imported from overseas, and pay higher prices for goods produced in the U.S. by industries that are now "protected" by the tariffs. Increased costs have to be paid by somebody, and they are, by necessity, passed onto the consumer.

3. This isn't a case of turning the other cheek; it's a case of recognizing a changing global economy. If Trump is wedded to an "America First" ideology, then he needs to radically and fundamentally reform the U.S. economy. He could start by seriously reducing U.S. overseas commitments that have fueled the growth of a permanent war economy at home, along with a National Security State that has bolstered military expenditures to historically high levels while curtailing civil liberties. It's not as if candidate Trump was unaware of this; it was about the only thing that I liked about his campaign: for example, his calls on U.S. allies to pay more for their own "defense" needs, his calls to bring the troops home, etc. Instead, it now seems as if the drums of war are being beaten by the same Establishment that brought us the war in Iraq.

If in the coming 2020 election, the Democratic Party fully embraces "democratic socialism," the Left is in for a rude awakening, and Trump will be re-elected for another four years, especially if the economy doesn't experience another bubble-bust prior to the election. But I don't object to Trump's policies because I am afraid of the Left. I oppose any increase in government intervention, whether it comes from the left or the right, for reasons that should be obvious.

I added one additional point in the Facebook discussion:

Though it would be nice for China and Europe to move toward freer societies, I think we have enough trouble trying to convince Americans of the virtues of a free society. Tariffs will do nothing to move the domestic economy or other countries toward freer trade. It will invite further tariff restrictions from those it targets, and could very well have a deleterious effect on the global economy if it goes unabated. In fact, there is more than enough history to show that once you put certain government policies in place, the typical path is for it to lead to additional government policies to alleviate the problems caused by the initial intervention. That's what the "road to serfdom" is all about and it's why interventionism feeds upon itself, regardless of who is in control.
But I'll give Trump credit for one thing: He has brought the GOP back to its pre-Civil War nineteenth-century roots as the party of High Tariffs and Protectionism; gone forever is the soaring rhetoric of "free markets" that one found in the speeches of Goldwater and Reagan. Reagan, of course, may not have brought a freer market to the United States, but he at least made it respectable to talk about free markets, while asking U.S. adversaries to tear down their walls, rather than to build new ones.
I would like to add one point about post-War policies with regard to military defense; they may have been justified on egalitarian grounds, but they were the product of a very carefully laid out plan to create what President Eisenhower called "the military-industrial complex."
U.S. military assistance has always come with the proviso that funds would be funneled to U.S. allies as long as the funds were spent buying U.S.-manufactured munitions and arms. This has been the case with "foreign aid" practically since its inception, providing weapons to such "friends" as Saudi Arabia, who are engaged in the wholesale slaughter of people in Yemen. And the list goes on and on and on. At least candidate Trump was honest enough to reply to Bill O'Reilly's questions about Russian interference in Western countries when he said: "You think our country's so innocent?"
But the policies have continued---ostensibly because they help to provide U.S. jobs.

I went further:

Note that Trump himself knows the damage he is doing; his answer is to provide billions of dollars in subsidies to the industries that are being hurt by retaliatory tariffs. How can you not see through this as a scheme of redistribution that ultimately punishes U.S. consumers and U.S. taxpayers? It's not a zero-sum game. Somebody is paying for this. And it's not going to lead to a Kum Ba Yah moment where the guy who specializes in the "art of the deal" leads the world to completely free trade across all borders. It's not going to happen---not this way.

I agreed to disagree on this issue; time will tell. But thanks to Ryan Neugebauer for this FEE article, "Is Trump's China Bashing Vindicated If It Leads to Lower Chinese Tariffs? No." The key passage:

It’s risky because wars of any kind rarely go according to plan. Because they don’t, Trump’s jawboning risks something much worse as witless politicians in the U.S. and elsewhere start introducing all manner of tax barriers to exchange. Lest we forget, politicians are expert at making the 99.9% pay for the protection of the very few, but very well connected special interests. Washington is a favor factory, as are the capitals of other countries. Once politicians start handing out the false favors, it’s hard to take them back. And we all suffer.

April 11, 2019

Post-WW II Concentration Camp Liberation: Pink Triangles Excepted

I shared an article on Facebook today (via my friend Ryan Neugebauer) that pointed to a sad and disgraceful chapter in post-World War II history: the continued persecution of gays who were singled out by the Nazis and tagged with the Pink Triangle, even as the Allies liberated the concentration camps.

Check out the Snopes.com essay here, with additional information on Wikipedia.

March 22, 2019

Being Dialectical About Dialectics or Finding Courage Through Criticism

My friend Nick Manley posted this on Facebook:

I still think there is nothing wrong with being cowardly or if there is: you can remind yourself that nobody's perfect or without "sin", but I do really wonder what I could do for left-wing market anarchism were I more courageous and fearless on taking action on behalf of it.
If Chris Matthew Sciabarra could endure what he did in terms of both scholarly and personal critiques to bring the world the notion of dialectical methodology being useful for free market libertarians: why can't I? It isn't like I haven't tested the potentially hostile waters before and came out still alive so to speak.
I didn't get involved in libertarian anarchism to be part of some exclusive social club or cult. I got involved to change the world for the better.

I replied on Facebook, and wanted to share my reply with Notablog readers; I wrote:

Nick Manley, my friend, it saddens me that you put yourself through so much self-torture, worrying about what others might say or think about what you say or think (though with all due respect, you're not inside their minds, and you never really know what other people may be thinking or why they say the things they do).

Understand this: I went through about 35-40 years of criticisms from left and right over "dialectical libertarianism"... but I didn't tie my self-concept to whether I was right or wrong. Instead, I answered the criticisms to the best of my ability, did more reading, and by the time I got to the final book of my trilogy, I tried to address every criticism that was raised with regard to the concept of dialectics that I had endorsed ("the art of context-keeping") and the need to tie that method to the defense of a free society.

Did I succeed? I have no clue. I only know that I welcomed the criticism, even those criticisms that were, for lack of a better phrase, completely idiotic---because they attempted to tie me to certain notions of dialectical method that I had clearly not endorsed. So I spent half of Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism literally re-writing and reconstructing the history of dialectics as a concept---in the first three chapters, followed by a whole chapter that developed a definition of dialectics and to unpacking that definition and its implications for social inquiry.

And guess what? I was still criticized, and will be criticized long after I am gone, despite hundreds of footnotes and citations to this or that source. It comes with the territory. I'm still learning. I practically live for the dialogue (after all, the dialectical method was born, in its first manifestations, from the very notion of dialogue---looking at things from different perspectives and on different levels of generality, and not reifying a single one-sided perspective as if it were the whole).

But one really good thing happened. After nearly four decades of being the voice of one crying in the wilderness (and we all know what happened to the last guy who had that voice of one crying in the wilderness), I have now coedited with two colleagues (Roger Bissell and Ed Younkins) a forthcoming volume (The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom) with contributions from 19 scholars (including myself) who are not afraid to utter the words "dialectics" and "liberty" in the same sentence.

But guess what? I don't even agree with what every scholar in the book has done with the notion of a 'dialectical libertarianism'---and I suspect that the contributors to the volume would disagree with one another on the various dialectical applications that each of them has made in their respective essays. But this is a good thing. It shows that the very notion of a dialectical libertarianism includes vigorous differences even among those who adhere to its core premises, which makes it a living research program for future scholarship, going in directions that none of us might be able to predict, given that it will be applied in various contexts and innumerable ways as circumstances change over time.

Welcome the differences! Work on not tying your self-worth to a cause, but on developing your self-worth as an unfolding project of its own. It may or may not include that cause, but be open to the possibility that that cause itself will also unfold and evolve over time.

I know, I know, all this is easier said than done. There will be days that you'll read a criticism of your work in a book or on social media and want to pick up your laptop and throw it against a wall. The real courage that you need to develop is the courage to accept your self-doubt, the courage to question yourself, and the courage to accept the fact that you are growing and will never stop expanding the boundaries of your knowledge. And in order to do that, you need critics---some will be friendly, some will be hostile; some will say worthwhile things, some won't. But none of it is a reflection of who you are, and to me, you've been a kind, supportive, gentle soul who doesn't give himself enough credit for what he knows already.

Mucho love from Brooklyn. Hang in there.

March 14, 2019

The Mafia in NYC: Dead and Alive

Just the other day, it was reported that longtime Colombo family boss, Carmine Persico, died at the age of 85. It prompted a discussion among a couple of friends as to whether the Mafia was really a force in organized crime anymore. Seemingly crushed in the 1980s by a series of then-federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani's indictments and convictions of "Five Family" major Mafia figures, the Italian-American contingent of organized crime was rocked to its core. We remembered back in the 1970s and early 1980s, how often we'd watch our local WABC's "Eyewitness News," with report after report [YouTube links] by famed journalist Milton Lewis ("Now listen to this") about the comings and literal goings of Mafia chieftains.

So it came as an almost creepy surprise this morning when we awoke to hear a report by John Montone on the "all news all the time" AM radio station, 1010 WINS, that Gambino-family crime boss Frank "Franky Boy" Cali was gunned down outside his Todt Hill house in Staten Island last night, the first Mafia rub-out in New York City since the Paul Castellano hit in 1985, ordered by Dapper Don John Gotti! (Jeez, did he have to have the last name, Cali, which is the first name of my cat, who has no ties to organized crime?)

Montone ended his report with a bit of his classic, stinging sarcasm, saying that there was no gun found at the scene, and no cannolis either [YouTube "Godfather" link]!

February 27, 2019

The Dialectics of Liberty: A New Anthology is On The Way!

It is my distinct honor---and pleasure---to formally announce a forthcoming book: The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, a trailblazing collection of essays by a diverse group of scholars, coming from a variety of disciplines and perspectives. The anthology has been coedited by Roger E. Bissell, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, and Edward W. Younkins. It is slated for publication by Lexington Books in June 2019 and it is sure to be a provocative read for anyone interested in liberty and the contexts that nourish---or undermine---it.

Readers can find the book's home page here (which is redirected from both Dialectics of Liberty.com and Dialectics and Liberty.com). As we state on our abstracts page:

These essays explore ways that liberty can be better defended using a dialectical approach, a mode of analysis that grasps the full context of philosophical, cultural, and social factors requisite to the sustenance of human freedom. The contributors represent a variety of disciplines and perspectives who apply explicitly dialectical tools to a classical liberal / libertarian analysis of social and cultural issues. By conjoining a dialectical method, typically associated with the socialist left, to a defense of individual liberty, typically associated with the libertarian right, this anthology challenges contemporary attitudes on both ends of the political spectrum.

Abstracts for all the articles that are included in the anthology can be found here and contributor biographies can be found here. For those who just can't wait to read through those links, here is a glimpse of what to expect:

Table of Contents

Introduction - Roger E. Bissell, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Edward W. Younkins

Part I: Foundations and Systems of Liberty

Chapter 1: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism - Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Chapter 2: Freedom and Flourishing: Toward a Synthesis of Traditions and Disciplines - Edward W. Younkins

Chapter 3: The Unchained Dialectic and the Renewal of Libertarian Inquiry - John F. Welsh

Chapter 4: Whence Natural Rights? - Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen

Chapter 5: Dialogical Arguments for Libertarian Rights - Stephan Kinsella

Chapter 6: Dialectical Psychology: The Road to Depassement - Robert L. Campbell

Part II: Government, Economy, and Culture

Chapter 7: Don Lavoie's Dialectical Liberalism - Nathan Goodman

Chapter 8: Free Speech, Rhetoric, and a Free Economy - Deirdre Nansen McCloskey

Chapter 9: Exploring the Interconnections of Politics, Economics, and Culture - Robert Higgs

Chapter 10: Context Matters: Finding a Home for Labor-Managed Enterprise - David L. Prychitko

Chapter 11: The Dialectic of Culture and Markets in Expanding Family Freedom - Steven Horwitz

Chapter 12: Up from Oppression: Triumph and Tragedy in the Great American Songbook - Roger E. Bissell

Part III: Justice, Liberation, and Rights

Chapter 13: Why Libertarians Should Be Social Justice Warriors - Roderick T. Long

Chapter 14: Radical Liberalism and Social Liberation - Gary Chartier

Chapter 15: Social Equality and Liberty - Billy Christmas

Chapter 16: Formal vs. Substantive Statism: A Matter of Context - Kevin A. Carson

Chapter 17: The Political Is Interpersonal: An Interpretation and Defense of Libertarian Immediatism - Jason Lee Byas

Chapter 18: Aesthetics, Ritual, Property, and Fish: A Dialectical Approach to the Evolutionary Foundations of Property - Troy Camplin

Index

About the Editors and Contributors

********************

Anyone taking a look at the contributors to this book might be scratching their heads a bit, wondering how some of the authors associated with the volume may very well not associate themselves with the views of other authors herein represented. Let me say by way of introduction, that this collection falls under the category of "Big Tent" classical liberalism / libertarianism: It is not presented as a monolithic view of what a dialectical approach to human freedom must be. Rather, it is a sign of the fruitful interplay of ideas and theories that might result when classical liberal and libertarian thinkers adopt a context-sensitive dialectical approach, making their political project a living research program that will necessarily generate a variety of perspectives, united only in their ideological commitment to freedom and their methodological commitment to a dialectical sensibility.

I should just add that this is purely an announcement: I'd like to save the debates for when the book is published and folks actually have a chance to read the essays, before passing judgments, either positive or negative on the contents of the volume. I know that our authors would greatly appreciate critical feedback; but nothing advances human knowledge when judgments are reached on the basis of reading short abstracts or brief biographies. Suffice it to say: We are going to have plenty of time and many forums in which to debate the contents of this book.

For now, I would simply like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to my hard-working fellow editors, and our remarkable group of superb scholars, whose commitment to the project has been a delight to behold.

So many more Notablog posts with further information on the forthcoming book to come ...

Postscript: This Notablog announcement was shared on Facebook by quite a few people, reaching potentially thousands of readers. I'm delighted by the response, and added a few points in several threads. The most important point I made, however, was in response to some folks who criticized the inclusion of people whose views they oppose. Here was my response:

If I may add a point: One of the reasons that folks as diverse as Stephan Kinsella and Kevin Carson are in the same volume is because each applies a dialectical sensibility to the topic of their essays; we wanted a volume that would represent the wide range of perspectives and disciplines that might be engaged in a genuinely radical classical liberal / libertarian research program.
And if I may be so bold: I think that the volume constitutes a virtual paradigmatic shift in its explicit embrace of a dialectical sensibility in furtherance of a radical libertarian social theory. From the early 1980s through to the publication of my Dialectics and Liberty trilogy (from 1995 to 2000), I felt like "the voice of one crying in the wilderness." But I argued that many classical liberals and contemporary libertarians had already embraced a dialectical approach to libertarian social theory, even if they had not named it as such. That today, 30+ years after I started this project, I am a co-editor of a volume that features such talented scholars who are not afraid to utter the words "dialectic" and "liberty" in the same sentence is of great significance to me. I'm very proud to be associated with this project, and prouder still of the work that each author contributed to it. It's a Big Tent folks: Get under it! :)

Postscript II: The debate over the contents and its contributors has continued, so I made the following observation on one of the Facebook threads:

I have to admit that if this is how worked up folks are getting over the list of contents and contributors, i just can't imagine what will happen when the book is actually released and its contents are actually read, comprehended, and commented upon.
As a matter of fact, even I don't agree with every essay in the book; this is of little consequence, however. What was more important to me was to amass a group of writers from every discipline and a variety of perspectives, who demonstrated an attention to the larger context within which freedom might be nourished---or undermined. There is not a single author in this book who does not qualify on those grounds. I may disagree with the way some folks apply certain dialectical tools of analysis to their subject matter, but in a sense, the book itself is an example of the very "dialectics" of liberty it proposes, at least in terms of its original intent of meaning: that in viewing the issues at hand, we look at them from as many different vantage points and on many different levels of generality as is possible, to reveal relationships that might be obscured by one-dimensional readings.
Even in disagreeing with this or that author, it is my hope that folks, especially those who adhere to classical liberal / libertarian ideas, might actually embrace the "rivalrous" readings offered in this volume, in much the same way that they embrace the "rivalrous competition" they extol as one of the virtues of free markets. Embrace the differences; you don't have to agree. But celebrate the fact that the editors had the audacity to put this volume together and that the contributors, even those that found themselves on opposite sides of certain issues, were courageous enough to be a part of what is sure to be a provocative, trailblazing anthology.
As I said: If this is the reaction we're getting from a Table of Contents, abstracts, and biographies, I can only imagine what might happen when the volume comes out in June! Mount Vesuvius ain't got nothin' on us! :)

This post was shared on quite a few Facebook pages, and also noted on several blogs, including that of Center for a Stateless Society, Bleeding Heart Libertarians, Austro-Athenian Empire, and StephanKinsella.com.

February 10, 2019

A Green "New Deal"?

In New York, our very own "Democratic Socialist," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has been a vocal proponent of a so-called "Green" New Deal, aimed at solving the problem of "climate change" with massive government intervention. I replied to a Facebook question on the issue, and will share what I said with Notablog readers:

I think there are two very real issues that need to be examined with this climate change question. Let us assume that every point by those who argue for the validity of climate change is correct.

With regard to pollution issues, why assume that the government has any more "knowledge" in resolving the issues than actors in a competitive market system in which there are different players acting on their differential "know how" of the market for clean energy? Central planning didn't work for any other issue, so why assume it will do anything but shift billions of dollars in taxpayer money to industries created or favored by a government-sanctioned scientific and technological elite? Typically, the only "products" that governments have been been good at "creating", in league with scientific and technological elites, are weapons of mass destruction.

And secondly, folks who advocate stronger government involvement in this area should focus on the so-called "tragedy of the commons" (which has been a principal cause of much pollution) and the need to allow courts to take on class action suits against corporate polluters (many of them already politically-privileged monopoly energy utilities).

To simply hand over billions of dollars of taxpayer money to favored industries allegedly committed to resolving the problems caused by climate change is to think that, somehow, government will change its stripes and not be what it has always been: a dispenser of privilege to those who are most adept at grabbing and using political power. That's what happened with the New Deal (which was based on the corporativist model of "War Collectivism" from World War I and was praised by Benito Mussolini for its fascistic character); why will it be any different with a "Green" New Deal?"

With regard to the view that "government has only been good at 'creating' weapons of mass destruction," one reader asked: "What about the space program, interstate highway system, NIH. the internet, etc.? I responded:

It is very good at socializing the costs for building large projects that are typically related to 'national defense': typically, it takes market actors to take these projects and to develop them for the benefit of consumers.

And with regard to the issue of fossil fuels and oil, it has had a primary role in developing a foreign policy of war and interventionism to benefit Big Oil, whether it has been in propping up "friendly" autocratic regimes, like that in Saudi Arabia, or in benefiting ARAMCO, with which Exxon-Mobil has always been intimately involved.

I added the following point when a reader proposed that a government, freed of corporate power, could act in the public interest:

But in my view, the government will always be captive to corporate power. On this point, I think Hayek was right when he said that the more politics comes to dominate economic and social life, the more political power will be the only power worth having---which is why those most adept at using political power get the most privileges. Which is "why the worst get on top."

Another reader rejected my view as a libertarian article of faith, to which I responded:

[Giving the government the power to make decisions about climate change] still does not solve the essential knowledge problem or class problem. Talk about an article of faith: Why would you put faith in a single institution (the state) to come up with the necessary knowledge (which is not simply "data" but both articulated and tacit, and tied to differential contexts) to introduce a whole "Green New Deal" that would cost trillions of dollars and benefit specific industries?

And if we are living in a state capitalist-corporatist system, how do we avoid the central problem of state-generated privileges being handed over to whole industries invested in "alternative" energies (if you actually believe that the energy industry wouldn't just seek to cash-in on the newly generated expropriated funds to take advantage of the instituted changes)?

P.S. - And I didn't say central planning never works; I just said that it is typically best at producing weapons of mass destruction or socializing the costs and risks of a political economy in a way that does not take into account the tragedy of the commons.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, for example, where the government subsidized the great expansion of "infrastructure" long before any private investment would have taken the risk, some of that expansion didn't really work out. The railroads "benefited" from this kind of subsidization but were, of course, eventually undermined by the lack of market support. The results were fairly typical: eventually these railroads went bankrupt and were 'nationalized'.

Typically, "crony" state capitalists are at the forefront of getting the government to make the big "infrastructure" investments because it does socialize the costs of their expansion. But it doesn't always work out in the long run. (The experience of World War I was also typical in this regard; see my article on "Government and the Railroads During World War I.")

The reader rejected my reasoning and argued that the state was the only institution available that could make the changes required to save the planet from climate catastrophe. To which I replied:

Well, then all I can say is we'll have to agree to disagree. I don't see how effective it will be to institute the kind of massive shifts you envision in the current state-capitalist context, whose class character will be fundamentally the same. No change of the sort you envision comes to this country without a massive amount of under-the-table deal-making where the worst seem to always get on top and profit the most.

I don't think of this as a libertarian article of faith; I think of it as a simple fact of reality.

The discussion continued and I shared a link to a post by my dear friend and colleague, Steve Horwitz, on the timeline of the thread:

Steve Horwitz['s post] ... speaks to the effects of such a massive state expansion, which is what would be required to achieve the kind of change that is being advocated here. These kinds of expansions amount to the militarization of the economy, and given what we have seen in other such militarizations (from the War Collectivism of World War I to the original New Deal to the War Collectivism of World War II, and so forth), I do not see how a Green New Deal avoids the problems inherent in the proposed 'solution'. As Steve puts it:

The irony of the supposedly anti-militaristic Left selling the Green New Deal as the economic equivalent of the mobilization for World War II is not lost on me, anyway.
Whenever you hear the rhetoric of "We need a war on X" or "this is the moral equivalent of war," run the other way. That rhetoric is just a mask for a grab for power reflecting the common belief on both the left and right that we can only accomplish great things when we have a collective end and structure society from the top down to achieve it. That belief is the most fundamentally anti-liberty argument there is, whether the war rhetoric is about actual or metaphorical war. Replacing the market with economic planning has always been about replacing freedom with militaristic and hierarchical rule by an elite. Both actual and metaphorical wars require that we give up pursuit of our preferred ends united by agreement on means for a society where any means are justified for the common end.
As Don Lavoie wrote 34 years ago: "Planning does not accidentally deteriorate into the militarization of the economy; it is the militarization of the economy....When the story of the Left is seen in this light, the idea of economic planning begins to appear not only accidentally but inherently reactionary. The theory of planning was, from its inception, modeled after feudal and militaristic organizations. Elements of the Left tried to transform it into a radical program, to fit it into a progressive revolutionary vision. But it doesn't fit. Attempts to implement this theory invariably reveal its true nature. The practice of planning is nothing but the militarization of the economy." (National Economic Planning: What is Left?, p. 230)

I should add that Don Lavoie's work, especially his Rivalry and Central Planning and his National Economic Planning: What is Left, is among the most radical and highly dialectical work in the Austrian tradition. His integration of hermeneutics, his use of Hayek's work on knowledge (especially the Polanyi-Ryle 'tacit' dimension of knowledge), and a dialectical understanding of the interrelationships of politics, economics, and culture, make his contributions all the more significant and worthy of study. He was a fine scholar and a dear friend, and Steve's quoting of him is "spot on" indeed!

January 29, 2019

Who Shaves the Barber? Ryan Neugebauer and William Gillis on Anarchism

I just listened to a nearly two-hour podcast interview with William Gillis and my dear friend Ryan Neugebauer on the subject of anarchism, a broadcast of "Who Shaves the Barber?" [YouTube link to interview], hosted by William Nava.

I really enjoyed it; it raises lots of questions that, in my view, continue to point to a much more nuanced, dialectical understanding of the nature of social change. I've written in the past about how libertarians of whatever variety, be they "minarchists" or "anarchists", need to avoid the pitfalls of what I have denigrated as utopian thinking: the belief that all we need to do is get rid of the state (or "minimize" it) and life will be Heaven. These gents are clearly aware of the wider issues of social oppression that make a strictly 'political' stance little more than a 'one-dimensional' view of human freedom.

This topic, in particular, is going to be thrashed about quite a bit among several contributors to the forthcoming volume that I am co-editing with Roger E. Bissell and Edward W. Younkins, The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom.

I keep encountering folks who ask me: When am I going to spill the beans on who is among our contributors? Soon. Very soon. All I can say is that this book has evolved into one of the most stunningly provocative anthologies I've ever had the honor of being associated with. And we're getting mighty close to submitting the final version to Lexington Books, our publisher. Can't wait to share the contents of what is yet to come...

Anyway, as I said, check out the YouTube podcast. Whether you agree or disagree with the anarchist solution makes no difference. It's worth a good listen and raises many important questions about the wider context necessary to the sustenance of human freedom.

January 21, 2019

Eishenhower's Nightmare: Military-Industrial Complex 2.0

On January 17, 1961, fifty-eight years ago, almost to the day, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his farewell speech [YouTube link] to the nation, warning, famously, of the rising influence of a "military-industrial complex":

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction. Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea. Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence---economic, political, even spiritual---is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government. Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite. It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system---ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

Today, I share with my readers a provocative article from The American Conservative, written by Franklin C. "Chuck" Spinney (hat tip to my dear friend and colleague Walter E. Grinder), "Eisenhower's Nightmare: Space Wars Edition."

For those who doubt the staying power of the National Security State and the "military-industrial complex," President Trump's proposed missile defense plan "will be a bonanza for political patronage in Washington, and a huge fail for peace." I recently wrote of the need for "A National Dialogue on U.S. Foreign Policy," which spoke not only to what now appears to be a waning resolve to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and other global hotspots, but also to the omnipresence of so-called "Deep State" forces that no President will be able to dismantle. While Trump's expressed desires to cutback on U.S. overseas commitments seem to have emboldened both "hawkish Democrats and anti-war Republicans," as Jack Hunter puts it, Spinney's article casts greater doubt than ever that Trump will do anything to alter the "Deep State" forces that sustain that military-industrial complex so responsible for global and domestic instability.

December 21, 2018

Wanted: A National Dialogue on U.S. Foreign Policy

Whatever one's views of Trump's overall politics, the real question, at least with regard to foreign policy remains: Will he stick firmly to his commitment to start bringing U.S. troops home---now that he has raised the possibility of withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria over the next 30 days? This was one of the only issues on which I believed that candidate Trump raised legitimate concerns about the extent to which the U.S., which indeed has not been "so innocent," could sustain its un-ending commitment to "perpetual war for perpetual peace."

Of course, even if Trump pulled all U.S. troops out of the Middle East, the National Security State, with its infringements on our civil liberties at home and its destabilizing influence abroad, will remain unscathed. Still, though I've heavily criticized Trump on many issues [and folks like Patrick Buchanan], at the very least, let this start a national dialogue on the problems inherent in U.S. foreign policy.

The neocons within the Democratic Party and the Republican Party would have you believe that it is possible to engage in democratic "nation-building"; if the last seventeen years has taught us anything, it is that no "democracy" can be imposed from without on countries that don't even have a concept of individual rights, let alone "democracy."

Postscript: Here's another interesting take on the character of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East (hat tip to Ryan Neugebauer for alerting me to this article by Andrew Sullivan): "The Establishment will Never Say No to War."

December 17, 2018

The Don Dumps on SNL but SNL Dumps on Everybody!

In the news: President Donald Trump thinks that "Saturday Night Live" is colluding with the Democratic Party in its ongoing skits that "defame and belittle" him and he thinks that the show should be taken to court! Good luck with that! Not even the Rehnquist court (in an 8-0 decision) would interfere with public parodies of Jerry Falwell that appeared in Hustler magazine!

I've been watching SNL since it began, and not a single President has been spared its parodies. In fact, prior to Trump, I could think of no President who caught more heat or hilarity than Bill Clinton, who, last time I checked, was still a registered Democrat. Do people forget those unbelievable skits with Phil Hartman or, even more biting, those of Darrell Hammond, impersonating our "feel your pain" President biting his lip as he apologized to the nation for his upcoming impeachment trial? Or those absolutely classic John Goodman skits portraying Linda Tripp during the whole Monica Lewinsky debacle? Not even Obamacare was spared; indeed, SNL's spoof of the Obamacare website fiasco was noted as far closer to fact than hilarious fiction.

So my message to The Don: Lighten up!

November 13, 2018

Learning How to Defend Ideas, Dialectically Speaking

On Ryan Neugebauer's Facebook thread today, I offered these observations, after making a few tongue-in-cheek remarks about Ryan's proposal to write a book called "A Case Against Myself." At first, I observed:

Sounds a little schizo to me; what would the thesis be?

Ryan replied: "Basically, I would argue against everything I stand for in it. Become my best opponent." To which I responded:

Now that's what I call taking the "dialectical" very seriously. If Bill Evans, the great jazz pianist, could do an album called "Conversations with Myself" (where he basically overdubbed and recorded solos off of his own accompaniment), you could write a book called "Conversations with Myself" (just understand that some folks chuckled at Bill's title, with tongue-in-cheek, calling it "Playing with Myself." ;) )

I added:

On a more serious note, what you say is, of course, of the utmost importance. There is no greater deed in the clash of ideas than to truly understand not only your opponents' perspectives (because there are often multiple conflicting perspectives, and given your generally libertarian outlook, that means, at least in matters of politics, opposition from both the left and the right)---but to grasp your own perspective more fully, more comprehensively.
This also means truly understanding the best, rather than the weakest, arguments that your opponents offer. Perhaps it was fortuitous that my own mentor was Bertell Ollman, an internationally known Marxist scholar. But it is a credit to him that he was among the very first scholars of any kind who truly encouraged me to continue my exploration of libertarianism in my scholarly work. Ironically, he was a Volker fellow early in his academic life, who worked with Hayek at the University of Chicago; he later befriended Murray Rothbard and Leonard Liggio in the Peace and Freedom Party, in their mutual opposition to the Vietnam War.
So his respect for libertarians was profound. But without him, I would never have been truly exposed to dialectical method, which I champion in my works (especially in the "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy," which consists of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism---all books for which he provided high-profile back-cover blurbs).
One of the things that was always a part of his courses, and a part of the grade you would ultimately earn, was to keep a daily intellectual diary, centering on what we were discussing in class, or what texts we were required to read, evaluate and critique that particular day or week. I read not only virtually all of Marx's work under his guidance---but also some of the best secondary literature in defense of Marx's work, including Ollman's own books, such as Alienation and Dialectical Investigations, but also Scott Meikle's Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx and Carol Gould's Marx's Social Ontology, all of which revealed a serious Aristotelian aspect to dialectics. Which was no accident since even Hegel himself called Aristotle the "fountainhead" of dialectical inquiry. It was by engaging with these works by folks with whom I did not wholly agree politically, that I was able to mount (what I believed to be) more effective arguments in opposition to them. But in doing so, I also took away from their work some very powerful arguments in favor of a dialectical approach to social inquiry, which I adopted in my own defense of a "dialectical libertarianism."
You don't want to learn how to oppose the weakest arguments that your intellectual opponents have to offer; you want to seriously engage the best of their traditions. You do no service to the intellectual integrity of the ideas you oppose or the intellectual integrity of your own developing body of ideas by going after fallacious "straw man" arguments that are not truly representative of what your critics are saying.
So, to make a long story short: Despite my tongue-in-cheek responses above, this is an extremely helpful exercise that you propose, which can only help you, in the long-run, to develop the best, and most intellectually honest, presentation of the ideas that you ultimately support and defend.

November 11, 2018

Veterans Day: A Centenary Remembrance of the "War to End All Wars"

Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day, when the guns of World War I were laid down on the Western front at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. In 2018, the United States marks this day as Veterans Day.

My family gave many of its native-born American sons to the armed services; my maternal grandparents came from Greece and my paternal grandparents came from Italy, and their American-born children went off to war---the Second World War, to be precise, a war that was not supposed to happen after the "war to end all wars," the "Great War," which led to the deaths of over 16 million people, including 7 million civilians. Some of those in my family who fought in World War II came home as veterans: my Uncle George Sciabarra and my Uncle Al, who fought in the European theater, as part of the Allied invasion of Italy, from which their parents had emigrated; my Uncle Charlie Sciabarra, who ended up in a German POW camp, liberated after the war; my Uncle Anthony "Tony" Jannace, who as a member of the Second Infantry Division eventually became part of Patton’s Third Army, in the second wave of the D-Day invasion on June 7, 1944, spending over 300 days in combat, involved in five campaigns---in Normandy, Northern France, the Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe---as they fought to liberate Paris, Belgium, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. My Uncle Tony got frostbite during the Battle of the Bulge, and after being hit by mortar on April 7, 1945, he received the Purple Heart. My Uncle Frank was not as lucky; he was killed in that battle, in which American forces suffered heavy casualties, under the weight of a German tank offensive. Other than my Uncle Frank, all of my uncles came home as veterans of World War II.

One of those veterans, my Uncle Sam (Salvatore) Sclafani, I had the honor of interviewing in 1976; that interview formed the basis of a 2004 Memorial Day tribute to him---but as a naval veteran of World War II, he was one of those Veterans of Foreign Wars who, perhaps more than any other relative, had the greatest impact on my early thinking about politics. I remember Uncle Sam telling me about a 1939 film, "Idiot's Delight," starring Clark Gable (in the same year in which he starred in "Gone with the Wind") and Norma Shearer. The film was an adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood's 1936 play, for which the playwright won a Pulitzer Prize. It was Uncle Sam who had introduced me to several antiwar films from the early days of cinema that had a profound effect on his thinking about the horrors of war. Among these films were the 1925 silent movie, "The Big Parade" and the 1930 version of "All Quiet on the Western Front," based on the Erich Maria Remarque antiwar novel.

And yet it was the 1939 Clark Gable movie that left a profound effect on my Uncle Sam, just for a couple of lines of dialogue that resonated with him through the years---precisely because he experienced first hand the nightmares of war, as he was stationed in the Aleutian Islands, the closest U.S. base in proximity to the Japanese mainland. The character Achille Weber (played by actor Edward Arnold) asks: "Who are the greater criminals [in war]? Those who sell the instruments of death or those who buy them and use them? It is they who make war seem noble and heroic . . ."

In fact, my Uncle Sam cast his first vote in the 1940 Presidential election for Franklin D. Roosevelt for his promise that American boys would not fight on foreign soil. As my Uncle Sam later observed: "He forgot to add: 'They'd be buried in it.'" His distrust of politicians from that moment on lasted for more than three decades, as he refused to walk back into a voting booth. He was outspoken in his political views, always politically incorrect, but whatever views he held were colored deeply by his experiences in World War II. I'd like to highlight a link to my 1976 interview with Uncle Sam, which was the basis of a Memorial Day tribute to him back in 2004, on the site of the History News Network. It's still a good read, especially on this 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. You can find the essay here.

Whatever one's view of war and peace, my Uncle Sam always honored veterans; coming from a family of veterans, I too honor them---because they lived to bear witness to the horrors of war, and fought for the ideals they held dear, despite the dishonesty of the politicians who helped to make the twentieth century the bloodiest century in the history of humanity.

November 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.

September 25, 2018

Dance and The Revolution: Emma, Chubby, and Dick

On Facebook, in introducing the last song ("Let's Twist Again") in my "Summer Dance Party," I said:

I just know some of you cringe at the frivolity of my "Song of the Day" entries, but as Rosa Luxemburg once said: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be a part of your revolution." And so our Summer Dance Party ends with the same artist who kicked it off: Chubby Checker. The Autumnal Equinox arrives at 9:54pm ET, at which point you'll want to "Twist Again... like we did last summer"

Well, I made a mistake folks. Of course, that statement about dance and the revolution is derived from Emma Goldman, as my friends and colleagues, Susan Love Brown and Joel Schlosberg pointed out in the thread. In fact, Joel pointed to an essay by Alix Kates Shulman, "Dances with Feminists" (published initially in Women's Review of Books 9, no. 3, December 1991), published online on The Emma Goldman Papers, which casts doubt that Goldman ever uttered those words in precisely that fashion.

Switching gears, and also as part of that thread, another friend of mine, Kurt Keefner, raised the point that Chubby Checker ripped off the original Hank Ballard version of "The Twist," and of course, one can see the similarity in the recordings (and I mentioned the Ballard version in my first Summer Dance Party entry). But I pointed out that cover versions are rich in the history of music:

This happens quite a bit sometimes. And sometimes you can get two megahits from the same song: "Light My Fire" (The Doors; Jose Feliciano); "MacArthur Park" (Richard Harris!!!, Donna Summer); "I Saw Her [Him] Standing There" (The Beatles; Tiffany); "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (The Supremes; Vanilla Fudge; Kim Wilde; Reba McEntire); "You Can't Hurry Love" (The Supremes; Phil Collins); "Walk This Way" (Aerosmith; Run-D.M.C.); "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" (Gladys Knight and the Pips; Marvin Gaye); "For Once in My Life" (Stevie Wonder; Tony Bennett); "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye; Diana Ross; Inner Life); "Twist and Shout" (the Isley Brothers; the Beatles)---and the list goes on and on and on. And let's not forget how many early R&B hits were remade by a guy named Elvis Presley who took them to another chart level entirely.

But I brought the discussion back to "The Twist", which set off a worldwide dance revolution of its own, and the force behind its revolutionary impact on pop music, Dick Clark:

You can definitely compare the two [versions of "The Twist"] and see the similarities; why one gets the hit and the other doesn't is difficult to measure. Ballard's version went to #28 on the Hot 100. But Checker's version set off a dance craze that went worldwide. In fact, his version is the only single in the history of the Billboard charts to reach #1 on the Hot 100 in two different "Hit Parade" runs: once in 1960 and again in 1962, riding the crest of Twist-mania. Billboard magazine credits it as the biggest hit of the decade. But here's the best explanation of why Ballard's version didn't become the hit that Checker's version became. Yeah, Checker's version had that driving sax and those rolling drums, but ultimately, it went to the top because of a guy named Dick Clark. From Wikipedia:
The [Ballard version of the] song became popular on a Baltimore television dance show hosted by local DJ Buddy Dean; Dean recommended the song to Dick Clark, host of the national "American Bandstand." When the song proved popular with his audience, Clark attempted to book Ballard to perform on the show. Ballard was unavailable, and Clark searched for a local artist to record the song. He settled on Checker, whose voice was very similar to Ballard's. Checker's version featured Buddy Savitt on sax and Ellis Tollin on drums, with backing vocals by the Dreamlovers. Exposure for the song on "American Bandstand" and on "The Dick Clark Saturday Night Show" helped propel the song to the top of the American charts.
And this was only one example of the power of Dick Clark and "American Bandstand" and its impact on pop music culture.
P.S. - I bet Ballard was kicking himself in the head for a while for not having made himself available on that day!

So, I hope I've straightened out some things here; either way, ever the dialectician, as far as I am concerned, there will be no political revolution dedicated to liberty unless it preserves and extends the cultural revolution that the dance embodies. So, yep, whether it was Emma Goldman who ever said it, or Rosa Luxemburg, or some entrepreneurial T-shirt-making rabble-rouser, I can say with confidence: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be a part of anybody's revolution"---including the libertarian one I favor!

September 20, 2018

Hayek: Rejecting "Reason with a Capital R"

There was an interesting thread started by my friend Ryan Neugebauer on his own Facebook page, to which I contributed, which I reproduce here, as it points to some of the themes that will be central to the forthcoming collection, The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, which I'm co-editing with Roger E. Bissell and Edward W. Younkins. Ryan gave me permission to cut and paste our little chat:

Ryan Neugebauer: I find Hayekian arguments against "Constructivist Rationalism" to be some of the most radical out there. It puts the nail in the coffin to utopian takes of all kinds (including anarchistic ones). And it goes well with critiques of those who want to continue to increase the scope of the state system in planning aspects of our lives.
Chris Sciabarra: The worst misunderstanding of Hayek is that he was somehow a critic of reason. He was a critic of "Reason with a capital 'R'" as he put it; and it was this conception of Reason that was the premise of "constructivist" rationalism, a reason that was totally un-anchored to reality, acting as if it could literally 'construct' social systems anew, without any relationship to the conditions that exist---what my friend Troy Camplin has aptly called a "tabula rasa" view of social change, as if we could simply wipe the slate clean and start anew. This is a thoroughly utopian way of looking at social change, and one that is, for lack of a better word, completely non-dialectical. I focus on this theme in my own book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (shameless plug)---and its important similarities to the arguments of Marx against the utopian socialists. It was on this basis that Hayek rejected the term "conservative" (even though he drew from the conservative "evolutionary" views of Burke and the classical liberal views of the Scottish Enlightenment) and embraced being "radical" (going to the root) as essential to social analysis. So, you're right, my friend, Ryan Neugebauer, it is indeed among the "most radical" of arguments---in fact, it is essential to any radical, dialectical conception of social change.
Ryan: There are so many uncomfortable discussions to be had based around all of this. Two key ones: 1. What we want hasn't existed in human history; though constituent parts have in various ways through history. 2. Many things we do like today were brought about by means that we oppose. I like to think that humans have had to do a lot of experimenting/trial & error throughout history in various contexts to figure out what works best at achieving the things desired. So, despite us not starting out from such tabula rasa, we have a much greater understanding of what produces good ends and what leads to tyranny and oppression. Therefore, we should be continually bettering our understanding of how these various things come about, while coming up with ways to, evolutionarily, move us in the direction we want to go. Just as humans had to biologically evolve, we have had to intellectually & ethically evolve.
Chris: Exactly, and that's the messy world we live in. "Thought experiments" are nice, but are basically ahistorical. Accepting that some things we do like had a sordid past is just as legitimate as rejecting some things we don't like that may have had a fairly innocuous past. I agree also that humans have engaged in a lot of "trial and error" since the beginning of time. (I've often looked at tree-bearing fruit and said to myself, "I wonder how many human beings ate of this tree and dropped dead before they found the tree whose fruit didn't make them sick!) But there is something that I learned from my mentor, Bertell Ollman, a lesson he teaches in books such as Dialectical Investigations: the virtue of studying history backwards. That is, we start from the conditions that exist, and we go backwards, step by step, to see how we got to where we are. This helps us to understand the conditions that led to the system that has evolved, but it also helps us to identify the potential conditions within that system that might propel it forwards toward the kinds of social changes that we seek. It also doesn't put us in the position of constantly "judging" the past based on current conditions, because mores do, in fact, change, sometimes over generations. So even though a whole generation of slave owners may have been among the Founders, that does not mean that the ideals they embraced were any less valid as guiding principles by which to project forward the many potential "future" courses history might take. As the Marxists are fond of saying, human beings are as much the producers of history as they are its products. We forget our "embeddedness" in that larger social and historical context at our own peril.

Indeed!!

September 13, 2018

Total Freedom: New Kindle Edition Now Available!

It gives me great pleasure to announce that my book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism is finally available in a Kindle edition at Amazon.com [link to Amazon Kindle edition]. This means that it now joins the e-book universe along with the first and second books of my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy": Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, second edition.

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If you ask me, the new e-book is a little pricey, but that should come down, as it did with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, and it does have options for those who have previously purchased the hardcover or paperback editions through Amazon.com.

So my trilogy, which was conceived in the twentieth century and completed at the dawn of the twenty-first century, has finally entered the twenty-first century in toto.

September 06, 2018

Sports and 9/11: 2001 Mets Visit Memorial Museum

Next Tuesday, September 11, 2018, I will publish my annual essay in remembrance of the horrific events of that day in 2001.

Today, however, many members of the 2001 New York Mets team visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum to view a new exhibit, "Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11." Among the events commemorated at the museum was the first baseball game played in New York City after the terrorist attacks. It was at Shea Stadium, old home of the New York Mets, in which Mike Piazza put the Mets ahead for good to win the game 3-2 over the Atlanta Braves [YouTube link]. Hall of Fame Catcher Piazza recalls the events [YouTube link], as the Mets were down 2-1, when he hit what was ultimately the game-winning home run. In one blast of the bat, even this New York Yankees fan found a reason to cheer.

As it turned out, the New York Yankees gave New Yorkers something to smile about in the postseason too---even if briefly---as they fought their way into the 2001 World Series [YouTube link], winning three iconic games in New York City, before ultimately losing the Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks in seven unforgettable games.

Still, one can't look back on the events of September 11, 2001 without recognizing the role of sports and its capacity to lift the spirits of a broken-hearted town.

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!)

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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!

July 04, 2018

Song of the Day #1596

Song of the Day: Back in the U.S.A. features the words and music and classic sound of Chuck Berry. It's a quintessential Independence Day song. Check out the original Chuck Berry version and a 1978 hit Linda Ronstadt version as well. The two of them did a live version on the occasion of Berry's sixtieth birthday, with Keith Richards on backup vocals [YouTube links].

July 02, 2018

TDS vs. TWS: Two Sides of the Same Coin

There are a lot of folks out there who are still fighting the 2016 election: those who seem to wholeheartedly believe that Trump is Satan Incarnate and who are typically affected by "Trump Derangement Syndrome" and those who seem to believe there is nothing Trump can do wrong. Let us call this "Trump Worship Syndrome." In my view, both sides of this false alternative fundamentally misunderstand the problem. The problem is that whether Demon or Deity, no one man can alter the trajectory of the system, because the system itself is fundamentally committed to traveling down "the road to serfdom."

Ironically, this morning, I wake to a fabulous quote posted by Anoop Verma, written by Edith Efron, which goes to the core of what I'm driving at. It speaks implicitly to the need to think dialectically, that is, to think in terms of understanding and changing the larger context, upon which political and economic issues depend. Here is that eloquent quote that Anoop has shared with us this morning:

[The libertarian cultist] gulps down a few books by libertarian writers, and rushes to change this society before he has understood either this society or the books. He tends to restrict himself to a shrunken conceptual repertoire. It generally consists of a one-note opposition to the evil of government intervention, and frequently this is the only aspect of social reality of which he seems to be aware. Monumentally important political, social, cultural and intellectual problems leave the cultist indifferent. He is only concerned with government misdeeds. His "thinking", consequently, is eternally out of context, and his value system flattened and hostile. His disconnection from what he often refers to as "the real world" leaves him ignorant of the workings of this society. ~ Edith Efron in Secular Fundamentalism

I know that Anoop and I have had some differences in terms of our evaluation of Trump, but I agree fundamentally with what he is trying to convey in that Efron passage. I shared the post on Facebook, and added a "tongue-in-cheek" comment: "Sounds like the makings of a 'Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy' :) "

I have often argued on the basis of what I have called a "Tri-Level Analysis of Social Relations"---that is a tri-level model of understanding how power is exercised, and, consequently, the kinds of strategies that are needed to fundamentally alter that structure of power. I used it to describe the ways in which Ayn Rand typically approached the analysis of any social problem, but it is a model that one should keep in mind whether or not one accepts Rand's analysis in any specific instance.

The Tri-Level Model of Social Relations of Power

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Readers interested in a fuller explication of the model should look at Part Three of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical and throughout my book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. But the approach is outlined briefly in my essay, "Dialectics and Liberty." In the context of how Rand used the model, I state in that essay:

In her examination of any social problem, Rand focused on the reciprocal connections among personal factors (Level I), that is, a person’s methods of awareness, or "psycho-epistemology," and ethics; cultural factors (Level II), that is, ideology, pedagogy, aesthetics, and language; and structural factors (Level III), that is, politics and economics. For Rand, each level of generality offers both a microcosm and a differential perspective on the growing statism of the mixed economy that was the object of her criticism. (Rand saw that system as an instance of the "New Fascism.") She traced the mutual implications and reciprocal interconnections among disparate factors, from politics and pedagogy to sex, economics, and psychology.
In terms of the implications for a dialectical-libertarian analysis, the important point here is that Rand never emphasized one level of generality or one vantage point to the exclusion of other levels or vantage points. So, for example, even when she'd focus attention on Level III---the nightmarish labyrinth of government taxes, regulations, prohibitions, and laws constraining trade---she was quick to dismiss those who thought that an attack on the state was a social panacea. In the absence of an alteration of Level I and Level II social relations, which have a powerful effect on the character of political and economic practices and institutions, a change in Level III is not likely to be sustainable. For Rand, then, just as statism exerts its nefarious influence on all the levels of human discourse, so too must freedom be understood as a multidimensional achievement.Think Russia or Iraq---where, in the absence of a culture of individualism, all the "democratic" procedural rules in the world are not likely to bring about a free society.
Much like Hayek, Rand proclaimed herself a radical "in the proper sense of the word: 'radical' means 'fundamental.'" And as a "radical for capitalism," Rand argued that "Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries."

And this is why that passage from Edith Efron's Secular Fundamentalism resonates with me.

Since we have been discussing political and economic issues on the Facebook thread to which I posted, any Level III focus must take into account all that is entailed in the "political" and the "economic" (which is why I label that level "structural"). Even if one is attempting to alter the political and economic trends in this country, these trends cannot be changed without grasping the fundamental structures that both reflect these trends and sustain them.

On the eve of celebrating Independence Day, it might be worth remembering that this was a country "conceived in liberty"; it has traveled so far away from the origins of its conception such that the actions of one man cannot possibly change the systemic and dynamic complexities of a system that has been built up over the last century, one that embraces "perpetual war for perpetual peace" and that requires several key institutions that are only the tip of the "Deep State," unresponsive to the electorate, and firmly entrenched to serve the systems they were designed to protect. Three key institutions that must be mentioned in this context are:

1. The Federal Reserve System, which sustains a "state-banking nexus" that, in its policies of boom and bust, redistributes wealth to the most politically potent debtors (the biggest of which are financiers and big businesses that depend on both inflationary policies and government assurances that they are "too big to fail");

2. A National Security State, which even President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address about the growing power of the "military-industrial complex"; and

3. A regulatory apparatus that, since the late nineteenth century, was designed and maintained to benefit the very businesses to be regulated, who have used its various tools to destroy competition and wield control over markets.

With all this in mind, I reproduce below my comments on the various threads dealing with some of the issues surrounding the Trump presidency---issues that go to the core of why a "welfare-warfare state" will not weaken, whether one believes Trump to be a Demon or a Deity.

My first Facebook musings yesterday were posted in response to an essay written by Jim Peron, which effectively dispensed with some of the more idiotic views of journalist David Brooks: "The Enemies of Individualism: Conservatism, Collectivism, and Tribalism." Brooks essentially argues that it is the "atomism" of individualism that leads to the tribalism that is now consuming our political culture. In fact, it is the exact opposite, as Peron argues. I wrote:

Just an aside, Jim: You mention Nathaniel Branden in your essay and, if I can use the phrase, Branden was among the more "dialectically"-minded thinkers within libertarianism who explicitly and completely rejected the so-called "atomism" with which individualism had been slurred. First, Branden attacked the notion that "efficacy" was some sort of Western-biased term:
. . . the need for cognitive efficacy is not the product of a particular cultural "value bias." There is no society on earth, no society even conceivable, whose members do not face the challenges of fulfilling their needs---who do not face the challenges of appropriate adaptation to nature and to the world of human beings. The idea of efficacy in this fundamental sense (which includes competence in human relationships) is not a "Western artifact." . . . We delude ourselves if we imagine there is any culture or society in which we will not have to face the challenge of making ourselves appropriate to life. (Branden, "The Power of Self-Esteem", 1992)
Branden added further:
There are a thousand respects in which we are not alone. . . . As human beings, we are linked to all other members of the human community. As living beings, we are linked to all other forms of life. As inhabitants of the universe, we are linked to everything that exists. We stand within an endless network of relationships. Separation and connectedness are polarities, with each entailing the other. (Branden, "The Psychology of Romantic Love", 1980)
If anything, Branden argued---as did Rand---it was statism and tribalism, not individualism and tribalism, that were reciprocally related to one another. I discuss the statist-tribalist connection in my essay, "Statism and Tribalism: Fraternal Twins"

I contributed an additional comment to that thread, in response to Jim's argument that Trump suffered from a typical narcissistic disorder that helped to explain his "authoritarian personality":

I agree that Trump has all the markings of a person with an authoritarian personality, but since I can't get inside that mind of his---and wouldn't dare try---I can do the next best thing: Look at his actions, and to me, there is nothing that he has done to fundamentally alter the trajectory of U.S. political economy. As an economic nationalist or neomercantilist, his "pragmatic" approach to policy is fully in keeping with how Rand described the U.S. political economy: a neofascist mixed economy, which has been rigged historically to benefit certain interests (mostly financiers and larger capital-intensive industries) at the expense of others. Moreover, I have always accepted the truth of Hayek's proposition that the more politics comes to dominate social and political life, the more political power becomes the only power worth having---which is why "the worst get on top."
Since the institutions of power---be it the Fed, the National Security State, or the regulatory apparatus---have not (and most likely cannot) be altered fundamentally in the absence of a huge cultural shift in this country, anyone who gets into a position of power (even those who profess commitment to Rand's ideas; see my essay, "The New Age of Rand? Ha!") is more likely to become a very part of the swamp they are claiming to be at odds with. And so it goes with Trump. I have absolutely no trust in him or any other politician to be a part of the solution; and as the old adage goes---if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.
On the "narcissistic" aspects of Trump's personality, Jim Peron posted a provocative link, and I understand where he is coming from: all I'm saying is that ultimately, I don't have to wade into the muddy waters of anybody's mind. All I have to do is evaluate what they are doing in practice, and believe me when I tell you: That's enough for me!

A defender of Trump's policies took exception to my placing him in the "neofascist" swamp, in which virtually every politician swims, and I replied:

I think you're missing my point: The point I'm making is that it is the system that needs to be taken down. No one man, not even one with the rhetorical gifts of Ronald Reagan, who made it okay to talk about "free markets" again, and who called the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire," and who stood at the Bradenburg Gate and said, "Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!", was able to do anything to stop the U.S. path down the "road to serfdom." And he actually liked the works of Hayek!
Reagan appointed a Rand acolyte, Alan Greenspan, to run the Federal Reserve System. A "Rand acolyte" would have acted to dissolve the Fed, rather than embrace its inflationary powers to create a bubble that ended in the "Great Recession." My point is that once you get into a position of power, you are a part of the system, and even though you claim to fight it, you do nothing to alter the locus of control, the "state-banking nexus" upon which the Fed generates cycles of boom and bust, the "National Security State" that even Eisenhower warned against in his farewell speech about the "military-industrial complex," and the institutions of the regulatory apparatus that were created and supported by the very businesses to be regulated, who used that apparatus to crush competition. We have ended up with a "permanent war economy"---"perpetual war for perpetual peace" as Harry Elmer Barnes once described it---and not even a President with a moral compass can dismantle it. I'm afraid that tinkering around the edges will do nothing to fundamentally alter the course of national decay. And that's why I maintain that Mr. Trump, especially in his embrace of neo-mercantilist policies of economic nationalism---even if one wishes to believe that these are actually his way of using the "art of the deal" to compel all countries to embrace "free markets" (highly doubtful)---has crawled into the swamp he seeks to drain.

I also added a note about a newly published collection of essays by Murray Rothbard that dealt with the origins of the modern U.S. political economy in the Progressive Era:

BTW, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that a new collection of essays, written years ago by the late Murray Rothbard, has been gathered in a book called The Progressive Era," with a foreword by Judge Andrew P. Napolitano. The book largely confirms your points, Jim, about the illiberal roots of Progressivism, whether it was used to further "conservative" or "liberal" state incursions into the lives of individuals. It follows the emergent history of Progressivism from the age of the railroads, the conflict between Pietists and Liturgicals, the collapse of laissez-faire politics, the rise of corporatism and of "war collectivism"---which ultimately served as a model for many of the welfare state institutions that emerged in the post-World War I era.

Since I'm likely to have more to say in the give-and-take, I'll update my commentary here, as time warrants. But before pursuing any further discussion, I might as well reproduce another comment I made on an entirely different FB thread, initiated by Aeon Skoble, where he bemoans the incivility of the dialogue on many threads, especially those devoted to current political and economic issues:

Well you don't have to convince me about the incivility of posting on public forums, which is why I shut down comments on my blog, never post on any public forums and only cross-post entries from Notablog here, where comments go out to folks who have been "friended"---and I expect that "friended" means civility, or, I'm "movin' out." Life is too short to be aggravated over that kind of incivility.

With that said, I refuse to be dragged into the TDS versus TWS boxing ring. The problems I am focused on here go far beyond the terms of the debate as framed by that false alternative.

Of course, my FB post elicited responses, and I'll devote the space below just to expanding on the comments I have already made on this topic.

On using tariffs as a response to countries that place tariffs on U.S. goods, I replied:

Even when your trading partners erect trade barriers, raising your own tariffs achieves two things: it penalizes American consumers who are forced to purchase imported goods at higher prices, and it artificially raises profits for domestic industries protected by the tariff. The "free market" is not of a bygone era---it is an era that has yet to come.
Don't take my comments to mean that I endorse NAFTA or any other government-arranged trade "deals": the U.S. government has been engaged in large-scale transfers of money to "friends" and "foes" alike, and often, what these programs require is that the money be spent to enrich U.S. producers (that has always been the basis of "foreign aid"---in essence, the global expropriation of American taxpayers to benefit U.S. producers of military hardware and other goods, who receive these funds circuitously). The whole system is rigged.
If Trump can use his "art of the deal" to try to "un-rig" the system, more power to him: But what I've been emphasizing is once you are part of the system, it is the system's dynamics that overtake the man, whether you believe him to be a Demon or a Deity.

With regard to remaining friends on Facebook, despite disagreement, I added:

Oh, for God's sake, I know that [it's okay to remain friends and disagree on issues]. None of us is perfect, and I'd be the last one not to engage in a respectful civil dialogue---or to encourage one---when I advocate something called "dialectical libertarianism", and "dialectic" had its root in the art of conversation, the art of engaging different points of view (long before I defined it as "the art of context-keeping").
If we can't disagree, in good spirit, then what's the point? Life would be very boring. And the moment we can't disagree, it will be a sign that "Time's Up"---in more than one way. I appreciate all this.

With regard to someone who remarked that I went "overboard" in my praise of Reagan and that my post went on a bit long, I responded:

[With regard to Ronald Reagan] I was only talking about the rhetorical Reagan: I think in the long run, he did shift the political culture a bit, but ultimately, the critiques of his administration offered by folks like David Stockman, are spot on. As for length: Jeez... that's to be expected from a guy who had to write three books to make one essential point.

In response to somebody who accepted the irrationality of those suffering from both TDS and TWS, but who argued that the TDS folks were far louder and numerous, I responded:

I think that the TDS folks are louder---but I think this is to be expected. When an administration is in power, it is the opposition that is always louder.
Do a mental experiment. Let's just say that Clinton was elected. Given that the electorate was practically split, do you not think that some folks who chanted "Lock Her Up" at the GOP convention would not be suffering from CDS ("Clinton Derangement Syndrome")---especially since Trump was "trumpeting" that if Clinton had won, it would only be because the election was "rigged"?
I can't offer an alternative reality, but I do suspect that if Clinton had won (and let me make one thing clear: I did not vote for Clinton OR Trump), the GOP-dominated House and Senate would have embarked on committee after committee hearing into everything from her "lost" emails to the machinations of the Clinton Foundation to reopening the Benghazi incident. And given the "Lock Her Up" sentiment among Clinton's opposition, I think we may very well have faced as divided and belligerent a dialogue as we are seeing now.

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.

May 20, 2018

Song of the Day #1577

Song of the Day: That's the Way Love Goes features the words and music of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Charles Bobbit, and Janet Jackson, with samples credited to James Brown, Fred Wesley, and John "Jabo" Starks. This sensual Grammy-winning R&B downtempo song was the lead single from Jackson's fifth studio album, "Janet," topping the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks (the longest reign atop that chart of any Jackson family member!), and remains the only single in chart history to debut at #1 on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop Airplay Chart. Check out the music video and the soulful album version [YouTube links]. At the end of a weekend of Royal love, and with Justify now vying for a Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Royalty, tonight Janet ("Miss Jackson, If you're Nasty") will offer up a bit of American musical royalty with a medley of her hits as she receives the Icon Trophy on the Billboard Music Awards, televised on NBC.

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!

March 27, 2018

Ayn Rand and the World She Knew

The title of this blog entry is a take-off on Anne Heller's biography, Ayn Rand and the World She Made. The reason for this will become apparent.

I've been having a conversation with a few friends, and among the issues we were discussing was why it seemed that the novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand set herself up against so many on the left and the right, and burned so many bridges to folks across the political spectrum, who might have been her allies.

It is as if Rand and her acolytes created a world, a "Galt's Gulch" of their own, which became hermetically sealed from the rest of the world. Even as Rand warned against the fallacy of "thinking in a square," too many of her devoted followers have been incapable of stepping out of that box and critically engaging with the wider intellectual world.

This is not just a debate between those who have advocated a "closed system" approach, which views Rand's thought as consisting only of whatever she wrote or endorsed in her lifetime, versus those who have argued that Rand's philosophy is an open system: that is, we can agree on the fundamentals she set forth in each of the major branches of her philosophy, but that with intellectual evolution over time, there will be many additional contributions that will fill in the many gaps that were left by Rand and consistent with her fundamentals.

On this point, I've always had one major question for those on either side of the divide: Where do we draw the line as to what is "essential" or "nonessential" or "fundamental" or "not fundamental" to Objectivism?

o Her views on why a woman should not be President?
o Her views on the "disgusting" character of homosexuality and on the sexual roles played by men and women?
o Her views on Native Americans?
o Her very specific tastes in painting, sculpture, film, literature, and music?

And the list goes on and on and on. I've never quite heard a satisfactory answer to these questions. It is ironic, too, that so many advocates of the "closed system" approach almost always find a way to bracket out of that closed system the very real contributions made by both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden---when Rand herself argued that the work of these individuals, prior to her break with them in 1968, were among "the only authentic sources of information on Objectivism."

And regardless of whether one ascribes to a "closed" or "open" system approach, what is the ultimate goal of those who claim to be Rand's intellectual progeny? To be consistent with "Objectivism" or to be consistent with reality? In one sense, the work of anybody influenced by Rand may not be consistent with "Objectivism" but consistent with a "Randian" approach to philosophy and social theory, broadly understood. To this extent, "we are all Randians now."

One thing I think is fairly clear, however: Over her lifetime, Rand definitely became more and more insulated and isolated, unwilling to engage those on the left or the right. And even though she clearly had no problem with "purges" during the days of the Nathaniel Branden Institute, today, those associated with the Ayn Rand Institute have turned such "purges" into an art form.

But I think that at least with regard to Ayn Rand, too many people on either side of the "closed" or "open" system debate tend to be extremely ahistorical in their understanding of Rand's intellectual evolution, which sheds light on why she became more isolated and less ecumenical in her approach to her perceived opponents.

I have argued in my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, that, despite her claim of challenging the ideas of 2,500 years of cultural and philosophic thought, neither she nor anyone could possibly extricate themselves from the culture in which they were embedded as they came to intellectual maturity. Every thinker---every person---is of a particular time and place.

On this point, it must be understood that there was always a genuine Russian streak in Rand insofar as she was both a novelist and a philosopher. Throughout the history of the Russian literary tradition, especially during the Silver Age, when Rand was born and came to intellectual maturity, writers were almost always considered both novelists and philosophers (or at the very least advocates of a certain set of intellectual ideas), and virtually all of these writers found themselves on the outskirts of power, using literature as a means to struggle against various kinds of social oppression. Dostoevsky comes to mind and Rand, of course, was a great admirer of Dostoevsky’s methods, especially his penchant for using various characters as expressions of certain ideas.

It therefore comes as no surprise that when asked whether she was a novelist or a philosopher, Rand answered: "Both." She is also on record as saying that virtually all novelists are philosophers whether they wish to be characterized as such or not; it is just a question of whether they choose to express their philosophical ideas or assumptions explicitly or implicitly. Most, of course, were writers of implicit "mixed" premises. For Rand, the realm of ideas was inescapable for novelists. She was a master of projecting philosophical ideas in the context of fiction---a very Russian project. And like all the Russian dissident writers before her, those ideas were almost always opposed to the status quo, seeking to alter it fundamentally. In the end, Rand may not have become a full-fledged technical philosopher, but she was a fully radical social theorist, much like her Russian forebears.

Rand did say that the goal of her writing was the projection of the ideal man (and whether she meant it or not, the ideal woman as well). She realized that she had achieved at least a certain aspect of that goal in her creation of Howard Roark, the triumphant architect in The Fountainhead. But she turned to the larger social questions in Atlas Shrugged because, as she has written, there could be no projection of ideal men or ideal women without also projecting the kinds of social relations that such individuals required in order to fully flourish, to bring forth their talents and creativity in a social environment. Sociality was inescapable. Don’t be fooled by all her comments about how “society” doesn’t exist, that only individuals exist. She stated many, many times that “society” must be treated as a unit of analysis, insofar as it constituted the various social relations among individuals. These relations were expressed in organizations, institutions, and throughout civil society. So the reason she became such an unbending advocate of capitalism “the unknown ideal” was because she recognized that the fullest flowering of ideal individuals could not occur under social conditions that were anything less than free. Even in her essays on the conflict of men’s interests, she says that in a less-than-free society, conflicts are a necessary part of the kinds of social relations that both reflect and perpetuate the various forms of statism that had so distorted the character of human social interaction.

Rand may never have wanted to become a technical philosopher, but she was writing nonfiction essays early in her career and the equivalent of philosophical tracts within every novel she authored. You can find these in Anthem, We the Living, The Fountainhead, and, of course, Atlas. Her first nonfiction book, For the New Intellectual, basically extracted all of the philosophical speeches from her works of fiction to show the kinds of ideas she was projecting, even if she had not yet reached the point of full integration. But it is there, right in her novels.

So many people from so many political persuasions were attracted to aspects of her thought. Even Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama admitted to having gone through a "Rand" phase. But Rand would have had none of it. Over time, she had systematically demonized conservative, liberals, libertarians, and socialists. But she once stated that her appeal was ultimately to the nontraditional conservatives and the nontotalitarian liberals. I think that as she aged, she realized there were fewer and fewer representatives of those groups.

Among conservatives, she became increasingly frustrated by the ways in which they seemed to “water down” the defense of a free society: she watched as the conservative movement, so committed to the Old Right ideas of noninterventionism both at home and abroad, morphed into a group of rabid anticommunists, hell-bent on fighting a Cold War without end, endorsing everything from military conscription and the emergence of the National Security State to fighting in wars that she opposed (from World War II to Korea and Vietnam). And then there were those conservatives who embraced the Jim Crow laws of apartheid in the South as a means of perpetuating institutional racism, which utterly disgusted her. As the years went by, and her close relationships with those among the Old Right collapsed, she witnessed how conservatives increasingly embraced a religious defense of capitalism, while she was fighting for the idea that capitalism must be defended as the only rational and moral social system (an odd parallel with those atheistic, secular leftists who fought for "scientific socialism").

As for the libertarians, I think a lot of Rand's falling out with that group was due to her experiences with folks from the Circle Bastiat (Murray Rothbard chief among them). I think she was so appalled by the idea of anarcho-capitalism (as both ahistorical and acontextual) that she ended up branding all libertarians as anarchists, something she did not do in the late 1940s and early 1950s (when she even referred to Mises as a “libertarian” and was apt to consider herself a libertarian strictly in terms of her politics). But she lived during a time when, to her, "libertarianism" was as much of a mixed bag as conservatism. And when Rothbard became Mr. Libertarian, she became increasingly hostile to a group of fellow travelers in politics (most of them advocates of limited government rather than of anarcho-capitalism). She repudiated libertarians as "hippies of the right," who then turned around and attacked her with as much ferocity as the religious and traditional conservatives.

Finally, I should add that Jeff Riggenbach has made a persuasive case that Rand had a decisive impact on those among the New Left, those he termed the “disowned children of Ayn Rand," but who were, at various points in their lives, inspired by her call to individualism and to activism (and this included an impact on the emergence of individualist feminism and the gay liberation movement). But, of course, Rand was just as adamantly opposed to the New Left as she was to the conservatives and the libertarians.

So what are we left with? We’re left with a woman who wanted very much to reach the minds of people on all ends of the political spectrum, in the hopes that she could decisively alter the trajectory of American politics. And in the end, she had made so many enemies on the left and the right that it became almost impossible for her---or any of her acolytes---to truly engage their philosophical opponents. And those opponents became so hostile to Rand that they sought to remove her from the canon as a thinker worthy only of disdain and dismissal.

Rand's acolytes have only dug-in their heels in response to such attacks, clinging to a siege mentality that cultivated isolation from the wider world. Either you were for Rand in toto or opposed; either you were among the Chosen or the Damned.

For those of us who are so inclined, I think it is essential to address those on the left and the right in a spirit of critical but respectful engagement. That has been the strategy of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. This was a woman who fought the Welfare-Warfare state, who battled on the front lines against U.S. entry into World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and who understood the institutional workings of the warfare state---as much as she fought against the regulatory state that enriched certain business interests at the expense of others and a welfare bureaucracy that became inevitable.

Rand reminded us that those who fight in the future must live in it today. She fought for that future and advocated the kinds of ideas that she believed were essential to the fundamental social change that was possible---and necessary---to the survival of the human species.

February 04, 2018

Rand as Social Theorist

In a Facebook thread, a question was raised as to whether Ayn Rand had created a complete philosophical system and I remarked:

Just as an aside, I think that in many ways, I have dealt with Rand as a radical social theorist who presented a systematic critique of statism based on broad principles in the major branches of philosophy. She constructed a genuinely radical and critical understanding of social relations of power in a system biased toward state control of our lives. I construct a "tri-level model" in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism that shows how that model plays out, that is, how Rand indicts contemporary social relations as they are manifested on reciprocally related levels of generality: the personal (entailing psycho-epistemological, psychological, ethical practices); the cultural (entailing aesthetic, pedagogical, and educational practices); and the structural (entailing political and economic practices and institutions).
Whatever the "orthodox" view, I do not consider Objectivism a closed system, when Rand herself said that nobody in their own lifetime could possibly complete a philosophical system. She knew there were large gaps in her philosophical writings, and left it to future generations to work toward that goal [of filling in the gaps]. In the end, the truth of such a system will not be its consistency with Rand's views but its consistency with reality.
What I do credit Rand with is having presented the rudiments of a system in language that most laypeople could understand; when you consider that so much of contemporary philosophy is impenetrable in its jargon---that was an accomplishment. And she has inspired so many others in the individualist and classical liberal / libertarian traditions to "fill in the blanks". It's a theoretical project that will be going on for a very long time to come.

January 15, 2018

US Foreign Intervention and the Problem of "S&!#Hole" Diplomacy

President Trump has gotten a lot of flack for advocating a more "European"-based immigration policy, cutting back on the influx of immigration from "shithole" places like Haiti and Africa. He mentioned Norway as one place whose immigrants would be welcome to U.S. shores. Of course, considering that so many folks on U.S. terrorist watchlists travel to the U.S. with European visas, including all those Muslims that Trump loves, it would not be too long before he'd call for a ban on European immigration too.

But I wanted to share a link to a fine essay by Ryan McMaken on the "Mises Wire," entitled: "Now's a Great Time to Stop Meddling in Haiti." If folks want a history lesson on how some of the places the President disparages become "shitholes," this is a good primer essay.

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."

October 08, 2017

Russian Radical 2.0: Another Review and Forthcoming Response

One can find a new review (among others) of the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, on both amazon.com and Goodreads, written by Ilene Skeen.

Skeen's five-star review unleashed the hounds, again, especially one named Brad Aisa, who never loses an opportunity to dump on the book. I wrote on one Facebook thread, in response to Mr. AisA, the following:

As Ronnie Reagan once said: "There you go again." I will therefore re-post this material from an October 2016 discussion of the book, where I revealed that Brad Aisa had a very different view of the book when it first came out. He made a January 1996 comment on the usenet group alt.philosophy.objectivism. Today, the book he dismisses as "a giant pile of stinking hogwash," despite its "reasonable" first part, once said that he was "quite perplexed reading the entire first section of the book." But he admits back in 1996, that "Sciabarra's regard for Rand is obvious, and there is no evidence he is trying to smear or attack her..." And he even had a couple of kind things to say about the middle section that he now dismisses as "schtick" and "grievously flawed". In January 1996, he wrote: "The middle section of Sciabarra's book seemed to me to be an honest thinker's attempt to summarize Objectivism and relate it to Rand's fiction." Finally, he reveals a high regard for Part 3 of the book:
.
The final section [that would be Part 3, "The Radical Rand"] was the only really valuable part of the book, in my view -- an attempt to show the relationship between philosophic ideas and culture, using Objectivism as the subject. I think that many Objectivists could greatly benefit from studying what Sciabarra points out in this section. Philosophic ideas do not exist in a vacuum, and there is a profound interrelationship between culture and philosophic ideas, which is NOT one way. For example, statist political regimes have a very demonstrable effect on what kminds of ideas are taught and promulgated, and free societies likewise. The notions in this section are not absent from Objectivist writings -- for example see: Ayn Rand's essay "Our Cultural Value-Deprivation" (_The Objectivist_, Apr 66) wherein she discusses the relationship between cultural and individual development; and Edith Packer's essay "The Psychological Requirements of a Free Society" (_The Objectivist Forum_, Feb 84), wherein she explains the interrelationship between free thinking people and a free culture -- but some Objectivists seem to latch onto the notion of "philosophy determines history", and not realize the context of that idea, and the profound interre.lationships be.tween the spread of ideas, the content of ideas, and individual and cultural practice.
.
He has never addressed these comments that he made over 20 years ago, instead, joining the old chorus of critics who never lose an opportunity to denounce the book, virtually in its entirety, with no real understanding of the book's central methodological thesis. It is a thesis that Ilene Skeen grasps so well in the review: "The question Sciabarra raises for me, which I find riveting, even revolutionary, is what is there about Rand’s method that allows her to disregard all the methods and their many variations, and still wind up with a complete, cogent and organic philosophical whole? To my knowledge, no other book intended for the lay market has stimulated that question, framed as Sciabarra has done . . ."
Whether or not Ilene agrees with all of my answers is beside the point; at the very least Ilene acknowledges what is the central methodological thesis; my focus in that book had more to do with how Rand was exposed to, and may have absorbed aspects of, the dialectical method, a method that was in the intellectual air of Silver Age Russia---a method that was first fully articulated by Aristotle himself, whom even Hegel called "the fountainhead" of dialectical inquiry.
I will only add that I will be addressing the critics of Russian Radical 2.0 in a forthcoming article in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, and what I reveal there should raise a few eyebrows, to say the least.

September 29, 2017

Michael Southern: Triumphs and Tragedy

In May 1981, I had earned my undergraduate degree magna cum laude from New York University, with a triple major in politics, economics, and history (with honors). To say I was stoked to have been accepted to the NYU doctoral program in politics, where I would go on in 1983, to earn a master's degree in political theory, and in 1988, a Ph.D. with distinction in political theory, philosophy, and methodology, is an understatement. I was positively ecstatic.

I had, by this time, laid out a path of professional goals that merged my passionate libertarian political convictions with a rigorous course of study that would include seminars and colloquia with scholars that only New York University could offer. I would study with such Austrian-school economists as Israel Kirzner, Mario Rizzo, Don Lavoie, and others, as well as leftist political and social theorists such as Bertell Ollman and Wolf Heydebrand. In this combustible intersection of ideas, there would emerge the seeds of what would become a life-long commitment to the development of a "dialectical libertarianism", and a trilogy of books---Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism---that would articulate the foundations of that approach.

Alas, these scholarly goals were made all the more joyful to achieve because of so many individuals whose lives touched mine in ways that were fundamental both to my intellectual and personal growth as a human being.

One of these individuals was a guy named Michael Southern. It was September 1981, my first day as an NYU graduate student, when I walked into Professor Israel Kirzner's seminar on the "History of Economic Thought." Looking around the room, few seats were available, so I found myself sitting next to Michael. When Kirzner finished his first lecture, logically structured as one would expect from any esteemed student of the great Ludwig von Mises, I introduced myself to Michael. He seemed a little shy at first, but I think he was genuinely surprised by my friendliness and that unmistakable Brooklyn accent. We went to a local cafe and talked for a very long time. I got to know a lot about him in that first encounter.

I learned, for example, that he was two years older than me, almost to the day: I was born on February 17, 1960; he was born on February 23, 1958. I also learned that he hailed from Massachusetts, and was a rabid Boston Red Sox fan. Back then, that was almost a non-starter for me.

After all, I was and remain a New York Yankees fanatic. We jousted and dueled over the Curse of the Bambino, and argued about who really deserved the American League MVP for the 1978 baseball season: the Red Sox hot-hitting outfielder Jim Rice or the Yankee pitching ace, and Cy Young Award winner, Ron Guidry, who went 25-3, with a 1.74 ERA. In 1978, the Yankees were 14 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in July, and on the last day of the season, they found themselves in a tie for first place. And, I argued, no man was more valuable to that team than Guidry, who had pitched back-to-back two-hit shutouts against Boston down the stretch, and won the deciding extra 163rd game of the season, enabling the Yanks to advance to the AL Championship series against the Kansas City Royals, and ultimately to win their second straight World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Michael was going on and on about Rice's hitting. Blah, blah, blah.

In any event, it wasn't Guidry's victory that was the most memorable aspect of that deciding game; it was a miraculous 3-run homer hit over Fenway Park's Green Monster by the Yankee shortstop Bucky "F*&%ing" Dent, as Michael put it, who had hit a measly four homers prior to this game throughout the entire season. But that homer lifted the Yanks ahead for good. I guess Michael was still a little bitter. For Dent, apparently, was as beloved by Boston fans as Bill "F*&%ing" Buckner, whose fielding error in Game Six of the 1986 World Series, ultimately allowed the New York Mets to win the trophy in Game Seven. Even this diehard Yankees fan reveled in Boston's loss that year! Oh was it fun locking horns with Michael on these issues.

Animated baseball disagreements aside, it was clear that Michael and I had a lot in common; we were both avid fans of Ayn Rand, devoted readers of Nathaniel Branden, extremely interested in politics and culture, lovers of film and of music from jazz to progressive rock. All he had to say was that he had seen my favorite jazz pianist Bill Evans perform live, and that he had fallen in love with the emotional depth of his music, and I just knew that there was something very special about this man.

Over time, our friendship deepened; he'd tell me about some trouble he was having with a girl he was dating, I'd tell him about my own dating woes; we talked about our families, our friends, our goals, our triumphs, and our tragedies. He had extraordinary qualities about him; he was perceptive, intelligent, gentle, kind, compassionate, and had a great sense of humor.

By holiday time in December, that sense of humor manifested itself on both sides of the baseball divide. Michael gifted me a Jim Rice T-shirt, which I own till this day, and I gifted him a Ron Guidry T-shirt. Such was the nature of our developing affection for one another.

He had taken a waiter's job at the Cheese Cellar on East 54th Street in Manhattan, which became a regular stop for me and my family. The waiter's service was terrific, I might add. As he got to know my jazz guitarist brother Carl and jazz vocalist sister-in-law Joanne, and saw them perform at so many jazz clubs in Manhattan, loving their music, he eventually offered to do a website for them (as he would eventually develop my own website---all for free).

But something was troubling him deeply, early in that first semester, as the class with Kirzner continued. I'm paraphrasing the conversation from memory, but it went something like this. He said to me: "I can see you coming from blocks away. You just have a way about you. It's in your walk. Your step. It's never timid, but it's not overbearing. It's just the walk of a man comfortable in his own body, walking purposefully to his destination, wherever that might be. The way you walk is a bit of an inspiration to me. I just don't walk that way. I don't feel that way inside."

My walk? Lord . . . I'd never even given a second thought to the way I walked. And here, my friend was telling me that there was something in my walk that inspired him, and that made him focus on the things that he felt he lacked. He had attended weekend Intensives in New York run by Nathaniel Branden and his wife Devers Branden, and felt that they had tapped into something that needed greater attention.

I was no professional, but I was becoming a very dear and trusted friend. I tried to help him through it, with long phone conversations into the wee hours, but he seemed stuck, unable to get through a term paper for Kirzner's class. It was then that he made a momentous decision that I figured spelled the end of a friendship; he decided he was too overwhelmed by the course, that something deeper was at work, and that he needed help. As he put it later in "My Years with Nathaniel Branden," a deeply personal essay written for The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposium, "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy":

For the third time, I'd finished reading The Psychology of Self-Esteem, Breaking Free, and The Disowned Self, all books by Nathaniel Branden. I placed my meager belongings in a backpack, went to the Registrar's Office at New York University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, officially withdrew from Graduate School, booked a flight, and in two days landed at Los Angeles International airport; I had come to be a client of Nathaniel Branden.
Prior to my time at NYU, I had finished an undergraduate degree with honors. I was thrilled when I got accepted to NYU, to study the history of economic thought under Israel Kirzner, who had been a student of Ludwig von Mises­---both being giants in the field to me. And as it all nicely fell into place, I froze.
I don't ever remember this happening to me before. While Kirzner's class was better than even I had anticipated, I couldn't write the paper for the course. I sat at home, or at the library with ten and twelve books piled up in front of me, but I couldn't begin. Anything I thought about writing seemed trivial after a little research. I began to panic so that the more I tried to push myself, the greater the feeling that whatever I produced wouldn't be enough. I tried everything I knew to get myself "back on track." I believed I had something to offer, but I was paralyzed, much like an actor might experience stage fright. I spoke with Kirzner, and he was kind and logical and gave me some suggestions, but I was too in awe of him to show just how lost I was in terms of generating a paper. It seemed an emotional block, not an intellectual one; how could I ask for his help for an emotional problem? I understood the coursework, and the books on his reading list. I just couldn't seem to create.
...
Sitting in an outdoor cafe in the Village I reached in my backpack for The Disowned Self. I ordered coffee, threw the waiter a gigantic tip so he'd leave me alone, lit a cigarette (you could do that back then), and read the entire book, slowly, making notes; the lights and noise of the West Village turned on around me as night fell.
The next day I headed for Los Angeles, wanting to resolve, heal, and grow. I was beginning to suspect that I had had a particularly difficult childhood, and had responded to it by shutting down huge parts of myself.

To my surprise, Michael and I never lost touch. He was in therapy with Nathaniel Branden, and making strides. Every so often, we'd speak, not so much about the details of his therapy, but more about how he was challenging himself to keep moving . . . forward. Sometimes a month would pass, or two, and he'd call, and it was as if the last conversation had occurred only an hour ago; we picked up where we left off, never missing a beat. And during this period, as I faced my own trials and tribulations---with everything from relationships to my health problems (an outgrowth of a congenital intestinal condition)---he was as present and tuned-in to me, as I was to him. This was never a one-way street; the friendship that I thought would be lost by distance, had intensified. And the feeling that he was a "brotha from another mutha" only deepened. It was clear that we loved one another as only brothers could---something that geographic distance did nothing to alter.

As Michael explained in that wonderful essay of his, he was able to work through so many of his problems; he credited Nathaniel Branden and Devers Branden with saving years of his life. He would become an intern for Branden and then an office manager at Branden's Biocentric Institute in Beverly Hills, California. He'd go back to school to earn a master of science in management from Lesley College and a master of science in information systems from Boston University. As a technology specialist, he did wonderful work for Fortune 500 companies.

Through all the years, our friendship only grew. He would go on to develop my website, and the original website of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. In fact, he was a member of the JARS family from its beginnings in 1999, as we unveiled the website on the day that our first issue was published. While I remained with NYU as a Visiting Scholar for twenty years (I guess you could say I bleed "violet"), he would travel the world. He was never so far away, however, that he didn't participate once or twice in my cyberseminars on "Dialectics and Liberty." Eventually he married, and even moved back to New York City for a while, living in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.

There were bumps along the way---though never between us. His marriage didn't work out, his work took him out of New York again, and his interests, especially in the history of the Holocaust, took him to other countries. But again, geographic distance never seemed to interfere with our friendship. Eventually, he came back to the states, and his software expertise gave him many job opportunities, including business with a company in Detroit, Michigan, where he worked for several years.

Indeed, his software expertise was certainly highly valued by JARS; the two of us worked hard in 2015-2016 as he created a brand spanking-new website for the journal, which made its debut with the Nathaniel Branden symposium, to which he contributed that enormously revealing and enlightening essay.

In many ways, writing that essay was, for Michael, a catharsis of sorts; while it served the greater symposium's purpose of understanding the work and legacy of Branden, it also served as a profoundly personal statement of how Michael stood up courageously to the challenges he faced. It was a commitment to a life of promise, of so much more to come.

Immediately after the debut of the new JARS site and the publication of our Branden symposium, Michael began working on a prototype to finally revamp my website, which, he said, "embarrassed" him because he'd become so much more sophisticated in his software development. We had so many plans for so many projects.

But, of course, life always seemed to get in the way of smooth transitions. As my own health problems became more difficult to bear, he spent as many hours on the phone with me in 2016, as I had spent on the phone with him in 1981, except that now, we both knew each other so well that we could complete each other's sentences, anticipate each other's thoughts. Thirty-five-plus years will do that.

We last spoke in early September about the website and a few other issues; Lord knows, we still had our differences with regard to sports teams (though I was enough of a good sport to congratulate him back in 2004, when his Red Sox finally beat the Yankees, and went on to win their first World Series since 1918). We even had developed a few political differences. But nothing ever affected our mutual love, admiration, and respect for one another. When I'd call him on the phone, he'd answer "Chris!"---as if with an exclamation point. There was always joy in his voice when he heard mine on the other end of the phone. And if I needed to cry because of a slew of unending medical or personal problems, the gentility with which he treated me was just the medicine I needed.

We last corresponded on September 11th. A few days passed by, and I hadn't heard back from him, so I wrote him again. Still, no reply.

I figured he was busy or traveling, but it was unlike him not to reply to an email. So on the weekend of September 23rd, I called him on both his personal and business lines and left voice mail. It was comforting to hear his voice, even if it was automated, telling callers to leave a message. So I left messages. And still, no reply.

On Tuesday, September 26th, I got an email from his cousin, who lived in Waco, Texas, where Michael had been staying. She told me to give her a call. My heart dropped. I knew that this meant something had happened to Michael; maybe he was in a hospital. Maybe something worse. I called her immediately.

She told me that Michael had been pursuing new business in Detroit, a city where he had once worked for so many years.

And then she told me that his body was found at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, September 19th; he had been killed by gunshots. Police are investigating the crime as a homicide.

I have suffered many losses in my life. I lost my father suddenly to a massive coronary, when I was 12 years old. I lost my Uncle Sam, who was like a second father to me, in 1994, to prostate cancer. I lost my mother in 1995, before my first two books were published, after five years of being one of her primary care-givers, as she struggled with the ravages of lung cancer and the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. I've lost many loving friends and relatives over the years, in circumstances that were painful and difficult.

But absolutely nothing could have possibly prepared me for the grief that I felt upon hearing that one of my best friends in the whole wide world had just lost his life by a wanton act of brutality. I had the phone in my hands, tears streaming down my face, stunned, shocked, horrified, feeling literally destroyed. My heart had not been broken; it had felt as if it had been completely shattered. I still can't quite wrap my mind around this event.

Michael's funeral is scheduled for Monday, October 2, 2017 in Waco, Texas. My health issues prevent me from attending his funeral. But my heart goes out to his family and friends, who so loved him, and who suffer with unimaginable grief.

I pray that justice will be done, and that the murderer will be apprehended.

But nothing will bring Michael back.

The December 2017 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies will be dedicated to Murray Franck (1946-2017), who died this past July, and to Michael Southern (1958-2017). Both of these men were part of the JARS family from the very beginning, and deserve to be so honored. But they were both among the dearest human beings and friends I've ever known. To have lost both of them within two months of one another is unbelievable. But to have lost Michael in such a violent manner is just beyond tragic. He didn't deserve this ending. The pain of this loss is almost unbearable.

Rest in peace, dear friend. You made such a difference in the lives of so many people. And you made a difference in my life. I will honor you and remember you for the rest of my days. And I will miss you until the day I die.

Postscript (October 2, 2017): I posted a link to this tribute to Facebook, and was comforted by how many folks have shared the post and shared their condolences with me, both publicly and privately; I added this to my own Facebook thread:

Thanks to everyone who shared my post and who have expressed their condolences to me, both privately and publicly, here and elsewhere. Anyone who was fortunate to know Michael was blessed by his presence in their lives. And I express my condolences to all of you for this loss.
Today is Michael's funeral in Waco, Texas. It's also a day that I awake to hear that this country has just experienced the worst mass shooting in its history, this time in Las Vegas, with over 50 people shot to death and over 200 injured. Not counting the folks I knew who were murdered on 9/11, I have never had the experience of having lost a loved one to a shooting. This morning, I send my empathy and condolences to those who are mourning the deaths of their own loved ones who have died in this massacre.
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Savagery and brutality have always been a part of the human condition; that is not a comforting thought, however. What is comforting is that there are still far more people in this world who care and who will not give into the fear of such carnage, even when it hits so close to home.

September 25, 2017

All Rise for The Judge

Since the 2017 season began, I have been watching the young Bronx Bombers (aka "the Baby Bombers") with great interest. In my playbook, with the era of the Core Four long gone, and a young group being nourished in the big leagues right before our eyes, I would have been satisfied with a season in which wins outweighed losses. But it now appears that the young Yanks are headed for at least a wild card playoff game, their first postseason appearance since 2015. That's more than any fan could have asked for.

I have taken special interest in Yankee outfielder Aaron Judge. The rookie had a great first half and then put on a majestic show for the All-Star Home Run Derby at Marlins Park, becoming the first rookie to win the competition outright (hitting a total of 47 HRs, including four that travelled over 500 feet, one of them measuring 513 feet). He cooled off a bit after the All-Star break, but showed great poise throughout that slump.

Slump no more. Whereas yesterday, many in the National Football League gave the President a knee to the groin, today, I rise for the Judge. Aaron hit two home runs against the Kansas City Royals in a Yankee 11-3 win. After hitting two home runs yesterday, Judge went deep for another two today, reaching a total, thus far, of 50 Home Runs for the season. His 50 home runs this season breaks the all-time Major League Baseball season record for a rookie, previously held by Mark McGwire (yes, he of the Steroid Era).

Whatever happens in the postseason, I think the Yankees have a lot of youthful potential for a wonderful future. Today, Judge joins an exclusive club of great Yankees who have had seasons of 50 or more home-runs. This list now includes only five Yankees, three of whom did it in the non-Steroid era: Babe Ruth (who did it four times); Mickey Mantle (who did it twice); and Roger Maris. (Alex Rodriguez hit 54 for the Bombers in 2007---but this was during the Steroid Era.)

I think Judge wins the American League Rookie of the Year hands-down. He has not only amassed 50 home runs, but is the first Yankee right-handed hitter to have at least 110 walks, 110 runs scored, and over 100 RBIs in a single season (Mantle held such records, but he was a miraculous switch-hitter). An argument can be made for Judge having Most Valuable Player credentials; but even if he does not get the American League MVP, he has certainly been this season's Yankee MVP.

Either way, congratulations to Aaron Judge. And... GO YANKEES!!!

September 16, 2017

WFAN-AM: My 2 Minutes and 30 Seconds of Fame

So let me report on my 2 minutes and 30 seconds of chit-chat on New York Sports Radio WFAN-AM (660), where I called the knowledgeable and hilarious sports commentator, Steve Somers sometime around midnight. I was a first-time caller, and once I was screened, I was put in the queue, as I waited for Steve to announce "Chris from Brooklyn."

The reason for my call was because a few nights ago, I was listening to his broadcast, and a gentleman had called from the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn (the neighborhood one step removed from my Gravesend section of the county of Kings). Steve remembered that Bensonhurst was home to Lafayette High School, famous for its many sports alumni. They mentioned Dodgers pitching Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, the wonderful Mets reliever John Franco, and Mets owner Fred Wilpon (whom Steve affectionately calls "Fred Coupon" for his unwillingness to spend any money to improve the Mets organization). And then, the guy from Bensonhurst got stuck and said something about another Lafayette alumnus, named "Marv," who ran with Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics. And Somers wondered, because the guy couldn't be talking about sports announcer Marv Albert, who was born six years after those Olympic games, and was actually a graduate of another Brooklyn educational institution: Abraham Lincoln High School.

So I'm sitting home, and screaming at the radio: "Not Marv Albert"---it was that other voice of New York Knicks basketball (for 21 years), mentor to Albert, and famous also as the radio voice of the football New York Giants (for 23 years), among other sports: Marty Glickman. And Glickman was not a graduate of Lafayette High School, but of James Madison High School. I should know, because my Mom was in the same graduating class as Glickman, and she remembered what a great athlete he was.

So I called for two straight nights and couldn't get through; lo and behold, I got through after midnight today, and finally spoke to Steve on the air! It was a hoot. First I told him, very sincerely, that I thought he was the most entertaining guy in sports commentary, and that anyone who uses snippets from films like "The Ten Commandments" to make fun of sports moments was out of this world. He couldn't thank me enough.

So we finally turned to the nature of my call, and I reported the facts to him. I told him that the guy from Bensonhurst was actually referring to Marty Glickman; of course, Steve knew immediately about the Great Glickman, and we spoke a bit about the superb HBO documentary on his life. It was actually Glickman and fellow runner Sam Stoller, who were removed at the last minute from the track and field events at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. We recalled that the U.S. didn't want to embarrass or offend Adolf Hitler, the host of the games by having two Jewish American athletes on the Olympic field. Of course, Hitler ate dirt anyway, because one of the athletes who took the place of Glickman and Stoller was Owens, who went on to win the Gold Medal.

When I told Steve that my Mom had been a member of Glickman's senior class at Madison High, he mentioned "Ah! Six Degrees of Separation." He added that Brooklyn had given the world so many famous people, including Barbra Streisand from Erasmus Hall High School.

So my 2 minutes and 30 seconds were over, and knowing I was a first-time caller, he told me to call back anytime.

Now that was a lot of fun!

August 22, 2017

The Trouble with Trump and with "Antifa"

Recently, I have been deeply critical of President Trump, especially with regard to his tepid response to the mini-Nuremberg-like rallies of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in places like Charlottesville, Virginia (whether they have ACLU-approved permits or not). Trump, I have argued, is becoming more and more like a typical politician, rather than the "outsider" he claimed to be; it seems to me that he is not wanting to offend some of these groups, since they were among the constituencies that voted for him. And the first goal of all elected politicians is to be re-elected; a politician can't achieve the latter by alienating core groups that were supportive of his or her election in the first place.

When all the political pundits were predicting a Clinton victory, I was predicting a Trump victory back in July 2016. I saw that he was speaking to a large swath of American voters who felt disenfranchised and disillusioned, but I was especially critical of some of the proposals he was putting forth as solutions to the economic and political problems faced by the United States. His high-tariff, protectionist agenda was certainly in keeping with the nineteenth-century roots of the Republican party, with its "pro-business" neomercantilist policies and support of banks and infrastructure (back then, especially railroad) subsidies. But I warned that Trump's proposed anti-immigration policies, which threatened to round up 11 million undocumented individuals, had all the makings of a police state in terms of its enforcement. Fortunately, though he's taken a tougher stance on immigration, I suspect that his proposals for walls and such may fall by the wayside.

And while I've been critical of the fact that Trump's hirings and firings in the Oval Office or the West Wing appear like weekly installments of "The Apprentice," it is clear that despite Republican control of both Houses of Congress, 26 governorships, and 32 state legislatures, the GOP is so fractured that it is as much a demonstration of Madisonian "checks and balances" and frustrated ambitions, as if two or more parties were vying for power, as my old NYU politics professor, the late H. Mark Roelofs spoke about in his wonderful book, Ideology and Myth in American Politics: A Critique of a National Political Mind. As I have maintained, due to "this political fragmentation, the GOP can't seem to do one fundamental thing to alter the course that this country has been on for a hundred years or more... a 'road to serfdom' paved by both Democrats and me-too Republicans . . ."

I have never been comfortable with Trump's alliance with Steve Bannon, so his departure from the White House brings no tears to my eyes. And I am not fond of the so-called "alt-right", even though its stance---and Trump's original stance---against the neoconservative foreign policy that has dominated this country for too long was a breath of fresh air. Alas, now, even Trump's noninterventionist "instincts" against unending war are at odds with his newly declared policy shift in the Middle East. No timetable has been offered for 'strategic' reasons for the end of the longest war in American history, but at least Trump retains the view that the United States should not be attempting to "rebuild" other countries in its own image. Gone is the "nation-building" agenda put forth by the neocons who ran George W. Bush's foreign policy, of which Trump was deeply and justifiably critical. But how much longer this war lasts is anyone's guess. Judging by the longevity of Islamic terrorist memory, we could be looking forward to at least a century or two more of armed conflict before any armistice.

To be clear, however, my criticisms thus far of Donald Trump's policies are not an open endorsement of what has become known as "Antifa." It is supposed to be a short-form designation of a variety of groups that are "antifascist" in their agenda. Well, I'm as antifascist as any libertarian can be; I'm also an anticommunist, an antisocialist, or in libertarian parlance: an antistatist. I do not believe that augmenting the power of the state in any way, shape, or form benefits the "common good." As I pointed out in my post on "Statism and Tribalism: Fraternal Twins," it was Hayek who noted in his Road to Serfdom that

. . . the more politics came to dominate social and economic life, the more political power became the only power worth having, which is why those most adept at using it were usually the most successful at attaining it. That's why, for Hayek, "the worst get on top." Well, I don't know if we have yet seen the worst, but one thing is clear. It is in the very nature of advancing government intervention that social fragmentation and group balkanization occurs; indeed, one might say that the rise of statism and the rise of group conflict are reciprocally related. Each depends organically on the other.

So, to be "antifascist" tells us nothing about what one is for. It is not sufficient to be "anti-" anything if one does not know what one is fighting for. When the Nazis and the Soviets signed a 1939 nonaggression pact, too many voices on the "antifa" left, who had formerly opposed Hitler, fell silent, as the Nazis and the Soviets carved up Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, and Romania. And when war finally came to the Soviet Union, those same voices were raised in concert for United States intervention in World War II on the side of the Soviets to defeat fascism in Europe. For the Old Right, the "America First-ers" of their time, fighting on the side of one mass murderer (Stalin) to defeat another mass murderer (Hitler) had no inherent value for the victory of human freedom. That debate was effectively ended in the wake of the events of December 7, 1941, which made it impossible to keep the United States out of a war that led to the deaths of over 60 million people and the birth of the nuclear age.

What my "instincts" tell me is this: adopting the thuggish behavior of the thugs one opposes, leads, almost inexorably, to the victory of thuggery, under whatever political guise. Perhaps those who oppose the policies of Donald Trump should study the works of Gene Sharp, founder of the Albert Einstein Institution. He is one of the foremost theoreticians of nonviolent resistance. And make no mistake about it: whether it was practiced by Gandhi in India or Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States, the nonviolent techniques that Sharp has articulated in his many works are fully in keeping with the strategy of resistance. But they do not duplicate the paradigm of force that is being practiced by those whom one opposes. Inevitably, the use of coercive force by opposition groups merely replaces one form of coercion with another. It has been argued, persuasively, that "[f]rom 1966 to 1999, nonviolent civic resistance played a critical role in 50 of 67 transitions from authoritarianism." So if "Antifa" wants to show its commitment to another, "revolutionary" form of politics, it should start by renouncing violence. And if "Antifa" wants to fight effectively against any perceived authoritarian threats from the Trump administration or its supporters, it needs to take pause, for among its ranks is a collection of groups, some of whom would replace America's "neofascism" with yet another form of statist tyranny.

For the record, I want to state that I am not very optimistic about the future of individual liberty in this country. I fear that the promise of genuine freedom and individual rights is becoming a distant dream. But if you oppose those elements of Trump's policies that will undermine liberty, you gain neither freedom nor rights if you happily join hands with folks who would slit your throat in a new battle for political power, in a system where political power is the only power worth having.

Postscript: My friend Irfan Khawaja had a nice retort to my post: "I don't know about this non-violence stuff. I mean, I'm not one to cast the first stone. But the second one has its attractions...."

I responded:

I know. I just think that there are a lot of strategies within civil disobedience that can be amazingly effective. Civil disobedience is not turning the other cheek, but being disruptive in ways that can put one on the moral high ground and bring down walls of power.
But I'm also from Brooklyn. And half-Sicilian to boot (no pun intended). And the second stone can sometimes stop power in its tracks too. There are contexts where I, myself, don't see how nonviolence is a universal prescription for resistance. How, for example, does one use nonviolence as one is being led by SS guards into a gas chamber? Bombing the trains that led into Auschwitz, and massively disruptive riots in the Warsaw Ghetto can be acts of heroism too, but the Holocaust still happened. And let it be noted that 13,000 Jews died in the Warsaw uprisings, in contrast to 300 Nazis, while the vast majority of the Ghetto residents (estimated to be around 300,000+) were to die in Treblinka.
It's a tough question to answer. But there's a wonderful story told about surviving terror by literally standing up, no matter how many times you are struck. It's in the [2015] film "Bridge of Spies," a story told by the Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (played by Oscar-winner Mark Rylance), to attorney James Donovan (played by Tom Hanks), about "Standing Man."

Jim Farmelant raised a good point with which I agreed, in general, when he said: "Violence should never be one's first resort. But it is foolish to take it off the table completely." Chris Despoudis raised another good issue, stating:

Regarding Civil Disobedience, it reminds me of Slajov Zizek's comment that Gandhi was more violent than Hitler specifically because his civil disobedience aimed directly at disrupting the existing edifices of the system totally and without backing out. I think he's correct to some degree. Non-violence works when you're opponent cannot see you as an externalized other that needs to squashed, when those who are fighting aren't willing to do terrible things for their country instead of merely great things. The issue of Germany on 1939 was not an issue of non-violence. The issue was that Germany had to be destroyed completely in order for its system to be able to be changed.

I replied:

Very interesting points; but you know, some studies have been done of the concentration camp guards at the various death factories in Germany. And it was no coincidence that so many of those who threw the victims into the gas chambers were also habitual drinkers, as if they had to numb themselves from any feelings of concscience.
One of the kernels of truth of nonviolent resistance is that at some point, the people who are victimizing you start to realize that you are a human being, and for those who have any vestige of conscience, that reality eventually takes hold, and begins to erode their own capacity to victimize you. The key to the Nazi ideology, the Nazi "social psychology," therefore, was to create a culture that saw all non-Aryans as not human; this was fatal for the victims, but it was also essential to those who would be doing the victimizing, for if you are convinced that what you are killing is not human, you will exempt your conscience from human empathy.
Obviously, for some, this did not work; alcoholism and habitual substance abuse was a way of drowning out any thoughts that the Other was human. Interestingly, Leonard Peikoff has a good chapter on this in The Ominous Parallels but one can find good studies of this throughout the post-World War II literature. And let us not forget the famous "Milgram experiment", which illustrated just how far intelligent people would go in following the orders of a superior. It showed that even highly educated folks, when ordered to do so by an "authority figure" would be drawn to inflict more and more "pain" on folks who didn't answer questions correctly (the pain inflicted was only indicated on a scale, not actual; but this fact was not known to those who were being ordered to inflict greater and greater levels of pain intensity on the actors who were playing the part of students answering incorrectly).

August 20, 2017

Statism and Tribalism: Fraternal Twins

While I've been posting songs regularly for my "Summer Dance Party," I don't want to give the impression that I'm sitting home fiddling while Rome (or Charlottesville, Virginia) burns. Nero, I am not.

I just wanted to say a few things about the conflicts we are witnessing across this country. For the record, I actually agree with President Trump on one issue: there is a lot of "fake news" out there. One example of "fake news" is that Confederate monuments were erected in the years after the Civil War exclusively to commemorate the fallen. With all due respect to those who honor the memory of the dead in that War, especially my southern neighbors, most of those monuments were erected predominantly in the era of Jim Crow and while I personally understand why Southerners mourn the loss of their relatives in the Civil War, which took the lives of more than 600,000 Americans, both Blue and Gray, I'm not convinced that all of these monuments were innocent expressions of commemoration. Some were clearly intended as symbols of intimidation during a period in which many Southern state governments maintained laws that were designed to enforce racial segregation.

I live in Brooklyn, New York, an unreconstructed libertarian American. But even here, in Brooklyn, New York, there are streets named for both Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee at the still-active army base, Fort Hamilton, where both men were stationed in the 1840s. I don't see the point in changing the names or the history of any of the streets of this fort, whose roots can be traced all the way back to the Revolutionary War. (In fact, I had my own book party back in 1995, upon the publication of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and the first edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, at the Officer's Club of the celebrated fort).

There is one Civil War image that has always resonated with me, however---though its validity has been questioned. It is a symbolic story of reconciliation that occurred at Appomattox, when the Confederate forces surrendered to the Union forces, effectively ending the Civil War. The men of the Blue and the Gray had been overwhelmed with battlefields that knew no color, save one: blood red. And it is said that on that day, April 12, 1865, they departed, saluting one another, giving expression to Lincoln's maxim "with malice toward none, with charity for all."

Two days later, on April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth put a bullet in Lincoln's head.

Unlike the imagery of Appomattox, the imagery coming out of Charlottesville has more in common with the events at Ford's Theatre. When I check out the Vice documentary on Charlottesville, watching White Supremacists march through that Virginia city, chanting "Jews will not replace us" and criticizing Donald Trump for not being racist enough because "he gave his daughter to a Jew . . . that [Jared] Kushner bastard", I am utterly disgusted. Any administration that earns even a modicum of respect from these folks is already running out of time.

Nevertheless, why should any of this surprise us? After years of witnessing the identity, tribalist politics of the left, we're now seeing an administration that is clearly emboldening the identity, tribalist politics of the right.

Friedrich Hayek once wrote, in The Road to Serfdom that the more politics came to dominate social and economic life, the more political power became the only power worth having, which is why those most adept at using it were usually the most successful at attaining it. That's why, for Hayek, "the worst get on top." Well, I don't know if we have yet seen the worst, but one thing is clear. It is in the very nature of advancing government intervention that social fragmentation and group balkanization occurs; indeed, one might say that the rise of statism and the rise of group conflict are reciprocally related. Each depends organically on the other.

Few thinkers understood this dynamic better than Ayn Rand. 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."

Ever the dialectician, capable of seeing the larger context, Rand was adamant about this reciprocally reinforcing relationship. Indeed, "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.'" Ultimately, the emergent

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. And just as the domestic mixed economy made racism inevitable, so too did the global spread of statism. Rand saw the world fracturing into hostile ethnic tribes with each group aiming to destroy its ethnic rivals in primitive conflicts over cultural, religious, and linguistic differences. Rand called the process one of "global balkanization."

The fabric of this country has been unraveling for years. Advancing statism both depends upon and emboldens the tribalism, inter-group warfare, and "identity politics" on all sides of the political divide.

The Trump administration is neither the cause nor the solution to the problem; it is yet one more sign of how the chickens are coming home to roost. All we can hope for is that open Civil War remains off the table, for the stakes are too great for the survival of life, liberty, and property. And no matter what the color or identity of the victims, the battlefields will still run blood red.

Postscript: My comments here generated some response. For example, on Facebook, Wyatt Storch claims: "You're drinking from the same cesspool you're complaining about the smell of. The idea that the policy and actions of the government of the U.S. should be guided by the goal of not getting praised by some obscure group of idiots is absurd and insupportable. Check your premises." And Anoop Verma makes the fair point that "we can only judge Trump on the basis of the success of failure of his economic agenda. If he passes tax cuts and healthcare reform, then he will be judged fairly by history, and do a great favor on not just US but the entire world (because if the reforms succeed in US then there will be reforms in Asian countries too). If not, then we will see..."

I responded:

I'm simply stating a fact: [Trump is] earning the respect of groups that I do not wish to associate with. And in any event, no conservative, and no pragmatist--such as Trump--is in any way, shape, or form, an advocate of the free market. They are all apologists for the status quo no matter how much they claim to oppose it. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will grasp that nothing is going to change fundamentally under Trump, or anyone else for that matter.
The statist mixed economy is so entrenched--from the "Deep State" of the National Security apparatus to the Fed's control over money--that no individual is capable of altering it.

To which Wyatt responded: "Chris, I understand your point. But that statement is absurd and insupportable. You should take it back. Else because your article didn't disavow cannibalism, if some cannibal approves your article, then it reflects badly on you, would be the ad absurdum analogy."

Responding to both Anoop and Wyatt, I added:

All agreed, but right now, it's not very promising. [Trump] can't even run the Oval Office or the West Wing without it appearing like a weekly installment of "The Apprentice" and he has a fractured Republican party that, though in control of both Houses of Congress, 26 governships, and 32 state legislatures, can't seem to do one fundamental thing to alter the course that this country has been on for a hundred years or more... a "road to serfdom" paved by both Democrats and me-too Republicans, which is why Rand repudiated the conservatives so fervently.

I added:

For the record, I predicted Trump would win way back in July 2016; I was not a Clinton supporter, and I did not vote for either major candidate. But I expressed my reservations about Trump's political project back then; I am still reserving judgment on where this administration is going, but I'm not encouraged. Here is what I said back in July: "The Donald and Mercer's 'Trump Revolution'."

Wyatt admitted that we disagreed on very little, but warned me against the "histrionics" of the blood-in-the-streets metaphor that I used in this post. To which I responded:

To which I will say: From your lips to God's ears (whether or not one believes in a deity). As a student of the Holocaust, who actually took the first course offered on the subject for high school students (by my teacher Ira Zornberg), I get the willies anytime I see a bunch of neo-Nazis chanting anti-Semitic slogans. What started as laughable brown-shirted rallies during the Weimer Republic became one of the worst catastrophes in human history. Indeed: "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." And that vigilance must be maintained against both leftist and rightist hooligans.

Wyatt replied: "OK, so you're triggered and you have an excuse for hysteria. Thanks for the confession." To which I replied:

I just think it's called being aware of one's surroundings; I'm not hysterical, but I'm not going to put blinders on. . . . I have had cannibals write nice things about my blog, and I've also had cannibals write lousy things about my blog. I could not care less what the cannibals say either way; I'm just calling it as I see it. I don't like hooligans or tribalists of any kind, and if the shoe fits, they should be called out on it. The only problem is that the left has typically been blind to its own hooligans, while pointing fingers at the right, and vice versa.
I will hold onto your optimism that nobody has the balls to do anything more stupid than they have already.

Wyatt added that I should simply retract my statement that seems to "back-paint immorality" from the neo-Nazis to the Trump administration. To which I responded:

But I stand by that statement; Trump is not distancing himself enough from the cannibals. To this extent, he is becoming a politician, because he knows that a certain constituency of disaffected, disenfranchised white folks voted for him, and he is not going to alienate them when he needs their support.
And I don't take your comments as a personal attack. I'm just concerned that the administration is not being vigilant enough about the thuggery that exists among some of its supporters. To that extent, yes, he is running out of time. It's not even a question of back-painting their immorality to him; it's that he will be stained by their immorality in terms of public perception, and it will undermine any good that he may have been able to achieve (at least from the standpoint of those things that I could support, like his original intent for a less-interventionist foreign policy, etc.)

I added:

I'm not reading his mind, Wyatt; I'm just looking at his actions. He's starting to look more and more like a politician to me. Time will tell.
And no, I do not believe that he is a secret Nazi; I think he is a full-on pragmatist who has tapped into legitimate fears and offered some awful solutions (like high tariffs, protectionism, building walls, amping up the War on Drugs, and now, even back-tracking on the promises of a less-interventionist foreign policy).
As for Rand: Anoop, you are correct. We should not judge Rand based on those who praise or reject her. But I've spent an awful lot of time on Notablog for years having to defend her precisely on those issues, most recently by those who implied that just because a few Rand fans were in Trump's administration, we should be prepared for a "New Age of Rand". Hogwash.

I added another note about the subject in the Facebook thread:

Wyatt, let's take Ayn Rand as an example. She wasn't a politician, to say the least; she was certainly uncompromising. She missed no opportunity whatsoever in making it very clear who she supported as well as those whose support she didn't want. She denounced folks that at times praised some of her writings, and that included everyone from William F. Buckley (who thought The Fountainhead had its moments of sublime beauty) to Ronald Reagan. She dissociated herself from conservatives and from libertarians, whom she called "hippies of the right"; she pulled no punches in telling folks that she repudiated various individuals and movements that claimed her as an influence.
Trump came in as an outsider, not a politician, or so he claimed. He certainly had no trouble using various phrases, like "Islamic terrorists", to describe people who fit the bill.
But it was like pulling teeth to get him to denounce the neo-Nazis, the White Supremacists, and the KKKish thugs who were carrying torches through the streets of Charlottesville, like they were a bunch of brownshirts. Perhaps the man should put the freaking Twitter down for a moment, stop focusing on attacking every little slight that has been thrown his way by anybody anywhere, and call out these Nazi pigs for what they are.
I'm not calling him Hitler, I am not calling him a full-fledged fascist (not yet, at least)--though the system he heads remains the same "neofascist" one that Rand condemned. I'm just saying that he seems to be less enthusiastic about dissociating himself from these white nationalists and white supremacists. And I think the reason he is less enthusiastic is because his pragmatist approach is now geared toward the same goal that all politicians seek: getting re-elected and retaining power.
That is just the nature of politics. His response to these folks has been tepid, at best, because he knows that they are among the constituencies that heavily supported him, and they are a part of a disaffected constituency that he needs to maintain if he wants to be re-elected. He is fully a politician now; he is part of the very system he condemned.
And as I pointed out in my "New Age of Rand" essay, even among the most enthusiastic of Rand acolytes, even a man who was part of Rand's inner circle, who once favored the abolition of the Fed---like Alan Greenspan---becomes corrupted once he becomes a part of the system, indeed, part of the very Fed he sought to extinguish. And he used all the levers of power to bring forth an inflationary expansion and housing bubble that was bound to burst; and in the end, it was the so-called "free-market" that took the blame, not state intervention.
Trump has a long way to go to prove that he can drain the swamp; right now, in my view, he's swimming in it.
Well, he already did one good thing: He threw Bannon out on his ass.

August 16, 2017

Encyclopedia of Libertarianism Online: My Contributions Too!

Back in 2008, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism was published by SAGE Publications. The hefty volume (at 664 pages) included entries on virtually everything and everyone in the history of thought with a relationship to libertarianism. The late Ronald Hamowy was its Editor-in-Chief.

I'm happy to report that Libertarianism.org has just published the volume in its entirety online in an interactive digital format.

I was fortunate to be invited to author two entries in the volume: one on Nathaniel Branden and the other on Ayn Rand [the links are to my entries].

Check out the Encyclopedia in its entirety; it's a terrific resource, now made far more accessible by its online publication.

August 07, 2017

The Summer of Sam: Forty Years Later

Forty years ago this week, on August 10, 1977 to be exact, the man known to the world as "Son of Sam" was arrested after more than a year of terrorizing the city I've always called home. David Berkowitz, first dubbed the .44 caliber-killer, was caught outside his Yonkers apartment after a year during which he had murdered six people, while injuring seven others, and holding 8 million people hostage to his random carnage.

Having lived through the "Summer of Sam," a time during which New York City was in fiscal disarray and intense urban decay, I can say that we were all more than a little bit jittery, reading the daily news articles and keeping up with the nightly TV reports. In fact, on the day that Berkowitz was arrested, the New York Daily News had put on its front page a police sketch of the alleged serial killer that didn't resemble him in the least. The Daily News had played a pertinent role in the story as it unfolded, because Berkowitz was busy writing a series of bizarre letters to columnist Jimmy Breslin that spooked the public. Up until July 31st, however, Berkowitz had restricted his killing to the boroughs of Queens and the Bronx. But then, on the night of July 31, 1977, he came to the corner of Shore Parkway and Bay 44th Street in the Bath Beach section of Brooklyn, not far from my home, and opened fire on a car parked there as two people, Robert Violante and Stacy Moskowitz. were sitting inside. Their first date had ended with Violante losing his sight, and Moskowitz dying a day or so later from the .44 caliber bullets that had exploded into her head. The Son of Sam had come to Brooklyn; the word on the street was that now, even the Mafia was going to find and "take out" this "nutjob."

I had just finished my senior year at John Dewey High School, preparing for my long stint at New York University, which would begin in September 1977. Till this day, I look back at that 1977 summer and I honor the memory of the victims of those horrific shootings, while keeping their loved ones in my thoughts.

But every tragedy seems to elicit memories that provide a little relief in the form of gallows humor. I remember that during that summer, every time my sister and cousin Sandy (who was staying with us at the time) went out, they were very much aware that virtually all of the victims of Son of Sam had dark hair. Both my sister and cousin had brown hair, and Sandy even took to wearing a hat. But on the night after July 31st, in the wake of that shattering news of a senseless Brooklyn murder, we had taken an evening walk, about ten blocks from our apartment, to visit our grandmother, aunts, uncle, and cousins. We were there quite late; it must have been about 1 am, and we finally decided to walk along the brightly lit Kings Highway back to our apartment. I told my mother and sister not to worry. "I will protect you," I announced, confident in my Brooklyn street smarts. About half-way through our walk, we passed an all-night gas and auto service station. And in the silence of that hot and humid summer night, one of the cars in the service area suddenly backfired. Well. I must have jumped about two feet in the air and let out a scream that could have awakened the dead. My mother and sister were nearly bent over in laughter; even I got so hysterical with laughter that tears rolled down my cheeks. "Yeah, yeah, you're going to protect us!", they ribbed me but good. "Sure, sure!"

Fortunately, ten days later, the police had arrested the creep that had so defined the Summer of 1977. We all breathed a sigh of relief.

But we still chuckle when we remember our walk home, when a car backfired in the still of a steamy August night.

July 14, 2017

It's a Wonderful ... Christmas in July!

There is a Facebook thread that tears apart one of my all-time favorite movies, but also one of those films that Rand-fans especially have made into a cinematic pinata: "It's a Wonderful Life." According to this story, Rand, who was a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee in its efforts to uncover communist propaganda in the American film industry, apparently pegged the 1946 Frank Capra classic as pinko propaganda.

I've addressed this issue several times before on Notablog, especially in a 2016 post about the 1946 film, and in a 1999 interview with "The Daily Objectivist" on the 1951 version of "A Christmas Carol," starring Alastair Sim, who gives a superb, nuanced performance as Scrooge.

On Facebook, I added these comments:

People who cannot look at a film on different levels are guilty of context-dropping; Rand was not always consistent. "It's a Wonderful Life" says more about the remarkable impact that a single individual can make on the lives of many people and as such, it is a celebration of a "wonderful life." Is it guilty of having "mixed premises"? Sure. What film isn't?
Rand herself wrote some wonderful screenplays in her day ("Love Letters" is one of my favorites; "The Fountainhead" succeeds on some levels, but is botched on other levels). But one can disagree with her assessment of a film and still agree with the fundamental principles of Objectivism. I'm quite frankly appalled by the kind of knee-jerk response that I always see from Rand-fans to films like this or, say, "A Christmas Carol" (the 1951 version especially, starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge), which tells the story of a man whose life is fractured and dis-integrated. In the end, Scrooge does not renounce business; he becomes a more integrated human being. Does the film have mixed premises? Like I said: There are few films that don't have mixed premises. And any art form, especially film, can and should be appreciated on a variety of levels. Some of those films were made in black and white, but they were superb at showing the greyness and complex textures of life, as well as the remarkable color of character and individual integrity.

And that's my "Christmas in July" moment, especially fitting when you're coming off things like Amazon Prime Day and 90-degree temperatures with 80% humidity.

Merry Christmas! And good premises! ; )

Postscript: In reply to a question about how faithful the 1951 film version of "A Christmas Carol" was to the original Charles Dickens story, I wrote:

The 1951 film version considerably embellishes the original Dickens novel with a deeper backstory as to how Scrooge evolved into the dis-integrated individual he had become, truly a man with a "disowned self." I think when viewed through this lens, the complexity of the character and his transformation is made all the more poignant.

Postscript II: In response to Michael Stuart Kelly, who points out that the original article link posted on Facebook qualifies as "fake news", I wrote:

I agree with everything you said, Michael, about the "fake news" character of the original link that prompted the initial thread on this topic. But it was in that thread from which my discussion comes that I was reacting not so much to the link as to the fact that it got nearly forty "Thumbs Up" from people sympathetic to Rand who find any condemnation of "It's a Wonderful Life" a welcome relief. Indeed, it has become a seasonal ritual of late that some Objectivist or libertarian goes on some tirade about the Capra flick or any variation of "A Christmas Carol" because they allegedly depict business people in a bad light.
In truth, we do know this much: Rand never got the chance to tell HUAC what she really wanted to: that among the most loathsome films of 1946 was "The Best Years of Our Lives" (which, I consider a cinema classic for the reasons described here), as Susan [Love Brown] mentions above. Rand despised that film's depiction of bankers "with a heart" etc., and completely overlooked the cathartic character of a film that depicted the difficulty of people returning from the worst carnage in human history (World War II) and trying to adjust to civilian life. She was asked by studio folks to stay clear of such a public condemnation of such a popular film, and was incensed to focus attention instead on "Song of Russia"---clearly a trivial propaganda film made during the war to "humanize" communists, with whom the U.S. had allied in the fight against the Nazis (Lillian Hellman had a field-day ridiculing Rand over this in her book Scoundrel Time, but Robert Mayhew discusses the whole affair in much greater detail in his book, Ayn Rand and "Song of Russia": Communism and Anti-Communism in 1940s Hollywood).
If it were not for the attack on Pearl Harbor, Rand (and Isabel Paterson, John T. Flynn, Albert Jay Nock, and others on the Old Right) would most likely have continued to adhere to the "America First" line, which was adamantly opposed to U.S. entrance into that war; Rand even declared that she would have rather seen the Nazis and Soviets destroy each other, such that if the U.S. were drawn into the conflict, it would have been fighting a much-weakened foe.
Indeed, it should be noted that Rand is on record as having been against all US involvement in virtually every twentieth-century war: World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam; that noninterventionist stance should give us pause, considering that so many of her followers were ready to atomize the Middle East after 9/11. I treat this a bit more extensively in Chapter 12 of the second edition of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, in a new section called "The Welfare-Warfare State".
In any event, getting back to this thread: though the article I linked to may qualify as "fake news," what I was responding to in the original thread was mainly Rand-fan condemnations of films like "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol", which are offered up as Christmas pinatas every season for their alleged depiction of business in a bad light. This past year, it was libertarian Tim Mullen's turn to take a crack at both films; his comment on "A Christmas Carol" was that it was a tale of one man stalked by three left-wing ghosts. Well, maybe Dickens was a soft socialist, but the 1951 film version to which I point is the one that most speaks to the horrors of living a dis-integrated life. There is nothing I find in it that is so loathsome, when the point of the film is the reintegration of one's disowned self. Scrooge never denounces his own business or becomes any less rich than he always was; he simply becomes a healed man who understands the roots of his self-alienation.
But I do appreciate you pointing to the various errors in that original link; I laughed at some of the comments therein as well.

I added:

Well, you know where I stand on the topic of "gate-keepers." :) But the original thread to which I posted my comment got 39 Thumbs up, not quite 40... it is here. And I really can't stand seeing Jimmy Stewart called a Pinko. But that's another story...

In the continuing discussion, I made one further point on the issues of aesthetic reponse versus ethical evaluation:

[On the issue of how Scrooge is portrayed in film,] I think it depends on which version of Scrooge we look at; it is very clear in the 1951 version that Scrooge is very self-alienated, and the time spent on his past establishes the facts and tragedies that led to this.
But on another subject, I would just like to make one comment about politics and aesthetics: we all know that there were communists in Hollywood and that politics sometimes showed up in screenplays and stories. But I can't help feeling distressed that some people will dismiss any writer, actor, musician or other talented artist strictly because of their politics or personal flaws, such that we can't possibly endorse their art. If that were the case, you might as well give up listening to music, watching films, reading books, or enjoying any art whatsoever.
I was not a fan of Dalton Trumbo's politics; but I loved "Spartacus"; I am not a fan of Barbra Streisand's politics, but I adore "Funny Girl" and all the music she has made, gal from Brooklyn that she is; for all I know the charges against Michael Jackson regarding pedophilia may be true, but that doesn't stop me from loving "Off the Wall" or "Thriller" or being enthralled by the elegance of his dancing. I bet a high percentage of artists from ancient times through today, were tortured souls, who spilled out their guts in works of sculpture, painting, music, and literature. Bill Evans, perhaps the most influential jazz pianist of the twentieth century, was a tortured drug addict, but it was his modal take on jazz that made "Kind of Blue" what it became, as Miles Davis himself testified; when Evans played--and I was fortunate to see him play live at the Village Vanguard--it was as if he became part of the piano he was playing. At some point, you have to separate aesthetics and ethics and be willing to accept the fact that you can respond positively to art by folks you might not like, politically, ethically, or personally. It would be a very boring world if we all had to toe the party line every time we responded with any kind of emotional impact to any work of art.

Postscript III: My friend, Mark Fulwiler, raised the issue that Paul Robeson was a Stalinist, even though he was a good singer, and then asked the proverbial Hitler question: "What if Hitler were a great singer?" I replied:

Well, I can tell you that Hitler was definitely NOT a good painter. But Robeson was a great singer. And I suspect that if Hitler were a great singer, he would not be singing "Billie Jean"; I suspect it would be something really dissonant with some pretty scary Aryan theme. So I probably wouldn't respond to it aesthetically, if I was blinded and didn't know who the artist was.
But let's take a better example concerning somebody whose work we do know and whose contributions to music and compostion are well known: Richard Wagner. Wagner's racism and anti-Semitism are repugnant to me, but can anyone deny the brilliance of his harmonies, textures, or his use of leitmotifs in music? I have a hunch that Wagner did more to influence the whole development of what has become known as the film score than any single composer in history.
I'm not particularly fond of the work of Ezra Pound, who embraced Mussolini and Hitler, but I can't deny the impact of his work on everybody from Robert Frost to Ernest Hemingway; Ayn Rand herself detested many writers and their views; she made it a point of stating, for example, that she thought Tolstoy's philosophy and sense of life were "evil, and yet, from a purely literary viewpoint, on his own terms, I have to evaluate him as a good writer."
All I'm arguing here is that there is a lot of art out there, be it painting, sculpture, literature, film, music, etc., and if I had to use an ideological litmus test as a filter with regard to what I might like or dislike, I might find myself very unhappy because there are too many artists out there, talented in their own right, whose ideologies are diametrically opposed to my own. I don't live like that, and I think we impoverish ourselves if we bracket out of our aesthetic scale anybody and everybody with whom we disagree.

Mark liked the points I made, but said, "What if I told you I had a recording of Hitler playing Rachmaninoff on the piano with the Berlin Philharmonic?" -- to which Jerry Biggers replied, "But you don't!"... to which I replied:

LOL ROFL... sorry, I tried to take this one seriously, but you have to make me bust a gut. And you KNOW I can't afford to bust a busted gut! LOL

Jerry Biggers added: "What if I told you that I had a recording of Stalin (or other Soviet thug) having private ballet lessons for an exclusive presentation of Aram Khachaturian's "Spartacus" ballet to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet? So?......"

Chris Matthew Sciabarra (has finally collapsed into hysteria)

July 04, 2017

Song of the Day #1474

On Facebook, I prefaced my "Song of the Day" with the following comment:

I know some of my anarchist friends might think that today is a day that some people celebrate the establishment of yet another state. :)
For me, the 4th of July is a celebration of the idea of America, for which the founders, whatever their flaws, on this Independence Day, pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. "Only in America":

Song of the Day: Only in America, words and music by Kix Brooks, Don Cook, and Ronnie Rogers, went to #1 on the Hot Country Songs chart. It was a huge hit by Brooks & Dunn, suitable for a Red-White-and-Blue Indpendence Day. Whatever the realities in today's America, it is almost a truism that a song, like any work of art, can project an ideal; in this instance, it is the ideal of America. And truth be told, I can't help but embrace a tune that begins with the lyric, "Sun Comin' Up Over New York City," in a country where "Everybody Gets to Dance." In keeping with our Summer Dance theme, check it out on YouTube and in this 2001 video single as well, which includes a paean to the Twin Towers.

June 28, 2017

Song of the Day #1469

On Facebook, I prefaced this "Song of the Day" entry with this comment: It is officially June 28, 2017; on this date in 1969, in the wee small hours of the morning, the NYPD raided the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. With all the hoopla of this past weekend’s “Pride” events nationwide, some folks seem to forget that the parades emerged initially to commemorate what happened in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. For despite the ritual nature of these police raids, it was on this night that the patrons fought back on the basis of a crucially important libertarian premise; they rioted and rebelled in defense of their individual rights to live their own lives and to pursue their own happiness in private, safe havens, away from the brutality and harassment they faced on an almost daily basis. It is in this spirit that I add another song to my Summer Dance series. From “To Wong Foo…”, it’s Chaka Khan blowing a hole through the roof with "Free Yourself":

Song of the Day: Free Yourself, words and music by Sami McKinney, Denise Rich, and Warren McRae, is given a scaldingly hot treatment by Chaka Khan, whose pipes tear the roof off the motha'. The song is featured on the soundtrack to the 1995 comedy, "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" (and is also played over the end credits). I dedicate it today to those who participated in the Stonewall Rebellion, which began in the wee hours of June 28, 1969, in response to yet another regular police raid on a gay bar, this one in NYC. It remains a symbolic event for those who have sought equality before the law and the right to live their lives and to pursue their own happiness, without the interference of government. It began on this date as a quintessentially libertarian reaction against state repression of establishments that catered to a clientele of gays, lesbians and even their straight friends, who in their consensual social interactions just wanted to enjoy themselves at a Christopher Street bar in Greenwich Village, a safe haven away from police and social brutality (though it should be noted that such bars were typically "protected" by Mafioso who traded in under-the-table police payoffs). This track from the 1990s wasn't on the Stonewall Inn's famed 1969 jukebox, but it is an appropriate dance burner to mark the day, in keeping with our Summer Dance Party. Check it out on on YouTube.

June 15, 2017

Ayn Rand on Ronald Reagan

In a Facebook thread, that raised the issue of Rand's opposition to Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential bid, because of his views on abortion and his courting of the Religious Right, I mentioned the fact that Rand was not always opposed to Reagan, and that she initially saw him as a promising public figure. Here is my Facebook post:

Granted Rand's later views of Ronald Reagan, beacuse of his entanglements with the religious right, she initially had high hopes for him, starting with his famous "Rendezvous with Destiny" speech in support of the Goldwater presidential bid of 1964. In The Objectivist Newsletter essay, "It is Earlier Than You Think," she wrote an obituary for the Goldwater campaign:
Granting the philosophical chaos of our age, was it possible to conduct a better campaign in purely political terms, and did we have a right to expect it? It was and we did. A brief glimpse of it, the best of the campaign, was a speech by Ronald Reagan, televized much too late---in the last week before the election. All of the candidate's speeches should have been on a level equal to Mr. Reagan's. But none of them approached it. It is impossible to tell whether a campaign conducted on that level would have won. I think it might have. But what one can say with certainty is that it would not have ended in so devastating a defeat.
Rand was unsparing in her criticisms of some of the dynamics that she believed brought the Goldwater campaign down to defeat:
As it stands, the most grotesque, irrational and disgraceful consequence of the campaign is the fact that the only section of the country left in a position of an alleged champion of freedom, capitalism, and individual rights is the agrarian, feudal, racist South. The Southerners, undoubtedly, were voting on the basis of "tradition"; but it was hardly a tradition of pro-capitalism. This, perhaps, is the clearest indication of the extent to which Sen. Goldwater had failed to present his case.
So Rand was not always adamantly opposed to Reagan; in fact, in an essay she wrote in 1967, she went on to reflect on that 1964 speech that Reagan had given and, in "The Wreckage of the Consensus", she stated:
The country at large is bitterly dissatisfied with the status quo, disillusioned with the stale slogans of welfare statism, and desperately seeking an alternative, i.e., an intelligible program and course. The intensity of that need may be gauged by the fact that a single good speech raised a man, who had never held public office, to the governorship of California. The statists of both parties, who are now busy smearing Governor Reagan, are anxious not to see and not to let others discover the real lesson and meaning of his election: that the country is starved for a voice of consistency, clarity, and moral self-confidence---which were the outstanding qualities of his famous speech, and which cannot be achieved or projected by consensus-seeking anti-ideologists.
As of this date, Governor Reagan seems to be a promising figure---I do not know him and cannot speak for the future. It is difficult to avoid a certain degree of skepticism: we have been disappointed too often. But whether he lives up to the promise or not, the people's need, quest for, and response to clear-cut ideas remain a fact---and will become a tragic fact if the intellectual leaders of this country continue to ignore it.
Evidently, with Reagan's courting of the Religious Right in order to win the 1980 Presidential election, Rand's hopes had been sunk. But she was clearly someone who thought Reagan a promising political figure.

Postscript: On 16 July 2017, I added a comment to the Facebook thread concerning an essay written by Ed Hudgins, which appears on the site of The Atlas Society: "Was Ayn Rand Wrong on Reagan." Here are my follow-up comments:

Very good and provocative article, Ed; it's a hard call to make.
Ironically, one thing I'm not sure she would have been comfortable with was Reagan's naming of Greenspan to the chairmanship of the Fed (even though she was at the ceremony when Ford named Greenspan Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers). Considering that Greenspan had once argued against the Fed's very existence, in "The Objectivist" and that Rand was fundamentally opposed to central banking as the source of the boom-bust cycle, I'm not sure how she would have evaluated Greenspan or Reagan with regard to his promotion; she was certainly very savvy about how government institutions corrupt even the most idealistic among us.
But then again, she was an "anti-Nixonite for Nixon," and it was Martin Anderson and others who persuaded Nixon to end the draft, which Rand viewed as involuntary servitude. So her stance on Reagan may have evolved; it's a difficult call.
And yes, Ludwig, there was a serious strain of Nietzschean Marxism in the Silver Age period of Russian culture, into which Rand was born. Nietzsche's influence on many schools of thought in that period is the subject of many books written and edited by historian Bernice Rosenthal. A very interesting period in Russian intellectual history, indeed.

In a follow-up to Ed Hudgins's comments on some of the policies of Nixon, Carter, and Trump, I discussed Rand's attitudes toward Nixon and Greenspan:

You're correct, of course [that Nixon expanded government; Carter de-regulated some agencies; and Trump's record is mixed thus far]; and Rand, as I recall, in quite a few essays that appeared in her "Ayn Rand Letter" relentlessly criticized Nixon on his wage and price controls and the entire Watergate scandal, which she saw as an outgrowth of any system that "mixed" elements of a market economy and statism.
On the Greenspan phenomenon, I discussed some of the issues (in the paragraph beginning: "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a gentleman named Alan") in this Notablog post: "The New Age of Rand? Ha!"

June 06, 2017

JARS: New July 2017 Issue Arrives!

After The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies published its blockbuster 2016 double issue, "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy" (getting a few reviews along the way), JARS returns to its biannual format with a brand new issue. The print version of the July 2017 issue will be on its way to subscribers in the coming weeks, and will be published electronically by JSTOR and Project Muse as well. It features essays from a wide variety of perspectives, along with reviews of books on timely topics and continuing discussions of key issues in Rand studies.

NEW JULY 2017 JARS

Readers should go to our 2017 index and click into the drop-down menu for Volume 17, Number 1 - July 2017 (Issue #33). Under the "Table of Contents," readers will find abstracts for each of the essays listed below; under "Contributor Biographies," readers will learn more about the writers featured in our newest issue.

Table of Contents

ARTICLES

Russian Egoism Goes to America? A Case for a Connection between Ayn Rand and the Shestidesiatniki - Aaron Weinacht

Just Who Is John Galt, Anyway? A Carnivalesque Approach to Atlas Shrugged - Charles Duncan

The Beneficiary Statement and Beyond - Merlin Jetton

Ultimate Value: Self-Contradictory - Robert Hartford

Six Years Outside the Archives: The Chronicle of a Misadventure, in Three Acts - Robert L. Campbell


REVIEWS

Debunking Neosocialism (a review of Christopher Snowdon's book, Selfishness, Greed, and Capitalism: Debunking Myths about the Free Market) - Reviewed by Gary James Jason

Debunking Ecofundamentalism (a review of Rögnvaldur Hannesson's book Ecofundamentalism: A Critique of Extreme Environmentalism) - Reviewed by Hannes H. Gissurarson

After the Avant-Gardes (a review of After the Avant-Gardes: Reflections on the Future of the Fine Arts, edited by Elizabeth Millán) - Reviewed by Troy Camplin


DISCUSSION

Reply to Roger E. Bissell: Thinking Volition - Merlin Jetton

Rejoinder to Merlin Jetton: Conditions of Volition - Roger E. Bissell

Reply to Marsha Familaro Enright: Remembering the "Self" in "Self-ish-ness" - Robert White

Rejoinder to Robert White: The Problem with "Selfishness" is Still Problematic - Marsha Familaro Enright


JARS is published by Pennsylvania State University Press, but is distributed by the Johns Hopkins University Press Fulfillment Services. Folks wanting to obtain a subscription should inquire here. Enjoy!

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).

May 23, 2017

Song of the Day #1455

Song of the Day: Moonraker ("Main Title"), lyrics by Hal David, music by John Barry, was the theme to the 1979 James Bond film, starring Roger Moore, who passed away today at the age of 89. Sean Connery remains my favorite Bond, but Moore had his moments. This song was the third Bond theme sung by Shirley Bassey, who had previously recorded the vocal themes to "Diamonds are Forever" and, most famously, "Goldfinger" [YouTube links]. Bassey provides different renditions of the song at the film's opening and the more upbeat end credits [YouTube links]. RIP, Roger Moore; and my deepest condolences to those of his fellow Brits, who are mourning today the deaths of those attending an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, victims of a shameful act of terror.

May 02, 2017

Mendenhall Series on JARS Branden Symposium Continues

Allen Mendenhall's discussion of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposium on Nathaniel Branden continues on the site of The Atlas Society.

This is Mendenhall's third essay in a series on the symposium. It focuses on "Nathaniel Branden, In His Own Words," focusing on the third selection in the JARS double issue: a transcription of a lecture that Branden gave in 1996, with a wide-ranging question-answer period.

Mendenhall's essay is a welcome addition to the dialogue over the JARS symposium concerning Branden's work and legacy.

April 04, 2017

And the (Dialectical) Beat Goes On...

I was asked on Facebook by one reader:

What is your definition of dialectics? One definition that I encountered was "inquiry into metaphysical contradictions and their solutions." From Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Hegel: "'Dialectics' is a term used to describe a method of philosophical argument that involves some sort of contradictory process between opposing sides." But this is not the definition. Here, instead of "contradictory process between opposing sides," if we take "perceived contradictory process between opposing sides," then it can be taken as a point for discussion on the subject. But, the underlying premise, as far as I know, of Hegel and Marx on dialectics involves some sort of metaphysical contradictions. In a previous comment on this thread, you had claimed that "There is nothing in dialectics that is in opposition to the law of non-contradiction." This proposition of yours suggests that you are thinking of an entirely different definition for dialectics than what is generally considered by many, including me, as the process of dialectics. I think that if such a definition can be developed through a theory on epistemology, then it would have far-reaching consequences in the field of philosophy. It is my guess is that you have not yet reached your definition of dialectics. It must come only after a long theory taking into consideration Aristotle’s Topics in Organon, and the ideas of Hegel and Marx, and certain points of Ayn Rand, such as what I think an indirect reference to dialectics, that it is a "conditioned reflex."

I respond at length:

The only thing I can suggest is this: Have you read part 1 of Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism? I ask because that is precisely what I do. I begin with Aristotle and work through all the differing definitions offered of dialectics through the centuries right up to the current day, all within the first three chapters. I then turn in Chapter four to a much more rigorous definition of dialectics along the lines of genus and species, It is a species of the genus "methodological orientations", and it sits on a continuum among other orientations (I identify four others). I then formally define dialectics as "an orientation toward contextual analysis of the sytemic and dynamic relations of components within a totality." I devote a whole section to unpacking that definition so that you know what I mean by "contextual analysis", "systemic", "dynamic", "relations" and "totality". The shorthand definition I have used, however, is akin to Rand's identification of logic, which she viewed as the "art of noncontradictory identification"; my shorthand definition is "the art of context-keeping", and each (logic and dialectics) entails the other. One cannot keep context while holding a contradiction, and one can only understand a contradiction by keeping context (remember that the law of noncontradiction in Aristotle is that A cannot be A and not A "at the same time and in the same respect"... so the very notion of "at the same time and in the same respect" is a context for understanding what Aristotle means by the law of nonconradiction).
I hate to have to refer you to those first four chapters of Total Freedom but it does, in fact, address all of the concerns you have raised, and begins with Aristotle as the first theoretician of a dialectical mode of analysis.
I should add one comment about this notion of contradiction: there are some folks in the tradition of dialectical thinking who have tried to pit the laws of logic against dialectical thinking. I reject and repudiate any such attempts. Even Hegel, at his best, points to Aristotle as "the fountainhead" (and that is the phrase he uses) of the entire enterprise of dialectical thinking, the first theoretician of dialectics.
What you will usually see in the analysis of certain dialectical thinkers is that they will take a look at two things, events, or problems and say that they "appear" to be in contradiction. But since contradictions cannot exist, they try to unmask the contradiction as, rather, a "false alternative", that is, things that appear superficially to be opposed to one another, but which share a common premise.
The only way to understand that common premise is to shift one's level of generality or one's vantage point on the problem. This is what Rand does when she shows that the alleged opposition of "intrinsic" and "subjective" is not really a contradiction, but that they are false alternatives sharing a common premise, and she proposes that a genuinely objective approach is the only proper alternative. (She also roots many of the false alternatives that she rejects in the "mind-body dichotomy", which is deep in the history of philosophy.)

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.

February 25, 2017

Song of the Day #1438

Song of the Day: Hacksaw Ridge ("One at a Time") [YouTube link], composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams, encapsulates an extraordinary motif in this shattering 2016 film, which tells the story of Desmond Doss, who served as a conscientious objector during World War II, receiving the Medal of Honor for saving the lives of an estimated 75 infantrymen in the Battle of Okinawa, one man at a time. Andrew Garfield, who played Spiderman in two films, plays real-life superhero Doss, who refused to even hold a gun or to kill another human being in military engagement, but vowed to save human life as a medic on the battlefield. It is a role for which Garfield has earned a well-deserved 2016 Best Actor Oscar nomination. I have seen many films concerning "war and peace" in my life, and this Mel Gibson-directed Oscar-nominated Best Picture, which depicts all of the unspeakable horrors and miraculous heroism of battle, easily makes my Top Ten-ish list in that cinematic genre. [Ed: See also Lawrence Read's FEE essay, "Hacksaw Ridge Deserves an Oscar for Redefining Heroism."]

February 21, 2017

Upper-Case "Objectivism". Why?

Today, on his "Verma Report" blog (formerly "For the New Intellectual"), Anoop Verma asks: "Why Objectivism Must Have 'O' Capitalized?"

He says that Chris Matthew Sciabarra "always writes 'Objectivism' with capital 'O.' In the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, which he edits, all the authors are required to capitalize the 'O' in Objectivism." In personal correspondence, I had mentioned to Anoop that one of the reasons Rand capitalized her system, "Objectivism," was to distinguish it between classical (lower-case 'o') objectivism and traditional subjectivism. If Rand had not capitalized Objectivism, she would have been lumped together with all the other classical objectivists in history, and that would have been incorrect, from a categorical perspective. She was quite explicitly opposed to classical objectivism, which didn’t allow for agent-relative perception. All things are perceived objectively by a mind that allows us to view reality in a certain form, dictated by the organs of our perception. For Rand, the organs of our perception did not distort reality, as the classical objectivists would have maintained; they were the only means of grasping reality in a certain form. We do not acquire knowledge by some ineffable means to grasp the object (classical objectivism); and we do not distort the objects of reality by use of our organs of perception (automatic) or by defining and categorizing them arbitrarily, as the subjectivists would claim. We acquire knowledge of the objects of reality in a certain form as dictated by the nature of our own means of perceiving and identifying those objects; this is an objective reality as understood by a knowing subject.

But I've also looked at "Objectivism" in a more "hermeneutical" fashion, ever since the publication of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical was first published back in 1995 (it went into a second edition in 2013). I'll quote the relevant passages (I've eliminated the citations and references, which can be found in the published source):

In my view, there are distinctions between the "orthodox" interpreters of Rand's thought and those who can be termed "neo-Objectivists." The orthodox thinkers see Rand's philosophy as closed and complete. The neo-Objectivists accept certain basic principles, while expanding, modifying, or revising other aspects of Rand's thought. The "neo-Objectivist" label is not employed critically; for history, I believe, will describe all these thinkers simply as "Objectivists." Nevertheless, Rand did not sanction all of the developments proceeding from her influence. In the case of Nathaniel Branden, for instance, although Rand enthusiastically approved his theoretical work while he was her associate, she repudiated his subsequent efforts.
A later dispute between Leonard Peikoff and David Kelley centered on the question of what precisely constitutes the philosophy of Objectivism. Adopting an orthodox, "closed-system" approach, Peikoff has stated: "'Objectivism' is the name of Ayn Rand's philosophy as presented in the material she herself wrote or endorsed." Peikoff excludes from "official Objectivist doctrine" both his own work after Rand's death and Rand's unedited, unpublished lectures and journals, since she "had no opportunity to see or approve" of the material. Peikoff follows Rand's own pronouncements. At the time of the Branden schism, Rand maintained (in 1968) that she was a theoretician of Objectivism, which she characterized as "a philosophical system originated by me and publicly associated with my name." She claimed that it was her "right and responsibility" to defend the system's integrity, and she renounced any "organized movement" in her name.
Twelve years after this "statement of policy," when a magazine called The Objectivist Forum was established, Rand approved the journal as "a forum for students of Objectivism to discuss their ideas, each speaking only for himself." Rand stated that the magazine was neither the "official voice" of her philosophy nor her "representative" or "spokesman." Rand explained further that those who agree with certain tenets of Objectivism but disagree with others should give proper acknowledgment "and then indulge in any flights of fancy [they] wish, on [their] own." Anyone using the name of "Objectivism" for his own "philosophical hodgepodge . . . is guilty of the fraudulent presumption of trying to put thoughts into my brain (or of trying to pass his thinking off as mine---an attempt which fails, for obvious reasons). I chose the name 'Objectivism' at a time when my philosophy was beginning to be known and some people were starting to call themselves 'Randists.' I am much too conceited to allow such a use of my name." Upholding the consistency of her system as one of its virtues, Rand opposed the practice of those philosophers who "regard philosophy as a verb, not a noun (they are not studying or creating philosophy, they are ‘doing’ it)."
Thus Peikoff's interpretation of Objectivism as a "closed system" clearly mirrors Rand’s own view. By contrast, David Kelley views Objectivism as an "open system":
A philosophy defines a school of thought, a category of thinkers who subscribe to the same principles. In an open philosophy, members of the school may differ among themselves over many issues within the framework of the basic principles they accept.
The evolution of academic Marxist thought illustrates Kelley's point clearly. In defining the essence of contemporary Marxism, it is impossible to disconnect the statements of Karl Marx from the multiple interpretations constructed over the past century. These interpretations are as much a logical development of Marx's methods and theories as they are a reflection of the particular historical, social, and personal contexts of his interpreters. The interpretations also reflect different periods in Marx's own development. Some scholars stress the earlier, more "humanistic" Marx, whereas others argue for an economistic interpretation based on his mature works. Most scholars would agree, however, that one cannot detach Marx's unpublished writings from the corpus of his thought. Indeed, the great bulk of Marx's work was issued posthumously. For example, Marx's Grundrisse, composed of seven unedited workbooks, was first published in the twentieth century. It provides a cornucopia of material from which one can reconstruct his method of inquiry as a distinct "moment" (or aspect) of his dialectical approach. The Grundrisse is an essential complement to and reflection on Marx's published exposition in Capital.
In addition, a Marxist scholar cannot neglect the plethora of interpretive twists resulting from the combination of Marx's theories with compatible approaches in psychology, anthropology, and sociology. What has emerged is a scholarly industry that must take account of structuralist, phenomenological, critical, and analytical approaches, to name but a few. Finally, we have been presented with different philosophical interpretations of the "real" Karl Marx: the Aristotelian Marx, the Kantian Marx, the Hegelian Marx, and the Leninist Marx. None of these developments alter the essential body of theory that Marx proposed in his lifetime. One can empathize with the innovative theorist who, jealously guarding his discoveries, aims to protect the "purity" of the doctrine. Ironically, Rand suggests a spiritual affinity with Marx on this issue. She remembers that upon hearing the "outrageous statements" made by some of his "Marxist" followers, Marx exclaimed: "But I am not a Marxist."
Nevertheless, although one can debate whether a particular philosophy is "closed" or "open," scholarship must consider the many theoretical developments emerging over time directly or indirectly from the innovator’s authentic formulations. Much of current intellectual history focuses not on the ideas of the innovator, but rather, on the evolution of the ideas and on the context in which the ideas emerged and developed. As W. W. Bartley argues, the affirmation of a theory involves many logical implications that are not immediately apparent to the original theorist. In Bartley's words, "The informative content of any idea includes an infinity of unforeseeable nontrivial statements." The creation of mathematics for instance, "generates problems that are wholly independent of the intentions of its creators."
In this book, I have adopted a similarly hermeneutical approach. The principles of this scholarly technique were sketched by Paul Ricoeur in his classic essay, "The Model of the Text." Ricoeur maintains that a text is detached from its author and develops consequences of its own. In so doing, it transcends its relevance to its initial situation and addresses an indefinite range of possible readers. Hence, the text must be understood not only in terms of the author's context but also in the context of the multiple interpretations that emerge during its subsequent history.
I do not mean to suggest that Rand's ideas lack objective validity, that is, validity independent of the interpretations of others. Ultimately, one must judge the validity of any idea by its correspondence to reality and/or its explanatory power. But to evaluate the truthfulness of a philosophic formulation is not the only legitimate task of scholarship. Indeed, my primary purpose in this study as an intellectual historian and political theorist is not to demonstrate either the validity or the falsity of Rand's ideas. Rather, it is to shed light on her philosophy by examining the context in which it was both formulated and developed. In this book I attempt to grasp Rand's Objectivism as a text developing over time. As a concept, "Objectivism" is open-ended; it contains its history and its future. It must be understood in terms of both its historical origins and its post-Randian evolution. The existential conditions from which it emerged and to which it speaks are in large part what give it its very significance. So, too, its meaning continues to unfold through a clash of interpretations offered by followers and critics alike. By clarifying these conditions and factors, I hope to provide an enriched appreciation of Rand's contributions.
Such an assertion might imply that I claim to have grasped the implications of Objectivism even more thoroughly than did Rand herself. Although I would never presume to such intellectual hubris, it is true, nonetheless, that Rand could not have explored the full implications of her philosophy in her lifetime. Such a task is reserved necessarily for succeeding generations of scholars.

I know this is not the way Objectivists would approach the study of Rand's contributions; but then again, I've never claimed to be an Objectivist (at least not without significant qualification); I've been influenced by too many theorists, from Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard to Aristotle and Ayn Rand, to be pinned down to any one school. I've embraced the term "dialectical libertarianism", and have taken my lumps in doing so. But, for now, there are few people out there claiming to be "dialectical libertarians," so I don't think I'm in any danger of needing to jealously guard the intellectual niche I've carved out for myself. But one thing I'd never do is claim that my own philosophical hodgepodge is anything but my own. As I once wrote, citing an old Spanish proverb that Nathaniel Branden was fond of quoting:

I’m adhering to the old Spanish proverb that says: "Take what you want, and pay for it." I’m taking what I want from Rand’s legacy, and paying for it---by assuming responsibility for my own interpretations and applications. Call me a Randian or a post-Randian or a neo-Objectivist or an advocate of Objectivism 2.0, or even the founder of Sciabarra-ism. But don’t call me an Objectivist. I agree with Rand’s core principles. But I have never argued that my own innovations (on subjects like dialectics or homosexuality) are part of "Objectivism" as Rand . . . defines it. Yes, I do believe that my own viewpoint is fully consistent with Objectivism. And on the subject of dialectics, for example, I’ve even argued that Rand herself was a dialectician as I’ve defined it. But I would never argue that Rand embraced "dialectics" as such, explicitly and by that name. Ultimately, I believe that I’m carrying on Rand’s legacy in many substantive ways and the burden is on me to prove it.

I think I've done that job in my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy (which consists of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism and in many subsequent essays over the last two decades. But in the end, I'll let future generations of scholars have at it, to debate whether I got it right or wrong. However, I ain't dead yet. And there's lots more to come.

Song of the Day #1434

Song of the Day: The Help ("Swingin' on a Rainbow"), words and music by Peter De Angelis and Robert Marcucci, was recorded originally by Frankie Avalon as the title track of his 1959 album. Anything with Frankie Avalon's name attached to it brings to mind films with beaches, blankets, and bingo. But this swingin' song was among the "source music" used in this critically acclaimed 2011 period film set in the Civil Rights era of the early 1960s. Source music can play a crucial role in the cinema, providing an aural authenticity to films with an historical setting. Check out the teen idol's swingin' song on YouTube.

February 20, 2017

Song of the Day #1433

Song of the Day: I Want to Live! ("Main Title" / "Poker Game") [YouTube link to the entire soundtrack album; these tracks encompass the first 6:50] was composed by the ever-jazzy and wonderfully prolific Johnny Mandel. It provides a superb backdrop for this Robert Wise-directed 1958 tale based on the harrowing true story of Barbara Graham, who went to the gas chamber for murder. Susan Hayward gave an Oscar-winning performance as Best Actress, playing the "brazen bad girl . . . implicated in murder and sentenced to death row." Two scores for the film were actually released---"Johnny Mandel's Great Jazz Score" and "The Jazz Combo from 'I Want to Live!'"---the former received a Grammy nomination for Best Soundtrack Album (losing out to Andre Previn for "Gigi"). The film's soundtracks feature such jazz luminaries as Gerry Mulligan, Frank Rosolino, Jack Sheldon (the trumpeter who delivered Mandel's haunting 1965 "Sandpiper" score with such passion), Art Farmer, and Shelly Manne (who was also featured on Previn's "Gigi").

February 19, 2017

Song of the Day #1432

Song of the Day: Hell to Eternity ("Main Title") [YouTube link], music by Leith Stevens (who provided that great score for the splendid 1953 George Pal production of "War of the Worlds"), is an appropriate theme to highlight on this day of remembrance, a day we forget at our peril, when the United States government opened internment camps during World War II for Japanese Americans. The 1960 film stars Jeffrey Hunter, along with David Janssen (who played Dr. Richard Kimble in the trailblazing TV series, "The Fugitive"). It is a biopic about Marine hero Guy Gabaldon Pfc. (played by Hunter), who went on to fight in the Pacific theater of the war, using his considerable Japanese language skills in the Battle of Saipan, where he persuaded the Japanese commander to order the surrender of about 1000 troops and 500 civilians.

January 31, 2017

"Total Freedom": Never Too Late for a Review

I've always said it's never too late to review a book, especially if it is a book I've written. A classic display of this phenomenon is a nice review of my book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, a review nearly two decades late. I am nonetheless grateful to Anoop Verma, for reviewing my book, which was published by Pennsylvania State University Press back in 2000. Verma reviews the book on his blog "The Verma Report (formerly "For the New Intellectual") and can be found at this link.

Verma also maintains a Facebook page, which is where readers will most likely find some discussion of the book; I am not clairvoyant, but I suspect it will include some familiar discussion among those who responded both favorably and unfavorably to my work. For me, it is only one more illustration of what Oscar Wilde once said: "There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

In any event, I've included the Verma review in my index of the reviews that has been written over the years of Total Freedom here. The Verma review is given a brief summary here, with a link to the full review on Verma's blog.

I would just like to extend my thanks to Anoop for giving some attention to the concluding book in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy," which began with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, continued with Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, now in a second expanded edition, and concluded with Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. The trilogy itself is nearly 20 years old, the first two installments having been published in 1995, and Total Freedom at the turn of the millennium, which proves it's never too late to find a review of one's work.

Postscript: I'm not a clairvoyant, but I could have predicted the avalanche of criticism waged against my work on dialectical method. I present below some of the comments I posted to the rather lengthy thread on Facebook:

First, I thanked Anoop Verma publicly on the thread:

I would just like to thank Anoop for focusing attention on the concluding book in my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. I know there are folks here that recoil in horror at the mere mention of "dialectics," and worse, that Sciabarra fellow. But with all due respect, it would just be nice to see a few people condemn something they've actually read. I've got no problem with criticism; my whole home page features all the reviews of all my works (both positive and negative), and while I might take issue with a reviewer here and there, especially if I believe they have misinterpreted my theses, at least the folks who reviewed the books took time to actually read them, and then took their best shot for the bleachers (in condemnation or celebration of what they'd just read).
Folks wanting to see a wide variety of reviews of the book can see the review index on the book's home page.

When a discussant claimed that dialectics was nothing more than the collision of opinion, and that Rand didn't arrive at truth through such a process of disputation, I replied:

You will find as many definitions of "dialectic" as there are opinions on the subject; It is difficult to discuss this with someone who has not read the book, but rest assured, I had to reconstruct, in the first three chapters of Total Freedom the meaning of dialectic as it evolved through the centuries, noting of course that it was Aristotle who was "The Fountainhead" of the enterprise. And his discussion of what it is and how he practices it has nothing to do with arguing from opinion; it is, in simple language, "the art of context-keeping," which requires that we study any object of inquiry, be an event or a social problem, on many different levels of generality and from many different vantage points, so as to get the "fuller context" of its meaning, both as it exists in a larger integrated system of other objects and problems, and has had a history of development across time. I devote considerable energy to showing what a masterful dialectical thinker Ayn Rand was. You can agree or disagree with it, but at the very least, disagree with me based on how I define it and defend it, rather than on words that I've never written or words that have never come out of my mouth.

The critic then claimed that "This desire to rescue dialectics stems from a desire to rationalize. To approach ideas from a deductive perspective, not inductive as Rand has done." To which I replied:

No it is not a desire to rationalize; it is to celebrate the principles of efficient thinking, so lacking in our educational systems and pedagogical practices. Context-holding is fundamental to efficient thinking, and if you read what both Rand and Peikoff have had to say about how educational and pedagogical practices have militated against the art of noncontradictory identification and the art of context-keeping and integration, you will have a better understanding of what I'm defending. It's got nothing to do with deducing anything; it is about actively going out and seeking evidence about the place of events and problems in this world and how they relate to the larger social system in which we live, and how they relate to the larger history from which they emerge.

The critic asks: "How does one think efficiently? Dialectics? How so, if there are as many definitions as there are opinions on dialectics? Doesn't seem very *efficient*. Unless dialectics means starting where one should start and building one's arguments on the proper foundations of reason, then I see no point in them as a technique." I replied:

I devote a whole chapter (Chapter Four) of Total Freedom to defining dialectics, and defending it, and it is virtually impossible for me to summarize the usefulness of the technique in a paragraph; but if you want a brief discussion of it in a magazine essay, check out "Dialectics and Liberty."

I added:

Logic and dialectics entail one another; one cannot have one without the other. Even the law of noncontradiction is defined within a specific context: A cannot be A and non-A "at the same time and in a certain respect." Folks used to ridicule Aristotle because "A is A" takes no account of how A evolves over time, and how A can be looked at in many different respects. But note, the Master understood that, and his critics, who sought to attack the laws of logic always seem to drop the proviso of the law of noncontradiction: "at the same time, and in the same respect." I could go on, but then I'd just have to cut and paste a whole chapter from Total Freedom.

But confusion with regard to the law of noncontradiction ensued; I continued:

You are totally misunderstanding what I just said. Aristotle himself would say that A thing is what it is and given its nature, all that it can and will become, given the circumstances in which it exists. One of the reasons Rand was so critical of a certain brand of libertarian thinking was because it focused its attention almost completely on political-economic issues, ripping these issues from the larger context in which they emerged, both historically and systemically. Rand paid attention to what I call the "personal" level of generality (which entailed understanding how people could be undercut in their psycho-epistemologies and cognitive capacities by the "Comprachicos"), and she also focused attention on the "cultural" level of generality, which required an understanding of how certain cultural ideas both contributed to and were reciprocal effects of the political system, which she so opposed. It is why she was opposed to the belief that simply getting rid of government intervention would create a free society. Something politicians forget at their peril, when they try to nation-build "democracies" based on individual rights on foreign cultures that are characterized by intense tribalism and have not a clue what such concepts as democracy or individual rights entail. Rand sought to undermine "statism" by a simultaneous attack on its political and economic irrationalities, but also on the extra-political institutions that undermined the development of reason, and a culture of individualism and creativity. That's what she meant when she said that libertarians were often guilty of dropping the fuller context upon which the achievement of freedom depends.

The critic relents: "Right, I get that. . . . Reading your article. Very good so far. I agree with your article, entirely." To which I replied:

Then you get my conception of a "dialectical" way of looking at the world; call it what you wish, but it is all about understanding the complex context within which social relations of power function, and the complex context that must be changed if freedom and individualism are to have a chance of surviving.

But the critic persists: "Well, I don't see how it improves on Rand's... Objectivism."

To which I replied:

It doesn't improve Rand; all it does is to help us appreciate her on a level that too many folks out there don't appreciate. They think she is a caricature of her "black-and-white" view of the world, with no nuance or sophistication to her analysis. Calling her a dialectical thinker does not invalidate any of the other fine ways of characterizing her; but it, at the very least, reveals a level of sophistication that some of her fans and most of her detractors do not understand. Sometimes if you just change the lens through which you look at a thinker, you bring into focus things that are often unseen or unacknowledged. Peikoff himself has always said that Hegel may have been wrong about a lot of things, but he was ~right~ methodologically speaking: "The True is the Whole". And it is no coincidence that this focus on the "whole", that is, the full integrated context is something that Hegel himself credited to, and celebrated in, the works of Aristotle, whom he called the "fountainhead" of dialectics, the father of the method, who was the first to articulate the principles of analysis so essential to a contextualized understanding of the problems we seek to resolve.

Another discussant equates dialectics with what Peikoff called "chewing"; to which I replied:

Well, I think it is more than simply chewing because it requires higher levels of abstraction to understand things on multiple levels and from multiple perspectives. But, indeed, if it is akin to "chewing", let's just say, first engage all five of your senses to make sure that what you ingest looks good, feels good, smells good, tastes good, and even sounds good as you chew it 30 times before swallowing; after that, however, unlike the automatic functions of your digestive process, take time to integrate what you've been chewing into the "organic unity" of your mind's integrative function, if you want to absorb its nutrients for better mental and physical functioning. :)
Peikoff would not equate "chewing" with dialectics; but, with all due respect to him, I think he thinks very dialectically in his work and his lectures. No doubt this came from Rand, but his Ph.D. mentor was Sidney Hook (who wrote the book, From Hegel to Marx), and Peikoff no doubt understands the importance of the Hegelian insight about integration in a totality. He has never tired of quoting Hegel's dictum that "The True is the Whole", and by that he means that one cannot enagage in pulling random strands out of the discussion of any philosophical or social problem without doing damage to our integrated knowledge of the real relationships among those "strands." It is no coincidence that the words "integrity" and "integration" come from the same linguistic root.

The first critic then made a claim: "Adding 'dialectics' is a term that is not clear, loaded with connotation and specifically geared to please the skeptics/academics in order to 'legitimize' Objectivism as a philosophy." I replied:

. . . I mean this with all due sincerity: if you think for one moment that I pulled dialectics out of my hat as a way of courting the favor of the folks in academia in order to bolster the "reputation" of Ayn Rand, well, as we say in Brooklyn: Fuhgedaboudit. First, understand, my book was published after the Berlin Wall fell; Marxism may not have been in decline in areas like literary criticism, but for the most part, the very last thing anybody would want to do is to pick up the mantle of "dialectics" and run with it as some kind of badge of honor, Secondly, NOBODY in their right mind in academia, was writing ANYTHING on Rand (with the exception of a few essays in the "Personalist" and the Den Uyl-Rasmussen collection published in 1984.) The only books that were of interest were those like The Passion of Ayn Rand and Judgment Day (and this is quite apart from whether you like these books or don't): they were of interest to the mainstream media because they had salacious details about the Rand-Branden affair.
Let me tell you about my experience trying to get Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical published; I went to no fewer than two dozen university presses who would not even review the manuscript because they did not believe Ayn Rand was a subject worthy of scholarly study or legitimation. I went to two trade presses that would have published the book, but they found it too "scholarly" for their commercial markets. In the end, Temple University Press accepted the book for publication, over the objections of one of its reviewers (a scholar who was of the more "orthodox" school of Objectivisw), but by that time, Pennsylvania State University Press gave me an offer I couldn't refuse and I went with them. So two years passed before I could even get a publisher; it did not help my academic career one iota in either proprietary rewards or scholarly reputation by combining the hated "dialectical method" with the hated Ayn Rand. In fact, it was the surest way of practically sinking my career.
But as it turned out, some reasonable reviews came out that didn't find it so explosively controversial to hypothesize that somebody might have learned something from their education and from the culture within which they came to intellectual maturity. It was largely because of the controversial nature of my claims that publications like The Chronicle of Higher Education and Lingua Franca ran stories on it. I don't claim to have opened the path to others or to have simply benefited from a rising interest in Rand. But the simple fact is that prior to 1995, there had not been a single full-length book discussing the historical genesis, systematic character, and radical implications of Ayn Rand's thought. And in the years that followed, a veritable avalanche of books began to appear on Rand. If my book had even the slightest effect on opening the market on Rand, I'm happy. All I know is that I wrote that book as a way of showing that Rand was an intellectual giant, but that she stood on the shoulders of giants to see further. I honor Rand, but Rand has never been the sole area of my scholarly work; I've done books on Marx, Hayek, Rothbard, dialectics, and written articles on subjects as diverse as sexuality and music.
In any event, I appreciate the attention given to my work; nobody has to agree with anything I say in any of the works I've written. But I'm not the enemy. There is a world out there that Ayn Rand sought to change; it is the same world that I want to change, in the direction of "free minds and free markets"; it was Rand who inspired me from my senior year in high school, and it is Rand who still inspires me to live each day, with conviction that my own life and productive work are deeply personal, life-sustaining values to hold dear.

I was also asked by one person: "Is contextually absolute definition a part of the process of dialectical reasoning?"

I replied:

An excellent question; I discuss precisely this issue in Chapter 6 of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, specifically on pages 161-166. I argue there that Ayn Rand rejects those who would view all characteristics as essential to a definition as well as those who would view nothing as essential (hence, implying that the identification of an "essential" characteristic is either subjective or socially arbitrary.) I actually quote Rand directly on page 162 that definitions are neither subjective conventions nor "a repository of closed, out-of-context omniscience." Rand understood that since everything belongs to one reality, all things are related, but since we are not omniscient, she always emphasized that everything is related in some sense (that is, in some identifiable context). As I write: "For Rand, definitions must be 'contextually absolute' since they must 'specify the known relationships among existents (in terms of the known essential characteristics)" The emphasis here is on what is essential within the context of knowledge."
That whole section of the book focuses on the mutual importance of the art of noncontradictory identification (logic) and the art of context-keeping (dialectics). Each entails and implies the other. (BTW, the pages I'm referencing are from the second edition of Russian Radical.) Every chapter that discusses the structure of Rand's philosophy in every major branch stresses the crucial role of contextual thinking, whether it be in epistemology, or in Rand's analysis of the social problems of the day.

In another discusssion, concerning Anoop Verma's essay, "An Enquiry Concerning the Objectivist Movement During the 1950s and 1960s", Anoop, prompted by his reading of the recent JARS symposium on Nathaniel Branden, remarks: "Chris Matthew Sciabarra, the editor of Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, is an outlier on the Branden issue. He blames the 'orthodox Objectivists' for spreading disinformation to distort Branden’s legacy." I responded to this comment on Anoop's Facebook thread:

To be fair, it's not that I believe that "orthodox" Objectivists have spread disinformation about NB; it's certainly not disinformation that he lied to Ayn Rand, used some important principles of psychology that he developed, not as a means to understand or explain, but as a psychological sledgehammer to manipulate and control Inner Circle members of the "Collective" for too many years.The central issue for me, as a scholar, was that for too many years, those who were affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute wrote articles and books---and readers could not find a single reference to any essay, lecture, etc. that Branden contributed ~during the years of his association with Ayn Rand~. Rand's statement of policy after her 1968 break with NB and BB emphasized that all their work up to that break was still considered to be part of canonical Objectivism, among the only "authentic" sources on her and her philosophy. So it was regrettable that up until the most recent "Blackwell Companion Series" book on Rand, one would strain to find a passing reference to NB and it would only be made by inference.
For example, I recall that at one point, one writer stated something like: "In an essay entitled 'Counterfeit Individualism'," and then offer a quoted passage, without even mentioning who wrote the essay; or, for example, in the case of Edith Packer (prior to her expulsion from ARI), she referred without attribution to the "Muttnik Principle" (a term coined by NB, in a discussion of experiences with his dog "Muttnik" that led him to understand and articulate the concept of 'psychological visibility'). What I most objected to was this fundamental violation of the common customs of attribution. It prevented a generation of ARI-affiliated scholars from citing any of the original lectures or essays on "self-esteem," "psycho-epistemology," "volition," etc. that Branden wrote. In some instances, such writers twisted themselves into intellectual pretzels to cite some derivative source rather than the original primary and still-officially-sanctioned sources written in the late 1950s and early-to-mid 1960s by NB.
I understand fully why many orthodox followers might not wish to sanction works by NB, but just because you think somebody is a bum, a liar, or a fraud, does not mean that you violate the customs of scholarly attribution to primary sources. This practice is, thankfully, changing; Gregory Salmieri (and his late co-editor Allan Gotthelf), have finally made a titanic shift in the recent Blackwell Companion, and it is a book that I cannot more highly recommend.

The person who raised the issue of "contextually absolute definition" was not fully satisfied with my response, and asked for greater clarification, especially since it appears that dialectics is a rejection of alternatives that are quite clearly true (like "good versus evil", "food versus poison", etc.). I responded more fully (on 6 February 2017):

You have misunderstood what I define as dialectics with a rejection of right versus wrong, good versus evil, food versus poison. Dialectics rejects ~false~ alternatives, not true ones. It can best be understood if one thinks of how Rand posited subjectivist versus intrinsicist "solutions" to philosophical problems, and arrived at a carefully reasoned, reality-based "objective" response that was in clear opposition to conventional false alternatives.
Now it is true that "dialectics" has its origins in "dialogue", which implicitly entails the discussion of problems from different perspectives. But the full, developed conception of dialectics that I have proposed (see especially Chapter Four of my book, Total Freedom) is one that involves much more than dialogue. It is the examination of any issue, event, or problem with an eye toward understanding its full context, which entails placing it in a larger system of interconnected issues, events, or problems, and understanding how these evolved over time. It entails the examination of issues, events, or problems on multiple, interconnected levels of generality and from different vantage points so as to arrive at a fuller, richer understanding of the issues, events, or problems at hand. Rand was a master of this kind of integrated analysis, and it was, at its core, a radical form of analysis, that is, one which sought to go to the "root" of problems in an attempt to uproot them fundamentally.
Now, a bit more about the "true" versus "false" alternatives distinction I mentioned above. Even when Rand looks at conventional false alternatives, for example, she does not endorse "the virtue of selfishness" over altruism. She proclaimed "a new concept of egoism" that opposed the conventional false alternatives of "brute" selfishness (sacrifice of others to oneself) versus "benevolent" altruism (sacrifice of oneself to others).
There is nothing in dialectics that is in opposition to the law of noncontradiction. To clarify this point, I'd like to quote a passage from the canonical lectures on the "Principles of Efficient Thinking", soon to be published by Cobden Press, which were given by Barbara Branden under the auspices of the Nathaniel Branden Institute circa 1959-1960 (and later revised with quotations from canonical published sources in 1969); note especially the interdependence of context-holding, integration, and noncontradiction:
"Context-holding requires integration. With regard to ideas, it requires the integration of one's concepts into a consistent, unified system of concepts. With regard to action, it requires the integration of the meaning, implications, and consequences of one's actions. With regard to values, desires, and goals, it requires the integration of the long-range and the short-range, of means and ends; it requires the integration of any particular value or desire or goal with one's total system of values, desires, and goals.
"Context-holding requires that one respect the Law of Non-Contradiction---that one not form political convictions which contradict one's moral philosophy---that one not form moral convictions which contradict one's view of the nature of man---that one not pass aesthetic judgments which contradict one's philosophy of art—that one not reach economic conclusions which contradict one's knowledge of economic theory, of politics, of the nature of man and the nature of reality—that one not choose values which contradict one's other values—that one not choose goals which contradict one's long-range goals—that one not set purposes which contradict the nature of reality.
"Context-dropping means holding a contradiction."
I hope this addresses the issues you've raised.

Anoop Verma added this comment: "In other words, . . . dialectics is a stepping stone to logic. You need to be dialectical to be logical is what your arguments in the book lead to." To which I responded:

And vice versa. By that I mean, there is an "organic" interrelationship here that cannot be sundered.

To which Anoop added: "Ok. But the question is why shouldn't we use the term 'logical analysis' or 'logical argumentation' for dialectics? Is it about preserving the Aristotelian lineage of the term 'dialectics' or is there some other significance to the word. Or is it important for us to take back the word from the Marxist universe (dialectical materialism.)" To which I replied:

We use a different word because it is a word that specifically focuses on "context-holding"; it's not just "logical argumentation," which can imply other, equally important, analytical tools. In Total Freedom and elsewhere, I spell out what I mean by context-holding and the types of analyses that qualify as such: That's why there is an emphasis on looking at any problem, event, or issue on different levels of generality and from different vantage points. I use this developed concept of dialectics to hone in on the specific importance of the means by which we hold context in our analysis of any issue, event, or problem.
On the issue of taking back the word from the Marxists, I think this is strategically important as well; after all, Rand fought to take back the word "selfishness" from those who viewed it in conventional ways, just as she tried to redefine "capitalism" as an "unknown ideal" (and note, as F. A. Hayek pointed out, the word "capitalism" was coined by the left as a way of denigrating what they believed was the "capital-class-centered" nature of free markets.)

The person who raised questions about dialectics thanked me for clarifying the issues, and I responded:

I genuinely appreciate the "dialogue" here, and I do hope that it has clarified some issues. But understand that I wrote a trilogy of books on this subject, which began with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, and continued with Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and concluded with Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. So it's a lot to "chew" in any brief discussion. Please feel free to get back to me with any further quesions in the future.

The discussion continues on this thread; one participant raised the question of what exactly is "Objectivism" and I commented on it; here is what I said:

John, you asked about whether the fuller context of freedom includes a base, and I believe it does. To this extent, I would say that I have accepted, in general, Rand's fundamentals in the central branches of philosophy (her "standing on one foot" summation is a good place to start if one wants to get the general spirit of those fundamentals). It is one of the reasons I've rejected the approach of certain "libertarians" who argue as if a focus on politics is all that is needed to revolutionize the world. It is not. There are "personal" and "cultural" issues that are just as, or perhaps even more, important, as the political-economic issues.
You know, ironically, John, I am in agreement with you. Objectivism is exactly what Ayn Rand said it was, and it includes all the sources that she endorsed in her lifetime as "authentic"; we can probably have disagreements over what specifically should be included in the philosophy and what should be excluded. For example: her views on whether a woman should be President, which grew out of her views on masculinity and femininity, her views on gays, her views on specific works of art or of specific composers. But yes, there is this body of work that we should honor and call "Objectivism".
I sometimes wonder if there is utility in distinguishing between Objectivists, who stick to everything that we would have to agree is "essential" to the philosophy and, say, Randians, or neo-Randians: those who are influenced by Rand, and who have gone in directions that Rand may not have agreed with. To this extent, now that Rand is gone, we are all Randians now, that is insofar as any of us (including Leonard Peikoff who has taken full responsibility for the various directions he has taken what he has learned from Ayn Rand) develops the implications of her thought for areas that Rand did not fully address: the theory of induction, applications of her views to different cultural contexts, and so forth.
I'm sure we're all familiar with what Marx said about some of his followers, who were taking his thought in directions that he himself opposed. These folks were self-identified "Marxists," and he is reported to have said "Je ne suis pas Marxiste" ("I am not a Marxist"). I suspect that if Rand were alive today, she'd be appalled by some of the directions that the Randians or neo-Randians have gone (and I, myself, would most likely fit into the "neo-Randian" camp on most issues, but then again, I'd also fit into a "neo-Misesian" camp on economic issues, and a "neo-Aristotelian" camp on methodological issues, and so forth).
There was an old saying that Objectivists used: "Take what you want and pay for it." I take that to mean: Take what you find of value in Rand, and pay for it, by taking responsibility for the fact that you may have gone in directions that Rand would not have endorsed, and do not put words into the mouth of Rand that she never uttered or misrepresent yourself as her spokesperson. She did pretty well on her own, I'd say. One need only read her words and realize that she is and will always be the spokesperson for the philosophy that she identified as Objectivism.

January 09, 2017

Trump versus Streep

Last night, Meryl Streep was honored at the Golden Globes with the Cecil B. DeMille Award. Our President-elect took great exception to Streep's eloquent words in opposition to some of the attitudes projected by Trump on the campaign trail (though never actually using his name in her remarks). Trump has not been kind to Hollywood types, foreigners, or the press (and the feeling has been, generally, mutual), and since the Globes are presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press, Streep, who is probably one of the most accomplished actresses of her generation, used her acceptance speech to put folks on notice that she fully intended to work toward holding the President-elect accountable. Streep was exercising something that is fundamental to this country: the right to speak freely.

In an era where the President-elect reaches his fan base with policy statements that are 140 characters or less, Trump tweeted, in a classic ad hominem, that Streep was "one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood . . ." Mr. Trump, you may be right on a lot of things, and wrong on a lot of things, but if you can achieve half of the accomplishments in politics that Ms. Streep has achieved with her talents in the art of acting, then you'll be a great U.S. President. I just find it amazing that a man can be so thin-skinned as to feel the necessity to belittle one of the finest talents to have ever graced the screen. If he'd simply said: "I didn't expect to be celebrated among the Hollywood elites, and Ms. Streep didn't disappoint, but I hope to prove her wrong," it would have been a welcome break from his typical Twitter tirades. Unfortunately, I think we'll have to settle for at least four years of what is typical of him.

Postscript: I'm reminded by a colleague that in her lifetime, Streep has had 19 Oscar nominations and only 3 Oscar wins in nearly 40 years. If anything, she's not been over-rated; she's been overlooked and underappreciated; for a person who has consistently delivered a remarkable range of performances (and dialects), from her roles in "Sophie's Choice" and "Silkwood" to becoming Julia Child and Margaret Thatcher, she's been taken for granted.

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.

December 12, 2016

New JARS Symposium - Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy

Today, a sparkling new edition of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies makes its debut. It is a special symposium featuring the contributions of fifteen authors on the subject of "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." As a Pennsylvania State University Press periodical, the new December 2016 issue of the journal (Volume 16, nos. 1-2; Issues #31-32) will appear this week in electronic form on JSTOR, which is promoting it as the first double-issue in the history of JARS. Print copies are on the way to subscribers, just in time for the holidays! Since this is a double issue, it can be purchased as a stand-alone hard copy by nonsubscribers at the annual subscription rate (see the subscription page at the Johns Hopkins University Press, which handles all PSUP periodical distribution through its fulfillment services). In addition to our regular print and electronic publication, this special issue is also available through amazon.com as the very first Kindle edition in the sixteen-year history of JARS.
 
As the ad copy for the new issue informs us:

Nathaniel Branden (1930-2014) was a crucial figure in the life of Ayn Rand and her philosophy. A brilliant psychotherapist and "father" of the self-esteem movement, he made important contributions to the theory and practice of Objectivism. So far, however, his life and influence have never been the subject of a book or collection of articles. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS) long intended to fill this gap by publishing an interdisciplinary collection of studies about the many facets of his work. With his death on December 3, 2014, JARS received too many valuable essays to publish in a single issue. Now, two years after Branden's passing, and for the first time in our sixteen-year history, we offer not only a double issue but one that will be available in print and as a Kindle edition. Our contributors---who include Tal Ben-Shahar, Roger E. Bissell, Susan Love Brown, Robert L. Campbell, Stephen Cox, Walter Foddis, Teresa I. Morales Gerbaud, Mimi Reisel Gladstein, Roderick T. Long, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Andrew Schwartz, Duncan Scott, Deepak Sethi, Michael E. Southern, and Joel F. Wade---represent a wide array of perspectives and disciplines, such as political theory, history, philosophy, literature, anthropology, business, film, and both academic and clinical psychology. Also presented is the first print publication of a transcribed 1996 lecture (and its Q&A session), "Objectivism: Past and Future," by Nathaniel Branden, as well as the most comprehensive annotated bibliography yet produced on Branden and the secondary literature regarding his life and work.

NEW JARS: THE BRANDEN SYMPOSIUM


For a lengthier description of the purpose and contents of this symposium, I'd like to feature in today's Notablog entry, a few extended passages from the "Prologue" (full citations and endnotes can be found in the published version, along with much material omitted here), written by the coeditors for this very special issue:  Robert L. Campbell and yours truly (Chris Matthew Sciabarra).  We write:

Nathaniel Branden (born Nathan Blumenthal, 9 April 1930) passed away on 3 December 2014. In 2012, the Editorial Board of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies had approached Branden with a proposal to feature a symposium on his work and legacy. He and his wife Leigh were pleased with the idea, and gave the project their blessings. We are only sorry that he did not live to see its completion.
The symposium, we had explained, would encompass both his eighteen years with Ayn Rand and the much longer post-Randian period in which he became known as the father of the self-esteem movement. Ironically, in the latter period, Branden was gradually drawn back toward reexamining and ultimately reiterating the core principles that Objectivism encompassed. Despite criticisms of Rand in his later work, he became a veritable neo-Objectivist who spent much time on what might be called praxis, that is, the technology of moving toward the six pillars of self-esteem, as he defined them: the practices of living consciously, of self-acceptance, of self-responsibility, of self-assertiveness, of living purposefully, and of personal integrity . . .
Upon Branden's death, our ongoing call for contributions to the symposium suddenly elicited an enormous response. So many essays poured in that it was no longer possible for all of the accepted material to fit into a single issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Our colleagues at Pennsylvania State University Press, including Patrick Alexander, Julie Lambert, Rachel Ginder, and especially Diana Pesek, helped us to arrive at a workable solution. This would constitute the very first double issue in the history of the journal, and would be published simultaneously as an e-book . . . Kindle edition.
And so we are honored that the entirety of Volume 16, Numbers 1 and 2, is now "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." We did not wish to publish a hagiography. But we must say for the record that not a single scholar from the orthodox wing of Objectivism or from the Ayn Rand Institute, where criticism of Branden has been most common, submitted a paper, though some were specifically invited. So if the balance tilts toward the laudatory in many of the contributions here, that is because the people who took the time to write these essays actually respected and valued the subject, both personally and professionally.
It was our intention to allow scholars from different disciplines and perspectives and from many walks of life to offer their critical assessments of the legacy of a towering figure in the history of Objectivism, as a philosophy and a movement, and in the popular emergence of the self-esteem movement. Many of the contributors to these pages have never before published in any journal connected to Rand studies. For that very reason, it is our hope that this first anthology will be a watershed moment in critical thinking on Branden's work and legacy.
We dont know who else could have taken on this scholarly endeavor. An orthodox Objectivist periodical would surely not wish to sanction any study of the work of Nathaniel Branden. Professional psychology journals, especially those catering to academic audiences, have not particularly wanted to give legitimacy to the study of a writer who has often been dismissed as a popular psychologist---in much the same way that Ayn Rand was once (and still is, in some circles) dismissed as a cult fiction writer and pop philosopher.
 
Such views of Rand have undergone major change, with the recent publication of two major unauthorized biographies and an exponential growth in scholarly books and articles. Our own sixteen-year history and our collaboration with Penn State University Press are powerful illustrations of the trend.
We hope now to be at the forefront of a comparable change in attitudes toward Nathaniel Branden. A critical reassessment of the man and his work can only benefit our understanding of Objectivism, both theoretically and historically. We also believe that his eclectic clinical approach is bound to have an impact on the established orthodoxies in academic and applied psychology. Such an impact will come only from the kind of constructive engagement that this journal has always encouraged. . . .
As scholars, however, we have remained true to our word: this was going to be an open forum, allowing many perspectives on the man and his work to be expressed. We think we have succeeded, as the fifteen essays (and extensive annotated bibliography) in this collection will show.
Upon Branden's death, Sciabarra criticized orthodox Objectivist writers, who refused to cite Branden's works, even those that are still part of the "official" canon of Ayn Rand's philosophy. It must be remembered that despite their acrimonious personal and professional Break in 1968, Rand made it very clear that Branden's work prior to the Break would and should be considered as among "the only authentic sources of information on Objectivism," which included "my own works (books, articles, lectures), the articles appearing in and the pamphlets reprinted by this magazine (The Objectivist, as well as The Objectivist Newsletter), books by other authors which will be endorsed in this magazine as specifically Objectivist literature, and such individual lectures or lecture courses as may be so endorsed. (This list includes also the book Who Is Ayn Rand? by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, as well as the articles by these two authors which have appeared in this magazine in the past, but does not include their future works.) (Rand, "A Statement of Policy," The Objectivist, June 1968)
Sciabarra . . . argued further that those who excoriate the man still owe him a debt of gratitude, "for it was Nathaniel Branden more than anybody, save Ayn Rand, [who was responsible] for the formal development of the philosophy of Objectivism. It was Branden who created the Nathaniel Branden Institute, which brought Rand out of her post-Atlas Shrugged depression, and catapulted her into the role of public philosopher. It was Branden who presented the first systematization of the philosophy with his Basic Principles of Objectivism course (later published as The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism), . . .  a course that was given live, and heard by thousands of others on audio recordings, both on vinyl records and tapes. It was Branden who explored the psychological implications of Rand's exalted conception of self-esteem, and whose work was fully and unequivocally endorsed by Rand during her lifetime (indeed, his book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem is largely a collection of . . . the work he did while under Rand's tutelage, and it is, in many ways, the popular launch of the self-esteem movement in modern psychology). He also conducted, with the late Barbara Branden . . . a series of interviews that have formed the basis of nearly every biographical work that has been published."
Alas, the relationship between philosophy as the broadest of disciplines and psychology as a special science is precarious, at best. It cannot be denied that Branden significantly examined many psychological elements that were implicit in Rand's work, and contributed greatly to our understanding  of them. He did so in the magazines he co-edited with Rand (The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist), in a series of articles he wrote on self-esteem, pseudo-self-esteem, social metaphysics, and psycho-epistemology. He provided an explicit discussion of ideas that Rand did not fully explore in her own writings. But in applying these concepts, the early Branden fell into the error of using them not as tools of cognition with which to understand human behavior, but as tools of emotional abuse with which to control those in the growing inner circle of Randian admirers---and it cannot be said that Rand deplored this practice, for she often encouraged it, or used it herself. It was the employment of psychological ideas for social control that led Jeff Walker to characterize Branden not as the father of the self-esteem movement, but as "The Godfather of Self-Esteem". While the metaphor is over the top---Branden lacked both the fists and the guns available to Don Vito Corleone---it is nonetheless true that he was responsible for much damage.
This includes, of course, the damage that Branden did to his relationship with Ayn Rand and to the movement he worked so hard to create. As Sciabarra puts it, Branden, "like every other human being on earth had his faults." It was not that he conducted a relationship with a woman (Ayn Rand) twenty-five years his senior, but that he lied to Rand as that relationship collapsed . . .  It was for this dishonesty that he was ultimately exiled from Rand's life and from organized Objectivism for all eternity. But in self-disclosure, there is a path to self-redemption. As Sciabarra argues: "[I]t was in his post-Randian years that Branden made his biggest impact. He owned up to the damage he did to so many people when he used psychology as a sledgehammer in the Randian Inner Circle to the detriment of many talented and tender human beings. But he also traced the rationalism that was poisoning the philosophy; instead of being a path to uplift, it often became a path to self-repression, self-flagellation, pain, fear, and guilt. It was the height of horrific irony that a movement based on individualism would give birth to The Collective, where group-think discouraged independent thought. But Branden wrote Breaking Free and The Disowned Self, both of which began the very process of breaking free from the worst aspects of that legacy, to which he himself had contributed . . ."
Sciabarra observed . . .  that it was . . . Branden's path toward self-redemption [that] became a path for millions, among them many former Objectivists whose lives were damaged by the cultic aspects of the movement---aspects that Branden once fostered.
And that is one reason this symposium is necessary. . . .  It is surely time to reexamine Branden's contributions across the board. And this symposium leaves almost no relevant discipline untouched.
In Section I, "The Rand Years," we begin with filmmaker Duncan Scott's essay, "The Movement That Began on a Dining Room Table," which discusses the visionary role played by Nathaniel Branden in systematizing Ayn Rand's philosophy and launching an Objectivist movement. Branden's achievements, argues Scott, were accomplished despite deep skepticism and considerable resistance among those within and outside of Rand's circle. And yet, with highly unlikely odds for success, Branden inspired hardworking individuals to use their talents to launch what became a cultural and political phenomenon.
One of our advisory board members, a Professor of Anthropology at Florida Atlantic University, Susan Love Brown, follows with a truly controversial---dare we say, provocative---discussion of the personal relationship between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden. In "Nathaniel Branden's Oedipus Complex," Brown applies an Oedipal interpretation to this aspect of Branden's life story, one that ultimately resulted in his ability to break free and become his own person.
The last entry in Section I, "Objectivism: Past and Future," is the first appearance in print of a lecture and question-answer session that Branden gave in 1996 before the California Institute for Applied Objectivism. We thank the Estate of Nathaniel Branden, and Leigh Branden in particular, for allowing us to bring this eye-opening session to a wider audience. In many ways, it provides an intellectual culmination to the first section, because it allows Branden to articulate his agreements and disagreements with Rand, from the perspective of a man nearly thirty years removed from the official movement he practically created. It challenges us to think of his whole body of work as a part of Objectivism, or, at the very least, a kind of neo-Objectivism still rooted fundamentally in that which he learned from Rand.
Roger Bissell, who transcribed the Branden lecture, leads off Section II, which we've titled simply "Reflections"---by various individuals who came to know Branden from a variety of disciplines and walks of life. It was through Branden that Bissell, whose works on music, aesthetics, logic, epistemology, and politics have appeared regularly in these pages, came to read Rand, and his essay shows a special appreciation for Branden's wit, wisdom, and welcoming attitude toward new ideas.
Another JARS advisory board member, a Professor of English and Theatre Arts at the University of Texas, El Paso, Mimi Reisel Gladstein, tells us of "The Impact of Nathaniel Branden" on her career---how, if it were not for his initial encouragement, she would hardly have become the Rand scholar she is.
Tal Ben-Shahar, who taught two of the largest psychology classes in the history of Harvard University, provides a touching glimpse of his personal relationship with Branden, who greatly influenced the development of his approach to psychology. His essay, "My Aristotle," details the ways in which Branden helped him both academically and personally.
Deepak Sethi, the CEO of Organic Leadership, follows with his "Personal Reflections on Nathaniel Branden: My Guru and More," which tells the story of how Branden's work inspired him to collaborate with the trailblazing self-esteem theorist, not only on an article that made an impact in the business community . . . but on a series of leadership programs that integrated Branden's sentence-completion techniques into sessions, exploring ways on how to raise the levels of self-esteem among those in the work environment.
Michael E. Southern, a client, an intern, and an eventual friend to Branden, follows with an extraordinary personal memoir---"My Years with Nathaniel Branden"---which tells the story of how Branden helped to liberate Southern from a host of demons. It is also a wide-ranging explication of all of the eclectic, and often literally amazing, techniques that Branden used in his clinical practice.
This essay serves as a natural transition to Section III, to which we've given a Branden-style sentence-completion stem: "If Branden's Works Were Studied by More Academic and Clinical Psychologists. . . ." The section features five individuals in the field who examine Branden's works from diverse perspectives.
Coeditor Robert L. Campbell, Professor of Psychology at Clemson University, provides us with a personal testament to Branden's impact on the development of his career and research interests. He credits Branden's book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem, with having helped him to choose psychology as a career, and considers the gulf in modern American psychology between academic research and clinical practice, which Branden was only partly successful at bridging.
Walter Foddis, a clinical psychology doctoral student, gives his own suggestions about bridging. "Branden's Self-Esteem Theory within the Context of Academic Psychology" presents a new theory of self-esteem that synthesizes ideas from Branden and theorists from clinical, developmental, and social psychology. Foddis documents Branden's influence on his own development of a qualitative and quantitative measurement procedure, the Self-Esteem Sentence Completion Instrument, to assess people's sources of self-esteem.
A biochemist and doctoral student in clinical psychology, Teresa I. Morales Gerbaud provides us with an essay, "Nathaniel Branden's Legacy to the Science of Clinical Psychology," on Branden's essentially, not incidentally, biocentric approach. Branden had characterized "his approach to psychology and psychotherapy as 'biocentric'," which, of course, means "life-centered," focusing on "the study of human beings" from an evolutionary or "life-centered perspective" [quotes from Branden's Informal Discussion of Biocentric Therapy].  Morales puts into sharp focus Branden's concerns with the interplay of the conscious and nonconscious aspects of the mind.
Psychotherapist Andrew Schwartz takes on Branden's dialectical concerns with the whole organism in his essay, "Adler, Branden, and the Third Wave Behavior Therapists: Nathaniel Branden in the Context of the History of Clinical Psychology." In this examination, he situates Branden's contributions to clinical psychology in the traditions of cognitive and behavioral therapy. Specifically, he traces the way they were anticipated in Alfred Adler's "Individual Psychology" (a more accurate translation, as Schwartz reveals, would be "Holistic Psychology") and their similarities with contemporary developments, such as the functional contextual Acceptance and Commitment Therapy of Steven Hayes and the Dialectical Behavior Therapy of Marsha Linehan.
The section concludes with an essay by psychologist Joel F. Wade, "Nathaniel Branden and Devers Branden and the Discipline of Happiness." Wade explores his personal experiences with both Nathaniel and his wife Devers (born Estelle Israel; married to Branden in 1978, divorced in 2003), and the ways in which their techniques influenced his own approach. Wade emphasizes how Devers influenced Nathaniel's work in developing a conception of happiness as a discipline, and one approach that they developed together to build on this through their work with sub-personalities, which draws on an idea of Carl Jung's.
Our Epilogue is written by one of JARS's founding editors, Stephen Cox, Professor of Literature at the University of California, San Diego. "Nathaniel Branden in the Writer's Workshop" details the ways in which Branden was both inspired by imaginative literature and ambitious to create it himself. Cox traces the history of his remarkable literary relationship with Branden, and provides us with a moving perspective on the literary Branden, a man hitherto unseen.
We conclude the symposium with a Nathaniel Branden Annotated Bibliography, by far the  most extensive in print. It traces not only all of his books, articles, and lectures, but much of the secondary literature. It was compiled by Roger E. Bissell, Robert L. Campbell, Stephen Cox, Roderick T. Long, and Chris Matthew Sciabarra.
This symposium has been four years in the making; we hope our readers reap the rewards of an anthology that could have come into being only in a climate of intellectual diversity---a climate that this journal has championed since its inception in 1999.

Needless to say, there is much more in the Campbell-Sciabarra "Prologue"---and even our summary of the essays in this extraordinary symposium provides just a small indication of the treasures readers will discover within its pages.

For more information on the symposium, please consult the JARS page for its abstracts and contributor biographies.  And don't forget to explore the many new and wonderful features of our fully reconstructed website, courtesy of our webmaster, Michael E. Southern, himself a contributor to the Nathaniel Branden symposium. (And I'd also like to thank our indefatigable PSUP copyeditor, Joseph Dahm, for all his wonderful work on this and all of our issues, and to give a "shout-out" to Jennifer Frost, whose Grammar Check always offers helpful tips even to those of us who have been editing for decades!)

We believe this issue constitutes a seminal moment not only in the sixteen-year history of our journal, but in the evolving scholarly literature on the impact of "Ayn Rand and her times," one of the very purposes for which JARS was founded way back in 1999.

December 10, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life

I just finished reading a typical "libertarian" takedown of yet another classic Christmas tale, long celebrated in American culture: "It's a Wonderful Life," one of the finest Frank Capra films ever made. This critique is by Tom Mullen. Years ago, I read another typical "libertarian" takedown of "A Christmas Carol," (and Tom Mullen appears to be of the same school of thought on this story as well) and what occurs to me is that in both cases, the libertarian critics completely miss the point because they are too busy focusing on the dollars-and-cents issues of how businesspeople are portrayed in these tales. I'll grant the critics one major point: these tales do contain what Ayn Rand often called "mixed premises." Such "mixed premises" are on display in much of Western literature, film, and art in general. But anyone who shares in the larger, benevolent sense of life that Rand saw in American culture should learn to "bracket out" some of the conventional "pink" premises often slipped into films that give us cardboard-cutout portraits of greedy businessmen who operate in very one-dimensional ways almost always understood in terms of strict dollars and cents. Rand herself, however, often fell victim to being incensed by such portraits that she could not see the value of great films, like "The Best Years of Our Lives," which put forth such nefarious notions as "the banker with a heart." Rand didn't "get it": as a 1946 film release, like that of "It's a Wonderful Life," this movie reached deeply into the cultural psyche of a war-weary American public. Debuting about a year after the official end of the most horrific war in human history, the film provides its audience with a cultural catharsis. It does a terrific job of depicting the palpable struggles of World War II's survivng veterans. The film resonated with the audience, which saw on the silver screen riveting portraits of post-traumatic stress and the struggles of veterans trying to live "normal" lives, despite having lost their limbs in battle. In fact, Harold Russell who actually lost both his hands in the war, received an Oscar for Supporting Actor and an Honorary Oscar for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans."

Then again, I'm the kind of guy who identifies with the subtexts of films that are complex enough to appreciate on a level that might not seem obvious at first blush---hence, till this day, my favorite film of all time remains "A Tale of the Christ": the 1959 version of "Ben-Hur," directed by the same William Wyler who directed "The Best Years of Our Lives," and starring Charlton Heston in the title role. Of course, even Rand the atheist could appreciate great literature and great film, no matter how deep its religious context. As I state in my essay on "Ben-Hur":

Ayn Rand herself counted a Biblical work of historical fiction as among her favorites. She regarded Quo Vadis? by Henryk Sienkiewicz as one of the greatest novels ever written. In fact, Rand tells Ross Baker (Letters of Ayn Rand, 11 December 1945, 251): "A book expert in New York told me that the biggest fiction sellers of all times (and the surest recipe for a bestseller) have always been religious novels with a good story (Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis?, The Robe [all made into spectacular epic films--CMS] )--and that The Fountainhead is a religious novel [insofar as] it gives to . . . readers . . . a sense of faith, courage and moral uplift."

Well, then, for me, and for so many other viewers, there is both reason and rhyme in viewing such films as "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol" as providing precisely that "sense of faith, courage and moral uplift" that nourish the requisite spiritual inspiration sought by most of us on this planet we call home.

So let's turn to "It's a Wonderful Life," the newest punching bag among some critics in libertarian circles. Contary to what Tom Mullen has said in his essay, there is no evidence that George Bailey has been anything but honest with his customers. Even when there is a run on the bank in 1929, when the Stock Market crashes, George tries to explain to each person who put their money in the Bailey Building and Loan Company, that every single one of them signed a contract when they made their initial deposits, with the stipulation that their money would be secure and that if they wanted to withdraw all of their savings at any time, they would receive it within sixty days.

From the first moments of the crash, something engineered by the Federal Reserve System during the Roaring Twenties, Ol' Man Potter, the guy whom Mullen extols as the real "hero" of the film, offers folks 50 cents on the dollar if they come to his bank (not exactly the "generous offer" Mullen celebrates). He's the kind of guy who was probably involved in the Fed's 1913 formation, which made twentieth-century booms and busts both possible---and inevitable, including the 1929 crash depicted in the film. And he's also the kind of guy who took pride in running the Draft Board, assisting his government to draft men into involuntary servitude on the precipice of World War II. Yeah, a real hero, that Mr. Potter.

And let's not forget [SPOILER ALERT!] that Potter is as guilty as sin for stealing $8000 from the absent-minded Uncle Billy, who was just about to deposit it. There is nothing redeemable about sending another business into a tailspin by stealing its deposits in an act of outright thievery.

Now, let's get back to the real meaning of "It's a Wonderful Life," and why it is that so many people regard it as a holiday classic. The irony is that when it was released, it wasn't as successful in its first run because people found it too "dark"; after all, the plot twist of the final reel reads like a script from an episode of Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone": at the end of his rope, with $8000 of bank deposits missing, the prospect of financial scandal and prison hanging over his head, George Bailey is ready to end it all by jumping off a bridge. And Clarence, Bailey's Guardian Angel, is looking to earn his wings, which he can't do unless he saves George. So Clarence jumps into the water and starts screaming for help. George Bailey, played beautifully by the great James Stewart, forgets his own intended act of self-sabotage, because inside of him is a benevolent sense of life, a sense of life so profound that at the moment of contemplating suicide, he saves the life of another man. When Clarence explains that he can't "earn his wings" without saving George, George is so mystified by all this "angel" talk, and he's beyond disgusted: "I wish I'd never been born."

In a moment of remarkable inspiration, Clarence grants George his wish. That's it, he says: You've never been born. There's no George Bailey.

So when George makes his way back to Bedford Falls, Clarence tagging along, he discovers that the town is now known as Pottersville, and it is like one gigantic speakeasy, violent and decadent. He goes into the local bar, and the bartender doesn't recognize him. George sees an old, haggard Mr. Gower, his first employer, enter the bar. He's just been released from jail, apparently, serving a prison term for manslaughter for having poisoned a child. Bailey tells Clarence that this is impossible: As a kid, George worked at Mr. Gower's pharmacy; Gower (played by the gracefully expressive H. B. Warner), distraught over the death of his own son from influenza, mistakenly mixes poison into a prescription meant for another child. But Clarence tells George that the boy died because George wasn't around to alert Mr. Gower of his carelessness. Angry exchanges ensue in the bar, and before you know it, he and Clarence are thrown out on their butts.

George tells Clarence that Harry, his brother, had just gotten the Medal of Honor for saving an amphibious transport by shooting down a Kamikaze pilot in the Pacific War against the Japanese. But Clarence tells George that Harry Bailey wasn't there to save the transport because George wasn't alive to save Harry, who nearly drowned as a kid, falling into the ice on a frozen lake in Bedford Falls. George has no wife (Mary became an "old maid," says Clarence), no children, and a bitter mother who doesn't know him. George is slowly degenerating into a raving maniac, inhabiting a universe that is as unknown to him as he is to it. As the cops chase after him, he runs back toward the bridge, the place where he sought to end his life, and he is crying: "I want to live again."

And suddenly, the nightmare is over: George Bailey lives again to see another day; and all the townspeople who were the beneficiaries of his Building and Loan Company come through for him, as does an old friend, to keep the Building and Loan solvent. Reunited with his wife and family, with the townspeople singing "Auld Lang Syne," his brother Harry alive, George is holding his little girl Zuzu in his arms, and a little bell rings on the Christmas tree behind him. Zuzu tells him that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings. He opens a gift, it's a book from Clarence (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain), and in it, there is an inscription: "No man is a failure who has friends."

What Capra is telling us in this remarkable film (whose plot twist has been used as a device in so many other stories on both the big and small screen) is that each one of us has the capacity to lead a wonderful life by the very fact of our existence and by the choices we make that are essential to sustain our lives. We learn that every action we take is like a pebble thrown into still water, the ripple effects of our choices and actions moving out in concentric circles, affecting people, even some people we've never met, in ways that none of us could have possibly anticipated.

Now, it is true that sometimes action or inaction can cause bad unintended consequences. But the importance of Capra's story is that George Bailey is a beautiful soul, and that if we suddenly wipe out the existence of that beautiful soul, the ripple effects cease; it is as if the pebble never touched the still water. And all the things that were done are now undone. And even when we are at the end of our ropes, so-to-speak, it is valuable to pause and to think about all the good in our lives, all of our achievements, personal and professional, and, by that fact, all the effects we have had on those around us. What a truly wonderful testament to the power of a single individual to shape and alter the people and the realities around him. What a tribute to the honor and dignity and life-altering power of the individual that each of us has by virtue of our humanity.

Now, while we're at it, let me turn to another favorite film of the holiday season that has had its share of libertarian naysayers: "A Christmas Carol." In "Scrooge Defended," Michael Levin uses a tactic similar to Tom Mullen, this time in defense of Scrooge as a good businessman, like Ol' Man Potter of "It's a Wonderful Life." A long time ago, on the now defunct site of "The Daily Objectivist," I defended the famed 1951 film version starring the extraordinarily gifted actor, Alastair Sim, who gives a multilayered performance as Ebenezer Scrooge. As I said back in the year 1999:

I challenge Levin and anyone else who sees Alastair Sim in the classic film version of "A Christmas Carol" (1951) to walk away unmoved by this man's transformation. The central issue is a man so torn from his emotional side and from any concern with the effects of his actions on other human beings. His finding of his self is really wonderful to behold. Yes, the film and the book [by Charles Dickens] have lots of mixed premises, some that don't make us comfortable [as libertarians or Objectivists, etc.]. That is the case with many products in English literature. But the story does speak to all of us in many ways, about the need to live integrated lives.

So to the naysayers of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol," there are only two words appropriate in reply, and it's not "Merry Christmas." I say: "Bah, humbug!" Count this libertarian out if you think it's better to live in a world of Pottersvilles or that those who are less fortunate than us should die and decrease the surplus population.

December 09, 2016

John Glenn, RIP

One of my earliest memories as a child was sitting in front of the black-and-white TV we owned, which was the centerpiece of our living room. It was February 20, 1962. I had just turned two years old on February 17th, and the 20th was my mother's birthday (and the birthday of my best pal, Paul, who lived in the apartment next to us). Maybe it was because it was Mom's birthday, or maybe it was just because I was, at two years old, completely and utterly dazzled by the images I saw on the small screen that day.

John Glenn became the first American astronaut to orbit the earth, having lifted off from Cape Canaveral in his Friendship 7 rocket, among the very first group of astronauts of the young Mercury program. And he orbited our planet three times before making a dramatic splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

It is amazing to me that I have such vivid memories of that day in front of the television set; it would be my freshman orientation, so-to-speak, with what became a lifelong education and love affair with the very idea of space travel. In later years, we'd sit in front of the TV to see the Apollo 11 moonlanding and to view the first two human beings from the planet Earth to walk on the moon. I was pinned to the TV when Apollo 13's crew announced, "Houston, we have a problem." I saw a rover drive across the surface of the moon, and the Apollo-Soyuz dockings, and the heartbreaking, tragic Challenger disaster. I have never lost my childlike fascination with space, with the potential of space travel, and with the heroic spirit that motivated those space travelers, each taking "one small step for a man," and "one giant leap for mankind."

This is all quite apart from any of the political dimensions that surround the dawn of the space age, or the political career of Glenn, when he served as Senator of Ohio (and got mixed up in political scandal. Hat tip to Christopher Baker!).

For this two-year old, still lurking inside me, Glenn's flight still encompasses the majesty and wonder of human achievement.

And so it is with sadness that I learned of the passing of John Glenn yesterday, December 8, 2016. He provided me with my first encounter with space travel; that the memory has stayed with me in such a vivid way for over 54 years now is almost as remarkable as the event itself. It was Glenn who ignited, in this two year old, the seeds of the belief in a world of boundless possibilities.

RIP, John Glenn. And thank you.

Postscript: In the Facebook discussion that followed, some questions were raised about John Glenn's post-astronaut, political career, and, by extension, about the nature of government intervention that made the space program possible. I added the following comment:

Thank you Caroline, and Christopher, read the blog entry: I give you a hat tip! I added the point about the political ramifications of the space program (and the political scandals with which Glenn's name is linked) as outside the context of this specific post: how a 2-year old kid watched a man leave the ground atop a rocket, only to orbit the Earth three times and return safely to that Earth. That thrill is forever etched in my mind, regardless of what Glenn was (as a man) or who he became (as a politician). And regardless of the fact that the US space program was government-funded on taxpayer revenue seized by force, by definition, that achievement is what it is. Ayn Rand herself made the distinction of being able to celebrate the moon landing, as a triumph of human achievement, while being opposed to the funding of programs to propel man into space. She was deeply aware of the kinds of distortions in the evolving structure and development of production that resulted anytime the government has stepped in to socialize the risks of "development", as it did with the building of transcontinental railroads in the 19th century (see her essay, "Apollo 11," September 1969, "The Objectivist"). She wrote that the " 'conquest of space' by some men ... [was] accomplished by expropriating the labor of other men who are left without means to acquire a pair of shoes." She points out, of course, that in the space program, taxpayer funding notwithstanding, "the scientists, the technologists, the engineers, the astronauts were free men acting of their own choice. . . . Of all human activities, science is the field least amenable to force: the facts of reality do not take orders." This said, Rand was also aware of another sobering fact: that when government does become heavily involved in the directions of scientific research, what often results is an interventionist dynamic that alters everything from educational to economic institutions, resulting in a self-perpetuating system that leads to a kind of 'military-science-industrial complex' more suited to producing the means and weapons of mass destruction, rather than tools for mass creation. Check out my expanded section in the second edition of "Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical", in Chapter 12, "The Welfare-Warfare State," as well as the story of Project X in Rand's magnum opus, "Atlas Shrugged."

I also added:

I should add that there is much to be said about what Murray Rothbard called the power of the market to transform the products emerging from coercive intervention into products that are of use to consumers, what he called, "a process of converting force to service." See Chapter 6 of my book, "Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism."

December 07, 2016

A Day of Infamy Remembered on Its 75th Anniversary

Seventy-five years ago, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese in what Franklin Delano Roosevelt later termed "a date which will live in infamy." Without even raising any of the historical or political preconditions or effects of this singular event in world history, I'd just like to re-post a link to a Memorial Day tribute I wrote in honor of my Uncle Sam, the man who so influenced me as a child and young adult, that I dedicated my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical to him. I re-post this to show the very real human consequences of that historical event. It can be found on the Liberty and Power Group blog, a 2004 post, A Memorial Day Tribute to Uncle Sam.

December 02, 2016

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

On this day, marking the one-year anniversary of the San Bernardino terror attack, I pause to remember the victims and the survivors.

And yet, somehow, we have survived. There is a culture of life in this country, but especially in this city, New York City, the grandest city on earth, which in 2001 suffered a horrendous attack of its own.

Nothing seems to dampen this country's (or this city's) ability to rise above the rubble, not even a contentious election that has left many of us with the feeling that Armageddon is around the corner. Yet, from the moment Santa Claus comes riding into town at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on its 90th anniversary, surrounded by about a thousand cops, seen and unseen, with submachine guns, something good happens to this city.

Indeed, every time you think the world is heading for the apocalypse, just turn on the Hallmark Movie Channel, where they've been showing Christmas movies nonstop practically since Halloween! The other night I was watching Happy the Cat and Happy the Dog on The Happy Yule Log---and I'm a long-time fan of the ol' WPIX Yule Log, so you know you have to go a long way to move this New York loyalist! But moved I was. How could I not be?

And on Wednesday night, thousands of people gathered around Rockefeller Center in the pouring rain to watch the annual Christmas Tree lighting, along with Mayor Bill DeBlasio, Donald Trump (actually actor and SNL Donald-impersonator Alec Baldwin) and Hillary Clinton (actually SNL comic and Hillary-impersonator Kate McKinnon), striking a chord for unity. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can dampen the New York Values that light up our streets and our hearts at this time of year. This city is a universe unto itself, and if you've not seen the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall or the remarkable light displays that blanket Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, well, you ain't seen nothin'!

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas; we live to grieve those who have lost their lives on American soil on this sad anniversary (in which people were murdered in a facility filled with celebratory Christmas decorations), but we embrace the warmth of a holiday season that reminds us how much life is worth living.

November 23, 2016

George Smith on Rand's Insights on the U.S. "Slide Toward Fascism"

Just wanted to alert readers to a fine article penned by George Smith, "Ayn Rand Predicted an American Slide Toward Fascism" on the FEE website.

I was especially happy to see this discussion resurrected since Rand herself has often been tagged by her detractors as a "fascist"; my own essays on Rand's insights into the U.S. tendencies toward neofascism ("The New Fascism," as she called it) are indexed here. The discussion is particularly important in the days since the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States. Following Rand and others in the libertarian tradition, I've argued that the system of "crony capitalism" or what Roy Childs and others once called "liberal corporativism," is the system that exists in this country; it is not a free market and whether it is peppered with the authoritarian rhethoric (and policies) of the left or of the right, it all comes down to a civil war of pressure groups, each vying for special privileges at the expense of one another, a "class" warfare that not even Karl Marx could have imagined. For as F. A. Hayek so powerfully observed, once political power becomes the central means of gaining social control, it becomes the only power worth having. That is why he argued, in The Road to Serfdom, "the worst get on top." I've expressed my concerns for months now, but it remains to be seen just how much worse this tendency will be manifested in the new administration. Whatever the campaign rhetoric, time will tell. (Ed: And I am reminded by a colleague that in a country where, within a single week, the Chicago Cubs can win the World Series and Donald J. Trump can win the White House, anything is possible!)

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States; I want to wish all my readers a Happy Thanksgiving [YouTube link]. Be thankful that, for now, at least in some crucial aspects, this country remains, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, "a republic, if you can keep it." Which makes Rand's insights into the degeneration of the American republic all the more trenchant.

November 09, 2016

The Day After...

Some years ago, ABC Television showed a made-for-TV film about a nuclear attack on the United States called "The Day After." Well, for many, today is, indeed, "The Day After" the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. His Trump Revolution, over which I expressed grave reservations, propelled him into the greatest bully pulpit the world over.

And yet, despite poll after poll expressing the possibility of a victory for Hillary Clinton, I had my doubts; this morning I expressed those doubts in a post on Facebook, in reply to a comment by my friend and colleague, Douglas Rasmussen, who thought Clinton would win. I wrote:

I have been thinking for a long time that there was a larger constituency that might vote for Trump but that was not showing up in the polls because people were embarrassed to admit it (and I don't blame them!). It's entirely possible of course that Clinton may have still won the national popular vote, but not the Electoral College. I was for neither candidate but hoping that some gridlock would remain to block either candidate's excesses; I'm of the belief, however, that whether this country elected a US-version of Evita Peron or a US-version of Benito Mussolini, there is little if any "establishment" check on the power of those who wield it in the shadows (though I am concerned about Supreme Court candidates who might rollback abortion rights, privacy rights or equal civil marriage rights, etc.). But most real "power" in the US resides outside of the official channels anyway: e.g., the Fed, what libertarians are fond of calling the "state-banking nexus" and the entrenched regulatory-welfare-warfare establishment that benefits "elites" who are forever in the shadows. The bottom line is: This country will see no fundamental change as long as the greatest powers that regulate our lives remain beyond the effects of the ballot box. Period. As long as all the institutional barriers to freedom remain a part of an entrenched system, no one man or one woman can possibly make a difference. They say the job of the next person to become President is to make the last one look good. Well, to the old bosses: welcome to the new boss. Today, the NY Daily News has on its cover a photo of the White House and the banner headline "House of Horrors". Let's just hope that the new boss doesn't make the last one become a candidate for a place on Mount Rushmore (which has a few questionable images sculptured into it already!).

In short, as the Talking Heads never tired of saying throughout the campaign, stealing a line from Bette Davis in "All About Eve": "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night."

Let's just hope there is a truly emergent sunny day after the long, long night that still lies ahead.

November 04, 2016

Don Kates, RIP

Many years ago, when I was an NYU undergraduate, I became a founding member of the NYU chapter of Students for a Libertarian Society. We staged many events over the years, from protests against draft registration under the administration of Jimmy Carter to all-day Liberty events covering everything from domestic to foreign policy. At one of these events, dealing with gun control and Second Amendment rights, we invited a speaker who turned political labels upside down. He was Don B. Kates, Jr., the editor of a remarkable collection of essays titled, Restricting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out. The book was a revelation to me, and whether you disagreed or agreed with any of its contributors, one thing was for certain: Don Kates was a man who never tired of challenging the status quo. He was one of the most provocative writers and speakers who was ever featured at an event on the subject of gun control that I've ever witnessed then, or now.

Through the years, I have been privileged to be on his mailing list, enjoying his many enlightening posts and discussions, which always required you to pause and reflect, and occasionally, to just laugh out loud at the craziness of the world.

I was saddened to hear today that he passed away on November 1, 2016. I wish to send my deepest sympathies to his family and friends. He will be missed.

Postscript: On reflection, I remember that many years ago, Don had spoken to my mother a number of times on the phone, especially as I prepared for the SLS "gun control" event. He remarked that my mother had a voice like Lauren Bacall. Mom was elated. And he gave us a great laugh. He'd routinely ask me how "Lauren" was doing, after Mom had been diagnosed later with lung cancer.

October 20, 2016

Song of the Day #1397

Song of the Day: Nasty, words and lyrics by Jimmy "Jam" Harris III, Terry Lewis, and Janet Jackson, went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B/Hip Hop Singles charts. This 1986 Janet Jackson signature tune, from her #1 album, "Control," is a particularly appropriate "song of the day" today; last night in the final face-off between Benito and Evita, "Nasty Boy" Trumpster called Hillary a "Nasty Woman," and the phrase has now gone viral. Only the future of the republic is on the line, but I'm still chuckling over a comment made by my long-time colleague and friend, David Boaz, who, when asked, "If somebody held a gun to your head, and gave you the choice of The Don or Hillary?" replied: "Take the bullet." Whatever your political persuasion, most of us will look back on this 2016 Presidential campaign as having provided us with some "nasty" entertainment for months. There's only one thing left to do: "Gimme a Beat" (and you thought I was going to say: "Rock the Vote!"). Check out the video to this iconic Janet song [YouTube link] (and yes, in the video, you'll find a young Paula Abdul, who did the choreography).

October 01, 2016

Russian Radical 2.0: The Rand-Marx Parallels

The second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical has continued to spur discussion in print media and online. I will be responding to many of the commentators in a forthcoming essay, "Reply to Critics: The Dialectical Rand," which will be published in the July 2017 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

Today, I wanted to provide a link to an interesting discussion that has been provoked by writer Anoop Verma, on the blog, The Verma Report (formerly "For the New Intellectual"). His discussion and many responses can also be found among those who have access to Facebook. I've added an excerpt from his blog post, which is not a formal review, but a few provocative thoughts about one particular aspect of the book highlighting some of the parallels between Karl Marx and Ayn Rand: "Is There a Connection Between Ayn Rand and Karl Marx?"

Readers can find an excerpt from the blog post here. Also, check out my index of Russian Radical reviews here, as well as an index to all of the blog posts on "Russian Radical 2.0" here.

Enjoy!

Postscript: As one would expect, the discussion on Russian Radical on the Rand-Marx parallels brings out of the woodwork some people who have, for 20+ years, enjoyed crapping on my achievements in that book. I won't let stand some of the wild misinterpretations of the theses presented in that book. Here are some of the comments I made in follow-up on Facebook:

In response to a comment on my understanding of Marx, I wrote:

. . . the picture of Marx that I got was through my NYU Marxist mentor, Bertell Ollman, who wrote THE book on "Alienation" and THE book on the nature of dialectical inquiry, "Dialectical Investigations"; as well as fine works by Scott Meikle ("Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx") and Carol Gould ("Marx's Social Ontology: Individuality and Community in Marx's Theory of Social Reality"). I strongly recommend these works to those interested in a more nuanced picture of Marx. My own book, "Marx; Hayek; And Utopia," is actually the first book in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy." The second book is "Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical," and the finale is "Total freedom : toward a dialectical libertarianism."

In continued discussion, I mention the case of Edward Snowden, I remarked:

BTW, there is a scene apparently in the beginning of Oliver Stone's new movie on Edward Snowden, where Snowden admits his admiration for Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand; read Jeffrey Tucker's piece on it.

And in response to an individual who has been using various Internet forums to dump on Russian Radical for 20+ years, I wrote:

Let me make one extended comment about Mr. A IS A. He has been calling this book intellectual claptrap for 20+ years. And yet, at the time, he confided that the entire section on "The Radical Rand" was a remarkable way of integrating a massive amount of material to show just how radical Rand was in her social analysis. He falls into line though with an entire orthodoxy that came down so hard on the book that they made it among the most successful scholarly studies of Rand ever published, having gone through seven printings, and into a second edition, which, btw, includes two "largely biographical" appendices that are the only sources available of the actual courses Ayn Rand took, the professors with whom she most likely studied, and the texts she most likely read. There are no other places in the literature where this information is available.
Moreover, it is the only book in the nearly 50 years since the 1968 break that reintegrates the canoncial essays and lectures of Nathaniel Btanden and Barbara Branden, the works that Rand herself said were still part of the only "authentic" sources on Objectivism even after her acrimonious break with them. One will strain oneself to find a single reference to any canoncical Branden work anywhere among orthodox thinkers who have airbrushed their contribtuions out of the historical record.
Finally, there is nothing "inessential" about calling Rand a dialectical thinker if one defines dialectics as an essentially Aristotelian tool fundamentally concerned with the "art of context-keeping." To hold context and to ~understand~ that context on multiple levels of generality and from a variety of vantage points is a way of providing us with an enriched view of the problems being analyzed. This is the only way to get to the "root" of those problems, which is why Rand is essentially and always a "radical" (to be "radical" is to go to the "root"). The only thing I can say is that this book has withstood the test of time; for after nearly 20 years of being ignored, it is finally being grappled with in orthodox circles by scholars such as Shoshana Milgram and Gregory Salmieri in the recent "Blackwell Companion to Ayn Rand". [I say in an additional post with regard to this book: It is useful, and it is the first book that begins to grapple not only with Russian Radical, but actually includes critical discussions for the first time in orthodox circles (post-1968) of the contributions of the Brandens to Objectivism. This is a giant step forward in Rand scholarship, and I applaud it.] Milgram actually indicts Rand's recollections of Lossky as her professor, but completely confirms the facts that I unveiled with regard to her college education and her education at the gymnasium of Lossky's in-laws; Salmieri disagrees with characterizing Rand's system as dialectical, but he himself spells out one of the most important characteristics of that which I call dialectical, in his words, her ability to engage in "grand-scale integration across time and across fields in [her] interpretation of the events of her time," something that requires context-holding, an understanding of the facts of reality, and of the law of noncontradiction. On these issues and on others, I have written extensively for years. But I am not going to let Mr. A is A to try to crap all over my achievements and get with away it. Adios!

In a further response to the critic above, I wrote:

I would like to clear the record with regard to my comment above that the critic above "confided that the entire section on 'The Radical Rand' was a remarkable way of integrating a massive amount of material to show just how radical Rand was in her social analysis." I was going on memory. So I just did a search of my archives and wish to post them here, especially since Mr. Aisa has dismissed the book today as "100% wrong." He admits that he found the first "biographical" section of the book as "interesting," though he largely dismissed it in a post to alt.philosophy.objectivism on Sun. 14 Jan 1996, saying he was "quite perplexed reading the entire first section of the book."
But he admits back in 1996, that "Sciabarra's regard for Rand is obvious, and there is no evidence he is trying to smear or attack her.." And he even had a couple of kind things to say about the middle section that he now dismisses as claptrap: "The middle section of Sciabarra's book seemed to me to be an honest thinker's attempt to summarize Objectivism and relate it to Rand's fiction." But here's the part I was referring to; his evaluation of Part 3 of the book, back in 1996:
"The final section [that would be Part 3, "The Radical Rand"] was the only really valuable part of the book, in my view -- an attempt to show the relationship between philosophic ideas and culture, using Objectivism as the subject. I think that many Objectivists could greatly benefit from studying what Sciabarra points out in this section. Philosophic ideas do not exist in a vacuum, and there is a profound interrelationship between culture and philosophic ideas, which is NOT one way. For example, statist political regimes have a very demonstrable effect on what kinds of ideas are taught and promulgated, and free societies likewise. The notions in this section are not absent from Objectivist writings -- for example see: Ayn Rand's essay "Our Cultural Value-Deprivation" (_The Objectivist_, Apr 66) wherein she discusses the relationship between cultural and individual development; and Edith Packer's essay "The Psychological Requirements of a Free Society" (_The Objectivist Forum_, Feb 84), wherein she explains the interrelationship between free thinking people and a free culture -- but some Objectivists seem to latch onto the notion of "philosophy determines history", and not realize the context of that idea, and the profound interrelationships between the spread of ideas, the content of ideas, and individual and cultural practice."
So said Mr. Aisa in January of 1996; I could not have said it better myself. How all of this morphed into a growing, and hostile dismissal of my work as "100% wrong" is anyone's guess, but that's how it has been for the last 20 years since Mr. Aisa made these statements. I guess we are all entitled to change our minds. If Mr. Aisa felt personally insulted by my comments, after he joined in on a discussion that included character assassinations of me as a loon and a liar [comments since deleted, apparently], followed by his dismissal of my work as "claptrap", all I can say is, I agree with some of what Mr. Aisa said... WAY BACK IN 1996.
If folks want to get back to discussing the ideas that Anoop raised at the start of this thread, that would be cool. As for me, I've been through these discusssions as to the value of my work and the value of my character for well over two decades now. It's really starting to get old.

In response to the charge that there is no "orthodoxy" to speak of in the philosophy of Objectivism, I wrote:

The orthodoxy is defined primarily by those who have been affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute and who have had privileged access to the Ayn Rand archives. They have had a history of not citing any Rand scholarship outside of those sources that have been approved by Rand and / or Peikoff and company. They have had a history of not citing any sources outside of the circle of writers who are affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute. And I am NOT referring to Dr. Branden's works after 1968. I am referring to this statement made by Ayn Rand after her break with Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden, in her "Statement of Policy" (June 1968):
"My role in regard to Objectivism is that of a theoretician. Since Objectivism is not a loose body of ideas, but a philosophical system originated by me and publicly associated with my name, it is my right and my responsibility to protect its intellectual integrity. I want, therefore, formally to state that the only authentic sources of information on Objectivism are: my own works (books, articles, lectures), the articles appearing in and the pamphlets reprinted by this magazine (The Objectivist as well as The Objectivist Newsletter), books by other authors which will be endorsed in this magazine as specifically Objectivist literature, and such individual lectures or lecture courses as may be so endorsed. (This list includes also the book Who is Ayn Rand? by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, as well as the articles by these two authors which have appeared in this magazine in the past, but does not include their future works.)"
Let's make one thing clear: Nathaniel Branden presented the first systematized and authorized course on Objectivism in the history of the movement, way back in 1958, a 20-lecture course on the "Basic Principles of Objectivism." Those lectures influenced thousands of people worldwide, and propelled Rand into the role of public philosopher. The Nathaniel Branden Institute presented many additional courses, including Barbara Branden's "Principles of Efficient Thinking" which was a virtual primer on Objectivist psycho-epistemology. These courses were recorded and distributed throughout the world by NBI, and heard by thousands of people throughout the 1960s. Nathaniel Branden wrote the first authorized essays on concepts that became part of the entire Objectivist vernacular: "the stolen concept," "psycho-epistemology," and all his work on self-esteem, psychological visibility, and romantic love. All of these essays appeared in The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist and they were considered even by Rand after her break with Branden in 1968 as part of the only "authentic" sources on Objectivism.
And yet, a fine scholar such as Tara Smith, author of Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics devotes 28 pages to the issue of self-esteem and does not mention a single essay written by Branden during his years of association with Rand, and still a part of the Objectivist canon, according to Rand. She refers to Peikoff. I am not referring to anything written by Branden after 1968 here. I'm talking about his pre-1968 writings. This is the kind of "scholarship" that went on for years, where nobody inside of ARI referred to anybody outside of ARI. That's not objectivity; it's partisanship, and it's disgraceful.
P.S. - The Branden statements on "homosexuality" were in his very early essays; they were deplorable, but no worse than Rand's statements that homosexuality was "disgusting", which she said live in a Ford Hall Forum Q&A session. (I have discussed this in a study of attitudes toward homosexuality in the early Objectivist movement in my monograph, "Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation".)
At least Branden's views on homosexuality evolved over time, and he ultimately accepted gay relationships as mature expressions of human sexuality.
For those who are interested, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies will be presenting a book-length symposium called "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy" in December 2016, a double-issue, published by Pennsylvania State University Press, that will also be available in a Kindle edition. It features contributions from nearly 20 authors in disciplines as diverse as cognitive and academic psychology, anthropology, literature, history, political theory, film, and more, discussing everything from the Rand years to the scientific and empirical status and usefulness of Branden's work as the so-called "father" of the self-esteem movement in psychology.

September 15, 2016

Zornberg's "Jews, Quakers and the Holocaust"

Jews, Quakers and the Holocaust: The Struggle to Save the Lives of Twenty-Thousand Children
By Ira Zornberg

Available in both Kindle and paperback editions from Amazon.com.


It is customary in reviews of this sort to state one's biases upfront. With author Ira Zornberg, I have an enormous bias. As I said in an interview in Full Context , Ira Zornberg had a "big influence on me." He was my Social Studies teacher at John Dewey High School, who was the first teacher in the United States to bring the study of the Holocaust to high school students." I credit him for his encouragement of my growing political philosophy and for my first forays into political writing and academic editing. Indeed, he was the faculty advisor of the school's social studies newspaper, Gadfly, of which I eventually became editor-in-chief. I knew that I was making waves when one of the front-page essays I wrote, criticizing the school's "Young Socialist Alliance," ended up face forward in the boy's bathroom, in the urinal, where it had been baptized by human excrement. If they ain't talkin' about you, or pissin' on you, you ain't makin' a difference. One of the lessons I learned early on.

But the lessons I learned from Zornberg in that trailblazing class on the Holocaust were lessons I simply could never have learned anywhere else or in any other gifted high school. At least back then, John Dewey High School was a shining beacon that encouraged independent study. With a school year divided into five cycles, the school provided specialized course offerings that ran the gamut from the Crusades to the Kennedy assassination. But Zornberg's course was unique for its intensity and sheer depth. We studied the origins of anti-Semitism, the birth of the national socialist movement in Germany, the waning days of the Weimar Republic, the rise of the Third Reich, and the tribalist. racist, and anti-Semitic cultural premises that empowered it. Such premises provided a rationale for a "Final Solution" that led to the inversion of the rule of law, the destruction of "undesirables," and a war against European Jewry that culminated in a network of concentration camps and the systematic slaughter of millions of people.

Ultimately, however, the biggest lesson that Zornberg taught me was to be true to your convictions, to engage your critics constructively, and to value civil discourse. I learned too that this was a man who embodied intellectual honesty and a sense of justice that required a recognition of the inviolability of individual human dignity. His serious commitment to the teaching of history and his remarkable capacity as mentor and guide, made an indelible mark on my young student's mind. Then, as today, I honor him, and I am proud to call him my friend.

So, when Superstorm Sandy hit, and I learned that Zornberg had lost virtually all of his library and his 40+ years of lesson plans, I offered to send him all the copious notes I took from his Holocaust class. After the October 10, 2013 fire that nearly consumed our apartment, I had the occasion to completely reorganize my file system, and among the things that survived were all my notes and papers from his superb course, which I attended as a senior at Dewey. I photocopied them and sent them to him; he expressed appreciation for the accuracy of my notetaking, which reflected the mind of a young student, whose answers raised even more questions, questions that could never be answered quite to my satisfaction. After all, students of history and even a generation of scholars who have written hundreds of books in the Holocaust, have been probing the madness of genocide for eons, and it is virtually impossible to wrap one's mind around the kind of phenomenon that could possibly give birth to a multiplicity of savage cruelties, ingenious forms of torture, and sophisticated instruments of mass murder, all used by real human beings to destroy the lives of other real human beings. I remember discovering Ayn Rand during that final year of high school, and I shared Leonard Peikoff's book, The Ominous Parallels, with my teacher. But the nightmare of the Holocaust remains deeply embedded in my mind, if only for the sheer scale of human horror that it exhibited.

Which makes reviewing his new book all the more wonderful---because this man of honor has turned out a book that reflects all the virtues and values he exemplified as a great teacher. And he is teaching us still. I was ecstatic to learn of my former teacher's continuing work in this area of study. His new book on the subject, Jews, Quakers and the Holocaust: The Struggle to Save the Lives of Twenty-Thousand Children, is more than a revelation; it is a testament not only to the horrors of Nazi Germany, but to the heroic, largely thwarted, efforts of some to save the lives of others: those who were slated for extermination by Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. As Zornberg tells us in his introduction, this book

describes the causes of the immigration crisis of 1939, the response of those who were the targets of its venom, the efforts of American Jews to assist people of their faith, the denial of locations for resettlement, the Kindertransport in Europe, and the struggle led by Christians who fought to save the lives of Jewish children. It identifies people who labored to save the lives of the Jewish children. It cites the arguments and acts of those who fought for the passage of the Wagner-Rogers Bill, and the arguments employed by its adversaries. The struggle to win congressional approval for that bill failed.
This is an American story because it is a part of the history and debate over the nature of U.S. immigration policies. . . . This story adds to our common knowledge of the U.S. immigration policies, and will hopefully provide an additional basis for constructive contemporary reasoning.

Zornberg provides us first with an historical context, a portrait of a complex "background" to the cataclysm that was to engulf Germay, Europe, and eventually the world. We move from the tribalist and racist biases that were deeply embedded in German culture to the birth of the Nuremberg Laws, which encoded not the rule of law, but the rule of Aryan blood and the criminalization of Jewish blood. He discusses at length the response of German Jews to this perversion of law. Many emigrated to other countries. Indeed, an estimated 60,000 German Jews were among the
emigrees, and many of them had fought loyally as Germans during World War I. They eventually reached Palestine due to a "transfer agreement" between the German finance ministry and the Jewish Agency in Palestine.

We are given glimpses of rapidly unfolding events that both expressed and magnified the anti-Semitism of the Nazi regime. One of those glimpses of discrimination was on display at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, including the last minute removal of Marty Glickman" of the U.S. track team from several Olympic track events (Glickman was a classmate of my mother's at James Madison High School).

In 1938, the Night of Broken Glass ("Kristallnacht") followed, and slowly the exits from Europe were closing to Jews who sought to escape from the onslaught of Nazi brutality. It was in the wake of Kristallnacht, Zornberg tells us, that the "Quakers were to assume important roles in the effort to assist Jews," focusing especially on rescuing Jewish children from German territories.

It is not that Jews were silent during these years of growing repression. But the response of Jews and non-Jews alike, in America, was far more complicated and complex. Anti-Semitism knew no national boundaries, and it was alive and well in the United States of America, a country whose various government sterilization programs for the "unfit" inspired Hitler himself.

Yes, the United States had a history of welcoming immigrants. Indeed, the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, was not a hollow symbol taking up space in New York Harbor. It gave expression to the principles of freedom that encapsulated the promise of America. And yet, throughout U.S. history, various quotas on immigration existed, and in the context of post-World War I America, the "Emergency Quota Act of 1921" was enacted, illustrative of the emergent, and growing, isolationist political culture. By the time of the Great Depression, with unemployment reaching historic heights, Zornberg writes, the demands for even greater "limits to immigration came from many quarters, and they provided a cover for those whose intent was to limit the immigration of Jews without openly saying so.

So, though many Jews fought hard to lobby Congress and other organizations to make America a refuge for those seeking freedom from Nazi tyranny, they were keenly aware that anti-Semitism was a reality in the U.S., and, Zornberg argues, this "helps explain why many Jewish organizations chose to be supportive of Christian efforts to assist refugees rather than assume the public face of those efforts," which would have only further fueled such anti-Semitism.

The portrait Zornberg paints of these heroic Christian efforts is both poignant and instructive.

The story is a testament to a Quaker act of human decency and it is at the soul of Zornberg's work in this extraordinary book. It is an inspiring tale that uplifts the human spirit. The attention to detail that Zornberg exhibits in his exploration of this historical episode is exemplary. We learn that politics is politics no matter what era of history we study. He examines in great detail the heroic roles of such people as New York psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Marion Kenworthy in calling for an American Kindertransport and of Clarence Pickett of the Quakers' American Friends Service Committee in fighting for the passage of the Wagner-Rogers Bill, which would have allowed for the entrance into America of 20,000 Jewish children under the age of 14. The bill never came to a vote, getting no help from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was clearly "not emotionally committed to saving European Jews." The political machinations that went on in the fight for this bill are revealed by Zornberg in all their shameful details.

Ultimately, of course, the Quakers were involved in worldwide efforts to stem the tide of terror; the historical record shows that the American Friends Service Committee "chose Jewish children from [their] homes and refugee camps in southern France for transfer to the United States under the auspices of the U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children," exhibiting "that interfaith activity on behalf of European Jews could be successful."

But this success, however modest, does not erase the dishonorable actions of politicians and various opinion-makers who brought the Wagner-Rogers Bill down to defeat.

I must say that Zornberg's epilogue alone is worth the price of admission. He reminds us that in 1939, when the Wagner-Rogers Bill was crushed by political cowardice, many Americans had embraced an Action comic book hero in Superman, a character developed by Jerry Siegel and Joel Schuster, two Jews living in Cleveland. Zornberg concludes powerfully:

As an adult, Superman fights the forces of evil, intent upon world domination. In embracing Superman as an American hero, Americans were embracing a survivng child, an alien, as a defender of our nation. This was something our lawmakers in the spring of 1939 refused to do.

The problem of immigration is surely one that continues to plague the U.S. political landscape to this very day; the issues may differ considerably from the crises of the 1930s, but the threats today are certainly no worse than the threats posed by the Third Reich. If nothing else, Zornberg's book provokes us to focus on yesterday's history and today's issues with the care of a highly-skilled surgeon's scalpel, rather than with the sledgehammer of the various demagogues among us.

This is a five-star book that I cannot more strongly recommend. In a summary of the above review, I say at Amazon.com ("A Provocative History That Speaks to Contemporary Immigration Issues"):

Zornberg’s new book, Jews, Quakers and the Holocaust: The Struggle to Save the Lives of Twenty-Thousand Children, is more than a revelation; it is a testament not only to the horrors of Nazi Germany, but to the heroic efforts of some to save the lives of those who were slated for extermination by Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. … The story of the Quaker’s attempts to save the lives of Jewish children is a story of human decency that reveals the soul of Zornberg's work; it is an inspiring tale that uplifts the human spirit…. The problem of immigration is surely one that continues to plague the U.S. landscape to this very day; the issues may differ considerably from the crises of the 1930s, but the threats today are certainly no worse than the threats posed by the Third Reich. If nothing else, Zornberg's book provokes us to think through yesterday's history and today's issues with the care of a highly-skilled surgeon's scalpel, rather than with the sledgehammer of the various demagogues among us. This is a five-star book that I cannot more strongly recommend.

September 11, 2016

WTC Remembrance: Fifteen Years Ago - Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine

My annual series, "Remembering the World Trade Center," turns this year to my own personal reflections on the fifteenth anniversary of the day that my hometown was attacked in 2001, a day that changed our lives forever. These reflections emerge from my viewing of a series of VHS tapes that I used to record the tragic events of that day and the days, weeks, and months that followed. My focus for this essay is exclusively on the unfolding minute-by-minute television coverage from 8:46 a.m. to midnight on the day of terror that we commemorate today.

I have to admit that this essay was one of the most difficult, and yet cathartic, pieces I've ever written in my entire life. I invite readers to view the newest addition to my annual series here.

I also provide this index for those readers who would like easy access to the previous entries in this series:

2001: As It Happened . . .

2002: New York, New York

2003: Remembering the World Trade Center: A Tribute

2004: My Friend Ray

2005: Patrick Burke, Educator

2006: Cousin Scott

2007: Charlie: To Build and Rebuild

2008: Eddie Mecner, Firefighter

2009: Lenny: Losses and Loves

2010: Tim Drinan, Student

2011: Ten Years Later

2012: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

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

2014: A Museum for the Ages: A Pictorial

2015: A New One World Trade Center Rises From the Ashes: A Pictorial

2016: Fifteen Years Ago: Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine


Never forget.

Postscript: Much appreciation to Ilana Mercer, who has noted the newest essay on her blog here. She writes:

I recall calling Chris Matthew Sciabarra around the time September 11 happened. Like the best of New York, Chris was hyper, in fight-but-never-flight mode. That’s my Chris. And he has commemorated the attack on the greatest city in the world—was I overcome by patriotism when I visited New York!—his hometown, in the most personal way each year.

Postscript 2: Much appreciation to Rational Review News Digest for making this the lead commentary in their September 11th edition. See here. Special thanks to long-time colleague and friend Thomas L. Knapp for noticing.

August 17, 2016

Ayn Rand, David Cross, and Hypocrisy

Ilana Mercer recently made me aware of some off-the-wall [YouTube, sorry, couldn't resist MJ] comments by stand-up comedian David Cross on Ayn Rand. I'll just have to chalk up his, uh, misunderstanding to the fact that he's a comedian, and not somebody who has actually studied Rand's corpus. On his new Netflix special, he makes the following statement:

"Let's be honest, that's what makes America weak, is empathy. When we care about those less fortunate than ourselves, that['s] what brings us down. . . . Ask Ayn Rand—I believe you can still find her haunting the public housing she died in while on Social Security and Medicare."

Now, it's not my intention to simply defend Ayn Rand; she did a good job of that when she was alive, and her writings have stood the test of time, whatever one thinks about her position on this or that particular issue. But Cross is just all crossed up. About so many things.

First, let's clear up one grand myth: Ayn Rand never lived in public housing. I recently queried Rand biographer, Anne Heller, who wrote the 2009 book, Ayn Rand and the World She Made. Heller could provide us with every address Rand ever lived at, and not a single one of them corresponds to a public housing project. But even if Rand lived in the Marlboro Housing Projects in Brooklyn, who cares? More on this, in a moment.

Now, it is true that Rand did collect Social Security and Medicare. Ayn Rand Institute-affiliated writer, Onkar Ghate, addresses the so-called hypocrisy of this fact about Ayn Rand's life in his essay, "The Myth About Ayn Rand and Social Security." Ghate reminds us that Rand opposed

every "redistribution" scheme of the welfare state. Precisely because Rand views welfare programs like Social Security as legalized plunder, she thinks the only condition under which it is moral to collect Social Security is if one "regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism" (emphasis hers). The seeming contradiction that only the opponent of Social Security has the moral right to collect it dissolves, she argues, once you recognize the crucial difference between the voluntary and the coerced. Social Security is not voluntary. Your participation is forced through payroll taxes, with no choice to opt out even if you think the program harmful to your interests. If you consider such forced "participation" unjust, as Rand does, the harm inflicted on you would only be compounded if your announcement of the program's injustice precludes you from collecting Social Security.

Rand felt the same way about any number of government programs, including government scholarships, and such. In reality, Rand got a free education at the University of Petrograd in the Soviet Union, a newly-minted communist state; next to that, collecting Social Security is "a mere bag of shells," as Ralph Kramden would put it. But, you see, that's the whole issue, isn't it? Rand was born in the Soviet Union, and even that state wasn't "pure communism," as Marx envisioned it; for Marx, communism could only arise out of an advanced stage of capitalism, which, in his quasi-utopian imagination, would solve the problem of scarcity. The point is that there is not a single country on earth or in any historical period that has ever fit the description of a pure "-ism"; to this extent, Rand was completely correct to characterize her moral vision of "capitalism" as an "unknown ideal."

But there is a second point that is lost on critics who accuse Rand of hypocrisy; there is not a single person on earth who isn't born into a specific historical context, a particular place and time. At any period in history, we live in a world that provides us with a continuum of sorts, enabling us to navigate among the "mixed" elements of the world's "mixed" economies, that is, those economies that have various mixtures of markets and state regimentation. But as that world becomes more interconnected, the destructiveness of the most powerful politico-economic institutions and processes extend in ripple effects across the globe. And as F. A. Hayek never tired of saying, the more political power comes to dominate the world economies, the more political power becomes the only power worth having... one of the reasons "why the worst get on top." What Hayek meant, of course, is that in such a system, those who are most adept at using political power (the power of coercion) for their own benefit tend to rise to the top, leaving the vast majority of us struggling to make a buck. The "road to serfdom" is a long one, but serfdom is among us; it comes in the form of confiscatory taxation and expropriation to sustain an interventionist welfare state at home and a warfare state abroad.

I have always believed that context is king. And given the context in which we live, everyone of us has to do things we don't like to do. Even anarchists, those who by definition believe that the state itself lacks moral legitimacy, can't avoid walking down taxpayer-funded, government-subsidized sidewalks or travel on taxpayer-funded government-subsidized roads and interstate highways, or taxpayer-funded government-subsidized railroads, or controlled airways.

Then there's the issue of money. You know, whether of the paper, coin, or plastic variety. There are many on both the libertarian "right" and the new "left" who have argued that the historical genesis of the Federal Reserve System was a way of consolidating the power of banks, allowing banks (and their capital-intensive clients) to benefit from the inflationary expansion of the money supply. This has also had the added effect of paying for the growth of the bureaucratic welfare state to control the poor and the warfare state to expand state and class expropriation of resources across the globe. And it has led to an endless cycle of boom and bust. And yet, there isn't a person in the United States of whatever political persuasion who cannot avoid using money printed or coined by the Fed. Even among those on the left, so-called "limousine liberals" (a pejorative phrase used to describe people of the "left-liberal" persuasion who are hypocrites by definition) or those who advocate "democratic socialism" of the Sanders type, or those who advocate outright communism, own private property and buy their goods and services with money from other private property owners. It seems that there is not a single person on earth of any political persuasion who isn't a hypocrite, according to the "logic" of David Cross.

Ever the dialectician, I believe that given the context, the only way of attempting even partial restitution from a government that regulates everything from the boardroom to the bedroom is to milk the inner contradictions of the system.

But some individuals can't get restitution, because they were victims of another form of government coercion: the military draft. Ayn Rand believed that the draft was involuntary servitude, the ultimate violation of individual rights, based on the premise that the government owned your life and could do with it anything it pleased, including molding its draftees into killing machines, and sending them off to fight in undeclared illegitimate wars like those in Korea and Vietnam (both of which Rand opposed). What possible restitution is available to those who were murdered in those wars, or even to those who survived them, but who were irreparably damaged, physically and/or psychologically, by their horrific experiences on the killing fields?

The draft is no longer with us, and David Cross should be thanking that good ol' hypocrite Ayn Rand for the influence she had on the ending of that institution. Such people as Hank Holzer, Joan Kennedy Taylor, and Martin Anderson were among those who mounted the kind of intellectual and legal challenge to conscription that ultimately persuaded then President Richard M. Nixon to end the military draft.

And yet, Rand's taxes were certainly used to pay for the machinery of conscription and for the machinery of war; does this make her a hypocrite too, or should she have just refused to pay taxes and gone to prison? Yeah, that would have been productive. Perhaps she could have authored more works of fiction or nonfiction anthologies, chock-full of essays on epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, politics, economics, and culture from Rikers Island. Yeah, then Cross would have been correct: Rand surely would have been living in the worst public housing imaginable.

Thanks for giving me a chuckle, Mr. Cross.

Postscript: I was just made aware of a very detailed essay on the subject of "Ayn Rand, Social Security and the Truth," at the Facebook page of The Moorfield Storey Institute.

Postscript #2: Thanks to Ilana Mercer, who alerted me to Cross's "comedy," and for reprinting this post on her own "Barely a Blog." We're obviously compadres; a "Notablog" and a "Barely a Blog" are close enough to be cousins. :)

Song of the Day #1379

Song of the Day: The McLaughlin Group ("Main Theme") [Television Tunes link] opened up this show every week, where viewers have been treated since 1982 to shouting matches between the discussants, among them, regulars such as Patrick Buchanan and Brooklyn-born Eleanor Clift. I often thought that only New Yorkers could really appreciate the ability of the discussants to speak louder and louder over each other, but the show has always been syndicated and appreciated nationally. Sadly, the host of the show, John McClaughlin, missed his first show in the entire run of the series last weekend [YouTube link] (though he still provided the voiceovers for the opening and the "Issue 1," "Issue 2" and so forth announcements). He passed away yesterday at the age of 89. I don't know how or if the show will continue, but it certainly provided this political junkie with a half hour of entertaining discussion of current events every Sunday morning. Check out also an alternative rendering of the theme, an orchestral version of the theme, a YouTube remembrance, his appearance in the film "Independence Day," and his famous "Bye Bye" [YouTube links].

August 11, 2016

U.S. Foreign Policy: The Boomerang Effect or How the Chickens Come Home to Roost

Readers should check out an extraordinary full-length New York Times Magazine exclusive, "Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart."

So much of what is discussed in this article provides us with too many examples of the unintended consequences and boomerang effects of U.S. foreign policy, a lesson in how the "chickens come home to roost," whatever the intentions of the initial actors in history.

Of course, U.S. foreign policy cannot be evaluated as a sole causal agent in the history of the Middle East, and the Times series does not even suggest this; after all, the U.S. has been involved in the Middle East for a century or so, but the tribalist and ideological insanity that has been embedded in that part of the world has gone on for centuries. I've had a lot to say about this for over a decade now. So I've taken an opportunity to provide readers with an index to many of the essays I've authored on the subject over the years:

"Understanding the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy" (March 2003) [a .pdf file]

"History and Oil" (December 2003)

"Dick Cheney’s Words of Wisdom, Circa 1992" (27 December 2003)

"Flames and Oxygen"(27 December 2003)

"A Question of Loyalty" (November 2003 - January 2004) [a .pdf. file]

"Consequences: Intended and Unintended" (11 April 2004)

"The Birth of a Narcostate" (13 June 2004)

"Weighing in on a Foreign Policy Debate, Again" (29 July 2004)

"Education and Nation-Building in Iraq" (15 August 2004)

"Unintended Consequences Not Unforeseeable" (12 September 2004)

"Freedom and 'Islamofascism'" (6 October 2004)

"Fascism: Clarifying a Political Concept" (8 October 2004)

"America First" (10 October 2004)

In December 2004, I turned my attention to a five-part review of Peter Schwartz's book, The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America, published on the Liberty and Power Group Blog of the History News Network:

"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part I: Introduction / Schwartz's Core Arguments" (6 December 2004)

"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part II: Foreign Aid and the United Nations" (7 December 2004)

"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part III: Saudi Arabia" (8 December 2004)

"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part IV: The History of U.S. Foreign Policy" (9 Decemer 2004)

"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part V: The Current War / The Folly of Nation-Building / The Inextricable Connection between Domestic and Foreign Policy" (10 December 2004)

Additional essays followed:

"The Costs of War, Part 1" (23 March 2005)

"The Costs of War, Part 2" (25 March 2005)

"Iran, Again" (3 November 2005)

"ARI, Iraq, and Healthy Dissent" (22 December 2005)

"Iraq: A Perception Problem?" (22 March 2006)

"A Crisis of Political Economy (1 October 2008)

None of the above essays, intensely critical of U.S. foreign policy, has anything to do with my own thoughts about September 11th 2001, the date on which a vicious attack on the home of my birth forever altered our lives. I've written 15 essays, beginning on that infamous date, and continuing each year in an annual tribute to those who lost their lives, those who saved lives, and those who have lived and learned to build again. Check out the index to those essays "Remembering the World Trade Center." A new essay in that annual series will be posted on the 15th anniversary of the attack: September 11, 2016.

July 26, 2016

Song of the Day #1366

Song of the Day: Motownphilly, words and music by Dallas Austin, Michael Bivins, Nathan Morris, and Shawn Stockman, was the debut single from the Boyz II Men debut album, "Cooleyhighharmony," and it was featured yesterday afternoon in the opening gala of the 2016 Democratic National Convention taking place in the City of Brotherly Love. It went to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and remains my favorite single from that Philly-based Motown-produced group, for its rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic sense. If nothing else, I will admit only to my partiality to the music featured at Democratic Party events versus Republican events. I guess it's due to my urban, gritty "New York values," the ones that Ted Cruz never tired of condemning during the GOP primaries. Well, it looks like two New Yawkers, one a native, the other one viewed by some as an interloper, are going to fight it out for the Presidency, and one of them is going to sit in the White House in 2017. A friend of mine has suggested that the televised debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton should be made into "pay-per view" events... you know, like Wrestlemania and such, for there is little doubt that the U.S. would be able to achieve a balanced budget, while paying off the national debt. Hmm... well, if we end up with two New Yawkers shouting over one another, I'll just turn up the volume on this song, and dance away from the TV. In the meanwhile, check out the original video for this wonderful 1991 R&B single [YouTube link] from the guys who came from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, as well as their performance on yesterday's DNC opening [YouTube link], probably the most melodic thing we'll hear from that stage this week.

July 20, 2016

The Donald and Mercer's "Trump Revolution"

For a political junkie like myself, every four years, watching and retching over the major political party conventions is a rite of passage into the Fall Election campaign for President of the United States. This week, I've watched wall-to-wall coverage of the GOP convention, and I will somehow get through the Democratic Party convention next week. A rite of passage is a ritual, and not all rituals are pleasant, but in my political playbook, they are necessary.

As a prelude to some of my observations on the Trump campaign, I just added a 5-star amazon.com review, "A Must-Read Book for Trump Fans and Foes," of Ilana Mercer's newest book, The Trump Revolution: The Donald's Creative Destruction Deconstructed. Much of what appears here is taken from that review, though I have added links and a few additional observations.

Starting with a quote from Mercer's book, I state: "Donald J. Trump is smashing an enmeshed political spoils system to bits: the media complex, the political and party complex, the conservative poseur complex. In the age of unconstitutional government—Democratic and Republican—this process of creative destruction can only increase the freedom quotient." So begins Ilana Mercer's provocative take on The Trump Revolution: The Donald's Creative Destruction Deconstructed.

Ilana Mercer is no fan of Obama or The W who came before him, but she thinks that "Trump is likely the best Americans can hope for." She’s “not necessarily for the policies of Trump, but for the process of Trump.” This, in itself, is the most interesting of her arguments in a well-constructed book of essays that builds the case for that process. Quoting favorably the views of Justin Raimondo of antiwar.com, Mercer drives home the point, most crucial in my view, and perhaps the most appealing aspect of Trump’s foreign policy views insofar as we know them: that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way NATO functions and that the role of the United States in foreign affairs must be fundamentally re-evaluated. Trump takes pride in being an opponent of the Iraq war, which many of us predicted would lead to the kind of chaos that has developed in the ensuing years [a .pdf link to my article, "Understanding the Global Crisis"]. But no one man or even a movement of disaffected voters behind him, a mere echo of the Old Right that was “usurped by neoconservatives,” will be able to fundamentally alter the “military-industrial complex” that lies at the root of American foreign policy, or the overall government intervention that fuels it both at home and abroad.

Though Trump is probably the least homophobic of GOPers, I am still uncomfortable with his mixed views on same-sex marriage and his stances on abortion. I am uncomfortable with his talk about deporting 11 million people, and the police power that would be required to do so; I am uncomfortable with talks about building walls when it was Ronald Reagan who talked about tearing walls down (and if the reason for the Mexican wall is to keep out criminals and drugs, as claimed by Trump, then he’s not as radical a thinker as some would have us believe … since he needs to re-evaluate the whole “war on drugs” that has fueled the crime coming out of our southern neighbor). I look back at the history of stopping certain types of people from entering this country, and I see a mixed bag; after all, many Muslims have run from their own countries, ruled by extremist Islamic dictatorial ideologues, because they have faced discrimination, torture, and death in their struggles against everything from centuries-old tribalism to oppressive misogyny. This country has had a history of being afraid of outsiders, even though it was built on the backs of so many of those who came to America seeking the freedom to live and produce in peace (not to mention the shameful chapter in our history when people came to this country unwillingly to live and produce in a state of involuntary servitude). Do we need to be reminded of the Japanese-American internment camps constructed during World War II? Or of how many German Jews were denied access to America, because of highly restrictive immigration quotas, in the years leading up to and including World War II? Incredibly, widespread anti-Semitism in this country fueled the fear that some Jews were seeking refuge here and might very well be working as agents of the Nazis! How many of them ended up in gas chambers rather than in that “shining city upon a hill” that beckoned them to the promise of America?

Mercer is completely correct that much of what corrupts our political economy is the role of the state in economic affairs; such is the root of crony capitalism, championed by Democrats and Republicans alike. And like all businesspeople, Trump knows he has to wheel and deal with city, state, and federal politicians, who are corrupt almost by definition. Using things like eminent domain, however, is not the language of the free marketer; Trump can never be confused with a libertarian, no matter how much better he might be in the eyes of some, than the Establishment Politicians (and none of what I’ve said here is meant as an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, whose politics I’ll address at the end of next week’s Democratic convention).

In the end, however, it is a testament to Mercer’s muscular writing and clever reasoning that I was able to read her book in a single sitting. That is a compliment in and of itself. She challenges all of us to think about what so many thought unthinkable: that this guy often dismissed as a reality-show clown, just might become President of the United States.

I should say that I have only one personal proviso to add with regard to the Trump family; in the last year of my mother’s life, it was Blaine Trump, ex-sister-in-law of Donald (she was married to his brother Robert), who paid for Mom’s Make a Wish Foundation round trip, via luxury limousine, with her immediate family (me, my sister, brother, and sister-in-law) to Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. At a time when mom was in the throes of her five-year battle against lung cancer, it was a charitable gesture that we will always remember and cherish, and the Trump family has always played a big role in funding that foundation. That charity aside, it certainly cannot influence my views of this man’s candidacy, even if it says something positive about his character. In any event, this proviso has absolutely nothing to do with my views of Mercer’s controversial, wonderfully readable book. Buy it, read it. You won’t be disappointed.


So ends my review of the Mercer book. For Notablog readers, I would like to make a few additional points. I have long observed the pendulum phenomenon in politics, the one that emerges from the old adage: "The job of the new leader is to make the last one look good." So disgusted were Americans with the collapse of U.S. economic and foreign policy in the Bush years, that Obama was swept into office for two terms, no less, on the promises of "Yes, We Can!" Yes, we can change things fundamentally. Yes, we can end recession at home and a war without end abroad. Yes, we can. Well, as it turned out: We can't. So, disgusted Americans, especially those attracted to the GOP, but many of these partying among the Elephants for the first time as disenfranchised "blue collar" and "working class" people, have embraced Trump. They have given the Grand Old Party Establishment a Grand Middle Finger of revolt, precisely because they are revolted by the state of affairs in this country.

When I was 8 years old, I went to my first political rally, purely out of curiosity, with my Uncle Sam and my sister Elizabeth. We stood at the corner of 85th Street and Bay Parkway in Brooklyn, across from the Chase Manhattan Bank that still stands there (except the 4-sided clock that topped the building actually worked back then!)

In attendance was Vice President Hubert Horatio Humphrey fighting for the Democratic Party, in place of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who, despite having crushed the GOP's Barry Goldwater in a 1964 landslide, had announced that he would not seek re-election. The Great Society he sought to create was collapsing under the weight of an expanding welfare-warfare state. With the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, Humphrey was left standing, fighting for his political life. That night in Brooklyn, the antiwar crowd, which had blamed LBJ for the thousands of soldiers coming back from Vietnam to America in body bags, drowned out Humphrey's speech by a constant refrain, screamed louder and louder: "Dump the Hump! Dump the Hump! Dump the Hump!"

Humphrey's battle was lost to the newest "Law and Order" man in town, who was actually part of the older long-time GOP Establishment. A former virulently hostile anti-communist Senator, Vice President to Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, went on to lose the 1960 election to JFK, but by 1968, he had reinvented himself into a winning candidate. And we all know what happened after that. The anti-communist shook hands with Brezhnev and Mao, one of history's greatest mass murderers (which may help us to put Obama's handshake with one of the Castro brothers into perspective). But neither law nor order followed, in the depths of Nixon's political corruption. And so, the pendulums of U.S. politics swung with ferocity against the Watergate-corrupted administration, forcing Nixon to resign, as he handed presidential power over to the thoroughly un-elected Gerald Ford. Ford went down to defeat, in the Bicentennial Year, in another pendulum swing, handing the presidency over to the bumbling ineffectiveness of one-term Jimmy Carter. And then came the ultimate swing for the fences, as former Democrat-turned-Barry Goldwater advocate, Ronald Reagan, ushered in the modern conservative movement.

And so the pendulum continues to swing from W to Obama to ... I don't know. And right now, "None of the Above" is looking mighty good to me. Given the excitement that so many have for the Trump candidacy, but who drop the context of the real dynamics of American politics, it would not surprise me if those disgusted with Obama-Clinton carry the day. It would not surprise me if Trump became President. And it would not surprise me to hear echoes of those 1968 chants all over again, as they morph from "Dump the Hump!" to "Dump the Trump!" We've been hearing variations on that, for months, in any event. Cliché though it is, time will tell.

Postscript: In discussions on Facebook, I make a few additional points. In response to one comment, raising the issue of the Libertarian Party, I write:

. . . I don't endorse Trump. Honestly, however dishonest Clinton is--and what politician isn't?--she is a known quantity, but that's not exactly a rousing endorsement either. Gary Johnson and William Weld are good men, though I have my criticisms. I would have voted for Weld way back, but he stood absolutely no chance in a socially conservative GOP. To echo the opening words from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I": "These are dark times, there is no denying. Our world has perhaps faced no greater threat than it does today. But I say this to our citizenry: We, ever your servants, will continue to defend your liberty and repel the forces that seek to take it from you!" When those forces exist within your own country, you are in the darkest of times.

In reply to another comment, which stresses the point that we should concern ourselves with those things that are most within our power to control, things at the "local" level, I state:

. . . that's a very good observation. Unfortunately, however, what happens on the national level and even the global level can so intrude on the things that are more within our power to influence that it gets to the point where it becomes difficult even to make changes locally. The more complex and interrelated the world becomes, the more difficult it becomes for all of us. When an insane ideology from halfway around the world inspires local lone wolf nutjobs to attack a San Bernadino facility for people with developmental disabilities or to go into a gay nightclub in Orlando and kill 49 people, wounding another 53, the world starts to become smaller and smaller. That doesn't mean that I don't agree with your point that asserting ourselves on the local level is a good thing.

July 04, 2016

Song of the Day #1362

Song of the Day: America, words and music by Prince, extends our Saturday Night Dance Party to a Monday in celebration of Independence Day. It is from the album "Around the World in a Day," issued by Prince and the Revolution. The lyrics are of what one philosopher may have called "mixed premises," but any song that includes stanzas like "Communism is just a word, But if the government turn over, It'll be the only word that's heard," and in a paean to "America the Beautiful," tells us, "America, America, God shed his grace on thee, America, America, keep the children free," can't be all that bad. Check it out in a live version on YouTube and a rare 12" extended mix and dance your way through a wonderful and safe Independence Day.

July 01, 2016

The Mobs Line Up at Brooklyn's L&B Pizzeria

Anytime, anyone of my out of town friends show up in my home town, Brooklyn, it is a necessity to take them to the famed pizzeria, established by Ludovico Barbati in 1939 in the Gravesend section of this wonderful borough of New York City. I've lived in Gravesend my whole life, and L&B offers probably the best Sicilian pizza (the so-called "square slice") you'll ever eat anywhere. They put the mozzarella on the bed of the pie, and top it with a tangy sauce and grated cheese that will make your mouth water; and if you're into Italian ices and Spumoni, there are fewer places in New York that offer anything creamier or more refreshing.

To my knowledge, the only mob ties to the famed pizzeria are the mobs that line up awaiting their slices, sitting in the outdoor "Spumoni Gardens", especially in the summer months. Today, I learned differently.

Remarkably, last night, for the first time in eons, my sister and I stopped by at L&B for a square slice; around the same time, the grandson of Ludovico, the 61-year old Louis Barbati, co-owner of the current restaurant he built on 86th Street in Gravesend, was murdered in his backyard in the Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn, his family inside the home. It is being called a "mob-tied" hit. Apparently, back in 2012, a mob war almost erupted over accusations that some folks had stolen the L&B secret-tomato-sauce recipe. And today, perhaps a casualty of long-time disputes, Louis Barbati is gone.

I've heard of mob wars over narcotics and neighborhood turf, but not this. I truly extend my heartfelt sympathies to the Barbati family.

Ed. Note: We learned the day after that apparently the murder was the result of a botched robbery. All the more senseless and tragic.

June 28, 2016

Song of the Day #1359

Song of the Day: Put a Little Love in Your Heart, words and music by Jackie DeShannon, Randy Myers, and Jimmy Holiday, was a top 5 DeShannon hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and was also one of the songs found on the jukebox of the Stonewall Inn, the bar and its surrounding area now a National Monument. But back in 1969, it was a virtual war zone, when just another routine police raid sparked a riot, whose effects have continued to reverberate throughout our culture. I have always seen this day as an essentially libertarian achievement, one that ultimately aimed for the recognition of the rights of individuals, who felt the sting of social and political policies designed to oppress, to humiliate, to dehumanize, and to marginalize people because of who and how they love. So "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," and celebrate that date in 1969, when men and women of difference stood up and said: "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore" [YouTube links]. We've come a long way since then; "don't ask, don't tell," which made a whole class of people dishonest by definition, is no longer our military policy, and same-sex marriage has recognition across the country in our civil laws. But in a world that fears difference, a backlash is not hard to fathom (Orlando is only the tip of the unimaginable). It has been said that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance," and whoever said it (there have been historical debates) uttered a truth that our culture forgets at its peril. For the whole point of liberty is not to create a society of homogenization, hypocrisy, and conformity; it is to provide a safe haven for difference.

March 28, 2016

Nucky Thompson Was Right

In the very first episode of the HBO hit series "Boardwalk Empire," Steve Buscemi, who plays the lead character Nucky Thompson — racketeer, political insider, and bootlegger — lifts his glass of liquor in a toast to "the distinguished gentlemen of our nation's Congress . . . those beautiful, ignorant bastards," who enacted the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declared that "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited."

This nightmarish "noble experiment" lasted from 1920 to 1933, until the Twenty-First Amendment repealed Prohibition (and was probably one of the most important reasons for FDR's initial first-term popularity as an advocate for its repeal). Without a doubt, the major effect of this legislation was to give a boost to organized crime. From speakeasies to mob wars, the general population of this country became part of a new culture of criminality that put the Roar in the Roaring Twenties. As an entry on Wikipedia puts it:

Organized crime received a major boost from Prohibition. Mafia groups limited their activities to prostitution, gambling, and theft until 1920, when organized bootlegging emerged in response to Prohibition. A profitable, often violent, black market for alcohol flourished. Prohibition provided a financial basis for organized crime to flourish. In a study of more than 30 major U.S. cities during the Prohibition years of 1920 and 1921, the number of crimes increased by 24%. Additionally, theft and burglaries increased by 9%, homicides by 12.7%, assaults and battery rose by 13%, drug addiction by 44.6%, and police department costs rose by 11.4%. This was largely the result of "black-market violence" and the diversion of law enforcement resources elsewhere. Despite the Prohibition movement's hope that outlawing alcohol would reduce crime, the reality was that the Volstead Act led to higher crime rates than were experienced prior to Prohibition and the establishment of a black market dominated by criminal organizations. The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre produced seven deaths, considered one of the deadliest days of mob history. Furthermore, stronger liquor surged in popularity because its potency made it more profitable to smuggle. To prevent bootleggers from using industrial ethyl alcohol to produce illegal beverages, the federal government ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols. In response, bootleggers hired chemists who successfully renatured the alcohol to make it drinkable. As a response, the Treasury Department required manufacturers to add more deadly poisons, including the particularly deadly methyl alcohol. New York City medical examiners prominently opposed these policies because of the danger to human life. As many as 10,000 people died from drinking denatured alcohol before Prohibition ended. New York City medical examiner Charles Norris believed the government took responsibility for murder when they knew the poison was not deterring people and they continued to poison industrial alcohol (which would be used in drinking alcohol) anyway. Norris remarked: "The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol... [Y]et it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible."

One of the few really good things to have come out of that era has been a terrific flow of really good gangster movies, including the 1987 Grammy Award-winning Ennio Morricone-scored film, "The Untouchables," with Robert DeNiro as one terrific Al Capone, Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness, and a fine Sean Connery, who played Jimmy Malone (based on the real-life Irish American agent, Marty Lahart), who went on to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. In the end, Capone was brought down not by his criminal activities, per se, but by tax evasion.

With prohibition repealed, however, the model for the expansion of organized crime extended into the prohibited black markets for hard drugs, from cocaine to heroin. From Mafia chieftans to drug lords running operations across the world, from Latin America to Afghanistan, much of the profits of this business have boosted the money flow to terrorist organizations of all sorts. Crime has soared. And the prison population in the United States began to outstrip that of every modern society.

Last week, a cover story with regard to the "War on Drugs," was published by the New York Daily News stating that John Ehrlichman, who went to prison for Watergate-related crimes, and "who served as President Richard Nixon’s domestic policy chief," admitted that the ‘War on Drugs’ strategy was a "policy tool to go after anti-war protesters and ‘black people’." Apparently, these revelations were made in an interview with journalist Dan Baum, for a 1994 book, but were not revealed until the current April 2016 issue of Harper's, where the writer provides a wide-ranging discussion of how to seriously readjust drug policies in the United States. Here is an excerpt from the Daily News article:

“You want to know what this was really all about,” Ehrlichman, who died in 1999, said in the interview after Baum asked him about Nixon’s harsh anti-drug policies. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying,” Ehrlichman continued. “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” . . . By 1973, about 300,000 people were being arrested every year under the law — the majority of whom were African-American.

The following day, the News reported that Nixon's former White House counsel John Dean expressed shock over the revelations "but admitted 'it's certainly possible.' . . . If this was indeed true, it would have been the Nixon-Ehrlichman private agenda.'"

On this issue, a fine piece appears today from Mark Thornton, writing on Mises Daily (the site of the Ludwig von Mises Institute): "The Legalization Cure for the Heroin Epidemic." For years, voices on the left and on the right (from the time of William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman to Senator Rand Paul today) have been advocating a saner drug policy. Forty years after this declaration of a "War on Drugs," 1 trillion dollars in taxpayer money spent, the prisons are packed — drug use is apparently just as rampant behind bars as on the streets — but the epidemic stretches from the inner cities to suburbia.

It is clear, however, that no political change will occur if we have to depend on those "beautiful, ignorant bastards," until there is a cultural shift across this country that allows this issue to be re-examined fundamentally. The time has come.

February 19, 2016

Song of the Day #1323

Song of the Day: Sophie's Choice ("Love Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Marvin Hamlisch, is a soft, loving theme that cushions the blow of an utterly devastating film. I only saw this film about a year ago, and was deeply affected by the horrors it depicts during the years of the Nazi holocaust. Without referring to the "choice" that Sophie must make in the film, I can say that it reminded me of Ayn Rand's novel, We the Living, which depicts the horrors of Soviet communism, in one important sense: the insanity of totalitarian political systems that allow no choices except among forms of death and decay. It is all the more fitting to remember that nightmare on this day, which is a "day of remembrance" for those who were the subject of Executive Order 9066, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, allowing the deportation of Japanese Americans to internment camps within the United States during World War II. Ironically, it was film that first made me aware of those camps, when I first saw "Hell to Eternity," as a child, a 1960 movie with Jeffrey Hunter (who played Christ in the 1961 film, "King of Kings") and David Janssen (who was "The Fugitive" in that remarkable television series of the 1960s). Those camps certainly were not extermination camps, but they are a symbol of what happens during wartime, when individual rights are abrogated both at home and abroad. In any event, the 1982 film gave Meryl Streep a much-deserved Oscar award for Best Actress, and Hamlisch received a much-deserved nomination for Best Original Score, losing out to the iconic John Williams score for "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial." It is difficult to find a moment of joy or laughter in films of this nature, but I will never forget Sophie's admiration of Stingo's seersucker jacket [YouTube link]. The film's house was situated in Brooklyn, New York, and it stands still on Rugby Road in Flatbush.

February 16, 2016

Song of the Day #1320

Song of the Day: The Man in the Iron Mask ("Opening"; "A Boy") [TCM clip], composed by Lud Gluskin and Lucien Morawek, received an Oscar nomination for their score to the 1939 film loosely based on the last section of The Vicomte of Bragalonne: Ten Years Later, the third and final section of the third and final book of the "d'Artagnan Romances" (following : "The Three Musketeers" and "Twenty Years Later"). Even the story by Dumas is based on French legend, but this film is notable for several milestones: it was the first film to introduce us to actor Peter Cushing; it was directed by the great James Whale; and it stars Louis Hayward in a remarkable double role. Born to Louis XIII, the first son is seen as the legitimate heir of France, but a twin is born (Philippe) and the king is persuaded to send the second son to Gascony, to be raised by d'Artagnan (in this film, portrayed by Warren William). The first son grows up to be the hated monarch Louis XIV, imposing oppressive taxes and repressing the people of France. Through a series of dramatic twists, it is discovered that there is a twin, who is much more kind and compassionate, and Louis XIV imprisons him, placing an Iron Mask on his brother's face, so that no one shall ever discover his twin, hoping his brother will simply strangle as his beard crowds out the oxygen within the mask. The Three Musketeers and d'Artagnan come to the rescue, and when Philippe assumes the throne to right the wrongs of his brother, Louis XIV, he enunciates something about the laws of justice and retribution, something from which my mother always used to quote, any time news of some criminality, especially political criminality, hit the headlines: "There is one law in life, brother, that not even a king could escape: The law of retribution. The pendulum of the clock of life swings so far in one direction, then very surely swings back. The pendulum is swinging for you, brother," not so much for the injustices suffered by Philippe, but for all the injustices suffered by the people of France whose sacred trust the King had violated. This Philippe says before the Museketeers put the mask on the corrupt king. Mom didn't realize that she was providing a budding libertarian with a few maxims about the fight against tyranny! Mom is gone over twenty years, but her birthday is on February 20th, so I'm giving her a little tip of the Yankee cap (she was a Yankees fan, after all) a few days early.

February 05, 2016

Song of the Day #1309

Song of the Day: Hole in the Head ("High Hopes"), music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, became a hit for one of the stars of this 1959 Frank Capra comedy, Frank Sinatra, a singer who took up quite a bit of cyber-ink by this writer at the close of 2015. The film's score was written by Nelson Riddle, but it was Miklos Rozsa who took home the Score Gold in 1959. Nevertheless, it was Jimmy and Sammy who walked away with the Oscar for Best Original Song for this hit record. It was one of the few Oscars "Ben-Hur" didn't win that year, having walked away with 11 statuettes that till this day remains a record, tied twice thereafter, but never beaten. The song was later adapted with substitute lyrics in Sinatra's campaign for JFK. Check out the original, the song as heard and seen in the film, and the campaign rendition.

December 07, 2015

Song of the Day #1990

Song of the Day: The World We Knew (Over and Over) features words and music credits given to Bert Kaempfert, Carl Sigman, and Herbert Rehbein. It is the title track of a 1967 studio album that gave Sinatra a few hits on the rock-dominated Billboard charts. This song hit #30 on the Hot 100, and #1 on the "Easy Listening" chart, while his duet with his daughter Nancy (Somethin' Stupid," coming soon...) actually hit #1 on both charts. It is also featured on Disc 4 of "Ultimate Sinatra." This particular song is actually based on a German composition by Bert Kaempfert. A throwback of sorts, since Kaempfert served in the German army in World War II, which, back in 1941, at this precise time, was on the verge of joining its Axis allies (Japan and Italy) in a declaration of war against the United States. (Rehbein was actually conscripted into the German army in 1941, but was assigned to the Music Corps, stationed in Crete, becoming a POW in Belgrade, until the end of World War II.) Literally, the world everyone once knew was about to change forever. And it is on this date in 1941 that Pearl Harbor was devastated by a brutal Japanese "surprise" attack, which, in retrospect wasn't much of a surprise at all, since the tensions between the U.S. and Japan were severely strained for years. Well, here it comes... the Sinatra connection the reader is waiting for (our Sinatra version of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon"): it was in the 1953 film, "From Here to Eternity," which won eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Sinatra, that we follow the trials and tribulations of soldiers stationed in Hawaii in the months before that "date which will live in Infamy." Check out this song on YouTube. And while you're at it, check out a nice picture book from last night's CBS Grammy Special commemorating Sinatra 100.

November 26, 2015

Song of the Day #1279

Song of the Day: The House I Live In features the music of Earl Robinson, and the lyrics of Abel Meeropol (under the pen name of Lewis Allan), both of whom were later identified as members of the Communist Party during the McCarthy era. In 1953, Meeropol actually adopted Michael and Robert, the orphans of convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were executed in 1953 for their acts of espionage in passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. The Robinson-Meeropol song is heard in a 1945 short film, directed by Albert Maltz, who would go on to be one of the Hollywood Ten. Being associated with some of these individuals kept the pressure on Sinatra, who was herded before investigators to answer questions with regard to his involvement with associations that had alleged "red" or "pink" connections. Seeking to travel to Korea to entertain the troops with the USO, Sinatra was offended that these investigators were impugning his patriotism; in the HBO documentary, "Sinatra: All or Nothing at All," he relates his answer to those who questioned his love for America: "they could take the Korean War and shove it up their asses." With this, he walked out of the investigation room.

It's a tad ironic, perhaps, that, in 1962, Sinatra ended up starring in one of the most controversial Cold War thrillers of the day, based on a favorite novel of JFK's, written by Richard Condon, which was filled to the brim with tense international communist conspiratorial intrigue, an emergent by-product of the Korean War: "The Manchurian Candidate," directed by John Frankenheimer. Sinatra's film performance is surely a highlight of his acting career. In any event, Sinatra's involvement with "The House I Live In" was primarily due to his view that the song celebrated an America without bigotry or prejudice. He had heard the epithets spewed against Italian Americans throughout his whole life; he was a greaseball, a wop, a guinea bastard, a mobster, simply by virtue of his ethnicity. His hatred of ethnic prejudice extended to a principled stance against all forms of racism and bigotry. At the conclusion of World War II, the world had to confront the ugly reality of anti-Semitism, which had propelled many regimes throughout history toward discrimination and violence against Jews. But the Nazis fell to a level of human savagery that cashed-in on long-held cultural biases to justify the mass extermination of Jews (Nazi racial "cleansing" of the Third Reich targeted others as well, including many "inferior" ethnic, religious, and political groups, and even sexual "deviants" of the "pink triangle").

In any event, this song was actually first heard in the musical revue, "Let Freedom Sing." In the film, there's a small plot set-up; Sinatra walks out of a studio, where he's just completed a recording, and he sees a bunch of kids fighting over this one kid who is different from them; he's Jewish. They are taunting this one kid, and Sinatra asks the gang if they're Nazis. They object; some of the kids say that their dads went to fight the Nazis. And Sinatra asks them that if their dads got hurt in battle, did they get blood transfusions? Well, sure. He asks the Jewish kid if anyone in his family were blood donors, and the kid says that both his mom and dad were donors. He asks the kids, would their dads have rather died in battle than receive blood from people of another religion? He tells them to think, or he could have simply said, "Check your premises," because we're all human beings with human blood. He says he's Italian, and some others may be Irish, French, or Russian, but we are all Americans. He then tells them a story about the first airstrike by Americans against the Japanese after Pearl Harbor. It was successful due to the skill of Meyer Levin (by the way, a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School and a member of its Hall of Fame [a BTHS .pdf file]), whose bomb hit and sunk the Haruna, a Japanese battleship.

For all its controversy as a short-film, with its "commie" messages like, uh, "freedom of religion," the film moves into song, as Sinatra asks the opening question "What is America to Me?" He provides a lyrical celebration of American freedom and democracy, of "the right to speak my mind out," a paean to the American people of "all races and religions," and their values. This certainly didn't strike me as a piece of red propaganda, but I can understand the ways in which the material can be interpreted as "pinko," given its historical context and the people who were involved in its making. In the end, however, a special Honorary Oscar and Golden Globe were awarded to the short film, which can be seen on YouTube.

Right now, I count my blessings that I am eating a Thanksgiving meal in America, in the same Brooklyn, New York of Meyer Levin, in the "house I live in." A Happy Thanksgiving to all!

November 24, 2015

The Frank Sinatra Centenary: Celebrating an American Icon

A "Song of the Day" Sinatra Tribute Begins "From This Moment On"

Today, Tuesday, November 24, 2015, I begin a tribute to Francis Albert Sinatra, which will culminate on Saturday, December 12, 2015, the day on which we will mark the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth. Yes, he was The Voice for seven decades of the twentieth-century, from the mid-1930s to the early 1990s. But his enormous artistic gifts have been preserved forever in film, vocal recordings, and concert performances, allowing future generations a glimpse of the ever-lasting impact he made on American culture, art, and music.

When Sinatra first entered the scene, he was this scrawny kid from humble Hoboken, New Jersey in search of a stage. But this was a proud Italian American, whose father emigrated from Sicily and whose mother came from Genoa. As a first-generation American son of immigrant parents, he was open to the musically diverse American palette. At first, he absorbed much from the crooner school of Bing Crosby, and, like Bing, he was deeply influenced by one of the most distinctly American musical idioms: Jazz. Sinatra's schooling in jazz came from a diverse array of artists, starting with sizzling hot trumpeter Harry James with whom he first sang. James would routinely throw him an improvised musical curveball, which Sinatra would learn to field vocally, so-to-speak. He submerged himself in the New York club scene, and learned much watching the live performances of English-born cabaret singer, Mabel Mercer and, especially, of Billie Holiday. But it was his tenure in the Big Band of trombonist Tommy Dorsey that taught him more about singing than any vocal teacher could possibly offer him. He always said that he learned more about breath control by watching Dorsey's trombone solos, played with such seamlessness that one could barely detect the jazzman's breathing. Before too long, his talent brought him front and center on the stage, as he captured the excitement of the bobby-soxer generation. The kids simply went wild. But he did not become The Voice, Ol' Blue Eyes, or the Chairman of the Board overnight. He didn't simply collect Grammy Awards, Golden Globes, Emmy Awards, and Oscar statuettes; in the early years, he battled his self-destructive tendencies, and it would take years for him to truly find himself, reinvent himself, giving new meaning to the Koehler lyric, "I've got the world on a string, sittin' on a rainbow, got the string around my finger. What a world! What a life!" What a life, indeed.

Eventually, it was Sinatra's self-reinvention that earned him Golden Globe and Oscar Awards for his film work, Grammy Awards for his singing, including the Grammy Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement and Legend Awards. In fact, he received recognition for Lifetime Achievement from so many of the industry's associations, that a brief summary doesn't do him justice. The accolades came from such institutions as the Screen Actors Guild; the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers; the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame; the Kennedy Center; the American Music Award of Merit; the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal. Moreover, he was a two-time winner of the critics' Downbeat poll for Male Singer of the Year, while the Downbeat readers named him Male Singer of the Year for sixteen years and Personality of the Year for six years.

A Deplorable Excess of Personality?

In the 1993 film version of "Jurassic Park," John Hammond, the creator of the park, played by Richard Attenborough, characterizes Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) as a person who suffers from a "deplorable excess of personality." Some might have said the same about Sinatra, whose excesses often undercut his early successes. So before we go on singing the praises of this Patron Saint of Song, it's best that we put some issues to rest, for they are not unimportant. I know that there are many people out there who find it impossible to separate the art from the artist. In some respects, it would be horrifically ahistorical and acontextal; grasping the artist's cultural or personal context might go a long way toward understanding and appreciating his accomplishments. But it is also true that many great artists throughout history have created magnificent works of art that either gave expression to the demons within, or provided a cathartic means by which to exorcize them. The point here is that it would be a mistake to dismiss the greatness of art because the artist suffers from character flaws. One thing that Sinatra accomplished, however, is that he emerged from these early years a better singer and a superior artist. As he says it in one of his signature tunes: "The record shows, I took the blows and did it My Way." By acknowledging his excesses and failures, Sinatra, in his vocals, became ever more expressive of a raw honesty, which came through whether he was singing of lost love, or of the joyous possibilities of life.

But the maturity of his art could not have emerged without his very public ups and downs. His critics viewed him as a thug, made all the worse because he was an Italian American with all the bigotry that this fact of ethnicity implied, especially in an era that gave us both the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. Gangsta rappers have nothing on Ol' Blue Eyes. We've seen and heard it all: from his mug shot, to his tumultuous affair with and marriage to Ava Gardner and his subsequent attempts at suicide; and, later, his rowdy days and nights in Las Vegas with the Rat Pack, which fueled rumors of rampant womanizing and alleged Mafia ties.

And then there were emergent political problems he had to face. Having been declared 4F for service in the military, he and actor Orson Welles campaigned fiercely for FDR. His ability to entertain on the home front, and to film such extravaganzas as the 1945 musical comedy, "Anchors Away" (in which he worked like a "prizefighter" behind the scenes to keep up with the gifted choreographer, dancer, singer, and actor Gene Kelly), made him a bona fide star, and uplifted many spirits in a world consumed by war. But his liberal FDR-friendly politics, his embrace of a 'progressive' New Deal agenda, and his public stances against racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry at the end of World War II (as expressed in the 1945 short film "The House I Live In," which won an Honorary Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Film Promoting International Good Will), provided fodder for his tabloid critics. Many branded him a "red," a "leftist," and an out-and-out commie, to which Sinatra is reported to have replied: "Bullshit." There is a touch of irony in all of this red-baiting: despite being a virtual cheerleader of "High Hopes" [YouTube link], the very song Sinatra adapted for the 1960 Kennedy presidential campaign, the singer was marginalized by JFK, given his connections to mobster Sam Giancana and others. Sinatra's political journey went from supervising JFK's inaugural party to supervising the presidential gala of Republican Ronald Reagan, for whom he had become a vocal supporter, and from whom he received the "Medal of Freedom."

In the years after filming "The House I Live In," the McCarthy era press became increasingly suspicious and hostile toward anyone suspected of left-wing views. This was the era of the Cold War, which turned increasingly hot in places like Korea. He was advised by actor Humphrey Bogart to ignore the tabloids, because he could never win any battles against a hostile press. Sinatra being Sinatra, of course, ignored Bogie's sound advice. On April 8, 1947, he went to see Peggy Lee's opening night at Ciro's on the Sunset Strip; behind him, he overheard the voice of his chief newspaper nemesis, the columnist, Lee Mortimer, who questioned Sinatra's patriotism in print, and who, on this night, referred to Sinatra as a "dago" and "guinea bastard." This was overheard by an overheated Sinatra, who recalls: "I tapped him on the shoulder, and I hit him so fucking hard I broke the whole front of his face, and he banged his head." Mortimer said he was going to destroy Sinatra, but ultimately, the issue was settled with Sinatra paying damages. He never forgot Mortimer, though; any time their paths crossed, Sinatra would spit at him. (These priceless stories are from the terrific HBO two-part documentary, "Sinatra: All or Nothing at All," from which I've drawn quite a bit for this essay.)

There is no doubt that this period in Sinatra's life took its toll; his excesses, his losses, his alcohol abuse, led him to a catastrophic collapse in his recording and acting career. His record company axed his contract and few film offers came his way. Even before the Ava Gardner-related suicide attempts in the early 1950s, Modern Television and Radio magazine was asking plainly in December 1948: "Is Sinatra Finished?"

If Sinatra's career had simply ended right then and there, we would barely be talking about the centenary of his birth. For indeed, the melodrama of his life dredges up the old debate about whether one can appreciate art apart from the artist, who might very well be a suicidal (or homicidal) maniac. Before discussing how Sinatra turned his life around, it's important to talk about this issue, for it has been raised so many times before with regard to other artists and their art.

For example, let's just say for a moment that every last accusation against Michael Jackson were true (with regard to the sexual abuse of minors, something for which he was acquitted in the only case to make it to trial). For me, it would not in any way, shape, or form, diminish my love and admiration of Jackson's talents as a musician, composer, and dancer. Jackson provided me with the soundtrack of my youth, and I cannot for a moment imagine a world without the songs I danced to, or laughed to, or cried to. I cannot for a single moment imagine a world where I'd never had the opportunity to see and hear him live, on stage, in a series of utterly brilliant concert performances. He was the quintessential "song-and-dance" man of my generation who touched the lives of millions of fans worldwide, which explains how deeply shattered we were by his own tragic death in 2009. So, whether he was a drug addict or a pedophile or a nutjob of the first order would have made no difference with regard to this fan's love of his art; and so it is with everyone from jazz guitar legend Joe Pass (who emerged from Synanon), or rock legends Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin or even to those classical philosophers, composers, musicians, painters, scultptors, writers, artists, etc., of whose flaws many of us are perenially unaware. Rest assured, if there was a tabloid press during the days of Classical Greece or Ancient Rome or the Renaissance, I can't imagine the stories that would have come to light about some of our philosophical and artistic heroes! It probably would have made the Robert Graves work, I, Claudius, look tame by comparison.

Loving a work of the creative imagination does not provide an apologia for the alleged or real sins or political views of its creator. In any event, our aesthetic responses are not generally guided by conscious reflection or articulated moral judgments about those who create. They are emotional responses that often emerge from the deepest and most complex corners of our soul. And here's the irony: a tortured artist (and there are plenty of them throughout history) might create a work of sublime beauty that speaks to those aspects of his own soul, crying out for objectification. And as responders, we may openly embrace that creation. Or perhaps, that same artist's tortured soul and life experiences might fully inhabit a work of art in its depiction of unimaginable sadness. But whatever our response, it is not necessarily a psychological confession concerning the depravity of our sense of life. It might simply speak to our own life experiences of loss, regret, and unfathomable grief. And we respond accordingly.

It is no accident that Sinatra was a consummate story-teller, for the way he delivered a lyric of heartbreak elicited responses from his fans, who, as part of the human family, had suffered through feelings of similar grief, loss, and regret. In "Angel Eyes" [YouTube link], there's that image of Frank sitting by himself in a bar, contemplating lost love. He tells us, conversationally, painfully, "Try to think that love's not around, but it's uncomfortably near. My old heart ain't gaining no ground, because my angel eyes ain't here." The listener feels every syllable of loss with his impeccable diction in the delivery of the lyric. He's an actor telling a story, yes; but he's connecting that story to the real losses he has experienced in his own life. The grief is palpable. It's as if he had adopted the technique of "method acting" to the very art of song. It helps one to understand just why he was referred to as "the poet laureate of loneliness."

A Life Worth Living: The Sinatra Revolution

One thing is clear about Frank Sinatra, perhaps best expressed in one of my all-time favorite recordings of his; when he hit bottom, he was determined to turn it around. "That's Life" [YouTube link, and here too], after all, "as funny as it may seem, some people get their kicks stompin' on a dream. But I don't let it, let it get me down, 'cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin' around." He sings with defiance: "I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing. Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race. . . . I can't deny it; I thought of quitting, baby, put my heart just ain't gonna buy it. And if I didn't think it was worth one single try, I'd jump right on a big bird and then I'd fly."

But the vehicle for his comeback was neither a bird nor a song; it was a film. And a legendary Fedora (or shall we call it a Cavanaugh?).

It was with his reading of the 1951 James Jones novel, From Here to Eternity, that he became convinced that he would be perfect for the role of Private Angelo Maggio, for the upcoming 1953 film adaptation. He secured the role (most likely with the help of Ava Gardner, not Don Vito Corleone, and subsequently won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Film wasn't the only medium to conquer; Sinatra, after all, was a consummate stylist. He was no longer the scrawny looking kid from Hoboken; now, with a cocked Fedora atop his head, he seemed to define the very essence of cool, of attitude, of self-assuredness. And he influenced a whole generation of men on the sexiness of hats. My own Dad wore one of those hats till the day he died. Nevertheless, despite the Fedora, film was the central vehicle driving the Sinatra revolution to the next phase of his creativity.

Over the years, his very presence on the screen commanded your attention. He could move you to dance (in the 1955 film of "Guys and Dolls"), to laugh (in the 1960 heist film starring all of his Rat Pack cohorts, "Ocean's Eleven"), to cry (playing a heroin addict, with chilling film noir scenes of detox, in the 1955 film, "The Man with the Golden Arm"), to take notice, when his character depicted intense realism (in the 1962 film, "The Manchurian Candidate," and the 1968 film, "The Detective") and, finally, to suffer profound grief just when you thought you were on the precipice of glory (the 1965 World War II POW film, "Von Ryan's Express").

I actually saw "Von Ryan's Express" in 1965 when it first came out, at the age of 5 years old. The memory of it is so vivid, so engrained in my psyche because it was a night of trauma for me. The family took the drive out to Long Island to see the film at the Sunrise Drive-In Theater in Valley Stream, New York. Being at a Drive-In was a big thrill back then, and at the age of five, it was an overwhelming experience for me. I mean, you could go and get popcorn, and never miss any part of the movie. The thing about drive-ins though, is that they are built so that cars can be perched at an upward tilt, on mini-gravel hills. Well, when I went with my sister to get the requisite popcorn, I was running up one of those mini-gravel hills (which appeared closer to the size of Mount Everest to me). Somehow, I got tangled in my sneaker-laces, and went flying downside when I reached the apex of Everest. Naturally, like every other 5-year old boy, I ripped open my right knee for the umpteenth time of my youth. I had previously ripped it open getting caught in the metal of a fence, while I climbed it. And then there was the Becky Incident. Becky was the dog of my best friend's family, and she gave birth to my first dog: Timmy. In any event, I so wanted to walk Becky the Beagle, so, as a precaution, my best friend's mom tied Becky's leash to my wrist so that she would not run away, while I walked her. The stage was set for catastrophe. When the dog saw my friend up the block, she got very excited, and proceeded to run full-speed ahead along the sidewalk of Highlawn Avenue. The leash was still attached to my wrist. In hindsight, I figured this is what it must have felt like to be Messala, in "Ben-Hur," holding on to the reins, but being dragged to my death by horses galloping with a fallen chariot.

The gash scars from the Drive-In movie, and other sporting events, are still quite visible, even now, at the age of 55. But being a 5-year old at the Drive-In, I couldn't fight back the tears, from the pain, and from witnessing the blood pouring out of my wound. Mom and sister cleaned me up, and we returned to the car, to watch the epic climax of Sinatra's war film. He played the role of Colonel Joseph Ryan, leading a POW escape to Switzerland, across Nazi-occupied Italy. And [SPOILER ALERT!], in the final scenes, as the prisoner train is just about to cross into Switzerland, Ryan is running frantically behind that last train car, trying desperately to escape the Waffen-SS troops in pursuit. He is shot by machine gun rounds. Tragically, he falls dead.

Well, this was just too much for my traumatic night. I got hysterical crying, and it took lots of assurances from my mother and sister that Frankie was still alive; it was only a movie. Come to think of it, the last Drive-In theater experience I had also featured a tragedy; it was in April 1998, virtually one month to the day before Ol' Blue Eyes passed away. We were vacationing in Tucson, Arizona, and went to the De Anza Drive-In, where, fortunately, I did not rip open my knee, but I do admit to crying again, as I watched the last heartbreaking moments of the sinking "Titanic" on a huge 70mm screen!

The Essence of Sinatra's Vocal Revolution

Having conquered the film world and the style world, there was nothing left to conquer but that which Sinatra was born to be: The Voice. To say he was musically triumphant in the 1950s and 1960s would be an understatement. He retains the distinction of being among the very first artists to bring into the market the idea of "the concept album." Sinatra would go on to sell more than 150 million albums throughout his prolific recording career. Among the classic "concept albums," one finds such gems as "Songs for Young Lovers," "In the Wee Small Hours," "Come Fly with Me," "Nice 'n Easy," and "September of My Years. But we can't forget some of those magnificent live concert recordings such as "Sinatra at the Sands" (with Count Basie), and those utterly remarkable sessions with artists who transcended global boundaries and eras, men such as Duke Ellington and Antonio Carlos Jobim (check out this brilliant clip with Jobim and Sinatra, from the third installment of his TV specials, "A Man and His Music").

Not all of Sinatra's work with Jobim was first released when it was recorded; Sinatra was a perfectionist, and some of it just didn't feel right. The "Complete Reprise Recordings" of their work together wasn't issued until 2010. The liner notes are absolutely priceless, as they tell the story of the meeting of two giants from different parts of the world, who had vastly different personalities: Sinatra, a veritable "fearless" Lion in the studio or on the stage; Jobim, the quiet, reserved genius of Brazilian music, and one of the creators of that lyrical fusion of samba and jazz known as the bossa nova. The writer of the notes, Stan "Underwood" Cornyn, who just passed away in May 2015, tells us a story that by its very nature teaches us something about the universality of music. One thing that the two artists worked on, over and over again, was to find just the right balance between the louder instruments and percussive sounds and the quiet, tender melodies that required near silence. Cornyn writes:

Seemed like the whole idea was to out-hush each other. Decibels treated like daggers. The arranger tiptoeing about, eliminating some percussion here, ticks there, ridding every song of click, bings, bips, all things sharp. Doing it with the fervor matched only by Her Majesty's Silkworms. But when someone asks if the piano part (played by Sinatra's personal accompanist Bill Miller) didn't come off just a little jarring, Sinatra counters with, "Him percussive? He's got fingers made out of jello." Henceforth, Miller plays jello-keys. And Sinatra makes a joke about all this. "I haven't sung so soft since I had the laryngitis." But while singing soft, making no joke about it. Singing so soft, if he sang any softer he'd have to be lying on his back.

The resulting sessions are, in my view, among the most sublime music ever created by two masters of their craft.

In this essay, we have learned that few entertainers could top the tabloid adventures of Francis Albert Sinatra. However, even fewer performers could barely touch Sinatra's accomplishments as an exquisite interpreter of the Great American Songbook. He could deliver a ballad with graceful diction, and break your heart. He could swagger his way through the swinging orchestrations of some of the best arrangers and conductors in the business, from Nelson Riddle to Billy May to Quincy Jones, incorporating the American jazz idiom with a fluidity that enabled him to sing above and behind the beat. He may not have been a scat-singer, but his whole conception has led even some of the greatest jazz instrumentalists of the era to characterize him as a bona fide jazz vocalist; many of these same jazz artists had learned much from him, from his phrasing, his pacing, and his interpretive, improvised ways with both the lyric and the melody.

Citing Variety, CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow characterized Sinatra's re-emergence from the ashes as one of the greatest comebacks in entertainment history. Sinatra went from the generation of the bobby-soxers to a cultural phenomenon. He and his Rat Pack, with guys like Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, single-handedly turned around the struggling casino town of Las Vegas, making it a tourist attraction that offered some of the greatest musical and comedic entertainers in the business (one of those comedians, Don Rickles, had a ball roasting Sinatra, Davis, and even Ronald Reagan; and check out Sinatra and Rickles on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show"). In these unparalleled live performances, Sinatra rarely delivered songs exactly like his classic studio recordings. He sang the hits that the crowd worshipped and adored, but he often played with both the lyrics and the audience. The Rat Pack went on to star in films together in the early 1960s, including box office hits, such as "Ocean's 11" (1960) and "Robin and the 7 Hoods" (1964). Sinatra was emerging as the "King of the Hill, Top of the Heap, A Number One," as the lyric tells us in "New York, New York." In short, he had become a genuine cultural icon.

Today, however, we live in an age where the overuse of the word "icon" has had an effect no different than the flooding of any market; its overuse makes everything iconic, and therefore, nothing. You know you've reached a stage of cultural bankruptcy when, in today's culture, Sinatra is still recognized as one of America's icons, but that he'd share that iconic status with Kim Kardashian. Not. Unlike the Kardashians who are "famous for being famous," as Barbara Walters once put it, Sinatra is an icon precisely because he was a person who was revered or idolized for his accomplishments. He is an artist whose influence spreads into genres as diverse as jazz (he was selected in a 1956 poll of jazz musicians, with affirmative votes from Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Oscar Peterson, Billy Taylor, and Carmen McRae, among others, as "the greatest-ever male vocalist") and rap; it is felt in the work of contemporary popular artists as diverse as Alicia Keys, Sara Bareilles, John Legend, John Mayer, Josh Grobin, Gavin DeGraw, and Ne-Yo. It stretches from the jazz stylings of Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Buble, to the cabaret of Ron Hawking and Michael Feinstein ("The Sinatra Project") [YouTube link], and the rap of Jay Z (who is a master of rapping above and behind the beat). In some respects, however, Sinatra's influence isn't felt enough, and this is to the detriment of the musical world in which we live. As jazz vocalist Cassandara Wilson put it: "I wish Frank Sinatra influenced more singers today. He comes from a time when it [was] about the phrasing of a piece, the emotional content of a piece. He descended from Billie Holiday and singers who placed more emphasis on the lyrical content of the song."

Here at "Notablog," on the list called "My Favorite Songs," I have always revered and idolized Sinatra. One would think that after featuring audio clips and full-length YouTube renditions by Sinatra on over 60 songs in my ever-growing list, that we would have exhausted our supply. By some estimates, however, the Chairman of the Board (a name given to him by New York's WNEW-AM radio personality, the beloved William B. Williams) recorded over 1,200 tracks, but this includes various recordings of the same song delivered with different arrangements. Clearly, the guy spent a lot of time in the studio, when he wasn't going on global concert tours or filming another hit movie.

Given the number of Sinatra performances highlighted in "My Favorite Songs," he is, perhaps, the artist cited more than any other on my list. So, before listening to the next 19 days of songs that I will post over the coming weeks, I invite folks to check out the ones already listed: "All of Me," "All or Nothing at All," "All the Things You Are," "Angel Eyes," "Autumn in New York," "The Best is Yet to Come," "Brooklyn Bridge," "Call Me," "Call Me Irresponsible," "Change Partners," "Cheek to Cheek," "Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)," "Come Fly with Me," "Days of Wine and Roses," "Don't Take Your Love From Me," "Everything Happens To Me," "Falling in Love with Love," "The First Noel," "Fly Me To the Moon," "Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread)," "How About You?," "How Insensitive," "I Concentrate on You," "I Fall in Love Too Easily," "If You Go Away," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "I'll Never Smile Again," "I'm a Fool to Want You," "I Should Care," "It Was a Very Good Year," "I've Got a Crush On You," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Just Friends," "The Lady is a Tramp," "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing," "Luck Be a Lady," "Me and My Shadow," "Meditation," "Moonlight in Vermont," "My Baby Just Cares for Me," "My Buddy," "My Kind of Town," "My One and Only Love," "My Shining Hour," "My Way," "The Nearness of You," "New York, New York," "One for My Baby," "Pennies from Heaven," "Pocketful of Miracles," "Poor Butterfly," "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado)," "Someone to Light Up My Life," "The Song is You," "Spring is Here," "Summer Me, Winter Me," "Swinging on a Star," "That Old Black Magic," "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)," "They Can't Take That Away from Me," "Too Marvelous For Words," "Triste," "The Way You Look Tonight," "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," "Wives and Lovers," "Yesterdays," "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," "You'll Never Know," "You'll Never Walk Alone," "You Make Me Feel So Young," and "You're Gonna Hear From Me."

Some of these songs are so closely tied to their definitive Sinatra recordings, that it is hard to listen to them coming from the voices of other singers, no matter how wonderful other renditions might be. I mean, can anyone of us honestly think of such songs as "The Best is Yet to Come," "Come Fly with Me," "Fly Me to the Moon," and "It Was a Very Good Year," without thinking of Sinatra? Charlton Heston, the Oscar-winning actor who knew one or two things about 3- and 4-hour epics, once said that every single song that Sinatra ever sang was the equivalent of a 4-minute movie, so good was he at telling a story. Sinatra sang the standards, but his own renditions of so many of these standards became the standard by which to measure other renditions. For other artists who sang these songs, the best route to success was to completely change the interpretation and arrangement. For example, I can't think of anybody but Michael Jackson performing "Billie Jean," and yet several other successful renditions have been recorded only because the interpretation of the song was dramatically altered. Chris Cornell's version, in my view, is the most successful because it is dramatically different from the original. Check it all out here.

Clearly, I have always celebrated the talents of Sinatra, the self-confessed "saloon singer," who became the epitome of cool, the essence of musical class, and, as Bono once suggested, perhaps the only Italian Francis (with apologies to the Italian man from Assisi and the humble Argentinian Pope of Italian immigrants) to provide genuine proof that God is a Catholic ([YouTube link; I'm paraphrasing Bono's introduction of Sinatra at the 1994 Grammy Awards, where The Voice was recognized as a Grammy "Living Legend").

Nearly all of the selections that will be featured in this tribute can be found on "Ultimate Sinatra," a 4-CD Centennial Edition of 101 recordings, drawn from every label under which Sinatra recorded, including Columbia Records, Capitol Records, and his own Reprise label.

I was asked by a few people if I could possibly select a Top Ten List of Sinatra Favorites, and I find it virtually impossible to rank, but I'll try a knee-jerk Top Ten, literally off-the-top of my head, in alphabetical order, rather than a ranking: "The Best is Yet to Come," "Come Fly with Me," "Fly Me to the Moon," "I Concentrate on You," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "It Was a Very Good Year," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "One for My Baby," "New York, New York" (heard at the end of every home game played by my New York Yankees), and "That's Life." But if I think about this for any more than five minutes, I'll give you a whole other list of Top Ten... so let's keep it at that!

Today's "Song of the Day" is "From This Moment On" (on Disc 2 of "Ultimate Sinatra"). Indeed, from this moment on, prepare to be entertained through December 12th. We will feature a song each day (with one tip of the Fedora in the middle of our tribute to two other artists with links to Sinatra). As I have noted, not one of these songs has ever appeared on the illustrious list assembled above, which, in itself, is a testament to the breadth and the depth of this man's magnificent artistic legacy.

November 15, 2015

Song of the Day #1275

Song of the Day: Paris Was Made for Lovers, with music by Michel Legrand, lyrics by Hal Shaper, is the title track from the 1972 British comedy-drama film, known alternatively as "A Time for Loving." My favorite version of this song was a live Legrand performance from an early 1970s Monsanto special (see link below). Of course, today, there is every reason in the world to remember one lyric from Legrand's song: "Paris Was Made for Lovers... Why Else Would Paris Even Be There?" I've never been to Paris, but my heart has visited its residents since Friday the 13th of November, and it aches because they, who have known the horrific wars of the twentieth-century, conquered by the Nazis, liberated by the Allies, have now been introduced to a war of the twenty-first century, one that I know only too well because it showed its ugly face in my city, my home, on September 11, 2001. We can debate the reasons for this bloodshed from here to eternity, but there is simply no doubt about the utter savagery of those who have the self-righteous audacity to claim that they kill in the name of their God. These premodern jihadists have brought back all the premodern means of murder; they've sawed off heads and crucified "heretics." But they use modern technology to assist them in their coordination of terror. We've heard of the "Stolen Concept Fallacy," where one requires the truth of that which one is simultaneously trying to disprove; maybe we can call this one the "Stolen Technology Fallacy," where one requires all the technological gifts of a civilized society, including social media and satellite technology, while in the process of trying to destroy the very civilization that has made such gifts possible. If I lived in Paris, I'd want to deny such murderers the capacity to use anything that wasn't invented prior to the seventh century. And I'd introduce them to one more premodern innovation as a reward for their brutality: The Guillotine. Paris Was Made for Lovers, Not Haters. Listen to the godly Legrand sing of the love of his city [.mp3 link]. And may God bless the people of Paris as they mourn the lives that have been taken from them.

September 11, 2015

WTC Remembrance: A New One World Trade Center Rises From the Ashes - A Pictorial

My annual series, "Remembering the World Trade Center," turns this year to the extraordinary new tower that has risen from the ashes of that terrible day in 2001, when nearly 3000 people lost their lives in the most horrific attack on this country's soil in history. We have done a lot of "looking back" over the years of this series; today, even as we look back and honor the memory of the murdered, we look forward to an infinite realm of possibilities through the sheer will and imagination of the human mind.

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

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

2001: As It Happened . . .

2002: New York, New York

2003: Remembering the World Trade Center: A Tribute

2004: My Friend Ray

2005: Patrick Burke, Educator

2006: Cousin Scott

2007: Charlie: To Build and Rebuild

2008: Eddie Mecner, Firefighter

2009: Lenny: Losses and Loves

2010: Tim Drinan, Student

2011: Ten Years Later

2012: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

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

2014: A Museum for the Ages: A Pictorial.

2015: A New One World Trade Center Rises From the Ashes: A Pictorial.

August 07, 2015

Russian Radical 2.0: Reviews and Retrospectives

It's been awhile since I've reported on the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, so now that I have a little break in-between editing issues of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (I handed in the December 2015 issue just yesterday!), I figure now is just as good a time as any to give an update.

First, for those of you who don't know much about the second expanded edition of this book, I provide here an index of relevant Notablog posts:

Part 1: The Cover
Part 2: The Cover Story
Part 3: 1995 vs. 2013: What's Different?
Part 4: Preface to the Second Edition
Part 5: Supplying Answers, Raising Questions
Part 6: 12 September 2013, Release Date
Part 7: A Kindle Edition and Revised Revisions

Today's report on the second edition could not be more timely, since, after all, it was literally twenty years ago this month, yes, you read that right: TWENTY YEARS AGO, that the first edition of the book was published by Pennsylvania State University Press. As Carlin Romano puts it in his 2012 book, America The Philosophical:

Nineteen ninety-five also saw the publication of the first scholarly study of Rand published by a respected university press, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (Penn State) by Chris Matthew Sciabarra, a political scientist [ed: I actually prefer to call myself a "political theorist" or "social theorist," since I received my Ph.D. in political theory, philosophy, and methodology, and New York University, bless them, has a Department of Politics, not a Department of Political Science!] That book spurred debate with its novel claim that Rand, who came to the United States in 1926, is best understood as a thinker whose roots in Russian philosophy and Marxism's dialectical tradition account for the unique syntheses of her later work. Since then, scholarly interest in her has significantly spiked, if not boomed, fanned by the wide theatrical distribution of Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, a 1997 Oscar-nominated documentary approved by the Ayn Rand Institute, and such studies as What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand by Louis Torres and Michelle Marder Kamhi. The Chronicle of Higher Education, in an overview of Rand's place in academe, reported many more books on Rand's thought on the way (including a study by [the late Allan] Gotthelf), as well as a journal devoted to Randian literary [ed: and philosophical] studies.

I would like to think that my first edition not only rode the wave of that boom, but was at least partially responsible for creating it. (In reality, my work on Rand was the first book-length study published by a university press; I have always given credit to my dearest friends and colleagues, Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen, co-editors of The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand (1987), published by the University of Illinois Press; the fact that both of these extraordinary scholars sit on the Board of Advisors of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is no accident. Their encouragement and support of my work has been immeasurable!)

The first edition of Russian Radical was published the same week as another work of mine: Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, which was actually Part I of what would become my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy." Russian Radical constituted Part II of that trilogy; in 2000, Part III concluded the study: Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. Taken as an "organic whole," the three books were designed to reclaim a dialectical mode of inquiry as an indispensable tool in the construction of a radical libertarian analytical approach.

Nevertheless, getting back to the second edition of Russian Radical, not many reviews have been published. That's fairly typical of second editions, but the "Dialectics and Liberty" site will be updated periodically to reflect any reviews that appear in online or print form. Thus far, one can take a look at the index of reviews for the second edition, where one will find excerpts and abstracts for two reviews (the first appearing on the site of the Center for a Stateless Society, the other appearing in the July 2015 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies).

My own reply to the review that appears in the current issue of JARS, written by my friend and colleague, Wendy McElroy, will appear in the July 2016 issue of the journal, along with a reply written by Roger E. Bissell. [Ed.: The replies actually did not appear until the December 2017 issue of the journal, having been postponed by a symposium devoted to the work and legacy of Nathaniel Branden.]

In any event, I am happy that I've stuck around long enough to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the first two books of my trilogy; I'll be positively ecstatic when I mark the centennial anniversary!

June 28, 2015

Song of the Day #1262

Song of the Day: One, a song written by Harry Nilsson, and covered by Three Dog Night in 1969, reached the Top 5 on the Billboard pop chart. It was also among the Top 40 songs on the Stonewall Inn jukebox on this date in that year, when the historic riots against police raids took place. I mark this date each year, which today inspires the annual NYC LGBT Pride Parade. Indeed, it takes just One individual to stand up and fight for the right to exist and to pursue personal happiness. One may be "the loneliest number," as the lyric says, but in the wee small hours of this date (most people were actually out on the night of June 27th, but it was technically after midnight when the 27th melted into the 28th), and the NYPD pushed into the Stonewall Inn for just another routine raid. This time there would be nothing routine about it. Many Ones stood up and pushed back. Long live the Stonewall Rebellion and freedom and equality under the rule of law! Check out the Three Dog Night rendition on YouTube.

September 11, 2014

WTC Remembrance: A Museum for the Ages - A Pictorial

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

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

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

2001: As It Happened . . .

2002: New York, New York

2003: Remembering the World Trade Center: A Tribute

2004: My Friend Ray

2005: Patrick Burke, Educator

2006: Cousin Scott

2007: Charlie: To Build and Rebuild

2008: Eddie Mecner, Firefighter

2009: Lenny: Losses and Loves

2010: Tim Drinan, Student

2011: Ten Years Later

2012: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

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

2014: A Museum for the Ages: A Pictorial.

June 29, 2014

Song of the Day #1188

Song of the Day: I Know A Place, words and music by Tony Hatch, was one of those perennial favorites requested by the regular clientele of the Stonewall Inn. On the weekend of 28-29 June 1969, the site became Ground Zero for a drag queen-led riot against police harassment of gay and lesbian establishments. It is among the events that gave birth to the modern American movement to protect the individual rights of gays and lesbians, and it is in honor of that event that I post this song on this date. The song was recorded most famously by Petula Clark, but has also been recorded by Sammy Davis, Jr., with the Buddy Rich Band [YouTube links], and Vi Velasco, whose rendition features jazz guitarist Carl Barry, my Bro.

February 11, 2014

Song of the Day #1163

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

January 26, 2014

Song of the Day #1151

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

December 21, 2013

Song of the Day #1147

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

November 22, 2013

Song of the Day #1145

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

October 12, 2013

Happy Birthday to Walter Grinder!

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

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

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

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

September 11, 2013

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

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

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

2001: As It Happened . . .

2002: New York, New York

2003: Remembering the World Trade Center: A Tribute

2004: My Friend Ray

2005: Patrick Burke, Educator

2006: Cousin Scott

2007: Charlie: To Build and Rebuild

2008: Eddie Mecner, Firefighter

2009: Lenny: Losses and Loves

2010: Tim Drinan, Student

2011: Ten Years Later

2012: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

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

Never forget.

September 02, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: 12 September 2013 Release Date

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

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

The New Edition

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

August 16, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: Supplying Answers, Raising Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 15, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: Preface to the Second Edition

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

Preface to the Second Edition (2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Matthew Sciabarra
1 July 2013

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

August 14, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 12, 2013

Russian Radical 2.0: The Cover

In daily posts over the course of the next five days, I am marking the publication of the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, offically scheduled for release on "Atlas Shrugged Day", 2 September 2013 . . . though, in this home, we have always known that date to be far more significant: it's my sister's birthday! And she's slightly older than Atlas. Nevertheless, more likely than not, the book will be circulating by the end of September or early October.

Published nearly two decades ago, the first edition of Russian Radical is actually celebrating its 18th anniversary this month. Also reaching its 18th birthday is my first book: Marx, Hayek, and Utopia. Tomorrow, in Part II of this series, I will present "The Cover Story" on the origins of the second edition of Russian Radical. wherein I'll have lots to say about both books.

Today, it's just The Cover. Quite literally. The clearest and boldest symbol of difference between the first and second editions of Russian Radical is illustrated by the cover. The classic 1995 first edition cover design by Steve Kress provided images of Ayn Rand, philosophy Professor N. O. Lossky, and the Peter and Paul Fortress, where, in 1924, the young Ayn Rand (nee Alissa Rosenbaum) lectured on the fortress's history.

Ayn_Rand_The_Russian_Radical 1.0

The second edition's cover design is, if you'll pardon the expression, quite a radical departure from the first edition. Those familiar with Ayn Rand will recall that her original working title for the book that was to become her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, was: "The Strike." Considering how strikes were customarily tools of organized labor, Rand was engaging in a kind of linguistic subversion that was characteristic of one of her earliest philosophic influences, Friedrich Nietzsche. Rand would often use words that had negative connotations, and totally invert their meaning. Hence, for Rand, there was a "virtue" of selfishness and "capitalism" was not a system of class exploitation, but an "unknown ideal." Well, in this instance, her working title for Atlas Shrugged was her way of using the word, "Strike" in a typically ironic fashion. For Rand (spoiler alert), Atlas Shrugged explores what happens when "the men of the mind" go on strike, when men and women of distinction, across all disciplines and specialities, across the worlds of business and art, no longer wish to sanction their own victimhood. The new cover uses the strike imagery in the color scheme of the country to which Rand emigrated in 1926 (the red, white, and blue of the U.S. flag), while also using banners with touches of red and yellow (let us not forget that it was the yellow of the "hammer and sickle" that was starkly imposed on the solid red background of the communist Soviet flag). Here's the new cover, folks!

ARTRRMEDIUM978-0-271-06227-3md.jpg

March 14, 2013

Left-Libertarian Musings

I have been remiss in not mentioning that references to, and republications of, my work have been featured on the website of Center for a Stateless Society. From the mission statement of the Center:

The Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS) is an anarchist think-tank and media center. Its mission is to explain and defend the idea of vibrant social cooperation without aggression, oppression, or centralized authority. In particular, it seeks to enlarge public understanding and transform public perceptions of anarchism, while reshaping academic and movement debate, through the production and distribution of market anarchist media content, both scholarly and popular, the organization of events, and the development of networks and communities, and to serve, along with the Alliance of the Libertarian Left and the Molinari Institute, as an institutional home for left-libertarian market anarchists.

One does not have to be a bona fide member of the Center, or an anarchist per se, to appreciate the fact that these folks are attempting to forge the way for a form of dialectical libertarianism, insofar as they refuse to focus strictly on the political, to the exclusion of the personal and the cultural, the social-psychological, the linguistic, the philosophical, and so forth. One of the reasons I've been critical of some forms of libertarianism is that there are what I have called "dualistic" tendencies among some libertarians to sharply separate the political from the personal and the cultural, as if dispensing with the state is all that is necessary to achieve a noncoercive society. As I have argued in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy," the political is as dependent on the personal and the cultural as each of these levels is dependent on the others. It is the classic case of reciprocal interdependence:

Tri-Level Model of Power Relations in Society

My "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy" consists of three books that proclaim the virtues of dialectical thinking in the service of a radical libertarianism. The essence of a dialectical method is that it is "the art of context-keeping." It demands that we study social problems by grasping the larger context within which they are embedded, so as to trace their myriad—and often reciprocal—causes and effects. The larger context must be viewed in terms that are both systemic and historical. By systemic, I mean that social problems need to be understood in ways that make transparent their relationships to one another—and to the larger system they constitute and that shapes them. By historical, I mean that social problems need to be grasped developmentally, that is, in ways that clarify their development over time. Grasping the larger context is indispensable to any "radical" politics worth its title. To be radical is to "go to the root." Going to the "root" of social problems requires understanding how they came about, where they might be tending, and how they may be resolved—by overturning and revolutionizing the system that generates them.

The three books of the trilogy are: Marx, Hayek, and Utopia; Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical; and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism.

The first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, published in 1995 with the State University of New York Press, draws parallels between Karl Marx and F. A. Hayek with regard to their surprisingly convergent critiques of utopianism. Both thinkers exhibit an appreciation of context in distinguishing between dialectical, radical thinking and nondialectical, utopian thinking.

The second book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, published in 1995 with Pennsylvania State University Press (and soon to be published in an expanded second edition) details Rand's approach as an instance of highly dialectical and radical thinking, which recognizes that social problems and social solutions must be understood systemically, across three distinctive, and mutually supportive, levels of generality—the personal, the cultural, and the structural, and dynamically or developmentally, inclusive of past, present, and potential future manifestations of the problems we are analyzing and attempting to resolve.

The third book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, published in 2000 by Pennsylvania State University Press, offers a re-reading of the history of dialectical thinking, and a re-definition of dialectics as indispensable to any defense of human liberty. It includes a critical discussion of the work of Murray N. Rothbard, who was one of my most important influences.

One can never be sure of every last implication of one's work when one creates it. That's the nature of what is often called an enterprise of "hermeneutics", which is a fancy term to designate the art, nature, and evolution of interpretation. As different people relate their own unique contexts of knowledge to one's work, they are more than likely to find implications in the work of which not even the author may have been aware. It therefore gives me great pleasure to see that those on the "libertarian left" are drawing from some useful aspects of my work.

Here are some of the references to, and republications of, my work at the Center for a Stateless Society:

On the Shoulders of Giants by Kevin Carson

They Saw it Coming: The 19th-Century Libertarian Critique of Fascism (translated into Spanish as Lo Vieron Venir: La Crítica Libertaria Decimonónica del Fascismo) by Roderick Long

Engagement with the Left on Free Markets by Kevin Carson

"Capitalism": The Known Reality by Chris Matthew Sciabarra (posted by James Tuttle)

A Crisis of Political Economy by Chris Matthew Sciabarra (posted by James Tuttle)

Dialectics and Liberty by Chris Matthew Sciabarra (posted by James Tuttle)

Support C4SS with Charles Johnson's "Liberty, Equality, Solidarity" by James Tuttle

February 04, 2013

Song of the Day #1096

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

November 22, 2012

Song of the Day #1081

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

September 11, 2012

WTC Remembrance: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

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

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

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

Never Forget.

September 10, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Childs-Peikoff Hypothesis - Dennis C. Hardin

New JARS! Volume 12, Number 1

The JARS website features both abstracts and contributor biographies.

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

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

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

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

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

Announcement also posted on the Liberty & Power Group Blog.

April 15, 2012

Song of the Day #1040

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

April 14, 2012

Song of the Day #1039

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

April 13, 2012

Song of the Day #1038

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

April 12, 2012

Song of the Day #1087

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

April 11, 2012

Song of the Day #1086

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

April 10, 2012

Song of the Day #1085

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

September 17, 2011

Song of the Day #1003

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

September 11, 2011

WTC Remembrance: Ten Years Later

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

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

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


The essay continues here.

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

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

Never Forget.

July 28, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essays on Atlas Shrugged, by philosophy professor Fred Seddon

The Journal Begins Its Second Decade!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On to the second decade ... and beyond!

July 27, 2011

New(ish) Encyclopedia Entries

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

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

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

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

Oh, and this entry...

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

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

June 30, 2011

John Hospers, RIP

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

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

My deepest condolences to his family and friends.