TOWARD A DIALECTICAL LIBERTARIANISM
SCIABARRA'S REPLY TO NICHOLAS DYKES
PLUS DYKES' REJOINDER & SCIABARRA'S REPLY
I'd like to thank Nicholas Dykes for his review of my book, TOTAL FREEDOM: TOWARD A DIALECTICAL LIBERTARIANISM, and for his kind words of a personal nature with regard to my scholarship and courtesy. This said, I find his review deeply disturbing on several levels. In this reply, I'd like to address his concerns on a point-by-point basis:
1. Dykes criticizes me for the past year's advertising campaign that trumpeted: "Total Freedom is coming." He is disappointed too that I did not provide a greater dose of autobiography with regard to my own involvement with Rothbardian anarchism, and he argues that the "pre-publicity for the book was thus misleading. There is little point mentioning anarchism and minarchism if one has no contribution to make to the debate."
The very first sentence of the book reads: "Euphemisms are inoffensive terms that one may substitute for those that might be considered distasteful." I go on to say that "total freedom" is simply a euphemism for "dialectical libertarianism," and the actual subtitle of the book is, after all: "Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism." One of our jobs as authors, of course, is to come up with catchy titles. But to say that this book makes no contribution to the discussion over anarchism and minarchism is to exhibit little understanding of its central purpose.
2. Dykes says that I cite the Marxist Roy Bhaskar approvingly, but the very quote he cites states that in the unity of dialectics and libertarianism, "we might give new meaning to the credo of Marxist social theorist Roy Bhaskar (1993, 385) that 'dialectic is the pulse of freedom.'" Clearly, the use of the phrase "new meaning" implies that I'm providing an alternative, indeed diametrically opposed, meaning to Bhaskar's credo, since I'm partially using dialectical method as a foil to Marxism.
3. I am surprised that Dykes views my introduction as "condescending" because it is clear that he is not aware of the book's audience. It is not simply preaching to the choir. Part of the purpose of a scholarly book is to engage in a dialogue with those who, at first glance, may not take one's subject matter seriously. Since the academic left retains its hold on so much of scholarship, my introduction was my way of showing how silly some of their criticisms are (hence my reason for introducing some of the more irrational criticisms made of it). And anyone even remotely familiar with the great diversity within libertarianism could surely see that thinkers such as Hayek, Mises, Nozick, Rand, and Rothbard, though united in some respects, differ - often fundamentally - in other respects. I state up front in this introduction that "libertarianism as a social theory, broadly understood, is valuable" and "that it offers a valid perspective on the nature of the crisis in modern society and that voluntary social relations, with all their preconditions and effects, are morally and consequentially preferable to the status quo and to statism, in all its varieties" (14). So, if Dykes thinks that he sees a foe of libertarianism in my work, he is not reading the text very carefully.
One of my points is that libertarians need to pay more attention to things like culture and history if they are to make a success of their grand designs for humanity. This is not an indictment of libertarianism, but a call for a more effective strategy on making it happen.
4. Dykes disagrees with one of the techniques of the book - wherein I contrast the views of Hayek, Mises, or Rothbard with the views of various leftists. These views do merit attention precisely because they still hold sway over so much of academia. And given the fact that Rothbard himself went through a deeply influential period in which he was involved in intellectual and political coalitions with left-wing academics (authoring articles for STUDIES ON THE LEFT, coediting a book with leftist Ronald Radosh entitled A NEW HISTORY OF LEVIATHAN, and joining with Marxists and Trotskyites in the Peace and Freedom Party), the comparisons and contrasts are valid and enlightening.
5. Dykes is not the first to criticize the book for its bulky footnotes; on this count, he's probably correct: they are sometimes not the most aesthetically pleasing approach for the reader. They were initially designed as endnotes, and the press thought they worked better as footnotes for the simple reason that the discussions often amplified and enriched the material in the text. I was persuaded that such was the case, and I am flattered that a number of students have actually thanked me for providing enough material for future scholars to examine for many years to come. (On this count, my quoting of personal communications may be problematic because they are not in the public domain; given Dykes' own positive view of my scholarship, I can only say that the communications are accurate to a comma, and that someday, they will be made available for future scholars. Alas, that may not happen until I'm laid to rest.) Still, I recognize that this is not an easy book. It takes a lot of care and patience to work through its many implications; it requires study. Dykes has not succeeded in capturing its essence, I suspect, because he has not studied it carefully enough.
6. Dykes criticizes me for the use of language that he finds difficult or irritating. Chief among these words are "moment," "tacit," and "synoptic." That I provide definitions of each of these words and that I show their usage by others to mean the same things I mean is a clear counterargument to his assertion that I've imposed "new and unrelated meanings on well-understood or commonplace words." No less an advocate of freedom than Hayek is well known for his use of the word "synoptic" (as in "synoptic delusion"). My use of the word "tacit" is no different than its use by Hayek or Michael Polanyi. And thinkers in Austrian philosophy (Barry Smith) and Austrian economics (Mario Rizzo) have used the word "moment" in the same manner that I use it.
I find it remarkable that for the last few years, some have criticized my use of such words as "dualism," "monism," "dialectics," and such because I never provided genus-differentia definitions of these terms. Now, I provide such definitions, and my work is criticized for being "untrustworthy." If I'd simply left the words hanging in the air, like floating abstractions, it would have been condemned for the same reason. Damned if you do, and damned if you don't.
Because I deal with these terms on a very high level of abstraction, as basic forms of thought or thinking styles, I had to define them formally, only to provide concrete references for their usages in metaphysics, epistemology, etc. The whole point of providing these definitions is to get beyond the negative connotations - indeed, the word with the MOST negative connotations is dialectics!!
(As an aside, Dykes is clearly wrong to argue that Rothbard's distinction between "state" and "market" is not a duality. Since Rothbard himself focuses on the principles underlying these institutions as the key to what he calls "polar analysis," it is clear to me that Rothbard views these institutions as mutually antagonistic.)
7. Dykes argues that I'm engaging in a "clearly Hegelian" method by contrasting two opposing elements (libertarianism and Marxism) and aiming for a synthesis. This is such a fundamentally mistaken view of the book's methodology that I'm tempted to say in defense of its actual method: read the book.
Alas, I'll try something simpler: We enter into any discussion by needing to address what Hayek calls a "given climate of opinion." That given climate views dialectics as something that is indisputably connected to Marxism. A book that deals with dialectical social theory and that does not recognize this fact will never succeed in fracturing the connection between dialectics and Marxism.
The whole point of Part One of the book is to show that dialectical method predates both Hegel and Marx, that it is of Aristotelian origin, that it has been used by classical liberals and libertarians, and that it should be used by a new generation of libertarians as one means to enriching their own approach to social theory so that it is not one-dimensionally concerned with politics or economics.
The notion of the "triad" is used very sparingly in the book; one will find it on about 7 pages out of nearly 500. It is simply a provocative way of stating that, sometimes, if we take something to a higher level of abstraction, things that seem opposed (dialectics and libertarianism, for example) might actually be shown to presuppose one another.
As for the truth that Marxism is untenable: where would one find anything in TOTAL FREEDOM to dispute this? Yes, I credit Marx with his application of dialectical method to social theory, but I state quite clearly and repeatedly, that the content of Marx's theories is false, that he has undermined any dialectical predilections he may have had with a "synoptic delusion" or "pretense of knowledge" (as Hayek would say) and that the only consequence of such an approach is totalitarianism. (Hence the need for an integration of method and content; see below.) That I have also devoted an entire book to a critique of Marxism (MARX, HAYEK, AND UTOPIA) needs to be mentioned here as well, since that book is the first book in the trilogy that AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL and TOTAL FREEDOM complete.
Dykes states: "After all the millions murdered in the name of communism, it is disturbing to find its advocates given voice in a work called 'Total Freedom.'" Given that this is the case, I submit that any work that deals with freedom and that does not take communism seriously, is doomed to never understand it or its continuing power over contemporary intellectuals. Dykes, instead, views the discussion in TOTAL FREEDOM as "seriously unbalanced," and he "starts to think, 'which side of the fence is CMS really on?' This reader even found himself recalling a scene in a Bond movie when, after dear old James has demolished half a county, the local sheriff is told he's a secret agent: 'Secret agent!' howls the sheriff; 'on whose side?'" I honestly cannot even dignify this doubting of my political convictions, so I'll simply move on.
8. Dykes tells us that what I call "'dialectics' is not a great new discovery, it is actually the normal method of analytic thought." Given that I trace its evolution and history, I never championed it as a "great new discovery." And while I readily admit and discuss its use by many thinkers, since it is or should be part of the arsenal of analytic thought, I show that, regrettably, not all thinkers understand its emphasis on context-keeping or the techniques by which to keep context. That goes as much for the critics that Dykes cites (the libertarian Machan, the neo-Objectivist Wilkinson, and the Hegelian MacGregor) as it does for him.
Dykes, however, goes further by stating that dialectics, as I define it, "makes no sense." But there is no contradiction between calling something a methodological orientation or a thinking style or even a technique. Inspired by the founder of the Austrian school of economics, Carl Menger, I define a methodological orientation as "an intellectual disposition to apply a specific set of broad ontological and epistemological presuppositions about objects of study and their typical relationships to particular fields of investigations" (143). Dykes is correct: a thing is what it is. Every orientation implies assumptions about the objects that we study, just as it implies techniques for studying those objects - whether it be techniques of separation, integration, or contextual analysis. But for Dykes to declare that "intellectual analysis can have no effect on any object, otherwise it would cease to be analysis and become something else, propaganda, say, or coercion" is to imply a serious - dare I say "dualistic" - dichotomy between theory and practice. Rand and Rothbard, among Dykes' heroes, were profound critics of that dichotomy, just as they criticized the dichotomy of fact and value. Rand herself argued that analysis, especially analysis informed by objective values, has necessary implications for action. To accuse me of side-stepping the law of identity by adhering to the very same theory-practice, analysis-action integration is to dismiss much of Randian and Rothbardian thought as well.
9. Dykes accuses me of confusing "context" and "perspective" and "totality" even though he refers to my discussion of the meaning of "context" in Chapter 4 of TF. It is true that these words are intimately related, but this requires a bit more discussion.
First, contrary to what Dykes says, I never use the word "totality" to mean "complete in itself." I define "totality" as a specific object as understood from and structured by shifting perspectives, or more formally, "a model of the whole as a structured unity, once the relations of its subsidiary parts have been well investigated, abstracted, and integrated for a specifiable analytical purpose that brings forth coherent explanation" (176). This means that our picture of an object becomes more complete by shifting our perspectives on it. In some instances, this means changing our vantage point on an object (hence, the use of "perspective" and "point of view" or "vantage point" as synonyms). But in other instances, it means viewing an object as an expandable unit (understanding its past, present, and possible future manifestations or in terms of its place in a larger system). And in still other instances, it means viewing an object on different levels of generality.
Rand, for example, viewed social problems on three distinct levels of generality: the personal (in terms of the psycho-epistemological and ethical preconditions and effects of that problem), the cultural (in terms of the linguistic, ideological, pedagogical preconditions and effects of that problem), and the structural (in terms of the political and economic preconditions and effects of that problem). Let's take Rand's analysis of racism, for example. By shifting the contexts in which racism is understood, Rand helps us to understand its meaning on a variety of levels. We get to see its tribalist psycho-epistemological roots, its collectivist and altruist ethical precepts, its implications for culture, politics, and economics. (A full discussion of this example is provided in Chapter 12 of AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL.)
Since context is derived from "contextus," which means, "to weave together," and context-keeping requires us to understand an object through a process of abstraction, each perspective on the object is, then, a shifting context by which to interpret the meaning and significance of that object. By weaving together the different contexts of our exploration, and the different points of view that each context makes clear to us, we emerge with a more comprehensive picture of the object.
(And, in a sense, each view of a social problem constitutes a "structured unity"; by integrating the views, we emerge with a better understanding of the "full context" of a social problem. Such a "full context" is not a "synoptic" or an omniscient view, but one informed by the given state of our knowledge. This has nothing to do with any so-called Kantian "primacy of consciousness," and everything to do with doing the mental work that is required in any scientific examination. As for the status of universal principles: nothing in TF denies that it is possible to come up with principles that are true of all times and all places. Indeed, TF defends logic as entailing just these kinds of principles. And I state quite clearly that dialectics "does not impugn the possibility of objective knowledge or of scientific efforts to define OBJECTIVE principles of human cognition and evaluation" (177). My problem with any abstract notion of rights is not that it is invalid, as such, but that attempts to define and defend a non-aggression axiom in the absence of a broader philosophical and cultural context are doomed to fail.)
10. Questionable quotations:
- Of my statement that "[Marx] had a fundamental appreciation of the relationship between property ownership and human freedom" (213), " Dykes states: "Tell that to the Marines." Well, the truth is that Marx did believe that property was essential to human freedom; what Dykes is not recognizing here is that, for Marx, laborers are being robbed of their property by capitalists. This is incorrect, of course. But it is still the case that Marx argued that there was a link between freedom and property, even if he believed that true freedom was not possible without socialized ownership of property.
- Dykes quotes me: "[Rand] also subscribes" to "the nonaggression principle in Rothbard's theory" (215) and states that "this is backwards. Rand was first to define the non-initiation of force as the basis of civilised society. Rothbard developed her idea into the principle of non-aggression)." But I was not focusing on chronological development. The actual statement is: "The non-aggression principle in Rothbard's theory, a principle to which Rand also subscribes, is that 'no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else.'" Elsewhere in the chapter, one sees clearly my view that Rand actually provides a more detailed understanding of that principle than Rothbard.
- Dykes quotes me: "Rothbard's methodology paves the way for his politics," (217) and states: False. His ethics paved the way for his politics)." He leaves out the first and last clause of that sentence: "In a sense, Rothbard's methodology paves the way for his politics, just as his politics has a reciprocal effect on his methodology." The point of the statement is to show how deeply integrated Rothbard's thought is.
- Dykes quotes me: "Once again, Rothbard's method concentrates on the primacy of theoretical, rather than historical, specificity," and replies: "False. Rothbard was an excellent historian who never put theory first. His thinking was a balanced combination of theory and history)." Nobody is doubting his balanced combination or his power as an integrated thinker; the statement that Dykes quotes loses its meaning when it is abstracted from the context of the discussion within which it is used (surprise! surprise!), namely, a discussion of Rothbard's self-termed "Crusoe Social philosophy," which Rothbard argues is a purely logical (or "praxeological") deduction from first principles, rather than one informed directly by history.
- Dykes quotes me as saying that "one cannot divorce method from content," and replies that this statement "denies the independent study of logic, algebra, and also, of course, dialectics)." The statement, however, begins with the word "Ultimately." I do not deny the need for independent study, and actually criticize so-called "Unified Science" perspectives; the purpose of the statement was simply to emphasize the overall integration of our knowledge, and the need to relate our methods to the objects of the real world.
11. Dykes argues that I do Murray Rothbard a disservice, smothering his thought in "contrasts, comments and criticism from anybody and everybody: Marxists; other left-wingers, such as Antonio Gramsci or David Schweikart; proponents of limited government, such as Rand or Buchanan; Conservatives like Russell Kirk or Paul Johnson; and even writers of uncertain stripe, such as Jeffrey Friedman, John Gray, Robert Nozick, or Peter Schwartz."
Well, Dykes is correct that there are plenty of contrasts and comments offered; but this is no different than what I did in RUSSIAN RADICAL, where Dykes actually applauds my exposition of Rand's system. TF tries to situate Rothbard in a larger debate in social theory, a debate that involves thinkers of many different stripes. It remains the first, and to my knowledge, the only comprehensive discussion of Rothbard's system in the scholarly literature. If it is not to Dykes' liking, it is my hope that the book will begin a long overdue dialogue on Rothbard's important contributions.
As for my criticism that Rothbard's theory of anarchism is divorced from cultural context: Rothbard himself, for many years, said EXACTLY that. He argued that this was its strength, that it could accommodate all and any cultural and ethical contexts. My argument is that it cannot, because ultimately, enforcement of any non-aggression principle requires a much broader philosophical and cultural context than that offered by Rothbard. In his later years, Rothbard grasped the holes in his own theory, and proceeded to fill them with the view that libertarian principles required a traditionalist conservative culture. I argue that Rothbard's resolution was a welcome movement toward a greater contextual sensitivity, but that his proposed conservative cultural support for freedom was problematic in and of itself.
12. Dykes argues that I "completely [miss] the significance of the historical evidence offered by Spencer, Oppenheimer, Nock, Lane, and Benson; or the anthropological work of Popisil, Clastres or Trigger; all of whose findings support, in one way or another, Murray Rothbard's case that the State is a coercive intrusion into a society that does not need it." But evaluating the programme for anarchism was not the purpose of TF; rather, the book aims to show how BOTH minarchists AND anarchists can bolster their own programme with greater attention to culture and history, to the broader context within which their own values can be realized. On this score, Dykes is correct that TF does not offer "a clearly defined intellectual programme," or alternative to Rothbard, Rand, or anyone else. The book is, indeed, "a phase in [my] mental 'grappling.'" And I'm proud to accept Dykes' final conclusion that, in the end, my "struggles are far from over." I hope to be around for a long time to come. Since, ultimately, I struggle for human freedom and all its preconditions, I am fully aware that this is a struggle too that will go on for a long time to come.
In a rejoinder to Sciabarra's reply, Dykes begins by criticizing the speed of Sciabarra's reply, and argues that, when Sciabarra "scoff[s] about my 'exhibiting little understanding,' [he is committing] an uncalled for ad hominem."
Dykes remains convinced that the book's title is misleading since the text does not in any way deal with freedom. He reiterates his criticism of Sciabarra's use of the works of such Marxists as Roy Bhaskar. He views Sciabarra's scholarship as "impressive," but argues that Sciabarra borrows from Popper without attribution. He criticizes Sciabarra's use of certain concepts in violation of Rand's Razor that "concepts should not be multiplied beyond necessity. In the same way, neither should extra senses be added to common words when there is no need. Using 'moment' to mean 'aspect' and 'tacit' to mean 'unconscious' is jargonistic affectation, even if such is in vogue among dialecticians, as Dr. Sciabarra informs us it is [21 n.7 & elsewhere]. One does not object to technical language -- if it must be used. But insider jargon is like thieves' argot, it is a sign saying 'keep out, you don't belong here.' If a scholar genuinely wishes to communicate with his audience, he should avoid academic jargon like the plague." Dykes is not impressed that such thinkers as Hayek, Polanyi, Smith, or Rizzo have used this language, and would criticize them similarly.
Dykes also extols the virtues of Bruce Benson's work and discusses Mises' argument that Marxism is motivated by envy, greed, rationalism, and altruism. "So there is no need whatsoever for Libertarians to engage intellectually with Marxists in order to understand them. Power lust -- underlain by envy and poor self-esteem (the birthplace of envy) -- all disguised as altruism, is what drove Marx and, vicariously or no, an identical combination drives the Witch Doctors who preach Marxism today. Nor is there any need for Libertarians to borrow Marxist-influenced techniques of thinking. The world has seen where that led. The only tools we need are clear, open, dispassionate eyes; the most scrupulous application of logic; and an absolute, unwavering commitment to truth."
Dykes revisits his story about James Bond, wherein he wondered which side Sciabarra was on. He argues that this was intended as humorous, and that he "had no intention of offending Dr. Sciabarra. From exchanges in the past, I thought he would find it funny and come back with an equally vigorous riposte. Yet, he ~was~ offended, so I must end this debate with an apology: I do not think for one minute that Dr. Sciabarra is a foe of libertarianism, nor do I doubt his political convictions. I apologise unreservedly to anybody who thought otherwise, and especially to Chris for any upset I may have caused him."
He concludes: "That said, I do believe that his 'sleeping with the enemy' approach to scholarship is a potential ~danger~ to Libertarianism. Marx and/or Marxism have nothing to teach us. Asserting that they ~have~ could lead a whole generation of young Libertarians to waste their lives rummaging about in what David Conway has so aptly called 'the lumber-room of intellectual history'."
SCIABARRA'S REPLY TO DYKES' REJOINDER
Nicholas Dykes has written an "unrepentant answer" to my reply to his original EURAC / OWL review of my TOTAL FREEDOM: TOWARD A DIALECTICAL LIBERTARIANISM. I'm going to concentrate on what I view as the essential points of his rejoinder.
I shall begin this reply by offering two caveats:
It is not entirely fair for Dykes to quote from personal correspondence that I have had with him over the past year or so. I have nothing to hide. But I think that such citations, taken out of context, are apt to confuse matters, in the absence of publically-available texts.
In addition, to say -- as I did -- that Dykes was "exhibiting little understanding" of my thesis is not to commit an ad hominem. If I'd said that Dykes was incapable of understanding my thesis, that would have been attacking him personally. I think he is very capable of understanding it, but it is becoming clearer to me that we have very different views of the nature of scholarship. I will address this below.
Dykes pokes a bit of fun at me for having claimed (in a personal correspondence) that I devoted "40 minutes or so" to composing my "reply" to him. He thinks it is a world record of sorts, but I'm sure it isn't. As people who have been watching me debate my critics for years know: I'm pretty quick with my replies. The simple fact is that when one has written a book, indeed a trilogy, devoted to a single subject, and when such a project has taken about 20 years, one should have a fairly detailed road map in one's head as to what one has to say. This only facilitates the process of reply. Still, Dykes claims that my response "borders on the incoherent," so I'll simply try again.
Why "Total Freedom"?
He claims that "[b]etween December 1999 and November 2000, I received literally dozens of reminders from Dr. Sciabarra saying 'Total Freedom is coming...' In one of these, he rather coyly declined to say in advance whether he had opted for anarchism or minarchism in his book." The "reminders" that Dykes refers to here were not directed to him expressly for the purpose of reminding him of my book's forthcoming release. I'm a tireless promoter of my work, but sending out routine advertisements is not my style; I'm not an Internet spammer, after all!
The "reminder" was simply a tag line in my automatic email signature that accompanied every email I sent out. It was a play on words, a play on the title of the book; in fact, I'd received a number of emails from people who were amused by the tag line -- since it obviously had a double meaning. "Coyly" declining to mention my commitments was actually my way of sparing Dykes a long dissertation on the purpose of the book, which was more methodological than it was substantive.
But it is substantive enough for me to remain disturbed by Dykes' complaint that the book "is not about freedom." The book is about how we might use a context-sensitive methodology to defend freedom. So there is nothing "false and misleading" or "deceptive" about the advertising. And considering that the abstract and table of contents for TOTAL FREEDOM were both on my website for almost two years prior to the book's publication, a simple glance at the site would have spared Dykes any disappointment or betrayal he now feels. Indeed, the tag line, on which there appeared the slogan "Total Freedom is Coming," offered a direct URL link to the TOTAL FREEDOM website and its subsidiary pages.
Dykes says that none of my central purposes has anything to do with the expression "Total Freedom" -- but he remains blind to the meaning of the title (as a parallel to "dialectical libertarianism"), which is that we need to examine the TOTALity of conditions -- cultural, philosophical, historical, etc. -- that are necessary for the flourishing of FREEDOM. Dykes suggests that I used "Total Freedom" as a euphemism for "dialectical libertarianism" because I wanted to disguise my purpose. But I have been very clear in my purposes from the beginning of this trilogy, in interviews, in articles, and on my website, for many years. And while I challenge the negative connotations of the word "dialectics," I also state upfront (on page 1 of my book) that I am challenging the equally negative connotations of the word "libertarianism." These negative connotations exist in academia, which remains dominated by the left; but they also exist in Objectivism, where more orthodox interpreters of Ayn Rand's philosophy reject the very notion that "libertarianism" has anything to offer.
Libertarianism and Marxism
It is not a "central purpose" of my book, however, to contrast Rothbard and Marx per se. Understanding Rothbard entails, at least partially, situating him in the broader conversation of philosophical and social theory. Marx and the Marxists have been a dominant part of that conversation for over a century. Thus, I do not use "leftist views" as a "tool for evaluating Libertarianism." I use leftist views as a means of placing libertarianism in the larger dialogue on social theory. That Rothbard viewed his own philosophy as a radical alternative to Marxism is significant; it is what makes a comparison between the two approaches provocative and necessary.
Dykes is correct that in some contexts I summon the Marxist Roy Bhaskar (and others, in fact) as my witness, to support various points that I make in my presentation of dialectics. And? What does this prove? Few, if any, libertarians have written on dialectics, and I fully admit that Marxists have had a virtual monopoly on the subject in the modern era. If I can't refer to their literature, I'm cutting myself off from some important scholarship in the area on which my books concentrate. Those Marxists whom I cite positively are held in "high esteem" only insofar as I agree with the methodological points that they make. But I draw lessons from all over the philosophical and intellectual map, from Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Menger, Mises, Rand, Hayek, Paterson, and Spencer, to name a few. It never occurred to me that the mere citation of an individual must pass an ideological litmus test.
As Hayek tells us, every one of us writes within a "given climate of opinion." Marxists are part of that "given climate," especially the "given climate" on dialectical method. Yes, "dialectical libertarianism" is a foil to the various au courant Marxist incarnations of dialectic. To ignore the methodological points made by others because of their political affiliation, however, is akin to practicing a form of ideological scholarship that is foreign to my way of thinking. It is because of Dykes' ideological blinders that he does not see the utter subversive irony of putting Bhaskar among my first citations.
(Now, it is true, and I agree with Dykes, that certain leftist criticisms of libertarianism are "silly." But Dykes wonders if my " 'mentor,' the Marxist Bertell Ollman, [would] relish being called 'silly' by his former pupil." But saying that certain leftist criticisms are silly does not amount to an attack on the character of those who utter the criticisms. I've never called Ollman "silly" -- even if I obviously reject his political programme on theoretical grounds. In any event, it is ironic too that Dykes does not quite see the context in which I criticize Ollman's off-hand remark that libertarians are like customers who go into a Chinese restaurant and order pizza (pp. 8-9). On those pages, one will see an absolute rejection of the criticism, along with a citation from Nozick, who uses a similar metaphor to assert that socialists are those who prefer "restaurants with only one dinner available, or rather . . . a one-restaurant town with one item on the menu.")
Dykes wonders why a book with my purported academic audience was picked up by Laissez Faire Books when the book is "not addressed to Libertarians." I'll leave it to the representatives of LFB to make a statement on the marketability of Sciabarra's works. This said, I have never argued that the book was not addressed to libertarians. I maintained that a book aiming for an academic audience needs to take the academic left seriously, given the pervasive influence of the left. This does not preclude libertarian readers from reading the book or profiting from it. And considering my critique of nondialectical libertarian perspectives, I would hope that libertarians do profit from a good reading! That I point out promising trends in libertarian scholarship in Chapter 9 of the book is a symbol of my hope that such trends will be developed by future libertarian writers.
Dykes says that the fact that Rothbard himself associated with the left in his "political activities" is "entirely irrelevant to the point at hand, which is the questionable appropriateness of using Marx as a foil in a book about Libertarianism." But in my reply to Dykes, I maintained that Rothbard was involved in "intellectual and political coalitions with left-wing academics" (emphasis added). Indeed, Rothbard's association was not simply political. It was thoroughly intellectual. He interacted with and profited from extensive intellectual contact with leftists and leftist writings. From left-wing revisionist historians like Gabriel Kolko, William Appleman Williams, James Weinstein, and others, he developed a theory of the Progressive Era in American history that was a libertarian foil to their socialist politics. Rothbard always learned from the left. That he was able to use some of their important historical work to bolster his own case for a libertarian view of history is akin to my own approach: I, like Rothbard, have profited from my interactions with the left. In my case, I've applied some of the left's important methodological works to bolster the case for a dialectical approach to libertarianism.
Questions of Scholarship and Language
Dykes quotes from page 5 of my introduction, where he finds a statement remarkably similar to Popper's formulation that "the attempt to make heaven on earth invariably produces hell." Actually, this statement does borrow from Popper. But if Dykes looks at where I make the statement, he will see that it comes from my summary of my first book, MARX, HAYEK, AND UTOPIA -- wherein Popper figures quite extensively. If I had begun the process of documenting all of the lines summarizing points made in each of my previous books, I would have clouded my text with even more of those notorious footnotes that Dykes seems to dislike intensely. Moreover, the citations would have bordered on self-parody, because I would have been citing my own work throughout.
Dykes reiterates that the use of words like "moment," "tacit," and "synoptic" smells of academic jargon and that their use is a violation of Rand's Razor. My claim that such words have been used by a long line of distinguished thinkers is deemed by Dykes to be an appeal to authority. But if Dykes doesn't approve of such an appeal, then at the very least he should consult a standard dictionary, wherein he'll find these definitions (all taken from WEBSTER'S NEW TWENTIETH CENTURY DICTIONARY):
"moment" - in philosophy, any of the constituent elements of a complex entity
"tacit" - not expressed or declared openly, but implicit
"synoptic" - seeing the whole together and complete, from one point of view
There is nothing in TOTAL FREEDOM to indicate that I'm using these words any differently than they are defined in a standard dictionary. If anything, the book provides a more extensive discussion of their meaning, by dealing with their usage in the scholarly literature, to which Friedrich Hayek, Barry Smith, and Mario Rizzo have contributed.
Dykes quotes my definition of dualism as "an orientation toward analysis by separation of a system's components into two spheres" and then says that my description of Rothbard's distinction between "market" and "state" is obviously intended to convey a negative connotation. I make it very clear in my book that every orientation can say something true about reality. Clearly, the distinction between market and state is a real one, insofar as this distinction captures the very different principles at the root of these institutions. The problem emerges when one adheres so strictly to a dichotomy that one neglects other important issues. This is the problem of "one-sidedness" that a dialectical perspective attempts to correct.
I point out, for example, that in Rothbard's understanding of "voluntarism" and "coercion," a strict adherence to the dichotomy could prevent him from seeing other aspects of their relationship. Rothbard himself had to alter his dualistic perspective on the dichotomy, developing a point from La Boetie that was similar to Rand's point about coercion: that at the base of coercive relationships, a kind of voluntary "sanction of the victim" is operative. Grasping this fact helps one to undermine the legitimacy of coercion.
On the issue of Bruce Benson and the anarchist analysis of the history of law: For the record, I think that minarchists have not thoroughly engaged the works of Bruce Benson and others. I hold Benson's works in high esteem because they do show how law and legal concepts evolved from social interaction and not from state edict. (And, also for the record, I do, in fact, deal with the literature of anarchism on the spontaneous evolution of social institutions. See, for example, pp. 245-47, wherein Benson figures prominently; and sections on "the ideology of public goods," pp. 249-58, and the extra-political development of money and so on.)
My comment that "the market has always existed within the parameters of state involvement" is not a contradiction to this. While there are certainly important and crucial instances of spontaneous legal evolution, the use of the coercive means of acquiring wealth (which the state institutionalized) is almost as old as production and exchange itself. Rothbard himself understood this when he suggested that his polar analysis of anarchist and statist orders was an ideal typing of an otherwise complex historical reality, wherein the "mixed system" was always at work. (See POWER AND MARKET, for example, where Rothbard states: "No one disputes the fact that, historically, political systems have differed in DEGREE -- that they have never been pure examples of the market or of the hegemonic principle." Even laissez faire theorists have argued correctly that true, genuine laissez faire has never existed in pure form. That is ALL that was implied by my statement that the market has always existed within the parameters of state involvement. The "mixed economy" is something that has been around for centuries; the character of the "mix" has changed, but a mix there has been nonetheless.)
Like a Moth to a Flame?
Dykes gives a very thoughtful discussion of Mises' points about the intellectual roots of collectivism. But it should be pointed out that even Rothbard (and Rothbardians such as Hoppe) recognizes that, despite all the errors in Marxist thought, there is much to commend in the Marxist analysis of history (see, again, Rothbard's appropriation of left-wing revisionist historical works) and of such phenomena as "finance capitalism," wherein Marxist theorists have highlighted the incestuous relationship of business interests, financial institutions, and state organizations. That the Marxists get so much wrong due to the categories of their analysis and their proposed solutions does not mean that they are incapable of making correct observations. The best thing to do is to appreciate what might be correct in their observations, and then to dispense with their ideological edifice, one that stunts correct interpretation of these observations.
The whole history of the Austrian school is replete with these kinds of intellectual exchanges. Bohm-Bawerk engaged Marx's labor theory of value in a stunning, original critique from which Marxists have never quite recovered. Mises and Hayek launched an attack on the notion of "socialist calculation" that has occupied intellectuals for more than 70 years, until a socialist like Heilbroner had to admit that "Mises was right," in light of the collapse of the Soviet Union. If such libertarians had not engaged with the left, they would not have developed their powerful critique of socialist ideas. I am simply standing on the shoulders of those who have come before me, continuing an engagement that has long marked the intellectual battleground in the social sciences. And my goal is the same: it is a fight for human freedom that aims to undermine its enemies, while providing a positive heuristic upon which to move the debate forward.
Dykes does not see it this way. Though he admits that I make it "abundantly clear that [I] am using [dialectics] in an older, Aristotelian sense," he continues to claim that "there [is no] need for Libertarians to borrow Marxist-influenced techniques of thinking." But by continuing to ignore the first chapter of the book, which examines Aristotle as "the fountainhead" of dialectics, Dykes perpetuates the myth that dialectics is a "Marxist-influenced technique of thinking." (Even the method of contrasting opposites has its origins in the works of Aristotle, in his doctrine of the "golden mean," for example, wherein a third way is discovered that transcends the pitfalls and one-sidedness of partial perspectives.) Though Marxists have used some dialectical techniques, I point out in the book that they and their Hegelian-brethren invariably undercut their own dialectical perspectives with a kind of pretense of knowledge or "synoptic delusion" that is both undialectical -- and lethal to humankind.
Dykes continues to take me to task for my belief in the organic unity of theory and practice. But what does such an organic unity entail? It simply means that theory without practice is a floating abstraction, while practice without theory is the worst manifestation of the anti-conceptual mentality. The dichotomy of "theory" and "practice" is not my invention. It is because of its prevalence in mainstream thought that Rand felt it necessary to repudiate. My approach remains thoroughly informed by Rand's astute observations on the integral nature of theory and practice, and I stand by my commitment to their union.
Dykes suspects that I don't have a sense of humor, given his James Bond analogy, in which he wonders which side of the fence I am on. He states: "Yet, he ~was~ offended, so I must end this debate with an apology: I do not think for one minute that Dr. Sciabarra is a foe of libertarianism, nor do I doubt his political convictions. I apologise unreservedly to anybody who thought otherwise, and especially to Chris for any upset I may have caused him." I accept Nicholas' apology. (He'll forgive me for speaking of him primarily by his last name; chalk that up to my academic training.) However, I think I'm entitled to say a bit more about my own personal context here. For the last few years, I have endured endless accusations from those within Objectivism and libertarianism who said I was a Marxist in libertarian clothing trying to undermine Objectivism and/or libertarianism from within. This was happening at the same time that Marxists were condemning me for being a fascist. Sometimes, I get tired of having to justify my political convictions, so my not wanting to "dignify" what I perceived to be yet one more accusation was motivated by that recent history.
Still, Nicholas concludes: "That said, I do believe that his 'sleeping with the enemy' approach to scholarship is a potential ~danger~ to Libertarianism. Marx and/or Marxism have nothing to teach us. Asserting that they ~have~ could lead a whole generation of young Libertarians to waste their lives rummaging about in what David Conway has so aptly called 'the lumber-room of intellectual history'."
I recognize Nicholas' fears here, that like a moth drawn to a flame, I might get burned -- and, as a consequence, affect the whole future of libertarianism. Well, all I can offer in response is an anecdote:
One of many Marxist professors who has written to me over the years has said that he would not under any circumstances place my books on his students' reading lists. He said that my books, though "seriously flawed," offered an alternative on such a basic, fundamental level that "impressionable" left-wing students might abandon their flirtations with Marxism and move toward a libertarian ideology, one promising contextual integration and systematic theorizing. For this Marxist professor, my work is a "real threat" that can potentially undermine the Marxist monopoly within academia on "radical political thought."
Ultimately, Marxists have been even more critical of my work than Nicholas Dykes. On balance, I think this is a good consolation.
Thanks again, Nicholas, for the time and energy you've devoted to your review and your rejoinder to my reply.
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