TOWARD A DIALECTICAL LIBERTARIANISM
MICHAEL PRINCIPE, PHILOSOPHY IN REVIEW 21, no. 5 (OCTOBER 2001): 375-77
Principe writes: "With Total Freedom, Chris Sciabarra extends the dialectical libertarian project begun with Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical and Marx, Hayek, and Utopia. While those works focused for the most part on particular thinkers, here Sciabarra's programmatic focus is prominent. Sciabarra unabashedly seeks to bring together two traditions that are typically thought of as opposed as well as both suffering from some lack of philosophical popularity. Like Marx, Sciabarra recognizes that any radical project that fails to be dialectical is likely to fall into naive utopianism. The only future that can be of political significance is one grounded in the present. The point of the Hayek book was to point out the similarity of Marx and Hayek on this point. In his work on Rand, Sciabarra, largely relying upon the Marxist Bertell Ollman's work on dialectics, sought to show how Rand's thought was dialectical insofar as it was sensitive to context and sought to overcome a variety of dualisms . . .
"The title of Sciabarra's new book, while hinting at his larger vision, also delineates the work's two dimensions. 'Total' represents the dialectical domain and its concern for the totality of systematic dimensions involved in analyzing social problems, while 'freedom' references Sciabarra's libertarian project. . . .
"Sciabarra's history of dialectical thinking contains both standard and non-standard elements. . . . The discussion of dialectical libertarianism is the most controversial part of Sciabarra's history . . . While willing to recognize undialectical dimensions in his pantheon of libertarian thinkers, Sciabarra is unsurprisingly more critical of Marx." Principe outlines "several problems here," including an issue of Marx interpretation. Principe discusses Sciabarra's critique of Rothbard too, including the critique of Rothbard's "conservative" turn. Though Sciabarra agrees "that freedom may well need a more cultural or communitarian grounding," Principe writes, "[h]e does not . . . give us any reason to think such a grounding will be compatible with libertarianism.
"To be fair," Principe concludes, "Sciabarra does not see himself as proposing a full-blown libertarian theory. Instead, he argues for the use of a method sensitive to context and history. He seeks, in this regard, to show the strengths and weaknesses of the libertarian tradition. His book is most successful when seen as part of a dialogue internal to this tradition. It engages less well with modes of thought external to it."
Middle Tennessee State University
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