The Rainbow and the Bridges of the Olbermann
On Wednesday I sent the following email to Keith Olbermanns show Countdown:
On last nights show while discussing the Katrina snafu you said that you hoped someone would think up a way for providers of governmental services to compete against each other. Actually this idea has been around for a long time and there is a whole movement of people (including your humble correspondent) advocating it; its called polycentric law and you can read about it here:http://osf1.gmu.edu/~ihs/w91issues.html
Posted January 28th, 2006
Amica Libertas Sed Magis Amica Veritas
Once when I was 12 or so I went up to the checkout with six comic books Id picked out, only to realise I had just enough money to buy four. So the clerk at the cash register started to pick two at random to put back, as though I would have no preference as to which four of the six to keep. I was amazed.
When I was in high school I intended to become a novelist. One of the counselors thought this was a great idea, and advised me, take a look at which novels are the best sellers, and try to write novels like that as though I might want to be a novelist without having a preference for writing any particular sort of novels. Once again I was amazed.
Im likewise amazed whenever I see the argument that if you want to be successful in promoting libertarianism, you need to give up on feature X or feature Y as though someone might want to promote libertarianism without caring about promoting any particular version of libertarianism. (Im talking about cases where feature X or feature Y is part of ones view rather than, say, a dispensable rhetorical emphasis involved in promoting the view.)
Now perhaps Im being uncharitable. Those who offer this argument might reply: Look, of course we know that you prefer your version of libertarianism to other versions. But any version of libertarianism is preferable to non-libertarianism; so adopting a more marketable version of libertarianism than the one you favour will increase the odds of getting libertarian views to displace non-libertarian ones.
But first, its by no means obvious that every version of libertarianism is preferable to every version of non-libertarianism. (Is Leonard Peikoffs pro-mass-murder version of libertarianism, for example, really preferable to, say, Jon-Stewart-style liberalism?) And second, even if it were so, asking libertarians to argue for (not just vote for, but argue for) a version of libertarianism they disbelieve is asking them to engage in deception.
All of which brings me to a recent exchange between Carl Milsted and Stephan Kinsella. Milsted advises anarchist libertarians to give up their opposition to taxation and the state, on the grounds that refusing to do so subjects us to ridicule since 99+% of the people consider anarchy to be too risky to be attempted. Kinsella responds by accusing Milsted of caring more about what will sell than about what is true.
Now Kinsellas charge might seem unfair. After all, Milsteds argument doesnt take the form anarchism makes libertarianism hard to sell, so lets abandon anarchism. Instead it takes the form anarchism makes libertarianism hard to sell, so lets look very closely to see whether we can find a justification for abandoning anarchism, and sure enough, Ive found one. The justification he finds is the principle mistakenly attributed to Rothbard that, allegedly, theft is morally acceptable if all victims are paid back double. (Kinsella mentions this principles similarity to Epsteins views; I would add that it also bears some resemblance to Nozicks compensation principle, which was thoroughly, and to my mind decisively, critiqued in the very first issue of JLS.) So isnt it this principle, rather than the pragmatic consequences of advocating or not advocating anarchism, that is grounding Milsteds argument?
Well, maybe. But the principle is so implausible and, as Kinsella points out, has implications so grotesque that hardly anybody, libertarian or non, would endorse them that its hard to imagine purely libertarian reasoning leading one to this principle without background pragmatic considerations offering assistance across the inferential gaps.
Posted January 26th, 2006
How the Randians Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Statist Collectivism and Mass Death
I wish I could say its only the Peikoffian branch of the Randian movement that engages in this kind of malevolent tribalism, but alas.
Posted January 25th, 2006
New Anti-IP Resource
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
A draft of Michele Boldrin and David K. Levines book Against Intellectual Monopoly is available online. It offers, inter alia, an interesting critique of the innovation-requires-intellectual-property argument.
Conical hat tip to Alex Singleton via Kevin Carson.
Posted January 24th, 2006
The Problem of Pain
I can be mistaken about whether youre in pain, but I cant be mistaken about whether Im in pain.
But what sort of fact is that? One natural answer we might call it the Cartesian answer is that its just a basic albeit somewhat mysterious property of self-awareness that it has a kind of luminous infallibility that other forms of awareness dont.
Wittgenstein famously criticises the Cartesian answer. I think the Wittgensteinian criticism is correct but I also think its also easily misunderstood.
Let me start by setting out what I think is the wrong way to describe the Wittgensteinian critique, because getting the wrong interpretation out on the table will ultimately be helpful in explaining the right interpretation. Ill call the proponent of the wrong version the pseudo-Wittgensteinian.
So the pseudo-Wittgensteinian says: Look, if you buy the Cartesian answer then you think its some sort of discovery we made that we can be wrong about other peoples pain but not about our own. But theres no fact to be discovered here, apart from our linguistic conventions. The meaning of terms and phrases like my pain, your pain, mistaken, and so on is determined by our rules conventional rules for using them. And its just a fact about our linguistic rules that sentences like shes in pain may be answered with how do you know? while sentences like Im in pain may not. Just as the rules of chess determine that moving a bishop diagonally is a permissible move but moving a rook diagonally is not, so the rules of our language game determine that challenging your knowledge of anothers pain is a meaningful move while challenging your knowledge of your own pain is not. So the alleged infallibility of self-awareness isnt some deep fact about our minds; its just an artifact of our linguistic conventions. And so theres no necessity to it; just as we could change the rules of chess to allow a rook to move diagonally, so we could change the rules of our language game to make epistemic access to our own pain fallible, or epistemic access to others pain infallible, or both.
As I say, I dont think this answer is Wittgensteins answer. But Wittgensteins answer sounds a lot like this answer; so its easy to read him as saying that the infallibility of self-awareness is a fact about our linguistic conventions rather than about our mental states. But heres where I think the difference lies. Consider: is it really true that we could change the rules of chess to allow a rook to move diagonally? Well, it depends what you mean by rook. If you mean the little wooden or plastic thingy that looks like a tower, then sure, we can make any rules we want about how that is to move. We can play checkers instead of chess with it; we can even toss the rook, in that sense of rook, back and forth across a net, or whack it with a stick, if were so inclined. But if by rook, you instead mean something defined in terms of the (current) rules of chess, then nothing counts as a rook except insofar as it is moved in accordance with those rules.
Analogously: we can of course mean anything we want by words like pain and mine i.e., by those audible sounds or those visible marks. We could use pain to mean chocolate cake or the British are coming! In that sense, words are like chess pieces understood as little wooden or plastic thingies. But of course if we did that we would be changing what the words mean, and its no surprise that our linguistic conventions determine what our words mean.
Now when the pseudo-Wittgensteinian says that its a matter of linguistic convention whether our access to pain is infallible, she surely isnt meaning to make merely the utterly boring observation that its a matter of linguistic convention whether the word pain the sound or mark refers to something to which we have infallible epistemic access, i.e., that its a matter of linguistic convention what pain means. For the Cartesian never dreamed of denying something so obvious. What the pseudo-Wittgensteinian must mean is that the word pain, meaning what it means, is only conventionally associated with certainty so that a change in our linguistic conventions could make it the case that our epistemic access to our own pain is no longer infallible, without changing the meaning of the word pain (or the word infallible, or any other of the words involved).
The real Wittgensteins approach, as I read it, has in common with the pseudo-Wittgensteinian approach an emphasis on the fact that our linguistic rules simply dont allow anything to count as a meaningful challenge to our awareness of our own pain. But the upshot convicts both the Cartesian and the pseudo-Wittgensteinian of the same mistake: both are implicitly assuming that such a challenge could make sense. The Cartesian treats our infallible access to our own pain as an amazing discovery about our minds, as though we might instead have discovered the opposite; the pseudo-Wittgensteinian treats such access as something rendered true by our linguistic conventions, as though our conventions might have rendered it false. And so both the Cartesian and the pseudo-Wittgensteinian see the incorrigibility of pain as grounded in something (whether in our language games or in the metaphysical nature of pain itself) that explains it and secures it some x such that, but for that x, pain would not be incorrigible. But Wittgensteins point is that since given what pain means in our language no sense has been assigned to expressions like Im not sure whether Im in pain, it follows that no such x is either needed or possible; the incorrigibility of pain requires no explanation or grounding. (Those whove read my anti-psychologism paper will recognise that Im offering another rail-less account here.)
Someone might object: look, we know what Im in pain means, and we know what I dont know whether ... means, so how could the combined expression I dont know whether Im in pain fail to have a meaning? The answer here is that Wittgenstein accepts Freges Context Principle: what a word means depends on the meaning of the sentence in which it appears. Just because angry has a meaning in the sentence Listening to President Bush makes me angry, it doesnt follow that it has a meaning in Lets angry some parsnips. Likewise, just because the words know and pain make sense in a sentence like I dont know whether Eric is really in pain or only faking, it doesnt follow that they still make sense in a sentence like I dont know whether Im in pain.
(I should also note that although Wittgenstein thinks we can be mistaken about whether another person is in pain, he thinks it doesnt make sense to suppose that were consistently mistaken about others pain. Analogously, although we can accidentally make illegal chess moves, it doesnt make sense to suppose that all or most of the chess moves ever made have accidentally been illegal because the practice of chess defines whats legal. But thats a different story we neednt get into right now.)
I think all this is relevant to ethics. How so? Well, we only apply the term good to things we approve of or endorse. This might mean, as Plato perhaps thought, that goodness is a property with a mysterious hold over our will, such that we cant recognise that something is good without thereby being moved to endorse it. (J. L. Mackie, in his book Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, even uses this idea as an argument for moral skepticism: if moral properties existed theyd have to be mighty weird, but we have no reason to believe in such mighty weirdness, so we have no reason to believe there are any moral properties.) Or one might resist this view by insisting that the alleged magnetic attractiveness of goodness is simply reducible to the conventional rule of language that we dont call something good unless we endorse it.
Well, its true that its a matter of linguistic convention that the word good refers to something endorsed; after all, its a matter of linguistic convention that the word good means anything at all. But given what the word means, its not a matter of convention that to see the good is to endorse the good. And thats the grain of truth in the Platonic view; but Platos mistake lies in thinking of the attractiveness of goodness as grounded in the metaphysical nature of goodness, when its not grounded in anything at all. (Of course if you want to call this ungroundedness the metaphysical nature of goodness, feel free, but be careful not to confuse this sort of metaphysics with the other.)
Does this dispose of moral skepticism? Not necessarily. But I think it does show that its not an option for the moral skeptic to suggest that all our moral judgments are or might be false; instead the skeptic has to shoulder the burden of arguing that our moral concepts dont, or might not, make sense. (Ditto for pain; indeed, I think the best way to understand, e.g., the Christian Scientists rejection of the reality of pain is to take her as claiming not that our self-ascriptions of pain are false but rather that they cant be made coherent sense of and so dont even rise to the level of being true or false.) But I have yet to see a persuasive argument from the moral skeptic to that effect. And if our moral concepts do make sense, there cant be any further question about whether they apply to reality. The rules that give moral terms their sense just are the rules for applying them to reality.
Posted January 23rd, 2006
See the Violence Inherent in the System!
Check out Norm Singletons latest post on the left-libertarian thread at LRC Blog. Toward the end Norm says:
I am not sure what a non-violent form of oppression is, or even if there is such a thing. Which is not to say I dont think Roderick is right to suggest libertarians should engage these issues, merely that it confuses the issues to refer to non-state, non-violent oppression. Also, maybe some of what the left complains about as oppression is totally justified, such as an employer imposing a dress code on employees.Well, if there can be such things as systematically stifling power relations not primarily based on violence (governmental or otherwise), I see no reason not to call these forms of oppression. Most libertarians may balk at the notion of systematically stifling power relations not primarily based on violence but they generally dont have a problem with the concept when its dramatised in works like The Fountainhead. As Charles Johnson and I have written elsewhere:
Although its political implications are fairly clear, The Fountainhead pays relatively little attention to governmental oppression per se; its main focus is on social pressures that encourage conformity and penalize independence. Rand traces how such pressures operate through predominantly non-governmental and (in the libertarian sense) non-coercive means, in the business world, the media, and society generally. Some of the novels characters give in, swiftly or slowly, and sell their souls for social advancement; others resist but end up marginalized, impoverished, and psychologically debilitated as a result. Only the novels hero succeeds, eventually, in achieving worldly success without sacrificing his integrity but only after a painful and superhuman struggle.Why isnt oppression a perfectly good term for what Rand is describing?
Posted January 21st, 2006
The Greatest Love of All
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
More shameless self-promotion: further details about my summer seminar on the praxeological foundations of libertarian ethics have been posted here. Ah, the wonder of me.
Posted January 19th, 2006
These Acronyms Were Brought to You By the Letter W
WWWD = What Would Dubya Do?
WWIWWD = What Would the Wobblies Do?
WWWWWD = What Would the World Wide Web Do?
Posted January 19th, 2006
News from the Rebellion
Posted January 17th, 2006
The Wisdom of Al Gore
Flipping channels tonight I was amazed to hear Al Gore, of all people, explaining:
Whenever power is unchecked and unaccountable it almost inevitably leads to mistakes and abuses. In the absence of rigorous accountability, incompetence flourishes. Dishonesty is encouraged and rewarded. ... It is often the case that an Executive Branch beguiled by the pursuit of unchecked power responds to its own mistakes by reflexively proposing that it be given still more power. Often, the request itself it used to mask accountability for mistakes in the use of power it already has.Yes, Al, absolutely. But would you still believe this if you were President?
Posted January 16th, 2006
Why Do They Hate Us?
Hey, beginning logic students! Confused about the difference between and and or? Allow me to explicate:
The U.S. foreign policy promise, Iraqi version: Cooperate with us or well bomb your civilian population.Still confused? Yeah, me too.
The U.S. foreign policy promise, Pakistani version: Cooperate with us and well bomb your civilian population.
Posted January 16th, 2006
End of an Era
I just found out that Loompanics Unlimited is going out of business. (Conical hat tip to Wally Conger.)
For the past thirty years Loompanics has been the indispensable source of libertarian, anarchist, and counter-economic books that could find no other publisher or distributor. Sure, there was always a fair share of puerile, misogynistic, or crackpot offerings, but there was also much priceless treasure. And the book catalogues were fascinating magazines in their own right, filled with original articles.
Im very sad to see it go.
Two slightly cheery notes to relieve the gloom: first, Loompanics is having a big 50% off sale, so at least we can load up on loot before the final eclipse. (If the links dont work too well on that page, try this one.)
Second, in this age of on-demand publishing and online marketing, it will be easier for Loompanics-type material to get into print than it was when Loompanics was first launched. (Indeed, the Molinari Institute plans to start a book publishing program eventually, which reminds me that you should donate vast quantities of money to the Institute to speed the advent of this and other programs.)
Posted January 16th, 2006
Brad Spangler writes: Its time for libertarians to stop fighting the left and take up the challenge of leading the left. (Read the whole thing.)
Social Memory Complex says amen, but adds the caveat that we need to work on redefining the term left to free it of its association with state socialism.
I too say amen to Brads comment, but with a caveat from the other direction, as it were: we shouldnt let talk of leading the left give the impression that libertarians have everything to teach, and nothing to learn from, the left.
Ever since libertarians and leftists went their separate ways, libertarians have specialised in understanding
a) governmental forms and mechanisms of oppression, and
b) the benefits of competitive, for-profit forms of voluntary association;
while leftists have specialised in understanding
c) non-governmental forms and mechanisms of oppression, and
d) the benefits of cooperative, not-for-profit forms of voluntary association.
Libertarians have a great deal to teach leftists about (a) and (b), but leftists likewise have a lot to teach libertarians about (c) and (d).
Thus I would say that the proper aim of the left-libertarian movement is both to lead the left back to its libertarian roots, and to lead libertarians back to their leftist roots. We might call this left-libertarian reunification.
Brad makes another valuable point: Radicals define the moderate position, because as the radicals go, so do the moderates grudgingly follow in small steps.
Posted January 16th, 2006
Happy Actual Birthday
An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. ... Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. ... One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all.
Posted January 15th, 2006
Write a Letter to Cory Maye
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
How can you help Cory Maye who from the facts Ive seen shouldnt even be in prison, let alone facing execution?
Charles Johnson offers some suggestions: write letters (to the governor, to the newspapers), use your blogs (write posts, display banners), contribute to the defense fund.
In a recent email Lawrence Krubner suggests you might also want to write a letter to Maye himself, to boost his morale; info here.
Posted January 14th, 2006
Postcards from Cimmeria
A number of Robert E. Howards classic heroic-fantasy works are being reissued in new editions, including Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane, and all the original Conan stories in three volumes titled The Coming of Conan, The Bloody Crown of Conan, and The Conquering Sword of Conan.
The chief advantage of these new editions is the wealth of stunningly beautiful illustrations; the books are worth getting just for the pretty pictures alone! (Thank you, Del Rey.)
If the only image you associate with this material is that of Arnold Schwarzenegger, do yourself a kindness and check these out; the Morn, Kane, and Crown titles let you browse some of the pics online at Amazon.
Posted January 14th, 2006
A Lefter Shade of Thick
The discussion of my recent posts Left Behind, Ties that Bind, and Alienation, Assassination, and Inflation continues on LRC blog. Here are some excerpts, with comments from your humble correspondent.
Of course, tax cuts are not a bad thing just because they are advocated by drug warriors, any more than opposition to war is a bad thing just because communists organize anti-war rallies. The question of opposition to patriarchy is a little different since, in the modern political context, leftist talk of opposing patriarchy it is not a case of a statist advocating a libertarian position but a statist using what may have once been libertarian concerns to expand state power. This is not to suggest that there cannot be a libertarian version of opposition to patriarchy, although I dont see patriarchy as one of the leading threats to our freedom today. Of course, I welcome further comment on this issue from Roderick and other interested parties.Its certainly true that many leftists who talk about patriarchy (etc.) are using the issue to promote an expansion of state power. But its a mistake to think that thats all that leftists are doing with it; a lot of leftist political activity is aimed at consciousness-raising, voluntary organising, and other non-governmental objectives. The fact that they often pursue statist projects too doesnt mean that the statist elements are the whole deal. As for why libertarians should be concerned about patriarchy today, Ill point once again in this direction.
Those who think of a free society in terms of leading to a given set of practices would do well to examine the dreary history of the 19th century American communes, whose stultifying uniformities of behavior no doubt helps to explain their virtual extinction. On the other hand, having embraced a way of living that respects the inviolability of oneself and others, the interesting libertarians are those who eagerly celebrate the diversity of lifestyle interests that liberty offers.I certainly agree that libertarians shouldnt aim to promote a specific set of values. But there are limits to diversity; there is a broad array of values to which libertarians need have no objection, but outside that broad array there are some sets of values that will be problematic either because they tend to undermine a societys commitment to liberty, or because they are wrong for the same reasons that rights-violations are wrong, or else because they are just wrong, period. Hence libertarians have good reason to combat such values not by force, obviously, but through various voluntary means. Hence I advocate what Ive previously called generic universalism and specific pluralism. Butler objects to Libertarians condemning other libertarians regarding their subjective lifestyle preferences but of course not all lifestyle preferences are subjective in the moral sense.
I suspect the reason the residue of cultural Leftism resonates as that there are a whole lot of people, many of whom live in Blue-state urban areas, who find social power as oppressive as any state power they could face. I am one of them.To this Stephan Kinsella responds:
Im not sure what you mean by social power or oppressive, but if by social power you mean some kind of influence that is not based on aggression; and if by oppressive you mean violation of rights (since you use it in comparison with state power, which is oppressive in a violent, aggressive way), then your statement does not seem consistent with libertarianism.To which Featherstone replies:
I did not want to suggest I endorsed the actual use of state power for anything. ... But I do believe that social power is a lot more subtle, and tends to work fairly closely with both real and implied state power, especially at local levels.Yes indeed, and here is where I see many leftists and many libertarians committing opposite sides of the same mistake. Many leftists seem to be relying implicitly on something like the following argument:
1. Nonviolent forms of influence are sometimes oppressive.On the other side, many libertarians appear to be tacitly assuming that arguments mirror image:
2. All forms of oppression are rights-violations and so may legitimately be combated by force.
3. Therefore: nonviolent forms of influence are sometimes rights-violations and so may legitimately be combated by force.
1. Nonviolent forms of influence are never rights-violations and so may not legitimately be combated by force.But to my mind both these arguments are making the same mistake, because premise 2 is false in both cases: there can be, and are, forms of oppression that are not violations of rights and so are appropriately addressed by means other than force. Treating injustice as the only serious social evil unduly flattens the moral landscape. Nonviolent forms of oppression are evil partly because they tend to reinforce violent ones, and partly because theyre just bad in their own right. On all this, see once again Charles Johnsons discussion of thick and thin libertarianism and his and my essay on libertarian feminism.
2. All forms of oppression are rights-violations and so may legitimately be combated by force.
3. Therefore: nonviolent forms of influence are never oppressive.
Posted January 14th, 2006
A Night in Old Vienna
I first read the libretto of Die Fledermaus when I was about ten or so.
Why? I believe it was because Id encountered a bat-like creature called a flittermouse in the book Merry-Go-Round in Oz written, as it happens, by a woman whose grandson would years later become a friend of mine in grad school and so the word Fledermaus caught my eye. (I recall that I picked up Die Fledermaus along with the libretto of a rather less celebrated operetta titled Help, Help, the Globolinks! an alien-invasion comedy for kids.)
I must be one of the few people to have first encountered Die Fledermaus through the libretto rather than the music though I must share that distinction with Johann Strauss at least. I was rather charmed by the libretto (I especially liked the exchange between the two characters each pretending to be French), but it wasnt until I caught a performance on tv a few years later that I first discovered the music and became truly entranced. (I never did hear the music for Globolinks, though its probably available.)
For years afterward, tv performances of Die Fledermaus were a standard New Years ritual for me. But in recent years it hasnt been on at New Years; I dont know whether its gotten generally less popular or whether its just that Alabama has more meager PBS offerings than other places Ive lived.
But now Ive finally gotten my Fledermaus fix for this season; I saw it in live performance last night at the Opelika Civic Center, performed by the Russian troupe Helikon. Although I have to say that I wasnt crazy about this particular staging (neither the acting nor the set was particularly impressive; the non-singing portions of the story were streamlined to the point of plot-unintelligibility; the commedia dell arte clowns, while delightful, were distracting and out of place; and the pacing was broken by placing the intermission in the middle of Act 2), seeing it live was a delight nonetheless. And oh, that music!
Posted January 13th, 2006
Alienation, Assassination, and Inflation
A couple of comments Ive received on my post Ties That Bind:
Max Schwing (of Karlesruhe, Germany) writes:
I usually agree with your essays and get a bunch of new ideas or approaches to known subjects. However, I must disagree with your assessment in the post Ties that Bind. Perhaps it is that way in the US, but in Germany and France, where socialism prevails in disguise of social democracy, you cant separate the leftist agenda of anti-market-ism and anti-war and on other issues it gets even worse. The problem is that they can identify problems, but they always seek the state as a solution (even those that call themselves Anarchists, although they have different names for it). They truly are afraid of free markets and especially laissez-faire capitalism. And it even gets worse on issues like sexism/racism. I wont say that the conservatives are any better (again rallying for nationalism in Germany). It is hard to convince die-hard socialists or Marxists that free markets are a solution. They often dont think of people as capable of living their lives without help from a 3rd institution. At least, this is the impression I got during talks with many local socialists or Greens. And while the Social Democrats are at least accepting the idea that marketplaces exist for their own benefit, many individuals leaning even more to the left have even stronger feelings against anything economically, that is not supervised by an almighty and good institution.Well, what does it mean to say that one cant separate these issues? If it means that leftists generally dont separate them, thats regrettably true, but I dont see how its an objection to what I said, because on the contrary it is what I said. The distinction I drew between two different senses of tied is precisely the distinction I would now draw between the analogous two senses of cant separate.
I dont know whether the US has a different kind of socialists, who accept the idea of market economy and only think the state is rudimentarily necessary (and I dont want to use the term capitalism here). In Germany and old Europe in general, as they call it nowadays, economics is a field of study that is not deeply respected and often seen as dubious and of no practical relevance. Perhaps it is this deep hatred against something which is believed to be imported from the English, that disallows leftists to regard the market as an option.
One quick point I want to make with regards to your recent debate over knee-jerk anti-leftism:I would add only that (even!) Rand was much more sympathetically interested in the topic of alienation than the dismissive discussion in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal might imply. What are The Fountainhead and Ideal if not extended meditations on the forces of alienation in modern society and how to overcome them?
It should be pointed out that the concept of alienation in particular, while nowadays usually associated with Marxism, is no more Marxist than, say, anti-imperialism is.
Theres a good discussion of this in Erich Fromms The Sane Society, where he refers to examples of people dealing with the problem of alienation from across the gamut of the political spectrum even staunch conservatives. In particular, during the nineteenth century, The prognosis of the decay and barbarism into which the twentieth century will sink was made by people of the most varied philosophical views. The Swiss conservative, Burckhardt; the Russian religious radical, Tolstoy; the French anarchist, Proudhon, as well as his conservative compatriot, Baudelaire; the American anarchist, Thoreau, and later his more politically minded compatriot, Jack London; the German revolutionary, Karl Marx they all agreed in the most severe criticism of the modern culture and most of them visualized the possibility of the advent of an age of barbarism. Fromm specifically refers to the individualist analyses of alienation by Thoreau and Proudhon, quoting the latters description of a free market between laborers: reciprocity, where all workers instead of working for an entrepreneur who pays them and keeps the products, work for one another and thus collaborate in the making of a common product whose profits they share amongst themselves. and goes on to note that it is essential for him that these associations are free and spontaneous, and not state imposed, like the state-financed social workshops demanded by Louis Blanc. Incidentally, in the book he also quotes (and italicizes for emphasis) Aldous Huxleys statement in an introduction to Brave New World that Only a large-scale popular movement toward decentralization and self-help can arrest the present tendency toward statism. (and who indeed saw the increase of statism as tending to a totalitarian direction one of my favorite left-wing anti-statist quotes).
Theres also Chris Sciabarras book list <http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/notablog/archives/000487.html> that includes Bertell Ollmans Alienation: Marxs Conception of Man in Capitalist Society along with many libertarian books, including Ayn Rands Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (probably one of the few such lists that includes both books!)
Posted January 11th, 2006
SUBMIT to The Industrial Radical
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power and the Molinari News Page]
The Molinari Institute is pleased to announce that later this year we will begin publishing a magazine of radical libertarian political and social analysis titled The Industrial Radical. (Industrial in Herbert Spencers sense, Radical in Chris Sciabarras sense.) We hereby invite submissions. (See our submissions guidelines and copyright policy. Also note that The Industrial Radical is a popular magazine, not an academic journal; formal, scholarly articles might be more appropriately submitted to, oh, um, say, the Journal of Libertarian Studies.)
Submissions may be of any length, from a brief paragraph to a lengthy essay; we also welcome a diversity of perspectives, whether you dance to the music of F. A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard, Benjamin Tucker, Henry George, or Emma Goldman. Previously published pieces are fine so long as they meet our copyright requirements. We plan to publish themed issues (see theme topics and submission deadlines here), but please dont refrain from sending us an article just because it doesnt fit an upcoming theme; the themes are designed to inspire submissions, not discourage them.
Please pass the word, by blogpost or email, to anyone you think might be interested in contributing. (Advance subscriptions are available too.)
Ties That Bind
My friend Norm Singleton (who happens to be Ron Pauls legislative assistant) has a post on LRC blog today commenting on a post of mine last month on what I called knee-jerk anti-leftism in some libertarian circles.
Norm says he largely agrees with me, but does note one point of disagreement:
I think Roderick underestimates (to say the least) the extent to which rhetoric about patriarchy, white supremacy, and alienation is tied to attacks on capitalism and western civilization, not just the warfare state, and thus should be rejected by libertarians.Well, what does it mean to say that such rhetoric is tied to an anti-market (I find the term less misleading than anti-capitalist) agenda? If it means that many of those who use such rhetoric are anti-market, and regard market society as a major cause of such problems as patriarchy, white supremacy, and alienation, thats certainly true. Its equally true, of course, that many leftists regard market society as a major cause of militarism and imperialism. Does that mean that leftist antiwar rhetoric is tied to an anti-market agenda and so should be condemned by libertarians? Presumably Norm would agree with me that the answer is no in the war case; so why not equally so in the former case?
Would fractional-reserve banking be objectionable in a genuine market context?
I dont think so. If all participants are fully informed, its not fraudulent; and in the absence of central banking and legal tender laws, competition among banks should keep inflationary expansion in check.
But many libertarians (see, e.g., this article) argue that fractional-reserve banking is still problematic because it requires (or its legitimacy would require) more than one person having title to the same piece of property. Imagine a streamlined case of a 50% reserve bank with two customers, Emma and Voltairine. Each deposits one florin. The bank keeps one of the florins in its vault and invests the other. Who owns the florin in the banks vault? By calling the florin a deposit and assuring each customer that she may withdraw her deposit at will, the bank is attempting to treat both Emma and Voltairine as each having full title to the single florin which is impossible. All that Emma and Voltairine have really done is to lend some money to the bank; neither one has any money in the bank.
So runs the argument; and fractional-reserve deposits are accordingly contrasted with bailments, in which an item of property is deposited with a warehouse for safekeeping, and the warehouse is not permitted to lend the item out. If I place a florin in the warehouse, then I can truly say I have a florin in the warehouse. Fractional-reserve banking, its libertarian critics argue, is a confused attempt to combine incompatible categories, a bailment and a loan, into a single concept.
In my view, the argument Ive just cited depends on an excessively sharp line between loans and bailments in brief, that its conception of a bailment is excessively Platonic in the same way that the neoclassical conception of perfect competition, the Objectivist conception of legal finality, and the marginal-productivity argument against feminist labour activism are Platonic.
The difference between the florin I lend and the florin I deposit as a bailment is, supposedly, that I retain full right of use and disposal over the bailment. But in what sense is that really true? Lets say that I place my florin with Acme Warehouse for safekeeping. Does that mean I can reclaim my florin whenever I want? Suppose Acme Warehouses business hours are 9 to 5; can I reclaim my florin at midnight? Clearly not; I must wait till the next morning.
Do I now have full title to the florin, or not? Well, you can say, if you like, that I have full title but that its temporarily encumbered in certain respects; or you can say that title is now shared between me and the warehouse that title has been decomposed into a bundle of rights, some going to Acme and others being retained by me. I dont much care which verbal formula we choose so long as we keep track of whos got rights to do what, how and when, with what.
Now complicate the story still further: my contract with Acme stipulates that theyre not liable for loss of my property due to theft, fire, or flood. So now they not only have no legal obligation to return my florin immediately, but there are also circumstances in which they have no legal obligation to return my florin, or even its equivalent, at all though so long as the florin is not stolen or destroyed they still have to return it.
At this point the distinction between a bailment and a loan has gotten a good deal less sharp. My contract with my bank may specify circumstances under which they dont have to give me my deposit immediately, and further circumstances under which they dont have to give it to me at all. The difference is mainly a matter of degree. (Theres a further complication here, which is that in the case of a bank deposit its not the actual physical coin but any coin of the same quantity that they owe me; but if I place a living organism as bailment itll be composed of different particles when I get it back too.) Its only the idealised, unrealistic, Platonic conception of a bailment as something you have total right to get back whenever you want it, a condition that rarely applies to real-world bailments, that gives the distinction an illusion of purchase.
The question is sometimes raised whether its fraudulent to count fractional-reserve deposits among ones assets. Well, I dont know. Those who think it isnt seem to regard it as okay to count bailments as assets. But which has more claim to be one of my assets a fractional-reserve deposit at a bank with a 5% chance of going bankrupt, or a bailment at a no-responsibility-for-loss warehouse in a high-crime district where the chance of loss due to theft is 10%?
In other news: Not only am I geekier than Tom Woods and Stephan Kinsella, but Im also 1.2 times as geeky as Aeon Skoble (who scored 29.98028%) and 1.15 times as geeky as Anthony Gregory (who scored 31.46%). Pretty scary.
Booted and Spurred
I used to be a libertarian, and an anarchist.
As recently as yesterday, in fact.
But Ive had a revelation concerning the traditional roles of king and subject, lord and serf, master and slave.
After all, civilised man spent millennia developing these roles. Whether you view the roles as having resulted from aeons of evolution or through an act of God, it remains that our biological makeup makes traditional hierarchical roles work. In general, the servile class are happiest toiling in the fields or hauling enormous blocks to build monuments, while rulers are happiest luxuriating in wealth, putting on enormous pageants, pontificating about social order, or waging war against neighbouring districts.
Our biology supports this further by the fact that children respond best are happiest and healthiest in the stable presence of such roles during their growing years. After all, our little future serfs need to have patterns of deference and hard work inculcated early on, while our little future rulers need role models from whom to emulate the wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command.
None of this is to say that serfs cant occasionally be employed in a supervisory capacity or that rulers cant get an occasional kick out of dressing up like peasants and miming a bit of labour, like the Hungarian courtiers hoing in the vineyard, or Marie Antoinette disporting herself as a shepherdess at the Petit Trianon, or our own Prince President rolling up his sleeves and playing ranch. (After all, as Queen Victoria is reputed to have said, It must be fun to work, because its so much fun to watch other people work.) But in moderation, by all means.
The source of my newfound enlightenment? This piece by Brad Edmonds.
Hey bloggers dont let the Cory Maye story slide into your archives; add a banner or button to your blog to keep the story (and thus hopefully Maye) alive. I made my own, but Laura Denyes over at What Is Liberalism? has a whole page full.
Geekier than Thou
More miscellaneous materials:
Support Libertarian Forum
The Mises Institute is considering publishing a high-quality 1300-page print copy of Murray Rothbards 1969-1984 periodical Libertarian Forum in a limited run, and is soliciting charitable donations to lower the volumes selling price. If youre interested in contributing, you can do so here. If youre wondering whether you should be interested in contributing, heres what fellow left-libertarian blogospheroid Wally Conger has to say about Libertarian Forum:
Murrays Forum reported in real time the libertarian break with the conservative Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) in 1969. It presented month-by-month Murrays flirtation with the New Left and his efforts (and eventual failure), between 1969 and 1971, to build a Left-Right anti-state/anti-war coalition. Shortly after his break with Goldwater Republicans and his union with the New Left, the great Karl Hess wrote some wonderful and highly radical columns for LF in its first two years of publication; Karls gradual split with Murray over style and strategy is quietly documented in these early issues. Many philosophical and tactical arguments were fought and documented in the pages of The Libertarian Forum. For example, early battles about launching a Libertarian Party vs. non-political libertarian action took place in the Forum. Besides Rothbard and Hess, other celebrated contributors to LF included Leonard Liggio, Jerome Tuccille, Roy Childs, Butler Shaffer, and Walter Block. ...Check out the online version for yourself, here.
A longtime dream has become reality. Tons of long-out-of-print Rothbard writings are now available for us to pursue. The entire glorious goddamn history of This Movement of Ours is now at our fingertips! This latest gift from the Mises Institute to radical Rothbardians may be the most valuable treasure we’ll see in another decade or more.
I have participated in a forthcoming Journal of Libertarian Studies symposium on a book that deplores capitalism. Let me admit upfront that the journal editor selected participants whom he knew would criticize the book; the purpose of the symposium was not to really consider the possibility that our worldviews were totally wrong, but rather to demonstrate to the faithful how right we are by gang-criticizing this particular book.Bobs referring to the forthcoming JLS symposium on Kevin Carsons Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, about which Ive blogged before. One point of amendment: my aim in organising the symposium was not to show either the Austrians or the mutualists as totally right or totally wrong, but to explore the possibility that each side has something to learn from the other.
Just a reminder: the best science-fiction series currently on tv returns from hiatus tomorrow night, as Ron Moores Pegasus (or savage-commentary-on-Abu-Ghraib) arc continues.
George Bush wont be watching. Will you?
Vote for Mises!
[cross-posted at Mises Blog]
The first round of voting in the libertarian academic blog contest at Liberty & Power is over; Mises Blog won a plurality, but not yet an absolute majority, in the best group blog category (and your, ahem, humble correspondent likewise won a plurality, but not yet an absolute majority, in the individual blog category). So now run-off voting is starting.
If you want to push Mises Blog (and, er, anyone else) to victory, vote here.
Remember, if you dont vote, the terrorists win!
JLS 19.4: What Lies Within?
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
The latest issue (19.4) of the Journal of Libertarian Studies is out this week, with lots of cool new stuff: Alexander Groth critiques the Bush administrations democracy-building policy in Iraq; William Anderson and Candice Jackson argue that the Wall Street prosecutions of the late 1980s contributed to the recession of the early 90s, as well as promoting the interests of the corporate elite; Piet-Hein van Eeghen offers a rebuttal to Robert Hessens defense of the corporation; Joseph Becker reproduces the Amicus Curiae brief he submitted in the Kelo eminent domain case; Randy Barnett and J. H. Huebert debate the concept of governmental legitimacy; Stephen Cox reviews Robert Mayhews book on Ayn Rands HUAC testimony; and Tom Woods reviews Alejandro Chafuens book on Scholastic economics.
Read a fuller summary of 19.4s contents here.
Read summaries of previous issues under my editorship here.
Read back issues online here.
High time-preference? No problem in a dandy new feature, if you subscribe now youll receive a PDF copy of the latest issue immediately. (The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics offers this feature also.)
As I write this, several different major news channels are covering the recent Sago mining disaster and asking loudly what went wrong?
But it turns out that by what went wrong? they mean not what caused the explosion? but how did the miners families get misinformed about who had survived?
Now dont get me wrong the misinformation snafu is unspeakably gut-wrenching. And if, as some reports suggest, the mining company knowingly let families go on for three hours celebrating the alleged survival of people the company knew were dead, thats truly unconscionable. (According to this story, families were not told of the mistake until three hours later ... because officials wanted to make sure all of their information was right; according to this one, company officials didnt want to put the families through another rollercoaster. What cowardly, paternalistic bullshit.)
But all the same, isnt the story of what caused the explosion and whether, for instance, the company bears any responsibility even more important than the story of why the families were falsely told that their loved ones had survived? In the final analysis, the primary horror is the actual deaths of those twelve people, and the three hours of false hope for their families, while horrific, are a secondary horror. Yet nearly all the investigation Ive seen so far focuses loudly, intensively, hysterically on the secondary horror and pays virtually no attention to the primary.
Our news media appear more interested in analysing perceptions of reality than they are in analysing reality itself. Is thats because theyre corporate-controlled, and so seek to downplay serious criticisms of management in favour of more superficial criticisms? Or is it just a more general superficiality endemic to contemporary culture as a whole? I dont know, but either way its dysfunctional journalism.
[Of course theres an occasional exception here and there, though predictably offering statist rather than labortarian solutions.]
How I Found Threedom in an Unthree World
As a complement to recent posts by fellow left-libertarian blogospheroids Brad Spangler and Black Guile on the possible structures of legal/defensive and other associations under market anarchism, Id like to recommend a 1995 piece by my friend Phil Jacobson, Three Voluntary Economies. Tolle, lege.
Anarchist in the Chimney
I know this is a week late or 51 weeks early but I cant resist posting this great pic that B. K. Marcus created:
Anarchy in New York
Happy new year to all!
Im back from NYC, where our department interviewed thirteen candidates, all quite good philosophers; it looks like weve got a strong prospect of adding a top-notch colleague this year.
The Molinari Society also held its second annual symposium there. I thought it was a very successful (and well-attended) meeting; check out Charles excellent commentary on the papers by Narveson and Ross. (I also enjoyed getting a chance to meet with some of my fellow left-libertarian blogospheroids.)
Between my departmental and Molinarian duties I didnt get much chance to get out into the city except for meals, but I can recommend lunch at Dean & DeLuca, dinner (albeit molto costoso) at Gramercy Tavern, and dreamy hot chocolate at La Maison du Chocolat.
Last night I watched the Lincoln Center New Years concert, with Angela Gheorghiu (see pic on right) singing selections from Italian opera including my favourite aria, Puccinis Un bel di, which represents, for me, the highest musical expression of ecstatic, unbearable longing that the human spirit has yet produced. Im also looking forward to watching the annual New Years Johann Strauss concert from Vienna later tonight. Radetzky March!
Watch this space for some exciting announcements, in the next week or two, about the Molinari Institutes projects for the coming year.
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Ring Owner: Thomas Knapp Site: Blogosphere of the Libertarian Left