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Satanic Epistemology?

In an article titled Rand’s Corruption of Reason, posted today on LRC, Bob Wallace gives a favourable review of Scott Ryan’s new book Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality: A Critique of Ayn Rand’s Epistemology. I haven’t had a chance to read Ryan’s book yet – I’ll probably blog about it when I do – so consider this post a response to Wallace rather than to Ryan. (Of course, Wallace could legitimately respond to my criticisms by saying: “The full defense of my claims lies in Ryan’s book. Go read it.” Fair enough; I will. But in the meantime, I can’t resist sounding off.)

Wallace regards Rand as an “empiricist/materialist/nominalist/secularist” who “threw out all tradition and conservatism.” This seems a misleading characterisation. Rand is certainly a secularist. And she is an empiricist of sorts (and, as I’ve argued elsewhere, her empiricism does get her into philosophical trouble). But she is no sort of materialist; indeed, she is inveterately hostile to materialism. And she is not nearly as hostile to tradition as some of her one-liners might suggest. Her thought has some surprising affinities with the ultra-traditionalist Confucians; and in her attitude to such matters as feminism, homosexuality, modern art, and the 60s counterculture, her views were, if anything, too socially conservative, particularly in her later years.

As for nominalism – well, this brings us to the central issue in Wallace’s review.

For Wallace, the main flaw in Rand’s philosophy is her theory of universals. Wallace contrasts “realists,” who think universals like three-ness and cow-ness exist as metaphysical features of external reality, with “nominalists,” who think only particulars exist in reality, so that universals turn out to be merely mental or linguistic constructs. He includes Rand in the latter group.

He also has a theory about how she ended up there. According to Wallace, Rand’s hostility to religion led her to reject realism also, since a world of spooky immaterial universals is too much like a world with a spooky immaterial God. Wallace believes that “Rand’s hatred of religion was so intense and all-encompassing [that] she was willing, apparently unconsciously, to engage in nearly every dishonesty to support her beliefs,” including tailoring her theory of universals to support her atheism.

But rejecting realism, Wallace maintains, is a disaster for her philosophy:

How did Rand define “reason”? Her simplest definition is, “Reason is the [faculty] that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.” The problem with this is that if there are no Universals, then what's “out there” is just gobbledygook. It’s chaos. It’s not possible to make sense of it. ... Contrast Rand’s view of reason with that of Brand [Blanshard]: “For the philosopher [the word ‘reason’] denotes the faculty and function of grasping necessary connections.” Connections, I add, that are out there. That's why the problem of Universals is so important. There have to be Universals to make those connections. You can’t connect chaos.
Wallace concludes that Rand’s philosophy, while intended as a celebration of rationality, ends up undermining it – it is “literally a house built on sand.” (I presume the word “literally” is being used non-literally here.) Rationality requires realism. And realism in turn, Wallace thinks, requires metaphysical idealism; if the structure of our thought answers to a corresponding structure “out there” in reality, then since the former is mental in nature, the latter must be too.

There are three questions to consider here, in descending order of importance: I think the answer to all three questions is no.

My approach to the problem of universals is Wittgensteinian. As I see it, the conflict between realism and nominalism is based on a shared confusion. Both sides agree that really existing universals would have to be ghostly metaphysical entities, existing simultaneously in many places at once. The realist says, “we can’t make sense of a world without universals, so we must assent to the existence of ghostly metaphysical entities.” The nominalist says, “we can’t make sense of these ghostly metaphysical entities, so we must reject universals.” But why not reject the common assumption?

For the realist, universals are an external constraint on our thinking; they represent independent standards to which our thought is answerable. For the nominalist, by contrast, universals are subjective constructs which we use to classify the objects of our experience. (Some nominalists think we can construct such classification-schemes in whatever manner we please. Others think certain definite classification-schemes are inborn and inescapable features of human psychology. This is a difference of detail, not of substance.) Both realism and nominalism see the relation between thought and reality as one of constraint; they just disagree about the direction of constraint. For realists, universals are external constraints on our thought; for nominalists, universals are constraints our thought imposes on the world.

Wittgenstein’s insight is that neither of these stories makes sense. We cannot speak of X as a constraint imposed on Y unless we can make sense of how Y might have been in the absence of X. But we cannot make sense of a world without universals; so nominalism is wrong. And we equally cannot make sense of thought without universals, so realism is wrong too. Pace the realists, thought does not get its logical structure from the world; pace the nominalists, the world does not get its logical structure from our thought. The logical structure of thought and the logical structure of the world are different sides of one and the same fact, and that fact is neither a special fact about our minds nor a special fact about the world, but is simply a fact about logic. We cannot make sense of anything as being any way at all apart from logic. Hence nothing could ever be independent of or prior to the requirements of logic, so it makes no sense to think of anything, either mind or world, as being constrained by logic. What, exactly, is being constrained, and what is the constraint preventing? It may be tempting to think of logic as a cookie-cutter imposing its form on the raw dough of mind or of world; but when we look for the raw dough, no matter how far down or far back we look, we find only the finished cookie.

If universals were metaphysical features of external reality, then thought would have to answer to them. Thought would be the dough, submitting to the cookie-cutter. If universals were subjective mental constructs, then thought would be the cookie-cutter, imposing its form on the formless dough of the world. But there is no dough and no cookie-cutter. Universals are logical constraints, and logical constraints are no constraints at all. For a thing to be constrained by logic is simply for it to be what it is. Thought’s being what it is is not the sort of thing that could require explanation. (What would be the alternative?) Likewise, reality’s being what it is requires no explanation. Here we reach rock bottom. Hence logic cannot be reduced in realist fashion to metaphysics or in nominalist fashion to psychology; logic is autonomous. (I have developed this argument further in my book manuscript Wittgenstein, Austrian Economics, and the Logic of Action, an early draft of which is available here; see in particular the section titled “The Truth Is Out There.”)

Realism-or-nominalism is thus a false alternative. And so is its close cousin, idealism-or-materialism. Wallace calls idealism and materialism “the only two ways of looking at reality”; but he sees idealism and materialism as jointly exhaustive options precisely because he sees realism and nominalism as jointly exhaustive options. An idealist reality is the sort of reality that would impose universals on our thought; a materialist reality is the sort of reality that would have to have universals imposed upon it by us. Dissolve one dichotomy, and the other is dissolved along with it.

I cannot agree, then, with Wallace’s suggestion that rationality requires a realist theory of universals. On the contrary, I think rationality requires the rejection of both realism and nominalism.

I also cannot agree with Wallace’s characterization of Rand as a nominalist. In Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology she is quite explicit about rejecting both realism and nominalism; indeed, the whole point of her theory is to transcend the dichotomy between viewing universals as intrinsic (the realist option) and viewing them as subjective (the nominalist option). (As Chris Sciabarra points out in his book Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, seeking to transcend false dichotomies is one of the chief hallmarks of Rand’s thought.) Like Wittgenstein, she is seeking a third way. To understand universals, both Rand and Wittgenstein say, don’t stare at the mind by itself or at reality by itself, but attend to the way in which the mind deals with reality. To grasp a universal, Rand and Wittgenstein agree, is to act in a certain way, where action is neither something ideal nor something material but an indissoluble fusion of both.

That is not to say that Rand’s theory of universals is ultimately satisfactory; I don’t think it is (partly because she lacks Wittgenstein’s distinction between sayables and showables, and partly because she confuses the task of explaining specific difference across generic identity with the task of explaining numeric difference across qualitative identity). But even if her theory fails, she is at least trying to escape from the false dichotomy of realism versus nominalism, rather than sliding contentedly into one side or the other of that dichotomy. (In my judgment, the most sophisticated realists – e.g., Aquinas – and the most sophisticated nominalists – e.g., Abélard – have also been those who were groping toward a third way. It's no coincidence that Abélard, Aquinas, and Rand were all Aristoteleans.)

The realism-or-nominalism dichotomy, then, is mistaken, both as an interpretation of reality and as an interpretation of Rand. Our third question remains: was Rand’s view of universals motivated by her atheism? I cannot see why we should suppose so. Wallace thinks realism about universals is “very much supportive of religion, since it believes there are non-material, mental entities ‘outside’ of us.” This is a bit like saying that believing in electrons is “very supportive” of believing in leprechauns, since both views assert the existence of tiny but powerful entities that can affect our lives. There is no particular connection between believing in extramental universals and believing in God. Hence, unsurprisingly, there have been plenty of nominalist theists (for example, William of Ockham) and plenty of atheist realists (for example, David Armstrong). Atheism is no argument for or against extramental universals. Why not assume, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that Rand’s “real” reasons for her theory of universals were the reasons she gave in her writings?

Similarly, Rand did not reject idealism because she was “a militant atheist and rabid hater of all religion.” She rejected it because it denied the axiom of the priority of existence over consciousness. Even if one thinks she was wrong to uphold the primacy of existence over consciousness – and I don’t think she was wrong – why deny that that was her reason?

In general, I think we should be wary of attempts to explain away a philosopher’s views by appealing to psychological factors rather than examining the arguments the philosopher actually offered. Admittedly, this is a precept that Rand herself violated all the time (a bad habit she picked up from Nietzsche, I suspect); but that’s not a good reason for us to imitate her in that respect. Philosophy lies in the space of reasons, not the space of causes.

Posted February 27th, 2003



People of Colour

Some readers have asked me to explain the reference to the “sea-green banner of liberty” in my February 16 posting “Shades of Grey (and Blue).” The sea-green banner was the emblem of the Levellers, the first mass libertarian movement in history. The Levellers came to prominence in the 1640s, during the English Civil War, when – to their credit – they found themselves at odds with both King and Cromwell. They had a crucial influence on later classical liberal thinkers like John Locke.

For some online versions of Leveller tracts, see I particularly recommend Richard Overton’s delightfully titled

An Arrow Against All Tyrants and Tyranny, Shot from the Prison of Newgate into the Prerogative Bowels of the Arbitrary House of Lords, and All Other Usurpers and Tyrants Whatsoever; Wherein the Original, Rise, Extent, and End of Magisterial Power, the Natural and National Rights, Freedoms and Properties of Mankind are Discovered and Undeniably Maintained; the Late Oppressions and Encroachments of the Lords over the Commons Legally (By the Fundamental Laws and Statutes of This Realm, As Also By a Memorable Extract Out of the Records of the Tower of London) Condemned; the Late Presbyterian Ordinance (Invented and Contrived by the Diviners, and By the Motion of Mr Bacon and Mr Tate Read in the House of Commons) Examined, Refuted, and Exploded, As Most Inhumane, Tyrannical and Barbarous, by Richard Overton, Prerogative Archer to the Arbitrary House of Lords, Their Prisoner in Newgate, for the Just and Legal Properties, Rights and Freedoms of the Commons of England.
(And if you’ve got a spare $675.00 you feel like getting rid of, check out this massive hard copy collection, edited by my friend Jim Otteson.)

So if there’s a libertarian colour, it’s sea-green. (Unfortunately, I haven’t seen pictures of the Levellers’ banners, so I don’t know what shade of sea-green they used.)

Posted February 19th, 2003



The King’s English?

Today is Presidents’ Day – the day on which we honour the memory of America’s two most iconic presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. It is eo ipso a day for regret at how far the presidency has fallen since.

I don’t mean to suggest that Washington and Lincoln are worthy of the mantle of sainthood conventionally bestowed upon them. Far from it. Yes, Washington played a vital role in securing America’s independence – but he also played a vital role in foisting upon the American people a far more centralised and authoritarian Constitution than was needed to repair the defects of the Articles of Confederation. Yes, Lincoln freed the slaves* – but he was also a dictator and mass murderer who accelerated America’s deterioration from republic to empire.

But my present concern is not with presidential conduct, but with presidential speech. Washington was not one of the great wordsmiths of the founding generation; he didn’t have the flair for language of a Jefferson or an Adams. Indeed, by the standards of the day his speeches were considered a bit pedestrian. Still, this is how he wrote:

These powers (as the appointment of all rulers will forever arise from and, at stated short intervals, recur to the free suffrage of the people) are so distributed among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches into which the general government is arranged, that it can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any other despotic or oppressive form, so long as there shall remain any virtue in the body of the People. I would not be understood, my dear Marquis, to speak of consequences which may be produced, in the revolution of ages, by corruption of morals, profligacy of manners, and listlessness for the preservation of the natural and unalienable rights of mankind; nor of the successful usurpations that may be established at such an unpropitious juncture upon the ruins of liberty, however providently guarded and secured; as these are contingencies against which no human prudence can effectually provide. It will at least be a recommendation to the proposed Constitution that it is provided with more checks and barriers against the introduction of tyranny, and those of a nature less liable to be surmounted, than any government hitherto instituted among mortals hath possessed.
(Letter to Lafayette, 7 February 1788)
Threescore and sixteen years later, in a different idiom but with equal eloquence, Lincoln wrote:

We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others, the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name – liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names – liberty and tyranny.
(Address at Sanitary Fair, 18 March 1864)
Both quotations express profoundly libertarian sentiments; but my concern is not with their ideological character, nor with the question of how well or badly their authors lived up to the ideals they professed.

What impresses me about these two quotations – and I picked them very nearly at random – is their tone. Theirs is the language of a civilised era, one which prized clarity of thought, grace of expression, and the importance of fundamental principles – and took it as a matter of course that political speech should unite these virtues into a seamless whole. The two men use language very differently – no one could mistake a paragraph from Lincoln for a paragraph from Washington or vice versa – but both passages evince the conviction that words have precise meanings, and that it matters which words one picks. Washington and Lincoln come across as men who were in command of their language because they were in command of their thought (and of course vice versa).

Their proficiency with mind and pen stands in painful contrast, not only to the awkward verbal flailings of our current president, but to the congealed mush of hectorings and trivialities to which every president of recent memory has subjected us.

How can our rulers speak as they do, within sight of the Washington and Lincoln memorials, and feel no shame?

* He really did. Yeah, I know – the Emancipation Proclamation “didn’t free a single slave.” But it made imminent emancipation virtually inevitable. And although emancipation was not Lincoln’s chief objective in the Civil War, he certainly hoped it would be one of the results. There’s plenty to damn Lincoln for (see the previous post, below), but I see no reason to deny him his due on this point.

Posted February 17th, 2003



Shades of Grey (and Blue)

Libertarians have long been divided over the American Civil War. Herbert Spencer and Ayn Rand favoured the North; Lord Acton and Murray Rothbard, the South. Recently, the Cato Institute and the Objectivist Center have published articles defending Lincoln as an emancipator, while the Ludwig von Mises Institute and the Ayn Rand Institute (on the same side of an issue for once!) have slammed Lincoln as a statist dictator.

I have good friends on both sides of this dispute. But I can’t work up much enthusiasm for either the Union or the Confederacy.

When libertarians on one side point out that the Union centralised power, violated civil liberties, committed vicious war crimes, was hypocritical on secession, ignored avenues for peaceful emancipation, and cared more about tariffs and nationalism than about ending slavery, I agree and applaud; but they lose me when they start calling the Civil War the “Second War of American Independence” and portray the Confederates as freedom fighters.

Equivalently, when libertarians on the other side point out that the preservation and extension of slavery was central to the South’s motivations for secession (as seems clear from what secessionists said at the time of secession, as opposed to what they said in their memoirs years later), and that the Confederacy was just as bloated and oppressive a centralized state as the Union, equally hypocritical on secession and equally invasive of civil liberties, once more I agree and applaud. (As I like to say, the Confederacy was just another failed government program.) But they too lose me, when they start calling Lincoln a great libertarian and the consolidation of federal power a victory for liberty.

And then each side denounces the other side as apologists for evil. Enough already!

In response to one of the blue-versus-grey flamewars that flare up regularly in the Letters to the Editor here in Alabama, I penned the following missive, which was published in last week’s Opelika-Auburn News:

Recent letters debating the causes of the Civil War have failed to distinguish the question “to what extent was the South's decision to secede motivated by the desire to perpetuate slavery?” from the question "to what extent was the North's decision to prevent secession motivated by the desire to end slavery?"

As J. R. Hummel shows in his book Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, these questions have different answers: protecting slavery was central to the South’s reasons for seceding, while antislavery sentiment was at best peripheral to the North’s reasons for resisting secession.

To their joint discredit, both Union and Confederacy waged war against the principle of free association. Southern rebels claimed the right to exit the Union, but hypocritically denied slaves the same right to exit the plantation.

President Lincoln, for his part, stated plainly that his “paramount Object” was “to save the Union,” and “not either to save or to destroy slavery.” If there had been no slaves, Lincoln would have sought to crush secession anyway. (And with conscripted troops!)

North and South alike, then, championed compulsory over free association. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Civil War was an unjust war on both sides.

Finally, I must take issue with Greg Creech’s suggestion that because “slavery was a vital part of the American economy ... its quick demise would have meant fiscal disaster.”

First, given the different incentives involved, wage labor is far more economically productive than slavery, and would have brought greater prosperity, not less. (The postwar South was impoverished because an occupying army had ravaged its infrastructure, not because slavery had ended.)

More importantly: even if abolishing slavery had been economically disadvantageous, liberty remains the natural right of all human beings. There is no honor in choosing expediency over justice.

Roderick T. Long
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Auburn University
One respondent complained that I was judging slavery by a modern yardstick. Sure, he said, slavery is wrong by our standards – but Southern slaveholders couldn’t be expected to see things our way; after all, slavery had been practiced for centuries. He seemed quite willing to condemn Lincoln for waging a war of conquest, however – despite the fact that wars of conquest have been practiced for centuries too.

This idea that we mustn’t judge earlier eras by our standards is an insidious form of relativism. It has a grain of truth to it, of course; it’s harder to recognize a moral error when everyone you know thinks it’s dandy, so those who fail to rise above the limitations of their era should be judged less harshly. Still, moral principles are universal; they’re not just “our” standards. In any case, the United States was founded on the principle that all human beings are free and equal by natural right. Immediately after the American Revolution, slaveholders tended to feel embarrassed about slavery, and to talk vaguely about phasing the institution out over time. They knew it was wrong. The “nothing wrong with slavery” view didn’t become dominant in the South until later; that position was the result of cynical economic interest, not thoughtless acquiescence in tradition.

As I have written elsewhere:

[T]he American Revolution brought a dramatic increase of freedom to whites throughout the colonies. Northern whites, still riding the wave of revolutionary libertarian fervor, actually used their newly expanded options to increase the options of blacks, by enacting a series of laws leading ultimately to the abolition of slavery in the North. But in the more agrarian South, where slavery was more deeply entrenched, whites were less attracted to the cause of the emancipation (though they often paid it lip service).

Later economic and political developments cemented Southern whites' attachment to slavery still more firmly. Specifically, Eli Whitney and Katharine Greene's invention of the cotton gin made plantation farming more profitable, while the Constitution's three-fifths compromise (treating each slave as three-fifths of a person for purposes of representation) gave slave states a disproportionate voting bloc in Congress, and thus an added incentive to continue slavery. In order to take advantage of the expanded economic options offered by the cotton gin and the expanded political options offered by the three-fifths compromise, whites in the slave states needed to make sure that blacks' options remained severely limited.

But to maintain the slave system, the South had to retreat from the libertarian principles of Jefferson and the revolution. Southern governments found it necessary to impose greater and greater restrictions on the civil and economic liberties of whites in order to keep blacks in subjection. Many states made it illegal for slaveowners to free their slaves; and there was soon no freedom of speech or press for whites who advocated abolition. In some cases, speaking against slavery was punishable by death.

Once secession finally came and the Confederacy was established, suppression of white freedoms grew even greater, as the central government, in the name of military necessity, extended its controls over every aspect of life. Internal passports were required for travel, traditional civil rights like habeas corpus were suspended, currency was devalued, and most sectors of the economy were nationalized. In their desperate quest to maintain their control over blacks, Southern whites found themselves compelled to establish an authoritarian political order that ended up claiming their own freedom as well.

This retreat from the principles of the American Revolution in political practice was accompanied by a parallel deterioration in political theory as well. During the 1810s and 1820s, the great intellectual spokesman for the South — the defender of agrarian interests against Federalist neomercantilist regulation — was John Taylor of Caroline (author of Arator, Tyranny Unmasked, and An Inquiry into the Principles of Government), whose political outlook was deeply Jeffersonian and libertarian — with the predictable exception of a massive blind spot about slavery. Taylor refused to face the tension between the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the institution of slavery; but later Southern intellectuals would face that tension — and resolve it in the wrong direction.

In the 1830s and 1840s, the ideological champion of Southern interests was not John Taylor but John C. Calhoun (author of A Disquisition on Government and A Disquisition on the Constitution). To his credit, Calhoun was a fierce opponent of centralized power, and came up with some rather ingenious ideas for curbing its growth (e.g., veto rights for minority factions); to this extent, Calhoun stood squarely in the Jeffersonian tradition. But the need to avoid that tradition’s radical implications for the legitimacy of slavery drove Calhoun to repudiate the principles of ’76. Human rights, Calhoun maintained, rest on legal custom, not on the Laws of Nature — and the exercise of political authority does not depend for its legitimacy on the consent of the governed, but is a natural and inevitable feature of the human condition. By tossing the Declaration of Independence out the window, Calhoun was able to develop a Southern political ideology that could accommodate the institution of slavery. (Blacks were not one of the minority factions to whom Calhoun contemplated offering veto rights!)

The process of decay did not stop there. In the 1850s, the new ideological spokesman for the South was the arch-communitarian George Fitzhugh (author of Cannibals All! or Slaves Without Masters and Sociology for the South, or the Failure of Free Society). In Fitzhugh’s system, the need to justify slavery resulted in a full-scale assault on the Jeffersonian tradition in all its aspects; every vestige of libertarianism was methodically uprooted. Combining the right-wing nostalgia for an idyllic traditionalist feudal past and the left-wing hunger for a scientifically organized socialist future, Fitzhugh championed the Society of Status — an organic, hierarchical view of society in which every person has an assigned social role that carries with it both compulsory duties of obedience to one's superiors and a guarantee of support, security, and paternalistic oversight from those same superiors. Black slavery, in Fitzhugh’s vision, was just a special case of the general principle that no person, black or white, is entitled to be the master of his or her own destiny.

Not all defenders of slavery accepted Fitzhugh's philosophy, of course; but the general way of thinking which his works represented was becoming pervasive in Southern society. By 1862, the Confederate journal De Bow’s Review was trumpeting the slogan “The State is everything, the individual nothing.” (Some of the people who wear the Confederate flag on their jackets might want to think that one over.) The need of the Southern white culture to maintain dominance over its black population had led it to adopt principles which ended up threatening the freedom of its own white members.

It was not inevitable that Southern whites would choose to close their eyes to the injustice of slavery. That was their choice to make, and they made it. What was inevitable, or close to inevitable, was that this choice, once made, would have costly consequences — that it would have a corrupting influence on both their institutions and their ideals. ...

I don’t mean to be giving the Union a free ride here. In the Civil War, both the North and the South decisively turned their backs on the ideals for which the American Revolution had been fought. The North's drive to subjugate the South had an effect on the North analogous to the effect the South’s drive to preserve slavery had on the South. More authority was centralized in Washington; civil liberties were routinely violated; income taxation and Federally administered conscription were introduced; and an ominous cult of national unity spread through the American consciousness. The result was a Federal government with vast new powers — a fledgling Leviathan that quickly proved too tasty a treat not to be captured by the corporate élite. And so we are left, at the end of the twentieth century, with a burgeoning American police state whose primary victims, ironically, are the very blacks whose liberation was supposed to be the moral justification of Union victory.
Let’s retire the blue and the grey. My colours are the sea-green banner of liberty and the black flag of anarchy.

Posted February 16th, 2003



I, Stalinist

Last month I had a series of posts (“Culture and Anarchy,” January 19; “Let a Thousand Cultures Bloom,” January 21; “Memecatcher,” January 25) debating multiculturalism and immigration policy with Mike Tuggle. On January 28 he responded once more; his reply follows, with interruptions from me. (As usual, his remarks are indented, my comments are not, and his quotations from me are double-indented and italicised. Quotations from Mr. Tuggle embedded within his quotations from me are triple-indented, italicised, and placed within quotation marks. Follow all that? There’ll be a quiz at the end of the universe.)

Alas, business prevented me from responding with the speed of an eagle this time. Before I take permanent leave, I will offer a few more thoughts and rejoinders.
That’s okay, my response was even less eagle-swift this time.

I take back my inept comment comparing today's academics to Shirley Maclaine. I should have used Emily Latilla, whose creative misconstruals provided many laughs.

Indeed, the willingness to work hard rather than rely on handouts may now be growing more prevalent among immigrants than among the “established” American population.
Case in point – I know quite a few PhDs who cannot find a teaching position because of their traditionalist views. Only those academics whose notions serve the greater glory of a universal nation receive tenure.
Odd that they would tenure an anarchist like me, then.

The older traditionalists are quietly being booted out. If you believe that “diversity is our strength” and all the other Stalinist slogans of the politically correct autocracy, then you’re in. Refuse the New World Order, and it’s, “We'll keep your vita on file. But thanks for dropping by.” Your comment above about the superiority of immigrants to the traditional American population is the secret handshake of the globalists.
Yes, I confess, I am a Stalinist and a globalist. Of course, I’m one of those odd anarcho-capitalist Stalinists, and decentralist globalists. But that just shows how tricksy we Stalinist globalists are.

In fact, immigrants take a proportionally greater share of welfare than natives. Check out
Only if “welfare” is very narrowly defined. Once Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, and so forth are included, it turns out that natives take a proportionally greater share of welfare than do immigrants. Check out the Cato Institute Policy Report on Immigration.

It’s surely no surprise that immigrants would tend to be more hardworking than natives. The more enterprising are self-selected.

“You may protest that you ‘earned’ those things, but they really know that men acquire nice things by luck or exploitation, so it wouldn't be fair to let you keep them.”
Once again, I see no evidence that immigrants are more likely to do this than are nativeborn Americans.
You really can't tell the difference between the behavior of the people in Haiti and Zimbabwe, as compared to the people who created the Constitution and the Internet? You continue to dazzle me.
The people who created the Constitution are gone. And I don’t just mean the individuals – rather, the culture that created the Constitution is gone. Do you really imagine we’d get anything remotely like limited republican government if the Constitution were being written today, and voted on by today’s nativeborn population?

Haiti and Zimbabwe are political messes created in large part by Western colonial powers. The average resident of those countries has precious little control over what happens there. And “civilized” Western nations haven’t exactly had a clean record over the past century of genocidal socialisms and fascisms. As for the Internet, third-world residents may not have created it, but they seem to have provided the lion’s share of computer technicians who keep it going!
How can a commitment to the rule of law be maintained under the kind of intrusive police state that would be required to restrict immigration as you propose? I've been asking those questions in post after post and still haven't gotten an answer.
Wow. Emily, pay attention: no one said anything about the Gestapo forcing people to stay at home (unless you took seriously my joke about outlawing Yankees). No, self-organized groups will naturally form and cohere. But they must have a means to protect their integrity, like any other living thing.
Actually, I was the one who brought up the subject of outlawing Yankees. You responded with a joke, but the question is why outlawing Yankees isn’t the logical implication of your position. If the United States has a right to “protect its integrity,” why doesn’t Alabama have the same right, according to you?

The legitimate means by which self-organised groups can “protect their integrity” is private property. But your position throws property rights to the winds. If the government has the right to control access to your property, then you don’t.

What this country desperately needs is a return to a constitutionally limited government that complies with its directives. As I pointed out earlier, the only way the 1965 Immigration Bill got through was that enlightened open-borders types such as Ted Kennedy LIED about the impact of the bill – he assured voters the bill would not affect the ethnic makeup of the US. But it is indeed changing the ethnic makeup of this country, and it is having grave consequences, from the budget shortfalls in States forced to provide social services to immigrants, to the rise of crime on the borders.
Who exactly is “forcing” the States to provide social services to immigrants?

As for the rise of crime, the problem there is the failure to protect property rights, not the failure to protect “the borders.”

We did not have an “intrusive police state” prior to 1965 when the Feds fulfilled their obligation to protect our borders.
Okay, so you don’t want an intrusive police state. I assume that means that you don’t want a National Identification Card, you don’t want people to have to provide proof of citizenship to obtain employment, you don’t want the military used for domestic policing duties, etc. So how exactly are you going to enforce your proposed immigration restrictions? What’s the plan?

However, now that we have foreign colonies in every major city, the Feds are becoming more intrusive and authoritarian in the name of protecting us from those foreigners. You really haven’t heard of the Patriot Act?
So you want to give our rulers massive coercive powers, but you want them to use those powers in Desired Manner A rather than in Undesired Manner B. Sounds utopian to me.

You seem to see self-organised social order as a fragile blossom, easily blighted by a slight change in soil or temperature.
Actually, self-organized systems are hardier than the artificialities of a Yugoslavia, Soviet Union, or the quickly emerging USSA. Look at how Southern culture has persisted despite persecution. But as living things, cultures do require protection – and protecting the borders from invasion is a traditional function of government. Just as your immune system is presently attacking foreigners trying to slip past your borders, government must protect its own physical spaces.
But it’s not just trying to protect its physical spaces, it’s trying to pre-empt individuals’ controls over their private spaces. The proper analogy to the immune system is not government but private property. The government is a parasite, attacking our natural immune system.

Frankly, it's astounding that you interpret government fulfilling its People’s expectations (80%) as tyranny, yet when it imposes an unwanted invasion upon them, that's liberty. That kind of thinking could only survive in the thin air of academia.
Suppose 80% of the people wanted to cook and eat the other 20%. Would that be tyranny, or would that simply be the government’s “fulfilling its People’s expectations”? The standard of legitimacy is not the will of the majority; the standard is justice.

And to answer your little barb, yes, I do know quite a few perfessors. I correspond with many who respond to my web site, and work with many in the League of the South. And believe it or not, I even went to college, where I got to know several. Where do you think I learned all them big words?
My question wasn’t intended as a barb, it was intended as incredulity at your blanket characterisations of academics as a horde of loony-tunes. Now it turns out that you, too, are incredulous at your own characterisation, since you admit that you know academics that you presumably don’t regard as fitting the characterisation. (Unless you’re saying that the League of the South is a horde of loony-tunes?)

“Hobbes and Rand (thanks to their materialistic worldviews) saw only the atomized individual as real, and intercourse with others as nothing more than a means to gratify individual appetites.”
That description is accurate as applied to Hobbes. It is grotesquely inaccurate when applied to Rand.
Ahem – “Just as there is no such thing as a collective or racial mind, so there is no such thing as a collective or racial achievement. There ARE ONLY INDIVIDUAL MINDS AND INDIVIDUAL ACHIEVEMENTS” (MY EMPHASIS) Ayn Rand, from “Racism”

Culture is more than just the sum of individual achievement, as Rand asserted – it is the mutually enriching and mutually transforming exchange between individuals and their cultures.
Rand did hold that only individuals and individual achievements exist. And I agree with you that she was wrong about this. (Though a closely related thesis – that groups and group activities exist only in virtue of the existence and activities of their members – is surely correct.) But you claimed more than this. You claimed that Rand was a “materialist” who regarded individuals as disconnected atoms who interact with others only as a “means to gratify individual appetites.” This characterisation cannot be sustained.

First, Rand held that human mental capacities cannot be fully accounted for in material terms. Hence she was not a materialist.

Second, as a classical (Aristotelean) individualist rather than an atomistic (Hobbesian) one, Rand denied that social cooperation is alien or unnatural to human beings, something that they must enter into grudgingly in order to gratify their appetites. And Randian ethics is based on reason rather than on “appetites” in any case. For Rand, the ultimate foundation of human cooperation is “love for man at his highest potential.” Your description sounds more like the mindset of the villains in her novels.

Rand’s novels evoked a sterile world without children, without family ties, without real roots of any kind.
Her heroes have close ties with other people, but those ties are based on choice and shared values, rather than on the accident of genetic kinship. Is that what you mean?

Adultery was the big payoff for her rugged individualist protagonists, and at least in this area, Rand indeed practised in life what she preached in her novels.
With the exception of Kira Argounova in We the Living, none of Rand’s positively portrayed characters ever pursues a sexual relationship with more than one person at a time. (And Kira is the exception that proves the rule – she sleeps with Andrei not by preference, but because she believes doing so is the only way to save Leo’s life.) Rand’s practice in life was certainly not in accordance with the ideals of her novels.

The problem with Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union is not that they were multicultural.
Yes, it was – conquering and forcibly holding peoples within a political system is wrong.
What on earth has that got to do with multiculturalism? It’s the conquering and force part that’s wrong. It would be wrong whether the people thus conquered and forced were of one culture or many. The multicultural stuff is a red herring.

And ignoring a massive invasion and then granting greater rights to the invaders than the traditonal population is also wrong (see action, affirmative).
Re “invasion”: if I invite someone on to my property, in what sense have you been invaded?

Re affirmative action: the chief beneficiaries of affirmative action have been natives (black and/or female). Whatever one thinks of affirmative action, the link to immigration is tenuous.
People naturally want to be with their own people – did you notice what happened after Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union broke up? They naturally re-formed into smaller, culturally based nations. It's coming soon to an empire near you.
There’s nothing “natural” about what happened in Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union. And if people “naturally” want to be with their “own people,” why are immigrants coming here rather than staying with their own people?

Switzerland comprises four different nationalities with four different languages, and there's actually a fair bit of hostility among the different groups. And all the groups are armed with assault weapons! Yet it's a pretty peaceful place. So why does Yugoslavia turn out one way and Switzerland another? Hint: it has something to do with the kind of governments they have.
Ah, yes. Quite true, though you obviously overlook the real reason. Switzerland is a confederacy composed of – hold on – ethnically based, semi-autonomous cantons. As a matter of fact, I believe Switzerland is the model for the world yet to be. The age of multi-national empires is over.
Switzerland is decentralised, which is why it works well. But there are no immigration laws forbidding people to move from one canton to another. In fact, that’s precisely why Switzerland works well. The whole point of decentralisation is to provide more competition; if people can’t vote with their feet, then competition doesn’t exist. Thus decentralization works only to the extent that it’s accompanied by an open-borders policy. I’m happy to take Switzerland as a “model for the world yet to be,” but that’s not going to result in the kind of policy you want.

Again, an abstraction without a foundation in reality will crumble – the Soviet Union's massive effort to reconstruct human nature along Enlightenment values was a horrific failure.
And how, exactly, is the Soviet Union an exemplar of Enlightenment values?

And the emerging tyranny in Washington DC, which is throwing its weight around the world in its crusade to impose “universal American values” on others, will also fail.

As I said, I must fade away from your world. Other responsibilities beckon. Blog in peace.

Well, I certainly share your distaste for the emerging American Empire.

Salamu iwe juu yenu (“Peace be with you” in Swahili),


Posted February 16th, 2003



Fighting Words

I’ve been a little slow blogging this month – especially by comparison with my deluge of posts last month. But take heart: difficult as it may be to believe, there’s plenty of good stuff out there to read that isn’t by me.

On the subject of our rush to war with Iraq, I recommend Harry Browne’s devastating articles here and here, as well as the new website

For a Randian case against the Randian hawks, see Chris Matthew Sciabarra’s excellent series of posts here, here, and here.

For an unsettling examination of the link between President Bush’s religious beliefs and his foreign policy, see Jeffrey Tucker’s insightful article here.

Posted February 16th, 2003



Consult the Proper Authorities

The current debate over Iraq has begun to take the following shape: Who has the authority to decide Iraq's fate, the United States or the United Nations?

From a libertarian standpoint, of course, the question is misconceived. The U.S. and the U.N. are both governmental organisations; as such, they are essentially two criminal gangs, neither of which has any authority whatsoever to decide the fate of the Iraqi people. Nor, needless to say, do Saddam Hussein and his ruling Ba'ath Socialist Party – a third criminal gang – have any authority over Iraq. All these groups have power of various kinds – the U.S. most of all – but so does any thug with a switchblade. Power does not authority make. The notion of any person, or any group of people, having authority over any other person or group is incompatible with human equality; governments, which by their very nature claim such authority, thereby place themselves outside the conditions of civilised human interaction.

This is not to say that all criminal gangs are equally bad. (I would rather deal with the Mafia than with the Khmer Rouge, for example.) But it does mean that any issue framed as a choice between competing claims to authority on the part of different criminal gangs must necessarily distort the moral landscape.

If I were to find myself living – O happy day! – under a modest Jeffersonian regime which confined itself to minimal police functions, mild taxation, and a purely defensive military policy, I would still regard it as a criminal gang, and I would diligently seek its abolition. No reform that leaves a government still a government is a completely adequate reform. But that is not to say that criminal gangs cannot conduct themselves in more and less objectionable ways, and I fully support any reform that makes them, on balance, less invasive of individual sovereignty. As William Lloyd Garrison said of slavery: "Urge imme­diate abolition as earnestly as we may, it will, alas! be gradual abolition in the end."

War, as Jeremy Bentham observed, is "robbery, having murder for its instrument ... operating upon the largest possible scale ... committed by the ruling few in the conquering nation, on the subject many in both nations." * Governments that commit this crime are, to that extent, worse than governments that do not. If the United Nations were to "authorise" the massacre of innocent civilians in Iraq – which is what the proposed invasion must entail – this would not make the massacre any better; it would only make the United Nations even worse than it already is.

The only authority that can decide this issue is the individual's authority over herself. Iraqi civilians – each and every individual one – have the authority to decline to be bombed. American civilians – each and every individual one – have the authority to decline to be taxed or conscripted in support of such bombing. These, not the government lackeys at the U.N., are the people whose consent must be obtained before any bombing campaign could be legitimate.

Posted February 15th, 2003



In Memoriam

Posted February 1st, 2003



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