Archives: February 2006
Moments of Transition
Andreas Katsulas, who played Gkar so unforgettably on Babylon 5, has died.
Read Straczynskis comments here.
Hear Gkar break your heart here. And here.
Andrews and Walker: Anarchist Classics Online
[cross-posted at Mises Blog and Liberty & Power]
Two more additions to the Molinari Online Library:
This is the first appearance of either work online.
Stephen Pearl Andrews disciple of Josiah Warren, sometime speechwriter for Victoria Woodhull, and an important influence on Benjamin Tucker was an abolitionist, feminist, labour activist, individualist anarchist, and a leading proponent of free love a term which in Andrews day denoted not promiscuity but simply the banishment of all compulsion, governmental or otherwise, from sexual and/or marital relations. Hence Andrews opposed the legal subordination of wives to husbands, as well as legal restrictions on divorce, birth control, consensual sex, and sex-related publications the complete separation of sex and state.
In 1852-53 Andrews had a rather acerbic debate in the press with Horace Greeley (of go west, young man fame) and Henry James Sr. (father of the novelist) on the question of individual freedom generally and freedom of divorce specifically. This fascinating and quirky exchange was shortly reprinted as a separate book under the title Love, Marriage, and Divorce and the Sovereignty of the Individual.
- Edwin C. Walker, writing some fifty years later, was likewise an individualist anarchist, free love advocate, and sometime associate of Tuckers. (Today he is best known for his non-state-sanctioned marriage to fellow activist Lillian Harman, and consequent imprisonment.) Then as now, there were some in the anarchist movement who were convinced that morality was simply one more oppressive force to be discarded along with the state; it was against this view that Walker directed his 1904 pamphlet Communism and Conscience, Pentecost and Paradox; also, Crimes and Criminals, defending morality on broadly Spencerian grounds. (Although Walkers ostensible target is anarcho-communist Hugh Pentecost, one suspects he also has in his sights the Stirnerite views of his fellow individualist anarchist Tucker.)
Along the way Walker touches on a variety of topics, from property rights to punishment theory; while his thinking sometimes seems a bit muddled (for example, he cant seem to decide between hard and soft determinism, and his discussion of the ethics of boycotts evidently conflates injury in the sense of a rights-violation with injury in the sense of making someone worse off), he scores some sound hits against both moral nihilism and thin libertarianism. Murray Rothbard and Jerome Tuccille seem to have thought highly enough of the work to include it in their series The Right-Wing Individualist Tradition in America for Arno Press in 1972.
Wieser and Smart: Austrian Classics Online
[cross-posted at Mises Blog and Liberty & Power]
The latest additions to the Molinari Online Library are two early classics of the Austrian School:
Wiesers Natural Value has been available online previously, but only in an incomplete, error-ridden, and de-formatted ASCII version. (I dont promise that my version has no errors, only that it has fewer errors.) Smarts Introduction to the Theory of Value, as far as I know, has never been previously available online (in either edition).
First: the 1893 English translation of Friedrich von Wiesers 1889 treatise Natural Value. Wieser student of Menger, brother-in-law of Böhm-Bawerk, and teacher of Hayek was one of the founders of the Austrian tradition in economics. Hes admittedly somewhat heterodox from the standpoint of mainline Austrian theory; for example, he rejects Böhm-Bawerks theory of interest on the grounds that positive time-preference is irrational (a sign of a defective economy); and Joseph Salerno has argued that Wiesers whole concept of natural value veers too closely to a general equilibrium approach. But Wiesers treatise is nevertheless a useful and fascinating discussion of subjective value and marginal utility from a broadly Mengerian standpoint, and certainly deserves its place among the founding Austrian texts. And moreover, while he is certainly friendlier to government intervention than Mises or even Hayek, Wieser does offer a partial anticipation of Mises calculation argument against socialist central planning.
Second: William Smarts 1891 primer An Introduction to the Theory of Value on the Lines of Menger, Wieser, and Böhm-Bawerk. Smart was the first English translator of Böhm-Bawerk (as well as editor of the Wieser volume above), and his Introduction has been described by Salerno as a lucid and highly sympathetic introduction to Austrian value theory. In later years Smart moved away from a pure Austrian position in order to impale himself on the Marshallian scissors; in the interest of maximum usefulness to scholars, this online version includes both the fully Austrian first edition and the semi-Marshallian second edition.
Exit to Grow in Wisdom
Lawrence Summers, Harvards anti-feminist, pro-militarist, pro-corporatist president, is resigning under pressure from a fed-up faculty. Seems like the best resolution to me. If Summers wants to air his views as a faculty member, thats certainly within the bounds of academic freedom; but someone who aggressively promotes genetic fantasies about womens innate inaptitude for science is simply the wrong person to be running an educational institution or at least one with female faculty and students. By analogy, if you want to be a Jehovahs Witness, go for it, but you shouldnt expect to be put in charge of the bloodmobile. The job of a university president should be to facilitate the work of the university community, not to undermine it. (Actually Im not even convinced that there should be university presidents the University of Bologna got along fine without any administration at all but thats another story.)
Spooner on Rent
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Benjamin Tucker famously held that property in real estate depends on continued personal occupancy, so that when a landlord undertakes to rent out a plot of land or a building to a tenant, the landlord actually surrenders ownership to the tenant, who despite whatever contract she may have signed has no obligation, enforceable or otherwise, either to keep paying rent or to return the property at the expiration of the lease.
I think Tuckers view on this subject is mistaken, but debating its merits is not my present concern. (For a defense of Tuckers position, see Kevin Carsons critique of absentee landlordism; for the contrary view, see my forthcoming reply to Carson in the next issue, 20.1, of the JLS.) Rather, for purposes of this post I want to ask a historical question: what was Lysander Spooners position on this issue?
Its often assumed that it must have been similar to Tuckers; in Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature, for example, Rothbard treats the abolition of rent as part of the Spooner-Tucker doctrine. But while Spooner and Tucker were certainly aligned on many issues, they had some important disagreements as well most notably on intellectual property (Spooner was pro, Tucker con) and on the ethical foundations of libertarianism (Spooner favoured natural law while Tucker favoured Stirnerite egoism). So its by no means a foregone conclusion that Spooner and Tucker must have agreed about rent.
Perhaps its assumed that Spooner and Tucker were both anti-rent because they both supported the Irish movement to resist paying rent to landlords. But in Spooners 1880 Revolution: The Only Remedy for the Oppressed Classes of Ireland, the only reason Spooner gives for impugning the property title of landlords in Ireland is not that the landlords have failed to maintain personal occupancy, but rather that their holdings were originally taken by the sword from the native cultivators an argument perfectly consistent with Lockean/Rothbardian views on rent.
I cant claim to have scoured every inch of Spooners texts for remarks on this issue, but what I have found convinces me that Spooners position on rent was in fact the Lockean/Rothbardian one and not the Tuckerite one at all.
So theres my brief for dehomogenising Spooner and Tucker on the land issue. Perhaps I should add by way of clarification that I dont mean to be offering the fact that Spooner agrees with me against Tucker about rent as any sort of argument for the truth of my position! (That should be obvious, but I know from experience that if I dont make it explicit some insightful reader is likely to send me an email saying So Spooner agrees with you against Tucker; so what? That doesnt prove that hes right! You are such a moron.)
The earliest mention Ive come across is in Spooners 1839 legal brief Spooner vs. MConnell, in which he asserts the Federal governments property right over wild lands within its territory, adding that the United States may lease those lands ... so long as they retain the title in themselves .... Here occupancy and title are clearly understood as separable. But this early passage is not a reliable guide to Spooners mature views, since it plainly conflicts with Spooners declaration in his 1886 Letter to Grover Cleveland that [t]he government has no more right to claim the ownership of wilderness lands, than it has to claim the ownership of the sunshine, the water, or the atmosphere.
But we also find Spooner remarking, in his 1846 Poverty: Its Illegal Causes and Legal Cure, that there is no more extortion in loaning capital to the best bidder, than in selling a horse, or renting a house to the best bidder which hardly sounds as though Spooner sees anything inherently problematic about rent.
The clearest evidence of Spooners disagreement with Tucker on rent, however, comes from his 1855 Law of Intellectual Property. While that work is devoted specifically to the question of property in ideas, in order to address that specific question Spooner finds it necessary to develop a general theory of property rights as such, and in so doing he tells us:
There is no limit, fixed by the law of nature, to the amount of property one may acquire by simply taking possession of natural wealth, not already possessed .... [H]e holds the land in order to hold the labor which he has put into it, or upon it. And the land is his, so long as the labor he has expended upon it remains in a condition to be valuable for the uses for which it was expended; because it is not to be supposed that a man has abandoned the fruits of his labor so long as they remain in a state to be practically useful to him. ...
I think this is as clear a statement as one could ask for that in Spooners eyes ownership, while initially acquired by labour and occupancy, does not depend for its continuation on the continuation of such labour and occupancy, but may legitimately be rented out with no loss of the original owners just title. Perhaps it was not solely for its defense of copyrights and patents, then, that Tucker described Spooners Law of Intellectual Property as the only positively silly work which ever came from Mr. Spooners pen.
The principle of property is, that the owner of a thing has absolute dominion over it, whether he have it in actual possession or not, and whether he himself wish to use it or not; that no one has a right to take possession of it, or use it, without his consent; and that he has a perfect right to withhold both the possession and use of it from others, from no other motive than to induce them, or make it necessary for them, to buy it, or rent it, and pay him an equivalent for it, or for its use. ... The right of property, therefore, is a right of absolute dominion over a commodity, whether the owner wish to retain it in his own actual possession and use, or not. It is a right to forbid others to use it, without his consent. If it were not so, men could never sell, rent, or give away those commodities, which they do not themselves wish to keep or use but would lose their right of property in them that is, their right of dominion over them the moment they suspended their personal possession and use of them.
It is because a man has this right of absolute dominion over the fruits of his labor, and can forbid other men to use them without his consent, whether he himself retain his actual possession and use of them or not, that nearly all men are engaged in the production of commodities, which they themselves have no use for, and cannot retain any actual possession of, and which they produce solely for purposes of sale, or rent. In fact, there is no article of corporeal property whatever, exterior to one's person, which owners are in the habit of keeping in such actual and constant possession or use, as would be necessary in order to secure it to themselves, if the right of property, originally derived from labor, did not remain in the absence of possession.
Nor should we suppose that Spooners 1855 endorsement of rent was later retracted during his association with Tucker; for just three years before his death, in his 1884 Letter to Scientists and Inventors, Spooner restates in condensed form the standpoint of his Law of Intellectual Property, and notes in passing that the originator of an idea may either use it himself, or sell it, or lend it to others for use, the same as he might rightfully do with any material property. (Emphasis mine.) Once again theres no indication that title to any material property is lost when its owners withdraw from personally occupying it and lend it to others for use.
In any case, I agree with Tucker against Spooner about intellectual property, so its not as though I can consistently exalt one above the other. In his Law of Intellectual Property Spooner tries to show that if you agree with him about land youre thereby committed to agreeing with him about copyrights and patents also. Obviously I think his arguments on that point fail, for reasons I plan to address in a future post; my line of attack would be a development of the approach I sketch here and here. But as I said above, my concern in the present discussion is not to offer a theoretical defense of any particular view about property rights, but simply to make the historical, interpretive point that Spooners view on rent was not the same as Tuckers. (Well, to the extent that theres any polemical payoff I suppose its this: those anarcho-socialists who grant the title of anarchist to Tucker and Spooner but deny it to Rothbard and other so-called anarcho-capitalists on the grounds inter alia of the latters disagreement with Tucker about land will find their position at least somewhat harder to maintain to the extent that the distance between the saved Spooner and the damned anarcho-capitalists is narrowed.)
Well, its 3:00 a.m. Tuesday, and my sleepless Sunday night is starting to reassert itself against the temporary reinvigoration from my Monday-afternoon nap, so Im off to bed.
Im back! The conference was great with some interesting connections made between the attempts by our authors to tame the political power of religious extremism in the 17th century, and the need to deal with militant Christian and Muslim extremism today.
I also had a marvelous time in San Francisco wandering around Chinatown, North Beach, Fishermans Wharf, the Embarcadero, and the Mission District; riding the Powell Street cable car; enjoying delicious dinners (for free!) at Ponzu, The Slanted Door, and Il Fornaio; and buying obscure anarchist tomes at City Lights Bookstore (of Kerouac and Ginsberg fame) and Bolerium Books (of imperial road kill fame).
Alas, things took a less enjoyable turn on the way home, when my twice-delayed flight, which should have gotten me back to Atlanta at 7:30 last night, didnt get me in till 6:30 this morning, leaving me in a somewhat zombified state all day today. (Happily I only had to give midterms today rather than lecture; and Im just now somewhat refreshed from a brief nap.) But at least my twelve hours in the San Francisco airport gave me plenty of time to read some of my new books! Heres what Ive been reading:
Though it isnt on anarchism and I didnt get it in San Francisco, I also recently read and enjoyed a book of Early Stories of Jules Verne, including his novella on Perus colonialist heritage, The Pearl of Lima (a work clearly modeled on Victor Hugos novella on the Haitian slave revolt, Bug-Jargal). I was struck, though not especially surprised, by the contrast between Vernes (relatively) sensitive and nuanced attitude toward Peruvian natives and his tiresomely stereotyped prejudices regarding Jews. (Remember, Verne also sided against Dreyfus, at least initially.) Evidently, in Vernes eyes some oppressed peoples were more equal than others.
Finished: The Sociology of Pierre Joseph Proudhon by Constance Margaret Hall. This isnt an especially exciting read; heres a sample of the style:
In order to trace the historical development of the ideas elaborated by Proudhon, and to locate these ideas in their sociological context, library materials will be used. The examination of primary source materials in French will be supplemented by secondary sources on Proudhon and his age in French and English, and also by additional general sociological works relating to theory and method. Since we shall to a large extent be dealing with historical materials, the historians criteria for internal and external criticism of documents will constitute the most appropriate tools for the assessment of the reliability and validity of the source materials examined.
Und so weiter (and pointlessly, since no such promised assessment actually occurs in the book). But its a useful and interesting source nonetheless.
Finished: The Great Anarchists: Ideas and Teachings of Seven Major Thinkers a reprint of Steven Byingtons 1908 translation of Paul Eltzbachers Anarchism, a comparative study of Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Stirner, Tucker, Kropotkin, and Tolstoj. Its not clear where Eltzbachers own political sympathies lie, but his discussion of the different views is very fair. The categories into which Eltzbacher tries to squeeze his authors are sometimes a bit artificial, and his writing style can be excessively Germanic, e.g.:
Every concept-determining study faces the problem of comprehending conceptually an object that was first comprehended non-conceptually, and therefore of putting a concept in the place of non-conceptual notions of an object. This problem finds a specially clear expression in the concept-determining judgment (the definition), which puts in immediate juxtaposition, in its subject some non-conceptual notion of an object, and in its predicate a conceptual notion of the same object.
But Eltzbacher makes a good case for dehomogenising the various strands of anarchism and rejecting formulae of the all anarchists must believe X variety; and his opening discussion of the definitions of law, property, and state is fascinating. (I may post it at some point.) Incidentally, the translator, Steven Byington, was one of Benjamin Tuckers associates (as would anyway be evident from the tone of his clarificatory notes) and translator of Stirner.
Started but not finished: The unabridged version of Paul Avrichs Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America, an invaluable resource featuring interviews with inter alia the daughters of Tucker and Kropotkin and the sons of Joseph Labadie and Johann Most.
Incidentally, I was surprised to learn that sportscaster Johnny Most, whose inimitable Celtics broadcasts (Larry Bird is on fiiire!) I remember well from my Boston days, was the grandson of firebrand anarcho-communist Johann Most, nemesis of Benjamin Tucker and butt of
Henry James The Princess Casamassima.
Started but not finished: Law in Anarchism, edited by Thom Holterman and Henc van Maarseveen: the (partial) proceedings of a conference on anarchist legal theory held at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, in 1979. Topics include
Proudhon, Spooner, and Kropotkin; contributors include Carl Watner and William Reichert. In a note, permission to republish the books contents is granted to anarchist collectives I figure the Molinari Institute counts as an anarchist collective, so if (as seems likely) the contents prove interesting you might see some material posted.
Not started: Culture and Anarchism (the title is a riff on Matthew Arnolds Culture and Anarchy) by Harold Barclay (author of People Without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchy).
Not started: Robert Grahams Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.
From Wilderland to Western Shore
Im off to San Francisco for a Liberty Fund conference. Topic: the oft-skipped biblical-interpretation passages in Hobbes, Spinoza, and Locke.
Back next week!
Bang Bang He Shot Me Down
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Im sure the running dogs of statism will be rushing to use His Excellencys recent misadventure as another argument for increased gun control.
If so, the case will be a poor one. In the world the gun controllers are building, people like Cheney will always have access to firearms.
For fans of Jules Verne (about whom Ive blogged a fair bit lately), check out Ken Greggs interesting post.
Whos on First?
Im sometimes asked why I label (or likewise why Rothbard labeled) Gustave de Molinari the first market anarchist or the founder of market anarchism. Werent there anarchists before Molinari who were pro-market?
Certainly there were; the clearest cases are William Godwin in England, Josiah Warren in America, and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in France. Some would deny that these thinkers count as pro-market, since they were socialists; but we shouldnt let ourselves be confused by terminology. While these thinkers views on property may fall short of Rothbardian purity or, heck, even Tuckerite purity (Proudhon and Tucker definitely need some dehomogenising) they all clearly favoured some form of private ownership and free market exchange.
So if they were anarchists who liked the market, why am I reluctant to call them market anarchists? Well, it seems to me that what Molinari pioneered, in 1849, was an explanation of how market mechanisms could replace the traditional governmental function of the State protection against aggressors. If one looks to Godwin and Warren for an analogous discussion, theres precious little on this topic at all; their solution to the problem of aggression seems to consist primarily of converting potential aggressors to anarchism. As for Proudhon, whenever he starts talking about administrative arrangements under anarchism he ends up describing centralised institutions whose difference from the monopoly State is difficult to discern.
Thus I dont see anything properly describable as market-based anarchism (as opposed to merely market-friendly anarchism) prior to Molinari.
Whats not clear to me is how much influence Molinari exerted on the subsequent market anarchist tradition. (He certainly influenced de Puydt and possibly influenced Bellegarrigue, but de Puydts competing jurisdictions operate within the framework of a monopoly state, while Bellegarrigue is vague about administrative details, at least in the writings Ive seen.) Benjamin Tucker and his associates certainly defended market anarchism in terms reminiscent of Molinaris arguments; but while they were unquestionably familiar with and indebted to Godwin, Proudhon, and Warren, Libertys review of a work from Molinaris later semi-anarchist period apparently shows no awareness of his early fully anarchist writings. So they may well have developed the same ideas independently.
Wear the Future
Randians on the Warpath
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Two recent Randian skirmishes:
As best I recall, I first encountered Robert Bidinotto at ISILs Rome conference in 1997. His main contribution at that time was a very nice speech urging mutual understanding and cooperation between Objectivists and (other) libertarians; my friend Bobby Emory in his FNF report called this extension of the olive branch on Mr. Bidinottos part an important turning point for the movement.
In more recent years, unfortunately, Mr. Bidinottos tone in dealing with libertarian adversaries has grown increasingly hostile, but I was still able to have a fairly civilised debate with him on the anarchist question two years ago (see here, here, and here).
But then came last month, when he sent me a link to a blog post in which he bade adieu to any canons of civility by denouncing anyone unwilling to support U.S. troops in Iraq as scumbags. Apparently the notion that the U.S. military policy of mass civilian homicide might be unjust, and that criticism of it might extend to criticism of those who carry it out, falls by his lights into a class of inherently dishonest ideas, sufficient to damn anyone who holds them as a scumbag without further discussion. (I can only infer that if Mr. Bidinotto ever read David Kelleys Truth and Toleration, his memory of it has comfortably faded away.)
Mr. Bidinotto also misleadingly equated not supporting the troops with despising the troops, which amounts to a smear of his opponents. (If a basically decent person has been unfairly manipulated into carrying out an unjust policy, despising that person is hardly an appropriate response. But neither is support.)
Not being overfond of seeing myself and my allies smeared or called scumbags, I responded with some asperity, prompting Mr. Bidinotto to add the lunatic label on top of the scumbag label.
What earned me this last was my supposedly amazing characterisation of his position as malevolent tribalism. But if this jingoistic dont-you-dare-criticise-the-troops brand of patriotism doesnt count as tribalism, what does? Tribalism also seems a fair description of Bidinottos dismissal of all criticism of America as criticism of Americas founding ideals of individualism and freedom; by thus identifying these ideals with a particular nation, Mr. Bidinotto evidently blinds himself to the possibility that the nation might not be living up to those ideals and the result is that allegiance to the ideals get shifted instead to allegiance to the nation, even when this means discarding the ideals and attacking those who are actually defending them. (As for malevolent, the tone in which he talks about collateral damage speaks for itself.)
Well now, turns out the latest person to be consigned to outer darkness is my comrade-in-arms Charles Johnson, who just got banned from commenting on Mr. Bidinottos blog for having the temerity to point out the logical inconsistencies in Mr. Bidinottos arguments. Check out Charles latest post for the details.
As youll see, throughout his exchange with Charles Mr. Bidinotto is persistently unwilling to acknowledge basic principles of logic. I know from experience how frustrating he can be on this point: some time after our anarchy debate, I was having an exchange with Mr. Bidinotto on a discussion board (archived here and here) when he suddenly announced that he did not accept one of the basic principles of logic; specifically, he denied that there can be deductively valid arguments with false premises. (I note in passing that this would make reductio arguments impossible; since reductio is Randians favourite argument form, that seems a tad awkward.) Anyway, I withdrew from the discussion on the grounds that I didnt see how it was possible to continue a fruitful philosophical discussion once the basic principles of logic have been rejected. (Much Randian abuse followed in response to this, but I declined to step back into the mire.)
Enough on that subject. In related news: In my November 24th post A View to a Kill I suggested there was an inconsistency among these three quotations from Rand on the permissibility of killing the innocent:
A. Ayn Rand says: hell yes, kill the innocent
If we go to war with Russia, I hope the innocent are destroyed with the guilty. ... Nobody has to put up with aggression, and surrender his right of self-defense, for fear of hurting somebody else, guilty or innocent. When someone comes at you with a gun, if you have an ounce of self-esteem, you answer with force, never mind who he is or whos standing behind him. (p. 95)
B. Ayn Rand says: hell no, dont kill the innocent
Whatever rights the Palestinians may have had – I dont know the history of the Middle East well enough to know what started the trouble – they have lost all rights to anything: not only to land, but to human intercourse. If they lost land, and in response resorted to terrorism – to the slaughter of innocent citizens – they deserve whatever any commandos anywhere can do to them, and I hope the commandos succeed. (p. 97)
C. Ayn Rand says: gee, theres no right answer
Even as a writer, I can barely project a situation in which a man must kill an innocent person to defend his own life. ... But suppose someone lives in a dictatorship, and needs a disguise to escape. ... So he must kill an innocent bystander to get a coat. In such a case, morality cannot say what to do. ... Personally, I would say the man is immoral if he takes an innocent life. But formally, as a moral philosopher, Id say that in such emergency situations, no one could prescribe what action is appropriate. ... Whatever a man chooses in such cases is right – subjectively. (p. 114)
Diana Hsieh responds in Ayn Rand on Total War (conical hat tip to Chris Sciabarra). Here are her main points, interspersed with my responses:
In the first [quotation], Ayn Rand is speaking of war of self-defense with Russia. The innocent in question were the passive supporters of the Soviet Union, i.e. the vast majority of Russians who accepted the horrors of the communist government without significant protest. Those people were morally responsible for their decision not to fight the communists, for their willingness to live as slaves to the Bolsheviks. Without them, the Bolsheviks never could have retained their iron grip on power. Such people were not innocent, but guilty albeit perhaps less so than active supporters of the communists. Given their choice to live without any rights whatsoever under the Soviets, they have no grounds on which to protest their death by an American bomb rather than a KGB interrogator. The genuine innocents in Soviet Russia were the opponents of the regime and those people would have welcomed an invasion from the US, despite the risk of being caught in the crossfire.
So according to Ms. Hsieh (or Rand, or both), anyone who lived under the Soviet regime without significant protest was effectively a supporter of the regime, and so not innocent, and so fair game for killing. As Chris Sciabarra has pointed out, this claim bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Ward Churchuills suggestion that the office workers in the World Trade Center were little Eichmanns who had it coming because of their participation in neofascist corporatism.
In any case, the claim that refusing to rise up against a tyrant counts as de facto consent to the tyranny embodies a collectivist fallacy: confusing the individual with the group. Its quite true, as La Boétie and Hume famously pointed out, that tyrannical governments cannot survive without the acquiescence of their subject populace. But to suppose this means that the individual members of this acquiescing populace have consented in some straightforward and unproblematic fashion ignores the collective action problem (see here and here) involved. If we all resist the tyrant, the tyranny will fail; but if I resist the tyrant first, without sufficient support, Ill just be martyring myself for nothing. Coordinating simultaneous and effective resistance is, notoriously, no easy task.
In an article in The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (or The Return of the Primitive, as her heirs have chosen to rename it), expressing empathy for some dissidents on trial in the Soviet Union, Rand wrote: I do not mean that I would have been one of the accused in that Soviet courtroom: I knew enough, in my college days, to know that it was useless to attempt political protests in Soviet Russia. Doesnt that make Rand herself one of those Soviet citizens who made no significant protest against the regime and so are allegedly morally culpable? A reductio ad absurdum, surely.
Anyway, the notion that one should be happy to be blown to bits by an invading army so long as ones country is liberated is a rather odd notion frankly, a Soviet-sounding notion for an egoist to uphold. And even if we grant it, the fact that someone should consent to being killed does not make it okay to kill her if she has not actually consented. As Rothbard points out, anyone who wishes is entitled to make the personal decision of better dead than Red or give me liberty or give me death, but he is not entitled to ... make these decisions for others, as the prowar policy of conservatism would do. What conservatives are really saying is: Better them dead than Red, and give me liberty or give them death which are the battle cries not of noble heroes but of mass murderers.
Ms. Hsieh continues:
In contrast, the second quote concerns actual innocents, namely the ordinary Israelis conducting their daily, peaceful business within a fundamentally lawful, civilized society who are suddenly blown to bits by Palestinian terrorists. If the Palestinians had legitimate complaints against the Israelis, they ought to have settled them in a peaceful manner consistent with some measure of respect for law. They were not fighting a dictatorship and so had no grounds upon which to inflict such senseless death and destruction.
I certainly agree that Palestinians ought not to be killing innocent people; but I have a hard time seeing how this case differs from the first one. Can anyone claim with a straight face that Israel has really been a fundamentally lawful, civilized society for its Palestinian citizens (the fact that its not so bad for non-Palestinian Israelis hardly seems relevant), or that the Israeli legal system has been even remotely hospitable to Palestinian grievances (until so compelled by the intifada)?
And how was the average Soviet citizen more complicit in Soviet tyranny than the average Israeli citizen is in the Israeli governments oppression of the Palestinians? (If anything youd expect Soviet citizens complicity to be less, since Israeli citizens are freer than Soviet citizens to protest injustices committed by their respective governments.) As far as I can see, both Soviet citizens and Palestinians are oppressed, both have a right to resist the governments oppressing them, and neither has a right to blow up innocent people as part of that resistance.
Ms. Hsieh continues:
The context of the third quote is substantially different from that of the first two, in that it concerns an ordinary person attempting to escape dictatorship, not a political conflict of any kind. It might be psychologically difficult for an ordinary person to kill under those circumstances, but that has nothing to do with the propriety of killing innocents (whether genuine or supposed) in war.
This strikes me as another irrelevant distinction. Whats the deep moral difference between a so-called ordinary person trying to escape from a tyranny, and a so-called political agent trying to overthrow a tyranny? Dont they both count as self-defense? If so, how can killing innocents be clearly permissible in one case but not clearly permissible in the other?
The distinction between political and ordinary activities seems anyway oddly un-Randian. After all, isnt the whole point of Rands political theory to subordinate political activity to the same moral rules that apply to ordinary persons? In Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, for example, she contrasted the traditional view that morality was a code applicable to the individual, but not to society society thus being placed outside the moral law with her own advocacy of individual rights as means of subordinating society to moral law.
In short, there may be some interesting moral differences among these three cases that could justify Rands differing treatments if them, but if there is, Ms. Hsieh hasnít shown it.
In conclusion, I want to address a couple of further points that Ms. Hsieh makes:
The same assessment applies to the rationalistic libertarians claiming that the non-initiation of force principle prohibits self-defensive action against anyone other than a voluntary agent of a force-initiating regime. On that view, if Hitler ever invaded the US, US soldiers would be forbidden from defending the borders, since at least some of the enemy soldiers were unwillingly drafted.
Here Ms. Hsieh has simply misunderstood the position she is criticising. That rationalistic (i.e., principled) position states that force is justified against aggressors. A soldier invading the US is an aggressor, whether or not she has been drafted, and so force is certainly a legitimate means of repelling the invader. The objection to killing innocent civilians is that they are (ordinarily) not aggressors. (To be precise, I think killing nonaggressors can be justified, but only under certain fairly rare circumstances; for elaboration, see here and here.) So the analogy with an invasion by Hitler doesnt hold.
Similarly, the US military couldnt bomb Hitlers concentration camps and thus save millions of genuinely innocent lives by destroying the machinery of the Holocaust because we might kill or maim some of those innocents.
This is a trickier case than the first one, but its still not analogous to the cases Ms. Hsieh is using it to defend, because the people in the concentration camps are presumably going to be killed anyway, so saving some of them by killing the others seems less clearly indefensible. Im not saying that it is the right thing to do thats a famously difficult moral question but it doesnt involve the objectionable feature of sacrificing some noninvasive lives lives that would otherwise not have been lost in order to save someone else. Its the latter case that seems most blatantly to violate Rands prohibition on treating human beings as sacrificial animals.
The pacifist libertarians fail to appreciate the philosophical context of the non-initiation of force principle, particularly the fact that its purpose is to protect human life by making peaceful co-existence in society possible.
As an Aristotelean, I must of course reject the utilitarian idea that the sole purpose of the ban on initiatory force is to protect human life by making peaceful co-existence in society possible. Justice is part of the good life, not just a strategy for promoting it. (For the unresolved tension in Rands own thought between utilitarian and Aristotelean conceptions of virtue, see Neera Badhwars Is Virtue Only A Means To Happiness? and my own Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand. For the superiority of the Aristotelean approach, see both of the above plus my discussions here, here, here, and here.)
The reference to pacifist libertarians is a red herring, by the way; while there have of course been some pacifist libertarians (e.g. Robert Lefevre), the libertarians that Ms. Hsieh is mainly arguing against are people who firmly believe in the legitimacy of using violence in self-defense against aggressors.
I should add that Ms. Hsieh has not called me a scumbag or a lunatic, so I dont means to be lumping her with Mr. Bidinotto. I discuss both in the same post only because theyre both Randians defending a position on military policy that I regard as incompatible with an individualist, libertarian ethic.
The Empire Victorious
The blog contest at Liberty & Power is over, and Im pleased to announce that Austro-Athenian Empire was declared the winner in the category of individual libertarian/classical liberal academic blog.
To everyone who voted for me thank you!
To everyone who voted against me you have been declared enemies of the Empire, and my agents will be hunting you down without mercy.
Farewell and Thank You
I was around age 11 when I first discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs. (See his two entertaining autobiographical sketches, one true and one invented Ill let you decide which is which.) I believe I started off with the second and fourth Venus novels a rather disorganised way to begin. I started writing comic books about Barsoom, Amtor, and Pellucidar, and was especially fascinated by the concept of a hollow earth (as my comments on Wally Congers blog show).
Unfortunately, most people know Burroughs work including his most famous creation, Tarzan only through the movie versions, and Burroughs has not been well-served by Hollywood (though hopefully the upcoming John Carter flick will be an exception); indeed, Ive never seen any screen depiction of Tarzan, even in some of the better films, that bore any similarity to Burroughs character. (Who would guess from the movies, for example, that Tarzans dominant characteristic is intelligence or that his first spoken human language was French?)
All this is by way of introduction to an interesting article I just came across, by F. X. Blisard, about race relations in the Tarzan novels and in Burroughs work generally fairly enlightened for Burroughs era, it turns out, and far superior to Hollywoods treatment. Read it here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.
Ayn Rands Left-Libertarian Legacy
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Today is Ayn Rands birthday.
Last year, for her centenary, I wrote about Rands legacy for libertarians generally. This year I want to write about her legacy for left-libertarians in particular.
Rands legacy? For left-libertarians? Such a proposal might well engender skepticism. Sure, Rands critical attitude toward religion, tradition, and family values has sometimes led paleolibertarians to view her as a lefty; but on a broad range of other issues she is easily viewed as decidedly right-leaning. Consider:
Yes, alas, all that is true; but its not the whole story. There is another side to Rands legacy that should not be lost sight of.
On issues of war and peace, Rand denied that the U.S. was an imperial power; dismissed the military-industrial complex as a myth or worse; advocated censoring antiwar activists; favoured entangling alliances with Israel, Taiwan, and other tripwire regions; and saw no moral problem with bombing innocent civilians. (In fact she wrote an unproduced screenplay celebrating the development of the atomic bomb.)
On the domestic front, Rand cooperated with HUAC; sided with cops and bureaucrats against the 60s student movement; defended copyright censorship and patent protectionism; said she wished she could do for McCarthy what Zola did for Dreyfus; and despite the corporate classs secure hold on state power called big business a persecuted minority.
In cultural matters too, Rand could often be profoundly conservative: she attacked feminism and homosexuality; declared environmentalism per se to be anti-civilisation; denied value to nonwestern cultures (calling Arabs savages, for example); promoted male supremacy (e.g., declaring man the metaphysically dominant sex, insisting that only men were qualified for the Presidency, and glamorizing rape in her fiction); and even assailed abstract art.
It transpires, then, that there are in effect two Rands, or two strands in Rand: a left-libertarian, feminist, anti-militarist, anti-corporatist, benevolent, experimental strand, and a conservative, patriarchal, homophobic, flag-worshipping, boss-worshipping, dogmatic strand. Which strand represents the true Rand? Well, both of them; she just is precisely the person who tried to combine these two strands.
At a time when many libertarians tended to think of their movement as a sub-variety of conservatism, Rands insistence that she was not conservative but radical, her break with the Buckleyite right (five years before Rothbards), and her recognition that mainstream liberalism was fascist rather than socialist were important factors in laying the groundwork for libertarians ideological awakening and re-emergence as a movement separate from conservatism.
On foreign policy: Rand was less hawkish than she sometimes sounds and certainly less hawkish than the Institute that today bears her name for she opposed U.S. involvement in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam; and Rands analysis of the interconnection between militarism and interest-group politics (see Chris Sciabarras discussion) amounts to a quite keen understanding of the military-industrial complex, whatever she preferred to call it.
Likewise, the popular image of Rand as an apologist for big business obscures the fact that the majority of businessmen in her novels are unimaginative conformists, arbitrary and tyrannical toward their subordinates, and eagerly running to government for favours; the Hank Reardens and Dagny Taggarts are decidedly portrayed as exceptions. And her discussions of the rise of neofascism in America show that she recognised the sins of the business class in reality as well.
Rand understood and emphasised the interlocking, systemic connections between governmental and cultural factors (see Chriss book on this), recognising, as left-libertarians traditionally have, that activism directed toward changing government is futile without a more broadly based cultural transformation; and her analysis of tribalism and the anti-conceptual mentality is invaluable in understanding how racism, sexism, and nationalism operate.
On feminism, Rands attitudes appear conflicted; yes, she said some very anti-feminist things, but she also championed womens choice of career over domesticity; firmly defended the right to abortion; created one of the strongest independent heroines in literature (particularly for 1957!); and endorsed one of the founding classics of second-wave feminism, Betty Friedans Feminine Mystique. The 19th-century left-libertarians understood the role of the ethics of self-sacrifice in maintaining the subjection of women, and Rand deserves credit for reviving, however incompletely, that diagnosis.
As for art: in an early draft of We the Living, Rand wrote admiringly of the infiltration of Western abstract imagery into Soviet Russia: laughing, defiant broken lines and circles cutting triangles, and triangles splitting squares, the new art coming through some crack in the impenetrable barrier. So it seems she was not always immune to the expressive power of abstract art. Indeed, the entire Fountainhead could be seen as a hymn to abstract art a fact that reportedly (and unfortunately) led her in later and more rigidified life to repudiate the account of architectural art she had defended in the novel. In short, the young Rand was a good deal less culturally conservative than the later Rand. (In fact, I have the impression that in earlier years she was generally more open-minded; would she have become such a fan of the egalitarian socialist Hugo or the Christian existentialist Dostoyevsky if she had first read them in 1960?)
A better question is: which strand most accurately expresses her fundamental principles? And here it seems to me that the answer is: the left-libertarian strand. The conservative strand, as I see it, is in large part (not entirely human psychology and intellectual development are complex matters, and I dont mean to be offering some sort of reductionist account) an expression of Rands understandably hostile reaction to the Soviet environment in which she was raised. I suspect that she tended to have a knee-jerk reaction to anything (well, almost anything not atheism, obviously, or contextual analysis) that reminded her of Soviet propaganda or was associated in any way with pro-Soviet sympathies. Hence anything that championed labour against capital, or denounced the United States as imperialistic, or otherwise savoured of left-wing critiques, was likely to trigger her ire. (Maybe this is the story with regard to art also. In the 1920s and 30s, when the Soviets were denouncing abstract art as an expression of western decadence, she liked such art and even found it liberating; in later years, living in the west where leftists had embraced abstract art, she came to detest it. Might it really be that simple? Certainly the Rand who wrote The Fountainhead was eminently equipped to answer the objections to abstract art raised by the later Rand.)
But if we leave aside the influence of anti-Soviet sentiment and simply consider in what direction a radical, contextual-analysis-oriented, secular, individualist, anti-traditionalist, anti-sacrificial libertarian ethic is most naturally developed its left-libertarianism, man.