Did the paper know that the webmaster (and I use"master" in a narrow sense) would be embedding those links?
I don't know about you, but I'm still laughing.
Update: The links are gone. Somebody must have gotten wind of it. :)
Today, Christopher Shea has written a"Critical Faculties" piece for The Boston Globe focusing on"Ayn Rand's Campus Radicals," offering further evidence of the proliferation of Rand scholarship. He mentions my work and the work of other Rand scholars, as well as the important role of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. He also cites a forthcoming JARS essay by Austrian economist and L&P colleague Peter J. Boettke.
Cross-posted to"Not a Blog."
In the light of our continuing discussion of various"Isms" (see recent additions to this conversation by Kenneth R. Gregg,"Capitalism, Mutuality, and Sharing" and Sheldon Richman's"I, Liberal"), I just wanted to bring a recent NY Times article to the attention of readers.
Historian David Hackett Fischer, author of Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas, tells us that"Freedom's Not Just Another Word." He speaks of a monument in Baghdad that declares, in essence, that"Freedom is not a gift from people with tanks," but something to come from within. Fischer remarks, however, that"[t]here is no one true definition of liberty and freedom in the world" on which people coming from different traditions or different places can agree."And, yet," he writes,"there is one great historical process in which liberty and freedom have developed, often in unexpected ways." He continues:
The words themselves have a surprising history. The oldest known word with such a meaning comes to us from ancient Iraq. The Sumerian"ama-ar-gi," found on tablets in the ruins of the city-state of Lagash, which flourished four millenniums ago, derived from the verb"ama-gi," which literally meant"going home to mother." It described the condition of emancipated servants who returned to their own free families—an interesting link to the monument in Baghdad. (In contemporary America, the ancient characters for"ama-ar-gi" have become the logos of some libertarian organizations, as well as tattoos among members of politically conservative motorcycle gangs, who may not know that the inscriptions on their biceps mean heading home to mom.)
Equally surprising are the origins of our English words liberty and, especially, freedom. They have very different roots. The Latin libertas and Greek eleutheria both indicated a condition of independence, unlike a slave. (In science, eleutherodactylic means separate fingers or toes.) Freedom, however, comes from the same root as friend, an Indo-European word that meant"dear" or"beloved." It meant a connection to other free people by bonds of kinship or affection, also unlike a slave. Liberty and freedom both meant"unlike a slave." But liberty meant privileges of independence; freedom referred to rights of belonging.
It's of interest that Fischer points to an ever-evolving proliferation of meanings for both words, however (and some of this is reflected in the ever-evolving meaning of the word"liberal," for example)."Through 16 generations, American ideas of liberty and freedom have grown larger, deeper, more diverse and yet more inclusive in these collisions of contested visions," Fischer observes. For Fischer, the"rights of individual independence" and the"rights of collective belonging" are essential parts of the same fabric.
Fischer might find some agreement on this point with thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment who emphasized both liberty and the connections among social actors who constitute a civil society. But even neo-Aristotelian defenders of genuine liberalism would agree. For example, philosophers Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen, in their book, Liberty and Nature: An Aristotelian Defense of Liberal Order, defend the view that there is a link between free commerce and friendship, especially so-called" civic friendships" and"advantage-friendships." Their view of human freedom entails a"thick" theory of the person, fully in keeping with the rational and social character of human beings as projected by Aristotle. So, in a sense, both"liberty" and"freedom" as Hackett describes them, are entailed in any robust defense of liberal order.
Just some more grist for the mill in our definitional explorations of meaning.
Cross-posted to Not a Blog.
There has been a lot of discussion at L&P about a wide variety of subjects, and keeping up with it all is virtually impossible. I did note however that Bill Marina made the following comment in his Liberty and Power Group blog post,"Reflections on Homosexual Behaviors":
Wow, certainly a lot of blogging of late here at the old Liberty and Power Blog, mainly about Ayn Rand and then homosexuality ... If Blogs had meta tags like web sites, and if the name of the Blog was determined by the content, our ISP might suggest ours be called something like the"HomoRandian" Blog. Or, did La Rand make the ultimate pronunciamiento on that as well?
Well, Bill, I'm absolutely certain that there are a few HomoRandians on board here, but let's not forget that the Ol' Girl just celebrated her Centenary, and even the non-HomoRandians and the non-Randians here and everywhere—from the NY Times to the Chicago Tribune to the Philadelphia Inquirer—have focused on this once-in-a-hundred years marker. So cut us a little slack.
But since you've asked, as a matter of fact, La Rand did make the ultimate pronunciamiento on homosexuality; she thought it was"immoral" and"disgusting," and it prompted Moi to write a monograph about it: Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation. Why, that might make a fine founding document for HomoRandian.com! I better go reserve that domain name right now... just so I can redirect the URL to libertyandpower.org...
Cross-posted at Not a Blog.
I'm delighted to see so much discussion over the issues raised in my last post,"'Capitalism': The Known Reality." I'd like to advance the discussion a bit, and to respond to some of the discussants as well.
First, let me say that this issue of how to define" capitalism" is not an issue that is distinctive to" capitalism." In the wake of the Iraq war, I'm starting to feel as if the entire libertarian movement, broadly conceived, is in a theoretical convulsion over the very meaning of the term"libertarianism." One critic, R. J. Rummel, has gone so far as to draw a distinction between the"libertarian" and the"freedomist," a neologism if ever there were one, which is roughly his way of distinguishing between"isolationist" and"internationalist" stances. It's getting so bad that unless we start using modifying adjectives to describe our various positions, we'll end up getting lumped together with viewpoints that are anathema to our perspective.
In recent intellectual history, this was first manifested, perhaps, in the battle over the word"liberalism," which seems to have been forever lost to those who advocate"welfare-state" liberalism. It is no longer identified in the United States as synonymous with the" classical liberal" conception. Try using"neoliberalism" and a whole host of other problems result, especially since some in Europe have used that term to describe a position in which the state helps to"preserve" competition.
A similar intellectual battle is taking place in various circles over the heart and soul of"anarchism" (as some of our discussants have pointed out in recent threads) and over Rand's"Objectivism" (as I've pointed out in the concluding passages of my essay,"In Praise of Hijacking"). In this regard, I was struck by something Roderick Long said here:
Rand embraced terms like" capitalism" and"selfishness" as a kind of the-hell-with-it defiance. I'm not inclined to embrace those terms, but I confess my liking for"anarchism" expresses a similar mood.
But Rand's battle over use of the word"selfishness" is worth considering. Most dictionaries defined this term as" concern only with one's own interests," usually with the connotation"at the expense of others." Even Rand felt the need to use a modifying adjective—"rational"—to describe her ethical position:"rational selfishness." But in many ways, she was engaging in a deconstruction of conventional meanings—a transvaluation of values, if you will—which overturned traditional conceptions, replacing them with reconstructions or what Grant Gould calls"revisionis[m]" of her own. In some respects, this is entirely understandable, however. Gould is right to say here that"[u]nless we want to populate the whole three-dimensional space with technical terms that nobody will understand or remember (and I'll admit, it's tempting) we need to defer to the wider understanding of terms." Or else a parade of neologisms will follow, and we'll be consigned to a Tower of Sociological Babel.
I have argued that Rand was engaged in a grand, dialectical revolt against the kind of ethical dualism that reduced all of morality to a bout between competing sacrificial creeds: those who would sacrifice others to themselves and those who would sacrifice themselves to others. Arguing for a reverent concept of benevolent, rational"selfishness" that extolled neither masters nor slaves required the use of an established term as a means to transcend its conventional limitations. This is not an unusual problem for more dialectically inclined thinkers who often use terms that have conventional meanings, terms that have"been tainted by a vastly different, one-dimensional philosophical context," as I write in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical:
To avoid such terms entirely, Rand would have been compelled to invent wholly new terms at the risk of becoming incomprehensible. By using known terms, she might appear to have actually endorsed one pole of a duality. Thus, in the conflict between egoism and altruism, for example, she is an egoist. In the conflict between capitalism and socialism, she is a capitalist. But such a one-sided characterization profoundly distorts Rand's philosophical project. She is not a conventional egoist. Her ethics constitutes a rejection of traditional egoism and traditional altruism alike. Likewise, Rand is not a conventional capitalist. ...
Since this is relevant to the larger issue—the meaning of" capitalism" and"libertarianism" and so forth—I'd like to quote at length from my discussion in the Rand book:
Rand's defense of capitalism is similar in form to her defense of"selfishness." In fact, Rand titled her collection of essays in social theory, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, for much the same reasons that she entitled her collection of essays on morality, The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism. Both" capitalism" and"selfishness" have had such a negative conceptual history that Rand needed to reclaim these concepts and to recast them in a new and nondualistic framework. [Nathaniel] Branden remarks that he had told Rand of his preference for the word"libertarianism" as an alternative to" capitalism," since the latter term had been coined by anticapitalists. For Branden,"libertarianism" signified a broader, philosophical characterization which addressed the issues of social, political and economic freedom. But Rand refused to renounce the concept of" capitalism," just as she rejected any attempt to couch her ethos of rational selfishness in more neutral terms.
Unfortunately, however, by using words like"selfishness" for something positive, and"altruism" for something negative, the Randian still faces enormous rhetorical obstacles.
Interestingly, though Rand's approach to capitalism is not Weberian—there is no connection made between capitalism and the Protestant work ethic, for example—her definition of capitalism is pretty much an"ideal type."
Following her literary methods, Rand seems to have extracted and emphasized those principles which, she believed, distinguish capitalist society from all previous social formations. She began with the real concrete circumstances of the historically mixed system, breaking down its complexity into mental units. She constituted her vision of capitalism on the basis of such abstraction, having isolated and identified those precepts which are essential to its systemic nature. In this regard, she eliminated the accidental and the contingent in order to focus instead on the philosophical ideals of the capitalist revolution. Such a revolution was incomplete because its principles had never been fully articulated and implemented. Rand views her own project as the first successful attempt to articulate the moral nature of the capitalist system, ideally understood, thus making possible its historical fulfillment.
Let's recall what an"ideal type" is. As our L&P colleague Pete Boettke puts it in his explanation of"equilibrium" in economics as an"ideal type":
An ideal type is neither intended to describe reality nor to indict it. It is instead a theoretical construct intended to illuminate certain things that might occur in reality; empirical investigation determines whether these phenomena are actually present and how they came to be there. In this view, disequilibrium is not necessarily a market failure; something less than perfection may yet be better than any attainable alternative. Deployed as an ideal type, equilibrium analysis allowed economists to describe what the world would be like in the absence of imperfections such as uncertainty and change. The descriptive value of the model lay precisely in its departure from observed reality, for this underscored the function of real-world institutions in dealing with imperfect knowledge, uncertainty, and so forth.
And so, Rand, and other thinkers, such as Murray Rothbard, have engaged in a similar defense of" capitalism" as a moral ideal, which is, in fact, an"ideal type," a"one-sided accentuation," as Max Weber put it, of specific aspects or vantage points. The ideal type is conceptually pure, and speaks to the essence of the phenomena at hand, even though it" cannot be found empirically anywhere in reality. It is a utopia.”
But is it utopian? That's a question for another day.
The reason I've raised the issue of the effectiveness of using" capitalism" as a word to describe the ideal libertarian social system, however, is that the conceived ideal departs significantly from the Western reality that is often described with the same word. (I like Lisa Casanova's" corporatism," but alas, even that has problems. See here, for example.) So when left-wing critics rightfully argue that laissez-faire has never existed in its purest form and that state intervention has typically marked the historical expression of" capitalism," it becomes almost an impenetrable communicative exercise with those critics, since they see state intervention as part of the essence of" capitalism."
Steve Horwitz has argued, as have others at L&P, that these rhetorical issues extend to"anarchism" as well. He prefers to call himself a"radical libertarian" (the way I've called myself a"dialectical libertarian"). But given the recent conflicts over the meaning of the term"libertarianism," I think we'll find ourselves involved in an infinite regress of"Ism Debates." Because now, instead of arguing over the corruption of the word" capitalism" (or was it always corrupt?) or the corruption of the word"liberalism," we have to face the conflicts between those who are paleolibertarians and those who are"liberventionists" and so forth, each of whom claims that the other is corrupting the -ism. The same battle takes place within conservatism, among paleoconservatives and neoconservatives and God-knows-what-else. And we've even seen here at L&P, similar battles over the meaning of the term"feminism."
In the end, I do agree with Steve that we all need to focus on"real world systems." Because, whatever we wish to call our ideal, the potential for creating that ideal—or for creating the conditions within which it might emerge—grows out of that which exists, that which is. Different contexts of meaning are part of"that which is." Since meaning is embedded in context, and different people operating in different traditions attach different meanings to their terms, the advocates of freedom have lots of work to do.
The best we can do is to define our terms as clearly as possible and to show sensitivity to the translation problem when engaging those who operate with a different model. The worst we can do is to allow others to pin on us meanings and ideals to which we don't subscribe, making us into apologists for"that which is," rather than visionaries for that which might be.
Reaching out to the Left has been the source of much good discussion at the Liberty and Power Group Blog. So I'd like to pick up on that thread, yet again.
After reading this comment by Jake Smith in response to my"Market Shall Set You Free" post, I took a stroll over to Kevin Carson's Mutualist Blog, which he subtitles"Free Market Anti-Capitalism." It's a provocative subtitle, actually. I've been having an ongoing discussion with a friend of mine for months about the nature of capitalism, so any subtitle that calls for"Free Market Anti-Capitalism" is intriguing on the face of it. (Kevin also has a very interesting book out, entitled Studies in Mutualist Political Economy.) He writes:
If the market and the state have coexisted historically, they can be separated logically. The question of whether class differences originally arose from successful competition in the market, and the state was then called in to reinforce the position of the winners; or whether the class differences first arose from state interference, is a vital one. The fact that the state has been intertwined with every"actually existing" market in history is beside the point; social anarchists themselves face a similar challenge—that the state has been intertwined with every society in history. The response, in both cases, is essentially the same—the seeds of a non-exploitative order exist within every system of exploitation. Our goal, not only as anarchists but as free market anarchists, is to supplant the state with voluntary relations. If the absence of something in historical times, in a society based on division of labor, is a damning challenge—well then, they're damned as well as we are.
The questions of whether state capitalism is an inevitable outgrowth of the free market, of whether decentralized and libertarian forms of industrial production can exist under worker control in a market society, etc., are at least questions on which we can approach the Left with logic and evidence. They are, for the most part, rational and open to persuasion. At the very least, there is room for constructive engagement. And remember, it is not an all-or-nothing matter. It is possible, if nothing else, to reduce the area of disagreement on a case-by-case basis.
Well, questions concerning"free-market anarchism" aside, I agree that the market and the state can be separated logically, and I also agree that the class question is a vital one. And I'm the first to advocate constructive engagement with all parties. But as I suggested here, there is a problem that must be confronted when dealing with" capitalism." Let me explain further.
So much has been said about Ayn Rand's defense of" capitalism: the unknown ideal" that we often forget that the very term" capitalism" was coined by the Left. As F. A. Hayek puts it in the book, Capitalism and the Historians:
In many ways it is misleading to speak of" capitalism" as though this had been a new and altogether different system which suddenly came into being toward the end of the eighteenth century; we use this term here because it is the most familiar name, but only with great reluctance, since with its modern connotations it is itself largely a creation of that socialist interpretation of economic history with which we are concerned.
Hayek found the term even more misleading because it is almost always" connected with the idea of the rise of the propertyless proletariat, which by some devious process have been deprived of their rightful ownership of the tools for their work."
And yet, Rand proudly took up the mantle of" capitalism," defining it as the only moral social system consonant with human nature and"based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned." For Rand, this"unknown ideal" had been approximated in history but it had never been practiced in its full, unadulterated laissez-faire form. It was largely undercut by state intervention.
But we have to ask here: Did Rand—and do free-market advocates in general—redefine" capitalism" in such a way as to make it a neologism? (I address the issue of whether Rand engages in such neologistic redefinition with terms such as"selfishness,""altruism," and even"government" in my books, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism.) If real, actual, historically specific" capitalism" has always entailed the intervention of the state, are leftists onto something when they"package deal" state involvement in markets as endemic to capitalism? Of what use is it to keep claiming that libertarians are champions of" capitalism" when that system as it exists is a warped, distorted version of the ideal so many of us hold dear? (I'm leaving aside questions concerning the possibilities for the emergence of a genuinely libertarian social system.)
Now, it may be true, as Ludwig von Mises has argued, that there is a bit of"envy" at the base of the"anti-capitalistic mentality." And it may be true that some socialists would oppose market relationships regardless of the presence of the state because they oppose the very notion of individual enterprise and private appropriation. But the fact remains: Laissez-faire capitalism has never existed in its purest form. Libertarian free-market advocates know this. But even Marx knew it. He argued that existing systems were only approximations to that pure form,"adulterated and amalgamated with survivals of former economic conditions," the kind of mercantilist and neomercantilist state involvement whose"antiquated modes of production" had inhibited the progressive character of markets. (It's this aspect of Marx's work that has been captured in Meghnad Desai's book Marx's Revenge: The Resurgence of Capitalism and the Death of Statist Socialism.)
This problem of definition is not simply an epistemic one or even a semantic one. It has practical implications. When neoconservative advocates of U.S. intervention in the Middle East talk about"nation-building," about building"free markets" and" capitalist" social conditions abroad as part of the march toward"democracy," those who live in that region of the world do not understand" capitalism" as anything remotely like the libertarian ideal. (Indeed, neocons don't understand it either!) U.S. capitalism as such is equated with" crony capitalism" or with what Rand called the"New Fascism": the intimate involvement of the U.S. government in the protection of business interests at home and abroad through politico-economic and military intervention. It's not simply that the left has"package-dealt" us this bill of goods; it is what exists and it is what has existed, in an ever-increasingly intense form, from the very inception of modern" capitalism."
Indeed, one of the most insidious forms of state intervention has been in the area of money, banking, and finance. And if Austrian economists are correct that the boom-bust cycle itself is rooted in the state-banking nexus, then that nexus and its destabilizing effects have been around in various incarnations ever since" capitalism" was given its name. And this is certainly something that even Marx understood. As I put it in my book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia,
Marx shares with his Austrian rivals an understanding of the political character of the business cycle. Yet the implications of his analysis are vastly different. While [the Austrians] argue for the abolition of central banking, and the separation of the political sphere from money and credit, Marx advocates using the credit system as a mechanism for socialist transformation.
Marx believes that capitalism, based on the dualism between purchase and sale, makes an exchange economy necessary. The exchange process makes possible the emergence of pseudotransactions through an inflationary credit system. Like [the Austrians], Marx views the state as the source of inflation. The state's central bank is the"pivot" of the credit system. Its artificially-induced monetary expansion engenders an illusory accumulation process in which"fictitious money-capital" distorts the structure of prices. This leads to overproduction and overspeculation. Real prices—those that reflect actual supply and demand—appear nowhere, until the crisis begins the necessary corrective measures.
Marx views the business cycle as an extension of intensifying class struggle. The state's ability to thrust an arbitrary amount of unbacked paper money into circulation creates an inflationary dynamic that favors debtors at the expense of creditors. The credit system becomes an instrument for the"ever-growing control of industrialists and merchants over the money savings of all classes of society." It provides"swindlers" with the ability to buy up depreciated commodities. Yet the credit system is a historically progressive institution, according to Marx. Despite its distortive effects, it accelerates the expansion of the global market and polarizes classes in capitalist society. It facilitates socialized control of production and capital investment.
One would find a very similar, though more detailed, analysis in the works of Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard, with different implications, as I've stated above.
Some of this discussion can be viewed as a complement to Arthur Silber's discussion here, and Gus diZerega's comments here. If libertarians continue to use the word" capitalism" as some kind of ahistorical ideal, if they refuse to look at the fuller cultural and historical context within which actual market relations function, they will forever be dismissed by the Left as rationalist apologists for a state-capitalist reality. That's ironic, considering that so many Leftists have been constructivist rationalist apologists for a different kind of statist reality. But it does not obscure a very real problem.
Reaching out to the Left or to any other category of intellectuals requires a translation exercise of sorts. Real communication depends upon a full clarification of terms; if we end up using the same term to mean different things, I fear we'll be talking over each other's heads for a long time to come.
Cross-posted to Not a Blog.
Back in the fall of 2002, I wrote a survey of Rand's impact on certain progressive rock bands, including, especially, Rush. That article,"Rand, Rush, and Rock," inspired a full-fledged symposium in the Fall 2003 issue, which dealt with Rand, progressive rock, and the counterculture. Among the contributors to the symposium were Durrell Bowman, Ed Macan, Bill Martin, and our very own Steven Horwitz, whose piece can be found in PDF here.
On L&P, we've been talking quite a bit of late about the need to build bridges to left and right. Some of what I say in the newly posted essay is relevant to this issue, since it deals with a certain ironic affinity between Rand and the 60s"nihilistic" counterculture that she despised:
The basis of that affinity lies in their shared anti-authoritarianism. Even as [musicologist] Ed Macan defends the “countercultural” roots of progressive rock, he argues persuasively that its typical left-wing politics “were never monolithic, or without self-contradictory tendencies.” Indeed, the counterculture’s anti-authoritarian elements transcended traditional left-right categorization. Macan notes that “a strain of libertarianism analogous to Rand’s was probably present in incipient form in the hippie movement,” though “it was not fully evident until after the dissolution of the hippie movement around 1970, that is, after progressive rock had already emerged as a full-blown style.” It is this same “incipient” libertarian streak that led writer Jeff Riggenbach to identify the counterculture as among the “disowned children” of Ayn Rand—disowned by Rand largely because of what she perceived as their nihilism and subjectivism. Of Rand’s renunciation of New Left counterculture, I wrote in Russian Radical:
Rand criticized the student movement for its acceptance of Hegelian and Marxian theoretical constructs; however, Rand recognized that many students ran to the Marxist camp because it was more intellectual and systematized than its social science counterparts. She claimed that if the students had been offered the Wall Street Journal and Southern racism as examples of capitalist politics, they were correct to sense hypocrisy and to move further to the left. But the New Left did not embrace the more reputable Marxist synthesis, which had retained some respect for reason, science, and technology. The New Leftists rejected ideological labels, and proclaimed the supremacy of emotionalism and immediate action. Nourished on a poisonous diet of Kantianism, pragmatism, logical positivism, linguistic analysis, and existentialism, the New Left mounted an anti-ideological assault on a system that was fundamentally anti-ideological as well.
Educated in the halls of Progressive education, the New Leftists thus reflected the bankruptcy of the Establishment they despised; for Rand, they were “the distilled essence of the Establishment’s culture, . . . the embodiment of its soul, . . . the personified ideal of generations of crypto-Dionysians now leaping into the open.”
Interestingly, however, Riggenbach argues, like Macan, that the student movement was not monolithically New Leftist. In fact, Riggenbach finds that “the student political activists of the 1960s were never except briefly and incidentally, fighting for the values and ideals of the Left. The problem was, the values and ideals they were fighting for no longer had any generally agreed-upon name of their own at the time.” For Riggenbach, those ideals were fundamentally libertarian. It is therefore no surprise to discover that Rand herself was “one of the central figures in the youth rebellion of the ’60s." For example, in the 1978 “Woodstock Census” survey of attitudes among people who were students in the 1960s, Rand was ranked number 29 out of 81 individuals named as among those who had most influenced—or who were most admired by—that generation. Among authors, she was tied for sixth place with Germaine Greer, behind Kurt Vonnegut, Kahlil Gibran, Tom Wolfe, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus (tied for fourth), and Allen Ginsberg. Riggenbach concludes that the survey results make “obvious how little influence the leaders of the New Left actually exercised over their supposed followers."
To what was the counterculture responding in Rand’s works? Riggenbach maintains that Rand’s novels, filled with youthful characters, routinely attacked social authority figures and the “drivel” of contemporary education. Atlas Shrugged, for example, “contains perhaps the most acid-etched portrait of establishment intellectualdom ever published in America” (60). Moreover, says Riggenbach, Rand paints a portrait of a corrupting nexus of government, big business, and a scientific establishment hellbent on “employ[ing] stolen resources in the invention of loathsome weapons of mass destruction” (61)—something against which the counterculture had reacted with great ferocity. And even though Rand had rejected the concept of anarchism in her nonfiction writing, Atlas presented an alternative utopia steeped in human creativity and “without government of any kind” (63). The hippie rebels who were casual readers of Rand’s fiction, says Riggenbach, had applied her anti-authoritarianism to the context of their own lives. They presided over a form of decadence embodied in the decay of authority and the decay of the traditional—a decay to which Rand’s works contributed. It is no coincidence that their countercultural “revolution,” which called for individual autonomy and authenticity, was manifested in a style of music that was a “hybrid genre,” an “eclectic” blend of jazz, classical, and folk, transcending the racial divide of black and white.
So much remains unexplored in the affinities between Rand and the counterculture from which progressive rock was born, affinities that challenge the very distinctions between left and right. It is my hope that this forum will have contributed toward the advancement of this long-overdue exploration. That Rush and other progressive bands have embraced a visionary libertarian lyricism gives expression to Rand’s ultimate hope for the unity of those “homeless refugees” of American political culture: the “non-totalitarian liberals” and the “non-traditional conservatives.” In their shared repudiation of authoritarian social relations, freedom beckons.
Tomorrow, I'll post another recent article of mine detailing Rand's impact on the wider culture.
In Part I of my reflections on the Rand Centenary, I discussed the growth of a veritable industry of Rand scholarship. In Part II of this series, I examined a particularly interesting example of"unintended consequences" in the intellectual history of our time: How Rand's ideas have influenced even those in the" counterculture" whom she would have disowned.
Today, I'd like to expand on the previous parts by offering additional evidence of Rand's growing impact. The material here is excerpted from an introduction that I wrote to the Fall 2004 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposium on Rand's literary and cultural impact. The essay,"The Illustrated Rand," makes its electronic debut today as a PDF here. As I write:
In addition to the encouraging growth of Rand references in scholarly circles, there has been a remarkable growth in such references throughout popular culture. That development is not measured solely by her influence on authors in various genres—from bodybuilder Mike Mentzer to fiction writers Edward Cline, Neil De Rosa, Beth Elliott, James P. Hogan, Erika Holzer, Helen Knode, Victor Koman, Ira Levin, Karen Michalson, Shelly Reuben, Kay Nolte Smith, L. Neil Smith, Alexandra York, and so many others. It is measured also by the number of Rand-like characters or outright references to Rand that have appeared in fictional works of various lengths and quality. Among these are works by: Gene Bell-Villada (The Pianist Who Liked Ayn Rand); William Buckley (Getting It Right); Don De Grazia (American Skin); Jeffrey Eugenides (author of the 2003 Pulitzer-Prize-winning Middlesex); Mary Gaitskill (Two Girls, Fat and Thin); John Gardner (Mickelsson’s Ghosts); Laci Golos (Sacred Cows Are Black and White); Sky Gilbert (The Emotionalists); Rebecca Gilman (Spinning into Butter); Terry Goodkind (books in the Sword of Truth series, such as Faith of the Fallen and Naked Empire); David Gulbraa (Tales of the Mall Masters; An Elevator to the Future: A Fable of Reason Underground); Robert A. Heinlein (The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress); Orlando Outland (Death Wore a Fabulous New Fragrance); Robert Rodi (Fag Hag); Matt Ruff (Sewer, Gas, and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy); J. Neil Schulman (The Rainbow Cadenza; Escape from Heaven); Victor Sperandeo (Cra$hmaker: A Federal Affaire); Tobias Wolff (Old School); and, finally, Tony Kushner, whose play Angels in America, adapted for HBO, includes a discussion of the “visible scars” from rough sex, “like a sex scene in an Ayn Rand novel.”
The Kushner drama is not the first time that Rand’s name has been heard on television, however. Rand has made her way into countless television programs. From questions on game shows, such as “Jeopardy” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” to the canceled Fox series “Undeclared,” and such other series as “Columbo” (a 1994 episode with William Shatner, “Butterfly in Shades of Grey”), “Home Improvement,” “The Gilmore Girls” (two episodes: “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” and “They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?”), “Frasier,” and “Judging Amy,” the Rand references are plentiful. In Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi series “Andromeda,” there is a colony called the “Ayn Rand Station,” founded by a species of “Nietzscheans.” In Showtime’s “Queer as Folk,” a leading character, free-spirit Brian Kinney, is described as “the love-child of James Dean and Ayn Rand.” [Rand has made a measurable impact on"Queer Culture," as I argue in my monograph, Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation—ed.] And the WB’s “One Tree Hill” showcased Rand’s work in an episode entitled, “Are You True?” The main character, Lucas, is given Atlas Shrugged by a fellow classmate. Increasingly frustrated by his basketball troubles, Lucas is told “Don’t let ’em take it: Your talent. It’s all yours.” By the end of the episode, we hear Lucas’s voice-over as he walks to the basketball court: “Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark.” Reading from the John Galt speech, he tells us: “Do not let the hero in your soul perish.”
In the light of the animated motion picture,"The Incredibles," I've discussed here as well Rand's presence in illustrated media: from cartoons to comics."The Illustrated Rand" examines this impact in much greater detail, paying specific attention to Rand's influence on such comic artists as Steve Ditko and Frank Miller:
No comic artist has been better known for incorporating Randian themes in his work than Steve Ditko, co-creator, with Stan Lee, of “Spider-Man.” Among Ditko’s comic book heroes, one will find Static, The Creeper, The Blue Beetle, and Mr. A (as in “A is A”), as well as the faceless crime fighter known as The Question, whom Lawrence has characterized as the quintessential Ditko character reflecting “the artist’s Objectivist beliefs.”
Ditko emerged from—and shaped—the “Silver Age” of late ’50s, ’60s, and early ’70s comic book art. His work is in keeping with that era’s use of the comic genre as a “vehicle for consciousness-raising every bit as much as popular films and television shows” [as Aeon Skoble puts it].
Thus,"Ditko’s appearance, like Rand’s, was of a unique historical moment." He expressed in his comics a willingness"to go to the root of social problems. In attacking government corruption, he focused on its roots in philosophic pragmatism. In attacking war, he focused on the illegitimacy of initiating the use of force." And in doing so,"Ditko’s prose is indisputably Randian ..." I provide concrete examples in the essay.
I then turn briefly to the contributions of Frank Miller, who" credits Rand’s Romantic Manifesto as having helped him to define the nature of the literary hero and the legitimacy of heroic fiction." Miller states in his introduction to Martha Washington Goes to War:
We all borrow from the classics from time to time, and my story for this chapter in the life of Martha Washington is no exception. Faced with the questions of how to present Martha’s rite of passage and how to describe the fundamental changes in Martha’s world, I was drawn again and again to the ideas presented by Ayn Rand in her 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged. Eschewing the easy and much-used totalitarian menace made popular by George Orwell, Rand focused instead on issues of competence and incompetence, courage and cowardice, and took the fate of humanity out of the hands of a convenient “Big Brother” and placed it in the hands of individuals with individual strengths and individual choices made for good or evil. I gratefully and humbly acknowledge the creative debt.
It is a" creative debt,” as I say in the article, that"is widely owed by many scholars, writers, and artists."
As one who focuses on social theory and the prospects for social change, I believe that the most important of Rand's contributions has been her methodological radicalism: her emphasis not only on going to the root—on understanding fundamentals—but also on tracing the fundamental relationships at work within the full context of any given society. As I write in a newly published essay,"Ayn Rand: A Centennial Appreciation," which appears today in The Freeman (it's actually derived from a much more comprehensive essay that will appear in a forthcoming anthology, Atlas Shrugged: Ayn Rand's Philosophical and Literary Masterpiece, edited by Edward W. Younkins):
Rand’s radical legacy, as presented in Atlas Shrugged, led her, in later years, to question the fundamentals at work in virtually every social problem she analyzed. She viewed each problem through multidimensional lenses, rejecting all one-sided resolutions as partial and incomplete. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Rand’s birth, it is important to remember that her conception of human freedom depended upon a grand vision of the psychological, moral, and cultural factors necessary to its achievement. Hers was a comprehensive revolution that encompassed all levels of social relations: “Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries.”
To say that this has been Rand's most important contribution, from the perspective of social theory, is not to minimize her other contributions. Among these is Rand's ability to convey radical ideas through a literary medium. Through the years, there have been many passages in Rand's writings that have inspired me. Even in the wake of the tragedy of 9/11, I am still moved by her eerily prophetic words in The Fountainhead. She, who worshiped the skyscrapers of Manhattan as"the will of man made visible," wrote:
Is it beauty and genius people want to see? Do they seek a sense of the sublime? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel. When I see the city from my window ... I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body.
But till this day, there is one passage I always return to—also from The Fountainhead—one passage that summarizes for me the human authenticity and human benevolence that stand at the roots of Rand's vision. It is a vision of integrity, a vision of independence, a vision of social conditions without masters or slaves, fully transformative in its implications.
Howard Roark is on trial for having blown up a public housing project he created because the project's architectural design had been distorted beyond all recognition. As he stands before a jury of his peers, he prepares to defend himself. I'll give Ayn Rand the last word:
He stood by the steps of the witness stand. The audience looked at him. They felt he had no chance. They could drop the nameless resentment, the sense of insecurity which he aroused in most people. And so, for the first time, they could see him as he was: a man totally innocent of fear. The fear of which they thought was not the normal kind, not a response to a tangible danger, but the chronic, unconfessed fear in which they all lived. They remembered the misery of the moments when, in loneliness, a man thinks of the bright words he could have said, but had not found, and hates those who robbed him of his courage. The misery of knowing how strong and able one is in one's own mind, the radiant picture never to be made real. Dreams? Self-delusion? Or a murdered reality, unborn, killed by that corroding emotion without name —fear—need—dependence—hatred? Roark stood before them as each man stands in the innocence of his own mind. But Roark stood like that before a hostile crowd—and they knew suddenly that no hatred was possible to him. For the flash of an instant, they grasped the manner of his consciousness. Each asked himself: do I need anyone's approval? —does it matter? —am I tied? And for that instant, each man was free—free enough to feel benevolence for every other man in the room.
Cross-posted to Not a Blog here.
For an index to all my Ayn Rand Centenary articles, see here.
Over the last several years, I've had more than a few things to say about Christmas, my favorite holiday of the year, including these reflections on A Christmas Carol, the Charles Dickens classic. Whatever my"Randian" predilections, some of my favorite films have carried religious themes, including my Number 1 Favorite Film of All Time Ben-Hur—which opens with the birth of Jesus—though I do believe that this"Tale of the Christ" can be read more universally and symbolically as a story of personal integrity, struggle, and redemption.
Christmas brings forth some of the most creative impulses of the human spirit. That was one aspect of the holiday that wasn't lost even on ol' atheist Ayn Rand. One can see that impulse everywhere—from the joviality of Internet displays (see here, here, and here) to the holiday displays in department store windows to the extra care on display in the work of those who love their craft, of whatever degree of specialization.
That love of craft I witnessed just the other day when I was in a local chocolate specialty shop. We picked up a wicker basket of chocolates, and it was wrapped very nicely, I thought; but the sales woman insisted on adding to the basket a custom-made green bow. She must have been in her late 60s, and the way she tied that bow reflected a lifetime of pride in her work. Call me a sap, but I was actually emotionally moved by the masterful focus she brought to every twist of the ribbon in her skillful hands.
The fun of this holiday season includes the fun of gift-giving (and gift-receiving) and the fun of eating, especially those outrageously delicious foods shared with friends and family (which, dietary restrictions aside, includes pets). I know my dog Blondie approaches Christmas morning like an impatient kid, as she rips into her presents with singular purpose (see here, here, and here for some past Christmas doggie pictures, with her"eyes all aglow" indeed...).
Everything about this holiday is dripping in good sentiment: from the Christmas songs to the beauty of the lights that decorate the neighborhoods of my home-sweet-home in Brooklyn, New York.
Most of all, however, I find the message of peace, benevolence, and goodwill to be more intoxicating than any Christmas Egg Nog. It's the kind of message that has led some soldiers on opposite sides of a battle to lay down their arms, and nearly all soldiers so engaged to yearn for home.
When the song"I'll Be Home for Christmas" made its debut for the World War II generation, there was no way of knowing just how its themes would resonate with other generations of American soldiers. So, here's the lyrics to that song, in dedication to those men and women, whose"dreams" of home must become reality much sooner than later:
I'm dreamin' tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know it's a long road back
I promise you
I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents under the tree
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
I've written so many pieces for the Ayn Rand Centenary, for so many publications, that I don't think I'll have much more to say, which might be considered"new" and"original." But, of course, not being one to keep my mouth shut, I'm sure I'll have more to say each day from now till Wednesday, February 2, 2005, when the one hundredth anniversary of Ayn Rand's birth will be celebrated in various forums from the East coast to the West coast.
Today, I came upon a piece in the New York Times Book Review section that just pissed me off. Written by Clay Risen, an assistant editor for The New Republic,"Rebuilding Ground Zero: The Struggle Between Architects and Developers at the World Trade Center" is a review of Philip Nobel's book, Sixteen Acres: Architecture and the Outrageous Struggle for the Future of Ground Zero. I'm less concerned with the politicized process of rebuilding that is the subject of Nobel's book and more concerned with the opening paragraph of Risen's review:
AYN RAND may be long discredited as a philosopher, but her ideas about architecture are still very much alive. Howard Roark, the protagonist of her objectivist fantasia ''The Fountainhead,'' is the archetypal artist-hero, rendering society's soul in concrete and steel. Since the 1940's, his image has shaped our appreciation of everyone from Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry, defining even the competition to rebuild the World Trade Center site: the struggle between Daniel Libeskind and Larry Silverstein was seen as a veritable ''Fountainhead Redux'' in which a valiant architect armed only with his dreams takes on a mega-developer.
Notice how Risen opens this article:"Ayn Rand may be long discredited as a philosopher..." stated as if it were an observation of fact.
But if Risen had been paying much attention to the academic tide, he'd discover that, after many years of being perceived as an outsider, Rand is finally being considered as a serious thinker worthy of our critical attention. This is not happening across the board and it is not happening in all academic circles but it is clearly a trend that cannot be ignored. As I have written in an article for Philosophical Books (a piece that has been revised for inclusion in a forthcoming anthology edited by Edward W. Younkins, entitled Philosophers of Capitalism):
Since the 1982 death of novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, there has been ever-growing interest in her thought. In the immediate aftermath of her death, Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen’s edited collection, The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand, and the first edition of Mimi Reisel Gladstein’s Ayn Rand Companion appeared. ... Together with ... heightened cultural awareness of Rand’s life and thought, academic work has proceeded apace with some fanfare. Both The Chronicle of Higher Education and [the now defunct] Lingua Franca featured major stories on new books and research projects involving philosophy, political theory, literary criticism, and feminism, highlighting how Rand had “finally caught the attention of scholars.” ... These articles note the increase in scholarly sessions devoted to Rand’s work in such organizations as the Modern Language Association and the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division, which includes an affiliated Ayn Rand Society.
My own Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, published in 1995, was central to the Chronicle and Lingua Franca studies—as was my 1999 anthology, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, co-edited with Mimi Reisel Gladstein. The former book rooted Rand’s intellectual development in Silver Age Russian thought and reconstructed her Objectivist philosophy as a radical dialectical project. The latter book is part of the Penn State Press “Re-reading the Canon” series, edited by Nancy Tuana, in which nearly two dozen volumes center on questions of gender and sexuality in the works of thinkers as diverse as Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, Marx, Arendt, Sartre, Levinas, and Foucault. The Rand anthology includes original and reprinted contributions from writers across the globe, including Susan Brownmiller, Camille Paglia, Karen Michalson, and Melissa Jane Hardie.
Another measure of Rand’s growing scholarly presence is the appearance of entries on her in textbooks—in philosophy, political science, and economics—and in reference works, such as Routledge’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Encyclopedia of Ethics, Scribner’s American Writers, Gale’s American Philosophers, 1950–2000 (a volume of the Dictionary of Literary Biography), and Lexington’s History of American Thought. A Rand primer, by philosopher Allan Gotthelf, in the Wadsworth Philosophy Series, a volume by philosopher Douglas J. Den Uyl on The Fountainhead, and another by Mimi Reisel Gladstein on Atlas Shrugged, in Twayne’s Masterwork Series, and CliffsNotes monographs on Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged, by philosopher Andrew Bernstein, are further evidence of increased attention to Rand by professional scholars. (It should be noted too that one can find an increasing number of master’s and doctoral dissertations devoted to Rand’s thought.) [In addition, a recently published scholarly collection on We the Living will be complemented by forthcoming collections on Anthem and Atlas Shrugged,] as well as an anthology on The Literary Art of Ayn Rand (edited by William Thomas and David Kelley), a Thomas-Kelley authored study, The Logical Structure of Objectivism, and a book on induction and integration, written by Leonard Peikoff, entitled The One in the Many: How to Create It and Why. [And let's not forget monographs by some of our esteemed L&P colleagues, such as Roderick Long, who has published on Rand and Aristotle.]
One final measure of expanding scholarship on Rand is the commencement, in the Fall of 1999, of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, co-founded by R. W. Bradford, literature professor Stephen Cox, and me. The journal is a nonpartisan semi-annual interdisciplinary double-blind peer-reviewed scholarly periodical dedicated to an examination of Rand’s work and legacy. In its contents, one will find essays by Objectivist philosophers and those sympathetic to Rand, as well as critics of Objectivism ...
Clearly, the ever-expanding scope of Rand studies suggests that philosophers of various stripes have begun a long overdue reassessment of her thought.
Say what you will about Ayn Rand but it is simply not the case that she has been"discredited as a philosopher." It seems to me that the scholarly community is finally taking notice.
I'll have more to say about this and other related topics in the coming days.
Update: Ironically, I just discovered that, today, Carlin Romano, literary critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer published a piece"Assessing Rand at Centenary." Romano mentions my work and the work of others in the piece, stating:"Even studies in academe—the sector of America most [resistant] to Rand in her lifetime—are increasing."
... this Republican president doesn't appreciate free markets. Mr. Bush doesn't see how capitalism helps drive history toward freedom via an algorithm that for all we know is divinely designed and is in any event awesomely elegant. Namely: Capitalism's pre-eminence as a wealth generator means that every tyrant has to either embrace free markets or fall slowly into economic oblivion; but for markets to work, citizens need access to information technology and the freedom to use it - and that means having political power. This link between economic and political liberty has been extolled by conservative thinkers for centuries, but the microelectronic age has strengthened it. ... Given that involvement in the larger capitalist world is time-release poison for tyranny, impeding this involvement is an odd way to aid history's march toward freedom. ... Mr. Bush doesn't grasp the liberating power of capitalism, the lethal effect of luring authoritarian regimes into the modern world of free markets and free minds.
Sounds like an ad for Reason magazine!
In April of 1946, about a year after the world had discovered the nightmare of Nazi concentration camps across Europe, Ayn Rand wrote a"Foreword" to her novelette, Anthem, that reflected on the collectivist roots of the statist brutality that had made these camps possible. On the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it is fitting to recall Rand's words:
The greatest guilt today is that of people who accept collectivism by moral default; the people who seek protection from the necessity of taking a stand, by refusing to admit to themselves the nature of that which they are accepting; the people who support plans specifically designed to achieve serfdom, but hide behind the empty assertion that they are lovers of freedom, with no concrete meaning attached to the word; the people who believe that the content of ideas need not be examined, that principles need not be defined, and that facts can be eliminated by keeping one's eyes shut. They expect, when they find themselves in a world of bloody ruins and concentration camps, to escape moral responsibility by wailing:"But I didn't mean this!"
Those who want slavery should have the grace to name it by its proper name. They must face the full meaning of that which they are advocating or condoning; the full, exact, specific meaning of collectivism, of its logical implications, of the principles upon which it is based, and of the ultimate consequences to which these principles will lead.
They must face it, then decide whether this is what they want or not.
This has to be seen as an attempt to retrofit the war in Iraq with the Grand Foreign Policy Philosophy. ... People talk about this being the core of Bush; this was not his core four years ago when he chided the Clinton administration for"nation-building." ... The President's speech goes so far toward neoconservatism it bumps into Marx.
From Queer Teletubby to overly gay-tolerant SpongeBob SquarePants, the homosexual lobby has been poisoning America's youth! Or so we've been told. Fear not! The country has not quite lost its mind just yet. Word now comes that the military—whose"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has led to a number of discharges of Arabic linguists who are gay—has rejected"a 1994 proposal to develop an 'aphrodisiac' to spur homosexual activity among enemy troops." The New York Daily News reports (as does CNN) that Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Venable of the Army confirms rejection of the"sex bomb" proposal (with apologies to Tom Jones)."This suggestion arose essentially from a brainstorming session, and it was rejected out of hand," he said. Apparently, the idea was part of a"six-year, $7.5 million request from a laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio [oy, Ohio again] for funding of non-lethal chemical weapon[s]" that might adversely affect the"discipline and morale in enemy units."
I can't imagine what kind of lab tests this proposal may have required.
Perhaps the geniuses at the Pentagon were deterred by historical anecdotes about the military ferocity of same-sex affectionate warriors ... if we're to believe those stories concerning Alexander the Great or those ancient Spartans.
Back on November 21, 2004, on ABC News'"This Week with George Stephanopoulos," conservative columnist George Will called President Bush"one of Woodrow Wilson's many, rather dangerous, reverberations." (I too have discussed the Wilsonian legacy in many previous essays; see here, here, here, here (scroll down), and here (scroll down).) And on January 9, 2005, Will observed further that the"Old Right" isolationists were against America's involvement with the rest of the world because they felt America was"too good" for the world. The"New Left isolationists," by contrast, said Will, don't want America to be involved with the rest of the world because they feel the world is too good for America—for racist, imperialist America.
Well, if snippets from the President's Second Inaugural address are any indication of his wider message, one might say that he's trying to create a transcending neo-Wilsonian internationalist answer to these opposed isolationist views. For George W. Bush, America's involvement with the rest of the world is necessary because America is too good; only America can lead the way to a new world of freedom.
"Good Morning America" host Diane Sawyer has an advance copy of the President's speech—and Bush is channeling Woodrow Wilson like never before:
The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
In other words, the US is still fighting to make the world safe for liberal democracy. Or so its leaders say.
Given the interconnectedness of global events, it is surely the case that a world of liberty can greatly enrich our domestic experience of it. But if the US plans to be a"nation-building" crusader for the imposition of universal liberal values on foreign cultures—with no appreciation for the specific conditions such cultures face—that"nation-building" enterprise will be DOA. And since foreign policy and domestic policy are inextricably connected, the long-term consequences of such folly on domestic freedom have not been fully calculated by this President or his administration.
Now, it is true that there are potentially lethal consequences for freedom if there is another attack on American soil. Even modern-day liberal New Republic editor Peter Beinart has argued that, given the potential anti-liberal consequences of another strike on US soil, the war against fanatical Islamic fundamentalists is a necessary one. But how that war is fought—what is prudent and what isn't—remains the crucial strategic question. Especially if the answer is Freedom.
So much justly negative criticism has been made of the neoconservative"nation-building" project that some kernels of truth about the need for social change in the Middle East might get drowned out by the loud public debate. Katherine Zoepf, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, focuses on one aspect of that need in her recent article about Syria,"Building a Civil Society Book by Book." Zoepf focuses on the work of one young publisher, Ammar Abdulhamid, who has set out"to translate the works of Western political philosophy into Arabic."
Abdulhamid is"a 38-year-old American-educated historian and novelist," the founder of"DarEmar, a nonprofit publishing house dedicated to making canonical works of Western philosophy, social science, and literature available in Arabic. His goal, he says, is to print books that will foster 'debate on a broad range of issues pertaining to civil society and democratization.'" Zoepf writes:
In most of the world, it has been a couple of centuries since publishing a new edition of John Locke could be considered risky or incendiary. But this is Syria, a Baathist dictatorship with tightly controlled news media and a stagnant publishing industry. Mr. Abdulhamid knows he must be careful. His tiny publishing venture, which is seeking support from foundations and other Western donors, just released its first books this fall. It is being watched hopefully by intellectuals within Syria, although some observers wonder whether ordinary Syrians will be interested in the sometimes esoteric writings of long-dead Western philosophers.
Abdulhamid studied at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point in the early 1990s, and wondered why"so few of the books that are considered cornerstones of the European enlightenment" remain unavailable in Arabic. He mentions such works as The Federalist Papers, as well as the works of Descartes, Hume, Kant, Erasmus, Spinoza, and Locke. Abdulhamid blames"low literacy rates and repressive censorship laws" for keeping"the number of foreign books that find their way into Arabic translation very low." Moroever, there is no"accumulated tradition of Arab scholarship" that is directed outside the Arab world or experience. Abdulhamid argues that this is a major obstacle to the creation in places like Iraq of a Middle Eastern"beacon of freedom":"You're talking about democracy and modernity and bringing all these good things to the Arab world. But we just don't have the basic intellectual foundations," he says.
Zoepf's article focuses on Abdulhamid's efforts to commission"fresh, accessible translations of Western philosophers into Arabic ... making the books available cheaply, accompanied by critical and interpretive essays." But, in Syria, for example, the so-called"Damascus Spring" that flourished briefly after Bashar al-Assad took office in 2000, was ended with the arrest of"pro-democracy" organizers shortly thereafter. And the fact remains that"Syrian newspapers and magazines are monitored by the state, and all books must be vetted by a government panel before publication."
It is no coincidence that"free thought" is having such difficulty getting started in Syria. The Syrian constitution is nationalist-socialist, after all:
The Constitution's economic principles not only set forth a planned socialist economy that should take into account"economic complementarity in the Arab homeland" but also recognize three categories of property. The three kinds are property of the people, including all natural resources, public domains, nationalized enterprises, and establishments created by the state; collective property, such as assets owned by popular and professional organizations; and private property. The Constitution states that the social function of private property shall be subordinated, under law, to the national economy and public interests.
Such subordination effectively destroys the meaning of"private property." Murray Rothbard once pointed out that when government owns or controls printing shops and publishing, there can be no free press. As he writes in For a New Liberty,"since the government must allocate scarce newsprint in some way, the right to a free press of, say, minorities or 'subversive' antisocialists will get short shrift. ... The human right to a free press depends upon the human right of private property in newsprint. ... [T]he human right of a free press is the property right to buy materials and then print leaflets or books and to sell them to those who are willing to buy."
That's why the movement away from authoritarianism in Syria or other such regimes in the Middle East must be simultaneously a movement toward liberalization politically and economically. Striking upon important points of liberal sensibility, my colleague Richard Ebeling has stressed:
In civil society there is no longer a single focal point in the social order, as in the politicized society in which the state designs, directs and imposes an agenda to which all must conform and within which all are confined. Rather, in civil society there are as many focal points as individuals, who all design, shape and direct their own lives, guided by their own interests, ideals and passions.
Mr. Abdulhamid, in his own small way, is attempting just that kind of shift in focal point. Perhaps his published translations of John Locke will be just a beginning; perhaps he might consider translating the works of Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard, and Ayn Rand too.
I have a brief exchange with Bill Bradford in the letters section of the February 2005 issue of Liberty magazine. Readers of L&P will find the discussion familiar; I argue that the evangelical and conservative Catholic vote in Ohio were crucial components of the Bush victory in that state. Bradford continues to argue that the anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives"actually reduced Bush's margin of victory." I still believe that Bradford is not giving enough credit to GOP strategists for getting out the socially conservative vote, and I don't see how Bush wins in Ohio without that group of voters.
As L&P readers know, I've never denied that other issues, especially the war, had an effect in shoring up Bush's winning coalition. But the point is that it takes coalitions to win votes. In my view, the anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives were promoted by GOP strategists to bolster one aspect of the winning Bush coalition.
Coalition-building among interest groups is the modus operandi in American politics. This is a point that our L&P contributing editor makes very clear in his fine Liberty essay,"Politics vs. Ideology: How Elections Are Won." Cox sees validity in the observation that"[t]here are such things as political 'bases,' communal sources of political identification." There are also"political ideas and social movements, and these can have noticeable effects on elections, occasionally dramatic effects." But, for Cox, most American presidential elections are"won by small margins." Cox maintains that Americans"are people of multiple social identifications." Thus,"[t]he task of the American political party is to exploit as many of these personal identifications as possible. This is not science," he argues,"and it cannot be." Indeed. We can argue over whether or not this group or that group, this bloc or that bloc of voters provided the crucial margin of victory. (I, myself, have not argued that social conservatives were the crucial bloc; but I have argued that Bush could not have possibly won without exploiting what Cox is here calling"personal identifications," in this instance, of a religious sort.)
Still, Cox is right:"Voting behavior is like other forms of human action, as explained by such economic theorists as Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises; it proceeds from individual, variable, nonquantifiable preferences." He continues:
What happens in American elections is that the party that lost the last one looks for a way to win the next one, knowing (if it's smart) that it cannot rely implicitly on any stable bloc of voters. Even the legendary strength of African-Americans' identification with the Democratic Party can easily recede sufficiently to keep most potential voters in that"bloc" away from the polls. The best that each political party can do is to go through its list of possible voters, trying to interest as many as possible, beginning with those most strongly identified with itself (at the moment) and proceeding as far down the list as its funds and energy permit. If the gay vote is sixth on the list, a party that has any possibility of getting it will try to do so, altering its own character and"ideas" when alteration is necessary to optimize its capacity for winning.
Cox argues, however, that
American elections are won not by stable power blocs but by shifts in party identifications among people who used to be in those blocs, until they escaped. Some of the shifts, which go on all the time, in every conceivable direction, coincide with major intellectual or social movements, the kind of movements that change large patterns of intellectual and social history. But electoral politics has its own more intricate, local, and self-adjusting patterns, the patterns of the marginal gains and losses that happen as parties hunt the all-important plurality of votes.
Again: precisely. From my perspective, Karl Rove and other GOP strategists did not take it for granted that socially conservative evangelical voters were a"stable bloc" that would vote for Bush. That's why the anti-gay marriage initiatives were so important to GOP strategy: they were a way of keeping that bloc stable. The GOP also targeted voters at the margins, which would explain how they bolstered the GOP"share" of the traditionally conservative Democratic Catholic and Hispanic-Catholic vote.
We can debate the effectiveness of Rove's strategy in terms of Bush's margin of victory. But I don't think it can be debated that, as Bradford himself puts it,"the Bush campaign followed a strategy that they hoped would exploit the ballot measure and that the ballot measure was quite popular with certain voters."
The major parties work hard to perfect the building and maintaining of winning coalitions of interest groups with which voters personally identify. It offers something to each group. As Cox states:"This is what supporters of minor parties usually do not understand. Almost every minor party is an ideological party, and that explains why such parties either remain minor or cease to exist." They don't learn how to play the game of coalition-building, an expression of what Theodore Lowi once called a system of"interest-group liberalism.""A minor party invariably has a well-disciplined set of ideological positions," Cox writes,"but it lacks the wide array of personal identifications that are necessary to unite a large proportion of American voters over a substantial period of time."
Cox does not believe that this translates into a glowing future for the Libertarian Party, since the major parties are obviously here to stay for the foreseeable future. But he argues that"[t]he libertarian idea really does offer something for rich and poor, black and white, male and female, gay and straight, Christian and atheist." Even if Libertarians can't get elected en masse,"being elected ... isn't the only way to affect the political system."