Is He Strong? Listen, Bud

In the Silver Age, radiation was a common way for superheroes to get their powers, particularly in the case of such early Marvel creations as Spider-Man, the Hulk, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, and (in some accounts) the X-Men. It makes sense: atomic power, both as a fearsome weapon and as a potential energy source, was on the public mind.

But in the Golden Age, magic-based and supernatural-based characters were much more common. Not that they were absent from the Silver Age (Thor, Dr. Strange, the Phantom Stranger, Deadman, Zatanna, etc.). But look at this list of Golden Age characters with magical and/or supernatural origins: Blazing Skull, Blue Tracer, Captain Marvel (and family), Dr. Fate,* Dr. Occult, the Fiery Mask, the Flame, the (sometimes Green) Ghost, the Green Lama, the Green Lantern (original version), Hawkman and Hawkgirl (original versions), Ibis the Invincible, Johnny Quick,** Johnny Thunder, Kid Eternity, Mandrake the Magician, Merlin the Magician, Miss America, Mr. Mystic, Neon the Unknown, Samson, Sargon the Sorceror, the Shining Knight, the Spectre, Taia, Uncle Sam, Wonder Woman, and Zatara.

Origins in the “East” were quite common for the powers of such magic-based characters, particularly Egypt (Ibis, Captain Marvel, Hawkman and Hawkgirl) or Tibet (the Green Lama, the Flame, Mr. Mystic), though also, e.g., China (Green Lantern) and Mesopotamia (Dr. Fate, Sargon) – perhaps inspired by their radio/pulp ancestor the Shadow’s having gained in an undefined “Orient” the power to cloud men’s minds.

In the Silver Age, a number of magic-based characters were reimagined with sciencey (though not necessarily radiation-based) origins, e.g., Green Lantern and the Hawkfolk. (An exception is the original Blue Beetle, who went the other way: his 1939 science-based origin was retconned in 1964 into a magic-based origin, complete with an Egyptian connection.)

But subsequent to the Silver Age, perhaps as a result of the weakening of the Comics Code’s ban on horror tropes, magic-based characters seem to have enjoyed a resurgence (e.g., off the top of my head, Black Alice, Blade, Blue Devil, Deadman, Demon, Ghost Rider, Iron Fist, Lucifer, Madame Xanadu, Man-Wolf, Ragman, and Raven).

And in recent years, although science-based origins remain common, many superheroes whose origins were originally science-based have been reimagined (e.g., Sandman) or retconned (e.g., Swamp Thing, by Alan Moore; Spider-Man, by Joe Straczynski) as magic-based. (Though Blue Beetle has gone the other way again, his magical scarab being re-retconned as alien tech.)

* Although Dr. Fate’s origin originally had science-fiction aspects of a proto-von-Däniken type which gradually shifted toward being reconceived as pure magic:

** Johnny Quick gains his powers by reciting a mathematical formula, eventually revealed to be derived from an inscription on the wall of a Pharaoh’s tomb. Despite the sciencey trappings, I’m counting that as magic.


My Crime Family Connections

[cross-posted at POT]

I just got back from Brunswick GA for a Liberty Fund conference on Frank Knight. I’d never read much of Knight before beyond the risk vs. uncertainty stuff, but his methodological, ethical, and (though he wouldn’t have used the term) praxeological writings turn out to connect nicely with a number of my areas of concern: Plato and Aristotle, Frege and Wittgenstein, Collingwood and Winch, Mises and Hayek.

The conference was at the Jekyll Island Club on Old Plantation Road. It’s like a fusion of the sins of the Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian factions! (And given that Knight taught at Chicago, it seems appropriate that there’s a connection between Jekyll Island and Hyde Park.)

For photos of the venue, see my Facebook page.

Speaking of Jekyll Island: my grandfather Charles Roderick McKay (1873-1954), although he wasn’t at the famous Jekyll Island meeting, was one of the people involved in setting up the Federal Reserve; he worked with Paul Warburg et al.

From a poverty-stricken childhood in Prince Edward Island, he became a runner for a bank while visiting Chicago relatives with his mother, and eventually worked his way up to the position of Transit Manager for the First National Bank of Chicago, in which position he developed the numerical check-clearing ABA system which would be adopted by the Fed. Once the Fed was established he became Deputy Governor of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, though he was really more of a co-governor; when the various Fed Governors went to DC to meet with FDR, the Chicago gov was the only one who brought his deputy with him.

By way of partial mitigation of his role in the Fed, I note that when the central Fed began artificially lowering interest rates, which on the Austrian analysis was a major cause of the Great Depression, it was in large part thanks to my grandfather that the Chicago branch resisted the policy until finally overridden by the central; and in later retirement he felt betrayed by the direction the Fed had taken. (My grandfather’s economic and political views were broadly speaking “Old Right.” I never met him; he died a decade before I was born.)

I found his photo online in this periodical. From my mother’s stories I gather he was as much fun as he looks.


Molinari Society Location Update

According to the printed program, the Molinari Society’s session at 9:00 tomorrow morning is in Seminar A.

This is a cruel lie.

We are actually in Phillips Boardroom 3.

Okay, no problem, we turn to the map of the hotel that’s included in the program, and – oimoi, there’s no Phillips Boardroom 3 listed.

But I have tracked it down. It’s on the lobby level, at the top of the carpeted ramp at the far right of the lobby as you come in the main entrance.

I figure we may want to start a little bit late tomorrow to accommodate bewildered stragglers.


Molinari Review I.2: What Lies Within?

[cross-posted at C4SS, BHL, and POT]

The long-awaited second issue of the Molinari Review (the Molinari Institute’s interdisciplinary, open-access, libertarian academic journal) is here! Nearly twice the length of the first issue!

You can order a paper copy from Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Amazon UK, or, I believe, any of the other regional incarnations of Amazon.

(A Kindle copy should be available later this month. In the meantime, the previous issue is available as a free PDF download here.)

So what’s in the new issue? Here’s a rundown:

  • Anarchist communists reject not only the state but the market as well, arguing that private property and market exchange are as much a source of domination as the instrumentalities of the state. In “Supplying the Demand of Liberation: Markets as a Structural Check Against Domination,” philosopher Jason Lee Byas argues, to the contrary, that individualist anarchism, precisely because of its reliance on markets and the greater plasticity they offer, satisfies the anarchist commitment to non-domination more successfully than communism does. Byas highlights the potential dangers of anarchist communists’ proposed alternatives to markets, arguing that these dangers become even more serious when the dynamics of race, gender, sexuality, and other systems of privilege and oppression are factored in, while the market process can be shown to be a powerful engine for addressing such problems.
  • The economic regulations of the American Progressive Era have long been viewed – whether with approval or with disapproval, depending on the political perspective of the viewer – as a powerful blow against big business. In the 1960s, Gabriel Kolko and other New Left historians argued, to the contrary, that the corporate elite were the major beneficiaries of these regulations – a revisionist thesis soon enthusiastically embraced and promoted (much to the dismay of Kolko himself) by a number of free-market libertarian thinkers, including Murray Rothbard and Roy Childs. In recent years, however, Roger L. Bradley Jr. and Roger Donway have argued (see here and here) that Kolko’s account of the relationship between business and the state during the Gilded Age and its aftermath was flawed by a mistaken conceptual framework and a misleading use of evidence through selective quotation of his sources; for Bradley and Donway, what Kolko made to seem like corporate support for regulation was in most cases merely a matter of corporations adapting to regulation as a form of self-defense. In “The War on Kolko,” historian Joseph R. Stromberg defends Kolko against both the charge of misinterpreting the motives of corporate leaders and the charge of distorting the textual evidence, concluding that Kolko’s work remains “quite unscathed.”
  • Is there any connection between liberty in the political sense and liberty in the sense at issue in the free will debate? John Stuart Mill, in the first sentence of his treatise On Liberty, famously replied in the negative. But in “Libertarianism and Hard Determinism,” Thomas Lafayette Bateman III and Walter E. Block argue that if a human being were “no more than a moist robot, subject completely to nature’s laws,” then political institutions to protect such an entity’s freedom of choice would be pointless, abstract principles of rights would be meaningless, and seeking to control individual behaviour through totalitarian manipulation and the judicious application of stimuli would seem optimal. Hence political libertarianism and hard determinism are incompatible; a consistent adherent of the first must reject the second.*
  • For the past thirty years, philosophers Jan Narveson and James P. Sterba have been debating whether a commitment to liberty entails welfare rights or instead rules them out. For Narveson, those who acquire property by innocent means are entitled to it, and anyone who tries to take it from them without their consent is violating their liberty; whereas for Sterba, preventing the poor from making use of the excess property of the affluent is a violation of the liberty of the poor to access resources they need, which is a more important liberty than that of the affluent to maintain control of such resources. In “Liberty vs. Welfare Rights – Continued,” Narveson marshals the principles of Innocent Possession and Open-Ended Use to defend the right of the first user as more consonant with the requirements of peaceful and productive human cooperation than the right of the neediest user; in “A Response to Narveson: Why Liberty Leads to Welfare and Beyond,” Sterba argues that a more defensible formulation of the principles of Innocent Possession and Open-Ended Use instead favours the neediest user over the first user.
  • In our previous issue, Gus diZerega argued that contemporary libertarians misunderstand and misapply their own key concepts, leading them to embrace an atomistic vision of society, and to overvalue the market while undervaluing empathy and democracy. The present issue features an exchange among diZerega, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, and myself on these matters, with particular attention to the interpretation of Ayn Rand, in contributions titled (from Sciabarra) “Reply to Gus diZerega on His Essay, ‘Turning the Tables: The Pathologies and Unrealized Promise of Libertarianism’,” (from diZerega) “Response to Chris Matthew Sciabarra,” and (from me) “It Ain’t Necessarily So: A Response to Gus diZerega.”

Want to order a copy? See the ordering information above.

Want to contribute an article to an upcoming issue? Head to the journal’s webpage.

Want to support this project financially? Make a donation to the Molinari Institute General Fund.

* Incidentally, I welcome Walter Block’s conversion to thick libertarianism – and look forward to his explanation of why his position here doesn’t really count as thick-libertarian. 😛


Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes