Archive | July 2, 2008

Two Reviews

1. The July/August 2008 issue of the New Individualist features a review by Will Thomas (“Atlas, Seen Through Many Eyes,” pp. 52-55) of Ed Younkins’ anthology Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion. Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion and The Concept 'Horse' Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual InvestigationsHere’s what he says about my contribution (which he kindly includes among the “best essays” that “accurately represent Rand’s distinctive worldview while bringing something new to the table”):

In “Forced to Rule,” philosopher Roderick Long looks at how Atlas Shrugged may have been in part a response to Plato’s dialogue the Republic. The Republic portrays a collectivist utopia where material life and education are sharply controlled by the government. All must act from duty, not self-interest – even the rulers, who should be wise men forced to rule against their inclinations. Long points out that this is strange, since Plato’s appear to focus on individual flourishing. How can there be individual happiness without any freedom? But Plato was a dualist, holding that real knowledge, truth, and virtue proceed from a realm of Ideas only dimly reflected in material reality, and this made him pessimistic about practical affairs. Long shows how Rand strikes back at this conception of man in Atlas Shrugged and details implicit references to Plato in the text. Rand reject the dichotomy of mind versus body and its attendant splits of spirit versus matter, love versus sex, and art versus engineering. In the climax of Atlas, Rand puts Plato’s doctrine to the test as the villains try to torture John Galt – the best and wisest of men, “an engineer and philosopher” – to make him rule them. (Spoiler: It doesn’t work.)

2. Joel Parthemore has an online review of my colleague Kelly Jolley’s excellent book The Concept ‘Horse’ Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations. While the book’s topic may appear narrow and arcane, “its target,” as Parthemore notes “is nothing less than the nature of structured thought itself.”

Property, Commerce, Capitalism

Proudhon is a bit like Hegel (by whom he was indirectly influenced) in that he attempts to synthesise and reconcile a myriad of apparently opposing viewpoints, and so it’s risky to rely on any single formulation taken out of context as a reliable indicator of his views, when it may be only a provisional approximation, or one side of a dialectical opposition. Shawn Wilbur has a useful post today about Proudhon’s use of the term, and concept, property.

Another post from Shawn refers to a recent interesting article in French. Here’s a quick translation:

A Commerce Without Capitalism

Un Commerce Sans Capitalisme And if commerce and exchange were inseparable from the creation of real spaces of resistance? So many niches of experimentation of a future society – a better one, of course – may be found in the four corners of the world: from the Cartoneros [cardboard recyclers] of Argentina inventing their own economy, to the Diggers of San Francisco trying out freedom-from-payment, passing to the trabendo of the Marseilles quarters that mocks sealed borders [anybody know what this refers to?], without forgetting the utopian anarchists of the 19th century who took the first steps toward workers’ cooperatives. Everywhere there is exchange, there is barter, there is giving and recompensing, there is sharing: in short, there is collective resistance to a capitalist society that seeks to reduce commerce to a mere accumulation of capital with money as the sole intermediary.

The rejection of commerce by the extreme left, generally speaking, is indicative of this confusion between capitalism and commerce. It is true that in a country where six central purchasing centers handle the exchanges among 60 million consumers and 400,000 farmers, it is difficult to think otherwise! And Wal-Mart, the U.S.-based multinational distributor, is now the largest enterprise in the world, ahead of the oil companies.

Yet for all that, one cannot abandon commerce solely to the traffickers in profits. As Michel Besson of the Minga association likes to remind us, “there have always been men and women who desired to exchange with one another in a respectful and peaceful manner, simply because it is much more agreeable for everybody to live without competing with one another, without exploiting one another, without swindling one another. Equity in exchanges forms a part of the culture of many societies around the world.” And it is for this reason that today, over and above the concept-marketing of equitable commerce, there exists around the world a profusion of commercial alternatives, each more amazing than the next, each with its limits since it must come to terms with capitalist society, they offer another way of living together. Sometimes these alternatives escape the supervision of centralist States, which, anxious that nothing should subsist outside their sphere of control, consequently stigmatise such exchanges as “black-market,” “informal,” clandestine – which do not even count in the GDP! Nonetheless, and extremely happily, such experiments remind us that prior to the exchange of merchandise there is also a human exchange, a mode of relation among persons. An exchange that may give birth to emancipation.

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