Author Archive | Roderick

Combination Platter

Here’s a famous libertarian defending the right of workers to form unions and to strike:

Solidarity I do not understand … how one can say that a strike is criminal. If one man has the right to say to another: “I don’t want to work under such and such conditions,” two or three thousand men have the same right; they have the right to quit. This is a natural right, which should also be a legal right. … Does a man not have the right to refuse to sell his labor at a rate that does not suit him? … [A]n action that is innocent in itself is not criminal because it is multiplied by a certain number of men …. [My opponent] says: “The strike is harmful to the employer, since the absence of one or of several workers is troublesome for him. A strike has an adverse effect on his production, so that the strikers violate the freedom of the employer ….” … [Y]ou say that it is I who infringe on the employer’s freedom, because my refusal to work on his terms has an adverse effect on his production! Note that what you proclaim is nothing else than slavery. For what is a slave, if not a man forced by law to work under conditions that he rejects? … You ask that the law intervene because I violate the property rights of the employer; do you not see that, on the contrary, it is the employer who violates mine? If he has the law intervene to impose his will on me, where is freedom, where is equality?

Guess who said it.

And now here’s a different famous libertarian defending the right of businesses to combine to form trusts and cartels. So guess who said this:

[T]he right to cooperate is as unquestionable as the right to compete … [A]ny man or institution attempting to prohibit or restrict either, by legislative enactment or by any form of invasive force, is … an enemy of liberty …. [T]he trust, then, like every other industrial combination endeavoring to do collectively nothing but what each member of the combination rightfully may endeavor to do individually, is per se, an unimpeachable institution. To assail or control or deny this form of co-operation on the ground that it is itself a denial of competition is an absurdity. … The trust is a denial of competition in no other sense than that in which competition itself is a denial of competition. The trust denies competition only by producing and selling more cheaply than those outside of the trust can produce and sell; but in that sense every successful individual competitor also denies competition. … All of us, whether out of a trust or in it, have a right to deny competition by competing, but none of us, whether in a trust or out of it, have a right to deny competition by arbitrary decree, by interference with voluntary effort, by forcible suppression of initiative.

Notice that both passages employ essentially the same argument; that is, both appeal to the freedom to associate or not to associate, as well as to the principle that what people have a right to do singly they also have a right to do in combination.

But one author employs these arguments on behalf of the rights of labour, while the other author employs them on behalf of the rights of business. So which left-wing libertarian wrote the first passage, and which right-wing libertarian wrote the second?

Okay, guessing’s over; you can peek.

Here’s the defender of unions.

And here’s the defender of trusts.

I leave the moral as an exercise for the reader.


An Observation

The first rule of Fight Club violates the first rule of Fight Club.

I’m just sayin’.


G. I. Justice

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

The government gives us our rights.

Or so many Americans have been taught to believe.

Alexander Hamilton Now the authors of the U. S. Constitution were far from perfect – to put it mildly. But they would never have dreamed of claiming that they were giving people rights. Alexander Hamilton, for example, wrote that

natural liberty is a gift of the beneficent Creator to the whole human race, and that civil liberty is founded in that; and cannot be wrested from any people, without the most manifest violation of justice. Civil liberty, is only natural liberty, modified and secured by the sanctions of civil society. It is not a thing, in its own nature, precarious and dependent on human will and caprice; but is conformable to the constitution of man ….

The other framers expressed similar sentiments. But nowadays it’s common to hear that the Constitution “gives us” such rights as freedom of the press, the right to a jury trial, and so forth.

Not only does this doctrine promote the deification of the state as something beyond the bounds of ordinary morality, but it also helps to inculcate the idea that – since our rights are government issue rather than rights of humanity – those beyond our borders don’t have the same rights we do.

Which helps to explain this incident, in which U.S. troops in Iraq crush a taxi by driving a tank over it, in order to punish its driver for “looting wood.” There’s nary a sign in sight of any legal proceedings to determine what counts as looting wood, whether the driver was in fact guilty of this terrible offence, or whether destroying his only means of livelihood was an appropriate response. Nor is there any sign that he was allowed counsel on his behalf. Instead, the soldiers acted as legislators, prosecutors, judges, juries, and executioners, unprofessionally laughing and grinning as they indulged in wanton destruction.

Wouldn’t any one of those soldiers have been outraged if, back in the States, he had been accused of, say, shoplifting and, without any trial, some cops had simply settled things by torching his car?

Ah, but our rights come from the Bill of Rights, that magic piece of paper in Washington, and don’t apply to Iraqis (even though the alleged purpose of U.S. presence in Iraq is precisely to bring “democracy” and “freedom” to the Iraqis).

“But wait,” I may be told, “this is war. You can’t expect the application of legal niceties in wartime.”

But even leaving aside the awfully convenient doctrine that we can escape the burden of respecting people’s human rights simply by going to war against them – isn’t such a response an admission that U.S. troops are, indeed, at war with the Iraqi people? That admission seems to undercut the official story that the U.S. is a friend to the Iraqi people, that it has helped them establish a democratic government, and that it’s just there to help the new government keep the peace.


The Birth of the Clinic

Wally Conger’s recent description of an especially engaging opening to a novel reminded me of what is one of my favourite openers ever – the beginning of Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber. Who could read this and not be sucked in?

It was starting to end, after what seemed most of eternity to me.

I attempted to wriggle my toes, succeeded. I was sprawled there in a hospital bed and my legs were done up in plaster casts, but they were still mine.

I squeezed my eyes shut, and opened them, three times.

The room grew steady.

Where the hell was I?

Then the fogs were slowly broken, and some of that which is called memory returned to me. I recalled nights and nurses and needles. Every time things would begin to clear a bit, someone would come in and jab me with something. That’s how it had been. Yes. Now, though, I was feeling halfway decent. They’d have to stop.

Wouldn’t they?

The thought came to assail me: Maybe not.

Some natural skepticism as to the purity of all human motives came and sat upon my chest. I’d been over-narcotized, I suddenly knew. No real reason for it, from the way I felt, and no reason for them to stop now, if they’d been paid to keep it up. So play it cool and stay dopey, said a voice which was my worst, if wiser, self.

So I did.

A nurse poked her head in the door about ten minutes later, and I was, of course, still sacking Z’s. She went away.

By then, I’d reconstructed a bit of what had occurred.

I had been in some sort of accident, I remembered vaguely. What had happened after that was still a blur; and as to what had happened before, I had no inkling whatsoever. But I had first been in a hospital and then brought to this place, I remembered. Why? I didn’t know.

However, my legs felt pretty good. Good enough to hold me up, though I didn’t know how much time had lapsed since their breaking – and I knew they’d been broken.

So I sat up. It took me a real effort, as my muscles were very tired. It was dark outside and a handful of stars were standing naked beyond the window. I winked back at them and threw my legs over the edge of the bed.

I was dizzy, but after a while it subsided and I got up, gripping the rail at the head of the bed, and I took my first step.

Okay. My legs held me.

So, theoretically, I was in good enough shape to walk out.

I made it back to the bed, stretched out and thought. I was sweating and shaking. Visions of sugar plums, etc.

In the State of Denmark there was the odor of decay….

It had been an accident involving an auto, I recalled. One helluva one….

Then the door opened, letting in light, and through slits beneath my eyelashes I saw a nurse with a hypo in her hand.

She approached my bedside, a hippy broad with dark hair and big arms.

Just as she neared, I sat up.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest “Good evening,” I said.

“Why – good evening,” she replied.

“When do I check out?” I asked.

“I’ll have to ask Doctor.”

“Do so,” I said.

“Please roll up your sleeve.”

“No thanks.”

“I have to give you an injection.”

“No you don’t. I don’t need it.”

“I’m afraid that’s for Doctor to say.”

“Then send him around and let him say it. But in the meantime, I will not permit it.”

“I’m afraid I have my orders.”

“So did Eichmann, and look what happened to him,” and I shook my head slowly.

“Very well,” she said. “I’ll have to report this….”

“Please do,” I said, “and while you’re at it, tell him I’ve decided to check out in the morning. ”

“That’s impossible. You can’t even walk – and there were internal injuries….”

“We’ll see,” said I. “Good night.”

She swished out of sight without answering.

So I lay there and mulled. It seemed I was in some sort of private place – so somebody was footing the bill. Whom did I know? No visions of relatives appeared behind my eyes. Friends either. What did that leave? Enemies?

I thought a while.

Nothing.

Nobody to benefact me thus.

I’d gone over a cliff in my car, and into a lake, I suddenly remembered. And that was all I remembered.

I was….

I strained and began to sweat again.

I didn’t know who I was.

But to occupy myself, I sat up and stripped away all my bandages. I seemed all right underneath them, and it seemed the right thing to do. I broke the cast on my right leg, using a metal strut I’d removed from the head of the bed. I had a sudden feeling that I had to get out in a hurry, that there was something I had to do.

I tested my right leg. It was okay.

I shattered the cast on my left leg, got up, went to the closet.

No clothes there.

Then I heard the footsteps. I returned to my bed and covered over the broken casts and the discarded bandages.

The door swung inward once again.

Then there was light all around me, and there was a beefy guy in a white jacket standing with his hand on the wall switch.

Shock Treatment “What’s this I hear about you giving the nurse a hard time?” he asked, and there was no more feigning sleep.

“I don’t know,” I said. “What is it?”

That troubled him for a second or two, said the frown, then, “It’s time for your shot.”

“Are you an M.D. ? “ I asked.

“No, but I’m authorized to give you a shot.”

“And I refuse it,” I said, “as I’ve a legal right to do. What’s it to you?”

“You’ll have your shot,” he said, and he moved around to the left side of the bed.

He had a hypo in one hand which had been out of sight till then.

It was a very foul blow, about four inches below the belt buckle, I’d say, and it left him on his knees.

           !” he said, after a time.

“Come within spitting distance again,” I said, “and see what happens.”

“We’ve got ways to deal with patients like you,” he gasped.

So I knew the time had come to act.

“Where are my clothes?” I said.

           !” he repeated.

“Then I guess I’ll have to take yours. Give them to me.”

It became boring with the third repetition, so I threw the bedclothes over his head and clobbered him with the metal strut.


Wind-Egg of Wisdom

You can tell you’ve stumbled across a bit of pseudo-wisdom when its negation makes just as much sense as its affirmation.

EVIL CLOWNS NEED LOVE TOOFor example, I just saw a greeting card that said, “Anyone can be passionate, but it takes real lovers to be silly.” (A quick websearch reveals that this saying is all over the internet, and originated with the least remembered member of the Edna Ferber/Fannie Hurst/Rose Franken triumvirate.)

Well, slide that past your mind without thinking about it, and it sounds vaguely plausible. But slide the opposite claim past your mind without thinking about it – “Anyone can be silly, but it takes real lovers to be passionate” – and that sounds vaguely plausible too.

Inspect the two claims in a more attentive frame of mind, and suddenly neither one seems especially plausible. I suspect each gets its superficial plausibility from its resemblance to one of its much more reasonable cousins, namely, “Silliness is important between lovers” and “Passion is important between lovers.”

I also suspect that the original version was intended to have the charm of a Chestertonian paradox – but, well, it doesn’t. Perhaps it had more of that quality in the 30s or 40s, when it originated, than it does today, when it seems more bromidic; but it could never have had much.


Age Cannot Wither Her Nor Custom Stale

This looks somewhat promising. The usual cinematic portrayals of Cleopatra – from the Elizabeth Taylor version to the bizarre treatment in the usually more reliable Rome miniseries – turn her into a gorgeous but vapid sexpot. The reality was far more interesting; Plutarch said of her:

Cleopatra[H]er actual beauty … was not in itself so remarkable that none could be compared with her, or that no one could see her without being struck by it, but the contact of her presence, if you lived with her, was irresistible; the attraction of her person, joining with the charm of her conversation, and the character that attended all she said or did, was something bewitching. It was a pleasure merely to hear the sound of her voice, with which, like an instrument of many strings, she could pass from one language to another; so that there were few of the barbarian nations that she answered by an interpreter; to most of them she spoke herself, as to the Ethiopians, Troglodytes, Hebrews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes, Parthians, and many others, whose language she had learnt; which was all the more surprising because most of the kings, her predecessors [= the Ptolemies, i.e.Greek-speaking Macedonian conquerors], scarcely gave themselves the trouble to acquire the Egyptian tongue ….

In short, she was essentially a female analogue of Julius Caesar: brilliant, charismatic, and ruthless. Her ambition was Caesar-sized too – to carve out the entire eastern half of the Roman Empire as her own separate domain. And she almost accomplished it. (As for her alleged promiscuity, if it matters, there’s no ancient evidence for that either. We know that she had longterm relationships with two men, Caesar and Antony. Beyond that we know nothing about her sex life whatsoever.)

Now I’m not putting Cleopatra forward as an especially admirable character, any more than I would Caesar. They both had tremendous positive qualities, but they both put those qualities in the service of the business of conquering, ruling, and killing people. Not my bag. But I do claim that she was a lot more interesting and impressive than the usual simultaneously-sexist-and-Orientalist stereotype of a corrupt, languid seductress (a stereotype vigorously promoted by Augustus Caesar for political reasons of his own, incidentally). This movie project looks like we might see something closer to the actual Cleopatra.


Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes