Tag Archives | Left and Right

Closely Watched Brains; or, Czech Your Premises: A Bohemian Rhapsody

[cross-posted at POT and RCL]

Czech out this exclusive! expanded! three-part version of my 2019 Prague lecture on “Austro-Libertarian Themes in Three Prague Authors: Čapek, Kafka, and Hašek.”

(See the descriptions on YouTube for links to various items mentioned in my three discussions.)

In Part 1, on Karel Čapek (1890-1938), I discuss: intelligent, morally ambiguous salamanders; rebellious, morally ambiguous robots; the effects on supply and demand of unleashing the Absolute; a critique of the labour theory of Labour Day; the geometrical logic of imperial expansion; why police detectives have no interest in mysteries; the merits and demerits of government theme parks devoted to the preservation of Czech folkways; the magic word by means of which the English protect their property; why God can only be a witness and never a judge; the role of clumsiness in advancing civilisation; the benefits and hazards of replacing feet with wheels; inspirational workplace posters suitable for shackled newts; how I ran into one of Čapek’s robots in the lounge of the Auburn Hotel and Conference Center; and the crucifixion of Christ as a sensible protectionist measure.

Note: contrary to what I say in the video, I believe that the R.U.R. cover designed by Čapek’s brother Josef is not the one I show there, but instead this (rather better) one:

Incidentally, Josef Čapek also designed this Kropotkin cover:

On the subject of corrections, I think it may actually have been Paul Cantor rather than Ralph Raico who was in the company of my old stage partner in the Mises conference anecdote I tell. I’m not sure. Jeez, my memory is crap these days. Um, what was I saying?

In Part 2, on Franz Kafka (1883-1924), I discuss: theological versus political readings of Kafka’s vision of elusive, perpetually deferred authority; bureaucracy as hopelessly incompetent and out-of-touch, versus bureaucracy as all-pervasive surveillance; the dependence of rulership on those who rule; Stoic versus anti-Stoic readings of Seneca’s Medea; discovering Kafka through Marvel Comics (or not); and remembering Kropotkin but forgetting Nietzsche’s umbrella.

On second thought I don’t think the April 1982 issue of Epic Illustrated can have been my introduction to Kafka after all, as Dartmouth was running an Orson Welles film festival which I attended while I was living in Hanover NH, 1977-1981, which certainly included The Trial.

Speaking of which, here are some clips from the Welles movie:

I also meant to include this passage from Kafka on his own bureaucratic career (oh well): “What a fine thing it is to be a clerk at a town hall! Little work, adequate salary, plenty of leisure, excessive respect everywhere in the town …. and if I only could, I should like to give this entire dignity to the office cat to eat ….” (Still, at least his office had a cat; that seems like some solace.)

In Part 3, on Jaroslav Hašek (1883-1923), I discuss: the perversities of bureaucratic incentives; the state as a parasite on private crime; the importance of providing every voter with a pocket aquarium; the dangers of displaying, or not displaying, portraits of the Emperor; access to one lavatory as a bribe for permission to reopen another lavatory; electoral campaigns as anarchist street theatre; justice in canine nomenclature; what happens when criminals go on strike; the forgotten economic costs of farting; the ethical, logistical, and grammatical aspects of assassinating Archduke Ferdinand; my success and the Soviets’ failure in deciphering Czech signage; and the economic transaction that I conducted with a nun in the men’s room of the Vatican.

And finally, here’s a clip from the movie version of Hašek’s novel The Good Soldier Švejk:


Who Is Sheldon Richman, and Why Does He Hate the Constitution and American Greatness?

In Part 1 of this 2-part interview, I chat with Sheldon Richman about his youthful enthusiasm for the Swamp Fox and his guerilla fighters; the Constitution as a betrayal of the American Revolution and the Articles of Confederation; defying YAF with Karl Hess at the March to the Arch; the positive externalities achievable by sitting next to Dave Barry; using Koch money to fight big business; Robert Bidinotto’s dark anarchist past; the perils of publishing Kevin Carson; going crazy for Thomas Szasz; the identity of Filthy Pierre; how to smoke like Gandalf; an atheist’s favourite Bishop; and which prominent Austrian economist experimented on Sheldon’s newborn infant.


Gary Gary Quite Contrary

In my latest Agoric Café video, I chat with Gary Chartier about Robin Hood, left-wing market anarchism, natural law, free speech and employer power, libertarian secularism, Seventh-day Adventism, religious epistemology, long-arc television, urban fantasy, Lawrence Durrell, Iris Murdoch, Whit Stillman, the evils of giving extra credit and taking attendance, and the attractions of being emperor.


Primitive Accumulation of Pretzels

In my latest YouTube video, I discuss the distinction between markets and capitalism as drawn in the 1919 textbook THE ABC OF COMMUNISM (written by two Soviet apparatchiks, Nikolai Bukharin and Yevgeny Preobrazhensky), as well as in the Marxist tradition generally, with attention to how Marxism twists itself into a pretzel to avoid endorsing free-market anti-capitalism.


Molinari and Proudhon: Mutual(ist) Influence?

While Molinari and Proudhon were certainly aware of each other (both published in the Journal des Économistes, for example), neither of them, to my knowledge, ever acknowledged being influenced by the other. Nor is that surprising; they belonged to rival libertarian traditions that had grown increasingly hostile to each other, and the debate between Proudhon and Molinari’s mentor Bastiat in 1849-50, while beginning in a cautiously friendly fashion, had ended in a flurry of insult and acrimony. Nevertheless, I think there is good reason to suspect mutual influence.

While Proudhon declared his opposition to the state as early as in his 1840 work What is Property?, he at that time offered little in the way of detail as to what sorts of social or economic mechanisms might replace state functions.

Then, in 1849, Molinari published both his article “The Production of Security” (in the Journal des Économistes) and his book Soirées on the Rue Saint-Lazare, in both of which he described how private enterprise could take over the functions of the state. (Molinari’s ideas were subsequently discussed in the Journal; see here and here.)

Two years later, in 1851, Proudhon published his General Idea of the Revolution in the 19th Century, in which he now discussed, in more detail than ever before, his ideas (in part similar, in part different) as to how private enterprise could take over the functions of the state. This is where I suspect Molinari’s influence on Proudhon.

In that same work, Proudhon described the process of transition as the “dissolution of government in the economic organism.” Over three decades later, in his Political Evolution and the Revolution (1884), Molinari used almost the same phrase to describe the transition to a stateless society – the “diffusion of the state within society” – although he somewhat disingenuously suggested that this approach was in contrast to anarchism: “The future thus belongs neither to the absorption of society by the state, as the communists and collectivists suppose, nor to the suppression of the state, as the anarchists and nihilists dream, but to the diffusion of the state within society.” (pp. 393-94; cf. p. 482, where he speaks of the “diffusion of government within society” rather than of the state.)* This is where I suspect Proudhon’s influence on Molinari.

 

[* Cf. Benjamin Tucker in 1890: “Anarchists work for the abolition of the State, but by this they mean not its overthrow, but, as Proudhon put it, its dissolution in the economic organism.” Tucker was certainly aware of some of Molinari’s later work – see here and here – but whether he had read the particular works by Molinari here named is unclear. Certainly Tucker’s idea for competing security agencies resembles Molinari’s, but Tucker had also read, e.g., Spooner’s similar proposal from 1851, and I doubt that Spooner would have read Molinari.]


Who Said These?

One of these quotations is from a communist anarchist. The other is from an individualist anarchist. Guess who said them.

1. Suppose that suggestions of economy have substituted the large unitary edifice for the isolated home. … [W]hen these several domestic functions are performed severally upon the large scale, additional conveniences will be found to arise from combining the Eating-House, the Laundry, the Nursery, the Lying-in Department, etc., etc., in one unitary edifice, and conducting the whole upon a plan not inferior, perhaps, in magnificence and extent to the Phalansterian order of Fourier.

2. Phalansteries are repugnant to millions of human beings. The most reserved man certainly feels the necessity of meeting his fellows for the purpose of common work …. But it is not so for the hours of leisure, reserved for rest and intimacy. … A phalanstery, which is in fact nothing but an immense hotel, can please some, … but the great mass prefers family life …. They prefer isolated apartments, Anglo-Saxons even going as far as to prefer houses of from six to eight rooms, in which the family, or an agglomeration of friends, can live apart. Sometimes a phalanstery is a necessity, but it would be hateful, were it the general rule. Isolation, alternating with time spent in society, is the normal desire of human nature. This is why one of the greatest tortures in prison is the impossibility of isolation, much as solitary confinement becomes torture in its turn, when not alternated with hours of social life.

See the comments section for the answer.


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