Tag Archives | Rand

All the Court Also Laughed Loudly Thereat

Ayn Rand does not seem always to have been hostile to the culture of the Middle Ages. In college she took (according to her transcript) five courses on mediæval European history, four of which seem to have been elective seminars. In We the Living, she writes approvingly (but, from the standpoint of her later philosophy, incongruously) of the novel’s heroine: “From somewhere in the aristocratic Middle Ages, Kira had inherited the conviction that labor and effort were ignoble”; moreover, she chooses as Kira’s heroic symbol the mediæval figure of a Viking (probably under the inspiration partly of Nietzsche, and partly of Fritz Lang’s Siegfried). And a play celebrating Joan of Arc played an important role in the first draft of The Fountainhead.

But at some later point she seems to have decided that mediæval culture was antithetical to her values. In “The Left: Old and New,” she dismisses the Middle Ages as “an era of mysticism, ruled by blind faith and blind obedience”; and in Atlas Shrugged she has Galt assert that “the supernatural doctrines of the Middle Ages … kept men huddling on the mud floors of their hovels, in terror that the devil might steal the soup they had worked eighteen hours to earn.” She did largely except Thomas Aquinas from her condemnation of mediæval culture, but only because she saw his work as the beginning of an Aristotelean revolution that would overthrow mediæval culture and usher in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. (I’ve groused elsewhere about the Randian tendency to downplay the merits of the mediæval period by treating Aquinas as though he were, at least in spirit, a post-mediæval figure.) (Incidentally, I’m not aware that Rand ever discussed the role of Aristoteleanism in the mediæval Islamic world, even though she must have been aware of Rose Wilder Lane’s enthusiastic defense of “Saracen” culture.)

Rand’s followers have likewise denounced mediæval culture as hostile to human reason and human happiness. Thus Leonard Peikoff writes, in The Ominous Parallels:

The dominant moralists had said that man must not seek his ultimate fulfillment on earth; that he must renounce the pleasures of this life, whether as a flesh-mortifying ascetic or as an abstemious toiler, for the sake of God, salvation, and the life to come ….

And in “Religion vs. America,” Peikoff adds:

The Dark Ages were dark on principle. Augustine fought against secular philosophy, science, art; he regarded all of it as an abomination to be swept aside; he cursed science in particular as “the lust of the eyes.”

Similarly, Mary Ann Sures, in “Metaphysics in Marble,” writes:

Medieval mystics regarded man as an evil creature whose body is loathsome because it is material, and whose mind is impotent because it is human. Hating man’s body, they said that pleasure is evil, and virtue consists of renunciation. Hating this earth, they said that it is a prison where man is doomed to pain, misery, calamity. Hating life, they said that death and escape into some other dimension is all that man could – and should – hope for. … Suffering as an ideal or suffering as punishment was all that medieval art offered to its heroes or its sinners here on earth.

Now I will readily grant that these descriptions do capture a significant strand within mediæval culture. St. Jerome, for example, in one of his letters describes the life of a model Christian woman:

Marcella practised fasting, but in moderation. She abstained from eating flesh, and she knew rather the scent of wine than its taste …. She seldom appeared in public and took care to avoid the houses of great ladies, that she might not be forced to look upon what she had once for all renounced. She frequented the basilicas of apostles and martyrs that she might escape from the throng and give herself to private prayer. … Marcella then lived the ascetic life for many years, and found herself old before she bethought herself that she had once been young. She often quoted with approval Plato’s saying that philosophy consists in meditating on death. … Well then, as I was saying, she passed her days and lived always in the thought that she must die. Her very clothing was such as to remind her of the tomb, and she presented herself as a living sacrifice, reasonable and acceptable, unto God. …

But I deny that this strand captures the whole of mediæval attitudes toward life. First, as I have recently discussed (see here and here), the Church’s sole authority in moral and spiritual matters did not go unchallenged during the mediæval period, as many writers and artists among the laity celebrated a more worldly ethic; and second, even thinkers within the Church held more complicated views than the Randians allow.

Take, for instance, Augustine, whom the Randians regard as the presiding genius of mediæval awfulness. He’s an enormously mixed bag philosophically, to be sure; but he is unmistakably an ethical eudaimonist in the lineage of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics, and an absolutely crucial influence on Rand’s beloved Aquinas. It’s true that he expresses suspicion of scientific inquiry; but given his role in championing the writings of pagan thinkers like Plato and Cicero, against those Christians who wanted to consign all such products of Greek and Roman culture to the flames, it’s hardly accurate to say that he regarded all of “secular philosophy” as “an abomination to be swept aside.” (And in any case, Augustine’s attempt to discourage scientific inquiry was not successful, as such inquiry persists throughout the Middle Ages.)

Nor did mediæval thinkers as a rule condemn the human mind as “impotent because it is human.” On the contrary, they held that while it is appropriate to take the Church’s teachings on faith (by which the mediævals generally meant not “blind” faith, i.e., faith without evidence, but rather belief on the basis of testimonial evidence rather than either perceptual evidence or rational demonstration), it is still nobler to seek for a rational proof and understanding of the doctrines of faith, where possible. Indeed, this is a central theme of Augustine’s philosophical dialogue On Free Choice of the Will.

Augustine also regards both reason and the senses as efficacious tools of cognition, and praises reason in particular as the faculty that sets us above the lower animals:

There are two kinds of things that are known: the things that the mind perceives through the bodily senses, and the things that it perceives through itself. These philosophers [= the Greek Skeptics] have babbled much against the bodily senses, but they have never been able to call into doubt the most solid perception of true things the mind has through itself, such as … “I know that I’m alive.” … Yet far be it from us to doubt the truths that we have learned through the bodily senses [either]! (On the Trinity 15)

It is clear that many wild animals easily surpass human beings in strength and in other physical abilities. What is it in virtue of which a human being is superior, so that he can command many wild animals, yet none of them commands him? is it not perhaps what we usually call reason or understanding? … How can knowledge in the strict and proper sense be evil, since it is acquired by reason and understanding? … That by which humans are ranked above animals, whatever it is, be it more correctly called “mind” or “spirit” or both … if it dominates and commands the rest of what a human consists in, then that human being is completely in order … Therefore, when reason (or mind or spirit) governs irrational mental impulses, a human being is dominated by the very thing whose dominance is prescribed by the law we have found to be eternal. …

Physical objects are sensed by bodily sense … Reason acquaints us with all the foregoing, as well as with reason itself, and knowledge includes them. … The intelligible structure and truth of number is present to all reasoning beings. Everyone who calculates tries to apprehend it with his own reason and intelligence; some do this with ease, others with difficulty, yet it offers itself equally to all who are capable of grasping it. (On Free Choice of the Will)

When Augustine goes on to identify Truth as superior to human reason, he doesn’t mean that Truth is beyond reason’s ability to grasp; rather, he means (as he clearly explains) that Truth is the standard for reason rather than vice versa. (In other words, like a good Randian he rejects the primacy of consciousness.)

Moreover, Augustine wrote an entire book – Against the Academics – devoted to defending the efficacy of both reason and the senses against skeptical attacks.

Did Augustine regard matter and the material body as intrinsically evil? No, this was a Manichean view that he was at pains to reject. (Plotinus rejected it too, incidentally.) Augustine writes:

There is no need, therefore, that in our sins and vices we accuse the nature of the flesh … for in its own kind and degree the flesh is good …. For he who extols the nature of the soul as the chief good, and condemns the nature of the flesh as if it were evil, assuredly is fleshly both in his love of the soul and hatred of the flesh; for these his feelings arise from human fancy, not from divine truth. (City of God XIV.5)

What is evil is neither the body per se nor the choice of bodily goods per se, but rather the choice of bodily goods when they conflict with goods of a higher order.

And in similar vein Aquinas endorses the pursuit of bodily pleasures, so long as they are pursued in a manner subordinate to reason. While it’s true, for both Augustine and Aquinas, that we cannot find our “ultimate fulfillment on earth,” neither drew the inference that we must therefore “renounce the pleasures of this life.”

Some have maintained …. that all bodily pleasures should be reckoned as bad, and thus that man, being prone to immoderate pleasures, arrives at the mean of virtue by abstaining from pleasure. But they were wrong in holding this opinion. … The temperate man does not shun all pleasures, but those that are immoderate, and contrary to reason. The fact that children and dumb animals seek pleasures, does not prove that all pleasures are evil: because they have from God their natural appetite, which is moved to that which is naturally suitable to them. … Pleasures of the sensitive appetite are not the rule of moral goodness and malice, since food is universally pleasurable to the sensitive appetite both of good and of evil men; but the will of the good man takes pleasure in them in accordance with reason, to which the will of the evil man gives no heed. (Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ IaIIæ 34)

Nor should we look only at theologians like Augustine and Aquinas when examining the “dominant moralists” of the mediæval period. Given the enormous popularity and influence of Andreas Capellanus’s Art of Courtly Love, why shouldn’t he too be regarded as one of the “dominant moralists” of the Middle Ages? That would certainly bring to the fore a far more accommodating view of worldly pleasures than that of Augustine or Aquinas (and one reflected in much mediæval literature).

As for the common people, is it true that they were all huddling in the mud in superstitious terror, as described in Galt’s speech? I’ve previously cited some rather more skeptical and irreverent attitudes among mediæval commoners; and I’ll cite another here , from Chaucer’s enormously popular Canterbury Tales:

Chaucer doesn’t give a shit.

“Masters,” said he, “in churches when I preach,
I take pains to have a haughty speech ….
Then show I forth long boxes in a mass,
crammed full with rags and bones encased in glass –
holy relics, they suppose that they’ve been shown! –
as well as, set in brass, a shoulder-bone
that once was in a holy Jew-man’s sheep.
‘Good men,’ say I, ‘my words in memory keep:
if this bone here be washed in any well,
if cow or calf or sheep or ox should swell
from eating snakes or by a snake being stung,
take water from that well and wash its tongue,
and ’twill be healed anon; and furthermore
of pox and scabs, indeed of every sore,
shall any sheep be healed, that from this well
shall drink a draft; take heed of what I tell. …’
By trickery thus have I won, year by year,
a hundred marks since I’ve been Pardoner.
In pulpit I do stand, in cleric’s gown,
and once the foolish people have sat down
I preach to them as you have heard before,
inflicting on them frauds a hundred more.”

And compare the similarly irreverent, mocking, bawdy spirit of Chaucer’s contemporary, Giovanni Boccaccio, in his epilogue to the Decameron:

Boccaccio also doesn’t give a shit.

There may also be those among you who will say that I have an evil and venomous tongue, because in certain places I write the truth about the friars. But who cares? I can readily forgive you for saying such things, for doubtless you are prompted by the purest of motives, friars being decent fellows, who forsake a life of discomfort for the love of God …. Except for the fact that they all smell a little of the billy-goat, their company would offer the greatest of pleasure.

I will grant you, however, that the things of this world have no stability, but are subject to constant change, and this may well have happened to my tongue. But not long ago, distrusting my own opinion (which in matters concerning myself I trust as little as possible), I was told by a lady, a neighbor of mine, that I had the finest and sweetest tongue in the world ….

That’s right: as a reply to the charge of insufficient reverence toward clerical majesty, Boccaccio, typically, retorts with testimonial evidence of his skill at oral sex. And his book, like Chaucer’s, was wildly popular. (Both wrote in the vernacular rather than in Latin.) Clearly not everyone in the Middle Ages was cowering in superstitious awe of ecclesiastical authority and holy relics, nor did everyone regard the pleasures of the body as evils to be renounced.

As Alixe Bovey notes:

In the past, the Middle Ages was often characterised as the ‘Age of Faith’, but now it is recognised that this moniker conceals the complexity of the medieval religious culture. Christianity was the dominant religion, but not everyone followed the faith with the same intensity: judging from legislation and sermons encouraging lay people to attend church and observe its teachings, many people were lukewarm in the faith, while others were openly or covertly sceptical.

As for the claim that “suffering … was all that medieval art offered” – well, in addition to the examples of mediæval art I posted last time, I’ll close with these:

Oh, the suffering.


With Oceans of Clouds in the Sky and in Me

The novel’s protagonist is an idealistic architect, described as having “a long face with high pronounced cheekbones, and pale blue eyes” – also long arms, unruly light-coloured hair, and a “loose gangly walk.”

The architect has strong architectural principles that are often at odds with those of his clients. He hates “tiny white-walled rooms with cottage cheese ceilings,” and feels compelled to “blast some space and light into them.” He sees “homes as organisms …. a work of art that you live in. If you live in a work of art, it does something to you. … It gives you a good feeling.”

The architect protagonist has a mentor, an aging, eccentric, somewhat cantankerous father figure from whom he inherits a difficult struggle against powerful social forces.

Another burden the protagonist has to endure is seeing the woman he loves in a relationship with a charismatic, unscrupulous, power-driven man he regards as his worst enemy.

The novel’s climax involves a development project of which the architect disapproves, and which he undertakes to sabotage.

The novel begins with the architect laughing, up in the hills, surrounded by nature, and walking down to the town where he lives. It ends with his solitary figure against a background of sky and sea.

The novel is not, even remotely, The Fountainhead.


Economic Inequality: Three Takes

[cross-posted at BHL and POT]

In June 1963, when Nathaniel Branden published a piece on “Inherited Wealth” in The Objectivist Newsletter, he was still the beloved disciple of Ayn Rand, who reprinted his piece in her 1966 collection Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, and continued to include it in subsequent editions despite her break with Branden in 1968. As Rand famously did not allow opinions deviating even in the slightest from her own to appear in journals or books that she edited, we can assume Branden speaks for Rand when he writes:

A free, competitive economy is a constant process of improvement, innovation, progress; it does not tolerate stagnation. If an heir who lacks ability acquires a fortune and a great industrial establishment from his successful father, he will not be able to maintain it for long; he will not be equal to the competition. In a free economy, where bureaucrats and legislators would not have the power to sell or grant economic favors, all of the heir’s money would not be able to buy him protection for his incompetence; he would have to be good at his work or lose his customers to companies run by men of superior ability. There is nothing as vulnerable as a large, mismanaged company that competes with small, efficient ones. …

It is a mixed economy – such as the semi-socialist or semi-fascist variety we have today – that protects the nonproductive rich by freezing a society on a given level of development, by freezing people into classes and castes and making it increasingly more difficult for men to rise or fall or move from one caste to another; so that whoever inherited a fortune before the freeze, can keep it with little fear of competition, like an heir in a feudal society.

Here Branden, and by presumption Rand, are endorsing a crucial part of the left-libertarian idea of competition as a levelling force. The quotation makes an interesting pairing with a remark of Murray Rothbard’s in a 1966 letter:

For some time I have come to the conclusion that the grave deficiency in the current output and thinking of our libertarians and “classical liberals” is an enormous blind spot when it comes to big business. There is a tendency to worship Big Business per se … and a corollary tendency to fail to realize that while big business would indeed merit praise if they won that bigness on the purely free market, that in the contemporary world of total neo-mercantilism and what is essentially a neo-fascist “corporate state,” bigness is a priori highly suspect, because Big Business most likely got that way through an intricate and decisive network of subsidies, privileges, and direct and indirect grants of monopoly protection.

Yet if Rand, Branden, and Rothbard all accepted this crucial aspect of left-libertarian analysis, then a) where did Rothbard depart from Rand and Branden, and b) where did all three depart from left-libertarianism as we understand it today? (On the specific issue of economic inequality, I mean – not getting into the various other areas of disagreement.)

A crucial difference dividing Rothbard from Rand and Branden is that Rand and Branden do not seem to fully recognise the implication of their insight that under present circumstances the “unproductive rich” can maintain their position “with little fear of competition.” If they did, they’d have to agree with Rothbard that “bigness is a priori highly suspect” in the present-day economy, given the likelihood that it is the product of “subsidies, privileges, and direct and indirect grants of monopoly protection.” Rand, by contrast, famously declared big business a “persecuted minority,” a formulation ridiculed by Rothbard. While endorsing the premise that government controls insulate the rich from competition and make it difficult for newcomers to rise up, Rand fails to draw the logical conclusion that any firms that do manage to become enormously wealthy in the present-day economy are in most cases likely to have achieved their status at least in large part via government favoritism, and so are proper objects of suspicion, not celebration and defense.

Thus Rothbard is more consistent on this point than Rand and Branden, and so is closer to left-libertarianism. This is presumably in part because he had read and embraced the New Left historical discoveries, by thinkers like Gabriel Kolko, James Weinstein, and William Appleman Williams, of the actual historical role of big business in American history, showing that the Gilded Age magnates that Rand idolised were indeed mostly state-supported parasites too – discoveries that Rand never showed much interest in. (Later Randians eventually got around to discovering Kolko, and responded by going on the attack; see, e.g., here and here. A left-libertarian response to the contemporary Randian critique of Kolko is forthcoming in the Molinari Review.)

Where Rothbard parts company with left-libertarianism is that his suspicion of bigness is limited; while “in the contemporary world” vast concentrations of wealth are suspect, he writes that “big business would indeed merit praise if they won that bigness on the purely free market” – which seems to imply that he thinks enormous, systematic, pervasive, and longterm economic inequalities would indeed be possible in a free market – whereas left-libertarianism denies this, since it would be difficult to sustain such inequalities if producers were free to imitate what others were doing to become rich.

Of course there are differences in talent, as in Nozick’s “Wilt Chamberlain example,” that would serve as a bar to perfect imitation. But a glance at the wealthiest firms and individuals – in popular parlance, the “one percent,” a term actually coined by left-libertarian Karl Hess – shows the persistent role of government privilege in maintaining their status; they did not get there or stay there by talent alone.

In Man, Economy, and State, Rothbard does recognise that a single large firm dominating the entire economy would be impossible in a free market, owing to its insulation from market feedback:

In order to calculate the profits and losses of each branch, a firm must be able to refer its internal operations to external markets for each of the various factors and intermediate products. When any of these external markets disappears, because all are absorbed within the province of a single firm, calculability disappears, and there is no way for the firm rationally to allocate factors to that specific area. The more these limits are encroached upon, the greater and greater will be the sphere of irrationality, and the more difficult it will be to avoid losses. One big cartel would not be able rationally to allocate producers’ goods at all and hence could not avoid severe losses.

But Rothbard does not take the further step of recognising that insulation from market feedback is a matter of degree, so that in a free market diseconomies of scale would begin to kick in well before a single firm dominated the entire market. That is why left-libertarians expect a much flatter free-market landscape than the ones envisioned by Rand, Branden, and even Rothbard.


Randians vs. Stoics

[cross-posted at POT and BHL]

Stoicism, particularly in its ethical and political aspects (a defense of individual self-mastery on the one hand and commercial society on the other – for the latter, see, e.g., Cicero’s De Officiis), has been enormously influential throughout western history. During the Roman period it took on something like the character of a mass religious movement; Stoics were also statistically overrepresented among assassins or attempted assassins of Roman emperors. (One third of all Roman emperors died by assassination, so that’s not an insignificant number.) Later on, philosophical thinkers as diverse as Augustine, Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Adam Smith, and Kant would draw on Stoic ideas (though always selectively) in crafting their own ethical and political views.

Cato regrets that he will not be at home to entertain Julius Caesar.

It was also common for anti-imperialist, anti-monarchical writers in the 18th century, including many of the American founders (such as New York governor, Anti-federalist campaigner, and later u.s. vice-president George Clinton – not the musician, alas), as well as British radical republicans like Trenchard and Gordon (authors of Cato’s Letters), to sign their anonymous pamphlets with the name of Cato (the Younger), the Stoic who resisted Julius Caesar’s rise to power. George Washington had Joseph Addison’s play about Cato performed at Valley Forge to inspire the troops. (The Cato Institute also takes its name from this tradition.)

Stoicism is undergoing a bit of a renaissance today, both in academic philosophy (partly because it’s seen as a way of mediating between the eudaimonistic, virtue-ethical Aristotelean approach and the deontological Kantian approach; partly because of Foucault’s role, in his later works, of reviving the “care of the self” tradition in ethics) and in works of popular psychology. (There’s also a striking similarity between the Stoic theory of the emotions and that of Sartre, though I’m not aware that anyone besides myself has commented on this.)

The Stoa today, perhaps after a Randian bombing campaign.

Primarily in response to the popular-psychology use of Stoicism, Randian scholar Aaron Smith has an article up today warning against the perilous influence of the Stoa and urging the preferability of the Randian alternative. (CHT Sheldon Richman.)

I find Smith’s piece a bit frustrating. I mean, I’m broadly sympathetic with his criticisms of Stoicism, but Smith makes it sound, e.g., as though the Stoics had nothing to say about how to reconcile free will with determinism, whereas they had a fairly well-worked out and sophisticated theory.

Identifying the details of the theory is admittedly a bit tricky, as there’s no one canonical Stoic text or even author. The problem is that the theoretical foundations of Stoicism were in Greek manuscripts – by e.g. Zeno of Citium, Cleanthes, Poseidonius, Panætius, etc., and above all by the brilliant and prolific Chrysippus (who to all evidence appears to have been a mind in the same league as Plato and Aristotle) – that are mostly lost. We have to reconstruct their views from quotations, reports, etc. in other authors. (Some famous classical scholar – I forget who – once said he would rather recover a single lost page of Heracleitus than all of the purported 700 or so lost works of Chrysippus. For my part, I confess I would rather recover a single page of Chrysippus than all of Heracleitus.) The Stoic texts that survive intact are not foundational texts; they’re popularising works (mostly, though not exclusively, Roman) that focus more on self-help than on philosophical foundations; of this nature (a bit like the pop-psychology Stoicism books today, actually, though rather better written) are the works of Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, etc. (and Cicero, when he has his Stoic hat on), though they do occasionally refer helpfully if not extensively to some of the background theoretical material. So reconstructing Stoic doctrine is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle task. Happily, we have a lot of pieces so the task is not intractable.

Chrysippus, on being told that all 700 of his works have gone missing.

In any case, the basic idea is that something is up to you if it can be caused by your act of rational judgment, without any further causal factors needed once your act of rational judgment occurs. The fact that your act of rational judgment itself has deterministic causal antecedents is irrelevant, on their view. For something to be up to you is for its happening or not happening to depend on what rational judgment you form. (In other words, a) the causal chain has to go through your act of rational judgment rather than bypassing it [that’s a standard compatibilist or soft determinist move], and b) [and here comes the distinctive interiorising Stoic move that most compatibilists would not sign on to] the causal chain has to go solely through that act of rational judgment, rather than the outcome’s depending on interaction between internal and external causal chains.)

I don’t think this view (either the (a) part or the (b) part) ultimately works (for some of my problems with views like (a), see this paper), but it’s not something that can be refuted simply by pointing to a few Stoic quotations and saying “look! they say they believe in free will, but they also say they believe in determinism! Contradiction! Guilty!”

It would also have been interesting for Smith to have explored the similarities (sometimes quite strong) and differences (also strong, of course) between Stoic and Randian views about the emotions, the relation between ethics and human nature, etc.

Howard Roark, contemplating what he cannot control.

For example, when Howard Roark, the protagonist of Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, says:

“I’m not capable of suffering completely. I never have. It goes only down to a certain point and then it stops. As long as there is that untouched point, it’s not really pain.”

– he sounds pretty damn Stoic. (Though so does Dominique, whose quest is nevertheless for an invulnerability subtly but crucially unlike Roark’s, in ways that would be worth teasing out in this context.)

Likewise, when the Roman Stoic Seneca says:

“A living being has an attachment to itself, for there must be a standard by which all other things are judged. … Since I treat my own welfare as the standard for all my actions, I am concerned for myself above everything else. … Every living thing has an initial attachment to its own constitution; but a human being’s constitution is a rational one, and so a human being’s attachment is to himself not qua living being but qua rational being. For he is dear to himself in respect of what makes him human.”

– he sounds pretty damn Randian. Though again there are important differences too.

Make philosophy, not war: A mosaic of Plato’s Academy, from Pompeii.

Really the article exemplifies a recurring problem with Rand’s own approach to philosophy, which too many of her followers have likewise embraced: an emphasis first and foremost on philosophy as war, as a matter of crushing the wrong views, which tends to lead, if not exactly to a “shoot first and ask questions later” approach, then at least an approach of “ask a few questions, and if the answers don’t sound quite right, start shooting without investigating too closely, trying to sort friend from foe, or trying to convert foe to friend.” Philosophy as a battleground, not as a field of potentially fruitful exchange. Thus it’s not philosophia, love of wisdom, so much as philonikia, love of victory. And so this piece passes up any opportunity of the form “let’s try to use Stoic ideas as useful occasions to think and learn about these issues” in favour of jealously guarding the faithful against lapses into heresy. (Of course the same criticisms apply to mainstream academic philosophers’ engagement with Rand.)

In philosophy I generally find a military or policing approach less valuable than a catallactic approach, in Hayek’s sense of the word:

“These terms [e.g., catallactics, catallaxy] are particularly attractive because the classical Greek word from which they stem, katalattein or katalassein, meant not only ‘to exchange’ but also ‘to receive into the community’ and ‘to turn from enemy into friend’, further evidence of the profound insight of the ancient Greeks in such matters ….”

Admittedly, this is an insight that the ancient Greek philosophical schools often lost sight of when they were engaging with one another. But we should strive to imitate their best moments, not their worst ones.


Names, Wanted and Unwanted

Many days passed before we could speak to the Golden One again. But then came the day when the sky turned white, as if the sun had burst and spread its flame in the air, and the fields lay still without breath, and the dust of the road was white in the glow. … But the Golden One stood alone at the hedge, waiting. …

And we said: “We have given you a name in our thoughts, Liberty 5-3000.”

“What is our name?” they asked.

“The Golden One.”

– Ayn Rand, Anthem

In despair I followed him into the Madidinou Fields, in an afternoon in the end of the dry season. … He turned away and went on working. …

I said, “Once I gave you a name in my heart. Do you want to know what it was?”

He said nothing, did not look at me, and went on working.

I left him there with his cutting knife and basket and walked away between the long-armed, contorted vines. Their large leaves were rust-colored in the dusty light. The wind blew dry and hard.

– Ursula K. Le Guin, Always Coming Home


Forthcoming Anthology on Dialectical Libertarianism

[cross-posted (with slight variations depending on audience) at C4SS, BHL, and POT]

Several C4SS people (Jason Lee Byas, Kevin Carson, Gary Chartier, Billy Christmas, Nathan Goodman, and your humble correspondent) are among the contributors to a forthcoming anthology, Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, edited by Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Roger Bissell, and Edward Younkins.

Not the actual cover

Not the actual cover

Other contributors, from a variety of libertarian traditions, include Robert Campbell, Troy Camplin, Douglas Den Uyl, Robert Higgs, Steven Horwitz, Stephan Kinsella, Deirdre McCloskey, David Prychitko, Douglas Rasmussen, John Welsh, and the editors themselves (Sciabarra, Bissell, and Younkins).

In Sciabarra’s words: “These essays explore ways that liberty can be better defended using a dialectical approach, a mode of analysis that grasps the full context of philosophical, cultural, and social factors requisite to the sustenance of human freedom.” Sciabarra notes that while “some of the authors associated with the volume may very well not associate themselves with the views of other authors herein represented,” a “context-sensitive dialectical approach” is “living research program” that “will necessarily generate a variety of perspectives, united only in their ideological commitment to freedom and their methodological commitment to a dialectical sensibility.”

Sciabarra has devoted his career to exploring such an approach, most notably in his “Dialectics and Liberty” trilogy Marx, Hayek, and Utopia; Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical; and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism.

Check out Sciabarra’s announcement of the Dialectics of Liberty anthology here, and the abstracts of chapters here.


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