Thursday, November 30, 2006
The solution is actually to take away the state adminstration of marriage altogether; to privatize marriage. An institution, church or agency is free to contract marriages. Each institution is free to choose whether or not to do gay marriages. On one hand, gays indeed do not have an abstract "right" to be gauranteed that every institution does gay marriages. On the other hand, neither do straights have an abstract "right" to be gauranteed that every institution does not do gay marriages. Those who wish to get straight marriages will go to those institutions they are most comfortable with, and they can have no valid complaint of the existance of an institution that allows gay marriages.
Since there is a (rising) demand for gay marriages, presumably it will be met by the provision of the service, presumably by the very least by individuals in the gay community, as well as others who are willing to provide the service. Those who wish to get gay marriages will go to those institutions which allow it; and to argue that no such institutions can arise privately when no legal impediments exist to doing so is nonsensical. The state simply has no jurisdiction over it. A marriage is a contract between two people, not between those two people and the state. The "legal" status of a marriage should be as a contract between those two people who are married. Marriage is thus really a matter of very basic contract law, not a matter of the federal government or a privilege.
Once again, private property rights provides an optimal solution to social questions. Unfortunately, conventional politics frames the debate in terms of special interest instead of a question of private property vs. government, state's rights or contract law. Instead of viewing the issue (and it really should't be an issue in the first place) in terms of general principle, it becomes, first, a partisan question, and second, an endless battle between two special interests - on one side, the gay community and pro-gay activists, and on the other side, the religious-right community and anti-gay activists. Such cultural warfare misses the point and transforms our society into "the mob" over time. Insteading of picking sides in cultural battles, it is best to sit back and rationally access the situation, and find a neutral solution.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
To treat man as equivalent to all other animal species is a sociological error that refuses to recognize what distinguishes the human species from the others. What distinguishes humans, in particular, is their (concededly finite) ability to overcome primal urges and instinct. And this is because of man's peculiar rationality as a species. Man is not totally "irrational" like other species. The proper meaning of “rational” with regard to man is the capability of free choice, of acting beyond mere instinct. What makes the other species “irrational” is the lack of this ability. They are incapable of moral self-determination and full self-awareness. They may possess a diverse array of interesting and amazing physical capabilities, but they do not approach the capability of rationality that humans possess.
Further, to demonize all of our fundamental urges as bad is also an error. A primary example would be the impulse to protect oneself and one's property from invasion. How can the value of protecting your household and family from invasion/intruders be "evil"? This is in fact a necessity and a "good" that comes out of a very "primal" urge. Without it, survival would be much harder, and life would be much more brutish and short. So on the one hand, our "primitive" urges are not all 100% evil, and on the other hand, man is precisely defined by their ability to suppress primal urges when they get in the way of rationality and ethics. This is what is totally overlooked by the pessimistic view of man. Man, unlike other species, has the rationality to choose between "good" and "evil", to suppress the desire for "evil".
It's free will in a hand basket. Man is not predestined to one or the other - it is all up to each individual's choice. Without such capability of rational calculation and free moral choice, we would cease to be human, and indeed without such free will there is no such thing as moral choice. Indeed, to deny man’s free will is simultaneously to deny the existence of moral choice. The two are inseparable; one stems from the other, even mutually. If one is not capable of freely choosing, then all genuine capability for morality has been lost. Simultaneously, if one is not capable of accessing ethical questions, then the rationality involved in making a free choice has been lost. To claim “man has no nature” is absurd; everything has a nature of its own. Everything has laws that govern it; a nature.
There are some who, while acknowledging man’s free will, deny that we can develop an objective process of accessing ethics when making a free choice. They maintain that the rational assessment of ethics is entirely subjective. The problem with this position is that it is completely morally ambiguous. In practice, it turns free will into a mandate for whatever action is freely chosen by the individual; hedonism. This is truly the formula for complete lawlessness, for one can simply point to free will or subjectivity to “justify” whatever they choose to do.
The subjectivist/relativist is more often than not stuck doing one of two things: assuming that all choices are naturally “good” or “correct”, or being 100% indifferent to the means of an action (or at least putting on the façade of being such a tabula-rasa). An objective ethics is necessary to correct this fallacy. Free will means you have the capability of free choice, but it does not mean that whatever you choose is justified on the basis of free will. In order to solve this problem, one must develop an objective criterion by which to judge whether or not an action is correct or incorrect, and this criterion can be formed on the basis of man’s nature and survival.
In looking at man’s nature, we soon discover a very fundamental axiom: self-ownership. Each individual owns their own person by their nature. If the individual did not own their person, then they would not be capable of controlling it. And if an individual does not control himself or herself, then they cannot take any thought or action at all. But obviously, human beings do think thoughts and take actions, as an expression of their control over their own persons, which they therefore own. We simply would not exist as thinking and acting beings without self-ownership. Without self-ownership, we literally would be incapable of survival, for we would lack the means by which to act.
The existence of self-ownership is self-reinforcing – to deny its existence is to prove its existence by the mere act of using one’s own person to express the opinion that it does not exist. Self-ownership is in every sense objectively “self-evident”. The conclusion with regard to our ethical criterion is that since each individual naturally owns his or her own person, action that violates this ownership is incorrect action. An obvious implication from this is that you cannot murder, rape or assault someone, for this would invade his or her self-ownership; such action literally invades the victim’s control over their own person, where one individual unjustly controls the person of another. Obviously, slavery is the most blatant violation of self-ownership.
Free will in itself, while an important factor to keep in mind, is not the criterion by which we properly judge action, but the question of just and unjust ownership ultimately decides such questions. Indeed, every single “human right” that one can list derives in some way from self-ownership. One’s self-ownership, as derived from human nature, is where all rights come from (and thus if we do not properly access man’s nature or deny its existence, we negate human rights). Things such as “freedom of speech”, “freedom of religion”, “freedom of self-defense” and “freedom of exchange” are all merely individual implications and applications of one’s self-ownership. And all of it derives from man’s nature, as pre-existing and self-evident.
The principle of self-defense is a very basic consequence of self-ownership. As we have established, attacking or raping the person of another violates their self-ownership. The person who's self-ownership is in violation has a right of self-defense, to negate their violation. We therefore have a distinction between the just and unjust use of force: the unjust use of force is against the person or property of others, and the just use of force is in defense of that person and property against such unjust force. And, as we have established above, self-defense is a very basic, primal and necessary "instrinct" that derives from our nature. Without self-defense, survival is harder to achieve. To denounce self-defense as "evil" or "brutish" is to, in essence, oppose a basic necessity for human survival. It would be absurd to deny the right of someone to employ force to stop someone from raping or murdering them; thus, the pure pacifist view must be rejected on ethical grounds. The lack of self-preservation is a blatant departure from man's nature, and to take away one's right of self-defense is a blatant violation of self-ownership.
A further methodology is required in the instance of an individual citezen, or a police officer, witnessing a scene of two individuals attacking eachother, fighting. Approaching such a situation without previous knowledge presents us with the problem that we do not know who is using just or unjust force. One of the people could be defending themself from the initial invasion of the other. A brave individual citezen may be inclined to "take the law into their own hands", or a police officer may be inclided to employ overt force, in response to such a scenario. But if they do not objectively know who is the aggressor and who is the defender, this action would be uninformed and therefore likely to be flawed. If it can adequately be accessed as to who is the aggressor and defender, then such action can legitimately be taken. If not, then such action becomes prejudicial and prone to error.
It must be emphasized that self-ownership does not imply that the individual can do anything they want. Self-ownership inevitably applies to every individual, and therefore actions that violate the self-ownership of others are a reducto ad absurdum. Self-ownership, by the mere nature of the term, applies to all actions of the self, control over yourself. It does not imply that you can do anything you want with regaurd to others, to control others. Self-ownership is therefore negative in character - it is the freedom to not have your person aggressed against, not a positive power to do whatever you want with regard to other people. The only power it grants is that over your own self, and the only right it grants is the right to not have that power over yourself aggressed or coerced against. It is nonsensical to point to one's own self-ownership to "justify" you violating the self-ownership of someone else.Another axiom that arises as an inevitable consequence of self-ownership is free contract and homesteading; the free market economy. Property rights are an extension of self-ownership. For example, someone who initially homesteads of piece of land and makes use of it has expressed his or her self-ownership over that land. They have literally transformed the land into something new by mixing their persons and labor with it. If that person cultivates that land to produce crops, the crops are his or her property as a result of the homesteader mixing their person with the land. In relation to survival, once again, if individuals did not possess the ability to acquire property then survival would be virtually impossible. Man inherently requires the resources of the earth to survive, to produce food, shelter and clothing. And land ownership is the first and foremost requirement to earn such necessities, for the land is what spawns all of the initial tools and materials necessary to produce.
We thus come to a glaring truth: man requires production to survive, and the capability to produce is an intrinsic part of human nature. Man makes tools (capital goods) by which to produce goods and services (consumer goods). Though while this ability exists in every individual, it is not equal with respect to every individual. We thus discover that human nature is one of diversity; individuality. Individuals vary in their mental and physical attributes; everyone is not equal in this respect. They are only equal in possessing the capability to produce; they are unequal with respect to how efficiently and how much they are capable of producing as an individual, and how willing they are to use their abilities; to what extent they are willing to apply themselves.
People are good at different things then one another, and some are better or worse than others at particular things. Someone who possesses the trait of strength will tend to succeed in areas that involve physical labor and exercise; someone who possesses high mental abilities will tend to succeed in areas that involve intellectual labor and ideas. This is the natural basis for specialization; each individual tends to, or at least ideally should, specialize in the area(s) in which they are best at. The “optimal” results that can be achieved out of total self-reliance would be one in which each individual fits into their own specialization niche in this way (thus optimally providing for their own survival as best as reality can allow); any demand for something beyond this is utopian and silly. In other words, self-reliance can only yield so much; there comes a point where it cannot yield any more.
The conclusion with regard to our ethical criterion is that since each individual naturally owns his or her own property, action that violates this ownership is incorrect action. An obvious implication from this is that you cannot steal from someone, vandalize their property or break into their home, for this would invade their private property rights; such action literally invades the victim’s control over their own property, where one individual unjustly controls the property of another. Each individual must be left free to acquire property (within the bounds of a criterion of just and unjust ownership) and when that property is required his or her ownership of that property should be free from invasion. Property is in a state of non-ownership until an individual uses or stewards it. Once this is done, it is their property. Supposing that another individual wishes to acquire the property of another individual, each of them are free to voluntarily agree to an exchange.
We thus come to another glaring truth: man requires exchange to survive. The advent of consensual exchange, free contract, greatly increases man’s ability to survive and increase the standard of living for everyone. In short, if everyone were confined to complete self-reliance, to only living off of the land that they steward and the property they acquire through homesteading, mere subsistence would be a lot harder to achieve. A population could never be sustained in such a way; in fact, the vast majority of the people would die if they solely depended on self-reliance. The introduction of free exchange, a market economy, allows for people to acquire property and wealth much more easily. For example, if you are a farmer, and you desire corn, but your farm and general land area doesn’t produce corn (suppose you produce berries), you have no means of achieving your desire if there is no means of exchange with others. However, if there is a means by which you can voluntarily exchange the berries produced on your farm for corn from another farmer, then you are capable of achieving your desire. This type of exchange is direct exchange, and the conclusion with regard to our ethical criterion is that action that violates such voluntary direct exchange is incorrect action.
Yet even direct exchange has its limitations. Suppose that the person who is willing to trade corn to our farmer desires something that the farmer does not have; say, wheat. If the farmer does not have any wheat, then they are out of luck. However, if the farmer can trade his berries to another farmer for wheat, then they can then turn around and trade the wheat for the corn. This type of exchange is indirect exchange, and it greatly increases the abilities of individuals to acquire the property necessary to survive and produce for the survival of others. This is how money came about – whatever medium of exchange people were using for indirect exchange became the monetary unit. Traditionally, gold and silver have been the most popular mediums of exchange.
The monetary unit, in its proper form, is therefore merely a tangible good like any other; but what distinguishes this good is that its sole value is in its use for indirect exchange. The true “value” or “price” of money is the cumulative result of all of the exchanges on the market. The money is only “worth” its value in exchange relative to goods and services it is being exchanged to acquire. An increase in the supply of money will only lower the value of each unit. On the other side of the coin, an increase in production on the market will tend to increase the value of each unit. The conclusion with regard to our ethical criterion is that an ethical monetary system is one based on free indirect exchange, which requires that the money arise naturally as a tangible commodity on the market.
Once a monetary system is in place, the grounds for modern employment, and therefore wages, is set into place. On the grounds of free contract, each individual is free to offer or accept a job. The employer and the employee are free to come to a voluntary agreement and contract, setting their hours, wages and work requirements. The employee or potential employee is free to end and refuse the contractual obligations at any time, by simply quiting or not consenting to taking the job in the first place. On the other hand, the employer is free to fire the employee. so long as the remainder of the contractual obligations are met (pay for the employee for the days they worked out of that week, for example), the employer is also free to terminate the contract. Our ethical conclusion is that a sound system of employment is one of free contract. To violate such free contract on the part of an employee would constitute slavery, by forcing them to labor against their will. To violate such free contract on the part of an employer would constitute a violation of rights as well, by forcing them to hire an individual or pay them a certain wage against their will.
And, once again, a system of free contract in employment increases man's ability to survive by their nature, especially in our modern industrial economy. The alternatives are dire: conscription, syndicalism and centrally planned jobs. An important point to keep in mind is that the existance of a freely contracted job actually considerably contributes to the well-being of many people. The wages benefit the employee, the goods or services they produce benefit the various customers who buy and consume them and in turn the employers and buisiness itself (which then can spend that money to improve capital goods, which will increase production and therefore wages). The buisiness itself is in turn beneficial to the community at large, in that it brings jobs, goods and services into the economy. The wealth and well-being it produces extends far beyond itself; the accumulation of this process creates a "standard of living". All of this results from simply adhering to voluntary cooperation under human nature. Optimal human survival and well-being depends on how well we adhere to such an order.
The pessemist about human nature, even if they generally agree with some of the principles espoused above, may be inclined to claim that our analysis suffers from blind "optimism" about human nature, that it assumes that man will always act in an ethical way. But this is a straw man; the claim is nothing of the sort. All that is being done is the pointing out of what the ethical way is, and that it is simultanously most optimal with regard to human survival and well-being. To point to the violation of the ethical method of dealing with such things does not "disprove" the theory, it reinforces it. It demonstrates that the ethical route is not being taken, but does not disprove that it can be taken. It demonstrates that man is flawed, and therefore man does not always choose the right over the wrong. Human nature does not inescapably doom us to be unethical. What is being perscribed is a way to objectively determine what is ethical and how to deal with things that are unethical. When the pessemist points to instances of man violating such ethics, the proper response is to point out that this is why such action should be "illegal", and thus a society which has laws that adequately reflect such ethics will therefore minimize such violations. The existance of such violations is the enivitable result of a society which has laws that do not adequately reflect such ethics; the pessemist is invariably making the case for us in pointing out such social distress.
An entire system of philosophy, ethics and politics can be built upon the basis of human nature and the requirements for survival. We find that actions and ideas that are out of accordance with man’s nature leads to a retrogression to barbarism and primitivism, and actions and ideas that are in accordance with man’s nature lead to progression; an increase in voluntary cooperation and well-being. We find people, on one hand, who demonize man as doomed to the very primitivism that we are expressly capable of overcoming by our nature as humans. On the other hand, we find people who, instead of demonizing man as inherently primitive, refuse to acknowledge the non-primitive attributes of man, and end up actually glorifying the notion of returning to a primitive, tribal state of living – they literally endorse the idea of living in a primitivist way. Both of these groups are in grave error because they do not properly access man’s nature to begin with – they make the mistake of assuming man to be naturally brutish and tribal (one glorifying this, the other demonizing it), failing to see that man’s hallmark is the ability to suppress and overcome such behavior. In basing one’s sociological and economic views upon the basis of a false picture of human nature, or by viewing ethics as completely subjective, the effect is to violate human nature and therefore human rights.
The ethical solution to such questions does not promise complete perfection in results or total goodness in man, it does not promise a whig-inspired theory that history is on an endless evolutionary social progression towards post-humanism, nor does it cave in to pessemistic fear of primitive urges. It merely claims that the optimal (not perfect, but optimal) state of mankind can only be created or approached through adhering to (properly accessed) human nature and the fundamental axoims of action that it implies, such as self-ownership and the market economy. It does not claim that man is inherently good or evil (either of these two arguements is fallacious), but that man is inherently free to and thus capable to choose between good and evil, and that adherance to the axioms of human nature and survival, coupled with non-aggression to others, will lead towards the good.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Background on “Culture War:”
The term “culture war” has become more pervasive in the media and political dialogue over the last decade. There is no exact definition for it. However, the general public contends that we in the middle of a raging conflict between two sides, each wanting to mold society in a visage that reflects there most cherished values and beliefs. That perception has become even more propagated since the 2000 and 2004 presidential election with the rise of the “religious right” and the success of the evangelical lobby. “Christianity in the United States has had long and combative history especially the Protestant-Evangelical denominations. Although the message has never been overly political or economic, there has been a shift towards a more paternalistic and politicized religious movement using party politics as a universalizing method of legislating “morality” (Laff, 2005). This notion of utilizing the political system (especially the courts) to move for cultural and social change is not an entirely new idea but it has been moderately successful for a number of political associations. A coalition with politics or a specific political party has always been a dangerous liaison for religion. Historically speaking, many of the older protestant mainline denominations like Southern Baptists have been suspicious of maintaining the separation between the “wilderness of politics” and the “garden of religion.” However, one may argue that the “culture war” has in effect changed that relationship. This has become more apparent in changes between individuals and their traditions.
Who are the “culture warriors?” Are they elites, wealthy and privileged or are they middle class church goers? Many scholars maintain that the culture war is directed primarily by elites. Those that follow actively are generally a small minority of unusually politically energetic individuals. According to James Hunter (2006), “about 5 to 7 percent of the American population on each side who represent the white hot core of opposition.” He also defines the importance of elites to the process.
“The critics of the Culture Wars hypothesis tend to minimize their role or to dismiss it all together. I find the role of elites to be extremely important, and it's precisely because of the disproportionate role that they play in framing public discussion. It's they who lead the institutions, who have the resources available to them, who have a disproportionate access to the media. It is their sound bites that frame the debate. From my vantage point, the power of culture is the power to define reality, the power to frame the debate, and that power resides among the elites. But they are supported in concentric circles by increasingly large numbers, though of less and less passion” (Pew, 2006).
I disagree with supposition that only 5 to 7 percent of the populations are directly embroiled in the conflict. Perhaps on a national scale, only a small minority are fighting in elite journals and media outlets. However, in small communities and even states battles are being fought on and off church grounds. Wither it be the neighborhood pro-life picketers at the local abortion clinic that is direct involvement in an issue that is unequivocally involved with the “culture war” narrative. For example, “South Dakota voters defeated the strict abortion ban aimed at setting up a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, 56 percent to 44 percent (Pew, 2005). The new state measure would have made it a felony for anyone to help a woman end her pregnancy except in cases necessary to save the life of the mother” (Pew, 2006). This was such a contentious issue that caused even neighboring states to become involved directly. Montana’s Planned Parenthood set up demonstrations in Billings, Helena, and Missoula. North Dakota’s public university students stood in protest and support in Sioux Falls. On the steps South Dakota capitol, both pro-lifers, church goers, and pro-choice protested and supported the bill. I agree that unless the issue is directly linked to the persons individual experience and community chances are they will not become directly involved.
The relationship between the religious and political community is the core issue that makes the “culture war” theory possible. How those individuals make decisions, wither they are rationalized privately or are they moved because of a greater force of the collective will? Culture can move with political change rather than against it. The recent elections have made known us, the religious community will to become more enveloped in the political domain. The idea of influencing secular culture though law has become more and more popular among more radical denominations. We see this in the controversy centered on issues like abortion, stem cell research, and gay marriage.
Abortion is a particularly prevent example of certain denominations (evangelicals) attempt to enter secularized politics. The Roe v. Wade decision has been an exceptionally salient issue in the religious communities. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (2005) “1,502 adults, and July 7-17 among 2,000 adults finds that the public's views on social issues are complex, defying easy categorization. But religion plays a pivotal role in many of these issues, ranging from stem cell research to gay marriage” (Pew, 2005) All of this data implores more complicated questions. Why is religion so important to Americans? Is the religious experience a completely individual one or completely group dominated experience? This would be a vital aspect to understanding the “culture war” ideology. For example, the Evangelical community is a case in point of a religious denomination that is exceedingly devout in private and public life.
“One of the reasons that evangelicals are so important in American society today is because of their enormous energy. This is a community that is just extraordinarily active. Of course, many of us notice the relatively new activity in politics. But evangelicals are active in every other area. They're active in the arts, they're active in cultural things, and they’re active in publishing and broadcasting and the news media. And then, of course, they're very active in religious activities, which include a high level of volunteerism and participation in charitable and other types of Para church activities. And the source of that energy is this powerful tension” (Green, 2004).
The idea that the culture war occurs at an individual level is quite interesting especially with a group like Evangelical Christians. There are divisions within there own about how “in sync” they are with mainstream American society. “This is a group of people that in many ways feel very comfortable with American society; however they feel that they are still a people apart -- that they really have to struggle to get their message out, that they are not respected the way that they ought to be respected” (Green 2004). A decision about whither your message is being placed out in the cultural universe, is purely individual judgment. The decision as to how active you-- one person-- are in the prastylization of that message could be a choice also, probably guided by explicit interpretation of scripture or leader within that church. More importantly, conflicts between, and inside each evangelical show that the battle really is not fought out in the cultural ether, but within and around each individual.
“Three quarters of white evangelicals thinking that they're mainstream, but then three quarters believing that they have to struggle to get their message out. They believe that they have influence with political leaders, with the Bush administration and in Congress. On the other hand, they also feel that they're looked down upon, [that] there are certain institutions that really dislike them. And one of the findings, and I hope this doesn't come as a big shock, but they really don't like the news media too much. They really feel that the news media is hostile to them. It's not just that [the media] has a different point of view, but [it] is actually hostile to them, and I think that's part of that” (Green, 2004).
Evangelicals are very different from mainstream American, yet they are not. I believe that many people feel that way, pushed and pulled by different forces and belief systems which, is the essence of the “culture war” feeling at odds with mainstream culture. Evangelicals embody this conflict wonderfully. “[…] they’re very worried about the institutions that impact families and children -- schools, the news media, entertainment, other forms of education…these concerns link the evangelical community to politics”(Green, 2004).
This could apply a larger issue of direct involvement as well. If an individual chooses to write a letter to his congressman for instance, he may be influenced by a plentitude of diverse opinions in the cultural space (i.e. media, family, religious org, community, etc) and elites that are representative of those attitudes. Ultimately though the choice to write that letter and what is in it is his alone. Just like it is his choice based on rational assortment of information to stand on one side of the picket line or the other.
The “Hunter” Methodology:
Since American is culture has been historically dominated largely by a sense of individualism it would be logical to assume that when a choice is made about one’s “side” of the rhetorical “culture war.” That decision would be wholly made at the individual level, taking the sum of those values and beliefs which are a product of rational assimilation of information provided in the many sources cultural socialization. However, James Davison Hunter's book "Culture War: The Struggle to Define America " suggest that moral values in general and individualism in particular are being contested in America. Hunter—in his book—argues that the boundaries between religious denomination have collapsed and are in flux depending on the alliance of the day, especially when it comes to agreeing on what the American identity and character should be. He also argues that the old debates around these issues have incurred new divisions within Catholics, Protestants, and Jewish denominations. That Americans in general, have become more embroiled in these affairs as they have become more pervasive and in popular media coverage. “It is a division that is vividly seen in the political arena, but the political clashes reflect a deeper division over the sources of moral authority and the extent of individual autonomy “(Jensen, 1998). Hunter then goes about dividing individuals up into two polar groups, naming them perhaps whimsically, “progressives” and “Orthodoxy.” I don’t agree with his conclusions per say, but there is some value to his methodology (which I am going to borrow for the purpose of this article). For example, his choice to break down individuals into “Progressives” and “Orthodoxy” does in a sense remove that immediate religious connotation and rather implies that picking a side in the culture conflict encompasses far more than just religious preference. What is important about that to my argument is that although religious preference is the most apparent feature, it is less important when all the elements are taken into account (i.e. class, partisanship, family, gender, sexual orientation).
The Community v. Individual:
What is the difference between a person who is “individualist” and “communal?” “An essential attribute of collectivist cultures is that individuals may be induced to subordinate their personal goals to the goals of some collective usually family, tribe, or a religious association” (Triandis, Bontempo, and Villareal, Asai, Lucca, 1988). This concept fits Hunter’s Orthodoxy profile, [they] are eager to submit there will to a higher power and to the collective will of the religious denomination. “In individualist cultures there are many more groups like family, coworkers, clubs, and much of the behavior of individuals concerns goals that are consistent with similar and diverse groups”( Triandis, Bontempo, and Villareal, Asai, Lucca, 1988). The individualist is more likely to be subjective in nature and like the Progressive; he will also view the community as more of egalitarian partnership, which is more changeable than the rigidly hierarchical religious Orthodoxy. When one observes a community in its entirety it contains both elements, but does the individual influence the community or does the community influence the individual?
“The ethic of community defines the moral agent in terms of membership in social groups, and the obligations that ensue from this membership. Moral discourse within this ethic centers on a person's duties to others, consideration of others' welfare, and promoting the interests of groups to which the person belongs (such as family and society). The republican tradition described is one example of the ethic of community” (Jensen, 1998). Hitherto, an individual may in fact be a Catholic, and avidly pro-life, yet because of some unforeseen personal experience may in fact become pro-choice. His religions (and community) are expressly against abortion in all forms yet, he makes a choice against the communal wisdom. Suddenly he finds himself on the other side of the “line.” Although in a more symbolic sense, being “against abortion” may make one “a good catholic” in the eyes of the priest and congregation, people will still inexplicably make a rational decision to go against the collective values. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Americans are most likely to “first and foremost speak the language of individualism and emotion” (Jensen, 1998). I am willing to believe that the community wields some social influence over individuals’ actions, but even less than that when we enter the political domain. Then the community will find its influence diminish a great deal. This is where the individual’s rationalism becomes more powerful than the agents of communities imagined will. “The collective, particularly if they are centered on the family as their major collective, tend toward actions that benefit the family rather than the broad public good” (Triandis, 1988). Those in power act mostly to benefit themselves and their group and often will disregard the public good. Too much dependence on the community can lead to ineffective political behavior. Why? They will look to the commune to provide them with a paradigm ranging from on how to vote, on religion, on shopping, on choosing friends, and what kind of work to pursue, to what kind of music to listen to, and what education they should have. I consider that ineffective in politics, because when we cut out rational choice or individual preference, by relying too much on elites we create a tyranny of the majority. That would in turn either devolve into a sort of supra-socialism or on the other extreme an oligarchy.
It is a tendency towards that kind of behavior is why we have separation of church and state. Not just to protect religion from the tyranny of the government (and supra-socialism) but to protect people from the tyranny of religious followers, who put the will of the church above all other (even there own). Does the individual does have to power to tear down the community if he wishes? Translated into “culture war” rhetoric, it would say something like: if elites have no followers, they have no power to mold a political and cultural reality. Each individual must rationally choose to enter into the group freely and the moral discourse of the group must be in agreement with the individual’s emotions and language of individualism (which is very important to Americans as I mentioned before). Without this pseudo-agreement, between individuals and community there would be no conflict, or “culture war.” The “conflict” would instead; be limited to and encompass, few bunches of radical intellectuals on each side quarrelling about ideology.
On the other hand, the relationship between community and individual can be characterized well using Hunter’s methodology. “Progressivists often regard communities as social arrangements where humans who are fundamentally equal in their status come together. In contrast, the Orthodox often regard the source of community as sacred or even divine. In their view, members of communities differ in their roles and statuses, and this differentiation and hierarchy has a divine origin” (Jensen, 1998). What this means is that there is a major difference between how community and the individual perceive there rolls and interact, when discussing it in terms of Progressives and Orthodoxy.
To illustrate those differences, John Doe Arnett in his paper “…….” offers the explanation of Broad v. Narrow socialized communities. “In cultures characterized by broad socialization, socialization is intended to promote independence, individualism, and self-expression” (Arnett, 1995). This fits in well with Hunter’s “progressive” methodology and suits to exemplify the basis of the differentiation in the “culture war” rhetoric. “In contrast, cultures with narrow socialization hold obedience and conformity as their highest values” (Arnett, 1995). He says [they] maintain the viewpoint that the community is seen as something divine and that the hierarchical positions are see as divine origin. This is nearly identical to Hunter’s definition of his Orthodoxy methodology and our definition of communalism.
However, neither group disagrees on what the moral ethic of the community should be, and the interests that should be in the priority. According to Jensen (1998), “[…] it was the kind of community life they wished to promote.” A populace with conflicting views on the fundamental framework of what the community will become is the turmoil from which the “culture war” solidified in the American Psyche.
Yet, how does the individualist fair in such communities, it depends quite obviously on how “Progressive” or “Orthodoxy” the community. “The moral discourse of the Progressivist and Orthodox groups on the self and the community reflected a difference to the extent which they emphasized the will, needs, and feelings of the individual” (Jensen, 1998). In contrast, the Orthodox moral discourse is directly centered on God’s will and their relationship with Him; they reject the idea that a relationship with God is subjective in any way. They maintain that God’s will is an objective fact, and his will is handed down to us through the bible’s scripture. This interpretation could understandably generate an enormous nexus of tension between individualist and communalist living together. Simply, because according to the Orthodox “God has plan for each individual life held that in the case of terminal illness, people may want to die, but they are not allow to end their lives. They must wait to see God’s purpose for them. Basically, this cause for a “plan” can be easily translated into political rhetoric. For right to life or death cases, like the recent Terry Sheivo controversy. The Orthodox judge the will of the individual must be subject to God’s authority, and to know that will you simply read the bible. “The reference point for moral knowledge and moral action is the divine. Thus Orthodoxy speaks first, the language of divinity” (Jensen, 1998).
Nevertheless, the Progressives had a “subjective and individualized concept of the divine” (Jensen, 1998). Progressives also showed there were more willing to except individual moral choices and living in accordance with one’s own wishes, rather than directly by “God’s word.” Individualists also tend to emphasis a personal relationship with God over a “universal connection,” through verbatim elucidation of the scriptures.
Who does have more influence over the “culture war” the individual or community? I think that many involved in the “culture war” are grappling with merit of egalitarian and individualist conceptions. We all contend that with the swing of the pendulum, either side could gain ground. Eventually, radical individualism will lead us into unchecked hedonism. That radical communalism will lead to tyranny and take away our most precious economic freedoms.
“The root of egalitarianism lies in envy and insecurity, which are in turn products of self-pity, arguably the most pervasive and powerful emotion known to mankind. The root of individualism lies in self-interest, not always expressed as a desire for money but also for power, celebrity, pleasures, and titillations of all varieties. Western civilization, of course, has been uniquely individualistic. Envy and self-interest often have socially beneficial results, but when fully unleashed, freed of constraints, their consequences are rot, decadence, and statism”(Bork, 1995).
Perhaps it is better if neither side gains too much ground, that in this conflict and constant tension we will find a certain measure of stability.
So can we really answer the question, does the individual move the community or does the community move the individual? My conclusion on this question is the individuals hold all the cards. It is through rational, like-minded individuals you create a community. A community can not exist without individuals, so I maintain that our “culture war” could not exist if individual people did not have such fundamental disagreements about moral discourse among themselves. Our “culture war” depends entirely on the endurance of individual people to sustain it. It means that it is entirely subjective, and as long as the figurative pendulum swings. When I wrote about the 2000 and 2004 elections I found similar conclusions regarding the swinging pendulum of “culture war.” “Political and Church leaders generally appeal to these people in there congregations, convincing them that a particular candidate or party will bring traditional American values back to replace what they see as a destructive secular tidal wave. Not only do the leaders of these churches offer the return to “traditional values.” Perhaps more importantly, they offer answers to difficult questions, and offer comradely with likeminded people in the face of a shifting and increasingly diverse country” (Laff, 2005). For the immediate future, in any event, what we probably face is an increasingly vulgar, violent, chaotic, and politicized culture.
For many of those that are communal in nature, at some point the they will move away from the common will when he feels that it is becoming to “radical” or not forceful enough in getting the ideological message out in the cultural ether (as we saw with Evangelicals). Americans do not want an all out war. They in general have a vague notion that there is some discomfort tugging at the moral fabric of society. Many pay very little attention and are unconscious participants in the ebb and flow of the cultural tide.
Still, the Elites will continue to benefit from this war of ideas; it makes them powerful, over people and their beliefs. Coincidentally, Elites fit a very individualist profile. They do not submerge there “will” in the communities rather they frame and align that “will.” Which, I believe makes the theory that “individuals move the community” even more valid.
“Cultural elites, the people who control the institutions that manufacture or disseminate ideas, attitudes, and symbols-universities, some churches, Hollywood, the national press (print and electronic), much of the congressional Democratic party and some of the congressional Republicans as well, large sections of the judiciary, foundation staffs, and almost all the "public interest" organizations that exercise a profound if largely unseen effect on public policy. So pervasive is the influence of those who occupy the commanding heights of our culture that it is not entirely accurate to call the United States a majoritarian democracy”(Bork, 1995).
On a more conceptual note, ever since the end of the “Cold War” we as a people and nation have struggled to define ourselves. With the constant menace of communism gone, more than a decade later, we still can not decide what kind of nation we want to be. The true nature of the “culture war,” I believe, is the struggle to define the American character (individual and communal) in an increasingly dangerous and tentative world. Is the “culture war” a battle to define a new American identity or maintain traditions of old? It is hard to say. Some argue our culture is in decline, others say it is coming back with enthusiasm.
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Sunday, November 26, 2006
by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
The more time you spend with Austrian economists or libertarian intellectuals, the more you realize that Murray Rothbard's influence has been underestimated. No, his name is not a household word but his influence is felt in another way: those who read him experience what amounts to the intellectual challenge of their lives. Whether that means adopting his paradigmatic approach to political economy, elaborating on a feature of his system, or attempting a refutation, once read, Rothbard seems inescapable. New Rothbardians are appearing by the day, and not just in this country but throughout the world. Whether in public life or academia, his star is continually on the rise.
These pages have documented the way in which his influence was already increasing, and dramatically so, ten years after his death. With more of his books coming into mainstream circulation (see his History of Thought, Power and Market, and For a New Liberty), it is also a good time to revisit Justin Raimondo's spirited and compelling biography of Rothbard: Enemy of the State, which came out on the fifth anniversary of his passing. (You can purchase this book, and you should, from Mises.org's catalog for $35.) This neglected book reconstructs postwar intellectual history with attention to Rothbard's contribution. The author himself was a player in many of Rothbard's post-1970 ideological struggles so the reader can enjoy a box seat at some of the most exciting debates of the period.
Rothbard's principles were, of course, consistent from the time he first put pen to paper, and they made him a lightning rod for controversy and the standard by which all pro-liberty thought is measured to this day. But it was often the application of the principles, as much as the principles themselves, that earned him passionate detractors and defenders. His enemies were also driven crazy by his unfailing good humor: he was completely unflappable, always found joy in smashing evil, and somehow always won in the end.
Rothbard was the architect of the body of thought known around the world as libertarianism. This radically anti-state political philosophy unites free-market economics, a no-exceptions attachment to private property rights, a profound concern for human liberty, and a love of peace with the conclusion that society should be completely free to develop absent any interference from the state, which can and should be eliminated.
Rothbard worked his entire life to shore up this ideological apparatus – in economic theory, historical studies, political ethics, cultural criticism, and movement organizing. As Raimondo says, no biography can be complete without coming to terms with the simultaneous occurrence of all these professional contributions – a tough job when you are dealing with a legacy that includes 25 books and tens of thousands of articles.
This is an outstanding account of his life that valiantly struggles to treat them all between two covers, though in the end even Raimondo too must specialize, in this case on Rothbard the cultural-political commentator and organizer.
"If ever the antipode of the Court Intellectual existed," Raimondo writes, "then surely his name was Murray Newton Rothbard." Even today, radical thinkers are tolerated insofar as they stick to high theory. But this was not Rothbard's way. He never remained aloof from the passing scene: I've seen 30-page private memos from Murray written weeks before elections evaluating candidates in even the smallest House races. It was in his application that he instructed us, not only in the ideals we should seek, but also in the all-important area of how we might go about achieving them, and do so without compromising ideals.
In 1952, for example, Rothbard (at the age of 28) was very concerned about what was happening to the American Right as it had existed between the wars. The old isolationist, classical-liberal, anti-New Deal forces were being shoved aside in favor of a new breed of Cold Warriors agitating to use the state against Russia, our ally in war only a few years earlier. How could conservatives champion small government and also call for vastly expanded nuclear weapons and a US global empire? He kept asking the question but wasn't getting satisfactory answers. Barely beginning his career as an economist and public intellectual, he flew into the opposition mode.
"What we really have to combat is all statism, and not just the Communist brand," Rothbard wrote in a column appearing in the periodical Faith and Freedom. "Taking up arms against one set of socialists is not the way to stop socialism – indeed it is bound to increase socialism as all modern wars have done." China should be recognized. Nuclear weapons should be dismantled. Not one dime should be spent building the US empire. As for the "captive nations" problem, Rothbard suggested that the US free its own: Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico!
The election of 1956 pitted Dwight Eisenhower against Adlai Stevenson, both of whom offered statist domestic policies (sound familiar?). But Stevenson was against conscription and less pro-war, and thus garnered Rothbard's support, the moral priority being the prevention of another massacre of young men. Rothbard even worked the phones from the Stevenson campaign headquarters in Manhattan. His turn against the Republicans got him tossed off the Faith and Freedom masthead, led him to appeal leftward for allies, and sparked a lifelong opposition to William Buckley and the mainstream of the conservative movement.
Very little changed throughout his life. Rothbard was radically in favor of free markets and radically opposed to war, a wholly consistent opponent of the welfare-warfare state. But in the intellectual-political history of 1952–1989, there was no place for such a person. Official opinion required philosophical inconsistency, and the segmentation of intellectual camps followed the same course.
So Rothbard often had to make political decisions by weighing the foreign-policy question against a candidate's domestic program. Let's fast-forward 40 years, for example, to the presidential elections of the 1990s. Pat Buchanan challenged George Bush for the Republican nomination, saying that Bush had made two unforgivable errors: he waged an unjust war against Iraq and he raised taxes. Did Rothbard cheer Buchanan? So long as he adhered to principle. But Buchanan lost the nomination, and refused to pursue a third-party option. Rothbard then turned to Perot as the candidate worth rooting for, and on the same grounds: Perot blasted Bush's war and his taxes. Then Perot suddenly pulled out. That left Bush and Clinton, whose foreign policy was no different from Bush's but whose domestic policy was worse.
Rothbard then rooted for Bush against Clinton. His very controversial column appeared in the Los Angeles Times, and it garnered more hate mail than Rothbard had ever received in his life. Many libertarians (not famous for strategic acumen or catching the subtleties of such matters) were shocked by his non-interest in the Libertarian Party nominee. But by that time, Rothbard was convinced that the LP was running a presidential campaign in name only, that it was a clique devoted not to real political education but to organizational maintenance.
Had Rothbard become a Republican? Far from it: two years later, he blasted Newt Gingrich in the Washington Post even before the new Republican Congress under Newt's leadership had assembled. Had he become a Buchananite? Take a look at his 1995 piece, reprinted in The Irrepressible Rothbard, in which he predicts that in 1996 Pat would concentrate on protectionism to the exclusion of every other important subject. He was getting trapped into "becoming just another variety of 'Lane Kirkland Republican'." That article sent the Buchananites through the roof. But it foreshadowed the fall of yet another promising political force.
The point that few people could fully grasp about Rothbard was his complete independence of mind. He had one party to which he was unfailingly loyal: the party of liberty. All institutions, candidates, and intellectuals were measured by their adherence to that standard and their ability to promote it. Neither did he make (as the old conservative cliché has it) "the perfect the enemy of the good," as his argument for Bush over Clinton demonstrates. He was always eager to prevent the greater evil in the course of advancing human liberty.
Indeed, Rothbard was a tough-as-nails strategist and thinker, one who was breathtakingly creative as an intellectual force but refused blind devotion to conventional wisdom or any institution or individual that promoted it. Such a man is bound to make enemies. Hardly a day goes by when I don't run across some wild misunderstanding of his life and work, some outrageous calumny spread by those who know he can no longer answer them, some baseless theory claiming to be an extension of Rothbardian ethics, or, worse, a wildly distorted presentation of history that misrepresents Rothbard's role in some political affair.
It's usually best to not pay attention to these trivialists. As Raimondo points out, "he was a giant among pygmies, too large to be consumed by the struggle with his errant followers." There's no reason why today's Rothbardians should be consumed by the claims against him either. And yet, a main virtue of this book is precisely that it debunks a room-full of myths about the man, and it does so not with conjecture, but with primary documentation. Let's consider a few.
He wasn't consistent. Raimondo produces letters and articles from his earliest writings showing that he had mapped out most of his life's work. That goes for his attachment to Austro-free-market theory, his anarcho-capitalism, his devotion to natural rights, his love of the Old Right political paradigm, his optimistic outlook for liberty, his hatred of war, his essential Americanism, and even his reactionary cultural outlook. The ideas were all developed throughout the course of his life, but the seeds seemed to be there from the beginning. The attacks were too. Ralph Lord Roy's 1953 book Apostles of Discord blasted some early Rothbard articles as dangerously supporting "unregulated laissez-faire capitalism." Exactly. He learned, he developed, he elaborated, but he never made a fundamental shift.
He wasn't original. Rothbard never claimed complete originality, as his attackers imply. His economic theories came from the work of Ludwig von Mises, his political ethical views from the Jeffersonian-Thomist tradition, his foreign policy from the American Old Right, his anarchism from the Tucker-Nock American tradition of political radicalism. What Rothbard did was draw them together into a complete and coherent apparatus, and anchor them, as had never been done before, to a complete theory of private property. This is his unique contribution, and Raimondo demonstrates it. Austrian economics and libertarian theory might not have survived into the 21st century but for Rothbard's work. And that doesn't count his hundreds of micro-discoveries along the way. Yes, he was original, and he always underestimated the originality and power of his ideas.
He was just an ideologue. Rothbard wrote volumes and volumes of economic history and economic theory having nothing expressly to do with libertarian theory, or political advocacy, except to the extent that they dovetailed with the rest of his research program. Raimondo also skewers the claim that Rothbard turned to non-mathematical Austrian economics because he didn't know math. Absurd! His Columbia undergraduate degree was in mathematics, with highest honors. He rejected the use of math in building economic theory on strict methodological grounds.
In any case, even as he was engaged in political polemics in the 1950s and early 1960s against the Buckley takeover of the Right, he was writing Man, Economy, and State, as well as long scholarly pieces for the economic journals. He was accused of pamphleteering early on, but his scholarship kept pace with his journalism, as if there were two or three Rothbards working continuously.
He had no lasting influence. As you read Raimondo, you are struck by how far and wide this man's influence extended (and extends) in the world-wide classical liberal movement. He was the founder of the Center for Libertarian Studies, the founding editor of the Journal of Libertarian Studies, the founder of the first Austrian School economics journal, the inspiration behind the Mises Institute, the muse at the New Individualist Review, the leader of the split in YAF, the motivator behind the whole libertarian movement, the recruiter for Mises's seminar, the person who named the Cato Institute, the organizer of the main architects of the old and principled LP platform, and much more.
His speeches appeared in amazing places, from Joe McCarthy rallies to the floor of Congress. His "Circle Bastiat" provided the intellectual infrastructure for decades of growth in the movement. The world today is populated by Rothbardians, and they are wielding surprising influence.
He should have stuck to high theory. The implication here is that Rothbard would have had greater influence had he not reached out to popular audiences. That's nonsense. Like Mises, Rothbard believed in waging a multi-front battle. But Rothbard himself granted that his course was not wise, if what he sought was professional advancement. As he explained in a letter to Robert Kephart:
"Bob, old and wiser … heads have been giving me similar advice all my life, and I'm sure all that advice was right…. When I was a young libertarian starting out, I was advised by Leonard Read: 'Only be critical of bad measures, not of the people advocating them.' It's OK to criticize government regulation, but not the people advocating them. One big trouble with that is that then people remain ignorant of the ruling class, and the fact that Business often pushes regulatory measures to cartelize the system, so I went ahead and named names….
"Then, when I became an anarchist, I was advised, similarly: 'Forget this anarchist stuff. It will injure your career, and ruin your scholarly image as a laissez-faire Austrian.' I of course didn't follow that perfectly accurate advice. Then, come the late 1950s, I was advised by friends: 'For god's-sakes, forget this peace crap. Stick to economics, that's your scholarly area anyway. Everybody is against this peace stuff, and it will kill your scholarly image, and ruin you with the conservative movement.' Which of course is exactly what happened. And then: 'Don't attack Friedman directly. Just push Austrianism.' And 'don't push Austrianism too hard, so you can be part of one big free-market economics family.'
"So you see, Bob, my deviation from proper attention to my career image is lifelong, and it is too late to correct at this point. I'm sure that if, in Ralph [Raico]'s phrase, I had been 'careful,' and followed wise advice, I would now be basking in lots of money, prestige, and ambiance…. Why did I take the wrong course? … If there had been lots of libertarians who were anarchists, lots who were antiwar, lots who named names of the ruling elite, lots attacking Hoover, Friedman, etc., I might not have made all these choices, figuring that these important tasks were being well taken care of anyway, so I may as well concentrate on my own 'positioning.' But at each step I looked around and saw indeed that nobody else was doing it. So then it was up to me."
He quit doing serious economics after the early 1960s. This accusation seems to credit the greatness of Man, Economy, and State and America's Great Depression from the early 1960s, but suggests that he peaked in these years and went downhill from there. This charge can only be sustained by failing to carefully examine his 100-page bibliography. He wrote for the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences in 1968, and his articles "Lange, Mises, and Praxeology," "Freedom, Inequality, Primitivism, and the Division of Labor," and "Ludwig von Mises: Paradigm for our Age" appeared in 1971, and, in 1972, he had chapters in several scholarly books on World War I, Herbert Hoover, and economic method. So it goes in 1973, the year he wrote a long piece on method for a volume devoted to phenomenology (oh, yes, he also came out with For a New Liberty that year), and several more articles for economic journals.
And in 1975, the first and second volumes of Conceived in Liberty came out – a detailed narrative history of the Colonial period. A year later, fully eight long scholarly pieces appeared, as well as another volume of Conceived. On and on it goes throughout his career (including his studies of Fetter's interest rate theory in 1977, his three seminal pieces on Austrian theory for the first post-Mises books on Austrian theory, his introduction to Mises's Theory of Money and Credit in 1981, his eight large scholarly pieces on economic theory in 1987 (including his many entries in the Palgrave, etc. etc.), culminating in his two-volume History of Economic Thought, which Raimondo regards as his crowning achievement.
He abandoned radical libertarianism after the early 1970s. This is the opposite charge from the one made above, made by people who were irritated that he did not keep writing For A New Liberty again and again. But in fact, Rothbard kept plugging away on extending the libertarian framework, with pieces throughout the 1970s (one on punishment is cited and extended in Randy Barnett's new book on libertarian legal theory). "Society Without a State" appeared in 1978, "Quest for the Historical Mises" appeared in 1981, and, most importantly, The Ethics of Liberty appeared in 1982. "World War I as Fulfillment" – one of his most radical pieces ever – appeared in 1989, and, of course, throughout the 1980s, he was blasting away at Ronald Reagan's foreign and domestic policy (a time when many ex-libertarians were cozying up to the government).
He didn't do any serious scholarly work after the late 1970s. This is another related charge, and it is equally as absurd. Take a look at Edward Elgar's Logic of Action, a two-volume collection of his scientific writing appearing in that publisher's Economists of the Century series. Most of the pieces come from the 1980s and 1990s, when he was, if possible, more productive than he had been during any other period. Also, see above.
He allowed Libertarian activities to distract him from scholarship. This line is repeated by those who were actively involved with his struggles over the leadership of the Libertarian Party. Certainly those battles consumed his enemies. There are even times when these activities threaten to consume Raimondo! But, as he points out, during the worst of the battles (1979–1983), Rothbard wrote and published The Mystery of Banking and The Ethics of Liberty "in addition to several major scholarly articles, and was simultaneously researching a book on the Progressive era in American history" (manuscript in the archives of the Mises Institute). "How he managed this level of productivity while engaged in this increasingly acrimonious dispute is a testament to the scale of his intellectual gifts," Raimondo writes.
Some respond: but if he hadn't been involved in these petty political struggles, how much more might he have produced! This is a fallacy. For Rothbard, activism of this sort was a habit, a means of relaxation, a source for diverting his energies in order to replenish them for the heavy lifting he had to do. It is as silly to imagine "what might have been" as it is to think what the average person could accomplish at work if he never had to sleep. By the way, Rothbard also spent countless hours reading about chess, attending classes on music and architecture, watching his beloved soap operas, and keeping up with sports. Are we to say that these "distracted" him, or should we say that they made him a well-rounded person?
He left libertarianism to become a leftist in the 1960s. Raimondo's book puts all this in perspective, at long last. The upshot: Murray never became a leftist in the way we understand that term. Again, his views never changed. His "New Left Period" had nothing to do with hippies; it was an attempt to seek soldiers for the libertarian cause within the ranks of the Left because it was here you found the anti-statism of the day: the complaints about federal police, the anti-draft protests, the anti-war sentiment, war revisionism, the praise of civil disobedience, and all the rest. Murray worked to find the best parts of the New Left and steer its leadership to a pure position. It didn't work, though it didn't entirely fail either. In any case, it was the best hope he had at the time.
He departed libertarianism during his paleo period. Again, Murray never left libertarianism. He did leave the Libertarian Party and its surrounding movement (including the DC crowd trying to ingratiate itself with the state) in 1989. I was there when Murray was hooted down during a convention when he rose to speak on behalf of his candidate for party chairman. Yes, it's true: outrageously, they booed him because his candidate was too bourgeois and too middle class, despite being politically radical. Recall that 1989 was the year the Cold War ended, and a new opening appeared to achieve Rothbard's dream of bringing about a middle-class revolution against the state. He saw that the Libertarian Party was not the vehicle for doing this. Might his judgment have changed later?
In later years, he sucked up to the Right. This is a very odd claim given that most of his popular writings from the 1990s, as collected in The Irrepressible Rothbard, consist of attacks on the mainstream of right-wing individuals and organizations, particularly the welfare-warfarism of the neoconservatives. This claim also fails to understand a point that Raimondo hammers again and again: foreign policy was a top concern for Rothbard. He saw that the Left was becoming committed to "humanitarian imperialism" after the destruction of the Soviet Union, while the grass-roots Right was becoming isolationist on foreign policy. He sought to encourage this trend.
In the meantime, a dozen articles in mainstream venues have taken notice of the very rise of isolationist sentiment that Rothbard noted earlier than anyone else. To a surprising degree, he was responsible for turning a trend into a movement, especially among a new generation of scholars and political activists who had no intellectual investment in Cold War political opinion. As for his Confederate sympathies, he was calling Lincoln the "butcher of the South" in the early fifties, just as John T. Flynn, Mencken, and Nock did in earlier generations.
He was a great theorist but a terrible strategist. Also absurd. Raimondo demonstrates the acuity of his strategic thinking even in some of his most controversial moves to reach out to the Left and reach out to the Right. In its time, each move made sense and fit with the overall strategic plan. In fact, one of Rothbard's seminal contributions was developing libertarian strategy. Moreover, Raimondo also shows that his detractors, who were always anxious to sell out to the powers-that-be, invariably flamed out. Raimondo only takes issue with one strategic judgment Rothbard made over a particularly bitter LP nomination fight, but even here he provides the reader with enough information so that you can see it from Rothbard's point of view.
He loved Khrushchev and was objectively pro-communist. This accusation circulated in the 1960s and resurfaced in Bill Buckley's bitter and malevolent obituary of his old nemesis. "Rothbard physically applauded Khrushchev in his limousine as it passed by on the street," wrote Buckley. Nonsense. What was at issue was Rothbard's refusal to join the ridiculous National Review campaign to whip up a protest against Khrushchev's visit to the US (taken, we now know, over the vociferous objections of hard-liners in the Kremlin). Raimondo quotes Rothbard noting that Buckley and Co. are always eager to extend their hand to any other "Bloody Butcher" in the world, including "Winston Churchill, Bloody Butcher of the refugees of Dresden, and countless others." Rothbard refused to join Buckley's call for "a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores" to fight the Cold War, and for that, Buckley never forgave him. (A must read: the epilogue skewering Buckley's obit point by point.)
He broke with former friends. The implication behind this attack is that Murray was a nasty guy who liked to stab people in the back. Raimondo shows that Rothbard's legendary breaks – including those with Rand, with Cato, with the LP, with the Buckleyite Right, etc. – were of two types: people stabbing him in the back or Rothbard getting fed up with a long series of despicable sellouts. There were no other kinds of breaks, and, actually, the reader will be surprised at how long-suffering Rothbard proved to be, especially considering the characters and nonsense he was confronted with.
It may seem a petty point, but Raimondo's book very ably demonstrates this long-suppressed truth. Moreover, he shows that Rothbard was often the victim of campaigns against him, whereby former associates tried to wield their influence to suppress his writings. A very special treat is the truth about the Cato-Rothbard split, in print for the first time: Rothbard couldn't take the growing conventionalism of the outfit. Obviously, Rothbard's instincts were born out by later events: he would have left anyway when Cato started backing vouchers, new long-range bombers, forced savings, etc.
He talked Karl Hess into not paying taxes, thereby ruining his life. This charge, which first emerged in an early draft of Hess's autobiography and has otherwise circulated for years, is outrageous on the face of it. Murray cheered on every tax revolt, but he never counseled anyone to be a personal martyr. You can do very little work for liberty from jail, he used to say. Raimondo brilliantly quotes from an old book of Hess's describing the moment he became a tax protestor, and it had nothing to do with Rothbard's urgings and everything to do with Hess's penchant for making bad judgment calls out of anger.
He became a Buchananite. When Pat Buchanan criticized Bush's war and tax increases, and was smeared as an anti-Semite, Rothbard rose to his defense. He also worked to turn Buchanan into a consistent libertarian, or at least to make him into the model of what he once claimed to be: an Old Right isolationist constitutionalist. Raimondo points out that Rothbard was frustrated that he did not achieve his goal. Further, he points out that Rothbard "chided Buchanan for being a classic case of the old adage that some people (especially politicians) often concentrate on those issues in which they have the least expertise; in Buchanan's case, this is undoubtedly the realm of economics." Special credit goes to Raimondo for pointing this out, since he is personally far more favorable to Buchanan than Rothbard was from 1992 forward.
He abandoned libertarianism for the Christian Right. How ridiculous this claim is. Rothbard wrote for conservative Christian publications in the early 1950s and onward because he saw in Christianity a devotion to law and morality, not of state but of transcendent origin. Early memos even have Rothbard praising Catholicism for its implicit universalist anarchism as opposed to the nationalist-statist strains in Protestant history. Moreover, Rothbard showed how the demands of the rank-and-file Christian Right in the early 80s and the mid-90s were mostly libertarian: keep government out of our churches, families, communities, and schools.
He worshiped Mises. Absurd. Raimondo quotes affectionate letters about Mises, and demonstrates that Rothbard saw Mises as the greatest living economist. But he also worked to improve Mises in many areas, including utility theory, the economics of law and intervention, public goods, and many other areas, giving rise to the claim that …
He departed from Mises. Raimondo further shows that Rothbard was far and above Mises's leading expositor and defender, in economic theory and policy. They had a warm relationship. Mises, moreover, had the greatest respect for Rothbard as a man and an economist.
He changed his view of immigration. Actually, Rothbard held the same position his whole life: there is no right to immigrate (as he writes in Ethics of Liberty) but rather immigration should be by invitation (and that those invitations should never be impeded), not invasion, as consistent private-property rights economics would dictate.
He refused to learn from others. Throughout his life, Murray read voraciously and never stopped learning from the good scholarship of those working in many fields. He was always on the cutting edge of the newest valuable literature, drawing the attention of libertarian scholars toward recent discoveries in historical scholarship, economic theory, and philosophical reflection. He also acquired knowledge during his forays with diverse ideological groups: from the Left, he came to fully appreciate the power of protest and from the right, he came to fully appreciate the political implications of cultural institutions as well as the moral necessity of decentralized politics. Moreover, he was ever anxious to credit those around him for insights, as a quick glance at his footnotes indicates.
Meanwhile, the scholarly branch of Rothbardianism is so huge, interdisciplinary and international, I can no longer keep up with it. Not a week goes by when new translations of his work do not appear. And his books keep coming out, selling well, and staying in print. Books, articles, dissertations, and more: Rothbard lives today as never before.
Enemy of the State goes way beyond documenting the life and work of Rothbard. Raimondo argues for Murray's strategic judgment in a huge range of political and ideological controversies. He also explains why Rothbard was so hated and attacked during his lifetime: he was the victim of envious and unprincipled types who couldn't stand his willingness to speak truth to power. And yet Rothbard always maintained his cheerfulness, productivity, and optimistic outlook. Raimondo rightly gives much credit for this to Murray's wife of almost 40 years, JoAnn. He called her, in a dedication, "the indispensable framework," and indeed she was.
Reading it, you can't help but thrill at how this book will affect a new generation of readers, giving them a fresh perspective on post-war intellectual and political history and also inspiring them to radical thinking in defense of human liberty. Even if you have never heard of Murray Rothbard, you will be drawn to his life, his mind, his spirit. To understand his times and ours, you must have this book.
As Raimondo concludes: "Whether it is exercised upon the minds of this generation, or the next, the liberating force of Rothbard's ideas is gathering momentum. He built a monument to liberty, a mighty edifice that towers over the horizon and cannot be ignored – a challenge and a reproach to the guardians of the status quo, and an inspiration to the revolutionaries of tomorrow."
Friday, November 17, 2006
By Walter Block
Milton Friedman died today at age 94. May he rest in peace.
I don't want to discuss the Reagan and Thatcher "revolutions" he supposedly inspired. Nor his "Free to Choose" series, his many years with the University of Chicago and the Hoover Institution, or his Nobel Prize in Economics. These will be covered, I expect, by others, and in great detail. Nor in this recollection do I want to touch upon his monetarism, his championing of school vouchers, the negative income tax, flexible exchange rates, anti-trust laws, his opposition to the gold standard and to privatizing roads and oceans. Libertarians have long disagreed with him on these issues, and this is not the time to delve into such longstanding controversies.
Instead, I wish to focus on the positive, and to relate a few personal experiences I have had with him. I shall end with a joke that gives a taste of the kind of embattled professional life he led.
Here's the positive. Milton was a beacon of light on issues such as the minimum wage law, free trade, and rent control. This might not seem like much to radical libertarians, but, what with the Democrats recently seizing more power, and promising to impose wage levels on those who can least afford them, the unskilled poor, and with hundreds of economists signing a petition in support of this truly vicious and pernicious legislation, Milton's valiant, witty, wise, eloquent and yes, I'll say it, inspirational analysis on this issue must stand out as an example to us all.
Another of the high points of his career, for me, was his "Open Letter" to then drug czar Bill Bennett" (Wall Street Journal, September 7, 1989) in which he alienated many of his conservative followers with his clarion call for drug legalization. The US government has truly unleashed the whirlwind on this matter. It is responsible for untold incarcerations of innocent people and tens of thousands of needless deaths around the world. When one day we as a society come to our senses and repeal drug prohibition as we previously did for alcohol prohibition, we will owe that happy day to Professor Friedman as much as to any man.
My favorite essay in his Capitalism and Freedom is chapter 9, where Milton rips into the AMA for its policies of restrictive entry into the field of medicine. With the Democrats taking over both houses of congress, and with that harridan Hillary the front runner for its presidential ticket in 2008, we will likely face some mighty battles against the imposition of fully socialized medicine. Thanks to this insightful analysis of Milton's, we will not be without intellectual ammunition in this regard.
Here's the personal. The honor once befell me in the 1980s to serve as Milton Friedman's chauffeur. I drove him around Vancouver, British Columbia during the day of one of his speaking engagements there that evening. The trip was part tourist and part business: pick up at the airport, lunch, a few radio and television interviews during the day, setting up the podium for his evening's speech, etc. I was amazed and delighted at his pugnaciousness in defense of liberty. He would engage seemingly everyone in debate on libertarian issues: waitresses, cameramen, the person placing the microphone on his lapel. He was tireless, humorous, enthusiastic.
Another vignette. He once made a statement at a meeting of the American Economic Association that made me very proud indeed to be an economist. He stated (this is a paraphrase from memory) as follows: "Thanks to economists, all of us, from the days of Adam Smith and before right down to the present, tariffs are perhaps one tenth of one percent lower than they otherwise would have been." Dramatic pause goes here. A very long pause. He then continued: "And because of our efforts, we have earned our salaries ten-thousand fold." What could put matters in better perspective?
Another personal recollection. Once, at a Mont Pelerin Meeting, there was a panel discussion entitled "How to win a Nobel Prize in economics." The panelists were James Buchanan, George Stigler, and, of course, Milton Friedman. This was pretty fast company. I don't remember any of the specifics but I remember coming away from that event with the thought that "Milton Friedman is an intellectual tiger," so overwhelming was he in that discussion.
Speaking of overwhelming, I once had the experience of leading a Liberty Fund Colloquium where we discussed empirical measures of economic freedom. I won't mention all the sixteen or so participants, all of whom were powerful speakers, witty, highly articulate and knowledgeable. But I'll mention this: aside from Milton Friedman, there was his wife Rose and their son David.
Leave the market alone
As can be expected, it was difficult apportioning scarce time amongst so many top theorists on this issue; a hard and fast rule in such events is that only one person could speak at a time. Anyone who knows them knows that Milton, Rose, and David would have dominated our deliberations. Things came to such a pass that I remember screaming out, perhaps the wittiest comment I ever made in my entire life: "One Friedman at a time!"
I regard Milton as my intellectual grandfather. He was Gary Becker's
teacher, and Gary was mine. I am one of literally thousands of his
intellectual grandchildren by this way of calculating such matters,
since Milton heavily impacted decades worth of graduaute students during
his tenure at the University of Chicago. Virtually all of them went on
to accomplished academic careers of their own at research universities.
Here's the joke. I hope and trust that no one will take it amiss to tell a joke at a time like this. I do so because I think it helps my goal here: to celebrate the life of a distinguished intellectual by giving a peek into his life that might not be readily available elsewhere. I certainly mean to offend no one. In any case, here goes:
One day an economist looked up and saw a little girl being attacked by a vicious dog, just down the street. He rushed over and saved the girl by strangling the dog.
A reporter interviews him and says, "Sir, this is a wonderful thing you have done. Did you say you are an economist?"
"Yes, I am," says the economist.
"Very good, sir," says the reporter, "this will be our lead story tomorrow, and the headline will be 'Radical libertarian economist saves little girl from vicious dog.'"
"Well, I'm not that radical," says the economist. "I'm really more of a classical liberal."
The reporter scratches his head and says, "Well, we'll come up with something. Whose views would you say you are closest to?"
"Oh, I suppose it would be Milton Friedman," says the economist.
Next day, the economist buys the paper. Across the front page is splashed: "CHICAGOITE KILLS FAMILY PET!"
Friday, November 10, 2006
Having lost control over the U.S. House of Representatives and possibly also the U.S. Senate, Republicans have no one to blame but themselves. They deserved to lose.
For years, Republicans have used libertarian rhetoric in their political campaigns. “We favor freedom, free enterprise, limited government, and responsibility,” Republican candidates have so often proclaimed. “We’re opposed to big government,” they loved telling their constituents.
Recall what Republicans used to tell people during the 1980s, when they controlled the White House but not the Congress: “The only reason we’re not cutting federal spending is because Democratic control of Congress prevents us from doing so. If we only had control over both the executive and legislative branches, we would slash federal spending and abolish departments and agencies.”
People believed them, but it was all a lie from the get-go. The libertarian rhetoric was employed for one – and only one – reason: to deceive people into putting Republicans into power so that they could take control over the federal government and its vast IRS-collected resources and then consolidate their power over the lives and resources of the American people.
The truth, no matter how discomforting Republicans might find it, is that President George W. Bush is nothing more than a variation of Bill Clinton – and a worse one at that. Sharing Clinton’s socialist conviction that the federal government is an agent of morality through its “compassionate” confiscation and redistribution of wealth, Bush has far exceeded Clinton in social-welfare spending. No one can reasonably deny that Bush and his Republican congressmen have been bigger big-government men than Clinton and his Democratic cohorts.
After all, it’s not as if the Republican members of Congress have opposed any of Bush’s big-government actions. Instead, Republicans in Congress have served Bush as loyally and obediently as their rubber-stamp counterparts in the Iraqi congress did for Saddam Hussein.
How many departments were abolished when Republicans controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress? How many agencies? How many spending bills were vetoed? How many pork-barrel projects were jettisoned? How much was federal spending reduced?
These people – and their control over the White House and Congress – have been nothing but disasters for this country.
Republicans deserved to lose not only because of the damage their big-government devotion has brought to our nation but also because of the horrible death and destruction they have brought to Iraq, a country that never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. Compared to the hundreds of thousands of people killed and maimed in the president’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, the number of people killed by Bill Clinton’s and Janet Reno’s massacre at Waco pales to relative insignificance.
When President Bush announced his intention to invade Iraq, congressional Republicans hopped to attention, clicked their heels, saluted, and said, “Mr. President, we are here to serve you. Issue your orders and we shall obey.”
Not one peep about the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war. Not one peep about the fact that a war of aggression is a war crime under the principles of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. Not one peep about the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people who would be killed and maimed in the attempt to “get Saddam.” Not one peep about destroying an entire nation. All that mattered was loyally and obediently serving their commander in chief because he was the head of their political party.
When the revelations of torture and sex abuse surfaced, where were the great Republican preachers of morality – those who love looking down their noses at the sins of others while doing nothing to pull the beam out of their own eyes? They just pooh-poohed despicable acts committed by the CIA and the U.S. military – acts of misconduct that more appropriately belonged in a medieval torture chamber or in the seedy outskirts of a U.S. military base. “Just like a fraternity prank,” the great Republican paragons of morality cried. Even worse, they have enabled the Pentagon whitewashes and cover-ups to succeed, not only with their indifference but also with their Pinochet-like grant of immunity from criminal prosecution to the president and his minions in the CIA and the military.
The Republican members of Congress, some of whom carry pocket-sized versions of the Constitution, have stood silently by, year after year, as President Bush set up an international set of secret detention and torture centers, some even located in former Soviet-era torture camps, in a desperate attempt to avoid the constraints of the Constitution.
Even worse, without hardly any discussion or debate and certainly with virtually no input from the public, these Republican “defenders of the Constitution” quickly rubber-stamped the president’s request to let the military hijack our nation’s criminal-justice system, to suspend habeas corpus, to establish kangaroo military tribunals, and to ratify the president’s ludicrous but dangerous designation of American citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants” in the “war on terrorism,” denying American citizens of due process of law, right to counsel, trial by jury, and other rights and guarantees that stretch back centuries into English jurisprudential history.
Not even bothering to read the so-called USA Patriot Act, the Republican members of Congress rubber-stamped the president’s abuse of search warrants, which would have made even King George III proud. Even worse, they audaciously defended the president’s unlawful monitoring of telephone calls without warrants.
Through it all and as a direct result of Republican control of Congress, the federal government has grown larger, more oppressive, more dangerous, and more threatening as each week has passed. Republicans have gotten away with it by terrifying American grown-ups with horrible fears of an ever-shifting array of bogeymen, such as drug lords, illegal aliens, terrorists, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and communists. “Put your trust in us and support our temporary expansion of power,” Republican congressmen have suggested, echoing their commander in chief, “and we will protect you from the bad guys.”
These people – the Republicans – should be ashamed of themselves because they have greatly shamed and damaged our country. Unfortunately, however, they feel no shame because while they love to preach the concept of individual responsibility to others, never ever do they apply the concept to themselves.
All this is not to say that the Democrats are any better. Their political cowardice and fear of being called “terrorist-loving cowards who hate America” have dissuaded them from opposing consolidation of federal power by the Republicans. But while Republicans and Democrats share the same big-spending, big-government philosophy, there is one big difference between them: Democrats make no bones about being advocates of big spending and big government, while Republicans continue to wrap themselves in libertarian limited-government rhetoric. It is hypocrisy like that which makes the Republican loss a deserving one.