Liberty & Power: Group Blog
Roderick T. Long
It’s hard for me not to have mixed feelings about the E.U.'s decision to hit Microsoft with a $600 million fine.
On the one hand, as an opponent of the concept of"intellectual property" I can't buy the portrayal of Bill Gates as purely a heroic entrepreneur being persecuted for engaging in voluntary exchange; as I see it, Microsoft's market share does rest in large part on an unjust monopoly. (For an anti-IP libertarian analysis of Microsoft, see François-René Rideau's piece here.)
On the other hand, Bill Gates' enemies often turn out to be far worse rights-violators than he is -- like Janet Reno, or the creators of Microsoft-targeting internet viruses and worms. It certainly seems so again in this case; as a continent-gobbling super-state in the making, the E.U. is a much more invasive monopoly than Microsoft, and transferring $600 million from the lesser to the greater evil is nothing to cheer about. It’s a bit like the difference between the Postal Service -- which, like Microsoft, at least provides a genuine and worthwhile service, albeit in an unjust and inefficient monopolistic manner -- and, say, the DEA or IRS, whose"services" should not be performed by anybody, whether monopolistically or otherwise. They're all criminal organisations, but some criminal organisations are surely worse than others. (For example, I'd rather live under the Mafia than under the Taliban.)
My attitude to the whole affair, then, is -- to paraphrase Benjamin Tucker -- No pity for Microsoft, no praise for the E.U.
From the Boston Herald March 23, 2004:
"Wrestler-turned-politician Jesse Ventura all but threw his hat into the 2008 presidential ring yesterday - and said he's already decided to tap basketball star Charles Barkley as a running mate.
An independent, Ventura admitted it would be hard to gain nationwide ballot access - but added he's interested enough to have already tapped Barkley, the outspoken retired NBA star."
David T. Beito
I submit that advocates of the pro-war position seem generally oblvious to the need to fulfill this test and thus fail Popper's falsifiability principle.
Here is the pro-war apporach to the Madrid Bombing and the question of terrorism in general:
Terrorism goes up? One argument for why the Iraq war/occupation was justified.
Terrorism goes down? One argument for why the Iraq war/occupation was justified.
I will admit that the pro-war folks have a lot of moxie. They use (or at least strongly imply) that the Madrid bombing provides an argument for why their side was right all along.
On the other hand, any fair advocate of the anti-war position would admit that the case against the war/occupation can be falsified. Thus....
Terrorism goes up? One argument for why the Iraq war/occupation was unjustfied.
Terrorism goes down? One argument for why the Iraq war/occupation was justified.
When will the pro-war side construct a set of arguments that can be tested by Karl Popper's falsifiability principle? In other words, when will they tell us how their position can be refuted? We are waiting.
Robert L. Campbell
Let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that Harold Bloom really did exactly as charged. On top of that, let’s grant that Naomi Wolf couldn’t have gotten any justice while she remained at Yale. Not by confronting Bloom, not by talking to her adviser, not by talking to Bloom’s department chair, not by talking to the Dean of the College, not by filing a grievance.
The situation nonetheless changed when she graduated. She may have imagined him as a malevolent deity, ready to zap her to the ground anywhere she might endeavor to hide, but in fact Harold Bloom was a mere mortal, and he no longer had any authority over her. Wolf didn’t even owe him for the Rhodes Scholarship; he had recommended her before the night of the fatal dinner, but she failed to get it then. When she won the scholarship, on a second try, it was entirely with letters from other professors.
Sheepskin in hand, New Haven in her rearview mirror, Wolf could have written Bloom privately and demanded an apology: “Remember me? What kind of way to behave was that? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” If he failed to come through with the response she deemed appropriate, she could have written a letter of complaint about him to his department chair. If she didn’t get a response out of the chair, she could have written a reminder letter and cc’d it to the Dean of the College. And so on, up the ladder. She could have done these things at minimal risk to herself or her career, within a couple of years of the alleged offense. Instead, she waited 20 years to demand some kind of response from Yale, then sprang the charge in a public forum where Bloom would have no chance to rebut it.
Roderick Long has insisted that Wolf’s months of calls to administrators, and her article published after they failed to give her what she wanted, constitute “blowing the whistle on sexual harassers” at Yale. Only in her dreams. Real whistleblowers expose wrongdoing while it is going on. Most often, they assume the risks inherent in exposing it while they are still in the institutional environment. Not everyone has the guts to be a whistleblower; you do it knowing that you could get shafted. Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer--the professors at the University of Southern Mississippi who dared to investigate a Vice President who lied on her vita--are whistleblowers. As I write this, the president of their university has locked them out of their offices because they blew the whistle, and is seeking to fire them and put an end to their academic careers. By contrast, Wolf says that she used to tell the students who came to her speeches, “I have not been brave enough.” That’s right, and it continues to be right. The biggest risk she runs is negative publicity, in a line of work where controversy attracts attention, and bad publicity is widely preferred to none. Neither Harold Bloom, nor the entire administration of Yale University, can do her any harm whatsoever.
Nor, to pick up a point from Part II, is there much reason to think that Wolf wrote her article to help other women. Besides herself, she describes six who were allegedly mistreated by men at Yale. Rachel Donadio says she was originally going to mention just one—until an indispensable administrative assistant in the Women’s Studies department handed her more cases on a plate. Two of the women say that their professors raped them. Yet who, after reading Wolf’s article, is going to remember Cynthia Powell or Stephanie Urie? Powell’s story reads like chunks of a police report; Urie’s apparently consists of extracts from a legal brief. What happened to them, if they are telling the truth, is immensely worse than what happened to Wolf, if she is. But for them there are no “heavy, boneless” hands hot on thighs, no floors spinning, no kitchen sinks to back into. Such vividness Wolf reserves only for herself.
To be concluded in Part V.
Chris Matthew Sciabarra
First, there was former CIA weapons inspector David Kay. He had the audacity to say"that Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction before the war and that U.S. intelligence agencies missed the signs that would have told them as much."
Then came Paul O'Neill, former Bush administration Treasury Secretary, who had the colossal gall to claim that the"administration was planning to invade Iraq long before the Sept. 11 attacks and used questionable intelligence to justify the war."
Now comes the President's former counter-terrorism czar, Richard Clarke, who shows utter disloyalty in claiming that President Bush himself pressured advisers to come up with a link between Iraq and the 9/11 attack. Clarke tells us that the administration was hell-bent on attacking Iraq, despite the fact that Al Qaeda was the gathering threat in the months prior to 9/11. On 60 Minutes, Clarke charged that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz rejected any need"to deal with bin Laden ... to deal with al Qaeda." Wolfowitz went ballistic over the suggestion:"No, no, no. We don't have to deal with al Qaeda. Why are we talking about that little guy? We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism against the United States." Clarke responded:"Paul, there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States in eight years!" And the deputy director of the CIA agreed:"There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States." Clarke added:"There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever."
Needless to say, Clarke's book, Against All Enemies, is now being attacked mercilessly in a concerted White House spin campaign of Shock and Awe. Dick Cheney targeted Clarke on Rush Limbaugh's show and Condi Rice said simply that Clarke just doesn't"know what he's talking about." They're now all savaging Clarke as a"disgruntled former employee."
Kay, O'Neill, Clarke... how many more"disgruntled former employees" will there be?
Perhaps more of them will surface as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States begins high-level hearings on the failure of US intelligence in the days before 9/11. Over 2 million pages of documents have already been examined and over 1000 interviews have already been conducted. Today, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Powell will be on the hot seat, along with the Clinton administration's Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, and Secretary of Defense William Cohen. Stay tuned!
Robert L. Campbell
(Continued from Part I)
It’s time for an inventory of what happened, assuming that Naomi Wolf’s story is semi-accurate. A 19-year-old female student has deified a male professor. She has gone to great lengths to attract his attention. Despite her intelligence and her self-proclaimed expertise at handling men (an unwanted hand on the thigh is no big deal, she insists), she has let him invite himself to a candlelight dinner at her place. She has gotten drunk with him. She is so drunk, and so grossed out to discover that the deity is an ugly, out-of-shape, 53-year-old man who finds her body of much more pressing interest than her poetry, that she vomits on the spot. (In her first published account of the incident, in which Bloom was given another name, she declared that her poetry manuscript was “the most important gift I had ever given any man.”) Witnessing her reaction, the (former?) deity remarks that she is a “deeply troubled girl,” and hastily departs.
(Wolf has actually told her story twice in print now, and the versions don’t fully agree. According to Rachel Donadio’s New York Observer article, Wolf first published an account in her 1997 memoir, Promiscuities. There she invited Bloom, who was given a made-up name and specialty, to her apartment to dine alone with her. The 1997 version also credited the quantity of Amontillado that Wolf had knocked back as a partial explanation of her vomiting. The 2004 version ascribes the vomiting entirely to the sheer horror of Bloom leaning close to her face and putting his hand on her thigh.)
From this encounter, Wolf might have learned that Bloom was not a god, that he was capable of acting like a fool, that his approval was not worth the cost to her self-respect, and that she could live a fulfilled life without being sponsored and validated by a “powerful man.” Or she might have seen her failure to be validated as an irretrievable loss, irrefutable proof that she was unworthy of the deity’s beneficence.
She writes as though Bloom had delivered irrefutable proof. Yet Roderick Long insists the incident did no real damage to her self-esteem: “Wolf says nothing of the kind.”
I believe this is something of the kind: “the encroachment, the transgression… had effects that went deep.” As is this: “What it set off was a moral crisis, shaking my confidence in the institution that I was in.” And this: “I was spiraling downward: I had gotten a C-, a D, and an F, and was put on academic probation. My confidence shaken, I failed in my effort to win the Rhodes Scholarship at the end of the term.” (Incidentally, here is one part of Wolf’s story that fails to ring true. Even at an Ivy League institution, Rhodes Scholarships go only to the hoitiest of the toitiest, among those who envision themselves as future world-shapers. How could Wolf have won a Rhodes Scholarship, even on a second try, if her course grades had truly gone so far into the tank?)
Continuing, from her former roommate: “You were really nervous; you were anxious for the rest of the semester.” And finally: “Once you have been sexually encroached upon by a professor, your faith in your work corrodes.” Wolf insisted to Rachel Donadio that she never wrote another poem after the incident. When Donadio asked her to explain why, she burst into tears; she resumed the interview a few minutes later, without answering the question.
Picking up again with Donadio, she exclaimed, “Professor Bloom is not a bad guy! He’s a good guy in many ways! … One stupid action shouldn’t demonize someone or victimize someone. … I’ve talked to many people who have glowing things to say about him and whom he’d mentored. I wish I could have been mentored by him.”
It is also true that in the New York magazine article, Wolf denies presenting herself as a victim: “I was not traumatized personally, but my educational experience was corrupted.” In light of the foregoing, her denial has no credibility. As Zoe Williams wrote in The Guardian, “it really is debeateable whether or not some drunk bloke putting his face quite near yours and his hand on your thigh, when you thought he’d come round to read poetry, undermines your value to an entire institution. In the barometer that runs from ‘misunderstanding’ to ‘act of violence’, it leans irrefutably towards the former.”
On rereading her New York magazine article, I was struck by how often Wolf would say something, then explicitly deny the plain intent of her own words. Readers need to be attentive to what Wolf is actually saying, and disinclined to credit what she says she is saying.
She talks of pestering Richard Brodhead, the Dean of Yale College, to take some kind of action against Harold Bloom. Brodhead says there have been no complaints against Bloom during the 11 years that he’s been in office, and he isn’t going to admonish a professor on the basis of unsubstantiated charges now 20 years old. Wolf talks as though punishing Harold Bloom is not the point, then says, “His harmful impulse would not have entered his or my real life—then or now—if Yale made the consequences of such behavior both clear and real.” I.e., he should have been punished, or faced the threat of punishment.
She focuses on the dreadful thing that was done to her, and her heavy-hearted decision not to complain to anyone in authority about it. Then she insists that she spent nine months phoning and emailing a bunch of Yale administrators, threatening to publish Bloom’s name, and finally delivering on her threat—all for the sake of other women.
To get the other women’s cases into the article, she had to splice together alleged offenses that range from a male professor putting his hand on a female student’s leg when she sat next to him at a local bar and making a snarky remark when she got up and left her seat, to a professor drugging and raping a grad student. In Fire with Fire, she not only rejected the idea of a simple continuum from unwanted propositions to rape, but went so far as to note that some women have called an awful sexual experience rape when they had obviously consented to it. In those days, she would have emphatically rejected tossing the other women’s cases into the same basket:
It is absolutely true that all sexual harassment lies on a spectrum, but let us not take the opportunity granted by the new attention given these issues to collapse that spectrum. Taking harassment and date rape seriously means demarcating the inappropriate from the criminal. (1993, p. 193).
This ought to make the reader wonder what the other women’s function might be, except to make it look as though she is getting back at Yale University for maintaining inadequate grievance procedures, not at Harold Bloom for putting a crude move on her.
To anyone who thinks I am being too harsh, I suggest a close reading of the last 7 paragraphs of Wolf’s article. What is she recommending be done about “sexual transgression in school and work”? What could she mean when she says it should be handled as a “civil rights” issue? (Federal law already classifies sexual harassment as a form of discrimination against women.) Does she really believe that Yale University has handled sexual transgressions against female students as badly as the Catholic Church has handled priests molesting boys? For that matter, does she really believe that “no one harasses upward in a hierarchy”? (Sexual-harassment experts like to say that a male student who makes sexual comments about a female professor is engaging in “contrapower harassment.”) Anyone who can extract a consistent proposal for reform out of these paragraphs will relieve me of my muddle by explaining what it is. In the meantime, I think I am on safe ground concluding that changing the way universities do their business was not the motivating force behind Wolf’s essay.
To be continued in Part III.
Roderick T. Long
Robert Campbell invites us to consider feminists as falling into two groups. (It's not clear whether the division is meant to be exhaustive.) One group, the"individualist feminists" or"libertarian feminists," hold that"equality of rights is getting close to being consistently recognized in countries like the United States," and that"further feminist efforts, in this part of the world, should be narrowly targeted at those remaining areas where the legal and political systems privilege men over women." The other group, which he calls" collectivist feminists" (his target is roughly equivalent to"radical feminism," broadly understood), maintain that"men are the oppressor class; women are the victim class; and women are consequently entitled to take over the oppressor role, at least for the next few thousand years." (This last is a sarcastic caricature on his part, but presumably it could be rewritten, less tendentiously, as something like:"men are largely an oppressor class; women are largely a victim class; and women are consequently entitled to employ the power of the state to enact legislation specially favouring women's interests.")
What bothers me about this way of slicing up the political terrain is not that it is inaccurate; on the contrary, I think it is depressingly accurate in its characterisation both of libertarian feminists and of radical feminists. Rather, what concerns me is the implicit suggestion that to regard something as a legitimate object of feminist concern is ipso facto to regard it as an appropriate object of legislation. On this view, radical feminists see lots of issues as meriting feminist attention, so naturally they favour lots of legislation; libertarian feminists prefer minimal legislation, and so they must think that relatively few issues merit feminist attention. Now this is descriptively all too true; most radical feminists do spend a great deal of time working to increase the power of the state, and most libertarian feminists do spend a great deal of time telling radical feminists to"get over it." But as I see it, both sides are making the same mistake: they both think of feminist concerns and legislative activity as going together.
One reason I keep pointing to the individualist anarchists of the 19th century (henceforth"the anarchists" for short) as the proper model for feminism is that they did not make this mistake. They were both libertarian feminists and radical feminists.
What is radical feminism? I pick, more or less at random, two characterisations from the web. Here's one from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_feminism:
Radical feminism views women's oppression as a fundamental element in human society and seeks to challenge that standard by broadly rejecting standard gender roles.And this one is from students.washington.edu/intemann/radical.html:
Many radical feminists believe that society forces an oppressive patriarchy on women (some masculists claim that patriarchy oppresses men also) and seek to abolish this patriarchal influence. Because of this, some observers believe that radical feminism [should] focus on the gender oppression of patriarchy as the first and foremost fundamental oppression that women face. However, critiques of the above view have resulted in a different perspective on radical feminism held by some which acknowledges the simultaneity or intersectionality of different types of oppression which may include, but are not limited to the following: gender, race, class, sexualist, ability, whilst still affirming the recognition of patriarchy.
Main Tenets of Radical FeminismTwo related facts ought to strike us in these characterisations:
1. Women are oppressed by patriarchy.
2. Patriarchy is a hierarchical system of domination and subordination of women by men. It consists in, and is maintained by, one or more of the following:
3. To end the oppression of women, we must abolish patriarchy. This will potentially involve:
- Compulsory motherhood and constraints on reproductive freedom
- Compulsory heterosexuality
- The social construction of femininity and female sexuality as that which is"dominated"
- Violence towards women
- Institutions which encourage the domination of women by men, such as the church, and traditional models of the family
- Challenging and rejecting traditional gender roles and the ways in which women are represented/constructed in language, media, as well as in women's personal lives.
- Fighting patriarchal constructions of women's sexuality by banning pornography, and rejecting traditional heterosexual relationships.
- Achieving reproductive freedom
- Separation from patriarchal society?
First: apart from the silliness about banning pornography (which in any case was described merely as something the abolition of patriarchy might potentially involve), nothing about the radical feminist program as here laid out is inconsistent with libertarianism; various problems are identified as evils to be combated, but nothing is said about the means, statist or otherwise. Plausibly, it is concern with the goal of eliminating patriarchy, not adoption of any particular means to this goal, that makes someone count as a radical feminist.
Second: the radical feminist program here outlined is not terribly different from that of the anarchists; while the anarchists opposed governmental discrimination against women, they certainly did not think that the obstacles facing women were limited to this. On the contrary, they saw the oppression of women as a vast and pervasive social problem of which state action was only one component. (For documentation, see Wendy McElroy's excellent anthology Individualist Feminism of the Nineteenth Century, as well as -- if you can find a copy -- the elusive first edition of her earlier anthology Freedom, Feminism, and the State. And as Chris Sciabarra reminds us, there is a long and illustrious libertarian tradition of regarding political and cultural forces as interlocking but distinct aspects of oppressive social systems.)
Of course today's radical feminists do in fact, for the most part, seek to employ state coercion as a means to their ends; and in this they differ from the anarchists, who taught that while coercive evils might legitimately be met with violent resistance, noncoercive evils must be combated with nonviolent means such as boycotts, moral suasion, etc. But I can't see that state coercion is essential to the radical feminist program; for the most part, radical feminists seek statist means to their ends because, like nearly everyone else in our society, they've been brainwashed into thinking of statist solutions as the only effective means of social change.
As for radical feminism's ends, not only are they not intrinsically un-libertarian, but they also strike me as largely legitimate. I see the problems of which radical feminists complain as genuine ones. That is not to deny that radical feminists often describe those problems in exaggerated and hysterical terms (e.g., the claim that all heterosexual intercourse is rape). But that's hardly a failing unique to them. Don't many Objectivists, particularly those of the Peikoffian stripe, often identify genuine problems while likewise describing them in exaggerated and hysterical terms? To attack radical feminist concerns merely because they are often advanced in an extremist fashion is to ignore (and incidentally alienate) all those radical feminists who advance the same concerns in a more reasonable fashion.
I also don't think their concerns are inherently" collectivist," though I certainly agree that they are often defended in collectivist terms. Often, not always. This is a remarkably diverse group we're talking about, and should not be simplistically identified with its loudest and most politically connected representatives.
In their willingness to use state power, today's radical feminists, most of them, admittedly fall short of their anarchist predecessors. But today's libertarian feminists likewise tend, in all too many cases, to fall short of their anarchist predecessors to the extent that they treat only state action as a legitimate target of feminist criticism. Much libertarian feminist literature (such as Joan Kennedy Taylor's What To Do When You Don't Want To Call the Cops) strikes me as advising women to adapt themselves docilely to existing patriarchal power structures so long as those structures are noncoercive. This sort of advice only reinforces the idea that drives radical feminists toward statism -- namely, the assumption that state violence is the only effective means for combating patriarchy. In my judgment, it is perfectly appropriate for libertarian feminists to recognise the existence of pervasive non-governmental obstacles to women's well-being, and to seek non-governmental solutions to those problems; there are no grounds for libertarian feminists' concerns to be"narrowly targeted at those remaining areas where the legal and political systems privilege men over women."
Analogy: Ayn Rand called for a movement to promote Romantic art. Should that movement's concerns be"narrowly targeted at those remaining areas where the legal and political systems privilege" non-Romantic over Romantic art? Of course not; Rand was concerned to combat social and cultural forces, not just legal and political ones. So What's un-libertarian about feminists doing the same?
As I've written elsewhere:
It may be objected that postmodernists complain not only about legal, governmental barriers to such participation, but private, economic-cultural barriers as well. This is true; according to postmodernism, harmful power relations permeate not only the governmental sphere but the private sphere as well. But isn't this true? Don't Objectivists, too, regard cultural forces as formidable obstacles to personal achievement, even when they are not codified in law? Weren't most of Howard Roark's battles in The Fountainhead fought against private power? Don't many of Rand's stories -- Ideal, Think Twice, The Little Street -- dramatise the soul-destroying effects of non-governmental cultural forces? Didn't The Objectivist give Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique a positive review?Robert Campbell is correct in noting a tendency for radical feminists to believe a) that there are pervasive non-governmental forces oppressing women, and b) that these forces must be fought by state violence. He is also correct in noting a tendency for libertarian feminists to believe c) that there are no, or few, such forces, and d) that women should not resort to state violence to promote their interests. My point, however, is that while (a) is essential to radical feminism, (b) is not, and likewise that while (d) is essential to libertarian feminism, (c) is not. (Opposition to state power is definitive of libertarianism, while resort to state power, as we've seen, is accidental to rather than definitive of radical feminism.) Hence the form of feminism I favour, like that favoured by the 19th-century individualist anarchists, is both libertarian and radical, embracing (a) and (d) while rejecting (b) and (c).
Of course postmodernists regard the free market as the cause of such problems, and increased government control as the cure. On this point Objectivists must part company with them. But just as Objectivists can agree with religious conservatives in condemning relativism, without regarding government programs inculcating morality as the proper response to the problem, so Objectivists can agree with academic leftists in condemning various forms of non-governmental oppression, without signing on to the Left's political agenda.
The"sensitivity toward feminist concerns" that I've been recommending is thus a sensitivity toward (a). I favour such sensitivity, first, because I think there are serious social and cultural obstacles to women's well-being in contemporary society, obstacles that are reinforced by, but no means reducible to or solely dependent on, the political system; and second, because as a strategic matter it's suicidally imprudent to encourage non-libertarians to believe that their goals can indeed be achieved only through state violence.
I haven't responded specifically to Campbell's comments on Naomi Wolf because I think our different interpretations of her story depend less on the precise nuances of Wolf's prose and more on the interpretive frameworks we're bringing to the text. My purpose in this post has been primarily to explain my interpretive framework, and thus to explain why, given that framework, I am bound to find Campbell's division of the contemporary feminist scene into virtuous individualists and villainous collectivists unhelpful. At the risk of sounding like Chris Sciabarra yet again: I see the conflict instead as a false dualism in need of being dialectically transcended.
My opposition to legislation may not always come across in brief, popular columns because - in the 850 words a week I am allowed by FOX - I often make comments like"rape should be illegal" without further specifying that the legal system I advocate is a free market one. Equally, I have called for radical changes to e.g. the Child Protective Services that would effectively hand power back to parents and away from State agencies. Quite frankly, I have mixed feelings about advocating reform rather than the flat-out elimination of such agencies even if the reforms I call for would be the de facto death of the agency. But, back to feminism.
There is an aspect of feminism that has been largely ignored in individualist writings: the creation of a positive culture through non-legal means. I don't denigrate the power of culture - religion, morality, ethnicity, etc. -- to define and redefine the world. Indeed, if I wish to dispense with government, culture becomes all the more important. Perhaps it is time to start throwing a bit of passion behind the"how do we get there from here" question. My answer is basically: non-violent resistance and education. The construction of alternate paradigms and institutions. A celebration of what is now most reviled within mainstream feminism: the free market.
In any case...just a clarification.
Best to all. Please visit McBlog
Roderick T. Long
Now that Israel has blown to bits the leader of Hamas (and various people in his vicinity), Palestinian militants are vowing revenge -- against Israel's enabler, the United States.
O fortunate Spain, which was in the enviable position of being able to sever its ties with the United States'"war on terror," and which has finally, sanely, done so. If only we could do likewise.
Back in the days when Spain's imperialist career was ending and ours beginning, William Graham Sumner defended the virtues of"isolation" in his famous essay The Conquest of the United States by Spain:
When the rest are all in a quiver of anxiety, lest at a day's notice they may be involved in a social cataclysm, who would not be isolated out of reach of the disaster? What we are doing is that we are abandoning this blessed isolation to run after a share in the trouble.As I argued a year ago, on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the option that Spain has recently exercised is not strictly closed to us:
Terrorists are, by their nature, collectivist-minded. Only a collectivist would slaughter the innocent members of a group in order to punish the guilty members. The terrorists' quarrel is with a political entity known as the United States of America. Let us withdraw from association with that entity and repudiate the actions of its leaders.A century ago, Sumner warned Americans not to take Spain as our model. Today, I suspect he would be urging the opposite.
This may sound like an unrealistic proposal right now. Given what it would take to make it a realistic proposal, there's a sense in which I hope it remains unrealistic. But if Bush's war results in the kind of massive wave of terrorism on U.S. soil that I fear is all too likely, we libertarians should stand ready to point to secession as an increasingly viable and attractive solution. ...
In his 1796 Farewell Address, President George Washington asked:"Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?" In every region of the U.S., American citizens should now be asking themselves: Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of the United States, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of American ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?
"The war on terror," he [President Bush] insists,"is not a figure of speech." Well, I beg your pardon, Mr. President, but that is precisely what it is. How can one go to war against"terror," which is a state of mind? Even if the president were to take more care with his language and to speak instead of a"war on terrorism," the phrase still could not be anything more than a metaphor, because terrorism is a form of action available to virtually any determined adult anywhere anytime. War on terrorism, too, can be only a figure of speech.
The Bush image-makers have so little regard for the American people that I’m sure they came up with the label “war on terror” because it has the fewest syllables. That it's meaningless was irrelevant to their purposes.
I just wanted to follow up on the whole bias in the classroom incident on my campus by noting that the academic dean and the president issued a campus-wide email today articulating their position on the whole affair. I quote below the relevant parts:
This memorandum has two goals: to remind us of our shared commitments as a university to freedom of speech and to the maintenance of a climate of open inquiry; and to put recent campus events and discussions surrounding the weblog of Prof. Robert Torres into that context.
St. Lawrence has a single purpose. As a liberal arts college we are a community of learners. Teaching and learning require unfettered thought, inquiry, and expression. A vital campus is one where ideas meet, mix, conflict, engage, and emerge changed by the interaction.
Genuine dialogue is a difficult, even fragile, human endeavor. It entails both speaking and listening, articulating views and earnestly considering those of others. We believe it is our duty to protect the rights of all members of our community to think and speak freely and to foster the conditions that make dialogue possible. We expect members of our community to be passionate about ideas; in fact, we would be troubled if they were not. But passion and commitment only serve our purpose to the extent that they promote lively engagement, not shut it down, to the extent that they foster compelling expression, not impede the capacity to listen.
To this end, we will continue both to defend the campus as a place of free inquiry and exchange and to encourage modes of discourse that respect the basic human dignity of all engaged in its mission. As members of a university, we all know how much words matter. Words can be chosen to open dialogue or to shut it down, to encourage thoughtful listening or strident counter-point.
There have been legitimate questions raised about Prof. Torres’ offensive characterizations of college Republicans in his weblog. Though not directed specifically at St. Lawrence students—it is clear from the context that he is referring to those who wrote the recruiting manual on the national level—it is reasonable for our own SLU Republicans to feel included in his characterizations.
In a statement Prof. Torres shared with the St. Lawrence community last Friday he made clear that he takes his “responsibility of fostering an open classroom environment seriously,” and that he seeks to “respect differing views regardless of political orientation.” He went on to say that: “I will continue to provide an open classroom environment, and continue to respect different political views. Freedom of speech and the room that it provides for dissent is essential to democracy and to critical inquiry.” That is exactly right, and we believe that view is at the very center of commitments all St. Lawrence University faculty share.
Although some of that is surely what they "have to" say, I do think they get it right: we must defend free speech but encourage modes of discourse that invite in, rather than shut out, and that respect rather than denigrate. Whether or not Prof. Torres can follow through on his commitment to an open classroom is one thing, but my dean's and president's defense of free speech and recognition of the problematic nature of the original blog entry remind me why I remain proud to be part of the administration of this particular university.
I realize how little I know about Kerry. For example, I have no clear sense of specifics on his recommendations re: the occupation of Iraq. Unlike his Democratic rival Dennis Kucinich}}, Kerry voted for war when saying"no" to it really counted and failed to distinguish himself on the issue. In the last few months, Kerry has swept into being almost certainly the Democratic candidate for President on the basis of being electible rather than on his policy stands. Into this vacuum the Bush administration sagely strides with negative ads that have a real chance of defining Kerry to the American public either through their message or by putting him always on the defensive. It is a risky strategy because negative ads can backlash but -- hey! -- we are talking about the Shock and Awe administration that yelled"Let's Roll!" Besides which, they can always pull back to positive ads just before the elections. One of Kerry's few remarkable accomplishments is not likely to be used in his campaign: The Kerry Report (.pdf) aka""Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy." As the Memory Hole site states,"In 1987, two subcommittees of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held three days of hearings on drug trafficking. Headed by Sen. John F. Kerry (D - Mass.), who has since become a candidate for President, the panel heard evidence of official corruption in Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and the United States. The next year, the government published the transcripts in a 4-volume set that has remained a touchstone for anyone interested in narco-corruption, particularly as it involves US intelligence agencies." What are the odds that Kerry will run on a record of linking the drug war to American corruption?
For more commentary, please see McBlog.
David T. Beito
Meanwhile, I am listening to an interview with Richard Lugar who is proposing a bill to"reform" and expand nation building efforts by turning them over to the State Department. Despite the nation building disasters in Haiti, Kosovo, and increasingly Iraq, Lugar, much like the liberal dead-end defenders of the Great Society, remains a true believer.
It appears that promotion in the Israeli army increasingly depends on how violently and with brutality you have dealt with Palestinians in the"Occupation." To read the article in Haaratz click here.
David T. Beito
On Saturday, March 27, I will speak on"The Collapse of Classical Liberalism, 1896-1912" for the 1st Annual Liberty Conference. It is sponsored by the Boston University Libertarian Society and many of the names will be familiar. Other speakers will be Randy Barnett (Boston University) Jeffery Miron (Boston University) and Stacy Taylor (Louisiana State University. For more information about the speakers and instructions on how to register, see here .
On Sunday morning at 9:00 am., I will be speaking on "Fraternalism and Civil Rights in the Mississippi Delta, 1942-1967" at the annual conference of the Organization of American Historians.
On Sunday morning at 9:00 am., I will be speaking on "Fraternalism and Civil Rights in the Mississippi Delta, 1942-1967" at the annual conference of the Organization of American Historians.
Perhaps America’s Neocon policymakers will be happy to learn that their nation-building in Russia has born fruit since Putin’s models appear to be those heroic US-approved Generals, Park of So. Korea (I was there on a Fulbright when some of the protests against him erupted) and Pinochet of Chile. To read Eric Margolis’ column on this click here.
Robert L. Campbell
Some feminists, in today’s world, believe that women have the same rights as men; that this equality of rights is getting close to being consistently recognized in countries like the United States; and that further feminist efforts, in this part of the world, should be narrowly targeted at those remaining areas where the legal and political systems privilege men over women. They would also show concern about privileges granted to women over men, or cases in which the rights of both are violated. Such views are characteristic of individualist feminism.
Others who call themselves feminists maintain that men are the oppressor class; women are the victim class; and women are consequently entitled to take over the oppressor role, at least for the next few thousand years. Such views are characteristic of collectivist feminism.
Adequate sensitivity to feminist concerns would at the very least require attention to these differences. Individualist feminists and collectivist feminists both seek a change in “power relations,” but from a libertarian standpoint, what kindof change they are aiming at makes all the difference in the world.
Which brings us back to Gus diZerega’s assertion that Naomi Wolf is a liberal feminist whose recent actions libertarians are either wrong to criticize, or to waste their time on (I’m still not sure which). More specifically and less ambiguously, it brings us to Roderick Long’s multi-round defense of her article in New York magazine.
For a little over a decade, Wolf has presented herself to the public as a “power feminist.” Her book Fire with Fire (published in 1993, all page references to the hardcover edition) was intended to be a power-feminist manifesto. While it makes concessions to individuality, Fire with Fire presents women as one great big interest group that shouldn’t be shy about amassing political power and voting itself benefits from the public treasury. “‘Feminism’ should mean, on an overarching level, nothing more than women’s willingness to act politically to get what they determine that they need” (p. 59). Elsewhere she boils power feminism down to “More for women” (p. 138). Wolf shows impatience with groupthink among movement feminists, but I take it to be largely directed against conformist attitudes that stand in the way of grabbing up those “power units.” Underlyingly, she agrees with the establishment figures that women constitute a collective, in need of representation as such. So there are reasons for libertarians to worry about the particular laws and policies that Wolf believes will flow from the “power” side of feminism. But most of these can be held for another discussion.
More to the point here, Naomi Wolf expressly proclaimed that the days of “victim feminism” are past. “Victim feminism is when a woman seeks power through an identity of powerlessness. Victim feminism… is what all of us do whenever we retreat into appealing for status on the basis of feminine specialness instead of human worth, and fight underhandedly rather than honorably” (p. 135).
In Fire with Fire, Wolf provides a checklist of power-feminist and victim-feminist attributes (e.g., power feminists are tolerant of other women’s choices regarding sexuality and appearance; victim feminists are “judgmental,” even puritanical about them). She cheers on women who buy guns, and excoriates feminists who gave their support to Jean Harris (who murdered her cheating boyfriend) or Hedda Nussbaum (who stood by and let her husband beat their adopted daughter to death, when he wasn’t beating her). She proclaims that women can be just as aggressive, nasty, or power-mad as men.
And as Wolf’s own account makes clear, victim feminism isn’t a list of articles of belief. It is a kit of tools, moves, and poses that can be used, instrumentally or opportunistically, by women who do not subscribe to any justificatory doctrines of female moral superiority and male moral inferiority, or female passivity and male aggression, or unabated patriarchal domination of American women in every walk of life, in 1993 or 2004.
Wolf has told us she doesn’t believe the justifications. Unfortunately, she hasn’t set down the tools. Her New York magazine article leaves little doubt about her willingness to play the victim role, so she can seek power through powerlessness.
Let’s begin with the way that Wolf describes her life as an undergraduate at Yale: “I also knew that there was an atmosphere at Yale in which female students were expected to be sociable with male professors. I had discussed with my friends the pressure to be charming but still seen as serious.” In speeches that she gave for several years, referring to an unnamed male professor’s crude move on her: “I describe what the transgression did to me—devastated my sense of being valuable to Yale as a student, rather than as a pawn of powerful men.” Isn’t she telling the reader that she saw herself as a pawn, well before Harold Bloom, drunk on Amontillado, supposedly pushed his face too close to hers, issued an oracularly loopy come-on, and put his hand on her thigh?
Her description of the man deserves quoting at length:
Harold Bloom was one of Yale’s most illustrious professors. Most of my friends in the Literature department were his acolytes, clustering around him at office hours for his bon mots about Pater and Wilde. He called students, male and female both, “my dear” and “my child.” Beautiful, brilliant students surrounded him. He was a vortex of power and intellectual charisma.
I, personally, was at once drawn to him intellectually and slightly scared of him. I had audited a famous course he taught, and he had reached out to me then and invited me to talk with him. Since he was so intellectually selective, I was “sick with excitement” at the prospect…
His aura was compelling—and intimidating.
Is this how a 19-year-old student typically feels about a professor? And when an undergraduate harbors such feelings, does anyone believe the attraction is purely intellectual? Around that same age, I worked with people who were on the outer edge of the Ayn Rand cult; I exhibited more than a few “Randroid” tendencies of my own. Yet I could not have kept a straight face, had I heard someone describe Rand that way. As a grad student, I had a crush on a female professor for a time. Needless to say, I thought she was really smart, as well as truly hot, but… “a vortex of power and intellectual charisma”?
Reading Wolf’s narrative, you'd think that questioning authority was an idea that had never entered her mind. Yes, I know it was 1983, and Ronald Reagan was in the White House. But didn’t Naomi Wolf entertain an occasional thought that the “powerful men” who taught her put their pants on one leg at a time? It may also be that in Lit Crit the big names are especially likely to attract groupies, though that is not sufficient to explain why Wolf would want to become one. Whatever the basis for her attitude, she writes as though she worshipped Harold Bloom as a god and was intoxicated by his authority. How far would she go, to get this superior being’s attention? Could “the pressure to be seen as charming” have been internally generated?
To be continued in Part II.