Liberty & Power: Group Blog
David T. Beito
The students in the running for this scholarship are extremely impressive, usually having ACTs 33 or higher, SATs 1450 or higher, and GPAs 3.75 or higher. Schools around the country are trying to land them.
One of the candidates wrote in her application essay that she would like to become a biologist. She discovered her interest in biology when she attended one of the summer classes offered by Duke University for gifted pre-college-age students. She did so well in the class that the instructor awarded her top-student honors. Here’s the incredible part: the award she received was the “Future Rachel Carson Award.”
The Future Rachel Carson Award? Rachel Carson, the author of the now-exploded Silent Spring as a model for future biologists?
Another applicant reports that his high school biology teacher told him that if he’s serious about learning about biology, he needed to read Carson’s book—and the student reports that Carson’s book indeed inspired him to one day become a biologist.
What’s next? The Future Joseph Stalin Statesman Award? Or maybe the Future Karl Marx Economist Award? Or . . . .
Newspapers now are full of congratulations for a dangerous job well done, for the considerable courage that Iraqis showed (which they did.) -- On Sunday, TV screens were filled with long queues of people waiting to cast their ‘ballots’. The latter showed up well, as they were outstanding in size. -- They had to be, to accommodate all the parties, groups, & those brave (or rash) enough to actually place their names there. -- The boxes were taken away & counting was shown to begin. The UN had some 40 ‘observers’ around -- well, all that makes it an election, doesn’t it? The whole exercise was directed principally at the US electorate, of course -- for whom the reality is as unimaginable as the surface of Pluto…
What we see now in Iraq is a continuing power struggle -- to control the massive oil revenues that will eventually flow in openly. When Saddam tried to add Kuwaiti oil revenues to his own, he was forcibly thrown back. After that, it was politically impossible that he should continue to enjoy even his own revenues. Hence ‘sanctions’ - embargoes on the (open) export of Iraqi oil. But the *continued reduction of oil output in Iraq was also politically & economically impossible. Once output could be increased again :- those political groups who could replace Saddam stood to gain vast & growing sums, as, of course, did the oil companies. Hence Iraq was *re-invaded - to overthrow Saddam Hussein & re-establish the flow of oil revenues. (in due course.) And hence the ‘election’ etc. - to bring in the replacement rulers in a manner which the US electorate & journalists everywhere would be able to grasp.
Thus the ‘insurgents’ - so-called - are simply amongst those groups struggling - against other Iraqi groups - for power. In attacking occupation soldiers, these groups attack the allies of those Iraqis most likely to exercise power in the longer run. Most of these ‘insurgents’ come from Sunni political groupings. Sunnis are, of course, a minority in Iraq (see below.)
Far more of the ordinary Iraqis have suffered - & continue to suffer - from bombs & the like, than occupation soldiers. In addition, ordinary Iraqis are killed & injured by the tens of thousands, as they get caught in the crossfire. Once again, ordinary people are the helpless meat in the sandwich between contenders for power.
The prospect of controlling massive oil revenues is, of course, what holds together - & will continue to hold together - all those who will eventually emerge, openly, as the ruling groups in Iraq. The majority are Shi’ites - which means that they are already closely linked with the rulers of Iran. Indeed the man with the greatest political influence on Shi’i Iraqis today, is an Irani subject (the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.) Other established ruling groups come from amongst the Kurds. The latter control the main oilfields - so they will have to be conciliated with a goodish share of the revenues. American administrators have cunningly given Kurdish rulers a veto over the constitution. But it remains to be seen what sort of political arrangements will actually appear in time, & will actually endure.
For the immediate run, it is reported that the American military will ‘accelerate’ the training of Iraqi soldiers & police, in preparation for ending the occupation. That means more half- & semi-trained types, well-armed, running around, to add to people’s woes. The various power contenders will have plenty of armed fighting men to call on.
Meanwhile, the struggle for power goes on. It will eventually have to stop - so that oil revenues can start rolling into government coffers again, & the various ruling groups ( & their political supporters) can have their various shares.
Im a cartoonist, so naturally I pay attention to comics. So I know from long experience, its hard to have a discussion of why the overwhelming majority of comic book readers are boys without someone suggesting that boys are biologically more visually-oriented. Since girls are language-oriented, its only natural that girls prefer reading prose, and boys like comic books more. Its often suggested that folks who think that social factors are why so few girls read comic books are ignoring science in the name of feminist ideology.Go read the whole thing. I don't doubt that there are innate differences between the sexes in many areas, but it troubles me that so many are so eager to claim that they do so much, particularly when the actual science runs far behind their speculations. (See P Z Meyers on this one, and while you're at it, read his take on the Iraq elections.)
Stop here. Before you continue, ask yourself if the biological explanation for why (on average) boys and not girls read comics rings true to you.
Because the truth is, I should have put the paragraph about comics in the past tense. Today, the majority of young comic book readers are girls - by far the best-selling comic books in the USA are manga (translated Japanese comics), which are read mostly by girls.
I am reminded of two episodes in the history of science.
First, the philosopher René Descartes saw vortices in everything, including stars, wind, and even the then-puzzling phenomenon of continuous motion through space."Shouldn't stuff just stop when a force isn't acting on it?" asked the leading philosophical lights of the day. In response, Descartes declared that his vortices held fired projectiles, and planets, aloft.
While the mathematics behind the vortex actually was quite cutting-edge at the time, the vortices themselves ended up doing a great deal less than Descartes imagined. It's actually painful to read some of his treatises on science today, particularly when he talks about the circulation of blood and tries, weakly, to relate it to his theory of vortices.
DNA may well be the Cartesian vortex of our time: It is appealing precisely because we do not quite understand it; our incomprehension allows us to write whatever we wish upon the poorly-understood but probably legitimate phenomenon, and call it science. Unfortunately, these examples are best seen in hindsight, leaving us to guess at the limits of our prejudices today.
Because this is a history blog, let me share another example, this one a lot more dubious--and closer to home..
In the eighteenth century, it was believed (for a time, anyway) that women were more susceptible than men to the subtle influences of animal magnetism. Women's bodies more easily picked up peculiar emanations of subtle magnetic fluid because their emotions were more finely tuned than those of men.
Hey, it made perfect sense to Parisians in the 1780s.
The trouble was of course that animal magnetism was perfectly false and likely fraudulent. No, nothing that transpired at Harvard--or even in the manga industry--seems at all fraudulent. We should beware, though, when an idea fits our preconceived notions a little too perfectly, or when a scientific theory seems to explain too much.
Chris Matthew Sciabarra
I've written so many pieces for the Ayn Rand Centenary, for so many publications, that I don't think I'll have much more to say, which might be considered"new" and"original." But, of course, not being one to keep my mouth shut, I'm sure I'll have more to say each day from now till Wednesday, February 2, 2005, when the one hundredth anniversary of Ayn Rand's birth will be celebrated in various forums from the East coast to the West coast.
Today, I came upon a piece in the New York Times Book Review section that just pissed me off. Written by Clay Risen, an assistant editor for The New Republic,"Rebuilding Ground Zero: The Struggle Between Architects and Developers at the World Trade Center" is a review of Philip Nobel's book, Sixteen Acres: Architecture and the Outrageous Struggle for the Future of Ground Zero. I'm less concerned with the politicized process of rebuilding that is the subject of Nobel's book and more concerned with the opening paragraph of Risen's review:
AYN RAND may be long discredited as a philosopher, but her ideas about architecture are still very much alive. Howard Roark, the protagonist of her objectivist fantasia ''The Fountainhead,'' is the archetypal artist-hero, rendering society's soul in concrete and steel. Since the 1940's, his image has shaped our appreciation of everyone from Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry, defining even the competition to rebuild the World Trade Center site: the struggle between Daniel Libeskind and Larry Silverstein was seen as a veritable ''Fountainhead Redux'' in which a valiant architect armed only with his dreams takes on a mega-developer.
Notice how Risen opens this article:"Ayn Rand may be long discredited as a philosopher..." stated as if it were an observation of fact.
But if Risen had been paying much attention to the academic tide, he'd discover that, after many years of being perceived as an outsider, Rand is finally being considered as a serious thinker worthy of our critical attention. This is not happening across the board and it is not happening in all academic circles but it is clearly a trend that cannot be ignored. As I have written in an article for Philosophical Books (a piece that has been revised for inclusion in a forthcoming anthology edited by Edward W. Younkins, entitled Philosophers of Capitalism):
Since the 1982 death of novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, there has been ever-growing interest in her thought. In the immediate aftermath of her death, Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen’s edited collection, The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand, and the first edition of Mimi Reisel Gladstein’s Ayn Rand Companion appeared. ... Together with ... heightened cultural awareness of Rand’s life and thought, academic work has proceeded apace with some fanfare. Both The Chronicle of Higher Education and [the now defunct] Lingua Franca featured major stories on new books and research projects involving philosophy, political theory, literary criticism, and feminism, highlighting how Rand had “finally caught the attention of scholars.” ... These articles note the increase in scholarly sessions devoted to Rand’s work in such organizations as the Modern Language Association and the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division, which includes an affiliated Ayn Rand Society.
My own Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, published in 1995, was central to the Chronicle and Lingua Franca studies—as was my 1999 anthology, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, co-edited with Mimi Reisel Gladstein. The former book rooted Rand’s intellectual development in Silver Age Russian thought and reconstructed her Objectivist philosophy as a radical dialectical project. The latter book is part of the Penn State Press “Re-reading the Canon” series, edited by Nancy Tuana, in which nearly two dozen volumes center on questions of gender and sexuality in the works of thinkers as diverse as Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, Marx, Arendt, Sartre, Levinas, and Foucault. The Rand anthology includes original and reprinted contributions from writers across the globe, including Susan Brownmiller, Camille Paglia, Karen Michalson, and Melissa Jane Hardie.
Another measure of Rand’s growing scholarly presence is the appearance of entries on her in textbooks—in philosophy, political science, and economics—and in reference works, such as Routledge’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Encyclopedia of Ethics, Scribner’s American Writers, Gale’s American Philosophers, 1950–2000 (a volume of the Dictionary of Literary Biography), and Lexington’s History of American Thought. A Rand primer, by philosopher Allan Gotthelf, in the Wadsworth Philosophy Series, a volume by philosopher Douglas J. Den Uyl on The Fountainhead, and another by Mimi Reisel Gladstein on Atlas Shrugged, in Twayne’s Masterwork Series, and CliffsNotes monographs on Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged, by philosopher Andrew Bernstein, are further evidence of increased attention to Rand by professional scholars. (It should be noted too that one can find an increasing number of master’s and doctoral dissertations devoted to Rand’s thought.) [In addition, a recently published scholarly collection on We the Living will be complemented by forthcoming collections on Anthem and Atlas Shrugged,] as well as an anthology on The Literary Art of Ayn Rand (edited by William Thomas and David Kelley), a Thomas-Kelley authored study, The Logical Structure of Objectivism, and a book on induction and integration, written by Leonard Peikoff, entitled The One in the Many: How to Create It and Why. [And let's not forget monographs by some of our esteemed L&P colleagues, such as Roderick Long, who has published on Rand and Aristotle.]
One final measure of expanding scholarship on Rand is the commencement, in the Fall of 1999, of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, co-founded by R. W. Bradford, literature professor Stephen Cox, and me. The journal is a nonpartisan semi-annual interdisciplinary double-blind peer-reviewed scholarly periodical dedicated to an examination of Rand’s work and legacy. In its contents, one will find essays by Objectivist philosophers and those sympathetic to Rand, as well as critics of Objectivism ...
Clearly, the ever-expanding scope of Rand studies suggests that philosophers of various stripes have begun a long overdue reassessment of her thought.
Say what you will about Ayn Rand but it is simply not the case that she has been"discredited as a philosopher." It seems to me that the scholarly community is finally taking notice.
I'll have more to say about this and other related topics in the coming days.
Update: Ironically, I just discovered that, today, Carlin Romano, literary critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer published a piece"Assessing Rand at Centenary." Romano mentions my work and the work of others in the piece, stating:"Even studies in academe—the sector of America most [resistant] to Rand in her lifetime—are increasing."
Josh Claybourn at In The Agora has links and commentary. Here's the key passage as I see it:
Iraqi expatriates living in Syria are able to take part in the vote, even though Syrians can't take part in the democratic process of their own country. What impact will this have on countries like Syria? A successful Iraqi election may very well be the most significant step for freedom and democracy since the fall of the Berlin Wall.There is nothing like the power of a good example; I can only hope it outweighs the ill-will that we have accumulated so far.
Today does bring a lot of good news on that front. This AP story suggests that the Iraq vote is making a lot of middle eastern dictators very, very nervous. And they should be. I think it's also no coincidence that a top Saudi diplomat suggests that women may soon be able to vote. Thanks, but we shouldn't need to invade your neighbors to make it happen.
Look for Saudi fundamentalists to claim that women's suffrage is fine for lukewarm Muslims like the Iraqis--but that the better sort would never allow it. Only a select few people are pure enough to disenfranchise half the population, and just remember--a really holy society would be an absolute monarchy.
Regarding the prospects for permanent change in the middle east, I still remain deeply skeptical on two fronts. First, as I have written before, a democracy without respect for individual rights means nothing. Without firm protections for persons and property, without protections for the freedom of thought and expression, democracy is indistinguishable from mob rule. The choice of which thug ends up holding the stick isn't a choice worth fighting over.
Second, even if all goes well, then this election will only prove that an utterly incompetent, heavyhanded, and rights-violating democratic intervention can sometimes still succeed. It will not prove, however, that our intervention was competent, deft, or respectful of human rights. It's far too late to change any of that.
Still, best of luck. I really hope this thing works out. If, a year or two from now, Iraq looks like Poland or East Germany in the early 90s, then it will be time for a major reconsideration of my foreign policy beliefs. We'll just have to wait and see.
All the benefit that a New Yorker gets out of Kansas is no more than what he might get out of Saskatchewan, the Argentine pampas, or Siberia. But New York to a Kansan is not only a place where he may get drunk, look at dirty shows and buy bogus antiques; it is also a place where he may enforce his dunghill ideas upon his betters. [from"The Calamity of Appomattox," cited in A Mencken Chrestomathy, p 199.]
Bill Gates appears to be putting his faith in the Euro and China, not the dollar. But, what do he and Warren Buffett know anyway?
I've justed posted a lengthy essay,"Living on the Inside...and Living on the Outside," over at The Light of Reason. It arose out of some comments (in particular, mine and some of those from Jeanine Ring) in response to this post of mine several days ago. That, in turn, dealt with what I consider to be Lawrence Summers' profoundly unfortunate comments about men and women, and the purported causes for perceived differences in their achievements in math and science.
In the course of the essay, I deal with issues relating to the dynamics of power, what I call" contextual libertarianism," Ayn Rand's identification with the male power structure, how Rand's methodology changed dramatically from one subject to another, some of my own experiences as a gay man, and some other things as well.
I would welcome people's thoughts in the the comments here, even (and perhaps especially) if you disagree with what I say, in whole or in part. I obviously think I'm correct on the major points, but I'm still in the process of working out the details and ramifications of many of these ideas. As I indicate, I expect to have much more to say about many of these issues in the days to come.
But, while Wright suggests Bubba needs to unstrap his six-gun, and stop preaching in the street, the Saloon he wants him to enter for a drink as did Billy Clinton, is hardly a Free Market, but rather the Saloon rooms upstairs where all of the whores work the suckers. He mentions the name of one of them, The World Trade Organization, but there are others that Billy also liked such as NAFTA, the World Bank & the IMF.
Good 'ol Bob MacNamara has been doing his mea culpa about Vietnam now for several years such as in"The Fog of War," but he says nothing about his work at the WB.
These organizations have long been the means, along with the Fed, by which America's economic imperialism is orchestrated. If you have not already read the latest discussion of this, John Perkins, The Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, check it out. Although Jude Wanniski had not read the book, he had some good comments about it at his web site. The book is well worth reading!
The historiography of material conditions is so colored by Marxist assumptions that classical liberals seldom want anything to do with it. More times than I can count, I have seen conservative or classical liberal historians deride the very idea of studying chairs, dresses, bread, horses--or artichokes.I'm looking for comments, particularly from other historians.
Ideas, we hear again and again. Study the ideas, because the rest is just a lot of Marxist distraction.
Nonsense, I say.
And we should be worried indeed if we ever saw our anti-material prejudice confirmed: If the economic conditions of the past turn out to be explicable only in Marxist terms, then Marxism has won. But if the economic conditions of the past are amenable to other forms of analysis, then there is no telling what they might reveal.
My first argument, then, about economic conditions and their relationship to the mentalité of the early modern era is that the are absolutely worth studying--for us just as for leftists, and possibly a good deal more. A really robust classical liberal historiography of the early modern era ought to consider these issues thoroughly rather than just brushing them aside to talk about, you know, ideas.
Keep in mind that we need not subscribe to the Marxist notion that material conditions determine a society's ideas. It is frankly an outdated notion even in the academy, and its only remaining impact, so far as I can tell, is to make nonleftists afraid of studying anything besides the canonical great minds of history. But studying the great minds in isolation is like trying to do ecology by examining mounted trophies alone. Between these two extremes--between ideas as superstructure and ideas as the only things worth studying--there is an entire universe of complicated interplay among historical ideas and material conditions. It's time we started having our say about it.
Chris Matthew Sciabarra
... this Republican president doesn't appreciate free markets. Mr. Bush doesn't see how capitalism helps drive history toward freedom via an algorithm that for all we know is divinely designed and is in any event awesomely elegant. Namely: Capitalism's pre-eminence as a wealth generator means that every tyrant has to either embrace free markets or fall slowly into economic oblivion; but for markets to work, citizens need access to information technology and the freedom to use it - and that means having political power. This link between economic and political liberty has been extolled by conservative thinkers for centuries, but the microelectronic age has strengthened it. ... Given that involvement in the larger capitalist world is time-release poison for tyranny, impeding this involvement is an odd way to aid history's march toward freedom. ... Mr. Bush doesn't grasp the liberating power of capitalism, the lethal effect of luring authoritarian regimes into the modern world of free markets and free minds.
Sounds like an ad for Reason magazine!
David T. Beito
Vidal is not a typical partisan leftist in his approach to the war. In his comments, he reveals yet again that his views are closer to the old America First Committee than they are to the knee-jerk partisan Bush haters in groups like MoveOn.org . While Vidal's critique of Bush is merciless, he also takes a swipe at the sins of FDR including his unforgivable decision to turn away Jewish refugees fleeing to the U.S. on the S.S. St. Louis. Few Move On activists would ever do this.
Chris Matthew Sciabarra
In April of 1946, about a year after the world had discovered the nightmare of Nazi concentration camps across Europe, Ayn Rand wrote a"Foreword" to her novelette, Anthem, that reflected on the collectivist roots of the statist brutality that had made these camps possible. On the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it is fitting to recall Rand's words:
The greatest guilt today is that of people who accept collectivism by moral default; the people who seek protection from the necessity of taking a stand, by refusing to admit to themselves the nature of that which they are accepting; the people who support plans specifically designed to achieve serfdom, but hide behind the empty assertion that they are lovers of freedom, with no concrete meaning attached to the word; the people who believe that the content of ideas need not be examined, that principles need not be defined, and that facts can be eliminated by keeping one's eyes shut. They expect, when they find themselves in a world of bloody ruins and concentration camps, to escape moral responsibility by wailing:"But I didn't mean this!"
Those who want slavery should have the grace to name it by its proper name. They must face the full meaning of that which they are advocating or condoning; the full, exact, specific meaning of collectivism, of its logical implications, of the principles upon which it is based, and of the ultimate consequences to which these principles will lead.
They must face it, then decide whether this is what they want or not.
Jason's interest in classical liberalism began with reading The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in high school. He helped establish the humanities.philosophy.objectivism newsgroup on Usenet. While Ayn Rand has been very influential in shaping his worldview, he does not consider himself an Objectivist. Philosophical interests include the French and Scottish Enlightenments; among more recent thinkers, he enjoys the work of Daniel Dennett, Henry Veatch, Karl Popper, and Isaiah Berlin.
Jason runs a weblog called Positive Liberty. Some of his favorite pieces to date include"The Ten Thousand Impostors,""Cloning a Raspberry Bush," and"Not So Different." Frequent topics include the relations between church and state, gay and lesbian issues, academic life, and foreign policy. He has also taken an interest in the politics of his hometown, Glen Burnie, Maryland, where he lives with Scott Starin, his partner of six years. He is very much looking forward to posting at Liberty & Power.
And the beat goes on:
One day after President Bush ordered his Cabinet secretaries to stop hiring commentators to help promote administration initiatives, and one day after the second high-profile conservative pundit was found to be on the federal payroll, a third embarrassing hire has emerged. Salon has confirmed that Michael McManus, a marriage advocate whose syndicated column,"Ethics & Religion," appears in 50 newspapers, was hired as a subcontractor by the Department of Health and Human Services to foster a Bush-approved marriage initiative. McManus championed the plan in his columns without disclosing to readers he was being paid to help it succeed.The story also states that Horn has"asked his staff to review all outside contracts and determine if there were any other columnists being paid by HHS," and that"the review for similar contracts continues."
Responding to the latest revelation, Dr. Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at HHS, announced Thursday that HHS would institute a new policy that forbids the agency from hiring any outside expert or consultant who has any working affiliation with the media."I needed to draw this bright line," Horn tells Salon."The policy is being implemented and we're moving forward."
Horn says McManus, who could not be reached for comment, was paid approximately $10,000 for his work as a subcontractor to the Lewin Group, a health care consultancy hired by HHS to implement the Community Healthy Marriage Initiative, which encourages communities to combat divorce through education and counseling. McManus provided training during two-day conferences in Chattanooga, Tenn., and also made presentations at HHS-sponsored conferences. His syndicated column has appeared in such papers as the Washington Times, the Dallas Morning News and the Charlotte Observer.
What truly kills me is that these are the"moral values" people. Which would be very funny -- except for the fact that THEY'RE RUNNING THE DAMNED COUNTRY.
Excuse me now, while I beat myself unconscious. Wait, I think that's Andrew Sullivan's line...
(Related thoughts about Maggie Gallagher's pay-for-play and her congressional testimonyhere. It also turns out that Gallagher was an unwed mother, which she of course now says is a very, very bad thing. I'm still trying to figure out exactly which"moral values" they're talking about, and when and to whom they apply...)