“The Dialectics of Liberty” Reviewed in RAE

I was notified today of a wonderful review of The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom (2019, Lexington Books) which I coedited with Roger Bissell and Ed Younkins. “Freedom in Context” by Alexander W. Craig, appears in the current Review of Austrian Economics. An excerpt from that review is on the book’s homepage.

Perhaps the following remarks fall under the category of “reviewing a review” of a book, but, in my opinion, Craig provides the most insightful and profoundly dialectical discussion of this eclectic volume yet published. In short: He gets it! What he has to say about a dialectical mode of inquiry is worthy enough to have been included in the anthology. He writes:

The contributors to ‘The Dialectics of Liberty’ demonstrate that libertarians can engage in a careful context-sensitive analysis of social behavior and political ideals. The book refutes the notion that libertarians must be insensitive to nuances in social environments and reliant on a woefully oversimplified conception of individuals, businesses, and governments. In this review, I first discuss the nature of dialectics, making explicit the mostly implicit definition running between the chapters of ‘The Dialectics’. I then summarize several of the chapters, synthesizing from them generalizable lessons about what Austrian economists and classical liberal scholars more generally can learn by being mindful of social context, synthesizing disparate ideas, and transcending dichotomies. …

Where logic supplies the principles whereby one may validly move from premise to conclusion and empirics discover the line between what is actual and what is merely possible, dialectics serves to keep the analyst mindful of how propositions surrounding the main object of study may change the meaning of facts under discussion. … Although all data is theory-laden, data never speaks for itself, etc., one can often take these data as they are and proceed, the empirical stage of research now giving way to the analysis stage. Logic retrospectively analyzes an argument and declares its conclusion valid or invalid based on the premises, which it has relatively little ability to discuss in themselves. Dialectics, however, is an approach to active inquiry. It makes recommendations about how an investigator might make progress in understanding a subject. Many issues one encounters in ongoing research are not so much questions of the internal and external validity of one’s empirics or the logical validity of one’s argument. They are issues of relevance and salience. …

This orientation towards the active process of investigation raises two more salient features of dialectical thinking: tacking between subjects; and transcending divides. In many situations, a researcher must find their place between at least two alternatives that are in tension with one another. … Dialectics often proceeds by transcending such dichotomies by situating them within a context. …

[The] deliberate intention to think dialectically about one’s work is likely to yield fruit for Austrian economists and classical liberal scholars. … [This book] succeeds in demonstrating the existence and value of dialectical thinkers. It is a stimulating series of inspirations for further work, and a useful reference for many interesting directions of contemporary libertarian scholarship. I would be pleased to see more scholars ask themselves not only ‘Is my evidence compelling?’ and ‘Is my argument sound?’ but also ‘Have I considered the context carefully?’

The review consists of a nice survey of many of the articles within the book. I heartily recommend the review—and the book (!)—to your attention! Readers can pick up a heavily discounted autographed copy of the volume from the C4SS Store.

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