Category Archives: Culture

My Seventeenth Annual Film Music February Will Continue …

A couple of months ago, I wrote up all the entries to what will be my seventeenth annual tribute to film scores, or what I like to call “Film Music February.”

It’s been a crazy year, but even throughout all the craziness, if you cannot find a moment of respite in the magic of the movies or the magic that the music brings to every movie you watch, well… you might as well throw in the towel! So, watch this space starting tomorrow and running through the last day of February. The Oscars may have been postponed till April, but my tribute to films and their scores stays put!

I’m sure you’re all just chomping (or champing) at the bit waiting to see and listen to what I have to say (yeah, sure…), but this is something I enjoy doing. And if some other folks enjoy it, all the better.

“The Dialectics of Liberty”: Reviewed in “The Philosophical Quarterly”

Reviews for The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom (Lexington Books, 2019) are slowly appearing throughout the scholarly literature, with more to come.

Today, I’m posting excerpts from a review by Gregory J. Robson (Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Iowa State University) that appears in The Philosophical Quarterly (29 December 2020, Oxford Academic).

Gregory J. Robson writes:

The contributors to this anthology insightfully explore ‘the context of human freedom’. This exploration is ‘dialectical’ because it engages in logical analysis and synthesis of economic, political, and other principles and ideas that often just appear in tension with one another . . . The book’s three parts include contributions from distinguished scholars in economics, law, philosophy, psychology, and related fields. The topics range widely and discussion is sometimes uneven, but this is no surprise in a book whose authors are multidisciplinary and cover considerable ground ably.  . . . The three parts fit together well due to the often complementary arguments of influential scholars such as Gary Chartier, Douglas J. Den Uyl, Steven Horwitz, Roderick T. Long, Deirdre Nansen McCloskey, and Douglas B. Rasmussen. Themes emerge such as the value of human relationships unmediated by force and fraud, the disvalue of political coercion, and the potential immorality of taxing some to hand to others.

The reviewer then focuses more extensively on the “complementary” contributions of Billy Christmas (“Social Equality and Liberty”) and Robert Higgs (“Exploring the Interconnections of Politics, Economics, and Culture”). He concludes:

[A] deep virtue of ‘Dialectics of Liberty‘ is its insistence that a free society takes seriously the need to persistently ask and answer—and *re-ask* and *re-answer*—why the state has authority to constrain liberty and the scope of any such authority. A society that does not take such questions seriously fails adequately to respect the personhood of would-be coercees. In principle, adherents of diverse political views do have the resources to take this claim onboard. Yet the essays in this book make a notable cumulative case for why classical liberals . . . and, relatedly, right and left libertarians . . . may be better equipped than supporters of more statist positions to explicate and defend the value of the personal and political liberties. This book has much to recommend it. It will be a valuable resource for teachers and researchers interested in the broad tradition of classical liberalism. And, in the spirit of dialectical exchange, hopefully it will spark responses by proponents and opponents alike.

Nice review! Terrific book! 😉

Jeff Riggenbach, RIP

I met Jeff Riggenbach many, many years ago at a libertarian conference when I was in my early 20s. I had first encountered his singular voice in a New York Times article published on June 24, 1979: “In Praise of Decadence” (before publishing a book of that name) and later, in Reason magazine (December 1982), where he discussed “The Disowned Children of Ayn Rand,” putting forth an audacious thesis:


If any single American novel of the past quarter-century may fairly be described as one of the major definitive documents of the ’60s, that novel is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.


To some readers this proposition doubtless seems paradoxical, even perverse. Ayn Rand an avatar of the ’60s, that decade of campus unrest, acid rock, and flower childishness? The very idea! Was it not Rand who described the Berkeley rebels of 1964 as “savages running loose on the campus of one of America’s great universities” and as “contorted young creatures who scream, in chronic terror, that they know nothing and want to rule everything”? Was it not Rand who described the participants in the Woodstock music festival of 1969 as “scummy young savages” who spent the weekend “wallowing in the mud on an excrement-strewn hillside”? Was it not Rand who dismissed the New Left as “wriggling, chanting drug addicts,” rock ‘n’ roll as “primitive music, with the even beat that deadens the brain and the senses,” and the spread throughout America of the counterculture lifestyle as an “obscene epidemic of self-destruction”?


Were the flower children and the campus radicals of the ’60s obsessed with their own youth? Did they regard young people as uniquely qualified by the very tenderness of their years to see through and expose the evils and the hypocrisies of their elders? Did they soberly counsel each other not to trust anyone over 30? If they read Atlas Shrugged, they found nothing in it to dissuade them from this prejudice. …


Were the ’60s radicals openly contemptuous of establishment intellectuals, conventional wisdom, and eternal verities? Atlas Shrugged contains the most acid-etched portrait of establishment intellectualdom ever published in America. It stands all of contemporary conventional wisdom on its head. And as far as eternal verities are concerned, Rand herself never tired of remarking that her big novel challenged the entire Western cultural tradition of the past 2,000 years.


Were the ’60s radicals feminists who believed a woman was as good as anybody else? Atlas Shrugged could have done nothing but fuel their fire. For here was a deeply intellectual novel written by a woman and depicting the adventures of one of the most extraordinary women to be found anywhere in 20th-century fiction—a beautiful female entrepreneur who flies her own plane, runs her own railroad, and takes her own risks and who is equally good at engineering, philosophy, tennis, housework, and sex—the sort of woman who is not only as good as any man but in fact better, better than almost any man you’ll ever meet, in fiction or out of it.


Did the ’60s radicals hold a dim view of the military-industrial complex? They would find nothing in Atlas Shrugged to teach them otherwise. If one were to judge the worlds of government, big business, and the scientific establishment purely by reading Atlas Shrugged, one would have to conclude that almost all big businessmen are parasitic incompetents who owe their profits to special deals worked out for them by politicians, that the scientific establishment is nothing but an arm of government, and that the principal function of government is to use its stolen resources in the invention and manufacture of loathsome weapons of mass destruction. …


In the late 1970s, a pair of young journalists, Rex Weiner and Deanne Stillman, teamed up with a professional pollster and conducted a wide-ranging opinion poll of self-identified “’60s people.” (Sixty-two percent of the respondents reported that they had considered themselves “hippies” during the ’60s, and most of the others had been sympathetic to the hippies’ cause.) …


One of the questions Weiner and Stillman asked their respondents called for them to list the names of individuals they had “admired and been influenced by.” One respondent in six listed Ayn Rand in reply to this question. She came in 29th out of 81. And if the entertainers and politicians are eliminated so that the list contains only the names of the authors that hippies admired, Rand comes in tied for sixth place with Germaine Greer, behind Kurt Vonnegut, Kahlil Gibran, Tom Wolfe, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus (who tied for fourth), and Allen Ginsberg, but ahead of Rod McKuen, Hermann Hesse, Paul Goodman, Simone de Beauvoir, Norman Mailer, and LeRoi Jones. …


If a cheap, reliable solar converter had been perfected a decade ago, the young inventor will tell you, it would have meant “about ten years added to the life of every person in this country—if you consider how many things it would have made easier and cheaper to produce, how many hours of human labor it would have released for other work, and how much more anyone’s work would have brought him. Locomotives? What about automobiles and ships and airplanes?…And tractors. And power plants. All hooked to an unlimited supply of energy, with no fuel to pay for, except a few pennies worth to keep the converter going.”


As the initiated know, all these quotations I’ve attributed to the young inventor come from Atlas Shrugged and pertain to John Galt’s motor that runs on atmospheric electricity. But the rough equivalent of that young inventor really exists somewhere. And despite his long hair, his faded jeans, and his work shirt, he is a true Randian—just as thousands of the pursuers of self-realization who made the 1970s the “Me Decade” are true Randians—just as thousands of the militant feminists, gay activists, and untraditional businessmen (dope dealers, headshop owners, street artists) who have won so much media attention over the past few years are true Randians.


All of them are truer Randians by far than grim, humorless, regimented, robotlike “students of Objectivism” who are ordinarily regarded as the truest of the true. These wretched conformists, so lacking in self-esteem that they willingly enslave themselves to someone else’s ideas on every conceivable subject, so obedient intellectually that they turn their backs on a culture literally teeming with Randian ideas and denounce that culture as evil and irrational merely because they are told to do so by their mentor—these Randians are not representative of the spirit of Atlas Shrugged.

It was the rebels of the ’60s who were the true children of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Disowned children, certainly—cast out of the house and into the cold world for the sin of taking their mother’s injunctions too literally, for adopting her ideas and ignoring her personal prejudices. But they are her children nonetheless and unmistakably. They are hers. And she is theirs.


So impressed was I by Jeff’s keen insights into the ways in which a thinker’s ideas filter through a culture, affecting even those whom that thinker might have “disowned,” that I was ecstatic when he later agreed to write a couple of articles for The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, which I co-founded in 1999 with Stephen Cox and Bill Bradford. He contributed a wonderful essay to the first symposium on Rand’s aesthetics ever published (Spring 2001), and then went on to write a wide-ranging, deeply insightful piece for the first of our two symposia celebrating the Ayn Rand Centenary: “Ayn Rand: Literary and Cultural Impact” (Fall 2004). In “Ayn Rand’s Influence on American Popular Fiction,” Jeff surveyed a remarkably diverse group of writers upon whom Rand had exercised a substantial influence, including former associates such as Kay Nolte Smith and Erika Holzer as well as Gene Roddenberry, Ira Levin, Terry Goodkind, and other contemporary purveyors of science fiction and crime fiction.

Getting to know Jeff through the years was a hoot; he was a perfectionist in his work, and even when you disagreed with him, he was always a gentle man—with me at least!

This morning, I learned that Jeff died. I know he was battling serious health problems and I have been deeply saddened by the news, having just posted on January 12th, on his Facebook Timeline: “Miss you, Jeff! Happy birthday…”

RIP, my friend. And my deepest condolences to Jeff’s family and loved ones.

Twelve Months of COVID …

Pearls Before Swine” (courtesy of Stephan Pastis and the New York Daily News) returns from vacation, looking back at the past year … not meant to minimize the very real tragedies that continue to, quite literally, plague us …

On the Twelve Months of COVID … (sing along!)

Super Super Milesio

… I just love this kid (Roger Bissell‘s grandson). Any kid who can move (in a Jacob Collier mash-up) seamlessly from “The Flintstones” theme to Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry Bout a Thing” to the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” is a Super Super Milesio! Bravo!

Jelly: Who Needs It?

Okay, so you figure, it’s January 16th, and if I’m going to echo an Ayn Rand title, I’d put up one questioning: Where were you on the Night of January 16th? But noooo… I have to reference that other book (and essay) Philosophy: Who Needs It to address this issue! After all, there are much more pressing problems that I am compelled to face!

From the time I was a little kid, in those footsie PJs (yes, I wore a few of those when I was, like 3 or 4 years old), I remember my Mom (Rest In Peace) telling me, when I was eating toast with grape jelly smeared on it, “Watch the jelly! Don’t get jelly on your pajamas!” And without fail, the sticky stuff ended up on the PJs and everywhere else.

To this day, no matter who I am with, who is using jelly on their toast or crackers or English muffins, somehow, someway, that sticky jelly or jam gets SOMEWHERE on a utensil, a plate, a table cloth, the floor. This sticky stuff finds its way through the air onto surfaces far and wide!

Would somebody please explain this to me? Are we just slobs or is there some metaphysical reason why this happens?

The Eternal Healthcare Deductible …

For those who have tried to navigate through the labyrinthine network of health insurance regulations in this country, this one from “Pearls Before Swine” (courtesy of Stephan Pastis and the New York Daily News) hits home … comically and painfully …

^ Yep.

The Trump “Revolution” in Foreign Policy … Not Quite

Back in July 2016, when I predicted that Donald Trump would win the White House, I wrote about the coming “Trump Revolution,” encouraged by only one thing above all: That Trump might foster a less interventionist foreign policy. He was belatedly critical of the Iraq War and when questioned by Bill O’Reilly about how Russia had interfered in U.S. elections, he replied correctly: “You think our country’s so innocent?” Indeed, the United States government has been responsible for toppling more governments abroad (both covertly and overtly) than perhaps any other government on earth. (The filth that is U.S. foreign policy was first made most apparent by the publication of The Pentagon Papers by the New York Times—through the reporting of Neil Sheehan, who died yesterday, ironically, and the Washington Post. We can thank whistleblowers from Daniel Ellsberg to Wikileaks for having provided so much evidence of this …)

Trump’s distrust of the so-called Deep State was also a breath of fresh air, given the long-standing power that has been exercised by administrative bureaucracies and agencies, all unelected, and embedded in the National Security apparatus, the U.S. intelligence community—and such institutions as the Federal Reserve System and the vast array of regulatory agencies, virtually all of whom operate to protect the very industries being “regulated.” This is in the very nature of the kind of “capitalism” that its advocates have defended with regularity. It is crony by definition—a system rigged in favor of those most adept at using its levers.

The problem, however, for Donald Trump, is that after four years, instead of “draining the swamp,” he became part of it. In fact, in all too many respects, he only deepened it. I’m not going to even begin to touch on what Trump’s years in office have wrought domestically, since I’ve discussed it here, here, here, and here, for example.

As one who favors radically freed markets liberated from the heavy hand of the state—and a culture that would necessarily support such liberation—it is simply a fact that Trump never endorsed freed markets. He remains an economic nationalist, harking back to the beginnings of the Grand Old Party, which championed, way back in the nineteenth century, high tariffs, subsidies for industry, and protectionism, all at the expense of the disenfranchised. Today, too many Democrats who oppose Trump with policies that are called “socialist” are typically advocating shifting forms of state intervention that will benefit a whole slew of other favored industries, be they in “alternative” energy or in healthcare. Neither party is a friend of freedom; the system is rigged to benefit those who are most adept at wielding the levers of power to augment their wealth and influence. Nothing that Trump did in four years has altered that dynamic. Period.

Moreover, those who think that the Trump years brought “peace” in foreign affairs, should check their premises. Like Obama before him, Trump focused on proxying-out military intervention. Sometimes it’s been trumpeted as good for the economy; after all, when the U.S. gives money to the Saudi government, the Saudis spend that money by purchasing U.S.-manufactured munitions, which are then used against countries like Yemen. As reported in Jacobin magazine, Trump’s promise to end “the era of endless wars” has only led to the repositioning of troops rather than their return home. Indeed,


the “endless” wars have not ended. Trump has dropped more bombs and missiles than George W. Bush or Barack Obama did in their first terms, and there are still roughly as many US bases and troops overseas as when he was elected. … Trump has vetoed every bill passed by Congress to disengage US forces from the Saudi war in Yemen and to halt the sales of US-made warplanes and bombs, which the Saudis use to systematically kill Yemeni civilians. … Trump has also backed a coup in Bolivia, staged several failed ones in Venezuela, and targeted even the United States’ closest allies with sanctions to try to prevent them from trading with US enemies. Trump’s brutal sanctions on Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Cuba are not a peaceful alternative to war, but a form of economic warfare just as deadly as bombs, especially during a pandemic and its accompanying economic meltdown. …


[M]ilitary spending for procurement, research and development (R&D), and base construction has risen by 39 percent. This has been a huge windfall for the Big Five US weapons makers — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics — whose arms sales revenues rose 30 percent between 2015 and 2019. The 49 percent increase to more than $100 billion for R&D on new weapons systems in 2020, part of the enormous $718 billion Pentagon budget, is a down payment on trillions of dollars in future revenue for the merchants of death unless these programs are stopped.

The Trump record is almost complete; future historians will debate his legacy—the last few days an ugly extension of it—but in the one area that some of us held out some hope, Donald Trump failed.

I do have to say, though, that I find it hilarious that the Democratic leadership is thinking about initiating a second impeachment trial or have expressed support for the invoking of the 25th Amendment to get Trump out of office before Inauguration Day, just 12 days away.

There was a real constitutional question as to whether a sitting President could pardon himself. If these Never-Trumpers succeed, there would be no question should the House of Representatives impeach him and a new Democratically-controlled Senate actually convict him, that the new President, Mike Pence, could very easily pardon Trump, with no constitutional issues clouding things up.

Either way, folks, on January 20, 2021, Mike Pence will be in attendance at the inauguration of Joe Biden as 46th President of the United States (Trump is boycotting the ceremony). In the meanwhile, even long-time Trump supporters are running for the exits in light of the Capitol Catastrophe, an assault on that building the likes of which have not been seen since the War of 1812. Gone are Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Special Envoy to Northern Ireland and Former Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Commerce Department John Costello, White House Council of Economic Advisers (Acting Chairman) Tyler Goodspeed, the First Lady’s Chief of Staff Stephanie Grisham, Social Secretary Rickie Niceta, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Matthews and now THIS! Deputy Undersecretary for Stabbing: Jon Schwarz! Have these folks have no sense of decency left!

For those who don’t get the allusion to Jimmy Cagney’s “White Heat” [YouTube link]
Bramhall’s World,
New York Daily News (7 January 2021)
(Yeah, yeah, I know the Republic seems to be in shambles, the Capitol was ransacked, and life is miserable. Each side is accusing the other of treason, and it’s nothing to laugh at. But at some point, you just look up and say: WTF?)