Category Archives: Education

Elizabeth Ann: Long Live The Ferret—and My Sister!

Whatever your views on cloning endangered species (we’re not talking about bringing back the dinosaurs, here, a la Jurassic Park!), I have to admit that both my sister—who is dealing with her share of health issues—and I got a bit of a thrill from this story about “the first of any native, endangered animal species in North America to be cloned.” A black-footed ferret, Elizabeth Ann was born on December 10, 2020, two days before my sister came home from a difficult one-month stay in the hospital.

As it happens, my sister’s name is Elizabeth Ann Sciabarra. My sister has been emboldened by her namesake’s birth. We all hope that her recovery mirrors that ferret’s fortune!

Three Cheers to Two Elizabeth Anns!

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.

“Dialectics of Liberty” reviewed in JARS: Thumbs Up …

As I mentioned yesterday, the concluding issue of the twentieth anniversary volume of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies was officially published on JSTOR—as hard copies are on their way to print subscribers.

In this December 2020 issue of the journal, another publication close to heart was reviewed: The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, coedited by Roger E. Bissell, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, and Edward W. Younkins. The review essay, written by Allen Mendenhall, can be found on JSTOR here.

It’s always a bit awkward inviting a colleague to review a book you’ve co-edited for a journal of which you are a founding co-editor! But when I approached Allen, I simply told him, in essence: Just because I’m a founding coeditor of the journal and a coeditor of DOL doesn’t mean you have to give us Two Thumbs Up. I asked of him only that he mention those authors in the anthology who were members of the JARS editorial board (Robert L. Campbell, Roderick T. Long, and me) or advisory board (Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen), or contributors to past issues of the journal (Roger Bissell, Ed Younkins, Steve Horwitz, Gary Chartier, and Troy Camplin), which would at least provide us with some context as to why the review is appearing in the journal. Yes, context-keeping applies even to reviews of books about the art of context-keeping!

Then, I told him: “Take no prisoners, and have fun!”

And that he did. Allen gave us a really wonderful review. An excerpt can be found on the book’s home page here. But here’s a key comment:

The … chapters … are broad in scope, treating such expansive and seminal concepts as freedom, reality, and human flourishing and such elemental philosophical fields as logic, epistemology, metaphysics, and ontology. They send a message, namely that the editors are “thinking big,” calling into question whole schools of thought and promoting approaches to inquiry that are primary, essential, and comprehensive. They’re hitting the reset button. …

DOL is a wide-ranging volume colored with the unique voices and personalities of its various contributors. Yet it is united in purpose and models the dialectical method that it celebrates. [Contributor John F.] Welsh registers a memorable line that supplies fitting closure to this review. “A volume dedicated to the ‘dialectics of liberty,'” he states, “provides a wonderful opportunity to explore not only the interstices at which dialectical and libertarian theory overlap, but how the two might enhance each other for the benefit of advocacy for individual freedom, free markets, and minimal government.”

I concur. And The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom is that volume.

Folks looking to pick up a copy of the anthology can still do so at the heavily discounted rate of $5 per softcover book (with a $5 shipping charge no matter how many copies you order). There are only a dozen or so books left at this special rate. Please visit the DOL Discount Page and let Paypal do the rest!

WTC Remembrance: Firefighter Gerard Gorman – Ultimate Survivor

Today marks the nineteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 2001, which, nearly two decades later, continue to affect our lives as New Yorkers, as well as the lives of those whose loved ones were killed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and in Washington, D.C. My annual series returns this year with a remarkable story of resilience in the face of unimaginable horror: Firefighter Gerard Gorman: Ultimate Survivor [link to the article]. Gerard was an FDNY first responder on that day. I can’t thank him enough for sharing his memories—salty language and all—as a testament to the indomitable spirit of a true native New Yorker, something as relevant to 2020 as it is to the spirit of September 11, 2001.

Those who read this year’s installment might recognize the name of John Perry, mentioned by Gerard; I had met John at a regular discussion group run by Victor Niederhoffer in Manhattan.

For those who have not read previous entries in the series, here is a convenient index:

2001: As It Happened . . .

2002: New York, New York

2003: Remembering the World Trade Center: A Tribute

2004: My Friend Ray

2005: Patrick Burke, Educator

2006: Cousin Scott

2007: Charlie: To Build and Rebuild

2008: Eddie Mecner, Firefighter

2009: Lenny: Losses and Loves

2010: Tim Drinan, Student

2011: Ten Years Later

2012: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

2013: My Friend Matthew: A 9/11 Baby of a Different Stripe

2014: A Museum for the Ages: A Pictorial

2015: A New One World Trade Center Rises From the Ashes: A Pictorial

2016: Fifteen Years Ago: Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine

2017: Sue Mayham: Not Business as Usual

2018: Anthony Schirripa, Architect

2019: Zack Fletcher: Twin Towers, Twin Memories

2020: Firefighter Gerard Gorman: Ultimate Survivor

Never forget. ❤

Julian L. Simon Memorial Award: Steve Horwitz

I wish to congratulate Steve Horwitz for receiving the Julian L. Simon Memorial Award. From the Competitive Enterprise Institute announcement:

“This year, CEI is pleased to honor Dr. Steven Horwitz, Director of the Institute for the Study of Political Economy and Distinguished Professor of Free Enterprise at Ball State University, as the 2020 Julian L. Simon Memorial Award Winner.

“Professor Steven Horwitz extends Simon’s legacy with an exemplary teaching career and thorough empirical investigation of labor saving innovations in the modern economy. He is a testament to the power of open dialogue, the importance of liberal institutions, and the belief that tomorrow can be better than yesterday.”

I am proud to call Steve my colleague—and my dear friend! Way to go, Steve! I have been honored to know you, Steve, and inspired by the depth of your knowledge and the resilience of your spirit!

7-Day Course Challenge – “The Socialist Calculation Debate” (Course #1)

On Facebook, my friend Daniel Bastiat has started a new 7-day challenge: Pick between 2 to 5 books that you would assign for any course of your choosing (each day) and name the course. You can use the same book on multiple days if it pertains to the topic.

I was going to tag folks the way Daniel tagged me… but too many of the folks I was going to tag are preparing for the beginning of the new semester.

So, without tagging, I will create my own Course titles and provide the texts for the course.

Day #1 Course: The Socialist Calculation Debate
(For graduate-level students)

The only “textbook” for the course is the magisterial multi-volume series edited by Peter J. Boettke: Socialism and the Market: The Socialist Calculation Debate Revisited:

Volume 1: The Natural Economy (selections by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Bukharin, Neurath, and others)

Volume 2: Collectivist Economic Planning (Hayek’s edited work)

Volume 3: Economic Planning in Soviet Russia (Brutzkus)

Volume 4: Marginalist Economics and the Socialist Economy (selections by Taylor, Knight, Dobb, Lerner, Durbin, Lange, and others)

Volume 5: Socialist Calculation and the Market Economy (selections by Hayek, Robbins, Mises, Bergson, Roberts, Vaughn, and others)

Volume 6: Rivalry and Central Planning (by Don Lavoie)

Volume 7: The Political Economy of Soviet Socialism (by Peter J. Boettke)

Volume 8: Mechanism Design Theory and the Allocation of Resources (selections by Lange, Lavoie, Stiglitz, and others)

Volume 9: The Current Status of the Debate (selections by Prychitko, Shapiro, Arnold, Schweickart, Cottrell & Cockshott, Horwitz, Caldwell, and others)

The 9 volumes of Socialism and the Market: The Socialist Calculation Debate Revisited

Postscript (31 August 2020): I added this comment on one of the Facebook threads pertaining to the course and text selections, given some of the criticisms of my choices along the way. Since it’s a general statement, I include my comment here for the sake of readers looking at the entire seven-day course challenge:

“I would truly like to include 10 or 20 books in each course, but with this 2-5 book maximum, I’m going with texts that I think are either foundational to the course, or I’m cheating, by including compilations that cover more ground than the outlines of the challenge. I know that I’m leaving out so much, with regrets. After all, my bibliography for Total Freedom alone runs nearly 50 pages. But the lack of inclusion of any important work is not a sign of negative judgment and the inclusion of a work is not a sign of positive endorsement. My selections are just being guided by works I think essential to the topic of the course… and I’ve slapped my head several times along the way and said: “You shoulda, coulda, woulda included X!” Perhaps when this is little challenge is over, I’ll return to it—when my deadlines and circumstances allow for it—with all new course topics and all-new selections. Until then, I’m prepared to be scolded! 🙂 ”

Facebook Fiasco

On August 19, 2020, I was advertising a “Blow Out Sale” for The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom—a trailblazing anthology I coedited with Roger Bissell and Ed Younkins. I was corresponding with a few of the contributors to the anthology with regard to steep discount sales of the book. I was literally in the middle of a chat on FB Messenger with one of our contributors, Nathan Goodman, to discuss the discounts. Suddenly, I got a note saying that I couldn’t send the message. After uttering a few expletives, I tried again. This time, all of Nathan’s half of the dialogue was gone. Poof! The display: “This message has been temporarily removed because the sender’s account requires verification.” Huh?

So I clicked into Nathan’s profile, and got one of those “Sorry” messages that the content could not be displayed. Now the expletives were becoming a bit more Brooklyn edgy.

Onto email. Conscientious friend that he is, Nathan apologized profusely for not continuing our dialogue on FB Messenger and said he was having some account difficulties. Funny. I got the same message from another of our contributors, Jason Lee Byas, who informed me that he too was having difficulty with his account.

I joked to myself: “This is obviously a conspiracy against the dialectical libertarian project!”

The joke apparently was on me. In fact, on all of us.

It took a while to sort out, but here’s the gist of it all. On the very day that my announcement went up, Facebook apparently enacted a new policy, which stated in part:

“Today we are taking action against Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts tied to offline anarchist groups that support violent acts amidst protests, US-based militia organizations and QAnon. We already remove content calling for or advocating violence and we ban organizations and individuals that proclaim a violent mission. However, we have seen growing movements that, while not directly organizing violence, have celebrated violent acts, shown that they have weapons and suggest they will use them, or have individual followers with patterns of violent behavior. So today we are expanding our Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy to address organizations and movements that have demonstrated significant risks to public safety but do not meet the rigorous criteria to be designated as a dangerous organization and banned from having any presence on our platform. While we will allow people to post content that supports these movements and groups, so long as they do not otherwise violate our content policies, we will restrict their ability to organize on our platform. … As a result of some of the actions we’ve already taken, we’ve removed over 790 groups, 100 Pages and 1,500 ads tied to QAnon from Facebook, blocked over 300 hashtags across Facebook and Instagram, and additionally imposed restrictions on over 1,950 Groups and 440 Pages on Facebook and over 10,000 accounts on Instagram.”

Well, I have to say, unbeknownst to me, my good friends Nathan and Jason are among those who are now being characterized as “Dangerous Individuals.” And Jason himself has actually been in my apartment! If only I’d known!

The irony of all this is that Facebook has no clue just how “dangerous” dialectical thinking actually is. These two fine young scholars are as dialectical as they come; they are among the vanguard of a growing brigade of freedom-loving thinkers who are unwilling to accept the status quo and who understand that a dialectical method is the apotheosis of radical theorizing. Dialectics demands that we grasp social problems by understanding their interrelationships within the larger context of the system in which they are manifested—and which they perpetuate. It requires that we address these social problems across time, understanding the past, present, and many possible future directions that they might take. And in the end, it aims not merely to go to the root of such problems, which is the essence of what it means to be radical, but to uproot their preconditions and effects and to transform fundamentally the social system in which they are embedded.

If this be treason, make the most of it.

As Kelly Wright (another banned FB friend) and Nathan explain in their essay, “When Facebook Bans Peaceful Anarchists But Not the Violent State” (published on the site of the Center for a Stateless Society), they and two of their colleagues had their “Facebook accounts indefinitely disabled” with no explanation. But it is pretty clear that this blacklisting was a direct result of their having been administrators of an FB page that articulated a ‘leftist’ case for gun rights. In a valiant dialectical spirit, their group—“Leftists for Self-Defense and Firearm Freedom”—whether you agree with its political perspective or not, sought to challenge the false dichotomies in contemporary politics: “On one side, we see center left commentators who profess concerns about marginalized people but support gun control. On the other side, we see right-wing commentators who claim to support gun rights, but favor forms of state violence that undermine gun rights and rights to self-defense, such as the war on drugs. For instance, every no-knock raid is a home invasion that risks turning a gun owner defending their home into either a murder victim or an accused murderer.”

Again, whether or not you agree with the positions taken by the individuals in the group in question, their whole reason for being was to challenge conventional thinking on both the left and the right. And for this, they have now been branded as “dangerous individuals.”

This is unacceptable. In fact, it is downright infuriating and disgusting. We hear more and more about the dangers of “cancel culture”, and yet, right on Facebook, we are now witnessing what it means when a media giant starts to bracket out and cancel any “dangerous” perspective that challenges people to think outside the conventional political box within which too many are intellectually imprisoned.

I can speak directly to the integrity and brilliance of my two young colleagues and friends whose work is a highlight of The Dialectics of Liberty. As our contributor biography page states: “Jason Lee Byas is a Ph.D. student in Philosophy at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor). His research focuses on rights theory, alternatives to punishment, and justice beyond the state. In addition to his academic work, he has been a Fellow at the Center for a Stateless Society since 2011. He holds an M.A. in Philosophy from Georgia State University and a B.A. in Philosophy and Sociology from the University of Oklahoma.” And Nathan Goodman is also a “Ph.D. student in the Department of Economics at George Mason University. He earned his Bachelor of Science in mathematics from the University of Utah. He has worked as a research fellow for the Center for a Stateless Society, a program intern for the Law and Economics Center at George Mason University, and a summer fellow at the Fully Informed Jury Association. His research interests include defense and peace economics, Austrian economics, public choice economics, and self-governance.”

Jason contributed an essay to the anthology that focuses important attention on the nature of social change and Nathan penned an essay dealing with the invaluable contribution of Don Lavoie to the project of a “dialectical liberalism.”

Think about the effects of all this. These are not merely brilliant doctoral students. They are our future. They deserve to be heard. In the interests of “public safety,” actions such as those taken by Facebook are now being applied through some bloodless algorithm that will have the effect of deadening rigorous debate and marginalizing those voices we need to hear from most: those that challenge our most precious assumptions and that compel us to think in nontraditional ways.

I have benefitted immensely from my presence here on Facebook; I’ve met people through this social media platform whose friendships I have come to cherish deeply. I have also had an opportunity to use the functions of Facebook to moderate a study group that brought together over 100 members in a structured chapter-by-chapter four-month long discussion of The Dialectics of Liberty, in which seventeen of the nineteen contributors to the volume engaged with readers in a lively and thought-provoking discussion of the contents of their essays. It is not my plan to, as the old adage goes—“cut off my nose to spite my face”—and to leave Facebook in an act of revolt. I plan to stay on this platform until or unless they throw me off. But as long as I am here, I plan to speak up when I see such injustices.

Fix. This. Now.

Postscript (23 August 2020): Check out my friend Irfan Khawaja’s “Fatwa: Death to Facebook” post on his Policy of Truth blog. 🙂

Majority Rules NY Debuts New Site

I had previously sung the praises of the podcasts of Majority Rules NY, which is hosted by my friend and neighbor Pasquale Cascone and his pal Shaun Lembo.

Check out their new website and their newest episode on YouTube. I’m waiting for the T-shirt to come out! It’s just a couple of regular neighborhood guys from Brooklyn keeping it real in an era of so much BS. Cheers, guys!