Category Archives: Pedagogy

Another Side to Eric Fleischmann: Soy! Live!

My friend Eric Fleischmann has published widely at the site of Center for a Stateless Society, including, recently, some very fine, original essays on the thought of individualist anarchist Laurence Labadie. I have previously written about his work on Notablog, here and here (where he critiqued my monograph, “Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation“). In addition to his developing scholarship, he’s a regular rabble-rousing activist anywhere he goes!

Not many people know of yet another side to Eric. His “secret” was safe with me—until now. Check him out tonight with the band Soy, which will run a live show, taped on January 2, 2022. He is a roaring lion on stage! It’s at 7 pm (ET) tonight! Don’t miss it!

Kafka, The Girl, and the Doll …

H/T to my friend Larry Abrams; there’s even an illustrated book about this tale.

Kafka, the year before his death at 40.

At 40, Franz Kafka (1883-1924), who never married and had no children, walked through the park in Berlin when he met a girl who was crying because she had lost her favourite doll. She and Kafka searched for the doll unsuccessfully.

Kafka told her to meet him there the next day and they would come back to look for her.

The next day, when they had not yet found the doll, Kafka gave the girl a letter “written” by the doll saying “please don’t cry. I took a trip to see the world. I will write to you about my adventures.”

Thus began a story which continued until the end of Kafka’s life.

During their meetings, Kafka read the letters of the doll carefully written with adventures and conversations that the girl found adorable.

Finally, Kafka brought back the doll (he bought one).

“It doesn’t look like my doll at all,” said the girl.
Kafka handed her another letter in which the doll wrote: “my travels have changed me.” The little girl hugged the new doll and brought her happily home.

A year later Kafka died.

Many years later, the now-adult girl found a letter inside the doll. In the tiny letter signed by Kafka it was written:

“Everything you love will probably be lost, but in the end, love will return in another way.”

RIP, Dr. Hiromi Shinya

Today, I learned of the passing of Dr. Hiromi Shinya, who died in Tokyo, Japan on December 9, 2021. Dr. Shinya was a pioneer of colonoscopic techniques, the inventor of the electrosurgical polypectomy snare, which allowed for the removal of colon polyps without the need for invasive surgery. This is a deeply personal loss, as I will explain.

As Wikipedia tells us:

Hiromi Shinya was born [on March 6,] 1935 in the city of Yanagawa in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. … From a young age, his mother … encouraged him to earn a medical degree and pursue medicine in the United States. He graduated from Juntendo University School of Medicine in 1960. He then applied with nine hundred other candidates for one of fourteen openings for interns at the United States Naval Hospital in Yokosuka. Passage of the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates examination was required for the program, necessitating a high degree of English fluency, so he “spent a lot of time going to American movies” to prepare. He married Miyoko Mogi on March 6, 1963. She was a nurse on the Yokosuka Naval base. She graduated from Tokyo University nursing school.

Following his internship, Dr. Shinya would go on to complete a surgical residency at Beth Israel Medical Center, becoming involved in a revolutionary new technique in gastrointestinal medicine: endoscopic and colonoscopic procedures. From Wikipedia:

Shinya began developing colonoscopic techniques with an esophagoscope from Olympus Optical Co., Ltd.. The instrument was a short fiberscope with a two-way maneuverable tip and was designed for use on the esophagus, but with it, Shinya was able to reach the splenic flexure—the first bend in the colon—about 50% of the time. While other doctors were concurrently developing colonoscopic techniques, most of them practiced a two-person technique, with one person controlling the direction of the tip while the other controlled insertion. Shinya was in the minority who rejected this procedure, preferring to develop methods which allowed one endoscopist to perform colonoscopy reliably. As a result, “many and probably most of the fundamental principles of the procedure were developed by Dr. Shinya”. By the beginning of 1969, Olympus had introduced several iterations of dedicated colonoscopes, and Shinya was able to reach the cecum—located at the end of the colon—in 90% of his patients. Shinya’s other major contribution to colonoscopy was the invention of the electrosurgical polypectomy snare, known as the “Shinya snare” with the support of Olympus employee Hiroshi Ichikawa. Even before the results of the National Polyp Study linked colon polyps to colon cancer, Shinya instinctively “thought the polyp was the forerunner of cancer and that removing these polyps could reduce the risk of cancer”. Since polyp removal accounted for 30% of the colon surgery of the day, Shinya’s primary focus from his first experiences with colonoscopy was a noninvasive method of performing polypectomy. On January 8, 1969, he and Hiroshi Ichikawa sketched out the first plans for a snare attached to the end of a colonoscope that would allow for easy removal of polyps during colonoscopy. … Shinya … performed the first colonoscopic electrosurgical snare polypectomy in September 1969. In 1970, he delivered the first report of the procedure to the New York Surgical Society, and in May 1971 presented his experiences to the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.


This development made Shinya famous worldwide. There was immediate demand for his procedure, with his performing 20 colonoscopies a day. To date, he has performed approximately 370,000 colonoscopies and given nearly 300 live demonstrations of the technique. Polypectomy has gone on to surpass “all other endoscopic therapeutic procedures in terms of numbers performed” and “impacts the lives of millions of people throughout the world.” According to Michael Sivak Jr., it is the most important achievement in gastrointestinal endoscopy.

I can testify personally to the greatness of this man. I spent the bulk of my childhood deathly sick, and despite countless tests from scores of doctors, not a single doctor could come up with a diagnosis for the extreme intestinal symptoms I was experiencing—even as I was, essentially, withering away. By the time I was 13 years old, I was around 60 lbs.

Only my family doctor, Dr. Harry Karounos, was convinced—after performing a GI series in his own office (yes, they did that back then)—that it might be suppression of the duodenum caused by the Superior Mesenteric Artery. There was no way to get confirmation of this extremely rare condition known as Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome, a condition not clinically described until 1861, and not fully defined until 1927. There had only been a reported 400 congenital cases of SMAS in the literature (other acute cases related to body casts, have been diagnosed since, including one related to the spinal injury suffered by Christopher Reeve). The condition is so rare that it wasn’t until 2017 that a not-for-profit organization was founded to heighten awareness of it: Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome Research Awareness Support. In October of that same year, only “The Good Doctor”, in the second episode of its first season, featured a story in which a young girl nearly dies from it.

Back in 1973, we were extremely fortunate to have learned of the revolutionary new techniques in endoscopic medicine being performed by Dr. Shinya. We were able to schedule an esaphagogastroduodenoscopy, which Dr. Shinya performed on me, in his office, under sedation. In 20-30 minutes, Dr. Shinya provided a conclusive SMAS diagnosis. A few months later, on April 21, 1974, at Methodist Hospital, in Brooklyn—the hospital in which I was born in 1960—I was reborn, when Dr. Joseph Bochetto performed a major surgical duodenojejunostomy, by-passing the obstructed third and fourth portions of the duodenum. (There were no laproscopic surgical techniques available at the time.)

In the years since, I developed quite a few complications due to the by-pass surgery. I’ve had 60+ procedures since, all in some way related to the condition and its postoperative side effects. I discussed this condition in a Folks interview back in 2018, and in Notablog entries in January 2018 related to it.

But I am alive—and flourishing—to talk about. I have lived a happy, loving, and productive life, and I simply would not be here if it were not for Dr. Shinya. I mourn his passing, but I celebrate his life. He remains one of the greatest healers to have ever graced this planet. He was also a gentle man, a beautiful soul who was a source of enormous comfort—and hope—anytime you were in his caring presence.

There is an age-restricted video of Dr. Shinya performing a colonoscopy (not for the faint of heart) on YouTube; at his side in the video is his protégé, my current doctor: Dr. Mark Cwern. I thank Dr. Shinya not only for having saved my life, but for having provided me with the gift of Dr. Cwern, who has been by my side for many years, a man who has carried on the legacy of Dr. Shinya with enormous integrity and kindness.

Unfortunately, I have not found a single obituary to mark the passing of this giant in the field of gastrointestinal medicine. To his family, friends, and colleagues, I offer my deepest condolences. To the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives he personally saved, to the many millions of people whose lives have been saved due to the enormous contributions he has made, I dedicate this tribute. Thank you, dearest doctor, for all that you did for me. Rest in peace.

Dr. Hiromi Shinya (1935-2021)

Facebook: Philosophers as Profile Month 2021 (II)

As readers know, I chose Don Lavoie (1951-2001) as my first profile pic for the event, “Philosophers as Profile Pictures Month.” In keeping with the holiday season, however, I’m straying from the rules a bit, and staying with my current goofy profile pic on Facebook. But with a H/T to my friend Cory Massimino, who sponsored this year’s event, I wanted to highlight yet another philosopher, posting a passage that I initially discovered in an essay written by Cory, which is featured in the Routledge Handbook of Anarchy and Anarchist Thought, a worthwhile collection edited by my friend Gary Chartier and Chad Van Schoelandt.* The passage below is from a writer with whom I have some differences, but whose work, The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory (Crossing Press, 1983), contains so many thought-provoking pieces.

The author is philosopher Marilyn Frye and the passage contains one of the most dialectical formulations of the notion of “Oppression”—the name of the essay from which it is taken—that I’ve ever read. Frye begins by asking us to “Consider a birdcage” …

If you look very closely at just one wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of what is before you is determined by this myopic focus, you could look at that one wire, up and down the length of it, and be unable to see why a bird would not just fly around the wire any time it wanted to go somewhere. Furthermore, even if, one day at a time, you myopically inspected each wire, you still could not see why a bird would have trouble going past the wires to get anywhere. There is no physical property of any one wire, nothing that the closest scrutiny could discover, that will reveal how a bird could be inhibited or harmed by it except in the most accidental way. It is only when you step back, stop looking at the wires one by one, microscopically, and take a macroscopic view of the whole cage, that you can see why the bird does not go anywhere; and then you will see it in the moment. It will require no great subtlety of mental powers. It is perfectly obvious that the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers, no one of which would be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by their relations to each other, are as confining as the solid walls of a dungeon. (pp. 4-5)


I have to say that I can think of no clearer exposition of what it means to think dialectically about the interlocking social conditions that are inimical to the struggle for human freedom and human flourishing. Personally, I have authored a trilogy of works devoted to understanding the importance to libertarian social theory of grasping the full context of social relations and institutions—from the personal to the cultural to the political and economic dynamics—that constitute the given structural conditions of our world. Oppression is not strictly a personal or a cultural or a structural phenomenon. It is a condition that must be analyzed systemically and dynamically in its full context if it is to be changed radically.

In light of my recent series highlighting a new article, coauthored by Pavel Solovyev and me, on another woman philosopher, Ayn Rand, and her Soviet education during the Russian Silver Age, I wish to emphasize that Rand herself would have agreed both methodologically and substantively with this powerful description of the nature of oppression, even if she would have parted company with Frye’s “radical feminism.”

I should point out, however, that in coediting, with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, a 1999 anthology in the Penn State Press “Re-reading the Canon Series,” I am acutely aware of the tension between—and congruence of—Rand’s work with the many stripes of contemporary feminism.

In any event, as a concluding post for “Philosophers as Profile Pictures Month” (even if I’ve not changed my pic), I offer this portrait of Marilyn Frye. The eloquent passage I’ve highlighted is a stern warning of the dangers of reifying a single wire—a single part—as if it were the whole. To shift our vantage points, our perspectives, our levels of generality so that we can truly apprehend the larger cages that inhibit our ability to be free and to flourish is a monumental undertaking. Here’s to the day when our social life encourages, nourishes, and challenges each precious, individual human being to dismantle the cages and take flight, free as a bird.

Marilyn Frye (born 1941)

___
* Ah! I knew I’d seen this passage even before Cory introduced me to it! Yikes! It actually appears in a book I coedited, with Roger Bissell and Ed Younkins: The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom. The essay, “Why Libertarians Should Be Social Justice Warriors”, is written by my friend Roderick Tracy Long. Check it out here. As I stated on Facebook:

I honestly did forget the Frye reference in Roderick’s chapter, which preceded my having seen Cory’s chapter in the Routledge anthology. And as coeditor of The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, that’s my bad! Granted, I edited and proofed that chapter back in 2018-19, and the book was published in June 2019, and I coordinated our online Facebook seminar on the book, which ran for the first few months of 2020, in the middle of a pandemic. (And in truth, I’ve been juggling a few personal challenges and professional projects for over a year now… but that’s another story!)

Still, as one who cherishes charitable attribution, I apologize for having forgotten the Frye reference in Roderick’s wonderful chapter. But also, in truth, it was Cory’s terrific paper in the Routledge anthology, which highlighted that passage, and which sparked my interest to actually go out and get the Frye book and read it! And I’m glad I did. Hence, this post.

So my thanks to both Roderick and Cory for alerting me to this writer, and especially, this particularly eloquent passage from a 1983 book of which I was not aware—and yet, which encapsulates the kind of dialectical insights that I’ve been championing for the bulk of my professional life, stretching back more than four decades.

The Rand Transcript Revealed (Part I)

It gives me great pleasure to announce that JSTOR has published the December 2021 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Project Muse will be publishing this issue soon.

Today, I’d like to begin a series of posts discussing the lead essay in the current issue. That essay, “The Rand Transcript Revealed,” coauthored by Pavel Solovyev and me, is currently available on the JSTOR site. For the benefit of all future scholarship on Ayn Rand, the article provides 28 archival images pertinent to Rand’s education in the Soviet Union. The images appear in color on all e-platforms, and in black and white in the printed hard copy that will be mailed to subscribers soon.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of this essay. My own former detective work, which investigated Rand’s education at the University of Petrograd (formerly the University of Saint Petersburg, later the University of Leningrad, and now the University of Saint Petersburg again), began with my book, published in 1995, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (Penn State Press). In that book, I made a lot of educated guesses on what Rand studied and with whom she may have studied, based on my understanding of the enormous changes that were instituted at the University of Petrograd in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution. I drew much from Rand’s own recollections, as recorded in a series of biographical interviews conducted by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden in 1960-1961, as well as from contemporaries of Rand and scholars of the historical period in question.

A lot of what I suggested in that first approximation was given evidential support in the essay that opened the very first issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: “The Rand Transcript,” published in the Fall of 1999, based on the Leningrad State University diploma of the young Ayn Rand, born Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum. That was followed in the Fall of 2005, with “The Rand Transcript, Revisited,” an analysis of much more in-depth records of Rand’s courses, generously provided to me by Anne C. Heller, who wrote the biography, Ayn Rand and the World She Made (2010). Both of these articles were subsequently republished in 2013 as the first two of three appendices in the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. (The third appendix addressed criticisms of my historical work, followed by another “Reply to Critics” [pdf] published in the December 2017 JARS.)

Unable to digitally reproduce poor photocopies of all the records I had examined, I was elated to discover that in October 2020, Pavel Solovyev had begun to post to a public Ayn Rand group on Facebook many of those same documents, which he had obtained—in pristine color—through the website of the Saint Petersburg Archive. Subsequently, Pavel and I struck up a wonderful collegial friendship, which enabled us to work together toward the publication of this article.

I will have a lot more to say about the article—and the trailblazing analysis of the documents that it contains—over the next few days. For now, on behalf of Pavel and myself, I’d just like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the JARS editorial board and the entire Penn State Press family, especially Joseph Dahm, Rachel Ginder, and Komal Ganjoo, for their helpful guidance in the production of this important project.

Though some on Facebook may have previously seen this image (below), I reproduce here the cover of the personal file of Alissa Rosenbaum (as it appears on page 145 of our journal article)—still rendered in the pre-1918 alphabet—from the Saint Petersburg State Archive. Stay tuned … so much more to come!

Postscript: And check out the public Facebook discussion that followed.

Empathy—and Dismay

On Facebook, I gave a H/T to my friend Joshua Zader for his re-posting of this graphic on the subject of “empathy” …

As I wrote on Facebook, this encapsulates one important way by which to celebrate the goodwill of the holiday season: Learning empathy.

I added: “If I’d boxed myself within the conventional left-right continuum, I would never have opened my mind to learning from a Marxist mentor (Bertell Ollman), who both encouraged me and challenged me in my growth as a student of intellectual history. (In fact, Bertell was more encouraging of my work on Ayn Rand than 98% of the folks in Rand-land.) I’ve been enriched by drawing from all parts of the ideological spectrum. The very origins of what it means to be “dialectical”—grasping the full context—emerges from the art of dialogue, and it is through such dialogue with those outside our framework that we evolve intellectually, psychologically, and even emotionally.”

Well, I’d like to say that this message got through loud and clear, but it never ceases to amaze me how consistently people show up to demonstrate the point of the posts—in reverse.

Before you know it, my opinions on the nature of the Enclosure Acts and of the origins of capitalism suddenly took center stage, with one person suggesting that I’m parroting “Marxist” and “totalitarian lies.” I pointed out that in Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, I critique Marx on a number of issues, including his theory of history. I give credit to Marx on a methodological point: the dialectical method applied to the analysis of social problems, a method that goes back to Aristotle and that has been used to varying degrees by thinkers in the classical liberal/libertarian tradition, from Menger to Hayek to Rand. I most definitely reject the materialist theory of history. 

Well, that just took us down a road that had nothing to do with the topic of the thread, but which illustrated what happens when folks refuse to give you the benefit of the doubt or to adopt even a remotely charitable interpretation of your views.

First, it should be noted that empathy doesn’t mean that we are required to empathize with those who are out to kill you. I would limit it to folks with whom we just might have some civil disagreements … not folks looking to gouge my eyes out. In civil discourse, I think much can be learned from Nathaniel Branden, who stated in his essay, “Objectivism and Libertarianism“:

About ten years ago, I came across a saying from the Talmud that impressed me profoundly. I have not been able to stop thinking about it. I have often wondered what might have happened if I’d had the chance to discuss the idea with Ayn—if there would have been any way to break through. Who knows what might have been different in the years that followed?

The line that so impressed me was: “A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an enemy.”

After nearly 50 comments, I concluded with the following statement:

Well, before I turn in for the night, I’d like to extend my thanks especially to those who understood the spirit of this post. My empathy is alive and well, not just at this time of year, but all year round.


For those who didn’t quite get the spirit of this post, I’ll repeat what I said above, alluding to my half-Greek, half-Sicilian ancestry: “The ‘Greek’ side of me is always trying to find reasonable common ground with an open heart. The ‘Sicilian’ side of me tells me when no common ground is possible, and I’m like: ‘Fuhgedaboudit! Enough with this!'”


Given that no common ground is possible in some instances here, I’ll therefore conclude with “Fuhgedaboudit! Enough with this!”


Many more threads to follow… to the delight of some and the dismay of others. G’nite, folks!

Take What You Want and Move the F&*K On!

This is a Facebook post from my friend Ryan Neugebauer. I’m reposting it here because I’ve been thinking the same thing for a long time, given my experiences on social media. From Ryan:

I’ve noticed that there are trends for hating on certain thinkers/figures in different political spheres. People in both groups will chastise them and make them out to be valueless.”In left-wing spaces it will be Ayn Rand or some free-market economist (Hayek, Mises, Rothbard, or Friedman). In right-wing spaces it will be Karl Marx, Saul Alinsky, Noam Chomsky, or some self-described Socialist politician.

I have NO USE for this kind of tribalism. I take insights from thinkers across the political spectrum. I’ve read people like Edmund Burke, G.K. Chesterton, F.A. Hayek, Ayn Rand, Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Benjamin Tucker, Mikhail Bakunin, P.J. Proudhon, Kevin Carson, and numerous others. Some of those are Traditionalist Conservatives, Classical Liberals/Right-Libertarians, left-wing Anarchists, as well as State Socialists & Social Democrats.

I have disagreements with all of the thinkers I read. Some more than others for sure. But I won’t throw an entire person out just because of significant disagreements. I won’t pretend they don’t have insights just because I really hate something they say. I take the good, understand and reject the bad, and simply move on.

It’s important to learn to engage diverse thinkers and not close yourself out. It’s also important to be reasonably charitable and not write someone off entirely unnecessarily.

Though this approach will not help you with group membership in a political tribe, it will help you with being a better thinker and a better interlocutor. So please choose that over fitting in.

And let me just add: If you’re not capable of thinking outside the square of a stultifying ideology, you’re impoverishing your own critical thinking abilities. My own approach for every thinker I’ve ever read has always been the same: Take what gems you can find in each writer and/or school of thought you are exposed to; criticize that which you reject (but PLEASE, OH PLEASE understand what you’re accepting and what you’re rejecting!), and MOVE THE F&*K ON!*


* This is a play on the old Spanish proverb often quoted by Ayn Rand and her followers: “God said, take what you want and pay for it.”

Postscript: In the Facebook discussion that followed, I made these additional points:

1. Evil may be real, and we can call it for what it is. But there are many insights that one can glean from thinkers that many libertarians and Objectivists might consider “evil”. Many of those on the left brand Rand and Hayek as evil, as apologists for a system of exploitation, but if left-winger Slavoj Zizek can find value in Ayn Rand, and “postmodernist” Michel Foucault can find value in F. A. Hayek, surely those on the other side of the divide can find something of value in the works of Hegel, Marx, Engels, and others.I, myself, give enormous credit to Marx for bringing a dialectical sensibility to the analysis of social relations. As I point out in my “Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy” (Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism), it was Hegel who viewed Aristotle as the “fountainhead” of dialectical inquiry (and he used that word), which compelled the theorist to look at every issue, problem, or event by tracing its relations to other issues, problems or events within a wider system across time. Both Marx and Engels did enormously important work in applying these insights to the analysis of social systems, crediting Aristotle (in the words of Engels) as “the Hegel of the ancient world,” among “the old Greek philosophers [who] were all born natural dialecticians … the most encyclopaedic intellect of them, [who] had already analyzed the most essential forms of dialectic thought.”

Even Lenin (!) worked on a lengthy treatise dealing with dialectics, in which he praised Aristotle for providing theorists with “the living germs of dialectics and inquiries about it.”

One can reject so much in Hegel, Marx, Engels, and others, and still marvel at the ways in which they applied this essentially Aristotelian mode of inquiry to the analysis of social relations, systems, and dynamics. The whole point of my own trilogy was to reconstruct that mode of inquiry as a tool that could be used fruitfully by libertarian social theorists. And for this project, I had to face the wrath of scores of folks who labeled me a nutjob.

Well, I may still be a nutjob—but I stand by my conviction that dialectical inquiry is something of great value, and that there is much to be gained by studying the works of those on the left who have used it. I may disagree with many of their conclusions, but I can still give credit where credit is due and, as I said in my post, “move the f&*k on.”

2. As someone who embraces dialectical method (the art of context-keeping), it is context above all that matters here. Which is why we can take the gems from other thinkers and reinvent them, reconstruct them, invert them, and place them in a larger context that speaks to the real conditions that exist, in our attempts to change them fundamentally.

Honoring John Hospers

This Sunday, October 10, 2021, Jameson Books is publishing a wonderful collection in honor of philosopher John Hospers entitled Libertarianism: John Hospers, The Libertarian Party’s 50th Anniversary, and Beyond, edited by C. Ronald Kimberling and Stan Oliver. As Tom Palmer writes in his Foreword to the book:

John Hospers was a memorable man, with an influence far greater than his current renown. It’s thus an honor to advance this collection, as well as to contribute to it. His ideas, his encouragement of his students, his friendship, and his scholarship are explored by the numerous articles and essays in this volume, which also provides primary documents for those interested in the growth of the libertarian political movement in the United States. It’s a valuable resource for historians of ideas, for political junkies, and for anyone interested in the revival of libertarian thought in the United States—a revival in which John Hospers played an important role. That preference for liberty, for escaping the cages of “left” and “right” that have so warped and degraded American political practice, is now a part of the American political scene.

The 400-page book includes more than 30 essays by a wide variety of writers, including yours truly. In my own essay, “John Hospers: A Remembrance,” I reflect on my discovery of John’s work and my friendship with this gentle man with a remarkable intellect and wonderful sense of life. As I state in the essay:

I had heard of John Hospers years earlier, when I was twelve years old. He was, after all, the first presidential candidate of the newly formed Libertarian Party. In 1972, he received, along with Tonie Nathan, his vice presidential running mate, one electoral vote, which was one less for Richard M. Nixon. Nathan became the first woman and the first Jewish candidate to receive an electoral vote in any US presidential election.

But it wasn’t until years later, when I read “Libertarianism“, that I came to appreciate the true significance of John Hospers, philosopher. This work revealed the remarkable breadth of the libertarian vision. Within it, I found a logically arranged, eminently readable introduction to all of the core issues with regard to economic and political liberty, both at home and abroad, the dangers of the interventionist state, and even a discussion of the debate between the advocates of minimal government and the anarcho-capitalists. Hospers’s 1971 opus preceded Robert Nozick’s seminal “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” by three years and introduced a young generation to a genuine “philosophy for tomorrow.” It was, in fact, one of the founding “manifestos” of an
intellectual revolution in twentieth-century thought, deeply rooted in the ideals of classical liberalism adopted for a new age.

As the years passed, I made that new libertarian vision my guiding intellectual pursuit, and as I learned more, it seemed as if John Hospers was always a presence somewhere in that learning process. I discovered other works of his, and then, eventually, I had the courage to send him a copy of the working manuscript for my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, seeking his feedback. With grace, he accepted the task of a critical reading of the manuscript and provided me with meticulous, insightful, and thought-provoking comments; whenever critical, they were constructively so, whether they were conveyed on the phone or in correspondence. There is no doubt that his input immeasurably improved the final product, for which I remain eternally grateful. In the end, his support of my work on Rand led him to provide a generous blurb that appeared in the first printing of its first edition.

I finally met John at a Liberty conference in 1996, where I appeared on a panel with him and Barbara Branden to discuss the contributions of Ayn Rand. Three years later, he became one of the original founding advisory board members to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. When he passed away on June 12, 2011, the world lost a marvelous thinker; I lost a dear friend. This book includes essays coming from a variety of perspectives—including some with which I disagree. But it remains an inspiring memorial to John’s humanity and legacy.

Celebrating John Hospers

Postscript – On Facebook, some folks, who disagreed with John Hospers on many issues, found it odd that anyone would contribute to a book that would deify him. I replied:

Let me make one thing clear: I contributed to this anthology not as a means of deifying the man, but as a means of recognizing his larger legacy, which has been underappreciated. I approach all learning the same way: I have drawn lessons from thinkers all over the intellectual map—from Aristotle to Hegel, from Ayn Rand to Karl Marx. I do not believe in the deification of any of these figures, but I give credit where credit is due, criticize that with which I disagree, and move on.

The Marxist scholar Bertell Ollman, my doctoral dissertation advisor and mentor, remains one of the most important influences on my intellectual development; I would contribute to any anthology recognizing his contributions in the same way I have done for John Hospers. Both men had an immense impact on my growth, in addition to being remarkably generous, kind souls.

By no means did I agree with John on issues like abortion or the Iraq war, but heck, I have had major disagreements with thinkers inside and outside of libertarianism my whole life on issues across the board. Still. I have learned from so many, and I think it is important to recognize this. We never stop learning—well, at least we never should stop learning—and it’s a good thing to be able to acknowledge those who have taught us. And I’d like to think that I pass this legacy onto those who have learned from me.

Another exchange on Facebook raised the issue of whether John Hospers would have supported civil disobedience, given his focus on the “rule of law”. I replied:

The problem you raise is one that all folks—who believe in any radical shift away from the status quo—must face. As Rand once said, it’s the problem of how to live a ‘rational’ life in an ‘irrational’ society. It is the problem of trying to change a society given the conditions that exist. In Libertarianism, the book published 50 years ago (in 1971), Hospers suggests that armed revolution against unjust laws would most likely lead to enormous loss of life and property and would not change things fundamentally. He also argued that the refusal to obey unjust laws could have a monumental effect—but only if “very large numbers of dissenters” joined in the civil disobedience, say “fifty million people” refusing to pay their taxes or to be subject to military conscription.

Hospers cites Albert Jay Nock, who wrote: “Inaction is better than wrong action or premature right action and effective right action can only follow right thinking” (quoted by Hospers on p. 462 of Libertarianism). So for Hospers, the surest way to affect a change in laws was by a cultural shift in ideas through an educational process.

Given some of the conversations I had with him, I suspect he would have still left it to individuals to engage in resistance to unjust laws; respecting the rule of law is not the same thing as respecting the rule of laws that by their very nature coerce and oppress.


John Dewey H.S.: A Love Letter …

On Facebook, my friend Stephen Boydstun, made the following query:


You attended the John Dewey high school in Brooklyn, and I was wondering if there were differences in that school compared to other high schools that were advertised and how did its specialness stack up in your experience of it. Your 1977 yearbook is online, though not with very clear images. It indicates you were awarded a Regents scholarship. Does that mean a scholarship to go to college? The high school was free, right? Do you have a clear senior picture you could show us? Perhaps you have already written about some of this and could direct me to that spot.

I’ve only written in passing about my experiences at John Dewey High School (50 Avenue X, in Brooklyn, New York). But there’s so much to say.

As background, folks can indeed check out the John Dewey High School Archives here. Available on that site are my 1977 senior yearbook (my own yearbook is somewhere in my apartment, but my high school photo [ugh!] can be found on page 88), Graduation Program, and Senior Recogntion Night Program. I was indeed the recipient of a small Regents scholarship, though, more importantly, I received a Regents-endorsed diploma, because I successfully completed the necessary Regents exams to qualify (in Biology, English, Geometry, Social Studies, and so forth).

John Dewey was an extraordinary “free” public high school. I don’t know how my experiences in high school compare to those of others in standard high school curricula throughout the New York city public school system. But I can say that my high school years were among the most remarkable educational experiences of my life. The school stressed individual responsibility within a nourishing social environment, with gifted teachers who cared, and who offered challenging courses and extracurricular activities on a sprawling college-like campus. Check out “The John Dewey High School Adventure” (October 1971, volume 53, no. 2, Phi Delta Kappan International) by Sol Levine, who was the principal of the school when I was in attendance. A 1977 New York Times article also highlighted the school’s unique character.

In 1974, I entered the school as a sophomore (a tenth-grader), having graduated from a 2-year SP (“special progress“) program at David A. Boody Junior High School, which consolidated the 7th, 8th, and 9th grades into a two-year timeframe. Instead of the traditional fall and spring semesters, John Dewey High School provided students with five 6-week cycles throughout the academic year. Courses were graded on a pass-fail system, which placed less stress on grade-consciousness and more on augmented learning—though teachers could give students an “ME” (Mastery with Excellence) certificate. The school day was longer (8 am to 4 pm) than the standard NYC high school, which allowed for “free periods” in which we were expected to meet in study groups, clubs (both traditional and nontraditional), and on-campus activities. The school didn’t participate in interscholastic sports team competitions, but encouraged intramural play on its wonderful athletic field.

Sophomore Year

In my sophomore year, in addition to full-year studies of French, Advanced Geometry, Biology, and Business Education (Typewriting), I took courses in the following areas:

English

  • Introduction to Dramatic Literature
  • Introduction to Creative Writing (with Brian McCarthy, who also stoked my interest in science fiction, with the Science Fiction Club and the Palingenesis publication it spawned)
  • Introduction to Journalism
  • Introduction to the Short Story

Social Studies:

  • War and Peace (Twentieth Century)
  • Struggle for Democracy (Up to the French Revolution)
  • American Foreign Policy
  • Consumer Economics
  • Urban Economics

I was medically excused from gym, but took associated courses in “Human Sexuality” and “Psychology of Human Relations”.

Junior Year

I engaged in full-year studies (all five cycles) in French, Chemistry, Trigonometry, and Music (The History of Jazz, 3 cycles of which were attended in my junior year, 2 cycles of which were completed in my senior year—during which I actually taught several weeks on the history of jazz guitar and the history of jazz violin). I also took these courses in the following disciplines:

English

  • Psychological Approach to Literature (2 cycles)
  • Shakespeare (2 cycles)

Social Studies

  • The Kennedy Years & After
  • American People
  • The Holocaust (the first such course ever offered on a high-school level, taught by Ira Zornberg, under whom I came to edit the social studies periodical, Gadfly)
  • Futuristics

I began my studies with the Law Institute, led by two wonderful teachers, Mr. Nelson and Mr. Wolfson:

  • Justice, Judges, and Jury
  • Supreme Court & Civil Liberties
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Business Law

I also took one elective course in “Photography”—where I learned to take and develop photographs, as well as various “DISKS” (“Dewey Independent Study Kits”) in such areas as Medieval History and the Renaissance.

Senior Year

In my final year at John Dewey High School, I undertook full-year studies of Advanced French, Anthropology, three cycles of Calculus, and Advanced Placement American History (taught by Larry Pero, Chair of the History Department, for which I earned college credit with St. John’s University). I also studied the following courses in English:

  • Man, Nature, and Survival
  • Individualism in American Literature
  • Introduction to Film
  • Public Speaking

And I completed my studies in the Law Institute with the following courses:

  • Law in an Urban Society
  • Fieldwork and Legal Research

Never giving a second thought to the issue of “Grade-Point Average,” I fully embraced the enriched atmosphere of learning that John Dewey High School provided for its students. I graduated with honors for growth, personal achievement, and personal contributions in English, French, Music, and Social Studies, and received recognition for my extra-curricular activities.

I also received the English Achievement Award for Excellence in the Communication Arts, the James K. Hackett Medal for Demonstrated Proficiency in Oratory, the Publications Award for Demonstrated Excellence in the Field of Journalism, the John Dewey Science Fiction Club Award, the Chemistry Teachers Club of New York Award for scholarship in chemistry, a certificate of merit from the Association of Teachers of Social Studies of NYC, and the Honorable Samuel A. Welcome Award for Excellence in Legal Studies.

Most importantly, the teachers at John Dewey High School, unafraid to show their own political predilections, encouraged me to develop my own political and intellectual interests, whether or not they agreed with the directions I was taking. Indeed, once I had discovered Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand, while enrolled in my Advanced Placement American History course, the libertarian trajectory of my politics was seeded, nourished, and challenged by my teachers. A greater gift from American educators I could never have received.

From what I understand, the school is more traditional today than it was in its inception, but I’ve retained friends among my former peers and faculty and will always have a depth of love for the high school that more than prepared me for a rigorous and rewarding undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral education at New York University.

Homonograph Reviewed @ C4SS

Eric Fleischmann—who is not just a student of my work and a very dear friend, but a very fine young scholar in his own right—offers a critical and provocative review of my monograph Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation on the site of Center for a Stateless Society, which, not coincidentally, is offering the “Homonograph” for sale at its C4SS Store here.

Eric interviewed me for the piece, which places the monograph in its proper context—a nearly two-decade old discussion of the relationship between Objectivism and those in the LGBTQ+ community who were drawn, “like moths to a flame,” to Rand’s uplifting celebration of individual freedom and authenticity “only to be burned in the process.”

Despite some many on-point criticisms of the work, of Rand and her acolytes, and of reactionary elements within the libertarian movement, Eric argues that the “monograph serves as one of the centerpieces in the establishment of thick libertarian ideas. It especially forwards the point that it is not enough that people refrain from trying to use the state against the LGBTQIA+ community. We must go further and combat a culture that breeds both physical and nonphysical violence.”

Check out the review here and other reviews of the work here. And thanks, Eric, for your challenging and wide-ranging examination of the monograph!

The “Homonograph” (Leap Publishing, 2003)