Category Archives: Politics (theory, History, Now)

The “Omicron Delta Epsilon” Conspiracy?

When I got my BA at New York University (in history, politics, and economics), I was inducted into the International Honor Society for Economics: Omicron Delta Epsilon.

I couldn’t help but notice that the “Delta” variant of COVID-19 has now been followed by the “Omicron” variant. And for those who have a short memory, the first strain that originated in the United States was called the “Epsilon” variant.

So there you have it! “Omicron”, “Delta”, and “Epsilon”—all variants of SARS-CoV-2 … not necessarily proof positive that this is all a conspiracy of the economists, but anecdotal evidence that economics remains the dismal science! (Oh take it easy, my economics colleagues! Ever hear of gallows humor?)

Hayek as Democratic Socialist?

Les Leopold has a Common Dreams essay entitled “Was Frederick [sic] Hayek a Bernie Sanders Socialist?” that checks off the many areas in which Friedrich A. Hayek favored social welfare “safety net” protections that are on a par with the policies advocated by many “progressives” today.

My friend Ryan Neugebauer shared the article on his Facebook Timeline (so a H/T to him!). And it prompted a productive exchange between us.

Ryan observes correctly that Hayek was “a strong proponent of governmental countervailing power within a capitalist economy,” much “closer in line with [Bernie] Sanders than … with Ayn Rand or [Ludwig von] Mises.” For Ryan, “as long as Statist Capitalism exists (the only form that has ever existed), some form of Social Democratic project is in order.” He therefore favors “a synthesis of libertarian and social democratic thought, … promoting bottom-up dual-power/mutual aid projects [that depend] on the state less and [that build] ‘an alternative society in the shell of the old.'” He argues, correctly in my view, that “it makes no sense to take away the crutches before you strengthen and heal the broken leg.”

Ryan points out further that it was the reactionary conservative “Otto von Bismarck who erected the modern welfare-regulatory state in response to Socialist revolutionaries agitating for change in Germany during 19th century Industrial Capitalism. When people are distressed by poor working conditions, poor pay, and see no end in sight, they agitate for radical change.” Though he embraces long-term anarchist goals, he argues that as long as you have “a situation where a nation state is … affected by crony interests and a distorted banking sector, having a form of social democracy is the preferable option in my eyes. … In contrast to many Progressives and State Socialists, I prefer polycentric systems and multiple option arrangements/escape potential.” He provides a key example:

I would prefer a situation where Trans individuals wouldn’t be dependent simply on the public system, which could restrict their options due to political control, and instead be able to access alternative private options if they should choose or are able to get support to access. I would prefer people being able to access different forms of schooling and not be forced to attend a public school system. Given that the political mechanism is often captured by right-wing interests, it does not make sense to crowd out alternatives, require “public only” arrangements, and simply count on always having “the right people in”, as many Progressives and State Socialists do. I gave a few examples, but I typically prefer having more options than less and power distributed as much as possible.

One can achieve that while maintaining a robust social insurance system. It just will likely always be up for grabs such as long as it is attached to a political system that is easily captured by nefarious interests.

In the Facebook discussion that followed, I wrote:

This is a very nice discussion about the kinds of alternatives that people—who favor freedom and flourishing—must face given the conditions that exist. While Hayek most assuredly was not a strict libertarian on matters of government “intervention”—and I put this in scare quotes because the state has always been intimately involved with all things economic—I think there are two important takeaways from The Road to Serfdom that advocates of more benign social-democratic measures forget at their peril.

The first is this: Politics in general and the state in particular have always been central to the constitution of class structures in society. The more political power comes to dominate social life, the more it becomes the only power worth having (which is why I applaud your support of bottom-up, polycentric, decentralized models of social decision-making). In Hayek’s view, however, the growth of political economy engenders a process in which “the worst get on top” necessarily. And “the worst” are, for Hayek, almost always those drawn from those predatory business-class interests within capitalism that had the most to gain from the regulatory, welfare-warfare state.


Given this reality, even the most benign of social-democratic “safety net” measures that Hayek favored could not escape a class character. Historically, as you suggest, “safety net” measures have often been enacted to not only benefit certain elements of the “ruling class”, but to undercut working class revolts (a la Bismark). (As an aside: I’d go so far as to say that historically, confrontational labor strikes and unrest have been intimately tied up with the depressionary phase of the boom-bust cycle, which both Marxists and Austrians root in the state-banking nexus. Pardon the plug, but on this, see my own undergraduate history honors thesis.


The second takeaway is Hayek’s view that extensive government control produces a socio-psychological alteration in the character of individuals within the larger culture. This social-psychological corruption is both a reciprocally related cause and effect of advancing political economy, a process of mutual reinforcement that undermines accountability, personal responsibility, and the autonomy of the individual’s moral conscience.

As a long-term alternative, Hayek advocated social change for sure, but with a dialectical sensibility; he believed that it could only occur through a slow and gradual change in cultural mores, traditions, and habits, which are often tacit. Like you, he argued that trying to impose such change “top-down,” without the requisite cultural foundations, is doomed to fail. And yet despite this almost Burkean emphasis on slow and gradual change, Hayek adamantly declared he was not a conservative. He embraced the essence of a radical approach. “We are bound all the time to question fundamentals,” he said; “it must be our privilege to be radical.”

I think this was a worthwhile discussion … and wanted to preserve it on my Notablog.

A New Translation of Zamyatin’s “We” …

There is an interesting review of a new Bela Shayevich translation of We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, the Silver Age dystopian novel that is said to have influenced both George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Ayn Rand‘s Anthem. (For a fine discussion of the possible impact of We on Anthem, see especially Peter Saint-Andre’s essay, “Zamyatin and Rand” (The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Spring 2003).

As Jennifer Wilson points out: “‘We’ has the distinction of being the first novel officially banned in the Soviet Union.” Check out the full review here.

Coronavirus (35): The ABCs — Authority, Boosters, and Caregiving

Since March 14, 2020, I have written 34 installments for my “Coronavirus” series. My last installment on August 21, 2021, “Coronavirus (34): ‘Virtue Signaling’ vs. Doing the Right Thing,” provoked over 200 reacts and nearly 100 comments, as people debated whether I was “virtue signaling” for having adopted a Facebook frame that said: “I Have a Healthy Distrust of Authority, and I’m Vaccinated.” I stated in that Notablog entry:

Let it be known far and wide that I am a libertarian who believes that it is indeed possible to be against the state and against coercion, and still voluntarily get myself vaccinated, despite the fact that the vaccine was developed by Big Pharma in league with Big Government. I believe in looking at the facts of reality as they are and making rational judgments based on the context of my own knowledge and experience. I’ve lived in a city that was, at one time, the epicenter of death and despair from this nightmarish virus. I’ve seen enough mass death for a lifetime and then some. I’ve lost family, friends, neighbors, and beloved neighborhood proprietors. And given my own medical preconditions and the health problems of my sister, for whom I am a primary caregiver, I made a reasonable decision to get vaccinated. My whole family is vaccinated. … We took the path of least risk, given that COVID could very well spell the difference between life and death for us.

Given that I have been publicly forthright and honest throughout my life about my own health problems, I wish to state, again, for the record, that today I received my third Moderna booster. And I am happy I got the booster, and have had no noticeable side effects. My sister is due to get her booster soon.

Now, I realize that I don’t need to justify my decisions publicly, but I’m doing so for one reason and one reason above all else, which was suggested in my last entry.

On November 13, 2020, I nearly lost my sister to a very serious illness; she subsequently underwent extensive back surgery on March 22, 2021. After four-and-a-half months in both the hospital and a subacute rehab facility, she returned home in July 2021, and I continued being her primary caregiver, as she has been mine through all the ups and downs I’ve faced over my entire life—the 60+ surgical procedures I’ve endured to keep me ticking. The stories I can—and eventually will—tell about the U.S. Healthcare System are not the subject of this post. Suffice it to say, the current system sucks for a variety of political, economic, and cultural reasons that I’ll address at a future date.

But the problems endemic to U.S. healthcare did not prevent us from taking the necessary steps to protect ourselves from a virus that, given our comorbidities, would most certainly have put our lives at risk. I have been confident in the guidance of my doctors who have kept me alive all these years and who have been at my sister’s side during what has been the most difficult year of her life. Every doctor bar none recommended that we get ourselves inoculated to protect against a potentially deadly COVID-19 infection. I am happy to report that whatever illnesses have plagued us, none of us has been infected by that coronavirus. We’ve got enough problems! Yes, breakthrough infections are possible, but they remain rare. We think we’ve done all that we can to fight off one more layer of catastrophic illness in the Sciabarra household.

In the end, I remain vigilant against Authority, even as I’ve taken a third Booster (and will take any additional boosters as might become necessary, even if they are among annual shots, like those for the flu). I do this because Self Care is as important as Caregiving. For unless I take care of myself, I will lose the capacity to take care of the people I love. I will not become a transmission belt for an infection that most assuredly could kill my own immuno-compromised sister.

I leave it to others to decide what path they will take. I only know that after my sister’s umpteen hospitalizations over the last year, I can look at this photo of her, taken on Halloween, and know in my heart that I’ve done everything I possibly can to keep her out of harm’s way. Her smile says it all.

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.

NYC Mayoral Race (III): It’s a De Blasio Halloween

Unlike my last two posts on the Mayoral Race here and here, this one is just a note to Star Trek fans everywhere! NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that he’s donning a Star Trek uniform for Halloween as an homage to Captain James T. Kirk (played by
William Shatner in the original TV series). Aged 90 years, 6 months and 22 days, Shatner recently became the oldest person to fly into space (aboard the Blue Origin NS-18).

The Twitterverse was all a twizzy over de Blasio’s “homage” because he got the colors all wrong.

Oy vey

I have a better idea. Why doesn’t de Blasio just go as HIMSELF on Halloween? That’ll scare the bejesus out of anyone! Alas, one thing is clear: whoever gets elected on Tuesday, November 2nd won’t be going as de Blasio next year!

NYC Mayoral Race (II): You Call This “Heating Up”?

The headline in the New York Daily News this week was: “Mayor Race is Heating Up”! Considering that I just recently expressed astonishment over the civility of the campaign thus far, I have been waiting for the heated attacks to begin!

Tim Balk writes: “Eric Adams and Curtis Sliwa are getting ready to do battle ahead of their first debate before the general election for mayor.”


Sliwa, the long-shot Republican nominee, issued a barrage of broadsides against his well-funded Democratic rival on Tuesday, suggesting Adams is beholden to special interests and is reckless for saying he’d carry a gun as mayor. …


“If he wants to participate in a circus, that’s fine,” Adams told reporters after surveying a newly planted urban farm in Brownsville, Brooklyn. “I’m just not buying the tickets.”


In a Tuesday morning stump speech in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, Sliwa leaned into his favorite criticisms of Adams, saying that real estate developers and “hedge-fund monsters” are lining up behind his opponent. The Republican, who founded the Guardian Angels patrol group and has long spurned firearms, thundered, “Eric Adams, shame on you, for always talking about how you’re going to carry a gun.” Adams, in turn, said Sliwa should focus on “people who are carrying guns illegally.” …


Adams also said Sliwa has been a “leading voice of being a racist.” Sliwa, who is white, bristled at the remark from Adams, who is Black and campaigned against police brutality in the NYPD. “Curtis may be many things,” said Sliwa, whose public safety groups are largely comprised of people of color. “But no one accuses him of being racist.” …

“The 1st NYC mayoral debate is October 20th,” Sliwa tweeted Monday. “So mark your calendar, stock up on popcorn, and call in sick to your niece’s dance recital because you’re not gonna wanna miss it.”

Well, gee, I hope so! I mean if this is what folks call “heating up”, we got a long way to go before the boiling point!

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.


NYC Mayoral Race: Where Are the Attack Ads?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been paying very close attention to the tone, rather than the substance, of the New York City mayoral race. New York elections are typically a sewer filled with the sludge of toxic attack ads!

And yet, here we are, less than one month away from Election Day (November 2), where voters will select the next mayor of the city that never sleeps. The Democratic candidate, the former police officer and current Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams, won the nomination after a primary based on ranked-choice voting. He is up against the Republican nominee, founder of the Guardian Angels and Never Trumper Curtis Sliwa, who won over his primary opponent, Fernando Mateo, 72 to 28 percent. Adams is the odds-on favorite to take it all the way to City Hall, and, since winning the Democratic primary, has practically undergone a coronation.

So, it comes as no surprise that I’ve not seen a single ad for Adams on television. Not one.

On the other hand, I’ve seen tons of commercials from Sliwa. And given his rancorous, boisterous, loud presence as a WABC radio broadcaster, I’m shocked that not a single Sliwa commercial qualifies as a negative attack ad. Not one. Not even a single ad contrasting his positions to that of his opponent.

Instead, we’ve gotten commercials of Sliwa with his cat talking about no-kill animal shelters; his current wife is an attorney and animal advocate, and the two of them parent sixteen rescue cats! And then, there are commercials highlighting Sliwa’s poignant attention to the homeless [YouTube link].

What gives? I recently bemoaned the toxicity on social media and in our current political climate, and Adams and Sliwa seem not to have gotten with the program! Whoever wins … and I’m pretty sure it will be Adams … it’s actually, dare I say it: refreshing. This is quite beside the fact that I have major disagreements with both candidates!

In the end, the best news about the next mayor is that it won’t be Bill de Blasio. But don’t get me started on that topic; it’ll completely change the “tone” of this post!

Taking out the Trash on Social Media

At one point, only a couple of months ago, I was nearing 5000 Facebook “friends”, whom I was adding throughout the years without giving much thought to it. But the increasing toxicity over the last few years has been palpable. It led me to “trim” my FB “friend” list by over 4000 people.* I’ve even invited some folks to unfriend me if they didn’t like what I had to say, and lo and behold, my wish was granted! THANK GOODNESS! I have had it with the toxicity and the nastiness in social media. I’ve seen it up close and personal for all too many years. Life is too short.

Taking out the trash …

___
* And for the record, I still have over 940 FB “friends”. We don’t all agree! But there is a difference between having a disagreement and being disagreeable. (Actually, it’s now below 940… so clearly, the approach is working!)

But more importantly, it’s not just about taking toxicity out of the airspace; at root, it’s about self-care, indeed. Nobody should have to devote one moment of their time to something that is as corrosive as that kind of interaction. It erodes us and it diminishes us. All the more reason to take the intiative and do what’s right for yourself.