Category Archives: Politics (theory, History, Now)

Ed Younkins is Savvy

My dear friend Ed Younkins (with whom I coedited, with Roger Bissell, The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom) has published an essay in The Savvy Street that explores “New Perspectives on Ayn Rand’s Ideas“. Ed writes:

I believe the key is that the concern of every individual should be with truth as an integrated whole. When constructing one’s own worldview or conceptual framework, it is legitimate to take a selective approach with respect to existing philosophical positions because consistency with reality is all that really matters. It is thus appropriate for a person to extract what is true and good from the writings of Ayn Rand and others and to use those components as a basis for a better interpretation that allows for a superior understanding of what would constitute a morally right socioeconomic system. By integrating, modifying, and synthesizing ideas of others with one’s own ideas, it is possible to get closer to a comprehensive, logically consistent view of the world and a foundation and justification for a free society. Eschewing labels, each person has the ability to select the best ideas from a variety of sources, adapt them to his own purpose, and add his own views and integrate them to serve his own ends. The key is to use one’s own independent rational judgement. I have used this approach in some of my articles.

Our mutual friend and coeditor, Roger Bissell, provided some terrific additional commentary on Facebook here and here, which I reproduce below:

Some of us are old enough to remember that 7up used to be called “the uncola.” Chris himself has a long-running internet presence he styles in delightfully quasi-Hegelian fashion as “Notablog: The Blog of Chris Matthew Sciabarra.” For my part, I have received so many letters and emails addressing me as Dr. Bissell (I am master of one trade, doctor of none) that I sometimes refer to myself as “the undoctor.”Some may see this all as painfully negative and a sign of the “nihilism” of our times. But I can’t help noting that many of these are the same people who insist on defining logic as “the art of non-contradictory identification.” LOL. …

Five words: “The Divine Right of Stagnation.” This syndrome, so tellingly depicted in “Atlas Shrugged” and discussed in the essay of the same name in “The Virtue of Selfishness,” is a virus that has devastated the Objectivist movement since the very founding of the Ayn Rand Institute. You can rail against Open Objectivism and defriend people who push for research and development and expansion of Objectivism all you want, but all you do is betray that you, too, have fallen prey to the wasting, withering malady best encapsulated by James Taggart’s soliloquy about feeling threatened by new ideas and the lurid outburst “We’ve got to make those bastards stand still.”

To those who protest the idea of new, post-Rand Objectivism, I will remind readers that in her final years, Rand publicly acknowledged that Objectivism was incomplete and had gaps and that they would be worked on in the future and NOT by her. So, by whom? Only the anointed and officially approved? That, I think, is what it will ultimately amount to. Even now, we have already seen hints that Peikoff’s (and others’) writings will *eventually* be endorsed as “official Objectivism.” Will the defrienders and purists rail against this, too? Perhaps—but ultimately, who cares? And guess what? In the meantime, the “bastards”—whatever we decide to call ourselves—are NOT going to stand still.

Here, here, Roger!

Gracie’s Ghosts

There’s a real ghostly mystery developing around the residence of the Mayor of the City of New York. As if the presence of the last mayoral inhabitant of Gracie Mansion wasn’t enough to scare the bejesus out of anyone, it appears that the current resident attests that there is an other-wordly presence in the house.

During the May 10th broadcast of the NY Yankees game, Mayor Eric Adams told Michael Kay that he wasn’t too thrilled about his new digs.

“I don’t care what anyone says, there are ghosts in there, man,” Adams said. Some have claimed that it’s the ghost of the daughter of original owner Archibald Gracie, who built the country home in 1799. The mansion was later incorporated by the city, briefly used as the Museum of the City of New York and became the official mayoral residence in 1942.

But Adams attests that he sees stuff moving “all the time, man, all the time! They’re creeping around.”

I’m hoping that some of these entities might join the Mayor’s cabinet, say “Boo” — and scare away all of the city’s problems!

Wikipedia Adds New Profile Pic!

Yay! I’m very happy to report that The Mystery Photographer who took this pic of me with the Parachute Jump in Coney Island, Brooklyn as backdrop finally got clearance (since said photographer apparently held the copyright) to post this updated photo of me on my Wikipedia Profile Page, over which I have no control. I didn’t even write it!

Anyway… thanks Mystery Photographer! Much appreciated!

The Essential Women of Liberty

For people looking for a fine introduction to the thought of a select group of women who have contributed to the cause of liberty, let me recommend The Essential Women of Liberty, coedited by Donald Boudreaux and Aeon J. Skoble, published by the Fraser Institute, with a foreword by Virginia Postrel. My dear friend Aeon informs me that the book is also available in hardcover and softcover editions.

The volume includes essays on Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Martineau, Rose Director Friedman, Mary Paley Marshall, Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, Ayn Rand (a nice essay by Carrie-Ann Biondi), Anna Schwartz, Jane Jacobs, Elinor Ostrom, and Deirdre McCloskey.

I am truly delighted by the remarkably diverse selection of thinkers featured in this anthology. Indeed, any volume that runs the gamut from Wollstonecraft and Rand to Jacobs and Ostrom is worth the price of admission.

Deirdre McCloskey is the only woman featured in this collection whom I’ve ever had the privilege of getting to know personally, having worked closely with her as a contributor to The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, which I coedited with Roger Bissell and Ed Younkins. (Indeed, a Facebook symposium dedicated to that anthology generated a colloquy on her delightful contribution, which appeared in the May 2020 issue of Poroi.)

The book is available as a PDF (for free) and in a Kindle edition (for a mere 99 cents!). Check out a nice YouTube video highlighting the collection …

Paul Crider on Ayn Rand

Notablog readers should check out a critical essay on Liberal Currents by Paul Crider that discusses “Liberalism versus Reaction in Ayn Rand“. Paul writes on Facebook:

Finally published my big essay on Ayn Rand. I’m very sympathetic to Rand and I encourage folks to see what people find so inspirational in her work. It’s all there.

BUT I do two—I think—novel things. First, I troubleth the idea that Rand fits within the liberal tradition, even classical liberal. Her perfectionism precludes the political contestation that is necessary for political liberalism. Atlas Shrugged itself is a kind of vanguardist integralism (though her real life activism differs from AS). Her hierarchical way of thinking masquerades as meritocracy but ultimately upholds traditional social hierarchies and reacts against upstarts—hence she’s much more a heterodox conservative than any kind of liberal. Second, I explore the possibility of a Randian left liberalism. I would say “left Objectivism” but the ARI would probably sue me. A Randian social liberalism seems like a contradiction in terms, but it draws on expressivist individualism of unfolding human potential and the concept of “truly human flourishing” (think Smith, Marx, Mill, and Nussbaum) that very much pervade her philosophy.

I read the essay and wrote on Facebook:

I very much enjoyed your essay, and I’m extremely sympathetic to a left-liberal reading of Rand, as anyone who is familiar with my attempts (in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical) to link Rand to a dialectical mode of analysis can attest. (A more recent article of mine extends this to an alignment of Rand with a certain form of left-libertarian anarchism.)

I think that, like most thinkers, Rand embraces views that are sometimes at odds with her core values. I’d certainly count among these her views on Native Americans, homosexuality, and feminism. My coedited volume with Mimi Gladstein (Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand) includes contributions from those who take Rand rightfully to task for many of her anti-feminist views, while also arguing that her philosophy was fully consonant with a certain kind of individualist feminism.

As for Rand’s views on homosexuality, I’ve argued (in Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation) that many post-Randian thinkers have attempted to correct for her blind spots. And I’ve also argued that Rand has important things to say about race and class in ways that would surprise both her acolytes and her critics (see, for example, my post on the ‘ominous parallels’ between CRT and Rand’s analysis of systemic racism).

Since I’ve plugged some of my own writings in this note, let me plug The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies—which would welcome thoughtful essays like yours into our pages.

Mutual Aid in an Urban Setting

With another H/T to my dear friend Walter Grinder, I wanted to highlight yet another article from Boston Review, this one by Nate File: “Detroiters Are Not Waiting to Be Saved“. The article highlights how Detroit activists have turned to forms of mutual aid to meet the needs of their community, hit heavily by systemic instabilities. From the article:

[Activist Dean] Spade notes that mutual aid has also sometimes been misclassified as a charity project, indifferent to the state. That misreading echoes the conservative view that people should take care of their own communities and eschew government. But mutual aid, Spade explains, is really an entry point into movement building … The leaders of EMA [Eastside Mutual Aid] are aware of criticisms of mutual aid, but they believe it is more important to listen to their community and meet the needs they describe. People sometimes have preconceived notions about “what’s best,” Price explains, “but when they get here [and talk to people], the community needs something completely different.” Marronage and mutual aid may not themselves the end goal, but they can help us get closer to it. “Without new visions we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down,” Kelley writes in Freedom Dreams. “We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics but a process that can and must transform us.”

The essay is worth a good read, especially for those of us who seek nonstate alternatives in a time of systemic crisis.

Learning from Gramsci

With a H/T to my dear friend Walter Grinder, I wanted to share this article by Alan Wald on “Gramsci’s Gift“, which appeared in the April 2, 2022 issue of Boston Review. Wald’s article is a review of Jean-Yves Frétigné’s book, To Live is To Resist: The Life of Antonio Gramsci, but it is much more than a review.

Wald surveys our changing understanding of the impact of Gramsci’s work. That impact, which is typically decried in right-wing circles for having contributed to the rise of “cultural Marxism”, is something from which libertarians, especially those of a more dialectical bent, can learn much. Gramsci’s emphasis on the role of culture and ideas and on the need to build parallel institutions from the bottom up, which might usurp those currently in place, offers many sobering lessons on the nature of social change.

Check out the review and the many books on Gramsci to which it refers.

“Roe, On the Edge”

It’s all over the news this morning. As David Leonhardt tells us in the New York Times:

The Supreme Court has decided to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to outlaw abortion, according to a written draft of the justices’ decision obtained by Politico.

Other publications have not confirmed the authenticity of the draft, and Supreme Court justices sometimes change their minds during the writing of opinions. But many legal observers are treating the draft as authentic and assuming that abortion policy in the U.S. is about to be transformed.

Among the reasons: The tone and style of the draft match those of earlier court decisions. The outcome also matches an outcome that seemed plausible based on the justices’ questions during arguments in December. After Politico published its story last night, the Supreme Court declined to comment.

If the court overturns Roe, many conservative states would likely outlaw nearly all abortions. One estimate suggests that the number of abortions in the U.S. would decline by about 14 percent, The Times’s Claire Cain Miller and Margot Sanger-Katz explain.

I note this here not to get into a debate on the reasoning of Roe v. Wade or to even debate the issue of when life begins. I note this here for one reason and one reason only: If this Court overturns Roe v. Wade, and throws it all back to the states, with many of the most neanderthal states looking to outlaw it completely, it will have annihilated the reproductive rights of women who have fought for a generation to secure them.

If folks thought the “culture war” has been raging out of control, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. A fight must be waged against those who have the audacity to think they can dictate what any woman can or should do with her own body and her own life.

Film: “We the Living” 80th Anniversary Preview

My friend Duncan Scott sent me this link to a preview of a newly restored 80th anniversary edition of the 1942 Italian film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s tragic novel, “We the Living”. This is, in my view, the finest film adaptation of any work by Rand.

The description tells us:

“We the Living” – 80th Anniversary Edition – Preview

This is a preview reel of the newly restored, high definition 2022 version of “We the Living”, the film classic based on the novel by Ayn Rand (“Atlas Shrugged”, “The Fountainhead”) Set in the chaotic aftermath of the Russian revolution, “We the Living” is the story of a young woman who courageously defies a brutal regime. It is an extraordinary tale of romance and betrayal and, at its core, a fierce and impassioned outcry for the right of each human being to live free.

“We the Living” stars three film legends: Alida Valli (“The Third Man”), Rossano Brazzi (“South Pacific”) and Fosco Giachetti (The Life of G. Verdi). It was directed by Goffredo Alessandrini. The film is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Ayn Rand. It was originally released in Italy as two films, “Noi Vivi” and “Addio Kira” (1942). The films were later combined and released as “We the Living”.

“We the Living” – 80th Anniversary Edition, is a new edition of the film that is newly restored and rejuvenated—and in high-definition for the first time. Using state-of-the-art digital software technology, the film was cleaned up and repaired, frame by frame, removing scratches, dirt, and other flaws that are common in old movies. Improvements to exposure and contrast were also made, scene by scene. The soundtrack was de-noised and its fidelity improved.

“We the Living” – 80th Anniversary Edition is set for release in the fall of 2022, exactly 80 years after the film’s premiere in 1942 at the Venice Film Festival. For more about the film and a behind-the-scenes documentary go here.

Check out the nice Facebook conversation on this post. (Information on a July 2022 screening of the film can be found here.)

DWR (6): Market, State, and Anarchy

Today, the Center for a Stateless Society publishes an article by my very dear friend, Ryan Neugebauer: “Market, State, and Anarchy: A Dialectical Left-Libertarian Perspective.” Though this is not strictly a part of the series I’ve dubbed “DWR” (“Dialogues with Ryan”), the article certainly evolved over a period of time during which Ryan and I have had many lengthy discussions about so many of the issues addressed in this new piece.

The article offers a wide-ranging critique of the status quo of “Liberal Corporate Capitalism”, before launching into a detailed critique of proposed “alternatives to the status quo”, including “Free-Market Propertarianism”, “State Socialism”, and “Anarchism.” Since Ryan considers himself at minimum a philosophical anarchist (as do I), much of what he has to say entails a perceptive engagement with some points of view that he himself has held over the years. Indeed, what makes the article worthwhile is that it is a dialectical combination of both critique and self-critique.

The article includes many wonderful citations, including some to my own work on the usefulness of a dialectical methodology for a critical libertarian socio-political project. Ryan grapples with the need of radicals to function on the basis of the real conditions that exist. His left-libertarian framework—a framework with which I, myself, have been associated—is one that “seeks to make the best of what we have where we are presently at and always push to do better. It will not however paralyze itself with rigid dogmas and face destruction.” He writes:

Ultimately, I fall on the Left-Libertarian side of things. I especially like its emphasis on a sustainable, non-bloated autonomism—that is, the building of spaces of autonomy in the now and outside the current system. Such autonomism requires the freedom to create without asking for permission in a system that provides signals for judging individual needs and relative scarcity. This will most likely entail a complex mix of commons, markets, and cooperatives. It will also require a movement away from a system that treats land like a typical commodity, a system that encourages dependence on capitalists through subsidies, intellectual property rights laws, crony trade deals, and regulations that restrict competition. Politically, more people need “skin in the game” on a decentralized, local level

Given its wide-ranging scope and its accessible, succinct delivery, I strongly recommend Ryan’s article to your attention! Check it out here.