Category Archives: Politics (theory, History, Now)

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.

Harm Reduction vs. the “War on Drugs”

Like most libertarians, I’ve long argued that the government’s “war on drugs” is not only morally bankrupt and practically counterproductive, but also a leading contributing factor to the United States having the highest incarceration rate in the world.

This weekend, in an Op-Ed in the “NY Times”, Maia Szalavitz explored how alternative practices of “harm reduction” can inspire self-care, rather than spurring a cycle of self-destruction, for those suffering from substance abuse problems. Harm reduction promotes “policies that are both humane and effective by putting risks in context and centering the perspectives of those who are most affected. By making it the cornerstone of drug policy — and all policies aimed at changing risky human behaviors — we can build a healthier, happier and more equitable world.”

Check out the full article here.

Fight the Draft!

In the news: The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved, 23-2, the National Defense Authorization Act “that would, if enacted, require young women to register for Selective Service alongside men, and in the rare event of a war or other national emergency, be drafted for the first time in the nation’s history.”

Not everyone is on board with this. While most Republicans voted with Democrats to authorize this change to Selective Service, two Conservative Republicans voted against it: Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri. They didn’t object to Selective Service registration or the draft for men. Oh no. They just want to protect “America’s daughters”. As Cotton put it: “Our military has welcomed women for decades and are stronger for it. But America’s daughters shouldn’t be drafted against their will. I opposed this amendment in committee, and I’ll work to remove it before the defense bill passes.”

But it’s still okay for America’s “sons” to be drafted against their will. To force any human being into military conscription “against their will” is involuntary servitude. So I have a really good idea: How about we end Selective Service registration and any thoughts of drafting any human beings whatsoever to fight and die on battlefields created by the power elites to further their own interests?

I can’t believe that I’ve come full circle with this. Back on April 19, 1979, when I was nineteen years old, I was one of the cofounders of the New York University chapter of Students for a Libertarian Society, and on May 1st, we joined with a coalition of antidraft and antiwar activists to protest in Washington Square Park the Carter administration’s reimposition of Selective Service registration for men, between the ages of 18 and 26.

David Dellinger, one of the Chicago Seven, fired up the crowd of around 350 people. As chairperson of the NYU chapter, I was among those chanting in unison, “Fuck the Draft”. It was a lot of fun handing out antidraft pamphlets to well-dressed men wearing sunglasses standing on the sidelines—could the FBI make it any more obvious that they were observing us? We considered ourselves part of the “New Resistance.”


An Antidraft Button from My College Days (1979)


It’s time for a Brand New Resistance to close down the entire Selective Service System, to ending even the threat of the draft against any person! Equal rights against involuntary servitude of any kind!

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)

Ravitch, Rand, and CRT: The Ominous Parallels?

I introduced this blog post on Facebook with the following preface:

Okay, here’s something that should piss off people on both sides of the Critical Race Theory debate. The merits of CRT matter less to me than the central point of this blog entry: That somebody as far away from CRT as Ayn Rand had something profoundly important to say about the nature of systemic racism.


I have not written extensively on “Critical Race Theory” and have no time to do so, given personal and professional constraints. But Diane Ravitch published a worthwhile article in the New York Daily News on this topic in the 29 June 2021 issue. Check it out here.

Ravitch writes:

In the Houston of my youth, every public and private facility was racially segregated: schools, mass transit, restaurants, hotels, public swimming pools and everything else. Grocery stores had two water fountains, one marked “white,” the other marked “colored.” Public buses had a movable marker with the word “colored,” which consigned Black people to the back of the bus. If whites needed more seats, the marker was pushed back, and Blacks stood. By custom, a Black person entered the house of a white person only through the back door. When a white and a Black approached each other on the sidewalk, the Black person was expected to step into the road to let the white person pass. The customs of white supremacy were well understood and seldom, if ever, violated.

In school, our history textbooks taught us about great American patriots, all of whom were white. The only person of color mentioned was George Washington Carver, who discovered many uses of peanuts. When we studied the Civil War, there were heroes on both sides (my junior high school was named for a Confederate hero, Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston), but minimal mention of slavery or its cruelty.

Reconstruction following the Civil War was taught as a time when Southern whites were oppressed by federal troops, opportunistic carpetbaggers, and ignorant Black politicians who ran their states into the ground.

It was many years later that I learned that this was the Confederate view of events, and that Reconstruction was a time when able Black men served honorably in Congress, and racially integrated state legislatures wrote new and progressive constitutions. And that, when Reconstruction ended in 1877, white Southerners quickly restored the status quo, replacing slavery with Jim Crow legislation that maintained racism, segregation and unequal opportunity for Blacks.


Many whites, myself included, believed that the 1954 Brown vs. Board decision, which overturned the fiction of “separate but equal,” marked the beginning of the end for racial segregation. The Civil Rights laws passed during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration in the mid-1960s strengthened the belief that racial inequality was defeated. The federal government and the federal courts would reverse any racial discrimination, we believed. No longer would places of public accommodation or public transit or public schools be allowed to bar Blacks, nor would Blacks be denied the right to vote.


This too was misleading. In the 1980s, I became friends with Prof. Derrick Bell, the first Black person ever to receive tenure at Harvard Law School. … He is called the founder of critical race theory, which holds that racism is systemic and that Blacks will never achieve equality until we reckon with the past and confront the systems and beliefs that allow racism and segregation to persist, blighting our society. An example is housing patterns, which did not evolve by accident or choice, but because — as Richard Rothstein showed in his book “The Color of Law” — racially discriminatory rules were imposed by the federal, state and local governments. Segregated neighborhoods produce segregated schools. … A nation can’t escape the sins of its past without confronting them directly.

For those who dismiss all of this as a by-product of “leftist” thinking, check out Chapter 12 (“The Predatory State“) in my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. While Rand would have had many differences with many CRT advocates, I examine, in that chapter, Rand’s profoundly dialectical analysis of the reciprocal relationship between advancing statism and deepening racism in our society, such that each is both a systemic precondition and effect of the other.

I present Rand’s approach as a Tri-Level analysis of social relations of power:

The Tri-Level Model of Social Relations

As summarized in my September 2005 Freeman essay, “Dialectics and Liberty“:

Rand maintained that government intervention in the economy creates a civil war of all against all; advancing statism makes masters and slaves of every social group, with each vying for some special privilege at the expense of others. Paradoxically, even as statists try to create and rule society as a collective whole, their policies simultaneously create vast social fragmentation. The rule of force has the effect of engendering the formation of pressure groups, each with a design on the levers of power. Every group threatens every other group while acting in self-defense against the aggrandizement of its political competitors. Over time, Rand argued, the group becomes the central political unit of a statist society, and every differentiating characteristic among human beings—be it age, sex, sexual orientation, social status, religion, nationality, or race—becomes a pretext for the formation of yet another interest group.

Racism, in Rand’s view, was the most vicious form of social fragmentation perpetuated by modern statism. It was not a mere byproduct of state intervention; it was a constituent element of statism. From the perspective of Level I, Rand argued that racism was an immoral and primitive form of collectivism that negated individual uniqueness, choice, and values. Psychologically, the racist substitutes ancestral lineage for self-value and thereby undermines the earned achievement of any genuine self-esteem. Holding people responsible for the real or imagined sins of their ancestors, wielding the weapon of collective guilt, the racist adopts the associational, concrete-bound method of awareness common to all tribalists. This “anti-conceptual” tribalism is manifested in the irrational fear of foreigners (xenophobia), the group loyalty of the guild, the worship of the family, the blood ties of the criminal gang, and the chauvinism of the nationalist. Tribalism was “a reciprocally reinforcing cause and result” of the various caste systems throughout history.

Such “psycho-epistemological” tribalism could only gain currency in a culture dominated by irrationalist and collectivist ideas (Level II). When the Nazis ascribed notions of good and evil to whole groups of people based on legitimating ideological doctrines of racial purity, they depended on the obliteration of individualism as a cultural ideal.

In terms of structural realities (Level III), Rand explored the various political and economic institutions and policies that both reflected and perpetuated racism—through outright slavery, genocide, or apartheid, or through the use of quotas, prohibitions, zoning laws, rent control, public housing, public education, compulsory codes of segregation and integration, and a self-perpetuating welfare bureaucracy that kept poor people poor, while inculcating a psychology of victimization among them.

What most interested Rand was the broad historical process by which racism predominates in modern societies. In Rand’s view, statism was born in “prehistorical tribal warfare.” Political elites often perpetuated racial hatred and scapegoated racial and ethnic groups in order to secure power. But “the relationship is reciprocal,” said Rand: Just as tribalism was a precondition of statism, so too was statism a reciprocally related cause of tribalism. “The political cause of tribalism’s rebirth is the mixed economy,” marked by “permanent tribal warfare.” In Rand’s view, advancing statism and tribalism went hand-in-hand, leading to a condition of “global balkanization.”

For those who think there is no comparability between Rand’s view of how statism and racism are systemically related and what Ravitch and others have said about systemic racism, I’d say this: If anything, Rand lays bare the statist order that makes such systemic racism possible. It is not just a part of the past, but a necessary part of our present social system. Rand called this system “the New Fascism”, and her analysis of it—of the racism and social fragmentation it depends upon and perpetuates—is as radical as any proposed by Critical Race Theorists.

Taking a cue from Rand, I’d tell folks on both sides of this debate to “Check your premises.”

JARS: Dedicating and Rededicating …

Over the last twenty-one years of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, we have lost key members of the JARS family. In 2005, one of our cofounders—the man with the vision to create this journal—Bill Bradford, passed away. This was followed by the deaths of original Advisory Board members Larry J. Sechrest in 2008 and John Hospers in 2011. David Mayer, who joined the Board of Advisors in 2012, died in 2019. And in June 2021, we were greatly saddened to learn that Steven Horwitz, another Advisory Board member from the class of 2012, lost his battle with multiple myeloma.

It is in Steve’s memory that we will dedicate the forthcoming December 2021 issue of JARS, published by Pennsylvania State University Press.

But dedications of this sort require rededications to our mission—as we continue to be the only nonpartisan, biannual, interdisciplinary university-press published, double-blind peer-reviewed scholarly periodical devoted to the critical examination of Ayn Rand and her times. To that end, we are proud to announce the addition of four new Advisory Board members and one new Editorial Board member (and fuller bios for these folks will follow in our December 2021 issue):

We are also pleased to announce that Roger E. Bissell, another prolific contributor to JARS since its debut in 1999, has become an Associate Editor. Roger is an independent scholar living in Antioch, Tennessee. A research associate with the Molinari Institute, he has edited no fewer than ten books and is the author of more than three dozen scholarly essays in philosophy and psychology and four books, including How the Martians Discovered Algebra: Explorations in Induction and the Philosophy of Mathematics (2014) and What’s in Your File Folder? Essays on the Nature and Logic of Propositions (2019). He is also the coeditor, with Chris Matthew Sciabarra (me!) and Edward W. Younkins, of The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom. A lifelong professional musician, he has an M.A. in music performance and literature (University of Iowa) and a B.S. in music theory and composition (Iowa State University).

In welcoming these individuals, we remain profoundly grateful to all of our editorial and advisory board members for their continued support, which is integral to our ongoing intellectual journey.

Stay tuned for what promises to be a blockbuster December 2021 issue of JARS!

Thinking Outside the Box (III) – H/T Roderick Tracy Long!

This brief but wonderful presentation by Roderick Tracy Long pinpoints one of the key problems I was discussing in my earlier posts on “Thinking Outside the Box” (Part 1 and Part 2) with terms such as “capitalism” and “socialism.” Check it out!


NYC Board of Elections: Comic App!

The New York Democratic Party primary that will select that party’s candidate for the 2021 Mayoral Election this November has been in disarray due to all sorts of typical screw-ups by the Infamous “Board of Elections” here. “Ranked-choice voting” is starting to smell a bit, uh, rank.

When folks around here used to say that “the Board of Elections has its head up its ass,” I’ve always wondered exactly what that would look like. Bill Bramhall (of “Bramhall’s World“) has finally given us a pic!

Courtesy of the New York Daily News (July 1, 2021)

Song of the Day #1870

Song of the Day: Stevie Wonder “Stars on 45” Medley [YouTube link] includes “My Cherie Amour” [YouTube link to the original], a song featured on the jukebox on the night that police raided the Stonewall Inn in the wee hours of this date in 1969. The patrons fought back against brutality, in a cry of liberation for the right to live their own lives and pursue their own happiness. That Stonewall storm left a Rainbow of Pride in its wake that illuminates the dancefloor for all those who lovingly embrace the singular authenticity of the music inside them.

Steve Horwitz, RIP

I am very sorry to report this devastating news. My long-time colleague and friend, Steve Horwitz, passed away this morning. His wife, Sarah Skwire, has confirmed that he died around 5:15 am.

Steve had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma back in 2017. He was a warrior in facing this diagnosis and battling this disease, and an inspiration to countless thousands of people for his very public sharing of his trials and tribulations.

Steve was first and foremost a wonderful human being and a very dear friend. But he was also a thought-provoking scholar of the highest order. He was long associated with St. Lawrence University, and later became the Distinguished Professor of Free Enterprise in the Department of Economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. In 2020, he was the recipient of the Julian L. Simon Memorial Award from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Steve and I first met way back in the mid-1990s; his important work in the area of Austrian economics and on the progressive nature of market institutions (which would culminate in his wonderful book Hayek’s Modern Family) led me to spotlight his contributions to the “dialectical” turn in libertarian thought, in my book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (2000). So enthused was he with the dialectical project that he gladly accepted an invitation to contribute a wonderful essay (“The Dialectic of Culture and Markets in Expanding Family Freedom“) to the 2019 anthology, The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, which I coedited with Roger Bissell and Ed Younkins.

Our professional relationship also extended to Rand studies; he was a contributor to two of the symposia published by The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: one to our 2003 discussion of Rand and progressive rock (“Rand, Rush, and De-totalizing the Utopianism of Progressive Rock“) and another to our 2005 centenary symposium on “Ayn Rand Among the Austrians” (“Two Worlds at Once: Rand, Hayek, and the Ethics of the Micro- and Macro-Cosmos“).

In 2012, Steve would join the journal’s Board of Advisors. Anytime I asked him to do a peer review, he accepted the project, even if he was tempted to torch some of the essays he had been asked to read. If I heard even the slightest hesitation from him, I’d take a line from the 1959 film version of “Ben-Hur“: “We keep you alive to serve this ship! So, row well and live” [YouTube link]. It became an ongoing mantra between us—anytime either of us suffered a medical setback. He told me I inspired him in my lifelong struggles with a congenital intestinal illness, and I’d tell him, “Are you kidding me? You’re an inspiration to all of us!”

My heart is broken. I want to extend my deepest condolences to Steve’s family and friends, and wish to say that I share their sorrow, while celebrating his extraordinary life.

Steve Horwitz (1964-2021)

Addendum: When asked about how we could keep Steve’s memory alive, I said:

Early on in Steve’s career, he, like Don Lavoie before him, showed a certain indebtedness to the highly dialectical approach of the hermeneutical tradition. Paul Ricoeur once said that a text is detached from its author and develops consequences of its own—transcending its relevance to its initial situation and addressing an indefinite range of possible readers.

As long as there are people who can read what Steve wrote and listen to what Steve has said, his work, his life, his legacy, will live on.