Category Archives: Politics (theory, History, Now)

Eric Fleischmann on Social Change and Thinking Dialectically…

I first encountered Eric Fleischmann back in 2018 when I came upon one of Eric’s papers on Academia.edu. So intrigued was I by this article—and its reference to my book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (2000, Penn State Press)—that I dropped Eric a note. Since then, we have become the best of friends and watching Eric’s intellectual and personal growth has been a remarkable adventure. I mean, back then, Eric was a junior in high school. Today, Eric is a sophomore at Bates College (in Lewiston, Maine), double-majoring in anthropology and philosophy.

As a left-libertarian anarchist and a contributor to the Center for a Stateless Society, Eric is currently involved in two forthcoming book projects, as a co-organizer of—and contributor to—Defiant Insistence: David Graeber, Anarchist, Anthropologist, Fellow Worker (1961-2020) and TOTAL ABOLITION: Police, Prisons, Borders, Empire

Today, I had the great pleasure of listening to a wonderful interview with Eric given by host Joel Williamson as the second episode of The Enrages. Folks can listen to the interview, which covers topics all over the ideological map—from abolitionism and social change to intellectual history and dialectical method. I especially appreciate Eric’s shout-out to me as friend and “mentor” and also for telling the world exactly how to pronounce my last name (around 31 minutes or so in!).

Check out the interview here. Proud of you, Eric! Keep up the great work!

Oh, and one other thing: I will be featuring one of Eric’s scintillating punk-rock performances on my “Song of the Day” series in the near future. Don’t let that calm and relaxed conversationalist fool you; Eric’s a Total Tiger on the Stage!

Better Call My Cousin Vinny

I don’t care what your political persuasion is; the reference to one of my all-time favorite comedies gave me a chuckle. Where’s My Cousin Vinny and Mona Lisa Vito when you need them?

Courtesy of Bramhall’s World (New York Daily News, Feb.11, 2021)

Rand 116 … Still Challenging Traditions

Today is the 116th anniversary of the birth of novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand. Interestingly, on Sunday, the New York Times Book Review published an Alan Wolfe-penned essay on Benjamin M. Friedman’s book, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. Amazingly, Wolfe took aim at Friedman’s attempts to connect free markets to religion and the Protestant work ethic (something for which Max Weber is most famous).

This is from Wolfe’s review:


For one thing, this book is mistitled; its overwhelming concentration is on only one religion, the Protestant one. You will not find a discussion here of the two great papal encyclicals, “Rerum Novarum” and “Quadragesimo Anno,” that form the basis of Catholic social teaching. By confining himself mostly to the Protestant countries of England, Scotland and Holland, Friedman, for all his range, narrows his focus too much.

What is more, economics and theology may have intertwined in the past, but they rarely do now. If anything, someone could write a contemporary work, surely shorter than this one, on atheism and the resurgence of free-market economics. The 19th-century economic thinkers Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner, both influenced more by Darwin than Calvin, were quite hostile to religion. The 20th century’s most widely read advocate for laissez-faire, Ayn Rand, was a militant nonbeliever. Milton Friedman, who needs no identification, was Jewish by birth but nonobservant. The story so brilliantly told by the author, it would seem, has reached its end.

A provocative observation that places Rand’s take on free markets (and the work of others in the classical liberal and contemporary libertarian movement) outside the religious context to which it has often been wedded by conservative thinkers especially.

My Seventeenth Annual Film Music February Will Continue …

A couple of months ago, I wrote up all the entries to what will be my seventeenth annual tribute to film scores, or what I like to call “Film Music February.”

It’s been a crazy year, but even throughout all the craziness, if you cannot find a moment of respite in the magic of the movies or the magic that the music brings to every movie you watch, well… you might as well throw in the towel! So, watch this space starting tomorrow and running through the last day of February. The Oscars may have been postponed till April, but my tribute to films and their scores stays put!

I’m sure you’re all just chomping (or champing) at the bit waiting to see and listen to what I have to say (yeah, sure…), but this is something I enjoy doing. And if some other folks enjoy it, all the better.

“The Dialectics of Liberty”: Reviewed in “The Philosophical Quarterly”

Reviews for The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom (Lexington Books, 2019) are slowly appearing throughout the scholarly literature, with more to come.

Today, I’m posting excerpts from a review by Gregory J. Robson (Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Iowa State University) that appears in The Philosophical Quarterly (29 December 2020, Oxford Academic).

Gregory J. Robson writes:

The contributors to this anthology insightfully explore ‘the context of human freedom’. This exploration is ‘dialectical’ because it engages in logical analysis and synthesis of economic, political, and other principles and ideas that often just appear in tension with one another . . . The book’s three parts include contributions from distinguished scholars in economics, law, philosophy, psychology, and related fields. The topics range widely and discussion is sometimes uneven, but this is no surprise in a book whose authors are multidisciplinary and cover considerable ground ably.  . . . The three parts fit together well due to the often complementary arguments of influential scholars such as Gary Chartier, Douglas J. Den Uyl, Steven Horwitz, Roderick T. Long, Deirdre Nansen McCloskey, and Douglas B. Rasmussen. Themes emerge such as the value of human relationships unmediated by force and fraud, the disvalue of political coercion, and the potential immorality of taxing some to hand to others.

The reviewer then focuses more extensively on the “complementary” contributions of Billy Christmas (“Social Equality and Liberty”) and Robert Higgs (“Exploring the Interconnections of Politics, Economics, and Culture”). He concludes:

[A] deep virtue of ‘Dialectics of Liberty‘ is its insistence that a free society takes seriously the need to persistently ask and answer—and *re-ask* and *re-answer*—why the state has authority to constrain liberty and the scope of any such authority. A society that does not take such questions seriously fails adequately to respect the personhood of would-be coercees. In principle, adherents of diverse political views do have the resources to take this claim onboard. Yet the essays in this book make a notable cumulative case for why classical liberals . . . and, relatedly, right and left libertarians . . . may be better equipped than supporters of more statist positions to explicate and defend the value of the personal and political liberties. This book has much to recommend it. It will be a valuable resource for teachers and researchers interested in the broad tradition of classical liberalism. And, in the spirit of dialectical exchange, hopefully it will spark responses by proponents and opponents alike.

Nice review! Terrific book! 😉

Jeff Riggenbach, RIP

I met Jeff Riggenbach many, many years ago at a libertarian conference when I was in my early 20s. I had first encountered his singular voice in a New York Times article published on June 24, 1979: “In Praise of Decadence” (before publishing a book of that name) and later, in Reason magazine (December 1982), where he discussed “The Disowned Children of Ayn Rand,” putting forth an audacious thesis:


If any single American novel of the past quarter-century may fairly be described as one of the major definitive documents of the ’60s, that novel is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.


To some readers this proposition doubtless seems paradoxical, even perverse. Ayn Rand an avatar of the ’60s, that decade of campus unrest, acid rock, and flower childishness? The very idea! Was it not Rand who described the Berkeley rebels of 1964 as “savages running loose on the campus of one of America’s great universities” and as “contorted young creatures who scream, in chronic terror, that they know nothing and want to rule everything”? Was it not Rand who described the participants in the Woodstock music festival of 1969 as “scummy young savages” who spent the weekend “wallowing in the mud on an excrement-strewn hillside”? Was it not Rand who dismissed the New Left as “wriggling, chanting drug addicts,” rock ‘n’ roll as “primitive music, with the even beat that deadens the brain and the senses,” and the spread throughout America of the counterculture lifestyle as an “obscene epidemic of self-destruction”?


Were the flower children and the campus radicals of the ’60s obsessed with their own youth? Did they regard young people as uniquely qualified by the very tenderness of their years to see through and expose the evils and the hypocrisies of their elders? Did they soberly counsel each other not to trust anyone over 30? If they read Atlas Shrugged, they found nothing in it to dissuade them from this prejudice. …


Were the ’60s radicals openly contemptuous of establishment intellectuals, conventional wisdom, and eternal verities? Atlas Shrugged contains the most acid-etched portrait of establishment intellectualdom ever published in America. It stands all of contemporary conventional wisdom on its head. And as far as eternal verities are concerned, Rand herself never tired of remarking that her big novel challenged the entire Western cultural tradition of the past 2,000 years.


Were the ’60s radicals feminists who believed a woman was as good as anybody else? Atlas Shrugged could have done nothing but fuel their fire. For here was a deeply intellectual novel written by a woman and depicting the adventures of one of the most extraordinary women to be found anywhere in 20th-century fiction—a beautiful female entrepreneur who flies her own plane, runs her own railroad, and takes her own risks and who is equally good at engineering, philosophy, tennis, housework, and sex—the sort of woman who is not only as good as any man but in fact better, better than almost any man you’ll ever meet, in fiction or out of it.


Did the ’60s radicals hold a dim view of the military-industrial complex? They would find nothing in Atlas Shrugged to teach them otherwise. If one were to judge the worlds of government, big business, and the scientific establishment purely by reading Atlas Shrugged, one would have to conclude that almost all big businessmen are parasitic incompetents who owe their profits to special deals worked out for them by politicians, that the scientific establishment is nothing but an arm of government, and that the principal function of government is to use its stolen resources in the invention and manufacture of loathsome weapons of mass destruction. …


In the late 1970s, a pair of young journalists, Rex Weiner and Deanne Stillman, teamed up with a professional pollster and conducted a wide-ranging opinion poll of self-identified “’60s people.” (Sixty-two percent of the respondents reported that they had considered themselves “hippies” during the ’60s, and most of the others had been sympathetic to the hippies’ cause.) …


One of the questions Weiner and Stillman asked their respondents called for them to list the names of individuals they had “admired and been influenced by.” One respondent in six listed Ayn Rand in reply to this question. She came in 29th out of 81. And if the entertainers and politicians are eliminated so that the list contains only the names of the authors that hippies admired, Rand comes in tied for sixth place with Germaine Greer, behind Kurt Vonnegut, Kahlil Gibran, Tom Wolfe, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus (who tied for fourth), and Allen Ginsberg, but ahead of Rod McKuen, Hermann Hesse, Paul Goodman, Simone de Beauvoir, Norman Mailer, and LeRoi Jones. …


If a cheap, reliable solar converter had been perfected a decade ago, the young inventor will tell you, it would have meant “about ten years added to the life of every person in this country—if you consider how many things it would have made easier and cheaper to produce, how many hours of human labor it would have released for other work, and how much more anyone’s work would have brought him. Locomotives? What about automobiles and ships and airplanes?…And tractors. And power plants. All hooked to an unlimited supply of energy, with no fuel to pay for, except a few pennies worth to keep the converter going.”


As the initiated know, all these quotations I’ve attributed to the young inventor come from Atlas Shrugged and pertain to John Galt’s motor that runs on atmospheric electricity. But the rough equivalent of that young inventor really exists somewhere. And despite his long hair, his faded jeans, and his work shirt, he is a true Randian—just as thousands of the pursuers of self-realization who made the 1970s the “Me Decade” are true Randians—just as thousands of the militant feminists, gay activists, and untraditional businessmen (dope dealers, headshop owners, street artists) who have won so much media attention over the past few years are true Randians.


All of them are truer Randians by far than grim, humorless, regimented, robotlike “students of Objectivism” who are ordinarily regarded as the truest of the true. These wretched conformists, so lacking in self-esteem that they willingly enslave themselves to someone else’s ideas on every conceivable subject, so obedient intellectually that they turn their backs on a culture literally teeming with Randian ideas and denounce that culture as evil and irrational merely because they are told to do so by their mentor—these Randians are not representative of the spirit of Atlas Shrugged.

It was the rebels of the ’60s who were the true children of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Disowned children, certainly—cast out of the house and into the cold world for the sin of taking their mother’s injunctions too literally, for adopting her ideas and ignoring her personal prejudices. But they are her children nonetheless and unmistakably. They are hers. And she is theirs.


So impressed was I by Jeff’s keen insights into the ways in which a thinker’s ideas filter through a culture, affecting even those whom that thinker might have “disowned,” that I was ecstatic when he later agreed to write a couple of articles for The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, which I co-founded in 1999 with Stephen Cox and Bill Bradford. He contributed a wonderful essay to the first symposium on Rand’s aesthetics ever published (Spring 2001), and then went on to write a wide-ranging, deeply insightful piece for the first of our two symposia celebrating the Ayn Rand Centenary: “Ayn Rand: Literary and Cultural Impact” (Fall 2004). In “Ayn Rand’s Influence on American Popular Fiction,” Jeff surveyed a remarkably diverse group of writers upon whom Rand had exercised a substantial influence, including former associates such as Kay Nolte Smith and Erika Holzer as well as Gene Roddenberry, Ira Levin, Terry Goodkind, and other contemporary purveyors of science fiction and crime fiction.

Getting to know Jeff through the years was a hoot; he was a perfectionist in his work, and even when you disagreed with him, he was always a gentle man—with me at least!

This morning, I learned that Jeff died. I know he was battling serious health problems and I have been deeply saddened by the news, having just posted on January 12th, on his Facebook Timeline: “Miss you, Jeff! Happy birthday…”

RIP, my friend. And my deepest condolences to Jeff’s family and loved ones.

Twelve Months of COVID …

Pearls Before Swine” (courtesy of Stephan Pastis and the New York Daily News) returns from vacation, looking back at the past year … not meant to minimize the very real tragedies that continue to, quite literally, plague us …

On the Twelve Months of COVID … (sing along!)

The World is Going to Pot — And So Is Our Car!

Every Wednesday and Thursday in my Gravesend, Brooklyn neighborhood, we have this ritual called “alternate side of the street parking.” You have to move your car (or double-park it temporarily) from one side of the street to the other (or risk a parking ticket), so that a sanitation street-sweeping truck can drag filth from one end of the block to the other. This keeps our streets clean!

Well, last Thursday, I double-parked our car so that the street-sweeper could do its job efficiently; when the time was up for us to put the car back on the Thursday side, I parked the car right back in the same spot, two doors down. I left the car there until this morning, when I got into the car to double-park it again for our weekly exercise.

When I got into the car, it smelled like skunk. I took out the air freshener and sprayed the car. And then I left it double-parked until I had to go back down to return it to its previous parking spot.

The smell was still in the car. WTF? I’m looking around the car, under the car, now starting to wonder if some actual skunk had crawled up inside the car and died or something. I mean, I’ve seen an occasional racoon and even opossum, which were released by government officials some ten years ago to control the rat population! But never a skunk.

No luck. I mean, who am I kidding? This isn’t skunk. It’s the smell of pot! Perhaps somebody had been smoking pot near the car? So I get back into the car. I’m sniffing around, and I look down in the cup holder separating the two front seats. Lo and behold, I see that a $10 roll of quarters has been opened—no quarters left therein—and underneath it is a half-smoked joint. I guess whoever broke into the car (and HOW ON EARTH DID THEY GET INTO A LOCKED CAR WITH AN ALARM WITHOUT US HEARING IT?) was too stoned to finish, and decided to leave it there perhaps for another visit on another night. Too cold outside in the middle of January, after all! Better to be seated in somebody’s car where you can sit back, kick up your feet, smoke a joint, relieve the owner of ten bucks in quarters, which was sitting there to feed the parking meters of New York City.

Ordinarily, I’m a really understanding guy. I mean, it was only ten bucks, right? And I’m on record against the “war on drugs.” I couldn’t care less what you smoke, what you snort, what you mainline! But does it have to be done in our car?

Okay, I’ve been under a little pressure lately, what with having had a few surgeries in the early fall, almost losing my sister to a serious illness in mid-November, and becoming a primary caregiver in the middle of a pandemic, while dealing with healthcare bureaucracies and regulations designed to frustrate recovering patients from getting the after-care they require.

Yearning for a little respite from it all, during my morning stationary bike workouts, I’ve made my way through all those old “Karate Kid” films (I-IV) again, in preparation for the Netflix “Cobra Kai” series, amazed at all the kernels of wisdom that came out of the mouth of Mr. Miyagi (played by Pat Morita). You know, things like: “Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good” and “For man with no forgiveness in heart, living even worse punishment than death.”

So I took a nice deep breath, the smell of Fabreze not quite having erased that other scent, yearning for that balance in a world gone to pot! I forgave the stupidity of whoever broke into our car, a person who obviously needed a nice cozy place to smoke a joint in the middle of the night. I picked the joint up and threw it out the window, making sure to use a little Purell to clean my fingers. Then, I picked up the empty $10 quarter-wrapper and put it in my pocket.

I looked up at the sky through the windshield and simply said in Italian: “Gesù Cristo, Maria, San Giuseppe.” I didn’t yell. I didn’t scream. I didn’t even utter a single Sicilian curse! I simply marched upstairs and wrote out the sign below, came back down, and taped it to the steering wheel of the car.

I decided, last minute, to trim off the bottom of the sign, because to err is human, to forgive divine. Omitted was what I was really feeling, full of grace and forgiveness: “You toucha my car again, I breaka your face.”

Ed. – For the record: I looked on YouTube (and I’m NOT posting that video here), which shows how to ‘break into’ the particular make and model of our car without any damage to the car. [To be clear: It’s listed under how to get into the car if you left your keys inside…] Very nice! At least I know that nobody can drive off with it; they can just use it for, uh, hanging out! 🙂