Category Archives: Politics (theory, History, Now)

An Ongoing Tragedy

Violence and warfare have been a part of the human condition for millennia. But in a world consumed by hateful tribalism and balkanization, we are robbed of the very foundation upon which any peace, freedom, and human flourishing must be built. My heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones and whose lives remain in jeopardy due to the ongoing tragedies in the Middle East.

The Charlton Heston Centenary

One hundred years ago, on October 4, 1923, actor Charlton Heston was born. This Wednesday, October 4, 2023, starting at 6 am (ET), Turner Classic Movies is celebrating that centenary with a full 24+ hours of Heston films, and will continue to highlight his filmography on Wednesday nights in October.

Here, my focus is not on Heston’s political journey, whether in his role as President of the Screen Actors Guild or in his commitment to Civil Rights (he was among those Hollywood stars who joined Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1963 March on Washington) or in his commitment to Gun Rights as NRA President (famously holding above his head a replica of a flintlock long rifle and declaring “From My Cold Dead Hands!”). I have long believed that while it’s always important to understand an artist’s creative work in the context of their life, it is both proper and necessary to evaluate the creation quite apart from the creator. As I have written:

It’s a hermeneutical truth, as Paul Ricoeur would have emphasized, that every creation is “detached from its author and develops consequences of its own. In so doing, it transcends its relevance to its initial situation and addresses an indefinite range of possible readers.” Every time any creation—be it a book, idea, or artwork—enters the world, it leaves the domain of the creator and begins to speak to countless individuals in myriad ways. And every time each of us, as “readers”, is exposed to that creation, our response to it remains deeply personal, profoundly entwined with our own emotions and life experiences. And that is as it should be.

In that spirit, here, my focus is on Heston’s creative output—his films—and what they have meant to me.

Heston has played a veritable Who’s Who of iconic figures, including El Cid, Michelangelo, John the Baptist, Sir Thomas More, Buffalo Bill, and Moses, as well as two appearances each as Andrew Jackson, Mark Antony, and Cardinal Richelieu. He appeared in a remarkable variety of film genres—Film noir: from “Dark City” to the Orson Welles classic, “Touch of Evil”; Adventure: from “The Greatest Show on Earth” and “The Naked Jungle” to “Secret of the Incas”, which served as the inspiration for “Raiders of the Lost Ark”; Westerns: from William Wyler’s “The Big Country” and Sam Peckinpah’s “Major Dundee” to “Will Penny”; Historical Epics, including Khartoum and 55 Days at Peking; Biblically-inspired Epics: “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur”; Sci-Fi: “The Omega Man,” “Soylent Green,” and the Rod Serling-penned “Planet of the Apes”; and Disaster films: “Skyjacked”, “Airport 1975”, and “Earthquake,” which I saw in theaters, in Sensuround! He also made his mark on television—from the 1949 anthology series, “Suspense”, to his tenure as Jason Colby on “Dynasty” and “The Colbys” in the 1980s … not to mention a stint as host of “Saturday Night Live” (after being parodied so well by Phil Hartman).

Heston was not a Method Actor. His style harked back to a more classical mode, lending itself to stoic, authoritative, and theatrical performances often perfectly suited to those “larger than life” characters for which he was noted. He had presence on the screen. Nevertheless, it has become quite fashionable to dismiss Heston as a “ham” and to label all his performances as “stiff”, “bellicose”, or “over the top”. Certainly, some of the films in which he’s appeared have themselves been marked by theatricality. “The Ten Commandments”, for example, features dialogue that is often archaic and scriptural, cast against a sprawling canvas. But once you’ve seen Chuck Heston part the Red Sea, can you really think of any other actors who could have lifted that staff and uttered those biblical lines with the same majesty? I’ve seen some fine actors portray Moses—Christian Bale, Burt Lancaster, Ben Kingsley—but, quite frankly, they all pale in comparison.

Whereas DeMille’s final film was his grandest, three years later, Heston would appear in the film that would bring him a Best Actor Oscar. Unlike the costume epics of yore, “Ben-Hur” (1959), directed by William Wyler, is often credited as the first contemporary “intimate epic”, insofar as it never sacrifices the development of its characters to the colossal backdrop against which their struggles play out. It’s my all-time favorite film, one that I’ve written about extensively over the years.

For Me, It’s Personal …

The first film I ever saw Heston in was “Planet of the Apes”, as an 8-year-old kid at the local “Highway Theater” in what is still my Brooklyn neighborhood—though the movie house is long gone. In later years, when I read critiques of Heston as having “overacted” in this film, I was puzzled. Given that the character he plays, an astronaut, Col. George Taylor, has crash-landed on a planet that is itself a “madhouse”—an upside down, inside out world populated by intelligent apes and non-speaking people, in an unfolding nightmare about the frightening paradoxes of human existence—well, I’m not quite sure how differently the role could have been played by any actor. In the closing moments of that film, when Taylor discovers a horrific sight on a deserted beach in the “Forbidden Zone”, he falls to his knees and pounds his fist into the sand, howling: “Damn you! Goddamn you all to hell!” I can’t help but ask: How exactly would a Method Actor have made this scene and those lines any more chilling than the way it was rendered by Heston?

All I know is that when I saw “Planet of the Apes” in 1968, the final frame was met not by applause or even whispers; the audience was stunned into complete silence. I was so shocked by that film that in 1974, I returned to the same theater to participate in a day-long marathon presentation of all five of the franchise films presented in order (“Planet of the Apes”, “Beneath the …”, “Escape from the …”, “Conquest of the …” and “Battle for the …”)—for the price of one. They don’t show ‘em like that anymore!

The second Heston film I saw on the big screen was entirely different from that sci-fi classic. I joined my family in a trek to Manhattan to the great Palace Theater, which, with its colossal 70 mm screen, preserved the Technicolor glory and full original 2.76:1 aspect ratio of a tenth anniversary re-release of the 11 Oscar Award-winning film, “Ben-Hur”.

It was the summer of 1969, in the aftermath of the death of Judy Garland—something I remember vividly since Garland’s portrait was hanging in the lobby of the theater. The presentation was like that of a Broadway play, complete with an Overture, an Intermission, and an Entr’ Acte, a prelude to the superbly filmed, climactic chariot race (in which Chuck did most of the stunt work) and a thunderous finale staged in the shadow of Christ’s crucifixion with its miraculous symbolism. For years before, I had listened to the timeless Miklos Rozsa film score, and when I finally saw the images that matched that magnificent soundtrack, I was as overwhelmed as any 9-year-old kid could be by the spectacle. But ultimately, even as a youngster, I was moved by the depth of the story, and especially the conflicts and inner struggles of its central character and his journey toward personal redemption—all brilliantly expressed in Heston’s nuanced performance.

The following year, in 1970, Heston and his co-star Tina Chen showed up at the Highway Theater, to kick off “The Hawaiians”—and I was there in person to see him. I was only 10 years old. When he walked in, he looked like a tall granite statue with a ton of freckles. But he brought levity to his remarks before the film, which I very much enjoyed.

Five years later, now a teenager, I traveled with my family during the Christmas season of 1975, to see for the first time, “The Ten Commandments”, which, in re-release, was playing at Manhattan’s famed Ziegfeld Theatre. And like “Ben-Hur”, viewing this film on the big screen was an overwhelming cinematic experience. The wondrous, eye-popping parting of the Red Sea alone was worth the price of admission.

So yes, for me, Charlton Heston’s filmography has great personal significance. By the time of his death in 2008, after years of struggling with Alzheimer’s, Heston had appeared in over 120 film and television productions. So many of these productions provided me with a sense of cinematic grandeur at such an early age. I was entertained, for sure. Some films thrilled me with their adventure and excitement, while others challenged me to think about the human condition, evoking in me a complex range of emotions. I know that this cinematic legacy is real because, as I’ve aged, I can still watch any number of Heston’s films for the umpteenth time and be affected ever more meaningfully, even as I retain the same feelings of awe I had as a child.

Indeed, because of the ways in which his work inspired my love of film, I celebrate the centenary of Charlton Heston’s birth.

(* Collage above created by … me!)

See the discussion on Facebook.

Don Lavoie and the Knowledge Problem

I first met Don Lavoie when I was an undergraduate at NYU. We became very dear friends and followed similarly focused professional paths.

Sadly, in 2001, Don passed away at the young age of 50. But his important work on the “knowledge problem” is among his most significant legacies. Indeed, his insights are deeply appreciated by those of us who adhere to a dialectical vision of human freedom and personal flourishing. That was one of the reasons I welcomed Nathan Goodman​’s wonderful contribution, “Don Lavoie’s Dialectical Liberalism“, to The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, published in 2019, and for which I was a coeditor.

Among those very promising young writers who are carrying forth Don’s remarkable legacy is my friend Cory Massimino​. As Cory writes in his recent essay, “Don Lavoie on the Continuing Relevance of the Knowledge Problem“:

Lavoie considered himself a “radical” in the sense that he thought “our society is in serious trouble and demands a sharp departure from current policies” and affirmed the need to “transcend—through principled and concerted social action—war and militarism, political oppression, and special privilege, and to set in motion progressive forces that will begin to solve such difficult human problems as poverty, disease, and environmental decay.” … For Lavoie, the knowledge problem informed not just a radical critique but a radical vision, a lively, humanistic, cosmopolitan, and emancipatory vision of cultural, scientific, and economic progress through peaceful social cooperation, dynamic experimentation, and mutual exchange. As the knowledge problem continues to be misunderstood, underrated, or downright ignored, and as human freedom continues to be trampled on, it’s vital we keep the legacy and, more importantly, the ideas of Don Lavoie alive and well.

Amen. Check out Cory’s article!

Song of the Day #2067

Song of the Day: March on Washington (“Oh, Freedom”) is a post-Civil War African American spiritual. It was first recorded in 1931 as “Sweet Freedom” by the E. R. Nance Family, and was later recorded by Odetta as part of the “Spiritual Trilogy” for her 1956 “Ballads and Blues” album. In 1958, a 17-year old Joan Baez recorded it as well [YouTube link]. Sixty years ago, on this date, Baez officially opened the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom with this song. That massive gathering, famous for Martin Luther King Jr.’s legendaryI Have a Dream” speech, was not carried in its entirety on television. But Baez courageously added the lyric “No More Jim Crow” to her live rendition, a moral denunciation of systemic segregationist policies. Check out the 1931 E. R. Nance Family original, Odetta’s rendition, and Baez’s rendition from the March [YouTube links].

“Conversion Therapy” & The Tragedy of Alana Chen

This article can also be found on Medium.

I have long known about the tragic suicide of Alana Chen, a 24-year old woman who was found dead near the Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, Colorado in December 2019. Chen’s death has been the subject of much controversy. She was a devout Catholic, who dreamed of being a nun someday. But at the age of 14, she confessed to a trusted priest that she thought she was attracted to women. And for all intents and purposes, that confession was the beginning of the end.

Alana was a victim of 7 years of “conversion” or “reparative therapy” — an attempt to dislodge the “impure” thoughts of same-sex attraction. The “pious” counselors who engage in this kind of “therapy” employ an arsenal of tools that equip them to wage psychological and spiritual warfare on their victims. What they leave behind, what needs repairing when they are finished, are the fractured souls of those who earnestly sought their sincere spiritual guidance and were taught instead to disown their humanity and to hate the love that was trapped inside them.

new 8-part podcast series, “Dear, Alana,” on TenderfootTV, produced and narrated by Simon Kent Fung, offers us a grueling, shattering portrait of Alana’s life and death. As noted in the official trailer to the series, Fung had access to Alana’s texts and two dozen journals that chronicle her “deep faith, love of fashion, and dream of becoming a nun.” But Alana “harbored a secret,” and when she shared that secret with her priest, she “was instructed not to tell her parents.” For seven years thereafter, she “covertly received conversion therapy which her family believes played a role in her fate.” Fung’s journey into Alana’s past enables him to share the striking similarities of his own story, as he grapples with “the truth of what happened to Alana,” in “an unraveling mystery and … poignant spiritual memoir about teenage rebellion and spiritual manipulation.” It is a series that details “the price we pay to belong and the systems that pay no price at all.”

I don’t want to say too much about this series. It must be heard in full. It will upset you. It will make you angry. And it will provide a hint at how flagrant abuses of clerical and clinical power are a significant aspect of the ways in which power relations operate in our society.

For many years, I’ve argued that power relations are manifested on at least three distinct levels of generality — the personal, the cultural, and the structural. On the personal level, when an individual’s method of awareness is corrupted by therapeutic practices that cut them off from their own emotions and even their bodily integrity, power is being exerted. On the cultural level, when a religious institution creates an atmosphere of intolerance, subjecting its parishioners to moralizing dictates about every thought and action they deem “impure”, preying (not just “praying”) on guilt, shame, and fear, power is being exerted. And when this translates into economic and political practices that attack the individuals and groups being marginalized, power is being exerted. The reciprocal ways in which each of these levels reinforces the others are crucial to a whole system of oppression. Those who fight for human freedom and personal flourishing cannot underestimate the interlocking components of that system.

Ayn Rand opened her 1970 essay critiquing modern education, “The Comprachicos,” with her own translation of a passage from The Man Who Laughs by Victor Hugo. For reasons that will become apparent, it’s worth reproducing, in part, here:

The comprachicos, or comprapequeños, were a strange and hideous nomadic association, famous in the seventeenth century, forgotten in the eighteenth, unknown today. … Comprachicos, as well as comprapequeños, is a compound Spanish word that means “child-buyers.” The comprachicos traded in children. They bought them and sold them. They did not steal them. The kidnapping of children is a different industry.

And what did they make of these children?

Monsters.

Why monsters?

To laugh.

The people need laughter; so do the kings. Cities require side-show freaks or clowns; palaces require jesters. … To succeed in producing a freak, one must get hold of him early. … Hence, an art. … They took a man and turned him into a miscarriage; they took a face and made a muzzle. They stunted growth; they mangled features. … Where God had put a straight glance, this art put a squint. Where God had put harmony, they put deformity. Where God had put perfection, they brought back a botched attempt. And in the eyes of connoisseurs, it is the botched that was perfect. … The practice of degrading man leads one to the practice of deforming him. Deformity completes the task of political suppression.

The comprachicos had a talent, to disfigure, that made them valuable in politics. To disfigure is better than to kill. … The comprachicos did not merely remove a child’s face, they removed his memory. At least, they removed as much of it as they could. The child was not aware of the mutilation he had suffered. This horrible surgery left traces on his face, not his mind. He could remember at most that one day he had been seized by some men, then had fallen asleep, and later they had cured him. Cured him of what? He did not know. Of the burning by sulphur and the incisions by iron, he remembered nothing. During the operation, the comprachicos made the little patient unconscious by means of a stupefying powder that passed for magic and suppressed pain.

Rand went on to use this metaphor in her indictment of the pedagogical methods at work in contemporary education. She remarked that educators had reversed the process, leaving traces of the damage they had done not on the face of a child, but on his mind. “To make you unconscious for life by means of your own brain,” Rand wrote, “nothing can be more ingenious.” These are “the comprachicos of the mind.”

I could not help but see the parallel between what Rand wrote in 1970 and the nightmarish realities of the practices of “conversion” therapy. That this is often done in the name of religion is even more ironic, given Hugo’s passage. For if one believes that God provided harmony and perfection, one can see the deformity, the degradation, the “botched attempt” that leaves in its wake broken souls. And the more these souls become aware of their “suppressed pain”, of the reality that they are “botched”, the more trapped they feel, such that the only way out is at the end of a noose at the bottom of an empty reservoir.

Both Hugo and Rand were right that this deformity completes the task of political suppression. In actuality, what it achieves is the suppression of the human heart, the repression of the human mind, the oppression of human life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The political attack on the LGBTQ+ community that we are witnessing today requires a multipronged assault on a person’s psychology, methods of awareness, and moral sense. It requires fostering an illiberal culture of intolerance that undermines a person’s ability to flourish by inculcating guilt, fear, and hatred. It is ironic that the reactionary culture warriors often attack “drag”, but they wear drag of a different sort. They wrap themselves in the vestments of religion and turn the holy into the unholy. Where they see life, they create death.

The Culture Wars are not insignificant. The forces of reaction know this. They are providing the cultural and moral weapons that make the current political assault on LGBTQ+ lives and liberties possible. Their cultural values must be exposed for what they are. And they must be fought.

Alana Chen’s spiritual maiming made possible her death. For Alana, spiritual disfugurement was the necessary prelude to suicide. Those who destroyed her soul have blood on their hands. Her death will not be in vain.

My sincere thanks to Simon Kent Fung for bringing this podcast series to fruition. I implore readers to listen to the entire series. It can be found on multiple platforms here.

If you or someone you care about may be at risk of suicide, contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988, or go to 988lifeline.org.

Song of the Day #2061

Song of the Day: Heartstopper (“First Sight”) [YouTube link], composed by Adiescar Chase, is one of the many original themes heard in this coming of age British romantic comedy-drama series that, in its debut 2022 season, won five Children’s and Family Emmy Awards. Based on the Alice Oseman graphic novels, this popular Netflix show offers an affirmative and poignant exploration of the glories of love and friendship—in all their rainbow hues. I’m looking forward to Season 3 in 2024. Check out the “first sight” meeting of Charlie and Nick, during which this sweet theme is heard [YouTube links].

Lunar Wonders Never Cease

On this night, back in 1969, I sat with my family to watch this extraordinary historical event unfold. As we viewed the ghostly images on our black-and-white television, we were understandably nervous that something might go wrong—and utterly awestruck by the enormity of the accomplishment. I was only 9 years old when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, while Michael Collins orbited above in the command module that would return all three safely to the earth. But my memories of that night are vivid. The wonders of Apollo 11 never cease to amaze.

Troy Camplin, RIP

I have just learned on Facebook that Troy Camplin passed away at the age of 52. He fought gallantly against cancer these last few years, and I am so very sorry to hear this.

It had been a long time since we checked in on one another personally; back in early November 2022, before my sister died, I told him how great it was to chat with him, and we pledged that we’d stay in touch. Alas, life got in the way—for both of us.

In May 2023, Troy wrote on Medium:

My regular readers may have noticed that I haven’t been posting a lot of late. … I’m not a big fan of self-publication. I held out a great many years before finding a publisher for my novel Hear the Screams of the Butterfly. More recently, I have had pair of poetry collections — companion pieces — published. I’m proud of Words of Gratitude and Songs of Resentment, and I hope my readers have enjoyed the collections. Despite what it may sound like, the theme of the latter is about the dangers of resentment, so it really is a companion piece to the former. And if you’re more interested in philosophy than fiction and poetry, there’s still Diaphysics. … Now, you may wonder why I am self-publishing when I say I’m not a fan of self-publishing. Well, I cannot wait twenty years like I did for Hear the Screams of the Butterfly. I cannot wait, because I have a rare kind of cancer that in the vast majority of cases is terminal. I am currently taking a test medication that at least seems to have slowed down the growth of the cancer, and let’s face it, it needs to stop growing and even reverse. And I cannot count on that happening. Thus, the urgency in getting my books out there. So, keep an eye out here for future announcements of poetry collections and novels. I do want to get the novels I have finished out there, and I hope I can finish writing another one I’m presently working on as well. Perhaps I can find the time to put together a short story collection as well. And I hope I can count on everyone’s support in my literary endeavors.

I’m deeply saddened that he was unable to complete his many works. But I am heartened by all that he did produce, from the literary and the humanities to philosophy and the social sciences, and I hope his unpublished work will be published in due course.

Troy’s dialectical sensibility and interdisciplinary vision are what first sparked my interest in his work. Back in 2015, I invited him to submit a book review to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. It was the first of four essays he’d write for the journal, including a 50-page contribution to our sixtieth anniversary symposium on Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged. Troy’s essay “Atlas Shrugged as Epic” situated the novel in the tradition of The IliadMoby Dick, and Lord of the Rings.

Fortunately, our work together didn’t end with Rand scholarship. I was delighted to welcome him to the slate of authors who contributed to The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom. His essay demonstrated the enormity of his project just in its title: “Aesthetics, Ritual, Property, and Fish: A Dialectical Approach to the Evolutionary Foundations of Property“. His participation in our Facebook symposium on the anthology was equally broad in its scope. It’s archived on Medium here.

Troy Camplin fought against the forces of reaction. But more importantly, he was a courageous and ecumenical soul who fought for the cosmopolitan values requisite to the achievement of human freedom and personal flourishing. My heart goes out to his family and friends.

Postscript: Todd Camplin, Troy’s brother, announced on Facebook:

Between his friends and I, we will make sure as much of his work we can get out enters the public space. Look for two novels coming soon.

I was very happy to heart this!

Kevin Carson’s “I, Pencil Revisited”

Kevin Carson‘s “I Pencil, Revisited”

My dear friend Kevin Carson has provided us with a highly provocative critique of Leonard Read’s classic essay, “I, Pencil”. I commented on it on another thread, but thought it useful to post on my timeline.

I was always impressed with Read’s illustration of the ways in which countless market actors make use of dispersed knowledge in globally interconnected ways — all in the production of the simple Pencil.

Kevin states very clearly in his paper that he agrees, “as far as it goes”, with the “superiority of coordination by a price system over central planning”. He states further that Leonard “Read is entirely correct — so far as he goes — both in touting the importance of distributed knowledge under any economic system, and in celebrating the usefulness of allowing the formation of market-clearing prices as a tool for coordination.”

But, and it’s a BIG Butt … Kevin is focused here on the larger historical and systemic context within which current market processes operate. And on that count, I think he’s offered highly valuable insights into the centuries of “coercion at a systemic level” that created “the background against which the entire process took place.”

I don’t want to say too much about the essay, because it offers lots of rich history behind both the Read essay and the actual systems at work in the production of the Pencil.

I will say, however, that Kevin had me at “The Stations of the Pencil” (that’s one classic subtitle). His comment, early on, about the massive state involvement in railroad transportation (“Of course we all know what an exemplary product of the Invisible Hand the national railroad system was”) is indicative of just how, throughout virtually every step of the Pencil’s production, the influence of political economy is key to the entire process.

Terrific piece, Kevin. Highly dialectical! Bravo!

Check it out at the Center for a Stateless Society here.

Postscript: There’s a nice Facebook discussion on these topics. Check it out here. In that discussion, I wrote further:

I purposely opened my commentary on Kevin’s piece with my observation that “I was always impressed with Read’s illustration of the ways in which countless market actors make use of dispersed knowledge in globally interconnected ways — all in the production of the simple Pencil.” Nothing in Kevin’s essay has diminished my appreciation, not only of Read’s elegant way of expressing the coordinating capacity of markets, but also of Hayek’s profoundly important discussions of “The Use of Knowledge in Society”. Like Steve Horwitz, I am on record (in three books and too many articles to count) as being a champion of that Hayekian epistemic insight and of the benefits of the division of labor and knowledge.

That said, a few points in response—and here, I don’t presume to speak for Kevin, only for myself:

1. I don’t think it’s off topic to situate Read’s essay in the socio-economic-cultural context in which it was published. Sometimes even the best arguments for markets can—and have been—used by others as an apologia for the system as it exists.

2. I think there is much to be gained by making transparent the nature of “capitalism: the known reality”, that is, the real conditions under which capitalism evolved, all of which were deeply embedded in processes that were as much political as they were economic. I don’t think that bringing attention to that reality diminishes the lessons learned from Read’s essay; but I do think it’s certainly worth noting that so many of the resources and processes that Read highlights have been historically tainted by political/state intervention.

3. For me, the “right” and “left” libertarian distinctions are ultimately about values, and each is an umbrella term for much variety therein. On these value distinctions, I would certainly place Steve, Kevin, and myself within the “left” end of the libertarian continuum.

In another comment, I made the following points:

Since Steve Horwitz has been mentioned in this thread, I thought it would be best to have Steve speak for himself (on the question of ‘left’ and ‘right’, not to mention ‘capitalism’ vs. ‘socialism’).

Back in 2005, when Steve and I were both writing for the Liberty & Power Group Blog, I wrote a piece called “Capitalism: The Known Reality“, with which Steve wholeheartedly agreed. Steve wrote in response (“Thoughts on Sciabarra“):

1. I tend to call myself a “radical libertarian” as well. I prefer that to “anarchist” or “market anarchist” or even “anarcho-capitalist” for two reasons. One has to do with the rhetorical problems the anarchist label raises, but the other is that whether or not I’m an anarchist depends upon my mood that day. More seriously, I don’t think the case for anarchism is completely convincing. My disposition is to accept it but I’m not completely convinced enough to use that label (rhetorical problems aside). Understand, of course, that I think the set of issues where government might be justified is pretty small, hence my comfort with “radical libertarian.” The fact that I see myself as a person of the left who happens to believe that markets and other voluntary institutions are the best means to the left’s ends also makes me comfortable with the “radical” label. (Having been called a “PC libertarian” and a “neo-conservative,” not to mention a fraud and a liar, in the last 48 hours, labels are kind of fun these days.)

2. In my “Comparative Economic Institutions” course, I spend part of a very early class day explaining why I will NOT use the terms “capitalism” and “socialism” in that class (a promise I keep to a large degree). My reasoning is Hayek’s – the terms were both invented by those sympathetic to socialism. Moreover, the very terms bias the debate. To add some more meat to Chris’s argument, look at the words themselves. “Capitalism” suggests a “belief in capital” and it puts capital as the central organizing principle around which the system is built, or at least around which “the goods are delivered.” By contrast, “socialism” suggest a “belief in society as a whole” and puts society as the central organizing principle or recipient of the benefits in that system. I would suggest that both implications are incorrect (i.e., capitalism [truly free markets] doesn’t primarily benefit capitalists, and socialism benefits the few at the expense of the many).

More important, though, is that neither term speaks to the institutional arrangements that each system requires. Thus, I prefer the language of “markets” and “planning” to “capitalism” and “socialism.” Although these are not without their problems, they have the advantage of allowing us to talk about how social coordination will take place in each system and what varieties of arrangements those fundamental coordination processes might produce. For example, we can talk about markets in which there is worker ownership or not. And with planning, we can talk about the differences between, and challenges facing, democratic planning institutions versus more centralized, autocratic ones. This dichotomy forces us to ask questions about how social coordination takes place and what sorts of institutions forward it. It should lead us to ask “how do/would markets work?” and “how does/would planning work?”

It also gives us room to talk about real world systems as being neither purely markets nor purely planning, and to explore whether the coordination processes can be combined, or whether one will tend to crowd out the other (or at least cause unintended undesirable consequences) when they are significantly mixed. It provides an institutional analytic framework for doing applied work, including exploring economic history.

In any case, Chris’s post is right on, both as a question of how to talk to the Left and as a really serious question of how libertarians understand our own worldview.

Archaeo-Pizza!

Yesterday, my friend Kevin Carson shared an article from The Guardian about an unearthed fresco, dating back two-thousand-years, from the “excavations in the Regio IX area of Pompeii’s archaeological park, which is close to Naples, the birthplace of pizza. The painting was on a wall in what is believed to have been the hallway of a home that had a bakery in its annexe.” The Guardian author, Angela Giuffrida, wrote:

A striking still life fresco resembling a pizza has been found among the ruins of ancient Pompeii, although the dish seems to lack two essential ingredients – tomato and mozzarella – and includes an item that looks suspiciously like a pineapple.

… on which I commented, with New York contempt: “This is OBVIOUSLY an attempt to legitimize pineapple on pizza. smh lol.”

Today I was alerted to a New York Times piece on these same archeological findings, written by Elisabetta Povoledo: “A Proto-Pizza Emerges From a Fresco on a Pompeii Wall”. Povoledo writes:

It may have been no pepperoni with extra cheese, but it still caught the eye of archaeologists working on the ruins of Pompeii, and not because they were hungry. The researchers were excavating the site earlier this year when they ran across a fresco depicting a silver platter laden with wine, fruit — and a flat, round piece of dough with toppings that looked remarkably like a pizza. Proto-pizza might be more like it, given that the city of Pompeii was buried by a volcano in 79 A.D., nearly 2,000 years before anything modern civilization might recognize as a pie came into existence. In a statement published on Tuesday, the archaeologists were insistent that the dish portrayed in the fresco did not mean that the History of Pizza is about to be rewritten. “Most of the characteristic ingredients are missing, namely tomatoes and mozzarella,” they said. Still, they allowed, the flat, round dough topped with pomegranate, spices and what may have been a precursor of pesto might be “a distant ancestor to the modern dish.”

I was tempted to say: “No pomegranates!” But hey, this is nearly 2,000 years ago, so whaddayawant!

The article points out, of course, that the origin of pizza is itself controversial:

It may be virtually synonymous with Italian cuisine, but some like to point out that dough topped with herbs and cheese originated across the Ionian Sea, in ancient Greece, and that Naples was originally a Greek colony. “The Greek history of pizza that the Italians want hidden” accused one headline in The Greek City Times.

Well, I have no problem with this! I’m half-Greek and half-Sicilian, so it’s all good. And while that fresco doesn’t depict anything like what I see at L&B Spumoni Gardens, three cheers for archaeo-pizza! In the end, pizza belongs not to the Greeks or the Italians, but to everybody. Even if you want pineapple on it. Just hold the pomegranates. Sheesh …

Credit: Archaeological Park of Pompeii