Category Archives: Rand Studies

Honoring John Hospers

This Sunday, October 10, 2021, Jameson Books is publishing a wonderful collection in honor of philosopher John Hospers entitled Libertarianism: John Hospers, The Libertarian Party’s 50th Anniversary, and Beyond, edited by C. Ronald Kimberling and Stan Oliver. As Tom Palmer writes in his Foreword to the book:

John Hospers was a memorable man, with an influence far greater than his current renown. It’s thus an honor to advance this collection, as well as to contribute to it. His ideas, his encouragement of his students, his friendship, and his scholarship are explored by the numerous articles and essays in this volume, which also provides primary documents for those interested in the growth of the libertarian political movement in the United States. It’s a valuable resource for historians of ideas, for political junkies, and for anyone interested in the revival of libertarian thought in the United States—a revival in which John Hospers played an important role. That preference for liberty, for escaping the cages of “left” and “right” that have so warped and degraded American political practice, is now a part of the American political scene.

The 400-page book includes more than 30 essays by a wide variety of writers, including yours truly. In my own essay, “John Hospers: A Remembrance,” I reflect on my discovery of John’s work and my friendship with this gentle man with a remarkable intellect and wonderful sense of life. As I state in the essay:

I had heard of John Hospers years earlier, when I was twelve years old. He was, after all, the first presidential candidate of the newly formed Libertarian Party. In 1972, he received, along with Tonie Nathan, his vice presidential running mate, one electoral vote, which was one less for Richard M. Nixon. Nathan became the first woman and the first Jewish candidate to receive an electoral vote in any US presidential election.

But it wasn’t until years later, when I read “Libertarianism“, that I came to appreciate the true significance of John Hospers, philosopher. This work revealed the remarkable breadth of the libertarian vision. Within it, I found a logically arranged, eminently readable introduction to all of the core issues with regard to economic and political liberty, both at home and abroad, the dangers of the interventionist state, and even a discussion of the debate between the advocates of minimal government and the anarcho-capitalists. Hospers’s 1971 opus preceded Robert Nozick’s seminal “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” by three years and introduced a young generation to a genuine “philosophy for tomorrow.” It was, in fact, one of the founding “manifestos” of an
intellectual revolution in twentieth-century thought, deeply rooted in the ideals of classical liberalism adopted for a new age.

As the years passed, I made that new libertarian vision my guiding intellectual pursuit, and as I learned more, it seemed as if John Hospers was always a presence somewhere in that learning process. I discovered other works of his, and then, eventually, I had the courage to send him a copy of the working manuscript for my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, seeking his feedback. With grace, he accepted the task of a critical reading of the manuscript and provided me with meticulous, insightful, and thought-provoking comments; whenever critical, they were constructively so, whether they were conveyed on the phone or in correspondence. There is no doubt that his input immeasurably improved the final product, for which I remain eternally grateful. In the end, his support of my work on Rand led him to provide a generous blurb that appeared in the first printing of its first edition.

I finally met John at a Liberty conference in 1996, where I appeared on a panel with him and Barbara Branden to discuss the contributions of Ayn Rand. Three years later, he became one of the original founding advisory board members to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. When he passed away on June 12, 2011, the world lost a marvelous thinker; I lost a dear friend. This book includes essays coming from a variety of perspectives—including some with which I disagree. But it remains an inspiring memorial to John’s humanity and legacy.

Celebrating John Hospers

Postscript – On Facebook, some folks, who disagreed with John Hospers on many issues, found it odd that anyone would contribute to a book that would deify him. I replied:

Let me make one thing clear: I contributed to this anthology not as a means of deifying the man, but as a means of recognizing his larger legacy, which has been underappreciated. I approach all learning the same way: I have drawn lessons from thinkers all over the intellectual map—from Aristotle to Hegel, from Ayn Rand to Karl Marx. I do not believe in the deification of any of these figures, but I give credit where credit is due, criticize that with which I disagree, and move on.

The Marxist scholar Bertell Ollman, my doctoral dissertation advisor and mentor, remains one of the most important influences on my intellectual development; I would contribute to any anthology recognizing his contributions in the same way I have done for John Hospers. Both men had an immense impact on my growth, in addition to being remarkably generous, kind souls.

By no means did I agree with John on issues like abortion or the Iraq war, but heck, I have had major disagreements with thinkers inside and outside of libertarianism my whole life on issues across the board. Still. I have learned from so many, and I think it is important to recognize this. We never stop learning—well, at least we never should stop learning—and it’s a good thing to be able to acknowledge those who have taught us. And I’d like to think that I pass this legacy onto those who have learned from me.

Another exchange on Facebook raised the issue of whether John Hospers would have supported civil disobedience, given his focus on the “rule of law”. I replied:

The problem you raise is one that all folks—who believe in any radical shift away from the status quo—must face. As Rand once said, it’s the problem of how to live a ‘rational’ life in an ‘irrational’ society. It is the problem of trying to change a society given the conditions that exist. In Libertarianism, the book published 50 years ago (in 1971), Hospers suggests that armed revolution against unjust laws would most likely lead to enormous loss of life and property and would not change things fundamentally. He also argued that the refusal to obey unjust laws could have a monumental effect—but only if “very large numbers of dissenters” joined in the civil disobedience, say “fifty million people” refusing to pay their taxes or to be subject to military conscription.

Hospers cites Albert Jay Nock, who wrote: “Inaction is better than wrong action or premature right action and effective right action can only follow right thinking” (quoted by Hospers on p. 462 of Libertarianism). So for Hospers, the surest way to affect a change in laws was by a cultural shift in ideas through an educational process.

Given some of the conversations I had with him, I suspect he would have still left it to individuals to engage in resistance to unjust laws; respecting the rule of law is not the same thing as respecting the rule of laws that by their very nature coerce and oppress.


Coronavirus (34): “Virtue Signaling” vs. Doing the Right Thing

On Facebook, I adopted a frame that put forth a very specific message:

I will state it for the record why I posted this because it is not the equivalent of “virtue signaling”. Given that I’m a self-described “dialectical libertarian” and that there has been an epidemic of COVID-denialism among too many libertarians, I thought it was important to make a public statement, beyond the 33 Coronavirus installments I’ve already written since the winter of 2020.

Let it be known far and wide that I am a libertarian who believes that it is indeed possible to be against the state and against coercion, and still voluntarily get myself vaccinated, despite the fact that the vaccine was developed by Big Pharma in league with Big Government. I believe in looking at the facts of reality as they are and making rational judgments based on the context of my own knowledge and experience. I’ve lived in a city that was, at one time, the epicenter of death and despair from this nightmarish virus. I’ve seen enough mass death for a lifetime and then some. I’ve lost family, friends, neighbors, and beloved neighborhood proprietors. And given my own medical preconditions and the health problems of my sister, for whom I am a primary caregiver, I made a reasonable decision to get vaccinated. My whole family is vaccinated. And my declaration of this is not an exercise in Virtue Signaling. We took the path of least risk, given that COVID could very well spell the difference between life and death for us.

And it needed to be said. I do not consider the posting of my own vaccination status to be the equivalent of posting about dental fillings, haircuts, STD tests, or prostate exams. Indeed, I’ve done all those things and not posted on them. If folks don’t see a qualitative difference between COVID and haircuts, and if folks don’t grasp the political and extra-political significance of this, all I can say is: We must be living on different planets.

So yep: I have a healthy distrust of authority and I’m vaccinated. I am a libertarian and I’m vaccinated.

In the discussion that followed my Facebook posting, I added:

I’m not going to “die” on this hill—I’ve been vaccinated, but I’m not indestructible, after all. That said, I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words on the COVID pandemic going back to March 2020. People can check it out on my blog and in my Notablog archives.

But I will say that one of the reasons I’ve been so disappointed with many of the typical libertarian responses to this is that it all was eerily familiar to what I saw in the HIV/AIDS debate back in the 1980s. The pattern seems to be, if a large-scale public health problem emerges, one that might suggest to some public policy wonks a greater role for government involvement, the immediate libertarian knee-jerk reaction has been to first, deny that the problem exists or call it a hoax, or second, to admit that if it exists, it’s affecting a very limited number of people and should have no public policy implications. In my blog post, “Coronavirus (21): Lockdowns, Libertarians, and Liberation“, I wrote:

Back in the 1980s, when HIV/AIDS was killing off a generation of gay men in the West (while ravaging a largely heterosexual population in Africa), some libertarians (including those influenced by Ayn Rand), ever fearful of those who proposed a growing governmental role in both medical research and in locking down bathhouses that were transmission belts for promiscuous, unsafe sex, grabbed onto the work of the molecular biologist Peter Duesberg, who played a major role in what became known as the AIDS denialism controversy. Duesberg was among those dissenting scientists who argued that there was no connection between HIV and AIDS, and that gay men were dying en masse because of recreational and pharmaceutical drug use, and then, later, by the use of AZT, an early antiviral treatment to combat those with symptoms of the disease.


If the scientific community had accepted Duesberg’s theories, hundreds of thousands of people would be dead today. The blood supply would never have been secured, since HIV screening of blood donors would never have become public policy, and countless thousands of people receiving blood transfusions would have been infected by HIV and would have subsequently died from opportunistic infections. A whole array of “cocktail” drugs were developed that have targeted HIV, the virus that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, and they have been effective in keeping people alive, reducing their viral load down to undetectable levels, boosting their T-cell counts, and allowing them to go on to live normal, productive, and creative lives. Still, safe sex remains the mantra of the day.

So, while many libertarians have been at the forefront of rolling back the state’s interference in people’s personal lives, advocating the elimination of discriminatory anti-sodomy and marriage laws, there were some libertarians who, early on, in the AIDS epidemic, grabbed onto Duesberg’s theories as scientific proof that the whole HIV/AIDS thing was a pretext for the expansion of the state-science nexus. Confirmation bias is an especially strong urge for anyone with strong convictions. All the more reason to constantly check one’s premises, as Rand once urged.

The most recent public health problem certainly has had broader public policy implications than the HIV/AIDS crisis but the pattern remained the same among too many self-described libertarians that I’ve known. So now, despite the development of what certainly appear to be several relatively safe vaccines, the statistics show that the overwhelming majority of people getting infected and dying of COVID are among the unvaccinated. A very small percentage of current cases are breakthrough (among those who have already been vaccinated).

I don’t and won’t control what choices others might make. I’ve made my choice and have taken my chances. I’m not an epidemiologist, but I did what I believed I needed to do. And I stand by that choice and by the profile frame I’ve also chosen to represent it—to separate myself from too many people for whom a healthy distrust of authority has become a barrier to getting vaccinated, if not for themselves, than for the benefit of those loved ones who might be prone to getting infected or becoming seriously ill should you become an asymptomatic carrier of the virus.

Make your own choice. Choose your own frame. And if you don’t like what I’ve had to say, unfriend me and get on your way. That is one thing which is not up for debate.

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.

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!


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.

Revisiting Kolko’s “Triumph of Conservatism”

In light of our recent discussions of the history of “capitalism”, check out Chris Wright​’s succinct 2018 summary of Gabriel Kolko‘s trailblazing work on the Progressive Era. Kolko has been taken to task by many, but even those who disagree with aspects of his work, such as my pals, Rob Bradley​, and recent JARS contributor, Roger Donway, have readily acknowledged that Kolko blew “to smithereens the smug narrative about Progressivist regulation,” “disproving the old stereotypes of Gilded Age businessmen as uncompromising pro-capitalists and Progressive reformers as do-gooders. He showed that industrialists had not been as laissez-faire or reformers as high-minded as Progressivism alleged.”

The Facebook discussion that followed from my cross-posting of this led me to reproduce in whole a note from my Journal of Ayn Rand Studies-published review (vol. 20, no. 2, December 2020, pp. 340-71): “Free Market Revolution: Partial or Complete?” (references therein):

For my own comparison of the parallels between Rand’s critique of the neofascist mixed economy and that offered by Kolko, see Sciabarra [1995] 2013, 311–12. The debate over Kolko’s historiography—particularly in light of the fiftieth anniversary of his profoundly influential Triumph of Conservatism—has spiked in recent years. Bradley and Donway (2013) devote an article to a reassessment of Kolko’s revisionist perspective on the Progressive era, including his study of Railroads and Regulation (Kolko 1965). They argue correctly that industries, such as railroads, were essentially “feudal” from their inception (Bradley and Donway 2013, 564). They take issue with the neo-Marxist premises in Kolko’s conceptual framework and Kolko’s questionable interpretations of some of the data. Still, as critical as they are, they conclude: “Ourreinterpretation of Kolko in light of libertarian thought should not take away from Kolko’s success in amending the simplistic Progressivist interpretation of American history. The present review merely points out that a libertarian, anti-Progressivist interpretation of Progressive legislation should be freed from Kolko’s leftist framework and supported by better evidence” (575). They repeat that point in a later essay (Bradley and Donway 2015): “Unquestionably, Kolko did valuable work in disproving the old stereotypes of Gilded Age businessmen as uncompromising pro-capitalists and Progressive reformers as do-gooders. He showed that industrialists had not been as laissez-faire or reformers as high-minded as Progressivism alleged.” The authors also issued a correction with regard to their criticism that Kolko had doctored a quote by railroad magnate James J. Hill (see Bradley and Donway n.d.). But even in a forthcoming reply to Stromberg’s defense (2019, 43) of Kolko’s admirable avoidance of historical “reductionism” (on display in the work of many pre-revisionist left-wing historians), they credit Kolko for having blown “to smithereens the smug narrative about Progressivist regulation, spread by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and his ilk, which dominated American historiography during the Forties, Fifties, and early Sixties” (Bradley and Donway forthcoming; see also Bradley 2014). Ironically, Kolko provided a back cover blurb for Bradley 2009, praising it as “[f]ascinating, comprehensive . . . far surpassing my own history of political capitalism in the 1960s.”

Bradley and Donway’s criticisms notwithstanding, Kolko is certainly not the only revisionist historian who has written on the corporatist nature of the Progressive political agenda. For example, see essays by William Appleman Williams, Martin J. Sklar, Murray Rothbard, Ronald Radosh, David Eakins, James Gilbert, and Leonard Liggio in Radosh and Rothbard 1972. Also see Weinstein and Eakins 1970; Green and Nader 1973; Liggio and Martin 1976; Sklar 1988; Horwitz 1992; Lindsey and Teles 2017; Rothbard 2017; Holcombe 2018; Newman 2019a.

Newman (2019b) places special emphasis on the principle that “personnel is policy,” that is, those who are appointed to regulatory agencies will often dictate the trajectory of the policies in question. He argues convincingly that, like all legislative processes, the establishment of regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission, emerged out of the push-and-pull of conflicting interests, some inimical to business, others fully in favor of using political means for business consolidation. Newman shows “that regulatory capture is a dynamic process that does not follow a deterministic path because control of an agency depends on the commissioners appointed who are continually changing over time” (1038).

“Rent-seeking”—as outlined by public choice theorists such as Gordon Tullock, James Buchanan, and George Joseph Stigler—is made all the more complicated with the “division of power among regulatory agencies that have overlapping jurisdictions, [requiring] special interests . . . to make sure that they have control of multiple commissions in order to accomplish their objectives” (1040).

It should also be noted that Arthur Ekirch, whose work Rand praised, was equally impressed by the theses of revisionist historians on the left. Ekirch remarks that way back in 1944, Friedrich Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom had warned that the rise of state capitalism, “[t]he progressive abandonment of freedom in economic affairs[,] . . . was leading to a similar destruction of political and personal freedom” (Ekirch [1955] 1967, 310). He highlights the complementary contributions of both Robert Wiebe (1962) and Gabriel Kolko (1963; 1965) toward our understanding of the emergence of a form of “state socialism” or “state capitalism” in which business has been among the chief designers and beneficiaries of the regulatory apparatus from its inception (Ekirch 1974, 143–44).

Gordon Adams (1981) provides another provocative perspective on regulation. Though Adams focuses on “the politics of defense contracting,” his insights are equally applicable to the give-and-take that takes place across all regulatory agencies. The “Iron Triangle,” as Adams famously characterized it, constitutes the relationship between congressional committees, regulatory bureaucracies, and the industries being regulated—that is, the dynamic and systemic interrelationships between congressional committees that create bureaucratic regulatory agencies, which are designed to serve their “constituencies.” But the constituencies of each regulatory agency are not “the people.” Indeed, Adams argues that the constituencies in question are the actual industries being regulated. And so, the entire regulatory state has emerged in a way such that industries push for regulations, which enable them to block entry into markets, using money to buy various forms of “pork barrel” legislation, while lobbying and courting members of Congress and gaining key personnel appointments to the very regulatory agencies that were ostensibly created to “protect” the public from corporate “excess.” See also Higgs 2006. Regulation also helps to socialize risk for a whole panoply of industries—from health care insurance companies to the most blatant of industrial polluters. See Sciabarra 2020 and LaCalle 2019, respectively.

— from my review of the Yaron Brook-Don Watkins book, Free Market Revolution, published in JARS’s December 2021 issue (pp. 362-63, n. 12)

Thinking Outside the Box (II): The World You Desired Can Be Won

After my last post, “Thinking Outside the Box: You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Chains,” I received quite a few public and private comments from people—left and right—wondering if I’d lost my mind (or my soul) because I do not use the word “capitalism” to describe my politics.

It’s nothing new, folks. I stopped using that word back in February 2005, and stated why in my short piece, “‘Capitalism’: The Known Reality” on the Liberty and Power Group Blog—and subsequently re-published on the site of the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS). I should note, for the record, that one person on another Facebook thread said that if I’ve linked to C4SS, I’m “probably broken” already. Well, if this be treason—linking to a site that has so many wonderful contributors and associates, and that also carries some of my work—I warmly embrace my “Humpty Dumpty” spiritual essence!

Back in 2005, when I wrote that piece, I was, in fact, reaching out to the “left or to any other category of intellectuals” because, I argued, “[r]eal communication depends upon a full clarification of terms; if we end up using the same term to mean different things, I fear we’ll be talking over each other’s heads for a long time to come.”

But that piece did not simply signify a shift in rhetorical strategy. I maintained then, as I do now, that historically constituted “capitalism” has never been the “unknown ideal” of Ayn Rand’s narrative. We can stand here and debate this for eons, but it’s not going to change the reality of how the system that came to be known as “capitalism” emerged—as I stated in my last post—very much the product of state forces that worked at the behest of large medieval landowners, using such tools as the enclosure acts to nullify peasant land tenure rights and, through the legacy of colonialism, wholly dispossess many indigenous populations. If the state has always been involved with the social system known as “capitalism”, then the Randian goal of radically separating the state from the economy such that it is no longer a political economy is indeed an “unknown ideal.” It has never existed. Whether it can exist is another question.

Which leads me to my next point.

Just because I abandoned my use of the word “capitalism” sixteen years ago does not mean that I forfeited my libertarian convictions; I still believe that genuinely free markets—or as William Gillis has called them, “freed markets“—can be a catalyst for radical social change.

Some folks have said publicly and privately that I’m a “useful idiot” for Marxists and communists because I dropped my use of the term “capitalism” as a descriptor of my politics. Well, being called a “useful idiot” for my positions is nothing new! I was called a “useful idiot” for Saddam Hussein when I opposed the Iraq war and the view held by some orthodox Objectivists that the only way to “win” the war on terrorism was to annihilate the “savages” of the Islamic Middle East in a nuclear genocide.

But hey, why stop there? After all, my mentor, Bertell Ollman, was a Marxist (and also a Volker Fellow who studied under F. A. Hayek)—and he gave me more support in the creation of my “Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy” (which consisted of three books: Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism) than most libertarians. I guess I’m a “useful idiot” for Bertell too, and have been “sucking up” to the left to prove my worth throughout my entire life!

Gimme a break!

I have spent the last forty years of my professional life fighting against the view that dialectical method is the exclusive property of the left. Dialectics is a mode of analysis that requires us to look at social problems not as isolated units, but as contextually embedded within a larger system across time. It is a tool of inquiry that must be embraced by those who favor radical libertarian social change if they are to achieve it. One cannot attack structural (that is, political and economic) oppressions without looking at the ways in which personal and cultural social relationships and institutions reflect and perpetuate them.

One doesn’t gain friends and influence people by pissing off the socialist left for using a method typically associated with them, and pissing off the libertarian right because they accept the socialist view that “dialectics” is indeed an exclusively “Marxist” method (except that it should be relegated to the dustbin of history).

Reality check: Even Hegel declared that Aristotle was “the fountainhead” of dialectical inquiry. My reconstruction of libertarian social theory as a dialectical project is, at its core, a call for a neo-Aristotelian methodological revolution to bolster the cause of human freedom. But, obsessively footnoting scholar that I am, I have always given credit where credit is due to all those thinkers and schools of thought—be they on the left or the right—that have led me to this conviction.

One of the most important things I learned from Ayn Rand was the moral imperative to trust the judgment of my own mind. Rand warned against the fallacy of “thinking in a square.” I’ve always challenged myself to “think outside the box” because it is the only way to keep evolving intellectually and personally, to keep learning. I will not be boxed-in by the established categories of others. And I take to heart Rand’s clarion call: “The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.”

How we get to that world does not entail a mere rhetorical debate over the use of terms. It entails an understanding of what those terms have meant historically—and an honest and civil discussion of what kinds of strategies might be best in achieving that world. We live in a toxic political environment in which some of us can’t help but view our ideological opponents as sub-human. I, myself, have expressed plenty of anger over the course of 33 installments to my series on the Coronavirus to be tempted to succumb to incivility. I do my best to avoid it but none of us is perfect.

So make no mistake about it: I am no less a radical, dialectical libertarian today than I was sixteen years ago, or forty years ago, when I began this intellectual, and profoundly personal, journey.