Monthly Archives: October 2021

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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.

Ten Creepy! Scary! Shocking! LOL! Horror Film Moments: “The Shining” (III)

The third installment in my “cinematic moments” series, “Ten Creepy! Scary! Shocking! LOL! Horror Film Moments”, is from the Stanley Kubrick-directed 1980 film, “The Shining,” an adaptation of the Stephen King novel that the author reportedly despised, even though he acknowledged that it was a valuable contribution to the horror genre. Lots of creepy and hilarious moments in this film, but the one that stands out is Jack Nicholson’s Bathroom Entrance Via Axe! “Here’s Johnny”—ranked as one of the 100 Most Quotable Quotes in Film History by AFI—may have broken the tension in the theater, but only through the audience screams! The night that my mother and sister saw this film, some jokester in the theater broke the balcony glass to gain access to an acutal axe—and proceeded to use it against the exit door to match the action on screen. Folks were as jarred by the events in the theater as they were by Jack’s Ax-tual Adventures! Check it out!

Vic DiBitetto: Yankee Rant!

For Yankee fans, this rant is gold!

NYC Mayoral Race: Where Are the Attack Ads?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been paying very close attention to the tone, rather than the substance, of the New York City mayoral race. New York elections are typically a sewer filled with the sludge of toxic attack ads!

And yet, here we are, less than one month away from Election Day (November 2), where voters will select the next mayor of the city that never sleeps. The Democratic candidate, the former police officer and current Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams, won the nomination after a primary based on ranked-choice voting. He is up against the Republican nominee, founder of the Guardian Angels and Never Trumper Curtis Sliwa, who won over his primary opponent, Fernando Mateo, 72 to 28 percent. Adams is the odds-on favorite to take it all the way to City Hall, and, since winning the Democratic primary, has practically undergone a coronation.

So, it comes as no surprise that I’ve not seen a single ad for Adams on television. Not one.

On the other hand, I’ve seen tons of commercials from Sliwa. And given his rancorous, boisterous, loud presence as a WABC radio broadcaster, I’m shocked that not a single Sliwa commercial qualifies as a negative attack ad. Not one. Not even a single ad contrasting his positions to that of his opponent.

Instead, we’ve gotten commercials of Sliwa with his cat talking about no-kill animal shelters; his current wife is an attorney and animal advocate, and the two of them parent sixteen rescue cats! And then, there are commercials highlighting Sliwa’s poignant attention to the homeless [YouTube link].

What gives? I recently bemoaned the toxicity on social media and in our current political climate, and Adams and Sliwa seem not to have gotten with the program! Whoever wins … and I’m pretty sure it will be Adams … it’s actually, dare I say it: refreshing. This is quite beside the fact that I have major disagreements with both candidates!

In the end, the best news about the next mayor is that it won’t be Bill de Blasio. But don’t get me started on that topic; it’ll completely change the “tone” of this post!

Yanks vs. Red Sox: Calling Bucky Dent!

Tomorrow, an epic wild card showdown will take place between long-time rivals: the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. The back headline of the sports page of today’s New York Daily News says it all!

Holy Cow! Yanks Clinch AL Wild Card Spot!

I’m shocked. Shocked. The Yanks and Tampa Bay were 0-0 in the bottom of the ninth and Aaron Judge drove in his 98th RBI, as Tyler Wade scored. Yanks win, 1-0.

Fine pitching and clutch defense (like Gio Urshela holding onto a catch that sent him tumbling into the Toronto dugout) gave the Yanks their 92nd win of the year and sends them into an AL Wild Card spot. I’ll take it!

(And they may have swept the Red Sox in their last stint at Fenway Park, but they got a one-game playoff in Fenway on Tuesday. Oy…)

Ten Creepy! Scary! Shocking! LOL! Horror Film Moments: “The Omen” (II)

The second installment in my “cinematic moments” series, “Ten Creepy! Scary! Shocking! LOL! Horror Film Moments” is from the original (and best) 1976 version of “The Omen,” which, like “The Exorcist” before it, featured a stellar cast and fine screenplay. And, also, like “The Exorcist,” it features many creepy, shocking scenes. I’m posting one of those today, though it was really hard to pick just one. It’s when American diplomat Robert Thorn (played by Gregory Peck) returns home to check his son Damien’s scalp for the mark of the Antichrist in the form of a 666 birthmark. The tension leading up to his discovery and what happens when the housekeeper, Mrs. Blaylock (played by Billie Whitelaw), attacks him, is palpable, to say the least.

“The Omen” — Be careful what you look for!

Ten Creepy! Scary! Shocking! LOL! Horror Film Moments: “The Exorcist” (I)

It’s the first of October! And on the last day of this month, it’s Halloween! As a follow-up to my June 2021 “cinematic moments” series, “Ten Iconic Hollywood Film Scenes“, I’m beginning today a new installment that I call: “Ten Creepy! Scary! Shocking! LOL! Horror Film Moments.”

I’ll post these throughout the month, ending on Halloween, of course.

Ah! What exactly is a horror film? Well, here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

A horror film is one that seeks to elicit fear or disgust in its audience for entertainment purposes. Horror films additionally aim to evoke viewers’ nightmaresrevulsions and terror of the unknown or the macabre. Initially inspired by literature from authors such as Edgar Allan PoeBram Stoker, and Mary Shelley, horror has existed as a film genre for more than a century. Horror may also overlap with the fantasysupernatural fiction, and thriller genres.

Not a bad working description. All I can say is that I’ve been fascinated by the genre since childhood, and growing up, there was nothing like being in a crowded movie theater with a bunch of people screaming in shock or breaking out in nervous laughter after a particularly disturbing scene had wreaked havoc on screen! I consumed all the “monster magazines” I could lay my hands on and regularly watched everything from Zackerly to Chiller Theatre [YouTube links] on WPIX (Channel 11) in New York City.

But nothing on WPIX could have prepared me for what I saw in 1973 at the age of 13 when “The Exorcist” premiered. Today, some folks might laugh at this particular scene, the first in our series of ten creepy, scary, shocking film moments, but nobody was laughing in the theater that day when I saw this unfold on the screen. It scared the bejesus out of me (no pun intended). Even looking back, I can say that few horror films capture the terror of this movie, which, in its psychological and visual exploration of the battle between good and evil, the sacred and the profane, still packs a powerful punch.