The Enragés: Dialectics with Ryan & Eric

I was delighted to listen to a new podcast of The Enragés at the Center for a Stateless Society (to which I was recently added as a fellow). The show is hosted by my dear friend Eric Fleischmann, who interviews yet another dear friend, Ryan Neugebauer, on his enlightening article, “Market, State, and Anarchy: A Dialectical Left-Libertarian Perspective” (previously discussed on Notablog here).

I have known Eric since he was a junior in high school, and have had the pleasure not only to read and comment on his work but to highlight his music as well. As for Ryan, we’ve known each other for five years now, and our ongoing dialogue has been a Notablog feature. Ryan has recently begun building an impressive series of self-reflective articles on Medium, detailing his many journeys—intellectual, personal, and spiritual. The courage and vulnerability exhibited in these essays speak volumes.

Aside from my friendship with these two wonderful individuals, they have both been, in many respects, students of my work. The good news is that they have had an impact on my life and work as well; I’ve been challenged by—and learned from—each of them.

The first question out of the gate deals with how we were introduced to one another and on how my dialectical libertarian approach impacted their thinking. It then proceeds into a wide-ranging discussion that lasts nearly an hour-and-a-half. They confront a diversity of issues, including the nature of ‘freed’ markets, the commons, authority, class conflict, and the state. Nearly every political ‘ism’ under the sun is addressed, from free-market-propertarianism and state socialism to distributism, democratic socialism, and anarchism (in all its varieties).

Most pleasing is the way in which they put dialectics to work, focusing on the structural and dynamic problems generated by the system that exists. They both repudiate binary thinking and navigate the tensions we face in our analysis of apparent opposites. And in their exchange, they place high importance on the necessity to adjust to changing contexts in our prescriptive thinking.

Ryan’s fine article is enriched by a commitment to genuinely progressive ideals. But ideals—inspiring though they may be—act primarily as guideposts in carrying forth an agenda for social change. As Eric puts it, Ryan shows that an array of traditions promising social change on both the left and the right often skip the most important starting point for prescriptive thinking: that context matters, that we must begin by asking the questions: “Where are you? What do you have? How did it get there? And what can we do to improve people’s lives in that situation?”

This podcast provides us with a thoughtful exchange that is fully accessible in its substance, conversational in its tone, and not lacking in a sense of humor. Indeed, when Ryan jokingly refers to himself as “Mr. Addendum” or uses phrases like “It depends [on the context]”—he’s preaching to the choir!

Check it out C4SS, Stitcher, Before It’s News, Twitter, and YouTube (see below)!

Daffodils, Shamrocks, Loss—and Love

For those who knew my sister, Elizabeth Sciabarra (aka “Ms. Ski”), it comes as no surprise that she knew how to celebrate a holiday. Even at work, she’d drive the staff crazy decorating the office for every holiday imaginable. At home, it was the same. There was barely a holiday we didn’t commemorate with Uber-decorations.

We weren’t Irish. Not by a long shot. Still, the shamrocks came out in the weeks before St. Patrick’s Day. It didn’t take much effort because like her, I too enjoyed such festivities. And I’m a creature of habit, a keeper of ritual.

For the past 40 years or so, one of those rituals was me walking through the door, sometime in early March, with Daffodils. They were among her favorite flowers (violets being another). But Daffodils were special at this time of year because they were, in these parts, among the first signs of spring. Of life.

My sister died on November 26, 2022. And there isn’t a day, dare I say, there isn’t an hour that goes by when I don’t think of her. We lived together for 3 months less the 63 years of my whole life.

I am no stranger to loss or to grief. I lost my Dad when I was 12 years old, my Uncle Sam, who was like a second father to me, in 1994, and my mother, who died after a 5-year battle with lung cancer, in 1995. Not to mention too many relatives and friends to count (and three beloved pets). Every loss has been accompanied by a unique, if familiar, form of grief. I know all too well the ‘stages’ of that grief, and I’m not the kind of guy who disowns his emotions. I mean, show me a touching Hallmark commercial around Christmastime and puddles of tears form beneath me!

I’ve been very gentle with myself over these last 3+ months, as I deal with a loss unlike any other—more devastating than any I’ve ever experienced. I can’t even begin to properly thank the number of special people who have reached out to me with love and support to get me through some of my most difficult days. The sadness can engulf me with the slightest of triggers: a note discovered, an old birthday card, a photo, a place we dined at, or shopped at, a piece of music, a film or television show we routinely watched together.

And so, as I walked along the street the other day, I came upon our neighborhood corner flower stand, and outside sat a bunch of Daffodils. My eyes watered instantaneously. I wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity. I brought them home—to an empty apartment; she was not here to tell me how much she loved me or how beautiful they were or to give me a peck on the cheek to thank me for having gifted us this harbinger of spring.

So, I placed those Daffodils beneath a shining Shamrock, and turned on the lights, and this creature of habit cried … tears of sadness, tears of joy. Because ultimately, these are the rituals that keep her memory alive in my shattered heart. I also know that spring is just around the corner. And, indeed, hope springs eternal.

I love you, Bitty, always …

Check out the Facebook discussion.

Song of the Day #2040

Song of the Day: The Good Son (“End Credits”) [YouTube link], composed by the legendary Elmer Bernstein, is a lush, melodic closing to the 1993 psychological thriller, starring Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood. This cue is more expansive in its motif and variations than the “opening credits” I featured in 2021. And it provides the “end credits” to my Nineteenth Annual Film Music February Festival. My loving thanks to my dear friend, Ryan Neugebauer, for introducing me to (or reminding me of) so many of the films and entries for this year’s Festival. Till next year …

Don Lavoie Lectures, 1980-1981, Part III

Having unveiled the first of three YouTube presentations featuring the late Don Lavoie on February 13, 2023 (on “Immigration”), and the second on February 20, 2023 (“Planned Chaos: The Failure of Socialism”), I am proud to present the finale to this series today, “Freedom: Libertarian versus Marxist Perspectives: A Discussion with Don Lavoie and Bertell Ollman”, which was recorded at New York University on April 22, 1981. This nearly two-hour dialogue was sponsored jointly by the Center for Marxist Studies and the NYU chapter of Students for a Libertarian Society. Because it was such a long discussion recorded on cassette tapes, there are small gaps in the conversation due to the necessity to flip or change the cassettes when necessary.

As I explained in my opening essay to this series, this presentation is, by far, the one dearest to my heart. It challenged me profoundly and motivated me to continue my studies at NYU on the graduate and doctoral levels, with the great Marxist theorist Bertell Ollman as my mentor and doctoral dissertation advisor.

Wherever one stands on the issues discussed herein, it is worth noting that each of these thinkers understood the other’s perspective thoroughly. As I have pointed out in previous posts, Bertell not only knew of libertarianism, but had worked closely with libertarians such as Murray Rothbard and Leonard Liggio in the Peace and Freedom Party, and he was a Volker Fellow under F. A. Hayek at the University of Chicago. Don studied Marxism; he read and grappled with the entirety of Marx’s work, and Engels’s work, and of the broader Marxist literature. This is not a man who would have had the audacity to get on a stage to attack Marx and “Marxism”, while simultaneously admitting that the only work by Marx he had ever read was “The Communist Manifesto” as an undergraduate in college.

Despite their opposing interpretive perspectives, Don and Bertell had a depth of comprehension for the intellectual traditions they engaged. Each makes significant points of methodological, substantive, and historical importance in an atmosphere of mutual admiration and respect. Their dialogue exemplifies a humane exchange of ideas, something that has become an anomaly in today’s toxic ideological environment.

I urge folks to listen carefully to this finale of the Don Lavoie Lectures, 1980-1981; it’s a lesson not only in content but in the art of civility.

On Facebook, in various discussions, I had this to say:

Don’s thinking evolved considerably over time. Many in the Austrian school deeply appreciated his enormous contribution to the calculation debate (his dissertation on “Rivalry and Central Planning”), given his emphasis on such epistemic issues as the role of tacit knowledge in interpersonal transactions and the price system. In later years, they were less enamored of his turn toward hermeneutics and a kind of Hayekian anarchism.

But even in his ancap days, he always championed progressive values, and as I have said on many occassions, he would have been aghast at the right-libertarian reactionary shift. He was among the most humane thinkers and people I’ve ever known.

It should be noted too that at this time, he hadn’t yet completed his doctorate and was even referring to Bertell as “Professor Ollman”, in deference to his position in the academy. And Bertell, given his command and presence, could often dominate a conversation. (As an aside, that wasn’t as much of a problem in later years with me because … well… I have a Brooklyn motor mouth and sometimes he couldn’t get a word in edgewise.)

In any event, I’m really happy that I preserved these materials for posterity. And it was nice hearing 21-year old Chris with the same Brooklyn accent of 63-year old Chris (minus the four-letter words).

One other thing I wish to re-emphasize about this discussion between Don and Bertell. Something a bit more personal.

Bertell knew me as an undergraduate in the NYU Department of Politics, and in my work in the history honors program with the Marxist historian Dan Walkowitz, from whom he heard “wonderful” things about me. He also greatly admired all the campus activism I was involved with in the antiwar, anti-imperialist, and antidraft protesting I was doing with Students for a Libertarian Society. By the time this presentation occurred in April 1981, I had had so many conversations with him but had never taken a single undergraduate course with him. He kept driving home the point that it was less important where I pursued my doctorate and far more important to pursue it with a mentor I could not only work with, but learn from. A mentor who could challenge me. And he wanted to be that mentor.

Having already been accepted to the master’s program at NYU in the Department of Politics, this discussion between Don and Bertell, more than any other, convinced me that Bertell was the mentor I was looking for. When he made that comment that libertarians were “a little bit like people who go into a Chinese restaurant and order pizza,” it rocked me to my core. As he used to say, there may be lots to choose from, wildly different meals that one can order in a Chinese restaurant, “but pizza isn’t one of them”. He emphasized over and over again: What’s on the menu for social change?—given the real conditions on the ground, the objective conditions and constraints with which we all live.

I chose Bertell as my mentor because I wanted to be challenged; I wanted to think more critically about my own social and political values. I could not embark on a career of writing unless I began with that kind of rigorous critical self-reflection.

And so I took formal courses with Bertell on Marxism, fascism, and, of course, dialectical methodology; I took independent studies with him; he was my doctoral dissertation advisor and followed me thru to the completion of my PhD. He even went on to loudly and publicly endorse all three books in my Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy.

And through it all, having adopted the “dialectical libertarian” mantle, I believe that Ollman’s question continues to resonate and is as relevant today as it was in 1981 when he asked it. I continue to ask libertarians of all stripes: What’s on the menu for social change, what kinds of social changes can we advocate and pursue, given the conditions that exist?

Sadly, so many of the responses I continue to get remain much too ideologically rigid, undialectical, and ahistorical for my tastes. We are all guided by basic values and frameworks, but if one’s values and one’s framework cannot accommodate the complex realities and structural rigidities of our particular time and place, then at the very least, a shift in our perspective on things is requisite to our acting in—and upon—the world we seek to change.

Song of the Day #2038

Song of the Day: Cocoon (“Main Theme”) [YouTube link], composed by James Horner, has all those gentle, magical touches that complement this 1985 film, directed by Ron Howard. Horner left us much too soon, but his scores have left an indelible mark on cinematic music.

Song of the Day #2037

Song of the Day: The Shawshank Redemption (“Main Theme”) [YouTube link] was composed by Thomas Newman of the Newman Movie Music Dynasty. It is derived from one of the most successful film scores of its era. The 1994 film, starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, is an intense, well-crafted, finely acted, and inspiring adaptation of a 1982 Stephen King novella. And it’s got the score to match.

Song of the Day #2036

Song of the Day: The Thomas Crown Affair (“Soundtrack Suite”) [YouTube link], composed by Michel Legrand, is an indispensable extension of this 1968 heist film, starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. Though the nominated score didn’t win the Oscar that year, Legrand won an Oscar for Best Original Song, “The Windmills of Your Mind” (with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman). The song opens this suite, which also features so many of those jazzy inflections for which the maestro was famous. The Grand Legrand was born on this date in 1932.

Song of the Day #2035

Song of the Day: Quigley Down Under (“Soundtrack Suite”) [YouTube link], composed by Basil Poledouris, enhances the Western motif of the 1990 film, starring Tom Selleck and Alan Rickman. The film may not have been a big hit, but its score remains a winner.

Song of the Day #2034

Song of the Day: BUtterifield 8 (“Gloria’s Theme”) [YouTube link], composed by Bronislaw Kaper, is from the 1960 film that brought Elizabeth Taylor her first of two Oscars (the other was for her raw performance in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?“). It’s a lush theme befitting the composer of the classic standard, “Invitation” [YouTube link] (from the 1952 film of the same name).