Blogs > Liberty and Power > Luker and Rand

Jun 4, 2005 9:42 pm

Luker and Rand

Ralph Luker posts his reply to my criticisms of his list of the ten most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries. A few other people have gotten in on the discussion too, including fellow HNN'er Irfan Khawaja and Grant Jones.

Luker titles his reply,"Listmania and Maturity," and then goes on to express surprise at my use of the word"obscene" to describe his inclusion of Rand's Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead on a list that includes Mein Kampf and Protocals of the Elders of Zion. He also expresses disapproval of a comment left at my blog by Technomaget, who calls Luker, in no uncertain terms, a"moron."

Let me clarify a few things.

First, I am not calling Luker"obscene" and I have not called him a moron either. What I thought was"obscene" was placing a pair of works by Rand on a list that includes titles written by mass murderers. I use"obscene" as a synonym for"offensive" and find that particular coupling of Rand and Hitler very offensive.

If Luker had called his list a list of the ten worst books he'd ever read, or a list of the ten most annoying books, or the ten most useless books, or the ten most immature books, I probably would never have noticed it. But"harmful" carries with it a certain stigma, as I explained in my L&P/Notablog post. Strictly defined it means" causing or capable of causing harm." And on those grounds, I just don't see any reasonable criterion by which to equate Rand's novels with Mein Kampf. As Grant Jones puts it succinctly:"Has any reader of her works built Death Camps?" (brings back memories of Whittaker Chambers' cry, upon reading Atlas:"To a gas chamber—go!") As we say here in Brooklyn:"Fuhgedaboudit! You gotta be kiddin' me!"

Luker states:"In a moment of weakness (it just seemed like years of agony), I read Ayn Rand and I don't worship at her shrine! My lack of admiration for Ayn Rand is well known." Well that's fine. I admire her work but I don't worship at her shrine either. And, again, I would have had little problem if Luker had simply said:"These books suck." But suckitude is not the criterion for"harmfulness," especially when one is drawing up a list of books that crosses the line into Hitler territory.

As for Rand's work being serious or unserious, I'm afraid there's nothing in Luker's post that would give me a clue as to the nature of his assessment. Luker may not like Rand's philosophy, but let me assure him that it is not a"so-called philosophy," as he puts it. It may not be a philosophy with which Luker agrees, but it's a systematic philosophy, with integrated positions in ontology, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. It is a philosophy that includes a commitment to realism, ethical egoism, individualism, and capitalism. And it is being taken seriously by people on every end of the political and philosophical spectrum, not only in the pages of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies but in a growing list of professional scholarly journals (see here).

If Luker would like to broaden his realm of toleration to include a few of us who were at least moved by Rand's work, let alone influenced, and who don't manifest"immaturity" or a" cult-like psychological disorder" or"delayed adolescent omnipotence," maybe we could talk more seriously. Ad hominem masquerading as psychological diagnosis is no substitute for discussion.

Cross-posted to Notablog.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Ralph, the issue is not book-banning, but the know-nothing quality of your list, as well as your facile equation of wildly different authors, like Hitler and Freud or Thomas Dixon and Ayn Rand. I haven't read enough of Woods or Spencer to comment on them, but I've read more than enough Rand and Freud to know that they don't belong on a list with Adolf Hitler.

Nor is it a purely libertarian/Objectivist issue. Freud is neither the patron saint of libertarians nor Objectivists. Your claims about his writings would strike anyone who had actually read them as wildly, outrageously uninformed, regardless of their politics. The same goes for your comments (elsewhere) about the practical consequences of Freudianism--a historical issue that one would expect a historian to be a little more careful discussing.

As for a sense of humor, perhaps a reading of Freud on jokes and the unconscious is in order? I mean, if the whole list thing was supposed to be a joke, maybe we're entitled to stop objecting to your list and just start laughing at it at this point.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

I just read it, too. To paraphrase Rand (from "On Living Death"): actually, this is too stupid to discuss any further.

Max Swing - 6/7/2005

Luker, you are closer to the truth than you think... Although it won't be Hitler personally, but one of his successors, if the trend goes in this direction for the next five-ten years..

Roderick T. Long - 6/6/2005

"I love Paris in the springtime ...."

(As Helen said in her farewell note to Menelaus.)

Ralph E. Luker - 6/6/2005

"It's springtime for Hitler and Germany ..."

Max Swing - 6/6/2005

Perhaps, if you can get Rand to love about it, but.. ohhh... that's not possible ;)

I think this "battle" between Cliopatra's Luker and the bunch of you is worthless, because you can't convince him of what you mean is wrong with his list, because he has already put in so much that he will not concede a step of space.
I have read it a few times now, this list of his, but I still can't find it funny. A number of issues would come up if you think it was only a joke. To be joking about Hitler, Lenin and sorts is at least questionable and if you tend to joke on them, you should at least show that it is a joke once in the post.
I think you criticism of the post is right and that he should have either changed the title or suspended the post at all.

But sometimes it is hard to face the truth. Also, you should know when there is time for joking and when it is ill-placed...

So, I take it with Steven, now is a good time for jokes :)

Roderick T. Long - 6/6/2005

Paleos have contempt for the abolitionists? An odd claim to make about people who revere Lysander Spooner and William Lloyd Garrison. (Spooner was after all a supporter of John Brown, and the author of The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (which converted Frederick Douglass) -- but also a defender of secession and an opponent of Lincoln.) And "soft-pedaling Nazi Germany" is a tendentious way of describing the claim that the Anglo-Amerian side of the war was less than entirely innocent.

Roderick T. Long - 6/6/2005

I finally got around to checking out the Human Events list. Most egregious inclusions: Friedan's Feminine Mystique and Beauvoir's Second Sex (I guess the bold claim that women are people too was too much for the Human Events crowd), Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil (the usual philosophically illiterate smear of Nietzsche as a proto-Nazi), Mill's On Liberty (so they don't like liberty?), Darwin's Origin of Species and Descent of Man (guess they don't like science either?), and Foucault's Madness and Civilisation (and psychiatric patients aren't people either -- got it).

There are plenty of other books on that list which I'm not a fan of, but they don't belong with Hitler et al.

Steven Horwitz - 6/6/2005

Q: What's the shortest book in the world?

A: The Ayn Rand Joke Book.

Do I get extra points for a joke about Rand? ;)

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 6/6/2005

Did you hear the one about the ...

Oh, sorry... this is no place to tell a joke. :)

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 6/6/2005

Ralph, I wasn't the one who raised the issue of the Woods book. I actually have yet to read the Woods book.

BTW, you mention again the Human Events list. I hadn't read that list until you'd linked to it, but by the time I got to that list, it took a back seat to your list.

Looking over that list now, there is much to disagree with. I certainly would not have put the Kinsey Report or The Feminine Mystique on a list that includes Hitler and Mao. And the inclusion of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, for me, is problematic: Nietzsche is open to too much diverse interpretation and misinterpretation for any of his books to be listed unequivocally.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/6/2005

Ah, Chris, you may want to take a look at Jeff Lipkes's article about Woods's book over on HNN's mainpage. I really have little sympathy for the paleos' contempt for the abolitionists and soft-hearted attitude toward the Confederacy, on the one hand, and their benign judgment about Germany from 1914 to 1945 compared with the severe criticism of Wilson and FDR on the other. Call that libertarian if you will, but I see little libertarianism in ignoring slavery and soft-pedaling the Bismarckian and Nazi state against Anglo-American democracy.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/5/2005

Steve, fwiw, Despite your claim in the thread over on Cliopatria, there really is selective outrage over here at me. Count 'em: two posts by Sciabarra and long threads in both of them here and in two posts at Cliopatria -- odd, isn't it that it's all Horwitz, Sciabarra, Khawaja, and Long -- and you claim that _one_ comment by you at Left2Right _proves_ that there's no selective outrage against me and my opinion. But, I give it to you, you've proved that you have a sense of humor. If you or anyone at Liberty & Power had posted something about Human Events' list, you'd have a point to make.

Steven Horwitz - 6/5/2005

FWIW Ralph, I chimed in on the comments on a Don Herzog thread at Left2Right where he ridiculed the original list, so it's not as if your comments alone moved me to outrage. I actually found the original exercise laughable (Kinsey?!), but yours pushed me beyond laughter for exactly the reasons Chris and Rod have noted: the long history of equating libertarianism with fascism. That's the historical context from which our outrage pours. I can certainly understand that you might have been unaware of that context, but when it was raised in this thread and the one at Cliopatria, you might have at least acknowledged that it has some legitimacy and let this all go, rather than continue to say that we have no sense of humor.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/5/2005

If I were "the constant target of smears and defamation for the past 350 years," I'd think of it as "oppression" and be impressed with my own and its longevity, but in truth you aren't a part of some oppressed underclass, are you? Rather, you're given to vast overstatement and abbusive assault on those with whom you disagree, right?

Roderick T. Long - 6/5/2005

Guess what, Chris -- Ralph Luker is on to us! He's figured out that we're a pair of humorless Randroids. I always knew you were a kindred spirit in humorlessness.

Roderick T. Long - 6/5/2005

The term "oppression" was introduced by you, not me. I used the terms "smearing" and "defamation." And a smear is a smear whether it is perpetrated through malice or through an uncritical reliance on previous smear campaigns.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/5/2005

I think that your understanding of what constitutes "oppression" is, ah, well, a little expansive. Why not let's reserve it for people who are _really_ oppressed -- at least, just so's we don't wear the word out from overuse. A misinterpretation is not necessarily or even obviously a "smear" and hardly constitutes being "oppression."

Roderick T. Long - 6/5/2005

As for "who is oppressing us" -- I provided links re smears against Spencer (above), and re smears against Woods (on Cliopatra). Chris discussed smears against Rand and Hayek. And surely it's no secret that there has been a systematic pattern in the scholarly community of equating libertarianism with fascism. If you intended your list to be humorous rather than serious, you ought to have recognised that, given the existing context where libertarianism is routinely smeared as fascist, your post was unlikely to be recognised as humorous.

Roderick T. Long - 6/5/2005

For one thing, I haven't seen the Human Events list.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/5/2005

Rod, For goodness sake, do let us know who is oppressing you and I'll see what we can do about it.
I've already dealt with the matter of "equation". What's the point of replying to the same accusation again if you haven't followed what's already been said?
Frankly, I'm a little surprised by the outrage expressed over my opinions, when no one here -- none of the libertarians to my knowledge -- raised any complaint about Human Events original list of harmful books, which had a much broader circulation than anything I said. Only when I suggested a different list was there outrage by the so-called libertarians. Tells me a lot about where priorities lie for some people.

Geoffrey Allan Plauche - 6/5/2005

Hence the title of one of my comments above: Why are we taking Luker's list seriously?

Perhaps I should qualify that, however. In one sense we should take the list seriously, for the reasons stipulated by Roderick below. In another sense, echoing Irfan's remarks above, the list is laughable in its lack of reasonable justification and in its ludicrous lumping together of wildly opposed thinkers.

Roderick T. Long - 6/5/2005

Ditto to Irfan's remarks.

Re Luker, I've counter-replied at Cliopatra; as for libertarians lacking a sense of humor, being the constant target of smears and defamation for the past 350 years does tend to blunt the edge of our sense of humor, I'm afraid.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/5/2005

I've replied to this at Cliopatria. You fellas have convinced me that libertarians -- at least the Objectivists among them -- have no sense of humor, at all. Compose your own list, if you like. Think about what harm is. You can be sure that I'd be among the first to oppose any banning of any book.

Roderick T. Long - 6/5/2005

In addition to seconding Chris's remarks about Rand (whose conception of "self-interest" is by the way Aristotelean, not Hobbesian), I would also like to gripe about the inclusion of Thomas Woods' Politically Incorrect Guide to American History (on the first version of the list) and Herbert Spencer's Evolution of Society (on the second). I don't agree with everything in Tom's book (my version of libertarianism is more left-y than his) but on the whole it offers a welcome libertarian (not conservative) look at some aspects of American history that have been marginalised by the mainstream. What is the horrendous danger supposedly lurking within?

As for Herbert Spencer, one of history's greatest champions of peace, freedom, and toleration, his inclusion on this list strikes me as just another example of the ongoing defamation of Spencer which I have critiqued here, here, here, and passim. Including Spencer with the likes of Hitler is truly scandalous.

Incidentally, what is this book The Evolution of Society? I own every book Spencer wrote and he never published any book with that title. Does Luker mean The Principles of Sociology? And anyway, what on earth does he find harmful within?

I also find the inclusion of Freud bizarre; his theories are a mixture of truth and error, but he performed a useful service by opening up previously forbidden areas of discussion, and he paved the way for more salutary forms of psychoanalysis (e.g., Jung and Sartre).

Ralph E. Luker - 6/5/2005

Grant, Read the discussion at Cliopatria. I refer you to the comments of Alan Allport, who influenced the revision of my "list." Of course, if you think that World War I was anything _other_ than a disaster for western civilization, you'll continue to be bothered by my inclusion of Mahan on the list.

Grant W Jones - 6/5/2005

Ralph, what's the deal with A.T.Mahan?

Geoffrey Allan Plauche - 6/5/2005

Now that you mention it Mr. Luker, why don't you justify including Spencer and Freud on your list as well? In case you're wondering, I am a fan of Rand and Spencer but not of Freud, though I do have my disagreements with the former at times. You see, I'm not objecting to the list as such but to the list sans any reasonable justification for the items on it.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 6/5/2005

Ralph, let me answer that question; it's a legitimate one.

If you had listed Mises's Human Action or Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, I would have had the same reaction, and not out of any desire to defend "sacred texts." And, in fact, I also defended Spencer in my original post, but that point seems to have been lost. Mises left behind his library to escape from Nazi tyranny. Both Mises and Hayek were furiously opposed to Nazism, fascism, communism, and socialism (though there are differences of degree, I think, between Mises and Hayek concerning their positions on certain welfare-state regulations). So, any list that would have included Mises or Hayek along with Adolf Hitler would have ruffled my feathers as well. (And, apparently, you cite fellow "Cliopatriarch" Hugo Schwyzer, who came up with an "if only" mock list of banned books, and placed Hayek's works on that list.)

Libertarians have been defending against the charge that they are apologists for fascism for eons now. In the light of the fact that many libertarian theorists have developed a radical critique of fascism and contemporary neofascism, the charge is especially nonsensical.

Still, certain writers have been trying to pull this slipshod intellectual package-dealing of libertarianism and fascism for years. I've heard the same refrain for so long but I've never become anesthesized to it. So I speak up.

Now it's true: You did not say that you were necessarily comparing libertarians or Objectivists to Nazis, and you've made it clear that "Harm is done in different ways and on different levels." But the lack of any stated criterion or any reasoning for the inclusion of Rand, Spencer, etc., left this reader with a big Question Mark as to the nature of your assessment. And since I know too many people who are ready to declare that Mises, Hayek, and Rand were all fascists anyway, I decided to blog about it.

If this makes me especially defensive because my "sacred" authors are being attacked... well, fine. But sometimes I find it necessary to speak up when positions are not made clear, and comparative implications to Nazism are left dangling in the air like some lethal gas.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/5/2005

Do you object to the appearance of Freud on the list with Hitler? Harm is done in different ways and on different levels. I _said_ that and, yet, the Rand defenders continue to act as if I didn't. Why the Rand defenders and not the Freud defenders or the Mahan defenders?

Geoffrey Allan Plauche - 6/5/2005

I won't go so far as Technomagnet as to call Luker a moron (I don't know the guy), but it is very difficult to take him seriously until and unless he puts forth a reasonable argument against Ayn Rand's philosophy or her artistic skill. I'm at a loss as to a reasonable justification for puting her on the same list of harmful people as Hitler though.

Geoffrey Allan Plauche - 6/5/2005

Dangerous to whom? would seem to be the most relevant question here. Closely related would be: dangerous how?

Kenneth R Gregg - 6/5/2005

In 1970, I ran a "The Most Dangerous Man in The World" contest on a college campus and, with the help of some local objectivists and more than a few campus marxists, Ayn Rand won! Was a great money raiser (buck a vote) and gained me a certain notoriety within the libertarian community in Southern California. I don't recall the exact rundown of the "top 10" but Nixon, Mao, Hitler and Stalin were on the list.

I suppose that there are other reasons for putting together popularity (or unpopularity) contests such as these, but I find it difficult to take most of them seriously.

Am putting together a "top ten summer reading list" since we're in June now, and have about half of them ordered already. Now that I take seriously. Will do up a post on them soon.

Just a thought.
Just Ken