Blogs > Liberty and Power > Higgs, diZerega and the democratic Peace

Dec 4, 2005

Higgs, diZerega and the democratic Peace

In a post that I could not follow up on, being as I was out of town Robert Higgs wrote …

Re: sort of... (#71871)
by Robert Higgs on December 1, 2005 at 9:41 PM

Gus DiZerega states: "For example, Independent Review rejected an article of mine for lack of ideological orthodoxy." As the editor of the Independent Review and thus the person responsible for having rejected said article, I can state with absolute confidence that this statement is false. Because I do not wish to cause Professor DiZerega any further embarrassment, I will not say what the grounds for rejection of his article actually were. As for whether the Review of Politics is a "far more respected journal" than the Independent Review, I am content to let others judge for themselves. I will say only that in contemplating their making such a judgment, I feel no apprehension whatsoever.

I reply-
Maybe now we can have a debate on the subject, eh?

A bit of background to the issue-

Higgs had written a very negative review of R. J., Rummel's new book on democracy and violence. Mistakenly so, I thought. I also thought the issue might be a good one to begin a discussion in classical liberal circles as to whether democracies being spontaneous orders made a difference in practice. I was under the impression that the Independent Review would be interested in such a debate, for I had little doubt that Higgs or someone would post a rebuttal.

Therefore I submitted an article arguing that Rummel's statistically grounded argument that democracies do not fight wars with one another and generally lower level of violence than undemocratic states was due to their being spontaneous orders in Hayek's sense, and so the logic of state analysis did not follow in explaining their behavior. Higgs was wrong, I argued, in equating democracies with states, thereby missing Rummel's point. THIS was the argument of the paper. (the argument is also in my book on democracies.)

Higgs rejected the piece, writing me back that he was not sure whether or not the argument was correct and that if it was, he imagined another journal would publish it. Truly a unique rejection among those I have received. As to my comment in defense of my argument's scholarly legitimacy that Critical Review had published at length on my argument, he responded that no one reads Critical Review.

Maybe the problem was not ideological unorthodoxy - but if so, I'll be damned if I can figure out what it was.

If Higgs wants to finally discuss the issue in a semi-public forum such as this list, I welcome his “embarrassing” me with the real reason for its rejection. Indeed, I anticipate it eagerly. I have recounted all he wrote me, as I remember the episode (it was a few years ago).

I later rewrote the argument with no mention of Rummel and the Independent Review (Rummel likes my argument, by the way) and submitted it to The Review of Politics, where it was published. Unlike the Indep. Rev., it is refereed. I was sent no referee comments, nor did Higgs make reference to them - so I assume the decision to reject was his alone.

The RoP article is available on my web site www.diZerega.com.

As I said, I eagerly await the “real” reason for its rejection.

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Robert Higgs - 12/6/2005

Gus diZerega writes most recently, "I was hoping at last I would succeed in getting libertarian and classical liberal scholars to seriously discuss the democracies are spontaneous orders issue in Indep. Rev. I was disappointed.

I was also hoping you would do so in your rebuttal. But the only rebuttal you offer is that the argument is no good. And that is no rebuttal at all."

I reply--and after this I shall say nothing more about this matter here: I was not attempting to debate the substantive issue that diZerega describes or to rebut any of his claims about it. In my comments on this thread, I have sought only to correct diZerega's false statements and other misrepresentations and insinuations about the events that surrounded the rejection of his article submitted to The Independent Review and about the character of that journal's editor.

In the last comment of my previous post, I sought to suggest succinctly why no big debate ever seems to break out with regard to diZerega's thesis: namely, because the thesis is incoherent. DiZerega wants to treat democratic states as something other than states; and he wants to treat democratic states, which are the composite of all sorts of deliberate, planned, intended effects, as spontaneous orders, that is, as the results of human action but not of human design. Perhaps, just perhaps, nobody will debate diZerega at length because nobody finds the debate he wants to have worth having.

Gus diZerega - 12/5/2005

Dr, Higgs-
You are right and my memory is wrong on one very important matter - the original review was by Carpenter, not you. I sincerely apologize to you for that error, and for the criticism of you that grew from it. I really do regret it, and not just due to my obvious and merited embarrassment.

When you responded so strongly to a post of mine, and I relied on my memory of an event from over 11 years in the past to respond, I mixed up the initial author's name and the editor's letter in my reply. This mix up was because I hadn't given the matter much thought till prompted to respond to the issue of whether liberals uniquely made life unpleasant for others who disagreed in academia. That is a reason, not an excuse. The error is 100% mine.

However, your dismissive response to the substantive part of my argument about democracies and peace, as distinguished from my faulty memory, does strengthen my view that a test for a kind of orthodoxy influenced your decision.

That R. J. Rummel liked my paper and thought it a good defense of his argument adds to my conviction that ideology took the place of academic judgment. So also the fact that my paper was not mathematical, not esoteric, was on a recent issue discussed in the journal, on an issue of intrinsic interest to scholarly classical liberals - how far could Hayek's spontaneous order paradigm be pushed - and that in terms of whether it was intellectually shoddy or not, the Pol. Sci. Dept at Berkeley where the original argument was part of a Ph.D. dissertation found it worth considering, as well as a major journal in the field.

You say you harbor grave doubts about my argument, and have no doubt others do as well. I am well aware of that. The merits of the doubts are the important issue - not whether I was fairly or unfairly treated years ago. THAT'S the debate that I try and egg people into engaging in forums like this, because I believe the error of equating democracies with states is so serious, practically as well as theoretically.

Further, the issue of the democratic peace, if real, is pretty important, given the horrible suffering war and the preparation for war has caused in this world. That being so, WHY democracies are so peaceful is also important. WHY do they NOT act like states in this regard? You say you like Rummel's work. That being so, I invite you to contact Prof. Rummel if you doubt me as to his liking my analysis. War as Randolph Bourne wrote, is the health of the state, but it is a threat to democracy. George Bush is a great example of both points.

I was hoping at last I would succeed in getting libertarian and classical liberal scholars to seriously discuss the democracies are spontaneous orders issue in Indep. Rev. I was disappointed.

I was also hoping you would do so in your rebuttal. But the only rebuttal you offer is that the argument is no good. And that is no rebuttal at all.

Gus diZerega - 12/5/2005

True enough. Junk papers are common.

BUT this paper was in defense of an author of a book reviewed in the journal. The argument it made was praised by that author. It supported the author against the editor's review, and used F. A. Hayek's work and framework to do so, as well as incorporating considerable new scholarship in the field of IR. It also used an argument that no libertarian has yet even attempted to rebut in print although it has appeared in both libertarian and mainstream journals, as well as a book. It also offered an internal critique based on Austrian economic insights - and internal critiques are generally the most important, if valid.

My work in the field of emergent (spontaneous) order is regarded as good enough to win an Atlas Foundation award, and they have impeccable libertarian credentials. And as I mentioned, the argument was published again in the Review of Politics, a highly respected journal in the field, and with a much less explicit ideological agenda and not nearly so much obvious interest in Hayekian styles of analysis. So it hardly qualified on the surface as junk for someone interested in classical liberal ideas, though a Marxist might have considered it such. As I mentioned, The RoP version is now available to all on my website.

When I was a young libertarian a common libertarian complaint, and a very justified one, was that their work and arguments were ignored by more mainstream scholars. My economics professor at Kansas dismissed Mises as "an old man." That is not nearly so much the case today. Now the chief limitation on libertarian influence in mainstream scholarship in my field anyway (i.e. in the Review of Politics) is their refusal to participate in any extensive discussion.

My experience, beginning with Rothbard, has been that many libertarian ideologues are interested in ideas not as ways of exploring how the world works, but as weapons in the "war of ideas." An idea is valuable if it a good weapon for strengthening our existing views - and not if it isn't. That is fine if you have a monopoly on truth - just ask the Intelligent design folks.

Robert Higgs - 12/5/2005

I am not a licensed psychotherapist, nor do I purport to have access to the inner workings of Gus diZerega's mind, yet as I ponder his proposal to have a public debate with an editor who once rejected a paper he submitted to a journal, the phrase that keeps popping into my mind is "delusions of grandeur." Of course, I have no intention of entering into such a debate. Apart from the sheer silliness of doing so, I might set an unfortunate precedent, encouraging aggrieved authors by the hundreds to challenge me to meet them on the castle grounds to engage in a tournament to the death.

Another phrase that occurs to me is "he does not know what he is talking about."

DiZerega gets his most recent post off to a pathetic start by asserting, "Higgs had written a very negative review of R. J. Rummel's new book on democracy and violence." In fact, I never wrote any review of Rummel's book. Additional facts: I hold Rummel's book Death by Government in high regard, but I have not read any of Rummel's other books. After Ted Galen Carpenter wrote a critical review essay on Rummel's book Power Kills in the Winter 1998 issue of TIR, I invited Rummel to reply, and he did so in the Summer 1998 issue. Moreover, I have asked Rummel to referee for the journal, and he has graciously done so. Any suggestion that I have acted unfairly toward Rummel or that I have been out to get him or any of his books is baseless.

Contrary to what diZerega says, regular articles in TIR are refereed. Most submissions never reach the refereeing phase, however, because I reject them myself on various grounds--unsuitable subject matter, unsuitable level of exposition, excessive mathematics or other esoterica, and clear intellectual shoddiness, among others--rather than impose on the time and good will of referees by sending them papers that do not fit within TIR's scope or do not meet its intellectual standards. Of the minority of submissions that do go on to referees, most are eventually rejected. Having had his paper rejected, DiZerega, an admirer of democracy, might take pride in being among the great majority of those who submit papers to TIR.

DiZerega finds something mysterious in his paper's rejection ("I'll be damned if I can figure out what [the problem] was"), yet nearly everybody who has had long experience in this field of endeavor has had many papers rejected for reasons good, bad, and indifferent—the system is highly flawed, though not without certain virtues. Most of us recognize that papers are sometimes rejected for inappropriate reasons (or for no reasons at all), and we simply submit them to another journal, as diZerega did after his paper was rejected at TIR. That an author would harbor a grievance about such a trifling matter years after the event raises questions of the sort I am not licensed to diagnose.

DiZerega is also wrong about the process that preceded my rejection of his submission. Although I did not seek formal referee reports on the paper, I did ask expert editorial advisers to read it and let me know what they thought of it. These scholars recommended that I reject it. I do not invariably follow my advisers' advice; I make all final decisions myself as to what substantive materials will appear in the journal (the advertising copy falls outside my jurisdiction). Yet diZerega's supposition that the rejection of his paper resulted exclusively from my uncounseled action is false.

Perhaps I was too gentle in my rejection letter. No good deed goes unpunished, nor apparently does any editor's solicitude for an author's delicate feelings. How many authors, however, really want to receive a letter that says "We are rejecting your submission because it is no good"?

DiZerega expresses puzzlement that his paper could have been rejected on any grounds other than ideological nonconformity. Anyone who peruses TIR knows that its contributors write from a variety of ideological perspectives—indeed, one reason for establishing the journal in the first place was to engage such varied contributors. Ideologically varied authors, from individualist anarchists to modern left-liberals, have gained access to the journal's pages. (I admit that I have not been receptive to Marxist-Leninists, Stalinists, Maoists, white supremacists, alchemists, practicing cannibals, and a few others, but it's a wide world, and they have plenty of their own outlets for publication.) The notion that TIR enforces any sort of narrow ideological orthodoxy is ludicrous; evidently diZerega has little familiarity with the actual contents of the journal.

Finally, on a substantive matter, I note that this tempest in a teapot springs ultimately from diZerega's insistence in claiming that democratic states are not states (an idea of which he might disabuse himself by resort to a Venn diagram) and, moreover, that they are spontaneous orders—social formations such as those classically illustrated by language, money, and the market. I know well that I am not the only person to harbor grave doubts about diZerega's equation of a spontaneous order with a heavily armed (if elected) organized-crime gang that enforces at gunpoint (aided by incessant propaganda) a territorial monopoly to operate a protection racket.

Roderick T. Long - 12/5/2005

In my experience, "refereed journal" means that everything accepted is first refereed, not that everything rejected is always first refereed; the editor usually retains the discretion to reject without refereeing. And I don't think an editor necessarily has any obligation to explain such discretionary rejection beyond "does not suit our current needs." (Of course I say this with some self-serving bias, being a journal editor myself.)

Gus diZerega - 12/5/2005

Apparently the Independent Review is refereed. So I have been informed by a referee. This makes it all the more interesting why I was never sent referee comments.

I think ideology explains it, but await further clarification.