Blogs > Liberty and Power > This Week in Review

Oct 13, 2010 4:01 pm

This Week in Review

[cross-posted at Austro-Athenian Empire]

A rundown of my adventures for this past week or so:

  • On Thursday the 9th my friend Matthew Quest, history professor at Lewis University, gave a talk to Auburn’s history department on “C. L. R. James, the C. I. O., and American Civilization.” Matthew argued that although James, although technically a Marxist, was “the most libertarian revolutionary intellectual of both the Pan-African and international labor movements.”

    For James the proper goal of labour unions was to attain workers’ self-management, rather than to set up a union bureaucracy to negotiate with management on behalf of an essential passive labour force; and he opposed both the Soviet-model one-party state and the American-model welfare state as forces that treated workers as “barnyard animals” rather than as autonomous agents. James had little enthusiasm for the sacred cows of the statist left, dismissing the United Nations as the façade of an imperialist consensus, and social democrats as apologists for “permanent slaughter.” He also favoured decentralisation to the point of near-anarchism, and rejected the patronising efforts of left-wing intellectuals, insisting that the working class must lead itself.

  • On Monday the 13th my friend Fred Miller, philosophy professor at Bowling Green State and president of the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, gave a talk to the philosophy department here (unfortunately twice interrupted by fire alarms) on “Aristotelian Statecraft and Modern Politics.” Fred’ aim was to consider how Aristotle’s principles of political reform might be applied to libertarian political strategy.

    Fred invoked the Aristotelian principle of approximism, namely that if imperfect reform X is chosen because it is the nearest available approximation to ideal reform Y, then the choice of X is actually authorised, rather than forbidden, by whatever principles establish Y as the ideal. This much I agreed with, more or less; but Fred went on to draw a gradualist, pro-compromise, anti-Rothbardian moral that I wasn’t convinced followed. (I ended up addressing this point in my Rothbard Memorial Lecture.)

  • This past Thursday through Saturday I attended the Austrian Scholars Conference, where I presented the aforementioned Rothbard Memorial Lecture, titled “Rothbard’s ‘Left and Right’: Forty Years Later.” (“Forty-One Years Later” would actually be more accurate – but less euphonious.) In my lecture I defended, at least in broad terms, the left-libertarian outlook set forth in Murray Rothbard’s 1965 articles “Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty” and “Liberty and the New Left.” Reactions ranged from enthusiastic agreement to dismayed perplexity. (I’ll post a link to my talk as soon as it’s online.)

    There were a number of noteworthy presentations. An incomplete list: Ben Powell discussed the continuing anarchy in Somalia, presenting evidence to show that by most measures Somali society is more peaceful and prosperous now than it was when Somalia had a state. Ed Stringham talked about a new anthology he’s just edited, Anarchy, State, and Public Choice, defending anarchism against critiques by public-choice theorists like James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock; he also gave a paper discussing the 19th-century Christian anarchist David Lipscomb. (For my comments on the latter, see the Mises Blog.) Michael Rozeff argued that the state is a fundamentally unsound institution from the standpoint of finance economics. Stephen Carson argued that suppression of private property rights is the most reliable predictor of democide. Josef Šima reported on the success of his Prague-based Liberální Institut (where I’ll be next month for the Prague Conference on Political Economy). Fred Day explored proto-Austrian themes in the work of “Ricardian socialist” Thomas Hodgskin, while Jeff Tucker and Paul Cantor demonstrated Mark Twain’s commitment to classical liberalism.

    A number of my homeys were also on the program: Geoff Plauché discussed Aristotelean foundations of praxeology; Kelli van Vier rebutted Ed Feser’s attempt to argue from libertarian premises to conservative conclusions (e.g., the legitimacy of anti-drug, anti-pornography, and anti-gay legislation); Ben Kilpatrick critiqued Rawls on time-preference; and Dan D’Amico participated in a roast of panel on Walter Block.

    I was pleased to see my friend Rich Hammer (albeit too briefly). I was told by one attendee that my Wittgenstein/praxeology manuscript is being discussed at the University of Istanbul, and I spotted another attendee wearing a Molinari Institute t-shirt. The quest for world domination continues ....

  • On Friday night I went with some of the Misesvolk to see V for Vendetta, which I highly recommend. Although it falls short of the original in some respects (for one thing, it’s much less explicitly anarchistic), it’s still a great libertarian ride and captures much of the eerie quality of the book – especially that haunting mask with Hugo Weaving’’s marvelous voice coming out of it. (This film also settles, at least for me, the question whether Natalie Portman’s relatively poor acting in the Star Wars prequels was her fault or Lucas’s. Like Lauren Bacall – compare To Have and Have Not with Key Largo, or compare the first and second versions of The Big Sleep – Portman needs an actor’s director to bring out her talent, and an actor’’s director Lucas is not.)

    There’s been a lot of debate about whether V for Vendetta glorifies terrorism, and comparisons have been drawn between V’s actions and the 9/11 attacks. But the analogy is weak; V takes out bad guys, not innocent civilians. To be sure, a number of his actions would be worthy of moral condemnation if carried out in real life (I won’t go into details, so as to avoid spoilers), but in the context of the story they work on a symbolic level.

  • Speaking of V for Vendetta there’s been a lot of discussion of the film on LRC blog, including this piece where Stephen Carson draws a connection between my aforementioned Rothbard Memorial Lecture and some of Alan Moore’s comments about the film. But I have to take issue with the following judgment expressed by J. H. Huebert:

    I found the film’s homosexual propaganda gratuitous (the idea that homosexual conduct is somehow threatened by the present political situation is preposterous – indeed, one suspects sodomy will be one of the few rights left before the Supreme Court is done with us) ....
    Given today’s high rate of violence against gays, and given that Roy Moore – then an Alabama state judge, and still today one of the most popular political figures in Alabama – wrote a judicial opinion urging the use of “the power of the sword,” up to and including “confinement and even execution,” against gays, the notion that gays face no threat in the current political climate strikes me as bizarre.

  • As long as I’m grumping about posts on LRC Blog, I might as well say something on behalf of John Lennon’s “Imagine” against Gil Guillory’s rather uncharitable interpretation. Gil wrote:

    When I taught economics to homeschoolers, we analysed “Imagine”:

    Imagine there’s no heaven = atheism
    Imagine all the people living for today = high time preference
    Nothing to kill or die for = nihilism
    Imagine no possessions = no private property
    Now the references to heaven and possessions are indeed a rejection of religion and private property; no debate there. But Lennon’s endorsement of “living for today” is not an endorsement of high time-preference; in context he clearly means embracing life in this world as opposed to waiting for an afterlife (which Lennon ex hypothesi regards as nonexistent; this is a corollary of “no heaven”). It’s not high time-preference to prefer present satisfactions regarded as real over future satisfactions regarded as imaginary. Likewise, “nothing to kill or die for” has nothing to do with nihilism; what ot means is not “nothing worth killing or dying for” but rather “nothing you have to kill or die for” – i.e., peace. Plus, Gil leaves out the most magnificent line of all: “Imagine there’s no countries.”

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More Comments:

Kenneth R. Gregg - 3/21/2006

I should mention that Bill died about four years ago. He was a fine scholar and teacher and head of the Political Science Dept at Bowling Green. He and I had some communications after the publication of The Partisans of Freedom, which I highly recommend. I used to joke about Political Science being Non-Science, or was that nonsense? He was a sympathetic and kindred spirit.

Roderick T. Long - 3/21/2006

It's definitely not Fred Miller. Fred has many virtues, but anarchism isn't one of them!

Kenneth R. Gregg - 3/21/2006

You're probably thinking of Bill Reichert, who used to be at Bowling Green State, and his fine work, Partisans of Freedom.
Just a thought.
Just Ken

Craig J. Bolton - 3/21/2006

On Monday the 13th my friend Fred Miller, philosophy professor at Bowling Green State and president of the Social Philosophy and Policy Center

Fred Miller, that sounds familiar. Was Fred the one who authored an excellent history of anarchism in the early 70s? If so, has he done anything similar since then?

Jason T. Kuznicki - 3/21/2006

I can also attest that James's 1938 work _The Black Jacobins_ is still routinely assigned in advanced history courses today. Considering how quickly fashions change in history, that's really saying something.

Charles Johnson - 3/20/2006

'Given today's high rate of violence against gays, and given that Roy Moore -- then an Alabama state judge, and still today one of the most popular political figures in Alabama -- wrote a judicial opinion urging the use of "the power of the sword," up to and including "confinement and even execution," against gays, the notion that gays face no threat in the current political climate strikes me as bizarre.'

Well, moreover, the society pictured in V is England under an openly *fascist* regime. Whatever Huebert thinks about the condition of gay men and lesbians today, historical fascist regimes have historically done things like, well, sending gay men and lesbians off to concentration camps, it seems pretty tin-eared to complain when V for Vendetta has its fictional fascist regime do the same thing.

Kenneth R. Gregg - 3/20/2006

I agree with Dr. Quest's point on CLR James. I think if more research is done on him, you will find that there are anarchist connections. He also was quite fond of the Levellers as well.

I'm afraid that I was caught up with an appointment at the time of your talk, but managed to catch about ten minutes of it online. Looking forward to seeing it in its entirety when it is archived, as well as the Lipscomb, Hodgskin and Twain discussions.

Just a thought.
Just Ken