Blogs > Liberty and Power > Living on the Inside...and Living on the Outside

Jan 29, 2005 7:01 pm

Living on the Inside...and Living on the Outside

I've justed posted a lengthy essay,"Living on the Inside...and Living on the Outside," over at The Light of Reason. It arose out of some comments (in particular, mine and some of those from Jeanine Ring) in response to this post of mine several days ago. That, in turn, dealt with what I consider to be Lawrence Summers' profoundly unfortunate comments about men and women, and the purported causes for perceived differences in their achievements in math and science.

In the course of the essay, I deal with issues relating to the dynamics of power, what I call" contextual libertarianism," Ayn Rand's identification with the male power structure, how Rand's methodology changed dramatically from one subject to another, some of my own experiences as a gay man, and some other things as well.

I would welcome people's thoughts in the the comments here, even (and perhaps especially) if you disagree with what I say, in whole or in part. I obviously think I'm correct on the major points, but I'm still in the process of working out the details and ramifications of many of these ideas. As I indicate, I expect to have much more to say about many of these issues in the days to come.

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More Comments:

Gus diZerega - 2/1/2005

The title of my post says most of it for me. Silber is spot on as to the biggest and most frustrating theoretical blind spot in almost every libertarian writer I have read. I think a refusal to look at context as important also helps explain the inability to empathize much with those oppressed by cultural values and practices. Perhaps this is why so many libertarians justify their libertarian views solely in some combination of economics - the most abstract and depersonalized of social sciences in my opinion - and theories of rights that are all thumbs when dealing with anyone other than competent rational self-supporting adults. Rothbard's comments on children are an example here, but unique only in their extremism.

I no longer call myself a libertarian, not because I turn my back on non-coercive social relationships, or Austrian theory, or the superiority of markets. I share all that. But I cringe when some identify me with a position that in so many cases is utterly blind to so much that profoundly influences the quality of human life. A position that seems to feel that whatever does not easily fit the theoretical framework they support simply does not exist as a matter of importance.

A simple but revealing example: the only people I have ever heard justify (voluntary ) slavery are libertarians. As if slavery could ever be voluntary. And in complete blindness to the circumstances that might bring a person to sell themselves into slavery to support their family or some such. Twice I encountered this attitude at IHS conferences years ago. Once more recently from a libertarian grad student a few years ago. For those who say this is an aberration - why is it an aberration that I ONLY find among libertarians? Why did the two at the HIS conferences need to hear some scholar in authority (I can't remember who) to tell them it wasn't really a libertarian position in order for them to abandon the idea?

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 1/29/2005

There is a whole lot to digest in your essay, Arthur, and it raises a lot of provocative questions that I'm not sure I have the answers to. Among other things, you've put your finger on the distinction between "sympathy" and "empathy." But, if anything, I think this is relevant to your whole notion of paying attention to context, especially the context of the human agent. Values and experiences are agent-relative, to be sure; all the more reason to try our best to understand The Other's perspective (to put ourselves in the shoes, so-to-speak, of The Other).

The only other comment I'd like to make right now pertains to Ayn Rand. Yes, I've argued for many years that Rand exemplifies a contextual approach, which I have defined as "dialectical." This is Rand at her best. When I have argued that I am working to reclaim Rand's radical, contextual, dialectical legacy, I do so with full knowledge that she left behind, as well, decidedly nonradical, noncontextual, and nondialectical formulations. Some of my post-Russian Radical work has focused on those aspects where Rand's approach is decidedly "one-dimensional" (e.g., on issues of feminism, homosexuality, and so forth).

My only concern with some of Rand's critics is that they (not you) tend to "throw the baby out with the bathwater"---rather than just picking up the baby and placing her in a new tub with fresh water, so-to-speak.

Anyway, I'm sure I'll have more to say as you present additional essays for our consideration.