Quick Roundup 220

Monday, July 23, 2007

Well, They Do Have the "Run" Part Down

Slumming this weekend at Reason's Hit and Run blog, I encountered one of the most succinct confessions I have seen in ages by a Libertarian that he doesn't know his Rothbard from a hole in the ground when it comes to objectivity:

A scholar who thinks it's an intellectual and moral sin to communicate with or appear in the pages of a journal in his field [sic] that disagrees with him about something or other is considered a bad candidate for a gig at Texas State's philosophy department--even when it would be paid for entirely by outside money. My favorite detail: the random use of the phrase "so-called" in front of your enemy's name: "The so-called Journal of Ayn Rand Studies."
What editor Brian Doherty completely fails to grasp here is that Objectivism holds that philosophical ideas can be discovered by means of logic applied to the facts of reality -- and are not based on supernatural or subjective whim. This means that sloppiness in philosophy is not just a matter of personal taste, but that it is inexcusably wrong.

Rather than prattling about what he calls a "so-called scholarly dispute", he would do well to consider how professionals in other academic fields that are a little more easily recognized as having an objective basis would act in a similar situation to the professional philosophers he impugns.

Suppose an astronomer were considering where to publish a new finding. One of his options calls itself The Journal of Astronomical Studies, but it is in fact an astrology magazine. Who will profit more from our (real) astronomer's hard work and disciplined approach should he publish there? Real astronomers, who would then find themselves, at least in the public eye, placed on the same precarious, pseudoscientific footing as astrologers? Or astrologers, who could then suddenly point to the "real science" going on in their "journal"?

That question pretty much answers itself. Furthermore, while the JAS might be able to boast of more scientific content, our careless author will rightly be regarded with suspicion by his more fastidious colleagues. His standards as a scientist will be suspect, and this obvious and legitimate question will arise: "If Dr. X is careless about where he publishes, what else is he careless about?" Not having infinite time to go over, with a fine-toothed comb, every scientist who publishes in a quack journal, many scientists will justifiably tend to ignore Dr. X in the future should he go with the astrology outfit.

To so carelessly make light of an Objectivist intellectual's refusal to have any truck with a journal that falsely proclaims itself to be within his field is to completely miss one of the most distinctive and profound characteristics of Ayn Rand's philosophy. Hint: It's the one for which the philosophy is named. The astrology magazine not only "disagrees with" our astronomer "about something or other" -- it also repudiates the science of astronomy at its most fundamental level.

It is no more petty quibbling to be concerned about whether a journal purportedly about Objectivism really is about Objectivism than it is for a publishing scientist to be concerned about the quality of a journal to which he submits an article for publication. It is professionalism -- a quality too many intellectuals exempt themselves from because they think that philosophical ideas are a matter of whim (divine or subjective) and that as such, they do not really matter that much.

But then, that's why Mr. Doherty writes for Reason Magazine -- and a blog that should call itself Swing and Miss -- in the first place.

Libertarian "Corrects" ARI

Another Libertarian, attempting to rebut a letter to the editor by Jeff Britting of the Ayn Rand Institute that recently appeared in the Los Angeles Times, has decided that Objectivists are being too careless when they repudiate Libertarianism:
In fact, a great many libertarians have reached their libertarian political conclusions based on their view that Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy gave this position solid support. Libertarianism is a political stance, not a full blown philosophy; this, by the way, is the case with many other political positions, including those of Republicans, Democrats, monarchists, or theocrats, all of which have been defended from a variety of philosophical viewpoints not every one of which is successful in giving them adequate support.

Rand, by the way, also called herself a "radical capitalist" and it is clear that capitalism is also defended from a variety of philosophical and religious standpoints. She used to insist that many of these are hopeless but hers, Objectivism, achieves what is needed. Well, that is exactly what she and her epigone should have said about libertarianism-the Objectivist defense succeeds, others do not. But, in fact, her politics is every bit as libertarian as her political economy is capitalist.
This completely misses the point of the Objectivist argument against taking up a common political cause with people with whom one does not really agree -- after parroting parts of it.

Rather than simply advocating various concrete free market proposals when they can't agree on exactly why they do so, Libertarians instead form a political party they say is about advocating "liberty", while pretending that it is not even necessary to agree upon the meaning of the term. (Or, as Peter Schwartz once put it so well in his Libertarianism: A Perversion of Liberty, "Libertarianism deserves only one fundamental criticism: it does not value liberty.")

Yes, based on a dictionary definition of "libertarianism", one could say that Ayn Rand's politics are libertarian. But to advocate capitalism (as she does) is not the same thing as joining a political party that claims to advocate capitalism, but whose members cannot even agree on the meaning of the term (which cannot even be defined in a philosophic vacuum) and which, as a result, advocates such notions destructive to capitalism as anarchy, pacifism, and even socialized medicine.

This is why Ayn Rand was very careful to distinguish herself from Libertarians. It isn't that Objectivists are being ham-handed in rejecting Libertarianism. It's that Libertarians do worse than reject capitalism outright by calling whatever they feel like "capitalism", thereby confusing the terms of a life-and-death political debate.

It is Libertarians who are being careless here -- when they equivocate between the meaning of "libertarian" as a political stand and "Libertarian", as the name of an anti-ideological political movement.

Marriott on Immigration

It's been awhile, but Alexander Marriott posted the following on immigration hysteria:
The problem as far as immigration is concerned is the influx of either outright criminals, or of those who are not interested in leading productive and independent lives. The only cure for this latter problem is to make sure ours is a society which does not indulge and reward such people. If this is to continue to be a country with a government and people that wishes to engage in such behavior then those who support that cannot and should not be surprised by the people they attract.
Or, as I have put one aspect of this before, The problem is socialism, not immigration.

-- CAV


: Minor edits.

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