Blogs > Liberty and Power > Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand’s Radical Legacy, Part V

Dec 11, 2004

Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand’s Radical Legacy, Part V

In part one, part two, part three, and part four of this series, I examined issues raised by Objectivist Peter Schwartz’s new book, The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America. I’ve addressed problems with Schwartz’s analysis of the U.N., foreign aid, Saudi Arabia, and the history of U.S. foreign policy. I now turn to his examination of the current war and his projection of a foreign policy ideal.

The Current War

To some extent, it can be said that Schwartz retains some vestiges of Rand’s “isolationist” predilections. He is careful to emphasize that the freedom philosophy of the U.S. “does not mean we ought to declare war on every tyrant in the world. Before we decide to wage war,” Schwartz explains, “there must exist a serious threat to our freedom. Our government is not the world’s policeman. It is, however, America’s policeman” (15). This is why, Schwartz maintains, foreign policy cannot be “divorced from the moral principle of freedom. If freedom is the basic value being safeguarded, then our foreign policy can give us unambiguous guidelines: we use our power to preserve that value—and only to preserve that value” (65). For Schwartz, then, thankfully, “it is not our business to resolve some distant conflict centering on which sub-tribe should enslave the other.” Indeed, when the proper moral goal is left undefended or undefined, “everything [becomes] our business,” and what results is an unprincipled, “ad hoc foreign policy” (67).

In terms of guiding moral principles, Schwartz’s argument is basically sound.

Moreover, by limiting the role of U.S. military action overseas, Schwartz justifiably leaves open the possibility for military response in the face of legitimate threats to security. Schwartz believes, however, that “Iraq ... was a threat to us—not nearly the threat presented by some other nations, but a threat nonetheless” (44), and on this basis, he supported the invasion of that country.

Alas, he and I disagree on this. In my view, Iraq was most assuredly not a “serious threat to our freedom” and should not have been invaded or occupied by the U.S. military. As I have argued in many essays over the past two years, Hussein could have been contained and deterred from future aggressive actions.

Though Schwartz supports the Iraq war, he maintains that it is Iran that is the “vanguard” for all those Islamic groups that are merely “parts of one whole.” Schwartz’s emphasis here on the “ideology of Islamic totalitarianism” (24)—and kudos to him for not using that tired phrase “Islamofascism,” which distorts the meaning of the word fascism—is important to note:

The promoters of Islamic totalitarianism wish to establish a world in which religion is an omnipresent force, in which everyone is compelled to obey the mullahs, in which the political system inculcates the duty to serve, in which there is no distinction between mosque and state. (25) ... America is a nation rooted in certain principles. It is a culture of reason, of science, of individualism, of freedom. The culture of the Muslim universe is the opposite in every crucial respect. It is a culture steeped in mysticism rather than reason, in superstition rather than science, in tribalism rather than individualism, in authoritarianism rather than freedom. (26)

Though Schwartz gets some crucial things right in this passage, I do think there are certain complexities he does not grasp; for example, it is not at all clear that the problems he cites are strictly the result of Islamic theology or some combination of that doctrine with specifically Arab cultures. (See this discussion with Jonathan Dresner and Gus diZerega on L&P, for example.) Schwartz readily admits too that, “[i]ronically, it was life in the Islamic countries during Europe’s Dark Ages that was further advanced and less oppressive—because the Muslims at the time were under the influence of a more pro-reason philosophy, a philosophy they subsequently abandoned” (27). In this larger ideological war, however, Schwartz argues that the U.S. “should always give moral support to any people who are fighting for freedom against an oppressive government.”

But it is Iran that remains “the pre-eminent source of Islamic totalitarianism today” (30), and it is therefore “the government of Iran that needs to be eliminated,” in Schwartz’s estimation (32). By targeting Iran, “the primary enemy,” “the chief sponsor of terrorism,” all the other “lesser” Muslim states—“Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Sudan—will likely be deterred” (32-33).

I don’t believe it’s that simple. Schwartz tells us that a “principled foreign policy anticipates future consequences” (62). But, given the difficulties of invading and occupying Iraq, and the current drain on U.S. money, military, and munitions, I don’t believe that Schwartz has given much thought to the long-term consequences of invading and occupying Iran, which is nearly 4 times the size of Iraq, and has more than 3 times the population. (And if Schwartz does not envision invasion and occupation, then it is legitimate to ask if he, like some other Objectivists, envisions the decimating of the entire country—see here, for example.) Aside from the fact that a large-scale military option would almost certainly require the reinstatement of the draft and the expenditure of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, it would most likely short-circuit the existing and growing liberal tendencies among the vast majority of younger Iranians who yearn to topple the mullahs. It could very seriously destabilize Iraq as well. (See my various archived posts on Iran, here and here.)

It should also be pointed out that “Islamic totalitarianism” is no more of a monolith than Communism was. Just as there were deep divisions in the Communist “bloc” during the Cold War, so too are there deep divisions in the Islamic world. These divisions might be profitably exploited by U.S. policymakers, who must also be careful not to be consumed by them—as in Iraq, where Kurdish, Sunni, and Shi’ite forces might opt for civil war rather than the ballot box.

There are, of course, consequences for a policy of inaction in the face of a real or imminent threat. But those of us who have opposed the Iraq war and any current extension of that war into Iran have not embraced “inaction”; what we have embraced is a strictly delimited strategic vision focused on precise military targets, which seeks to marginalize extremist theocratic forces—and a much broader intellectual vision focused on the realm of ideas. Ultimately, this is an ideological and cultural conflict. And as Rand observed, while a military battle of any scope is like a “political battle”—“merely a skirmish fought with muskets[,] a philosophical battle is a nuclear war”—and only rational ideas will ultimately win it (“‘What Can One Do?’”).

The Folly of Nation-Building

To his great credit, however, Schwartz does recognize the futility of trying to impose liberal-democratic institutions on the Middle East, by empowering “various tribal and political factions” in occupied countries (49). Though he supported the Iraq war, Schwartz argues nonetheless that “[t]he U.S. government does not have a moral obligation to the Iraqis to make them free.” He observes insightfully:

[C]ontrary to the claims of the Bush administration, freedom is not universally desired. It does not automatically come into being once a dictator is overthrown. The history of the world is largely that of one tyranny replacing another. It took millennia before a nation—the United States of America—was founded for the express purpose of safeguarding the freedom of each citizen. Across the globe today, individual liberty is still the exception rather than the rule. Freedom is an idea. It cannot be forced upon a culture that refuses to value it. It cannot be forced upon a society wedded to tribalist, collectivist values. In Afghanistan, for example, the newly drafted constitution contains such laudable provisions as: “Freedom of expression is inviolable.” However, that same constitution mandates that “no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam”—that the government be responsible for “organizing and improving the conditions of mosques, madrasas and religious centers”—that no political parties may function if their views are “contrary to the provision[s] of the sacred religion of Islam”—that the national flag feature the phrase “There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet.” Is it conceivable that, under such strictures, the individual will be allowed to think freely? Freedom is such an alien principle in that culture of entrenched mysticism that it will take many years of rational education before it is understood, let alone accepted. (50-51)

But Schwartz subverts his own good insights with a dash of myopia:

To lead the Iraqis to freedom, whether in the next year or the next generation, requires that we “impose” our values on them—i.e., that we expose them to the philosophy of a free society. They need to be given the Declaration of Independence to study. Their schools must teach the ideas of Thomas Jefferson and John Locke and Adam Smith. The Governing Council must be instructed to eject the communists and the jihadists. (51)

With all due respect, not even U.S. schools teach Jefferson, Locke, and Smith with any regularity, and if our universities ever ejected communists and other left-wing fellow travelers from the classrooms, the country’s academic population would be decimated. How on earth is the United States going to promote an individualist ideological strategy in Iraq when it doesn’t embrace one within its own national borders?

Yes, of course, I know: It’s all relative. The U.S. may not be a genuinely free society, but it is much freer and more individualist than almost any society on earth. Yes, of course, the Iraqis need to understand the principles of a free society, the social system that is “capitalism, the unknown ideal,” and the institution of private property that it subsumes. But how are Iraqis ever going to appreciate any of these principles when privatization is not on the menu for social change and crony corporatism for favored U.S. companies reconstructing Iraq is the meal of the day?

Schwartz is right to criticize the kinds of “ad hoc” policies that make for “irresolution and ineffectualness” in U.S. military campaigns (61-62). And he is right, and in sync with Rand, that the war we face is, ultimately, “a battle of ideas” (53). But how can the U.S. begin to wage this war when it has surrendered its intellectual ammunition, and routinely sabotages its own individualist political principles?

The Inextricable Connection Between Domestic and Foreign Policy

Rand argued that, to regain those principles, it is necessary to understand the inextricable connection between—and reciprocally reinforcing insidious effects of—government intervention at home and abroad. She insisted that “[f]oreign policy is merely a consequence of domestic policy” (“The Shanghai Gesture, Part III”). This led her to demand a complete “revision of [U.S.] foreign policy, from its basic premises on up,” which would entail a simultaneous repudiation of the welfare state at home and the warfare state abroad, an end to “foreign aid and [to] all forms of international self-immolation.” For Rand,“a radically different foreign policy” required a radically different domestic one (“The Wreckage of the Consensus”).

Schwartz comes close to recognizing, in an abstract way, the connections between domestic and foreign policy; he argues that America’s “philosophic default ... pervades all areas of American politics, domestic as well as foreign.” He recognizes, in one or two sentences here and there, that there is a relationship between foreign policy and “our expanding welfare state” (68). But he leaves unanalyzed all of the actual social and political relations that would make this connection fully transparent. In other words, he leaves unexamined what Rand thought crucial to the analysis.

In the end, Schwartz presents an unrealistic solution:

The challenge we face lies not in physically disarming al Qaeda, but in intellectually arming our politicians. If they truly grasp the meaning of freedom, they will readily undertake the steps to safeguard it. That is, if we can just get them to understand what it means to defend the individual’s right to his life, his liberty and the pursuit of his happiness, we will have little difficulty in getting them to defend us against the ugly threats from abroad. (69)

This won’t happen ... because it can’t happen, as long as America is ruled by a predatory political system. It is not in the narrowly defined “interests” of politicians or the groups they serve to “grasp the meaning of freedom.” As Rand argued so forcefully, the globalization of the predatory state and its neofascist political economy can only engender “parasitism, favoritism, corruption and greed for the unearned”; its power to dispense privilege, Rand emphasizes, “cannot be used honestly” (“The Pull Peddlers”). It will require far more than simply changing the views of a few politicians; it will require a comprehensive, systemic change.

What most strikes me about Schwartz’s book—and I’ve only been able to examine a few aspects of it— is that it tends to deal too abstractly, too rationalistically, with the principles of a “moral” foreign policy. That is, it provides us with good core moral premises and deduces an ostensibly moral foreign policy “ideal” for America, without paying much attention to the concrete context and historical circumstances that have led America so far astray from the celebrated ideal. Rand could also celebrate an “unknown ideal”—but rarely at the expense of a rigorous analysis of the past, and the present, the actual, as a means to evaluate the potential for real change.

I’ll offer one other observation in closing: I’m somewhat uncomfortable with Schwartz’s use of the phrase “self-interest” to describe any government’s foreign policy, especially one that exercises territorial sovereignty not over an ideal capitalist social system, but over a mixed economy, the very kind of “neofascist” or liberal-corporatist social system that Rand regarded as an institutionalized civil war. In such a system, the pursuit of individual self-interest is not even possible without sacrificing somebody else’s interests in the process. How, then, can a mysterious, ineffable government suddenly rise above this “orgy of self-sacrifice” in the realm of foreign policy and pursue the common “self-interests” of its citizenry? Governments are not separable from the groups and the individuals who compose them. “In a non-free society,” Rand stated—even in a society such as we have today, where freedom has been compromised by state intervention—“no pursuit of any interests is possible to anyone; nothing is possible but gradual and general destruction” (“The ‘Conflicts’ of Men’s Interests”).

This is not a prescription for inaction; one cannot expect everything to change before anything can be done to thwart serious attacks on America. But Rand’s insights provide us with a “warning label” for those who think that today’s government, as currently constituted, can act as a panacea for our global woes. If we are to aim for “a moral ideal for America,” then it will take more than a “foreign policy of self-interest.” It will take a veritable philosophic and cultural revolution, one that radically overturns the welfare-warfare state and its sacrificial, collectivist ideological underpinnings: root, tree, and branch.

See also Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

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Tibor Richard Machan - 11/27/2010

Just to update Chris's post, my tenure with Freedom Communications Inc., ended in October 2009, after 12 years of being the Adviser on Libertarian Issues at the media company, which went into Chapter 11 that year and emerged out the next but under entirely new ownership (the banks). I now hold the R. C. Hoiles Chair of Business Ethics and Free Enterprise (endowed by Dave a Judy Threshie) at Chapman University, where I have been teaching since January 1997.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 12/19/2004

I'm using radical to mean a search for roots or fundamentals. But I'm suggesting that the process of searching for those roots and understanding them is one that requires a certain means. No, I'm not saying that all radicals are rational. What I'm saying is that to be a successful radical, one must identify correctly the roots and fundamentals. If one does not identify roots and fundamentals correctly, but proceeds upon mistaken roots or fundamentals, all the coherence, all the system-building in the world, will be undermined.

A root or fundamental is something that strikes at the essence of a phenomenon. When Rand spoke of the "rule of fundamentality," she argued that "a fundamental characteristic is the essential distinguishing characteristic of the existents involved, and the proper defining characteristic of the concept." Well, I think this same rule applies in social theorizing. If one is to get to the root, or the fundamental, or the essence of a social problem, one must investigate. "Metaphysically, a fundamental characteristic is that distinctive characteristic which makes the greatest number of others possible; epistemologically, it is the one that explains the greatest number of others," as Rand pointed out.

How on earth (quite literally) is anyone supposed to identify roots and fundamentals without actually investigating the phenomenon at hand? One can engage in armchair philosophizing, suggesting that this or that premise stands at the root of this or that phenomenon. But without defining a context, and ruthlessly inquiring into the nature of the factors and the relationships among factors within that context, it is impossible to properly identify roots and fundamentals.

So, if an old-line Marxist simply asserts the labor theory of value as the root premise upon which all value is derived, and then proceeds to deduce a whole exploitation theory upon which the entire edifice of "radical Marxist economics" is built, I'm suggesting that the radicalism is built upon a house of cards (in the light of the mistakes that a whole host of other thinkers have identified in the very concept of a "labor theory of value"). This does not mean that a Marxist won't occasionally be right about this or that phenomenon. This does not mean that it is impossible to strike upon correct observations of reality if one is a Marxist theorist. But it does mean that the whole system of thought, the whole structure of explanation as such, is undermined in its radicalism because it fails to properly identify "roots" and "fundamentals."

So, it's not a question of whether Marxists recognize "collectivism" as the root of their system; some may, some may not. What matters is: Is the Marxist structure of explanation correct in the way it conceptualizes and seeks to resolve social problems? That is what concerns me here, not whether or not "collectivism" is the root of communism per se. My concern is with providing a radical social theory that lives up to its title of honor.

I have argued that, depending on the context (determined by such things as level of generality, vantage point, state of knowledge, etc.), Rand and other libertarians have properly identified those roots and fundamentals, and, hence, the potential for a genuinely radical framework of social inquiry is augmented. More needs to be done to construct a fully dialectical analysis of social phenomenon from a radical-libertarian perspective. But it is clear to me that a much healthier radicalism awaits, one that dispenses with the pitfalls of utopianism and that transcends the mistakes of previous "radical" theoretical approaches.

The "new radicals" of which Rand speaks transcend the mistakes of the old radicals (of which I speak above). But Rand would have said the same thing about the old egoists (her Virtue of Selfishness, after all, is subtitled "a new concept of egoism"), and the old advocates of capitalism (her Capitalism, after all, is subtitled "the unknown ideal"), and so forth. Her position is not that there was no egoism, no capitalism, or no radicalism prior to her. But that none of these positions was properly defended or understood because none of them adequately---that is, truly, fully and consistently---understood the essence, the roots, the fundamentals, of the phenomena they entailed.

Hope this is clearer.

Michael P Moeller - 12/19/2004


Let's back up a second. Maybe you are misunderstanding my position or maybe I am not quite getting yours. I wasn't using radical to mean passionate advocate or consistent advocate. I was using radical to mean ~root~ or ~fundmental~. This is the dictionary definition.

You write: "What makes something radical is not merely a search for roots; it is a proper identification of those roots by various methods of logical and empirical inquiry, which includes the ability to abstract by vantage point, level of generality, and across time and systems."

You also write: "This is, I'm afraid, trivializing what it means to be a radical. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman, philosophers, and divines." What matters is not simply that one identifies the root of a position, or that one defend that position with passion and consistency. John Kerry had one good line in the Presidential debates about Bush's consistency and passion: "You could be wrong!""

Are you saying here, essentially, that all radicals are rational? Chris, could you please define for me what a ~root~ or ~fundamental~ is?

Is "faith" not a root or fundamental of collectivism? Granted, I would have had to "smuggle in" rationality when doing my inquiry but I could be grasping the essence, the fundamentality of the ethical code. Doesn't ~collectivism~ describe the essential structure, the root of the ethical code?

Let me take a couple of other angles at this. Is private ownership of the means of production not a ~fundmental~ or ~root~ of communism? Are you saying that it is not a "genuine root" because it is not an objective value? I would say this, a person who advocated partial privatization is not a ~radical for communism~ because he has not recognized this as a ~root~ of communism. A person who does advocate full-blown central control of the means of production is a ~radical for communism~ because he has grasped a ~root~ of communism.

Now, you often use AR's reference to "radical" from the article "Conservatism: An Obituary". Is AR not saying that Conservatives are acccepting the same essential structure (or root or fundmental) as the collectivists, ie. the morality of altruism. Isn't this a ~root~ or a ~fundamental~ of their belief.

Let's look at the quote you use in your article: "'radical means 'fundamental...the fighters for captialism have to be, not bankrupt 'convservatives,' but new radicals, new intellectuals and, above all, new, dedicated moralists."

Chris, who are the old radicals? What are their fundamentals? Are they not valid because they have different fundamentals then her? Clearly, she is indicating there are 'old radicals' have different ~roots~, different ~fundamentals~ than her; thus the need to distinguish herself as a "new radical".

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 12/19/2004


I think something is being lost ... fundamentally... radically, if you will... from the current discussion. Granted, it's very hard in a series of brief exchanges for me to communicate what I've written about for 20+ years, stretching across a trilogy that fundamentally defends radical methodology wedded to political libertarianism. My trilogy of books is, in many ways, a defense of an indissoluble position---"dialectical libertarianism"---which might also be called "radical libertarianism," because I use "dialectical" as a virtual synonym for "radical." This is also a defense against what I call methodological utopianism, which has a penchant for disconnecting various factors from the conditions and contexts that give them meaning.

What makes something radical is not merely a search for roots; it is a proper identification of those roots by various methods of logical and empirical inquiry, which includes the ability to abstract by vantage point, level of generality, and across time and systems. It is, furthermore, the ability to integrate these various abstractions into a coherent explanation. Such is the mechanics of comprehensiveness, of integration, of "context-keeping." That's what I mean when I speak of dialectics as "the art of context-keeping."

But in order to do this, the investigator has to investigate. The investigator can identify basic metaphysical and epistemological foundations; she can go on and on about the need to take the needs and interests of an audience into account when presenting ideas. She can go on and on about the need to take action in the world. But without investigation, without an inquiry into the actual factors operating in the world, without the ability to clarify the character of their relationships, everything else is moot.

Now, insofar as any human being on the planet thinks, he or she will manifest aspects of what I call "radical" or "dialectical" methodology. But we trivialize that method by thinking that everybody does it successfully. The problem with many so-called "radicals" in social theory is that, at some point in their enterprise, they become decidedly nonradical, decidedly utopian: dropping context, or, worse, misidentifying the facts and the relationships among those facts in trying to understand that context.

As I write in Total Freedom: "It cannot be denied that dialectics has been used by the followers of many false gods. That it has the potential to enrich our understanding of facts and principles, that it can and must be put in the service of such facts and principles, is also undeniable. But the most important question that any project faces is this: Are its conclusions valid? To the extent that we substitute purely methodological concerns for substantive ones, we beg that question. There is, after all, a dialectical relationship of mutual implications between method and content."

You write above: "One can identify the roots of communism and be a radical ~for communism~. Let me put forth these questions before I carry my argument further: Could one be a radical for communism? Could one be a radical for environmentalism? Could one be a radical for country square dancing?"

A Marxist might identify the "roots" of communism (say, the labor theory of value) and be a "radical" (passionate and consistent advocate?) for communism. An environmentalist might identify the roots of environmentalism and be a "radical" (passionate and consistent advocate?) for environmentalism. (I'll leave country square dancing alone for a moment.) But it seems here that you are simply using the word "radical" as a synonym for "passion" or, perhaps, "consistency." This is, I'm afraid, trivializing what it means to be a radical. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman, philosophers, and divines." What matters is not simply that one identifies the root of a position, or that one defend that position with passion and consistency. John Kerry had one good line in the Presidential debates about Bush's consistency and passion: "You could be wrong!"

And the history of social theory is riddled with many "false" radicals for that reason; they may state their premises baldly; they may defend them passionately and with consistency. But if the premises are wrong and the inquiry is flawed, all the coherence and consistency and "context-keeping" in the world is moot. We need to think more dialectically about dialectics and radicalism, and about the indissoluble relationship between form and substance, method and content. Otherwise we trivialize radicalism. Ultimately, as Hayek suggested, it is a privilege to be radical, but to be a genuine radical demands much of us.

Michael P Moeller - 12/18/2004

This is what I've been waiting for. You write:
"Rand was both a radical and a capitalist, with no dichotomy between these; in fact, I'd say in this context that each was an extension of the other."

In your first response to me, you also wrote: "Most of the traditions you point to, however, are "extremist" and "reactionary" because they misidentify the roots. Going to the roots is only effective if you identify the roots correctly."

One can identify the roots of communism and be a radical ~for communism~. Let me put forth these questions before I carry my argument further: Could one be a radical for communism? Could one be a radical for environmentalism? Could one be a radical for country square dancing?

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 12/18/2004

I don't think the main purpose of my article was necessarily "to apply Rand's methodology to foreign policy." It was to show that Schwartz and other Objectivists had abandoned various insights into foreign policy that Rand had readily included in her analysis. It is an example of Rand's radical legacy if one understands that she was a "radical for capitalism"---with emphasis on both the "radical" and the "capitalism." If one speaks of "radical" apart from the point of that radicalism, one is adopting a useless formalism; and if one speaks of "capitalism" apart from the ways in which it can and must be defined, defended, and understood, one might very well be reduced to an apologia for the status quo.

Rand was both a radical and a capitalist, with no dichotomy between these; in fact, I'd say in this context that each was an extension of the other. I've never described Rand's legacy by a formal similarity she shares with fundamentally opposite thinkers. That might be useful as a point of comparison, but it has never been my central concern. What I've done is to trace the mutual implications of Rand's dialectical approach and her substantive commitment to free minds and free markets. Surely my AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, which devoted extensive sections to Rand's "radicalism," spent an inordinate amount of time developing an understanding of those substantive commitments. What's the point of speaking of a formal radicalism without grasping the ways in which it is put to use?

Plenty of people before Rand defended metaphysical realism, reason, ethical egoism, and even liberal capitalism. What makes Rand unique? Partially, I would say, it is her ability to synthesize and integrate these positions into a coherent whole, an ability to grasp the full context, the "organic links" among seemingly disparate factors of that whole. In other words, I would say that it is partially an outgrowth of the very art of context-keeping that constitutes dialectical method itself. That method has no meaning apart from the substantive positions it relates to. And as a method, it is an important aspect of what it means "to reason." All I've done in my work is to highlight this aspect of Rand's methodology; I've never argued that it is the only characteristic by which to understand her. As in all things dialectical, even a one-sided focus on an important characteristic can have the effect of sometimes minimizing other characteristics. But that doesn't make the focus any less important insofar as it helps to illuminate themes that are absent in other foci. All the more reason to study Ayn Rand's "legacy" dialectically--i.e., from as many different vantage points as possible.


Michael P Moeller - 12/18/2004

Ah, again I think your examples favor my argument. In regard to the idea that "in some cases the non-essential characterisation will be more useful than the essential ones", I would say no. In your example, you are ignoring ~purpose~. The hypothetical doctor is diagnosing her physical health, not engaging in philosophical detection. So in this case, which is ~essential~ to the doctor's purpose, her various physiologic functions or her belief in "rational self-interest"? You even implicitly acknowledge this when you write: "even though in *general* knowing she's an Objectvist is more important." In *general* for what? For examining her philosophical beliefs--yes. For diagnosing her physical health--no.
Now let's apply this to Chris. The main purpose of his articles, I think, was to apply Rand's methodology to foreign policy. Now if we recognize that this same method can be applied by fundmentally opposite thinkers (like Hegel and Marx), is this really recapturing her legacy? In other words, all the examples (like Hegel and Marx) are radicals. But not all those radicals are ~rational~. Indeed, only one of them is--Ayn Rand.
Implicit in both of our arguments is that Rand is fundmentally opposed to thinkers like Marx and Hegel. What makes them fundamentally opposed? And if we recognize this, is it appropriate to describe her ~legacy~ by a similarity she shares with fundamentally opposite thinkers? And if our purpose is to describe her methodological approach, wouldn't it be more appropriate to grasp itit by its essential characteristic? If we were to only note that Rand grasped ~roots~ and that she did not put these roots into a logical, philosophical hierarchy, would that accurately describe her methodological approach?
How about in the case of the hypothetical doctor? If he focused on your blood type and didn't take a more "complete" approach to diagnosing your health, would you want to go to that doctor? And it does not follow that knowing your blood type is without its importance, it is important.
Let me say at the outset that I am not arguing from some idea of "completeness", as you seem to suggest. This would require not only knowledge of all the present facts, but of all future facts as well. It would require omniscience. What I am saying is that when viewed in the light of purpose, grasp the object by its essential characteristic. To use your earlier example, if we wanted to examine whether the chipmunk, the human, and the salamander were mammals, would we note that all three possessed locomotion? True, they do. But this would not be describing mammals by their essential characteristic. Indeed, the characteristic is shared by an animal that is not a mammal, ie. it is nonessential characteristic. So when examining AR's methodological legacy, is it appropriate to describe it by a nonessential? I would say no. It seems you would say yes.

Roderick T. Long - 12/17/2004

Certainly characterising something by a non-essential property is going to be incomplete -- though characterising it by an essential property is going to be incomplete too. (Both "omit measurements.") But that doesn't mean either characterisation is going to be unhelpful in gaining insight about someone. Indeed, in some cases the non-essential characterisation will be more useful than the essential ones. (Analogously, if I'm a doctor treating Ayn Rand, it may be much more important for me to know her blood type than to know that she's an Objectivist, even though in *general* knowing she's an Objectvist is more important.)

Chris argues that Rand's ideas have some interesting features in common with those of Hegel, Marx, and others; that her Soviet educational background probably plays some role in explaining these similarities; and that these features in turn are important in explaining various aspects of her philosophy. It seems to me, first, that Chris is right about all of that, and second, that all of that is perfectly consistent with saying that there are deep and massive differences between Rand's appraoch and the Hegel-Marx approach. Indeed, even if the differences turn out to be more important and enlightening than the similarities, that doesn't make the similarities unimportant or unenlightening.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 12/17/2004

Michael, I'm not saying that thinking of ideal, valid alternatives is not appropriate. If it were not appropriate... what are we all doing here? Why extol the virtues of freedom, free markets, free minds, etc., if we were all simply stuck with what we have, unable to dream, unable to project a better world?

Of course, we must look at things as they "might be and ought to be." But all discussion of potential must start with what exists, what is "actual." Potentiality is... must be... an outgrowth of actuality. We can't project what might be and ought to be by obscuring what is.

My Marxist mentor, Bertell Ollman, once made a statement to me about libertarians: "Libertarians are like people who go into a Chinese restaurant, and order pizza." Now, pizza may be delicious... but you're not going to find it in your typical Chinese restaurant. All he was trying to point out was that you need to deal with what's on the actual menu, what exists in a certain context. That is how all real and lasting social change must begin.

Of course, I could have said easily reversed this statement of his and directed it toward... Marxists. :)

Michael P Moeller - 12/17/2004

I just have to make one further comment...

You wrote: "That depends on the context. Rand recognized that the institutionalized civil war of the mixed economy made each person act institutionally in ways that might be called self-protective or "self-interested." But as long as that self-interest was exercised within the context of the mixed economy, it frequently dissolved into an orgy of mutual self-sacrificing."

Yes, but that does not restrict man from defining self-interest properly. Context does not restrict us to the range of the moment, it is quite the opposite. What I was objecting to was this statement:

"In the current system, it is not a valid way of thinking about foreign policy because foreign policy is, as Rand said it was, "merely a consequence of domestic policy," and both are, at root, vestiges of collectivism"

No. It is a valid way of thinking about foreign policy. Could a person living in Soviet Russia not conceive of "self-interest" because the communist system makes that type of action almost impossible? If that were true, man would never be able to rise above the level of the cave because they would be restricted the current "social conditions".

I think this is ignoring context. We don't look at things just as they are, but as they "might be and ought to be". That is why the Soviet Russian desperately needs to define and seek out what is proper self-interest, because it provides a guide to get from here to there. It is more than necessary, it is essential that he do this. It would highlight the dynamics necessary to get from the state of complete collectivization to the state of individualism. Just because he lives in a state of mutual parasitism does not mean self-interest cannot be properly defined and understood and serve as a guide to what "might be and ought to be".

That is what I was objecting to in your article and your earlier statement, which denied talking about "national self-interest" because of our current system. Properly defined, it is more than reasonable to talk about "national self-interest", it is essential. It is a broad abstraction, which can provide a beacon to foreign policy as it "might be and ought to be". Just because our current foreign policy is wrought with "altruism" does restrict us from using the concept in the proper sense, nor is improper to speak in those terms because the present state of culture may not favor that type of action.

Man, I would love to comment more, but I have to learn to restrict myself.

Michael P Moeller - 12/17/2004

Always a fruitful and fascinating discussion. There is much here I would love to take on, but this could go on forever. (And we would be rehashing many old arguments.)
Thanks...its always engaging and enlightening.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 12/17/2004

Yes, it would be fair to assume that if the Soviet Union attacked the U.S. that Rand would have advocated a military response. So would Chris Sciabarra. You and I may have our differences, Michael, but we're surely not that different. :)

I think if you look at Rand's political mentor, Isabel Paterson, and her early thoughts on entry into World War II, btw, you will see just how much Rand was, in fact, a part of that "noninterventionist" tradition, however. Paterson, for example, recognized the differences between her "noninterventionism" and the "pacifism" offered as policy by some of the leftists in her day who claimed the same mantle (while the Soviet Union was busy signing a "Non-Aggression Pact" with the Nazis).

I wonder, btw, if this whole discussion is actually a part of another debate that we're not really engaging here: Might Rand be profitably viewed as a libertarian (lower-case "l")? I'd say "yes," and I suspect, Michael, that you'd say "no." "Libertarianism" like classical liberalism, is a political position, just as "egoism" is an ethical one. One can profitably place different thinkers in the same category, on the same level of generality, to note what they share in common---while pointing out what distinguishes them. I don't think this is "package-dealing." Not as long as you are self-conscious about the level of generality on which you are focusing.

As for the issue of "justice": There is always a context to the judgments we make. There have been terrorist actions taken against Americans for sure; but to argue that this is strictly a result of a 'clash of civilizations' and that none of it is due to blowback for U.S. policies that have impinged on Iran is, in my view, to drop context.

Let me be clear: Explanation is not justification. Understanding past policy implications does not "excuse" those who initiate force toward innocent civilians and noncombattants. But it does point to a much wider and more important issue concerning the scope of U.S. foreign policy in the past, and the ways in which it must be changed in the long-run.

You state: "To be sure, we have countless institutionalized pressure groups in our own mixed economy, so is thinking about individual self-interest not proper because it would perpetuate the civil war among pressure groups in our semi-collectivized mixed economy? No, of course not."

That depends on the context. Rand recognized that the institutionalized civil war of the mixed economy made each person act institutionally in ways that might be called self-protective or "self-interested." But as long as that self-interest was exercised within the context of the mixed economy, it frequently dissolved into an orgy of mutual self-sacrificing. Yes, there is a legitimate, "rational selfishness" that can and must be exercised by individuals if they seek to live and flourish. That's why Rand fought so valiantly in her advocacy of the proper social conditions that might make such exercise fully efficacious for the individuals involved. Otherwise, the "conflict of men's interests" was unavoidable.

Finally as for "rational" and "radical" as applied to other thinkers: Fundamentally, I believe that Lenin was mistaken. His framework was built upon a host of incorrect assumptions. Was he "radical"? Only insofar as he expressed a dialectical sensibility, I'd say he manifested some methodological radicalism (and I discuss this a bit in AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL). But it was completely undermined by the false assumptions and false content of his intellectual framework.

Michael P Moeller - 12/16/2004

Alright...last one...I promise:)
(1) and (2) She left open the question of invasion. Would it be fair to assume she would advocate the use of force if the Soviets had killed/injured Americans on the scale the terrorists/terrorist sponsors have the past 20 years? I'll make that argument.
Again, I don't think it is correct to paint AR in the "noninterventionist" corner. To say that because she supported not entering WWII or the Vietnam war and look to certain other "nonintervenionist" thinkers who advocated the same policies is out of context. These are concrete applications. Her reasoning and her concept of "national self-interest" is just not shared by libertarian thinkers because her ethical framework is not shared by them. It is analogous to Conservatives who defend capitalism based on faith, or a utilitarian viewpoint of "greatest good for the greatest number". And can we say they are both in the "capitalist tradition" because they both may advocate eliminating tariffs? Two totally different animals. Can you argue that many of the libertarian "noninterventionist" thinkers are arguing foreign policy from the same ethical framework?

(3) My goal is not a cultural change in the Mid-east, nor is it a proper to base foreign US foreign policy on "cultural change". They have free-will and it is up to them to ~discover~ the value of capitalism. It is a question of the just use of force. Other options like leaving "regime change" to the Iranian younger generation is not just to the Americans who died as a result of Iranian terrorism. It is the responsibility of the US government to seek justice for its citizens, not young Iranians. Leaving a regime in place who is intent on obtaining nuclear weapons and destroying the West does not seem like a judicious use of force. I think our divergence is too great here so I'll leave it at that, I'm sure we could argue volumes. "Surgical strikes" seems like a highly improper military response when one considers the nature and scope of global terrorism.

(4) You emphasize in both your article and your response that it is not valid to think of "national self-interest" because of the collectivist underpinnings of our current system.
I disagree. I think it is essential. Would we not speak of individual self-interest in domestic policy because of our current mixed economy? Can you apply the same logic and say that talking about capitalism in domestic policy "in our current system" is an invalid way of thinking because of the various "pressure groups"? To be sure, we have countless institutionalized pressure groups in our own mixed economy, so is thinking about individual self-interest not proper because it would perpetuate the civil war among pressure groups in our semi-collectivized mixed economy? No, of course not.
Defining exactly what self-interest is is tantamount to forming a healthy, lasseiz-faire capitalistic society. Same is true for "national self-interest". Properly defined, it would serve as the anti-dote to "civil war among pressure groups". It would pave the way for a healthy, principled foreign policy based on the just use of force and self-defense.

Michael P Moeller - 12/16/2004

No doubt we agree on a lot. Your continuing analysis of the neofascist aspects of American foreign policy is particularly insightful.
I know you mean AR's fundamentals in particular. But that was not my wider point and I know you are not excluding her ~substance~. But it is valid, I think, to consider others as "radicals" (eg. Lenin is a "radical" ~for communism~), even though you we would agree that the roots are wrong. The concept of ~radical~ still applies to them. By contrast, could we consider both Lenin and AR as ~rational~? I think this precision is essential when talking about an epistemological method.
I think I also approach the idea of US self-interest in the foreign sphere much differently, ie. the level of force that is appropriate and how it is applied, which is more than a difference of application...there is a ethical difference at work. Anyway, we both understand our differences.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 12/16/2004

A few additional points on specific issues:

1. Just because Rand said that it would be proper to take down a dictatorship did not mean that she supported doing so under all circumstances, or that she thought it an obligation for free countries to undertake. As I said: She objected to the US entering the European theater of World War II on either the side of the Nazis or the Soviets. And she opposed any US invasion of the Soviet Union in the context of her own time.

2. The noninterventionist tradition is really an extension of the classical liberal tradition, and I do believe that Rand is part of that tradition. Are there distinctions among those in that tradition? Of course. But there are things that unite the various individuals so identified as part of that tradition.

3. In an abstract sense, I am not denying the validity of "regime change." What I'm suggesting is that there are various ways of bringing forth such "regime change"; sometimes the military option is the least effective manner of doing so---especially if your goal is to change the underlying culture that makes the political poisons possible. Destroying Iran will not eliminate those poisons; they were not even the "sponsoring" state for the organization (Al Qaeda) that attacked the US on 9/11, even though they've clearly been involved in exporting their particular brand of poison for many years. So are the Saudis---even more so, since they've exported Wahhabi ideology to the rest of the Islamic world (and yet the US will never attack Saudi Arabia for the reasons I describe in my article).

That said: There is some hope that the youth of Iran may achieve something remarkable in their growing resistance to the mullahs. There may be ways to effectively exploit the growing divisions within that country. See here.

4. On the issue of "national self-interest," I made the point in the paper: In the current system, it is not a valid way of thinking about foreign policy because foreign policy is, as Rand said it was, "merely a consequence of domestic policy," and both are, at root, vestiges of collectivism. One cannot define a single "national self-interest" when the policies in place feed on and perpetuate an institutionalized civil war among pressure groups.


Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 12/16/2004

Michael, I appreciate your comments, but I know you're familiar with my work, and I can't imagine that you'd ever think for a moment that I was simply celebrating Rand because she's a "radical" per se.

The whole purpose of my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy (which includes Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom) has been to celebrate a distinctively dialectical defense of freedom---with an emphasis on both the dialectical method and freedom, that is on both the form and substance. In Russian Radical, I focus enormous attention on the precise ways in which Rand's structure of inquiry is, in fact, integrated and hierarchical. And the trilogy in toto is designed as a defense of a "dialectical libertarianism" not simply because I appreciate "going to the root," but because I believe that the roots themselves have been properly identified.

There's nothing here that you've said that I object to, and I made it a point of saying virtually the same thing: It doesn't matter if one claims to go to the root unless one identifies the actual roots of a problem. To that extent, my focus has always been on Rand's manner of grasping genuine roots, and her remarkable ability to understand the myriad relationships among disparate factors, each of which is illustrative of those genuine roots at work.

There is no reason to see these enterprises---or even our positions---as opposed. At least not from where I sit.


PS -- Thanks... now I understand how those numbers got screwy. hehe

Michael P Moeller - 12/16/2004

This was not my objection. Allow me to elaborate with your examples. Mammals have certain distinguishing characteristics (vertebrate, hair, etc.) that define that concept with the measurements omitted (length of spine, type of hair, etc.). So, animals who have those characteristics, fall under that concept. The same is true for omits what one is ~radical about~. AR was not just a radical, she was a radical ~for capitalism~. I am not saying it is an invalid concept as such because it can be applied to fundamentally opposite principles. What I am saying is that it is a nonessential--it does not encapsulate the essence of what it describes--it is a "package deal" in that sense that AR used it in the "Extremism" article, that a principle (or method) is defined by its nonessential is the setting up of a straw man.
Let me be even clearer. In is not just that AR grasped ~roots~, but it essential exactly what those roots ~are~. My further point was this, to describe AR's method as ~radical~ because she grasped roots is inadequate and incomplete. Her epistemological method was much more comprehensive than grasping roots--specifically she integrated these ~roots~ into a logical, hierarchal philosophical structure. It would be more correct and complete to describe this as ~rational~, not ~radical~. That is why I drew the distinctions with the ELF and Lenin, because they could also be accurately described as ~radical~. But I did not say that this invalids the concept, but rather it does not adequately encapsulate AR.

Roderick T. Long - 12/16/2004

I don't think a concept like "radical" or "noninterventionist" becomes an "anti-concept" or "package-deal" just by the fact of applying to fundamentally different kinds of thing. After all, the concept "mammal" isn't invalid, even though it applies to both humans and chipmunks, which are pretty different. In lots of important ways, a chipmunk is more like a salamander (a non-mammal) than it is like a human being. But humans and chipmunks really do share features salamanders don't, features that license placing them in a common "mammal" category. In order for a concept to be an anti-concpet or package-deal, it's not enough for it to apply to wildly different things; it's got to somehow incorporate into it some confusion about those differences.

Rand's objection to "extremism" was not that it applied to both Objectivists and Nazis. Lots of concepts apply to both groups (including "mammal"!). Her objection was that the concept "extremism" builds into it a false judgment that anything extreme is bad, be it extreme pro-liberty/pro-reason or extreme anti-liberty/anti-reason.

By the way, Chris -- if you originally typed your numbered list in MS Word then I think I know how the numbers got messed up ....

Michael P Moeller - 12/16/2004

Did I forget to address the "national self-interest" concept you have a problem with? Properly defined, this is very accurate to describe AR's position...both the positive and negative aspects of rights. And the rights of individual US citizens as applied to the foreign sphere. I am unclear why this is not comprehensive enough for you and why seem to imply that it is only valid rather "narrowly". I think it is a rather "broad" way of proscribing US foreign policy and a completely valid concept. Why was AR not "perfect" on this point?

Michael P Moeller - 12/16/2004

1) We do agree that one cannot divorce the method from the content about which it speaks. That's not really what I was disputing. Even if I accept your definition of "radical", grasping the ~essentials~ or ~roots~ is one aspect of ~rationality~. So when you describe her as "radical" by your own definition, it leaves out integration into a logical hierarchy. It would be more appropriate, epistemologically speaking, to call her method "rational", not "radical".
2) By today's standards, indeed, that would be a radical development. But you miss my point, it is essential to grasp what one is "radical" about. My wider point was that this description is a "package-deal" and misses the essence of what her position was, which was precisely the critique AR used.
3) Enblightened self-interest itself needs to be used in itself in a "in a strictly defined context". The same with just about any philosophical term. I am not sure what you object
4) Point taken on Rothbard. But you do lump her in the "noninterventionist tradition". This is rather broad, especially people like Rothbard do constitute the "noninterventionist tradition" as well as many libertarians, and AR diverges significantly from this viewpoint. Indeed, in the Playboy interview, AR states "at the present moment", which implies that future circumstances permitting, she would be in favor of invasion. She merelyWhen asked about the invasion of Germany or any other dictatorship, she had no problem with it and gave her sanction if it was deemed necessary.
6) Chris: "My point here is that all this Objectivist advocacy concerning destruction but not reconstruction is very nice, but when it ignores the dynamics that are in place because of the system that is in place, such advocacy amounts to very little, because it doesn't get to the root of the systemic issues that so distort our foreign policy. Rand understood those roots."
This sort of a off-the-cuff dismissal without arguing what is wrong with that theory. It is simply not "realistic" and ignores "dynamics in place". Are you sure? Leaving regimes in place that threaten the very existence of the US is more "realistic" and gets to the "root of the systemic issues"?
It seems to me that this ~military~ approach is rather impractical and immoral. Imagine the world-wide intelligence necessary to find and destroy individual terrorists in some 60 countries. Dismantling the major terrorist sponsoring states is impractical but "surgical strikes" against terrorist cells (a lot of which takes place in free/semi-free countries) is practical?
Can you describe a little more clearly how this approach would be "rather muscular"? How would this approach deal with major terrorist sponsoring states? "Surgical strikes" sounds nice, but it seems to me that this does not address the issue of terrorist sponsoring states and their "systemic" connections to a horde of terrorist organizations.
8) No, I am not implying destruction of the entire Mid-East. Does taking down major terrorist sponsoring states imply that? It seems to me that, if certain regimes were destroyed (especially Iran), that would be attacking the "root" of the problem. It would be a good place to start--the rest would fall of its own weight. It would not encourage any "half-assed" nation to support terrorism against the US as "surgical strikes" would. And it does not imply that massive "reconstruction" efforts should follow, nor does it mean occupation is necessary. Considering the altruism involved in "reconstruction" efforts and its grasp on our foreign policy, my suggestion here is indeed "radical". You are correct to point out that our current foreign policy and positioning would not allow this to happen, but it does not make the viewpoint any less valid...nor can it be so easily dismissed as "very nice" or amounting to "very little". It seems to me, that "surgical strikes" amount to very little.
Indeed, a self-assertive foreign policy should go hand-in-hand with a more individualistic/capitalistic approach domestically. The are born of the same character/essence. We are talking about a war of civilizations. We are talking about nihilists who are intent on carrying out the complete destruction of the West. We are talking about governments that are wholesale in the business of terrorist sponsorship. We are talking about men who would detonate a nuke in the middle of Manhattan if giving a chance. Surgical strikes, however "muscular", seems woefully inadequate military response to such a clash of civilizations.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 12/16/2004

some of those numbers got screwed up... not quite sure how... but you get the point. :)

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 12/16/2004


Thanks for your extraordinarily comprehensive comments. I can only respond briefly; the points you raise would, of course, require several essays of writing---so this will have to suffice for now. :)

1. The use of the word "radical" is not an example of definition by non-essentials; it is simply an observation steeped in Rand's own use of the word radical to mean "fundamental": going to the root of a problem in order to resolve it. Now, many different theorists will claim to be radical, and there will necessarily be a battle over who has the right to use that word. Most of the traditions you point to, however, are "extremist" and "reactionary" because they misidentify the roots. Going to the roots is only effective if you identify the roots correctly. That requires empirical investigation and comprehensive inquiry. A "radical" methodology is only as good as the substance to which it is wedded. That's why I have long argued that radical libertarianism or "dialectical libertarianism" is the most promising: because it seeks to go to the root, and it identifies those roots correctly. There is no disagreement with you on this, and there is no reason to think that I would view dialectical thinking or thinking-in-context as opposed to empirical research and/or logical identification. These things go hand-in-hand. But you cannot advocate one without the other.

2. If Rand's views "took a systemic hold on the US foreign and domestic policy," the whole current system would be overturned. That would be a radical development. :)

3. My comments on "national self-interest" are clear; I am uncomfortable with it. Rand was not perfect; she may have used that term---but she was also careful to argue that the moral ideal (national self-interest) was opposed to the actual system in place. I tend to think of "national self-interest" in the same way that I would think of the term "common good"; it might be used in some meaningful manner---but it can only be used in a strictly defined context. I sometimes get the feeling that Schwartz---who does not note any of the inherent conflict within the "New Fascism"---just doesn't quite make the necessary "mediating" connections that Rand does with regularity. For Rand, the assertion of "national self-interest" is only genuinely possible when foreign and domestic policy have been radically transformed.

4. No, I'm not suggesting that "the UN is an arm of US foreign policy seeking to fill the pockets of corporate pull-peddlers." But it can be, and has been, used by pull peddlers to achieve such goals. The thing is, because it is a world organization, it is therefore used by pull peddlers from other country's governments too. Including Saddam Hussein's---and all the kickbacks he received from the oil-for-food program. My claim about corporate pull-peddlers went beyond the U.N. and was directed at the foreign aid program in general; some of that foreign aid is ploughed into the U.N. and there are corporate interests that lobby for that kind of aid, but that most certainly is not the only kind of "foreign aid" that goes into "corporate welfare." See, for example, here and do a general search at the Cato Institute for "corporate welfare" and "united nations" for additional info.
5. Where did I suggest that Rand shared Rothbard's view of foreign policy? I mention Rothbard once---in reference to his book, The Ethics of Liberty. In fact, I suggested that Rand shared Isabel Paterson's view, and that Rand herself used the word "isolationist" in scare quotes to make the very point. (She was angry at the liberal internationalists for using "isolationist" as a smear word to describe those who opposed their Wilsonian foreign policy goals.)
6. I've never argued for "immediate withdrawal"---not even in Iraq. You'll not find a single reference to "immediate withdrawal" in any of my articles.
7. Rand shared the political values of the classical liberal tradition; she opposed US entry into WW 1, WW 2, Korea, and Vietnam. But even in her Playboy interview, she said that invasion of the Soviet Union should not be undertaken "at present," that it was not "necessary," and that an "economic boycott" would lead to the regime's "collapse without the loss of a single American life." Most of Rand's "assertive" suggestions were of this character: withdraw the sanction of the victim, and evil will collapse of its own weight. Sounds good to me.
6. I do not believe that governments that support anti-U.S. terrorists should go unpunished, and I supported the destruction of the Taliban for that reason. But I think there are different strategies that should be adopted depending on the context of each country, and the strategic costs and benefits of various actions must be weighed. Iran, for example, is not ripe for invasion, and Iraq should never have been invaded to begin with, in my view... not because these are legitimate regimes entitled to moral protection, but because there were/are better ways of dealing with the potential threats such regimes posed other than full-scale invasion and occupation, with the costs of reconstruction being assumed by the U.S. Understand though: advocating the wholesale destruction of such regimes and not thinking that the U.S. will thereafter create an economic boondoggle of global proportions is simply not realistic. That's what the U.S. does as a matter of policy, given the current system, since the Marshall Plan (which Rand also opposed). My point here is that all this Objectivist advocacy concerning destruction but not reconstruction is very nice, but when it ignores the dynamics that are in place because of the system that is in place, such advocacy amounts to very little, because it doesn't get to the root of the systemic issues that so distort our foreign policy. Rand understood those roots.
7. On the issue of Iran, you can check out a number of my posts here:
8. Are you implying that the US should simply destroy the entire Arab-Islamic Middle East as a solution to the problem of global terrorism? I'm a little confused about where you might be going with some of the comments you make. Surgical strikes can be rather muscular; they don't have to equate with lobbing cruise missiles at a couple of shacks in the desert. The idea here is to marginalize Islamic terrorists and not to create the conditions that might further embolden them.
As always,

Michael P Moeller - 12/16/2004

You're always an interesting and scholarly read. Although, as usual, there is much I disagree with. I meant to respond to your foreign policy articles from the last couple years, but, to be thorough, would require much more time than I have. Anyway, I would like to make a few passing points.

1) Rand's legacy as "radical". I've always had a problem with you defining Rand this way for the same reason she had a problem with the terms "extremism" and "radical". They are definitions by ~nonessentials~. She described them as essentially smokescreens for capitalism and patriotism. Let's quote AR for a second where she states that extremism is:
"a term which sounds like a concept, but stands for a "package-deal" whose defining characteristic is always non-essential".
She also writes on this methodology:
"man accepts a term by non-essentials, his mind will substitute for it the essential characteristic of the objects he is trying to designate."
This is, essentially, the method you are using when you describe her method as "radical". "Radical" about what? You quote Marx when you write "To be radical is to grasp things by the root". Indeed, but it is imperative what ~exactly~ those roots are. One could say that Marx, or Lenin, or the ELF, or Klu Klux Clan are "radicals" we want to recapture their "radical" legacy?
Ok, AR admits to being a "radical" in the sense that lasseiz-faire capitalism is not the prevailing or dominant trend. But what is essential is grasping exactly what the roots ~are~, not the fact that they are radical. What if her ideas of enlightened self-interest and capitalism did become the dominant trend and took a systemic hold on the US foreign and domestic policy...would the fact that they are no longer "radical" invalid them?
In terms of foreign policy, her works are littered with the term "national self-interest". Chris, you write: "I’m somewhat uncomfortable with Schwartz’s use of the phrase “self-interest” to describe any government’s foreign policy." Hmmm. In just about every article discussing foreign policy (and specifically the ones you quote like "THe Wreckage of the Consensus" and "The Lessons of Vietnam"), AR describes US foregin policy in terms of "national self-interest". You may disagree with this usage (which I don't) as you suggest throughout your articles, but it certainly wasn't AR's position.
In fact, I believe Rand's "National Self-Interest Legacy" would be more accurtate that describing her legacy as "radical" because it describes the essence of the actions she saw appropriate in the foreign sphere--namely, as asserting national self-interest. What this consists of is another debate.

2) Quick passing observation. Are you suggesting the UN is an arm of US foreign policy seeking to fill the pockets of corporate pull-peddlers? What about the billions funneled to NGO's who impart their socialist ideals from environmental policy to breast feeding. The UN is a massive redistribution of wealth organization backing just about every socialist policy known to man. Not only that, they are not accountable to any electorate and get US sanction, which would make any Socialist European nation green with envy. Besides, when it comes to the UN, is it US diplomats making policy decisions? Is it the US putting together these sundry conferences to denounce capitalism in general, and the US and Israel in particular? I think it is very hard to make the case that the US sets policy at the UN to feed its corporate interests.
Fascism and socialism, in essence, are the same--statism. No doubt, some US Corporations benefit from its schemes as they do from domestic corporate welfare, but to suggest that US corporations are forging UN policy to line their pockets is rather absurd. Just for my own personal edification, can you give me some US corporations and the manner in which they feed at the UN trough...I'm curious.

3) Another quick observation. To describe AR as "isolationist" in the same paragraph with Murray Rothbard or Libertarians is a gross misrepresentation. Is this the same Murray Rothbard that suggested the US was the aggressor against the Soviet Union? I believe, she departs significantly from him and libertarians. AR, correctly and in numerous instances, described her foreign policy as one of "national self-interest".
First of all, enlightened self-interest, does not seem to be the dominant sentiment of the Libertarian ethos. Philosophically, Libertarianism is all over the map.
You correctly noted that AR suggested coming to the defense of Israel and Taiwan. Let me present her reference in full quote:
"The first intended victim of the new isolationism will probably be Israel--if the "anti-war" efforts of the new isolationists succeed. (Israel and Taiwan are the two countries that need and deserve U.S. help--not in the name of internation altruism, but by reason of actual U.S. national interests in the Mediterranean and the Pacific.)"
Whe she speaks of "U.S. national interests in the Mediterranean and the Pacific" is that consistent with the Libertarian approach to foreign policy, which consists mostly of unilaterally withdrawl? Withdrawl without considering withdrawl from ~where~ and ~from whom~? You argue for this same immediate withdrawl. Is that consistent with AR? Does she argue from a "noninterventionist tradition"? There is plenty to suggest otherwise (eg. Playboy interview where she suggests invading the Soviet Union if necessary). I think you tend to ignore the ~assertive~ aspects of her foreign policy (militarily and economically) and clump her with "noninterventionist" Libertarian viewpoint that is not hers.

4) From what you term to be a "broader intellectual vision", you seem to suggest two main courses of action: (1) what seems to be an total, indiscrimate, and nonspecific withdrawl from the foreign sphere and (2) surgical military strikes against individual terrorist camps.
The main philosophical virtue that needs to be discussed in terms of the use of force (domestic or foreign) is "justice". Chris, do you just kill the individual terrorist ants and let the governments that are wholesale into the business of arming, training, and funding terrorists go unpunished? Are you ignoring the wider "context" of the structure that makes the actions of the terrorists possible? Would you prosecute individual gang-members and leave godfathers go unpunished?
I saw a recent study by the Hoover Institution that details the 10 or so terrorist organization that Saddam supported and the Americans that got injured and/or died as a result. Isn't it our government's job to protect those lives and seek justice against the perpetrators? What about the thousands of Americans injured and the hundreds killed over the past 20 years by sundry terrorist-supporting regimes? Does "surgical strikes" adequately address the integral, syetemic link between foreign governments and the multitude of terrorist organizations? Look at how the world gets into an uproar about Israel's even more discriminate "surgical strikes" against individual Hamas terrorists. The world will say nothing when the US does the same? There will be no retaliation from these regimes?
We both know Bastiat's "what is seen and what is not seen". You speculate the hundreds of billions spent and thousands of lives lost with further invasions of say, Iran. But let us not forget the the billions lost and the thousands of lives lost on 911. What if Iran gets a nuke and exports it to one of our cities? What will the damage totals (in lives and dollars) of that be? Where the leaders of these regimes suffer no reprecussions from "surgical strikes" on terrorist camps, will they be deterred to their avowed destruction of the US? Or will it encourage them?
I must make another note here. You conflate the US invasion of Iraq with the occupation. Now, certain prominent Objectivists (even the most prominent) advocated overwhelming destruction of the regime and no occupation, but rather the message that "if you seek to destroy us, you will be destroyed". Certainly, the US has no moral obligation to "rebuild" these societies or create a modern secular democracy, which the people don't understand and don't want. After all, nobody is rebuilding WTC for us. With use of force capable by the US military, the regime could have been destroyed rather cheaply and effectively. I don't think you have adequately addressed this viewpoint.
At the end of what you term to be a complex, involved, and "radical" analysis, I find the remedy of surgical stikes to be rather inadequate. Actually, when you think about the size and nature of global terrorism and its goals, the idea of "surgical strikes" to remedy the problem seems rather, well, ludicrous. Remember in "The Lessons of Vietnam" where AR argues that if appropriate force is not used in response to murderous thugs, "every 'half-asses nation' would have felt free to attack the U.S.". Again, I think you ignore the aspects of AR that urge assertive military force, and one of its manifestations is the use of "surgical strikes" to combat globalism.

5) Couple of salient points I agree on. The idea of "retaking" the oil fields is extremely unjust. That idea could be used to justify just about anybody's retaking of any square inch of land anywhere in the world. If some corporations make deals with the devil in the form of evil foreign governements, they deserve what they get.
The "exporting of democracy" is a terrible idea. Capitalism, a constitutional republic--these are values and the have to be ~chosen~. Trying to export these values by ~force~ is a blantant contradiction.
Pleasure as always,

Andre Zantonavitch - 12/13/2004

Assuming Cubans really ~did~ rally to Castro in 1962, I think the reaction today would be vastly different. Your point about popular foolish reactionaryism is valid, but humanity tends to ascend, and communism isn't as popular as it used to be. Certainly the Iraqis in 2002 didn't much rally to Saddam.

M.D. Fulwiler - 12/13/2004

Well, Andre seems to forget that JFK tried an invasion of Cuba and the population rallied around Fidel. It's amazing how people will rally around the worst dictators when faced with a foreign invasion.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 12/12/2004

I agree, Ken, that there were a lot of personal attacks in that pamphlet. I knew quite a few people who were attacked, and one of my friends (Marc Joffe) was singled out for his work with the NYU Students for a Libertarian Society (an organization of which I was a co-founder).

Walter Block eventually published his response to Schwartz (in REASON PAPERS, I believe).

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 12/12/2004

Thanks for your additional comments, gents. A number of issues are opened up here for discussion, which can't be adequately dealt with in a brief comment. I do think there is, btw, a history of classical liberal opposition to colonialism. Check out my comments here, for example.

Matthew Humphreys - 12/12/2004

Hi Andre and Chris,

The great majority of Objectivist and libertarian commentators on foreign policy seem to fall in to one of two camps - interventionish/hawkish and non-interventionist/doveish. At one extreme the ARI tends to be insanely hawkish, while many (though not all) of the paleo crowd at tend toward the other extreme. As I see it, the "Objective" appraoch is in fact a contextual one, supporting varying degrees of intervention where necessary and cautioning long and hard against it where it is unnecessary. This is of course exemplified by Chris' stances regarding Afghanistan and Iraq respectively ;-)

As for the connection between foreign policy and domestic, it seems to me that the strength of the connection depends at least in part on the extent of the intervention - a full scale invasion and occupation by a mixed economy nation tend to result in the exportation of the domestic policy (as is now happening in Iraq, and as I fear would occur in the above scenario of invading Cuba). This wouldn't be a problem with more limited surgical strikes.

Of course that doesn't mean Objectivists ought to oppose any full scale invasion of an outright dictatorship by a mixed economy western nation, but I do think we should be willing to consider alternatives before rushing into a major war.


Kenneth R Gregg - 12/12/2004

I did not pay much attention to Schwartz until his "Perversion..." piece. I found myself attacked, although without direct mention of my name (I was one of the writers and lecturers for SLL, the Orange County, CA-based Society for Libertarian Life) by him. Indeed, in many ways, it seemed like his line of criticism was directed to at least one of my pamphlets, "What ARE Libertarianism, Anyway," which sought to explain libertarianism as an umbrella concept.

I decided not to write a response to his essay, mainly because of the personal manner in which he attacked people. I felt that a response would give his essay more sanction than it deserved. Perhaps that was a mistake, considering how long he has gotten away with such folly.

I first met Tibor around 1970, and I have always thought highly of him personally and of his writings, even though there are areas of disagreement. He has come a long way in his development of ideas and is always a person to be aware of. Several of his collections of essays I have highly recommended in lectures and classes on the history of liberty.

Take care.
Just Ken

Andre Zantonavitch - 12/11/2004

Chris, the essense of your views on foreign policy seem to be that current pro-war libertarians and Objectivists "suffer from historical amnesia" and can't seem to figure out that "intervention" and "interference" abroad vary rarely works. And the isolationist Founding Fathers and Ayn Rand back you on this. Thus you seem to have a Murderer's Row of intellectual power on your side: history, America's creators, and Rand. You even have the current situation in Iraq, and the fetid bozo intellectualizing of Peter Schwartz which you could convincingly cite.

Still, I think this overall cautious and contextual approach (as seen in your 1995 book 'Hayek, Marx and Utopia' and much elsewhere) may not be necessary or appropriate to truly FREEDOM-loving states. Interventionism abroad ~worked~ with traditional colonialism and even WWII. Under colonialism, both parties benefitted in the 1700s and 1800s: the locals gained freedom and wealth and access to high civilization, while the foreign occupiers similarily profitted. After WWII, Japan and Germany had freedom and an alien culture "forced" upon them and the result was largely good.

The great problem in Iraq today is America is very much anti-freedom in its occupation policy. The US lets Iraq: keep their food subsidies for daily items, stay in OPEC, maintain nationalized and socialized oil, have evil islamicist and communist leaders, continue with drug tyranny and "vice" crimes, etc. All of this is the opposite of political liberalism and a ~huge~ problem.

Even still...Iraq is kinda "working" and moving toward freedom. If America would have been even ~remotely~ more loyal to the concept of democratic elections and providing general security (utilizing the hordes of unemployed locals), the situation would probably be much, much better. Current Western "nation building" and "teaching democracy" is highly inept and grossly irrational. But this doesn't invalidate the above interventionist concepts and ideals.

As for the historically intimate ties between the welfare and warfare state -- while the argument here is powerful indeed -- there's really no reason to suppose that this tie is natural or inevitable. What happens if the US invades and conquers Cuba, rapidly executes the top 100 supporters of communism, holds elections within a month, imposes the US constition on them for a year, and then ~leaves~, while taking some of the unowned dictatorship's islands in compensation? This gambit might work out well for ~both~ nations!

Andre Zantonavitch - 12/11/2004

I don't doubt that I may have thrown in a few more adjectives than is strictly consonant with Greek moderation -- or even general sobriety ;-). But, lucky for me, "prudence" is ~not~ one of the seven Objectivist cardinal virtues. (I really dodged a bullet on that one! ;-))

Still, I can't help but point out that in response to this truly serious and high-minded critique of ARI foreign policy, the evil and perverse zombie-followers of ARI will almost surely not say a single world. Certainly Schwartz, Peikoff, Brook, and Binswanger won't ~dare~ to confront you here -- or engage in anything remotely like fair, honest debate. They haven't even a hint of the requisite honesty, courage, integrity, or personal virtue which would allow them to engage in open, decent, direct discussion here at History News Network.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 12/11/2004

Hey, Andre, why don't you tell us how you really feel? :)

Truth is: I prefer to deal with the ideas of my interlocutors. I'll leave the personal stuff on the sidelines.

Andre Zantonavitch - 12/11/2004

The most striking thing about this 5-part, analysis-in-depth of proper free state foreign policy is the open, honest, forthright, fair-minded way Chris Sciabarra considers the thought of Peter Schwartz. Certainly the lowly Schwartz has never the done the same for Professor Sciabarra -- nor is he ever likely to in this lifetime. The evil cultists of the Ayn Rand Institute -- of which Schwartz is a full disreputable member -- are absolutely notorious for their personal sleeze, intellectual dishonesty, and cowardly traitorship to all healthy, virtuous norms of open discussion, honest debate, and scholarly consideration. They seem to oppose ~on principle~ all rational, moral, intelligent, properly ruminative, well-rounded, philosophic inquiry.

So Chris is doing slimeball Peter and the whole contemptible ARI lot a great favor here with his intelligent, perspicacious, careful, high-quality review. He's helping to improve their thought (sic) tremendously, and in a way which these dogmatic religioso vermin absolutely do ~not~ deserve. These miserable ARI grand perverters of reason and philosophy have even gone out of their way to slander and mistreat Chris ~personally~, yet he still gives them a fair hearing and respectful consideration. I find this remarkable -- and far more than they'll ever get from me.

Geoffrey Allan Plauche - 12/11/2004

Thanks for the link to Machan's article, Chris. His story of Irving Kristol's presentation of a novel idea to traditional conservatives at a Philadelphia Society meeting - that we need a good war once in a while to promote unity - prompted me to post on my blog about the striking similarity of this idea to Hegel's ideas on the State and war. Here's the link:

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 12/11/2004

Ken, thanks for your thoughts. Interestingly, I'm very critical of Schwartz's "Perversion of Liberty" essay as well, but the most important thing that is right about that essay---his emphasis that individualist political principles need philosophical and cultural foundations, i.e., a context---is the one thing he most often drops in the current foreign policy book.

And you are correct about other vestiges of rationalism in the Objectivist corpus; these mostly revolve around areas such as aesthetics and sexuality.

Fortunately, there are those in the neo-Objectivist or neo-Randian tradition, like Tibor Machan as you mention here, and others, who have crafted a more context-sensitive response on the issue of foreign policy. While we're on the subject of my long-time pal and colleague, Tibor, I should mention that he's taken a consistent "defensivist" position on foreign policy, and he's been profoundly critical of the neoconservative turn in the United States' political establishment. See here, for example. Machan has been an indefatigable writer, who has influenced the editorial writing of about 30 daily newspapers across this country, all of which have registered their objections to the Iraq war. This has largely been the result of Machan's efforts to help explicate the principles of libertarianism and their applications to foreign policy; in fact, he organizes Freedom Schools every 18 months or so to educate people in these principles, championing the kind of understanding of politics and foreign & military policy that I've suggested in my series.

It's good that we recognize these kinds of achievements.

Kenneth R Gregg - 12/11/2004

Chris said: "What most strikes me about Schwartz’s book... is that it tends to deal too abstractly, too rationalistically, with the principles of a “moral” foreign policy... without paying much attention to the concrete context and historical circumstances that have led America so far astray from the celebrated ideal. Rand could also celebrate an “unknown ideal”—but rarely at the expense of a rigorous analysis of the past, and the present, the actual, as a means to evaluate the potential for real change."

This is a common theme with Schwartz, and I believe that you can readily identify this context-dropping in his childishly gleeful rantings in the "Perversion of Liberty" essay of some years ago and apply a similar analysis provided here in Chris' essay. By taking his notions out of context, Schwartz commits a grave error which takes his concept formation in a quite platonic direction, and contrary to the epistemological foundations in propounded in objectivist theory.

Like Rand describing homosexuality as "disgusting and immoral" (I think those were her words), she turns happiness upside-down and out of context, a criticism which most modern objectivists are willing to accept. In further analyzing such activity, objectivists recognize the weakness in her line of argumentation, that, considering the volitional nature of humanity and our need for emotional intimacy, there are always going to be some people for whom homosexuality is both quite "thrilling and moral."

It is necessary for objectivists (and others, for that matter) to place our concepts, and the application of those ideas within their proper context. Tibor has often, over the years, emphasized context in his writings, and I think that he, and Chris, in his essay here, are quite correct.

Just a thought.
Just Ken

Geoffrey Allan Plauche - 12/10/2004

I do agree that going into Afghanistan was at least somewhat justifiable, unlike Iraq. However, I would have preferred a more surgical strike.

Hunting down Osama and his men should have been the priority in the so-called War on Terror. Instead, Bush and his administration have become distracted by Iraq.

Geoffrey Allan Plauche - 12/10/2004

Quite so. I was just wondering whether Rand developed (at least in part) her ideas on the subject before reading Mises's work or whether the picked it up from him. Academic curiosity on my part.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 12/10/2004

Thanks for your comments, Geoffrey. I don't have any information on a Rand-Mises link that is specifically relevant to the domestic-foreign policy interrelationship. But Rand surely read Mises, and recommended his work highly; among the books that are listed in her Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal bibliography, one will find these Mises titles:

The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality

Human Action

Omnipotent Government

Planned Chaos

Planning for Freedom


The Theory of Money and Credit

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 12/10/2004

I understand where you're coming from, Bill. The short answer is that none of us should really expect that such interventions would be sensibly administered, even if they are justified, given the current politico-economic system. That said, I am one of those libertarians who did support intervention in Afghanistan to root out Al Qaeda, which was practically the military arm of the Taliban. But perennial warlordism and the birth of a Narcostate could have been predicted.

Nevertheless, I supported the intervention because sometimes you have to make do with the means that are available. Especially when your life depends on it.

Bill Woolsey - 12/10/2004

Why should a libertarian support the
invasion of Iraq by the current administration,
even if under a hypothetical libertarian
administration, an invasion of Iraq might
be desirable?

I have sometimes wondered if a policy of
defeating Saddam Hussein, declaring victory
and withdrawing wouldn't have been superior
to maintaining the status quo of "containing"
Iraq with an embargo, flyovers, etc.

(Admittedly, making peace with Iraq would have
been even better. The more usual containment--
promising retailiation against future Iraqi
attacks would be better than this futile
effort to keep Iraq from getting weapons of
mass destruction. We could have even used
Iraqi promises of aid against Al Quaida as an
excuse for backing down.)

But what are the chances that Democrat or
Republican administrations would be willing to
engineer a punative expedition against Iraq,
crush the existing regime and then let the
Iraqi's deal with the aftermath?

Similarly, a hypothetical libertarian imperialism
seems more doable that trying to reconstruct the
Iraqi people so that they will generate outcomes
from unrestrained democracy similar to those generated
in the U.S.

Even Schwartz seems to imagine that the U.S. would
maintain Iraqi public schools and use them to
propagandize the Iraqi childen to become libertarians.

It is very unlikely that any Democrat or Republican
administration would either put Iraqi education in
the private sector and allow Iraqi parents to choose
what sort of schools their children attend. But
is equally unlikely that any Democrat or Rebpublican
administration would maintain public schools in Iraq
and require them to promote libertarian ideas.

The most likely outcome would be U.S. pressure to
replicate the disaster that are the U.S. public

Again, even if we can conceive of some kind of
interventionist libertarian foreign policy that
would reduce foreign threats against Americans
and even help the foreigners, how likely is the
U.S. government to do those things? Why would
we expect U.S. foreign interventions to actually
be sensible when the U.S. government is run by
people who reject libertarian values and ideas?

Geoffrey Allan Plauche - 12/10/2004

"To lead the Iraqis to freedom, whether in the next year or the next generation, requires that we “impose” our values on them—i.e., that we expose them to the philosophy of a free society. They need to be given the Declaration of Independence to study. Their schools must teach the ideas of Thomas Jefferson and John Locke and Adam Smith. The Governing Council must be instructed to eject the communists and the jihadists." (51)

Here's a perfect example of Schwartz's statism. He may be an advocate of limited government at home, but he advocates the opposite abroad: a thoroughly statist foreign policy orientation that will be counterproductive at best.

Excellent series, Chris. I appreciate the emphasis on Rand's radical, dialectic legacy. I'm curious, however, if you know whether and to what extent Rand's recognition of the interrelationship between domestic and foreign policy was informed by Mises's work on this particular issue.