Review of Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement by Brian Doherty. With a few caveats in mind, this voluminous tome can be highly recommended to all who have an interest in the Libertarian Right movement. by Dan Clore
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
This voluminous tome covers in great detail America's right-wing, free-market and private-property oriented libertarian movement in all of its phases, including Classical Liberalism, the Austrian and Chicago Schools of economics, libertarian-leaning conservatism, Objectivism, the Libertarian Party, anarcho-capitalism, agorism, and so forth. With a few caveats, the book can be highly recommended to all interested as probably the definitive treatment of its subject.
The book is written using an old-fashioned scholarly style that places documentation in endnotes. That is, of course, perfectly acceptable in itself; but Doherty also includes a good deal of text in his endnotes, so that the reader must continually go back and forth between the main text and the notes.
Another caveat concerns the subject as expressed in the volume's title. While the book covers one modern American libertarian movement, this isn't the only modern American libertarian movement, as the title implies. The other modern American libertarian movement is the traditional anarchist movement, the libertarian wing of the socialist movement. Consulting the two-dimensional chart used by The Political Compass should help readers understand my point. Most of the traditional anarchist movement falls in the Libertarian Left quadrant of the Political Compass's chart; most of the libertarian movement covered by Doherty falls in the Libertarian Right quadrant and much of it in the Authoritarian Right quadrant.
This is significant, as the traditional anarchist movement had used the term "libertarian" for itself for about a hundred years before anyone even suggested using the term for the movement that Doherty covers. Doherty hardly mentions the traditional anarchist movement, usually only when it has some direct connection to the Libertarian Right. The anarcho-syndicalist union IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), probably the largest American traditional libertarian group, is barely mentioned. Noam Chomsky, the most prominent libertarian socialist of the last forty years, is only mentioned twice, both times when the Libertarian Right was reaching out to the Left. Of all the traditional anarchist movement, only the individualist/mutualist wing of Josiah Warren, Benjamin Tucker, and Lysander Spooner (which falls toward the center of The Political Compass's Left/Right axis, while the much larger collectivist/communist/syndicalist wing falls on the Left and the anarcho-capitalists on the Right) is treated in any detail.
Caveats about the use of the terms "socialism" and "capitalism" should be adequately addressed by consulting my Nolan Chart column "Socialism and Capitalism".
Subjects treated at length in the book include individuals such as Albert Jay Nock, Frank Chodorov, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich von Hayek, Isabel Paterson, Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter Rose Wilder Lane (I haven't read the works of either Lane or Wilder, but it might be worth noting that as portrayed on the classic TV-series Little House on the Prairie, the town of Walnut Grove has no government of its own -- if someone wants a sheriff or judge, they have to send elsewhere for one), Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Branden, Leonard Read, Robert LeFevre, Milton Friedman, David Friedman, Murray Rothbard, Robert Nozick, Thomas Szasz, etc., and institutions such as the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), the Libertarian Pary, Cato Foundation, Reason magazine, etc.
Doherty tells a "warts and all" story, and there are many amusing parts, such as the account of Andrew Galambos, whose ideas cannot be recounted because he claims ownership over them. Ayn Rand and her Objectivism always make for entertaining reading, what with the bountiful irony of a purported ideology of freedom that starts on grounds that cannot be taken seriously by anyone with a minimal knowledge of science and philosophy, goes on to create a self-sealing belief system that simply discounts any inconvenient empirical facts while considering anyone who dares to disagree as not just mistaken but eeeevil, and ends with a dogmatic personal authoritarianism that wreaks as much havoc in the lives of its robotized, Randroid followers as any political authoritarianism could hope to.
Given that Doherty does not treat the Libertarian Left, I could find few omissions to complain about in his book. At first I thought I had a couple good ones to carp over -- Milton Friedman's involvement with Chilean dictator Pinochet, and Loompanics Unlimited, but while these are not noted in the index, I did find them in the text. I would have liked more information on Kerry Wendell Thornley, who didn't just peter out into insanity, but produced the excellent book Zenarchy late in his life, and on Robert Anton Wilson, who deserves much more than four pages.
All in all, with its engaging style and wealth of information, I can recommend this book unreservedly to all interested in the Libertarian Right. It will probably remain the definitive account for a long time to come. Regardless of the reader's own ideology (and those on the Libertarian Left will probably not be too pleased with seeing those on the Authoritarian Right , such as free-market conservatives, continually referred to as libertarian), the book should provide an enjoyable, informative experience.
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in this article are those of Dan Clore only and
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Posted By: Walt Thiessen
Date: 2009-03-31 05:26:07
You article convinced me to take a closer look at the Political Compass. I knew about it for quite some time, and I think I even took it once before, but I never really analyzed it before. I decided now made a good time to do so.
I will focus on those questions (statements, really) in the Political Compass survey which I believe are misleading or clearly biased. Unlike those who sometimes criticize our own survey here at the Nolan Chart, I will get very specific about why and where I see the problems, along with suggestions about how to fix them.
(1) Our race has many superior qualities, compared with other races.
What race is this referring to? I'm guessing they're talking about caucasian, african-american, native american (indian), etc., but without clarification, I have to way to know. From my own point of view, the only race I differentiate on is the human race.
(2) There is now a worrying fusion of information and entertainment.
This is a loaded statement. If I agree, then I say that I'm worried about it. If I disagree, then I say that there is no fusion of information and entertainment. They should remove the word "worrying."
(3) People are ultimately divided more by class than by nationality.
This is an extremely, negatively biased statement. It assumes that people must inevitably be divided, one way or another. Not true! This statement should simply be removed from their survey.
(4) Controlling inflation is more important than controlling unemployment.
Another extremely biased question. It assumes a Keynesian bias in a fiat-money world as inevitable. I do not share their assumption. Inflation can be eliminated and unemployment rendered virtually undetectably small by abandoning fiat money, fractional reserve banking, and the false notion that government spending is better for the economy than that same money spent privately. This statement should also be tossed from the survey.
(5) Because corporations cannot be trusted to voluntarily protect the environment, they require regulation.
The bias in this statement reeks. First, regulation does not protect the environment. Regulation is all about deciding who shall be permitted to cause harm to others against their will, and who shall not be so permitted. Second, the statement assumes that the environment has rights which must be protected. It does not. Humans have rights, and their rights to have the environment in which they live protected from assault by others must be protected. The way to do that is through laws that prohibit rights violations, not laws that regulate how much violation shall be permitted. Third, it assumes that pollution is all about "corporate trust," as if all pollution is caused by corporations. The entire statement should be tossed out of the survey as hopelessly biased and useless.
(6) Protectionism is sometimes necessary in trade.
Protectionism has nothing to do with trade. It has to do with political jostling for position and using force to replace trade. A better statement would be "Protectionism is (not) harmful to trade."
(7) The only social responsibility of a company should be to deliver a profit to its shareholders.
This is an ill-defined question, because it does not define what social responsibility is. Press 10 different people for concise definitions and you'll likely get 10 different definitions of that term. This statement should also be excluded from their survey.
(8) The rich are too highly taxed.
Also heavily biased, because it assumes that "the rich" (no criteria for being described as "rich" provided) deserve inevitably to be taxed no matter what, with the only question to be decided being "how much to tax them," while (presumably) other non-rich persons should not be taxed under certain circumstances. This statement should also be tossed out of their survey for bias.
(9) Those with the ability to pay should have the right to higher standards of medical care .
This statement falsely assumes that higher quality medical care must be so expensive that poor people can't afford it. There is no truth to that sentiment. Sadly, medical care is expensive today primarily because of the solutions offered by people who claim to be upset by the high cost to the poor, as well as because of the fact that we are dominated by a fiat money system. Toss the statement from the survey, or be really daring and replace it with, "High quality health care can be affordable to all in a truly free market society."
(10) A genuine free market requires restrictions on the ability of predator multinationals to create monopolies.
This statement is hopelessly biased, since multinationals are granted their status by the same entity (government) which will supposedly restrict them. Multinational corporations cannot exist in a truly free market, because free markets do not grant limits on liability or other state-granted privileges. It's possible to have an enterprise that crosses national borders without being a corporation, but this statement in the survey ignores that possibility. Toss this sucker out of their survey as well.
(11) When you are troubled, it's better not to think about it, but to keep busy with more cheerful things.
There is no way to acknowledge in the available responses that troubles need to be acknowledged and addressed but not dwelt on perpetually. A better statement would be: "When you are troubled, it's better to address and deal with what troubles you, then once the problem has been satisfactorily addressed put it aside and not let it trouble you any more."
(12) First-generation immigrants can never be fully integrated within their new country.
I cannot even begin to imagine why this statement is even included in the survey. I suspect it's a leading question, but I can't tell without even knowing why it's there. Remove it from the survey.
(13) Abstract art that doesn't represent anything shouldn't be considered art at all.
What on earth do personal aesthetics have to do with political attitudes? Dump this statement from the survey as quickly as possible.
(14) Two statements: "In criminal justice, punishment should be more important than rehabilitation." and "It is a waste of time to try to rehabilitate some criminals."
These two statements assume that restitution should not be considered an important criteria for criminal justice. Toss them or rewrite them to include restitution.
(15) Multinational companies are unethically exploiting the plant genetic resources of developing countries.
Assumes that there can be no gray area, that either genetic engineering as a whole is either 100% ethical or 100% unethical. Also, multinationals are not the only companies engaging in genetic engineering by a long shot, although you couldn't tell that fact from reading the question. In truth, most genetic engineering does not take place in multinationals! Toss it.
(16) Five questions about religion (I won't bother to reproduce all them here).
Why should religion be a criteria of political classification? Toss all of them, including the one that says, "Charity is better than social security as a means of helping the genuinely disadvantaged." I have no idea why that statement was included under "religion" in their survey, but it was. Perhaps the survey maker thinks that charity can only be given by religious persons?
I scored relatively in the middle with their highly biased survey. However, I don't think the result means anything because of all the bias.
I also took that political compass thing and found out that it is a total piece of crap. More examples in addition to what Walt described:
(17) It is important that my child's school instills religious values.
Why should it matter if you think your child school should instill religious values. That is a PRIVATE matter. You can be of a liberal mind and send your kids to a private school because you think that the school should teach religious values. The more appropiate political question shall be 'my child's PUBLIC school' or whether should there be PUBLIC schools or not
(18) It's natural for children to keep some secrets from their parents.
How is this political? Or should they have replaced natural for legal? Irrelevant Nevertheless.
(19) The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
(20) Mothers may have careers, but their first duty is to be homemakers.
Another privte matter totally irrelevat to politics.
(21) Sex outside marriage is usually immoral. (22) No one can feel naturally homosexual. (23) These days openness about sex has gone too far.
If you may feel like (21) is usually immoral BUT you don't try to enforce it on other people through the government or the public education then you could still be of a liberal or libertarian mind. So the correct one is the one below that one that says 'What goes on in a private bedroom between consenting adults is no business of the state'. Same goes with (22) & (23). There are politically irrelevant.
Posted By: David Friedman
Date: 2009-04-01 12:43:19
I agree that the political compass is terrible--not just biased but stupid, full of questions that a thoughtful person can't answer because they require him to identify with one side or the other of a cliche. One particularly interesting case is:
"Those with the ability to pay should have the right to higher standards of medical care . "
What is striking is that this is trying to get at a pro-market viewpoint not by identifying what holders of that viewpoint actually believe but what they would believe if they were left-wingers, hence believed in positive rather than negative rights. The pro-market view is that I have a right to make voluntary transactions with other people, including doctors. One consequence is that I am likely to end up with higher standards of medical care if I'm rich than if I'm poor. But I don't have a right to those standards--if the relevant doctor is unwilling to treat me I'm not entitled to force him to do it.
[Incidentally, I think your verification process misrepresents the usual meaning of ad hominem. An ad hominem argument isn't just a personal attack, it is a personal attack purporting to be an argument against the views of the one being attacked]
Posted By: Walt Thiessen
Date: 2009-04-01 16:19:41
David: regarding ad hominems on our website, I partly agree and partly disagree. We do have an unusual way of definining them for the site, in that we permit them when they're backed by evidence. However, I disagree with your definition in general. An ad hominem is against the person, not against his ideas. If we were to accept your definition, then no political debate could ever take place, because criticism of ideas would be impossible. Any criticism of an idea expressed by someone else must, by your definition, be an ad hominem. Thus, if someone argues for socialism, and someone else argues against socialism, the second person, by your definition, is attacking the first.
I chose to refer to the Political Compass's chart because it makes the distinctions I wanted to make (between Libertarian Left, Libertarian Right, and Authoritarian Right) much more clearly than the Nolan Chart.
For what it's worth,I've taken the Political Compass's test several times, largely to give different answers to some of the questions I didn't feel were very clear, and every time I score as very Libertarian, and near the center of the Left/Right axis.
Hi. I'm midway through RFC right now (~p350) and am not sure I agree with the basis of your criticisms of the way the author uses the term "libertarian", for several reasons, mentioned below.
1) The book is about radicals for CAPITALISM, not syndicalism, socialism, or other economic theories.
2) The book is about a movement of people and groups who intermingled as part of a single coherant movement. I'm not sure how many folks at the IWW were present at the founding of the Libertarian party, and I doubt Noam Chomsky ever co-authored a book with Rothbard or Reed.
3) This objection gets more to my philosophy of language, but regardless of who invents a Word, or who Used it First, language is first and foremost an ever-changing and conventional institution. The test I usually use on the proper meaning of a word like "libertarian" is as follows: if I walk into a group of strangers and proclaim "I am a libertarian", will folks think I am a socialist, or a capitalist? Another way is simply to poll people who speak English on what they think the term means when referring to a person's beliefs. This is why it is probably still proper for Rothbardians to qualify their use of the word "anarchist" (which they do) when speaking to folks in Europe, whereas socialist anarchists can probably get away with just saying they are "anarchists" simply.
4) My analysis of socialists, syndicalists and other statists who use the term "libertarian" today is that they are using the term strategically instead of descriptively, given the point made in #3. In other words, they know the word doesn't apply, but statists coopting terms (like "liberal" for instance) is par for their coarse.
(1) As I thought was clear, my criticism is not Doherty's choice of subject, but the fact that he ought to have informed the reader than another libertarian movement also exists, rather than imply (falsely) that the Libertarian Right is the only libertarian movement.
(2) There were in fact a number of Wobblies involved in the Libertarian Party early on. Jerome Tuccille covers this far better.
(3) I don't agree with your philosophy of language. Popular usage often becomes corrupted and ought to be corrected. Doherty should have covered how terms like libertarian have changed meaning.
(4) I've been involved in the anarchist (libertarian-socialist) movement for years, and I totally disagree with you on this point. I don't know of any state-socialists who call themselves libertarians, and anarchists more often avoid the term now because of the confusion engendered by the re-definition.