I recently received a letter which was stamped with a slogan that reminded me of your magazine and its slogan, "REASON, Consider the Alternative." The slogan is "Ours IS to Reason Why" and the letter was from the Chicago Society of Atheists. Perhaps your readers would enjoy this alternative to the usual "Ours not to reason why."
West Chicago, Illinois
I have been thinking quite a bit about the view of social change implied in your article "Leverage Points for Social Change" (REASON, June 1971). It seems that there is an interaction between cultural change and change in political structures which most Objectivists have not picked up. Cultural change is the independent variable (there has to be some intellectual predisposition toward libertarianism before libertarians could be hired to work in think tanks, etc.), as a result of the fact that man has free will; changes in the political structure can induce further changes in the culture, which in turn can induce further changes in the political structure. To concretize this, imagine that the transportation industry were completely de-regulated as the result of libertarian advice to President Nixon (ha!!). Since free competition produces a superior result compared to government regulation, over time the results would be observed, and (if there were libertarians in the culture to draw the proper conclusions) people would see that freedom works. A second result of de-regulating the transportation industry would be to foster the rise of competent, independent, rational men within the transportation industry, and to cause the demise of those whose prime qualification for their jobs is the ability to kiss asses in Washington. The people who are at the top, so to speak, are usually more important in determining cultural trends than the people who are on the bottom.
The same type of interactions occur between cultural change and all other aspects of reality that man faces. For example, technological change can make it easier—or harder—for men to see that freedom is workable, and technological change tends to change the relative "rankings" of people in society, so that the people who have risen tend to "count for more," culturally, than they did before. Another example is the existence of so much open land in early America.
An analogy can be drawn between this sort of process and what Ludwig von Mises calls "the driving force of money." Cultural change is the independent variable, as is the change in people's preferences. And the political structure's impact on the culture is analogous to "the driving force of money." Clear?
I was very pleased to read Tibor Machan's review of my book, RETURN TO REASON (REASON, October 1971). I genuinely appreciate both the praise and the criticisms he offered.
My reference to Objectivism as the only rational school of contemporary philosophy was intended to convey the point that I have an intellectual commitment to Objectivism. In other words, I wanted to make it clear that I am not a "neutral" commentator. However, it is true that I did not discuss any other schools of thought in an effort to prove by comparison that Objectivism is the only rational school. Hence, he is correct in stating that I do not establish such a claim in the book. No doubt, it would have been better had I said, "For several years, I have been a student of what I consider to be the only rational school of…"
Concerning contextualism: a commitment to contextualism is implicit in my treatment of the various aspects of Objectivism. I do concede, however, that I do not explicitly deal with this concept, and I further agree that such an explicit treatment would have enhanced the value of the book.
Concerning non-human or special rights: If I have understood Machan's comments, we are dealing here with what political scientists call substantive rights vs. procedural rights. My understanding of the Objectivist position is that procedural rights are heavily discounted; I cannot recall any explicit reference to them in the works of Ayn Rand. My own position, which I believe to be the Objectivist position, is this: so-called procedural rights are not really rights at all and should not be referred to by that name. Such "rights" are actually privileges or procedural guarantees of one type or another. Examples: the "right" to trial-by-jury, to vote, of habeas corpus. These guarantees may be very important in the context of a representative democracy and an advocate judicial system, but such institutions as representative democracy and advocate courts are not necessary to the protection of freedom and justice.
I cannot agree with the comment that a man cannot alienate himself from one or more of his rights. Objectivism defines a right as a moral principle, defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context. I think the key word for the present discussion is "sanctioning." What the criminal abdicates is, in my judgment, the sanction itself. Otherwise, when he is subjected to a penalty, we would have to say that he is being victimized, i.e., that no penalty can be just.
To phrase it a bit differently: Either a particular freedom of action is sanctioned, or it is not. If it is in fact sanctioned, then no interference from others (including the courts) is justified. If, however, the sanction has in some way been negated, then such interference can be justified. Hence, I conclude that it is the sanction itself that the criminal "sets aside" by his criminality. Since the sanction is the very essence of the right itself, I think we can say that the criminal does in fact set aside the right, not merely opportunity.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".