Libertarian History/Philosophy




Many years ago, Prof. F.A. Hayek wrote that the cause of liberty was in grave danger unless we could once again make it the subject of passionate concern among intellectuals. The recent awards of the Nobel prizes to Hayek and Milton Friedman, and the announcement two years ago of the National Book Award in Philosophy for Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia would suggest progress.

On October 22-24 in New York, the Center for Libertarian Studies sponsored the 4th annual Libertarian Scholars Conference. Over 75 persons were present for the proceedings, predominantly young professors and Ph.D. candidates from all parts of the United States. Papers were presented on topics ranging from the foundations of libertarian legal theory, the economic and legal problems of liability, specifically in regard to pollution and bankruptcy, an historical perspective on libertarian social analysis and a discussion of the current state of social analysis in the United States. Robert Nisbet's Twilight of Authority and Carl Oglesby's The Yankee and Cowboy War were the focal points of two full sessions of the conference.

Prof. Nisbet was in attendance during the discussions of his book and the subsequent exchanges on social analysis, conspiracy theory, and class conflict. His work was both complimented and criticized by the discussants, Leonard Liggio of the State University of New York at Old Westbury, Joseph R. Peden of the City University, Baruch College, and John P. McCarthy of Fordham University. The principal weakness of his book, Peden pointed out, stems from the failure to incorporate economics and the consequences of economic policy into the social analysis. Nisbet concurred with this observation. The similarity between Nisbet's emphasis upon community processes and Kropotkin's small-group anarchism was noted.

David Osterfeld of the University of Cincinnati presented an analysis of Marx's theories of capitalism, illustrating that he held two separate theories. The well-known commodity production theory is, in fact, less important in many of his insights than an implicit theory of the State in capitalist society which remarkably resembles Benjamin Tucker's analysis.

Bill Evers from Stanford University and Randy Barnett from Harvard contributed papers to the conference on the subjects of rights and contracts, probably the central concepts in libertarian philosophy. Evers explored the theory of natural rights and property rights as seen by Hobbes, Locke, Rand, and others. An important point is whether rights are seen as prior to the system of social organization or emergent from it. Barnett discussed property rights as aspects of an individual's will or volition. A person's ability to perceive choices and have the will to act cannot be signed away. It makes no more sense to say that a person could sell himself into slavery than to say that he could sell you a plot of land on the moon. Barnett also made the point that the libertarian view of property rights positions an individual midway between special interests, without a brief for any side. For this reason, the libertarian perspective may often be the only disinterested analysis one can adopt.

The Center for Libertarian Studies, 200 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10019, is preparing additional conferences and will begin publishing the quarterly Journal of Libertarian Studies in January. The Journal is available for $20.00 per year from the Center. The first issue will have a detailed review of rights and contract theory by Evers, a special section on Nozick's theory with contributions by Murray Rothbard, Roy Childs, and Randy Barnett, and articles by Walter Grinder and John Hagel. Hagel's paper at the conference was a thorough critique of class analysis from a libertarian perspective.

During the first weekend of March, 1977, the Center will sponsor a conference at Harvard University on the topic of Crime and Punishment—retribution, restitution, and the law. Prof. Alan Dershowitz will chair this conference, which will include as participants Thomas Szasz, James Banfield, James Q. Wilson, Murray Rothbard, Walter Kaufmann, Gerald O'Driscoll, John Hospers, Ronald Hamowy, and Leonard Liggio. For more information, contact the Center.


On October 9 and 10, the American Association for the Philosophical Study of Society met for a conference on value theory, hosted by the Department of Philosophy at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Prof. Fred D. Miller of Bowling Green and Profs. Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen of Marquette University were principal organizers of the conference.

Papers were presented by Den Uyl and Rasmussen, Charles King of Pomona College, John O. Nelson of the University of Colorado, Jeffrey Paul of Northern Kentucky State University, and J. Huston McCulloch of Boston College.

Den Uyl and Rasmussen prepared a detailed and intricately argued answer to Robert Nozick's paper "On the Randian Argument," The Personalist, Spring 1971. This article is the major serious criticism of Ayn Rand's Objectivist system. The paper importantly questions whether Nozick has succeeded in demolishing Rand's argument.

Prof. King, himself a Harvard graduate and student of John Rawls, presented a paper developing a concept of "goodness" based on Chapter 7 of Rawls' A Theory of Justice. King argues that Rawls is too often praised or criticized by writers who agree or disagree based on his political conclusions. King developed a good case for an individualistic, person-relative conception of goodness based on some of Rawls' ideas.

McCulloch's paper was a very detailed development of certain ideas about value in Austrian economics. The issues dividing economists and philosophers in analyses of the theory of subjective value were clarified and a useful dialogue was produced.

During the second day of the conference, a panel discussion was videotaped for future broadcast and distribution. The panel focused on the concept of value as seen by philosophers and economists. Members of the audience, which numbered approximately 75, participated in the exchange. The discussion was described by one observer as "serious, lively, very fruitful, and exhilarating to boot." The videotaping of conference sessions is a technical development which we can all look forward to more in the future.

For more information about the American Association for the Philosophical Study of Society, write to Douglas Den Uyl, Box 13313, Wauwatosa, WI 53226.