BOOK ISSUE: YES
Congratulations on the November Book Review issue—it was great!! Marty, you really did a fine editing and coordinating job; and, in answer to your editorial question ("Do the readers find [a special book review issue] of value?"): this reader definitely does find great value in such an issue. Firstly, I very much enjoy reading essay-reviews by such fine libertarian theorists as the eminent John Hospers, George Smith, Jeff Paul, Tom Moore, and Bill Marina (not to mention the other outstanding contributors!!). Secondly, it's very useful and enlightening to compare a REASON book review with one from Libertarian Review (such as Bill Havender's review of Tom Sowell's Race and Economics vis-a-vis Susan Love Brown's review of same; or, an even more important example, George Smith's review of Tibor's Human Rights and Human Liberties as compared with Jack Wheeler's review of same).
Now allow me to lavish a little (deserved) praise on some individual reviewers. John Hospers' review of Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle was quite simply breathtaking; I've not read much of Solzhenitsyn, but, thanks to Hospers' masterful review, I definitely intend to read The First Circle. George Smith's review of Tibor's HR & HL was done in George's usual precise, coherent, and cogent style. I'd like to personally thank Tibor for writing such an important, scholarly, and timely work as Human Rights and Human Liberties; it dovetails beautifully with Bob Nozick's equally profound Anarchy, State, and Utopia. And what need be said of Bill Marina's "In Search of Reality"? It was a superlative tour-de-force (pardon that last word!) of revisionist colonial—revolutionary history, with Rothbard's Conceived in Liberty heading an "all-star" list. Bailyn, Jensen, and Knollenberg will all undoubtedly be remembered as among the greatest revisionists of the colonial-revolutionary period (along with the phenomenal Murray himself!).
Ft. Worth, TX
BOOK ISSUE: NO
As an advertiser in your magazine, I have always considered your book issue as fluff, as filler, used so the staff could take a vacation. Any book reviews could be taken care of in a small section of any issue. Give the title, author, publisher, cost as a hardback or paperback, and a short paragraph of a sentence or two, explaining the contents. Your best action would be to get the large mail order booksellers like Laissez Faire Books to do the book reviews in the form of ads.
Corpus Christi, TX
By all means, please continue the annual book review issue!! It is a great help to those of us who don't have the time to read everything we would like. The reviews are of almost uniformly excellent quality as well as an excellent choice of books.
I have just finished reading the special November book review issue, which I enjoyed very much. However, I would like to argue for a change in policy. I like diversity. Discussing libertarian ideas using only the format of the book review gets dull even in spite of the high quality and different kinds of reviews in this issue. In addition, you may have more or less good books and perceptive reviewers than you need. I would like to see reviews on an ad-hoc basis. If you have several good reviews put them in. If not leave them out.
What I would really like to see is more books on practical politics. At the recent national convention of the Libertarian Party I saw many books on economics, history, and philosophy, but none on practical politics, including political activity outside party politics. In this vein I thought Poole's review of Wilson's book Thinking About Crime was the best review because it has direct and obvious policy implications on the issue of how to reduce crime.
Robert M. Thatcher
AID TO SOVIETS
In his critique of Antony Sutton's National Suicide [November], reviewer James J. Martin pooh-poohs Sutton's claim that American "capitalists" have been exporting the multitude of technical and consumer goods that have kept the Soviet machine afloat for 50 years. After correctly pointing out that the moribund Russian economy produces nothing of value to Western consumers, Martin asks how the Soviets have managed to pay for the mountain of American goods they have received. In gold? he asks, tongue-in-cheek. Yes! Their recent wheat purchases have been paid for by massive sales of their slave-produced gold.
Martin wonders further, again tongue-in-cheek, whether the final bill is being "passed off silently and expertly to the American taxpayer via schemes that are not explained to us ordinary citizens?" As an astute observer of the American corporate state Martin must know that the answer is another yes: the Russians have been financing their purchases of American goods for years with no-down, low interest, long-term loans from the Export-Import Bank. And we all know where the Eximbank gets its money, don't we?
Garvan F. Kuskey
Santa Barbara, CA
REGARDING STODDARD'S "TEM-"TEMPLE"
While I applaud William H. Stoddard's attempt to proffer a canape tray of American poetry for libertarian palates [November], I was stunned by some of his specific exclusions. To see him dismiss Whitman in a single sentence, ditch Auden with the one-word brand of "Marxist," and then truss together Dickinson and Frost and toss them by the wayside for being "either wholly apolitical or uninterested in ideological themes" was a trauma for me, especially since his own strictures allowed for the selection of verse merely "congenial to libertarian sentiments in basic emotional themes," not just hard-liners.
Now if Stoddard prefers the philosophic clipper-clop of Emerson and Thoreau, that's fine. But I will match, despite all of his bombast and bathos, Walt ("Resist much, obey little") Whitman straw for libertarian straw with these two-verse scions of liberty, and we'll see who has the higher haystack come harvest time. Whitman is certainly no more "ambiguous" than they in trumpeting self-sovereignty, and displays the uncommon ability to embrace both man and the technology that sustains his survival. And as for Emily Dickinson: if she's written one poem for the soul "desirous of existing as a separate individual, resistant to social programming," she's written dozens.
Fortunately, Stoddard's 20th Century selections trend upward slightly. e. e. cummings is, when decipherable, excruciatingly effective in pillorying the anti-individualist mentality (as well as being a poet of sensuous power). However, I fail to see where he surpasses the banished Auden's "The Unknown Citizen" in distilling the dry indifference of social planners to the real desires of the "average citizen" they administrate over:
Was he free? Was he happy? The
question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.
or his shattering understatement of the disparity between what the utopiasts envision, and the collective inhumanity they too often deliver, "The Shield of Achilles." If this be the music of a Marxist mind, play on.
As for Robinson Jeffers: while he is a towering, often overpowering litanist of cosmic despair, a little of his deterministic hemlock goes a long way, Socrates, and it is an acquired taste.
Contrast Robert Frost's estimate of humanity in, say, "Riders," or his assay of man's potential for benevolent purposefulness in "The Tuft of Flowers," "On a Tree Fallen Across the Road," "A Considerable Speck," and "The Aim Was Song." For some thoughts about private property, see "Mending Wall" or "Trespass." For cogitations on volition and conformity, scan "The Road Not Taken" and "Neither Out Far Nor In Deep." Is there a more delightful assertion of the right to personal preference than Frost's "Gathering Leaves?" Or a more wryly humorous portrait of unperturbed self-reliance than "The Figure In The Doorway?" Now Frost admittedly opens a mixed bag of poetry. But if he's not to be counted as at least a sympathetic neighbor by the libertarian community, then Jeffers is just a cranky recluse up the road, and Gary Snyder and Joni Mitchell no more than innocuous vagrants.
I'm glad Mr. Stoddard views poetry as such a smorgasbord. Too bad that he was so hasty in striking some treats off the libertarian menu.
San Francisco, CA
MACHAN ON SMITH ON MACHAN
Let me answer some of the points George Smith raises in his review of my book, Human Rights and Human Liberties [November]. On Aquinas, I did not aim for a fully developed exegesis but an indication of why subsequent critics of natural law doctrine could exploit Aquinas' theism. However much Thomas wanted to be a naturalist, his allowance of God's entry invites placing nature in a subordinate position.
What I did not make clear in my discussion of moral standards is that the specifically human goal that we need in order to identify a standard of moral truth must be a human goal in life. I do say that one's happiness is one's goal in life, but admittedly I did not reiterate the point often enough. Thus, for better or worse (as far as this discussion can go), I am closer here to Rand (as I believe is Mack) than Mr. Smith acknowledges. But many problems remain, e.g., the distinction between values as such and moral values. The former could not depend on choice, since the values of biological existence do not all emerge in consequence of the choice to live, while in human life the choice not to live is a clear alternative, thus making the choice to live the necessary (but not sufficient) condition of moral values. What Mr. Smith sees as puzzling is my refusal to consider my Aristotelian approach significantly different from Rand's, but I doubt the difference quite seriously and would (with Mack, I believe) hold that an elaboration has taken place. The notion of "natural universal goal" need not mean some intrinsic universal value. There is, as far as I can tell, no conflict between "arguing epistemologically" and advancing the idea that once the choice to live has been made, one's happiness is one's natural (as distinct from conventional, arbitrary, but not identical to intrinsically good) purpose or end.
The way I differ from Rothbard is on the issue of jurisdictional homogeneity. From Rothbardiana one gets the impression that a citizen can simply up and change his political representation. This is the point of all that competing defense agencies talk—on the order of competing bakeries, restaurants, etc. But even in these last there is a period of time during which one is locked into the relationship—in a restaurant between the order and payment, etc. Well, in one's relationship to those one has authorized to administer justice in accordance with due process, one just cannot (morally) up and leave at any time, nor can one contract with just anyone even after the original relationship is off. My book explains this and I am surprised Mr. Smith didn't catch it.
Finally, Mr. Kelly's point is quite right: coercion is not the kind of good one can sell like peanuts (note, Mr. Carter!). Since my selling you coercion involves another whose involvement may be involuntary, the proper conditions of delivering the service have to be kept in mind all the time (via due process of law). If, however, you are willing to buy my badly baked bread, ill-grown tomatoes, etc., no one else is injured (i.e., no one else's rights are violated). So there is something special in selling muscle versus selling tomatoes. (It simply won't do to say: if the service is delivered in violation of due process, the servicefolk will go out of business. The goal is never to commit an injustice in the process of administering justice!) Which brings me to my last item, namely this thing about selling justice. There ain't no such thing as justice for sale. Since justice is one of the human virtues that is necessary for living the good life, it has no market value—market values presuppose justice, since a free market, in which market values are objectively possible, requires that justice be integral to it. To administer justice does, of course, involve a service, and this can be paid for. So with related services and goods. But, as Gilbert Ryle would probably say, the claim "They sell justice" is a category mistake.
To end right, let me say that Mr. Smith's review did what an author should welcome: it prompted me to think through many of my ideas. And this letter is meager evidence of how much thinking Mr. Smith's points deserve. I can only promise that the discussion of these issues continues, even if only with myself. Thanks.
Tibor R. Machan
The purpose of this letter is to take mild issue with George S. Swan in his article, "Discord in Utopia" [October]. On page 36, he states, "At least one libertarian abortionist, Canadian editor Marshall Bruce Evoy, urges that women having abortions elect to have fetuses anesthetized before dismemberment." Though I did so urge, I must take exception to Mr. Swan's ill-advised use of language. I am not an abortionist, either within the terms of state licenses or as a practitioner on the black (or free) market. I assume he meant "pro-abortionist," though even that term is not all-encompassing enough to accurately define my position. Correctly, and as succinctly as I can state it, I am "pro the right of any individual (male or female) to own, control, and have the use of his or her own body and life, i.e. property." The fact that the fetus is part of the female body is merely a sub-division of the main definition to which I adhere. I would appreciate your making this clear to your readers, since Mr. Swan's depictment of me is erroneous. One more point: I am pro freedom of choice to have or not have an abortion; I am not necessarily pro abortion, a subtle distinction.
Let me also take this opportunity of telling you how much pleasure REASON continues to give me. It is a great comfort to know that such a publication exists in our statist-oriented world, and that it continues to come out each and every month—on time—and with very high calibre articles gracing its pages. Never mind the criticism; keep publishing, and don't let the bastards get you down.
Marshall Bruce Evoy
Now that the elections are behind us and the chances of adding to intrafratricidal strife are diminished, I would like to voice some opinions about the 1976 Libertarian Party Platform.
It would be beneficial if most major platform planks were written in such a way as to be able to "stand alone," not only because they could then be excerpted for use as position papers but because they could then further clarify the libertarian principle involved. This does not necessarily mean that planks would run to great lengths (often perhaps one or two additional sentences would be sufficient), but clarity and relevance ought to be at least somewhat more important than brevity.
As an example, let us examine the plank on unions and collective bargaining. The plank obfuscates the central problem—that of the initiation of force by unions or companies (usually by unions in the past few decades), often with the acquiescence of government. The great philosophical gap between our position and almost all other groups is that we hold that it is immoral for the parties to a labor dispute to initiate force against anyone (for instance, strikers or other workers who might wish to work at jobs in a struck plant). Even if disguised by unclear language, our position will not be acceptable to labor leaders, just as our position against bailouts for Lockheed and Penn Central will not be acceptable to many business leaders. Nevertheless, we must make our stands clear in our platform, regardless of whose ox we are goring.
In the same vein of emphasizing the important points, we need to clarify our opposition to "Right to Work" laws. We should oppose these laws only in the context of opposition to all government interference in economic affairs and with the understanding that these state laws are not in the least crucial to the solution of the central problem of labor relations. Granted, in a libertarian society, voluntary union-employer employment contracts which exclude non-union people (or blacks, or other minorities) would be tolerated, though libertarians would recognize such agreements as stupid and unjust. But toleration should not imply approval of such unfair objectives and we should not magnify our peripheral disapproval of these innocuous (by comparison) state laws by specifically mentioning them in our platform. The "Right to Work" statement should be thrown out of the plank and the entire plank revised to embody the libertarian principle of non-initiation of force by all concerned in collective bargaining. In labor relations, as in some other areas, the government is not the only enemy of justice and individual freedom.
At some time in the near future I plan to write about the platform plank concerning the Middle East and about the atmosphere that prevailed during both the 1975 and 1976 LP national conventions with regard to that troubled region. Some ideas that have been expressed in various libertarian newsletters, as well as some of the 1976 convention rhetoric, need to be examined and perhaps challenged.
Thomas Johnson's recent letter [November] is a case of sheer special pleading. His only argument for the state is that, since children cannot provide for their own protection, the state must do so instead. If he were prepared to follow the logic of his argument honestly and consistently, he would necessarily also say that, since children cannot provide food or shelter for themselves, the state must provide these, not merely for children but for everyone: in other words, complete socialism. That he is not a socialist shows that his position is purely an ad hoc rationalization for a position he probably cannot defend.
In fact, infants (though not all 'children') are purely dependent on adult good will for everything. However, the best source of that good will is not the state, but individuals who are personally concerned for them. The best means to meet any and all of their needs is through the purchase, by adults, in free markets, of the things necessary. And the best sanction for adult oppressiveness is the certainty that, if one treats one's children badly, they will be free to go elsewhere whenever they choose, without the oppressive impact of legal minority imposed by the very state that Johnson so eagerly defends. If Johnson feels that the market will not provide adequately for children's rights, let him do so himself; but while he benefits from the greater rights of adult status, I can only consider his concern for children's welfare as on a level with the concern of slaveowners for the welfare of their slaves. Johnson's emotionalistic language 'babes of the world' sounds like nothing so much as a 19th century southern white talking about 'carefree darkies.' Anarchists, even those so conservative as Rothbard, have at least gone so far as to want children freed of the legal status of 'childhood,' and recognized that the real meaning of systems where adults make provision for the needs of the young is that the young are not permitted to protect themselves. A man who wants to preserve the legal status of childhood and the state which enforces it is no friend of the freedom of those who occupy it.
William H. Stoddard
Chula Vista, CA
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.