US Ambassador Andrew Young underestimated when he said "perhaps thousands were political prisoners in this nation." I refer to black teenagers and others who have been relegated to unemployment due to the minimum wage (laws); swindled out of the opportunity to gain skills in the marketplace.
The most powerful political machine in the nation, the trade unions, encouraged and permitted by the federal government, are literally holding millions hostage to the idea that more pay for less or the same work is right. Not an original view on my part. The distinguished Jamaica-born black economist Sir Arthur Lewis said in the Chicago Tribune, "The trade unions are the black man's greatest enemy in the United States." Booker T. Washington was a life-long foe of trade unions, and W.E.B. DuBois called them the "greatest enemy of the black working man." I say they are Uncle Sam's Apartheid [August].
What do (these) enemies engage in when they want to eliminate competition? They make all youth, regardless of color or ethnic background, political prisoners in the strictest sense of the word. The wage laws separate them from the real world just as effectively as physical bars. At least hard steel would mean a square meal and a bed.
Mr. Young's only "crime" was to derate the enormity of the problem. But he spoke courageously; he said what was right. He stated what others dare not say. What he started, I hope will not end. Fearless Mr. Young, I believe, let the truth come from his heart.
More on Abortion
Mr. Birmingham [Brickbats, August] said that the Catholic Defense League has launched a tax strike because it wants a "'Human Life Amendment' to guarantee every fetus a free lunch 'from the moment of conception' after which the IRS may plunder ad libitum in the name of 'godly social engineering.'" There are a number of versions of the proposed HLA before Congress, but none that I have seen do more than support the right of each of us not to be killed by aggression from the moment of conception until natural death. Can Mr. Birmingham cite one HLA that does provide for the "'equitable redistribution of wealth'"? If he can't, he should print a retraction. Many pro-lifers recognize that government-funded child support programs are morally objectionable and they are receptive to the libertarian arguments against them.…
Couldn't Mr. Birmingham have managed to give one cheer for the tax strike at least?
And in his letter [August] Mr. Lorenz tries to justify abortion in the case of rape by comparing this problem to that of unconscious Jane who lacks proper kidney function and is hooked up to Victoria, an unwilling host. There are important differences between the two cases which cause this analogy to fail. Jane's life-threatening condition pre-existed the connection and is in no way caused by Victoria. On the other hand, the child's condition did not pre-exist his connection and is biologically caused by his mother in part. Jane's life is threatened not by Victoria but by her own sick body; but the child's life is threatened not by his own body but by his mother. Severing Jane's connection would restore her to her previous endangered condition, but severing the child's connection would cause his condition to become endangered. The child cannot be restored to his previous non-existence which is not the same non-existence as death from a philosophical point of view. Neither Victoria nor the mother are morally responsible for their associates' situations. Nevertheless, since neither has any right to choose to aggress, neither is entitled to directly kill Jane or the child.…
Libertarians for Life
In the November issue, we failed to get three photo credits right. Albert Zlabinger did us the favor of allowing us to use his photos of William Niskanen, and the appropriate credit line did not appear in the final copy of the issue. Robert B. Slobins provided the photo of author Sarah E. Foster and was not so credited. And we misspelled the name of Kelley Dwyer, who took the cover photo. —Eds.
Murray Rothbard's announcement [Viewpoint, September] that "exhilarating times" are here is premature. The victory of Proposition 13 means that the public wants to cut taxes, not services as Professor Rothbard seems to think. Californians voted knowing about the huge state surplus available to compensate for the loss of local government revenues and could safely ignore the dire predictions of their politicians. Considering the prevailing respectability of expecting something for nothing, there is every reason to believe that in the future they will continue to insist that services and transfer payments continue as heretofore. Professor Rothbard is premature in anticipating the end of the welfare state. Let's see how California votes when the surplus runs out.
This suggests the weakness of much of the analysis one sees in REASON. Blaming the national plight on venal or power-hungry politicians lets the real culprits—the citizens at large—off the hook. The quest for security at almost any price, the reliance on State power for protection against the vicissitudes of life and the desire to be supported or subsidized by others give evidence of a moral and spiritual decline that purely economic or political arguments do not begin to address.
Proposition 13 and similar measures demonstrate that people are unwilling to pay, which we already knew. Where is the evidence that they are willing not to get?
There appears to be a considerable possibility that a constitutional convention will be called pursuant to resolutions of ? of the state legislatures. Twenty-four states have already passed such resolutions, and California may already be the 25th. It takes 34 to mandate a call for a constitutional convention by Congress.
Although all of the resolutions by the states contain language which would limit such a convention to the consideration of amendments designed to require the federal government to balance its budget, as I read our Constitution (Article V), neither the states nor the Congress have any power to place restrictions on the matters to be considered once such a convention is called. The field would be wide open. And even if, in some theoretical legalistic sense, limitations could be placed on such a convention, in a practical sense it would not mean a thing. After all, the first constitutional convention greatly exceeded its given powers in proposing our present Constitution. Believe me, if a constitutional convention should propose, the people will be given the opportunity to dispose.
It thus behooves libertarians to be prepared for the event. At the least, they should begin formulating specific proposed amendments to be placed before the convention.
I have a considerable number ready to present when anyone is ready to consider them. It might be in order for REASON to, run a department for displaying the various proposed amendments to the thought and criticism of its readers. (It is easy to write hand-waving dissertations about abstractions that will never be; it is harder to write specific language to bring about a designed, intended condition.)
If you heed my suggestion, you will surely get proposed amendments along the following lines: One month after the ratification of this amendment all government, federal, state, and local will cease to exist within the present geographical boundaries of what is known as the United States, its territories, possessions, or mandates. I beg of you, please heed the adage that politics is the art of the possible. You can make a defiant and futile gesture when you have a chance to move the system in the right direction.
Oak Ridge, TN
A Watchdog FCC?
I agree with the thrust of Steve Wright's article, "The First Amendment under Siege" [September] but found his position on the Federal Communications Commission to be somewhat muddled.
First, the "1966 crucial court ruling" to which Wright alludes was formally called the Office of Communication of the Church of Christ v. FCC. Wright alleges that the ruling entailed "a challenging 'citizens' group' that didn't even have to be capable—technically or financially—of running the station for the control of which it was petitioning." But, this is not quite accurate.
Although Church of Christ set the grave precedent of giving consumer/listener groups standing for intervention into FCC license renewal proceedings, in this particular case religious leaders were protesting the license renewal of a Jackson, Mississippi, station guilty of broadcasting racist material.
Now in the context of a fully free market, there would be absolutely no justification for a "citizens' group" to advocate government censorship of privately owned, privately run radio or TV stations—racist or not. Obviously, alternatives would be available. But since radio stations are, as matters stand, quasipublic enterprises limited in number, i.e., government-sanctioned entities which do not (but could) operate under free-market conditions, access to them may be justified based on present case law.
If a government has no right to discriminate or advocate discrimination based on race (or anything else), then it has no right to legally sanction (the licensure power) radio stations which similarly discriminate or advocate discrimination.
I am not defending the view that "citizens' groups" ought to be permitted to successfully challenge the right of broadcasters to implement their freedom of speech; I am only pointing out the complications which arise when government is involved even to a small degree.
This brings me to my second point. Instead of advocating the abolition of the FCC, Wright urges that congressional action be directed toward reducing it to "a 'watchdog' role of policing interference in the airwaves." Obviously Mr. Wright neither understands the history of the FCC Act nor realizes what happens when one accepts the principle of government intervention—even in the form of a "watchdog role."
The FCC's original purpose was to police the airwaves. There is also a clause in the act expressly forbidding censorship. But look at it today!
The licensure power, as Wright did point out, is one way to ensure compliance by the industry. In 1960, a second method was added when En Banc Programming Inquiry mandated 14 required program categories. This forced broadcasters to meet certain FCC programming goals. The Sonderling Broadcast Corporation case in 1973 established the censorship precedent when the FCC imposed an immediate license forfeiture on that corporation's radio station for allegedly airing "obscene material."
And Mr. Wright only wants the FCC reduced to a "watchdog role"?
Although the majority of his article made excellent points. I think Mr. Wright ought to reconsider this particular conclusion.
Louis Segesvary's article "Spiritual Horror" [August] was indeed an exposure of the doublethink that goes on in international politics. I appreciated his insights and information.
His attributing of the Straw Man's wish for a heart, however metaphorical, is an unfortunate misnomer; anyone seeing The Wizard of Oz knows that this desire was expressed by the Tin Man, while the scarecrow looked to the wizard for a brain.
No matter: our foreign policy is being determined by brainless, heartless, cowardly creatures that are desperately in need of any number of virtues. Unfortunately, we do not have a Dorothy or a good witch around to bail us out.
As for Wizards, L. Frank Baum recognized quite readily the humbug associated with that genre.
Help! Help! Help! I goofed? You goofed? Last Friday my September issue of REASON arrived and I threw it into the circular file with the other junk mail and did not give it another thought. Hours later, I pushed down the trash in that basket to compress it and decided to extricate the several pamphlets and unwanted specialty catalogs and place them in the pile of newspapers, to give more room. It was then that I saw the title of the magazine and its name at the top! What an unprepossessing, unattractive, non-cover that issue was! If I saw it on the newsstand, my eye would easily pass it over. As it was, it was similar to a leather clothing catalog and a publisher's discount book catalog.
The news, inside, under "editor's notes" that informs me that improvements in the magazine such as your new color covers continuing to be introduced on an evolutionary basis…gives me some hope, but in the future I hope your colors provide more contrast so that I can, at least, see your magazine's name!
Jean W. Thomas
William Bonner's article [September] on the French "new philosophers" was disappointingly misleading.
Bonner, despite his Sorbonne education, doesn't realize that these philosophers are "structuralists." They are subjectivists, mystics, irrationalists, selfless, and collectivists. They are fascist primitivists.
They are traditionalists in the deepest philosophical sense of the term. They hold that reality is chaotic but that humans possess a species and culturally determined pattern in their subconscious which somehow senses reality. Sometimes they deny reality, holding that everything is consciousness.
Their anti-statism exists solely in the context of an opposition to principled, systematic statism. They favor a concrete-bound, ad hoc statism. Their pseudo-individualism consists of a collective subjectivism in which "individuality" is the way in which each individual expresses traditional emotions. They are Kantians.
They are not rational individualists. They are extremely sophisticated mystics whose writing, expressing their anti-rationalism, is almost completely disintegrated. Here is Merleau-Ponty, perhaps their most important immediate forerunner: "Accordingly eternity, understood as the power to embrace and anticipate temporal developments in a single intention, becomes the very definition of subjectivity."
The structuralists' rejection of Marxism stems from their understanding of Marx as rational and because he was, more or less, systematic. They favor the unsystematic collectivism of traditionalism.
And when they claim that "Life is a lost cause," the structuralists do not intend either psychological or political individualism.
New Bedford, MA
Yes to Hedonism
I completely disagree with Paul Beaird's unfavorable review of Sid Greenberg's book Ayn Rand and Alienation [September]. Contra Beaird, Greenberg actually has written a serious, in-depth critique that demolishes Rand's ethical system.…
Beaird refers to the example of a person facing a career choice between guitar playing and writing, which Greenberg uses to illustrate one of Objectivism's major flaws: that it doesn't provide any standard for deciding between two equally pro-life options. Beaird suggests that Rand's methodology of teleological measurement provides a solution to such problems. But that isn't so. This method only counsels that one must define his hierarchy of values, which is true, but "man's life" is inadequate as a standard to use in this process. The problem is that "man's life" is applicable only to life and death situations, and we really face very few of those. Most decisions we must make are between equally pro-life alternatives, like guitar playing vs. writing. So Objectivism provides no standard for making the vast majority of the decisions we must make.
We could (and should, I believe) make these choices according to the standard of which will make us happy, but Rand does not permit that. She says: "To take 'whatever makes one happy' as a guide to action means: to be guided by nothing but one's emotional whims.…to turn oneself into a blind robot, operated by unknowable demons." As Greenberg notes: "As far as Rand is concerned, there is only one objective standard, and that is 'man's life.' Pleasure and happiness are simply not objective grounds for action under any circumstances."
In my opinion, there is a fundamental contradiction between individualism and any set of objective values that are supposed to hold for all persons. If Rand were truly an individualist, she would accept subjective values that differ from person to person. Every person (unless a twin) is genetically unique, and everyone's personal history is unique. This uniqueness causes every person to have a hierarchy of values that differs in detail from that of every other person. But these subjective values are not the floating nebulosity that Objectivists imply, because any one person's hierarchy is definite and fixed at any one given time. One can define his own hierarchy by introspection, by applying the standard of his own happiness to all possible choices. This method will not yield universal, objective values, which do not exist among unique individuals. This method is indeed hedonism, which is not the alchemical system that Beaird says it is. Hedonism is, in fact, the only proper ethical system for non-religious individuals who reject domination by any external authority.
My only important disagreement with Greenberg concerns his shying away from fully accepting hedonism. Instead, he attempts to set up his own system based on a new concept of pain, which I don't find convincing. Greenberg takes us a long way in the right direction, but he is still intimidated enough by Rand's condemnation of hedonism that he hasn't the nerve yet to take the logical last step.
Paul Beaird's review [September] of my book, Ayn Rand and Alienation, could hardly have been a more precise exemplification of the book's title and subject.
The review, composed mostly of lengthy and irrelevant discourse on philosophic history, along with pedantic lecturing on what "we" are supposed to learn from the moral lessons of Ayn Rand, happens to mention in a lone sentence in the final paragraph, as an aside, that I "also speculate about why some of Ayn Rand's admirers exhibit certain psychological…traits." Period.
Huh? Wha? "Certain traits"? "Speculates"? The book is specifically about those traits—namely, emotional alienation and psychological depersonalization—and far from the brief, casual speculation suggested by Mr. Beaird's comment, more than half the book is directed at demonstrating in concrete detail how and why those traits were and are aggravated or caused by adherence to the platonic—i.e., fundamentally nonpersonalized—ethics of Objectivism. That Beaird manages to ignore this is an indication that psycho-emotional issues are largely meaningless to him. (And his "representation" of my philosophical arguments is so erroneous, distorted, and attenuated as to be shocking to me. He also fails to mention the book's introduction, a short story which, to my knowledge, has not failed to get a strong reaction of one sort or another from anyone who has read it.)
Most of the long-time Objectivists I've met—and I've met many in the 14 years since my introduction to Objectivism—acknowledge the strange and negative states of mind widespread in the movement. Indeed, it and its members were such that many look back on themselves and "those times" in disbelief, saying that one just had to have been there to "understand." A book which attempts to explain the causes of those problems (indeed, the first one) is what Mr. Beaird refers to in all of his graduate-student wisdom as "amateur psychological speculation" about "certain psychological traits" by an "unserious thinker." This also in the face of the fact that libertarianism itself has been dealt many serious setbacks by the psychological, political, and moral factionalism in its ranks—a factionalism which no one (until now) has traced explicitly to fallacies in Rand's ethics, yet precisely this is identified and spelled out in my book.
Even had he not introduced the rhetorical tactics he did, any general use of the term "unserious" in regard to these subjects, this book, or its author, is to make dubious the reviewer's basic philosophical competence.
What finally denies that competence, however, is Beaird's grossest omission: A total failure to mention the subject of the second half of the book, the portion which constitutes its heart and soul, the portion in which I present an alternative to Rand's standard of value, an alternative which is simultaneously personalized (emotional) and objective (conceptual). This standard, I argue, is none other than happiness—but happiness defined objectively (and, I believe, originally) as "consciousness qua consciousness," a rigorously reasoned conception offering a concretized, personalized, emotion-focused, but objective and therefore rational frame of reference for action (a consistent, non-anarchistic laissez-faire politics included). All this Beaird refers to covertly as my "alchemistic rediscovery of hedonism."
This review, I'd like to add, is not uncharacteristic of responses to my book coming from a certain type of intellectual.…All of them have one thing in common, or seem to, at least: fear.
New York, NY
Editor's reply: When we were urged by some friends to review Ayn Rand and Alienation, we turned to Mr. Beaird, formerly a successful computer scientist, now a successful graduate student in philosophy, and someone who has exposed his Objectivist leanings to rigorous philosophical training. Mr. Beaird submitted a brief (as requested) and very direct criticism of the author's arguments and ideas, whereupon we suggested that he place these issues in a larger context. Otherwise, why should we ask our readers to consider this work, given the reviewer's assessment of it? Mr. Beaird, therefore, should not be blamed for trying to make more of this work than perhaps is warranted. —Marty Zupan
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".