Industrialism…the Environment's Friend

I found Ron Arnold's article, "Eco-Terrorism!" (Mar.) extremely interesting.…Yet I find his minimizing the influence of the political left surprising. I certainly agree that many environmentalists are not from the left; but there is also little question but what many environmental philosophies and perspectives have come from leftists who very early saw the opportunity to disrupt our system. The leftist orientation was perfectly obvious, for instance, in the Environmental Handbook that was published in 1970, and several of the highest-visibility environmentalists are leftists.

It is the left which has cast industry as the heavy in the environmental play. The result is that decades of anti-industrial reporting have led many Americans to conclude that industry is responsible for most environmental problems. What is perfectly true is that industry is responsible for most environmental problems which are reported. The other side of industry's impacts is virtually never reported.

Meanwhile, I am grateful to the industrial system for what it has done for my personal environment. Every day I enjoy the view of a forest across the lake on which I live, a forest that didn't exist 100 years ago. The forest is filled with wildlife, also recently acquired, and some wildlife, such as deer, is now more abundant than when the Europeans landed. The trees that were once stripped from the land for fuel for home heating and cooking and for the manufacture of glass and iron have grown back, partly because we developed both our coal resources and a transportation system that allowed us to get them to points of need. The expansion of woods has been further helped because we found out how to produce ever more food per acre of land, and we have been able to distribute it economically—so that much once-cleared land is no longer needed for agricultural purposes. And I thank our industrial system for the modest wealth and for a long life so I can enjoy the world longer.

For contrast, even the most cursory look at the "developing" nations and the stupendously accelerated destruction of their forests and wildlife in recent years shows that the greatest threat to the environment is failure to industrialize. It follows that to the extent that our environmental laws and regulations retard our creation of wealth or make our industrial system less efficient, those laws and regulations may ultimately harm the environment they purportedly protect.…

James R. Dunn
Dunn Geoscience Corp.
Latham, NY

Property vs. People?

I read the article "Eco-Terrorism" with interest and pleasure. However, I must object to Ron Arnold's terminology. Terrorism means the use of violence against people (and other living things as well) for the purpose of intimidation and control. See recent events in Poland, for example, or current events in almost any Latin American nation, where government by massacre, torture, and extermination seems to be the rule. Sabotage, on the other hand, means violence against against machinery or other forms of nonliving property. The distinction is important and clear; it is unfair to deliberately attempt to confuse the two. Myself, I am absolutely opposed to terrorism, whether by government or by "unlicensed" individuals.

Edward Abbey
Oracle, AZ

Edward Abbey is the author of The Monkey Wrench Gang. —Eds.

Mr. Arnold replies: It has been said that whoever defines the terms rules the resulting universe of discourse. Neither dictionary nor reason supports Mr. Abbey's inventive try to exempt sabotage from terrorism.

Webster's Third New International Dictionary defines terrorism: "1. the systematic use of terror as a means of coercion. 2. an atmosphere of threat or violence." Terror itself is "intense fright or apprehension: stark fear." Eco-sabotage is correctly and precisely termed terrorism.

By reason, too, we must reject Mr. Abbey's suggestion that force against property is not force against an individual. Property rights in America are civil rights, by both statute law and Supreme Court ruling. Mr. Abbey lauds in his novels violation of fundamental civil rights.

Pedantry isn't necessary to expose the intellectual thuggery of advocating violence "only against property." Soon after my "Eco-Terrorism" article was published, the group charged with blasting the Dunsmuir power substation in British Columbia was captured. Its members are charged with setting blasts in Toronto that seriously injured seven people. Apparently, Mr. Abbey's sabotage quickly slipped into people-terrorism.

Library Research

In your Trends item "Rent-A-Book Makes a Comeback" (Feb.), you state that "one of the public library's major activities" is that of bringing popular books to the public. That this is true concerns me. In addition to popular books (romances, science fiction, mysteries, etc.) they also loan records, cassettes, movies, paintings, and items that provide entertainment to a select group of the public. I believe that many libraries have become, in large part, taxpayer-supported entertainment centers for a portion of the public who should pay directly for such entertainment.

I suggest that this "excellent job" being done by the taxpayer-supported libraries is not an appropriate job for government. Further, I am surprised at the tone of the last paragraph of that item; it implies that you condone such entertainment subsidies by the state. Public libraries may perform valid functions, but providing entertainment is not one of them.…

Don Y. Northam
Hyattsville, MD

Mr. Poole replies: We did not mean to suggest that providing library services is an appropriate function of government, only that lending libraries should not be seen as a complete substitute. Economist Lawrence J. White, in a study for the Twentieth Century Fund, determined that only 30 percent of the adult population makes use of public libraries and that one-quarter of that group accounts for three-quarters of adult use. Moreover, public library users are predominantly middle- and upper-middle-income and white-collar people. White's research lends strong support to the idea that libraries are not a "public good" but are, rather, an ordinary economic good that could be provided in the marketplace, paid for by the users.

Intelligent Question?

In "When the Smoke Clears" (Mar.) Michael Dunham cites this Biblical quote: "Why should my liberty be restricted by another man's conscience?" (I Corinthians 10:29). It is inappropriate and could backfire on anyone using it to argue for individualist ideas.

The quote comes from a section subtitled (in the Jerusalem Bible) "No compromise with idolatry." Paul was actually putting this quote, in the form of a challenge, into the mouth of some hypothetical questioner of his (Paul's) teachings. Paul then explains why one should in fact let one's acts be determined by the conscience of, and in behalf of the welfare of, others.

I seriously doubt that you will find that any quotes taken in context from the Bible will support individualist views.

Lawrence Barnes
Long Beach, CA

Ominous Injustice

Tibor Machan's review (Feb.) of The Ominous Parallels is unfair to Leonard Peikoff and a disservice to your readers. Machan's analysis of the book is muddled, imprecise, and patronizing, while the book itself is exactly the opposite: lucid, logical, and eloquent.

The most extraordinary aspect of this ambitious book is Peikoff's ability to make abstract philosophical ideas—and the practical consequences of those ideas—intelligible to lay readers. In the first half, he traces the central ideas in metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics from Plato to Kant and Hegel and shows how the dominance of those ideas left individuals powerless to resist tyranny in Hitler's Germany, the country long renowned for its philosophers.

Machan completely neglects to mention that the second half of the book is devoted to American intellectual and cultural history. It presents the philosophical foundations of the American Republic and then traces the way in which increasing attacks on reason and man's rights by leading intellectuals have left America vulnerable to dictatorship.

If your readers want to understand how philosophy rules human affairs, and why ideas are weapons of oppression or of self-defense, Peikoff's book is essential reading. It would be an injustice if Machan's review were to cost this book the wide audience it deserves.

Robert Hessen
Stanford, CA

Getting Parallels Straight

Leonard Peikoff's The Ominous Parallels is a spellbinding philosophical-historical account of the world's greatest conflict—the war between everything that capitalist America stands for and presupposes and what the last several generations of intellectuals have been teaching. The book makes intelligible the sweep of developments spanning centuries and cutting across the entire intellectual and cultural spectrum of the modern world. At the end, it leaves the reader actually able to understand why the world is in the intellectual mess that it is in.

This is not enough for Tibor Machan. He finds the book "unsatisfactory," because it wastes very few words discussing the non-contributions of others, who have not even attempted to undertake what it accomplishes.

Machan has two other objections: that the book does not prove its case and that its "documentation is suspect." Concerning the first of these points, it is sufficient to say that anyone who reads The Ominous Parallels can decide for himself. The second point requires comment.

Machan appears to have read footnote one of chapter one and none of Peikoff's other references. Since Peikoff credits me in that footnote for the translation of several passages, Machan concludes that Peikoff "does not rely on standard translations of the philosophers whom he discusses and does not defend his choice of a private translator, a friend of his whose German may be impeccable but who is not a philosopher but an economist."

This statement is simply false. Peikoff does rely on the standard translations of the philosophers he discusses. The only passages which I translated are a few from the Nazi polylogist Tirala and from Hitler, for which, as far as Peikoff and I are aware, there are no other translations available, standard or otherwise. Had Machan troubled to read Peikoff's footnote references beyond number one of chapter one, he would have seen the references to all the standard translations.…

George Reisman
Laguna Hills, CA

Mr. Machan replies: Peikoff says (p. 343): "I owe this translation, and several later ones, to Professor George Reisman." Only two others say "(trans. G. Reisman)"; yet other quotes, occurring within secondary sources whose translators are sometimes noted by Peikoff, have no translator attribution. Thus, there are grounds for suspicion. When the influence of ideas is being traced out, it is important to know what the persons supposedly subject to the influence actually meant. Also, "spellbinding" is not an adequate attribute of a book that should have been written in a scholarly fashion because its subject matter cannot be treated in any other way.

The Ominous Parallels is supposed to be historiography, tracing out the relationship between various events (ideas and political upheavals), so it must stand the test of comparative analysis. Ideas do have consequences, but how various events in history were produced needs to be proven. A scholar proceeds by subjecting himself to (imaginary or assisted) cross-examination instead of merely pleading his case.

Dr. Peikoff wrote a superb scholarly work, his doctoral dissertation; but he tried to settle for less in this book, presumably so as to appeal to a wider audience. The topic does not yield to this desire, unfortunately, however much his friends might wish to rescue him from the consequences of his actions.

Locked Out

None of the various reviews that I have read of Leonard Peikoff's The Ominous Parallels, including that by Dr. Machan (this is not intended as a criticism of Dr. Machan), has mentioned one aspect of Parallels that I find particularly irksome: Peikoff does a hatchet-job on John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

Peikoff's mentor, Ayn Rand, claimed: "The only philosophical debt I can acknowledge is to Aristotle," and she complained of plagiarism when she felt that her thoughts were being used without due accreditation. Yet it is painfully obvious that her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology owes much to Locke's Essay, none of which she acknowledged; Rand not only appropriated his ideas, she pirated some of his terminology and illustrative examples.

Could it be that Peikoff hopes that readers of Parallels will be dissuaded from reading the Essay and that they might thus never learn of Rand's indiscretion?

Daniel Kian McKiernan
Westerville, OH