Spotlight: Property Rights in Print


"Publish or perish" is the cliché used by academic folks to refer to the importance of having one's scholarly work printed. Even at the most prestigious universities, the number of a teacher's words published in important journals often is more crucial in gaining tenure than is the number of students who come away from his classes with an understanding of the subject taught. In the same way, a philosophy's success is largely dependent on the exposure it receives in respected journals.

In the last 50 years, individualist, property-rights perspectives have been almost totally absent from the academic publishing world. Journals controlled by scholars hostile to individualist ideas have routinely vetoed excellent work by economists, historians, and philosophers who do not subscribe to the popular wisdom. The impact of such practices has been particularly frustrating to those who must publish or have their careers perish.

Ellen Frankel Paul is among a growing number of individualist scholars who are beating the system. Holding an impressive academic pedigree—an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Brandeis, a Ph.D. in government from Harvard—Paul has taught political science at both Miami University in Ohio and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her book Moral Revolution and Economic Science was published in 1979 by Greenwood Press, and a new book—This Land Is My Land?—will soon be published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University (where Paul was a national fellow for a year). And recently, she was appointed by the Reagan administration to represent the United States at the UN Commission on Social Development. The commission is concerned with the "equitable distribution of income in the world," explains Paul, but "it's just the usual UN battleground for East-West conflict."

Paul grew up, she says, as "the only conservative I knew on Long Island." By the time she was 11 years old, she was already involved in Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign. Paul says that her husband, Jeffrey—a professor of philosophy at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, where she is presently an assistant professor of political science—was responsible for her coming to accept a libertarian, natural-rights philosophy in place of her conservative, utilitarian beliefs. "I became a little more uncompromising," she says, but adds, "I wasn't all that compromising to begin with."

In addition to her current teaching position at Bowling Green, Paul is research director and publications editor for the university's two-year-old Social Philosophy and Policy Center. She is involved at the center in ground-breaking efforts to exorcise the spirit of failed collectivism from academic publishing.

Under Paul's editorial direction, the center is carrying out three separate publication programs. A monograph series is written for the intelligent layman, policymakers, business people, government officials, and journalists. Each monograph addresses a policy issue, drawing out the moral principles underlying a sound resolution of that problem. Various monographs have covered federal regulation of the airwaves, the infant-formula controversy, and the assignment of property rights in coastal-water resources.

An original-paper series is a more scholarly effort with the academic audience in mind. And a soon-to-be-launched interdisciplinary journal also will be for an academic readership.

To understand the potential significance of the young Social Philosophy and Policy Center, one must first realize that Bowling Green State is the home of the Philosophy Documentation Center, which does all the bibliographic work for philosophical publishing, of both books and journals, in the English-speaking world. And the university has initiated the nation's first graduate program in applied philosophy, which studies relationships between philosophy and public policy.

According to Paul, many other organizations like the center have been successful in raising money for similar projects by promising to present both sides of issues and debates concerning the free market and government regulation. Inevitably, however, says Paul, the people involved in such projects represented traditional, interventionist ideas. The Social Philosophy and Policy Center also promises to present both sides. But Paul is trying to see to it that, for once, it actually happens.

Paul has had much opportunity to survey the academic world for signs of any movement toward individualist ideas. "In the field of economics," she says, "there's been a lot of progress, primarily because of the University of Chicago. Free-market ideas have become a lot more respectable. The same thing started happening in philosophy about 10 years ago. There are a few dozen good people coming up, and at least the arguments are taken seriously enough to be rebutted."

One strong sign of the growing academic interest in—and the respectability of—natural-rights-based philosophy is to be found in the story of the Social Philosophy and Policy Center's forthcoming journal, Social Philosophy & Policy. Plans for the journal had been in the works for some time when the center was contacted by England's Basil Blackwood Publishing, a prestigious publisher of scholarly journals. Representatives of the company traveled to Ohio to ask for permission to publish the journal, though they had never been contacted by anyone associated with the center.

But in Paul's own field, political science, the acceptance of individualist ideas "hasn't happened at all," laments Paul. "Free-market ideas are treated with derision in general." That's something Paul is working hard to change.

Patrick Cox is a frequent guest columnist for USA Today and public affairs director of the Pacific Institute for Public Policy Research.