Structure, Not Size, Is the Key to Reform
Peter Samuel's "Hill Bent on Spending" (Nov.) is an outstanding and depressing account of the nature and causes of the "American disease." Yet his hope that grass-roots counterlobbies can play a significant role in turning back the tide of government-by-pressure group seems misplaced. The problem is not the size of government but the nature of government. The state will not remain "cut back" unless a thorough constitutional reform is carried out.
The present fight on a broad front (monetary reform, privatization, counter-lobbies, fiscal relief, etc.) must be viewed merely as a way of building a consensus for a new constitution. As economist F.A. Hayek demonstrates, convincingly I believe, in Law, Legislation, and Liberty, the present disorder in government results neither from democracy nor from the existence of government per se, but from the absence of a real (as opposed to the now merely nominal) separation of powers. The Founding Fathers and other advocates of constitutional government made a grievous mistake in combining in the same assembly both the legislative and the administrative functions of government. Worse, this assembly is composed by representatives elected through party politics. The result has been a replacement of true legislation (general rules equally applicable to all) by an evergrowing number of pseudo-laws (particular rules aimed at creating privileges for particular groups).
To solve this problem, Hayek proposes the obvious answer: the separation of the true legislature (democratically elected, but not by parties, and charged with the responsibility of creating only general rules) from the governmental assembly (democratically elected by parties, and charged with the responsibility of creating particular administrative measures, subject to the general laws laid down by the legislators).
Limiting congressmen to one term, as proposed by Prof. Jack Douglas ("Reining in the Imperial Congress," Aug.), would improve the situation somewhat. But this overlooks the crucial aspect of the question: the need for a real separation of powers—a separation that has always been a myth. Without a fundamental reform, all efforts to reduce the size of government may yet prove useless in stemming the totalitarian tide.
José Italo Stelle
São Paulo, Brazil
Moving in on Marx
In his review essay on work by and about F.A. Hayek ("The Road to Freedom," Dec. 1984), Jeremy Shearmur mentions a volume in honor of Dr. Hayek, The Political Economy of Freedom. He begins by noting that he was "especially impressed" by an essay by William Bartley in which the author "explains that he has learned from the philosopher Karl Popper that one never knows what one is saying and from Hayek that one never knows what one is doing." While this is cute enough—though why "urbane," as Shearmur claims, I cannot fathom—it is also disturbing, especially when read in a magazine called REASON.
Shearmur goes on to say that this same author's criticism of Karl Marx "suffers a little from being an attack conducted from the outside, thus doing Marx's views a little less than justice before moving in for the kill." What does this imply? That to do Marx full justice one must be a Marxist? Are we to suppose that this is true? No. Perhaps then it should be taken literally, which could mean that Shearmur believes that Marx can only be attacked on the basis of internal inconsistencies.
Yet right after this, Shearmur proceeds to say that his criticism ("doing Marx's views a little less than justice") "is much more true, however, of a critical piece on Marx by Tibor Machan, which reads a little as if he had been let loose with a dictionary of quotations from Marx." Now, one reason to quote a person one wishes to criticize is to remain as close to the inside as possible; to show that in the target's own terms, flaws emerge. But by Shearmur's account, this has led me further away from doing justice to Marx's views. Shearmur should tell us what his criteria are for a telling criticism.
But what is one to say to someone who is impressed with declarations of ignorance? At least the editors of REASON should have reminded Shearmur that his critical points about the essay in question are confusing.
Tibor R. Machan
San Diego, CA
Mr. Shearmur replies: Professor Machan raises a number of points. I will concentrate on two:
Bartley, in the passage Machan quotes, is saying that just as Hayek has argued that our actions have consequences of which we are not aware, so Popper has argued that our statements have consequences, and thus meaning, of which we are not aware. Machan criticizes me for noting this (which is like shooting the bearer of bad news). More importantly, he has misunderstood its significance. For it suggests just how important it is for rationalists, such as Machan, Bartley, and myself, to be vigilant and self-critical.
Machan and I agree about doing justice to someone whom one is criticizing. Bartley did Marx "a little less than justice" because Marx's views in his "Excerpts from James Mill" go a little way towards meeting Bartley's criticisms. As to Machan, quoting one's subject may sometimes help to do justice to him; but sometimes it may not. The unintended consequence of Machan's particular use of quotes is that while his essay is not without merit, it does less than justice to Marx.
Taking Rand's Art Seriously
I appreciated Randall Dipert's lengthy and often very interesting discussion of The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand ("Taking Ayn Rand Seriously," Jan.), but one part of the review strikes me as particularly offensive: Mr. Dipert's throwaway comments on Miss Rand's theory of aesthetics. Her theory is a "robust" but "naive and not-well-thought-out romanticism." The result of her application of this robust but naive theory was "long, strident, blustery tirades by major figures—as if loud, angry speeches were the primary literary mode of being 'moving.'" Her novels are also "virtually lacking in all the niceties of careful character development, plot nuances, and elegant language that are the standards of good novels."
Whoa there!—pull up the philosophical reins for a minute. Have Dipert and I been studying the same works? Careful character development, plot nuances, and elegant language may be found in overflowing abundance in Rand's novels. The only novel where "tirades" conceivably become a problem is Atlas Shrugged, and even here it is arguable whether the assignment Rand set herself could have been completed without them. I'm not going to assert that Rand's novels are flawless, but let us give genuine greatness its due. Many passages of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged move me greatly, but they are not necessarily bolstered by a "tirade." The uplifting factor is genius.
Let us treat Rand's art with the same care and consideration we are being urged to show toward her philosophy.
David M. Brown
Rand on Rights
In his review of The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand (Jan.), Randall Dipert misrepresents her views on an important point. She surely would not have agreed that "the idea of respecting others' rights is somehow implicated in the very idea of a good human life." While she regarded it as a settled issue that honoring the rights of others was in one's own interest, she did so because she regarded the real-life evidence as overwhelmingly on her side. What kind of real-life evidence? Real life in the United States vs. real life in Russia, for instance.
By the way, I hope everybody took a good look at the list of activities Dipert regards as comprising "true social behavior—talking, listening, asking, obeying." Obeying?
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".