Industrial Diseases

Brink Lindsey's article "Big Mistake" (February) is a valuable contribution, but several points about it should be made. Lindsey seems to repeat the myth that America's industrial dominance was the accidental result of the destruction of competing economies by World War II. In fact, America was the leading industrial nation well before that war, and I know of no period in which America's ascendancy was less challenged than in the 1930s. Along with this, he suggests that the protectionism of the interwar period insulated American industry from positive developments abroad. It might have done so, if there had been any such developments. But I know of none, and none are pointed out. (Certainly, nothing good was happening in Germany or Japan at that time.)

It is worth asking why this should have been so, given the problem that Lindsey documents. The answer seems to be that Europe (and Japan, which took its cues mainly from Europe) was suffering from the same handicap, but even more acutely.

Michael Underwood
Arlington, VA

Brink Lindsey's article "Big Mistake" contains a few big ones of its own, relating to a misunderstanding of scientific management due to acceptance of some widespread myths surrounding "Taylorism."

First, it is unlikely that scientific management itself caused the hostility in employment relations that Lindsey discusses. That conflict arose out of the Marxist-style position that the unions themselves adopted, in which it is assumed that conflict between workers and management is a natural state of affairs. Scientific management was an easy scapegoat, but its principles, as Lindsey points out, were also adopted by unions who demarcated and segregated jobs into very narrow classifications in the mistaken belief that they would increase employment. They also used their large numbers and political pull to raise wages to the uncompetitively high level that Lindsey talks about.

In discussing Taylor's "contempt" for the mental ability of the American worker, Lindsey here drops the context of American society in the early 1900s. The level of education among the American population as a whole was not high, especially in the Deep South, and in this context the separation of thinking or work design and the work itself was entirely appropriate. It is still a hallmark of many of today's "total quality management" practices.

As Ed Locke and David Sweiger stated in their seminal article "Participation In Decision Making: One More Look," "Taylor has been criticized for decades for advocating authoritarian practices, [but] he did not advocate obedience to authority as such, but rather obedience to facts." The authority that management gained over the worker was based on knowledge.

Lindsey's comparison to Japan is an interesting one given that many of the practices advocated by the likes of Deming and Juran are based in the principles that Taylor developed, namely that authority is knowledge-based and, as Taylor writes, "Every encouragement…should be given [the workman] to suggest improvements, both in methods and implements. And whenever a workman proposes an improvement, it should be the policy of the management to make a careful analysis of the new method and conduct a series of experiments to determine accurately the relative merit of the new suggestion and of the old standard."

This is exactly the principle that the Japanese have followed under their kaizen system. (Taylor himself advocated continuous improvement.) However it is not their real strength. The real strength is that the Japanese actually consider the relative merits of a new program rather than just picking up on every new fad in training programs or organizational concepts.

One should not be against bigness per se. The only companies in Japan that tend to use kaizen extensively are the very large organizations. While Lindsey has discussed many useful ideas in his article, especially in the area of self-managed teams and flatter organizational structures and no government intervention, I believe he misses the real issue. It is not because of scientific management that America lags behind the Japanese. It is rather a failure to adhere to its principles (the same principles that they use) and to treat some of Taylor's statements in the context that they were written. What the Japanese really have over you Americans is that they did not abandon reason: Rather, they encouraged it.

Mike Beverland
Auckland, New Zealand

Brink Lindsey replies: I never meant to suggest that America's industrial dominance was purely the result of World War II. Indeed, my article points out that the United States led the way in creating the world's first mass-production economy–a transformation that was largely complete by the 1920s. By contrast, the new techniques were not widely diffused throughout Europe and Japan until the 1950s. Nevertheless, America's relative economic strength was surely exaggerated temporarily by the destruction World War II visited upon the rest of the world. That unnatural dominance, in turn, bred sloppiness and complacency.

Furthermore, Mr. Underwood is simply wrong when he implies that America was so far ahead of the world that its protectionism was harmless. In selected industries, foreign competition was perceived by U.S. industries as a very real threat–that is why they clamored for protection. In particular, the United States imposed its first anti-dumping law in 1916 largely in fear of rising German industrial might. And Japan's textile industry was sufficiently developed by 1936 for the United States to slap on restrictive quotas. A note of common sense: These countries could not have made such a credible bid at conquering the world without formidable industrial bases.

As to Mr. Beverland. I tried my best within the space constraints of a magazine article to put Taylorism's sins in context. I pointed out that scientific management was responsible for enormous productivity gains; I further noted that the labor movement's collectivism would have ensured labor-management conflict even if Taylorism had never existed.

All that said, the truth remains that Taylor and his disciples thought of workers as idiots, and treated them accordingly. You can't read Taylor's writings fairly and miss this point. As a result, Taylorism encouraged a mindset among managers that was stubbornly resistant to any workplace innovations that would incorporate workers' brainpower into the production process. In turn, being treated as mindless cogs had to–and did–breed resentment and alienation among workers. Accordingly, I stand by my judgment that scientific management shares in the blame for the poisonous labor relations that have plagued America's great industrial enterprises.

Corporate Harassment

With great amusement and pleasure I read Thomas W. Hazlett's "Corporate Rakeovers" (February) in which he mocks the Baptists for harassing the Disney corporation, the federal government for harassing the Hooters chain, and Hollywood for harassing corporate Vegas. Corporation bashers deserve all the bashing they can get.

It is certainly true that corporations are fair game in some people's minds. One of my colleagues shoplifts only from chain stores, never from mom-and-pop establishments. She may be an intellectual, but she knows the difference between good and evil.

What bothered me about the article was the lumping of Baptists, federal law, and Hollywood all together. When any individual or group of people does something stupid, I don't really mind; it usually just makes me laugh. But when the law does it, it is a crime, and I get mad. I am perfectly willing to laugh at the foibles and hypocrisies of the Baptists, and even at those of my fellow professors (though they are a more dangerous crowd, to be sure), but I can't laugh at a pernicious, nationwide public policy that is enforced by fines, imprisonment, confiscations, and the like.

If Disney loses money because of the Baptists' agitation–tough. After all, Kmart loses money every time you shop at Wal-Mart. Just a bit of creative destruction and spontaneous reordering. But when Hooters loses money because of federal law, it is an outrage.

I realize that many libertarians don't like either kind of limitation on their freedom of choice, social or governmental. But to an Old Whig liberal the distinction is what matters most.

Richard L. Leed
Ithaca, NY

GOP Gone Wrong

Virginia Postrel's editorial "Bloc Busters" (February) was most insightful. I too have watched as the Republican Party's focus has been diverted from a less government/more freedom agenda to one dominated by cultural/social issues. I wonder, however, how much of this can be ascribed to a weakness within the party leadership as she suggests.

While the catering to the Christian right by Republican presidential hopefuls, driven to some degree by Buchanan, Dornan, and Keyes, is seen as a necessity within the various campaign organizations, I agree that the grassroots voters are not so single-minded. In fact, even Ralph Reed has stated many times that the people represented under the umbrella of the Christian right are united by issues far more diverse than just cultural. As Postrel noted, they too pay taxes, struggle with regulations, and want the government to leave them alone.

Republicans are just lousy salesmen for their policies. The Democrats have years of experience polishing their one-liners and sound bites of demagoguery.

I feel the Democrats have successfully steered the discussion toward the social issues where they feel most comfortable attacking the conservative agenda. They know from the results of the '94 elections that if the public and media concentrate on the broad philosophical argument of the size and scope of government and its role in our lives, the average voter will side with the conservative/libertarian proponents. This has forced Republican members of Congress to devote too much time defending themselves and left precious little for advancing the ideas of free markets, less government, and less taxes.

Donald Holtzinger
Walnutport, PA

Postrel's February editorial is spot on: Republicans fail when they talk incessantly about "culture" and stray from the goal of radically reducing government. This is true because the case for cutting government is much stronger than the case for using government to encourage good values, and because Republicans who were elected to reduce government will be removed from office if voters perceive them to be insincere (the George Bush syndrome).

You are right, too, about opportunistic conservative intellectuals like Bill Bennett and the editors of The Weekly Standard. (That anti-Internet cartoon on the cover really rubbed me the wrong way with its gratuitous Luddism. I had thought that only thuggish leftists use the word smash the way it is used there.)

Indeed, there are many disappointing similarities between conservative intellectuals and liberal ones. Both groups largely consist of people who make their livings by manipulating words. I think that what mainly bothers them about Internet newsgroups is that the Net allows ordinary people with shared interests to communicate directly with each other, bypassing journalistic interlocutors. High-priced middlemen always accuse the competition of being evil.

Both groups also comprise people who probably don't have to worry about government regulating or taxing or punishing them out of business; about their land being confiscated; about legal nightmares imposed at whim by unaccountable government functionaries; about vague, overreaching laws written by arrogant legislative staffers who don't have a clue about real-world consequences of their favored policies. Both conservative and liberal intellectuals tend to be out of touch with the realities of most Americans' lives.

Instead, conservative intellectuals focus on the budget deficit, sex in movies, the horrors of the Internet, inadequate prayer opportunities in public schools, etc. None of those issues is anywhere near as important as, for example, the FBI's murder of unpopular religious people, or the fact that government takes almost half of our income.

I believe that many Americans would agree with me on this point, that while they may be religious, and are profoundly concerned about cultural problems, most citizens are essentially libertarian in political outlook. And it is precisely libertarians and not conservatives who have been vindicated politically by the success of Republicans' "get government off our backs" approach. This political approach, rather than well-intentioned governmental intrusiveness, is most likely to create conditions favorable to cultural renewal. One hopes Republicans, too, will soon realize this.

Jonathan Gewirtz

Rethinking Rand's Roots

In his review of my book Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical ("Reaching for Roots," February), James G. Lennox has deeply misunderstood my views. My lengthier response can be found on the World Wide Web (http://pages.nyu.edu/~sciabrrc).

Regarding the historical evidence for a Rand-Lossky relationship, Lennox argues that I upgrade the "possibilities into established facts." I remain self-consciously speculative, however, while giving Rand the benefit of the doubt. She claimed to have studied with Lossky. Though I disclose evidence that heightens our skepticism, I argue that Rand's recollections seem consistent with the historical record. To conclude otherwise would imply that Rand was a liar.

My historical thesis does not hinge on this specific relationship, however. Dialectical method was endemic to Russian philosophic culture, to Rand's college texts, and to the teachings of virtually every Petrograd professor. It was present in the intellectual air that Rand breathed.

Lennox incorrectly attributes a Hegelian historicist conception of dialectics to me. Moreover, he equates dialectics with anti-dualism, ignoring its essential characteristics: organic unity, abstraction, integration, and internal relations in systemic and historical analysis. In employing such an approach, Rand was courageous enough to recognize what was right in the false alternatives she opposed, even as she overturned what was wrong. And whenever she emphasizes the primacy of existence or the efficacy of reason, she always shows a keen awareness of the internal connections between consciousness and existence, mind and body, reason and emotion.

It is not my claim that Rand simply misunderstood dialectics. Rather, she equated dialectics with historical materialism, a notorious tool of Soviet propaganda. Dialectics as a method, however, was an uncontroversial critical technique employed by most Russian thinkers. The father of such dialectical inquiry was Aristotle, and as I argue, Rand remains true, in essence, to her Aristotelian roots, both methodologically and substantively.

Given his misreading of my thesis, it is no wonder that Lennox fails to see any evidence in Rand's letters of this dialectical approach. A careful reader of the letters will find explicit references to "organic wholes," as well as countless examples of her ability to trace critically the internal relationships between seemingly disparate factors, such as politics, sex, and art.

Finally, I am dismayed that Lennox has virtually ignored Part Three of my book, and its original reading of Rand's social analysis as a radical, tri-level critique of contemporary statism.

Leonard Peikoff, among other commentators, has emphasized the organic structure of Objectivism. I have extended such insights to the whole of Rand's project, encompassing literary, philosophic, and sociotheoretical dimensions. In Rand's comprehension of the reciprocal interactions between key principles, such that each supports and nourishes the other, and in her view of reason, self-esteem, and freedom as preconditions and effects of one another, there are highly dialectical methods at work. Those who refuse to recognize this dialectical structure of mutual implication and organic unity in Rand's thought ultimately diminish her revolutionary message.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra
Department of Politics
New York University
New York, NY

The extraordinary achievement of Chris Sciabarra's book Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical is not that he has proven conclusively that her thinking was significantly influenced by Russian intellectuals during her formative years. His hypothesis on that score may or may not be correct. His achievement is that he has brought Ayn Rand into the history of philosophy.

Nathaniel Branden
Beverly Hills, CA

James G. Lennox replies: My review of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical concentrated on what I took to be the book's principal claim–that an important key to understanding Ayn Rand's philosophical development and Objectivism is to be found in the positive influence of the philosophical currents flowing through Russia during her early years. There is no other reason to take the many comparisons of Rand's thought with philosophers in the European "dialectical" tradition seriously unless this case is made. Further, if such comparisons invariably depend on rewording Rand's ideas in a language foreign to her own, they can't stand on their own as indirect evidence of such an influence. A 2,000-word review cannot give detailed consideration to everything in a 500-page book.

Sciabarra takes exception to my claim that he "upgrades possibilities into established conclusions"–but I cite a number of examples, among many more I collected, of this. It is not enough to admit that the book is speculative, which by itself is an admission of failure. I cite passages where something was initially claimed to be a possibility, or "not impossible," and which is later in the book assumed by the argument to be a fact. If there is no hard evidence for such claims, then they should not be converted to unqualified categorical assertions upon which the rest of the book depends.

Noting that Ayn Rand's recollections were not consistent with the (rest of) the historical record does not mean she was a liar. There are a number of other possibilities–for example, it is possible she was simply mistaken, perhaps in an innocuous way. My claim was that the evidence he adds to what we already knew on balance doesn't support her recollection–that is all I said. If a fair reading of Sciabarra's evidence leaves people uncertain about the relationship between Lossky and Rand, it is not they who need to provide a better explanation. As Dr. Sciabarra knows, Ayn Rand was fond of citing a maxim about "the onus of proof…." It is Sciabarra who is asserting the positive, not his reviewers.

Dr. Sciabarra now says that his historical thesis doesn't hinge on this specific relationship. Yet far and away the greatest energy is expended by Sciabarra in making this particular connection, rather than, for example, doing a careful study of the textbooks that would have been used by Rand. More hinges on this than he thinks, because if this connection is a mere speculation, then the central thesis of his book is undermined.

In my review I accepted without question Sciabarra's claims about what was "in the intellectual air" in Petrograd in the early 1920s. Ayn Rand tells us she was deeply repelled by most of it. The question is, Can it be established, with a reasonable degree of plausibility, that Ayn Rand absorbed a peculiar form of dialectical philosophy from the air, and made it her own? It is not enough to say "it was in the air, she must have."

Contrary to what Sciabarra says in the letter, I was careful not to present a narrower view of dialectic than he does–thus I quoted his words fairly heavily. But the "historicist conception" of dialectic which he now disowns is consistently drawn upon in his book, both in characterizing Rand's methodology, and in buttressing claims of fundamental similarity between Rand, Hegel, and Marx.

It is claimed that I ignore what is most essential to dialectics. But concepts such as "organic unity" and "integration" are not necessarily tied to a dialectical way of thinking. Dialectic views these as means of transcending dualities and apparent oppositions, etc. That is the differentiating feature of dialectic, and it was on this, among Sciabarra's characterizations, that I focused.

On Ayn Rand's dualism, I can only say that in the sense that those in the 19th-20th-century dialectical tradition take consciousness and existence to be non-dualistic–i.e., in the sense that reality is a "construct" of consciousness constituted by reason, and so on–Ayn Rand is a dualist. She is adamant on many occasions that existence in no way depends on consciousness.

As for Aristotle, he is not the father of dialectic as found in the tradition of Kant, Hegel, and Marx. Plato is the person who claimed that dialectic was the route to transcendent truth–Aristotle seriously demoted dialectic from this role, in favor of logic. "Dialectics" as the term evolved from German Romantic philosophy, the form found in Russia in Ayn Rand's youth, has little to do with Aristotle's Topics–but that takes a long argument to establish. At any rate, Ayn Rand discusses her debt to Aristotle often, and never mentions that it was his theory of dialectic that influenced her.

Sciabarra closes his letter by saying that "those who refuse to recognize this dialectical structure of mutual implication and organic unity in Rand's thought do great damage to her revolutionary message." This is a question-begging remark, one of a number in his response: to "refuse to recognize" or "fail to see" something presupposes it is there to be recognized or seen. The central thrust of my review is that Sciabarra has not given his readers reason to believe his central claims. Furthermore, it lessens, rather than increases, the revolutionary message of Ayn Rand, to assimilate her to the dialectical philosophical tradition–she is far more revolutionary than that.

It is an indirect message of my review that Ayn Rand's place in the history of philosophy has been distorted by Dr. Sciabarra's book. Thus I emphatically disagree with Dr. Branden's assertion.