« March 2011 |
| May 2011 »
Saturday, April 30, 2011
Reading List: An Enemy of the State
- Raimondo, Justin.
An Enemy of the State.
Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000.
Had Murray Rothbard been a man of the Left, he would probably
be revered today as one of the towering intellects of the twentieth
century. Certainly, there was every reason from his origin and education
to have expected him to settle on the Left: the child of Jewish immigrants
from Poland and Russia, he grew up in a Jewish community in New York
City where, as he later described it, the only question was whether
one would join the Communist Party or settle for being a fellow
traveller. He later remarked that, “I had two sets of Communist
Party uncles and aunts, on both sides of my family.” While studying
for his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University in
the 1940s and '50s, he was immersed in a political spectrum which
ranged from “Social Democrats on the ‘right’ to
Stalinists on the left”.
Yet despite the political and intellectual milieu surrounding him,
Rothbard followed his own compass, perhaps inherited in part from
his fiercely independent father. From an early age, he came to believe
individual liberty was foremost among values, and that based
upon that single desideratum one could deduce an entire system of
morality, economics, natural law, and governance which optimised the
individual's ability to decide his or her own destiny. In the context
of the times, he found himself aligned with the Old Right: the
isolationist, small government, and hard money faction of the
Republican Party which was, in the Eisenhower years, approaching
extinction as “conservatives” acquiesced to the leviathan
“welfare-warfare state” as necessary to combat the
Soviet menace. Just as Rothbard began to put the foundations of
the Old Right on a firm intellectual basis, the New Right of
William F. Buckley and his “coven of ex-Communists”
at National Review drove the stake through that
tradition, one of the first among many they would excommunicate
from the conservative cause as they defined it.
Rothbard was a disciple of Ludwig von Mises, and applied his
ideas and those of other members of the Austrian school of
economics to all aspects of economics, politics, and culture.
His work, both scholarly and popular, is largely responsible
for the influence of Austrian economics today. (Here is a
of Rothbard's publications.)
Rothbard's own beliefs scarcely varied over his life, and yet
as the years passed and the political tectonic plates shifted,
he found himself aligned with the Old Right, the Ayn Rand
circle (from which he quickly extricated himself after diagnosing
the totalitarian tendencies of Rand and the cult-like nature
of her followers), the nascent New Left (before it was taken over
by communists), the Libertarian Party, the Cato Institute, and
finally back to the New Old Right, with several other zigs and
zags along the way. In each case, Rothbard embraced his new
allies and threw himself into the cause, only to discover that
they were more interested in factionalism, accommodation with
corrupt power structures, or personal ambition than the principles
which motivated him.
While Rothbard's scholarly publications alone dwarf those of many in
the field, he was anything but an ivory tower academic. He revelled in
the political fray, participating in campaigns, writing speeches and
position papers, formulating strategy, writing polemics aimed at the
general populace, and was present at the creation of several of the
key institutions of the contemporary libertarian movement. Fully
engaged in the culture, he wrote book and movie reviews, satire, and
commentary on current events. Never discouraged by the many setbacks
he experienced, he was always a “happy warrior”, looking
at the follies of the society around him with amusement and commenting
wittily about them in his writings. While eschewing grand systems and
theories of history in favour of an entirely
view of the social sciences (among which he counted economics,
rejecting entirely the mathematically-intense work of
pseudoscientists who believed one could ignore human action when
analysing the aggregate behaviour of human actors), he
remained ever optimistic that liberty would triumph in the end
simply because it works better, and will inevitably
supplant authoritarian schemes which constrain the human
This is a well-crafted overview of Rothbard's life, work, and legacy
by an author who knew and worked with Rothbard in the last two decades
of his career. Other than a coruscating animus toward Buckley and
his minions, it provides a generally even-handed treatment of the many
allies and adversaries (often the same individuals at different times)
with which Rothbard interacted over his career. Chapter 7 provides
an overview and reading guide to Rothbard's magisterial
History of Economic Thought,
which is so much more—essentially a general theory of
the social sciences—that you'll probably be persuaded to add
it to your reading list.
Monday, April 18, 2011
Reading List: Children of Apollo
- Whittington, Mark R.
Children of Apollo.
Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2002.
This is a brilliant concept and well-executed (albeit with some
irritating flaws I will discuss below). This novel is
within the genre of “alternative history” and, conforming
to the rules, takes a single counterfactual event as the point of
departure for a recounting of the 1970s as I, and I suspect many others,
expected that decade to play out at its dawn. It is
a celebration of what might have been, and what we have lost compared to
the future we chose not to pursue.
In the novel's timeline, an obscure CIA analyst writes a memo about the
impact Soviet efforts to beat the U.S. to the Moon are having upon the
Soviet military budget and economy, and this memo makes it to the
desk of President Nixon shortly after the landing of
Apollo 11. Nixon is persuaded by his senior advisors that
continuing and expanding the Apollo and follow-on programs (whose funding
had been in decline since 1966) would be a relatively inexpensive way
to, at the least, divert funds which would otherwise go to Soviet military
and troublemaking around the world and, at the best, bankrupt their economy
because an ideology which proclaimed itself the “wave of the
future” could not acquiesce to living under a “capitalist
Nixon and his staff craft a plan thoroughly worthy of the
“Tricky Dick” moniker
he so detested, and launch a program largely
modelled upon the
Space Task Group report, with the addition of transitioning the space shuttle
recommended in the report to competitive procurement of transportation services
from the private sector. This sets off the kind of steady, yet sustainable,
expansion of the human presence into space that von Braun always envisioned.
At the same time, it forces the Soviets, the Luddite caucus in Congress,
and the burgeoning environmental movement into a corner, and they're
motivated to desperate measures to bring an end to what some view as
destiny but they see as disaster.
For those interested in space who lived through the 1970s and saw
dream after dream dashed, downscoped, or deferred, this is a
delightful and well-crafted exploration of how it could have been.
Readers too young to remember the 1970s may miss a number of
the oblique references to personalities and events of that
The Kindle edition is perfectly readable,
reasonably inexpensive, but sloppily produced. A number of words are
run together and hyphenated words in the print edition not joined.
Something funny appears to have happened in translating passages in
italics into the electronic edition—I can't quite figure out
what, but I'm sure the author didn't intend parts of words to
be set in italics. In addition there are a number of errors in both
the print and Kindle editions which would have been caught by a
sharp-eyed copy editor. I understand that this is a self-published
work, but there are many space buffs (including this one) who would
have been happy to review the manuscript and check it for both
typographical and factual errors.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Most libertarians and conservatives have great respect for the rule
of law and civil discourse. They're inclined to assume their
opponents are well-intentioned
adversaries with a different vision of how to better the general welfare.
This is an error: they are not “liberals” or “progressives”,
as they call themselves, but rather enemies
of liberty and progress.
champions of liberty must defeat them and how that might be accomplished.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Reading List: Theories of International Politics and Zombies
- Drezner, Daniel W.
Theories of International Politics and Zombies.
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011.
“A specter is haunting world politics….” (p. 109)
Contemporary international politics and institutions are based upon the
centuries-old system of
nation-states, each acting in its own self interest in a largely
anarchic environment. This system has seen divine right monarchies
supplanted by various forms of consensual government, dictatorships,
theocracies, and other forms of governance, and has survived industrial
and technological revolutions, cataclysmic wars, and reorganisation of
economic systems and world trade largely intact. But how will this system
come to terms with a new force on the world stage: one which transcends
national borders, acts upon its own priorities regardless of the impact
upon nation-states, inexorably recruits adherents wherever its presence
becomes established, admits of no defections from its ranks, is immune to
rational arguments, presents an asymmetrical threat against which
conventional military force is largely ineffective and tempts free
societies to sacrifice liberty in the interest of security,
and is bent on supplanting the nation-state system
with a worldwide regime free of the internal conflicts which seem endemic
in the present international system?
I am speaking, of course, about the Zombie Menace. The present book is
a much-expanded version of the author's
article on his Web log at
magazine. In it, he explores how an outbreak of flesh-eating ghouls
would be responded to based on the policy prescriptions of a
variety of theories of international relations, including structural
realism, liberal institutionalism, neoconservatism, and postmodern
social constructivism. In addition, he describes how the
zombie threat would affect domestic politics in Western liberal
democracies, and how bureaucratic institutions, domestic and international,
would react to the emerging crisis (bottom line: turf battles).
The author makes no claim
to survey the policy prescriptions of all theories: “To be
blunt, this project is explicitly prohuman, whereas Marxists and
feminists would likely sympathize more with the zombies.”
(p. 17, footnote) The social implications of a
burgeoning zombie population are also probed, including
the inevitable emergence of zombie rights groups and
non-governmental organisations on the international stage.
How long can it be until zombie suffrage marchers take (or shuffle) to
the streets, waving banners proclaiming “Zombies are (or at
least were) people too!”?
This is a delightful and thoughtful exploration of a hypothetical
situation in international politics which, if looked at with the right
kind of (ideally, non-decaying) eyes, has a great deal to say about
events in the present-day world. There are extensive source
citations, both to academic international relations and zombie
literature, and you're certain to come away with a list of
films you'll want to see. Anne Karetnikov's illustrations
The author is professor of international politics at Tufts
University and a member of the
Zombie Research Society.
I must say I'm dismayed that Princeton University
Press condones the use of the pejorative and hurtful term
“zombie”. How hard would it be to employ the
non-judgemental “person of reanimation” instead?
Friday, April 1, 2011
Reading List: Known and Unknown
- Rumsfeld, Donald.
Known and Unknown.
New York: Sentinel, 2011.
In his career in public life and the private sector, spanning more
than half a century, the author was:
This is an extraordinary trajectory through life, and Rumsfeld's
memoir is correspondingly massive: 832 pages in the hardcover
edition. The parts which will be most extensively dissected and
discussed are those dealing with his second stint at DOD, and
the contentious issues regarding the Afghanistan and Iraq wars,
treatment of detainees, interrogation methods, and
other issues which made him a lightning rod during the administration
of Bush fils. While it was interesting
to see his recollection of how these consequential decisions were
made, documented by extensive citations of contemporary records, I
found the overall perspective of how decision-making was done over
his career most enlightening. Nixon, Ford, and Bush all had very different
ways of operating their administrations, all of which were very
unlike those of an organisation such as NATO or a private
company, and Rumsfeld, who experienced all of them in a senior management
capacity, has much wisdom to share about what works and what
doesn't, and how one must adapt management style and the flow of
information to the circumstances which obtain in each structure.
Many supportive outside observers of the G. W. Bush presidency were
dismayed at how little effort was made by the administration to
explain its goals, strategy, and actions to the public. Certainly,
the fact that it was confronted with a hostile legacy media which
often seemed to cross the line from being antiwar to rooting for
the other side didn't help, but Rumsfeld, the consummate insider, felt
that the administration forfeited opportunity after opportunity to
present its own case, even by releasing source documents which would
in no way compromise national security but show the basis upon which
decisions were made in the face of the kind of ambiguous and incomplete
information which confronts executives in all circumstances.
author's Web site provides a massive
archive of source documents cited in the book, along with a copy of the
book's end notes which links to them. Authors, this is how it's
of an extended interview with the author is available; it was hearing this
interview which persuaded me to buy the book. Having read it, I recommend
it to anybody who wishes to comprehend how difficult it is to be in a position
where one must make decisions in a fog of uncertainty, knowing the
responsibility for them will rest solely with the decider, and that
not to decide is a decision in itself which may have even more dire consequences.
As much as Bush's national security team was reviled at the time, one had
the sense that adults were in charge.
A well-produced Kindle edition is available,
with the table of contents, footnotes, and source citations all properly
linked to the text. One curiosity in the Kindle edition is that in the last
40% of the book the word “after” is capitalised everywhere
it appears, even in the middle of a sentence. It seems that somebody
in the production process accidentally hit “global replace”
when attempting to fix a single instance. While such fat-finger errors
happen all the time whilst editing documents, it's odd that a prestigious
publisher (Sentinel is a member of the Penguin Group) would not catch
such a blunder in a high profile book which went on to top the
New York Times best seller list.
- A Naval aviator, reaching the rank of Captain.
- A Republican member of the House of Representatives
from Illinois spanning the Kennedy, Johnson, and
- Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity and
the Economic Stabilization Program in the Nixon
administration, both agencies he voted against
creating while in Congress.
- Ambassador to NATO in Brussels.
- White House Chief of Staff for Gerald Ford.
- Secretary of Defense in the Ford administration, the
youngest person to have ever held that office.
- CEO of G. D. Searle, a multinational pharmaceutical
company, which he arranged to be sold to Monsanto.
- Special Envoy to the Middle East during the Reagan
- National chairman of Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign.
- Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration,
the oldest person to have ever held that office.