This collection of essays explores the ways in which the defense of liberty can be bolstered by use of a dialectical method---that is, a mode of analysis devoted to grasping the full context of philosophical, cultural, and social factors requisite to the sustenance of human freedom. Its strength lies in the variety of disciplines and perspectives represented by contributors who apply explicitly dialectical tools to a classical liberal / libertarian analysis of social and cultural issues. In its conjoining of a dialectical method, typically associated with the socialist left, to a defense of individual liberty, typically associated with the libertarian right, this anthology challenges contemporary attitudes on both ends of the political spectrum. Though this conjunction of dialectics and liberty has been explored before in several works, including a trilogy of books written by one of our coeditors (Chris Matthew Sciabarra), this volume is the first of its kind to bring together accomplished scholars in political science, economics, philosophy, aesthetics, psychology, law, history, education, and rhetoric.

Introduction (pp. 1-17)

Roger E. Bissell, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Edward W. Younkins

Dialectics has evolved over the centuries from a purely intellectual discipline to a mode of social analysis, and while the latter first appeared in Marxist and socialist writings, by the middle of the twentieth century, classical liberals, Austrian economists, and individualists of various stripes had taken a very similar approach. Our essays continue the exploration of ways to defend liberty by use of a dialectical method. Christened by our co-editor, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, as "dialectical libertarianism," this marriage of radical context-keeping with the study of human freedom is represented by nineteen authors from a wide range of perspectives and disciplines.

Part I: Foundations and Systems of Liberty

Chapter 1: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (pp. 21-42)

Chris Matthew Sciabarra

This essay draws from themes that Sciabarra has developed over a lifetime of work on dialectical libertarian social theory. In some respects, it follows the template of "the autobiography of an idea" and is basically a summary of his "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy" (consisting of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism), which laid the foundation for an explicitly 'dialectical libertarian' paradigm, the theme of the current volume.

Chapter 2: Freedom and Flourishing: Toward a Synthesis of Traditions and Disciplines (pp. 42-68)

Edward W. Younkins

The author presents a framework for a paradigm of human freedom and flourishing. By combining and synthesizing elements found in Aristotelianism, Austrian economics, Ayn Rand's Objectivism, positive psychology, and other disciplines, he reframes the argument for a free society into a consistent and systematic, reality-based whole whose explanatory power is greater than the sum of its parts. He explains that his proposed paradigm is a vibrant, living framework that will evolve as scholars from a variety of disciplines and perspectives critique, revise, and extend its ideas by endeavoring to understand the whole through differential and shifting vantage points.

Chapter 3: The Unchained Dialectic and the Renewal of Libertarian Inquiry (pp. 69-85)

John F. Welsh

This chapter examines some of the epistemological and ontological assumptions of libertarian inquiry and suggests the reconceptualization of libertarianism as a philosophy of liberation based on a notion of freedom as self-conscious self-determination. The ideas of immanent critique and an unchained dialectic are presented as an alternative framework for understanding the context of human freedom and the limitations of scholarly inquiry.

Chapter 4: Whence Natural Rights? (pp. 87-89)

Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen

Rasmussen and Den Uyl have labored for several decades on the task of grounding a viable and plausible political theory on natural rights and related issues. Their most recent research, sponsored by the Mercatus Institute, includes an examination of certain libertarian or classical liberal philosophers and political theorists who take a non-natural rights approach, and an identification of central issues which divide that camp from theirs and which they address in their new book, The Realist Turn: Repositioning Liberalism (Palgrave Macmillan). The present essay discusses the context and a brief summary of this portion of their research.

Chapter 5: Dialogical Arguments for Libertarian Rights (pp. 91-106)

Stephan Kinsella

The article provides an overview of Hans-Hermann Hoppe's discourse or argumentation ethics, which is itself based in part on the discourse ethics of Jurgen Habermas and Karl-Otto Apel, with influences from the economic and political thought of Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard; and the author's "estoppel" argument for rights, which is influenced by Hoppe's work and the legal theory of estoppel. Related or similar arguments are also discussed such as those of Frank Van Dun, Roger Pilon and his mentor Alan Gewirth, Tibor Machan, and others.

Chapter 6: Dialectical Psychology: The Road to Depassement (pp. 107-30)

Robert L. Campbell

Psychology is still largely in the grip of positivism. Dialectical psychology is a significant alternative. Where the emergence of new knowledge or norms is concerned, it is indispensable. The work of Jean Piaget serves as our case study. Piaget started considering what he was doing to be dialectical when others suggested it to him; over time he explicitly incorporated dialectics into his theory. Piaget's notion of depassement---a property of more advanced knowledge that integrates less advanced forms of knowledge and goes beyond them---is unavoidably dialectical. Any psychological theory capable of providing support or grounding for liberty needs depassement.

Part II: Government, Economy, and Culture

Chapter 7: Don Lavoie's Dialectical Liberalism (pp. 133-48)

Nathan Goodman

Don Lavoie was a classical liberal political economist working in the Austrian tradition. This essay argues that Lavoie's work is thoroughly dialectical. Dialectics is the art of keeping things in context. This essay highlights four dialectical themes in Lavoie's work: 1) a focus on comparative economic systems that emphasizes the importance of institutional context, 2) an emphasis on developing a radical and systemic analysis of militarism, 3) an emphasis on the cultural context of economic action, 4) a normative project of radical liberalism that takes social context seriously.

Chapter 8: Free Speech, Rhetoric, and a Free Economy (pp. 149-65)

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey

Adam Smith declared in 1762: "The offering of a shilling, which to us appears to have so plain and simple a meaning, is in reality offering an argument to persuade someone to do so and so as it is for his interest. . . . And in this manner everyone is practicing oratory on others through the whole of his life." Yes. The market is a form of persuasion, sweet talk. The changing of minds by speech accounts in a modern economy for fully a quarter of labor income. Rhetoric strongly parallels the liberal theory of markets and politics.

Chapter 9: Exploring the Interconnections of Politics, Economics, and Culture (pp. 167-73)

Robert Higgs

In this article, derived from three previously published essays, Robert Higgs explores the interaction between government interference in the economy and corrupt economic motives in business and private life. He explains how such government programs and policies are both immoral and economically destructive to individuals and businesses and, in the end, primarily benefit not the people but the government.

Chapter 10: Context Matters: Finding a Home for Labor-Managed Enterprise (pp. 175-83)

David L. Prychitko

Classical liberal and libertarian scholars have given labor-managed enterprise too little consideration. This chapter focuses on the case for labor-managed enterprise within different institutional contexts, namely socialist and market-based.  The author argues that context matters: past failures of labor-managed systems have much more to do with their socialist features, values, and aspirations, and the incentive and knowledge problems embedded therein, than with their democratic organizational feature per se. His goal is modest: to help spark a conversation among his libertarian colleagues about the viability of labor-managed enterprise within a market economy, and especially those considering libertarianism within a dialectical framework.

Chapter 11: The Dialectic of Culture and Markets in Expanding Family Freedom (pp. 185-201)

Steven Horwitz

This essay focuses on the evolutionary and dialectical relationship between economic change and changes in the structure of the family. The economic changes brought on by the advent of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution led to changes in marriage and the structure of the family that had major cultural implications. In turn, those changes in marriage and family, and the cultural norms surrounding them, led to a new round of economic changes, particularly with respect to women's roles in the marketplace and in the home. The chapter explores these issues with examples from the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Chapter 12: Up from Oppression: Triumph and Tragedy in the Great American Songbook (pp. 203-31)

Roger E. Bissell

The groups most responsible for the flourishing of American popular music from 1920 to 1950---Jewish-Americans and African-Americans---both rose up from oppression, acute and relatively short-lived vs. chronic and extended. Success for the former was fueled by vigorous implementation of intellectual property rights coupled with a rather benign monopoly of publishers and writers against the recording and radio industries, but which turned malignant in the 1940s prompting a breaking of the monopoly by substituting music from other sources. The latter group contended with exploitation and class struggle throughout the period, but then stepped into opportunities opened up in the 1940s by the fracturing of the popular music market.

Part III: Justice, Liberation, and Rights

Chapter 13: Why Libertarians Should Be Social Justice Warriors (pp. 235-53)

Roderick T. Long

Libertarians are often hostile to the concept of social justice, on the grounds that it treats states of affairs as subject to the same kind of moral evaluation as the actions of individuals, and moreover requires objectionable government interference with both spontaneous order and individual rights.  In response, drawing on the left-wing market anarchist tradition, Aristotelean virtue theory, and dialectical social analysis, it is argued that social justice does pertain to individuals' actions, and that its concerns are in fact part of the grounding of libertarian rights, and so no threat to spontaneous order.

Chapter 14: Radical Liberalism and Social Liberation (pp. 255-74)

Gary Chartier

Liberalism affirms freedom, individuality, and diversity. Radical liberalism is a return to liberalism's roots that embraces anarchism and intends to be a comprehensive doctrine; it represents an attempt to transcend the divide between classical and modern liberals. This essay makes clear how radical liberalism works by outlining its understanding of the liberal harm principle as a limit on the use of force. But liberalism deeply, and independently, values individuality and diversity. Thus, the essay seeks to show both (1) how radical liberalism as a political doctrine creates the space within which social liberation can be achieved and (2) how specific ethical norms provide further crucial support for social liberation.

Chapter 15: Social Equality and Liberty (pp. 275-92)

Billy Christmas

Social egalitarianism is the view that persons ought to relate to each other as equals. Insofar as justice regulates the use of force in our interpersonal relations, a socially egalitarian account of justice will tell us when it is appropriate for moral equals to use force against one another. This chapter argues that socially egalitarian account of justice is coextensive with the libertarian account---that one only use force in defence of prior force. Libertarianism is therefore part of a broader set of socially egalitarian political and social values. Liberty is necessary but insufficient for social equality.

Chapter 16: Formal vs. Substantive Statism: A Matter of Context (pp. 293-305)

Kevin A. Carson

The prevailing tendency in mainstream libertarianism is to look at particular proposals for "free market reform" atomistically, based on whether they reduce formal statism, and without regard to their role in the statism of the overall system. But to ascertain whether they constitute a net reduction or increase in statism, we must first examine their function within the greater whole. This means looking at the class nature of the larger system, the identity of the forces controlling it, and whether particular measures---regardless of formal statism---increase or reduce the state-conferred privilege of the ruling class in real terms.

Chapter 17: The Political Is Interpersonal:

An Interpretation and Defense of Libertarian Immediatism (pp. 307-23)

Jason Lee Byas

This chapter defends the view, commonly associated with Murray Rothbard, that all aggression must be abolished immediately rather than gradually. While this "immediatism" is often seen as woefully naive at best and dangerously utopian at worst, it follows straightforwardly from the normative continuity libertarians already posit between politics and everyday life. Common objections become answerable once we attach this normative framework to a positive social analysis which also treats politics as continuous with the rest of the social world. This understanding of immediatism diverges from Rothbard's in being less like a campaign platform and more like principles for prefigurative politics.  

Chapter 18: Aesthetics, Ritual, Property, and Fish:
A Dialectical Approach to the Evolutionary Foundations of Property
(pp. 325-39)

Troy Camplin

While Marx purported to predict the end of private property, the combination of dialectical materialism, Nietzschean dialectics, and deep evolutionary psychology actually demonstrate the deep evolutionary roots of private property in territorial fish. With the emergence of territory, rituals, dances, and visual displays emerged to simultaneously protect those territories from males and let in females to breed. These ritual displays are the foundations of what becomes the arts and religion in humans, meaning the arts, religion, and property are deeply connected. One can thus argue about what rules regarding property are best, but not about whether private property can ever be abolished. It cannot.

Index (pp. 341-59)

About the Editors and Contributors (pp. 361-67)


horizontal rule



Back to Dialectics & Liberty Home Page