Part 4:  3 December 2003 - 29 January 2004

Part 1 (13 December 2001 - 16 May 2003); Part 2 (18 May 2003 - 30 June 2003); Part 3 (1 July 2003 - 2 December 2003); Part 4 (3 December 2003 - 29 January 2004); Part 5 (3 February 2004 - 17 April 2004); Part 6 (16 May 2004 - August 2004); Part 7 (12 December 2004 - June 2005)

 By Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Over the years, Chris Matthew Sciabarra participated in several Internet discussion forums, including several Objectivist lists (including The Atlantis Discussion List [ATL], Atlantis II, Mudita Forum, Objectivist Outcasts,  Philosophy of Objectivism List [OWL], Secular Individualism List, SOLO HQ, SOLO Yahoo Forum [SOLO], Starship Forum, among others), and lists devoted to Nathaniel Branden, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Karl Marx, psychology, Randian feminism, ifeminism, and so forth.  Below are a few posts from the various lists.

Table of Contents

On the Atkins Diet (28-29 January 2004)

On Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation (27 December 2003)

Hussein, Bin Laden, and Qaddafi (23 December 2003)

Saddam, MAD, and More (18 December 2003)

History and Oil (17 December 2003)

Death to Tyrants! - Follow-Up (17 December 2003)

Death to Tyrants! (15 December 2003)

More on Rand's Philosophy of History (5 December 2003)

Rand's Philosophy of History (4 December 2003)

Re: Rationalism & War, Flames & Oxygen (3 December 2003)


The following series of posts were made (under the thread "Re: Atkins? South Beach? Just Say No!") to the SOLO Forum from 28 January through 29 January 2004, on the subject of the Atkins diet.  This material is presented chronologically; some extraneous material is omitted.

(Wed, 28 Jan 2004 18:10:00 -0500)

Without getting into the specifics of my own life-long health problems, I would just like to say that I actually was under Dr. Robert Atkins' personal care for about a year, back in the 1980s, and learned quite a bit about nutrition. He called his approach "Complementary Medicine" and merged insights from Western and Eastern techniques; while under his care, I tried ~everything~ during that period---including acupuncture, biofeedback, meditation, nutritional and herbal supplements, etc.---and learned a lot about cytotoxic food substances, insulin production, and the bio-processing of sugar.

I should state, however, that his diet didn't do ~anything~ to improve my ~intestinal~ health---the very reason I went to him to begin with. He had the integrity to admit to me that the situation had less to do with ~what~ I ate than with the fact ~that~ I ate at all (given that my condition was an in-born motility disturbance).

Since my days with Atkins, I've learned to practice the wisdom of the ancient Greeks on so many levels: Everything in moderation. Keep focused on the integrated union of mind and body, and on the health of the ~whole~ organism. Keep balanced in your exercise and diet, stay connected to your thoughts and feelings, and never forget that each of us is an individual with different capacities, limitations, and potentials.

Personally, I found it ~impossible~ to live without bread or pasta or pizza or anything resembling a dessert. I simply felt ~miserable~ living on a constant flow of meat, eggs, bacon, and so forth. I would find it equally impossible to live on a constant flow of vegetables and nuts. And I would not care if somebody proved to me that I could live to 250 years old if I never ate another spoonful of pasta or another slice of Italian bread or another slice of pizza.

I'm of Greek and Sicilian ancestry: life without pasta and bread and pizza is like life without oxygen. I'm as interested in the ~quality~ of my life as I am in the ~quantity~ of my years. So, I pretty much eat ~everything~ in moderation (meat, vegetables, fruits & nuts, fish, poultry, grains, etc.). I keep a ~balanced~ diet and a ~balanced~ perspective. Incurable as my intestinal condition is, I feel much ~better~ physically and mentally with this balanced approach to diet---and life.

(Thu, 29 Jan 2004 08:33:11 -0500)

A couple of more notes on Atkins:

It's true that the diet is counterintuitive---in its praise of meat-heavy, fat-heavy diets... while it leads to lower cholesterol levels, etc. But even the Atkins people stress ~moderation~ in the intake of saturated fats. (And I'm not too sure if their diet really helps intestinal fortitude, since the relative absence of grains and relative increase in pill supplements can have a harsh effect on colonic health.)

I wrote:

> I simply felt ~miserable~ living on a constant flow of meat, eggs, bacon, and so forth.

J answered: "It's like we're not even speaking the same language! It sounds like English, but it makes no sense!"


I know, I know... but hey, I didn't say I felt ~miserable~ eating this good food... I felt ~miserable~ eating ~just~ that food... and nothing else.

On the Insulin Regulation Diet of Atkins, you can eat meat, fish, fowl, and shellfish, but ~no~ meat that has been prepared with sugar, MSG, cornstarch, flour, pickling, or nitrites (which means you have to limit bacon). So you can forget pastrami sandwiches and Virginia Ham and marinated spare ribs. Eggs are permitted... but you can forget toast or English muffins with those eggs. No French toast, no pancakes, no waffles. Nuts and seeds are allowed... but there better not be a trace of sugar in any of it. Milk ... contains lactose... so that's restricted. Cheeses---mostly hard cheeses, and sporadic.

No white flour, no white potatoes (forget being a meat-and-potatoes kinda guy), no breads, pasta, crackers, and regulated intake of rice, oats, corn, lentils, beans, yams, squash, and so forth. No fruit. No desserts---except those using Nutrasweet and no flour. Yeah, right. Try finding that. (I once made a carrot cake on Atkins specifications that stuck to the plate---leaving an orange film on everything it touched. There's a reason why bakers have used ~real~ flour and ~real~ sugar in their recipes: THEY WORK.)

Oh, and since R mentioned wanting to wash down his meat and bacon with red wine... FUHGEDABOUDIT. Alcohol is not permitted in the original Insulin Regulation diet, because the body breaks it down into glucose, which is ~evil~ in the Atkins diet. :) And ~no~ caffeine either --- so forget coffee, hot chocolate, or any form of soda that contains caffeine (or sugar).

Atkins is good for the regulation of insulin and such; but a diet must be measured by how well you can keep to it. I know that they try to be slightly more liberal in the maintenance phase of the diet... but it's still a very hard diet to stay on. Moreover, because the diet eliminates so many fruits and vegetables, it forces the dieter onto a strict regimen of large doses of vitamins and minerals (I must have been taking 30-40 pills a day) that produce all sorts of ~other~ problems, including gastrointestinal ones. (In fact, I had such a high intake of beta-carotene in pill form that my skin turned orange from carotitis. Granted... it gave me a nice glow... but not what I was looking for...)

And, like I said: The diet and supplements didn't help to alleviate the ~central~ problem I went to Atkins for. I was a special case. I learned a lot from Atkins, and incorporate many of his insights into my balanced diet. But I just can't see eliminating all of those other foods from my life---and taking enormous quantities of Atkins supplements---and being that unhappy. Especially if it's not resolving the initial problem.

So for you Atkins-interested, red wine SOLO lovers... CAVEAT EMPTOR. :)




(Psychology-WTL, Posted:  Sat, 27 Dec 2003 14:29:52 -0500)

On Sat Dec 27 07:59:29 PST 2003, PC [F] wrote: I am so disappointed in this book by Chris Sciabarra, that if this is the best that a leading Objectivist philosopher can do, then Objectivism is dead.

C: Well, sorry you're disappointed, Frank, but let's back up. I do ~not~ consider myself an "Objectivist philosopher." I am a libertarian social theorist, nay, a "dialectical libertarian" social theorist. :) I accept the core essentials of Rand's framework, but I have had some recent discussion at the L&P blog precisely on the subject of "Objectivism" (as "dead") versus "Randianism".

F: The book consists mostly of detailing how Objectivists are more welcoming of homosexuals, but there is no discussion of what homosexuality is, what the various theories of it are (I saw a list of the eight major theories of its origins), and whether homosexuality is normal. For all the talk among Objectivists about the importance of concepts, Chris let slip by an opportunity for a philosopher to deal with the concept of normality.

C: This was not a theoretical or psychological study of normality, or a study of sexuality, or a full philosophical exegesis of the subject-matter; it was ~primarily~ a sociological study of the Objectivist subculture and its diverse (and evolving) attitudes toward sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. It focused specific attention on the treatment of homosexuals in Objectivist ranks, and how Objectivist attitudes have changed through the years---based on over 100 interviews of people who are self-identified "Objectivists" or who have been influenced by Ayn Rand. I know of no such sociological studies of Objectivist attitudes with that breadth anywhere in print.

~Secondarily~, the monograph is a political tract, neither conservative nor left-wing, but fully libertarian in its implications.

It was ~not~ my intention to write a philosophical treatise on the nature of homosexuality---or the nature of sexuality---certainly not in a five-part series (from which this monograph was derived), fully revised and extended as a 60+ page monograph. The approach you desire to see is something that would have required several hundred pages of analysis, which was quite beyond the scope of the SOLO project. (For more information on the monograph, see here.)

F: Nor is there any discussion of what tolerance means and no honest detailing of conservative critiques of homosexuality, except for hints that they are "collectivist."

C: The purpose of the monograph, again, was not to discuss "conservative" or "liberal" critiques; it was to detail ~attitudes~ and to show how they've changed. I present those attitudes journalistically, for the most part, without much in the way of editorializing, though I do conclude the monograph with a harsh critique of left-wingers who would ignore the horrific record of the state in matters of sexuality.

I do promote, quite self-consciously, a particular political agenda: a hands-off politics that allows people to pursue their personal happiness without violent interference from the state, or from other individuals, something that left-wing advocates of hate crimes- and anti-discrimination legislation fail to address.

F: No discussion of why anyone should be opposed to homosexuality, except for a mysterious breakout of irrationality. (Objectivists have no sociology whatsoever, which seriously cripples the explanatory power of Objectivism.)

C: On the contrary, I think that Rand's framework is bubbling with sociological implications, and I do address those implications extensively in AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, which is the first book to ever discuss Rand's approach as a tri-level model for the exploration of social relations across various modalities: the personal (psychological, psycho-epistemological, ethical), the cultural (linguistic, aesthetic, ideological, pedagogical), and the structural (economics and politics).

The current SOLO book is not focused on opposition to or support for homosexuality; the issue that it addresses is how Rand's personal disapproval of homosexuality translated into a rather brutal attempt by Objectivist psychotherapists to force-feed their homosexual clients with a model of sexuality that had ~nothing~ to do with Objectivism qua ~philosophy~ (something that, later, Branden, and even Peikoff has affirmed).

F: No hints, in other words, that parents want grandchildren and are distressed that their child turns out to belong to a group that seriously underreproduces. Nor even a hint that wanting grandchildren is normal.

C: And none of this was part of the scope of this very brief monograph.

F: Nor is there any explanation of this outbreak of tolerance either.

C: I hardly think it is an "outbreak of tolerance" to simply allow people to live their lives and not to beat them over the head with dogmatic "Objectivist" pronouncements about the people they love.

Objectivism qua ~philosophy~ should have ~nothing~ to say about the sex of the person you love, even if it does have something very legitimate to say about the nature, value, and importance of romantic love and sex in the lives of individuals---whatever their sexual orientation.

F: David Kelley wrote a nice essay on the subject. Alas, he's too busy promoting Objectivism to continue work on the philosophy, perhaps because there is no market for serious thinking among Objectivists, as Carolyn Ray, whose dissertation remains the best *extension* of Objectivism (as opposed to discussions of it), discovered in her inability to get her journal, _Objectivity_, off the ground.

C: Well, there are quite a few extensions---and critiques---of Objectivism going on in the pages of THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES, which is now indexed in well over a dozen abstracting services, and which I recommend to your attention.

And while I certainly think Carolyn's work is quite worthy of discussion (and she, herself, has some ~very~ provocative things to say on the subject of sexuality in my monograph), there are ~many~ other people working on the extension of Objectivism into key areas of human discourse.

In any event, no author likes to hear that a reader is disappointed in his work. But I think it would have been more productive (for me at least) to read criticisms of the book for what it says ~within~ its scope, rather than for what it doesn't address ~outside~ its scope.

Now don't get me wrong: Criticizing the book I ~didn't~ write, or that you would have liked me to write, may tell us, legitimately, that there's a lot more work to be done. On this, I agree with you wholeheartedly. But we have to start somewhere. And if this monograph does anything to propel this discussion forward, I'm delighted.

Thanks for your feedback.

Cheers, and happy new year!



The following series of posts were made (under the thread "Re: Saddam, MAD, and More") to the SOLO Forum from 19 December through 21 December 2003, on the subject of the situation in Iraq.  This material is presented chronologically; some extraneous material is omitted.

(Fri, 19 Dec 2003 06:55:26 -0500)

E writes: "having 2 enemies with nuclear weapons aimed at you is bad, so why permit a third to acquire them? you can't rely on an emotional irrationalist's self preservation. not when mankind is on the line. that's why we should destroy the Iranian nuclear weapons program. it really is an imminent threat (er, if what i heard on the news is true, anyway). I can't understand why we would delay."

Whoa. We ~were~ talking about Iraq, not Iran. The Iranian issue, I think, is also not without its complications. But I am ~much more sympathetic~ with the Israeli way of handling these things. ~If~ you have ~unimpeachable~ proof that your dangerous neighbor is developing lethal weapons, which could be used in a first-strike, ~and~ you can ~locate~ these weapons: Take 'em out. That's what the Israelis did in Iraq. It didn't require the invasion of a country or its long-term occupation. Surgical strikes are much more effective.

The only question becomes: Is this the best way to deal with an Iranian threat? That's a bit harder. First, because you need to assess the reality of that threat (and given how badly the intelligence was bungled with Iraq, this is not unimportant) and you need to ~locate~ that threat. Second, and perhaps more importantly, you need to take into account the fact that there are sizable contingents within Iran, among the young student population, who are influenced by Western culture, getting fed up with theocracy, and who are liable to lead the revolution that destroys it.

Does a surgical strike on Iran ~aid~ that movement or deal it a death-blow? Does a surgical strike bring political and social disarray to Iran---which is right on the borders of Iraq---and will that lead to yet one more US military operation? I'm not inclined to favor yet another invasion or another occupation, especially in a country that is heavily fundamentalist. It would become a fertile breeding ground for anti-US terrorism in a way that would make everything up till now a ~picnic~ by comparison.

So far, I think the Bush administration is being prudent in this particular situation. We'll see how it develops.

(Fri, 19 Dec 2003 07:17:18 -0500)

One more point, which I've brought up before, but which is crucial to grasp, I think. I mentioned it in my "Understanding the Global Crisis" article, so I'll just repeat it here.

The more the US acts with ~direct~ military intervention, with ~overwhelming~ numbers of troops, the more ~likely~ WMD proliferation among potential terrorists becomes. It starts to become a vicious circle, and there will be a greater incentive for WMDs to be used as the prime manner of counteracting the actual ~number~ of US troops in the region, which various countries will view as a threat to their "sovereignty." Of course, the more lethal the weaponry, the more dangerous it becomes even to those who seek to deploy it.

(Sat, 20 Dec 2003 11:02:12 -0500)

A few points in response, though it is not likely to change anyone's opinion here (including my own):

First up: Linz.

In reply to my question: "do we invade Brooklyn?," Linz responds: "I'm beginning to think so! :-) (Christ, that *was* a joke!)" LOL... I ~am~ laughing. I'm not ~that~ sensitive. ROFL. But you ~will~ have to contend with all the tough Brooklyn boys I know, who will meet you at the border. And not strictly for the purposes of going to a disco. :)

Moving on.

Though Hussein and Bin Laden were profoundly opposed to one another, Linz says: "Of no consolation to the west. Just a disagreement among the forces of evil. Doesn't mean we should understate the menace of *any* of them."

True. But that doesn't mean that their menace was One. The Nazis and the Soviets signed a non-aggression pact, and were at war with one another not too long thereafter. The Soviets and the Red Chinese were "united" in their Communist ideology, but the geopolitical splits were so severe between them that the US was able to exploit those differences throughout the Cold War. The lesson: Not even totalitarianism, not even ~Communism~, was a monolith. That means you have to adopt different strategies to deal with different contexts.

Linz questions the stat that US casualties are already in the ~thousands~ in Iraq. Here's some statistics from an article in the WASHINGTON TIMES, ~hardly~ a leftist rag; in fact the TIMES is, by editorial policy, a ~conservative~ newspaper that has supported the war in Iraq, boasting such pro-war hawks as Andrew Sullivan. As the article puts it: "Ten thousand medical evacuations from Iraq, and counting."

The actual statistics of total combat wounded is, of course, much less, standing today at 2,649; see here.

Linz says that Bush "has recently repudiated the policy of sucking up to one bunch of tyrants for 'strategic' purposes because they're less bad than *another* bunch of tyrants. Good for him!"

Yes, rhetorically, VERY good for him. It would be wonderful if the policy will follow the rhetoric. But the US is still in bed with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and a host of other such governments. And that reality is not likely to change. And even ~if~ Saddam were preferable to the Ayotallahs in Iran, that was still no reason to actually provide the man with chemical and biological agents and military supplies. ~That~ is what I mean by "what you sow is what you reap."

Linz asks: "And if the US took out the Saudi monarchy, would Saddamites approve or disapprove?? The latter for sure!"

But ~here~ is where I think we have a major "disconnect" in our approach to this. It's not that I would ~disapprove~. It's that you and others are evaluating this as if it's even ~possible~ as a policy option. It isn't. That's why I hurl the charge of "context-dropping" at my critics.

The history of US-Saudi relationships is the history of the "New Fascism" incarnate. It is bounded by the history of ARAMCO, which received a monopoly oil concession from the Saudi kingdom, and which has enlisted US government assistance for the last 50-60 years, propping up that kingdom and its ~lethal~ ties to the extremist, fanatical, Wahhabist ideology, which the Saudis routinely export to the rest of the Muslim world. I talk about the history of that relationship here and here.

The US-Saudi-ARAMCO relationship is simply ~not~ going to end; it is statist through-and-through, from its roots to its branches to its leaves and fruit. It is ~embedded~ structurally, and has virtually shaped US policy in that area of the world.

And as for the cronyism in Iraq: This is not about Halliburton ~overcharging~ oil prices. It's about the fact that only a select group of US corporations with political connections gets the contracts. That's the nature of the ~system~.

If my opposition to the "overthrow of a tyrant ... sticks in [your] craw," you can imagine how your claim that I would "dare to maintain that Ayn Rand would have agreed with [me]" sticks in mine. Until or unless you challenge the ~system~ that makes all of this possible---the very ~core~ of Rand's radical critique of US foreign policy---you will not even ~hope~ to change this reality.

Linz asks: "Why did Saddam go out of his way to create the impression that he *did* have WMD, why did he dick the inspectors around, & why - given his previous behaviour - should not the West have assumed the worst??"

I wish I could understand the psychology of a dictator. He said he didn't have WMDs, and probably dicked the inspectors around because, like all dick-tators, he lived on lies: on being a bully, on projecting what little strength he had, and on trying to show that he was not going to be a pushover to the US or to the UN or to Iran or to any of his hostile neighbors. There is nothing ~unusual~ about this; even dictators have to rely on the support of their populace, to a certain extent: sanction of the victim and all. That's why they project strength and the obscenity of "national honor," even while they're slaughtering everybody in their midst. And their cult of personality lives on. Till today, even in post-communist Russia, there are many people who look favorably on the legacy of Stalin. Same in China with Mao. And both regimes survived on ~lies~.

That's why we have ~intelligence gathering~: To ascertain the ~reality~ of the threat. The Bush administration gathered intelligence that was ~mixed~, and picked out the intelligence that fit its own preconceptions. That intelligence was being discredited by CIA and other operatives even before the war began. But the administration wove a tale of doom that had the American people thinking that Saddam was ready to launch a preemptive strike on American cities. Worse still, the administration did ~nothing~ to discredit the obvious fabrication of a tie between Saddam and 9/11; over 70% of the American people polled believed that there was a connection there---and only recently did Bush ~finally~ admit that there was no connection.

This speaks to the administration's credibility. I don't care about its credibility with the United Nations---which is useless, or even the French. I do care about its credibility with the American people, because I've ~seen~ and ~lived through~ one administration after another that has built the case for foreign intervention on lies and distortions---from LBJ to Nixon.

As for opposition to liberating "slave pens"... the last time I read Ayn Rand's "The Nature of Government," I walked away with the impression that government was the means of placing the retaliatory use of force under objective law. Its chief function is the protection of individual rights, and its chief institutions, says Rand, are designed for that protection: "~the police~, to protect men from ~criminals~---~the armed services~, to protect men from foreign ~invaders~---~the law courts~, to settle disputes among men according to objective laws." In terms of fundamentals, Rand did not say that the function of government was to liberate slave pens abroad. If such is not the fundamental function of government, then, at the very least, it should live by a Hippocratic Oath of its own: DO NO HARM. At the very least, that wouldn't get the US into trouble, in the long run, as it props up one dictator to fight another, only to become a victim of the very dictators it empowers.

This is not ~pragmatism~. I could not care less about upsetting "all these murderous Muslims," as Linz puts it. All I care about, as an American citizen, is the security of the United States. Call me selfish. I really won't mind.

As for the US military being voluntary; you're right, Linz. But if this war goes on for a sustained period, conscription will not be far behind. In November, the Pentagon began recruiting for local draft boards. These draft boards have been mostly dormant since 1973, and have served virtually no function since the early 80s. Methinks the wheels of conscription are already being oiled.

Next up: B. In answer to my comment >>Preemptive attacks against an ~imminent~ threat are justified, in my view<<, B writes: "I guess it depends on where you draw the line and say at this point they are an 'immintent threat.' On 9-11-01 Al-Queda became an imminent threat. 2500+ people died. That is why you can not wait until they kill thousands to stop the threat. It is too costly in the lives of your own citizens. Hussein's weapons will be found. These weapons may already be in the hands of terrorist. He had them. That is 100% certain. The scary question is who, if not the Iraqis, has them now."

I believe it was 100% certain that Hussein had weapons over TEN years ago. The US has the receipts to prove it. But I don't believe it was ~ever~ credible to say that he had nuclear weapons. I do believe that ~if~ he had remaining chemical or biological stock, it is quite possible that such weapons are now in the hands of the very people the US tried to stop, precisely because the war has brought such chaos on the ground that this may have already become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As for Al Qaeda: They were an imminent threat for ~years~ --- from 1993's ~first~ WTC bombing to the Cole and beyond. They should have been taken out fully and completely years ago. And I supported that action ten years ago. Please remember: I'm an American. But I'm also a NEW YORKER. These bastards attacked ~my~ city. They did it again in 2001. And I think it is a virtual certainty that they'll try again. Take 'em out. Destroy them. The United States has no choice. And I say that with full knowledge of the fact that US policy in Afghanistan empowered many of the individuals who eventually became Taliban and Al Qaeda warriors. So much for Linz's comment that I'm "using past error as a reason *not* to get it right now."

Of course, if we are to believe Tom Kean, the chairman of the federal commission investigating the terror attacks, it does appear that US intelligence ~knew~ of the threat, and ~failed~ US security ~miserably~ in the days leading up to 9/11.

The first function of government is the defense of its citizens. It failed ~horrifically~. My mantra is: NEVER FORGET. And don't ever let it happen again.

And don't live in fear. More power to those who will create a new Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan, one that will stand like a mighty Middle Finger to Al Qaeda, as the tallest structure in the world at 1776 feet.

Next up: R. I have no doubt that infantry incursions into enemy territory can be most effective in destroying mobile units. IF US intelligence had proven its case, Special Ops forces could have gone in and destroyed those mobile capacities, without mounting the takeover and occupation of a country. And, you're right: the technology is fast making even this less likely as a strategy for the future.

I also have no problem with the "threat" of invasion: in fact, given the post-9/11 world, such a "threat" of invasion could become part of a bold containment plan. And while it may be "damned expensive" to maintain credible containment options, those expenses are ~nothing~ next to the hundreds of billions of dollars it is going to take to occupy and reconstruct Iraq for five, ten, or twenty years.

In the end, however, I believe that the US ~vastly~ overestimated the nature of the Hussein threat. And other countries, posing a far greater threat---like North Korea or even Libya---have not been invaded. Libya, in fact, has boasted a tyrant---Qaddafi---who, slowly, has been taking more and more responsibility for his actions in the international community, without any invasion necessary. There are better options available in most cases.

(Sat, 20 Dec 2003 11:10:46 -0500)

As a postscript on sowing and reaping, here's a report from the WASHINGTON POST:

"Donald H. Rumsfeld went to Baghdad in March 1984 with instructions to deliver a private message about weapons of mass destruction: that the United States' public criticism of Iraq for using chemical weapons would not derail Washington's attempts to forge a better relationship, according to newly declassified documents.

"The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the nonprofit National Security Archive, provide new, behind-the-scenes details of U.S. efforts to court Iraq as an ally even as it used chemical weapons in its war with Iran.

"An earlier trip by Rumsfeld to Baghdad, in December 1983, has been widely reported as having helped persuade Iraq to resume diplomatic ties with the United States. An explicit purpose of Rumsfeld's return trip in March 1984, the once-secret documents reveal for the first time, was to ease the strain created by a U.S. condemnation of chemical weapons.

"The documents do not show what Rumsfeld said in his meetings with Aziz, only what he was instructed to say. It would be highly unusual for a presidential envoy to have ignored direct instructions from Shultz. "...the administrations of Reagan and George H.W. Bush sold military goods to Iraq, including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological agents, worked to stop the flow of weapons to Iran, and undertook discreet diplomatic initiatives, such as the two Rumsfeld trips to Baghdad, to improve relations with Hussein."

(Sun, 21 Dec 2003 10:27:09 -0500)

Just a couple of very ~brief~ (I promise) points as follow-up:

1. In light of my comment: "The more the US acts with ~direct~ military intervention, with ~overwhelming~ numbers of troops, the more ~likely~ WMD proliferation among potential terrorists becomes," TP asks: "How do you see this point in light of the recent developments in Libya?"

What I was referring to was the fact that terrorist ~cells~ have an incentive to get their hands on bigger and more destructive weaponry to counteract large numbers of US troop incursions, because they can't do it with an equally large army. (There's an old joke: "What are terrorists?" Answer: "What the big army calls the little army.") To a certain extent, suicide bombings are a function of the same fanaticism: a smaller group uses one person as a human bomb to take out a whole busload of people.

The Libyan situation is to be ~welcomed~, however. But I don't believe it is really a consequence of the Iraq campaign. Muammar Qaddafi has been trying for nearly a year to make amends for his government's lawlessness. He actually began this positive movement in 1999, when he handed over suspects involved in the 1988 Lockerbie downing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people. Back in August, he agreed to pay $2.7 billion in restitution to the victims' families, and officially "renounced" terrorism. He's been bargaining for a very long time to get UN and US sanctions lifted, since they've hurt the Libyan economy to the tune of $30 billion. He's even been criticizing the ~Saudis~ for encouraging religious fanaticism. Yeah, he's still spouting his anti-Semitic nonsense, but I think the situation is moving in the right direction.

2. P writes on American injuries in Iraq: "It's true - thousands of casualties have occurred. This includes hundreds of soldiers who have lost limbs."

I provided a link that suggested there were 10,000 medical evacuations; actually, UPI reports that the number is closer to 11,000.

3. The news has been reporting, on and off, that Al Qaeda representatives met with Baathist representatives informally for a while---but I have not seen ~any~ evidence ~anywhere~ that those meetings were effective in establishing any formal alliance at all. And even if such formalities were adopted---which they weren't---there is no evidence that such an alliance would have been any more effective than the one forged between the Nazis and the Soviets.

Anyway, as I suggested in the last post: It's always nice to chat about these things, but I think these chats end up in a stalemate no matter what. Few people, if any, change their views. And as long as we all realize that we're arguing in good faith and that differences exist among reasonable people, I'm fine with the disagreements. It would be terribly boring if we all agreed on everything.




(SOLO Forum, Posted:  Thu, 18 Dec 2003 21:39:50 -0500)

Just a few points in response to the various posts:

1. BS says that we still have to look for those WMDs and that Saddam did have ties to Al Qaeda.

I was one of those who actually believed that Saddam probably had some kind of WMD---after all, the US gave him the wherewithal to produce them. (And I appreciate RW's concern that some of these weapons may be buried.) But even with that assumption, his country was surrounded by coalition forces, acting as a considerable deterrent. Again: Maybe I'm just getting too old, and I remember too much. But the US was able to deter the Soviet and Red Chinese use of WMDs by threat of massive retaliation. Why not Saddam? What made him worse than mass murderers like Stalin and Mao, both of whom had nuclear weapons, and both of whom killed hundreds of millions of their own citizens? Saddam had ~no~ nuclear weapons. Saying that he wanted to eventually start a "nuclear program" is just not the same thing.

Second, there is ~no~ evidence of any ~formal~ tie between Saddam and Al Qaeda. There is evidence of some ~informal~ talks between various Iraqi and Al Qaeda contacts (heck, there's also evidence of ~informal~ talks between Imams in Brooklyn and Al Qaeda contacts: do we invade Brooklyn?). But most of the active Al Qaeda camps were actually in Northern Iraq, among the Kurds. Moreover, Hussein was denounced as an infidel by Bin Laden, and there was a profound hostility between fundamentalist and Baathist interests.

One of the unintended consequences of toppling Hussein is that it probably gives more political weight to fundamentalist Shiites in the South, and to their wish to remake Iraq into a Islamic theocracy. Indeed, there are none, or very few, groups in Iraq that embrace the "democratic" idea of a "free society." It makes one appreciate Ayn Rand's opposition to the Vietnam War, wherein she wondered why the U.S. had "sacrificed thousands of American lives, and billions of dollars, to protect a primitive people who never had freedom, do not seek it, and, apparently, do not want it." There is nothing in Rand's evaluation ~then~ that is not as applicable to the Iraq situation ~now~. US casualties are in the ~thousands~ already, and the 400+ military deaths since the beginning of the Iraq campaign (not even a year old) are already at a level that ~surpasses~ the number of deaths in the first ~three~ years of the Vietnam war. And most of those military casualties have come in the aftermath of Bush's declaration: "Mission Accomplished!"

2. I'd agree with taking out Saddam "by other means" as MH suggests, but I would have been more happy if Saddam had not been emboldened by US foreign policy to begin with. I don't usually quote the Bible, but Job says it best: "If we sow wickedness, we will reap the same."

3. ES. writes that force can "alter the idea that murder goes unpunished. if we don't respond with force, it will effectively encourage them to continue their attacks on us." I agree. And I am all ~for~ a suitable response against those (e.g., Al Qaeda) who have initiated force against innocent Americans.

4. I respect H's concern with Hussein's mass murders.

But where do we draw the line?

Preemptive attacks against an ~imminent~ threat are justified, in my view. If Saddam was not an ~imminent~ threat to US security, there is nothing to stop the US from invading every country that is permitting mass murder and human rights abuses within its borders. I can rattle off a few dozen countries, from Rwanda to Nepal, that are engaging in similar and horrific abuses.

During the Cold War, the US didn't invade China or Russia, and these countries had the most murderous regimes in world history. Even Saudi Arabia, our trusted "ally," is a prime violator of such rights. (And if you want to puke over the Saudi role in all this, take a look at this article.)  

In the end, it is not rational morality that dictates US foreign policy; it is pure and simple pragmatism---especially when the US seeks to topple one despotic regime, while allying itself with other despotic regimes, like the Saudis, who embrace the torture chamber, anal molestations, penis blocking, and secret police.

I think H is right that it would have come across as "weak" if the US had not fulfilled its sworn oath to "do something" to disarm Saddam. But it does seem that the US and the Brits ignored a lot of intelligence that showed Saddam wasn't a threat. The neocon "pro-war" lobbyists in the administration were like artists, by the Randian definition: selectively re-creating reality according to their own metaphysical value-judgments. That's essential in art; it gets you into trouble in the real world. I don't see how "doing something" was better than the threat of massive retaliation if Saddam had attempted to actually deploy weapons (which don't seem to exist). Instead, Iraq has now become a US welfare state, at enormous taxpayer expense, and at the daily cost of losing American men and women in the field.

 And, yes, H is right: the "Mutually Assured Destruction principle only works with nations that have a desire to survive." ~Iraq~, especially ~Hussein~, has that desire. Otherwise he would have gone out in a blaze of glory. Remember: Islam is not a monolith. The Ba'athists are ~not~ fundamentalists. They are not as concerned with meeting all those heavenly virgins in the afterlife; they are much more concerned with building opulent palaces on the bodies of those they murder. That's why Osama Bin Laden thought Hussein to be a decadent, secular, Western-influenced infidel. And that's why it is important to crush Bin Laden and Al Qaeda: because they wouldn't think twice about annihilating whole populations, including their own in an orgiastic, nihilistic suicidal celebration, just to prove a point.

5. I appreciate Linz's [Lindsay Perigo's] posts, of course. And I ~do~ look ~so~ forward to his abuse. hehe

And yes, Linz is right that there are plenty of problems in some of the attitudes of our Founders. But on the foreign entanglements issue, I believe they were right.

Again: Without "imminent threat," I don't think we have any rational criterion by which to judge the efficacy of overthrowing Saddam versus overthrowing every tyrant on the planet who engages in this kind of reprehensible mass murder. How do I look into the eyes of Rwandans, and others, if the only criterion for going into a country is to "liberate" a slave pen? Why ~this~ slave pen, and not the others? If not "imminent threat" as a criterion, what then?

As for looking into the eyes of liberated Iraqis: How do ~we~ look into the eyes of these Iraqis when Donald Rumsfield himself publicly shook this murderer's hand in 1983 during the Reagan years, which led the US to provide Iraq with secret military supplies in its war against Iran? How do ~we~ look into the eyes of these Iraqis when the US turned a blind eye to Saddam's use of chemical weapons against his foes, having given him the wherewithal to develop these weapons in the first place?

I've often wondered if the US invasion of Iraq was motivated by political guilt for having allowed Saddam to commit all these crimes, but I quickly sober up and realize that philosophic pragmatism seems to be the only reigning "principle" at work in US foreign and domestic policy.

Mind you: I do ~not~ believe that US complicity qualifies as a "mitigating circumstance" in judging Saddam's guilt. It is not a defense in morality or international law for Saddam to say: "Hey, everybody knew I was doing this, and nobody raised hell about it before. Why now?" Saddam deserves due process, and if found guilty---he deserves the ultimate penalty for his crimes.

But US complicity is something that Americans must put on trial in the court of public opinion. It is my hope that such a court will begin to understand the horrific internal contradictions that US policy has created, day-in, day-out, for ~decades~ now, with no end in sight. It is time to move toward ~rational moral principles~ in US domestic and foreign affairs. But this can only happen with a fundamental change in our current political system.

And for the record: I do believe that a free country has the right but not the obligation to liberate a slave pen. As long as it is a ~free~ country, with a ~voluntary~ military, that will rebuild the country it liberates with ~voluntary~ contributions. Not with taxpayer grants to Halliburton and Bechtel and other politically connected corporations who get government subsidies and slurp at the public trough with no competitive bid process in place.

FINALLY... with regard to Linz's preemptive strike on me. Well... The Truth is Out There: I was giving him an opportunity to recant... but he hasn't. First it was the hip-swiveling to the melodic and rhythmic pulse of the Bee Gees on the Boardwalk in Coney Island. RECENTLY, I have discovered that he actually ~knew~ the lyrics to a SPICE GIRLS song. Perhaps he didn't "really really want" me to say this, but, uh, I am ~astonished~ by this newest development.

What on earth is happening to SOLO culture when Our Fearless Leader, Number 1 Mario Lanza Afficionado... EMBRACES THE BEE GEES AND THE SPICE GIRLS!!?? Oh my goodness.

I am beginning to think he goes to ~discos~ too. :)


Dr. Diabolical Dialectical


The following series of posts were made to the Atlantis II list, from 4 December through 17 December 2003, on the subject of US foreign policy, Saudi Arabia, and ARAMCO.  This material is presented chronologically; some extraneous material is omitted.

(Thu, 04 Dec 2003 12:22:10 -0500)

On the issue of "corporatism" and Middle East oil, it's not so much that American corporations had to deal with Arab governments that "owned" the oil. It's that American corporations did this in a tight collaboration with the US government---thus creating a kind of corporatist triangle that could only lead to economic and political distortions. Look at the history of the founding of ARAMCO for further details. Also, take a look at Sheldon Richman's more general essay: "'Ancient History': U.S. Conduct in the Middle East Since World War II and the Folly of Interventionism"

(Sun, 07 Dec 2003 00:59:12 -0500)

There were quite a few US government entanglements in the founding and sustenance of ARAMCO. Yes, Richman does have his biases. I suppose we all do. Two sources with ~conflicting~ biases have similar things to say, however. I'm no fan of neoconservatives, but a book by neocon Stephen Schwartz, entitled THE TWO FACES OF ISLAM, does deal with some of the statist aspects of the Saudi-oil-US government entanglements. And if you'd like another look at the "crony capitalism" of ARAMCO, from somebody who is fanatically anti-neocon, check out Justin Raimondo's essay, "The War Against the Saudis."

(Mon, 08 Dec 2003 23:17:26 -0500)

On the founding of ARAMCO: Yes, US ~private~ oil companies negotiated with the Saudi monarchy to get the rights to develop oil reserves in Saudi Arabia. I didn't say that the US government ~founded~ ARAMCO; I said there were US "government entanglements" in the founding of ARAMCO, and, yes, I further qualified that by saying that these entanglements extended to the ~sustenance~ of the ARAMCO relationship. My initial claim was that these entanglements developed into "a tight collaboration with the US government---thus creating a kind of corporatist triangle that could only lead to economic and political distortions."

Yes, of course, the relationship became more and more ~political~ as it evolved, though it should be emphasized that the monopoly development of oil in Saudi Arabia through the exclusive granting of what amounted to a state franchise, was, from square one, embedded in a ~political~ relationship of sorts. (Monopolies can only be granted by state writ.)

With regard to the initial ARAMCO founding, it is also my understanding that US diplomats were involved in a serious rivalry with British intelligence agencies---especially since the British were vying for the same Arabian oil contracts. There were also all sorts of US foreign policy decisions that were made with regard to other markets (including Russia) that paved the way for Mideast oil development. The political machinations are detailed by OIL, GOD, AND GOLD: THE STORY OF ARAMCO AND THE SAUDI KINGS, authored by Anthony Cave Brown. And yes, these political machinations were far ~more~ pronounced in the ~sustenance~ of the ARAMCO arrangement, especially during and after World War II, with calls for the US to assume responsibility for the defense of the Arabian peninsula and US oil investments. Finally, it should be noted that the Rockefellers, at the heart of the ARAMCO arrangement, were not exactly "laissez-faire" businessmen.

See these various essays:


2. "Crony Capitalism" by Justin Raimondo

3. "Making Economic Sense" (at the site)

4. "Mr. Bush's War" (Lew Rockwell):

(Wed, 10 Dec 2003 09:05:15 -0500)

[T]he formation of ARAMCO was something that was steeped in a government-business partnership, and that US foreign policy and diplomatic & intelligence efforts were instrumental in providing the context for the formation of that partnership. I have not said that the US government acted "on behalf" of oil companies; all I've maintained is that the whole nature of the relationship is ~political~.

BTW, I don't think one can make clear distinctions between military and nonmilitary purposes in an economic context; what goes ostensibly to help a military purpose must have extra-military consequences, whether these are intended or unintended. As one of the links I provided suggests: "During [the] decade [of the 1930s] and World War II, King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia granted a monopoly concession on all oil under his domain to the Rockefeller-control-led Aramco, while the $30 million in royalty payments for the concession was paid by the U.S. taxpayer. The Rockefeller-influenced U.S. Export-Import Bank obligingly paid another $25 million to Ibn Saud to construct a pleasure railroad from his main palace, and President Roosevelt made a secret appropriation out of war funds of $165 million to Aramco for pipeline construction across Saudi Arabia."

This doesn't mean that the government and the oil companies are ~one~ or ~indistinguishable~ or that there are not countervailing interests at work. All it means is that government action---intended or unintended, explicit or implicit---has had the effect of bolstering a monopoly oil arrangement in Saudi Arabia. Monopoly, by its very nature, is a ~political~ relationship. It cannot exist on a free market.

Now, you are right: How could the relationship have been ~other~ than political "when the Saudi govt was deemed owner of the land where the oil was?" Fine. But since ARAMCO was ~born~ in a ~political~ relationship, the distortions that have resulted have been no less political. Quite frankly, I'm not sure I'm entirely thrilled, morally speaking, with the idea of corporations contracting with governments that assert ownership over land and that don't respect the notion of private property rights; it's akin to sleeping with the Devil. (Many of such corporations had similar arrangements with the Soviets in the early period of Soviet communism.) I'm even more incensed when such corporations demand US military intervention to protect their investments, which have been made under such political conditions. I wouldn't outlaw such arrangements. They take the risk... they may even derive some of their profits from taxpayers in the host country, but they should also bear the consequences without recourse to the ~US~ military or the ~US~ taxpayer.

On the formation of ARAMCO, you might also want to check out this site (whatever its political biases). The author suggests that the ARAMCO arrangement expanded capital possibilities. (Note, too, however, that even in the initial Standard Oil arrangement, some US government participation was required so that the transaction could be made in gold, at a time when the US had gone off the gold standard. I think this certainly speaks to the political influence of Standard Oil...) The author writes:

>> U.S.-Saudi friendship goes back 70 years. In 1933, Standard Oil Company of California negotiated an oil concession with King Abdul Aziz. Saudi Arabia was poor. It was the middle of the Great Depression. The Kingdom's only source of income were the fees charged the pilgrims making the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. Because of the depression, the former stream of pilgrims was down to a trickle. In 1923, King Abdul Aziz had granted an oil concession to a Major Frank Holmes, representing a British consortium. The Al-Hasa, Eastern Province, concession price was 2,000 pounds annually, to be paid in gold. The group paid two years in advance, did no exploration work, and defaulted on further payments. The King cancelled their concession. In 1932, the King offered his oil to England. They thanked him for his consideration but replied that they had no interest. The King wanted an interest-free loan of 100,000 pounds sterling against future oil royalties as a condition to granting the concession. The British Petroleum Company was competing against Standard of California for the concession, but as they already controlled the oil in Kuwait, Iraq, Qatar and the Trucial States, they were not interested in paying that much for an unproven situation in Saudi Arabia.

Negotiations dragged on for some time. Standard of California, then called CASOC (California Standard Oil Company) had found oil on Bahrain Island. They felt that the oil-bearing structure could extend into Eastern Saudi Arabia and so were seriously interested in the Saudi concession. CASOC finally negotiated a 60-year concession, made three interest-free loans over a period of five years, totaling 65,000 pounds, and agreed to an annual lease payment of 5,000 pounds. Royalty payments of four shillings per ton of crude oil produced were to begin when oil was discovered in commercial quantities.

The King wanted payment in gold. The U.S. had just gone off the gold standard, but the U.S. government approved payment in gold, and payment was made in U.S. gold coins. For years, gold coin oil payments were shipped to Arabia in small wooden kegs. In 1938, Standard of California found oil in commercial quantities at Jebal Id-Dhahran in Eastern Saudi Arabia. They did not have marketing organizations in Europe or Asia, but Texaco did, so they gave Texaco half the concession and formed the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO). As the oil operation grew, requiring additional capital, they added Exxon and then Mobil oil as partners in ARAMCO. <<

It's not my intention to mount a case by "innuendo." But I've provided links and information on books and articles, and those sources say a lot more than I can ever say in a simple post or two or three. Whatever the extent of US involvement in the early stages of the formation of ARAMCO (and I've argued that such involvement was more ~contextual~ than it was explicit, and that it ~grew~ into a more explicit arrangement over time), the simple fact is that the ARAMCO relationship was essentially a political one from the very beginning. And it has had long-term political, economic, and military consequences that are reverberating till this day.

(Thu, 11 Dec 2003 22:25:02 -0500)

I think we both agree that the US government got increasingly involved in the Middle East in the years after the founding of ARAMCO; the only thing we seem to have a few differences on is the extent of that involvement at the birth of ARAMCO. You've taken issue, ~essentially~, with a ~single~ line in my first post on the subject: "Look at the history of the founding of ARAMCO for further details." I further qualified that by saying that the intervention was more a part of the ~sustenance~ of the relationship over time, though I do believe that the US government's foreign policy decisions in the years prior to ARAMCO had an impact on the ways in which initial investments played out in the Middle East. I'm certainly willing to grant that the US role ~grew~ with World War II---that's very clear from the history. And it bolsters my initial point that war ~increases~ the role of government in global political economy.

Either way, I don't think it is an issue of contention between us. I think the reality is unchanged: ARAMCO was still born of a political relationship between oil companies and the Saudi state, and over time, the role of the US government grew---through war and peace---in nourishing that relationship, and the Saudi government that benefits from it, and that exports its Wahhabism to the rest of the Islamic world. And dems da facts---as far as I can tell. :) I'll be interested to hear what you have to say about Brown's book, which is the most comprehensive book I've seen on the subject (but I'm not sure it's really without "bias"... is there any work of history that's without bias? :) ). I'm going to see if I can do a little research to find out the sources of the material cited at the site... and will try to get back to you on that.

One final point to answer one of your questions: Though I don't like it when corporations ask the US government to bail them out of foreign investments gone awry, I did state in my previous message: "I wouldn't outlaw such arrangements" as those between said corporations and foreign countries.

(Fri, 12 Dec 2003 20:21:11 -0500)

Our styles may be different... but I do think I've provided the kinds of "bits and pieces" in terms of sources, citations, and other support for my broader-brushed arguments. What I think you're missing from my claim that ARAMCO was born of a ~political~ relationship is this: It doesn't matter if the US government was involved or not in the ~founding~ of ARAMCO. We can argue about the extent of that involvement---as little or none, implicit, contextual, or explicit. In the end, I think you've taken issue with a ~single~ sentence in my first post, but let's not lose the forest for one particular tree here.

It's not the US government's role that made ARAMCO's ~birth~ political. It's the fact that ARAMCO got a ~monopoly~ concession from the Saudi government and developed the oil of Saudi Arabia as part of that granted ~monopoly~. This has nothing to do with the "free market." The establishment of a monopoly is an ~impossibility~ on a free market; it is only possible when a political entity blocks entry into a market. That is what makes ARAMCO's birth a ~political~ birth. And by developing the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia, and enriching the House of Sa'ud and its Wahhabi supporters, and bolstering its stability and strength in that region through additional military, financial, economic, and political support from the US government in the ensuing years, ARAMCO has ~remained~ a political entity in its essence.

Now, I would agree that there are always countervailing interests at work in a mixed economy, so I have no problem with your comments concerning early US government obstacles to the oil industry. ...

(Sun, 14 Dec 2003 20:50:31 -0500)

My use of the phrase "political relationship" is pretty straightforward. A political relationship is one defined by coercion, wherein coercion replaces voluntary exchange as the social means of creating, producing, or distributing goods and services. There are many ways in which this political relationship can be developed, but the definitions of coercive monopoly offered by Nathaniel Branden, Murray Rothbard, and George Reisman all agree on the fundamental ~political~ characteristic in question, and I accept it.

In a section on "Monopolies," in "Common Fallacies About Capitalism" (in CAPITALISM: THE UNKNWON IDEAL), Branden writes that "a ~coercive~ monopoly" entails "exclusive control of a given field of production which is closed to and exempt from competition, so that those controlling the field are able to set arbitrary production policies and charge arbitrary prices, independent of the market, immune from the law of supply and demand. Such a monopoly, it is important to note, entails more than the ~absence~ of competition; it entails the ~impossibility~ of competition. That is a coercive monopoly's characteristic attribute, which is essential to any condemnation of such a monopoly."

In MAN, ECONOMY, AND STATE, Rothbard emphasizes the political relationship that defines monopoly: "... ~monopoly~ is a ~grant of special privilege by the State, reserving a certain area of production to one particular individual or group.~ Entry into the field is prohibited by others and this prohibition is enforced by the gendarmes of the State."

Reisman too sees such coercive monopoly as, essentially, a ~political~ concept. In fact, he actually calls a subsection of Chapter 10 of CAPITALISM: "The Political Concept of Monopoly and Its Application." He writes: "Monopoly is a market, or part of a market, reserved to the exclusive possession of one or more sellers by means of the initiation of physical force by the government, or with the sanction of the government."

These definitions apply to the monopoly concession granted to ARAMCO by the Saudi government.

Please note: This is not simply government contracting, through competitive bids, with private industry, to provide buildings, supplies, police cars, and military resources (though, historically speaking, even ~that~ process is much more influenced by factors external to market "efficiency" considerations, and internal to the interest-group warfare that dominates the mixed economy). No, the ~monopoly~ concession granted to ARAMCO was the Saudi government's means of enriching and fortifying its own power, by allowing ARAMCO producers to provide the economic wherewithal for an entire ~industry~ throughout the Saudi kingdom. This is not equivalent to providing paper clips for the Department of Motor Vehicles, through an office of contracts and procurement.

Moreover, ARAMCO was not simply the beneficiary of "homesteading." Laying claim to oil fields that an oil company discovers and ~drills~, as Rothbard points out, is one thing; collaborating with governments that make claims to unowned and undeveloped land is quite another thing. Rothbard argues persuasively in THE ETHICS OF LIBERTY that when an oil company develops the land, such land is "its just 'homesteaded' private property." But "there are cases where the oil company uses the government of the undeveloped country to grant it in advance of drilling, a monopoly concession to all the oil in a vast land area, thereby agreeing to the use of force to squeeze out all competing oil producers who might search for and drill oil in that area. In that case ... the first oil company is illegitimately using the government to become a land-and-oil monopolist. Ethically, any new company that enters the scene to discover and drill oil is the proper owner of ~its~ 'homesteaded' oil area. ~A fortiori,~ of course, our oil concessionaire who also uses the State to eject peasants from their land by force---as was done, for example, by the Creole Oil Co. in Venezuela---is a collaborator with the government in the latter's aggression against the property rights of the peasantry."

In my view, therefore, by "contracting" with the Saudi government, and by receiving a 60-year ~~~monopoly~~~ concession in advance of drilling, ARAMCO provided its moral sanction to the Saudi government and to the Saudi government's ~illegitimate~ claim of ownership over all the resources in Saudi Arabia, as if such property were "justly acquired" by the Saudi government, as if the Saudi government had a "right" to contract for the use and development of such property. They had no such right.

(Tue, 16 Dec 2003 20:46:40 -0500)


In support of your position that Saudi Arabia was an "extremely fortunate ... monopolist resource-owner," you quote Israel Kirzner (COMPETITION & ENTREPRENEURSHIP, p. 21): "Our own position will be to insist on the crucial distinction between the possibility of a monopolist producer qua producer (which, in our terminology, is ruled out almost by definition) and the possibility of a monopolist producer qua resource owner (which is very real and significant). If nature has endowed a particular market participant with all the current endowment of a certain resource, he is in the fortunate position of being a monopolist qua resource owner. ... But it is important to note that the competitive character of the market process has not been affected in the slightest. ... we distinguish very sharply between a producer who is the sole source of supply for a particular commodity because he has unique access to any necessary resource."

Since you've brought up Kirzner, I feel obligated to provide a little tangential biographical disclosure. I have always considered Murray Rothbard, the ~other~ "Dean" of the Austrian school mentioned in that link you provided, to be a personal mentor of sorts; he gave me indispensable advice when I did my undergraduate history honors thesis on the Pullman Strike (see here and the story of Rothbard's influence here), and had a profound impact on my libertarian education.

Ironically, however, I never studied ~formally~ with Rothbard. I did study ~formally~ with Israel Kirzner. My respect for him is second to none. He was a distinguished lecturer, and a brilliant teacher. I took more than a year's worth of courses with him as an undergraduate economics major, and another year with him as a graduate student. He was also a co-advisor to my master's thesis. I read virtually all his books, attended the weekly NYU Austrian colloquia that he chaired, and I've been in awe of him from the very first time we met.

This is ~not~ an argument from authority. It is simply my way of saying that I have ~intimate~ knowledge of the differences between Kirzner and Rothbard in their respective analyses of historical and economic issues. And there are pronounced differences in many ways.


I could be wrong---and I am certainly open to being proved wrong, especially if you can find ~textual~ evidence to support Kirzner's application of those points he makes on monopoly to the history of ARAMCO---but I think I can say with a fair degree of confidence that I would be very ~surprised~ to discover Kirzner's agreement with the ~premises~ of what you've presented in your most recent post. Here's why:

There is nothing in "nature" that gave the Saudi Arabian ~government~ the right of ownership as "a particular market participant with all the current endowment of a certain resource." That analysis presumes that the Saudi Arabian government has a right of ownership on ~all~ the land within its stipulated geographic boundaries. And any analogy with a private Texas oilman who owns his land by working it, and who discovers oil in its depths, is strictly an analogy; we can presume here that the Texas oilman got his land legitimately. By what right does ~any~ government "own" all the land within such boundaries and thereby have the further right to contract on that basis?

The Saudi endowment was strictly the result of ~politics~, i.e., an assertion of political control, not "nature." It was strictly the result of the politically defined "unit" that Saudi Arabia became---and this, in itself, cannot be disconnected from the British colonial history of the region, from which Saudi Arabia as a modern political "unit" arose. So, it was nothing in "nature" that put the Saudi Arabian government in "the fortunate position of being a monopolist qua resource owner." (This brings to mind George F. Smith's comment cited in another thread, suggesting that the equation of "nature" and "government action" is a function of "ideological maintenance": "The media accepts government action as a fact of nature, like molten lava oozing through a village, a terrible tragedy, but not subject to moral judgment.")

To reify the given or the historically specific political unit as if it were "natural" is to do damage to our whole understanding of this region of the world, so steeped in statist "political" boundary-drawing. There is ~nothing~ libertarian or capitalist about these initial quasi-feudal endowments or monopoly concessions.

Of course, the status of the endowments makes ~no~ difference in terms of the ~economic~ analysis, but I simply can't imagine that Kirzner, as the current living "dean" of the Austrian school, would have so discounted this ~historical~ dimension in any assessment of the evolution of ARAMCO.

Now, mind you: I do think that Kirzner and Rothbard would have differed considerably in the flavor of their respective discussions of this dimension, but that's because Rothbard---much closer to Ayn Rand---would have ~never~ dichotomized the moral and the practical. Yes, he would have appreciated and analyzed the situation, on one hand, in terms of "value-free" economics, with a focus on "function" and "efficiency" and so forth. But his larger, "broader-brushed" discussion, if you will, would have taken into account an ethical dimension as well. And, like John Locke before him and Robert Nozick after him, Rothbard's analysis of that ethical dimension would not have been severed from historical considerations of property rights claims. (Even ~Kirzner~ examined the history of property rights claims in his work, endorsing a "finders-keepers" historical ethic of sorts, but that's beyond our scope here.)

It must be emphasized for this discussion that Rothbard saw the value dimension as inescapable when considering the function or efficiency of viewing certain resources as "natural monopolies" or "public goods." Now, I think you are correct that there are certain economic realities that have governed how Mideast oil resources have been dealt with. And, yes, there have always been competitive pressures in the Middle East, among oil-producing nations---and these nations' governments have attempted to deal with such competitive pressures through organized cartel arrangements (another state-sanctioned institution). But to suggest that monopoly dynamics in the international market are impossible without a "world government" to enforce them is to pretty much ~bleed~ the concept of ~any~ economic or political significance. It is to relate the definition of "monopoly" to a kind of synoptic scope that does not exist. On those grounds, I can't see how "monopoly" would even ~be~ a political ~or~ economic ~concept~ on ~any~ level --- domestic or global --- if it were to depend on a nonexistent "world government." Not even governments could therefore be defined as institutions having a "monopoly" on the coercive use of force, because they would be constrained by other governments in the anarchic competitive interplay of political units worldwide. (And, to a certain extent, they ~are~ so constrained, but that doesn't make each of them any ~less~ a monopoly of sorts.)

The definition of monopoly is neither acontextual nor ahistorical; it is fully dependent on ~a given context~, fully dependent on factors of a particular place and time.

Yes, there are ~always~ competitors and substitute resources in global markets; nobody is ever ~really~ a full "monopolist" in that synoptic sense because the market has much resource and geographic differentiation and specialization. Gold producers compete with each other, but they also compete with silver and copper producers, and so forth. But this kind of competition doesn't make the ARAMCO concession any less a politico-economic monopoly ~in a given context~. (And, yes, there is ~never~ a higher sovereign law ~anywhere~ on earth to constrain ~anyone~ to adhere to an original concession --- especially when those who are granting the concession have the guns to  change the terms.)

Yes, you are correct when you state that "[w]hen the concession was signed, neither side expected the magnitude of oil there." But that's the point, as Rothbard suggests: Granting a "monopoly concession to all the oil in a vast land area" in ~advance of drilling~ has the effect of squeezing out "competing oil producers who might search for and drill oil in that area," ~in that given context~. This is, effectively, the establishment of an illegitimate land-and-oil monopoly; it is granting monopoly rights before anybody has had a chance to "mix their labor" with the land in question, and such a monopoly can only be maintained through ~government~ action or whim. Historically, such action has had a stifling effect on market competition and free entry into that area of the world, and those effects have been compounded by the emergence of a multiple-government enforced cartel (OPEC) among land-and-oil monopoly producers in each of the oil-producing countries of the Middle East. ("Cheating" within the cartel exists, of course, but that's another matter). The whole scenario is ~dripping~ with statist political economy: root, tree, and branch.

From an ethical perspective, it doesn't matter that the Saudis were looking for the best deal through "competitive bidding"; they were ~illegitimate~ owners of the property to begin with. To completely ignore the historical analysis of "how the Saudis got the land" and to act as if it is completely irrelevant to our ~moral~ assessment of the nature of property rights claims in that region is, quite frankly, astonishing to me.

I don't think we can or should create the kind of strict diremption between "function" and "institution" that you suggest. Rothbard often argued that welfare economists were too obsessed with "function" and "efficiency" in their pronouncements on public policy, but he extended that criticism even to those free-market economists who were in favor of privatization and competition, on the grounds of "efficiency," versus public or monopoly ownership. "Efficiency," he said, is not a purely economic or functional concept; it always entails a value judgment and a standard. "[S]ome functions of government," he writes, "such as the Internal Revenue Service or providing concentration camps for dissenters, deserve to be abolished rather than privatized ... We must not forget that not ~every~ private action deserves our uncritical blessing. ... In our enthusiasm for privatization ... we should stop and think whether we would ~want~ certain government functions to be privatized, to be conducted efficiently. Would it really have been better, for example, if the Nazis had farmed out Auschwitz or Belsen to Krupp or I. G. Farber?"

So, by way of analogy: From the perspective of function, one can certainly evaluate the efficiency and economic processes at work in the Saudi monopoly concession to ARAMCO. But I don't think we fully grasp the nature, significance, and complex consequences of that monopoly concession by analyzing it strictly in terms of function; it requires a much "broader-brushed" analysis, in my view, that delves into the historical, the ethical, and the cultural dimensions. And I don't believe that even Israel Kirzner would have disagreed, but again... I could be wrong.

At the very least, I do think this discussion has sharpened and magnified the differences in the scopes of our respective analyses.

(Wed, 17 Dec 2003 16:45:43 -0500)

Very quick points in response before we wind this one shut. :)

1. I've put out a few emails to friends of mine, and if I get any additional information re the articles, Rothbard, or Kirzner, I'll share with you and the list.

2. I was dealing with "moral rights" of ownership, though I think these do have legal ramifications.

3. I'm not sure that my reasoning implies either that the Saudis are bribed or briber, or that the oil industry was briber or buyer. There's probably a little bit of both going on simultaneously. Of course, I think it is also true that the oil industry ~qua~ oil industry is more productive than any Saudi Sheik who just happened to assert ownership rights over the land that so fortunately fell into his lap.

4. I agree wholeheartedly with your comment that there is a big problem with treating government as "totally exogenous to the market." Nice chatting...




(SOLO Forum.  Posted:  Tue, 16 Dec 2003 12:57:48 -0500; Wed, 17 Dec 2003 07:20:09 -0500)

This is an excerpt from two follow-up posts on the topic of Saddam Hussein's capture.

Hey, gents, ~of course~ I recognize the complexities involved in judging Saddam Hussein, given the past history of US involvement and complicity. I am second to none in putting the US on trial for its past foreign policy obscenities, especially since such foreign policies have often given power to the very interests who eventually turn on their sugar daddies. In my previous post, I too agreed with M that a trial is essential. I agree with both J and D too, who speaks of the suicidal pragmatism of US foreign policy.


L is absolutely right: I didn't see Saddam as an imminent threat to the security of the United States and have spelled out my position plainly in several articles as cited. I didn't think Milosevic was a threat to the security of the United States either---and President Bush was the first to criticize that war and the US attempt at "nation-building" in Europe when he was a candidate for President. But I have no problem with bringing Milosevic to justice at the World Court.

As a political commentator, I have to deal with what ~is~, with what ~exists~ currently, not with what I ~wanted~ to be. If it were up to me, the US would have devoted the arsenal of its military and intelligence to hunting down and ruthlessly destroying Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Bin Laden remains at large, and Al Qaeda remains active. It is ~Al Qaeda~ that attacked my homeland, my city, and it is ~that~ network that needs to be uprooted and destroyed. And I say this with full cognizance of the role played by pragmatic US foreign policy in strengthening the Bin Ladens of this world.

Back in 2001, I advocated the invasion of Afghanistan because I saw a clear link between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Those who doubt my resolve or who think me a "fair weather friend" can check out my article, "Personal Reflections from New York," which was written on October 3, 2001, and which was published in THE FREE RADICAL. Back then, I made the same argument I'm currently making, voicing my opposition to "sustained domestic or foreign intervention, even if it is now necessary to fight the very terrorists our policies have nurtured."


So, over two years ago, critical as I was of US foreign policy, I specifically mentioned the situation in Afghanistan as among those requiring a suitable response. If my emphasis was---and remains---on the interventionist issue, it is only because virtually ~nobody~ in Objectivist circles was talking about that back then, and only a very ~few~ are talking about it now. This is an aspect of the larger Randian critique that has been obscured, regrettably in my view.

When the going got tough, and my home was attacked, when people I knew---friends, colleagues, neighbors---were ~murdered~ at the WTC, I didn't "wimp out." I urged---and continue to urge---the destruction of the people who attacked, who initiated force against innocent civilians.

What Saddam Hussein had to do with 9/11 is beyond me. He had no formal ties to Al Qaeda, he had no WMDs, and his army was one-third its previous size. He had no SCUDs on launch pads, laced with chemical or biological or nuclear weapons, and the US practically walked into Baghdad---proving that his regime was a paper tiger. The US has contained tyrants much worse than he---Stalin, Brezhnev, Mao, Castro---without the need to invade and occupy Russia, China, or Cuba, at considerable cost to human life, liberty, and property.

If this makes me a Saddamite, I shall provide my dear friend with a bucket so that he doesn't get himself all messy from his puking. :)




(SOLO Forum; Posted:  Mon, 15 Dec 2003 09:00:44 -0500)

I was among those who disagreed with the decision to go into Iraq; I stand by that view. I thought that the long-term problems of a US occupation far outweighed (and continue to outweigh) the relatively small cost of invasion. I believed that Saddam posed no legitimate or imminent threat to the security of the US, and it seems to me that the facts have supported that proposition. There are no weapons of mass destruction, no identifiable formal ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and I would have simply urged the US to stay vigilant with overwhelming firepower to act as a deterrent to Hussein's regime, should the threat arise.

I remain opposed to the task of "democratic nation-building," which will require a massive change in a culture that is antithetical to individualism and individual rights and that might take many generations to achieve, if at all. Taking over Iraq does not help us "to resist the blackmail of Saudi Arabia" as M suggests... not when the US government is sleeping with the Saudis (just as it did with the Hussein regime at one time). I discuss ~that~ problem here. I examine many other problems with the general US strategy here

All of this said, I don't believe that one's opposition to invasion means that those who opposed it cannot join in the celebration of the capture of a mass murderer. I would not have supported the US invasion of the Soviet Union or China in 1972, but would surely have celebrated Brezhnev's and Mao's head on a silver platter. (And the collapse of communism in these countries, it should be noted, was ~not~ achieved by US invasion.) I do not support the US invasion of Cuba in 2003, but would surely celebrate the death of Fidel Castro. Just because I didn't and don't want to see US citizens slaughtered in the invasion of these countries does not mean that I can't celebrate the downfall of their leaders. Just because I don't like the fact that Iraq is being made into a US welfare state at the cost of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, hundreds of US lives, and thousands of US casualties, does not mean that I can't join in the celebration of the Saddam capture. As I have stated, there isn't an industrial plastic shredder big enough to make him pay for his crimes.

As far as I am concerned... bring on Osama bin Laden! ~He~ is a threat to the security of the United States, as is Al Qaeda, and they should be crushed.

As an aside: A few people have expressed surprise that Hussein didn't go down in a blaze of glory, with all that "last bullet bravado" that M mentioned. This didn't surprise me at all; this is a man who claimed "victory" in the 1991 Gulf War because ~he~ survived. He sees his own survival as the barometer for victory in any battle. This is a man who does not want to die. But his time is up.

Back in February 2003, when I was debating this war with people on the Philosophy of Objectivism list, I remarked that the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction was a deterrent to tyrannical and terrorist ~leaders~, if not to their minions (the full OWL post is republished here). I wrote:

>>This brings to mind a really wonderful skit from earlier this season on "Saturday Night Live." A group of Islamic terrorists are sent out to die so they can all get the rewards that come from sacrificial martyrdom: X number of virgins in paradise, etc. When somebody asks the Osama Bin Laden character why ~he~ isn't fighting, why ~he~ hasn't died for the cause, he fumbles over his words, screams out something about Allah, and proceeds to send out ~another~ group of martyrs to die---in his place.

We all know why this is the case. Ellsworth Toohey provides the answer: "Don't bother to examine a folly---ask yourself only what it accomplishes. . . . It stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting sacrificial offerings. . . . The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master." Hussein, Bin Laden, and other ~leaders~ of Islamic terrorism are fully capable of sacrificing their own people; they most assuredly do not wish to die themselves. I think it is reasonable to assume that pointing a nuke at Baghdad can still have the required effect of keeping ~Hussein~ in check, since ~he~ apparently wants to live. Why would he have so many tunnels and escape routes under his various castles if ~living~ were not a priority?<<

And so it was that he was captured in one of those filthy holes in the ground. How apropos. Now, the Butcher of Baghdad will put on a show to keep himself alive in the Mother of All Jury Trials. We're already hearing all the psychobabble about how the poor guy suffered abuse as a child, as if this should be a mitigating factor in our judgment of his crimes.

I believe that the UN, the World Court, etc. should stay out of any proposed Hussein trial. This is a man who committed "crimes against humanity" for sure; but he actually committed crimes against ~individual~ Iraqis... hundreds of thousands of individual Iraqis whose bodies lie in mass graves. And it is ~Iraqis~ who should decide his fate. Give him the due process he denied to others, and let justice take its course. Big time.

Death to Tyrants!



(Atlantis II; Posted as "Re: Rand's Philosophy of History":  Fri, 05 Dec 2003 07:38:08 -0500)

GS writes: "Leave it to Chris to make it seem as if Peikoff has something other than a embarrassingly simplistic view of historical causation. 8-) " :)

I agree, btw, that there is ~very little~ development of the Objectivist philosophy of history, and Peikoff's own OMINOUS PARALLELS suffers because of it.

That said, let me recommend to everyone's attention some ~very~ important Rand-influenced work by Roy Childs on the subject of historiography. Roy presents the rudiments of this historiographical method (undoubtedly influenced as well by Mises' THEORY AND HISTORY) in his superb essay, "Big Business and the Rise of American Statism" (which can be found in Childs' LIBERTY AND POWER). Note the similarity between Roy's definition of history and Rand's definition of art:

>>History is a selective recreation of the events of the past, according to a historian's premises regarding what is important and his judgment concerning the nature of causality in human action. This selectivity is a most important aspect of history, and it is this alone which prevents history from becoming a random chronicling of events. And since this selectivity is necessary to history, the only remaining question is whether or not such judgments will be made explicitly or implicitly, with full knowledge of what one considers to be important and why, or without such awareness. Selection presupposes a ~means, method,~ or ~principle~ of selection. The historian's view of the nature of causality in human action also is determined by a principle of selection. He can have a conscious theory, such as economic determinism, or attempt to function without one. But without one, the result of historical investigation is likely to appear disintegrated and patched together. . . .

>>The nature of objective evidence which is largely considered in history is simply ~human testimony~, direct or indirect. History as a field deals with past human thought and actions. Since we have no direct awareness of the contents of anyone's consciousness but our own, we must rely on inference from what a person says, and what he does. Considered from a different perspective, history deals with the ends that men have held in the past, and the means that they have adopted to attain these ends. Since no two individuals are specifically alike in every particular characteristic, it is impossible to recreate the past in the form of a laboratory experiment and to observe the effects of single causal factors on human action. Thus, all that one can do is to collect evidence concerning the context of individual men, their ideas and their actions, using a theory or model of the nature of causality in human action that interprets or selectively reconstructs events in the past, omitting what one judges to be unimportant, and offering an explanation for what one does consider to be important, in light of the evidence available. Utopian "completeness" is neither possible nor necessary in knowledge---in history or anywhere else. All knowledge is contextual, but this does not in any way hinder knowledge from being ~valid~.<<

One other point: G says: >>if one wishes to understand Rand's approach to history, I think we should view her, not in relation to Marx and Engels, but in the context of the "conjectural" history that was extremely popular during the 18th century Enlightenment. These efforts to understand history, even in the absence of specific details, according to the inner logic of ideas and events, were undertaken not only by the extreme rationalists of the French Enlightenment but also by the more sober-minded and cautious Scots, such as David Hume and Adam Smith.<<

This is probably true. But there are two reasons why the Marx/Engels-Rand comparison works in the context of AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL:

1. As a history major in the University of Leningrad, Rand ~learned~ the Marxist historiography (as my analysis of her college transcript suggests). Hence, it is very conceivable that the notion of history as an integrated process had some lasting influence on her approach, which rejects the materialist substance, while retaining the logical form, of Marxist historiography.

2. More importantly, however, and in keeping with George's important suggestion regarding a possible Scottish link to Rand: Let's not forget that Marx and Engels ~themselves~ were profoundly influenced by the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, who constituted the "Scottish Historical School." Ronald Meek's path-breaking essay on this subject ("The Scottish Contribution to Marxist Sociology"), which appeared in 1954 in John Saville's edited collection, DEMOCRACY AND THE LABOUR MOVEMENT, maintains that Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, William Robertson, John Millar, and others, made a great impact on both the political economy and sociology of Karl Marx. Marx drew explicitly on the evolutionist views of the Scots. (This, by the way, makes for a fruitful comparison between Marx and F. A. Hayek---who also claims the Scots as among his intellectual forefathers---and I discuss these parallels in MARX, HAYEK, AND UTOPIA).

So, I suspect that there is a lot of cross-pollination going on here, and thanks, George, for bringing up the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers in this context.




(Atlantis II; Posted: Thu, 04 Dec 2003 07:12:13 -0500)

Thanks for clarifying, C. So your problem is with Rand's belief that philosophy, rather than psychology, is the driving force of history?

This is a huge subject matter. I don't want to become a parody of self-citation, so I'll simply say that I learned a lot from Ayn Rand---including the practice of self-citation. :)

I discuss Rand's philosophy of history at length in Chapter 13 of AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, and while generally, I agree with Nathaniel Branden's comments as cited in "The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand," I do think the theory Rand presents is a lot more complex than one-sided philosophic determinism. Indeed, the theory ~Marx~ presents is also a lot more complex than one-sided economic determinism. (And, yeah, I get to cite myself on this as well---see my MARX, HAYEK, AND UTOPIA.)

So, you'll forgive me, therefore, if I post an excerpt from this discussion as it appears in RUSSIAN RADICAL:



By Chris Matthew Sciabarra

(University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995)

Chapter 13: History and Resolution

Excerpt, pp. 358-363

Rand did not believe that every single individual must accept a specific philosophic idea in order for it to qualify as a dominant trend. In any given historical period, there will be many philosophic cross-currents. But intellectual life, expressed in the normative, aesthetic, political, and economic sciences, will ultimately constitute a dominant philosophic paradigm. The key to comprehending the logic of history was to render explicit the dominant paradigm implicit in a variety of cultural forms. History, in Rand's view, is "~not~ an unintelligible chaos ruled by chance," but something which could be comprehended, predicted and shaped.

Peikoff maintains that one of the prime reasons for Rand's majoring in history was her conviction that it was impossible to develop theories about the human species unless one could distinguish historically specific fashions from trans-historical elements. In Rand's view, the study of history is a prerequisite to all theoretical developments in the humanities. It is the laboratory and workshop of the social sciences; it is where the theorist discovers the role of basic factors in human evolution.

This view of history as a comprehensible, predictable, and malleable process is central to the Marxist historiography to which Rand was exposed while in attendance at Petrograd University. [Post-RUSSIAN RADICAL, I did a study of Rand's college course work; the extent of her exposure to this historiography and to dialectical method in general is documented here.]  In contrast to the Marxist materialists, Rand argued that historical prediction is possible because each "society's existential conditions are preceded and determined by the ascendancy of a certain philosophy" among the intellectuals and purveyors of culture. The historical events of a given period will derive from the ascendant philosophy of the preceding age. Just as an individual's actions are the consequence of past thoughts, so too, a society's history is a logical unfolding of the philosophical premises it has internalized.

The primacy of philosophy in history derives from the centrality of reason in individual life. Rand constantly repeated the phrase: "Check your premises." It was the title of her column in THE OBJECTIVIST NEWSLETTER, and appeared in countless forms throughout her writings. Rationality involves a process of both internal and external articulation. To check one's premises is to articulate the causal antecedents of one's ideas, feelings, and actions. The integrated individual does not experience any conflict between these spheres. He or she sets into motion a process in which each is brought into harmony with the other.

But by placing emphasis on the primary choice "to think or not to think," Rand avoided vicious circularity in the relations between thought, feeling, and action. It is our ability to ~think~ that separates us from other living organisms. If we must eat in order to think, even if we must be willing to ~feel~ in order to think clearly, it is thinking that constitutes our distinctive mode of survival. The ~human~ production of goods and the ~human~ experience of emotions are ultimately related to---and derived from---this primary ~human~ cognitive choice.

This epistemological principle is instantly related to Rand's theory of history. Since we must think in order live, the ~content~ of our thought is deeply significant to our ~individual~ survival; it will direct our emotions and our actions. And since every act of material and cultural production ultimately derives from the human ability to think, the ~content~ of an historical period's dominant philosophic trends---internalized by the majority of people---will be just as deeply significant to their ~social~ survival.

Thus, in both individual and social spheres, Rand attempted to render explicit the implicit. In her theory of history, she sought to understand the philosophical roots of social policies, ideological doctrines, and the broad emotional atmosphere of contemporary culture. Just as Rand admonished us to check our premises, so she checked the premises of her own society. She refused to reify the tacit dimensions of consciousness or culture. She wished to inspire people to analyze their own mixed premises, and the mixed premises of the culture in which they live. . . .

Just as philosophy "is a necessity for a rational being," providing the individual with an essential, comprehensive view of existence, so too, does it serve an essential function in the life---and death---of a given society. Rand wrote: "There is only one power that determines the course of history, just as it determines the course of every individual life: the power of man's rational faculty´┐Żthe power of ideas. If you know a man's convictions, you can predict his actions. If you understand the dominant philosophy of a society, you can predict its course. But convictions and philosophy are matters open to man's choice."

Given that Rand was a deeply dialectical thinker, such a formulation seems oddly one-dimensional. Rand seems to embrace a philosophic version of determinism that mirrors the vulgar materialist view that "the material mode of existence" is the "primary agent" in history. Yet, both Marx and Engels understood the difficulties involved in identifying a singular cause within a dialectical totality. Though Engels was later accused of "revisionism," he argued persuasively in the 1890s, that vulgar economism was not Marx's historiographical credo. Engels recognized that he and Marx were "partly to blame" for the predominance of an economistic interpretation of Marx's historical method. But, he explained: "We had to emphasize the main principle ~vis-a-vis~ our adversaries, who denied it, and we had not always the time, the place or the opportunity to give their due to the other factors involved in the interaction."

The key word here is "interaction." Sophisticated Marxist methodology incorporates a thoroughly organic understanding of historical causality, which traces the reciprocal interconnections between economic and non-economic factors. Marx gave priority to the material mode of existence because it is production, in his view, that is most responsible for the sustenance of human life. In Marx's view, productive labor "is a necessary condition, independent of all forms of society, for the existence of the human race; it is an eternal nature-imposed necessity, without which there can be . . . no life." Engels argued, however, that Marx did not intend for this material emphasis to become "an excuse for ~not~ studying history." Political, ideological, philosophical, religious, racial, literary, artistic, legal and other factors may all play a part in the human drama. All of these factors "react upon one another and also upon the economic base," but it is this base of material existence that "in the last resort," "in the last instance," must assert its primacy.

Rand did not respond to this materialist conception by embracing a reified notion of the Idea as a causal agent in world history. She accepted Marx's view that production is necessary to human sustenance, but she believed that ~thinking~ is the essential root of human production and survival. Hence, it is thinking, the ideas that people accept and practice in their daily lives, that is the primary causal factor in human historical development. And if certain philosophic ideas lead to specific historical consequences, Rand argued nonetheless that "there is no such thing as historical determinism," for ultimately, ideas are formulated and accepted ~volitionally~. People do not have to be subject to forces beyond their understanding or control. For Rand, the articulation of mixed premises is an activity of critical praxis, because it makes people more conscious of tacitly accepted principles, even as it pushes them toward action by ~conscious~ conviction.

If Marx emphasized material causality in his historical method as a response to his Idealist adversaries, Rand came to prominence at a time in which many sociologists and historians projected an image of the individual as a puppet of material forces. Rand's emphasis on the power of ideas may appear as a one-dimensional response to this "oversocialized" conception of humanity, but such a characterization would suggest that she was ignorant of the reciprocal forces in historical development. This is most definitely not the case.

For Rand, ideas are not disembodied causal agents. Ideas are part of a wider totality; their genesis cannot be completely abstracted from a certain material, historical, and psychological context. First, Rand repudiated those who would dichotomize ideas and material goods. Such a distinction "is a product of the mystics' mind-body dichotomy, which holds that ideas belong to some higher, 'spiritual' dimension of reality, while goods belong to an inferior, material dimension: this earth. But, in reality, there is only one reality; man is an integrated entity of mind and body, and neither can survive without the other. Man's mind (his ~ideas~) is as crucially necessary to the production of goods as the translation into a material form (into speech or print) is to the development of ideas."

Second, Rand recognized that every idea emerges within an historical context. She argued that her own ethical theories could never have been fully articulated in preindustrial, precapitalist historical periods. Just as the first glimmerings of a rational philosophy emerged in Athenian society, with its "comparative degree of political freedom," so too, the completion of the Aristotelian project was not possible until the Industrial Revolution demonstrated definitively the efficacy and practicality of reason. Based on this understanding, Rand was less judgmental of altruistic ethical and political conceptions that were fashionable in premodern cultures. For example, the anti-wealth views of St. Ambrose, who lived in the fourth century, were "explicable, if not justifiable" within the context of his culture, which lacked an appropriate philosophical understanding of the role of property in human life. Rand was not as generous to those who adopted the Ambrosean credo in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But she was extremely realistic about the progressive acceptance of a rational philosophy; she rejected the ahistorical view that people would simply read Aristotle or Aquinas or her own works and become true believers.

Aside from her recognition of the importance of an appropriate context of knowledge and culture, Rand also acknowledged that the development of ideas required a certain psychological predisposition on the part of the innovator. Peikoff argues that frequently there is a close relationship between the philosophy and the psychology of the theorist. A person with a benevolent, positive outlook on life would be less apt to author a philosophic system with death and pain as its standard than a person with a malevolent sense of life.

Peikoff has examined the relationship between philosophy and psychology in history, and concludes that ultimately, the distinction is one between an explicit conscious conviction and an implicit idea. Since Objectivism roots psychological factors, such as emotions, the subconscious, and sense of life, in certain consciously or tacitly accepted ideas, Peikoff argues that it is the absorption of certain implicit philosophic premises that will shape the individual's psychology. Thereafter, the development of philosophical and psychological factors will be concurrent. The acceptance of a philosophy that sanctions obedience and authority gives rise to a psychology of dependence. The psychology of dependence requires such a philosophy. Philosophy, in this context, is not a mere rationalization of the relations of dependence; it is a causal antecedent. Philosophy will not determine the specific applications of an idea, the speed of their dissemination and proliferation into the culture, or the various consequences of progressive acceptance of a given principle. Rather, philosophy provides the broad context that predisposes a culture to accept as normal those relations which may be patently irrational.

It is on this basis that Peikoff rejects the argument that Hitler, for instance, used altruistic slogans as a cover-up for his brutality. In the Objectivist view, altruism ~is~ brutality. When Hitler advocated the sacrifice of the individual to the Volk, he was being true to his altruistic roots. Had the Nazis used the notion of individual rights to justify their policies of genocide, they could never have succeeded. Peikoff does "not believe that hypocrisy is a factor in history." The Attilas and the Witch Doctors have practiced what they have preached; the critical role of philosophy lies in ~comprehending~ the essence of their ideas in order to transcend them.


(Atlantis II; Posted: Wed, 03 Dec 2003 09:22:10 -0500)

Some points in response to each of my interlocutors:

1. C writes that the terms of the WW 1 peace were most directly relatable to the causes of WW 2. (Oh, and thanks, C, for sharing some very interesting prose from Paul Johnson.) He writes: "These historical particulars together with the ... deeper background of the Great War, make pinning the 'unintended consequences' of it on primarily out-of-control interventionist or corporatist philosophic ideologies rather spurious."

"Unintended consequences" does not mean that we should drop any consideration of the actual intentions of the actors. Indeed, the victorious Allies ~intended~ to humiliate Germany; but they didn't ~intend~ for Germany to turn toward Nazism and the construction of the Third Reich. Yes, the terms of the peace were significant in the genesis of World War II. But the whole ~system~ of autocratic European colonialism was inextricably intertwined with those terms.

And let us not forget that the Great Depression itself was the result of interventionist mangling of the money supply through the US Federal Reserve System, which exported the depression abroad.

C also says that it was "Rand's fatal error ... [t]o expect that government's act in accordance with anything near perfect systemic integration." On the contrary, I don't believe Rand ever had that expectation. I think even Rand would agree that what emerged over time to constitute the "New Fascism" was not the consequence of any particular intervention or any grand plot. Rather, it was the result of a long line of ad hoc mini-interventions by various groups at odds with one another, each trying to gain control over the political apparatus to enrich its own constituency. Each intervention caused various contradictions in the economy, and the groups that were affected simply demanded ~more~ intervention to "correct" for these contradictions---rather than to withdraw the intervention completely.

If anything, the system can't be "totally" integrated. There is that perennial ~epistemological~ issue: Governments---even and especially those that attempt "totalistic" control through "totalitarian" planning---will never know enough and can never know enough to direct an economy. Then, there is the perennial ~political~ issue: The mixed economy is always functioning at cross-purposes because it is the result of institutionalized mutual predation among rival groups. (See, especially, Chapter 12 of AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, on "The Predatory State," for a discussion of Rand's understanding of this process.)

I do think there is a sense in which the most powerful groups seek and gain relatively more control over the political process. I think a good case can be made that the sector with the most "ultimate decision-making" power in the mixed economy is the state banking-financial nexus. That's because, as Rand recognized, money is at the heart of an economy; centralized control over money is therefore control over an economy's lifeblood. But even here, the central planners of centralized banking are unable to control for the innumerable consequences of their actions, especially insofar as their decisions impact on interest rates and capital investment. Essays on the Great Depression in CAPITALISM: THE UNKNOWN IDEAL are a good place to start in understanding the distortive dynamics of financial manipulation.

2. J "start[s] with common ground (I hope): 1. Philosophy plays a major role. 2. History is not deterministic. 3. Events reflect a philosophy and can effect a philosophy creating either a vicious circle or virtuous circle."

He then states that WW II "or ~its equivalent~ would have happened without WWI ... as long as the philosophical premises which are held by cultural leaders are left unchallenged."

Let me say this: I am under no illusions about the twentieth century. The competing ideologies were almost all collectivist-statist amalgams, and there's no doubt that global politics was headed to hell-in-a-handbasket. But, again, we can't abstract these ideologies from the historically-specific circumstances of the post-World War I period. There are plenty of virulent ideological strains in contemporary American politics: from left-wing Marxist types to right-wing white supremacists. Each may have an influence on this or that political trend, but none is fully dominant. Conditions would have to change dramatically for such virulent strains to ~dictate~ American political life. You simply can't abstract ideology from concrete circumstances and still hope to have a grasp of its influence.

In the absence of good premises, yes: the bad ones fill the vacuum. And, often, there are simply competing bad premises at work in any particular historical period, as J indicates, where one parasitic group attains dominance over the others. But which groups predominate and how they exercise their power is inextricably bound up with the concretes of history.

Given those concretes, I simply can't imagine how much ~worse~ the world would have been if the U.S. had simply abstained from entering World War I. I discuss some of that in this OWL post from 16 May 2003:

3. W S says that in my dual discussion of the collision of Islamicism and US foreign policy, I seem to assume that the latter "is the main cause" of the current global crisis and that I'm "*only* talking about American foreign policy ... but what about other countries foreign policies?"

First, if you look at my article on "Understanding the Global Crisis," you'll see that I do spend quite some time discussing the issue of the philosophic poison that is Islamicism. It's not as if I've ignored that issue. I think it is crucially important to any explanatory framework.

Second, France, Germany, Britain, etc., have "foreign policies"---but for the most part, the overall policy of the West has been dictated by the United States, which has been the leader of the "Western world" for nearly 100 years. That is not to say that these countries don't have their own interests; it's simply an acknowledgment of the fact that, in most instances, their policies, over the past century, have been intimately tied to US policy. That's why I focus on the US. It is the US that replaced the Brits in the Middle East; it is the US that replaced France in Southeast Asia. It is the US that guarded West Germany, and promoted the post-Berlin Wall union of East and West.

As for the Soviets: Yes, they backed "Nasser's Egypt, Assad's Syria, Gaddhafi's Libya, et al."---but that's partially because the Brits and then, the US, had pursued, in the Middle East, a full-fledged corporatist policy as a means of gaining control over Mideast oil. This was not a shining example of the free market at work. Western control of oil long predates Soviet expansion in that region of the world, as does the formation of ARAMCO, the Saudi-US-Big Oil corporatist alliance that bolstered the power of the House of Sa'ud. I'm not excusing the Soviets for their despotism; I'm simply saying that the "free" West had already set the context for Soviet expansion by gaining state-corporate control over a vital resource in that region. The post-World War II era saw the Soviets and the US at loggerheads, and it is understandable that the Soviets would want to gain a foothold, given US domination.

Yes, it is true: "Once the oil was discovered there was no turning back." But that didn't necessitate the kind of corporatism that the US pursued as official oil policy---the very corporatism that has shaped the region and its political machinations ever since. The fundamentalist-Islamicists emerged in viable political movements partially in reaction to US hegemony and strategic alliances with oppressive regimes in the Middle East. And some were smart enough to use anti-Soviet US policy to their benefit---as they did in Afghanistan during the Soviet war.

I think you're right, W, that anti-Western feelings would still have flourished in a Middle East not dominated by the US. But there probably would have been a distinct difference in the ways in which those feelings were expressed. I don't understand how or why fundamentalists would be attacking the US in the absence of US military-financial connections in that region of the world. Where would Islamic ~grievances~ be if the US hadn't propped up the Shah, hadn't assisted Hussein, hadn't propped up the House of Sa'ud, and so forth?

Yes, there would always be the cultural war---the collision of fundamentalism and Western values (insofar as the US embraces, relatively speaking, actual Western values of reason, individualism, and capitalism---but, as we know, this is ~relatively~ speaking. There is nothing "rational," "individualist," or particularly "capitalist" about US politics).

However, if we look at how the younger generation in the Islamic world has been gradually turning toward Western culture (e.g., youthful Iranians who wear Western clothes, watch Western movies and TV shows, and so forth), I suspect that in the absence of US military and financial manipulation, the "culture wars" would have been less lethal to American lives, and limited, for the most part, to the Muslim world itself.

And in the electronic age, there would be no stopping the influx of Western values. No geographic borders could constrain the impact of such values, as they would insidiously creep through computer networks and cultural institutions. I would have much rather taken my chances fighting ~that~ battle than the one the US is involved in today. Because the ~cultural~ battle is a battle for the human soul, and there is ~nothing~ more important than that. It is a battle of ~ideas~.

Alas, as I warned in the previous post, the game of "what-if" is interesting and provocative; we now have to deal with the results of a much different configuration of historical events.



top.GIF (410 bytes)

Other Essays by Chris Matthew Sciabarra Back to Dialectics & Liberty Home Page