This essay was first published in Critical Review 12, no. 3 (Summer 1998):  283-99.

ABSTRACT: In his critique of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, David MacGregor argues that my book trivializes dialectical method. He fails to notice the many non-dialectical assumptions that pervade contemporary social theory and practice. Dialectics, as a context-sensitive methodological orientation, can provide tools for a better grasp of systems and processes in the real world--the goal, as I understand it, of the "post-libertarian" approach Jeffrey Friedman advocates.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Visiting Scholar, Department of Politics, New York University, 726 Broadway, New York, New York 10003, the author of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (SUNY, 1995), Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (Penn State Press, 1995), and the forthcoming Total Freedom, thanks the editor for helpful suggestions.

I want to thank David MacGregor ("It Ayn't Rand," Critical Review 11, no. 3) and Jeffrey Friedman ("What's Wrong with Libertarianism," ibid.) for contributing to a much-needed dialogue on the nature of libertarian social theory. In this response, it is impossible for me to address all of the issues raised by MacGregor and Friedman in their essays, so I will focus on just a few themes.(1)

MacGregor (1997) disagrees with my thesis that Rand provides us with an alternative to the dialectical standpoints of either Hegel or Marx. He sees the problem as partially an outgrowth of my indifference to one of Rand's "pernicious flaw[s]"--her maintenance of "the duality of statism and capitalism" (382). Of greater significance, perhaps, is MacGregor's charge that my account suffers from having drawn from the Marxist theorist, Bertell Ollman, whose works illustrate a "trivialization of the dialectic" such that "it would be difficult to imagine a philosopher or social thinker who didn't" employ this method (384).

It can be argued that Ollman's conception of dialectics amounts to a "trivialization" only if one considers the formalization of principles to be a trivial activity. Ollman (1993) identifies the many interconnected aspects of dialectical thinking--from abstraction to integration. On the basis of core ontological and epistemological insights into real-world relations, a dialectician examines the objects of study in their intricate systemic and dynamic complexity. Such inquiry is followed by self-clarification, in which the theorist intellectually reconstructs the whole before proceeding to exposition, in which the presentation of findings must take into account the context and interests of the audience one addresses. Ultimately, this dialectical enterprise requires praxis--conscious action in the world that brings about change, even as it deepens our understanding of that world.

Ollman champions Marxism as the most consistently dialectical system, but his formalization of dialectical principles has an unintended effect. It provides us with an opportunity to disconnect those principles from Marxism, and to practice them in the articulation of a non-Marxist radicalism.

To pull the dialectical kernel from its Marxist shell, and to imbue it with new substance, is an activity that has important historical parallels.  In characterizing dialectic as "the coping-stone of the sciences," Plato (Republic, 531d-532a) viewed the method as a type of "synoptic" thinking (537c) in search of transcendent truth. For this reason, Plato, or at least the Plato of tradition, has been criticized as a utopian. Hayek uncovered a profound paradox at the foundation of all utopian theories. Utopians see society as composed of an indefinite number of relationships. But since their ideals are totalistic, they need to possess perfect knowledge of every relationship in order to produce their new society. The utopian vision is a "synoptic delusion," as Hayek (1973, 14) called it, since no individual or group of individuals--be they central planners or philosopher-kings--can possibly gain knowledge of everything that exists.

In presuming that they can acquire such knowledge, utopians, like the divine creator of Plato's Timaeus, exempt themselves, by implication, from the totality they seek to change. They pursue knowledge of all the internal relations within a totality, even as they inadvertently take on an external relationship to that totality. They forge a tacit dualism between themselves and the real world, Hayek suggests. Their resolution of this paradox is an instance of crude "constructivistic" rationalism, which builds a bridge to an imagined future over a landfill of human bodies.(2)

In revolt against Platonic idealism and rationalism, Aristotle was the first philosopher to formalize and enunciate the principles of dialectical method. For Aristotle, dialectic was not a synoptic discipline--no human activity could be--but a relational and perspectival technique for establishing the foundations of scientific research. His handbook of dialectic, the Topics, became the definitive theoretical treatise on the subject. It pioneered strategies for contextual analysis through abstractions of vantage point, subtle shifts in our "points of view," that generate comprehensive understanding, not transcendental illusion.

Some commentators, however, such as Richard Robinson (1953), criticized Aristotle for having isolated dialectic "from the source of its inspiration"--Plato's idealism--and for having transformed the method into a "dubious," one might say "trivial," analytical technique (72). But this criticism does not appreciate the effectiveness of Aristotle's dialectic as a tool for real-world engagement. Aristotle repudiated those who sought to apply various a priori metaphysical doctrines to the study of reality, and who tried to force the world into their conceptual straitjackets.  He rejected Democritean atomism, Parmenidean monism, Pythagorean dualism, and Platonic synopticism. He aimed to provide each discipline with methodological legitimacy, even as he allowed for essential interconnections between disciplines.

Even though Hegel greatly appreciated Aristotle's achievements, his perspective embraced the Platonic "longing for the divine," as the feminist theorist Cynthia Hampton (1994, 236) has called it. Hegel wedded dialectic to a view of history as the triumph of Geist, as if he--or anyone--could grasp its essence from an Archimedean standpoint outside the historical process. In an important sense, Marx and Engels tried to achieve an intellectual inversion of Hegel, like that of Aristotle over Plato. By turning Hegel's dialectic "right side up again," Marx ([1867] 1967, 20) tried to distinguish his own method from its former idealist incarnation (though his view of history reproduces, inexorably, Hegel's synoptic hubris).  While Marx never wrote his promised methodological treatise, Ollman has sought to articulate Marxism's underlying dialectical principles as formal tools for social analysis. If Ollman's formalization amounts to triviality, then it is no more trivial, and no less important, than Aristotle's similar project, which legitimized dialectic by disconnecting it from the Platonic ontology.

In my view, however, there is more work to be done--because dialectic, as conceived by Platonists, Hegelians, and Marxists, has for too long been wedded to a kind of organicism that emphasizes synoptic knowledge of a totality. Such synopticism undermines the dialectical project because it presumes an illusory acontextual vantage point on history. By reconstructing dialectic, libertarians, who have long been vilified for their alleged ahistorical atomism, might wrest it from its exclusive contemporary association with the left. By elucidating a dialectical sensibility in the works of key classical- and neo- liberal thinkers, I am engaging self-consciously in a subversive strategy. Half the battle is won when I have convinced MacGregor (1997) and others to recognize "that Rand's thought cannot be properly understood apart from the consideration of . . . dialectics" (374).

What is dialectics? Dialectics is a species of the genus, methodological (or research) orientation. A methodological orientation is an intellectual disposition that applies a specific set of broad ontological and epistemological propositions about objects of study and their typical relationships to a particular field of investigation. Dialectics is a formal structure of analytical tools that enables us to undertake a systematic course of action so as to achieve a particular goal, namely, the correct understanding and transformation of reality. Dialectics is an orientation toward contextual analysis of the systemic and dynamic relations of components of a structured totality.

This is a fairly innocuous definition--except for those who favor the status quo. Who on earth could possibly be for context-dropping in any research agenda? After all, the aspiration to contextualization is something that most social scientists and philosophers share--at least in theory. If "context" is so important to dialectics, as I suggest, so as to be a virtual synonym for what all good thinkers should do regardless of their political affiliations, would this necessarily lend credence to the belief that we are all, in a trivial sense, dialecticians?  In my view, the acceptance of such a proposition would itself trivialize the difficulty of achieving dialectical understanding. To celebrate systems- and process-oriented contextuality as a hallmark of one's thinking is far easier to utter as a theoretical principle--nobody would oppose it in the abstract--than to execute with full consistency. What makes a dialectical enterprise successful is how effectively this theoretical commitment is enunciated and practiced.

One of the most important implications of its practice is that it will drive us toward a repudiation of those static modernist dualities that inform much of social science--the rational versus the empirical, fact versus value, morality versus prudence, and so forth. Moreover, it will help us to recognize the organic connection between theory and practice, for social change is immanent in social critique. Every critique of the status quo carries within it the impulse toward transformation. It is for this reason that dialectics is often conjoined with political radicalism, and it is for this reason that I devoted a book to analyzing one Russian radical's dialectical sensibility.(3) Ultimately, what must be defended is not merely the legitimacy of dialectics, but the legitimacy of Rand's particular application of a dialectical orientation.

My view of dialectics is primarily metatheoretical. One might say that it constitutes an "ideal type," a definition by essentials. It is manifested in many systems of thought across disciplinary boundaries, even though no thinker has embodied its characteristics in "pure" form. Then again, no thinker can be classified as a pure atomist, dualist, monist, or organicist either. But these orientations exist, and they are apparent in many different theoretical approaches.

For instance, those who proceed on strict atomist assumptions have given us the one-dimensional construct of "economic man." Those who proceed on strict organicist assumptions have given us the equally one-dimensional "oversocialized conception of man," as Dennis Wrong (1961) has characterized it. And among dualists and monists, one finds statists and anarchists of various stripes who dichotomize state and civil society, and who seek resolution in the one-sided accentuation of a single principle to the detriment of the other. These nondialectical approaches to social inquiry entail what Tibor Machan (1974) identifies as the "blow up fallacy" (47).  This fallacy

consists, first, in making diligent inquiries into some aspect of reality and arriving at significant, often true, and, at times, startling conclusions, including principles by which we can best understand what happens in the area being studied. But then an entirely unjustified turn is taken. The conclusions and principles are lifted out of the special field and imported into some other area. The picture taken in the special domain is blown up with the intent to offer us an understanding of much more, and sometimes all, of reality. (52)

Nondialectical theorists often declare the predominance of a single metaphysical doctrine, while attempting to fit the facts into their preconceived models. Frequently, these models are defined in terms of their position on the nature of relations, whether they be "external" or "internal." The externalists view entities as entirely independent of one another. The internalists view entities as constituted by their relations, such that any alteration in the network of relations will change the nature of the entity. Whereas atomists and dualists rely on externalist doctrines, organicists and monists rely on internalism.

A properly dialectical approach eschews any a priori commitments in this regard. Opposition to reductionism is founded on interrelated methodological and substantive considerations.

Methodologically, reductionism is acontextual. Reductionists might claim that they are attempting to grasp the full context, but one does not grasp context by universalizing, and hence, reifying, a single constituent of it. The primacy of a single factor in any given context is something that must be proven through investigation, not accepted and applied a priori in an interdisciplinary fashion. It matters not if the single constituents are the individual atoms of neoclassical economics or the synoptic organs of proletarian planning. Both neglect context:  the former creates a bloodless, ahistorical, acultural automaton, the latter a bloody, totalitarian barbarism. Just as context is ignored when we break the whole into disconnected parts, so too is context ignored when we assume, as if by omniscience, that every part is expressive of--and can therefore be controlled by--the whole.

Substantively, dialectics requires a moment of inquiry. It is only inquiry that can elucidate the nature of the relationships involved. If one's inquiry leads one astray, all the alleged insights into the mutual implications and reciprocal linkages among diverse factors will be immaterial. The question is: Are the conclusions valid? To the extent that we substitute purely methodological concerns for substantive ones, we beg that question.

Rand's contextual theory of definition recognizes this intersection of methodology and content, navigating between the muddy waters of "externalism," in which our knowledge of one thing bears virtually no relationship to any other things or processes in the universe, and "internalism," in which we cannot know anything without knowing everything. Externalism is characteristic of public-policy formation in liberal democracies, where "muddling through" produces piecemeal, ad hoc, disintegrated legislation in response to historically constituted systemic social problems. Internalism is illustrated in the attempts of central planners to gain total control over knowledge and production.

Tracing interconnections between seemingly disparate factors, treated as preconditions and effects of each other, is an empirical task that must always be related to a specific cognitive purpose. Rand goes a long way toward recapturing the Aristotelian intent of dialectical inquiry as a critical and constructive, even revolutionary, analytical tool. Since this notion of contextuality is so deeply embedded in Objectivism, I believe that Rand provides the rudiments of a significant and valid alternative to both the dichotomizing tendencies in libertarian theory, which have undermined the very possibilities for social praxis and the synoptic tendencies in Hegelian and Marxian theory, with all their fatal consequences for social praxis.

This stress on context as the defining characteristic of dialectics is by no means trivial. Among the dictionary definitions of "context" is this one: "the whole situation, background, or environment relevant to some happening   . . ." (Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary, 394). The word derives from the Latin, "contextus," from "contexere," which means "to weave together," conjuring up the image of a tapestry being woven together as if through the activity of weavers, who use thread and the many tools at their disposal.

Dialectics entails a woven-together understanding of the whole situation, background, or environment relevant to the study of any object. But as the analytical weavers, we are part of the process of weaving together. Hence, our perspective on the object is crucial to our grasp of it. We are engaged with the object. And as Peter Boettke (1995) reminds us, in the human sciences, "we are what we study" (290). Such study is thoroughly relational; it involves an active relationship between the object of study and the person who studies it. It must take into account our very own context of knowledge, and the tasks we've set out to accomplish.

The contextual view has important implications not only for the analysis of systemic relations, but also for an understanding of their dynamic interconnections over time. Ollman rightfully criticizes the mainstream social-scientific view that things "exist and undergo change." It is as if these two aspects are "logically distinct," says Ollman. The historical dimension is "something that happens to things," rather than something that is part of their nature. By contrast, a dialectical perspective stresses that "whatever something is becoming . . . is in some important respects part of what it is, along with what it once was." Such a dynamic approach allows us to extend the boundaries of our analysis so that our understanding of any object includes the "surrounding conditions" that enter into its evolutionary development (Ollman 1993, 29-32).

Ollman resurrects a principle well known to Hegel, who highlighted the ancient paradox of motion and time. Hegel (1970, 320) reminds us that "Zeno argued that a flying arrow cannot move because at any given moment it always occupies a space equal to itself, and everything which does this must be at rest." For Hegel, it was "Aristotle [who] point[ed] out that this argument rests upon the assumption that time consists of 'nows,' and that this is a questionable proposition."(4)  Hegel's project was, in some respects, an attempt to recapture the dynamic Aristotelian perspective.

Such dynamism was later made the centerpiece of Henri Bergson's assault on formalism and scientism. Like Aristotle and Hegel before him, Bergson did not see time as an aggregate of discrete moments, but as a continuous, dynamic flow. He viewed each event as interpenetrating and permeating other events, such that no event could be disconnected from its prior or posterior moments. We can isolate such moments for the purposes of abstraction, Bergson explains, but we cannot reify these moments without damaging our understanding of the creative forces of "emergent evolution."

This Bergsonian dialectic has had an impact on the development of late twentieth-century Austrian theory, especially in the works of Gerald P. O'Driscoll, Jr. and Mario Rizzo.  They are deeply critical of the Newtonian "static conception of time" as applied to social studies, in which "the present is a virtual stop--the very negation of passage or flow." By contrast, a dynamic conception prioritizes movement from the past to the future, in which "the future is partially determined by antecedent conditions" (O'Driscoll and Rizzo [1985] 1996, xv, xxviii). Among Austrian school economists, this focus on systemic processes is paramount. O'Driscoll and Rizzo recognize correctly that Carl Menger, the founder of the Austrian school, pioneered this "conception of social science," which was quite "similar" to Marx's (ibid, 128 n6).(5)  It is a conception that does not trivialize time and change, for these phenomena are central to any properly scientific approach.

The dialectical turn in Austrian economics is having a profound effect on the development of a bona fide radical alternative for those who wish to engage in "organic" social theorizing, without being socialists, while retaining a commitment to "individualism," without being atomists. In the pages of this very journal, for instance, Boettke (1997) has criticized the atomizing assumptions of neoclassical economics. We cannot discount the pervasive influence in social science of this nondialectical neoclassical model, especially in an era of academic economic imperialism, where many non-economists, including political scientists, try to ape its static, ahistorical premises. For dialectics, movement, ambiguity, and paradox are not exceptions to our model of reality; they are the things needing explanation.(6)

This dialectical turn is also on display in the works of Ayn Rand. It is my conviction, however, that Rand's system is important not only because of its dialectical character, but also because of its enormous insight. True, in The Russian Radical, I do not argue for the validity or invalidity of Rand's thought. But a brief exploration of its structure can provide us with a better appreciation of its value. While Rand was not correct in every pronouncement she made, her dialectical understanding of power relations in contemporary political economy is quite compelling.

Not simplistic by any means, Rand worked on three distinct levels of generality in her social theory, abstracted and isolated in my book for the purposes of analysis, but never reified as wholes unto themselves.  Each level is constituted by social relations.  Each level is a precondition and effect of the others.


A Dialectical-Libertarian Model for Social Analysis

On Level 1 (L1), the personal level of analysis, Rand analyzed relations of power from the vantage point of the individual's ethical and "psycho-epistemological" practices or tacit (implicit) methods of awareness.

On Level 2 (L2), the cultural level of analysis, Rand analyzed relations of power from the vantage point of language, education, aesthetics, and ideology.

On Level 3 (L3), the structural level of analysis, Rand analyzed relations of power from the vantage point of politics and/or economics, tracing their reciprocal effects on formal structures, processes, and institutions.

The potential of Rand's model can be elucidated if we group the levels into three distinct forms--much as Hegel did in his analysis of the syllogism and its various permutations:(7)

I: L1-L2-L3

In this form, the personal (L1) and structural (L3) levels are placed in the background of our analysis, and the preconditions and effects of culture (L2) are made the primary factor. When Rand engaged in this mode of inquiry, she brought into focus the dominant cultural traditions and tacit practices that, she argued, helped to perpetuate the overall system that she called "statism." But an exclusive focus on these dominant traditions and practices tends to shrink the importance of people's abilities to alter their ethical or psycho-epistemological habits (L1). Additionally, this focus minimizes the importance of the political and economic structures (L3) that both require and perpetuate specific cultural practices. In Rand's view, statism demands "mystic," "collectivist," and "altruist" practices, since it necessitates irrationalism, the primacy of the group, and the necessity of self-sacrifice. Cultural contextualism, that is, paying attention to the importance of cultural context in the struggle for social change, Rand thought important. But she rejected cultural determinism unequivocally.

II: L2-L1-L3

In this form, the cultural (L2) and structural (L3) levels of analysis are dropped to the background, and the preconditions and effects of the personal (L1) are primary. In this analytical moment, Rand brought into focus the importance of individual and interpersonal ethical and psycho-epistemological practices that, she thought, perpetuated the irrational culture and politics that statism requires. Such a focus underscores Rand's view that individuals need to change themselves in any attempt to change society. They need to practice rational virtues in pursuit of rational values, to engage in introspection, to articulate their thoughts, emotions, and actions, and to take responsibility for their own lives.

Hayek recognized this same principle. One of the most underappreciated aspects of his book, The Road to Serfdom, is his similarly constituted movement toward a multilevel, dialectical social analysis. Hayek argued that "the most important change which extensive government control produces is a psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people." This social-psychological corruption is a very slow process, in Hayek's view, but it is no less insidious. "The important point," Hayek states, "is that the political ideals of a people and its attitude toward authority are as much the effect as the cause of the political institutions under which it lives" ([1944] 1994, xxxix). This reciprocal connection between social psychology and politics cannot go unnoticed:

Freedom to order our own conduct in the sphere where material circumstances force a choice upon us, and responsibility for the arrangement of our own life according to our own conscience, is the air in which alone moral sense grows and in which moral values are daily re-created in the free decisions of the individual. Responsibility, not to a superior, but to one's conscience, . . . the necessity to decide which of the things one values . . . and to bear the consequences of one's own decision, are the very essence of any morals which deserve the name. That in this sphere of individual conduct the effect of collectivism has been almost entirely destructive is both inevitable and undeniable. A movement whose main promise is the relief from responsibility cannot but be antimoral in its effect, however lofty the ideals to which it owes its birth. (231-32)

Like Hayek, Rand recognized that an exclusive focus on the personal level tends to shrink the importance of cultural and structural factors, which provide the context for, and have a powerful effect on, people's ability to be individuals. Certain tacit cultural attitudes and practices are so deeply embedded in our lives, Rand argued, that it is extremely difficult to call all of these into question. Likewise, certain political and economic realities often constrain and shape our ability to act as individuals.  Statism constrains our ability to act as individuals, since groups become the most important social unit for political policy. Those who believe that all we need to do is "free ourselves first," and the rest will follow automatically, often fall victim to Level-1 thinking, divorced from Levels 2 and 3.

III: L1-L3-L2

In this form, the personal (L1) and cultural (L2) levels of analysis are dropped to the background, and the preconditions and effects of political and economic structures, institutions, and processes are primary. For Rand, this perspective has the advantage of bringing into focus the dominant political and economic practices that help perpetuate the overall system that is statism--the regulations, taxes, prohibitions, laws, and guns that constrain us. But an exclusive focus on these dominant political practices tends to shrink the importance of, and the need for, individuals to alter their ethical or psycho-epistemological habits. Such a focus also tends to obscure the importance of culture, which has a powerful effect on the kinds of politics and economics that are practiced.

In essence, one of the most trenchant criticisms that Rand leveled against libertarian theorists was that some of them reified Level-3 analysis, as if attacking the state were all that is needed to liberate humanity. Such a strategy is futile, in Rand's view, in the absence of a supporting edifice of cultural and personal practices that make the experience of political freedom possible. This is one key distinction between Rand and Rothbard--two thinkers whom Jeffrey Friedman (1997, 450) conjoins. In Rand's view, libertarian anarchists like Murray Rothbard had dichotomized personal ethics and political morality, culture and law, state and market, in such a way as to demand a monistic resolution of their presumed mutual hostility. For Rothbard, an a priori libertarian law code provided for all ethical and cultural diversity, as surely as an ahistorically untainted market provided for all defense and judicial services.(8)

By tracing the implications of the tri-level model, we can highlight the organic links Rand saw among these various social factors.  Rand subjected virtually every social problem--from racism to censorship--to the same multidimensional analysis, rejecting all one-sided resolutions as partial and incomplete. There is an organic unity of personal, cultural, and structural components in each of her commentaries. It is for this reason that, as a "radical for capitalism," Rand (1961) wrote:

Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries. (25)

Surely, people throughout history have experienced various degrees of intellectual, political, and economic freedom. But Rand is saying something of much greater significance here. Just as relations of power operate through ethical, psychological, cultural, political, and economic dimensions, so too, Rand reasons, the struggle for freedom and individualism depends upon a certain constellation of personal, cultural, and structural factors that support it, nourish it, and sustain it.

Rand's dialectical dexterity notwithstanding, there are nondialectical elements in her system.(9) MacGregor convincingly notes the appearance of some vestiges of dualism in her work.  Yet, while Rand recognizes that the quest for freedom cannot be severed from the social conditions that make its practice fully efficacious, it is not entirely true that such "freedom awaits the coming of an ideal, non-statist, capitalism" (MacGregor 1997, 385). In her earliest journals, Rand recognized that freedom could not be "disconnected from its content." She wondered: "Isn't it as Nietzsche said: 'Not freedom from what, but freedom for what?'" (Rand 1997, 70).  To Rand, freedom springs from our method of awareness; it is rooted in the fundamentally volitional nature of consciousness, our choice of whether to augment our awareness, the primary epistemic, psychological, and moral choice that each individual faces. Rand's portrait of the heroic individual is almost always centered on this distinguishing agency, which must be practiced, in her view, if we are to survive as human beings under any social conditions.

Despite her emphasis on capitalism in its "binary opposition" to statism, Rand refuses to remove the market from its institutional and cultural context. Of course, it might be said that the legal framework of markets is "coercive," for if one breaks the laws of a capitalist society, one faces sanctions. But in Rand's view, the coercive use of force can play only one legitimate social role:  the protection of individual rights. When it becomes a vehicle for the violation of such rights, when it is transformed into an instrument for the initiation of, rather than as retaliation against, force, it is unjustified.

The basic distinction that Rand endorses is not one between capitalism and statism, but between reason and force. Rand argues that the initiation of force paralyzes the mind, for it subverts volitional consciousness in such a way as to invalidate our choices.  By forcing us to act against our will, which instantiates what we know to be right in the context of our own knowledge, purposes, and values, the coercive state cannot achieve the "cooperative determination of human destiny" that MacGregor's Hegel seeks (1997, 390). It achieves the exact opposite: social fragmentation, economic disintegration, and political brutality.

In the same issue of Critical Review, Friedman (1997, 409) bemoans the "libertarian doctrine [that] tries to unite consequentialist arguments about the harmful empirical effects of the modern state with nonconsequentialist arguments about the allegedly intrinsic evil of state regulation and redistribution."  Rand, however, opposes the very notion of an intrinsic evil, since the "intrinsicist" view of morality is one that fails to recognize the relational tie between subject and object. Values--or disvalues--do not reside in the subject, nor do they inhere in the object. They pertain to a relationship between the subject and the object. Rand repudiates the coercive initiation of force precisely because it has deleterious effects on the subject's consciousness and behavior. She did not engage in full-bodied "empirical" testing to discover these consequences; she lived them. In the Soviet Union, she was provided with a virtual historical laboratory by which to judge the effects of coercion on human agency. Friedman, however, rejects Rand's act of "creative synthesis" because he believes that she has "psychologized" a political problem (450-51). He praises Rand for being

perceptive enough to see that politics must be related to culture, but her form of political analysis reduced culture to a simplistic psychological disease, envy, for which a simplistic philosophy, egoism, was the cure. In this way she transmuted the essentially consequentialist force of her dystopian vision into a set of a priori precepts that made consequences irrelevant. (451)

The result has been "libertarian ideology," Friedman tells us, instead of "a penetrating critical inquiry into the realities of modern government and culture." The future belongs to a new generation of "post-libertarians," says Friedman, for whom empirical investigations will not produce "political conclusions that have not yet been justified" (453, 459).

But Rand's trilevel model of power relations provides profound theoretical possibilities for those who eschew a priori prescriptions in favor of such "penetrating critical inquiry." What is so striking about Rand's dialectical analysis is its attempt to grapple with the real-world interpenetration, rather than mere "binary opposition," of freedom and coercion. In the contemporary "mixed" economy, these distinct principles often coexist within the consciousness and life of every individual. By exploring their interrelationships of mutual support and mutual antagonism, through such concepts as the "sanction of the victim," Rand seeks to get to the fundamental roots of power. For Rand, state privilege engenders an endless proliferation of pressure groups at war with one another. As the state comes to dominate social life, the lines begin to blur between those who are genuine producers and those who are not, for nearly everyone becomes a parasite in some capacity. To alter this reality, by first reasserting the essential distinction between reason and force, requires a moral and cultural revolution, Rand insists, long before any political change can be affected. As a self-confessed "proletarian defender of Capitalism," Rand (1995, 58) argues that it is a

great mistake . . . [to assume] that economics is a science which can be isolated from moral, philosophic and political principles, and [be] considered as a subject in itself, without relation to them. (260)

One might reasonably dispute any of Rand's particular analyses. Nevertheless, her distinctive application of a dialectical model harks toward the kind of "anthropological, economic, historical, sociological, and psychological investigations" that Friedman (1997) thinks essential to any post-libertarian project (458). Howard Sherman (1995) has stressed that it is a scientistic distortion of dialectical method to provide a priori formulas by which to interpret and shape the world, as if one could understand the complexities of society without actually engaging in empirical investigation (238). That Rand suggests just such a model is, in my view, one of her most provocative contributions to libertarian, "post-libertarian," and radical social theory.

In the end, Rand's exaltation of a "community of values" is one that challenges the very notion of a state-centered politics, for it requires a voluntary and benevolent association of free-thinking individuals. We can legitimately question if such a society can ever be realized. I suspect, however, that even post-libertarians cannot dispense with any and all dreams for a humane social order. We cannot escape our own values. So it is best to articulate them, and to develop both the methodological and substantive tools by which to understand them, and their context, the real social conditions that inhibit--or promote--their actualization. As social scientists, we should be prepared to change our thinking in the face of objective reality; as social actors, we should be prepared to change the reality itself. Both enterprises require intellectual honesty and courage.

Click Here to See the Published Rejoinders to Sciabarra's Response to MacGregor and Friedman.


1. Readers seeking more comprehensive discussions of my book and the controversies it has generated may consult:  http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra ; Gladstein and Sciabarra 1999; Sciabarra 1997Back.

2. On the parallels between the Marxian and Hayekian critiques of utopianism, see Sciabarra 1995a.   Back.

3. Ryle (1966, 153) reminds us: "Dialectically proficient young men [and women too!] can be troublesome hecklers, particularly if their politics are reactionary or revolutionary."  Back.

4. Hegel here refers to Aristotle's Physics, primarily 4.9.239b31-34.  Back.

5. However opposed Austrians and Marxists are, they have always exhibited an ability to ask many of the same questions, and participate in many of the same debates--on the transformation problem, socialist "calculation," and so forth. This commonality may be an outgrowth of intellectual, ideological, and pedagogical cross-breeding: Mises and Hayek started out as socialists; Wieser is said to have remained one; Menger's student, Bohm-Bawerk, taught many Marxists, including Bukharin, Bauer, and Neurath (Vaughn 1994, 31). The Misesian philosopher, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, was taught by Jurgen Habermas. The same patterns exist in my own experience; my mentor and colleague, the Marxist philosopher Bertell Ollman, worked as a Volker Fellow for Hayek in Chicago, in 1959-60.  Back.

6. I do not pretend for a moment that my Austrian colleagues would self-identify with this "dialectical" label. That many of them are practicing dialecticians is, however, quite true, whether they recognize it or not.   Back.

7. In Hegel's forms of the syllogism there are three basic groupings of "individual" (I), "particular" (P), and "universal" (U) factors: I-P-U, P-I-U, and I-U-P.  Back.

8. This is not to say that Rothbard's work is utterly devoid of dialectical moments; I examine these and other aspects of his work in my forthcoming book, Total Freedom. It should be noted that Rothbard moved toward a greater appreciation of the role of culture in his later years, albeit an appreciation fueled by his embrace of paleoconservatism.  Back.

9. As I've noted, Rand is not alone here; no thinker in intellectual history can be classified as purely of one methodological orientation.  Back.


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