TOWARD A DIALECTICAL LIBERTARIANISM
ROBERT CAMPBELL, FULL CONTEXT 14, no. 2 (NOVEMBER / DECEMBER 2001): 9-11.
"With Total Freedom, Chris Sciabarra reaches the long awaited completion of his trilogy . . . The first three chapters of Part One are a densely worked history of dialectics. . . . There is much fascinating material here---for instance, on the dialectical aspects of Aristotle's thinking, or on the manner in which the gulfs and diremptions that opened up Kant's philosophy . . . gave renewed impetus to dialectics. . . . I can say that Sciabarra's treatment of Aristotle is consistent with my own (non-expert) reading of the texts.
"Needless to say, we haven't heard the end of disagreements as to whether Ayn Rand was a dialectician. But I am convinced (and not just because of Sciabarra's dogged efforts to excavate her earliest philosophical influences) that dialectical thinking pervaded Rand's overall conception, manifesting itself in such familiar themes as: keeping context; transcending the dichotomies of mind and body, theory and practice, . . . and understanding social processes at multiple interlocking levels of analysis. . . . These days many of the 'systems perspectives' in the social sciences will qualify as dialectical in Sciabarra's sense.
"What many a reader will find most valuable in Part One is Chapter 4, 'Defining Dialectics,' in which Sciabarra seeks to lay out what is essential to dialectics . . . Technical debates about this subject [dialectics and internal relations] have also been going on since The Russian Radical was published; they give no indications of imminent abatement. . . .
"The second half of Sciabarra's treatise examines the sociopolitical thinking of Murray Newton Rothbard. . . . One of the triumphs of the book is that Sciabarra has managed to assimilate and integrate just about every scrap of Rothbardiana. And while frequently critical of Rothbard's manner of approaching questions, Sciabarra consistently reminds us of their enduring importance. . . . He sympathetically reviews Rothbard's eventual transition toward Hayekian views that he had once resisted . . . but criticizes the cultural conservatism that came to the fore in Rothbard's final 'paleolibertarian' phase. . . .
"Sciabarra doesn't claim to have resolved questions about anarchy versus limited government . . . I don't see these as failings. Sciabarra's analysis and critique will do their job if they help move discussion on these issues away from the same tired exchanges that, for instance, have characterized [this] debate for three decades.
"I do see limitations of a different kind. Sciabarran dialectics is a methodological orientation, not an ontology. It is supposed to refrain from ontological commitments---except to emphasize process, and to count some but not all relations as internal. Sciabarra sympathizes with Ayn Rand's dictum that philosophers should avoid cosmology. But Rand didn't always adhere to her own stricture: she kept off the turf of physics and chemistry, even avoided taking a stand on evolution, but showed little reluctance about injecting herself in psychology.
"Dialectical methods can sensitize us to distinctions that have been badly drawn or overdrawn, but sorting out which distinctions are spurious and which are for real calls for an elaborated ontology. Dialectics can encourage us to understand social systems in terms of emergence and multiple interacting levels, but without specifying the ontology of the human actors. Dialectics can lead us to question a metaphysical opposition between mind and body, maybe even point us toward a solution that involves emergence and relationships among multiple levels. But again, dialectics can't tell us what model to adopt. . . . Dialectics leaves such questions of psychological ontology open: how minds work, what knowledge is, what emotions do, how learning and reflection are accomplished. . . .
"Both parts of Total Freedom should be of considerable interest to Randians. I would still recommend that those who know Ayn Rand's work but are new to Chris Sciabarra's begin their explorations with The Russian Radical. But such readers will need to turn to Total Freedom for Sciabarra's mature thoughts on dialectics, as well as his applications to a wide range of issues that remain of intense interest to most Objectivists as well as live subjects of debate within libertarianism."