Quotulatiousness

October 20, 2017

QotD: Culture wars of the 20th century

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

[Libertarians have] always been strong on analysis and criticism. We have our philosophers and economists and historians, and these are among the best. We aren’t wholly without our novelists and musicians and artists. There’s you. There’s Heinlein. There’s Rand. There are many others.

But we haven’t so far put cultural production at the top of our list of things to do. It’s been treated as barely even secondary to uncovering and explaining the workings of a natural order. So far as this has been the case, however, it’s been a big mistake. There’s little benefit in preaching to an audience that doesn’t understand why your message is important.

The socialist takeover of the English mind during the early 20th century was only in part the achievement of the Webbs and J.A. Hobson and E.H. Carr and Harold Laski and Douglas Jay, and all the others of their kind. They were important, and if they hadn’t written as they did, there would have been no takeover. But for every one who read these, there were tens or hundreds who read and were captured by Shaw and Wells and Galsworthy and Richard Llewellyn, among others. These were men who transmitted the socialist cases to a much wider audience.

Just as importantly, where they did not directly transmit, they helped bring about a change in the climate of opinion so that propositions that were rejected out of hand by most thoughtful men in the 1890s could become the received wisdom of the 1940s. They achieved a similar effect in the United States, and were supplemented there by writers like Howard Fast, and, of course, by the Hollywood film industry.

More recently in England, the effect of television soap operas like Eastenders has been immense and profound. Their writers have taken the dense and often incomprehensible writings of the neo-Marxists and presented them as a set of hidden assumptions that have transformed the English mind since 1980. No one can fully explain the Labour victory of 1997, or the ease with which law and administration were transformed even before them, without reference to popular culture.

Though I’ll say outright that she’s never been one of my favourites, there’s no doubt that Ayn Rand was a great novelist and a great libertarian. And there’s no doubt at all that her novels did more than anything else to revive libertarianism in America — and perhaps even in England. But what I’m talking about at the moment isn’t long didactic novels where characters speak for three pages about the evils of central banking. What I do believe we need is good, popular entertainment of our own creation that is based on our own assumptions.

I think the most significant objective propagandist of my lifetime for the libertarian and conservative cause in England was the historical novelist Patrick O’Brian. I’ve read all his historical novels, some more than once, and I don’t think he ever sets out an explicit case against the modern order of things. What he does instead is to create a world – that may once have existed largely as he describes I – that works on different assumptions from our own. If this world is often unattractive on account of its poverty and brutality, its settled emphasis on tradition and on personal freedom and responsibility has probably done more to spread the truth in England than the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Ideas combined.

Sean Gabb, quoted in “Wayne John Sturgeon talks to Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance”, Sean Gabb, 2013-08-26.

August 27, 2017

QotD: Communism wouldn’t have worked any better with modern computers

Filed under: Economics, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

At the New Republic, Malcolm Harris asks an interesting question: Was the Soviet Union’s problem that Communism can never work? Or did the Soviets just need a lot more MacBook Airs?

Actually, Harris is channeling Paul Mason, the author of the book he is reviewing, and unfortunately, he doesn’t really try to answer the question. Instead he makes the stridently timid argument that this won’t happen because the capitalists won’t let it, at least without a healthy dose of revolutionary action.

I’ll swing for the fences and argue that no, even with better computers, Communism isn’t going to work. Nor some gauzy vision of post-capitalism that looks like Communism, but with YouTube videos.

In retrospect, Communism seems wildly stupid, or at least, incredibly naive. Did the people who dreamed up this system not understand the enormous incentive problems they were creating? As Ayn Rand dramatized the problem in Atlas Shrugged: “It’s miseries, not work, that had become the coin of the realm — so it turned into a contest among six thousand panhandlers, each claiming that his need was worse than his brother’s. How else could it be done?” The incentives of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” drive toward falling production, which means there won’t be enough to cover the needs.

Or as a former colleague who fled Communist Poland once told me, “They pretended to pay us, and we pretended to work.” There is a reason that basically all the Communist and Socialist regimes ended in some degree of authoritarianism.

How could anyone who had, y’know, met some people in their visit to our planet, not see that this was coming? Large swathes of Communist and Socialist writing was naive and impractical. But the idealists weren’t entirely unaware that when monetary incentives disappeared, they would need to find other ways to get people to do things.

Megan McArdle, “Yes, Computers Have Improved. No, Communism Hasn’t”, Bloomberg View, 2015-09-02.

April 29, 2017

QotD: Ayn Rand’s recurring “moment”

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Last week, The Guardian reported with predictable snark that Ayn Rand’s work has been added to the U.K.’s politics A-level curriculum. They note that Rand is “achingly on trend” and “having a moment.” Oh, dear. By my amateur estimation, Rand’s “moment-having” has been reoccurring every seven or eight years since the end of the Second World War, yet is always heralded with the same air of surprise and alarm.

Not that I am an unalloyed fan of the woman. Of course, like countless conceited teenagers before and after me, I was relieved to learn of Rand’s very existence, let alone her staggering success — evidence, surely, that more of “us” were not only out there, somewhere, but right.

Especially for a particular variety of female, Rand’s mannish ambition and uncompromising idealism set a rare and welcome example. Unlike Florence King, who broke her braces trying to mimic The Fountainhead’s imperious heroine, I found Rand’s thick fictions impossible to swallow.

However, I eagerly read The Virtue of Selfishness while in high school. (I want to type “of course”; Could a book title better calculated to appeal to the adolescent mind possibly be conceived, other than perhaps 101 Ways to Murder Everyone Around You and Get Away With It?)

Kathy Shaidle, “The Danger of Ayn Rand”, Taki’s Magazine, 2017-04-18.

April 18, 2017

Examples of the “Paranoid Thriller” genre

Filed under: Books, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, J. Neil Schulman discusses a type of book that he characterizes as the Paranoid Thriller:

It’s probably no surprise to anyone who’s read my books, but I’m a long-time fan of what might best be called the Paranoid Thriller.

“Paranoid Thriller” isn’t a book publishing category. You won’t find such a classification in the Library of Congress, or in the shelving system of Barnes and Noble. Amazon.com has the most cross-referenced indexing system of any bookseller I can think of and even it doesn’t seem to have that as a sub-category of fiction.

Technically — because these stories are often set in the “near future” or “the day after tomorrow” or sometimes in an alternate history — the Paranoid Thriller is a sub-genre of science fiction. But usually, beyond the element of political speculation, there are none of the usual tropes of science fiction — extraterrestrials, space, time, or dimensional travel, artificial intelligence, biological engineering, new inventions, scientists as action heroes, virtual realities, and so forth.

I’m sure even this list shows how outdated I am when it comes to what’s being published as science-fiction these days, which within the publishing genre has abandoned all those cardinal literary virtues of clarity, kindness to the reader, and just good storytelling in favor of all those fractal fetishes that previously made much of “mainstream” fiction garbage unworthy of reading: dysfunctional characters, an overwhelming sense of helplessness and despair, and of course hatred of anything ever accomplished to better the entire human race by old dead European-extraction white men.

[…]

The Paranoid Thriller is step-brother to the Dystopian novel, such as Yvgeny Zamyatin’s We, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s Nineteen-eighty-four, and brother to the espionage novel — everything from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels to John Le Carre and Tom Clancy’s spy novels; and at least kissing cousin to alternate history thrillers like Brad Linaweaver’s 1988 Prometheus Award-winning novel, Moon of Ice, about a Cold War not between the United States and the Soviet Union but between a non-interventionist libertarian United States and a victorious Nazi Germany.

Some examples of the Paranoid Thriller:

In books, let’s start with Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, the story of an American president who rises to power by enforcing a Mussolini-type fascism in America, published three years after the movie Gabriel Over the White House enthusiastically endorsed such a presidency, well into the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who did it for real, and a year after Adolf Hitler became the Führer of Germany.

Three years before Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers was serialized in Colliers, Robert A. Heinlein’s 1951 Doubleday hardcover novel, The Puppet Masters crossed genre between futuristic science-fiction and the Paranoid Thriller — in effect creating an entire new genre of Paranoid Science-Fiction Horror — in which unlike H.G. Wells’ invaders from Mars in The War of the Worlds who had the decency to exterminate you, the alien invaders instead jumped onto your back and controlled your brain making you their zombie.

But then again, Heinlein had already created the Ultimate Paranoid Thrillers in his 1941 short story “They” and 1942 novella “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” — over a-half-century before The Wachowski Brothers’ 1999 movie The Matrix — in which the entire world is a vast conspiracy to convince one man of its reality.

Jumping two decades forward I’ll use as my next example Ayn Rand’s 1957 epic Atlas Shrugged, in which the Soviet- refugee author warned how the United States — by following the path of a kindler, gentler socialism — could end up as the fetid garbage dump that had devolved from her once European-bound Mother Russia.

March 22, 2017

A check-in from the “libertarian writers’ mafia”

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the most recent issue of the Libertarian Enterprise, J. Neil Schulman talks about “rational security”:

Two of my favorite authors — Robert A Heinlein and Ayn Rand — favored a limited government that would provide an effective national defense against foreign invaders and foreign spies. Rand died March 6, 1982; Heinlein on May 8, 1988 — both of them well before domestic terrorism by foreign nationals or immigrants was a major political issue.

Both Heinlein and Rand, however, were aware of domestic political violence, industrial sabotage, and foreign espionage by both foreigners and immigrants, going back before their own births — Rand February 2, 1905, Heinlein July 7, 1907.

Both Heinlein and Rand wrote futuristic novels portraying totalitarianism (including expansive government spying on its own citizens) within the United States. Both authors also portrayed in their fiction writing and discussed in their nonfiction writing the chaos caused by capricious government control over individual lives and private property.

In their tradition, I’ve done quite a bit of that, also, in my own fiction and nonfiction.

So has my libertarian friend author Brad Linaweaver, whose writings I try never to miss an opportunity to plug.

Brad, like myself, writes in the tradition of Heinlein and Rand — more so even than I do, since Brad also favors limited government while I am an anarchist. Nonetheless I am capable of making political observations and analysis from a non-anarchist viewpoint.

We come to this day in which Brad and I find ourselves without the comfort and living wisdom of Robert A. Heinlein and Ayn Rand. We are now both in our sixties, old enough to be libertarian literary elders.

Oh, we’re not the only ones. L. Neil Smith still writes libertarian novels and opines on his own The Libertarian Enterprise. There are others of our “libertarian writers’ mafia” still living and writing, but none as politically focused as we are — and often, in our opinion, not as good at keeping their eyes on the ball.

December 26, 2016

QotD: The cultural (Jack-)bootprint of Ayn Rand

Filed under: Books, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Left tries to create a false dilemma that opposes progressivism to Rand-ism — or what they imagine to be Rand-ism, a blend of authentically Randian moralizing about moochers and takers with a kind of Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism, an atomistic society that denies community and despises the philanthropic impulse. Actual conservatives are more likely to be found in church, where, among other things, they exercise the philanthropic impulse in community.

[…]

People just don’t take books that seriously anymore. I think The Bell Curve might have been our last genuinely controversial book. If you were not around in the 1990s, it is hard to imagine how all-encompassing that controversy was: Everybody was reading The Bell Curve, or at least opening it up and turning immediately to the naughty bits. (Or at least pretending to have read it.) You could not not have an opinion on The Bell Curve if you were the sort of person who read books. My impression from the career of Michel Houellebecq is that the French-speaking world is still up for a literary controversy. I envy that a little. I’ve always liked the story about the riot following the first performance of Rite of Spring, not because I like riots but because I want to live in a world in which people take Igor Stravinsky seriously enough to fight over him. The idea of a novelist — a mediocre one at that — occupying as much cultural real estate as Ayn Rand seems like a relic from another time. Which I suppose it is.

I happen to be in New York City while writing this, surrounded by a who’s-who of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. I don’t expect to meet any Randians. But I’ll let you know if I do.

Kevin D. Williamson, “The Parochial Progressive Obsession with Ayn Rand”, National Review, 2016-12-14.

December 25, 2016

QotD: Lefties and Randians

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Lefties always seem especially afraid of Ayn Rand supporters. I think that’s because — at least until recently — Randians were almost the only people on the right who were both unafraid of lefties and willing to call leftism, even in its comparatively mile FDR form, immoral. Both traits can be very triggering.

Glenn Reynolds, “ACTUAL HEADLINE IN THE WASHINGTON POST: Ayn Rand-acolyte Donald Trump stacks his cabinet with fellow objectivists”, Instapundit, 2016-12-13.

April 10, 2016

QotD: Big business

Filed under: Business, Humour, Quotations, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

If you still believe big business is, as novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand famously described it, “America’s Persecuted Minority,” then you must be on the same amphetamines she was taking.

Conservatives have a nasty habit of being sympathetic to corporations, viewing them as a bulwark against government overreach. The reality is far different. If you’re a religious traditionalist in 21st-century America, big business hates your guts.

James E. Miller, “The Business End of Freedom”, Taki’s Magazine, 2016-03-31.

December 24, 2015

QotD: Ayn Rand’s view of the commercialization of Christmas

Filed under: Business, Economics, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Ayn Rand, the poet-theorist of capitalism, had a clever Lucy-like line about the “commercialization of Christmas”: she said it was the best thing about Christmas. “The gift-buying … stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure,” she said in 1976. “And the street decorations put up by department stores … provide the city with a spectacular display which only ‘commercial greed’ could afford to give us.”

Rand saw exchange as the ideal model for all human relationships. Sometimes the free-marketeers who have borrowed her style and her ideas are accused of heartlessness for this attitude. Things like holidays and families, they say, should be shielded from the supposedly brutalizing effects of mere trade. What one notices about these arguments is that they smuggle in the notions of exchange and mutual advantage by the back door: everyone benefits selfishly from having havens from selfishness.

What one notices about the people who make these arguments, on the other hand, is that they have an excuse for not being attuned to giving as much as they get in personal relationships or social environments. If you’re exchange- or trade-minded, you will usually be asking yourself whether you’re paying your parents back well for raising you, doing right by your friends, being a good guest when hospitality is extended, observing implied social contracts correctly.

As Rand said, there is a Christmas ideal of “goodwill toward men” that is connected with all these things, and not exclusive to Christianity. The gift-giving part of Christmas, the part where silly mammals rummage in the marketplace trying to please and surprise one another by selecting shiny material objects, has swallowed the part in which we celebrate rescue from hell. It’s a good thing, Charlie Brown. Or a very entertaining sort of racket, at any rate.

Colby Cosh, “Good grief! The commercialism of Christmas isn’t so bad”, Maclean’s, 2014-12-25.

September 11, 2015

QotD: Ayn Rand

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Let it be said at the outset that I have never been an Objectivist nor am I now a Libertarian, albeit, obviously, I share many of their aims. There is much in Ayn Rand’s philosophy I admire, and much I despise. She has the odd ability to write pages and pages of very insightful wisdom argued with almost Thomistic rigor and logic, and then to stagger like a screaming drunk into page after page of vituperation and nonsense based on an apparently inability to distinguish radically unalike concepts, such as selfishness versus self-interest, or altruism versus communism.

John C. Wright, “Ayn Rand as Author”, John C. Wright’s Journal, 2014-09-24.

September 3, 2015

Neil Peart recants his early Ayn Rand infatuation

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Last month, Reason‘s Brian Doherty found four prominent Ayn Rand fans who’ve eventually thrown off the yoke of Objectivism (or Objectivism-fellow-traveller-ism) and now don’t want to be in any way associated with their former guru, including Neil Peart:

Peart, drummer and lyricist for rock band Rush, would clearly rather not be asked about his early-career loud enthusiasm for Rand and her ideas. The well-reviewed 2010 documentary on the band, Beyond the Lighted Stage, mentions her barely at all. (I recall not at all but am using less certain language as I don’t have a full transcript to consult.) Rand’s importance is ignored by the film, though she was central to one of the core conundrums of Rush history: why did rock intellectuals and tastemakers hate on this excellent band so much and for so long?

After years of Peart’s lyrics dissing metaphorical arboreal labor unions, declaring his mind is not for rent to any God or government (Rand’s top two villains), and hat-tipping explicitly in the liner notes to the concept LP 2112 to the “genius of Ayn Rand,” he felt the albatross of 18-minute prog suites and silly ’70s stage garbs was enough for one poor percussionist to bear, and decided to drop the burden of Rand.

Peart most recently tried to distance himself from Randian libertarianism in a Rolling Stone profile of the band, as discussed here by Matt Welch, who quoted the core of Peart’s apostasy:

    Rush’s earlier musical take on Rand, 1975’s unimaginatively titled “Anthem,” is more problematic [than 2112], railing against the kind of generosity that Peart now routinely practices: “Begging hands and bleeding hearts will/Only cry out for more.” And “The Trees,” an allegorical power ballad about maples dooming a forest by agitating for “equal rights” with lofty oaks, was strident enough to convince a young Rand Paul that he had finally found a right-wing rock band.

    Peart outgrew his Ayn Rand phase years ago, and now describes himself as a “bleeding-heart libertarian,” citing his trips to Africa as transformative. He claims to stand by the message of “The Trees,” but other than that, his bleeding-heart side seems dominant. Peart just became a U.S. citizen, and he is unlikely to vote for Rand Paul, or any Republican. Peart says that it’s “very obvious” that Paul “hates women and brown people” — and Rush sent a cease-and-desist order to get Paul to stop quoting “The Trees” in his speeches.

    “For a person of my sensibility, you’re only left with the Democratic party,” says Peart, who also calls George W. Bush “an instrument of evil.” “If you’re a compassionate person at all. The whole health-care thing — denying mercy to suffering people? What? This is Christian?”

“Outgrew” is the closest thing to an explanation, and there is no explanation at all for his reasoning that libertarianoid Rand Paul (whose name is no relation to Ms. Rand’s) is anti-woman and anti-brown people, or what about his “sensibility” matches the Democrats.

Peart clearly vibed with a general anti-authoritarianism he saw in Rand, and with her objection to enforced equality. But a more nuanced attempt to distance himself from Randian libertarianism in an interview Peart did for a feature in the libertarian magazine Liberty in 1997 (by the Institute for Justice’s Scott Bullock) made it clear that Peart’s attraction to Rand was more about her underlying sense of individualism and the nobility of the artist and his intentions than it was about all the complicated policy implications that Rand, and her libertarian fans, drew from her philosophy.

Bullock skillfully teases out the fact that Rand’s morality implied a belief in free markets as well as a general individualist sense of “freedom” seemed to have never quite been embedded in Peart’s DNA. And indeed Fountainhead‘s individualist message is largely that the creative artist can and ought to follow his own whims and spirit no matter what markets do (while never suggesting anyone should be forced to support a great artist, or prevented by force from supporting mediocre ones).

August 1, 2015

Ayn Rand’s Ideal

Filed under: Books, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Vice, Milo Yiannopoulos discusses the long-lost-then-found early Ayn Rand novella Ideal, which Rand reworked into a play:

According to Michael Paxton, who directed the world premiere of the play in 1989, Ideal gives readers an insight into Rand’s state of mind in the early 1930s: Her first novel, We The Living, had been rejected by publishers for being “too intellectual,” and the writer was struggling with odd jobs, having recently moved to the United States.

“It examines the artist’s process,” Paxton told me from his hotel room in North Carolina, where he was set to give a talk at the Ayn Rand Institute’s Objectivist Summer Conference. “How do you be an artist and live in the world at the same time? It’s amazing how, once you’ve lived a little in the world, you can really understand these characters and the issues they’re dealing with — not being understood, thinking the world doesn’t care whether you live or die.”

His assessment is not universal. Perhaps predictably, the New York Times hated the play when it premiered off-Broadway in 2010, concluding that, “the show’s clumsy mix of long bursts of theory and a laborious plot would test the endurance of even Alan Greenspan, a famous Rand admirer and veteran of long, boring meetings.”

As a play, Ideal went unperformed for 60 years after its writing, and was never seen on stage in Rand’s lifetime, though Paxton says that may have something to do with its practical demands: The play has 37 characters and tons of set changes. But he thinks it’s worth the effort: “What’s surprising about the play is that it has a lot of humour, and a lot of satire in how it makes fun of organized religion. It’s subtle, and very funny.”

The good news is the new edition also includes the entire play script. So you can gather 37 of your closest right-wing nutcase allies — or lefty culture jammers, as you prefer — and stage it yourself to find out.

Ideal the novel, which Rand herself set aside as unsatisfactory, is less polished than the stage version, and, despite flashes of Randian flair, there is evidence that the author was still struggling to find her voice. Readers familiar with The Fountainhead will recognize the seeds of that work in this early effort. Thankfully, though, Ideal is not one of those works of juvenilia that ought to have remained lost.

Rand’s critics, often humourless literalists, will find plenty in Ideal to gnaw on: There’s the classically Randian was-it-rape-or-wasn’t-it sex scene and a blisteringly heartless remark after a death that will have fans sniggering and detractors drumming up all the manufactured fury they can muster. And, yes, Rand’s writing can be a bit… much.

But profound, existential loneliness, coupled with a Buffy the Vampire Slayer–esque sense of ordained personal greatness is why so many cheerleaders for capitalism relate to Rand’s lead characters, from Gonda to The Fountainhead‘s Dominique Francon.

June 21, 2015

“Why libertarianism is closer to Stalinism than you think” … unless you actually know anything about libertarianism, of course

Filed under: Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Alan Wolfe, I’m reliably informed, is a highly respected sociologist and political scientist at Boston College. If this kind of thing is typical of his output, I’m inclined to doubt my sources:

“Libertarianism has a complicated history, and it is by and large a sordid one,” charges Wolfe. It is “a secular substitute for religion, complete with its own conception of the city of God, a utopia of pure laissez-faire and the city of man, a place where envy and short-sightedness hinder creative geniuses from carrying out their visions.”

I’d call him the Hitler of Hyperbole, but that seems, I don’t know, a tad over the top. Sort of like equating a live-and-let-live philosophy such as libertarianism to Stalinism. Which I confess it totally is. Except for the gulags, the mass murders, the forced relocations, the belief in statism, a demonstrably insane economic policy — I’m probably forgetting one or two other points of similarity.

Predictably, Wolfe disinters the corpse of Ayn Rand and insists not only was the Atlas Shrugged author “an authoritarian at heart” but that she remains the beating heart of an intellectual, philosophical, and cultural movement that includes a fistful of Nobel Prize winners (Friedman, Buchanan, Smith, Hayek, Vargas Llosa, etc.); thinkers such as Robert Nozick and Camille Paglia; businessmen such as Whole Foods’ John Mackey, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Overstock’s Patrick Byrne; and creative types ranging from Rose Wilder Lane to the creators of South Park to Vince Vaughn. Sound the alarum, folks! Team America: World Police and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story are running on Comedy Central again!

February 22, 2015

On a lighter note…

Filed under: Humour, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Scott Alexander rings the changes on the “x walks into a bar” joke … but it’s not a bar, it’s a coffee shop:

Gottfried Leibniz goes up to the counter and orders a muffin. The barista says he’s lucky since there is only one muffin left. Isaac Newton shoves his way up to the counter, saying Leibniz cut in line and he was first. Leibniz insists that he was first. The two of them come to blows.

* * *
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel goes up to the counter and gives a tremendously long custom order in German, specifying exactly how much of each sort of syrup he wants, various espresso shots, cream in exactly the right pattern, and a bunch of toppings, all added in a specific order at a specific temperature. The barista can’t follow him, so just gives up and hands him a small plain coffee. He walks away. The people behind him in line are very impressed with his apparent expertise, and they all order the same thing Hegel got. The barista gives each of them a small plain coffee, and they all remark on how delicious it tastes and what a remarkable coffee connoisseur that Hegel is. “The Hegel” becomes a new Starbucks special and is wildly popular for the next seventy years.

* * *
Adam Smith goes up to the counter. “I’ll have a muffin,” he says. “Sorry,” says the barista, “but those two are fighting over the last muffin.” She points to Leibniz and Newton, who are still beating each other up. “I’ll pay $2 more than the sticker price, and you can keep the extra,” says Smith. The barista hands him the muffin.

* * *
Ludwig Wittgenstein goes up to the counter. “I’ll have a small toffee mocha,” he says. “We don’t have small,” says the barista. “Then what sizes do you have?” “Just tall, grande, and venti.” “Then doesn’t that make ‘tall’ a ‘small’?” “We call it tall,” says the barista. Wittgenstein pounds his fist on the counter. “Tall has no meaning separate from the way it is used! You are just playing meaningless language games!” He storms out in a huff.

* * *

Ayn Rand goes up to the counter. “What do you want?” asks the barista. “Exactly the relevant question. As a rational human being, it is my desires that are paramount. Since as a reasoning animal I have the power to choose, and since I am not bound by any demand to subordinate my desires to that of an outside party who wishes to use force or guilt to make me sacrifice my values to their values or to the values of some purely hypothetical collective, it is what I want that is imperative in this transaction. However, since I am dealing with you, and you are also a rational human being, under capitalism we have an opportunity to mutually satisfy our values in a way that leaves both of us richer and more fully human. You participate in the project of affirming my values by providing me with the coffee I want, and by paying you I am not only incentivizing you for the transaction, but giving you a chance to excel as a human being in the field of producing coffee. You do not produce the coffee because I am demanding it, or because I will use force against you if you do not, but because it most thoroughly represents your own values, particularly the value of creation. You would not make this coffee for me if it did not serve you in some way, and therefore by satisfying my desires you also reaffirm yourself. Insofar as you make inferior coffee, I will reject it and you will go bankrupt, but insofar as your coffee is truly excellent, a reflection of the excellence in your own soul and your achievement as a rationalist being, it will attract more people to your store, you will gain wealth, and you will be able to use that wealth further in pursuit of excellence as you, rather than some bureaucracy or collective, understand it. That is what it truly means to be a superior human.” “Okay, but what do you want?” asks the barista. “Really I just wanted to give that speech,” Rand says, and leaves.

* * *
Voltaire goes up to the counter and orders an espresso. He takes it and goes to his seat. The barista politely reminds him he has not yet paid. Voltaire stays seated, saying “I believe in freedom of espresso.”

* * *
Thomas Malthus goes up to the counter and orders a muffin. The barista tells him somebody just took the last one. Malthus grumbles that the Starbucks is getting too crowded and there’s never enough food for everybody.

January 28, 2015

QotD: The libertarian movement

Filed under: Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The libertarian or “freedom movement” is a loose and baggy monster that includes the Libertarian Party; Ron Paul fans of all ages; Reason magazine subscribers; glad-handers at Cato Institute’s free-lunch events in D.C.; Ayn Rand obsessives and Robert Heinlein buffs; the curmudgeons at Antiwar.com; most of the economics department at George Mason University and up to about one-third of all Nobel Prize winners in economics; the beautiful mad dreamers at The Free State Project; and many others. As with all movements, there’s never a single nerve center or brain that controls everything. There’s an endless amount of in-fighting among factions […] On issues such as economic regulation, public spending, and taxes, libertarians tend to roll with the conservative right. On other issues — such as civil liberties, gay marriage, and drug legalization, we find more common ground with the progressive left.

Nick Gillespie, “Libertarianism 3.0; Koch And A Smile”, The Daily Beast, 2014-05-30.

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