Jun 1, 1979
Letters to the Editor
“Jeff Riggenbach is one of those rare individuals who write so well that it is easy to think the content of his articles must be as good as the form.”
SOME OF THE ARTICLES in The Libertarian Review are reasonable, literate pieces with a free market viewpoint. Others, however, are of dubious scholarship and consist primarily of nonsensical, even hysterical, assaults on any aspect of American (or, more precisely, any nation’s) foreign policy which tilts toward anti-communism.
Frankly, your view that the United States is the culprit in the Cold War is silly, even idiotic. Oddly enough, your publication, in the name of libertarianism, resurrects the discredited, Marxian notion that capitalist nations exploit other nations for the sake of their raw materials. Come now, don’t insult your free market readers with collectivist mythology.
You rejoice at the overthrow of the Shah. Look, granted, he wasn’t a libertarian; as an advocate of liberty, I could hardly support certain of the Shah’s policies. But, also as an advocate of liberty, I am far more disturbed by the loss of Iran; I know that Iran will move farther away from, not closer to, a free society. The international implications for the United States are ominous; as a libertarian fortunate enough to live here, I am concerned (yes, my self-interest is threat-12 ened!).
Your magazine’s commentary on the Mideast is not only factually inaccurate and historically wrong; but, as someone of the Jewish faith, I find the tone grossly offensive. What qualifies Rothbard as a Mideast expert? His Orwellian rewrite of recent Mideast events is absurd; his depiction of Yassir Arafat as a moderate is a cruel affront to the victims of this demagogic terrorist; his favorable review of the PLO is morally repugnant. Do you really believe that Carter’s purpose at Camp David was, as you report, to assure “Zionist funding for his reelection campaign”? Your Jewish conspiracy rhetoric is reminiscent of, and hardly distinguishable from, the racist ravings of the late Gerald L. K. Smith.
The Libertarian Review is a hoax. I don’t need a left-wing journal masquerading as libertarian. We don’t simply have a difference of opinion. Your magazine is an embarrassment in my home. Please cancel my subscription at once.
ARNOLD STEINBERG Los Angeles, California
Roy A. Childs, Jr. replies:
Arnold Steinberg’s letter is a nearly perfect example of what is wrong with the conservatives’ thinking about foreign policy issues, and of what is wrong with their blind, unreasoning rejection of a libertarian foreign policy of non-interventionism. I should begin by pointing out the common denominator of these assaults on noninterventionism: that the conservatives pushing them do not even take the time to read accurately.
The foreign policy position advocated by The Libertarian Review is that of noninterventionism, and LR has accordingly been constantly critical of interventionist foreign policies, not of “any nation’s” foreign policy “which tilts toward anticommunism.” Since part of our case against intervention is that it actually furthers communist victories—a charge recently echoed by William Shaw-cross in his new book Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia—the charge that we support a procommunist foreign policy is an ignorant and malicious lie typical of conservatives.
Neither is it the case that LR believes the U.S. to be “the culprit” in the Cold War; my view is more complex, which perhaps is why Mr. Steinberg finds it beyond his grasp. My view, shared by Murray Rothbard and a number of other LR contributors, is that U.S. foreign policy is one of the main causes of the Cold War, dating back to the Bolshevik revolution. It is again typical that no conservative ever bothers to apply the same standards to U.S. behavior as are applied to Soviet behavior. At the close of the relatively bloodless Bolshevik revolution, the Soviet Union was invaded by a number of the Allied nations, including the U.S., an intervention which lead to the deaths of as many as seven million people. Invaded again by Nazi Germany in World War II, the Soviets lost another twenty million to the war. In the face of these casualties—not to mention the additional millions lost during the first World War (one of the causes of the Bolsheviks’ rise to power)—it is easy to see that Soviet foreign policy since the second World War has been profoundly conservative and defensive. The Soviets took Eastern Europe by force in beating back Hitler, and have continued their conservative imperialism over that territory ever since. But their foreign policy in most other places has been cautious and restrained. The U.S. was far more involved in Castro’s revolution than the Soviet Union, for example. Western nations were far more active than the Soviets in resurrecting Ho Chi-Minh during World War II to help the Vietnamese fight the Japanese in Asia. In Africa, the U.S. has intervened since the early ‘60s and before; in the Middle East, the U.S. has been involved along with the British and other European powers for many decades; in both these areas, Soviet intervention has been minimal. If the standards which conservatives use to judge the Soviets as being “expansionist” were applied even-handedly to the U.S., no one could draw any conclusion other than that the U.S. and not the Soviet Union is out to “conquer the world.” While the charge in either case is absurd, it is patently false that the Soviets have been anywhere nearly as aggressive or irresponsible in foreign policy as the U.S. has been. And remember that it is the U.S. which has lately been cultivating an alliance with Communist China against the Soviet Union, even to the extent of helping China to “modernize” its army and other technologies. Who is doing what to whom?
As for the charge that wt “insult our free market readers with collectivist mythology,” by allegedly claiming that “capitalist nations exploit other nations for the sake of their raw materials,” the charge is, again, simply a lie, one which further exposes Mr. Steinberg’s apparent inability to read a sentence. Our position has explicitly been that the U.S. does not need to intervene in other countries to secure access to oil or other raw materials, but rather ought to rely on the price system in a free market, decontrolling the economy in the process. We have said that policy-makers believe that the U.S. must intervene to secure stable access to raw materials, which is obviously true—all you have to do is read Business Week or the various foreign policy journals to hear this view being advocated all the time. Most recently it has been trotted forth by the likes of the Sinister Energy Czar, James Warmonger Schlesinger. The view that this is a “capitalist” nation is again typical of conservative blindness and ignorance, a mythology with which conservatives soothe themselves on lazy evenings so that they never need to confront the need for radical opposition to—and not conservative reform of—this system of State capitalism or Corporate statism.
Yes, yes, we do rejoice in the overthrow of the Shah! And of brutal despots everywhere! Again, Mr. Steinberg mouths platitudes based in the “lesser-of-two-evils” approach to international affairs that leads conservatives, everywhere and always, to ignore the need for a revolutionary international libertarian movement as an alternative to revolutionary Marxism. I can only be appalled at Mr. Steinberg’s remarks about the “loss” of Iran, again so typical of conservative mythology about nations being “ours.” And I wonder which “certain” of the Shah’s policies Mr. Steinberg would not support, the word “certain” underscoring by implication something basically positive about the Shah’s reign. The monster Shah combined in his reign the systems of feudalism and state socialism, complete with five year plans. He practiced torture and brutally suppressed civil and economic liberties. His “modernization” and “development” programs were pages taken from Gunnar Myrdal, not P. T. Bauer. And his anti-Sovietism was simply militaristic megalomania, the desire to replace Britain as the dominant power in the Persian Gulf. What’s more, the moronic, grade-school foreign policy which Mr. Steinberg parrots helped produce the Shah’s downfall and the current instability in his country. But all in all, Mr. Steinberg’s remarks here are again typical of the conservative mentality which cannot conceive of the need for a revolutionary libertarian alternative to Marxism, but instead supports the “lesser-of-two-evils” year after year, decade after decade, until there is no difference between the absurdly named “free world” and communist tyranny.
I shall not back down from responding to Mr. Steinberg’s smears on the Middle East, either. Murray Rothbard is a scholar who has been writing on the Middle East for a good many years. He is Anti-Zionist, and does not connect Zionism with being Jewish, which he is. Earl Ravenal, on the other hand, whose analysis of the Middle East in our October issue ran alongside Rothbard’s, and at several times the length, is not opposed to Zionism at all. He partly defended U.S. disengagement from the Middle East on the grounds that it would increase Israel’s flexibility and security, by not tying Israel’s security into American foreign policy needs, which are ever-changing and unprincipled to boot. Ravenal was not anti-Zionist in the least. What Mr. Steinberg complains about, therefore, is simple to pinpoint, and it is not flattering: that The Libertarian Review would dare to publish anything critical of Israel. My God, of whom have we not been critical? Deng, Mao, the Vietnamese, the Khmer Rouge, Tito, Qadaffi, Idi Amin, Jimmy Carter, the PLO, the Shah, Khomeini, Callaghan, Thatcher, Sadat, Hussein … the list could go on indefinitely. We will not be cowed by the usual shameless and monstrous attributions of motives of “anti-Semitism” to anyone who criticizes Israel. It is the case that, as Arabs and Palestinians go, Yassir Arafatis a moderate—some (e.g. Qadaffi) are infinitely more anti-Jewish or anti-Israel than is he, and anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knows this. I and The Libertarian Review are opposed to Arafat and the PLO, and no less opposed to the policies of Begin and the state of Israel, and on precisely the same grounds, with the same principles and justification: we uphold justice for all concerned, and oppose the continual violations of individual rights. Speaking for myself, and not LR’s official policies, for me Zionism comes from the same roots as Fabian socialism: socialists, nationalists, colonialists, having as its sole distinguishing characteristic that the ethnic group it most favors is not the British, but the Jews. I am certainly no supporter of the feudal or socialistic Arab states, which often treat the Palestinians even worse than they are treated by the Israelis. But why should the behavior of the worst states and people bring us to the callous and insensitive point where anything less is somehow morally acceptable? Are we to let Hitler and Stalin define our moral views by being so ugly and brutal that anything less appears to us a moral blessing? No! We must always uphold the standards of justice and individual rights, lest we become just another sect of cowards on the international scene, opportunistically manipulating one group against another.
Neither, finally, is The Libertarian Review either a “hoax” or a “leftist journal.” We are proudly and defiantly libertarian, in the tradition of the Old Right which existed before the Buckley -National Review pro-Cold Warcoup in the mid-1950s. In my view, The Libertarian Review is the best libertarian publication, and that for the reasons implicit in Mr. Steinberg’s letter: it will not pull
punches or spare anyone’s sacred cow. We uphold the principles of individual rights and the nonaggression principle, the entitlement theory of justice. These we believe to be universal standards which ought to be used in judging every situation. Mr. Steinberg’s letter is a perfect example of what is wrong with conservatives today, and just one more reason I keep saying that conservatives not only will lose, but that they deserve to lose. Any home embarassed by The Libertarian Review is a home which does not deserve the magazine, and therefore I shall indeed do as Mr. Steinberg asks.
Revisiting the Shah
THE EDITORIAL BY JEFF Riggenbach, “The shah revisited,” in your January issue, includes the remarkable statement that, according to Amnesty International, the Shah has “the worst human rights record of any ruler in the world… [and that] remains true today.”
Really? Of any ruler in the world? That puts him into some pretty heavy company: Idi Amin, Leonid Brezhnev, Hua kuo-Feng, just to name a few. One might speculate that Brezhnev alone has more people in prison camps than Iran has people.
While not gainsaying the repressiveness of the Shah’s regime, I must protest statements (such as the one above) which eliminate or blur the real distinctions of degree and scale between dictators such as the Shah and the really big leaguers like Mao Tse-tung, Joe Stalin, or Adolf Hitler. This lack of distinction is rendered especially ironic by the presence in the same issue of an article which rather minutely recites the unbelievable record of the murderers running China.
The attempt to lump tin-horn dictators (who manage to murder and torture only a relatively small number of their victims) with the big timers (who set out to do murder wholesale) is a favorite tool of the elitists running U.S. foreign policy. It draws attention away from the blood on the hands of the large scale totalitarians from whom the elitists draw both their power and their profit. Thus the butchers are made to appear somehow less guilty, and hence more palatable, to a gullible American public.
Mr. Riggenbach has only helped to perpetuate this myth. Murder is not cumulative: the killer of one human is as much a murderer as the killer of a thousand, but the genocide is in a class of evil by himself. Moreover, the question of the Shah’s viciousness will soon become moot to the Iranian people, who have now replaced a vanilla dictator with a real-McCoy religious fanatic dictator. Anybody can tell that that’s an improvement.
FRANKLIN SANDERS Memphis, Tennessee
IN CONTRAST TO THE many fine editorials you have published in the past, I found the January, 1979, editorials on the Iranian crisis disappointing in varying degrees. Concerning U.S. bungling in Iran, they are on the mark; but in many ways the editorials (particularly “The shah revisited”) make the same error which our State Department has made over and over again in dealing with non-Western countries. Islamic culture must be met and analyzed on its own terms….
Prior to the Shah’s “modernization” program and the influx of fantastic oil wealth, Iran remained a land deeply rooted in Islamic tradition. The explosive impact of Western technology and industrialization coupled with the Shah’s rapid and brutal attempts to change and secularize Iranian society threatened to destroy the old world of Shi’ite Islam which constitutes the cultural matrix and basic value system of most Iranians…. Even without the Shah, Iran would have faced this crisis in some form because the crisis is not the clash of modern conveniences with quaint folkways….
The so-called “human rights” issue must also be re-examined. “Human rights” in Iran cannot be equated with “individual rights” as we think of it. If “human rights” has any meaning here it is the traditional Shi’ite antagonism between the political state and the religious community—the claims of religion on the faithful against the claims of the state on the citizens. “Individual rights,” conceived in the Anglo-Saxon form, is a non-issue. There is no serious Islamic philosophical or legal tradition of concern for the individual apart from the collective body of Muslims. Individual political rights is not a primary category and has meaning only in a full system supporting individualism, absent in Iran. To think that the issues in Iran reduce to the familiar Western scheme is to be badly mistaken.
The opposition to the Shah arises not from “freedom-loving people in pursuit of the same civil liberties all Americans enjoy”—how simple if this were so—but, rather, from this deeper Levantine opposition to the Western intrusion ushered in by the Shah. Without question, the autocratic regime of the Shah, with its various injustices, fanned the flames of insurrection; but it did not cause it. The world is full of despots still in power pursuing exactly the same policies which the Shah tried. The Shah’s failure and fall merely illustrate the impossibility of achieving the benefits of freedom and a market economy by fascistic imperatives, and paticularly in a land where these ideas are alien.
And with the Shah gone, probably for good, what of the Ayatollah Khomeini? He is a religious fanatic, and your editorialists should know this. He is not a kindly old Iranian wise man, but a zealot determined to establish a medieval theocracy in Iran and, as such, a more dangerous foe to individual rights than the Shah… . Exchanging the King of Kings for the Ayatollah represents little progress for Iran.
The eternal meddling of the U.S. government in the affairs of other countries is certainly nothing to cheer about, but analysts must not make the mistake of assuming that every crisis in the world arises from it. This is the same ethnocentrism which assumes the holy mission of imposing our “superior” culture on the rest of the world. The philosophical and ideological streams in the non-West follow a logic of their own and are not so easily perverted by our incompetent foreign policy. If your editorialists urge on us the equanimity for a non-interventionist foreign policy—and quite rightly—then they should also have the equanimity to view events on their own terms without straining them to fit ideological preconceptions.
Only one thing can be certain in Iran’s future: as always, the chief victims will be the peaceful, productive members of Iranian society. Between the Shah, the Ayatollah, and foreign meddling, Iranian liberty will be strangled before it even takes a breath. Individual rights in Iran do not need to be salvaged but constructed for the first time. That this can be done in a strictly Islamic society is highly unlikely, but Iran must take the first step itself if it ever is to occur…. Outside the West, the world is perishing not from lack of liberty, but the lack of the very idea of liberty.
JAMES LEE BROOKS, JR., M.D.
If, as Mr. Sanders argues, “murder is not cumulative” and “the killer of one human is as much a murderer as the killer of a thousand,” then I am unable to see why “the genocide is in a class of evil by himself,” or why the Shah must be considered a “tin-horn dictator” outside the class of “really big leaguers like Mao Tse-tung, Joe Stalin, or Adolf Hitler.” Questions concerning the standards used by Amnesty International in judging the comparative evil of human rights records had best be directed to that organization.
I am unable to agree with Dr. Brooks that “individual rights in Iran do not need to be salvaged but constructed for the first time.” Rights are not constructed, but simply are. And the fact that those whose rights are being violated have not yet learned to think about the matter in the terms we use here in the West strikes me as quite irrelevant.
WHILE I REALIZE THAT magazines such as yours cannot be expected to publish fully self-consistent pieces so that all contributions square with each other’s main thesis, the following contrast in your February 1979 issue is simply too glaring to pass off as mere pluralism among libertarians:
Earl C. Ravenal: “To the traditional objects of quarrels between nations, the Carter administration has added some additional baggage: economic warfare, and ‘human rights’—the knee-jerk defense of our own peculiar values in other countries.”
Murrary N. Rothbard: “For our aim is to bring freedom to the entire world, and therefore it makes an enormous difference to us in which direction various countries are moving, whether toward liberty or toward slavery.”
I believe this discrepancy between one of your guest editorials and an article by one of your contributing editors (and one of the intellectual heros of contemporary libertarianism, especially as espoused by Libertarian Review), should be called to your and your readers’ attention.
TIBOR R. MACHAN
Santa Barbara, California
Professor Machan’s letter is a curious one, since it is so flagrantly at odds with his own well-known enthusiasm for greater diversity within the libertarian movement.
But let that pass. For even more curious is the fact that Machan sees a contradiction where none exists, and he as a libertarian should be among the first to realize this. For in the two quotations, Professor Ravenal was talking about governments and the proper foreign policy for them to pursue, while I was talking about individuals outside of government, specifically those of us in the libertarian movement. If libertarians should be alive toany distinction in the universe, it is surely the distinction between private persons and governments.
How about rent-a-baby?
I CANNOT DISAGREE with Professor Block’s article “On ‘baby selling’ ” [January 1979]. Still some uncomfortable questions come to mind. If the biological mother can sell her baby to adoptive parents, can these in turn sell the baby to still other buyers? If not, why not? If yes, where does this lead? Specifically, how often and up to what age can a child be sold and resold? For example, can a six-year child be sold? If so, what rights does the buyer acquire in this transaction? Suppose we answer: the right acquired is only the right to raise the child. But then if the buyer’s idea of “raising the child” is hard labor or any kind of commercial or quasi-commercial service, how does this development differ from the purchase of slave labor? How many such children can one family (or corporation disguised as a “family”) buy? Is one hundred too many? Who will say? I am aware, of course, that the problem of treating a child like a slave can arise also in relation to its biological parents but not, it seems to me, with the same immediacy as it would if “child rearing” were commercializable in the way I consider. And further, if one can buy a baby or perhaps even older children, can one rent a baby or a child, have child rental establishments, for whatever purposes? Perhaps there would be little or no market for child selling or child rental of the kind I have indicated, but this does little to settle the theoretical problem which these questions only begin to suggest.
FLORIAN VON IMHOF
Mr. Imhof raises some interesting and important questions which will have to be answered by any complete rendition of the libertarian theory of children’s rights. But I am puzzled. What do these queries have to do with my article on baby selling?
For in that article I took for granted that parents have the right to give away, as in adoptions, the package of rights and responsibilities they have with regard to their children. Nor did I concern myself with analysing what this package properly consisted of. The only point I tried to make is that parents have a right to charge for that which everyone concedes they have a right to do when there is no money transfer; that is, given that they may allow their children to be adopted, they may also do this for financial remuneration.
Mr. Imhof, on the other hand, asks for an elucidation of the rights and obligations that children and parents have for each other. But since I did not deal with this question, his criticism is illegitimate.
It would make as much (or as little) sense to attack my baby selling article on the ground that it does not deal with the evils of public school education, nor with the libertarian view on compulsory child inoculations, blood transfusions against the will of the parents, or with child labor laws. These are also crucial issues for the theory of children’s rights. Libertarians, in this case too, have a unique contribution to make. But in similar manner, they are irrelevant to the question of whether parents who have the right to give their children away in adoption also have the right to charge money for the identical transfer.
A reply to a letter to the editor does not afford the space for an answer to Mr. Imhof’s questions. However, there are several places where the interested reader may find solutions to some of the challenges he poses. These include my “A libertarian theory of abortion” in the March 1978 issue of Reason, and the chapter on “The employer of child labor” in my book Defending the Undefendable (New York: Fleet Press, 1976) pp. 247-56. There are also Man, Economy and State (New York: Van Nostrand, 1962) p. 439, the discussion of child labor laws in Power and Market (Kansas City: Sheed Andrews and McMeel, 1977) pp. 56-7, “Kid Lib,” in Egalitarianism as a Revolt against Nature (Washington, D.C.: Libertarian Review Press, 1974) pp 88-95, all by Murray N. Rothbard; and “The Law of Omissions and Neglect of Children” by Williamson M. Evers in The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1, Winter 1978, pp. 1-10.
Decadence and liberty
THIS IS IN PRAISE OF “In Praise of Decadence,” a masterwork of historical overview, economic understanding, sociologic insight, and style. Indeed, the entire piece is ample evidence of the claim Riggenbach makes that today’s great writers are moving away from the novel and toward the critical essay; Riggenbach is himself an essayist par excellence.
The entire work—and this, in fact, is a quality of all LR issues to date—exudes a joyous optimism that surely tomorrow’s world is ours for the taking—that libertarianism is an idea whose time has come. It is going to be a tough fight, no doubt, but one, indeed, that we’ll probably win in the end, if only because libertarianism can command the talents of those who write for Libertarian Review; but with pieces like “Decadence,” the battle for liberty will not just be difficult—it will be enjoyable as well.
JEFF RIGGENBACH IS one of those rare individuals who write so well that it is easy to think the content of his articles must be as good as the form. However, a careful examination of some of the arguments in his recent piece “In Praise of Decadence” reveals some serious flaws.
Riggenbach, argues, correctly, that periods of cultural decadence tend to be hospitable to the growth of libertarian ideas, and that much of what is decried as “permissiveness” is merely another name for liberty. Riggenbach, however, seems to jump from the fact that decadence or permissiveness is libertarian in a political or social sense to claim that morally speaking an individual’s pursuit of a decadent lifestyle must be applauded as libertarian or individualistic. But if one’s moral code is simply a subjectivistic commitment to “doing one’s own thing,” what if one’s own thing involves violating people’s rights? Perhaps present day decadents are tolerant folks and won’t feel inclined in that direction, but surely there is no convincing moral barrier, if one is preoccupied with self-indulgence, to such coercive action. In this regard it is worth noting that Max Stirner and Jim Hougan, to whom Riggenbach fondly refers, provide evidence that moral subjectiv-ism/decadence is incompatible with libertarianism: Stirner thought all talk of rights was a fiction and Hougan thinks decadence refers to “the inconsequentially of an individual’s existence”. If Riggenbach thinks these are kindred libertarian spirits, then he is sadly mistaken.
None of this is meant to deny that a vital concern for one’s well-being is in opposition to libertarianism. Indeed, some libertarian philosophers have argued that an ethic of rational or eudaimonistic egoism grounds the political philosophy of libertarianism. Rational self interest and libertinism are worlds apart, however; the former can condemn certain modes of behavior as being immoral, while the latter is infused with an “anything goes” spirit.
Closely related to Riggenbach’s mistaken link between decadence and libertarianism is his failure to appreciate the massive assault on rationality that is occuring in today’s decadent period. While Riggenbach does briefly mention that many of the ideas prevalent in a decadent society are false or foolish, he does not seem to realize how it affects his basic argument. Certainly the values of the counterculture that Riggenbach applauds have no small connection with the assault on rationality; while undoubtedly some commentators have exaggerated the counterculture’s hostility to reason, progress, science, and technology, it would be folly to pretend that the attack on the rationalistic values of Western civilization is totally divorced from the growth of the counterculture. Many libertarians have argued that the fate of liberty and the value of rationality are inextricably linked; if this is so, then the counterculture may be fundamentally opposed to the spirit of libertarianism.
Another connection Riggenbach makes which one might well question is that between anti-authoritarianism and libertarianism. While surely libertarians must applaud the decline of state authority, and, to a lesser extent, conventional authority, it is far from clear that anti-authoritarianism per se ought to be heralded. If I am right that a defense of rationality and liberty are linked, then the authority of reason badly needs upholding; further, the heart of libertarianism is a movement against power, not authority. Some people such as Robert Nisbet have argued that periods of declining authority are periods of rising statism, and while his analysis may not be fully convincing, the relationship between the two is more complicated than Riggenbach suggests.
Finally, one must protest Riggenbach’s out of context references to Murray Rothbard and Lewis Lapham. It is a little unfair to cite Murray Rothbard in a piece praising decadence without mentioning that Rothbard has always been a harsh critic of the counterculture and a believer in an objective moral framework. And it is more than a little unfair to cite Lapham’s essay on California without mentioning that one of the focal points of the attack revolved around California’s alleged obsession with image, appearance, and superficiality.
It is disappointing indeed to be informed, as I am now informed by Danny Shapiro, that one is a writer of rare skill who has failed to clearly communicate his ideas to a reader of obvious sensitivity and erudition. As a confirmed devotee of the idea that form must follow function, I can only conclude that my recent effort to identify and analyze the trends now dominating our culture has enjoyed only middling success.
It seems to me indisputable that an individual’s pursuit of a decadent lifestyle is individualistic. That is, after all, what it means to pursue a decadent lifestyle: to live according to values one has chosen for oneself, according to one’s individual standards, without regard for the pronouncements of established authority. It is certainly true that by this definition, Charles Manson was pursuing a decadent lifestyle when he conducted the atrocious murders at the Tate and LaBianca homes. And needless to say, Charles Manson cannot reasonably be regarded as a libertarian. That he was an individualist, however, seems inescapable—not in his social theories, of course, but in his choice of a deviant lifestyle. There is, surely, such a thing as an evil individualist. Shapiro himself offers evidence for this assertion when he refers to the potentially evil consequences of Max Stirner’s ideas. The point I sought to make in my essay was simply that libertarianism is a logical outgrowth (though not, as Shapiro rightly argues, the only possible or inevitable outgrowth) of individualism. It seems to me, therefore, that a society in which individualism (even individualism of the worst kind) is a dominant cultural value is a society in which libertarianism is also likely to be popular among those interested in ideas. This assertion does not seem to me tantamount to the assertion that Max Stirner was a libertarian. As for Jim Hougan, I can find no reference to him in my essay which I think might reasonably be interpreted as an assertion of his sympathy with libertarianism. As far as I know he has no such sympathy. I devoted a large proportion of “In Praise of Decadence” to discussion of his 1975 book, Decadence, because it was by this book which I was first led to two of the most important ideas in my essay: the co-optation of the counterculture by the left, and the role of advertising as a popularizer of the values of the counterculture.
Hougan may not be a libertarian, but he is an acute cultural critic and one to whom I am indebted for many of my own ideas.
Shapiro worries that a culture whose only folkway was “do your own thing” would pose “no convincing moral barrier” to such behavior as that exhibited by the Hell’s Angels and the Manson Family. This is true, of course; but mustn’t one ask in fairness what convincing moral barrier was posed by the authoritarian culture which preceded ours to such behavior (incalculably more destructive and irrational) as that exhibited by the U.S. military men in Vietnam and the U.S. Drug Enforcement officers in Latin America? Let Shapiro consider the historical record and contrast the prevalence of violent violations of human rights during decadent periods as against authoritarian periods. And let him draw the inescapable conclusion.
I must confess that I am at a loss to understand what is meant by those who accuse the counterculture of a “hostility to reason, progress, science, and technology.” Such windy abstractions ordinarily conceal a will simply to smear with high sounding words. “Reason,” after all, means only the processes (which are many and various and almost infinitely complex, and are not, I fear, capable of neat codification) by which human beings form and combine and link their ideas. “Science” means only investigation and conceptual organization of the natural world. “Technology” means only the machines we use to do the work we do. And “progress” means nothing at all in the absence of any explicitly spelled out standard of value by which it is to be measured. Does Shapiro believe that the counterculture is hostile to thought per se, and to studying the natural world and to the use of machines? What does he make, I wonder, of the great enthusiasm among counterculturists for the technology we call solar power, or for the scientific discipline known as ecology, or for the social and philosophical ideas of writers and thinkers as diverse as Paul Goodman, Timothy Leary, and Buckminster Fuller?
Perhaps I stand convicted of unfairness to Lewis Lap-ham, but I think not; Shapiro and I seem to have formed rather different ideas of where the thrust of Lapham’s argument lay. In the case of Murray Rothbard, I suggest Shapiro better acquaint himself with the published works of this important libertarian writer before asserting that he “has always been a harsh critic of the counter culture.” Specifically, he should consult Rothbard’s essay on “Liberty and the New Left” in Left and Right, Volume L Number 2, Autumn 1965, pp. 35-66.