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Crooked Timber – An anthem to marxism

One of the many things I love about novelist Ayn Rand is her idealistic view of the human form, especially when shorn of its drag-down weight of socialist commitment. This view of humanity is best portrayed, I think, in her stunning short book, Anthem, especially when Randian hero Equality 7-2521 is described by his lover, Liberty 5-3000, as being beautiful. Equality 7-2521 then re-christens himself Prometheus, after the Greek deity who created mankind in the image of the Gods.

Anthem is a marvellous book, and I’m glad to see that Boston airport’s Terminal E shopping mall was carrying so many copies, on a recent visit to the socialist wonderland of Massachusetts. You very rarely see this lesser-known Randian masterpiece in UK bookshops.

What you also rarely see on blogs like Crooked Timber, another socialist wonderland, is an acknowledgement that mankind is of itself a wonderful thing. With a site name based directly on the Kantian principle that mankind is intrinsically flawed, its thirteen professors of economics, philosophy, politics, and sociology, work to the premise that we feeble creatures of mankind need an overarching social democratic system to live by, as a consequence of our crookedness. Oh, how Ayn Rand would have applauded this use of Kantian philosophy. And who better to create and rule over this overarching system of social democracy than these very same supermen. They inhabit a Byzantine mirror-world to Samizdata, composed of obscure left-wing papers, unreadable left-wing books, and oxymoronic left-wing position pieces, most of them funded from the immorality of taxation via the state-worshipping gravy trains of various Anglospheric Universities.

As well as being stuck in the trough of government supported research grants, they also seem to have got themselves stuck in the 1980s. Witness this quote from a recent post, Making sense with Marx:

Sasha Volokh cries out for some intelligent Marxist analysis in the blogosphere – right on!

Intelligent Marxist analysis? Crikey. Who’da thunk it?

Before you decide this quote is a pre-Berlin Wall fall parody, in the style of the 1980s BBC comedy cult programme, The Young Ones, if you read the rest of the piece you’ll realise the poster is quite serious.

Here on Samizdata, of course, we already know the only good thing you can do to your typical ‘Intelligent Marxist Analyst’. And that’s to put them on a plane to Pyongyang, in North Korea, to visit Mr Micklethwait’s hilarious cream cheese skyscraper, and to hopefully stay there in that starving concentration camp hell, on a one-way ticket. But no matter.

Crooked Timber is often acknowledged as being the most powerful and most widely read blog on the other side of the political street from Samizdata. But what I love about it is that whenever they post such pieces about Marxism, they often get shredded by libertarian sharks and other barracuda sympathetic to our viewpoint. [Just check the comments to the piece above.]

Their only defences become personal insults and unquoted references to long-winded treatises written by their state-paid University chums, usually only available in a University politics department near you. The actual argument is rarely attended to.

Being an eternal optimist, this gives me great hope. Because although there are many minds possibly lost forever on the other side of the fence, if their self-appointed intellectual vanguard keep being rendered speechless by these walls of reasoned anti-Marxist argument, whenever they pass comment outside the confines of the Marxist hate shops, it may be that we are holding our own in an early twenty-first century war of ideology. At best, we may even be beginning to turn the tide.

Yes, I know, I’m far too much the optimist, and we’re still like Socrates against the Athenian social democratic mob. But I have to preserve my sanity, in some way, here in David Blunkett world.

And yes, it may take many more decades before we eventually triumph, but one of my favourite Randian ideas is that to beat these people we need first of all to clear them off the ideological battlefield, and then to get them scurrying away into miserable defeated holes. So to all those fine libertarians out there who do regularly patrol sites like Crooked Timber to perform this arduous and thankless task, particularly Micha Ghertner of Catallarchy.net, I salute you. Ladies and Gentlemen, you are doing sterling work. Please, keep it up.

27 comments to Crooked Timber – An anthem to marxism

  • Matthew

    “idealistic view of the human form”? “immorality of taxation via the state-worshipping gravy trains”?
    MAn, this is hilarious stuff, keep it up!

  • Andy Duncan

    Good to see you’re bang on form there Matthew! ;-)

  • Kai

    I love the comment section of this article.

    Especially this line: “In short, Objectivism is a sort of cliff note intellectualism for people
    too busy, lazy, or stupid to actually be intellectuals.”

  • Andy Duncan

    Hi Kai,

    Yes, it’s a shame Ayn Rand had to leave Objectivism loose enough to squeeze statism in, for me her greatest flaw. Saying that, Objectivism is still a good stopping off point for socialists, when they wake up and realise how stupid their collectivist religion is, usually after a long bout of personal hypocrisy against the red faith.

    Once they’ve got Randian Objectivism under their belts, it’s then time for Popperian Objectivism and Hayek.

    And finally, it’s time for Uncle Murray Rothbard and Austro-libertarianism.

    Do you have my Cure for socialism?

    To that please add the books you can see here.

    Rgds,
    AndyD

    PS> Sorry, yes, these Popper masterpieces as well:

    The Open Society and its Enemies, Part I

    The Open Society and its Enemies, Part II

    Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach

  • Sigivald

    Might it be best to simply start with Hayek and Popper and skip Rand entirely?

    I know I’ve always found Rand tiresome, and her Objectivism is not a particularly convincing philosophy, in various points. (And I say this as someone, obviously, who is generally sympathetic with the ends of Objectivism. I just think that applying it to everything is a mistake. Rand’s take on interpersonal relationships, for instance, seems to be more or less bollocks. Shoulda stuck to political-economic theory.)

  • Julian Morrison

    This is what I’ve thought for a while: they have lost the logical high ground. The left used to be backed by hard philosophy and scientific opinion. All of which has been since disproven, repeatedly, in theory and practise.

    Nowadays the left is backed by shrill assertion and nothing else. Libertarians hold the logical high ground.

    This shouldn’t be underestimated. The reason leftism was tried at all, was its intellectual appeal.

  • Charles Copeland

    Sigivald,

    Not ‘more or less bollocks’ – just ‘bollocks’, as in ‘balls’, ‘cojones’ etc. Andy’s lambasting of Crooked Timber is spot on, but why drag in Ayn Rand? No doubt she was a fine novelist but she was also a kooky who has given libertarianism a pretty fruitcake reputation in many middle of the road circles. She doesn’t seem to have realised that there is more to life than the minimal state, however good it may be. At any rate, she is hardly in the same class as George Eliot when it comes to understanding the complexity of human nature.

    Not that her novels aren’t on my reading list — just that she’s scheduled for the year 2350.

    Never know – what with the wonders of modern medicine….

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    Go and read the (currently) last comment there by tbrosz at 7:07PM. It seems appropriate that he is the last comment, because he shuts them down pretty hard. He has nicely boiled down the real-world facts about Marxism into a very concise but irrefutable package. I am going to check back because I’d love to see them respond to his comment.

  • “But what I love about it is that whenever they post such pieces about Marxism, they often get shredded by libertarian sharks and other barracuda sympathetic to our viewpoint. [Just check the comments to the piece above.]”

    It’s true that the greatest value of CT is the comments posted by more thoughtful people who live by good arguments, but not all of them are sympathetic to libertarian ideas. They aren’t mindlessly hostile like the CT staff, but they have usefully difficult critiques that challenge one to think deeply and sharpen ones arguments.

    It’s tedious to slog through so much crap to find these nuggets so CT may not be the best place to look for them, but often they lead to better blogs where the signal to noise ratio is better.

  • Andy Duncan

    Charles, surely Ms Rand deserves a little more respect?

    I’m currently struggling to write a libertarian novel, and if the smegger actually ever gets published, and if it actuallly ever helps 1% of the people Atlas Shrugged ever helped to ‘shrug’ off socialism (these are the jokes, kid :), then I’ll consider it an immense triumph.

    When she was writing, the entire world was assumed to be heading towards a collectivist nirvana. Okay, so Orwell, Hayek, Popper, and possibly one or two others, were as influential, or more influential, in holding back the ‘inevitable’ tide, but I think Atlas Shrugged can still hold its head up in the company of ‘Road to Serfdom’ and ‘Nineteen-Eighty Four’.

    It’s certainly still HATED and DERIDED by modern socialists, witness above, even now, fifty long years after its publication. In my book, that gets MAXIMUM bonus points. Okay, so that 200 hour radio speech by John Galt needs lots of coffee to get through, and that Dagny Taggart is a right strumpet, but particularly for any socialists who we’re trying to persuade to come over to our side, it’s still a great help, a great support, a great remover of eye scales. It certainly was for me.

    You may be more fortunate in never ever having succumbed to the red flag. For those who have, it’s a long way out of those comforting silk folds, and they need all the help they can get, the sort of help Ms Rand offers them in her novels.

    BTW, I dragged Ayn Rand into it because I was genuinely pleased to see her books almost falling off the shelves, in Massachusetts, which was a great relief after having my illusions about the US shattered by five days in MA. I also seriously recommend ‘Anthem’. In fact, I think it’s her best book. You’ll be glad to hear it’s also her shortest! :-)

    Go on, give it a go. You can read it in an afternoon. I’m surprised nobody’s made it into a film, well not that surprised given Hollywood’s Democratic tendencies. It’s certainly a damn sight better than Logan’s Run, a film I’m almost certain was inspired by it.

    tbrosz:

    Respect.

  • On the topic of Ayn Rand, I rather enjoyed “We the Living.” Although not an auto-biography it is certainly written with the force of personal experience and unlike her other more abstract novels, I believe it may have a wider sympathetic audience.

  • John Harrison

    More a Heinlein fan myself – although I have a fair bit of Rand on my bookshelves it was a bit of a chore to read some of it.

  • It’s just plain sad that these CT guys are blogging on, apparently unawares that their beloved economic models are unwanted in the real world. I do not see in them the threat that Andy seems to see. They are like perfectly bright but emotionally troubled and spotty teenagers who, going unnoticed by the campus crumpet, form an inward-looking secret society to debate the prospects for revenge. At least, that’s how they seem from an economics perspective.

    The cultural side of the equasion is another matter, however. These guys, or their Habermasian/post modernist pals, have managed to force their ideas into the public consciousness. We can laugh at the academic excesses of hermeneutics, media studies et alia. But the serious end of the stick has been used to force public policy, “white male heterosexual hegemony” and our own once-free minds into the marxian line.

    Economic marxism can be left to wander off on is own sweet path to perdition. The cultural equivalent needs urgent and heavy attention from the right, libertarians included.

  • M. Simon

    A little dropping I left at the site:

    I think Marx was absolutely correct.

    Before you can get to Marxism capitalism has to reach the point where profits (improvements in the production process) are no longer possible.

    Not having reached that stage yet any one who says that we ought to practice Marxism now is not a Marxist. Of couse neither was Marx.

    I think the modern way to understand Marx is that he was a science fiction author talking about what some far off future could be like.

  • With a site name based directly on the Kantian principle that mankind is intrinsically flawed…

    I once took a quiz that says I’m 100% Kantian. Having never read his stuff, I don’t know if that’s even remotely true. I do agree with the general principle that mankind is intrinsically flawed – but what does Kant identify as that flaw?

    I identify it thus: no one perfectly understands or perfectly desires what is right. Or as Paul of Tarsus puts it (noting a divine source of “what is right”), “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

    This ideal, plus the belief that the highest good (other than the will of God) is the welfare of the individual, inspires my strong libertarian leanings. Since there is no unanimously-held definition of or desire for “highest good,” politics must minimze the threats to liberty posed by the private and public sector. Other isms view politics in the sense of risk management, too, but liberty takes a back seat to some other ideal: material providence, emotional satisfaction, demographic representation, etc. When such policies as collectivist economics, “hate speech” criminalization, and trade protectionism push liberty to the back of the bus, both liberty and the intended ideal are shorted.

    Do I sound Kantian?

  • Clarification: since I dont’ claim to be a pure libertarian, by “other isms” I mean anything with a lower score than mine on the World’s Smallest Quiz . (I’d know my exact score if the quiz weren’t so small.)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Andy, Marxism’s continuing appeal these days rests on it being, for many adherents, a substitute for religion. In many ways this was always the core of it for Marx, since even before he started out writing Capital, he hated the liberal capitalist “ideology” and sought to destroy it.

    I am amazed at how durable Marxism has been, given that its key economic tenets, such as the labour theory of value, theory of surplus value, “socially necessary labour” and immiseration of the “workers” have been pretty much exploded by theory and hard-won experience. Very few serious economists these days believe in the labour theory of value, for example. Indeed, any economic system based on it will have to rely on state control of production because no meaningful price co-ordination system can rest on a labour theory of price.

    Check out David Conway’s book, A Farewell To Marx, which was published a few years ago. It may still be in print but otherwise you will have to go to a decent library or borrow a copy off me!

    Rgds

  • Andy Duncan

    Alan K. Henderson writes:

    Do I sound Kantian?

    No you sound perfectly rational, but not Kantian. How can anyone know what is right for one person, even Kant, or the preciously super-intelligent self-appointed mega-beings of Crooked Timber, other than perhaps that one person? I suppose CT would say democracy works out what is right for this one person. So presumably, if 51% of the population are cretinous Pauline Quirke fans, because they live roughly in the same physical area as me, they’re allowed to make me watch sitcoms starring Pauline Quirke, as this is morally good for me.

    They certainly make me pay for the damn things, via the BBC licence fee, though only electrodes, wires on my eyes, and head restraints in a padded cell, with a four foot screen in the wall, would actually make me watch them.

    No doubt, to ‘correct’ this unfortunate tendency of morons to inflict Quirke-ianess upon me, the supermen of Crooked Timber would at some point be forced to take over, to save me from Pauline Quirke hell, being as they would know better. Gawd Bless ‘em. Whereas of course, you and I both think that we as individuals know what is best for us as individuals, in my case MOST comedy films starring Billy Crystal, provided we leave other individuals alone to get on with their lives, and watching some of those AWFUL Billy Crystal comedy films, you know, the ones will single fully grown cows in them.

    What constitutes another’s life (eg: his property), is an interesting debate, but that it is his life to do with as he will, and not ours to interfere with, is where we differ from the beneficient master race of our social imposition democrat friends.

    I know the total simplicity of the morality of we libertarians, as exemplified here, baffles social democrats. They need whole libraries full of contradictory hypocritical guff to work out what to do in their lives, usually in the end merely obeying supermen who interpret it all for them, but I’m a simple man, so Murray Rothbard’s universal creed will do for me. I understand it. And I can live by it.

    I’d watch it with those quizzes though, especially that world’s smallest one. I came out on this one as 100% Austrian. Now I would argue that I’m 96% Austrian, and still (temporarily) 4% Chicagoan, so obviously it was TOTALLY inaccurate! ;-)

    Jonathan Pearce writes:

    Check out David Conway’s book, A Farewell To Marx

    I’ve ordered a copy from Amazon.co.uk.

    I’m a bit wary. I’m still a bit surprised as to the way Karl Popper let Marx off the hook, in the Open Society and Its Enemies, but as a recovering socialist, I suppose a bit more therapy should do me some more good! ;-)

  • Ben

    I don’t know much about Marx. I got as far as the Labor theory of value, recognized that was complete crap and moved on. Also the high death rates and lack of a fun party atmosphere anywhere that calls itself Marxist (INCLUDING BEREKELEY) also is a big turn off.

    As to Rand, I came at her backwards, via her essays rather than her novels. I do have problems with some of Rand’s ideas, her atheism, (I think she makes declarative what is not, and in most models, cannot be proven one way or the other.) But I also recognize that her atheism is a minor bug.

    As to her statism, I have to say I find her in more agreement with reality than other more minimal state, or no state at all ideologies. An as impartial as can be achieved mediator is required for the host of disputes and disagreements that even rational folks, limited in their data collection and experience will generate.

    All in all, I find Rand to be at worse more than half right. I think she spends too little time on the subjective side of the equation, and how the two interact. (Dawkins does a good job of closing that loop).

    And then Hayek. Even more than Rand, I think Hayek should be read by every school child.

    As for the folks at CT, the comments are better reading than the articles. It is funny how the Marxist commenter talk a lot of jargon, most of it meaningless to such unenlightened prols like myself, while the opposition gets to the heart of the matter in simple clear and easily understandable language. Marxist argue poorly, like most leftists. I don’t know what went wrong with their gig, but they have not been very scientific for quite some time.

  • One of the funnier moments in the Volokh / Crooked Timber exchange is the Crooked Timber suggestion that perhaps Mr. Volokh should read Das Kapital to get a real Marxist reeducation.

    I find this bitterly humorous, because as any student of collectivism knows, you can only get a real Marxist “reeducation” in a gulag, a forced labor camp, a “psychiatric” hospital, or as you are being beated on the feat and crotch with steel rods. The word is a term of art for forced mental reprogramming. Think of O’Brien torturing Winston Smith in 1984. Not only did Smith have to repeat that 2+2 = whatever the state wanted, he had to believe it, and love the fact.

    If we lived in something less than a Republic, I would suggest exiling or executing persons who are too infernally stupid to learn the single biggest lesson of the 20th Century, which is that central planning is an inevitable road to serfdom and abject tyranny and oppression. Such people are far too obstinately stupid to be trusted with dangerous instrumentalities such as cars, airplanes, guns and typewriters in a free society that wishes to remain free.

  • Al Maviva:

    Actually, you’ll find that the suggestion to read Das Kapital was made by the hilariously funny (though probably unintentionally so) Proculian Meditations blog. Whatever you think of the CT crew, they aren’t that crass.

    Alan K. H.:

    politics must minimze the threats to liberty posed by the private and public sector

    What “threat to liberty” is posed by the “private..sector”? I don’t mean to nitpick but this argument is often used to justify all sorts of paternalistic, counterproductive and oxymoronically-titled bureacratic interference into the market.

    I’d prefer to minimize the threats to liberty posed by “politics” minimising the threat to liberty posed by the private sector.

  • Charles Copeland

    Andy,

    Apologies for my belated reply but I’m currently in the West of Ireland where broadband isn’t due for some months, so consulting Samizdata is something like a full-time occupation.

    OK, I’ll give Ayn Rand’s novel(s) a read. If only because you’re the guy who introduced the Samizdatarian community to the great Hans Hermann Hoppe, President of the Imaginary Gated Community of Libertarianistan. Where some day I hope to become Minister of Kinder, Kirche, Kueche and put the bitches back where they belong. We all have our dreams, especially after four Glenlivets. At any rate, anybody who like yourself is bang on about about HHH can’t be totally bang off about anybody else – not even the wacko Rand and Branden cult.

    Now here’s MY recommended reading to you. Try ‘The Elementary Particles’ by Michel Houellebecq (pronounced ‘well beck’, not ‘howl back’, BTW). After reading that, you’ll realise that there is no such thing as a ‘libertarian’ novel, if only in the sense that the libertarian utopia would do no more to resolve the crumpet problem – i.e. the human condition in the form of sexual competition – than the socialist utopia would do to create an egalitarian society.

    “The year had started well from a sexual point of view. The influx of girls from Eastern Europe had meant prices had dropped. For two hundred francs you could get a little personal relaxation, down from four hundred francs some months earlier.” (TEM, page 86).

    Now THAT’S literature, Andy. At any rate, if you want to put the free market back into the contemporary novel, Houellebecq might teach you a few tricks that Ayn Rand never could.

    Cheers,

    Charles

  • What “threat to liberty” is posed by the “private..sector”?

    To quote my “Statement of Human Rights” at the top of my other blog:

    “Any person, whether acting as a private party or as an agent of the State, is guilty of violating these rights [to life and physical safety, to property, to choice and expression of personal beliefs, and to choice and pursuit of personal interests] when that person commits assault against person and property, theft of property, fraudulent trade, coercion to prevent peaceable speech and pursuit of peaceable interest, or coercion to adopt and express undesired beliefs and to pursue undesired interests.”

    What lies at the root of the “paternalistic, counterproductive and oxymoronically-titled bureacratic interference into the market” from the Vampire L’Etat is a misdefinition (or complete rejection) of liberty. Think of the latter of FDR’s Four Freedoms – freedom from want and freedom from fear (of armed conflict). His answers – welfare statism (which is theft) and international gun control (which, among other things, fails to provide checks and balances against armed thugocracies).

  • Andy Duncan

    Hi Charles,

    If you can manage to read Atlas Shrugged, I think I can risk Elementary Particles. I’ve just ordered a copy from Amazon.co.uk which should be with me in a couple of weeks! :-)

    If my FANTASTIC novel ever does see the light of Amazon.com, you’ll see that I’m no believer in a libertarian utopia. The human condition, which has lifted us up from being happy worms, insists that we will continually strive to improve ourselves and our own lives no matter how ‘good’ they may appear, or we may make them.

    This is a great thing, this constant struggle for improvement, the force which will lift us to the stars, and which keeps us pushing in the constant struggle of physics and philosophy to keep seeking all the answers to all the questions of life, the universe, and everything.

    The utopia of sitting on a cloud all day listening to harp music with all of our worries brushed away is not a future which appeals to me.

    How dull would life be in such a place? I’d rather be a lamp-post inspector working in the utopia of an easy pensioned holiday-filled life for South Oxfordshire District Council. Utopia is my idea of hell.

  • Alan K. Henderson:

    Those “oxy-morons” might use a Rooseveltian misdefinition of liberty but your “statement of human rights” provides some sort of philosophical basis for their actions. In framing such a statement – and I generally try to resist asserting entitlement-orientated “rights” – you fail to make sufficient distinction between private agents and agents of your (nicely put) Vampire L’Etat.

    You need to remember that those “private sector” agents have presumed freedoms too. There are plenty of actions which are perfectly reasonable when carried out by private agents but tyrannical when carried out by the state. For example: a smoking ban. It is wrong for the state to impose a smoking ban on workplaces. However it would equally tyrannical for the state to punish, in the pursuance of some imagined “right to smoke”, owners of premises who decide on a smoke-free workplace.

    Your list of actions by the private sector which threaten liberty – I infer that you mean “use or threat of violence” when you refer to “coercion”, I would strongly reject any notion that “psychological coercion” would be recognised as similar – can all be boiled down to one: use of violence for purposes other than defense of life and property. Restrictions on appropriate activity by the state should go further.

  • we’re still like Socrates against the Athenian social democratic mob

    But it’s the other side you accuse of being elitist?

  • Since every crime is a form of theft – of “life and physical safety…property…choice and expression of personal beliefs, and…choice and pursuit of personal interests” – politics must minimize the sum amount of stealing that private individuals and the State can get away with.

    (Individuals can abridge the latter two rights by physical force or other means of extortion, but more often they accomplish their aims with State complicity – speech codes, mandatory union embership for entering certain trades, etc.)

    All bad politics are rooted in faulty expansions of the definition of “stealing.” Every policy that sets to “correct” that which is not theft engages in theft. Marxism. McCain-Feingold. Forced subsidy of broadcast media. School head scarf bans.