Front Page Titles (by Subject) IV: Individual and Social Good - Literature of Liberty, January/March 1978, vol. 1, No. 1
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IV: Individual and Social Good - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, January/March 1978, vol. 1, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Individual and Social Good
Markedly different perspectives and paradigms have been offered to describe the supposed antimony of the individual vs. the group.
The next set of summaries illustrates a sampling from this perennial debate over the claims and status of the individual in relation to the group.
Does the individual have a sovereign and protected sphere of rights that deserves social respect in the areas of privacy, autonomy, personal choice, and artistic expression—even if these individual values seem to clash with the community or “social good”?
Methodologically and metaphysically, which has primary reality and significance: the group or the individual? Can or should individual choice, or self-interest, maximize social good and utility?
The Right to Privacy
“A Private Space.” Social Science Information (UK), 14 (1975): 41–57.
A number of social theorists have recently been propounding a gospel of community which suggests that privacy is not worth having. Hannah Arendt is often taken to be among these. But, in fact, she distinguishes between the public (or political) and the “social” She defends privacy against the encroachments of the “social.” “Social” here pertains to those theorists who reject Aristotle's view of man as a relatively private individual, a “political animal” whose personal sphere of independence is secure. Social theorists, by contrast, view man as a social animal; their aim is to deprive man of personal privacy and merge him into a communal family all of whose members' lives are exposed and open to the scrutiny of their brothers and sisters.
The classical statement on privacy is the Warren and Brandeis Harvard Law Review article of 1890. It stresses not only privacy connected with property and material interests but its spiritual nature as well, an element which American courts have tended to ignore. Warren and Brandeis wished to protect each person's private life against public curiosity. Precisely such a pressure of the mass on the individual is the reason for the assertion of such a right. Hence the ambiguity of the notion that “public interest” can override the right to privacy.
But protecting privacy by law of tort seems absurd since it involves a public court; rather, the right to privacy will be most securely enjoyed when it is widely regarded as a social right, upheld by informal sanctions of public opinion. This was the case in the nineteenth century, but is no longer.
Given the unsatisfactory legal guarantees and social aids, it seems now best to see privacy as deriving not from the right to property, but from the natural right to liberty—the desire to enjoy some space in which one can have solitude, peace, inner life, and closer contact with a few congenial beings. While public life (politics) is valuable, private life is equally so. “Social theory” which fuses them into a pervasive fraternity (or conceives man as a social animal—like ants—rather than political) is harmful. Old-fashioned despotism deprived men of public life; modern totalitarianism has robbed men of privacy.
Autonomy and Psychiatry
“Psychiatry and Psychotherapy as Political Processes.” American Journal of Psychotherapy 29 (1975): 369–382.
All psychiatric therapy is inescapably political. But this is true in more than just such cases as involuntary hospitalization. In fact, psychotherapy is a political process inasmuch as the client's role in any therapeutic setting is an analogue of the role of a citizen in the political system.
Psychotherapies can be ranked along a continuum from totalitarian to libertarian on the basis of the degree to which they embody and support autonomy and personal freedom—both as goals of therapy, and in their own therapist-client relationship.
Institutions which are run in a totalitarian fashion cannot liberate anyone. The author sees a fundamental error of the mental health movement: that people can be helped toward independence through submission to authoritarian settings. They implicitly teach their clients to live by such ideals of dependency and conformity.
Private practice therapy may also employ authoritarian means. Practitioners label the patient “sick”; they manipulate him, give him drugs, and threaten him with incarceration.
But you can find some autonomous psychotherapy, as first described by Thomas Szasz, which aims to enable the client to choose his own ethics and politics.
Since every form of therapy will implement a vision of man's relationship to society and to the government, a radical socialist in therapy may have a hard time developing consistently in a setting based on voluntarism and free enterprise. But it is only when the client gains full awareness of these underlying political principles that he can make up his own mind about the implications of the therapy, that he can maximize his ability to choose his own political philosophy.
“A Different Dose for Different Folks.” Skeptic (USA), 7 (1977): 63–70.
We see that “Americans think of freedom of speech and religion as fundamental rights. Until 1914, people had thought that selecting one's own diet and drugs was also a basic right. Today, however, virtually all Americans regard ingesting certain substances forbidden by the government as both crimes and diseases.... We live in a therapeutic state. Approved drugs are tolerated, indeed actively encouraged. But drugs other than those officially sanctioned as therapeutic are considered to be worthless and dangerous. Therein lies the moral and political point: governments are notoriously tolerant about permitting the dissemination of ideas, or drugs, of which they approve. Their mettle is tested by their attitude toward the dissemination of ideas or drugs of which they disapprove.
“The argument that people need the protection of the state from dangerous drugs but not from dangerous ideas is unpersuasive. No one has to ingest any drug he does not want, just as no one has to read a particular book.... The objects we now call ‘dangerous drugs’ are metaphors for all that we consider sinful and wicked; that is why they are prohibited, rather than because they are demonstrably more harmful than countless other objects in the environment that do not symbolize sin.... What society gets out of its war on addiction is what every persecutory movement provides for the persecutors: by defining a minority as evil (or sick), the majority confirms itself as good (or healthy)... In short, I suggest that so-called ‘dangerous’ or ‘illicit’ drugs be dealt with more or less as alcohol is treated now.”
Individuals, Groups, and States
“Justice as Fairness: For Groups?” American Political Science Review 64 (1975): 607–614.
John Rawls's declared aim in A Theory of Justice is “to present a conception of justice which generalizes and carries to a higher level of abstraction the familiar theory of the social contract....” But what Rawls accomplishes has fateful consequences for the theory, leaving us with scant guidance on some of the most significant theoretical and practical problems of justice that we face.
The problems relate to groups distinguished by relatively fixed qualities such as race and language, or by a set of fundamental beliefs of comprehensive importance such as religion and nationalism.
No matter how well a theory of justice provides guidance for the treatment of individuals in a homogeneous society, it needs to be supplemented to make it respond more fully to the realities of the world. It is arbitrary to assume that justice is only for individuals, or only for individuals and states. To put it differently, it is arbitrary to assume that groups can and should gain status and rights only by becoming states. Groups in fact have status and rights at an intermediate level between the individual and the state, and it is imperative for a theory of justice to take this fact into account.
As an important alternative to Rawls's theory of the social contract, we can consider Robert Nisbet's A Quest for Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 1953). Nisbet reviews social contract theory in the works of Bodin, Hobbes, and Rousseau; three authors who attacked the feudal and hierarchical status society. In its place these authors produced the contract theory that juxtaposes the individual and the sovereign. These versions of social contract undermined the “intermediate authorities” of society and promoted centralized political power along with cultural and social leveling.
“Sorokin, Popper, and the Philosophy of History.” The Intercollegiate Review (USA), 21 (1972): 21–31.
Does history display patterns and laws (the nomothetic view), and can it be, partially at least, predictable in broad trends if not in specifics? Yes, according to Sorokin in Social and Cultural Dynamics; no, according to Karl Popper in The Poverty of History.
We can immediately dismiss the popular forms of belief in either progress or decline if these demand permanent and absolute trends. The collapse of seemingly eternal empires and economic prosperity alternating with panics and depressions discredit automatic, irreversible movement in history. There are no permanent or “inevitable” trends since that hypothesis fails to validly meet the following essential conditions: a) that the system perpetually retain the characteristics favoring the change; b) that the system not be capable of any contrary change; and c) perpetual noninterference by external forces capable of stopping the change.
We can overrule such denials of the very possibility of a scientific theory of history, drawn from Croce and Marx, which stress the subjectivity of all historical judgments. This subjective theory invalidates itself since it urges us to be rationally convinced that rational convictions (in history or elsewhere) are impossible. Furthermore, what counts in a theory is not how or why it originated (although important for psychology, biography, etc.) but how it has been tested and if the tests corroborate it.
It is also invalid to deny theories of history on the grounds that we can never generalize about unique historical events. But such theories abstract or focus selectively on only those aspects which certain events have in common. Scientific theory is abstract: it explains and predicts only the typical and not the unique individual. Thus, a historical, predictive theory of recurrences does not need to be deterministic. Historical events need not repeat themselves or be predictable in their totalities but only in certain aspects, and this allows for free will.
Sorokin's own theory, expounded in Social and Cultural Dynamics, admirably meets the tests for the validity of a historical theory of recurrence and patterns. His hypothesis claims that at certain times the dominant principles of art, law, and thought have logical similarities flowing from an identical conception of reality that rose to power at the same time in all the fields named.
Sorokin's classification of various cultures and their forms as sensate, ideational, integral, or mixed was based on whether a culture's systematizing conception has been that reality is physical or sensory, on the one hand; or that reality is supersensory or spiritual on the other. (Integral holds that reality is both sensory and supersensory, with reason bridging empirical observation and supersensory revelation.)
Sorokin devised an ingenious test to confirm the historical existence of these types of integrated, interdisciplinary cultural forms. Many scholars applied Sorokin's clearcut criteria to classify centuries or decades of various societies' art, law, and thought as predominantly sensate, ideational, integral, or mixed, and they discovered a remarkable correspondence among the different disciplines. Medieval paintings were predominantly ideational (absence of concern for visible objects except as symbols of supersensory reality, avoidance of the nude, etc.).
Next, from this discovery of an apparently repetitive order in cultural history, Sorokin went on to consider the extent of its influence on society. The “ideational” culture views its members as children of God or as gods. We would expect such culture to favor an extended family social organization. On the other hand, we expect a “sensate” culture which denies gods, to favor a contractual society. Further, we expect that either type of culture, perceiving its values threatened, may resort to compulsion and violence. Thus, from 1750 to 1914, a “sensate” West experienced empirical and industrial revolutions, developed contractual, laissez-faire markets, and reflected in art accurate representations of visible objects, individualism, and the erotic use of nudes. From the clear dominance, in any society, of an art portraying the visible world (as did European painting in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), we can “deduce” the simultaneous dominance of empiricism in an ethics of worldly happiness and an economics of reliance on contract. Periods of challenge to a culture's values witness disputes in law, frequent intense wars, and internal disorder.
“Karl Popper as Social Philosopher.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 5 (1975): 157–171.
Recent books on Karl Popper's thought have failed to assess his social philosophy critically. [See P.A. Schelpp, ed., The Philosophy of Karl Popper, LaSalle, Illinois: Open Court, 1974; and Brian Magee, Popper, London: Collins, 1973.] Yet Popper appears vulnerable in this area. We need to examine the major defects and criticisms in his approach to the study of society.
First, we can present a sketchy overview of leading themes in Popper's social thought. The methodology of the natural sciences determines Popper's own view of the social sciences, their possibilities and limitations. Natural scientists do not so much absolutely prove a hypothesis to be true, as seek to design experiments that could conceivably falsify or disprove them. “True” theories have survived a number of tests and have not yet been proven false. If theories have not been subjected to this ongoing process of attempted falsification, we term them unscientific. Popper applies this scientific methodology to any claim of the social sciences, and asks whether we can falsify it by observations.
Popper condemns the doctrine of “his toricism” precisely on these scientific and “falsification” grounds. [See The Poverty of Historicism, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957.] Historicism claims, through studying the history of society, to detect patterns and recurrences which will enable us to predict the future. The Popperian employs a methodological objection to historicism: historical facts are unique past events; they tell us nothing predictable about future unique events. Popper brands historicism as the ideology that robs people of their freedom to choose their social institutions through its assumption that the future is already determined. “Closed societies” (as opposed to “open” and democratic ones), being conformist and obedient to authority and tradition, do resemble the historicist image because they discourage individual choice.
One can use historicism dangerously as a tool for holistic and utopian social engineering to create the perfect society according to one master plan. According to Popper's methodology of falsifiability, these large-scale plans are again untestable; in addition, they dangerously concentrate undemocratic power in a central authority. In keeping with proper methodology, piecemeal planning can scientifically observe the effects of change on smaller social units.
These Popperian social ideas are weak in several respects. Popper's criticism of Marxism and psychoanalysis as “unfalsifiable,” and thus “unscientific,” loses much of its force since he recognizes other unfalsifiable theories that are nevertheless useful and valuable. For example, Popper views metaphysics to be unfalsifiable but, nevertheless, useful because it exists against a background of other theories which heuristically can stimulate inquiry. In addition, in his view, Popper's own work isn't “scientific,” because it is unfalsifiable.
More importantly, ineffectiveness colors Popper's critique of utopian social engineering. Taking physics as the paradigm of science, Popper objects to utopian social and political plans on the grounds that they are untestable. We can try them only on a large-scale and, if they fail, we lose everything. Accordingly, Popper favors piecemeal social engineering and planning because he finds such an approach closer to physics: we try something on a small-scale and, if it works, only then do we extend it on a wider scale. One does not take issue with the testability of the type of change but whether one can justify social engineering in the collectivist sense. Otherwise, we can hold Popper liable to the objection that large-scale plans and small-scale engineering both affect people in similar ways. They differ only in that the latter is “uncoordinated.” By stating the issue in the terms of the testability of social plans, Popper fails to deal with the central issue of what sort of planning one can justify.
Individuals and Groups
“Institutional Individualism.” British Journal of Sociology (UK), 26 (1975): 144–155.
Which are more important: individuals or institutions? Perhaps both.
A lively but inconclusive debate has been waged in Britain over a proper social sciences methodology. This conflict, initiated by the studies of Friedrich Hayek and Sir Karl Popper (who, in turn, developed the insights of Max Weber and Ludwig von Mises), centered on methodological individualism vs. holism.
To explain the complex social processes encountered in economics and politics, methodological individualism focuses on human individuals: their choices and goals are the primary reality that the social scientist must examine. In this individualistic methodology, complex chains of individuals interacting purposefully explain and create aggregate social forces.
Holism, or methodological collectivism, focuses instead on social wholes (society, the state, and other institutions) as the primary reality. In this view, social institutions explain and determine the goals of individuals.
Holism differs from individualism as a method in three pairs of antitheses: (1) Society is a “whole” which exceeds its parts (holism); only individuals have aims or interests (individualism); (2) “Society” affects the individual's aims (collectivism, voluntary or involuntary); the individual behaves in a way adequate to his aim, given his circumstances (rationality principle); (3) The social framework influences and constrains the individual's behavior (institutional analysis); individuals' actions can change the social set-up (institutional reform).
In reality, these three alternatives are false dichotomies and do not need to exclude each other. They conflict only if we accept the false inference that if “wholes” exist, then they have distinct aims and interests of their own.
In another form, this debate pits psychologism against institutionalism. Psychologism as a theory claims that one can reduce every social, economic, or political theory to purely psychological explanation, in terms of individual purposes. Institutionalism denies psychologism. It asserts that the social sciences are autonomous, are not reducible to psychological entities, and involve distinct social entities (customs, traditions, societies, etc.).
Again, through three pairs of anti-theses, we witness the apparent contradiction of these two viewpoints: (1) Society is the primary social entity (institutionalism); the individual is the primary social entity (psychologism); (2) One's primary duty is to one's society (collectivist morality); the individual conscience may criticize society (autonomy of morals); (3) Social conditions affect individual conditions (collectivism); individuals affect social conditions (institutional reform).
Once again, in reality, we see this second set of opposed tenets as false dichotomies which are not necessarily inconsistent with each other. They contradict each other only if we fail to see that there may be different senses in which either society or the individual is primary at the same time.
We can escape these traditional dichotomies and reconcile the opposed viewpoints by accepting a revised form of “Popperian” institutional individualism. Combining institutionalism with individualism, this position asserts that both the individual and society are “primary.” We cannot reduce individual psychology into sociology, nor sociology into psychology. Institutional individualism agrees that a social institution may have aims and interests, but only when one or more individuals give it an aim, or act according to what they decide should be its interests. A society or an institution cannot have aims and interests of its own. The “aims” of institutions do not affect the individual's behavior. Individuals who created them endow the existing institutions with “aims.” Once created, institutions become a part of an individual's circumstances, which together with his aims influence his behavior.
An individual may obligate himself to his society or institutions (Church, lodge, etc.), but only if he freely chooses such obligation. This allows for a collective responsibility without tribalism or collectivist ethics.
Personal vs. Social Goods
“Liberty, Unanimity and Rights.” Economica (UK), 43 (1976): 217–245.
To maximize social good must the abstract ranking of personal preferences infringe on individual rights?
We first examine the literature stimulated by the author's original argument as to the “impossibility of the Paretian liberal.” We then reappraise the issue in the light of what has emerged in this literature. We also present some additional results which may clarify the nature of the conflict between the Pareto principle and the principle of personal liberty, which may explain its implications for social choice.
At first sight, two principles seem to stand at loggerheads. The Pareto principle states that if everyone in a society prefers a certain social state to another, we must choose the former, which we take to be better for the society as a whole. According to the principle of personal liberty, each person should remain free to decide what should happen in certain personal matters (the “protected sphere” in Hayek's terminology). In choices over these matters, we must take whatever he thinks is better to be better for the society as a whole, no matter what others think.
The “impossibility of the Paretian liberal” maintains that the liberty principle conflicts with the Pareto principle if contradictory cycles of social preference must not arise for any set of individual preferences. To illustrate this, suppose a book may be read by John or Bob or by neither. Suppose further, that John prefers that neither should read it to his reading it himself. But he would next prefer to do so rather than have Bob read it. Suppose, however, that Bob would prefer John to read it rather than read it himself. But he would next prefer to read it himself rather than let it go unread. On grounds of individual freedom we find Bob's reading the book socially superior to letting it go unread since Bob wants to read it. But since both John does not want to read it, we find letting it go unred socially superior to his reading it. But since both John and Bob agree in preferring that John rather than Bob should read it, John's reading it is “Pareto-superior” to Bob's reading it and so a preference cycle exists.
We find the Pareto principle un acceptable as a universal rule, since it may not be consistent with even a minimal degree of individual liberty. Yet the idea that a community cannot reject preferences unanimously held by members of that community, carries great force.
To save the Pareto principle and at the same time make it consistent with the liberty principle, we suggest making a distinction between a person preferring x to y and wanting this preference to count in determining social choice. This leads to the idea of a conditional version of the Pareto principle. This revised version stipulates that a person respects the rights of other if and only if he wants a part of his total preference to count when one can combine it with other people's preferences over their respective “protected spheres.”
To revise the Pareto principle as a universal rule does not amount to an outsider overriding the wishes of members of the community. The difference between “preferring x to y” and wanting one's preference to “count in favor of x against y” is relevant here. To guarantee a minimal amount of individual liberty requires that certain parts of individual rankings not count in certain social choice. Indeed, in some cases, the persons involved may agree to this.
“Rationality and Morality.” Erkenntnis (Holland), 11 (1977): 197–223.
The fascination of the philosophical paradox-game called the Prisoners' Dilemma (PD) is its capacity to test rival notions of rationality, morality, individualism, and collective choices.
A. K. Sen presents the following scenario of the Prisoner's Dilemma:
There are, so the story runs, two prisoners to be tried, each known to be guilty of a major crime (jointly committed), but the prosecution does not have enough evidence to prove this. What the prosecution does have is proof of a joint minor crime. So each prisoner is asked separately whether he will confess or not. If both do, then they will be tried for the major crime but get a reduced sentence, say 10 years. If neither does, then they will be tried for the minor crime and will get 2 years each. If one does and the other does not, then the pillar of society goes free and the other gets the full penalty of 20 years. Given this choice, each argues that if the other does confess, it is better for him to confess also, and if the other does not, then again it is better that he confesses. So each decides to confess and led by reason they go to prison for 10 years each whereas they would have got only 2 years each if they each refused to confess. That's the dilemma. [“Choice, Orderings and Morality,” in Stephen Koerner ed., Practical Reason (Yale, 1974), 56.]
Various reasons may invalidate Sen's next point. Sen claims that we are more correct in interpreting the nature of morality as a moral ordering, not of the outcomes (payoffs) of actions but of the various orderings of such outcomes. By this definition Sen seeks to eliminate the conflict between morality and social optimality. But Sen's arguments will not stand muster.
The PD actually involves three central problems—namely, isolation, coordination, and assurance. The isolation problem occurs when the decisions of individual's independent rationality, made in isolation, are worse for everyone than other alternative actions. The coordination problem arises when we can see an alternative action available to people caught in the isolation problem; but unless they all take the same coordinated action, they will fail to enjoy an advantage of departing from a rationally independent decision. Finally, the assurance problem shows that unless we receive adequate assurance that others will also decide upon the coordinated action, we cannot prefer to depart from independent rationality. However, we would all find this coordinated action more advantageous, and hence seem to maximize our social utility.
The PD raises the issue of whether it is more “rational” to follow “self-interest” or “morality” when the two seem to conflict. The PD paradox, as Sen interprets it, implies that self-interest (or universal independent rationality) maximizes neither individual nor social utility. Sen's argument would mean that those who define morality as social optimality must accept the corollary that it conflicts with individual optimality. Similarly, those who define morality as individual optimality would have to admit that it conflicts with social optimality.
Such inadequate conclusions call for a deeper analysis of the Prisoners' Dilemma. By clarifying our notions of morality and rationality we can show how perfect rationality and perfect morality necessarily coincide. To extricate ourselves from the PD we need to investigate a purely formal definition of rationality, like “doing what is supported by the best reasons.” In addition, we must define a substantive theory of reasons to spell out what facts are reasons for whom to do what.
Self-Interest and Social Good
“Information and Strategy in Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma.” Theory and Decision (Holland), 8 (1977): 293–298.
The Prisoner's Dilemma (PD) is a twoperson, non-zero-sum game, where both agents seem to lose by pursuing their isolated self-interest. This dilemma highlights a situation where individual rationality leads to collective disappointment and suboptimal results. Social scientists, philosophers, psychologists, and economists have perceived these disturbing implications. The moral that PD preaches claims that individual or atomistic action may create social ill.
Can one show, to the contrary, that individual rationality and noncoercive social decision processes produce collective goods even without binding “social contracts”?
One escape from the antiindividualist thrust of PD was attempted. It pointed out that realistically the players played this game more than once. The multiple PD games might then result in social optimality. But R. D. Luce and H. Raiffa, in Games and Decisions (New York: Wiley, 1958) supposedly demonstrated that even if the players repeated the game a finite number of times, they would not achieve an optimal social outcome.
But the Luce-Raiffa thesis will not, in general, hold true. One would need to satisfy additional assumptions, which the nonrepeated PD game does not require. These additional assumptions are highly demanding, and rapidly multiply as we increase the game repetitions. This has optimistic implications for individual rationality. In realistic cases where PD game situations are likely to arise more than once (in “iterated” fashion), individual rationality may maximize the “common good” even when individuals have PD preferences. Such optimal results for self-seeking individuals are not quite as unlikely as Luce-Raiffa suggest.
Self-Interest vs. Slavery
“The Consolation of Slavery.” The Economic History Review (UK), August 1976: 491–503.
R. W. Fogel and S. Engerman in their book, Time on the Cross (1974), claim to make “ten principal corrections of the traditional characterizations of the slave economy.” The central proposition asserts that American slaveholding was economically rational from the point of view of the owner; that they saw it as a profitable investment; and that the use of slave labor in agriculture and other activities was predictable from the theory of optimum use of economic reasources.
Fogel and Engerman base the measurement of profitability on a very simple model: the consol price/yield relationship where the slaveholder expects his slaves to yield a constant net revenue stream over their lives (on the average). One can question this model on the grounds that its simplicity precludes its use for analyzing the yield of any asset—human or otherwise—to which risk attaches. Even in the case of an equity, one cannot use the current rate of interest as a proxy for all future expected rates of interest because no guaranteed market exists for a particular equity.
Given the price of slaves, Fogel and Engerman derive estimates of the net revenue expected to accrue from a slave over a life time. For this they use a production function for southern agriculture. In estimating a production function it is crucial that we derive the physical marginal product of the input independently of the input price. If we fail to do so, a tautological situation arises where one cannot know if the measure of net revenue justifies the price paid. All attempts to measure physical marginal productivity risk falling into this trap of circular reasoning. It seems that Fogel and Engerman have done so. If we are to specify correctly the production function, we must obtain measures of input services derived from homogeneous units of inputs. We cannot aggregate them by their market value to estimate the marginal physical productivity of inputs. In the case of Fogel and Engerman, it begs the question of profitability and rational allocation at the outset. Besides, even if we assume that the supplies of factor inputs are infinitely elastic at the market price (as far as the individual entrepreneur is concerned), we should still simultaneously estimate the production function and the demand equation. In Time on the Cross, however, the two authors estimate the production function singly.
Thus we find the measurement of outputs and inputs is inadequate for testing the hypotheses concerning profitability of inputs, i.e., slaves.
The main criticism against Fogel and Engerman lies in their search for certainty and finality in their answers. This may be understandable in terms of the political background to the debate about slavery in the U.S. But we must employ patience in seeking elusive finality about such an issue. Economic historians can fruitfully use “cliometrics” (the application of measurement and econometric techniques to historic events) only on those questions which lend themselves to quantitative answers. Even when modestly employed, cliometrics will give answers that by their nature must be qualified by our doubts about the correctness of the data.
Art and Autonomy
“The Long Work of Liberty.” New York Review of Books (USA), January 26, 1978: 38–41.
[This address was read by the author, a prominent Hungarian novelist, at the Venice Biennale on Cultural Dissent in November 1977. He has written: The Case Worker, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1974; and The City Builder, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1977.]
As a victim of both Nazism and Stalinism, the author argues that one “cannot trust the state, only a few friends at best.” His aim in life has been to have private conscience, not public loyalty, choose between right and wrong, and to make sure this happens, he has become a writer.
Regardless of the peculiar form of its ideology, right or left, communist or capitalist, the state creates a culture that subordinates its citizens. The state places responsibility in the hands of the leaders and installs a censor in the minds of its subjects. The true symbol of the totalitarian state is the exemplary bureaucrat who is more loyal to the state than to his friends. On the other hand, the writer or literary artist is committed by the creative force which compels him to expression, to tell the truth as his conscience perceives it. The act of creation is itself a radical act in which the artist tests the limits of his consciousness. While the literary artist uses the word to express the truth, the state relies on crude or subtle forms of coercion. “The gallows erected by the state are not more decent than a gun thrust out of the window of a speeding car. In our century more than 100 million people died as a result of orders given by statesmen. No common criminal can match this record.... There is no political doctrine that does not reserve the statesman's right to be an accomplice in murder.”
Socialism is a term to describe all that has happened in Eastern Europe since 1945 and will continue in the future. Socialism is not merely an ideology, but a general term for an existing social framework. Despite the state's apparently all-pervasive and enduring culture, we may predict the development of an alternative culture, parallel to that of the state, and based on individual consciousness and the irrepressible human desire for ever more personal freedom. Not at first backed by institutions or even any organized movement, the new culture begins when the autonomous self reacts against the manipulated self. The breaking up of the state's culture and its monopoly of power is a joint undertaking in which, consciously or unconsciously, the entire society participates. Out of this struggle a parallel culture based on individual consciousness begins to leave its mark on every phase of societal life, even upon the state culture. “Freedom is a beautiful word even for an idiot. The desire for it, like the desire for sex, can be suppressed only temporarily.”
The quiet revolution of self-rule is slow in coming, but it begins with the individual who does not subordinate his conscience to the needs of the state. The vocation of the literary artist in this revolution is, in a special way, to be true to his own conscience, to express through his art a lifelong striving for personal autonomy, seeking this utopia through continuous self-liberation.
Finally, western intellectuals must be cautioned against labeling certain literary artists from Eastern Europe as “dissenters.” There is no such thing as “dissident” literature; the term itself indicates the acceptance of a politicization of literature. True literature and true art (regardless of its national origin) strives to defend the concretely human against the violent and stupid formulations of the abstractly human. Every decent writer is a one man party and church. Lacking his own individual world view which is expressed in concrete images, he has nothing; neither Marxism nor anti-Marxism will help him produce good literature. Political or state culture knows the dissident writer; autonomous culture, that of the individual, knows only the good artist or the bad.
“The Revival of Max Stirner.” Journal of the History of Ideas (USA), 35 (1974): 323–328.
Max Stirner (né Johann Caspar Schmidt, 1806–1856) presents a curious paradox. Although judged by such diverse critics as his early friend Engels, and such twentieth century authors as Isaiah Berlin and Sidney Hook to be enormously perceptive in theory and social analysis, he has been periodically ignored and forgotten. Until recent years, Stirner and his chief work, Der Einzige und sein Eigentum (Leipsig, 1844), have suffered scholarly neglect apart from earlier sporadic revivals of interest. Happily, recent editions of his work
Hans G. Helms, ed. Max Stirner: Der Einzige und sein Eigentum und andere Schriften (Munich, 1968); John Carroll, ed. Max Stirner: The Ego and His Own (London, 1971); see also the Dover Press reissue of Steven T. Byington's translation of Max Stirner: The Ego and His Own (New York, 1963); together with the first comprehensive study of Stirner's philosophy ever to appear in English R. W. K. Patterson's The Nihilistic Egoist (Oxford, 1971); and a comprehensive bibliography, Hans G. Helms, Die Ideology der anonymen Gesellschaft (Cologne, 1966), 510–600,
signal a scholarly reawakening of interest that Stirner should long ago have provoked in Marxists and individualist anti-Marxists.
Marx and Engels themselves were quick to realize the radical challenge to communism offered by Stirner's The Ego and His Own. Overnight, Stirner established himself as one of the most formidable opponents of the communists, critical philosophers, humanitarians, and various reformers—those with whom previously he seemed to have so much in common. Labeling Stirner's philosophy “Egoism,” Engels recognized that Stirner had captured “the essence of present society and present man,” and that it called for an answer. The Marxist answer filled some 500 pages in The German Ideology. Stirner's book excited a barrage of other responses, but was largely ignored after the political revolutions of 1848. This should not have been his fate since as Sidney Hook indicated in 1939, the long forgotten debate between Marx and Stirner involved “the fundamental problems of any possible system of ethics and public morality” (Sidney Hook, From Hegel to Marx, 173). Stirner's effect, particularly upon the works of Karl Marx, still remains to be fully assessed.
Stirner's own egoism springs from a conscious and total atheism. He refuses to reverence any higher essence than his own uniqueness (Einzigkeit). Each individual should guard an unalienated self-ownership (Eigenthum) of his being and his thoughts, and reject everything supernatural. No abstractions should be reified and loom superior to their egoist creator. Abstracted essences such as Man, State, Proletariat, and Truth are merely substituted unreal “gods” which hostilely threaten the egoist's self-ownership, who, in fact, gave rise to them. God, and every other abstraction which claims the individual's self-subordination, become for Stirner simply the alienated essence of man. Marxism deposed the transcendent God of Aquinas only to bend its knee to His secularized surrogate Man rather than the individual ego. As Stirner sums up the matter at the end of The Ego and His Own: “Every higher essence above me, be it God, be it man, weakens the feeling of uniqueness; and pales only before the sun of this consciousness.... All things are nothing to me.” Stirner both anticipated Marx's alienation of the proletariat by one year and went far beyond.