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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.
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. It consisted of a lengthy bibliographical essays, editorials, and many shorter reviews of books and journal articles. There were 5 volumes and 20 issues. This issue contains a lengthy bibliographical essay by Kingsley Widmer on “Utopia and Liberty.”
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Leonard P. Liggio
John V. Cody
John E. Bailey, III
University of Missouri
M. E. Bradford
University of Dallas
University of West Florida
Douglas Den Uyl
Edward C. Facey
John N. Gray
Jesus College, Oxford University
M. E. Grenander
SUNY at Albany
Institute for Humane Studies Menlo Park, California
University of California, Los Angeles
Reason Foundation, Santa Barbara
Florida Atlantic University
New York University
New York Council for the Humanities
University College, Cork, Ireland
Ellen Frankel Paul
Bowling Green, Ohio
Joseph R. Peden
Baruch College, City University of New York
John T. Sanders
Rochester Institute of Technology
University of Minnesota
University of Newcastle New South Wales
University of Florida
Rochester Institute of Technology
George Mason University
Trenton State College
Santa Barbara, California
...we must be able to offer a new liberal programme which appeals to the imagination. We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage. What we lack is a liberal Utopia...a truly liberal radicalism...the main lesson which the true liberal must learn from the success of the socialists is that it was their courage to be Utopian which gained them the support of the intellectuals....
(F.A. Hayek, “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” 1949)
“MY UTOPIAN DESIGN FOR HUMAN SOCIETY.” The only assumed starting point will be to try to attain a maximum of liberty as a desirable human condition on an enduring rather than a temporary basis. How to do this is the question.
(Term paper topic proposed by F.A. Harper for the Seminar on “Liberty in Human Society,” 1962–63)
Our quotations, taken from F.A. Hayek and F.A. Harper (founder of the Institute for Humane Studies), underline the esteem in which utopian thinking was held by two of the most persuasive advocates of liberty in the twentieth century. Hayek's opening address at the founding of the “wild experiment” to be known as the Mont Pelerin Society (April 1, 1947) reflects this visionary element in neo-liberal thought. Present at the creation of that “experimental meeting,” the American Harper, in particular, was temperamentally optimistic about the prospects for realizing the utopian ideals of a free, prosperous, and humane society, although he well appreciated the difficulties in persuading others (see his essay, “On Teaching Principles of Liberty,” 1966). In a sense, the Institute for Humane Studies (with its interdisciplinary publications, seminars, research, and assistance to scholars of freedom) stands as a monument to the realism of “Baldy” Harper's idealistic “utopianizing” concerning liberty.
On the eve of inaugurating IHS and while still on the staff of the William Volker Fund, F.A. Harper expressed this balanced judgment on the utopian approach to liberty:
In order for any person to perceive the libertarian concept as definitely useful in guiding us in our daily affairs, he must first accept in the abstract a purely idealistic concept of liberty (The Golden Rule, the Decalogue, etc.; a strictly liberal society in accord with these guides, involving complete freedom of each person, property owned entirely privately, unrestricted freedom of exchange and movement of persons, and the like with equal rights for every other person). Then one must compromise his expectations as to the full attainment of this ideal in our time, without compromising the ideal itself in its design.
(“In Retrospect—and in Prospect,” August 24, 1960).
Baldy Harper realized how visionary his ideal of a voluntary society of free individuals might seem. In one of his jottings he once noted “The ethic for freedom (utopianism),” and he would often recommend Andrew Hacker's “In Defense of Utopia” (Ethics, January 1955).
No finer compliment could be paid to F.A. Harper, F.A. Hayek, or our essayist than for each reader to give some serious thought to formulating his or her own ideal society, even if that may run “counter” to accepted styles in utopianizing. To utopianize is, as the Rev. Edward Surtz, S.J. observed in his Yale edition of St. Thomas More's Utopia, to practice the uplifting virtue of hope:
The hope for far better things, sustained by the view (so typically Renaissance) that man may shape and mold himself in any chosen form, is embodied in an apocalyptic vision of the best earthly state possible—Utopia.
To utopianize is also to have the courage to build anew in imagination—then in the sometimes more recalcitrant material of reality—our ideal. Our utopian designs serve to transcend the self-imposed limits of our beliefs and models of reality and human nature. For what limits, if any, should we choose to impose on our unfulfilled human potential? Perhaps we can offer no better exemplar of the utopian impulse than our cover subject, St. Thomas More, humanist, parliamentarian, lord chancellor, and martyr to the principle that the individual is superior to the state.
As students of human liberty, we could wish for no more circumspect a cicerone than Professor Widmer to guide us through the byways of euphoric dreams and bizarre nightmares that form the imaginative landscapes of Utopia. Author of Paul Goodman (1980), Edges of Extremity: Some Problems of Literary Modernism (1980), The Literary Rebel (1965), and numerous other cultural analyses, Professor Widmer has long studied the role of “rebellious culture,” utopian speculations, and the perplexities of moving toward a freer society and self (see especially his “Toward a Politics for Homo Negans: Libertarian Reflections on Human Aggression,” cited in the Bibliography). Thus, in the free spirit of Diogenes and the Skeptics, he summons scholars to scrutinize and counterargue with the facile stereotypes that lie in wait for partisan dogmatists who approach the ambiguous connections between utopia and liberty. Practicing what he preaches, Professor Widmer begins (see his first footnote) and ends his essay (see his last paragraph) reminding both himself and the reader of the need to remain open-minded, self-critical, dialectical, and permanently rebellious in countering and challenging one's own orthodoxies. His fascinating tour through the utopian will give the reader the opportunity not only to reexamine the grand themes of human individuality, community, and freedom but also to speculate on the identity and possible destiny of human nature.
“Somewhere there's gotta be a better world”
(Refrain from a classic American Blues)
“Utopia” and “liberty” may well be seen as perplexed terms open to no single and simple definitions; they really are loose binders for bundles of diverse notions and desires. Their problematic inclusiveness perhaps makes them useful for social and political moral thinking. Still, some unbundling of these ambiguous terms may be in order and, in a dialectical way, some tentative rebundling. In a ranging survey of much contemporary utopianism, I want to emphasize the counter-argument roles of the “ideal societies.” Countering some common libertarian prejudices, I also want to argue that the utopias should not be taken literally; they require some multiple perspectives; and they must partly be understood in terms of their historical continuities. Since the utopianisms often display many of the crucial ideological issues of our time, they merit not only libertarian awareness but require some libertarian discriminations. After all, much of human liberty, in its variousness as well as its aspirations, is utopian.
Let us assume here the considerable value of the fullest possibilities of individual freedom, even though such notions also require considerable qualifications, as not a few utopian efforts will remind us. Whether utopia is taken as a narrative fiction of an ideal society, as a plan for a radically different from current reality institution or community, or as a futuristic social and political vision, it may well appear to the skeptical individualist as considerably bothersome. If the utopian is viewed (somewhat incorrectly, as I will point out) as a totalism of rationalistic planning, the individualist may well find it threatening. But many utopias are the ordered responses of such threatened individualists seeking to posit individual-protecting counter-possibilities.
On the basis of surveying some hundreds of views of classical liberals, left-liberals with a strong commitment to freedom, and avowed libertarians, I conclude that their most common responses to the utopian range from great suspicion to high condemnation. For examples: the traditional left-libertarian M. L. Berneri in Journey Through Utopia (1950) concluded that most of the ideal no-places in history deserved, because of overt or implicit authoritarianism, to be nowhere. Yet she held to a degree of anarchist individual freedom that is generally considered quite utopian. She therefore felt impelled to distinguish a libertarian side to the utopian. Rightlibertarian Murray N. Rothbard, in For a New Liberty (1973), took an even more wholesale negative view of the utopian as a dangerous collectivist tendency: “The true utopian is one who advocates a system that is contrary to the natural law of human beings,” as well as a foolish demand for something “that could not work,” Yet a scholarly survey of recent American utopianism reasonably insists that Rothbard (on the basis of that very book) is a typical “perfectibility” case of modern utopianism. Hardly less negative, though with a considerably different politics, is the liberal-humanist William Barrett who in The Illusion of Technique (1979) dismissed most modern utopianism as “technological fantasy” and “an empty and insipid ideal.” Yet most contemporary technologues would undoubtedly consider Barrett's views anti-technological utopianism with a fantastic insistence on Heideggerean “being” which demands a radical transformation of sensibility in the modern world (though one Barrett hardly faces up to). The ambiguities of utopian-anti-utopianism in these thinkers is central to much of characteristic contemporary utopianism.
These ostensible rejections of the utopian go with important charges—authoritarianism, rationalistic collectivism, scientific religiosity—which deserve further consideration. But first I might suggest several contexts. In spite of the common connotations of “utopian” as impractical or exaggerated—or, as Karl Mannheim more shrewdly suggested, “utopia” both identifies the ideology one rejects and stands for something larger than mere contemporaneous ideology —many informed views hold utopianism to simply be essential, for some millennia, to any ranging social and political thought. Thus, for example, the conclusion to the Manuels' recent massive intellectual history, Utopian Thought in the Modern World (1979): “Western civilization may not be able to long survive without utopian fantasies any more than individuals can exist without dreaming.” The very health of the polity requires some such envisioning, reordering, and revisioning, as part of its dynamic dualism. Otherwise put, our very senses of social-political freedom depend on entertaining the possibilities and alternatives projected by the utopian, even when not directly employed. Perhaps also I know more clearly what I am against when I see someone else's utopia.
The positing of “ideal societies” seems especially strong in Western traditions, though there may be partial parallels in the especially strong Eastern traditions—as in Taoism—of positing ideal escapes from societies. Much modern Western utopianism obviously displays an activist concern for a more just and beautiful community, beyond mere contemplation. More crucially, perhaps, many utopias came from the heretical and other dissidents who often, and no doubt necessarily, projected alternative social orderings. Rather paradoxically, even the classic fixed and static utopias may be seen as radical and dynamic in their functions of providing patterns for judgment, for criticizing the traditional and often absolutistic societies from which they arose. And not surprisingly, any radical enlargement of freedom has also often been viewed, on the face of it, as utopian, whether in praise or condemnation. A large liberty of the person, so obviously limited by social bonds and established order as well as by ever-present mortality, may seem to many in any period to be ultimate utopian dreaming. Yet the utopian projection of unexpected possibilities may also be, as “conservative anarchist” Paul Goodman argued in Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals (1962), psychologically liberating, and therefore downright “practical” in bringing into consciousness alternative senses of an issue. The true opposite of the utopian dream, I suggest, is less something “pragmatic” or “realistic” than cynicism or apocalypse, the ultimate human nightmare.
Yet, of course, much utopianism can also result in bad dreams. While a history of liberty may often be brigaded with utopian imaginings or plans—after all, most history is within the short statist period of human society and its coercive conditions, thus often literally requiring an “ideal” or “elsewhere” conception of liberty—much utopianism is, as it had long been, authoritarian. Even for Plato's fortunate few guardians in The Republic there was less liberty—be it in class confines and duties, or censored poetry and music, or the totally static order—than at least some number of Socratic Athenians might well have enjoyed. But, if my sense of the historical record is approximately correct, the dominant effect of the Platonic authoritarian utopia has been heuristic service for more liberal views, at least from Sir Thomas More to Sir Karl Popper. It is as if many have said, how can we properly counter Plato? Here, surely, is a large utopian service.
More's partly counter-Platonic Utopia (1516), the first of that explicit name (a punning play on good-place and no-place), provided a thoughtful, and sometimes wryly mocking criticism of More's actual society, representation of a more tolerant and charitable ordering—the degree of its Christianity still in dispute. But more ancient forms of the “guardians” are also still with us, at least as much as More's mild patriarchal ones, currently in the camouflage of science fiction heroes and in other envisionings of futurological technocrats for what may be the worst of all possible worlds.
However, positing either better or worse societies hardly provides an adequate description, or use, of the utopian impetus. And we should promptly note that what bothers many skeptics of the utopian is less the better or worse particulars of a social ordering than the very premise of such social shaping or reshaping. For instance, in rather prematurely predicting the demise of the utopian a generation ago, political scientist Judith N. Shklar, in After Utopia (1957), catalogued dozens of important anti-utopian views. Her conclusion was that they marked the end of the Enlightenment faith in “rational political optimism” as the shaper of society. While that has some applicable truth, especially to usual left-liberal ideology, there remains much other utopianism, which was downplayed in Shklar's account.
One of the anti-utopians only briefly noted by Shklar was F. A. Hayek who in The Road to Serfdom (1944) excoriated “utopia” as the collectivist delusion of “democratic socialism” leading to a totalitarian society; indeed, he argued, perhaps excessively, that anti-democratic socialist ideologies such as fascism and Nazism also derived from it. Hayek has variously continued the argument, through a recent (1978) attack on “constructivism,” the utopianism which he links to the rationalist tradition from Descartes and Rousseau. Such presumptuous rationalism, argues Hayek, displays the hubris, the arrogance, of a social-political thought that would claim to consciously construct institutions instead of allowing them evolutionary development. In contrast, liberal critical reason would more modestly create a framework of rules under which the growth of institutions beyond direct rational comprehension (the market, common law legal traditions, etc.) would be possible. Apparently for Hayek, the liberal application of reason to society falls between constructivism and the conservative distrust of reason which emphasizes organic accretion of changes (as in Burke), if any at all, in institutions. Obviously, this liberal view of the social function of reason remains historically shifting and therefore rather uncertain.
Several kinds of skeptic properly suspect those who would plan or otherwise dictate all too much of life under the guise of reason. This, most libertarians would agree, provides a profoundly appropriate criticism of a presumptuous, and quite possibly ruthless, utopian rationalism. Yet what might be called a hyper-rationalism characterizes much indeed of social-political thinking, not just the utopian. For obvious example: the development of Talmudic and Christian canon law, and tortuous casuistries, and then their secularization in legalism and administrative regulation, certainly displays moral rationalism functioning in insistently encompassing and controlling ways which a devotee of liberty might well find threatening. Yet, such are the paradoxes of reason operating in history, the very defense of the individual against these restrictive rationalisms became ornate counter-rationalisms, such as those we connect with the Enlightenment. One tradition of the countering liberal rationalism was constitution-making, be it Locke's for Carolina, Rousseau's for Corsica, the established U. S. and French revolutionary constitutions, the pathetic plethora of nineteenth-century liberal European charters, and the fakery of rationalization of the 1935 Soviet constitution and those of a good many “emerging” nations in the present. The proposing and applying of constitutions may rightly be seen as a schematic utopianism, and one properly suspect for its abstraction of tangible realities and its rationalistic formalism and controls. Yet the vehement critic of rationalistic constructivism, Hayek, recently proposed a constitutional construction (a new form of legislature) for a defense of classical liberal values, and himself characterized it as a “Utopia.”
In defense of his utopianism, Hayek related it to an earlier moderate utopian argument, David Hume's “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth” (1742), and his claim that “it must be advantageous to know what is most perfect in the kind” as a model for ameliorative “innovations.” While in such matters Hayek (perhaps even more than Hume) depends on a temperamental conservativism, such utopianism seems essentially a moderated constructivism. Even in the earlier period when Hayek was polemicizing against collectivist utopianism, he was also arguing for a liberal utopianism as a counter to it. When we further consider that the Hayek view rests on large constructions of universal “free markets” (and the institutions that necessarily go with them), which in fact have only fragmentarily existed, classical liberalism may be viewed as itself deeply engaged in a grandiose utopianism.
Surely we can recognize important differences of emphasis in a rule-structured utopianism and direct statist planning—differences of utopias. Based on other conditions, both may restrict various human freedoms. So our preferences may require fuller utopian definition, rather than a rejection of the utopian in general. Put another way, the combination of the utopian and the anti-utopian in such views as the Hayekian remains ambiguous.
Certainly there are views which are less ambiguously anti-utopian, from the commonplace anti-speculative cast of mind—fearful of acknowledging change—to the traditional conservative committed to a fixed order of ostensibly divine sanction. Another anti-utopian tradition, and influential one of partly liberal principles, focuses on the means of change. Karl Popper, a generation ago, and Melvin Lasky, more recently, have polemically insisted on a pervasive brigading of utopianism and revolutionary violence. While their arguments undoubtedly apply to some millennial and terrorist movements as well as Jacobin and Marxian revolutionism (though, as will be noted below, Marxism claims to be anti-utopian), revolutionary violence has small relevance to a large part of utopianism, past and present. The anti-revolutionary ideologues also employ a most peculiar calculus of coercion, suffering and violence: some established orders have produced more tyranny, misery, and death than revolutionary regimes; and usually only the greatest ordered states can produce massive control, deprivation and death. But were not some of them utopian? Some tyrants may be partially analyzed in terms of some utopian rhetoric—Cromwell, Robespierre, Mao, et al. —though most dictators better qualify as anti-utopian. While seeking no narrow definition of the utopian, I suggest rather generally excluding the mad tyrants (redundant phrase), and the apologists of great states and empires, as well as those primarily committed to revolutionism, as views inherently contradicting coherent claims to relatively ideal societies, on the face of things.
Less emphatically, we might also set aside much of another often presumed charge against the utopian impetus—that it generally tends to the collectivist, the coercive statist centralized economy. It is true that property in Plato's Republic and More's Utopia, both small city-states, was communally held, and that a considerable number of nineteenth-century utopian fictions and plans may be characterized as state-socialistic, more or less. But on close examination it was often less. For instance, Charles Fourier's early nineteenth-century utopian Phalanstery had world-wide influence—his direct effects run from Hawthorne's Brook Farm in Massachusetts to Dostoyevsky's St. Petersburg in Russia, and more indirectly, into modern surrealism and communalism—and Fourier drew some admiration of socialists, from Engels through Marcuse. But Fourier's schemes were essentially decentralist, entrepreneurial, anti-statist, and generally antithetical to much of Marxist and similar views in his great insistence on human variousness. Distinctions need to be made not only between communal and collectivist economics but, perhaps more crucially, between the degrees of individual variousness and other freedoms.
Or, to glance at a later example: in a bundle of utopian notions which provided both a popular European novel, Freeland (1890), and several utopian colonies, Hertzka's economics had communally owned land, but this was part of a systematic emphasis on pluralistic arrangements for competitive enterprise. The economic ideologies of much utopianism are more than a little mixed. Indeed, some seem outrageously contradictory or historically muddled. Statist socialism, for example, has been considerably influenced by Saint-Simon who, indeed, may be credited (as by Hayek) with inventing part of it. But to pursue Henri de Saint-Simon in his life and works is to recognize a speculative capitalist of early nineteenth-century France who, not surprisingly, produced an elaborately hierarchical managerial-capitalist utopianism. His multiple historical legacy included an elitist religious cult of some direct influence for a few years, considerable effect on “progressive” speculative financiers in the Second Empire, and probably significant contributions to the continuing technocratic-elitist statism which plays an important part in the French economy, whether called (state) capitalist or (state) socialist. Like its capitalist originator, this legacy is certainly anti-libertarian.
Or note the rather anomalous roles of Saint-Simon's contemporary, Robert Owen, the rich early nineteenth-century English mill entrepreneur and reformer, who lost much of his capital (though not his philanthropic obsessions) in establishing the paternalistic utopia of New Harmony, Indiana, which soon collapsed. Depaternalized versions of his utopianism may have had considerable influence on later British socialism, as his managerial methods in his New Lanark mills may have had on later labor unions. Yet Owen also strongly influenced in the 1840s a quite exceptional American free-market individualist anarchist, Josiah Warren, who resided for a time at New Harmony. Warren not only tried modified Owenism in several individualist community experiments (Utopia, Ohio and Modern Times, Long Island) but developed a curious laborbarter system (an exchange of self-created money based on worktime units) which was commercially successful as well as a more equitable way of merchandizing in his several stores. With millowner-manager Owen and inventor-businessman Warren, among many others, the entrepreneurial and utopian impetus seem to have been significantly the same. More contemporaneous utopianism, as I shall have occasion to note several times below, is frequently emphatic in its entrepreneurial motives and forms, as with insisting on state-autonomous small businesses as central to freedom.
Still, no single, or even several, economies can be said to generally characterize historical utopianism. But, it may be countered, since much (though certainly not all) utopianism takes the form of projecting ideal communities, surely it is communal rather than individualist economics? In that loose a usage, all economics is communal, though not necessarily collectivist.
Even in the most extreme of nineteenth-century individualist philosophies, some sense of community remains a positive value. Thus Max Stirner, often viewed as carrying individualism to a nihilistic solipsism in The Ego and Its Own (1844), none the less suggested what he called the “Union of Egoists.” For Stirner gave a central place to human desires, gratifications, and thus relatedness; the social issue, he insisted, is “not how one is to produce the true self...but how one is to...live himself out.” Granted, it may not be altogether clear in Stirner how much the Union of Egoists should take the form of a voluntary intentional community as against what he called an “instinctual” association of the like-minded with the courage to violate legal restrictions and reject moral “ghosts.” For example, “freedom of trade” to Stirner was less likely the result of establishing any certain market system (which to him was always partly anti-individual) than of violating whatever system was established by “smuggling.” Personal freedom was less to be achieved by establishing protective rules, which always became controlling rules and tend to defeat the authentic individual, than by practicing moral “refractoriness” and even, prudently, legal “disobedience.” But, as with the bandit gang, that may make voluntary community all the more important.
Such extremists as Stirner—and a number of other utopians—are valuable, I believe, in sharpening our critical perspective. For example, more recent utopias with unions of egoists seem more defeating of gratification than Stirner's. So, I suggest, with Ayn Rand's capitalist-individualist “nowhere” in Atlas Shrugged (1957). This “Utopia of Greed,” also called (with perhaps more negative irony than intended) “Galt's Gulch,” is a Colorado valley protected by magical rays where a secret conspiratorial cult of embittered entrepreneurial “egoists” has established a community dedicated to selfishness under the charismatic semi-autocracy of a soap opera hero, John Galt. As Rand explained elsewhere, part of her fictional credo was to present an image of “the kind of social system that makes it possible for ideal men to function...laissez-faire capitalism.” But, from a Stirnerian individualist perspective, this is mostly an elaborate substitution of a “social system,” and its moral “ghosts” and narrowly fixed conceptions of role, in place of protean individual living out of full life. Rand's utopianism displays an individualism patently narrow in its puritanical and rationalistic constructivism, stronger on abstract polemics than on the rich qualities of individuality.
While Atlas Shrugged may be doubtful as an expression of individualism (and the melodrama crassly weak in social delineation), it may raise several other points of utopian interest. Note that it had considerable popularity at the very time when much of the intellectual establishment (see Shklar, above) quite decried utopianism, denying that it could really exist in a twentieth-century world made dourly pessimistic by over-population, endless irrational war, uncontrollable technology, and the rest of the age of anxiety. Cultural history is not nearly so unilateral as often pretended. Nor are utopian motives nearly so bland and optimistic as often assumed. The Randian ethos curiously provides a reverse adumbration of what Nietzsche analyzed as ressentiment. An analysis of the redundant rhetoric justifying her utopia (as with Galt's four or five hour radio address) would show it dominated by contempt and hatred. Utopian motives, we are well reminded, may be in considerable part unidealistic, mean-spirited.
In a not unique twentieth-century way, Rand's utopia is only a stage, part of a process, dissolved as the leading characters move toward renewed establishmentarian power (that, not individuality, dominates their motives). Note here another dubious charge often made against the utopian: the mode is said to be static, fixed, monolithic, rigid. Yet the probably most influential twentieth-century utopian theorist and novelist, H. G. Wells, insisted about the incomplete pattern of his A Modern Utopia (1905) that our appropriate utopias must be construed as “stages” in a “kinetic” process, changing and time-limited and evolving. That, of course, was more generally true of Wells' utopianism, which took some variety of forms and values. So did Aldous Huxley's (see below). Herbert Read in The Green Child (1935) presented as simultaneous in time in the same work two contrasting utopias (one progressive materialist, one mystical neoPlatonic). The influential American Communitas (1947) by Paul Goodman provided three but not necessarily exclusive “Community Paradigms” (they might be characterized as super-centralized capitalist, decentralized communal, and a dual ordering of Blanquist work-welfarism and aggrandizing consumerism). Wisely, none of them were held to be the best for all nor the only possibilities.
Many other examples of various and pluralistic and evolving utopianisms in modern times could be cited (some will be noted later). That many utopians show an insufficient theory of change may well be true, but that is also sadly true of almost all modern social-political thinkers. The inadequately informed too often take the Platonic paradigm as defining not only the literary genre but the general utopian cast of mind. Debatably, there is evidence for doubting that the fixed Platonic was ever all that defining, as one recalls the endlessly open Rabelais, the ironist More, the dualistic Voltaire, the conflictful Fourier, and many other utopians. Of course there are, as there always have been, dogmatic fundamentalists, literalists, in utopianism, as in most ideologies. The logic of Popper's “open society” or of Hayek's “evolving institutions” or of truly various libertarian social-political views cannot reasonably reject the utopian as simply static, rigid, monistic, exclusionary. Unless, that is, they are committed to the very fallacy they denounce.
Let me briefly adumbrate another aspect of utopia-as-planning by taking a mode more extreme than constitution-making: utopian city planning. When it comes to individual living, the envisioning of a city may show us some of the consequences of an ideology, not just the abstract rules, in a tangible way.
From ancient ideal cities, for man but more often for man-god rulers, through the part-ideal planning of Athens, Rome, Venice, and many other actual places—structuring a better city has been a rich utopian concern. Given the twentieth century's megalopolitan ugliness, destructiveness, and other social pathologies, it is hardly surprising that diverse exceptional talents devoted themselves to embracing urban utopianism. English Ebenezer Howard's influential plans for the moral Garden City, Swiss-French Le Corbusier's giganticist visualizations of the super-industrial Radiant City, and American Frank Lloyd Wright's piquant plans for re-countrifying the urban in Broadacre City, carry on a long tradition of imaginative social criticism and conceptualization. Aside from their existence as fascinating and suggestive objects for contemplation—no mean thing in itself—what do these utopian cities suggest about human liberty?
Fortunately or not, none of these cities have been fully built. Are they, then, just more utopian fantasizing, further variations on the Tower of Babel? Something rather more, for the plans of Howard, Corbusier, and Wright have also had demonstrable influence on actual places. And these ambitious cityscapes may also encourage a certain discipline in our thinking about ideologies as well as cities. For once understood, these great plans expose not only the conceptual limitations of lesser “planners” but also point to the hidden agendas, the covert utopias, which lie behind any plans. By “planners” I don't only mean the professional technicians who practice that dubious trade but the rulers and administrators, the businessmen and “developers,” who, consciously or not, carry out what is usually a debased utopianism. In significant part, all cities are planned, however confused or hypocritical their ideals may be. Cities are not objects of nature but constructions which will be variously chosen, willed.
Put another way, some of our suburban towns can be related (though often not decently enough) to the cooperative community ideal enshrined in Howard's Garden City—and to its rather blandly narrow lower-middle class sense of culture and human behavior. Our grandiloquent urban highrise centers can be related (though usually without the rigorous coherence) to the hyper-functional industrial ideals of Corbusier's Radiant City—and to its hierarchical centralism and other anti-democracy and anti-individualism. And our contradictory American responses to the urban and communal can be related (though generally without the imaginative verve) to Wright's Jeffersonian individualist anti-city Broadacre—and to its rather forced familial economics and social atomization. These utopian city plans, then, make tangible not only certain styles of living and sensibility but major social-political dispositions.
My terse noting of the great modernist city plans does not intend to suggest that their specifications allow us to choose for once and all between and among the genteel co-operative, the authoritarian centralist, and the atomized individualist possibilities. The issues, of course, become more perplexed than that, including that all three of these utopian planners saw themselves (at least in major periods) as advancing entrepreneurial economics and individual autonomy under the peculiar conditions of the twentieth century. We may thus be driven to an awareness—simplistically ignored by all too many libertarians—of which kind of free market, and which kind of individualism, and which kind of liberties, are to be encouraged and chosen.
Thus when we turn to a current planner of a utopian city, and one actually building an example, Paolo Soleri's Arcosanti, in the Arizona desert, we may be brought up short. Though using some of the individualist rhetoric and ideas of Wright, Soleri makes clear in his theory of Arcology (1969), as well as in his rather unlivable beehive city, that the role of the non-elitist individual is rather slight. Like a fictional Ayn Rand architect (though more tastefully so) Soleri seems quite prepared to impose his shapes and his mystagogueries on others. When heroic liberty is only for the few one reasonably doubts the liberty. Granted, the conditions of an overpopulated technocracy encourage this. Thus, to my eye, the noted futuristic super-planner of a world-wide city, “Ecumenopolis,” C. A. Doxiadis, shows in Building Entopia (1975) a considerable dehumanization in the styles as well as proportions of his plans. The cake of over-mechanization becomes a controlling diet, however frosted with scientistic optimism.
Understandably, then, the libertarian temptation may be to reject all utopian city plans, even as thought experiments, as has been done from a more or less conservative social-political perspective by Jane Jacobs and from a left-liberal perspective by Richard Sennett. But the opposite of a utopian plan may be less “no plan” than a bad plan, further corrupted by being unadmitted and unexamined, whether as the megalomanias of rulers or, as currently in America, of combined developers and administrators, baronially corporate as well as royally statist. The conditions for the growth of a city under the invisible hand of a free market or the indefinable spirit of organic community—both, I would argue, insufficient conceptions—only fragmentarily exist in the modern megalopolis.
Thus one modest claim for the utopian might be as a way of projecting issues, making alternatives tangible, and being more concretely aware of consequences. But, as my dialectical insistence would have it, that positive side of the utopian impetus should not be used to deny the negative sides. Candidly, as a reader of hundreds of utopian fictions and schemes, I suspect a high proportion of compulsive-obsessive views and that even some of the more heroically suggestive (Bruno, Rousseau, Fourier, etc.) display paranoid megalomanias. Still, a disinterested skepticism also suggests that rather more dangerously authoritarian institutions grew out of more unadmitted utopianism. Thus, supposedly hardheaded Benthamite utilitarianism projected some of the most nastily controlling institutional patterns, such as the Panopticon ot total corrective surveillance. Auguste Comte's (1798–1857) anti-idealistic scientism reinstituted elitist guardians in the narrow guise of social scientists. And Marx and Marxism mostly substituted a vague and manipulative revolutionism for a more specific, and possibly more accountable, utopianism.
When Marx and Engels vehemently disavowed the “utopian” (after some early flirtation with it) for “scientific socialism” —their version of the fantastic Hegelian rationality of history—they righteously chose obfuscating means, in such guises as “dialectical materialism” and “proletarian revolution,” over more clear and specific humane purposes. Mortals without revelations of absolutistic historical “science” might utopianly prefer an ideologue's revealing how some of the proposed social reality is supposed to look and feel. Psychologically, however, the appeal of Marxism for social transformation may carry strong utopian elements, regardless of what the doctrine claims. And such may be found, for example, in the Marxist mythology of A. L. Morton, The English Utopia (1952), who crudely and erroneously holds that well-done utopias are compatible with vulgar Marxism. In a more sophisticated version, as in the neo-Marxist reifications of Ernst Bloch, A Philosophy of the Future (1963), utopia becomes “anticipatory design” implicit in certain meta-social meta-aesthetic forms as “the eschaton...of progress” in the dialectical unfolding of history. Sentimental or sophisticated, such views stand in sharp variance with much of Marx (including the splitting, as Bloch admits, of the cultural “superstructure” from the material “base”) and are contrary to the bankrupt historical realities of Marxian-colored ideologies.
Granted, the supposedly anti-utopian methodologies of Bentham, Comte, and Marx, may partly be viewed as weird episodes in nineteenth-century scientism, though they also remain with us as ideological dispositions. Such imposing programmatic claims of “new knowledge” repeat in our time the dangerous pretensions of knowledge-as-control which can be seen as continuous with some Enlightenment philosophes, the Baconians, the Renaissance Pansophists, and earlier forms of the Faustian and Promethean magus. These intellectual fantasies of power have not been confined to the utopian—indeed, the magicians of power often claim to be anything but utopian—yet some utopianism certainly carries such claims. But avowed utopias, at least, also carry the warning of being acknowledged counter-reality dreams. Unadmitted fantasies (including the utilitarian, Comtean, Marxian) may be more dangerous impositions.
Properly warned by the muddle of those who have attempted to distinguish between the “utopian” and the “realistic” (or, for example, Hayek's untenable distinction between “critical rationality” and “constructivist rationality”), I cannot suggest any simple safeguards. Some utopianism is self-serving apologetics, dangerously resentful fantasy, symptomatic pathology. But some is compassionate moral idealism, reasonable projection, imaginative prophecy. Inconveniently, they often come all mixed together. The utopian must remain problematic. All that I can propose as a methodology is that we attempt to double-view any utopia—be it fiction, project or vision—as both broad ideology and personal peculiarity, as both moral doctrine and symptom of a time and place.
Three brief examples. More's Utopia (1516) five centuries ago included acute though heavily moralistic social criticism, given an ironic perspective, and a still pertinently utopian situational ethics (euthanasia, divorce, family limitation, etc.), a paternalistic familial and political ordering in spite of communal property, rather limited notions of pleasure and freedom, and even a six-hour work day in spite of its premise of a static-scarcity economy. That can be viewed as showing both the strengths and limitations of high Christian humanism. Arguably, it can also be seen as contradicting much in the man who became a political power and a martyred saint.
The most popular and influential of all American utopian novels is Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888). Although held to envision a kindly and reasonable equality, Bellamy's utopia included harshly enforced work and other conformity, which it rewarded with a culture that was Boston-genteel, gadgety, and trivial, in a technological society controlled by a supposedly meritocratic bureaucracy. In essentials, it is the continuing vision of a blandly optimistic engineering socialism. We might also view the Bellamy utopianism as symptomatic of the rising American “technocracy” (the combination of sophisticated technology and elaborate bureaucracy) which continues to supercede, and fuse, both socialist and capitalist ideologies. Technocracy tends to its own socio-economic system, and such worshipful attitudes as Bellamy's may have furthered it.
Probably the most influential contemporary American scientistic utopia is B. F. Skinner's Walden Two (1948). Its behaviorist guardians use lab-rat “positive re-enforcement” and other reductive and programmed “positive” conditioning in a Grand Inquisitor denial of ordinary individual freedom (except as a sometimes exploitable illusion). We may grant that its motives and aims, as Skinner has had to repeatedly insist in defending himself, are highly benevolent. Some of the worst dominations and other mass-crimes in history have been so. In the history of utopias, I see Skinner's ideal as a secularized adaption of religious dogmatism and indoctrination. It may also tell us something not only about the dominant American academic psychology (of which the author remains a noted representative) but perhaps more generally about the nasty pretensions of a good bit of social scientism.
While these three well-known examples—More, Bellamy, Skinner—are narrative fiction utopias, we might also apply a similar critical awareness to large conceptual structures for a better society as well as to moral templates for an institution, a commune, or a community. At this late stage in utopianism, simple-mindedness in approach would not be just intellectually intolerable but perhaps socially dangerous. However, to take a skeptically dialectical view of utopianism should not be confused with common anti-utopianism. Our skeptical, critical view of utopianism does not embrace anti-utopianism, at least when that can be defined as the denial of envisioning a better institution, community, or society, or as the refusal of any enlargement of freedom beyond the mere margins of invisible orderings and what all too badly exists.
But the issues of utopianism should be put in several other contexts. Historical perspective suggests that it is conceptually quite inadequate to confuse utopianism with merely rationalistic planning, and the writings with the several literary genres which from at least Hellenistic times use lost-and-found societies for edifying fable, satiric argument, or titillating fantasy. Otherwise put, those who wish to attack utopianism (including the half-dozen cited earlier) need to overhaul their arguments and expand their focus if they wish to be pertinent to what utopianism really represents. Ideal societies, for instance, must be understood as not just rationalistic constructions but as partly mythic—as, indeed, with much of impassioned human thought. An essential part of the appeal of utopianism goes beyond political and social logic to realms of dream, fantasy, and prophecy—in sum, to transformations of human sensibility. The issues can in no adequate way be confronted, qualified, or countered by mere economic and ethical paradigms—or the other professional bigotries of economists and philosophers.
In several thousand years of utopias, some obviously (and others indirectly) display the secularization of other-worldly paradises. But that may also be understood the other way around, with paradises as the etherealization of secular utopias. For, as the great utopian social-psychologist William Blake noted, many “abstract the mental deities” in order to create an enslaving “system”; “Thus men forgot that all deities reside in the human breast.” Precedence may not always be clear, whether it be with the happy Isle of Para in a Greek Cynic tale or with the revolutionary Third Kingdom (under the aegis of the Holy Ghost) in the long millennarian prophetic tradition linked to Joachim of Fiore. Separation of transcendental and earthly felicities is not at all as clear as the apologists of orthodoxies of control have tried to claim.
A major recurrent theme of utopianism adapts the Greek legends of the Golden Age declining into the Iron Age, as in Hesiod's Works and Days (8th Century B.C.), which was twisted in Plato's Republic (4th Century B.C.) into classes of men and duties for ordering the just state—metaphors confirming the absolute and static nature of his ordering. Until the geographic-demographic discoveries and closures of the present, which has made many fantasies as well as alternatives seem more improbable, there was always some place where the Blessed or Happy Isles just might be found, or re-found. And even now there are those, ranging from noted physicists to hallucinating addicts, who fancy close encounters with messengers from superior islands displaced into outer galaxies.
Historically, the Golden Age imagery often linked with the sophisticated “primitivism” of what is frequently called the “arcadian mythos,” the idealized pastoral world which takes its early characteristics from Theocritus, Vergil, and other poets of rural ritualism in the Mediterranean world. This continued, as I understand it, as a covert paganism as well as a cultivated literary tradition through the high Christian period, partly culminating in the Renaissance refulgence of pastoralism as well as other utopianism. This concerns rather more than poetic genres. The pastoral exalts a civilized nature combined with amorous social relations, de-classed, in an odd fusion of the “natural” and the ritualistic for a small-scale vision of a harmonious social order. The conventional charges against pastoral social ideologies are that they turn nostalgically backward and remain highly simplified. But that is hardly persuasive in itself since most social ideologies are considerable simplifications and the determination of what is backward-looking is often hard to tell; psychological regression seems fundamental to human images of happiness, and the most future-oriented social images (as often in revolutionary rhetoric) turn out to be revived models from the very distant past. Perhaps necessarily, the Golden Age remains with us as a layer of cultural evolution, if not of human consciousness.
Such arcadian emphasis appears to have been a significant source of the English idealization of the good life and place as anti-urban, countrified. This loving rusticity even dominates some of the later utopias of the industrial society. For a major example, we can see some of the pastoral imagery and ethos in William Morris' charming anti-industrial utopia of medievalized socialism and craft arts, News from Nowhere (1890). Morris was intentionally countering Bellamy's Looking Backward—crafts vs. industrialism, dispersed communities vs. urban bureaucratization, aesthetic values vs. engineering values, etc. Morris, it might be said, and his arcadian vision, represent an important minority utopian tradition increasingly marginal to mainstream socialism with its technocratic-power orderings. This arcadianism variously reappears, as in the Sherwood Forest pastoral eroticism and utopian hopes of D. H. Lawrence in Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928). This counter to conventional middle-class love stories, and its exacerbated modernist-individual social criticism, polemicizes against ugly industrialism and crippling social class and debased sexuality, and also jettisons most of socialism. Whatever its limitations as a large social ideal, arcadianism has often presented an acute social critique in terms of richer aesthetics and fuller sensibility.
A variant arcadian tradition of the good place and life, less nostalgically countrified and cultivated than the English, and usually taken to be quintessentially American, gets identified either with the frontier or with Henry David Thoreau's (1817–1862) influential Walden (1855). Original Thoreauvianism, of course, was less the creation of an ideal community than a considerable withdrawal from most of society for an exaltation of solitary individualism, transcendental experience in a semi-cultivated nature, a simplified barter-and-craft economy, and a refined anarchistic ethic. Fusing often with the Waldenism are somewhat genteel versions of pioneer styles of life, the widespread tradition forming, and partly repeating, what Lovejoy analyzed in classical thought as “soft primitivism.”
The American arcadianism usually carries a self-conscious reversal of the industrial-urban mode and, in and out of literature, contributes to a recurrent and significant back-to-the-land utopian movement. It often oddly fuses a politics of disillusionment about mainstream society with a frontiersman's or homesteader's insistence on individual social autonomy and puritan self-reliance. As one can find in Helen and Scott Nearing's Living the Good Life (1954) and Continuing the Good Life (1979), their half-century of homesteading had exemplary heroic proportions. There is no other way to describe the ex-Marxist professor of economics, at ninety-five, and his musician-author wife teaching what has become thousands of young people how to build stone farmhouses and organically grow almost everything for a vegetarian diet and how to develop a spirit of utter independence—an heroic American puritan individualism.
There is a long tradition of self-conscious theorizing behind this utopian homesteading, perhaps most notably (in the 1920s and 1930s) that of Ralph Borsodi, and his followers. It takes variant contemporary form with poet Wendell Berry's combination of individualistic family farming and hardnosed environmentalism, which The Unsettling of America (1977) also makes into a programmatic politics. Where Nearing recreated Vermont and Maine farms (and even a partial rural community), and Berry restored a Kentucky farmstead, California's somewhat different arcadianism may be represented by Gary Snyder as poet spokesman, in such works as Earth Household (1969) and The Real Work (1980), for a larger rural communalism. Snyder propounds a combination of western localism with limited technology guided by a “Bioregional Ethic” and ecological-organic “Right Livelihood” with Orientalized mysticism, American Indian ritualism, and radical independence for what he announces as the early stages of a hundred-year evolving back-to-the-land utopian movement to transform America. No doubt it will take a hundred years, and a hundred million and more reduction in population, for the earth household to become the dominant American pattern of living again. But that is hardly a sufficient argument against it.
Though not necessarily anti-technological—more often than not this utopian ruralism employs a Whole Earth Catalog sophistication about practical tools—such arcadianism is certainly anti-statist, anti-corporatist, anti-technocratic. While it would be false simplification to reduce what is perhaps the most popular continuing American utopianism to a single overt ideology, it may plausibly be linked with the Buddhistically decentralist and limited technology economics of British E. F. Schumacher—Small Is Beautiful (1969), A Guide for the Perplexed (1975), and Good Work (1979)—which represents a significant theorizing for some of it. Contrary to common denunciations of the utopian, this has a modesty, partly based in compassionate religious morality, which is hardly “constructivist,” collectivist, scientistic, or violently revolutionary. Indeed, much of it must be characterized by its commensense practicality even though its somewhat sacral economics conjoins with the tradition of utopian saintliness of such as Tolstoy and Ghandi as well as Thoreau. We somewhat skeptical may, of course, detect a rather “saving remnant” messianic psychology to this utopianist radical conservativism around an antiquely holistic rural and domestic life.
Historian Arthur Bestor suggested that earlier forms of American utopian communalism were a social correlative of the Yankee inventor-entrepreneur, producing “patent-office models” of social experiment. That would be a fairly central part of the historic American ethos, which has been marked by an intriguing plethora of such contraptions. The homesteaders and arcadian prophets previously cited may be the more enduring part of the often naive and messy communalism of the late-1960s-early-1970s which curiously turned political radicalism into privateering small-group utopianism, frequently with a mystical or hallucinatory or other cultist overlay. Some of it, as with the earlier in origin but continuing Catholic Worker communalism for society's victims—see the autobiography of the saintly founder, Dorothy Day, A Long Loneliness (1951)—reaches back several generations, and indirectly into millennia of holy refuges. But this admirable side of communalism should not mislead us into a positive view of all communalism. Some of it—the murderous “Manson Family” is only the most notorious example—can be characterized as nothing less than evil. Between Day and Manson, there is a considerable variety. I am appalled at both general condemnations and affirmations (see Nozick, below) of utopian communalism; critical discrimination, especially from a libertarian perspective, is essential here, too. Characteristic, I think, of a considerable part of the recent wave of communalism, a good bit of which still continues, was not social autonomy and institutional experiment and economic self-sufficiency and positive individualism, but the protective marginality of the weak, the sick, the outcast, and others of the immense number of “losers” in our often ruthless and anomic orderings. Representative of some of this may be the over-praised writings of the mawkish juvenile prophet of such utopian pathos, Raymond Mungo, such as his Total Loss Farm (1970). As the more thoughtful Judson Jerome pointed out in his Families of Eden (1974), though himself an advocate of such protective “Edenism,” many of the communes were simply temporary sanctuaries for weakness.
The utopian communes which endure, as argued by Roberts in The New Communes (1971), either have a cohesive religious emphasis (though not necessarily as rigid as those of the Hutterite, Amish, Bruderhof, etc.) or a considerable entrepreneurial discipline (though not necessarily as conventional-legal as that of Oneida, Amana, etc.). Even more than in the past, much of contemporary “intentional community” is intentionally a phase, transitional, and with little larger claim to perfectionist and other ideal and lasting conditions—temporary withdrawal or moratoria, argues Melville in Communes in the Counter Culture (1972). Indeed, one of the more learned accounts, a comparison of some nineteenth-century and late twentieth-century intentional communities, Kanter's Commitment and Community (1972), emphasizes the temporary “retreat” ideology dominant in much contemporary communalism. Perhaps more importantly, I think, following historian Laurence Vesey, The Communal Experience: Anarchist and Mystical Counter-Cultures in America (1973), the continuities of the communal are less to be found in political and economic programs than in the expression of a long continuing underground of cultural radicalism. Many of the communes, I suggest, might best be understood as something like Hegel understood a work of art in relation to the geist—as a “concrete universal” of a larger culture of discontent and dissidence.
From my perspective here (which ignores many of the other issues, and cases, of communalism) there is a pertinent insight in one of the conclusions of a recent (1976) British study: “secular communes...are above all attempts to create pockets of freedom...sufficiently insulated from society for the ideal of possessive individualism to be realized...” Communalism, then, paradoxically asserts and protects individualism. But any broad account needs to emphasize other values as well. Contemporary intentional communities provide not only cultural dissidence, individualist experiments, and therapeutic refuges, but education in the literal sense. Thus A. S. Neill's Summerhill, as a schooling community, and Black Mountain College, as an art-academic community, can easily be demonstrated to have had pervasive effects exponentially beyond their small scales and muddled realities. As Paul Avrich makes clear in his history of some earlier examples, The Modern School Movement (1980), these school-community-movements were the products of and producers of exceptional individuals. Inescapable ironies include that these utopians, defying bourgeois society in their communal experiments, carried out some of its deepest imperatives of autonomy, enterprise, variety, self-assertion, and change—the very spirit of individualism.
Indeed, I find some communalism rather ugly in its emphasis on individual redemption, though also recognizing that if it does not suggest a larger social redemption it at least suggests significant changes in American society. And after all, our conservative and liberal ideologies and institutions patently do not provide adequate sources and expressions of much of our style and sensibility, of our oppositions and freedoms and possibilities. Without both utopian courage and confusion, we would have a duller culture and a deader society and perhaps a more hopeless future. Little utopias may at least be a test of the more general utopian possibility of American society; without an effulgence of them, it stands self-condemned on its own principles of liberty. However, it does not follow that little utopias, essentially marginal to a different large system, add up to an adequate utopia.
Part of the marginality is that when utopias were conceived as rural (the predominant past form of American communalism) they can have only very limited relevance to a society now dominantly urbanized. A perhaps important new development of American self-reliant homesteader utopianism is its contemporary application to the city. A few of its points might be represented by a recent little utopian exercise, Community Technology (1979) by Karl Hess, a charmingly notorious ideologue who seems to have been a liberal, a conservative, a right-libertarian, and now a decentralist utopian. On what I take to be the undeniable principle that “local liberty” is crucial to all other liberties, he sketches a rather practical “argument for community participation with all of the diversity and resultant flexibility that implies” in the development of production and distribution. This aims at the local creation of food, energy, and services on a participatory neighborhood level, including participatory capitalism. “Small business is suddenly a counter-cultural phenomena.” In contrast to “liberal consumerism” (perhaps represented by Naderism), we have a restatement of the utopian principle that goes back through the rural homesteaders, Morris, and the arcadian tradition: “the work people do is far more significant than the things they buy.” This leads to small business, communal technology, apprenticeships over schooling, localist politics, and neighborhood rescaled values as well as organizations. While all this surely reflects the current dispersal of sophisticated technology and skills, the deeper imperative is a desperate counter-utopianism to inhumane scale in a corporate-statist bureaucratic society and culture.
Some of the programmatic extensions, including parturbanization, of arcadian utopianism might reasonably be represented by Ernest Callenbach's popular Ecotopia (1975). This radical environmentalist romance has northern California (and the Pacific Northwest) secede from the rest of a degenerating America in the 1980s in order to create a society which attempts to “decentralize and personalize wherever possible.” The revolutionism involved in this appears relatively low-keyed, consistent with the uncoercive cast of most ecological and decentralist utopianism. But perhaps the point should not be over-generalized. An exactly contemporaneous work, Edward Abbey's The Monkey-Wrench Gang (1975) expresses a lively Luddite environmentalist-individualist radicalism; it makes macho guerrilla application of what the title suggests to as much as possible of the technological infrastructure of the Western states, though still with considerable scrupulousness about destroying property (machines, roads, dams) rather than people. Such works may also remind us that coercion is no simple issue: Is it better to be controlled by machines or to break machines? Is it better to be a satisfyingly aggressive individual or pervasively hostile in subordination to a hierarchy? Is it more coercive to be indoctrinatingly conformist or angrily disruptive?
To return to Ecotopia. It argues for an urban “steady-state” total-recycling economy. However, it is fundamentally different from the classic utopias' hierarchical static economies since it depends on continuing ecological innovation and competitive small enterprise in a somewhat conflictful participatory democracy. Callenbach also mixes in pagan tree worship (part of the very ancient pastoral mythos), debureaucratized science, American Indian cultism (as also with Snyder and other West Coast coteries), current pluralistic sexual communalism rather than traditional families, and exalted artisan crafts (shades of Morris), and, for dispersing aggression, rather fancifully non-lethal war games. A powerful commitment to personal liberties is central. But those viewing it from alien perspectives may be shocked by the degree to which aesthetics determines economics, politics, and morality. That which is beautiful is what finally works the best.
There are more complicated variations on this. For example, Robert Nichols has presented in four volumes Daily Lives in Nghsi-Altai (1977-79) which combines in rather synthetic poetic forms shamanistic primitivism, hyper-sophisticated technology, and alternating economic cycles of competitive market order and decentralist co-operative order, under the intellectual guidance in this mythical asia of reincarnated Western visionaries (Blake, Whitman, Morris, etc.). Primitivism/technologism, capitalism/cooperativism, communalism/individualism, thus become part of a self-correcting social dynamics. We are far, indeed, from the static economies and absolutistic moralities thought of as characterising classical utopias.
Arcadian utopias usually focus on states of feeling, relationships, and the aesthetic, thus relating to the Golden Age images of primordial human harmonies. In the sophisticated versions, industry, commerce, and science are not eliminated but debureaucratized and drastically subject to aesthetic and other humane considerations. While recent American arcadianism attempts to meet city realities, it remains a devolutionary urbanism (à la Wright, really), pastoral in its ideals. Given the undeniable long history of the social rigidity and “the imbecility of rural life” (in Marx's contemptuous phrase), the pastoral radicalism stands mostly alien to traditional socialism and social-democracy. However, there is a minority socialist tradition—decentralist, anti-coercive, personalistic, utopian—as represented, say, by Martin Buber's Paths in Utopia (1951), which would be less antithetical. Decentralist utopianism carries such a revulsion to centralized authority and domination as to make it hostile to the larger part of both traditional leftism and rightism in politics.
Some recent political philosophy, such as James Ogilvy's Many Dimensional Man (1977) attempts some conceptual structures for such views (though not admitting the utopianism, and not very adequately), as, more richly, does such institutional social theory as Kirkpatrick Sale's Human Scale (1980). But as usual in social politics, demarcation of views is hardly very pure and some of the arcadian-utopian values appear in supposedly reformist consumer-environmentalist views, as may be seen in the syncretistic compendium of Hazel Henderson, Creating Alternative Futures (1978). Common to all of these is a degree of depowering (probably including a lowering of population, of affluence, of technological expansion, of nation-state roles, etc.), which must make such views, however increasingly widespread, antithetical to mainstream right-left politics. Not surprisingly, more than any other contemporary ideology this utopianism emphasizes the concrete values of personal freedom.
Much of that freedom is “personal” indeed, with a strong emphasis on the sexual and other sensuality. This stands in sharp contrast to the often ascetic, if not puritanical, cast of much classic utopianism, and almost all revolutionism. But, again, the issue does not properly break down to a classic-ascetic and modern-sensual dichotomizing. An intellectually minor but nonetheless significant and persisting tradition of an ideal society has been that which emphasized what repressed moral philosophers used to call “license.”
Some of it appears in popular ancient practices temporarily reversing the established order and its prohibitions: as in the Saturnalia (Rome), the ribald mockeries and freedoms of the Feast of Fools and periods of “misrule” (high Medieval Europe), and the elements of these still retained (especially at folkish levels) in more modern carnivals and fairs, and in similar permissive periods which anthropologists describe in a variety of cultures. Perhaps certain contemporary American customs could be historically viewed as Suburban Saturnalias, if not weekend utopianism.
The saturnalian enters literature and myth in lavish food-wine-sex-leisure fantasies which appear in various tales and poems of a legendary Land of Cockaigne (England), Venusberg and Lubberland (on the Continent), and The Big Rock Candy Mountain (as in the American hobo ballad of that name, bowdlerized of its booze and homosexuality into a children's folk song). These gluttonous places of immediate gratification exalt the pleasures of the bottle and the body. Recall the sprawling bodies and hanging pies in Brueghel's famous painting of Schlaraffenland. Concern with such immediate ecstasies often gets denigratingly tied to students and poets, as with the late Medieval Goliards who clearly made the wine bottle their summum bonum, or to other “irresponsible” marginal groups in the populace. Where some classic utopias encouraged indulgence in the philosopher's vices of symmetrical forms and contemplations, or the politician's obsessions with hierarchical orderings, later utopias absorb more vulgar dreams and even make rituals around marijuana (Ecotopia) or hallucinogenics (Aldous Huxley's Island). Exclusionary lines around allowable pleasures here would smack not only of the anti-libertarian but of utopianist snobbery. Tangible pleasures, rather than the more dangerously abstract presumption of general happiness, after all, is much of what the direct sensing of a better time and place must be about. The legitimation of the denied, be it political or social or personal, may always be a major impetus to the utopian.
Thus also with the peculiar liberties of what some contemporary wit has labeled “pornotopia”—the fusion of the pornographic and the utopian. But sexual utopianism may take other forms. A large number of utopian stories and schemes work hard at reconceiving family relations, be it in Plato's male-statist autocracy of communally sharing the women and children, or More's ameliorist liberalization of the patriarchal family, or Judson Jerome's contemporary arguments for (in Families of Eden), and apparently practice of, a more liberated “extended family” with extended sexuality. Until recently, arcadian utopianism, whether in literary pastoral or back-to-the-land movements, tended to the romantic, that is, monogamous, relationships, while utopias of a more liberal or socialistic cast have been historically identified with the equality of women, and therefore less intense and looser familial patterns. That later is true of the important Enlightenment sexual utopia, Diderot's Supplement to Bougainville's Voyage (1772). This dialogue around a utopianized Tahiti presents radical Enlightenment erotic views, including urbane but emphatic justifications of open and various sexuality, with incest and free exchange of partners and children, in a harsh critique of pseudo-civilized European mores.
A more elaborate libertarian sexual ethos came out of the weird genius of the endlessly utopian Fourier. His ideal Phalanstery had 1620 psychological types, and therefore defended drastic sexual variety, including lesbianism, multiple relationships, what were conventionally considered “perversions” (as long as consensual and unhypocritical), very contemporary sounding sexual therapies, and rather post-contemporary elaborate means for providing sensual gratification for the old and the peculiar. Even more significantly, Fourier fused his sexual theories with ideas for more gratifying ways of work, of complex community, and of elaborate rituals and games, in a concern that goes beyond the usual utopian focus on virtue and justice and harmony to a joyous society.
That may point to present hedonic utopias. The sources of the eroticized utopianism of the past several generations are no doubt various: skepticism and other liberal reasoning about religious-moral asceticism; the decline of patriarchalism, slavery, caste, other forms of sexual inequality and therefore exploitation; the brilliant post-romantic libidinal psychologies—Stendahl, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, Lawrence, et al., unto Freud and the post-Freudians; hygienic-medical changes which provided increased freedom from the great sexual maladies, including venereal diseases and excessive pregnancies; the history of utopian sexual experiments; and, even though hard to quite tie down, covert mysticalerotic traditions of some enduring power. Whatever the complex inducements, our erotic prophets have attempted a large reach, beyond mere pornotopias and amorous freedoms, to visions of a passionally liberated and transformed post-civilization.
Some of these have been scientistic and left-psychoanalytic, as with Wilhelm Reich's The Sexual Revolution (1934). His radical demand for a new sexual ethos, including one for adolescents, combined with a deviant Marxist revolutionism and, finally, with a messianic cosmology in his theory of “orgone energy” which could cure cancer and change character. Reichianism may not have had substantial influence until translated into libertarian educational practice, as with A. S. Neill's extremely influential Summerhill and into socially radical therapy, as with Fritz Perls and Paul Goodman's Gestalt Therapy (1950), and similar psychologies. But the original Reichian sexual revolution was utopian in the grandiose sense of claiming a transformation of the whole society.
A more ornately cultivated, inward-turning, and finally mystical erotic utopianism may be represented by Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death (1959) and Love's Body (1965). Mentally, at least, his is a “eutopia” located in a land where a “polymorphous perverse” sexuality leads to a transcendence of ordinary dualisms. Partly by historical propinquity, Brown's erotic other-worldliness often gets linked to its rather different predecessor, Eros and Civilization (1955), where Herbert Marcuse's neoMarxist arguments attempted to revise Freud's requirements of instinctual repression for civilized order, including economic productivity. In “Phantasy and Utopia,” for example, Marcuse argued that the fundamental enlargement of the “aesthetic-erotic dimension” would remain in limited subservience to the “realm of necessity” of economics, which itself would be reduced by automated affluence.
But in later writings Marcuse moved further from both Marxism and from a utopianism based, as the classical usually was, on a considerable degree of scarcity. In “The End of Utopia” (1970), by which is meant the realization of the utopian ideal of the fullest aesthetic-erotic possibilities in society, it is suggested that the Hegelian-Marxist distinction between the realms of “freedom” and “necessity” can finally be superceded. Economic productivity can be transformed into non-repressive passional play, work into pleasure for all, and thus there can be a near total release of the lifeenhancing fullness of human being. In thus going beyond the ancient curses of work and other repression society would achieve the highest utopian ideal, though it is one hardly presented, or its consequences reckoned with, in such neoHegelian abstract poetry.
Curiously, this reification carries on the Golden Age vision of a primordial human fullness of life. Erotic utopianism shifts from the mythic past to the arcadian present to the mystically transcendent future; archetypal private amorousness becomes onanistic dream hypostatized into a passionally liberated civilization. It has spawned some more literal utopianism along its historical way: sexual communalism, from the Ranters in seventeenth-century England through John Humphrey Noyes' Oneida community in nineteenth-century America—the latter a patriarchal authoritarian “regulated promiscuity,” yet perhaps anti-repressive in its larger effects. Apparently, Medieval European Christianity produced literal love sects just as the contemporary erotic philosophizing helped produce communal sexual experiments, such as novelistically represented in Robert Rimmer's The Harrad Experiment (1966), and many others. The search for a more open, good, true, and beautiful libidinal economy is at least as central to the utopian impetus as other kinds of economics—and as important to libertarian values.
If in this direction utopianism is the erotic poetry of politics, in another it is the fantasies of technology. While I tend to see the arcadian and the technocratic as antithetical, there are odd overlaps and mixes sometimes. Yet certainly an adequate response to technological issues must be central to any serious modern Western utopianism. Key economic issues are involved. Classical utopias tended to limited and fixed technologies, and therefore what moderns consider a society of scarcity. When there are hardly enough goods to go around, the problems of distributive justice may loom larger than when there is, or fairly readily could be, a surplus of goods. Much of modern arcadian utopianism retains considerable continuity with the past, but even in its “stable-state” economies and anti-industrial and anti-technocratic views often assumes a sophistication of technology which allows for some relative degree of surplus. Perhaps it should be argued that some degree of surplus, though certainly not what constitutes wasteful and luxurious modern affluence, is necessary for wide individual liberty. Does practical freedom presuppose a not too drastic economic price for some mobility, for some mistakes, for some alternatives?
But the existence of some technological sophistication and the consequent surplus is not the usual area of dispute between the antithetical utopianisms. The central, the defining and dominant (elitist) role of what used to be called the “new knowledge” often is. Since the exaltation of the House of Solomon, an ambitious science institute, in Francis Bacon's New Atlantis (ca. 1614), the roles of both elitist technicians and scientistic faith can be seen as utopian issues. For example, scientistic religion (for it can hardly be considered anything less) becomes one of the watershed lines in nineteenth-century utopianism, with Saint-Simon and Comte and Bellamy as pietists, Fourier and Thoreau and Morris as heretics. H. G. Wells, one of the most influential twentieth-century utopian propounders as well as fictionists specifically acknowledges Bacon's emphasis on science-as-power as the earlier line of his dynamic A Modern Utopia. This garrulous essay-fiction around a “World State” with a non-egalitarian competitive and bureaucratic hypermechanized welfarist order (public work projects, rehabilitation of the deviant, endless education—97% go to college) has elitist rule by a scientific-minded “voluntary nobility” which is a “caste.” Similar orderings are common to technocratic utopias.
Wells did a variety of utopian proposals and fictions. The most libertarian appearing was Men Like Gods (1923), which supposedly had no central state, though the domination of science and other uniform indoctrination—“education is our government” and “runs everything”—perhaps makes that hypocritical. Furthermore, Wells has here violated the basic utopian premises with his society more than a hundred generations in the future, after elaborate “eugenic” development (we now call it “genetic engineering”); thus, in contrast to the earlier men-pretty-much-as-they-are in A Modern Utopia, we have “a cleansed and perfected humanity,” a world of “demi-gods.” I would argue that this is not utopian in a serious sense but scientistic fantasy, not just because Wells was an earlier adapter of the Theory of Relativity into space-time shifts and psychic transmission but because this by definition cannot be a human society. While no simple formula will adequately define homo sapiens for cultural and social purposes, I think, there are limits of existing human possibilities which allow the significant grounds of agreement for our disagreements on politics, psychology, economics, art, language, love, and much else. Fundamentally change the premises by substantially changing the beings and the arguments become meaningless. As with other-worldly religions, this scientistic other-world depends on acts of faith and magic, not acts of human intelligence and will and sensibility.
Even should the demi-god future come to be, it would not be of interest to us—an improbable possibility, Aristotle pointed out, is not suitable to human poetry—because the very modes of thought and feeling would be essentially different. Part of Wells' premise is what used to be thought of as a “faith in progress,” though perhaps better characterized as “perfectionism.” For instance, “thanks to a certain obscure and indomitable righteousness in the blood of the human type,” he must advance into utopia. Thus no issue remains except faith. But in his last discussion of the subject, Mind at the End of Its Tether (1946), Wells announced that “Homo sapiens...is in his present form played out,” and our “universe is not merely bankrupt...it is going out of existence...The attempt to trace a pattern of any sort is absolutely futile.” With the loss of faith, the despair over the lack of a guaranteed “pattern,” Wells had no social view left. That but confirms the scientistic religiosity of his earlier one.
Many still belong to one or another church of Wells-like religion, and make utopian protestations of faith. One of the best-known American examples, R. Buckminster Fuller, proclaims that the choice is either his engineering paradise or our current slide into the damnation of inefficiency in Utopia or Oblivion (1969). In his Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (1963) he insisted that the issue was the re-creation of the “total world society” (perhaps from Wells' insistent popularization of that totalism, rare in other utopian traditions except for the millennial) by a “world-round industrial retooling revolution.” What in fact Fuller does is grossly deploy design analogies to correct everything. Whatever the merits of his geodesic and dymaxion devices, and similar engineering designs, the faith that they will redeem all societies can only be megalomania. When he announces that properly programmed computers will take care of our political problems and that there are no real difficulties of over-population or technocratic elitism or resource limitation, we are in the fantasy land of the simpleminded. Fuller's thinking, a sympathetic anthropologist points out, doesn't even try to “learn how many behave,” but simply would impose a technology and “expect man to adapt...” The vacuous optimism of such mechanical utopianism depends on a lack of human dimensions.
Other learned cultists may not appear quite so simple. Respected Princeton scientist Gerard K. O'Neill, in The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space (1977), thinks that his utopia on gigantic artificial islands in the asteroid belt would be better than “classical utopian concepts.” And he concludes, with the usual technological religiosity, that the colonies would have better governments and better social systems. With charming incoherence, he is pessimistic about the same beings on earth. Thus, desperate with over-population and other problems, we need here the antithetical utopia of an “industry-free, pastoral Earth,” apparently as a backwoods colony for the space beings whose technological purity will make them superior.
The philosopher Hannah Arendt noted a generation ago that the language and imagery of popular technologues often reveals a peculiar longing to escape earthly life. Underlying the optimism seems to be a repulsion to the variousness that those without technological fixation find central to human existence. Don't these technologues negate the very fabric which allows and gives meaning to our freedom? But perhaps escaping freedom is the real desire.
Others further the escape from the human by fancies of genetic transformation, total psychic reconditioning, even literal immortality. I am not sure when that last became a utopian theme; one scholar links it with the rise of new biological theories in the nineteenth century. Perhaps it can be traced back to alchemical and Faustian promises of “new knowledge” as well as a displacement from religious traditions. Certainly in the past generation it has taken on literalist and even programmatic claims not much evident in earlier times, as with Alan Harrington, The Immortalist (1977). His optimistic medical projections conclude with “Notes on a Utopia Beyond Time” which blandly announces that living forever would answer social, moral, and psychological problems. F. M. Esfandiary's crude jottings entitled Up-Wingers (1973) hold that “Everything is now possible,” including cosmic consciousness, superutopias, and literal immortality. Such symptoms of ideological manic-depression can hardly be argued with, though the literate might recall the anecdote from Petronius' first-century Satyricon which T. S. Eliot used as an epigraph to The Waste Land(1922). Its import is the despairing condition of the Sibyl at Cumae to whom Apollo had granted eternal life but not eternal youth (some things are beyond plausible gods, and plausible doctors). The forever aging Sibyl cries for death. These immortalist fantasts might take heed, for, if any characteristic at all is not regenerated, deathlessness may become exponentially horrendous. Even a few centuries of arthritis, or a “drinking problem,” or just bad memories, might be hard to take.
Such writings of what we might call the hip-technotopians may give even utopia a bad name, unless we view them as comic routines. A recent routine of Timothy Leary, libertarian guru of the swiss-cheese-brain-generation, includes the scientistic super-utopian pronouncement that new technologism “will eliminate the prescientific problems of poverty, territorial conflict, disease, aging, death, pollution, over-population,” and yet apparently create no new problems. The “New Scientists” will save us from everything, except perhaps the ugly literalness of their devotees who forget that even in fairy tales wishes are limited. More deadpan comical at times is Leary's devotee, the avowed extreme-right libertarian science fictionist and burlesque prophet, Robert Anton Wilson. In The Illuminati Papers (1981) he scores some odd political points, such as demonstrating that science fiction is a world-wide paranoid conspiracy and demanding that O'Neill's space colonies be “free libertarian communes.” Wilson also embraces endless technological fantasies, new drug-induced forms of “consciousness,” and instant “immortality” (“some people alive today will never die”). However, he may self-destruct in what he defines as his own great “Utopian” effort: “a worldwide War Against Stupidity” (perhaps an unconscious parody of Wells' “campaign against the dull”), since the unilateral blandness doesn't make very intelligent burlesque of technocratic utopianism.
Let us hope these self-parodying Sons-of-Wells reach a nicer final tether than their master, who perhaps paid the price of never quite losing his critical sense. It must be peaceful to have a one-way logic which only produces the good, and quite eliminates any problem of human freedom. But living forever with cosmic consciousness in a perfect world must be a trifle dull. “Perfectibilism,” rightly notes philosopher John Passmore, “is dehumanizing” in its denial of a reasonably full range of human limitations and possibilities. Yet to jump from that to total rejection of the utopian may be to commit a parallel dehumanization, to refuse to recognize, Passmore concludes, “that man is capable of becoming something much superior to what he now is.” Necessarily, he may also become much inferior.
The quaint extremes of hip-technotopianism remind us that utopia is only interesting when it maintains a tension with present realities. No wonder that many a modern utopian has felt impelled to turn (as I will below) to the ambiguous, the negative, the satiric, the black utopia—the dystopia—as essential to a fuller awareness. One may also be driven to the dystopia by the more pontifically earnest form of technocratic utopianism pretending to be the science of “futurology.” While there has been some overlap of futuristic predictions with pious technological utopias in the century since Bellamy, especially in the Wellsian line, images and arguments for ideal and alternative societies and institutions no more predict the future than Golden Age mythologies “explain” the past. Herman Kahn, perhaps the most famous contemporary American futurologist, is no more a utopian than was Nostradamus—and apparently no more accurate in seeing towards The Year 2000 (1967), having so far been wrong on inflation and energy problems, as well as earlier slight miscalculations on when the nuclear bombs would be going off. But perhaps futurology, one of the less pretty forms of astrology, can no more be argued with than other addictions.
Predictions beyond the trivial and truistic require that the unknown and non-understood be presented in yet recognizable and acceptable terms—analogies, metaphors, dramaturgical forms, and the rest of aesthetic coherence—which means that they cannot be literally true. Aesthetically, one may prefer the black futurists, as one prefers the Inferno to the Paradiso. For instance, systemsanalyst Vacca's The Coming Dark Age (1973) projects exponential consequences of coinciding malfunctions of “systems” (energy, health, communications, etc.), which by even the best probability definitions could not be specific and timed, but only the fantasy formulation of some of the anxieties especially engendered by our elaborate organizational dependence—no doubt a proper focus of fears. To answer those might include a utopian proposal of different institutions, but that would in no way be a prediction. The negative prophecies, of course, may also be informed by a punitive motivation; just as the arcadian fictions and programs almost invariably include the magic of affirmative ritual prayer, so the black prophecies carry the protective magic of the curse, and its exhilaration of release.
Such strange logics, and psycho-logics, appear at work in much futuristic writing. Thus, to take a well-known example, left political economist Robert Heilbroner in An Inquiry into the Human Prospect (1974) appears so committed to what he considers an antiutopian realism that he concludes by projecting an authoritarian dystopia—a theocratic-militaristic collectivism—in drastic antithesis to his announced democratic values. I suggest that this is not just a fancy crying of “Wolf!” but a self-cursing release of the ideological despair, the inverted utopianism, which marks so much of responsive contemporary socialism.
In another well-known example of the more tendentious mainstream social science, Daniel Bell's The Coming of Post-Industrial Society(1974), the predictive and utopian are subsumed into a supposedly structural analysis. But patently, Bell's sophisticated defense of “rational functionalism” serves as apologia for his utopian concept of elitist guardian rule by intellectual technocrats. He positively projects the dominance of technological bureaucracies in what libertarians must view as one of the more nasty, and probable, dystopias around, since it seems to be the implicit program of a good many. When Bell went on to further justify this technocracy in his more polemical The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (1976, 1978), the issue becomes, as in so much ideological dispute these days, one of culture rather more than of economics and politics. Rightly pointing to major disparities in the prevalent educated attitudes about business, government, and ways of living, he went on to condemn critical modernist culture and allied sensibility as undermining the “functional rationalism” which must rule. The utopianism is unadmitted but clear in the self-aggrandizing effort to give supremacy to the conservative, but endlessly manipulative, consciousness needed for the rising technocracy and its true order.
Now there is currently a utopianism explicitly dedicated to countering just such values, a self-consciously counter ideology. Variously called “the later counterculture,” “the new consciousness,” “the new civilization,” “the New Age,” etc., it is highly and confusingly syncretistic, as can be seen in examining a primer dedicated to it, Mark Satin's New Age Politics: Healing Self and Society (1979). This manual for the “the new culture” claims that it “provides full alternatives” to present society, and also makes “extrapolations” into the far future. Though some of its concern is with intentional communities (communes), which are the most vivid proof “that there are other ways of doing things,” it is more generally a literal noplace utopianism, more cultural than political, a loose movement of allied sensibilities. While emphatic about specific projects, neighborhoods, communities, its basic order is really the sympathetic-consciousness “network” of similar styles. Much of it, not very knowingly, is a programmatic form of arcadian utopianism.
I find much of Satin's “New Age” approach a poignant muddle, as in the combination of hardnosed “intermediate technology” (Kohr, Schumacher, Illich, Hess, et al.) and mushheaded occultism (astrology, ESP, Orientalism, Castaneda, and dozens of the shoddiest forms of psychotherapy). It also links very specific protest politics (such as the anti-military or anti-nuclear power) with the vaguest “planetary consciousness.” It claims the latest technologies (solar, pharmaceutical, etc.) and the oldest holistic medicine and organic fertilizing. It displays considerable intellectual openness, and considerable bad cultural taste, yet the responsiveness is as insistent as the muddleness.
Historically, part of this marginal or alternative culture (as I prefer to call it) carries on the “Youth Culture” of the 1960s grown into middle-aged earnestness (Satin was a “hippy” Vietnam War resister), with some of the people as well as ideology continuous. It also carries on the Beat-bohemian-transcendentalist minority and experimental and utopian culture in America, and its even older “underground” European traditions. What unity it has may be largely stylistic and temperamental, but some concerns are common: “ecology” (radical environmentalism, often carried to arcadian sanctification); decentralizing in most spheres (not only anti-statist and anti-corporate but anti-monolithic educational, cultural, etc.); and the attempted rejection of traditional antagonistic ideological positionings—capitalism/socialism, science/religion, personal/public—for a hopeful syncretistic embrace. In economics, for example, it tends to be very anti-leftist in the collectivist senses. “New Age Capitalism” is defended and defined as an alternative to both the “state capitalist” and “corporate capitalist” modes, though with an obvious left-derived communalist context and co-operative ethic.
Among scores of writers who might be identified with this utopianist “movement,” I have already touched on a few in the arcadian context. But several more with intellectual and prophetic ambitions might also be briefly noted. Ex-academic historian William Irwin Thompson, in At the Edge of History (1971), renounced mere history for participation in a “new consciousness' and “cultural transformation.” In Passages About Earth (1974) he propounded not just a new community or new society but a “new civilization.” Some of this comes out as a continuation of traditional American utopianism of a Jeffersonian cast, more or less anti-statist and decentralist, but fused with a strange mixture of the mystical and positive-technological. He claims to explore new realms of being towards the creation of a new religion for a Wellsian one-world society. So much of this megalomania operates at a mythological level that realities remain obscure, though Thompson apparently projects a high-technology infrastructure and a monastic-communal social ordering. But most of his concern does not move at such a paltry level. In The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light (1981), he explores, with a considerable show of scholarship, some episodes of undervalued matriarchal mythology in order to return our consciousness to the centrality of the Eternal Feminine. Such values of new consciousness have been obscured by the false culture of a male-power civilization. “Perhaps if we are blessed by the old gods in the next civilization that will follow after this one has played itself out, we will come to appreciate the ancient and forgotten wisdom.” As so often with utopian sensibility, the latest discovery puts us back in the old Golden Age, or anyway in an androgynous myth thought to go with it. But, apparently, the new-old “sacrament of Eros” will require a new man-woman for the new “world-epoch.” That regenerative totalism also puts us, as my earlier arguments noted, beyond the level of the human required for most pertinent social-political thought, especially in terms of the liberties of mere unredeemed humans, such as you and me.
One of the best-known contemporary utopians of a sweeping cast is the nearly as syncretistic Theodore Roszak. In The Making of a Counter-Culture (1969) he rather skittishly tried to combine dissident “youth culture,” Paul Goodman's anarchism, the erotic utopianism of Marcuse and Norman O. Brown, bits of Oriental religiosity, and anti-militarism and anti-industrialism, into a rather romantic-utopian transformation of stolid American social character.
When the youth culture and some of his heroes declined, he enlarged the argument into a broader but not very insightful neoromantic attack on modernist culture—ironically, the same focus but far different purposes and allegiances than the antithetical utopian Bell—in Where the Wasteland Ends (1973). Religion rather more fully takes over from culture in his Unfinished Animal, “The Aquarian Frontier and the Evolution of Consciousness” (1975). This surveys current cultish religions and psychotherapies as forms of “The Hidden Wisdom” being revealed to us through “occult evolution.” (As with much modern utopianism—contra-Nozick, again, below—evolutionary metaphors are central.) Roszak can conceit together any old social radicalism and new mysticism, the latest in ecology and the laxest in metaphysics, admirable feminism and contemptible psychobabble, and all to utopian ends. But I am unable to find much logic as to why the new true believers will reject the technocratic and join in “participatory community as the essential reality of social life.” My social perceptions, and dialectical sense, suggest both that Roszak may be describing instead a new NeoHellenistic “failure of nerve” (Gilbert Murray) of a declining technocracy, and that his mystagogues are some of its more fanciful parasites. But his arguments always do struggle for what used to be called “social consciousness” (his pre-Ivy League origins were moderately deprived), and he longs to propose “visionary communities” to lead the utopian way to the radicalization of society.
Roszak's continuation of the quasi-dissident mapping in Person/Planet: The Creative Disintegration of Industrial Society (1978) makes a renewed affirmation of the freedom and development of the person as primary over any socio-economic institutions. A decentralist, of course, Roszak does a bit of what most of them fail to do, such as strongly acknowledging that small organizations, face-to-face groupings, dispersed structures, can also be tyrannical. Quite rightly he sees that a decentralist social ethic and anti-statist political ethic, while desirable and justifiable, are not sufficient. Yet his discriminations always seem skittish, falling back into “personalist” pieties and anxiously eclectic yokings of social radicalisms and religiosities. He makes earnest but not seriously examined suggestions, such as a renewed “monastic paradigm” for future utopias. But it is not incidental that in Person/Planet Roszak criticizes (though quite thinly, and without his opponent's rigor) Daniel Bell's vision of post-industrial society noted above. For in considerable part Roszak may be understood as counterutopianizing in his personalistic communalism to the “functional-rationalist” apologetics for a totalist technocracy, our almost achieved utopia. And it seems clear to me, in spite of much criticism and disagreement, that the personalist utopianism rather than the technocratic utopianism is more on the side of individual liberty.
When confronted with presumptuous claims of that sort of contemporary utopianism which pronounces for a “new consciousness,” or a “new civilization,” or a “new planetary culture,” or just a “new age,” the more modestly reasonable might understandably long for a corrective. An essential part of the intellectual history, and the fuller sensibility, of utopianism repeatedly displays just such a countering. The philosophical cuckooland of Aristophanes' The Clouds attempts a therapeutic comedy against Platonic pretensions. The third book of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, with inanities of the scientists of an imaginary Laputa, savagely mocks the utopian pretensions of early eighteenth-century rationalism and proponents of the “new knowledge.” Voltaire more playfully combined positive utopianism (El Dorado, with its deistic tolerance, great scientific center, and genially spread wealth) and negative utopianism (it is silly to pursue the utopian Leibniz's Best of All Possible Worlds and far wiser to cultivate your own garden) in Candide (1759). By then he, and the better philosophes, had reached a smart disenchantment with philosopher-kings, though not with rationalistic passions for a better society.
But perhaps a crucial mid-nineteenth-century example of such a corrective would be more pertinent to us. The first half of Dostoyevsky's novella Notes from Underground (1864) is a philosophical monologue which specifically attacks a shoddy utopian-socialist novel (N. G. Chernyshevsky's What Is To Be Done?). But, with a brilliance that reaches perversity, it also more generally attacks the large utopian conceptions which would put man into a collectivist “ant hill,” or make of him a mere “piano key” for the chorus of utilitarian mad dreams of human harmony, or subordinate all human aspirations to such engineering models as “the Crystal Palace.” The power, and continuing value, of Dostoyevsky's anti-utopian polemic includes not only its incisive undercutting of claims to historical and collective rationality but its acute psychological cutting-up of “self-interest” and related reductive psychologies which would deny a larger sense of human complexity and individual freedom.
While Dostoyevsky may be read as one of the key figures of modernist culture, the anti-utopian literary imagination which this ex-Fourierist displayed did not become widespread until well into the twentieth century and its bitter disenchantments. Not the least of the utilities of H. G. Wells' A Modern Utopia was its eventually inspiring the more humanely sensitive E. M. Forster in his novella The Machine Stops (1912) to an apocalyptic portrayal of the dehumanizing possibilities in a totally mechanized system. In this projected future of Wellsian one-world state-society, with not only its advanced and encompassing technology but its bureaucratic structure, the synthetic environment created for utility and comfort has monstrously taken over the human. Most people have become insulated from “direct experience” with nature, with each other, even with their own bodies, so much so they have also become totally submissive, even devoutly religious, towards the nurturing technological structure that encapsulates them. With individuality nearly gone, not only does the system paranoically prey upon people but, with parts of it inevitably failing, there remains insufficient initiative to correct it in its “decadence,” and so the break-downs become exponential, and therefore total and final in disposing of the human.
The break-down of the “machine” is, contrary to some thoughtless readings, less an attack on machines in themselves than on their elaborate interlocking into a controlling system—there is no other tyrant or exploiting class in the Forster novel—which usurps and conditions away the essential human values of sensuality, aesthetics, initiative, autonomy, relatedness, individuality, freedom. The machine has not become a monstrous human robot which must finally be destroyed, as in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), for the humans have become the robots.
The provocative ironic extension of the romantic Frankenstein into the twentieth century might be that of Karl Capek's R. U. R. (1920) which dramatizes man-created robots eliminating man, yet at the end evolving towards the human by developing passions. True, arcadian utopias, from at least Butler's Erewhon (1872), have tended to banish complex technology because it might develop a mind and will of its own, as well as developing for the human destructive rhythms and senses, as Morris held in News from Nowhere. But when it comes to drawing out futuristic consequences of complex technology there are some varieties of negative utopian responses. Kurt Vonnegut, in Player Piano (1952) emphasized the less fanciful vision of most human beings simply becoming pathetically irrelevant, useless, in the technocratic society (simply an extension of our permanent unemployment). Where once man was victim of the fates and the gods, of nature and his own limitations, he now, with more bitter irony, becomes a continuing victim of the utopian order of utility and comfort and power he created. There isn't even a place for heroic defiance—thumbing one's nose at an invisible missile?
This reverses the scientistic religiosity, Bacon to Wells. With yet more lavish historical irony, Wells' early utopian efforts also helped engender one of the most brilliant black-utopian novels, E. Zamiatin's We (ca. 1920). A Russian marine engineer turned vanguardist writer, who had worked in England and written on Wells, Zamiatin had the political good taste to be persecuted by both the Czarists and the Bolsheviks, and the artistic good taste to present a utopian vision of society by way of an anti-utopian fiction. In line with his faith that “the world is kept alive only by heretics,” he combined the Wellsian totalistic benevolent future state and its hi-tech powers with a Dostoyevskian psychological acuteness about the misuse of reason to deny freedom, culminating in “fantisectomy” to destroy the highest qualities of the human mind, such as imagining a better society. For Zamiatin, false rationalism destroys the core humanizing impetuses of sensuality and imagination, especially as it advances the “twofold danger which threatens humanity: the hypertrophic power of machines and the hypertrophic power of the State.” Zamiatin seems to have long ago understood what our technological optimists still can't grasp: vast technological organizations and cultures are inherently coercive of the individual.
Some of Zamiatin's methods, though hardly the brilliance of his radical individualism and stylistic brio, reappear in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Where Huxley (also reactively taking off from Wells, from the eugenics of Men Like Gods) emphasizes the “positive” conditioning that Zamiatin used, Orwell emphasized the terroristic conditioning, which Zamiatin also used. It requires a nice discrimination which makes for the worse kind of control. Zamiatin might also be viewed as contributing the paradigmatic insight that the political-economic control is less crucial than the aesthetic-erotic dimension, the destruction of sensibility. An even more devastatingly negative utopianism is that of D. H. Lawrence, a writer who for years proposed utopian colonies to his friends, who developed in “The Man Who Loved Islands” (1926) a three-step unfolding (utopia to hermitage to final isolated death) the anti-life imperatives lurking in idealism which overrides the irrational immediacies and fullness of the human.
A crucial point sometimes overlooked is that Huxley and Orwell (whose works hardly require summary here) were, like Zamiatin and Lawrence, utopian anti-utopians. While most famous for his satiric utopias (which include the slighter and cruder Ape and Essence, the satire on “immortalism” in After Many A Summer Dies the Swan, etc.), Huxley's last novel, Island (1962), was a socially and mystically positive utopia. Except it was a terminal case: a militaristic megalomaniac, out for oil exploitation, nationalistic development, and other “progress,” takes over. In this positive utopia, Huxley simply inverted some of the earlier negative motifs —the use of drugs, positive conditioning, synthetic religion, etc.—into affirmative values. Hedonic order still remains controlling, though in Island it is centered on heightened individual experience and cooperative social arrangements instead of on pacification of feelings for subservience to an authoritarian hierarchy. For more than a generation Huxley remained a radical utopian ideologue, in and out of his fictions, a proponent of socio-economic decentralism, pacifism, more simple and holistic styles of living, and his Vedantic version of the “perennial philosophy.” His dystopianism does not come from the refusal of the utopian but from its critical reversal, and remains integral to a utopian view. Probably Huxley's complex of dissident views approximates the main line of utopian dissidence in this century.
A similar point might be made about George Orwell. The dystopian anti-authoritarian of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Animal Farm, was based (as we see in his political essays, and his account of the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia) in democratic-socialist utopianism (the very one Hayek excoriated). The false utopia is thus measured by utopian standards. This, however, does not appear to me to be true of a good many minor contemporary dystopias. For example, in the cleverly nasty black utopias of Anthony Burgess: in The Wanting Seed (1962) one of our most negative futuristic issues, over-population, is neatly resolved by the permanent institutionalization of men and women systematically killing each other. Burgess's other utopias, such as the behavioristic thugdom of A Clockwork Orange (1963), or his counter-utopia to Orwell, 1985 (1978), sadistically propound a very anti-utopian vision of sheer evil as central to human society. Hence most senses of human freedom have a paltry irrelevance.
But that is simply one extreme of the dystopia which dominates contemporary fiction to a perhaps even greater degree than the blandly positive utopia tended to dominate the latter part of the last century. A rather more intriguing relationship of the utopiananti-utopian is their combination within the same work. As I have already suggested with the tradition out of Zamiatin, the utopiadystopia may be one of the most appropriate forms of the social imagination for these times.
At their best, some forms of Science Fiction may also achieve this utopia-dystopia critical-ideal response. I note this with some reluctance since the genre ideologically arises from the utopian tradition of scientistic religiosity, from Bacon through Wells into contemporary technologues, and much of its sensibility from Gothicism and sentimental fantasy: a considerable number of such fictions are aesthetically and morally ugly. Still, some SF dystopias display intelligence and wit, at least since Pohl's and Kornbluth's The Space Merchants (1951). Perhaps the best known American in the manner is Ray Bradbury, Farhenheit 451 (1953), and other works; the best-known satiric-SF European of some seriousness would seem to be the Polish Stanislaw Lem, The Futurological Congress (1973), and other fictions. There are more, including the intriguing Doris Lessing, whose qualities should be sharply distinguished from the more common SF shoot-em-up space wars and other regressive fantasies. With commercially exploitative genres one has to make at least as emphatic discriminations as with the ideological and other aggrandizements of scholarly works.
One of the better, and knowledgeable, utopian fictions using science fiction conventions is the American Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed (1974). In its two contrasting but historically related worlds, with comparable ideological conflicts within each, there are double utopian-dystopian dramatizations; no wonder The Dispossessed is subtitled “An Ambiguous Utopia.” This pro-and-con, dialectical approach gives a persuasively complex view, though with clear libertarian direction and criticism of contemporary America. Her anarchist society has gone conformistly repressive, her statecapitalist society decadently vicious. Le Guin's modestly Promethean scientist-hero explores both societies, and finally defies both in giving his technological advances to the universe. He learns, through significant confusions, that utopia always threatens to turn into dystopia, and that dystopia demands utopian over-coming. Libertarian rebellion must be permanent since “freedom is never very safe.” To keep it alive requires not only the initiative of the dissident individual but the enterprise of the small group; the calcifying utopia still has an open-ended order which provides for “syndicates” of dissidence and thus for the dialectics of change and renewal which liberation requires.
While Le Guin's main positive pattern of values (leaving aside some sentimentalism) comes out of the anarchist tradition (Enlightenment anti-statism, Kropotkin's mutual aid ethic, Emma Goldman's feminism, Paul Goodman's decentralist communalism, Taoist stylistics, etc.), that may be less crucial than the utopian-dystopian dialectics. For utopian constructions not to fribble into lesser fantasy (which some other Le Guin fictions do, and which is congenital to Science Fiction in its technomysticism), they must, as The Dispossessed does, maintain that contrariety which confirms our modern sense of an “outside” world never fully reducible to the rationalistic, and other doctrinaire, objectifications. In an authentic modern utopia, the critical sense remains an essential part of the imperative dreams of a better human community.
From a right-libertarian view, Le Guin's utopia might better have had a structure which allowed a more diverse and open economics (partly denied by her antique premise of scarcity), though she did give a suggestive framework which allowed individuals and groups to opt out. That may be one of the places where right and left libertarianisms find an essential common ground. To critically turn to a right libertarianism which argues for this might also restate several of the comtemporary utopian issues.
Robert Nozick's “A Framework for Utopia,” the partly detachable conclusion (he tells us) to his minimal-statist philosophy in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), ostensibly defends utopianism. But he starts his case, which is more concerned with intellectual ingenuity than historical and other human realities, with the considerably erroneous, and certainly Panglossian, assumption that we can only think about utopia as “the best world imaginable” and the “best of all possible worlds.” Later this is invidiously restated as “the perfect society” based on notions “static and rigid.” Whatever the merits of that as part of a polemic for, say, the sixteenth century, it is silly in the late-twentieth century, either as a statement of fact or a premise of a pertinent issue, as my many examples have illustrated. Any assumption that all utopians suffer from a mad constructivist dogmatism may be itself a mad constructivist dogmatism.
Granted, there would seem to be something slightly unfair about confronting a contemporary professional philosopher with history and actual sensibility in their rather considerable variety. But let us grant that Nozick's misleading characterization of the utopian serves a purpose; by such narrow and denigrating definition he can put the utopian in a confined place and yet maintain the guise of openness and tolerance. Thus, he can metaphysically rise above parochial views by proposing a “meta-utopia: the environment in which utopian experiments may be tried out....quot; Note here that without further justification, and contrary to historical usage (including that of philosophy on the subject), utopianism has been reduced to a small part of it; hereafter, he really refers only to intentional communities, at best, a meta-communalism. And even within that restrictive topos it means nothing substantive, only procedural rules. By such charming sleight of hand, the issues have been trivialized. And by such only ostensible openness, pseudopluralism, we may well arrive at (to not coin a phrase) a “repressive tolerance.”
Nozick's justification for his “meta-utopianism” appears grossly truistic: “if there is a diverse range of communities, then (putting it roughly) more persons will be able to come closer to how they wish to live, than if there is only one kind of community.” Within his frame, conceivable opponents of such a view—monotopian fanatics? solipsistic individualists?—hardly seem to suggest an interesting issue. The limitation to Nozick's “diverse range of communities” also seems to avoid issue by vagueness. At times he is so skittish (e.g., his three dozen examples of diverse character types) that four billion “utopias” would seem insufficient. The assumption of endless semidiversity, if not trivial, would seem to function as a denial of real alternatives by refusing any even approximate and temporary definition of the community, the society, the species—even under specific historical conditions—and therefore, hardly allows any actual choices or specific freedoms. To tell me that I can do what I want, without provision for any specific want (for that would unfairly select against other wants), hardly allows me to realize any want. In that sense, negative freedoms are empty, and therefore, may result in displacement of freedoms by impositions structured in elsewhere.
Besides, parsimony is required for an interesting social theory. Nozick's most impassioned passages (and we literary critics know that that, not the logic, often tells us what is really at issue) insist that he is trying to protect “human complexity.” But that is a refusal of discrimination pretending to be a discrimination. And I doubt that complexity (which I rather have a perverse taste for myself) can be the principle or rule for a group, an institution, a community, or a society. If there is some specific variety or ambiguity (as with a complex person), we might just get complexity as a result. Complexity may not be a principle but a combined effect. And would a libertarian really wish to encourage and maximize a “complexity” of authoritarian, exploitative, pathological, little utopias? It is one thing to tolerate nastiness, or at least refrain from the excesses of coercing it, but it is quite another to advance it by structuring the anti-libertarian in, even encouraging it. But Nozick's supposed institutional neutrality—his undiscriminating freeway café “smorgasboard of utopian communities”—does not recognize what one of his critics has called “hidden-hand indoctrinating totalitarianism.”
What if we were to take Nozick's libertarian “meta-utopianism” rather more seriously than its gaming author does? What might be several of its representative issues in something like a real world? One set of conditions might be not to meet “complexity” as such, that is presumptious, but to make conscious allowances for uncoercively meeting the needs of certain recognizable varieties (and including new varieties when they become recognizable): say, different sexual proclivities, varying degrees of communal bonding, alternative ways of work and production and distribution, etc. Historically as well as logically, this might be the hermits, the sodomites, and the gamblers, among others—and I would certainly want to include the delightfully irresponsible type Fourier said was motivated by the “Butterfly instinct.” They may need a mediating order which provides them some protection from the already dominant ordering, since there always is one and it tends to be coercive. In other words, we may need to advance specific support for some alternatives, specific depowering for others. Even “meta-utopia” has to be discriminating, purposive, substantive, under a particular set of historical conditions. In sum: there is not really any such monster as a “neutral framework,” for utopias or anything else.
To further counter such reification, consider an economic issue. For centuries, utopians of various ideologies have reasonably held that certain minimum economic as well as social conditions must exist for even attempting variant institutions and communities (Le Guin tried to meet it with her “syndicates”). Such are traditionally land and credit (skills and protections and other services might be equally relevant), which we usually call “capital.” Without providing capital access, any claim to allowing alternatives is a cheap piety, just as not meeting the basic conditions for specific varieties is a fake complexity.
Approximately speaking, people with capital are successful capitalists (or, in our semi-market established order, their progeny, servants, etc.), which of course suggests that they will either have other commitments than to ideal communities or that only capitalist utopias can get supported. But that would hardly meet any minimal historical or theoretical standards of individual and social differences and variety, including Nozick's. Hence, to abbreviate the argument, capitalism cannot itself be the framework for both capitalist and non-capitalist alternatives. This, of course, is merely a variant of the obvious argument (as Hayek and others repeatedly note) that the basis of a free market economy cannot itself be the market but a prior set of “traditions,” rules, institutions, ideologies.
Non-capitalists can pool their resources to found alternatives, if they have any. But that excludes some people and some important alternatives. While North America, for historical reasons which may be considerably fortuitous, has at times provided somewhat favorable circumstances for utopian communities, those conditions have markedly decreased in an over-populated technocracy (and there probably was proportionally less communalism in the 1960s than in the 1840s). To, in effect, require a millennial fervor or proselytizing exploitation, as with the “Moonies” and the like or the mass-suicidal Jonestown, Guyana, suggests something wrong with the conditions. A welfare state can allow and subsidize some degree of communal economics, as with the rather restrictive as well as particularistic history of the Israeli kibbutzim (one of Nozick's few examples). Or utopian capital can be expropriated, which either takes a coercive state or its paralleling terrorist organization. But confining social alternatives to occassional paternalistic capitalists (such as Robert Owen), welfare bureaucracies, fanatical cultists, and big and little terrorists, may not constitute a sufficient range of diversities and freedoms.
Pursued with any seriousness, Nozick's meta-utopian framework would have to allow for capital access to rather more varied possibilities, though certainly not all, and certainly not with arrogant claims to meeting all human “complexity.” But included would have to be some utopian options which lacked preferential value, if not viability, in any marketplace. The hidden framework of “meta-utopia” includes either a denial of all non-capitalist alternatives (contrary to Nozick's avowals) or a covert pluralistic economy, which Nozick fails to acknowledge. If he did, he would no doubt find old vexed utopian issues as to how there can be “mixed” economies without one part bleeding, or bleeding into, the others. But that his theory demands. To propose nearly bloodless liberties is of little use.
To admit the problem does not mean that one necessarily makes a Manichean reversion to a dominant statist answer, or to hold, as utopian Fourier said, “the most ridiculous prejudice, the conviction that the good can be established by government action.” However, the conditions that encourage utopian diversity may not correspond with the formalist state of the rest of Nozick's arguent (I leave to others to decide if my criticisms of his utopianism apply more broadly). Certainly depowering of semi-private as well as statist coercive powers would be central. That might include undercutting any unitary and total market system, any unified one-world order (Wells, and followers), and not a little of the “affluence” of contemporary America. Still, my theme is libertarian utopianism, which might require an economy in which a large part of productive activity would be controlled neither by the state nor the market but by the more varied autonomous activity of individuals and non-coercive associations. Much of the modern state, and any claim to benevolent world order, we can better do without.
But that is my utopianism, or rather, but one of my many. Countering Nozick's utopianism—and his arguments may be less wrong than something rather worse: narrow, thin and not very honest—we might nonetheless grant him the good service of raising the quest for a more fundamental meta-utopianism than his consumer-communalism with its insufficient concern for furthering freedoms. Concern with the utopian, as Nozick at least partly recognized, may be essential to a libertarian view.
If I were to further propose my own utopia, it might start with something old (I have suggested they all really do), such as the motto that greatly learned and humorous Renaissance individualist Rabelais put on the arch of the Abbey Thèléme, his inverted monastic utopia: “Do What Thou Will.” But instead of concluding the problem that only begins it, for remember that was but the entrance to the simulacrum of a better and livelier and freer world. And should I self-educatingly continue my utopian speculations, I would hope not to confuse that transitory process entirely with the deeper utopian impetus. And not forget that while the utopian impetus may be a good one, many types of utopias, as I have argued, are bad. Perhaps I should mark some more arches within with proper utopian-anti-utopian warnings, such as: “Freedoms made into objects become human enslavements” (Berdayev); “What is important is the idea of utopia that overcomes utopia in its untruth and sustains it in its truth” (Tillich); and “Anything that triumphs, perishes” (Lawrence).
To avoid redundancy, this is a selection of works cited in the Footnotes.
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Over the past four years economic themes have recurred frequently in the pages of Literature of Liberty. This emphasis accords with the vital importance of economic theory and policy in the daily lives of each of us. For some time we have suffered accelerating economic crises, shortages, dislocations, and the sapping of human ambition as a consequence of our “age of inflation.” Taxes, an expansionary monetary policy, regulations, price controls, subsidies, and centralized government planning in general have spread a cloud of uncertainty on our immediate economic horizon.
What are the origins of these challenges to economic freedom? The opening set of eight summaries explores the historical and ethical dimensions of modern critiques of the free market and capitalism. Is the market compatible with justice and freedom? Differing responses to this question are heard from Chipman, Cohen, and Wilbanks. Nelson's and Horne's summaries rehearse, respectively, economic and ethical arguments critical of the free market and commercial society. Next, Samuels underlines the academic confusion surrounding the scientific status of policy recommendations of free trade. Steensgard and Kinser then offer historical theories to the alleged origins of capitalism. Finally, the last five summaries report particular economic studies that suggest the advantages of freedom and individual choice in the economic world.
Whether favoring or condemning the market principle, modern scholarship allows us to reflect on the intellectual underpinnings of anti-market opinions.
Foundation Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wollongong and Visiting Professor in Jurisprudence at the University of Sydney
“Liberty, Justice and the Market.” The Center for Independent Studies, Occasional Papers #6 [Australia], (December 1981).
Many doubt the idea that a free market not only is the most efficient way of organizing the economic affairs of society but also can do so in a manner consistent with the fundamental principles of freedom and justice. Professor Chipman, author of Liberty, Equality and Unhappiness, past president of the Australasian Association of Philosophy, and current president of the Australian Society for Legal Philosophy, challenges us to reject the notion that a necessary conflict exists between the market principle and liberty and justice. He counterargues that these principles are symbiotic and support one another.
The author argues firstly that one who values liberty ought, to be consistent, value justice and the market economy. Secondly, he reasons that one who values justice ought similarly to value liberty and the market. Thirdly, he argues that one who values the free market ought also to value liberty and justice.
Professor Chipman seeks to undermine the following beliefs: (1) The free market largely interferes with people's freedom; restrictions on market activity would, therefore, increase people's freedom. (2) The free market needs to be interfered with to bring about a more just distribution of goods and services. (3) The state is the proper and potentially effective instrument for ensuring that wealth, goods, and services are “correctly” distributed, which means distributed to those with the greatest needs and on some sort of equal basis.
Professor Chipman clarifies various notions of individual liberty and accepts Robert Nozick's notion that the legally permissible would be those goals achievable without violence, theft, or deception. He traces necessary but defensible inequalities of wealth to allowing personal freedom and forbidding coercion. He concludes that legitimately acquired wealth ought not to be redistributed by government; the market itself has several ways to provide for the needy and improve their condition with the state's direction. Chipman would restrict the role of the state in a free, liberal society to preventing violence, theft, deception, and violation of contracts.
“Freedom, Justice and Capitalism.” New Left Review No. 126(March-April 1981):3–16.
Professor Cohen, a Marxist analytic philosopher and author of Karl Marx's Theory of History, argues that principled opponents of capitalism must develop a far more logically rigorous case. The strategy for such an anti-capitalist case, he reasons, would be to meet libertarian defenses of the legitimacy of private property on the very grounds that libertarians and classical liberals value. Since libertarians affirm that private property is legitimate on the grounds of human freedom and justice, the opponent of private property must demonstrate that, on the contrary, it violates both freedom and justice. Sound arguments are required, not just assertions that capitalists follow their class interests in defending property. Lack of conceptual clarification, Cohen states, can explain why capitalist ideology can be sincerely believed by both the rich and the poor.
Capitalism, as an ideology of private property, is defended by the economic argument (private property allows good economic consequences), the freedom argument (economic freedom, even apart from its consequences, is good because freedom is good), and the justice argument (property is morally right). The author concentrates in his “critique of ruling ideology” on the freedom argument and sketches the outline of his response to the justice argument.
Cohen rejects as logically weak the socialist attack on capitalist freedom that either laments the human price of unrestricted freedom or dismisses capitalism as mere “bourgeois freedom.” He recommends a more powerful logical attack: socialists should argue against the capitalist that capitalism is “inimical to freedom in the very sense of ‘freedom’ in which...a person's freedom is diminished when his private property is tampered with.”
Cohen maintains that libertarians and classical liberals misuse the slippery notion of freedom. If libertarians were consistently to favor a society in which there are no social and legal constraints on individual freedom, then they must oppose private property which uses the state or some other agency to restrict the freedom of someone to use any property that does not belong to him. Libertarians do not see that private property constrains freedom since they tend to view property as a permanent given, a “part of the structure of human existence in general.” Yet if we are serious in our neutral definition of freedom then we must admit that property withdraws liberty from those who do not own it. “I am unfree whenever someone interferes justifiably or otherwise with my actions.”
Libertarians, when pressed, will admit in the case of defending legitimate private property, that one is justified in reducing the freedom of the trespasser. We thus see that they earlier were using a moralized definition of freedom. Their ultimate ground for defending private property, then, is not neutral freedom (they would admit the imprisoned trespasser is unfree). They finally must rest their case on the grounds of justice. They thus represent “interference with rightfully held private property as unjust and therefore, by virtue of the moralized definition, invasive of freedom.” Social democrats and Marxists must address this defense of property as a just entitlement. The author briefly outlines what such a counterargument (designed to reveal the structural injustice of private property) would look like.
“Free Enterprise and Coercion.” Reason Papers No. 7(Spring 1981):1–20.
Is the capitalist economic system necessarily coercive as Marx and others judged when they analyzed workers in a free market as alienated from their labor and engaged in coerced, non-voluntary activity? Recently, new versions of this anti-capitalist charge have been levelled by Professors Lawrence Crocker (“Coercion and the Wage Agreement”) and Andrew McLaughlin (“Freedom versus Capitalism”).
Professor Crocker denies that a free-enterprise market economy (FEME) provides the best framework for a free society, claiming that “coercive wage agreements are fairly common features” in a market economy, especially during hard times. Crocker's argument advances through hypothetical examples. First, he outlines what he judges to be a clear case of coercion in a FEME, involving the sale of fire-fighting equipment to needy victims in an emergency. Next, he attempts to demonstrate that the more dubious case of a wage agreement made by needy workers in a FEME also involves coercion. He contends that the wage-agreement case shares the crucial moral feature of the fire-fighting equipment case. Finally, he asserts that we can legitimately extrapolate from these foregoing cases to a wider range of situations in the FEME, because the FEME exhibits generally the analogous features present in the two mentioned natural emergency cases.
The author scrutinizes a number of Professor Crocker's ambiguous terms, such as property, and argues that Crocker has not, in fact, demonstrated that coercive wage agreements are fairly common features of a FEME. Crocker has not convincingly shown that the fire-fighting equipment example taken from Gideon is a clear case of coercion in a FEME, and he has not shown that the wage-agreement cases he bases on the fire-fighting example are instances of coercion. Therefore, Crocker has not provided an adequate foundation for suggesting that a FEME may not actually offer the best framework for a free economy. In addition, to refute Crocker's anti-market case with his dubious criterion of coercion is to provide strong grounds for suggesting that a FEME is a sine qua non of a free society—if by the latter we mean a society in which no one is permitted to aggress against the person or property of another.
Next, the author attacks Professor McLaughlin's anti-market notion of covert “systematic coercion,” which is alleged to occur when there is a systematic structuring of alternatives that a person faces in a choice situation. In effect, the capitalist system coerces one to enter that economy to survive. From this claim, capitalism and FEME are judged to be antithetical to freedom.
The author seeks to refute McLaughlin's distinction between overt coercion and systematic coercion through linguistic considerations which show that “systematic coercion” is not a bona fide form of coercion. Systematic coercion is misleading and does not apply to coercion as understood in a politico-economic context. Systematic coercion can only be coercive to the extent that it involves the threat of injury, overt or covert, by other individuals, and thus would amount to coercion, properly construed. Thus McLaughlin's argument fails to undermine the contention that a FEME can be a free society's framework.
“Assesing Private Enterprise: An Exegesis of Tangled Doctrine.” The Bell Journal of Economics (Spring 1981):93–111.
Professor Nelson seeks to refute the economic superiority of private enterprise over centralized statist systems. He argues that the twin theorems of welfare economics (which relate competitive equilibrium to a social optimum and which he regards as the basis of the case for capitalism) are weak foundations for economists' faith in free enterprise. Nelson asserts that, if conventional welfare economics were to consider more deeply the three prime virtues claimed for the enterprise form of economic organization (administative parsimony, responsiveness, and innovativeness) it would recognize how these criteria support a centralized economy rather than the free market.
Administration's task in any economic system is to respond to uncertain changes in demand and supply, as well as to the challenge of innovation. Welfare economics, Nelson asserts, avoids the problem of administrative response by assuming a steady state, which allows, however, even a tight, centrally planned system to respond effectively.
On the other hand welfare economics assumes that conditions more complex than static equilibrium would confront a stylized central planning regime with the choice of either working with crude decision rules or else suffering high administrative costs. Nelson counterargues that a stylized private enterprise system would face a similar trade-off. Market transactions that ignore all but a few dimensions of costs and benefits are cheaper than those which realistically consider many. In a free enterprise regime, the trade-off is between leaving externalities and imposing a more costly market-transactional structure.
The problem of unpredicted change leads to the question of responsiveness. In a dynamic economy economic units have no assurance that their past decisions will work in the present circumstances. Proenterprise literature contends that the capitalist system tracks the shifting conditions of the market with low administrative overhead as opposed to the poorer performance of a centralized economy.
Although he concedes that private enterprise responds quickly and at relatively low cost, Nelson challenges whether its responses are well-directed. He argues that without a central mechanism to direct firms (in dividing up increases or decreases in overall industrial capacity, for example), the multitude of competitive firms in any industry would produce chaos rather than intelligent responses to problems of output and inter-industry coordination.
Next, argues Nelson, although the diversity of private enterprise might appear better suited to encouraging innovation and creativity than centralized bureaucracies, the market may in fact erect obstacles to innovation. He alleges that a firm's fear of losing its technological secrets to rival firms tends to discourage outlays for new research and development. In addition, as enterprises grow larger, they suffer a decline in creativity and the ability to monitor performance. To support his contention of free enterprise's weakness in R&D, Nelson points to the large governmental funding of R&D in many capitalist countries.
Nelson judges that the traditional arguments for private enterprise are economic prejudices and result from faulty empirical observation.
“Envy and Commercial Society: Mandeville and Smith on Private Vices, Public Benefits.” Political Theory 5(November 1981):551–569.
In the 18th century suspicions mounted about the morally and socially dangerous consequences that the emergent commercial society might promote. Would the pursuit of wealth and private self-interest dissipate the individual's concern for others and for the cultivation of benevolence and public-spiritedness? Could a society that depended upon self-interest be morally justified? Commercial society faces a difficulty if the criterion for evaluating the good society is how well any society nurtures virtuous citizens who set limits to their desires and who can act for the public good. Both Mandeville and Adam Smith addressed this problem and both came away with their moral suspicions reinforced.
Commercial society is morally problematic since it ties its promise of material prosperity to increasing an insatiable awareness of individual self-interest and vanity (in the sense of ever striving to materially impress others). This moral problem was most provocatively formulated by Bernard Mandeville (1670–1733) in his Fable of the Bees as “Private Vices, Public Benefits.” Mandeville insisted on an ineradicable tension in commercial society which depended on private vice (in the form of self-interest, vanity, pride, and envy as morally vicious but economically beneficial prods) to produce material survival and progress. He represented as unavoidable the dilemma of both disapproving of the socially disruptive vices of envy and pride and yet approving of the socially indispensable economic productivity spurred on by those very vices.
Mandeville's critics and the defenders of commercial society needed to demonstrate that economic activity could spring from motivations that, if not explicitly moral, were at least morally neutral. Adam Smith took up the challenge, but both his works, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and The Wealth of Nations (1776), reveal his ambiguous attitude toward commercial society. Smith tried to find a middle position between Francis Hutcheson's claims for the importance of benevolence as a human motivation and Mandeville's claim on the inevitability of a sadly necessary vice. Smith asserted that the pursuit of wealth need not come at the expense of virtue. First, Smith argued, the self-interest necessary to economic life need not dominate all other aspects of life. Second, many forms of self-interest are either virtuous or morally neutral. Third, merchants and others need to adopt decent moral standards in order to do business.
While Smith's analysis of self-interest in the Wealth of Nations stresses the innocent desire for profit to better one's material condition, a more sophisticated and morally troubling analysis runs through The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In his analysis of admiration of the rich and vanity (the desire to live better than others) Smith reveals disruptive forces that pit self-regard against the interests of others. The socially disruptive motivation of envy threatens the stability of commercial society.
Horne concludes by sketching what motivations and moral criteria commercial society needed to justify itself, once it had jettisoned older notions of virtue. It, in effect, replaced virtue with freedom as the moral standard of social organization. Mandeville's role in this shift was to undercut the emphasis on motivation and, by consequence, to debunk the possibility of virtue. This may have led Smith to investigate the relationship between commerce and liberty. Horne believes that the moral problems of commercial society cannot be completely dissolved by appeals to freedom and prosperity.
“Economics and Science and Its Relation to Policy: The Example of Free Trade.” Journal of Economic Issues 14(March 1980): 163–185.
For over a century, economists have debated the exact nature of their social role and the relation of economic theory (or science) to policy. Disagreements have concerned the tension between, on the one hand, the desire for analysis free of ideology and values, and, on the other, the reluctant belief in the inevitability of values or ideology. The debates have also stirred doubts as to whether economic principles apply, directly or indirectly, to matters of policy.
Prof. Samuels' article concentrates on the single principle of free trade to highlight the diverse views among economists concerning the scientific status of their field of study and its practical value. He reports the results of a 1977 probe which he conducted among members of the departments of economics and agricultural economics at Michigan State University. The poll consisted of one question: “What do you think is the relationship between the pro-free trade position and the status of economics as a science.” The responses to Samuels' query fell essentially into four categories.
One group of economists affirmed that the position favoring free trade is grounded in economic science. One writer, for example, said that, “under certain ideal conditions (perfect competition, no externalities, etc.), free trade yields a Pareto optimum. This statement,” he continued “is no less scientific than any other in economics.” The respondent added that his view was positive, not normative economics. He believed that “free trade yielding a Pareto-optimum” is a “justification of free trade” but perhaps not an actual affirmation of the free-trade policy position.
A second group of respondents, quite in conflict with the first, argued that there is no justified and conclusive relation between the free-trade position and economics as a science. One economist wrote: “Economics is concerned with the allocation of scarce resources among competing ends. The science of economics does not define the end. Equation of economics as a science with free trade implies that maximum ‘output’ is the only valid end.”
The third major group of economists took a position that economics cannot advocate a specific policy, but can describe the likely consequences of alternative policies. “As a science,” one respondent replied, “economics should strive to identify the magnitude and distribution of benefits and costs associated with different institutions regulating trade under different situations. There is no scientific—that is objective— basis for a universal conclusion favoring free trade.”
Finally, one respondent alone dealt specifically with the conflict between positive and normative economics, as well as with the question of the conditional nature of propositions. He asked the question: “Are free trade advocacy and economics as a science incompatible?” “Yes,” he answered, “if you are a positivist. No, if you are a normativist and allocative efficiency is your only criterion. Maybe, if you are a normativist and your criteria are both allocative efficiency and equity. But in your advocacy you step outside the bounds of what you can objectively say about the specific case using knowledge from economic theory, including welfare economics.”
Prof. Samuels concludes with the comment that there are inevitably normative facets to social science propositions. The meaningfulness of otherwise ostensibly positive “is propositions” depends upon identifying the normative elements. Samuels suspects that, if such a process were faithfully carried out, less disagreement would exist concerning the relation of economic analysis to policy.
“Violence and the Rise of Capitalism: Frederic C. Lane's Theory of Protection and Tribute.” Review 5(Fall 1981):247–273.
Frederic C. Lane formulated his theory of protection and tribute in the 1940s and 1950s. Professor Steensgaard hopes to encourage a debate on Lane's model, especially on its usefulness for understanding the interrelations between the economic and the political sphere in the process of long-term social change. Was organized violence a cause of modern economic development?
In his essay “Economic Consequences of Organized Violence,” Lane seeks to subject the (usually political) use of violence to economic analysis. The use of violence as a monopolistic “protection” service and the “income” derived from the production of protection may structurally influence the allocation of scarce resources and the pattern of demand, saving, and investment. Other economic effects of organized violence appear. Other enterprises, producing other goods than protection, may derive a profit from the variations in the cost and quality of protection. Lane termed “protection rent” the extra income that some merchants derived from lower costs they paid for protection services against bandits, pirates. Through a series of stages, mercantile profits from protection rent became more important than tribute; finally, the use of violence increasingly comes under the control of the consumers of protection, and industrial innovation becomes more important than protection rent as a source of business profits.
Lane's model may help us approach the problem of surplus and analyze accumulation and the rise of capitalism. Marxist studies of the rise of capitalism out of feudalism are defective since they ignore the history of some of the largest preindustrial concentrations and accumulations of resources. Lane's concepts of protection rent and tribute illuminate the unique development of the European economy in the centuries before the Industrial Revolution. Since protection is a commodity and tribute a profit, the use of violence can be analyzed in economic terms, even though the monopolistic nature of the enterprises makes prediction limited. Granted, the world may not become richer by violence, but the use of organized “protective” violence may create disequilibria of a structural character that alter economic levels and patterns. Although profits made by state-protected large trading companies and early colonial ventures might be dismissed as plunder, economic analysis would also point to their historical role in structurally preparing the preindustrial economy for changes. Likewise, we need to study, with the help of Lane's model, the enormous concentration of demand (and its structural consequences) that resulted from the consolidation of the early modern state.
Steensgaard applies Lane's model in analyzing Levantine trade, merchants becoming producers of their own protection (English East India Company and the V.O.C.), and the Atlantic trade. He concludes that this model helps us understand the merchants' profits from long distance trade and early colonization. He further asserts that the production of protection (organized violence) in Europe remained a competitive business.
Lane's model is more useful in interpreting the origins of long-term structural change in early modern Europe than other interpretations which suffer from one of two flaws. (1) Either they generalize the concept of voluntary barter and confuse the model of the theoretical market with the coercive (organized violence) reality of an age in which very few people were interested in buying and selling unless they were under some kind of coercion; or (2) they rely upon the clumsy concept of the feudal mode of production. Neither of these rival interpretations explains the most important problem in early modern history, the coincidence of two unique historical phenomena: the rise of the modern state and the rise of capitalism.
Steensgaard contends, in line with Lane's protection rent and tribute theory, that advantageous structural consequences for rationalized markets flowed from state violence or “protection” services. He also speculates on the following dialectic: parasitic empires grant increasing autonomy to the market goose that lays the golden egg of tax revenues; the independent and countervailing market displaces the empires, which become victims of their own greed.
“Capitalism Enshrined: Braudel's Triptych of Modern Economic History.” The Journal of Modern History 53(December 1981):673–682.
Fernand Braudel's three monumental volumes covering European economic history and the rise of capitalism between 1400 and 1800 are impressive for their historical detail and grand sweep, but they raise serious misgivings because of Braudel's ideological assumptions and procrustean classifications and definitions.
After some 1500 pages, sparkling with rich nuggets of previously neglected information, Braudel leaves unanswered the key questions concerning the genesis of capitalism's rise and dominance in Europe. He fails to integrate the interworkings of the productive, consumptive, distributive, and circulatory systems of the world-wide economy whose growth and history he has minutely traced. His value-laden definition of “capitalism” as the stage of economic growth characterized by large profits through world-wide or inter-regional trade and arbitrage is too restrictive. By concentrating on trade and circulation of goods for profit, Braudel's understanding of capitalism neglects why production and technology surged forward during these 400 years. The multiplication of markets (the orthodox exchangist view of the rise of capitalism) may not have been the cause so much as the effect of the transformation in technology and labor productivity.
Braudel's three tomes of Civilisation matérielle, économie et capitalisme, XVe–XVIIIe siecle—Volume I: Les Structures du quotidien: le possible et l'impossible; Volume II: Les Jeux de l'échange; Volume III: Le Temps du monde (Paris: 1979)—challenge the view that modern European economic life was a unified development towards the Industrial Revolution. By contrast he maintains that economic activity between 1400 and 1800 moved along three nearly independent lines: (1) “material life” or the “infra-economic” level of local self-sufficiency, (2) “economy” proper marked by true market exchange, and (3) a higher level and upper limit of the market economy, namely the domain of “capitalism,” distinguished by far-flung and eventually world-wide trade and profitable arbitrage. In a parallel fashion this trinitarian scheme is reflected in the subject matter of the three volumes: volume one describes the “primitive” economic routines of isolated backward economies, volume two the accelerators of change (the creation of middle-sized markets which trade the production surpluses of previously isolated towns and provinces, and volume three the march of the European economy toward progress, freedom, and a world-wide global market order familiar from Wallerstein's work.
Although he claims his interpretation is the result of neutral, empirical observation, Braudel's theory is “doubly filtered”, first by his reliance on other historians and second by his debatable and overly restricted notion of capitalism. In addition, Braudel's methodology professes deeply value-laden “historical faiths”: the conviction that somewhat reified long-term economic forces always win out over short-term ones, and that human activities form a scientifically analyzable totality—a rather nebulous and mystical assumption which seeks to overcome the plurality and diversity of economic activity in an elegant but arbitrary “coercive codification” of trinitarian patterns and tendencies.
“Cognition, Choice, and Entrepreneurship.” Southern Economic Journal 46(January 1980):692–701.
Much of the conventional theory of entrepreneurial choice-under-uncertainty neglects the crucial distinction between cognition and choice in economic decision making. Cognition or knowledge about the components of an economic situation may tell us little about how human actors will choose among identified economic alternatives. Hence, entrepreneurial talent may not be amenable to analysis by the tools of modern decision theory. We should drop attempts to apply irrelevant theory to an incompatible subject matter. Any theoretical analysis or modelling that leaves no room for the creative and imaginative elements in such entrepreneurial choice muddies the waters of our understanding of economic progress.
Professor Buchanan contrasts Frank H. Knight's analysis in Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit with G.L.S. Shakle's in respect to their differing conceptions of uncertainty. Knight did not attempt to explain entrepreneurial choice, but merely to explain profits by distinguishing between calculable risk and incalculable uncertainty.
Next, Buchanan critiques the misapplication of formal theories of probability to choices. Bayesian logic and stochastically determinate patterns of outcomes can indeed aid in analyzing an individual's cognition of the structure in which he might or might not choose among alternatives, but such knowledge cannot predict the individual's choice. An informed player in an economic “game” might choose not to act on his knowledge if he felt the game was unfair. Cognitive knowledge may thus be of little value in the development of an entrepreneurial skill or sense of emergent outcomes which depend on free choice.
“The ‘Crowding Out’ Effect of Federal Government Outlay Decisions: An Empirical Note.” Public Choice 36,2(1981):329–336.
Does the evidence support the claim that government spending and expenditures “crowd out” or contract private spending? The authors seek to answer this much-debated question by extending the scope of Abrams' and Schmitz' 1978 study; they examine the crowding out effect of aggregate federal government spending decisions upon purchases of new physical capital by private firms. By limiting their analysis solely to private investment in new physical capital, they believe that they can highlight the economic implications of crowding out for long-term inflation and short-term unemployment that results from federal government expenditures. The authors employ mathematical and quantitative models to test their hypotheses.
The authors empirically studied crowding out by examining the proportion of GNP devoted to private investment in new physical capital as a function of the proportion of GNP devoted to federal outlays. They studied three alternative models, all of which displayed evidence of (a) a definite pattern in which government spending crowded out private investment and (b) only partial, i.e. incomplete crowding out. These findings are compatible with earlier studies.
Two important policy implications flow from these findings. First, increases in federal government outlays tend to diminish private-sector investment in new physical capital. To the degree that this kind of crowding out occurs, private sector unemployment is generated. This clearly acts to weaken the stimulatory direct effects of increased federal spending since it inhibits the private sector. Second, to the extent that federal government spending leads to diminished investment in new physical capital, this diminishes the rate of capital formation. This tends to worsen long-term inflation by cutting down on the ability of “aggregate productive capacity” to keep pace with “aggregate demand.”
These two implications cast grave doubts on the wisdom of the federal government's decisions to increase federal outlays in various kinds of spending programs.
“Economic Efficiency: Touchstone or Mirage?” The Intercollegiate Review 17(Fall-Winter 1981):33–44.
Confusion over the different meanings of efficiency has led to the erroneous belief that market “inefficiency” requires that a centralized political regime restore “efficiency” by state regulation and planning. As an economist, Prof. Pasour: (1) discusses the elusive meaning of efficiency in a world of uncertain and partial knowledge, (2) shows how “efficiency” as interpreted by conventional welfare economics and its norm of “perfect competition” provides the rationale for government intervention into allegedly “inefficient” markets, (3) explains why inefficiency or waste cannot meaningfully be identified or measured by outside observers who lack the subjective evaluation of the relevant individual decision makers, and (4) argues that we should use the “principles approach” in analyzing government attempts to create efficiency rather than decide each issue case by case.
We need to be careful in not confusing economic with technical efficiency. Efficiency is inescapably subjective and cannot be known apart from the subjective values of the decision maker involved. An outside observer merely imposes his own standards of value when he labels other persons' actions “wasteful” or “inefficient.”
Nor should we misuse the efficiency concept by associating it with the “perfect competition” norm in evaluating real-world markets. Since the highly idealized notion of perfect competition can never be achieved in the real world, it is misleading to use it to discover that there is “market failure” (that is, that the real world is not as efficient as an ideal world). The “perfect competition” model is a device for justifying government intervention to correct “market failure” (such as “monopoly,” spillovers, advertising, and other information problems). It is unlikely that imperfect politicians subject to well-known interests will be any more efficient than market participants.
Efficiency can be a useful concept if improvements are attempted within the terms of the decision maker's own subjective values. However, the efficiency concept is not useful for public policy in evaluating other people, markets, or economic systems. Since costs and benefits are based on subjective considerations, efficiency cannot be determined independently of values and ethical considerations by some putatively neutral team of experts.
We need to evaluate government programs to achieve efficiency on the basis of economic principles rather than by an unfocused “case-by-case” approach. Economists are led astray in basing policy recommendations on the efficiency notion of Pareto-optimality, the cornerstone of welfare economics. Economics would better recommend leaving social and economic activity to informal market principles and their decentralized, non-governmental enforcement.
“Responsible Individuals and the Nation's Energy Future.” The Cato Journal 1(Fall 1981):421–438.
Employing some basic insights from the Austrian school of economics and the private property rights paradigm, the authors find several reasons for believing that private property rights and free markets in energy would better serve both national security and efficiency. By contrast collective decision making of a political and democratic kind would create many problems. If we would establish and recognize secure and transferable property rights to resources, then we could expect that individuals who believe strongly in the advantages and profits from greater future energy reserves would provide for more fuel storage, energy conversion facilities, and energy raw materials for that anticipated future.
Investments in promising innovations are more likely to be funded in the private sector than in the public sector. The economic equivalent of biotic diversity is automatically fostered when individuals with different tastes, in various circumstances, are free to act and are also held responsible for their actions. The decision makers will be better informed in the private than in the public sector, when information is scarce and uncertainty is prevalent. Despite the greater degree of innovation, we can expect a smaller level of waste from the private sector than from the equivalent public sector innovations. This follows from the existence of the reality check of profit and loss in the private sector, as well as the smaller degree of rational ignorance in that same sector. Finally, we note that the public sector will be systematically unable to attract and hold successful forecasters in any market so important as that of energy. It would appear that in the energy market, as in so many other areas, that government is best which governs least.
“A Short Course in Housing Economics.” In Rent Control: Myths & Realities: International Evidence of the Effects of Rent Control in Six Countries. Edited by Walter Block and Edgar Olsen. Vancouver, B.C.: The Fraser Institute, 1981, pp. 37–52.
A common myth holds the following: “Rent control is a form of tenant protection adopted because housing is a basic need like sunshine and fresh air and its provision ought not to be left to the vagaries of the marketplace.” The author challenges this claim from the economist's point of view and maintains the following: “Rent control is a form of price fixing that increases the shortage of housing and ultimately reduces the ability of tenants to choose where and under what conditions they live. In the course of exploring this criticism of rent control, the author examines: What is the economic behavior of people as regards housing?; How are rents determined?; What are price controls and what effects do they have in the short term and in the long term?
The author's summary of the economic analysis of rent control includes the four following observations:
(1)The demand for housing services is determined by the wants for social standing and recreation as well as by the need for elementary shelter. Accordingly, family income and the price of housing relative to the price for other things have a substantial impact on the housing demanded.
(2)The supply of housing services arises principally from the relatively fixed number of houses or apartments in existence at a particular point in time. However, new construction, renovations (such as basement suites), and a reduction in the average time that apartments stand vacant provide substantial flexibility in the supply of services, even in the shortterm. The principal determinant of the supply of housing services is the expected rate of return on investment in housing relative to the expected rate of return on comparable investments. Rents are a principal determinant of the rate of return on housing.
(3) The notions of “surplus” and “shortage” have economic meaning only with respect to inappropriate prices. A surplus exists because the price (or rent) is too high; a shortage exists because the price is too low. The concept of shortage is sometimes confused with the notion of “scarcity.” Everything is scarce, but there are shortages of very few things.
(4) Price control produces shortages because, if the price is kept below the market price, the control becomes, in effect, a tax on the supplier. The amount of the tax is the difference between the market price and the control price. The only way the supplier can avoid this tax is by not supplying the commodity or service. Since the proceeds of the tax are, in effect, given to the consumer, the consumer is encouraged to demand more. Thus, since price control taxes suppliers and gives the proceeds to consumers, it leads inevitably to a widening gap between the amount demanded and the amount supplied—that is, a shortage.
In sum, rent control never lives up to its expected claims of cheap and plentiful housing. It guarantees that the opposite will occur. Additional scholarship on the economic disadvantages of rent control may be found in the author's book, Rent Control— A Popular Paradox (1965) as well as in Professor Charles W. Baird's Rent Control: The Perennial Folly (1980).
Literature of Liberty continues to report on the interconnections of law, liberty, and individual rights (cf. our Autumn 1981 issue, pp. 82 ff.). The two opening summaries scrutinize the various rationales for legal punishment. Then follows a group of five studies on the importance of free contract and private property in social analysis. The next group turns to the consequences of legal regulation on different human activities. A theme running through the concluding summaries is the significance of individual freedom in defining the contours of a humane society. Apropos to Kingsley Widmer's bibliographical essay, “Utopia and Liberty,” several of the following legal and political topics urge an openness to implementing ideal moral values and visions in the areas of criminology, contract, property rights, industrial freedom, nondiscrimination, and travel.
“The Justice of Restitution.” The American Journal of Jurisprudence 25(1980):117–132.
Recently, scholars have given much attention to the topic of making restitution to victims of crimes. Most studies, however, have concentrated on how restitution might be implemented or how it has fared in other cultures and times. The author, by contrast, considers what sort of justice theory would properly underlie a restitutive approach and how such a restitutive theory compares with more familiar versions of criminal justice. The author builds his current analysis upon his two earlier articles: “Restitution: A New Paradigm of Criminal Justice.” Ethics 87 (July 1977): 279–301, in which he showed the systemic weakness of the paradigm of punishment (deterrence, disablement, and reformation) as against restitution and victim compensation; and “Assessing the Criminal: Restitution, Retribution and the Legal Process,” in Assessing the Criminal, eds. Randy E. Barnett and John Hagel III (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, 1977), pp. 1–31, where he argued that a system of justice should only rectify infringements of moral rights and not engage in crime prevention through deterrence, disablement, reformation, or rehabilitation—however worthy such moral goals, as distinct from moral rights, may be.
A restitutive theory of justice is a rights-based approach to criminal sanctions that interprets a crime as an offense which one commits against another's right and which, therefore, demands forced reparations by the criminal to the victim. Restitution is a sharp departure from the two predominant sanctioning theories: retribution and crime prevention.
Some rights-based analysts have criticized the restitutive approach for failing to include mens rea (criminal intent) into the calculation of sanctions, thereby ignoring the traditional distinction between crime and tort. Such a distinction, however, is problematic since punishment for an evil mind (mens rea) cannot be made compatible with a coherent individual rights framework. To attempt to do this would require our claiming the right to certain thoughts of others, a position that is morally and theoretically objectionable.
To understand the argument for a restitutive remedy for the violation of rights we must define what a crime is: an unjust redistribution of entitlements by force, if necessary, from the offender to the victim. The author addresses common objections to such a theory of restitution, including the difficulty of measuring damages, the impossibility of reparation and the problem of criminal attempts which fail.
“Criminology: The Birth of a Special savoir: Transformations in Penal Theory and New Sources of Right in the Late Nineteenth Century.” I&C (Ideology and Consciousness; England) No. 7 (Autumn 1980): 17–32.
The nineteenth century witnessed a profound transformation in defenses of punishment, in notions of criminology, and in jurisprudence relating to the debate over criminal anthropology. Focusing on the strange shifts in the history of ideas concerning rationales for punishment and conceptualizations of “the criminal,” Pasquino lays bare the often arbitrary and ideological justifications of penal theory. In tracing these roots of modern criminology, he reveals how nineteenth-century social and intellectual transformations gave birth to a human “science” of criminality erected on the slogan of “social defense.”
During the 1870s and 1880s, the classical theory of penal law, whose roots lay in Beccaria's and Benthamite liberal utilitarianism, was overturned by the “social school” of criminologists, which included such figures as Enrico Ferri and von Liszt, the mentor of the Young German School of Criminal Psychologists. For classical theory penal justice applied to all men and revolved around the concepts of law, crime, and punishment. Since classical theory maintained a universal theory of human nature and free will, no separate species of “criminal man” (homo criminalis) existed in its system. Anyone can commit a crime through an accident of will. Such temporary deviation would label the offender homo penalis: while remaining a man he might be subject to a utilitarian calculus of punishments intended to deter him and others from further crimes. Punishment and intimidation served to maintain a contractual society of free and equal individuals and did so through a liberal conception of law as the “constitution of liberty.” A transgressor remained a member of human society and humanity, but one who required the therapy of punishment.
The new social school of criminology no longer considered the transgressor a human; he became a separate pathological species, homo criminalis. No longer studying the legal transgressor as part of a general anthropology of human action, the new “science” of punishment went beyond the remedy of deterrence to “neutralization” and liquidation of this evolutionary throwback and freak, the “criminal.” The newly conceptualized “criminal” lacked free will and required a special class of psychological and legal “experts” with a special “knowledge” appropriate for such an exotic specimen. The new “science” also reconceptualized society, diverging from the earlier liberal and laissez-faire interpretation of society as the contract of free individuals under the rule of law. Society shifted from the free union of voluntary subjects protecting themselves by law to a mystical and primary amalgam, considered as a complex of conflicts and interest. Society is no longer “nature” but organic community, Gemeinschaft. It exists prior to and superior to its members.
The new social school melded into its notion of the criminal earlier marginal and problematic beings (the monster, the incorrigible child, perverts, homosexuals, prostitutes, and the common poor). The new “experts” carved out a niche for their new savoir, establishing a novel pedagogy for criminologists, explaining the socio-psychological causes of crime, and recommending legislative “social hygiene” to deal with “anti-social” acts and species.
“In Defense of ‘Unbridled’ Freedom of Contract.” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology 40(January 1981):1–14. [An earlier version of this paper was presented at a symposium on Freedom of Contract, sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies and the University of Dallas, 1978]
The doctrine of freedom of contract holds that each person should have the liberty to enter into and the right to insist on the fulfillment of any rights-respecting contract. Professor Mack expands, clarifies, and defends this general doctrine and defines it as an implication of a Lockean emphasis on natural right.
This natural rights perspective requires the rejection of all collective social good theories (for example, utilitarianism) and the rejection of objections to freedom of contract which proceed from such theories. Mack considers four specific objections to freedom of contract. Each of these objections appears to flow from an “individualistic” emphasis on freedom and rights. Each of these, however, is dismissed either for misconceiving the nature of freedom or for involving an underlying appeal to some implausible social goal theory.
The author points out that the actual historical doctrine referred to as “freedom of contract” is rather timid and narrow in comparison to a more generally consistent and bolder philosophical understanding of free contract which would ban all coercive restrictions on free market relationships. The more modest historical version of freedom of contract probably reached its high-water mark as a constitutional doctrine in Coppage v. Kansas (1915). In that case the Supreme Court struck down a Kansas statute which forbade employers from requiring that their employees agree not to join labor unions as a condition of their employment. Throughout his paper, Prof. Mack draws on the opinions offered in Coppage v. Kansas for illustration of his arguments.
Mack argues that we can establish the existence of a negative obligation not to coerce others and also the correlative right against being coerced (this involves defining an appropriate theory of private property rights). Once we demonstrate this and further show that we cannot establish the existence of pre-contractual positive rights and obligations, we then have the full and sufficient basis of affirming the general philosophical doctrine of freedom of contract. This would then empower us to defend the much narrower historical claims of freedom of contract.
“Parks, Property Rights, and the Possibilities of the Private Law.” The Cato Journal 1(Fall 1981):473–499.
Private property rights are commonly assumed to be incompatible with preserving such environmental resources as our national parks. Many thus believe that government ownership is necessary to preserve park areas. Professor Beckwith argues that private alternatives to public ownership of parks are, in fact, legally feasible and are, moreover, desirable on both efficiency and ethical grounds.
The impediments to privatization of the public parks are not legal. Indeed, the legal system could quite easily adapt to a privatized system of parks and recreation. If there were a need, imaginative conveyancing lawyers could devise a way to meet it. Just as the private lawyers made possible the mortgage, long-term lease, and numerous uses of the law of trusts, so could they be the legal architects of the private parks. Private lawyers' creative drafting could renew the private law and build consensual, voluntary institutions consistent with economic efficiency and individual freedom.
The impediments to privatizing public parks are, in fact, primarily political. The legal possibilities of privatizing public parks are today inseparable from questions of public choice since interest group coalitions have politicized economic choice by invoking public law. Such public choice questions are crucial ones for lawyers. Because they are often harbingers of a drone-like “rent seeking” in a politicized society, their services are frequently a form of social waste. By encouraging the rent seekers' breakdown of restraint, the new public lawyers are degrading and transforming the law from an instrument of spontaneous private agreement into one of public coercion. The era of politicization has witnessed the decline of the evolving common law and the rise of transfer legislation.
Privatization of park services would encourage efficiency by awarding contracts to low-bidding firms. User charges assessed against those who visit the parks would control overuse and deterioration. It is essential that property rights in parks be defined, transferred, and enforced, for it is only by the alleged inability to exclude nonusers that anyone could justify public control and the avoidance of user fees.
Public parks nominally belong to “the people,” but this really means that they belong to only those people who use them, not to all the people. Public parks could be sold at auction to the highest bidders. The new private owners could charge market-clearing admission fees. Being more responsive to consumer preference, the parks would become much more diverse. Individual liberty would also be enhanced since private parks would rest on the consent of the voluntary contracting parties. The private ownership of the parks would be a form of “fee simple absolute” and would allow the owner to use, sell, or bequeath the park at will. The author develops several legal questions in regard to how the parks would be managed by corporations or tenancy in common under the traditional tort principles of caring for the park users. Other legal issues analyzed are the qualification of the fee simple, promises regarding the use of the park land, and privatization with respect to tort law and criminal law.
“Regulation, Property Rights, and the Definition of ‘The Market’: Law and the American Economy.” The Journal of Economic History 41(March 1981): 103–110.
Professor Scheiber identifies four problems in the recent interdisciplinary studies of property rights, law, and economic development in the nineteenth-century United States.
First, recent studies stress too exclusively the positive functions of law in either the “release of entrepreneurial energy” or the exploitative allocation of advantages (by courts and legislatures) to the business interests leading industrialization.
Second, the dichotomy between alleged “instrumentalism” as the prevailing judicial style before 1860 and ‘formalism” after 1865 has been exaggerated.
Third, generalizations have been based too much on the eastern states and Wisconsin.
Fourth, there has been a failure to identify accurately the winners and losers in the struggle over regulation and the definition of property rights.
Thus, although rediscovery of the importance of institutions by economists and the renaissance of legal history among historians and legal scholars constitute welcome and converging developments in recent scholarship, much more research is needed on these main themes and literature.
“Social Darwinism and the Liberal Tradition: The Case of William Graham Sumner.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 80(Winter 1981):61–76.
Social Darwinism in late nineteenth-century America intellectually challenged the prevailing political and social values. The most systematic of the Social Darwinist thinkers, Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), as well as his American disciple, Yale sociologist William Graham Sumner (1840–1910), borrowed freely from Darwinian evolutionary theory. They tried to show that social life was subject to particular laws of development and that man's ethical values were and should reflect the evolutionary process. Even though man was still a moral agent, he was unable to act effectively in his moral capacity while pursuing a preconceived design. This belief challenged a basic premise of American liberal democratic theory — that individual aspiration was the central stimulus of social life.
The authors, however, contend that Social Darwinism in America, as interpreted by William Sumner, drew upon themes and ideas that were firmly established in American political consciousness. In fact, the introduction of such notions as the struggle and competition for survival dramatized and highlighted some of the central concerns of the liberal tradition. Stripping it of its optimism and its benevolent view of man, Sumner, nevertheless, did not discard liberal theory, but his synthesis contained inherent tensions.
Like Spencer, Sumner placed the individual at the center of his sociology. Society, he believed, could improve only if men removed restrictions on their economic life. For Sumner, individual liberty had value because it facilitated competitive interaction between groups.
There was no inherent contradiction in Sumner's mind between social harmony and competitive struggle, for one could not flourish without the other. Undoubtedly, he lacked both the optimism concerning moral sentiments and the concern for the aesthetic that characterized the Scottish Philosophers and the Jeffersonians. Nonetheless, he did not challenge their fundamental belief in the primacy of the individual. Indeed, Sumner believed that he was reinforcing liberalism by removing the unverifiable humanist elements of the eighteenth century and substituting a hard-edged, scientific foundation.
Sumner's reputation among historians as a conservative rests primarily on his attitude toward property. The authors dispute this characterization. True enough, Sumner did not seriously challenge the concentrations of wealth in his day. He regarded property as the natural reward for hard effort and success in the struggle for life, and he believed that any interference with the ownership of capital would undermine the basic reward mechanism. Nonetheless, unlike conservatives, Sumner rejected the idea of a fixed, historic social order and advocated (much like the liberals) voluntarism and laws to limit the authority of the state.
According to Sumner, property not only enabled man to run his affairs more efficiently, but also to liberate his energies. He thus attested to the liberal faith that acquisition served to confirm man's reason and to give society a special cohesion.
Sumner, therefore, was hardly a conservative masquerading in liberal clothing. He espoused a materialistic ethic and believed that capitalism would serve to harness liberal ideals to industrial life in late nineteenth-century America. True, Sumner echoed the views of the entrepreneurial class. Yet he managed to rehabilitate the owners of wealth. They were no longer Whigs, at odds with the democratic temper, but the very standard-bearers of the liberal persuasion in America.
“Property Rights and Empire Building: Britain's Annexation of Lagos, 1861.” Journal of Economic History 40(December 1980):777–798.
Britain's annexation of Lagos in 1861 has been accorded considerable importance in studies of West Africa's occupation by European powers in the second half of the nineteenth century. The annexation was central in accounts of Nigeria's formation, since Lagos became successively the colonial and federal capital, as well as the leading port of that country. Prof. Hopkins believes that the role of property in the acquisition of Lagos has not been sufficiently appreciated. Thus, with the aid of previously unused sources, he attempts a new interpretation of the question from the perspective of property rights as both a cause and consequence of annexation.
The principal sources concerning British policy towards tropical Africa in the mid-nineteenth century abound with references to property, usually along with two companion concepts—life and liberty. The abolition of the external slave trade in 1851 significantly changed property relations in West Africa. Property in human beings offended newly formulated beliefs in individual liberty and was also considered economically inefficient and socially retrogressive.
The abolition of the slave trade struck a blow to the power of the kings of Lagos. By privilege, this commerce had been reserved exclusively for them. The distribution of the resulting largess and jobs was essential to maintaining their political following. Efforts to substitute the palm-oil trade and taxes on it merely succeeded in impoverishing the kings and creating a powerful new merchant class. This class was largely comprised of Europeans, repatriated ex-slaves, and Sierra Leonean newcomers.
The rising merchant community in Lagos found it to its advantage to implant European notions of property, including rights of alienation and sale for a market price. Implanting such ideas presupposed the existence of a stable, civilized government which would protect and propagate them.
By the early 1860s, the British Foreign Office and Colonial Office grew increasingly receptive to European and Sierra Leonean demands to annex the territory of Lagos. “Most of them,” wrote British Consul McCoskry, “have reason to complain of the want of protection of property under the rule of (King) Docemo.”
A Treaty of Cession was, thus, forced on Docemo in August 1861. By the terms of the treaty, the system of land grants established during the consular period was confirmed, laying the foundations for a property-owning democracy. Land values jumped as soon as the treaty was approved. New settlers scrambled for unclaimed plots. Within 40 years, the new property institutions began to attract the natives of Lagos, who came to appreciate the idea of handing property over to their children without encumbering limitations.
Although African merchants ceased to compete with European firms soon after the turn of the century, they and their families clung tenaciously to landed property whenever possible. In becoming rentiers, the merchants retained their gentility and used income from this source to finance the education of their children. In this way, they helped generate new forms of property based on the service industries—notably the professions and, the greatest of all prizes, government employment.
Prof. Hopkins holds that the deep political and social changes wrought by property development in Lagos have their parallels in numerous areas on the African continent. The data strongly suggest, he asserts, that the study of African history would benefit from assigning higher priority to the analysis of property rights other than those embodied in slaveholding.
“Government Price Controls and Inflation: A Prognosis Based on the Impact of Controls in the Regulated Industries.” Cornell Law Review 65(March 1980):303–329.
Government price controls in the United States have historically followed one of two patterns. Controls have, first, been imposed upon specific industries to remedy perceived deficiencies in the pricing practices of the individual industries affected (such as the regulation of railroad rates); second, controls have been imposed on the economy as a whole, dictating virtually all prices and regulating wage levels as well. The author draws on a substantial body of evidence on the effects of price controls in regulated industries to consider the manner in which these controls have functioned and to determine whether this evidence sheds any light on more general efforts at price control. He studies three areas: (1) the application of price controls to “monopoly” enterprises, (2) the application of controls to “competitive” industries, and (3) the implications of this experience in judging the prospects of a large-scale program of government price controls. The author draws on his unpublished monograph, The Impact of Common Carrier Regulation on Competitive Activities, which IBM submitted to the FCC in 1977.
As to the effects of government price regulation on such “natural monopolies” as public utilities, the author sees some flaws. “But on the whole, profits have been effectively limited, service has been made widely available, and productivity gains and price levels compare favorably with other sectors of the economy.”
More disastrous consequences attend price regulation in “competitive industries.” Whereas public utilities aimed at forbidding competition, government regulation in this second area sought to retain competition while attempting simultaneously to control “discriminatory practices.” Attempts to control competitive industries which lack monopoly characteristics “can be expected to produce unsatisfactory results,” in price levels, service quality, and innovation. Government regulation diverts energies of the regulated firms from the provision of improved service or lower prices to the prevention of actions by rivals who may provide improved service or lower prices. “The competitive rivalry is suppressed in the marketplace and intensified in the regulatory area. This diversion of energy and attention is not conducive to innovation, improved economic performance or increased consumer welfare.”
Moving from particular industry regulation, what is the prognosis of a general program of wage and price controls? Enormous difficulties would prevent a federal price administration authority from controlling evasive accounting methods and product variation (to escape price controls). The price of attempts to control prices is high. “Government regulation of prices may result in price levels that are too high or too low compared to the levels that would be achieved by competitive markets. Dictating low prices will make service deteriorate, drive away needed capital, and produce shortages. Shortages, in turn, will call for more government intervention in the form of short-run rationing and long-run subsidization. Dictating prices higher than the market creates obvious wastes. Whether government sets prices too high or too low, the result will be inefficient performance and a decline in the nation's productivity. Lower productivity will seriously augment the harm of inflation, which would be the most dangerous aspect of wage-price controls.
“Weber and Bakke, and the Presuppositions of ‘Affirmative Action’.” In Discrimination, Affirmative Action, and Equal Opportunity. Edited by W.E. Block and M.A. Walker. Vancouver: The Fraser Institute, 1982, pp. 37–63.
Paradoxically, the Supreme Court upheld racial quotas in the Weber case (1979), only one year after striking down quotas in the Bakke case. The court in each case stressed the narrowness of the issues they resolved. But how consistent are these cases and how reasonable the underlying reasoning of judicial attempts to reverse discrimination through “affirmative action”? Professor Sowell's discussion seeks to clarify: (1) the evolution of “affirmative action” as a concept, (2) its presuppositions about social processes, and (3) the implications of the Bakke and Weber cases specifically.
Through evolution the original meaning of “affirmative action” (a general attempt to inform and recruit applicants from groups long excluded from employment) gave way to its current meaning—choosing among applicants on the basis of numerical quotas. This shift replaced the prospective concept of opportunity with the retrospective concept of results. This shift implies that nothing but discrimination can explain large intergroup differences in such areas as pay and hiring. Thus, the four dissenting justices in the Bakke case created a hypothetical ideal world in which sufficient numbers of qualified minority applicants would have outperformed Bakke if past discrimination had been corrected by affirmative action quotas.
This hypothetical retrospective conjecturing presupposes that discrimination alone must be the decisive explanation of intergroup differences. We may however, concede the moral evil of discrimination, but still insist that that is no measure of its causal impact. Nor is it a reason to ignore the causal role of such non-moral variables as age, location, and cultural values. Empirical evidence shows the weakness of the causal primacy of discrimination. For example, among the highest income groups in the United States are non-white groups with a history of severe discrimination (e.g., the Japanese Americans who suffered mass internment in World War II). The uniqueness of the historic disabilities of blacks undermines their causal and legal arguments. There are non-enslaved, non-Jim Crowed, non-black groups worse off in respect to median family income, occupational level, years of schooling, I.Q., and unemployment rates. The economic performance of West Indian blacks in the United States suggests that color discrimination is not the weightiest causal factor.
Ironically, the historic discrimination against one racial minority is now being invoked as the basis for discrimination against the residual minority of persons not designated as special by arbitrary government experts. Thus, Chinese Americans (though they have high incomes and more education) are designated as an official minority over Irish Americans. More ironically, blacks and women (for whom reverse discrimination is claimed) largely reject preferential treatment. Finally, the lack of popular support for affirmative action raises grave questions of anti-democratic judicial usurpations of power.
“Pornography and the First Amendment: Prior Restraint and Private Action.” In Take Back the Night: Women on Pornography. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1980, pp. 241–247.
Kaminer presents a legal positivist analysis of pornography, freedom of speech, and current feminist anti-pornography activities.
Obscenity, Kaminer notes, is not now protected by the First Amendment. In 1957 in Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, the Supreme Court held that obscenity (like libel) was not speech and could be prohibited. Problems arise, however, in defining obscenity and separating it from protected speech. The current definition of the Supreme Court was enunciated in 1973 in Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15. Obscenity is material that among other things, “lacks serious artistic, political, or scientific value.”
Theoretically, most “hard-core” pornography could be found legally obscene under the Miller decision and could be prohibited. This is not practically possible since the First Amendment has been interpreted to prohibit prior restraint of material before publication.
Some feminists have suggested that pornography could be readily prohibited because it is deemed dangerous and may incite violence against women, and therefore represents a “clear and present danger” to them. Kaminer argues that the application of the “clear and present danger” standard to pornography undermines the current legal rationale for censorship. The “clear and present danger” standard applies to protected speech, not unprotected speech such as obscenity. Traditionally the standard is used to restrict political speech: anti-draft pamphleteering in 1919; “subversive” speech in 1950; the Pentagon Papers. Application of this standard to pornography would imply that pornography contained “serious political values.” Since the “aggrieved party” would not be the state “in its role as guardian of national security,” but women as a class, application of the “clear and present danger” standard to pornography would exempt it from all regulation as protected political speech which does not threaten the state.
Kaminer notes that such a defense of freedom of speech for pornographers was attempted in Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, and predicts that the current feminist anti-pornography movement's definitions and analyses of pornography may provide a climate in which a defense will be successful.
“Citizenship and the Right to Leave.” American Political Science Review 75(September 1981):636–653.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) proclaimed among “human rights and fundamental freedoms” the right to leave one's country, together with the right to change one's nationality. Both these asserted rights are studied in historical and philosophical perspective with special reference to what they imply concerning a theory of citizenship.
These rights are novel claims in enumerations of fundamental rights and are at variance with traditional conceptions of state sovereignty and with the practice of many states, past and present. They are also rights which have been infrequently defended, and have often been denied by political and legal philosophers. These critics have usually defended stronger ties of allegiance and obligations between the citizen and the state than is evidently implied by the human rights doctrine.
These asserted rights are clearly grounded in basic liberal values of individual liberty and voluntarism; however, they represent extensions of these values beyond what was usually acknowledged in the classical liberal tradition.
“Society and the Individual from the Middle Ages to Rousseau: Philosophy, Jurisprudence and Constitutional Theory.” History of Political Thought 1(Summer 1980):145–166.
What is the relationship between the individual and the group? Is individual autonomy (or “methodological individualism”) a preferable conceptualization to absorption of the individual in the group (or “social holism”)? Discussions on the nature of human groups did not begin with Popper's argument that holism must lead to totalitarianism and that liberal democracy ultimately rests upon methodological individualism; similar discussions were a central acivity of medieval thought. Also, did the early medieval man lack a sense of individualism until the thirteenth century or even later? The author addresses these questions together with the differences between legal and empirical styles of political thinking.
In the Middle Ages, lively and diverse debates centered on the relationship between the whole and the parts in society. Just as today, rival positions ranged from holism to individualism. Although it is conventional to suppose a contrast between a primitive holism of those earlier times and a more self-aware individualism of our day, much evidence suggests that ordinary people in these earlier periods were often individualistic. Independence of mind and liberation from the social whole are always rare and may be evenly distributed in most ages.
The Middle Ages also made a connection between social philosophy and moral constitutional norms, but in large measure the reverse of our modern fashion. Atomism and individualism in this earlier period marched with monarchy, whereas methodological holism (cf. the Conciliarists) was the prop of popular sovereignty. These connections may be more accidental than necessary. One can argue for popular sovereignty just as easily from a holist as from an individualist position.
Political thinkers of the Middle Ages not only used jurisprudence to express their ideas but also followed the lawyers' concept of fictio in constructing a unique language for politics. The theory of the social contract itself may be seen as a logical development of an artificial and reified mode of legal reasoning.
The author traces the linguistic, philosophical, religious, constitutional, and legal transformations and evolution of the concepts of group and individual through the various political and religious-philosophical studies and debates of the Middle Ages and after-wards. These diverse domains cross-fertilized each other in developing the history of these ideas.
1. Title of Publication: Literature of Liberty. A. Publication No.: 01617303. 2. Date of Filing: September 8, 1981. 3. Frequency of Issue: Quarterly. A. Number of Issues Published Annually: 4. B. Annual Subscription Price: $12.4. Complete Mailing Address of Known Office of Publication: 1177 University Drive, Menlo Park, CA 94025. 5. Complete Mailing Address of the Headquarters or General Business Offices of the Publishers: 1177 University Drive, Menlo Park, CA 94025. 6. Publisher: Suzanne Woods, 1177 University Drive, Menlo Park, CA 94025; Editor: Leonard Liggio, 1177 University Drive, Menlo Park, CA 94025; Managing Editor: John Cody, 1177 University Drive, Menlo Park, CA 94025. 7. Owner: Institute for Humane Studies, 1177 University Drive, Menlo Park, CA 94025.8. Known Bondholders, Mortgagees, and Other Security Holders, Owning or Holding 1 Percent or More of Total Amount of Bonds, Mortgages or Other Securities: None. 9. The purpose, function, and nonprofit status of this organization and the exempt status for Federal Income Tax purposes have not changed during the preceding 12 months. 10. Extent and Nature of Circulation: A. Total No. Copies: Average No. Copies Each Issue During Preceding 12 months; 3,000; Actual No. Copies of Single Issue Published Nearest to Filing Date: 3,000. B. Paid Circulation: 1. Sales Through Dealers and Carriers, Street Vendors and Counter Sales: Average No. Copies Each Issue During Preceding 12 months: 0; Actual No. Copies of Single Issue Published Nearest to Filing Date: 0; 2. Mail Subscription: Average No. Copies Each Issue During Preceding 12 Months: 1100; Actual No. Copies of Single Issue Published Nearest to Filing Date: 1100. C. Total Paid Circulation Average No. Copies Each Issue During Preceding 12 Months: 1000; Actual No. Copies of Single Issue Published Nearest to Filing Date: 1000. D. Free Distribution by Mail, Carrier or Other Means, Samples, Complimentary, and Other Free Copies: Average No. Copies Each Issue During Preceding 12 Months: 100; Actual No. Copies of Single Issue Published Nearest to Filing Date: 100. E. Total Distribution: Average No. Copies Each Issue During Preceding 12 Months: 1100; Actual No. Copies of Single Issue Published Nearest to Filing Date: 1100. F. Copies Not Distributed: 1. Office Use, Left Over, Unaccounted, Spoiled After Printing: Average No. Copies Each Issue During Preceding 12 Months: 1900; Actual No. Copies of Single Issue Published Nearest to Filing Date: 1900; 2. Return From News Agents: Average No. Copies Each Issue During Preceding 12 Months: 0; Actual No. Copies of Single Issue Published Nearest to Filing Date: 0. G. Total: Average No. Copies Each Issue During Preceding 12 Months: 3,000; Actual No. Copies of Single Issue Published Nearest to Filing Date: 3,000.
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Since 1976, the Center for Libertarian Studies has encouraged and supported promising young scholars who arc able to develop and articulate the case for the free-enterprise system and whose work demonstrates the crucial link between economic freedom and individual liberty. Through this sponsorship, the Center is building a greater appreciation for the ideas of liberty within academia and the intellectual community.
Part of our overall program is granting recognition to those distinguished thinkers whose work reflects our philosophical orientation. This year marks the centennial of the birth of perhaps the greatest champion of economic and personal freedom — Ludwig von Mises. The Center will celebrate the occasion by sponsoring a gala dinner in his honor and by inaugurating our most ambitious project to date —
THE LUDWIG VON MISES FELLOWSHIPS IN THE HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCES
In view of Mises' prolific writings on economic theory, political philosophy and the methodology of the social sciences, the fellowship program will be similarly broad in scope and will include the following disciplines:
The Mises Fellowship Program promises to be one of the largest and finest continuing fellowship programs in the country for Ph.D. candidates and Postdoctoral fellows who meet the highest academic standards and exhibit a dedication to the exploration and advancement of the ideas of liberty.
Fellowship awards to Ph.D. candidates will range from 12,500 to $7,500; Postdoctoral research grants from $5,000 to $15,000. The amount of the awards will depend on the costs of tuition and room and board at the recipients' universities, on the status of concurrent financial assistance and on the quality and value of the proposed research.
The Mises Fellowship Advisory Committee, comprised of renowned and senior scholars in each of the disciplines involved, has been established to review and evaluate proposals. Their findings will then be submitted to the Center's Board of Directors who will have ultimate authority in selecting which candidates are to receive the Mises Fellowship Awards.
It should be noted that unlike some existing programs presently providing support for graduate students, the Mises Fellowships will have no institutional or geographical limitations. Fellowships will be awarded in as many disciplines as possible, without compromising quality, and applicants from all regions of the country will be given fair consideration. The quality of the applicant and the potential value of the work will be the predominant factors considered.
We feel that the Mises Fellowship Program will have considerable impact not only on the academic community, but also, more importantly, on the thinking and values of society as a whole.
For more information or an application for the Mises Fellowships, please contact Dyannc Petersen, Program Co-ordinator, at the address below.
CENTER for LIBERTARIAN STUDIES