Roy A. Childs, Jr. Reviews

Roger Bissell

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Roy Childs was a prodigious reader. He could speed read with great comprehension -- and then write compellingly about what he had read. (I am, to this day, only capable of speed reading book titles. :-)

Some of Roy's many reviews of books and recorded lectures will be posted in this thread, and soon I hope to have a Table of Contents installed in this post to guide readers to the growing number of reviews that the thread will include.

Happy reading!

Roger B.

Basic Principles of Objectivism by Nathaniel Branden - Review

The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden - Review

Libertarianism by John Hospers - Review

Reason and Belief by Brand Blanshard - Review

The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America by Leonard Peikoff - Review

Free to Choose by Milton Friedman & Rose Friedman - Review

Capital and Interest (Three volumes in one) by Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk - Review

The Market for Liberty by Linda Tannehill & Morris Tannehill - Review

The Libertarian Idea by Jan Narveson - Review

Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (Second edition) by Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, & Harry Binswanger - Review

The Early Ayn Rand by Ayn Rand - Review

Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff - Review

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Basic Principles of Objectivism by Nathaniel Branden

reviewed by Roy A. Childs, Jr.

In his essay “The Shaking of the Foundation,” reprinted in On the Democratic Idea in America, Irving Kristol writes of the contemporary undermining of the foundations of Western Civilization:

All human societies have to respond to two fundamental questions. The first is: “Why?” The second is: “Why Not?” Why behave in such-and-such a way? Why not behave differently or contrarily? A liberal society can rely on a more or less persuasive, as against explicitly authoritative, answer to the first question. But no society can endure speechless before the second.

Kristol points out that, traditionally, religion has been the source for answers to these two questions. Today, with the authority of religion crumbling around us, there seems to be no source, and no answers. “The upshot,” writes Kristol, “is that…on an ever larger scale, ‘why not’ is ceasing to be a question at all. It is becoming a kind of answer.”

It is no secret that Western Civilization is today experiencing a crisis of grave proportions—proportions that few thinkers perhaps, have begun to grasp fully. The crisis, at root, is a crisis of values, of the gradual erosion or discrediting of traditional values, which process is leaving nothing in their place. A great many intellectuals have become increasingly concerned with this problem in the last half-dozen years, and they have wrestled with many proposed solutions. But thus far, at least, no solutions have been offered which can stand the test of rational scrutiny and which will answer to the needs of Western Civilization in this particular context.

This crisis of values has a corollary effect that more and more intellectuals are becoming concerned with: the gradual erosion of the legitimacy of bourgeois society and its institutions. Young people are rejecting not merely the reality of Western Civilization and bourgeois values, not merely the existing state of these, but their actual ideals as well. As Kristol further states, in “When Virtue Loses All Her Loveliness,” “Our young radicals are far less dismayed at America’s failure to become what it ought to be than they are contemptuous of what it thinks it ought to be. For them, as for Oscar Wilde, it is not the average American who is disgusting, it is the ideal American.”

Among the ideals being called into question are not merely the virtues furthered by bourgeois society, but the system of capitalism itself, the free-market system of exchange based on private property, the profit motive, individual freedom, and economic growth and progress.

These are being rejected not so much out of any contrived psychological motive, as out of a genuine, albeit confused, concern with justice. While capitalism was, during much of the nineteenth century, at least touted by a great many important thinkers as the epitome of justice—because, in Kristol’s words, “it replaced all arbitrary…distributions of power, privilege, and property with a distribution that was directly and intimately linked to personal merit—this latter term being inclusive of both personal abilities and personal virtues”—today it is rarely defended by intellectuals at all, and almost never from the ideal of a system of justice.

Indeed, among the twentieth century’s major defenders of capitalism, none of the most widely known—until now, that is—have been concerned with justice. Milton Friedman and the late Ludwig von Mises alike have defended capitalism predominately because of its superior efficacy as an economic system. F. A. von Hayek, whom Kristol considers “the most intelligent defender of capitalism today,” goes so far as to defend capitalism as the essence of a free society, but shies away from viewing capitalism as a just system. In fact, Hayek opposes a free society to a just society—he says they are mutually exclusive:

Since they [differentials or inequalities of wealth and income] are not the effect of anyone’s design or intentions, it is meaningless to describe the manner in which the market distributed the good things of this world among particular people as just or unjust….No test or criteria have been found by which such rules of “social justice” can be assessed….They would have to be determined by the arbitrary will of the holders of power.

This, which Kristol, one of today’s leading “neo-conservative” intellectuals, sees as perhaps “the best possible defense that can be made of a free society,” is clearly inadequate. Kristol himself makes the point:

But can men life in a free society if they have no reason to believe it is also a just society? I do not think so. My reading of history is that, in the same way as men cannot for long tolerate a sense of spiritual meaninglessness in their individual lives, so they cannot for long accept a society in which power, privilege, and property are not distributed according to some morally meaningful criteria.

Precisely so. And how have modern conservatives attempted to meet this challenge? Through a return to one of the institutions and value-systems which is itself being undermined: religion. Yet this variant of the “noble lie” is clearly not adequate, particularly during a period when people are sick of being lied to. Religion is not enough. Nonetheless, conservative thinkers still cling desperately to religion, believing that they dare not let go of it, that it is the only foundation left—or even possible. This, then, is the alternative they suppose we are faced with: religion or nihilism.

This 20-lecture course provides a different view. In a virtuoso performance, building on the thought and works of Ayn Rand—the only major defender of capitalism outside of Murray N. Rothbard who is concerned with justice—Nathaniel Branden attempts to give us, in The Basic Principles of Objectivism, an alternative code of values which, far from undermining Western Civilization, may turn out to be the best defense yet of those unnamed and undefended premises on which the best of Western Civilization has been built. Originated more than 15 years ago, the course is now available to the general public, and it is an invaluable source of arguments promoting not merely capitalism and Western Civilization, but human happiness and life itself. It is a comprehensive, well-reasoned answer to Kristol’s questions: “Why behave in such and such a way? Why not behave differently?...”

Branden’s answer is: You should act rationally, you should act to achieve your own rational self-interest, you should act to gain and keep the values of reason, purpose and self-esteem, and you should act this way in order to promote your own life, your own happiness, and your own liberty. To act contrary to these principles is to act self-destructively, to cause misery and suffering, and to destroy the best within yourself and the best of which mankind is capable. In these lectures he advances steadily toward the goal of demonstrating this; the momentum builds, the arguments snowball and interlock, until the point has been made in exhaustive, exhilarating detail.

The 20 lectures cover these general topics: The Role of Philosophy—What is Reason?—Logic and Mysticism—The Concept of God—Free Will—Efficient Thinking—Self-Esteem—The Psychology of Dependence—The Objectivist Ethics—Reason and Virtue—Justice vs. Mercy—The Evil of Self-Sacrifice—Government and the Individual—The Economics of a Free Society—Common Fallacies About Capitalism—The Psychology of Sex—Romanticism, Naturalism and the Novels of Ayn Rand—The Nature of Evil—The Benevolent Sense of Life.

Listening to these lectures now, for the first time, I am more than impressed. The ideologies of Rand and Rothbard have always seemed to me to be the completion of the philosophy of the enlightenment, the philosophy behind the American Revolution. Now I am even more sure of this.

Branden begins the lectures by discussing the role of philosophy in human life and society, and moves on to consider some of the most fundamental questions of metaphysics and the nature of axioms. Most importantly, he shows why human knowledge must rest on axioms, that these axioms are existence, consciousness and identity, and that any attempt to deny them involves the speaker in interminable self-contradictions. His discussion is much more detailed than the Objectivist discussions I have seen in print, and he makes his case solidly.

He then takes up the fundamental principles of Objectivism’s theory of knowledge, discussing the validity of the senses, the formation of concepts, the natures of reason and logic, and the fallacies involved in upholding mysticism and faith as foundations for knowledge. The Objectivist concept of reason is in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition but has, I think, corrected many of that tradition’s errors and confusions, resulting in a solid case for the view that reason can identify facts about reality, and the view that the only way to be practical is through thinking. Objectivism’s theory of knowledge transcends such classical dichotomies as rationalism and empiricism, and it eliminates many of the conceptual confusions which these dichotomies have produced.

Branden then considers the concept of God and the view that “the Universe is a haunted house.” This is a classic, justly famous lecture which caused a greater rate of attrition at Nathaniel Branden Institute lectures than any other. But Branden pulls no punches and refuses to compromise his logic.

He next turns to the concepts of free will and determinism, laying bare the inevitable contradictions in determinism. Branden shows that once we hold any theory to be true, we are logically committed to free will, and he goes on to show in what free will consists, how it operates, and why it does not contradict a purely “scientific” view of man and nature. Here, then, is a “naturalistic” view of free will, resting neither on a variant of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle nor on religion. Free will is seen as the choice to think or not to think—to regulate, within limits, the operations of one’s own mind—and thus to choose both theories and values and to act according to them. This is the basis of the Objectivist theory of ethics.

“Efficient Thinking” is a guest lecture by Barbara Branden, and it is a brilliant lecture indeed. Ms. Branden demonstrates the crucially important role of purpose in thinking—something that “value-free” scientists might consider—and discusses the nature and role of definitions and a great many other issues of a “how-to” variety.

“Self-Esteem” and “The Psychology of Dependence” are discussions of intellectual independence and related issues, showing the importance of self-esteem and independence to happiness and achievement.

The next four lectures are among the most important in the series: they are considerations of the foundations of the Objectivist ethics, man’s life as the standard of value, and the virtues of rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, and pride—all in much greater detail than has been done so far in print. These are crucial: they define a purely naturalistic standard of value which is not arbitrary, not unscientific, and not religious. The “Death-of-God”-people say, in effect—and religionists take them at their word—without God anything goes. Branden shows that without God one must take one’s life on earth much more seriously. Thus, while Kristol and others sense some innate conflict between the pursuit of well-being and the requirements of Western Civilization, Branden shows that it is precisely self-interest which requires taking principles seriously. The virtues which are deontological and duty-centered in most ethical systems are presented here as, again, naturalistic in the best sense: as a means to an end, to a good life. Man’s life is the standard; al which furthers and sustains man’s life is the good; all which destroys it is the evil.

And the virtues? They are philosophical derived by looking at the relationships between consciousness and existence, between the nature of reality and the nature of human life. One follows certain principles, then, in order to further one’s life and happiness on earth. Justice for example, is seen as the application of rationality to social relationships, as the recognition of facts about individual character and achievements.

The next three lectures deal with social, political, and economic arguments and issues. “Government and the Individual” is a generally excellent discussion of the benefits of living in society on conditions which are shown to logically imply a certain type of political system. Branden makes a case for limited government which is seriously flawed, in part because I was written before limited government came under comprehensive attack by libertarian anarchists. But it is still an excellent statement of an Objectivist variant on classical “constitutionalism,” answering a great many questions about political systems that are being asked in a great many quarters today without receiving adequate responses.

In any case, what is, perhaps, most important is that here Branden discusses his political principles in the critical context of Objectivist epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics. In the opening lectures, for example, he discusses the fallacy of attempting to prove a negative for which no positive exists; here he shows how this implies that a man must be considered innocent until proved guilty. This is but one case among many. In “The Economics of a Free Society,” Branden presents one of the best discussions of economics I have ever come across; his concern is not “value-free”; the real focus is precisely on the justification for the profit motive (an economic corollary of rational self-interest), for free trade for competition, for profits, and so on. This is a superb antidote to “value-free” economics and a much-needed moral defense of economic activities which are axiomatically despised by today’s lumpenintelligensia. “Common Fallacies about Capitalism” is a capsule discussion of such issues as monopoly, unemployment, and depressions, and it is a generally worthwhile summary of the work of the Austrians and others.

The next three lectures deal with Branden’s theory of sex—which I think he would now want to seriously revise—and a discussion of aesthetics, “naturalism,” “romanticism,” and the aesthetics of Rand’s novels.

The final two lectures, “The Nature of Evil” and “The Benevolent Sense of Life,” provide a superb climax for a generally excellent series of lectures. Branden shows how evil is inherently parasitical on the good and discusses why men repress and drive underground not the worst within them, but the best. This last is a dramatic tour de force and profoundly moving.

What The Basic Principles of Objectivism does not say everything, it does say a good deal, and it answers most of the objections to Objectivism that I have heard during the last ten years. I had not expected to be as impressed with the course as I am.

But most importantly, it is a necessary—but not sufficient—framework for the libertarian ideology. It requires a great deal of reading, thinking, and questioning on the part of listeners. One cannot—as many “Students of Objectivism” once attempted to do—go into the course tabula rasa and come out omniscient. Nonetheless, it is the most serious and systematic attempt so far to present a comprehensive antidote to the poisons in the intellectual cultural life destroying Western Civilization. It is an antidote, too, for the cult of boredom and despair. It is an answer to the value-free technicians of economic efficiency. It is a defense of moral values and of capitalism, of egoism and humanism, of liberty, industrialization, and economic progress. It is an answer to the questions “Why?” and “Why not?”

If Western Civilization is facing a crisis of values, if bourgeois society I under attack, if defenses of capitalism have been found wanting, then the answers to these problems which Objectivism provides should be taken seriously: for the most part, they are true notwithstanding numerous reservations which I have about the details of the philosophy. The rebuilding of the Aristotelian tradition is no mean feat, but I think that is what this course helps to accomplish. Yes, Objectivism has produced fanatics, but as Robert Hessen once wrote to me, quoting Nietzsche, “One should not judge a philosophy by the first generation of its adherents.”

Flawless? No. But indispensable it may very well be.

[This review was first published in Books for Libertarians, Vol. III, No. 8 (August 1974) and was posted to Objectivist Living on Thursday, September 14, 2006, with the permission of Andrea Millen Rich.]

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The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden

Anchor Books, 1987, paperback

reviewed by Roy A. Childs, Jr., June 1986

I won't keep you in suspense: It's superb! The Passion of Ayn Rand is at once intimate and objective, revealing and respectful, critical and adulatory. When I read the manuscript for the first time, I phoned Barbara Branden and told her that she had created one of the great fictional characters of our time. "But it's all true!" she insisted. Branden has interviewed more than two hundred people, including Ayn's sister Nora, an aunt she stayed with in Chicago, cousins, members of her husband's family, associates from her days in Hollywood, early conservative and libertarian friends, and many, many more besides.

The result is a stunning biography, rich in revelations that will add substance to a hidden life, and depth to an enigmatic genius who strode across the world's stage and had an explosive impact on our time. This is a book Barbara Branden was born to write.

Those who have awaited a negative book won't find it here, for The Passion of Ayn Rand is the most sympathetic and laudatory work on Ayn Rand that we will see. Yes, Ayn Rand's failings are here, but are discussed almost sympathetically, placed in the context of her dramatic and tumultuous life. Indeed, as Barbara Branden writes:

Those who worship Ayn Rand and those who damn her do her the same disservice: they make her unreal and they deny her humanity. I hope to show in her story that she was something infinitely more fascinating than either goddess or sinner. She was a human being. She lived, she loved she fought her battles and knew triumph and defeat. The scale was epic; the principle is inherent in human existence.

Ayn Rand's life certainly was the stuff of fiction. Consider her saga: She was born in Czarist Russia, lived through the Bolshevik revolution, and vowed to go to America. Barely two years after graduating from university, she did so. In 1926 she arrived in New York City alone, with about $50 in her pocket. She spent some months with relatives in Chicago, and then made her way across the continent to Hollywood, where she worked at odd jobs--stuffing envelopes, waitressing in a diner, and running a studio wardrobe department--until she could make a financial success of her writing. That didn't happen until she sold The Fountainhead--after it had been rejected by a dozen publishers. With that novel, and later, Atlas Shrugged, she became both wealthy and world-famous. Ayn Rand set out to achieve what she wanted in life, and did it. It was one hell of a life.

What we knew before about Rand's early life was sketchy. Now those early years are filled in with nearly eighty pages of absorbing detail. Barbara uses a very interesting literary touch here: the protagonist is not Ayn Rand, with all that name has come to symbolize, but rather a young girl, Alice Rosenbaum, growing up in Russia.

We become acquainted with her parents and sisters, her teachers and peers see the events she witnessed as a child, and learn how she dealt with them. We follow the fortunes of her family, a prosperous Jewish family that endured Czarist rule, the First World War, the Bolshevik revolution and the tyranny of Communism. In The Passion of Ayn Rand, Barbara asks the probing questions we all want to see answered, questions about how Alice Rosenbaum evolved as a human being--something Rand had denied ever happened.

Once we travel with young Alice to America, we reach more familiar ground. But here too are many, many things that came as a complete surprise to me. I don't want to spoil your pleasure by telling you what they are. Read the book.

Once the book reaches the 1950s, Barbara has to deal with what must be seen objectively as her biggest challenge: how to write about the affair that Ayn had with Barbara's then-husband, Nathaniel Branden. It is handled as well as can be imagined. The story is told with such painful honesty, such integrity and magnanimity that a lesser person would have utterly failed in the challenge. This is neither a whitewash nor an apology. This is the way it happened, with such a devastating effect on everyone involved (particularly Ayn's husband, Frank O'Connor), and such an explosive climax years later that to this day some people close to the events do not fully understand what happened. The 1968 split between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden left many lives deeply scarred. This is the full story of what happened, told for the first time. It is an agonizing tale, but a necessary one.

Ayn Rand had an enormous influence more than most of her admirers know. She had a particularly powerful impact on the contemporary libertarian movement, and I once wrote that trying to sort out that impact is rather like trying to sort out how Christianity transformed Western civilization. It is that complex.

It isn't really just a matter of her ideas, which were always brilliantly expressed; she affected libertarians through her style and approach--not just in her fiction, but also through her life. We borrow her terminology, her vocabulary, her approach to issues, the perspective that we learned from those powerful novels. When we have insights, often they are guided by something that she said. And when we make mistakes, well, sometimes she is there as well. Some of us have learned intolerance from her, or moralizing, or worse.

Why are we so fascinated by her life? In part, because she was so enigmatic. Up until now, we have only known those things about her life that she wanted us to know, plus a few stories and rumors. Then there was the dramatic public persona, echoed in the afterword to Atlas Shrugged: "My personal life is a postscript to my novels; it consists of the sentence: 'And I mean it.' I have always lived by the philosophy I present in my books--and it has worked for me, as it works for my characters. The concretes differ, the abstractions are the same."

Ayn Rand was predominately a moralist; given the power of Atlas Shrugged, and the virtual perfection of her heroes, that is an astonishing claim, one that Ayn Rand never modified over the years that were to come.

And that is an appropriate remark upon which to hang this review, because that is an appropriate standard by which to judge Ayn Rand's life. Did she live according to her philosophy? If you expect me now to utter a charge of "hypocrisy," guess again. For the most part, I think that she did. And was her life a happy one? For the most part no. One of the questions I asked while reading The Passion of Ayn Rand was: to what extent were aspects of her philosophy responsible for her suffering? Was her philosophy wrong?

Some charge that she was hurt by the irrationality of others. But the facts point to a greater complexity. If you read Barbara Branden's book carefully, you will see what I mean. It will show you, for example, how often she managed to make the lives of those around her miserable, and how she ended her life with barely a friend in the world, because she had thrown nearly everyone out. You'll witness the sad decay of her marriage to Frank O'Connor. And you'll understand why her professional triumphs often left her cold, bitter and depressed. At the end of her life, she was indifferent to the achievements of her one-time associates, to the public acclaim awaiting her, to any sign that she had had an enormous impact, and she was contemptuous of her own followers.

Yes, she wrote about a "benevolent sense of life," but she was a tremendously bitter woman. She wrote about individualism and independence, yet she demanded conformity. In the end, if an associate had so much as an aesthetic response that she deemed "inappropriate," it could be taken as a sign of moral treason, and was reason enough to provoke an angry tirade, or even another break.

No, I don't mean to drag Ayn Rand through the mud. Neither does Barbara Branden. Nor do I want to expose "feet of clay." That would be cynical exploitation. But with all its rich details, The Passion of Ayn Rand should be the occasion to ask those questions that have bothered so many of us for so long.

I have for the most part refrained from giving away the details of this remarkable book because I want each of you to be able to read it as I did: with a great deal of curiosity, with questions, and with a freshness free from preconception. I would like you to come to this book with an open mind.

An open mind? About Ayn Rand? Yes--and for many reasons. For one thing, her explosive temperament and personal foibles have led many readers to abandon her ideas even when those ideas are brilliant. Secondly, I think that Rand made some serious errors in developing her ideas, and that these led her to pain and to tragedy; she used them to rationalize away her own cruelty to others. The Passion of Ayn Rand can be useful in separating the moral wheat from the moralistic chaff. Rand's life can be seen as an experiment in applying her ideas to an actual life--her own. But there is more here than that. Her life was a large one. and she did stride across the world's stage. Today, she is indeed damned and dismissed by some and worshipped by others. To give Ayn Rand back her humanity, which is what Barbara Branden has done, allows us to reevaluate and reassess her views without the "myth" of Ayn Rand getting in the way.

Whatever your views, read this book. Ayn Rand had a tremendous influence in helping to revive the ideals of reason, individualism, and the free society. She offended many people, who then felt entitled to dismiss her ideas. With The Passion of Ayn Rand, a door has been shut on one aspect of Objectivism and the life and achievements of Ayn Rand. Now is a chance for us to be free of the myths and to face reality. It is also our chance to reconsider the philosophy of Ayn Rand, to contemplate both its virtues and flaws, free at last from the spell that this remarkable woman held over so many. Her achievements remain towering, and her positive legacy remains unsurpassed.

[Childs was a reviewer for Laissez Faire Books, and this review is posted at the Laissez Faire Books website.]

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Libertarianism by John Hospers

Reviewed by Roy A. Childs, Jr.

Those who have been looking for a comprehensive yet not-too-technical work to use in introducing people to the libertarian political philosophy need look no longer. Libertarianism, by the distinguished director of the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, integrates and presents much of the best of what libertarians of all breeds have produced so far. This work has now become the work to give to people who want to understand what libertarian political philosophy is all about.

Not that I think the work is flawless. For one thing, though the work is aimed at converting intelligent liberals to libertarianism, it is too conservative in tone. Hospers’ book is really better suited, in many ways, to converting the thinking conservative to purist libertarianism. One reason is that most of the illustrations and examples which Hospers draws on are not as effective as they could have been. Hospers draws on largely libertarian and conservative sources, rather than boldly confronting liberal sources, issues, and arguments.

The area where he is weakest, for instance, is history. The biggest conflict in the ranks of liberalism today is over the thesis of revisionist historians—which fit very well in with the libertarian ideology. But Hospers does not draw on these sources, resulting in a weaker argument for the free market than he could have otherwise produced. Weaker—as far as converting liberals is concerned.

Enough for the flaws. The virtues of the book far outweigh them in any case. Drawing largely on such writers as Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises and Henry Hazlitt, Hospers integrates the most forceful of libertarian arguments into a coherent case ranging in issues covered from individual rights to international relations, from welfare to ecology. There is a particularly interesting chapter which deals with the anarchist/limited government controversy—in which Hospers takes what I think is the wrong side.

The book is a virtual encyclopedia. Yet its style is very conversational, which makes for easy and enjoyable reading. All of his arguments are extremely powerful, and by the end of the book one finds that the totality of their effect has just snowballed. He covers key problems issue by issue, so that no one argument seems critical. But by the end of the book, one realizes that almost no problem or objection to the free market and a free society has not been dealt with. It is this which is the single most important aspect of the book, and this which makes it an important addition to the literature of liberty.

[This review was first published in SIL Book Review, May 1972 and was posted to Objectivist Living with permission on Friday, October 13, 2006. Questions and comments are welcome.]

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Reason and Belief by Brand Blanshard

Reviewed by Roy A. Childs, Jr.

With the publication of this volume, Brand Blanshard brings to a close that series of works which constitutes one of this century’s most formidable defenses of reason. The Nature of Thought, published in 1939, still remains this century’s greatest defense of rationalism in the theory of knowledge; it is, in addition, one of the most beautifully written treatises in philosophy to have every seen publication. Blanshard’s concern with the modern decline of reason and rationality, however, did not stop there; beginning in 1948, he delivered several series of important lectures which were to mature into the now famous trilogy, of which Reason and Belief is the last. Reason and Goodness (1961) defended rationality in human conduct; Reason and Analysis (1962), the most technical volume, was a critical study of the analytic philosophy of the past half-century.

Now Blanshard has turned his attention to religion. Traditional Christianity, he claims, holds to an immoral “ethics of belief,” which threatens dissenters with torture and suffering for not accepting that which cannot be proved. He is convinced that “religion has reached a stage where it must either vote on its own dissolution or reconstruct itself on an altered pattern.” That “altered pattern” is to enshrine reason, humanity and nature in place of traditional creeds. Blanshard attempts to show what the results would be in the final part of the book. “A Rationalist’s Outlook…”

Part One, “Reason and Faith: The Catholic View,” is a detailed reconstruction and critique of Catholic theology, with its alleged harmony between reason and faith. There is no razzle-dazzle here, no flashy, rapier-like thrusts doing the enemy in. Instead, with respect, Blanshard shows why Catholic claims about reason and faith are impossible. He demonstrates that the truths of revelation are not even self-consistent: scripture, Papal pronouncements, and the edicts of church councils contradict themselves, each other, and science. The Papacy comes under particularly withering indictment. Blanshard quotes the Catholic historian, Lord Acton: “If a man accepts the Papacy with confidence, admiration and unconditional obedience, he must have made terms with murder.” After Blanshard’s lengthy and detailed critique, the reasonable Catholic must have second thoughts about his beliefs.

Protestant theology fares even less well. Luther, Kierkegaard, Brunner and Barth are taken as representatives of a complex, contradictory pattern. Protestant theology claims less for reason than the Catholic tradition. Reason was, for Luther, “the devil’s whore”; he exhorted his followers to “Kill reason, and believe in Christ”; philosophy was “an old woman, that stinks of Greece”; Aristotle was a “blind heathen” and a “lazy ass.” Kierkegaard “indicts reason; he indicts rational ethics; he indicts love and justice of the merely human variety.” Karl Barth claims that “…we must recognize as the great enemy ‘the emancipation of reason, the self-sufficiency of the rational man.’” Emil Brunner states simply: “What can be proved is eo ipso unimportant.” Blanshard is concerned here to show that reason is the court of last resort, and any attempt to circumvent or subordinate reason to anything else, is doomed to failure, often dragging with it so much that we as human beings find valuable.

Intriguing indeed is that section designed to see what, if anything, can be saved from Christian ethics, given the failure of Christian theology. Blanshard writes movingly of the “lost opportunity of the West” to have combined the Greek and Judeo-Christian traditions into a rational whole. The ethics of Aristotle is portrayed as “sane, naturalistic, and civilized; it had emancipated itself once for all from mythology and achieved the fundamental insight of a rationalistic ethic that the good life for society is what fulfills harmoniously the human nature of its members…” Aspects of Christian ethics are likewise often valuable. Each ethic “sorely needed the other…How different the course of history might have been if, in the critical years, some moral genius had arisen to effect the rational junction of the two great streams!”

This just samples a heavenly feast. The chapter on “The Ethics of Belief,” for example, is alone worth the considerable cost of this book. Blanshard holds that “everywhere and always belief has an ethical aspect. There is such a thing as a general ethics of the intellect. The main principle of that ethics I hold to be the same inside and outside religion. This principle is simple and sweeping: Equate your assent to the evidence.” All belief, everywhere, must answer to the same standard.

Part Four, “A Rationalist’s Outlook,” cannot even be summarized here, though it is a summing up of the essentials of Blanshard’s world view. He defends the uniformity of nature, the law of identity, the law of causation, and the idea of necessary connections; he persuades us to examine more closely “Human Nature and Its Values.” Finally, he holds forth the ideal of the life of reason, calling upon us to become citizens of that “moral republic” which “exists only in men’s minds when they are united by the common acceptance of an ideal good.”

Brand Blanshard closes Reason and Belief with these words:

The proposal here urged is as simple as it is sweeping. Take reason seriously. It has been from the beginning the unrealized architect of religion, of conduct, of the world, but almost always doing its work under the interference of interests alien to its own. Give it its head. Let is shape belief and conduct freely. It will shape them aright if anything can.

From first to last, Blanshard’s work in philosophy has been in defense of reason. This work is no exception. It is, however, even more beautifully written than his earlier works. In fact, I know of no work in philosophy which more reflects stylistic mastery, elegance, wit and good taste, than this one. It is so classical in its proportions, so measured in its restraint, of such grace and utter simplicity in expression, that if Mozart had penned philosophy instead of music, he could have been its author.

Reason and Belief is obviously much more than a critique of Christianity, important thought Christianity is as a foundation stone of the Weltanschauung of the West. It is a humanistic work which makes man the center and end of all things. Blanshard develops, through twin mastery of style and content, a sense of reverence not for traditional dogmas, but for that very reason, humanity and nature which traditional religions so often impugn. He has, in short, elevated reason and reality to where they ought to have been from the beginning.

My enthusiasm for this work is obviously very great indeed. Spend a few months reading and rereading it, as I have, and I suspect you will feel the same. We can only hope that Brand Blanshard, now in his eighties, has not yet finished, and will give us more work of this caliber. Reason has, in his person, a powerful defender; Humanity is in his debt.

[This review was first published in the Winter 1976 issue of Laissez Faire Books and was posted to Objectivist Living, with permission, on Sunday, November 26, 2006. Comments and questions are welcome. See also the review of this book by John Hospers, posted here: John Hospers Reviews]

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Roger; Looking at Roy's reviews I have mixed feelings. One feeling being impressed by the thinking and writing that Roy did so well. The other is sadness at his too early death. You wish he had gotten his appetites under control. Thank you again for the review.

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Chris, I share your feeling of sadness at Roy's early death. But please understand that he was not a weak man, and that his problem was not the relatively simple one of failing to get his appetites under control. I am convinced, as a result of knowing him for a number of years, that Roy was struggling to cope with undiagnosed physical problems, despite whatever psychological problems might have added to his difficulties. His life was a very difficult one, which he bore with great good humor and without bitterness.

He and I were both night owls, and he often would call me at eleven or twelve o"clock for conversations lasting an hour or more. Sometimes, to this day, on the rare occasions when my phone rings at midnight, I find myself for a moment wondering if it is Roy calling. How I wish it were!


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Barbara; Thank you for your very thoughtful reply. I suspect you maybe on to something about Roy's health. I once got a call from Roy and it was a delight. One of my most cherished complements was when Roy told me at the end of the 1979 LP convention that everything I had said in the proceedings was very good. There are veryfew moments when I felt as good.

Edited by Chris Grieb
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The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America

by Leonard Peikoff, Introduction by Ayn Rand

reviewed by Roy A. Childs, Jr.

When the history of the twentieth century is written, one thing will stand out above all others: the growth of state domination over the lives of all mankind. The state has brought us wars, concentration camps, mass murder. Millions of graves are filled with the results.

What caused it, and how can we fight it? This is the question philosopher Leonard Peikoff has sought to answer in his brilliant book, The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America.

Peikoff writes about the parallels between Nazism and contemporary America, an America he sees as threatened by a growing irrationalism and collectivism. In Peikoff's view Nazism was caused by ideas concerning the nature of man, knowledge, morality and politics. And those ideas are today spreading in America.

How did Nazism happen? After all, as Peikoff notes, "The Nazis were not a tribe of prehistoric savages. Their crimes were the official, legal acts and choices of modern Germany--an educated, industrialized, civilized Western European nation, a nation renowned throughout the world for the lustre of its intellectual and cultural achievements." And yet this civilized nation embraced a brutal savagery which led to concentration camps, gas chambers, and war.

Peikoff traces the ideas behind this monstrous system to the influence predominately, of German philosophers of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, most notably Kant and Hegel. In the dawning age of science and technology, intellectuals undercut reason; as individual liberty emerged from the feudalism of the Middle Ages, they undercut individualism; and as freedom was born in the shadow of the shackled state, they undercut freedom by enshrining the omnipotent state.

Collectivism--the view that the group, the collective, has primacy over the individual, that the individual, ultimately, must serve the state--rapidly came to dominate European thinking.

By the late nineteenth century, many young American intellectuals were busily studying in Europe, particularly in England and Bismark's Germany.

The most stunning chapters in The Ominous Parallels are the seven dealing with Germany. In the chapter called "The Emotionalist Republic," Peikoff reviews the irrational, anticapitalistic and socialistic views which permeated all segments of German culture. "The Culture of Hatred" focuses on the scapegoating of capitalists and Jews. And, in a scintillating tour de force of three riveting chapters--"The Killers Take Over," "Hitler in Power," and "The Concentration Camps"--Peikoff shows us how philosophic principles can be translated into brutal reality. Nowhere was the individual valued less than in Dachau and Auschwitz.

If these sections of The Ominous Parallels are frightening, the next three--on contemporary America--are positively horrifying. For Peikoff traces precisely the same intellectual trends common in 1920's Germany, in America today. He details the growth of irrationalist movements, cults complete with mystical gurus, the scapegoating of businessmen and the growing acceptance of the supremacy of the State. In the final chapter, Peikoff offers as an antidote the philosophy of reason, individualism and capitalism constructed by Ayn Rand.

The Ominous Parallels is a profoundly disturbing book. Its thesis is that ideas have consequences, and today's dominant ideas are leading down the road to serfdom. Elsewhere, analyst Kevin Phillips, in Post-Conservative America, predicts the rise of a "uniquely American brand of authoritarianism," and others have pointed to the same possibility. Where Peikoff differs is in his method of analysis: not rummaging through opinion polls and demographics, but in the merciless analysis of the ideas which are so prevalent in this culture.

One need not subscribe to all of Peikoff's ideas about contemporary America--he is disdainful, for example, of the changing lifestyles of the past twenty years, where he should see in them the waning of that puritanism which he justifiably reviles--to agree with him on the fundamentals of his thesis.

As Ayn Rand writes in her introduction to this book, "If you do not wish to be a victim of today's philosophical bankruptcy, I recommend The Ominous Parallels as protection and ammunition. It will protect you from supporting, unwittingly, the ideas that are destroying you and the world. It will bring order into the chaos of today's events--and show you simultaneously the enormity of the battle and the contemptible smallness of the enemy." By reminding us of the fundamental message which, really, was the meaning of Ayn Rand's life, The Ominous Parallels does just that.

[This review was originally published in the August 1982 issue of Laissez Faire Books.]

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Free to Choose by Milton Friedman & Rose Friedman

reviewed by Roy A. Childs, Jr.

This new edition of Free to Choose celebrates the tenth anniversary of what has, by now, become a modern classic. Classics ordinarily don't get established that quickly, but Free to Choose was an exception.

Not only was it the first full-length popular treatment of Milton Friedman's economic and political philosophy--far more accessible than the pathbreaking Capitalism and Freedom which deserves equal celebration--but by piggybacking on Friedman's ten-hour television series of the same name, first broadcast in 1980, it became a mammoth international bestseller virtually overnight, and has had a major impact on the tumultuous world events of the past ten years.

Free to Choose was translated and read from China to Eastern Europe, from Britain and the U.S. to Latin America--and its influence is to be found everywhere.

In the early 1980s, it seemed Utopian and unrealistic, but as the Friedmans point out in their new foreword, world events have rushed ahead with such speed and violence that it seems like a practical blueprint for change today. In chapter after chapter the Friedmans demolish the case for the Welfare State and Social Democracy, and make out the argument for individual freedom and free market capitalism. We learn how the market provides for human needs, why government controls promote tyranny, how monetary authorities produced the Great Depression and modern inflation, the flaws in public education and the rest of the Welfare State, the contradictions in the notion of coercive "equality," protection for the consumer, the worker, and others in a free society--and why the tide is turning (written ten years ago!)

This is a great book--rediscover it today!

[This review was originally published December 1991 in Laissez Faire Books.]

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In 1986 the Foundation for Economics Education (FEE) published a volume of essays by contributors to FEE's journal, The Freeman. Joan Kennedy Taylor was the editor of this book, and Childs wrote a review which was published in the March 1986 issue of The Freeman. Here is a link to the review:

Free Trade: The Necessary Foundation for World Peace edited by Joan Kennedy Taylor

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Libertarian M.D. Ross Levatter set up a website devoted to the ideas and writings of noted thinker, Thomas Szasz, and he included several reviews of Szasz's work written by Roy Childs, probably for Laissez Faire Books. Here is a link to that web page. To find the Childs reviews, scroll down a ways from the top.

Childs reviews of Thomas Szasz on Levatter website

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Capital and Interest (Three volumes in one) by Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk

Translated by George D. Huncke and Hans F. Sennholz

reviewed by Roy A. Childs, Jr.

Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk's Capital and Interest is one of the greatest works in all of economic thought, a true masterpiece of exposition and analysis, and one of the most penetrating analyses of the nature of the capitalist process of production ever penned. Unfortunately, it remains largely unread, consigned to the legacy of a "classic" that everyone refers to, but no one studies.

This is a great tragedy, for this lucidly written treatise is as relevant today as when it was first penned. Indeed, in many ways it is even more important now. Bohm-Bawerk, after all, was one of the most powerful critics of Marxism, which today lies in shambles. Marxists tried to answer him for decades, while his followers--Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard, Israel Kirzner, and others--built on the foundations he laid down to slash away at one aspect of Marxism and socialism after another, finally drawing blood.

The importance of production

But while Bohm-Bawerk's critique of Marxism is at least remembered today, his overall work on capitalism and the process of production in a free market has been virtually forgotten, except to a handful of economic specialists. And this ignorance is having repercussions we don't usually acknowledge.

One of the reasons communist nations are not totally abandoning the command economy in favor of real capitalism is that despite the collapse of socialism, intellectuals and political leaders still don't understand how laissez faire capitalism works. Thus, given today's worldwide cultural hostility toward it, unless a real defense in terms of fundamentals is mounted soon, there is a real chance that authentic capitalism may not survive. Instead, we may witness the emergence of some new bastardized version of statism and the regimented economy. If current trends are any indication, we could witness the breakdown of the international economic order and its replacement by pockets of primitive nationalist and ethnic rivalries, complete with protectionism, chauvinism, and autarky.

The only way to avoid this is to reconstruct the case for capitalism from the ground up, starting with economics. After all, if we don't understand how the capitalist process works, how can we defend it, morally or otherwise? One of the reasons capitalism was morally discredited to begin with was a false understanding of how it works. Its defenders too often built on the same foundations as Marx: classical economics, whose theories were often woefully inadequate. All those complaints about unearned income, excess profits, unjust interest rates, imperfect competition, monopoly and much else besides, come out of classical economics.

It remained for Bohm-Bawerk, and his mentor Carl Menger, to attempt the most radical reconstruction of economics in the light of the failures of the classical approach. Their "Austrian" school represented a vastly superior alternative to the views of others, like Jevons and Walras, who made similar attempts. And it is an approach that badly needs to be rediscovered and spread today, particularly in combination with the new libertarian theories of rights and individual liberty that have been constructed in the past few decades. Combine these with real historical revisionism about capitalism, and we will have a defense that will both endure and inspire.

Bohm-Bawerk's great work is a superb place to begin. Capital and Interest presents economics as a science of principles explaining cause and effect in human affairs, based soundly on what used to be called "natural law."

Of the three volumes contained in this one-volume edition, the first two are clearly the most important. The third volume contains fourteen essays elaborating on themes of the first two, and answering some contemporary critics of his theories.

The dynamism of capitalism

The first volume is really a magnificent achievement: a thorough, painstaking and lucid account of the history of views of capital and interest from ancient times to the late nineteenth century. The author presents a brief overview of the problem, and launches into an investigation of the sources of hostility to these components of the market economy from the time of Aristotle until the flourishing of the Catholic Church He examines the views--pro and con--of virtually every major figure who wrote on the problem. A special treat is the famous critique of Marx's views that is devastating. Austrian economics is really a philosophical economics, and Bohm-Bawerk's rigor is breathtaking to behold.

Then we move to the second volume which is Bohm-Bawerk's own positive theory of the capitalist process of production. The reason there was a problem to begin with is that, unlike socialism, capitalism was not a system imposed on people by rulers following someone's blue-prints or theories. It is the name we give to a process of production and exchange and economic discovery that arose spontaneously, without anyone planing it, during periods of history (particularly the late Middle Ages) when the authority of Church and State withered for a time. People were presented with the opportunity of asserting their property rights and engaging in production and trade without interference. A complex spontaneous order resulted, as did an awful lot of hostility toward it. It shook up traditional ways of living and introduced dynamic change and progress. It permitted the dramatic advancement of the standard of living of common people everywhere, and accumulations of wealth by those outside of the religious and political authorities.

And yet, initially, at least, there was no theoretical explanation for what was happening, and no justification for capitalism at all as it emerged, always vulnerable to religious and political attacks and plunder.

By wading through all the false theories spawned by thinkers, Bohm-Bawerk paved the way for his own positive theory of the capitalist process, and it is a monumental intellectual achievement. He examines the capitalist process of production, the nature of capital itself, the nature of indirect ("roundabout") means of production, the formation of our value hierarchies and of the importance of freely formed and everchanging prices in an economic system. Each piece in the puzzle is defined and carefully fit together, producing a picture of the workings of capitalism that is breathtaking indeed. No one, not even Mises and Hayek, has done a better job here. Read through it and you will understand the all-important concept of production as never before. And isn't it precisely the absence of this understanding that led to the construction of socialism and central planning in the first place, with all their destructive consequences?

Capital and Interest is as lucid as anyone could wish. Bohm-Bawerk was struggling with new ideas, and was never one to build on hidden assumptions. Everything is laid out, step-by-step. There are some flaws here, but the achievement embodied in this work is so immense that any flaws are trivial by comparison.

Saving civilization

It is ironic that the final edition of Capital and Interest, upon which this translation is based, was published in 1914, on the eve of the first World War, the demise of classical liberalism, and the triumph of Marxism. With Marxism in retreat, and the rebirth of classical liberalism well underway, there is no better time to rediscover the work of Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk than now. It is more than genius: it is a work that will help us understand and save capitalism, and thus civilization.

["It is a pleasure to see him carefully, politely, but ruthlessly dissect and demolish all of his opponents in various aspects of economic theory." --Murray N. Rothbard. This review was first published in May 1990 in Laissez Faire Books.]

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The Market for Liberty by Linda Tannehill & Morris Tannehill

Foreword by Karl Hess; Introduction by Douglas Casey

reviewed by Roy A. Childs, Jr.

This book was first published in 1970, and it became the storm center of controversy in Objectivist and Libertarian circles. Today, it has reached the status of an underground "classic." The Market for Liberty (friends call it TMFL) was written by a husband and wife team who had been devoted followers of Ayn Rand, but differed with her philosophy on one crucial point: they rejected the concept of limited government and defended the ideal of society without the state. The term "anarchism" is never mentioned, because the Tannehills didn't consider themselves anarchists, let alone advocates of what Rand termed "competing governments." Nevertheless, the debate over limited government vs. anarchism was on. (I am not an anarchist, but my 1969 "Open Letter to Ayn Rand" was [reprinted in Liberty Against Power], and it helped stir up debate, too.)

That aside, I recommend this book as a very challenging one. It was in fact the first book-length treatment of social and political philosophy to attempt to build on Ayn Rand's words and to extend her argument beyond the points at which she had left them. Thus you can disagree totally with the book's conclusions and still find it full of insights and new ideas.

The "meat" of the book is Part Two, "A Laissez Faire Society," and it is here that the Tannehills shine. In ten scintillating chapters they take up one major problem after another: the nature of a free society--"Property, The Great Problem Solver"--"Arbitration of Disputes"--"Protection of Life and Property"--"Dealing With Coercion"--"Rectification of Injustice"--"Warring Defense Agencies and Organized Crime"--"Legislation and Objective Law"--"Foreign Aggression"--and "The Abolition of War."

Or, put another way, building on Ayn Rand's philosophy, the Tannehills actually attempted to solve most of the nagging, persistent questions of social and political philosophy. Call it chutzpa, perhaps, but the solutions they offer to many such problems are often brilliant, highly original, and of enduring relevance.

The paradoxical thing is that although the whole point of the book is to argue that government is unnecessary, there is absolutely no reason why an advocate of limited government could not profit from it in any case. After all, most of the problems they address will still be problems under a minimal state.

The Market for Liberty has spirit and integrity, a rare commodity these days, and the book is so chock full of good ideas that it will stimulate and challenge your thinking on a whole range of issues--whether you want it to or not.

"The fundamental question of politics has always been whether there should be politics. Morris and Linda Tannehill, in this book, which has become something of a classic even while being (until now) out of print, answer that politics is not necessary, that the ancient and ongoing contrivance of the marketplace can be substituted for it with ennobling results."

--Karl Hess

"What Rand's books did for philosophy, what Mises's did for economics, this book does for politics and more. In the past most political writing has dealt with government as a noble and ennobling, if somewhat flawed, institution that should be nurtured and cherished. Morris and Linda Tannehill point their fingers at government per se as the problem. They demonstrate that it is the institution itself, not just a few bad men who occasionally take its reins, or a few mistaken laws which alter its direction, which needs to be done away with. The Market for Liberty explains that government is not what keeps human beings from reverting to the jungle, as most think, but is rather what keeps them from advancing to the stars.

"If you are interested in ideas or, indeed, in life itself, this book has the potential to more than just shock you. It has the power to change the way you view the world, to change your ideas, and then, perhaps, to change the world itself."

--from the introduction by Doug Casey



Part I: The Great Conflict

1. If We Don't Know Where We're Going

2. Man and Society

3. The Self-Regulating Market

4. Government: An Unnecessary Evil

Part II: A Laissez-Faire Society

5. A Free and Healthy Economy

6. Property: The Great Problem Solver

7. Arbitration of Disputes

8. Protection of Life and Property

9. Dealing With Coercion

10. Rectification of Injustice

11. Warring Defense Agencies and Organized Crime

12. Legislation and Objective Law

13. Foreign Aggression

14. The Abolition of War

Part III: How Do We Get There?

15. From Government to Laissez Faire

16. The Force Which Shapes the World

[This review was first published in December 1989 in Laissez Faire Books.]

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The Libertarian Idea by Jan Narveson

reviewed by Roy A. Childs, Jr.

Ever since the brilliant works of Robert Nozick and John Rawls--Anarchy, State, and Utopia and A Theory of Justice--burst upon us fifteen and nineteen years ago, there has been a momentous revival of political philosophy in the West, and a flurry of activity that only a few decades ago would have been thought impossible. That's because contemporary philosophy had all but declared normative issues closed, and moral and political theory little more than fossilized remnants of the dusty past. Normative theory was said to be emotive, murky, and meaningless at best.

With Nozick and Rawls, however, the dust had been swept away, and normative issues permanently reopened to the examination of reason and philosophy. Rawls gave us a spirited defense of many strands of contemporary liberalism, while Nozick, in his dazzling and unprecedented work, gave us a "Libertarianism Without Foundations" to use philosopher Thomas Nagel's term, that nearly singlehandedly boosted libertarianism onto the map of theoretical respectability.

In the flood of critiques, examinations and cross-examinations that have resulted, political philosophy has been restored to the place of a sturdy, healthy discipline, with the libertarian viewpoint more than holding its own as a respected minority position.

Even so, I could never have predicted this brilliant book: it is nothing less than a sequel to Anarchy, State, and Utopia written by a distinguished contemporary philosopher who has been examining these issues for many years. Its title is The Libertarian Idea and it is a full-fledged treatise on political philosophy examining and defending libertarianism. It is an astonishingly dense and rich book that constitutes a gigantic leap forward in libertarian thought, because of its provocative scope and wealth of detailed arguments.

Like AS&U, The Libertarian Idea is addressed to contemporary philosophers of all schools of thought. While it may lack AS&U's surprise and shock value--who had ever heard of these crazy ideas when Nozick's book first pounced on the world?--it makes up for it by being more steady, systematic, and complete. It lacks the graphs and the math--yippie!--and sticks to elegant prose. It is thus more readable than AS&U, and will amply repay careful study with pleasure and a solid understanding of the issues.

Who the hell is Jan Narveson? He's a respected philosopher who was previously a convinced utilitarian, his book from the late 1960s, Morality and Utility, has been highly regarded. Then he decided to take on Nozick's AS&U in a lengthy review, published in 1977. Still later, he pondered deeply some of the arguments in David Gauthier's semi-libertarian Morals by Agreement. He was so taken by these, particularly by Nozick's tome, that they "persuaded me that utilitarianism was an unsatisfactory theory. Still, libertarianism seemed equally so at the time. In the ensuing decade, however, the libertarian theory has come to seem to me more interesting and plausible in its moral substance." Finally, he cast off his utilitarianism, became a defender of individual rights and individual liberty, and became a full-fledged convert to libertarianism. The rest, as they say, is history.

In many ways The Libertarian Idea is even better than AS&U, which Narveson acknowledges as its inspiration. Nozick asserted that people have rights, and built what philosopher Thomas Nagel taunted as a "Libertarianism Without Foundations." Narveson has gone him one better. He presents the foundations.

Part One of Narveson's hefty treatise is a defense of the ultimate coherence of libertarianism, particularly its basic conception of liberty, rights, and property. (Some of the arguments about property rights are themselves worth the price of admission here!) Part Two demolishes moral intuitionism of all stripes and presents what Narveson sees as the proper moral and philosophical underpinnings of libertarianism--its foundations. Part Three deals in turn with "Libertarianism and Reality" and discusses the social policy implications of libertarianism.

These first two sections are particularly important contributions. Narveson's discussions of the definition of liberty, the issues of negative versus positive liberty/rights/obligations, coercion versus pressuring, and interference versus nonassistance are all dealt with better than anywhere else.

But there is more. Nozick had two weaknesses. One was his unwillingness or inability to grapple with the foundations of rights and libertarian-type liberties. Another was more personal: over the years, as criticism of his views mounted, Nozick steadily declined to defend his views, for the reason that his own personal and theoretical interests had shifted elsewhere and he did not want to be tied down to past work.

While Narveson is not uncritical of Nozick, he is nonetheless largely a Nozick partisan, and takes a good deal of space throughout this work to respond to Nozick's formidable critics, reformulating or refining doctrines when necessary to answer objections. Narveson fences with the opponents of libertarianism like a veritable Errol Flynn, and it is a pleasure to watch him dispatch the collectivists' arguments one by one.

Finally, his writing is lively and elegant, his sense of humor a constant presence and even when you don't agree with him you have to respect his integrity and intellectual courage.

The Libertarian Idea is a bold and wonderful book that offers a cutting-edge challenge to contemporary political philosophy. I'd be lying to you if I pretended to have digested it fully in the time given over to this brief review. This is the kind of book that, once read needs to be thought about and returned to, as you will, eagerly, because it encourages you to rethink and refine your views. It is the kind of book that takes your breath away and makes you glad you're living in this century, where the rediscovery of liberty proceeds at breakneck speed.

[This review was originally published in March 1989 in Laissez Faire Books.]

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Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (Second edition) by Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, & Harry Binswanger

reviewed by Roy A. Childs, Jr.

What a breakthrough this book is! Ayn Rand spent her career with a foot in each of two camps: novelist and philosopher. Of the two, she was obviously much better known as a novelist, because her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged sold millions of copies each, while none of her nonfiction works have come close to those awesome numbers. Even so, any attentive reader of those novels knows that there are considerable philosophical elements in them: brilliant insights into issue after issue, sprinkled throughout stories of commanding drama. "Galt's Speech," in Atlas Shrugged, is only the high point: here is a small-scale philosophical treatise of some sixty pages, covering everything from metaphysics to political theory, thrown into the climax of the novel, delivered as a radio speech by the book's central figure.

If Rand's stature as a philosopher hasn't yet reached what she attained as a novelist, part of the reason is that her purely philosophical work is often quite sketchy. A reader in search of her full philosophy has to read everything and piece it together. In the preface to her book For the New Intellectual, she promised to write a full-scale treatise on Objectivism, but beyond a few opening pages and preliminary passages, she never did. Her promise went unfulfilled.

One partial exception to this was the series of essays published in her magazine "The Objectivist" between July 1966 and February 1967, putting "on record" her theory of concepts, later published as the first edition of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, to which Leonard Peikoff's series on "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy" was later added. Together with a few other scattered passages--The Ayn Rand Lexicon is helpful here--and a handful of essays like "Kant versus Sullivan," this is all that she left us of her views in the theory of knowledge.

Until now, that is. This new edition of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology is a blockbuster--a totally new edition containing a host of new material. The original Introduction takes up seventy-six pages of this edition, and Peikoff's series takes up another thirty pages. To this has been added, believe it or not, about one hundred and seventy pages of brand new material--material, moreover, that is unlike anything else we have in Rand's works.

Where did it come from? It consists of edited transcripts from four workshops on epistemology that Ayn Rand held in New York City between 1969 and 1971. Professionals from philosophy, physics and mathematics were invited to meet with Rand and to question her further on her views.

And the result is a sizzling series of exchanges, in question-and-answer format, that shows Ayn Rand's mind at work, at full power, elaborating on her views in epistemology, digressing, commenting on other issues, correcting mistaken interpretations, giving examples, and, generally, in the heat of philosophical give and take, with all the virtuosity of a Vladimir Horowitz of philosophy.

Rand's theory of concepts was important to her because concepts are the foundation of all knowledge, and unless we have a means of validating our concepts, the justification of all our knowledge falls into doubt.

Moreover, as one of the twentieth century's great propagandists for Reason, she realized that Reason had fallen into disrepute over the past century or so because philosophers had not solved certain basic problems. And until those problems were solved, the door was perpetually open to new varieties of irrationalism, with all of its bloody consequences.

Reason was for Rand man's basic tool of survival; undermine it, and you lead to consequences that, in the long run, can only be catastrophic for civilization and the entire human race. Her case for individualism and freedom rested upon her defense of Reason, and those who don't grasp that haven't a clue to the meaning of her philosophy. Her theory of concepts was her means of connecting Reason to reality, so she could banish, once and for all, dichotomies like those between theory and practice, and the moral and the practical. Hers was a philosophy for life on this earth.

What does she cover? The discussion is much too detailed and far-ranging to summarize, but essentially the additions are constructed in parallel sections to her original work, so that she covers a great deal of ground. When the original work was published, some philosophers trained in the analytic tradition and linguistic analysis picked at it incessantly, refusing to see it as the obvious overview that it was. Now she has a chance to respond to some of those sorts of objections, and to elaborate on her views. And she discusses everything from the nature of axioms to the philosophy of science and the roots of induction, in the process. For once she responds to "standard" sorts of objections and questions about her views. Not merely the views of Descartes, Locke and Hume, but also Bertrand Russell and Henri Bergson, for example. Issues in metaphysics are discussed at greater length here than anywhere else in her writings, and she is at great pains to distinguish between questions that are, properly, philosophical questions from those that belong to the domain of specialized sciences. Induction, scientific method, facts, the physical world, measurement, invalid concepts--really, the span is incredible, and she responds to tough questions with the ease of a state-of-the-art computer.

Finally, this is a glimpse of Ayn Rand's mind at work that we haven't seen before. Everyone who knew her is filled with praise for her abilities in give-and-take argument, and we heard throughout both of the Brandens's books--The Passion of Ayn Rand and Judgment Day--how formidable she was in such situations. But so far, we haven't had much in the way of examples of this, to judge for ourselves. Now we do, and in one of the toughest areas imaginable.

This new edition of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology is breathtaking. You won't want to miss it. In fact, do what I did and buy two copies: a paperback to scribble in and take notes, and a hardcover to keep on the shelf with your most treasured and protected books. What an intellect!

[This review was first published in November 1989 in Laissez Faire Books.]

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The Early Ayn Rand by Ayn Rand

reviewed by Roy A. Childs, Jr.

When Ayn Rand died in March 1982, everyone assumed that her writing career had come to an end, that the fiction of this unique and irreplaceable genius had all been published. But leave it to Ayn Rand to come up with some of her most engaging fiction after her death.

The Early Ayn Rand contains nearly 400 pages of her unpublished fiction, edited by Rand's heir and executor, Leonard Peikoff. Included are not only two plays, "Ideal" and "Think Twice," but also outtakes from We the Living and The Fountainhead, short stories, and even one short novel, written as a movie original that was never produced. To call this book a feast is an understatement.

"The Husband I Bought," "Good Copy," "Escort" and "Her Second Career" are all short stories dating from the 1920's, just after Rand emigrated to the United States. "Red Pawn," a fascinating novella from the early 1930's, is an early attempt to deal with the themes of We the Living. And one of the outtakes from The Fountainhead, nearly 30 pages long, treats the first love affair of Howard Roark--something not even hinted at in the finished version.

It is a scintillating collection. "The Husband I Bought" is a primitive but intriguing story written when Rand was a mere 21 years old. A woman desperately in love with her husband discovers that he loves another--and contrives to motivate him to divorce her, so he will be happy. My favorite, "Good Copy," is about a bored and talented reporter in a small town with no news to report. He decides to create some, and the result is pure nonstop comedy that would have made a fantastic Cary Grant-Katherine Hepburn movie. (I love it for Rand's sense of humor. Yes, she had one.) "Her Second Career" is a satire of Hollywood. "Escort" is a tidbit that seems to have been written in homage to O. Henry, with a clever surprise ending.

The Early Ayn Rand is simply charming. It doesn't merely give us a sense of Ayn Rand's development as a writer; it gives us some of the best fiction she ever wrote, with annotations by Leonard Peikoff telling us about the circumstances under which it was written. Give this book as a gift, devour it out of pure greed, or buy it for the sexiest photograph of Ayn Rand ever taken (printed on the back of the jacket). It is not to be missed.

[This review was originally published in November 1984 in Laissez Faire Books.]

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Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff

reviewed by Roy A. Childs, Jr.

I won't keep you in suspense: this is an outstanding book, far and away the best work on Ayn Rand's philosophy that exists. It is a major accomplishment.

Be prepared to enter into a world where terms are given new meanings from those commonly accepted--every philosophy has a its own vocabulary--but once you do, you'll be rewarded with the lucid and comprehensive outline of a systematic philosophy that rivals the great systems of the West.

And is this book ever necessary! Ayn Rand never gave us a systematic, detailed presentation of her philosophy. She presented it in bold, compressed strokes scattered all over the place in novels and scores of short essays. Rand promised us a full-scale treatise, but she never delivered it.

Leonard Peikoff has.

Objectivism is meant to serve "as a broad integrating context" for other work on Objectivism; "in every contest between the forest and the trees, I have chosen the forest: I have omitted every nonessential that might cause the reader to lose sight of Ayn Rand's system of thought as a whole," he writes.

Here, in short, is Objectivism whole at last, from metaphysics and epistemology through politics, art and love. Where there were gaps in Objectivism, Peikoff fills them in. He treats the foundational issues better than anyone else does in print, and builds the philosophy from the ground, i.e. the all-important axioms, up.

Peikoff explains the role of philosophy as an integrating science, necessary to organize the complex set of concepts we already have as adults, and then dives into fundamentals: the all-important axioms.

All the foundational questions are dealt with brilliantly. The chapters on reality, sense perception and free will, concepts, objectivity, reason, and man's nature, are all outstanding, without exception.

Peikoff answers those who hold that axioms are arbitrary and subjective, shows why causality is a corollary of identity, gives brief refutations of the errors in other views of causality, introduces natural law, and vindicates Objectivism's basic views in metaphysics, answering, say, the views of idealism and materialism along the way (both, he holds, involve "the rejection of basic axioms").

He discusses the validity of the senses as an axiom, "a corollary of the fact of consciousness," the difference between form and object, the implications of the fact that consciousness possesses identity, the relationship between the law of causality and volition, and the Objectivist view that volition itself is axiomatic: "The concept of 'volition' is one of the roots of the concept of 'validation' (and of its subdivisions, such as 'proof'). The chapter on concept-formation provides a broader version of Rand's approach in her monograph, making the necessary connections that she had to leave out of her discussion, and relating her views to the rest of her philosophy in vitally important ways.

The same breadth and originality of exposition are maintained throughout the chapters on objectivity and reason. There is so much in these sections that one scarcely knows where to begin: the discussion of essentials is, well, essential; the issue of "borderline cases" is explored with great clarity; context and hierarchy are shown to be a key part of all knowledge, as Peikoff shows that "Human knowledge on every level is relational." "Why we need logic" is a masterpiece of exposition. And there is a one-paragraph refutation of a key part of John Rawls's A Theory of Justice.

Peikoff then moves into an area where there is less originality, because these issues have been treated at greater length in the Objectivist corpus: ethics and political theory. The common Objectivist contentions are all ably defended, in ways that often elaborate and improve upon Rand's own original expositions. Finally, as far as the positive virtues of this work are concerned, the sections on the initiation of force, the necessity of government, the validation of rights, and the moral meaning of capitalism, are all generally superb. There are outstanding sections on the concept of "collective rights," animal rights, the right to abortion, and liberalism and a conservatism. While I agree with Peikoff in his rejection of anarchism, his treatment is uninformed and superficial, and the section on art, while competent as a presentation and summary of Rand's views, contains nothing new. No big deal.

So what are my objections? The book is very thin on considering possible objections to Objectivist positions, and all-too-often opposing views are presented as archetypes and even caricatures, in terms of "what they amount to." Peikoff continues the tradition of misrepresenting the views of Herbert Spencer, for example. Another aspect I dislike is this: on many social and political issues libertarian thinkers, even sometimes those with Objectivist sympathies, have done a lot of important and original work, but if you rely on Peikoff, you won't even know that they exist. Why this self-ostracism?

One final point: how does the Peikoff book compare with David Kelley's discussion of many of these same issues in his tape set on The Foundations of Knowledge: An Objectivist Perspective? In fact the two are complementary: Peikoff is broader and more sweeping--more "forest-oriented"--while Kelley is more intense, detailed and "tree-oriented." Peikoff covers the purely philosophical aspects of volition more broadly, for example, but Kelley devotes a whole 90-minute lecture to material Peikoff skips, including the scientific question of how volition is possible biologically. If you're after a comprehensive treatment of Objectivism, you need both.

I'm obviously very excited about this book. Objectivism is a philosophical revolution. It is out to overthrow much of the status quo, the intellectual establishment. Even if you don't go the whole way with Objectivism, you are likely to find a host of really outstanding arguments here in clarifying your own views, whether it be in an area like that of ethics or in understanding the nature of capitalism. The sections on metaphysics and epistemology are my own favorite. Those who already agree with Ayn Rand won't need my recommendation of this book: they will snatch it up, as well they should. So my primary recommendation is this: if you disagree with Rand, then read Objectivism. Ayn Rand's views deserve to be considered just as fully as the views of Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, and F. A. Hayek. You can't come away from this work without being impressed at Ayn Rand's achievement--and Leonard Peikoff's. Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand is a great book, period.

[This review was first published in November 1991 in Laissez Faire Books.]

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