Sunday, December 20, 2009

Callahan Responds to Doherty Responding to Callahan

Brian Doherty, in what is at least partially a response to one of my earlier posts here at Crash Landing, writes: "This aspect of Rothbard is sometimes used to attack him as an unserious thinker, but it isn’t fair to the purpose of this sort of polemic. While, for example, he is not capturing the full nuances of Karl Polanyi’s history or analysis in his The Great Transformation, Rothbard is doing what he was asked to do—sniffing out a detectable set of beliefs about modern civilization, currency, and markets that make Polanyi an ineffective ally for radical libertarians."

Doherty also notes:

"His critiques often have language along the lines of this comment on his beloved economist mentor Mises: 'Mises’ utilitarian, relativist approach to ethics is not nearly enough to establish a full case for liberty.'”

In "defending" Rothbard against my critique, Doherty, in fact, makes the very point I have been trying to make: in what are supposedly works on the "history of thought," Rothbard, in fact, has no interest in the "nuances" of the thinkers he is addressing, which is precisely what a real historian of thought ought to be interested in. Instead, he is rummaging through the history of thought and chucking thinkers into bins labeled "favorable to libertarianism" and "unfavorable to libertarianism," then trashing anyone who winds up in the first bin, while writing hagiography of anyone who winds up in the second.

I've just been reading the new isue of The Review of Austrian Economics, where D.J. Den Uyl writes: "It is, both to my way of thinking and others, the definition of 'ideology' in the pejorative sense to begin with one's political conclusions and then search for arguments to support it. The way it is supposed to work is that the arguments lead one to the conclusions." But look at Rothbard's quote concerning Mises: he makes no case that Mises was wrong, only that Mises' position should be rejected because it did not sufficiently support the conclusion Rothbard had already reached! Is there a clearer self-confession to being an ideologue "in the pejorative sense" that could be made?


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  2. Gene---You may well, and fairly, decide you don't have time or inclindation to delve into this at great length, which is not a consideration you gave to either Rothbard or me in your assessments of our writings.
    However, it strikes me, and I think would strike most readers, that (even though it would be very difficult to pick out a killer quote or two that proves this point with crushing finality) that Chp. 4 of GREAT TRANSFORMATION contains a lot that certainly implies an elevation of primitive living and economic systems over modern market economies; or detect signs of something that could at the very least arguably be called "angry" in reference to Mises on pages 189 and 195, notwithstanding your ability to find and quote one definitely non-hostile mention of him.
    The tone of your assault on Rothbard's ability to understand what he's reading seems to me as obviously rooted in ideological hostility toward him, as opposed to scholarly charity and an attempt to understand, as you accuse him of being toward Polanyi.
    Also, that a one-sentence aside in an article of 2000 words that had to review a book, explain Rothbard, then close-focus in on one particular element of a book, an aside meant to sum up Rothbard's beliefs on the matter, relies on pretty universal moral beliefs (that taking resources by force from someone in order to provide them with services they may or may not want, as well as lots of other services they don't want, as well as easy pickings for a bureaucratic class) rather than dealing with every single recondite thought other philosophers have had on the topic also strikes me as Rothbardian in the Callahan sense: unsympathetically picking on whatever you can find in order to win points in an ideological battle.

  3. Anonymous4:28 PM

    Brian Doherty FTW.

  4. Anonymous1:07 PM




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