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Friday, May 28, 2010

Rothbard "on" Hegel

This morning I was re-reading The Idea of Nature and found Collingwood writing:

"Hegel, nailing to the counter in advance the lie that he regarded his own philosophy as final, wrote at the end of his treatise on the philosophy of history, 'That is as far as consciousness has reached.'"

I put down the book and thought to myself, "Hmm, I bet Rothbard didn't like Hegel, and when there is a thinker Rothbard didn't like, and a common lie told about him, you can make a lot of money betting that Rothbard repeated that lie."

So I fetched my copy of Classical Economics from the shelf and looked up Hegel. Yep, right there on 355: "According to Hegel, the final development of the man-God [an idiotic phrase made up by Rothbard that Hegel never uses], the final breakthrough into totality and infinity, was at hand." (Although it might not seem so at a glance, this is the same claim as Collingwood is calling a 'lie', since Hegel's philosophy was final if and only if history had reached its conclusion.)

But what was really shocking was just how bad the entire section on Hegel is. First of all, in the course of reading this multi-page trashing "one of the greatest systematic thinkers in the history of Western philosophy," it becomes clear that Rothbard never read a single work by Hegel, because every quote is from a secondary source. Furthermore, it seemed he only used three of those: a 64-page biographical sketch of Hegel by Raymond Plant, Robert C. Tucker's Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, and Karl Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies. (That's all I could find, but I admit I only looked at the notes in the back of the main chapter discussing Hegel.) The first of these is obviously a lightweight work and is used just for a couple of quotes. The second author I had never heard of. A Hegel scholar? I looked him up, and he's... wait for it... a Sovietologist!

And Popper, we know, was quite important in the philosophy of science, but also well-known as a disastrously bad intellectual historian. In fact, in 1959, Walter Kaufmann exposed Popper's "critique" of Hegel as based on ludicrously bad scholarship -- although Popper did do a little better than Rothbard in actually having looked inside of a book by Hegel before trying to rip him a new one, he apparently based almost all of his comments on a single, badly translated volume of excerpts from Hegel's works intended for college students. About Popper's "critique," Kaufman writes: "Popper's treatment contains more misconceptions about Hegel than any other single essay. Secondly, if one agrees with Popper that 'intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish,' one should protest against his methods; for although his hatred of totalitarianism is the inspiration and central motif of his book, his methods are unfortunately similar to those of totalitarian 'scholars.'"

Kaufman is especially harsh on Popper's use of "quilt quotations," one of which Rothbard himself pulls from Popper:

"Sentences are picked from various contexts, often even out of different books, enclosed by a single set of quotation marks, and separated only by three dots, which are generally taken to indicate no more than the omission of a few words. Plainly, this device can be used to impute to an author views he never held... Popper writes like a district attorney who wants to persuade his audience that Hegel was against God, freedom, and equality — and uses quilt quotations to convince us.

"The first of these (p. 227 ) consists of eight fragments of which every single one is due to one of Hegel’s students and was not published by him. Although Popper scrupulously marks references to Gans’s additions to the Philosophy of Right with an 'L' and invariably gives all the references for his quilt quotations — e.g., 'For the eight quotations in this paragraph, cf. Selections ...' — few readers indeed will recall when they come to the Notes at the end of the book that 'the eight quotations' are the quilt quotations that they took for a single passage. And Popper advises his readers 'first to read without interruption through the text of a chapter, and then to turn to the Notes.'"

And here's a final excerpt from Kaufmann's "evisceration" of Popper: "No conception is bandied about more unscrupulously in the history of ideas than 'Influence.' Popper’s notion of it is so utterly unscientific that one should never guess that he has done important work on logic and on scientific method."

Ouch.

So, not having bothered to open a single book by Hegel, Rothbard yanks from Popper disjointed, out-of-context quotes, many of which were not even written by Hegel, and uses the to make a totalitarian monster out of the man, the same Hegel who wrote things like:

"Commonplace thinking often has the impression that force holds the state together, but in fact its only bond is the sense of order which everybody possesses.”

And who held:

"Hegel stresses the need to recognize that the realities of the modern state necessitate a strong public authority along with a populace that is free and unregimented."

Some totalitarian, huh?

So, one of Rothbard's two main sources on Hegel was known, by 1959, to have totally botched his chapter on Hegel, while the other was a Sovietologist whose work on Hegel seems to have been mostly a preliminary to getting to Marx! But Rothbard is determined to throw in original nonsense as well. He complains that Hegel was not a "patriotic Prussian" for rejoicing upon seeing Napoleon marching through Prussia, ignoring the fact that Hegel was not only not a patriotic Prussian, he was not a Prussian at all! (He was Swabian.) And amazingly, with no documentation whatsoever, he claims that Hegel thought Ancient Greece was "free of all division of labor"! For that to be true, Hegel, a Hellenophile, would have to have not realized that Plato wrote philosophy, Herodotus history, Sophocles drama, and that someone else made all those sculptures and someone else again those vases, and he would have had to have thought that slaves had identical jobs to freemen. That seems a little farfetched, but then, we can't check it out, because there is just no indication at all of where this "fact" came from.

Good job, Murray.

16 comments:

  1. "Good job, Murray."

    Were you two close?

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  2. Alternate title for the post: "In Which I Further Discredit Myself Among the Only People Who Ever Thought I Had Ideas Worth Anything."

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  3. "Among the Only People Who Ever Thought I Had Ideas Worth Anything."

    I'm not sure if you're trying to flatter yourself or insult me, but the fact I was a regularly published writer way before I was a libertarian and continue to publish regularly now that I'm not again kind of shoots down your thesis, no?

    "In Which I Further Discredit Myself..."

    So, it discredits ME when I point out that Rothbard's work here would have failed as an undergrad paper? This is because no one is supposed to say anything bad about him, ever?

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  4. It didn't occur to Econoclasta ecuatoriano that there are others out there who have found orthodox libertarianism lacking and have found Gene's posts fascinating and refreshing.

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  5. It occurs to me that it was not too long ago that Mr. Callahan expressed views on Hegel remarkably similar to those which he now so eagerly castigates.

    I cite an article published in 2003 in which Mr. Callahan stated:

    "These people, whom we could broadly term "neoconservatives," have a Hegelian view of history. To them, human history has a goal apart from the myriad of goals pursued by individual humans. They differ from earlier Hegelians as to what this goal is. As they see it, history's apotheosis is not the early 19th-century Prussian state, as it was for Hegel, nor worldwide communism, as it was for Marx and Engels. Instead, the end state history is struggling toward is the democratic welfare state with a government-managed market economy. In their role, as the equivalent of the "vanguard of the proletariat" in Marxism, it is incumbent upon them to advance history's cause in whatever way they can."

    Mr. Callahan's article portrays Hegel in a decidedly negative light. He asserts or implies that:

    (1) Hegel wrongly believed in the "end of history" (Mr. Callahan now criticizes Rothbard's same view as a vulgar interpretation, if not outright falsification, of Hegel's thought).

    (2) The impetus behind the objectionable neoconservative foreign policy is at least partially attributable to the influence of Hegelian thought (Mr. Callahan now derides the Popperian view on Hegel's baleful influence).

    The full article can be read at http://www.lewrockwell.com/callahan/callahan113.html

    Based on the content of this recent blog post, one can only surmise that Mr. Callahan has reversed his views on Hegel since 2003, when he endorsed the Popperian-Rothbardian view.

    Even assuming, arguendo, that his now-charitable view is the correct one (a questionable proposition at best), the question remains: why the vitriol for Rothbard?

    Mr. Callahahn, if you yourself have previously endorsed the very interpretations you are now criticizing, how can you fail to recognize that honest and reasonable persons might differ on this subject, and why in particular do you insist on imputing bad faith and dishonesty to Rothbard?

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  6. Wow, Erikbentley!

    '(1) Hegel wrongly believed in the "end of history" (Mr. Callahan now criticizes Rothbard's same view as a vulgar interpretation, if not outright falsification, of Hegel's thought).'

    I never denied Hegel believes in an end to history! EVERYONE knows he believed this. What Rothbard contended, and what Collingwood called a lie, was that Hegel believed HE (and his time) was the end of history. That's quite a different notion, hey?

    "(2) The impetus behind the objectionable neoconservative foreign policy is at least partially attributable to the influence of Hegelian thought (Mr. Callahan now derides the Popperian view on Hegel's baleful influence)."

    Hegel certainly influenced many people, and some of them did very bad things (e.g., Lenin). What does that have to do with whether or not Popper is all wet on WHOM Hegel influenced?

    In short, the views I expressed in 2003 are nothing like the ones I am critiquing in 2010 -- in fact, I still agree with what I wrote then.

    And, I never attempted to trash a great thinker without even bothering to read him -- and if I had that would not let Rothbard off the hook.

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  7. "I never denied Hegel believes in an end to history! EVERYONE knows he believed this. What Rothbard contended, and what Collingwood called a lie, was that Hegel believed HE (and his time) was the end of history."

    Oh, really? Let me quote the relevant section from your article again, emphasizing the pertinent text:

    "As [neoconservatives] see it, history's apotheosis is not the early 19th-century Prussian state, AS IT WAS FOR HEGEL, nor worldwide communism, as it was for Marx and Engels..."

    Even if only parenthetically, you did state that Hegel believed that the early 19th-century Prussian state was "history's apotheosis" (and also that Marx and Engels thought the apotheosis was worldwide communism). Now, how is this NOT the exact same thing as Rothbard's repetition of the alleged "lie" (read: not honest mistake, but "lie") that Hegel believed that he and his time was the end of history? Do you deny that Hegel lived during the heyday of the early 19-century Prussian state? Or are you going to offer us a novel interpretation of your usage of the word "apotheosis?"

    Again, I fail to see the reason for the gratuitous assumptions of bad faith on the part of Rothbard.

    "Hegel certainly influenced many people, and some of them did very bad things (e.g., Lenin). What does that have to do with whether or not Popper is all wet on WHOM Hegel influenced?"

    The point is not that that people who did very bad things just coincidentally happened to have been influenced by Hegel. The point is rather that Hegel's heavily totalitarian mode of thought is logically connected to the underlying reasons behind WHY Hegelians have tended to do these very bad things. There can be very little question that all sorts of insane, state-worshipping ideologies can be traced back to Hegel. Now, whether or not Popper and/or Rothbard may have overstated Hegel's influence in various cases of particular thinkers here and there, or whether Hegel was really misunderstood and didn't actually mean all the things his followers thought he meant, these are interesting historical questions but are largely irrelevant to the thrust of Popper's & Rothbard's argument about the overall impact of Hegel's thought.

    Oh and while we're on the topic of quoting Hegel, here is a nice gem:

    "[A]ll worth which the human being possesses -- all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the State."

    -The Philosophy of History, Collier & Son, New York, 1902, p.87.

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  8. "As they see it, history's apotheosis is not the early 19th-century Prussian state, as it was for Hegel..."

    Gene, if you did indeed write the above, it sure sounds like you were saying Hegel thought his state had achieved the end of history. Or are you going to make me look up "apotheosis"? C'mon it's the weekend.

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  9. BTW I am not saying Rothbard necessarily dealt fairly with Hegel. I think it's true that sometimes when Rothbard sat at his typewriter to blow somebody up, he wasn't afraid to kick him in the crotch.

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  10. Well, that was very stupid of me to write that. At least it was a passing remark, and not written in a critique of Hegel!

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  11. "Oh, really? Let me quote the relevant section from your article again..."

    Yes, sorry about that -- I didn't look at the quote carefully, just your summary, which seemed to indicate the issue was just history having an end. I apologize, and it was silly of me to write that based on secondhand information. (I probably got the idea from Mises.) But, I will also note that I was not writing what purports to be a work of intellectual history, and I was only mentioning Hegel in passing, not writing a multipage critique of him, and I was at the very beginning of my scholarly career. There is just no excuse for Rothbard pretending to be writing intellectual history while not citing a single original work of Hegel's. I am serious when I say this would earn an 'F' as an undergrad paper.

    And, even if I had, by pure chance, written the exact same words as Rothbard, that would only mean he and I were both deserving of lambasting, not that he was off the hook!

    "The point is rather that Hegel's heavily totalitarian mode of thought..."

    Which, of course, is the very horsecrap that Popper and Rothbard spread.

    "Now, whether or not Popper and/or Rothbard may have overstated Hegel's influence in various cases of particular thinkers here and there..."

    Did you read Kaufmann's paper? Popper claimed the Nazis were inspired by Hegel, while Kaufmann shows that his influence on them was about nil. That's not a "thinker here and there"!

    "or whether Hegel was really misunderstood and didn't actually mean all the things his followers thought he meant, these are interesting historical questions but are largely irrelevant to the thrust of Popper's & Rothbard's argument about the overall impact of Hegel's thought."

    I agree it was irrelevant to Rothbard's purpose, which was to trash Hegel and make sure none of his acolytes bothered to read him. But he was supposedly writing intellectual history! I agree with you that he wasn't -- he was as always, writing political persuasion, and the "intellectual history" is just a cover story.

    And that's just what I am trying to point out.

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  12. Had Rothbard finalized the first two volumes of his History of Economic Thought before he died, or is what we're reading just an advanced draft?

    One thing that struck me about the work is the paucity of the documentation. In chapter 1 alone, quotation after quotation goes without a formal citation.

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  13. "Had Rothbard finalized the first two volumes of his History of Economic Thought before he died, or is what we're reading just an advanced draft?"

    Yes, PSH, that might excuse him to a great extent. But then it is wrong for LVMI to market this a "Rothbard's last masterpiece." Just admit that it is fragments of a work he never finished and publish it -- that is done all the time.

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  14. "I have defended Natural Religion against a Confederacy of Atheists and Divines. I now plead for Natural Society against Politicians, and for Natural Reason against all three. When the World is in a fitter Temper than it is at present to hear Truth, or when I shall be more indifferent about its Temper; my Thoughts may become more publick. In the mean time, let them repose in my own Bosom, and in the Bosoms of such Men as are fit to be initiated in the sober Mysteries of Truth and Reason. My Antagonists have already done as much as I could desire. Parties in Religion and Politics make sufficient Discoveries concerning each other, to give a sober Man a proper Caution against them all. The Monarchic, Aristocratical, and Popular Partizans have been jointly laying their Axes to the Root of all Government, and have in their Turns proved each other absurd and inconvenient. In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing! the Thing itself is the Abuse! Observe, my Lord, I pray you, that grand Error upon which all artificial legislative Power is founded. It was observed, that Men had ungovernable Passions, which made it necessary to guard against the Violence they might offer to each other. They appointed Governors over them for this Reason; but a worse and more perplexing Difficulty arises, how to be defended against the Governors? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"

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  15. Very good, scineram -- it's now in my dissertation!

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