Saturday, April 15, 2006

reisman revealed

There are plenty of wonderful thinkers affiliated with the Ludwig Von Mises Institute. However, there have been occasions where I have read things from there that disappointed me, or worse. More often than not, those bad apples from an otherwise healthy tree were written by the same person - George Reisman.

The one disappointment to go alongside the great news of the mutualist symposium issue of the Journal of Libertarian Studies was finding out that Reisman had written one of the critiques of Kevin Carson's mutualist ideas. I thought that his essay would represent the token example of "vulgar libertarianism", the plague within the libertarian movement that serves to exacerbate the false notions of libertarianism held by various non-libertarians.

His essay is indeed pretty bad. With people like Reisman identifying themselves with free enterprise and libertarianism, it's no wonder that many leftists view libertarians as being fascists in disguise. To read Kevin's thorough rebuttal, click here. (pdf file)

As thorough and satisfying as Kevin's own rebuttal is, I found a much much smaller one tonight that reveals a rather unlibertarian side to Reisman. Adam B. Ricketson left the following comment behind in response to Sheldon Richman's post titled "Capitalism versus Capitalism:
I read George Reisman's essay in Journal of Libertarian Studies and was surprized and kinda disgusted by his (Randist) definition of "individualism"

He writes:
"Here Carson, the “individualist” anarchist shows himself to be
quite the collectivist, attributing to the average person qualities of
independent thought and judgment that are found only in exceptional

I side with Carson's definition of individualism, and can only see Reisman's view as socialism or collectivism. Individualism means that, as a rule, each individual is capable of directing his own life. If most individuals are incapable of directing their own lives and must be subsumed into an unthinking mass (for their own good), then we have collectivism...whether it is run by a benevolent dictatorship of market selected (meaning "self-selected") "meritocrats" or by an elected aristocracy.

Yep, I cringed when I read that remark by Reisman. All those leftists who view libertarians as corporate apologists who wish to have tyrannical megacorp executives rule the world actually have a point, at least if and when they're referring to people such as Reisman. In Reisman's world, we're only a tiny hop, skip, and jump away from "free market" paradise, complete with Wal-Mart type enterprises in charge of every human endeavor, and including bureaucratic managerialism and top-down orders from those "exceptional individuals" who know how to be responsible and successful, unlike all the common peons who must be disciplined by the iron, invisible hand of the "free market". In other words, it seems as if many aspects of statism are just fine in Reisman's mind, as long as they're "privatized" and run only by wealthy businessmen who actually have the ability to engage in independent thought and judgment.

Adam is correct - Reisman does indeed appear to be a collectivist. How can one so consistently defend an institution (the modern corporation) that is so thoroughly hostile to individualism and not be collectivist? I'm reminded of the following portion of the classic 1976 Karl Hess Plowboy interview that elaborates a bit on all this:
PLOWBOY: Is there any similarity between this pressure being exerted by America's big businesses and, say, the collectivism of Soviet Russia?

HESS: Certainly. They're much the same. In the Soviet Union, the economy is developed under the ownership of a bureaucracy which shot its way to power, while in the United States exactly the same pattern exists except that our collectivists just buy their way to power. In either instance, the final result is the same: You owe your loyalty to the collective unit the corporation or the state, as the case may be. You're subordinated to its plans and processes.

There's no essential difference in the kind of world that either the large corporations of the U.S. or the collectives of the U.S.S.R. would impose on us. Back in the thirties, in fact, Jim Burnham wrote a book, The Managerial Revolution, in which he said that a DuPont bureaucrat could join a planning commission in the Soviet Union and never even know he'd changed jobs!

By the way, I recommend checking out that Sheldon Richman post I linked to above. He does a nice job of critiquing Walter Block's attempt at smearing Kevin Carson. He also plans on writing a similar post about the Reisman essay in the near future.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

...Reisman does indeed appear to be a collectivist.

Yeah. If we carry Reismans logic to its extreme, absolute monarchy is individualism. I'm sure Louis the XIV saw himself as a very "exceptional individual".

7:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW -- nice new look to the ole blog, there, Freeman!

7:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You people need to read Reisman more closely. I do not agree with everything he say's, but any honest assessment is going to reveal that Reisman is definetaly not a collectivist.

2:50 AM  
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Anonymous Jamm said...

Reisman, a collectivist? Words have meaning. And if you create a straw man and knock it over, you have done nothing to contend with the actual reasoning.

9:59 PM  

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