Main Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism

Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism

5.0 / 5.0
How much do you like this book?
What’s the quality of the file?
Download the book for quality assessment
What’s the quality of the downloaded files?

Building upon his previous books about Marx, Hayek, and Rand, Total Freedom completes what Lingua Franca has called Sciabarra’s "epic scholarly quest" to reclaim dialectics, usually associated with the Marxian left, as a methodology that can revivify libertarian thought. Part One surveys the history of dialectics from the ancient Greeks through the Austrian school of economics. Part Two investigates in detail the work of Murray Rothbard as a leading modern libertarian, in whose thought Sciabarra finds both dialectical and nondialectical elements. Ultimately, Sciabarra aims for a dialectical-libertarian synthesis, highlighting the need (not sufficiently recognized in liberalism) to think of the "totality" of interconnections in a dynamic system as the way to ensure human freedom while avoiding "totalitarianism" (such as resulted from Marxism).

Year:
2000
Publisher:
Penn State University Press
Language:
english
Pages:
480 / 481
ISBN 10:
0271020490
File:
PDF, 9.10 MB
Download (pdf, 9.10 MB)
1

Managing Mission-Critical Domains and DNS

Year:
2015
Language:
english
File:
PDF, 2.91 MB
0 / 0
2

Medieval Autographies: The “I” of the Text

Year:
2012
Language:
english
File:
PDF, 1.48 MB
0 / 0
c

,.

~I

potU/~

()

~~~j

~>1A~
~~
lAISSEZ FAIRE B<IDKS
~o-aldJ-~,(/'eiu~oj3J~ow~

c

L1

THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY PRESS
UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA

CHRIS MATTHEW SCIABARRA

Artwork (Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel), courtesy of Steve Kress.
Photograph of Marx, courtesy of International Publishers.
Photographs of Menger, Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard, courtesy of the Mises Institute.
Photograph of A yn Rand, courtesy of Barbara Branden.
Jacket photograph of author, courtesy of Don Hamerman.

Library of Congress

Cataloging~in~ Publication

Data

Sciabarra, Chris Matthew, 1960Total freedom: toward a dialectical libertarianism/ Chris Matthew Sciabarra.
p.
em.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-271-02048-2 (cloth: alk. paper)
ISBN 0-271-02049-0 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Libertarianism. 2. Dialectic. I. Title.
JC585 .S437 2000
99-059077
320.51'2--dc21

Copyright © 2000 Chris Matthew Sciabarra
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
Published by The Pennsylvania State University Press,
University Park, PA 16802-1003
It is the policy of The Pennsylvania State University Press to use acid~free paper for the
first printing of all clothbound books. Publications on uncoated stock satisfy the
minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information
Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1992.

To Bro, Wan, Bitty, Matt, and Goosefor all your love and support

Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction

ix

1

Part One: Dialectics: History and Meaning
1
2
3
4

Aristotle: The Fountainhead
From Aristotle to Hegel
After Hegel
Defining Dialectics

19
49
83
141

Part Two: Libertarian Crossroads: The Case of Murray Rothbard

5
6
7
8
9

Foundations
The Market Versus the State
Class Dynamics and Structural Crisis
On the Precipice of Utopia
The Dialectical Libertarian Tum

191
235
267
309
363

Epilogue: Social Change Within a Context
References
Index

385
391
439

Acknowledgments

This list may give the impression that I am thanki; ng every individual or
institution I have ever known. Quite the contrary. In this age of cyberspace,
we sometimes interact with people whom we will never meet and who bring
to our lives a certain measure of enlightenment, often unbeknownst to them.
I suspect that I have forgotten some people, and I hope they will forgive me
for any lapse of memory. Many on this list will not know in what ways they
have assisted me with the current project. Whether it was a small comment
in an academic discussion or a large measure of financial support, these indi,
viduals, cyber lists, and institutions have provided me with values for which
I can only say: Thank You. The usual caveat applies: No acknowledgment
should, in any way, suggest implicit or explicit agreement with anything
herein. Indeed, I am certain that some individuals cited below would not
approve of anything in this book. I take full responsibility for the final
product.
My thanks to Patrick Albarano and Flatbush Copy Center, Ari Arm,
strong, Malgosia Askanas, Christopher Baker, Jon Beasley, Murray, Bruce Be,
nson, Robert Bidinotto, David Boaz, Pamela Bolen, R.W. Bradford, Mark
Brady, Barbara Branden, Nathaniel Branden, David M. Brown, Dean Brooks,
Chris Burford, Robert Peter Bums, William Butos, Kevin Cabral, Robert
Campbell, Bryan Caplan, the Cappabianca family, Chris Cathcart, Philippe
Chamy, John Corvino, William Dale, John J. Davenport, Erik Davis, Hans
Despain, Ralph Dumain, Ronald E. Elam, Michelle Ely, John Enright, Mar,
sha Enright, Bill Evers, James Farmelant, Bruce Fingerhut, Allan Fong, Jeffrey
Friedman, Alexander Fuerstenberg, Nick Gillespie, Mimi Reisel Gladstein,
Melissa Jane Hardie, Mike Hardy, T. Gene Hatcher, Don Heath, R. Kevin

x

Acknowledgments

Hill, Steven Horwitz, Diana Hsieh, Lester Hunt, Gregory R. Johnson, Anna~
Britt Kaca, Howard Kainz, Michelle Marder Kamhi, Steve Keen, lrfan Kha~
waja, N. Stephan Kinsella, Eric Knauer, Roger Koppl, Kirez Korgan, Jukka
Laari, Gema LaBoccetta (and her mom, Tina), Pierre Lemieux, Jerry Levy,
Peter Lewin, Leonard Liggio, George Lyons, Stephen Macedo, Tibor Ma~
chan, Eric Mack, Glenn A. Magee, Per Christian Malloch, Rosie Martinez,
Deidre McCloskey, Gary McGath, Annette Memon, Fred Miller, Kirsti Min~
saas, Karen Minto, William R. Minto, Ellen Moore, Jan Narveson, Lance
Neustaeter, Svein Olav G. Nyberg, Valeria Ottonnelli, Tom Palmer, Michael
Perelman, Lindsay Perigo, James Pinson, David L. Potts, Louis N. Proyect,
David Prychitko, Thomas J. Radcliffe, Ralph Raico, Greg Ransom, Douglas
Rasmussen, Carolyn Ray, Peter Reidy, Andrea Millen Rich, Sheldon Rich~
man, Lew Rockwell, Barry S. Rosenthal, Greg Rosenthal, David Ross, John
Barkley Rosser Jr., Peter Saint~Andre, David Saum, Justin Schwartz, Richard
Shedenhelm, Aeon Skoble, Barry Smith, David Smith, Fred Smith, Michael
Southern, Peggy Stanton, Hugh Rodwell, Tim Starr, Thomas Ryan Stone,
Teresa L. Summerlee, Judy Thommesen, Elaine Thompson, Jason Ticknor~
Schwab, Louis Torres, Jeffrey Tucker, Daniel Ust, Barry Vacker, Karen
Vaughn, Peter Vigliorolo, Timothy Virkkala, Jimmy Wales, Chris Whitten,
and Steven Yates.
Among cyber lists and discussion groups, my thanks to participants in
the Spooner~L Anarchism List (spooner~l@netcom.com), moderated by Tim
Starr; the BQ~Friends Mailing List; the Hayek List (Hayek~L@maelstrom.st~
johns.edu), moderated by Greg Ransom; an Institute for Objectivist Studies
(now The Objectivist Center) Cyberseminar, moderated by David Kelley; the
Libertarian Feminism List (libfem@ifi.uio.no); the Libertarian Professors List
(libprofs@lumina.ucsd.edu), moderated by John McPherson; various Marx~
ism lists (some operated through the Spoon Collective), including marxism~
thaxis (of which I was cofounder and co~ moderator for a period of time),
marxism~theory, and marxism@lists.panix.com, moderated by Louis Proyect;
various Objectivism lists, including objectivism@vix.com, moderated by Paul
Vixie; the Moderated Discussion of Objectivist Philosophy List (ayn~rand@i~
ubvm.ucs.indiana.edu), moderated by Bryan Register; the Philosophy of Ob~
jectivism Lists (objectivism~l@comell.edu, objectivism@wetheliving.com,
and various other "wetheliving.com" lists), founded and/or moderated by
Kirez Korgan; and the Randian~Feminism List (randian~feminism@ifi.ui~
o.no), moderated by Thomas Grams tad.
Thanks also to participants in the weekly Austrian Economics Colla~

Acknowledgments

xi

quium at New York University, who were kind enough to share with me their
many working papers on important topics in political economy.
For many hours of intellectual engagement, thanks to students of my Dia,
lectics and Liberty Cyberseminar, including Ludvig Astrom, Timothy Chase,
Mats Ekelund, Ulf Elfvin, Thomas Gramstad, Kristian Helde, Johan Norb,
erg, Moira Russell, Daniel Smith, Matthew Stoloff, and Mattias Svensson.
Thanks to the New York University family, including Lisa Barnett, Subir
Grewal, Drew Hahn, and the Department of Politics-including Nora
Burke, George Downs, Russell Hardin, Farhad Kazemi, and Marilyn LaPorte.
To the Earhart Foundation, including David Kennedy and Antony Sulli,
van, for its invaluable financial assistance.
To all my friends in the Penn State Press family-Cherene Holland, Steve
Kress, Patty Mitchell, Amy Neil, Karen Walker, Cliff Way, and, especially,
Sandy Thatcher. And to Keith Monley, for his fine copyediting.
To those individuals who read the manuscript in whole or in part, at
various stages of development, and who offered constructive criticism for its
improvement: Leslie Armour, Roger Bissell, Peter Boettke, Stephen Cox,
Douglas Den Uyl, Murray Franck, Kurt Keefner, Don Lavoie, Jamie Mellway,
Bryan Register, Barry Rosenthal, and Larry Sechrest. Thanks also to those
individuals who commented on a very early version of Part Two of the book,
when it was featured as one segment of my 1988 doctoral dissertation: the
members of my dissertation committee-Gisbert Flanz, Bill Fleming, Ron
Replogle, and Mario Rizzo. And to Bertell Oilman, who, as my thesis advisor
then, my colleague and friend now, continues to offer challenging critical
commentary on my work.
Finally, for their spiritual support, my eternal love and appreciation to my
aunts, uncles, and cousins, to my brother, Carl, my sister,in,law, Joanne, my
sister, Elizabeth, my dear friend Matthew Cappabianca, and, of course, my
dog, Blondie.

j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j

Introduction

Euphemisms are inoffensive terms that one may substitute for those that
might be considered distasteful. 1 The word is derived from the Greek euphe~
mas, of good sound or omen.
The main title of this book, Total Freedom, may be of good sound to some
ears, since it is partially an exercise in euphemism, but it actually signifies a
movement "toward a dialectical libertarianism," that is, a movement toward
a dialectical approach to libertarian social theory. 2 I am fully aware that both
"dialectics" and "libertarianism" have negative connotations within certain
usually opposed intellectual circles. Nevertheless, this book seeks to reclaim
radical social theorizing in the name of liberty. It stresses the necessity of
context, the "totality" of systemic and dynamic connections among social
problems (hence, "total") that beckon toward fundamentally libertarian so,
lutions (hence, "freedom"). In this unity, we might give new meaning to the
credo of Marxist social theorist Roy Bhaskar (1993, 385) that "dialectic ...
is the pulse of freedom."
Admittedly, there have been many books about dialectics and many books
1. That euphemisms are used for deceptive purposes is certainly true. See Hinckley 1997. On
the relationship of euphemisms and "anti-concepts," see Sciabarra 1995a, 316-19.
2. Libertarianism is a contemporary manifestation of classical liberalism. I do not use the word
"liberalism" in this context, because American audiences might confuse it with twentieth-century
welfare-state ideology. Still, libertarianism and classical liberalism are united by their commitment
to individual rights, the rule of law, civil liberties, free markets, free trade, and antimilitarism. Some
contemporary libertarians, such as Murray Rothbard, whose work I examine comprehensively in Part
Two of this book, introduce a single complicating factor into this equation: anarchism. But Rothbard's dedication to the rule of law-achieved through "competitive" defense and judicial agenciesqualifies him, in my view, as a successor to the broadly defined liberal tradition.

2

Total Freedom

about libertarianism. But there has never been a book that had the intellec,
tual audacity to put these two together. This unity provokes three essential
questions: Why dialectics? Why libertarianism? Why dialectical libertarian,
ism? As a brief reply, and as a preface to what follows in these pages, let me
say the following:
Dialectics-because it is the art of context, keeping, the only methodolog,
ical orientation that compels scholars toward a comprehensive grasp of the
many factors at work in a given context. In my use of this word, I am re,
minded of Ayn Rand's comments in her introduction to The Virtue of Selfish,
ness (1964, vii): "The title of this book may evoke the kind of question that
I hear once in a while: 'Why do you use the word 'selfishness' to denote
virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people
to whom it does not mean the things you mean?' To those who ask it, my
answer is: 'For the reason that makes you afraid of it.' " By the conclusion of
this book, I hope to have dispelled all fears with regard to the use of "dialec,
tics," for it has a rich, if misunderstood, history.
Libertarianism-because it deserves to be taken seriously as a legitimate
radical political ideology, especially in light of Communism's collapse and
the end of the Cold War. After an age characterized by efforts to achieve a
total eradication of freedom under statist regimes, it is time to consider a
form of radicalism that aspires to go in the opposite direction. 3
Dialectical libertarianism-because, in this integration, dialectics is res,
cued from those who view it as a totalitarian tool, just as libertarianism is
rescued from those who view it as an extension of their fragmented, atomized
view of reality. In this integration, dialectics is connected inextricably to the
notion of freedom, and libertarianism is connected inextricably to the no,
tion of totality. In this integration, freedom and totality mutually imply one
another, for just as it is impossible to defend freedom successfully when sev,
ered from its broader requisite conditions, so too is it impossible to defend
totality successfully when conjoined to illusory notions of finality and com,
pleteness, which spell the end of free inquiry.
Paradoxically, then, this vision for "total freedom" is critical of the "total,
izing" utopian trends in intellectual history and .modem politics that have
their barbaric political analogue in twentieth,century totalitarianism. But a
dialectical approach is just as opposed to the abstract notion of "total free,
dom" advocated by libertarians who have isolated their ideal from the con,
text upon which it depends. Ultimately, this book challenges thinkers of all
3. On this last point, I am indebted to Don Lavoie.

Introduction

3

stripes-anarchists, statists, and "minarchists" (that is, advocates of limited
government), left, right, and center-to embrace the promise of a dialectical
libertarianism.
It is true that this conjunction might be dismissed by some critics as an
oxymoron. Indeed, like Georg Lukacs before him, Andrew Collier ( 1994)
suggests that there is an identity, a "homology," between "transformational,"
or dialectical, models and socialist politics, and a corresponding "homology"
between Newtonian atomism and libertarian politics (201-2). 4 Collier rec~
ognizes that, like the Left, "certain sections of the political right, sometimes
called the 'libertarian right,' ... claim to be working for human emancipa~
tion." However, for Collier, libertarians are too dependent on an atomistic
theory of human nature and social structure, which reduces existence to a
dualistic choice between "voluntary or compelled relations" (201). He pro~
vokes libertarians to "an alternative defence," but proclaims that "it is diffi~
cult to imagine what such a defence might be" (202).
This book can be considered a self~contained response to that fundamen~
tal challenge, even though it concludes a trilogy of works that began with
Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Through a
rereading of intellectual history, the trilogy aims to articulate the intimate
relationship between dialectics and the defense of liberty. By examining each
tradition and the interconnections between them, it is possible to strengthen
both. It is my conviction that libertarians can provide-and have pro~
vided-far more "dialectical" models of social life than have previously been
recognized, and that a productive future for both dialectical method and
libertarian social theory is contained in this coupling.
My first two books were designed to introduce the reader to the dialectical
sensibilities in the works of two major twentieth,century libertarian theo~
rists: the Nobel Prize-winning free,market thinker F.A. Hayek and the phi~
losopher Ayn Rand. Along the way, these works raised important questions
about the nature of-and distinctions between-utopianism and radicalism. 5
4. Collier (1994, 201) actually describes this as an identity between "realism"-a reference to
Roy Bhaskar's "critical realism"-and socialism. In this context, "critical realism" is simply the
"dialectical" alternative to libertarian "atomism." On the relationship between "dialectics" and
"Marxism," see Lukacs [1919] 1971, 1-2.
5. The dialogue generated by these works has also helped me to frame the current study. For
example, in their reviews of my earlier works, Hunt (1996), Gordon (1997a), Matz (1997), and
Machan ( 1998b) all posed questions that could only be answered in the context of a subsequent
volume. The first four chapters of Total Freedom attempt to clarify the very issues raised by Matz
(1997, 358 ): "Part of the problem here is that [Sciabarra] does not articulate a plausible alternative,
either historical or contemporary, to the dialectical approach. This would clarify what is really

4

Total Freedom

Marx, Hayek, and Utopia introduced the trilogy through a comparative
study of the works of Karl Marx and F.A. Hayek, two theorists often situated
in binary opposition to one another. Hayek's thought exhibits a dialectical
mode of inquiry, or what I have often called a dialectical "methodological
orientation" or "research orientation," which guides his project toward the
recognition of context in any understanding of the social totality and its
constituted relations. 6 Hayekian dialectics is a bulwark against intellectual
and political hubris because it stresses that our studies of-and actions
within-a social whole must take into account the context of our distinctive
vantage points. And since no human being can know everything there is to
know about the whole, Hayek argues persuasively that we cannot simply
redesign it anew. We are as much the creatures of our context as we are its
creators.
Hayek's rejection of utopianism is, then, a repudiation of the "construe,
tivist" rationalism on which it relies. His critique of utopianism is a critique
of the utopian's "pretense of knowledge," the attempt to construct a bridge
to a future society using the imaginary bricks of an abstract, ahistorical,
exaggerated sense of human possibility. While some have rightfully criticized
Hayek's "limited" view of reason, I think that, ultimately, he was fighting
against rationalistic, "one,sided exaggeration[s]" of the rational faculty
([1965] 1980, 95) and for "reason properly used," as he once claimed (1988,
8).7
For Hayek, utopianism is an abstract form of thought that separates its
progressive goals from the sociohistorical context on which they genetically
depend. Genuine radicalism, by contrast, is a form of unification. It recog,
nizes the organic relationship between goals and context and seeks a resolu,
tion that is immanent to the conditions that exist. As such, it is opposed in
principle to the deliberate construction of new institutional designs as if
these were outside the historical process. It views social institutions as consti,
tuted by both human intentionality and unintended social consequences. By
underemphasizing these distinctions, utopian resolutions must fail.
Elements of this Hayekian critique were anticipated by Karl Marx. Marx's
singular achievement was his application of dialectics to the analysis of soci,
important about dialectics and would motivate the overall interest of his project. For who, after all,
could reasonably deny the importance of the interplay between individuals and their conditions of
communal life in understanding human existence?"
6. A definition and examination of "dialectics" as a species of this genus is the subject of
Chapter 4.
7. For a good discussion of some of the problems in Hayek's work, see Sechrest 1998.

Introduction

5

ety. In Marx's approach, the moment of inquiry, the centrality of factual
demonstration, was essential to the dialectical project. Anchoring dialectics
to investigations of the real world led Marx to indict the utopian socialists
for their static a priori formulations. Their rationalist contrivances were
oblivious to the existential conditions necessary for the achievement of
human liberation, in Marx's view. Whether one agrees with Marx's substan,
tive theories or not, his emphases on the interconnectedness of human actors
in a structured social setting and on the organic unity of theory and practice
were crucial to the evolution of dialectics as a tool for understanding-and
changing-society.
Given the provocative parallels between Marx and Hayek, I concluded
that their followers could learn much from their intellectual engagement
with one another: Hayekians might be surprised to see in Marx a fellow
traveler in the critique of utopianism; Marxists might be shocked to find in
Hayek a profound dialectical sensibility.
Despite this commonality, Hayek and Marx part company in their assess,
ments of the future. Although Hayek's approach has its inherent problems,
his work provides an effective indictment of Marxism, not only as a statist
political ideology, but also as a theoretical project. Marx recognized what I
have called the "epistemic strictures"---or limitations on human knowl,
edge-that utopians face. But he historicized these limitations, suggesting that
history itself would resolve the problem of human ignorance. This Marxian
vision of communism has two essential flaws:
( 1) It presumes godlike planning and control and a mastery of the many
sophisticated nuances, tacit practices, and unintended consequences of so,
cial action. But no human being and no group of human beings can possibly
triumph over these spontaneous factors; they are partially constitutive of
what we mean by "sociality." Those who attempt to build a road from earth
to heaven are more likely to wind up in hell.
(2) It presumes a total grasp of history. Everything that is has a past and
contains within it the seeds of many possible futures. While Marxists are
correct to acknowledge that studying what is must necessarily entail an un,
derstanding of how it came to be, they often attempt to study the present as
if from an imagined future. When Marxists suggest that history itself can lead
to a triumph over human ignorance, they actually imply privileged access to
total knowledge of future social conditions. This is not merely illegitimate;
it is inherently utopian and profoundly undialectical insofar as it is un,
bounded by the context that exists.
It is this kind of totalism that a dialectical method repudiates. At root,

6

Total Freedom

the desire for such omniscience is a distortion of the genuinely human need
for efficacy. It is based on what Hayek (1973, 14) calls a "synoptic delusion,"
a belief that one can live in a world in which every action produces consis,
tent and predictable outcomes. Such a quest for total knowledge is equally a
quest for totalitarian control. To the extent that Marxism has been a beacon
for those trying to actualize such an impossibility, it has fueled a reactionary,
rather than a progressive, social agenda-the aggrandizement of the state,
the oppression of individual rights, and the fragmentation of groups in pur,
suit of political power.
Certain intellectuals of a "New Left," such as Jurgen Habermas and Hilary
Wainwright, have expressed awareness of the epistemological problems faced
by Marxism, even though their own proposed resolutions have been ineffec,
tive. 8 Taking his cue from Paul Berman (1996), Alan Ryan (1996, 39) notes,
however, "the degree to which the libertarian, or Hayekian, defense of free
markets, laissez,faire, and much,reduced government intervention appealed
to the same distrust of centralized authority and bureaucratic regulation that
the 1968 left had expressed."
I have been an eyewitness to the provocative convergence of libertarian
and socialist political activism, especially on the issue of world peace. During
the 1960s and 1970s, for different reasons, libertarians and socialists burned
their draft cards in protest against the war in Vietnam and the alleged garri,
son state it nourished. Nevertheless, socialists remained perplexed by liber,
tarians and their apparent eclecticism. The libertarians were against what
they characterized as "militarism," and for the "free market." They were
against state regulation of the economy, while showing a similarly principled
defense of people's rights to all consensual social activities and relationships,
including prostitution, gambling, drug use, and homosexuality. The libertari,
ans seemed to be "liberal" on some issues and "conservative" on others.
In the late twentieth century, with the rise of Ronald Reagan and Marga,
ret Thatcher and their powerfully enunciated free,market positions, libertar,
ian ideas gained popularity with think tanks and Nobel committees alike.
As a result, in the United States, the Cato Institute, the Institute for Hu,
mane Studies, the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and the Reason Foundation,
among others, have become important to scholarly and public,policy de,
bates. Several economists with libertarian views were awarded the Nobel
8. See Sciabarra 1995b, chap. 7. Advocates of "market socialism," like Schweickart, Schwartz,
and others, have taken notice of Hayek's contributions. For an interesting debate among socialists
on the nature of "market socialism," see Oilman 1998b.

Introduction

7

Prize, including Hayek, Milton Friedman, and James Buchanan. The Harvard
philosopher Robert Nozick won the 197 5 National Book Award for his philo~
sophical explorations in Anarchy, State, and Utopia, 9 and books by Charles
Murray (1997), David Boaz (1997a, 1997b), and Richard A. Epstein (1998)
have further extended the discussion of libertarian ideas. And the impact of
Ayn Rand continues to grow. Many of her original followers were, in fact,
instrumental in the formation of a Libertarian Party in the United States,
which, by 1980, had appeared on the presidential ballots of all fifty stateseven if its electoral success has been less than impressive. Yet, as Pinkerton
(1997, 21) tells us: "[W]ith the economic left in full retreat and the essential~
ist left mired in the trap of identity politics, with California and Arizona
voting to legalize 'medicinal' marijuana, with the Internet functioning al~
ready as a government~free zone, with politicians routinely portrayed in the
popular culture as fools-the moment would seem ripe for a popularizer to
cobble disparate planks like these into a politically attractive platform of
upward mobility for all."
Such trends are significant because they fundamentally affect the ways in
which we think about politics. Given the fact that tomorrow's respectable
"mainstream" often derives from yesterday's "extremists," I believe that liber~
tarianism is an intellectual force to be reckoned with; its demands for a
nonstatist, nonmilitarist, noncoercive polity have gradually shifted the locus
of public debate. And to Western, especially American, culture, which has
long celebrated market institutions, the libertarian's progressive agenda, with
its reliance on voluntarist principles, remains an appealing radical alternative
to socialism.
But libertarianism is not without its critics. While G.A. Cohen (1996)
pontificates over the meaning for Marxists ofNozick's "self~ownership" theo~
ries, Brian Barry ( 1996) argues that not even Nozick takes his earlier work
seriously anymore and that "most of the remaining believers are holed up in
the backwoods of Montana or Idaho surrounded by large caches of heavy
9. Nozick (1989) later repudiated Anarchy, State, and Utopia, characterizing it as one "young
man's 'libertarian' position" (17), "seriously inadequate, in part because it did not fully knit ...
humane considerations and joint cooperative activities.... Joint political action does not merely
symbolically express our ties of concern, it also constitutes a relational tie itself" (286-88). Rothbard
(1988g, 35) maintained that the impact of Anarchy, State, and Utopia was "dissipated" not by Nozick's turnabout but by his "stubborn refusal to respond publicly to any of his host of critics." Though
Rothbard (1991b) was very critical ofNozick's advocacy of the minimal state, he believed that this
"systematic silence meant that Nozickian theories could not take on any sort of life in the profession;
nor, in the absence of such continuing dialogue or argumentation, was Nozick able to develop
followers or disciples" (19).

8

Total Freedom

weapons. I regard this as evidence for the contention that you have to be
crazy to believe it" (28).1°
Recalling the Social Darwinism of yesteryear, Me nand ( 199 7, 18) suggests
that "[l]ibertarianism ... is a philosophy for winners, for the same reason
that 'Born Free' is a song about lions, not about the animals they prey upon."
Michael Kinsley (1997, 94) concurs that "[l]ibertarians ... go wrong ... in
suggesting that most other people would find [their ideal society] ... a nicer
place to live." Ultimately, most critics wonder if libertarianism is possible
given existing social conditions. Is it merely one more example of the utopi~
anism against which Hayek himself has warned? Is "[t]he intellectual leap
from utopian socialism to utopian capitalism ... not so very great," as Ryan
(1996, 39) suggests?
I have heard all these criticisms since my student years at New York Uni~
versity. My mentor and thesis advisor, the Marxist Bertell Ollman, had had
many interactions with libertarians in the antiwar movement of the 1960s.
He and the anarcho~capitalist Murray Newton Rothbard were comrades in
the Peace and Freedom Party. OHman, however, was fond of saying that
libertarians, progressive though some of their ideas might be, were anachro~
nistic-or, worse, irrelevant-in their prescriptions for social change. In a
1981 debate with libertarian theorist Don Lavoie, he opined: "Libertarians
are a little bit like people who go into a Chinese restaurant and order pizza."
The issue here is: What's on the menu, given objective conditions and con~
straints? There may be lots to choose from, wildly different meals that one
can order in a Chinese restaurant, "but pizza isn't one of them" ( Ollman and
Lavoie 1981) .11 For OHman, libertarians advocate a quasi~anarchistic system
that is simply not within the realm of existing possibilities, for it abstracts
from history and from current material and class conditions. "Society pro~
vides the necessary conditions for intentional human activity," Bhaskar
(1979, 120-21) argues similarly, and this "essentially Aristotelian" model
stipulates that people can only fashion "a product out of the material and
with the tools available to [them]." 12 For Marxists, libertarians lack the tools
10. In actuality, it is inaccurate to describe all "militia types" as libertarians; many believe in
the right to bear arms, but their politics is decidedly "populist," rather than libertarian. Thanks to
Larry Sechrest for pointing this out.
11. Ironically, Nozick (1974, 312) uses the same metaphor in his defense of the "smorgasbord
conception of utopia"-against those socialist types who prefer "restaurants with only one dinner
available, or, rather, ... a one-restaurant town with one item on the menu."
12. This "essentially Aristotelian" model derives from Aristotle's observation (1984, 168; Topics
1.3.101b5-10): "We shall be in perfect possession of the way to proceed when we are in a position
like that which we occupy in regard to rhetoric and medicine and faculties of this kind; [this means

Introduction

9

because their vision harks back to the nineteenth,century Gilded Age and
its laissez,faire illusion.
This criticism is ironic, since the leftist vision itself harks back to twenti,
eth,century technocracy and its illusions of social control. My own perspec,
tive, informed partially by Hayek, recognizes a double,edged sword, a need
to cut both ways in our attempts to bleed the socialist Left and the libertarian
Right of their utopian elements-"the end of history" or the "state of na,
ture," respectively. A politics for the "end of time" and a politics for the
"beginning of time" are equally utopian. 13 Whereas I have previously focused
on the fatal utopianism of the Left, much of the substance of Part Two of
the current work criticizes the utopian elements within libertarian thought,
best exemplified in the works of Rothbard.
In many ways, my work has an autobiographical component; it is a self,
conscious effort to grapple with my prime intellectual influences-Rothbard,
Rand, and Hayek among them. 14 I have sought to explain their ideas through
a critical "hermeneutic" that addresses shifting contexts of scholarshipwhat Hayek (1960, 1) has called "given climates of opinion." Through this
engagement, I have derived theoretical implications that no one-not the
individual authors or the authors' followers or the authors' critics-could
possibly have foreseen. 15
the doing of that which we choose with the materials that are available] for it is not every method
that the rhetorician will employ to persuade, or the doctor to heal: still, if he omits none of the
available means, we shall say that his grasp of the science is adequate." Note that, in the above
instance, the brackets appear in the text as cited. Unless otherwise indicated, brackets indicate my
own interpolations. Italicized words in cited material are as they appear in the original texts, unless
otherwise indicated. In this reference and throughout, the first number is the actual page number of
the citation; the second number is the standard numeration of the passage, in this case from Immanuel Bekker's 1830 edition of Aristotle's works. The bibliography contains information on the various
translations used throughout this book.
13. On this very point, in the mid-1980s, I suggested that if libertarianism moves "in the direction of contextual, relational, dialectical, totalistic analysis, it may face a necessary crisis which
severs it from its essential dualism-and its political project. This theoretical tension demands resolution" (Sciabarra 1987, 97). This book, and the trilogy of which it is a part, has been an ongoing
attempt to deal with this fundamental problem.
14. Many libertarians attest to the same influences in their own work. In his intellectual development, Murray (1997) engaged the works of Hayek, Rand, and Rothbard. Nozick (1974, xv) admitted that his conversations with Rothbard on individualist anarchist theory were crucial to the genesis
of Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Earlier, he had examined Rand's arguments as well (Nozick 1971).
15. On this "hermeneutical" quest for unintended theoretical consequences, see Boettke 1995c,
286. Some have argued that hermeneutics is illegitimate because it rests on "deconstructionism,"
with all the pejorative connotations of that word. But I believe that a text's valiJity must be judged
by reference to reality or to its explanatory power. Hermeneutics, as I employ it, is not deconstructive; it is reconstructive. I explore this theme briefly in Chapter 3. I am reminded, too, of McTaggart's

10

Total Freedom

It was in this spirit that I approached the second part of my trilogy, Ayn
Rand: The Russian Radical. While the debate surrounding this book is beyond
the scope of the current work, it has helped to elucidate some of the central
themes in Marx, Hayek, and Utopia. 16 Rand's integration of a profound dia~
lectical sensibility with a realist~egoist~individualist~ libertarian theoretical
content provided an answer to one of the foremost questions raised by my
earlier book: To what extent do the strictures on human knowledge preclude
rational, efficacious, social action? Rand recognized the context~sensitivity
of human existence and knowledge. She argued that people living under
concrete historical conditions could achieve efficacy in their own lives by
shifting toward a greater articulation of their implicit social practices. For
Rand, philosophy was the vehicle of such articulation. But Rand's recourse
to philosophy was not a one~sided, "monistic" emphasis. She was a rich and
subtle thinker even if her theatrical rhetoric was anything but subtle.
My study of Rand's thought uncovered an important dialectical dimen~
sian in the works of a key libertarian social thinker. This, in tum, prompted
many of my critics to question the value of characterizing any thinker on the
libertarian Right as "dialectical." After all, if Rand and other libertarians
had rejected Soviet "dialectics," then they could not be dialectical thinkers.
But Rand and her libertarian contemporaries mistakenly equated "dialec~
tics" and "dialectical materialism" (diamat), with its Hegelian and Marxian
overtones. Diamat is an undialectical historicist ideology. In fact, Rand had
never repudiated formal dialectical methodology. Her use of that mode of
inquiry is on display throughout her whole system of thought.
In the face of such criticism, however, I knew that if I were to defend the
very notion of a "dialectical libertarianism," it would be incumbent upon me
to examine not just the synthesis but also each concept taken separately.
Total Freedom operates as a triad in which two allegedly opposed projects
are brought into relation with one another. Part One centers on the dialec~
tical component, while Part Two centers on the libertarian component. It
might seem that the parts are dangerously close to being two separate works.
Indeed, for those who are intensely interested in the libertarian project, Part
One might seem a bit strange. All this talk about the totality, but what about
freedom? It is impossible to grasp the complex nature of freedom, however,
suggestion that the dialectical, of which hermeneutics is one manifestation, "must be looked on as a
process, not of construction, but of reconstruction" ( 1922, 3).
16. The debate over Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical has been vigorous. See my website (http://
www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra) for a compendium of the discussants. See also Sciabarra 1997. The
website also includes critical discussion of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia.

Introduction

11

without first possessing the tools by which to understand it from many differ,
ent vantage points. Likewise, for those who are interested in the dialectical
project, Part Two might seem a bit strange. All this talk about freedom, but
what about the totality? Ultimately, however, I ask the reader's patience, for
the book points toward an integration that champions the movement within
libertarian social theory toward multidimensional, dialectical models of un,
derstanding.
Part One examines the history and meaning of dialectics through a dialec,
tical strategy: The very meaning of the concept is open,ended. It can be
grasped only by a consideration of the dynamic and systemic contexts within
which it has been embedded. We need both to trace its incarnations histori,
cally and to place it in a broader system of classification.
Dialectics is a thinking style that emphasizes contextual analysis of sys,
terns across time. As a methodological tool, it has been used in the analysis
of systems of argumentation, linguistics, ethics, philosophy, culture, history,
psychology, political economy, social theory, social practice, and so forth.
Given its broad application, it is impossible to survey, in the current work,
the entire history of dialectics or its subtle appearance in the works of every
thinker, from the classicists to the postmodemists. Because it has been so
widely used by so many thinkers in so many disciplines from so many differ,
ent traditions, it would require several encyclopedic volumes adequately to
discuss its significance.
Short of this requirement, I had to define a context that would enable me
ruthlessly to streamline the discussion. Context is no less important to the
theory of dialectics than it is to the exposition of the method itself. Since
every study requires a delimited focus, my choices--of commission or omis,
sian-should not be interpreted as an endorsement or an indictment of any
thinker's works. My overall aim is to situate historically the dialectical modes
on display within classical liberalism and libertarianism, and to connect
these modes to the larger tradition of dialectics. In the process, I seek to
capture the essence of many key dialectical approaches throughout intellec,
tual history, something that has, to my knowledge, not been done to this
extent in any other work. 17
Thus, the historical segment explores dialectics from its earliest begin,
nings in antiquity through its manifestations among people in the classical
17. It should be noted that, given my current focus on social theory, I do not spend as much
time on the role of dialectics in areas external to social theory, for example, the logical and argumentative arts.

12

Total Freedom

liberal tradition, including Herbert Spencer, the great British sociologist,
and Carl Menger, the father of the Austrian school of economics, who was a
prime contributor to the marginalist revolution in political economy. By
weaving together original and secondary literature into a coherent whole, we
emerge with a fuller understanding of the shifting contexts within which the
concept of dialectics has evolved. I argue that dialectics is not a peculiarly
Hegelian or Marxian legacy; it is, in its origins, deeply Aristotelian, and it is
the birthright of anyone who seeks a more realistic understanding of society
than that offered by arid, one,dimensional, ahistorical models of human be,
havior.
The focus of the historical survey is not textual exegesis but an apprecia,
tion of the various contributions from the dialectical perspective defined and
defended in Chapter 4. In that chapter, I define the general form of dialec,
tical inquiry as a methodological orientation, quite apart from its solely dia,
logical uses in philosophical argumentation. In an age of context,dropping
and static modeling, dialectics brings the study of structure and history, of
systems and processes, to center stage. It provides theorists with analytical
tools that give priority to the study of systemic connections and their dy,
namic evolution. And since process is so crucial to this project, dialectical
theorists are as interested in the future as they are in the past and the present.
Such an orientation predisposes one to appreciate the reciprocal linkages
between theory and practice-intertemporally, in the past, in the present,
in the future. How we engaged and interpreted the world in the past has
had implications for what exists today. What exists has implications for our
interpretation of past theories and practices. And how we theorize about our
current predicament will have consequences for the theories and practices
we adopt tomorrow. 18
In Part Two, I tum to an examination of libertarianism at the crossroads.
Through a case study of the works of one of its chief exponents, Murray
Rothbard, I attempt to separate the radical (and dialectical) wheat from the
utopian {and undialectical) chaff in contemporary libertarianism. While I
examine the ideas of many libertarian thinkers throughout the book, includ,
ing Buchanan, Mises, and Nozick, it is Rothbard's wide,ranging system that
provides the most significant and explicitly anarcho, libertarian analytical
18. This should not, by any means, be confused with the belief that any and all analyses
are predetermined by a priori prejudices. All dialectical inquiry requires actual investigation. See
Chapter 4.

Introduction

13

model yet devised, with all its peaks and pitfalls. It demands critical engage,
ment on this basis alone.
Since his death, in 1995, there has been growing interest in this underap,
predated intellectual. His mammoth two,volume history of economic
thought from an Austrian perspective (1995b, 1995c) and two,volume col,
lection of essays in political economy (1997b, 1997c) have been published
to much fanfare and critical commentary. As Boaz (1997a, 56) proclaims,
Rothbard played a profound "role in building both a theoretical structure for
modem libertarian thought and a political movement devoted to those ideas.
. . . Libertarians compared him to both Marx, the builder of an integrated
political,economic theory, and Lenin, the indefatigable organizer of a radical
movement."
I had the privilege of knowing Murray Rothbard. He had the strongest
personal impact on my libertarian education. He gave me indispensable ad,
vice and intellectual guidance for my undergraduate history honors thesis on
the Pullman strike, and he provided me with many hours of pure joy in
theoretical discussion. It was under his influence that I went through a bona
fide "anarchist" phase. To this day, I continue to struggle with many of the
issues raised by my involvement with Rothbardian anarchism, as will become
clear.
The study of Rothbard's works serves as one means for a broader explora,
tion of libertarian ideas. Rothbard's defense of market institutions was no
mere reactionary apologia for the status quo. He echoed Marx's desire for a
stateless, classless, nonexploitative society--despite an essential distinction
in the definition of such-and employed a kind of inverse Marxism as the
means for achieving it. Whereas Marxists view the political absorption of
the market as the first step toward the "withering away of the state" and the
triumph of human freedom, Rothbard views the market's absorption of the
state's legal and judicial functions as the first step toward a stateless, fully
voluntary society that transcends "coercion" as a social relation.
I argue that Rothbard's work was guided predominantly by dualistic and
monistic assumptions, quite typical of many libertarians. Rothbard posits an
external relation between politics and economics, an antagonistic dualism
that he resolves monistically through a utopian construction. This dualism
extends to his conception of personal ethics and political morality, libertar,
ian ethos and cultural dynamics, "voluntarism" and "coercion," "market"
and "state." Sensing these dichotomous tensions, perhaps, Rothbard, near

14

Total Freedom

the end of his life, moved toward a greater dialectical sensibility. 19 Much of
this movement, however, was fueled by a problematic cultural conservatism.
My goal in Part Two is not to judge the substantive validity of Rothbard's
work or to evaluate his various definitions of the state, the market, civil soci~
ety, classes, and so forth. Rather, I aim to examine Rothbard through the lens
of methodology. Despite conflicting methodological orientations within his
corpus, it is my conviction that Rothbard exhibited crucial dialectical tenden~
cies, especially in his grasp of economic cycles and class dynamics. He pro~
vided a theory of structural crisis that was simultaneously historical, political,
economic, and sociological, while developing the foundations of a non~ Marx~
ist theory of class. These tendencies cannot be ignored, for they have inspired
a later generation of thinkers who are on the cutting edge of libertarian schol~
arship. Such scholars, armed with a multidimensional, integrated approach,
are moving libertarianism into the pantheon of radical social theory.
Though I am the first writer to identify these tendencies as explicitly
dialectical, I am not, by any means, the first or the only libertarian theorist
to use a dialectical approach. Chapter 9 briefly surveys the growing dialec~
tical trend among such libertarian thinkers as Peter Boettke, Douglas Den
Uyl, Don Lavoie, Douglas Rasmussen, Mario Rizzo, and many others. I have
merely put a label on it; but in so doing, I am wresting dialectics from its
exclusive contemporary association with the Left. I do not pretend, however,
that any of the aforementioned thinkers so characterized would self~identify
with this label.
I want to be clear about my own political commitments here: None of the
books in this trilogy has attempted to validate libertarianism in any of its
manifestations. Yet, I operate on the substantive premise that libertarianism
as a social theory, broadly understood, is valuable-that it offers a valid
perspective on the nature of the crisis in modem society and that voluntary
social relations, with all their preconditions and effects, are morally and
consequentially preferable to the status quo and to statism, in all its varieties.
This does not mean that libertarian theorists have always presented the
best formulations or arguments in support of their principles. In many cases,
they have not provided fully convincing explanations of-or persuasive alter~
natives to-the social conditions that exist. Moreover, much empirical and
historical work needs to be done in order to "test" the validity of accepted
19. I am tempted to distinguish between the earlier and the later Rothbard as "Rothbard r" and
"Rothbard n." But as Part Two makes clear, there is a certain continuity in Rothbard's intellectual
development that such a dichotomy might obscure.

Introduction

15

libertarian theories. Jeffrey Friedman has characterized this "postlibertarian"
work as essential if viability and truth in social science are our goal.Z0 It
is also the case that one can find conflicting, and sometimes inadequate,
formulations in the works of Hayek, Mises, Nozick, Rand, Rothbard, and
other libertarians. For the most part, I sidestep these controversies, not be,
cause the conflicts are uninteresting, but because of my belief that a fully
developed dialectical orientation is a crucial component in the resolution of
such conflicts.
I offer in these pages, not a full,blown social theory, but a metatheoretical
foundation upon which to build such a theory. I offer a means of structuring
the basic outlook of social inquiry, rather than a sustained argument for
liberty. If my book seems to end short of a solution, this is deliberate. By
radically reconstructing libertarianism on a dialectical foundation, without
offering new substantive arguments in support of libertarianism, this book
will frustrate those readers searching for more. That is all well and good. My
goal is to challenge the reader to think differently, to think dialectically; only
then can we begin to engage anew the complex substantive arguments about
the validity and desirability of freedom.
Dialectics might help us to escape the quagmires that exist in libertarian
thought. It demands of libertarian social theorists an examination of prob,
lems on different levels of generality, from different vantage points, and by a
systemic and dynamic extension of their analytical units. The ideal of human
freedom that might result will be one informed by a contextual emphasis on
those principles and institutions necessary for its achievement and suste,
nance. Ultimately, I aim to move the libertarian research program toward a
"sociological" analysis that is not socialist, a focus on "totality" that is not
totalitarian.
It is said that we must go out on a limb if we are to get to the fruit of the
tree (MacLaine 1983, 194) _21 This book, together with the others in the
trilogy it completes, pushes the radical project out on a dialectical, libertarian
limb. The fruits need not be forbidden.

20. Because Friedman's important work relates more to the substance, rather than the method,
of libertarianism, I do not discuss it extensively in the current work. Friedman himself is not persuaded that "dialectics" adds anything to the debate over the efficacy of libertarianism; on this issue,
we part company. But I remain on the Board of Advisors of the journal that Friedman edits, Critical
Review, precisely because I am encouraged by its tendency to put many substantive libertarian arguments to the "test" through empirical work and through intellectual engagement with different
traditions.
21. One need not believe in "channeling" to appreciate the truth of the statement.

1
1

1
1
1
1
1

1
1
1
1
1

1
1

1
1
1

1
1

1
1
1

1
1

1
1
1
1
1

1
1
1
1
1

1
1

1
1
1

1
1

1

1

I

Dialectics:
History and Meaning

j

j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j
j

Aristotle: The Fountainhead

J.D.G. Evans, in his book Aristotle's Concept of Dialectic (1977, ix), tells us
that the very "notion of dialectic is a piece of intellectual currency which,
like the currency of cash, is more used than understood." And the supreme
dialectician himself, Hegel, thought that dialectic had been "most misunder,
stood" by ancient and modern thinkers alike ([1831] 1969, 831).
Like many concepts in Western philosophy, dialectic traces its linguistic
roots to ancient Greece. Homer used the verb dialegesthai, which meant,
variously, "to discuss" and "to pick out" (dialegein), suggesting a high,level
mental activity of deliberation (Sarlemijn [1971] 1975, 27). Dialectic, or
dialektike, is cognate with both dialegesthai and dialogos, "dialogue" (Irwin
and Fine in Aristotle 1995, 577). 1 So it is not surprising that one can locate
1. See also Liddell [1940] 1996 and Peters 1967, 36-37. Both sources are invaluable lexicons.
Bhaskar (1993, 15) suggests that dialektike means "roughly the art of conversation or discussionmore literally, reasoning by splitting in two." Coffey ([1913] 1996) emphasizes the connections

20

Total Freedom

the first manifestations of dialectic in the classical Greek dialogues, wherein
the give,and,take of discussion was viewed as the means to wisdom.
In pre,Socratic philosophy, one finds a microcosm of virtually all that was
to come. Among the Ionians, one finds notions of process and change in the
thought of Heraclitus. 2 Among the Sophists, one finds the rudiments of the
"question,and,answer" method in the thought of Protagoras, and the verbal
matches that came to be known as "eristic" (disputation) in the practices of
Euthydemus and Dionysodorus (Ryle 1966, 113, 119).3 Among the Eleatics,
one finds rudiments of the doctrine of internal relations in the thought of
Parmenides ( Ollman 197 6, 24). 4 And while Aristotle is said to have credited
Empedocles as the discoverer of rhetoric, he often spoke of Zeno as the
inventor of dialectic (Ryle 1966, 112).5 Praised as that "subtle dialectician"
by Kant ([1781/1787] 1996, 513; B530/A502), Zeno probed the paradoxes
of motion. Though he never used the word "dialectic," he engaged in a
conversational method that deduced absurd consequences from the accepted
premises of his opponents. This "reduction to impossibility" was one of the
key dialectical techniques later perfected by Socrates (Robinson 1953, 8992).
The gadfly of the ancient Greeks, Socrates systematically cross,examined
his interlocutors in a way that was not merely destructive-in the manner of
between dialektike and techne or methodos; the dialectic art or method is related to dialegomai-to
converse, discuss, or dispute.
2. Preceding Heraclitus, the dialectically inclined Hermes Trismegistus, known as "The Great
Great" in Ancient Egypt, was probably a contemporary of Abraham. The Egyptians deified Hermes,
as did the Greeks. His "Basic Hermetic Doctrines" were passed on as "The Kybalion," a series of
seven principles of the universe. His followers, the Hermetics, or Hermetists, were "alchemists, astrologers, and psychologists" who believed that everything in the universe was in motion, everything
was "becoming." Moreover, everything was constituted by polarities or pairs of opposites. Every cause
had an effect, and every effect had a cause (Three Initiates [1912] 1940, 43, 25, 30, 32, 38). On the
relationship between Hegel and the Hermetic tradition, see Magee (n.d.).
3. S!llren Kierkegaard is said to have taken over the "maieutic" method of the ancient Greeks,
wherein the questioner sought to elicit and develop ideas, rather than to impose them. Stenzel
([1940] 1964, 24) calls this method "instruction through hints at the positive truth." For some
provocative feminist readings of the "dialectical tensions" in Kierkegaard's work, see Leon and Walsh
1997.
4. For a comprehensive treatment of Parmenides' Eleatic monism, see Curd 1998.
5. Empedocles was important to the evolution of both rhetoric and dialectic. Aristotle sees
rhetoric as "an offshoot of dialectic ... a branch of dialectic and similar to it." For him, "Rhetoric
may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion. This
is not a function of any other art." It is crucial to the mode of exposition, which takes into account
the interests and concerns of the audience (1984, 2155-56; Rhetoric 1.2.1355b27-28, 1.2.1356a25).
Durant ([1926] 1933, 321) also notes that Empedocles foreshadowed Aristotle's "golden mean," his
evolutionary focus, and his understanding of the unity of opposites.

Aristotle: The Fountainhead

21

the Sophists-but implicitly constructive. 6 Socratic dialogue embraced what
Mure (1932, 29) has called "complementary moments of a single process"refutation and discovery-in the shared pursuit of truth and virtue. 7 It was a
dialogical process of interrogation known as elenchos, a hermeneutical dia,
logue in which one speaker follows the logic implicit in the statements of
another, bringing forth awareness of contradictions and unintended conse,
quences through dynamic interaction (Bruns 1992, 43 ). 8
However, as exemplified in the early dialogues of Plato, the Socratic elen,
chos was more pedagogical than methodological (Robinson 1953, 97). Ulti,
mately, "dialectic" became Plato's name for these Socratic practices (Irwin
1988, 7). 9 For Plato, they were joined inexorably to the synoptic quest for
transcendent truth.

Plato and the Stillbirth of a Tradition
Among the ancients, such as Oiogenes Laertius, Plato was often recognized
as the true founder of dialectic (Hegel [1873] 1975, 117). And yet, as one of
the greatest of Western philosophers, Plato is more aptly described as the
"grandfather"-rather than the father-of dialectical inquiry (Rescher 1977,
xi). He makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the need
for comprehensiveness in the analysis of any problem. Nevertheless, this con,
tribution is severely compromised by his penchant for the synoptic, what the
feminist theorist Cynthia Hampton (1994, 236) calls "the longing for the
divine." It is a longing that pushes Plato into the abyss of strict organicism,
6. This noble Socratic legacy passed to many of the great liberal thinkers. Rescher ( 1977, xiii)
praises John Stuart Mill for his dedication to constructive dialectic as "a perennial necessity of the
rational enterprise, notwithstanding its somewhat negative aspect as an instrument of criticism."
7. Mure's use of the word "moments" rather than "aspects" or "pieces" is fairly typical of dialectical formulations. Taking Husserl's lead, Smith (1986, 13) explains: "A piece is simply any element
of a whole which, of its nature, can be removed or isolated from its surrounding whole and still
continue to exist. A moment is any element which, of its nature, cannot exist except in the context
of its surrounding whole." I revisit this issue in my discussion of Hegel in Chapter 2.
8. To refer to this as a "hermeneutical" model might strike some as odd, since the word itself
was not used by Socrates. Here, I use "hermeneutical" in a broad sense. It does not apply exclusively
to texts; it is just as applicable to ideas and human experience, insofar as these have unintended
consequences. See Burbridge 1993, 91. See also Chapter 3 of the present work.
9. After Socrates' death, Plato is said to have spent time "at Megara, where Eucleides, his fellowstudent and friend, was forming a school of dialectic" (Plato 1927, xiii).

22

Total Freedom

an attempt to see the whole and its internal relations from an illusory exter~
nal vantage point. 10
As is the case with many other philosophers, I must qualify my account
with the caveat that Plato is notoriously difficult to interpret, that there is not
simply one "correct" view of him. It is not my intention to caricature Plato or
any other thinker. But Plato's writings can be understood on several different
analytical levels; often, my interpretation of Plato's works is as much an en~
gagement with the Plato of tradition as it is with his texts, and much the
same can be said of my interpretation of the works of Hegel, Marx, and others.
This does not mean that the task of textual interpretation is a hopeless mi~
asma of misinterpretation; it simply means that we must be very sensitive to
the complexities of translation, authorial intention, and the philosophical
evolution of ideas as they are made relevant to each succeeding generation.
First, we would do well to ask what is right in Plato's conception. In the
Theaetetus, he speaks through Socrates:
Do not conduct your questioning unfairly. It is very unreasonable
that one who professes a concern for virtue should be constantly
guilty of unfairness in argument. Unfairness here consists in not
observing the distinction between a debate and a conversation. A
debate need not be taken seriously and one may trip up an opponent
to the best of one's power, but a conversation should be taken in
earnest; one should help out the other party and bring home to him
only those slips and fallacies that are due to himself or to his earlier
instructors: If you follow this rule, your associates will lay the blame
for their confusions and perplexities on themselves and not on you;
they will like you and court your society, and disgusted with them~
selves, will tum to philosophy, hoping to escape from their former
selves and become different men. (Plato 1989, 873; 167e-168a)

It is the "tum to philosophy" that Plato celebrates here, and, in this tum,
it is from the identity of dialectic with philosophy that he draws strength. 11
While Aristotle later correctly questions this identity, even he accepts the
important role played by constructive dialogue in the articulation both of prob~
lems and solutions. The crucial point is that Plato sees the dialogue as informa~
10. See Chapter 4 for a full discussion of the strict-organicist orientation.
11. For two views on the complementary roles of philosophy (or science) and dialectic, see
Adler 1927 and Rescher 1977.

Aristotle: The Fountainhead

23

tive, constructive, humane. He embraces conversation not as an exercise in
sophistical refutations but for the possibilities that flow from its dynamic.
This exalted ideal is not always on display in Plato's dialogues. Robinson
(1953, 61) suggests that while the early dialogues show dialectic as destruc,
tive eristic, the middle and later works move toward the constructive model.
It is in such works that Plato downgrades eristic and the fallacious reasoning
of sophistry. As Robinson argues, for Plato, dialectic "was philosophy itself,
the very search for the essences, only considered in its methodical aspect.
The method occurred only in the search, and the search only by means of
the method" (71).
Plato explores dialectic in its various guises. It becomes, at once, a method
of combination, of division, of definition, of hypothesis, of reductio ad ab,
surdum, all emergent within the framework of conversation (12). Whereas
Plato's Sophist emphasizes distinctions and his Parmenides features a mass of
opposing theses in search of resolution, other dialogues, such as the Phaedo
and the Republic, stress unity. Indeed, distinction and unity, separation and
combination, Stenzel ([1940] 1964, 89) explains, "are two logical operations
in indissoluble union; each method depends on the assistance of the other,"
and Plato emphasizes this "systematic interdependence." Thus, dialectic
seems to be a broad discipline with many interconnected practices-which
is why we frequently use the plural, "dialectics," in its steadY But as Plato
declares in the Sophist, those who master it are "the pure and rightfullover[s]
of wisdom" (1989, 999; 253b-e).
It is in the Republic, however, that Plato offers his fullest picture of dialec,
tic and its role in social life. Plato ([1948] 1976) tells us that, in training,
the philosopher will devote ten years to mathematics, then, between the
ages of thirty and thirty,five, tum to the study of dialectic. This is not a tool
for immature minds. It requires a grasp of the integrated nature of human
knowledge. For this reason, it is, in Plato's view, "the coping,stone of the
sciences, [which] is set over them; no other science can be placed higher"
(575; 534e). He states: "Now when all these studies reach the point of inter,
communion and connection with one another, and come to be considered
in their mutual affinities, then, I think, but not till then, will the pursuit of
them have a value for our objects; otherwise there is no profit in them" (571;
531d-532a)
12. On the use of the plural, Rescher (1977, ix) instructs: "The term dialectic is used here to
denote the discipline itself, the term dialectics to denote the process of engaging in the disciplinethe practice or use of it." Coffey ([1913] 1996) stresses that "dialectic" and "dialectics" are both
proper noun forms; "dialectical" is the adjective form.

24

Total Freedom

Plato

For Plato, "the hymn of dialectic" is realized in a strikingly one~sided
fashion, by adherence to an idealist ontology that glorifies the role of reason
disconnected from the senses. 13 This is Reason "with a capital R," as Hayek
would say ([1946] 1948, 15). Dialectic is a "strain ... of the intellect only,"
to be used "by the light of reason only, and without any assistance of sense"
(Plato [1948] 1976, 571-72; 532a-b). 14
13. This observation pertains mostly to the Republic. Bryan Register (in a personal correspondence, 4 February 1999) reminds me that in works like Theaetetus, Plato moves away from such
extreme rationalism (hereinafter, "personal correspondence" is abbreviated as "PC" in both text
and endnotes). See especially Seung 1996.
14. Plato's dualism between reason and the senses has been interpreted variously. Despite Plato's
emphasis on reason, Enlightenment thinkers, such as Thomas Jefferson ( 1984, 1430), condemn him
for "dealing out mysticisms incomprehensible to the human mind." By contrast, Huntington Cairns
(in Plato 1989, xv) argues that "Plato was a philosopher and poet, but not a mystic," insisting that
it was Plotinus's mysticism that later "attached itself" to the Platonic system. (Indeed, the idea of
dialectic was explored quite extensively in the Neoplatonic tradition, beginning with Plotinus.
Thanks to Leslie Armour, reader's report, 30 July 1999, for stressing this point.) Hampton (1994),
too, hesitates to call Plato's philosophy "mystical" (242 n. 59); she reminds us that Plato moves from
soul-body dualism to "the more complex model of the tri-part soul" (223). Roochnik (1997) argues
that this "tripartite psychology" in Plato's Republic is parallel to the Hegelian Aufhebung. He also
maintains that the Phaedo's dualism, by contrast, "is not ... of the radical or metaphysical sort that
divides the two as entirely distinct kinds of substances." He sees this dualism as more "phenomenological" than metaphysical (883). The implicit affinity here between dialectical forms and triadic
organization is important. On the formal connection, see, for instance, Loiret-Prunet 1999. One
finds this connection in Plato and, by implication, in Aristotle, insofar as different vantage points
elicit opposing theses that require resolution (a synthesis that preserves what is right in the partial

Aristotle: The Fountainhead

25

Despite this implicit dualism between reason and the senses, the soul and
the body, Plato, like many other ancient Greeks, fully appreciates the con,
cept of organic unity. He identifies the dialectical with the search for inter,
connections within a totality. These are not relations among disconnected
parts of study, but aspects in reciprocal interdependence, or "mutual affinit,
ies." In the Charmides, for instance, Plato criticizes those who fragment the
study of the human being. Through Socrates, he relates the story of the
Thracian king Zalmoxis, who said: "[A]s you ought not to attempt to cure
the eyes without the head, or the head without the body, so neither ought
you to attempt to cure the body without the soul; and this . . . is the reason
why the cure of many diseases is unknown to the physicians of Hellas, be,
cause they are ignorant of the whole ... for the part can never be well unless
the whole is welL ... For this ... is the great error of our day in the treatment
of the human body" 15 (Plato 1892, 6; 156).
By placing priority on the role of reason in mastering the organic ties
among the human sciences, Plato asserts ([1948] 1976, 579; 537c)-in Jow,
ett's translation of the Republic-that "the comprehensive mind is always the
dialectical." Shorey translates the passage very differently: "For he who can
view things in their connection is a dialectician; he who cannot, is not"
(Plato 1989, 769; 537c). The Greek text reads "Ho ... sunoptikos dialek,
tikos," which can be rendered as: "He ... who thinks synoptically is a
dialectician. " 16
There is a thin line here between the need for comprehensiveness and
the dream of divinity. To his credit, Plato, in his discovery of the importance
to dialectic of grasping interconnections within an organic unity, makes a
lasting contribution to our understanding of a very difficult concept. But the
tradition sparked by Plato is marred by a conceptual stillbirth. He creates
unresolved tensions between the dialectical vision of interconnections, the
dualism of mind and body, and the strict organicism of synoptic divinity.
These tensions are not unusual; Hayek uncovered a profound paradox at
the foundation of all utopian theories (Sciabarra 1995b, 28-29). Some uto,
perspectives, while eschewing what is in error). One can also find triadic forms in the thought of
Pythagoras, the Neoplatonist Proclus, and the Syrian Iamblichus. See Copleston [1946] 1985,
478-79; Findlay 1958, 69. Kant and Hegel use the form, but it was Fichte ([1794]1970) who used
the triad of "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" most extensively. I explore these themes briefly in the next
chapter.
15. In contemporary biology and medicine, this organic vision animates holistic conceptions of
health care. It is given philosophic legitimacy by such "dialectical biologists" as Levins and Lewontin
(1985).
16. Thanks to George Kline (PC, 9 September 1996) for this translation.

26

Total Freedom

pians admit that every society is composed of an indefinite number of rela,
tionships. But since their ideals are totalistic, they require perfect knowledge
of every relationship in order to produce a new society. Hayek suggests that
utopians depend on omniscience. The utopian vision is blinded by this syn,
optic delusion, since no individual or group of individuals-be they central
planners or philosopher,kings--can possibly gain knowledge of everything
that exists in every minute detail.
And yet, in presuming that they can acquire such knowledge, utopians,
like the divine creator of the Timaeus, exempt themselves, by implication,
from the totality they seek to change. They pursue knowledge of all the
internal relations within a totality, even as they inadvertently take on an
external relationship to that totality. They forge an unintended dualism be,
tween themselves and the real world, says Hayek. Their resolution of this
paradox is an instance of crude "constructivistic" rationalism, which builds
a bridge to an imagined future over a landfill of human bodies. Such con,
structivism is one legacy of "the spell of Plato," as Karl Popper ([1962a]
1971) argued. And it is for this reason that Popper-himself deeply influ,
enced by Hayek-indicted Plato as an "enemy" of the "open society."
Even if one rejects Popper's interpretation, it is important to recognize,
with Stenzel ( [1940] 1964), that Plato's "synaptical tendency" ( 89) is not
tangential to, but "an essential motif in[,] his philosophy," one that requires
"the assistance of religious faith in order to complete the Socratic ideal of
an absolute knowledge" (13 ). Evans (1977) suggests further that, for Plato,
dialectic is the essential tool in our quest for transcendent truth in the Form
of the Good. And because it alone is a "synoptic science," in order for us "to
know anything in the fullest sense it is necessary to know everything" (7).
But this Platonic requirement is not a prescription for human knowledge.
We are not-and can never be-omniscient. And it is difficult to see how
such a standard can serve a human or humane goal.

Aristotle and the Topics
In response to this Platonic illusion, Aristotle attempts to complete the ideal
of what it means to be dialectical. His Topics 17 and its companion, Sophistical
17. Aristotle's rules in the Topics are called topoi, that is, "locations," "places," or "commonplaces" (R. Smith 1995, 61). Irwin and Fine note (in Aristotle 1995, 69 n. 1): "'Places' probably
refers to a technique for remembering a list of items by correlating them with a previously learned
grid or list of places. Hence the dialectical 'places' are common forms of argument to be remembered
for use in dialectical discussions."

Aristotle: The Fountainhead

27

Refutations, are the definitive ancient texts on dialectic, though these are not
the only Aristotelian works that address the issue. At the end of the latter
book, Aristotle (1984, 313-14; 34.183b16-34) explains that in most other
theoretical endeavors, he had been able to build upon the labors of others:
For in the case of all discoveries the results of previous labours that
have been handed down from others have been advanced bit by bit
by those who have taken them on, whereas the original discoveries
generally make an advance that is small at first though much more
useful than the development which later springs out of them. . . .
This is in fact what has happened in regard to rhetorical speeches
and to practically all the other arts: for those who discovered the
beginnings of them advanced them in all only a little way, whereas
the celebrities of to,day are the heirs (so to speak) of a long succes,
sion of men who have advanced them bit by bit, and so have devel,
oped them to their present form . . . therefore it is not to be
wondered at that the art has attained considerable dimensions.
But in the case of dialectic-Plato's dialogues notwithstanding, Aristotle
confesses-there was no systematized theoretical framework on which to base
his inquiry. His work was the first:
Of the present inquiry, on the other hand, it was not the case that
part of the work had been thoroughly done before, while part had
not. Nothing existed at all. ... If, then, it seems to you after inspec,
tion that, such being the situation as it existed at the start, our
investigation is in a satisfactory condition compared with the other
inquiries that have been developed by tradition, there must remain
for all of you, or for our students, the task of extending us your
pardon for the shortcomings of the inquiry, and for the discoveries
thereof your warm thanks. (314; 34.183b34-184b9)
It is a daunting task to date the Topics. As Evans (1977, 51) suggests,
many Aristotelian scholars tend to assign later dates to those works that are
less critical of Plato. That the Topics seems less hostile in tone is, in Evans's
view, evidence that it may not be among Aristotle's early writings. By con,
trast, Elders (1968, 136) believes that the book was probably written during
Aristotle's tenure at Plato's Academy. For During (1968, 202), this means
that it was authored around 360 B.C.E. It is addressed to Aristotle's contem,

28

Total Freedom

poraries, who seemed to know quite a bit about the subject (R. Smith 1995,
58).
If the Topics was, indeed, a training manual, Gilbert Ryle (1968, 69) hy,
pothesizes that Aristotle was teaching its contents to members of the Acad,
emy, perhaps as early as the period 360-350 B.C.E. Ryle supports Aristotle's
contention that, although he drew some examples from Plato's dialogues, he
did, in fact, "start the theory and methodology of dialectic from absolute
scratch" (70). Before Aristotle, dialectic existed as a practical skill, but the
principles underlying its practice had never been explicitly articulated; there
was no structured theory of dialectic. Dialectic was not even a part of the
Academy's curriculum, for Plato had adhered to the Socratic ban on such
disputation except for selected thirty,year,old members (71). Ryle tells us
that it was with Plato's approval that Aristotle taught the subject. 18 Through
Aristotle's efforts, students developed their argumentative skills and their
philosophical acumen in the practice of "a co,operative and progressive po,
lemic-a polemic not between persons, but between theses and counter,
theses" (76). 19

Aristotle's Conception of Dialectic
For Aristotle, dialectic is not simply "sophistry" or "eristic"; it is not merely
a "peirastic" tool to humble an intellectual opponent. It "is a process of
criticism wherein lies the path to the principles of all inquiries" (Aristotle
1984, 168; Topics 1.2.101b3-4). The Topics is, for Aristotle, a treatise on
dialectical reasoning, that is, reasoning from endoxa, common beliefs or "rep,
utable opinions" (167; 1.1.100a30). He distinguishes this from demonstra,
tion, in which we reason from true premises, and sophistical or "contentious
arguments," in which the premises seem to be generally accepted (167;
18. Ryle (1968) remarks that the second part of Plato's Parmenides was composed probably for
the benefit of Aristotle's pupils. In that dialogue, Parmenides converses with a young man named
Aristotle; he says of his interlocutor that he is not one likely to make trouble for the questioner"surely," observes Ryle, "a collegiate joke." Ryle concludes that Plato probably composed this part
of the Parmenides at some point in the 350s (77-78).
19. This is an overstatement on Ryle's part; while the confrontation of theses and countertheses
might be important to the development of argumentative skills, only persons can argue. While contentious ideas have a tendency to take on a life of their own, they cannot be disconnected from the
people who hold them.

Aristotle: The Fountainhead

29

1.1.100b26-27). 20 Since Aristotle assumes that his audience grasps the gen~
eral distinctions among the styles of reasoning, he does not offer a "precise
definition of any of them" (168; 1.1.101a21).
For Aristotle, dialectic assists us in our intellectual training, in our en~
counters with others, and in laying the groundwork for the philosophic sci~
ences. As a tool of critical inquiry, it can be used for both destructive and
constructive purposes, but these are almost always two sides of the same
methodological coin (217; 5.2.129bff.). Dialectic enables us to search for
difficulties among conflicting perspectives, making it easier to detect both
truth and error. And it provides an indispensable technique for validating
the axioms that stand at the foundations of science (168; 1.2.101a35-39,
101 b4-5). 21
The most essential characteristic of a dialectical orientation, as it is de~
fined in Chapter 4, is the emphasis on context in our analysis of any philo~
sophie or social problem. The context itself is a function of the process of
abstraction; we can analyze problems by subtly altering the context, revealing
new and interesting relations among the objects of our inquiry. This alter~
ation is usually achieved by varying our vantage point (or "point of view,"
as Aristotle calls it) or by extending the units of our analysis with regard to
their actuality and potentiality in a wider system and across the dimensions
of time. Aristotle contributes to this conception of a dialectical orientation
by articulating the major theoretical principles entailed in the process of
abstraction. This contribution is not isolated to the Topics; it can be found
as a guiding methodological motif throughout the Aristotelian corpus.
20. Irwin and Fine (in Aristotle 1995, 576-77) explain that, in the Aristotelian sense, "[s]cientific knowledge has to be expressed in a demonstration-the particular sort of deduction from assumptions, with appropriately necessary, explanatory, and better known premises." Throughout this
book, my use of the concept "demonstration" is wider than Aristotle's apodeixis and includes not
only deduction but also experiential, historical, statistical, and/or inductive techniques. Aristotle
himself recognizes both induction (epagoge) and deduction as "two ways of reaching rational conviction" (590). Aristotle's own use of the word syllogisrrws has wider application than the English
equivalent, "syllogism." Irwin and Fine point out that, for Aristotle, even deduction "applies to
inference more generally" (575). Logikos, for Aristotle, was "a subset of dialectical problems," insofar
as it applied to general inquiry. Aristotle's "analytics" is more akin to what has been called formal
logic, the "analysis of arguments to reveal the basic patterns of deductive argument that they display"
(595).
21. Joseph ([1916] 1967, 386) credits the Topics with the "most proper use" of dialectic in "the
examination of the truth of scientific principles." He praises the Topics as "a work of great logical
value" (391). Evans (1977, 94) agrees; he rejects the view that the work is "an unsuccessful exercise
in pure logic, i.e. as a first draft on the Analytics." For modem Aristotelian applications of these
methods in an analysis of contemporary philosophy, see Veatch [1952] 1970. See also Whitaker
1997 for a treatment of De lnterpretatione as an organized treatise on logic, argument, and dialectic.

30

Total Freedom

Aristotle

In the Topics, Aristotle constantly shifts his "point of view" to uncover
various aspects of the terms of study, perspectives that show us different
qualities, relations, contraries, contradictions, degrees, and attributes. This
thinker, so often criticized for his formal, codified classifications, makes it a
principle of inquiry that as the context shifts, we can grasp the multiple
meanings of a term, for "when a term is used in many ways, it may be investi,
gated by these and like means" (179; 1.16.107b39-108al). This is extremely
important, not merely for the clarity of conversation or definition, but in any
scientific examination, "[f]or as long as it is not clear in how many ways a
term is used, it is possible that the answerer and the questioner are not
directing their minds upon the same thing" (180; 1.18.1 08a21-23).
The implications of Aristotle's principle are made more apparent when
considered against the backdrop of the law of noncontradiction. Aristotle
enunciates this law as an ontological and logical axiom: 22
[T]he most certain principle of all is that regarding which it is im,
possible to be mistaken.... It is, that the same attribute cannot at
22. The logical-ontological link is important. While Irwin (1988, 166-67) may be correct to
see a parallel between Aristotle and Kant in their treatment of antinomies, Aristotle's logic is not
equivalent to the Kantian Transcendental Logic. As Copleston ([1946] 1985, 278) observes, Aristotle "is not concerned to isolate a priori forms of thought which are contributed by the mind alone
in its active process of knowledge. Aristotle does not raise the 'Critical Problem': he assumes a realist
epistemology, and assumes that the categories of thought which we express in language, are also the
objective categories of extramental reality."

Aristotle: The Fountainhead

31

the same time belong and not belong to the same subject in the
same respect; we must presuppose, in face of dialectical objections,
any further qualifications which might be added .... It is for this
reason that all who are carrying out a demonstration refer it to this
as an ultimate belief; for this is naturally the starting,point even for
all the other axioms. (1588; Metaphysics 4.3.1005b17-33)

Aristotle argues here on the basis of "negative demonstration." He grasps
that the man who denies the axiom "will not be capable of reasoning, either
with himself or with another" (1588; 4.4.1006a16-24 ). Aristotle exhibits
both an awareness of dialectical thinking and a foundationalist commitment
to philosophic realism. Since dialectic was first wedded to the lofty idealist
ontology of Plato, with its requirements of synoptic coherence, its use by an
eminently realist philosopher is noteworthy, as Irwin (1988) points out. 23
It is significant that in his formulation of the law of noncontradiction,
Aristotle is not prevented from grappling with various kinds of relational
oppositions. The laws of logic (noncontradiction, excluded middle, and
identity )2 4 depend upon conditioning provisos: when Aristotle tells us that
A cannot be A and not,A, he adds: at the same time and in the same sense. He
provides the foundations of objectivity, of thinking, of being,in,the,world.
He does not fixate on a static tautology with laws that deny the process of
becoming. While Hayek {1988, 45-48) is correct to note that Aristotle lacks
a formal understanding of evolution, it is false to see Aristotle's categories as
static. Copleston ([1946] 1985, 372), like Marcuse ([1941] 1960, 42), has
argued correctly that the whole thrust of the Aristotelian metaphysic is
toward process and movement. Such movement does not deny the law of
noncontradiction. For what a thing is-its actuality-determines its paten,
tial for development. A thing is not only what it is, but also all that it can
23. Irwin (1988) argues that Aristotle uses a selective, or "strong," dialectic, rather than a
"pure," or "weak," dialectic, in his negative demonstration of first principles. Pure dialectic entails
arguments that may lack objectivity; strong dialectic uses arguments that are based on what Aristotle
calls "reputable premises only" (1984, 1573; Metaphysics 3(B)l.995b20-23). Both Wardy (1991)
and Hamlyn (1990) dispute Irwin's distinction between "strong" and "pure" dialectic. Hamlyn also
considers the debate over Aristotle's status as an "internal" or an "external" realist. Still, Irwin has
raised important issues in his comprehensive study. Other significant studies of Aristotle's use of
dialectic include Nussbaum 1986, which focuses on the ethics, and Blank 1984, which sees the
method at work in certain aspects of Aristotelian political theory.
24. Aristotle defined the laws of noncontradiction and excluded middle; Antonius Andreas
formally enunciated the law of identity in the twelfth century (Peikoff 1972, lecture 4).

32

Total Freedom

and will become, given its specificity as a thing of a certain kind and its
interactions with other things. 25
Hence, when we come upon a paradox, Aristotle implores us to recognize
that contradictions cannot exist. It is incumbent on us to engage in a process
of abstraction, a form of testing that requires us to change our context and
shift our vantage point in order to resolve the puzzle. Dialectic becomes not
merely an art of questioning and discussion but "a mode of examination as
well" (Aristotle 1984, 292; Sophistical Refutations, 11.172a22). Aristotle uses
this technique in virtually every branch of the philosophic sciences. No mat,
ter what his object of study, he considers critically, as part of his inquiry,
that which has come before him. In On the Soul (643; 1.2.403b20-23 ), he
says: "For our study of soul it is necessary, while formulating the problems of
which in our further advance we are to find the solutions, to call into council
the views of those of our predecessors who have declared any opinion on this
subject, in order that we may profit by whatever is sound in their suggestions
and avoid their errors."
This is no mere survey of his predecessors. It is an examination of their
"one,sided" doctrines so as to separate the true from the false. In the Meta,
physics, Aristotle says of his predecessors:
[N]o one is able to attain the truth adequately, while, on the other
hand, no one fails entirely, but every one says something true about
the nature of things, and while individually they contribute little or
nothing to the truth, by the union of all, a considerable amount is
amassed. Therefore, since the truth seems to be like the proverbial
door, which no one can fail to hit, in this way it is easy, but the fact
that we can have a whole truth and not the particular part we aim
at shows the difficulty of it. (1569-70; 2.1.993bl-7)
For Aristotle, the truth resides in the whole, in the unity of partial per,
spectives, for "the one,sided theories which some people express about all
things cannot be valid" (1598; 5.8.1011b29-31). Ultimately, of course, our
theories must correspond to reality. But sometimes, even when a theory does
not so correspond, it can tell us something of value. Aristotle recognizes
that we need to adjudicate among partial theories so as to rise above their
25. For an Aristotelian-influenced discussion of causality as "the law of identity applied to action," see Rand 1961, 151.

Aristotle: The Fountainhead

33

oppositions. This amounts to a "superseding [of] all partial propositions," as
Gadamer ([1982] 1995, 471) describes it, "bringing contradictions to a head
and overcoming them." It is not simply a way of testing the views of one's
predecessors against common beliefs. Rather, such examinations test these
views against the very questions raised by one's predecessors (Irwin 1988,
156). It is what Bhaskar (1994, 8) has described as a "method of immanent
critique." Aristotle explains (1984, 463; On the Heavens, 1.10.279b5-12):
"Let us start with a review of the theories of other thinkers; for the proofs of
a theory are difficulties for the contrary theory. Besides, those who have first
heard the pleas of our adversaries will be more likely to credit the assertions
which we are going to make. We shall be less open to the charge of procuring
judgement by default. To give a satisfactory decision as to the truth it is
necessary to be rather an arbitrator than a party to the dispute."
Aristotle retains the constructive impulse that has been the mark of a
dialectical sensibility since it was first manifested by the early Greeks. But
here the impulse is given a formal theoretical justification that was simply
lacking in all previous discussions. In many ways, the building blocks of
Aristotle's philosophy, and of his approach to dialectic, are provided by his
predecessors, especially Plato. Aristotle learns from those who came before
him in order to transcend their limitations, preserving what is true, discard,
ing what is false. This is not a search for transcendent truth, but a transcen,
dence of constraints through the confrontation of partial perspectives.
Aristotle elaborates (1935; Eudemian Ethics, 1235b12-18): "Accordingly a
line of argument must be taken that will best explain to us the views held
on these matters and at the same time solve the difficulties and contradic,
tions. And this will be secured if the contradictory views are shown to be
held with some reason. For such a line of argument will be most in agreement
with the observed facts: and in the upshot, if what is said is true in one sense
but not true in another, both the contradictory views stand good."
So, too, in the "contradictions" that one might find "in the poet's lan,
guage" of irony, "one should first test as one does an opponent's confutation
in a dialectical argument, so as to see whether he means the same thing,
in the same relation, and in the same sense, before admitting that he has
contradicted either something he has said himself or what a man of sound
sense assumes as true" (Aristotle 1984, 2339; Poetics 24.1461b15-18). In all
such cases, it is a dialectical imperative to examine the objects of our inquiry
in terms of their constituted relationships, as understood within shifting con,
texts of study.

34

Total Freedom

The Revolt Against Plato's Ontology
In his investigations, Aristotle engages in complementary endeavors: demon,
strative science, with its reliance on empirical observation and logical analy,
sis, and dialectical argumentation, with its reliance on contextual
identification of relations and oppositions within a wider totality. These as,
pects are not mutually exclusive; they form an organic unity. It has been said,
however, that despite his emphasis on the importance of dialectic, Aristotle
demotes it in the face of scientific demonstration, which is the province of
philosophy. He argues: "Dialectic is merely critical where philosophy claims
to know, and sophistic is what appears to be philosophy but is not" (1586;
Metaphysics, 4.2.1004b25-26). Robinson (1953, 72) stresses that, by this
downgrading, Aristotle moves to separate dialectical method "from the ac,
tivity of which it is the method"-namely, the search for transcendent truth.
In Robinson's view, the Topics reduces dialectic to an art of mental gymnas,
tics that can be learned and practiced "apart from the study of any reality."
For Robinson, Aristotle isolates dialectic "from the source of its inspiration"
and transforms it "from the highest intellectual activity to a dubious game
of debate."
But Robinson does not appreciate the ways in which Aristotle's concep,
tion of dialectic challenges not only the Platonic conception but Plato's
whole ontology. As Irwin (1988, 147) observes:
Aristotle's attack on Platonic dialectic may usefully be compared
with the attempt by twentieth,century positivists to free science
from metaphysics. Like the positivists, Aristotle rejects the preten,
sions of a non,empirical discipline claiming to be a science and to
prescribe to the genuine empirical sciences; the alleged universal
science has no claim to objectivity, since any such claim can be
justified only by appeal to definite items of experience. Just as Aris,
totle rejects Platonic dialectic, positivists reject any a priori meta,
physical foundation for empirical science. ( 14 7)
Of course, Aristotle is no positivist; his recognition of the importance of
demonstration and empirical observation does not come at the expense of
theoretical integration. Aristotle seeks to provide a means for rejecting any
and all a priori metaphysical doctrines in the study of an objective reality,
since those who adhere to such schemes try to force the facts into their
preconceived notions. He rejects Democritean atomism, Parmenidean mo,

Aristotle: The Fountainhead

35

nism, Pythagorean dualism, and Platonic synopticism. 26 Aristotle aims
(1984, 1729; Nicomachean Ethics 1.1094a25), instead, to provide each sci,
ence with methodological legitimacy, "to determine what it is, and of which
of the sciences or capacities it is the object." In rejecting the hypotheses of
"those who inquire into the number of existents," for instance, Aristotle
questions why we should accept the notion that "the ultimate constituents
of existing things are one or many, and if many, ... a finite or an infinite
plurality." But to claim that
what exists is one and motionless is not a contribution to the sci,
ence of nature. For just as the geometer has nothing more to say to
one who denies the principle of his science-this being a question
for a different science or for one common to all-so a man investi,
gating principles cannot argue with one who denies their existence.
For if what exists is just one, and one in the way mentioned, there
is a principle no longer, since a principle must be the principle of
some thing or things. (316; Physics 1.2.184b25-185a5)
Thus, Aristotle creates lines of demarcation between different disciplines,
giving to each discipline a legitimacy based upon its investigation of the
nature of the existents understood in a distinctive context. Although philos,
ophy begins in a sense of wonder, it is simultaneously and profoundly scien,
tific in its orientation (1554; 1.2.982bff.).
While Aristotle removes dialectic from its association with a priori meta,
physical doctrines, his approach to the philosophic sciences retains a respect
for both realist foundations and context in the definition of any particular
science. Solmsen ( 1968, 61) argues persuasively that Aristotle is the first
thinker to separate the forms of dialectical thinking from their a priori, Pla,
tonic, idealist "ontological and metaphysical edifice." By disconnecting
these dialectical "conceptual or logical ingredients" from the Platonic world
26. Democritus of Abdera, a disciple of Leucippus, was a member of the atomist school. Paradoxically, in asserting that all Being is an unchangeable One, Parmenides of Elea is viewed as both a
founding materialist and a founding idealist. Pythagoras the Ionian may have been influenced by the
metaphysical dualism advocated by the Orphic sects. See Copleston [1946] 1985, especially pts. rand
n. Robinson (1953) argues, incorrectly in my view, that Aristotle's psychology is dualistic. It seems
odd to locate any metaphysical split between body and soul in Aristotle, since soul was form and could
not exist apart from body as matter. Thanks to Roger Bissell for this point. Aristotle does not engage
in atomistic fragmentation. Bhaskar (1994, 177) praises Aristotle for rejecting "a priori atomism."
Given Aristotle's endorsement of the ontological priority of particulars, his antiatomism is significant.
As we shall see, such nonatomistic individualism serves as a model for many libertarian theorists.

36

Total Freedom

of Forms, Aristotle severs "the tenable from the untenable" (62-63). Though
Solmsen remarks that Aristotle's dialectical concepts lack the "tact, tenta~
tiveness, and flexibility" of Plato's corresponding notions, he believes that
Aristotle "has succeeded in distilling from the Platonic doctrine of Forms
important propositions of purely logical import that were destined to survive
independently of their matrix" (64-65).
I disagree with Solmsen that Aristotle's dialectical concepts are less flex~
ible than Plato's-unless one adopts the standards of synoptic divinity to
judge these concepts. When evaluated on the basis of such standards, Aris~
totle's conception might be characterized as a "downgrade" of dialectic. But
when judged on a human standard, his conception simply brings the concept
of dialectic down to earth-quite literally. Suddenly, dialectic becomes a use~
ful tool for this~worldly analysis, for investigations that are real, concrete,
important to our survival as humans, not as gods or goddesses.
As Evans (1977) maintains, Aristotle liberated dialectic from any specific
view of re~lity. To force dialectical inquiry to adopt the lessons of the fash~
ionable science of the day (whatever that might be) would "blunt its effec~
tiveness," given our evolving context of knowledge. Likewise, to force
dialectical inquiry to adopt an incorrect scientific ontology would "produce
error in the sciences which dialectic serves" (5). As Evans sees it, Aristotle's
"dialectic ... takes as its foundations what is relatively more intelligible than
what is t~ be explained-relatively, that is, to the faculties of the audience
of the explanation. In this way dialectic is the essential tool in the prelimi~
nary work which precedes the establishment of a complete science. . . .
Dialectic is the activity which effects the passage from the prescientific to
the scientific use of the faculties" ( 6).
Though dialectic should not be conjoined to any specific scientific view
of reality, this does not mean that it is independent of all ontological founda~
tions. All methodological forms, if they are to serve as tools for the compre~
hension of reality, rest on the general view that reality is what it is, that
things exist and have identity, and that consciousness exists and has a defi~
nite nature. Aristotle's epistemological realism undercuts the Platonic view,
not because it regards dialectic as a useless tool but because it rejects Plato's
ontology as useless. Evans argues effectively that Aristotle's "dialectic is con~
cemed with everything that there is, but not concerned with what it is for
anything to be" (17). The "neutrality" of dialectic empowers the special
sciences with the task of demonstration, even as it provides the foundations

Aristotle: The Fountainhead

37

upon which such empirical observation is to be built. 27 There is no dichot~
omy between method and content implied here, for a dialectical analysis
includes, as part of its framework, a necessary moment of inquiry. Although
this enriched conception of dialectics does not come to full maturity until
the time of Marx, it was Aristotle who implicitly recognized the connections
between dialectics and demonstration. Dialectics disconnected from the con~
tent of the real world is nothing but a formal analysis of floating abstractions
unrelated to existential concretes. And demonstration disconnected from
the contextuality of a dialectical approach is nothing but an analysis of con~
cretes unrelated to the structured totality that they constitute.
As we will see, it was Marx and Engels who sought to distinguish between
their own dialectical method and the idealist Hegelian system to which it
was previously wedded (Rosen 1982, 26). Using dialectic as a tool for real~
world analysis was not original with Marx or Engels; it was an Aristotelian
contribution. Evans (1977, 103) concludes: "The immense importance and
originality of Plato's work in this area has been justly recognised. Aristotle's
equally important contribution has tended to be overlooked. This is unfortu~
nate, since Aristotle has the additional merit of being correct."

Organic Unity
In its Platonic incarnation, dialectic had a close connection to notions of
organic unity. For Plato, such unity was universal in scope and transcenden~
tally observed. For Aristotle, however, there could be no synoptic vantage
point. So the question remains: By eschewing such synopticism, does Aris~
totle leave room in his dialectical conception for any notion of "organic
unity"?
Such a question can only be answered in the affirmative, for, as Irwin
( 1988, 484) explains, Aristotle works toward systems analysis; in a surprising
way, he concretizes the Platonic maxim that the dialectician should take a
"synoptic" view. Of course, this view is not synoptic in the Platonic sense.
It is, nonetheless, a comprehensive, organic one, both systemic and dynamic
in its implications.
27. I am reminded by Smith and Mulligan (1982, 15): "There is an Averroist saying to the effect
that all sciences are perfect insofar as Aristotle treated of them."

38

Total Freedom

In rejecting strict,atomist, s