Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism

By Otteson, James | Ideas on Liberty, October 2001 | Go to article overview

Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism


Otteson, James, Ideas on Liberty


Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism by Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Penn State Press * 2000 . 496 pages * $65.00 cloth; $24.00 paperback

This book is the third in a trilogy from Chris Matthew Sciabarra. The other two were his Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (SUNY, 1995) and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (Penn State, 1995). The project of Total Freedom is to encourage a "dialectical approach to libertarian social theory." About half of the book is dedicated to working out what "dialectical" means here, and what such a theory would look like; another large portion is dedicated to an investigation of Murray Rothbard's writings; and the remainder is dedicated to showing how various "classical liberal," "libertarian," and "anarchocapitalist" thinkers have contributed to the "dialectical" project Sciabarra thinks is necessary if "total freedom" is to be more than just an academic project.

Sciabarra says that he envisions his book not as providing a comprehensive dialectical libertarian social theory, but rather as articulating a "metatheoretical foundation upon which to build such a theory;" he sees the various parts of this book as successive attempts to push "the radical project out on a dialectical-libertarian limb." What Sciabarra is working toward is the integration of disparate strands of libertarian thought into a single, coherent project, and he contends that this union will strengthen both the parts and the whole. In this way he hopes to increase the chance of creating an actual world of "total freedom," that is, one based on voluntary exchange in all things-including "goods, services, and ideas"-and with no entitiesincluding in particular the state-initiating force against others.

Sciabarra's discussion of "dialectic" in Part One is meticulous. He sees "dialectic" not in the Marxian sense of a material process mechanically producing the future based on the past, but rather as a process of thought that can lead individuals to discover truth by engaging and relying on the thought of others. Sciabarra's dialectic is an Aristotelian "orientation" in thinking that is chiefly characterized by an "emphasis on context:' It avoids static, apriori thought and is marked instead by dynamic "this-worldly analysis" applied to problems "that are real, concrete, important to our survival as humans, not as gods or goddesses." Although Sciabarra's discussion strikes me as sometimes overly reliant on jargon-as do the writings of many of the people to whom Sciabarra appeals, such as Marx, Hegel, Gadamer, and Habermas-I think the substance of Sciabarra's idea is that the world is a single "organic whole," and therefore investigation into it should not proceed as if it were made up of entirely separate atoms. …

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