02 April 2007

"Gotcha!" says NYTBR

Brian Doherty, a senior editor at Reason magazine, has written what he calls a "freewheeling history" of the modern libertarian movement, centered on five figures of enormous importance: von Mises, Hayek, Rand, Rothbard, and Milton Friedman.

The New York Times has run a rather mean-spirited review of the book, in which critic Leonhardt plays trivia games of "gotcha."

Here's a sample from the review, "In a single chapter, Milton Friedman is described both as an active writer at Stanford University and, accurately, as deceased."

Well, yes. That kind of thing can happen when one of the crucial figures upon whom a book is based happens to die while the book is in page proofs. Leonhardt doesn't seem very lion-hearted here, more like a jackal.

Another example of this critic's oh-so-substantive contribution to the conversation about serious ideas, about liberty and sovereignty and such, is this gem: "And almost everything about 'Radicals for Capitalism' is too long: the terms ('Popperian falsificationist'), the sentences that sometimes run more than 100 words, and the book itself, at more than 700 pages."

That seems a remarkable expression of anti-intellectual bias. "Why shucks, I can't handle dem big words, Brian. That's why I write book reviews for this down-home cornpone type publicashun." If you aren't interested in the intellectual history of recent political and economic ideas, you won't read the Doherty book at all. If you are interested enough to read the book, you'll probably already know that there's been a lot of debate over whether such ideas can be considered "scientific," what is the demarcation of science, and so forth. You'll be ready for the term "falsificationism," modified by the name of its best known advocate.

The whole Leonhardt review reads like a sad failed effort at a fisking.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.