Capitalism and Human Values (and Magazines)

My wife and I are active humanists and subscribe to the American Humanist Association’s magazine, The Humanist (“a magazine of critical inquiry and social concern”). While there are certainly exceptions (me included), humanists tend to lean left in politics. Perhaps it’s because the left better parades its human concerns – poverty, inequality, etc. Though in my view the ends are disserved by the means they advocate.

Anyway, the Humanist magazine has had a pronounced leftward slant. I particularly recall a flaming anti-American rant by an emigre from Vietnam. Well, I do believe in free expression. But when one Humanist issue really overdid it, including an article hitting a whole slew of pet lefty tropes, I decided to e-mail the editor, Jennifer Bardi. I queried whether, for the sake of balance, she might accept an article with a different viewpoint, to be titled “Capitalism and Human Values.”

Her response was that “it would certainly be appropriate to examine the ideas you propose. I’m intrigued, and invite you to submit.”

So, with a prescribed 3,000 word limit, I went ahead and wrote the piece. It was rejected – “doesn’t suit our editorial needs.” Bardi denied that this was “because it’s not inline (sic) with our progressive slant.” “Rather,” she wrote, “we felt that while you make (sic) some reasonable conclusions, the piece oversimplifies at some points and ignores too much (i.e., conglomeration (sic), Wall St. hedging, etc.).”

Well – given just 3,000 words for a huge subject, perhaps a few oversimplifications were unavoidable. But as for “conglomeration, Wall St. hedging, etc,” this seemed shallow sloganeering, reflecting exactly the “progressive slant” Bardi denied invoking. And it was disingenuous – because my piece did not ignore but explicitly addressed the import of Wall Street financial machinations.

The left believes steadfastly in free expression – for the left. (At least that’s true all too often.)

So I thought The Humanist’s refusal to publish was disgraceful; and that it was not because the article wasn’t any good. But you can judge for yourself, because I then submitted it to the distinguished British magazine, Philosophy Now, which published it. Click here to read it.

A bit of an irony is that Philosophy Now’s Assistant Editor who handled this was Grant Bartley. A couple of years ago they published an article by Bartley that I considered the epitome of muddled left-wing thinking about development and globalization issues; and I sent a letter-to-the-editor ripping Bartley’s viewpoint. (I do so as well in my book, The Case for Rational Optimism.) Bartley must have virtually gagged in reading my Capitalism and Human Values. But he never said so. I salute Philosophy Now, and Mr. Bartley, for willingness to publish divergent viewpoints. At least some on the left really believe in free expression.

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7 Responses to “Capitalism and Human Values (and Magazines)”

  1. Steve G. Says:

    Frank,
    It sounds interesting; however, your link doesn’t work for me, and PN requires a subscription. Can you fix this?
    Thanks,

  2. Lee Says:

    Boo to anyone, of any political persuasion, who doesn’t understand that our ideas will stagnate unless they are vigorously debated! Thank you for your perseverance and for the nice article.

  3. David Airth Says:

    I liked the article and am happy to see that Philosophy Now recognizes economic issues because economics is the grounding of everything, the platform from which one even gets the luxury to publish or read such a magazine. And economics is a practical endeavor, something that is not often associated with philosophical thinking.

    One of the better points you make in your article is about the corporation acting as a counterbalance to government. Corporatism is the epitome and a natural conclusion of capitalism. The odd bedfellows of corporatism/capitalism and government constitute an overall governance, a DNA of sorts of modern governance. Francis Fukuyama called the combination liberal democracy, liberal meaning, as he said, free market capitalism.

    Since the fall of communism I have thought of capitalism and democracy as a kind of DNA of human governance, that neither could survive without the other. (Imagine my delight when I read Niall Ferguson asking whether they constituted such a DNA.) Communism collapsed, as I maintain, because it had no such DNA structure because it was strictly based on a single theory.

    Thanks again for the enjoyable article.

  4. David Airth Says:

    Your essay on capitalism reminded my of a passage from Arthur Schlesinger,Jr. : “Democracy is impossible without private ownership because private property — resources beyond the arbitrary reach of the state — provides the only secure basis for political opposition and intellectual freedom.”

  5. Elizabeth Reid Says:

    Figure 1 and 2 made me laugh. I think your article reminds us all of assumptions that are underlying capitalism, but the left is looking for the next steps towards improvement. I enjoy reading your thoughts.

    FSR: I wasn’t responsible for the illustrations! (They were inserted by an editor obviously unsympathetic to the article).

  6. David Airth Says:

    I’m wondering why FSR couldn’t comment on what I wrote. If he doesn’t agree with me at least he could say I am full of hot air and perhaps tell me why.

    FSR REPLY: Sorry, I wasn’t ignoring your comment, which I very much appreciated (especially the nice things you said about my article) and basically agree with. In general I respond only where I don’t fully agree!

  7. Bart Ehrman on the Bible « The Rational Optimist Says:

    […] Bardi, Editor of The Humanist magazine. (Avid followers of this blog may remember her from my March 8 posting. Yes, I did bump into her in the hall during the conference. She knew who I was. And yes, this too […]

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