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Hilarious Higgs versus a befuddled author

From my 2006 LRC post. As the editor of Libertarian Papers, I can relate to Higgs’s experience with such authors.

Heroic Higgs v. “diZerega”

Posted by Stephan Kinsella on December 7, 2005 03:03 PM

Oh, this is hilarious–see Robert Higgs’s replies to befuddled diZerega’s whining about Higgs rejecting one of diZerega’s articles for The Indendepent Review. Higgs’s comments have a dry wit and are laced with hilarious sarcasm. Poor Gus really comes off poorly in this interchange.

DiZerega’s latest (#72053)
by Robert Higgs on December 5, 2005 at 3:55 PM

I am not a licensed psychotherapist, nor do I purport to have access to the inner workings of Gus diZerega’s mind, yet as I ponder his proposal to have a public debate with an editor who once rejected a paper he submitted to a journal, the phrase that keeps popping into my mind is “delusions of grandeur.” Of course, I have no intention of entering into such a debate. Apart from the sheer silliness of doing so, I might set an unfortunate precedent, encouraging aggrieved authors by the hundreds to challenge me to meet them on the castle grounds to engage in a tournament to the death.

Another phrase that occurs to me is “he does not know what he is talking about.”

DiZerega gets his most recent post off to a pathetic start by asserting, “Higgs had written a very negative review of R. J. Rummel’s new book on democracy and violence.” In fact, I never wrote any review of Rummel’s book. Additional facts: I hold Rummel’s book Death by Government in high regard, but I have not read any of Rummel’s other books. After Ted Galen Carpenter wrote a critical review essay on Rummel’s book Power Kills in the Winter 1998 issue of TIR, I invited Rummel to reply, and he did so in the Summer 1998 issue. Moreover, I have asked Rummel to referee for the journal, and he has graciously done so. Any suggestion that I have acted unfairly toward Rummel or that I have been out to get him or any of his books is baseless.

Contrary to what diZerega says, regular articles in TIR are refereed. Most submissions never reach the refereeing phase, however, because I reject them myself on various grounds–unsuitable subject matter, unsuitable level of exposition, excessive mathematics or other esoterica, and clear intellectual shoddiness, among others–rather than impose on the time and good will of referees by sending them papers that do not fit within TIR’s scope or do not meet its intellectual standards. Of the minority of submissions that do go on to referees, most are eventually rejected. Having had his paper rejected, DiZerega, an admirer of democracy, might take pride in being among the great majority of those who submit papers to TIR.

DiZerega finds something mysterious in his paper’s rejection (“I’ll be damned if I can figure out what [the problem] was”), yet nearly everybody who has had long experience in this field of endeavor has had many papers rejected for reasons good, bad, and indifferent—the system is highly flawed, though not without certain virtues. Most of us recognize that papers are sometimes rejected for inappropriate reasons (or for no reasons at all), and we simply submit them to another journal, as diZerega did after his paper was rejected at TIR. That an author would harbor a grievance about such a trifling matter years after the event raises questions of the sort I am not licensed to diagnose.

DiZerega is also wrong about the process that preceded my rejection of his submission. Although I did not seek formal referee reports on the paper, I did ask expert editorial advisers to read it and let me know what they thought of it. These scholars recommended that I reject it. I do not invariably follow my advisers’ advice; I make all final decisions myself as to what substantive materials will appear in the journal (the advertising copy falls outside my jurisdiction). Yet diZerega’s supposition that the rejection of his paper resulted exclusively from my uncounseled action is false.

Perhaps I was too gentle in my rejection letter. No good deed goes unpunished, nor apparently does any editor’s solicitude for an author’s delicate feelings. How many authors, however, really want to receive a letter that says “We are rejecting your submission because it is no good”?

DiZerega expresses puzzlement that his paper could have been rejected on any grounds other than ideological nonconformity. Anyone who peruses TIR knows that its contributors write from a variety of ideological perspectives—indeed, one reason for establishing the journal in the first place was to engage such varied contributors. Ideologically varied authors, from individualist anarchists to modern left-liberals, have gained access to the journal’s pages. (I admit that I have not been receptive to Marxist-Leninists, Stalinists, Maoists, white supremacists, alchemists, practicing cannibals, and a few others, but it’s a wide world, and they have plenty of their own outlets for publication.) The notion that TIR enforces any sort of narrow ideological orthodoxy is ludicrous; evidently diZerega has little familiarity with the actual contents of the journal.

Finally, on a substantive matter, I note that this tempest in a teapot springs ultimately from diZerega’s insistence in claiming that democratic states are not states (an idea of which he might disabuse himself by resort to a Venn diagram) and, moreover, that they are spontaneous orders—social formations such as those classically illustrated by language, money, and the market. I know well that I am not the only person to harbor grave doubts about diZerega’s equation of a spontaneous order with a heavily armed (if elected) organized-crime gang that enforces at gunpoint (aided by incessant propaganda) a territorial monopoly to operate a protection racket.

One last comment (#72071)
by Robert Higgs on December 6, 2005 at 12:37 AM

Gus diZerega writes most recently, “I was hoping at last I would succeed in getting libertarian and classical liberal scholars to seriously discuss the democracies are spontaneous orders issue in Indep. Rev. I was disappointed.

I was also hoping you would do so in your rebuttal. But the only rebuttal you offer is that the argument is no good. And that is no rebuttal at all.”

I reply–and after this I shall say nothing more about this matter here: I was not attempting to debate the substantive issue that diZerega describes or to rebut any of his claims about it. In my comments on this thread, I have sought only to correct diZerega’s false statements and other misrepresentations and insinuations about the events that surrounded the rejection of his article submitted to The Independent Review and about the character of that journal’s editor.

In the last comment of my previous post, I sought to suggest succinctly why no big debate ever seems to break out with regard to diZerega’s thesis: namely, because the thesis is incoherent. DiZerega wants to treat democratic states as something other than states; and he wants to treat democratic states, which are the composite of all sorts of deliberate, planned, intended effects, as spontaneous orders, that is, as the results of human action but not of human design. Perhaps, just perhaps, nobody will debate diZerega at length because nobody finds the debate he wants to have worth having.

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