Social Science, Camelot, and Other Evils of the American Half Century

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Court
Historians, Court Intellectuals

In
his long career as a revisionist historian, which only ended with
his death in 1968, Harry Elmer Barnes found himself constantly opposed
to what he called Court Historians. He coined this term to describe
those historians who could always be counted on to put the deeds
of reigning politicians in the best possible light, especially in
foreign affairs. As a skeptic on World Wars One and Two, as well
as the Cold War, Barnes had his work cut out for him.

For
Barnes, the Cold War came down to the perfection of the system described
in George Orwell's 1984.
Thus, "wars – hot, cold, or phony, but mainly cold and
phony – are being used to an increasing extent as the basic
instrument of domestic political strategy in order to consolidate
the power of the class or party in office…. The real enemy is
not nations or forces outside the borders, but parties and classes
within the country that are antagonistic to the party and class
which hold power." Further: "According to Orwell, there
is no desire to defeat the foreign enemy quickly and decisively,
for to do so would undermine the propaganda campaign of fear, curtail
or end the armament boom, threaten a depression, invite social discontent,
and jeopardize the existing social, economic, and political order"
(An
Intellectual and Cultural History of the Western World
,
III (1965), p. 1325).

Barnes
believed it was the duty of non-Court Historians to spotlight the
transnational, ruling class collusion made possible by the Cold
War.

The
late Murray N. Rothbard broadened Barnes's concept into that of
the Court Intellectual. As Rothbard pointed out more than once in
his writings, intellectuals' income is an uncertain thing on the
free market. As a result, many intellectuals will seek a safe berth
and a steady living as servants of state power and apologists for
state policies and interests.

As
Rothbard put it, the Cold War era was marked "by the reappearance
on a large scale of the u2018Court Intellectual' — the Intellectual
who spins the apologia for the new dispensation in return for wealth,
power, and prestige at the hands of the State and its allied u2018Establishment'"
("Harry Elmer Barnes as Revisionist of the Cold War,"
in Arthur Goddard, ed., Harry
Elmer Barnes, Learned Crusader
(1968), p. 314).

This
explains Rothbard's interest in the Reece Committee hearings in
the early 1950s. In this rather misunderstood episode, Congressman
Carroll Reece (R., Tenn.), assisted by staff member René
Wormser and consultant George de Huszar, looked into the grant-making
policies of the Carnegie Corporation and the Ford and Rockefeller
foundations. In the end, the effort ran aground on accusations of
intellectual "McCarthyism" and the disruptive antics of
Congressman Wayne Hays (D., Ohio). Nonetheless, the Committee shed
light on the big foundations' promotion of empiricism, centralized
"team research," big universities over small colleges,
moral relativism, internationalism, and social engineering. (See
Tax-Exempt Foundations: Hearings, 83rd Congress,
2nd Session (Washington: Government Printing Office,
1954).)

Rothbard,
who had already given much thought to problems of methodology in
the social sciences, saw the Committee's critique of empiricism
as right on target. The kind of empirical research sponsored by
the foundations lent itself straightforwardly to endless demands
for state expansion to "solve" newfound social problems.
It was the downhill slide into the kind of "piecemeal social
engineering" called for by the Mr. Wizard and social-democratic
method guru of the period, Karl Popper, whose impressive writings
undermined even F. A. Hayek. In this connection, I should mention
Hans-Hermann Hoppe's chapter on empiricism, which establishes beyond
any doubt empiricism's role as the stalking horse of non-Soviet
socialism (A
Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, and Private Property

(1989), "The Socialism of Social Engineering," pp. 95–125).

Hoppe
writes that "as soon as the idea of formulating a principled
case either in favor of or against socialism is dropped" and
empiricism is taken up, it becomes impossible to make any case at
all. Socialists will immunize all criticisms of specific policies
by claiming that unknown "variables" have muddied the
experimental waters. Had it not been for unusual sunspot activity
or tornadoes in Arkansas, the price control on zinc might have been
successful. (Hoppe, pp. 101–102.) The piecemeal socialist experimentation
must go on.

Soon
enough, Rothbard parted ways with the Reece Committee, objecting
to the tone taken by the Congressmen. They had begun to speak as
though "the people's" money was at issue, on the assumption
that a tax exemption was the same thing as a subsidy. However much
Rothbard objected to the foundations' policies, he could not agree
that letting Rockefeller or Ford keep and spend their own
money amounted to taking anything from the public.

Social
Science Serves the Pentagon, and Therefore, All Humanity

Of
course the High Cold War created a great stir amongst the scientists,
both natural and social, as they chowed down at the State's generous
buffet. More was afoot than boring old empirical studies of juvenile
delinquency. Now a whole mob of outright civilian militarist ghouls
were in full cry.

The
paladins of Stuff Lore – I'm sorry, physics – had something
to answer for. Why Werner von Braun came in for so much criticism
for his apolitical mode of doing "science," I'll never
know. It was American scientists, with help from immigrants,
who made possible the prospective mass murder of, say, 60–80
million non-combatant Russians by providing the rockets with warheads
made of something better than poor old TNT. Living with that responsibility
unhinged many a "defense" scientist. Edward Teller somehow
comes to mind.

One
might have expected more from the fellows in the humane studies,
but no, they were committed to pretending that the study of human
action could proceed on the same "empirical," math-heavy
plan as physics. Anyway it was a good job and they were all right,
Jack. So many got involved that one writer dubbed them the New Civilian
Militarists.

Pride
of place amongst the defense intellectuals and Cold War ghouls necessarily
goes to Herman Kahn, who could "think about the unthinkable."
This would have been an early example of a Hoppean performative
contradiction, had it not been so easily seen as an elaborate rationalization
for mass murder by government. (The "democide" scholars
might want to look into this sometime, as a premeditated crime that
never came to full fruition.)

There
were also Bernard Brodie (leaving to one side his wife's "psycho-biographies"
of Joseph Smith and Thomas Jefferson) and the high-powered RAND
Corporation gang, to scratch just the surface of a phenomenon that
made the lives of my generation so, er, interesting. For sheer effrontery,
arrogance, and intellectual hubris you couldn't beat it, even if
you had squeaky Teddy Roosevelt's big stick. (Perhaps the psycho-biographers
should investigate that last item.)

These
were people some of whom could think of the 60 or more million dead
Russian civilians as a "bonus" over and above the destruction
of military targets.

To
be fair to these overqualified lunatics I should note that not all
their work rested on empiricism. There wasn't any empirical data
on nuclear war, unless you count Japanese cancer patients, and so
despite their commitment to Big Science, the would-be global behaviorists
often retreated into the high-theoretical absurdities of game theory
and other snares and delusions. Thus the federal science fair managed
to reproduce, within the five walls, the deep split between useless
grand theory, on the one hand, and meaningless empirical trivia,
which C. Wright Mills and Murray Rothbard deplored in sociology
and economics, respectively.

Further,
out of all this angst-ridden world-saving there rose two
schools of thought, but I am saving that for later.

Desperadoes
Waiting for a Grant

The
whole matter of model-building, statistics-running, grant-accumulating
social scientists on the federal teat made for an interesting, if
short-lived, crisis in the middle of the 1960s. This was the famous
flap over Project Camelot. Briefly, sundry genii in the Pentagon
reasoned that communists thrived on revolution and if you could
find out what "caused revolutions," why, Hell, boy, you
could stop those communists, right there in Latin America.

The
project went down the drain for a number of reasons. For one, it
was seen as ham-handed and inept in conception. A few social scientists
actually criticized it from the standpoint of disciplinary ethics.
And, shockingly enough, to many in Latin America (especially Chile),
it looked like the social science arm of US imperialism, or at best
Poncho and Lefty with PhDs.

I
realize I'm not supposed to mention that last notion in polite company,
but rightly or wrongly, Latin Americans are touchy about it, and
anyone with good sense might have factored it into the model. I
suppose the specter of Yanqui social scientists taking their
temperatures and airing their dirty laundry for them at the seminar
was too much. Not to mention the implied threat of armed intervention
as needed.

The
controversy mushroomed to the point that the Defense Department
cancelled the project and the State Department created a decent
interval between itself and this stepchild. Sociologist Irving Louis
Horowitz edited a collection of essays on the matter, The
Rise and Fall of Project Camelot
(1967). For my money, the
two best essays are by Johan Galtung and Robert Nisbet.

Galtung,
of course, brought a certain Scandinavian naïveté to
things best left to us experienced Pan-Americans. As a socialist,
he could hardly argue that social science in the service of government
was the problem, but he thought the design of this particular
project was grossly flawed. In addition, cooperation of the locals
was not invited (bad manners). He soon scored a palpable hit: "A
major aspect of scientific colonialism is the idea of unlimited
access to data of any kind, just as the colonial power felt it had
the right to lay its hand on any product of commercial value in
the territory" (Horowitz, Project Camelot, p. 300).

Exactly:
an Open Door for US social-science imperialism!

Nisbet
was content to call the project "the worst single scientific
project since King Canute dealt with the tides" (ibid., p.
313). He wrote: "For Senator Fulbright, Project Camelot was
one more indication of the generally reactionary character of the
modern behavioral sciences with their consecration to methodology
and repudiation of values"! (p. 314). Shades of the Reece Committee!
The project had also managed to look like an "odious intervention
in the domestic affairs of a country with which the United States
was at peace" (ibid.).

Like
Galtung, Nisbet did not say categorically that a social scientist
should never take part in a government venture. He did, however,
write that the "right of the individual – whether he be a sociologist,
chemist, or engineer – to hold back from the military, to
the best of his abilities, the efforts and contributions he has
made as a scientist is, I should suppose, incontestable, however
vain and illusory it might be" (p. 319, my italics). If such
federally funded social science became commonplace, "the number
of foreign areas [of research] will increase… only arithmetically,
but the population of American behavioral scientists with questions
to ask of foreign areas will increase geometrically"
(p. 336).

Nisbet
added, "If one were a Marxist-Leninist, he could say that the
American research industry is just beginning to enter its imperialist
phase" (p. 337), now that the scientists had exhausted the
domestic market – urban life, divorce, the middle classes, etc.

At
least one essay applauded projects of the Camelot type. Naturally,
this was the work of the ineffable Ithiel de Sola Pool. For the
latter, the choices were clear. Donning, however legitimately or
otherwise, the mantle of Max Weber, he wrote that one must follow
the true path of Science! ("I can hear machinery…. Poetry
in motion….") The only other path was that of "ideologies,
dogmas of one sort or another. That is essentially the choice that
we face, the choice between policy based on moralisms and policy
based on social science" (p. 268).

Is
the Reece Committee's concern with method beginning to seem relevant
yet?

Pool
proceeded to sing the praises of McNamara's Band at the Pentagon,
where "cost-effectiveness analysis" now reigned, and "we"
could, I suppose, although he does not say this, kill off those
60–80 million unneeded Russians more cheaply. Yes, indeed.
McNamara was bringing in Big Ideas developed in the RAND Corporation
by "Schelling, Wohlstetter, Kahn, and Kaufmann." This
"humanization" (sic) of the DOD – which means
Department of Defense, or "death" in Old Saxon –
made it a great promoter of psychology, linguistics, and whatnot
(p. 271) – not to mention area studies of all those furriners
out there.

Happiness
reigned in Social Science Central, or would, but for the carping
criticisms of fanatics of Left and Right "representing counterattacks
by ideologists who recognize that the power of pragmatic social
analysis is a threat to them" (p. 273). Yes, method, not ripeness,
was all, and all Vergangenheit was just a Gleichnis.
Only "a kind of neo-McCarthyism" spoiled the fun. Pool
thought it revealing that "the research being attacked by witch
hunters is that done for the U.S. Government" (p. 277). Imagine
that!

You'd
have to be Joe McCarthy or Carroll Reece to believe "that the
power of pragmatic social analysis is a threat" to you, wouldn't
you? Get out of here, you dogmatic ideologue. Everyone knows there's
no such thing as a rational ethical system.

The
Limits of Free Speech in the Land of Freedom

Actually,
you could be another fellow, a man so hated that saying his name
is the moral equivalent of shouting "Movie!" in a crowded
firehouse. I refer, of course, to Noam …….. He was the bane
of the Cold War Liberal technocrats, back when they were struttin'
their stuff in Vietnam, and he is still their bane now that they
come repackaged as "conservatives."

Naturally,
it was the essay by Ithiel de Sola Pool that just brought the dangerous
fellow to mind. Chomsky's American
Power and the New Mandarins
(1969) gave an unmerciful portrait
of the federalized intellectual classes at work. In these essays
the worst that the author did was to quote liberally from the social
engineers and savor the implications of their words from an implicit
– and doubtlessly dogmatic and moralistic – perspective.
If the good Professors called for finding out how to starve millions
of Chinese in order to destabilize their government, or if they
advocated indiscriminate bombing of South Vietnamese peasants to
drive them into manageable strategic hamlets (euphemized as "urbanization"!),
Chomsky recorded it.

Chomsky's
critique centered on the morally bankrupt application of behaviorism
to imperial management problems. Ignoring values (mistaken or otherwise)
and other merely "ideological" factors, the planners focused
on changing the enemy's behavior via rat psychology. Vietnam was
just a big Skinner box, and the scientists, as disinterested technicians,
allocated rewards and punishments according to a rational schedule.

(Having
mentioned the dreaded Chomsky, we break now for a cartoon segment:

FREAVIS:
"He said u2018Chomsky'!"

FREEPHEAD:
"Heh heh.")

Of
course Chomsky was right about the intellectuals in service to power,
and in this he has been very conservative, even if he wouldn't see
that as a compliment. As Bob Dylan said, in one of his phases, "You
gotta serve somebody." Pool's little dodge about "value-free,"
non-ideological social science, as against backward, "McCarthyite"
dogma, was just his way of saying that he recommended abdicating
in favor of the values chosen by his employers. But value
is not mocked.

Unlike
the New Mandarins, Robert Nisbet was a sociologist of note and a
real conservative, who believed that things of value should be conserved.
Blind service to the centralized state was not, in his view, the
best way to do that. But nowadays there are few real conservatives
about. Instead we can imagine something like the following –

And
now for something completely different:

ARTHUR,
KING OF BRITAIN: Oh Knights Who Say u2018Freedom, Private Property,
and Getting Government Off Our Backs,' we have brought you your
shrubbery.

KNIGHTS:
We are no longer the Knights Who Say u2018Freedom, Private Property,
and Getting Government Off Our Backs.' We are now the Knights Who
Say u2018Perpetual War and Security Before Liberty.' You must bring
us another shrubbery. Indeed, (higher pitch amounting to
a shriek) you must bring us all the shrubberies in the realm – for
the war effort!"

(ARTHUR:
(aside) I wish they would go back to saying u2018Nikh.')

State-Sponsored
Social Science, Facts, and Values

It
would be piling Pelion upon Ossa, or the other way round, to enter
into the mournful tale of Wesley Fishel and the Michigan State University
social science team that brought American Social Science to South
Vietnam in the service of power. Nor is it possible, here, to go
much further into the exciting and utterly mad world of the Deterrence
mavens and their even crazier opponents, the "winnable nuclear
war" theorists. Suffice it to say that the latter school put
great faith in "civil defense." Great Plans would be made
for evacuating cities on an hour's notice, or ordering the citizenry
to bury themselves in "shelters" hundreds or thousands
of feet below their towns. There they could wait until the damned
fools who (hypothetically) had killed millions and torched a civilization,
gave the signal to re-emerge into the radioactive rubble. (See Gregg
Herken, Counsels
of War
(1987).)

All
morality aside (we are all social scientists here), any ordinary
fool could have told them this was not a workable plan. We were
asked to admire the alleged Soviet superiority in the civil defense
realm. Yes, a totalitarian system might get better results
mobilizing and moving people around, if the leaders are crazy enough
to do so.

This
blast from the past may help us zero in on the present logic whereby
we are asked to give up freedom for security by the very people
whose policies, on which we are not consulted, have diminished our
safety, that is, the very people who did not serve or protect some
months ago. The whole constructed dilemma resembles those silly
balancing tests that the Supreme Court pretends to perform. Oh,
let's see, how do we "balance" the right of the people
to this or that with the overriding state interest in better housing,
improved dental care, wart removal, healthier cannon fodder, etc.,
etc.

It's
a very safe bet that whatever is concluded, the state interest
will prevail and, whenever that happens, the social scientists will
not be long in telling us why that is a Good Thing.

Alvin
W. Gouldner noted this justifying role of social science and linked
it with the Welfare-Warfare State, a concept used — and pioneered
— by Murray Rothbard. Goulder wrote: "[T]he sociological unity
of the Warfare and Welfare State, the integration of foreign and
domestic policies, is thoroughly visible on the political level,
where both policy strands come together in the machinery of the
Democratic Party" (The
Coming Crisis of Western Sociology
(1971), p. 502).

Now,
with George W. Bush emerging as the greatest domestic socialist
since FDR or LBJ, we have to add the Republican Party to Gouldner's
analysis.

The
posture of the social scientists should hardly come as a surprise,
however. As Leon Bramson, F. A. Hayek and others have shown, the
very purpose of sociology, its very reason for existing, was an
attack on 19th-century political economy. Sociology began
as an attack on free society in favor of a new managerial elite
allied to the State.

In
America, sociologists devoted themselves to a naïve empiricism,
and when that cupboard was revealed as bare, settled for equating
statistical correlation with causation. As Stephen Turner puts it,
"the long quest to create a quantitative science" is one
"that largely failed intellectually and largely succeeded politically"
("The origins of ‘mainstream sociology,’" Social Epistemology,
8, 1 (1994), p. 42). This is more or less what the hapless Reece
Committee suspected.

Non-empirical
dogma, anyone?

July
11, 2002

Joseph
R. Stromberg [send him mail]
is holder of the JoAnn B. Rothbard Chair in History at the Ludwig
von Mises Institute
and a columnist for LewRockwell.com
and Antiwar.com.

Joseph
Stromberg Archives

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