The Review of Austrian Economics, 17:4, 457–461, 2004.
2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Manufactured in The Netherlands.
Chris Matthew Sciabarra. (2000) Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism,
University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 467pp + xii.
Chris Sciabarra’s Total Freedom is subtitled “Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism,” which
suggests why it might be of interest to some working in the Austrian tradition. But the title
and subtitle might obscure the fact that what awaits the reader inside is of even greater
interest to Austrians than it might ﬁrst appear. There is a reason that Menger, Mises, and
Rothbard appear on the front cover (along with Aristotle and Ayn Rand). What Sciabarra
offers inside is a dual reinterpretation of both dialectic philosophy and radical libertarianism
that weaves the two together to formulate the subject matter of the subtitle: a dialectical
approach to libertarianism.
In doing so, he relies a great deal on the Austrian scholarship of
the last 10 to 15 years to establish the dialectical underpinning of a theory of the market. The
book offers a new way to think about the applicability of Austrian theories of the market to
broader questions of social theory, and in turn challenges Austrians to be more consciously
aware of those connections. The result is a book that is a major contribution to both liberal
social theory and, as a by-product, Austrian economics.
The book is divided into two major sections, with the ﬁrst being the reconstruction of
dialectics from Aristotle through contemporary thinkers, and the second being the recon-
struction of libertarian political thought, which could be seen as “variations on themes of
Rothbard.” Given that the latter half is likely of more interest to the readership of this journal,
that argument will get more space below.
The ﬁrst two chapters trace the development of dialectical thinking from the early Greeks
up through Hegel. Sciabarra early on deﬁnes dialectics as “the art of context-keeping” and
argues that it is “the only methodological orientation that compels scholars toward a com-
prehensive grasp of the many factors at work in a given context” (2). Part of the challenge
for him in the ﬁrst half of the book is defending this view against an opponent who argues
“what sort of orientation doesn’t mind context?” Chapter four is an attempt to reply to that
imagined critic. For Sciabarra, dialectics sits between (or perhaps beyond) the twin sins
of strict atomism and strict organicism. It demands that the social analyst recognize the
continual dynamic relationship between the parts and the whole of the object of analysis. In
that chapter, he complicates his earlier deﬁnition by arguing that “dialectics is an orientation
toward contextual analysis of the systemic and dynamic relations of components within a
totality” (173). He points toward Menger’s compositive method as an example of this sort
of approach. I would add that recent work on what might be called “sophisticated” or “in-
stitutional” methodological individualism (e.g., Madison 1990, Zwirn 2003) ﬁts this model
as well. In all cases, the dialectical analysis is one that presumes neither the reductionism
of strict atomism or the totalism of strict organicism. Outcomes at the system level must be
understood as the emergent result of their components, while any analysis of the behavior