*Face Value: The Entwined Histories of Money & Race in America*

That is the new book from Michael O’Malley, a colleague of mine in the history department.  Here is one of the book’s most controversial passages:

It should come as no surprise, then, to find that right-wing libertarians and proponents of the free market often tend to favor genetic accounts of identity.  The heroic individualism many libertarians imagine requires a self freed from all social constraints, but at the same time founded in nature — in natural rights and natural talents.  The libertarians account of individualism rests on imagining a person free of social and political power.  Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead ends with her visionary ego-driven architect standing above the city: “there was only the ocean and the sky and the figure of Howard Roark.”  That is, nothing but nature and the heroic individual, standing above society: an intrinsic self entirely in possession of itself.  In this sense libertarianism embraces not freedom but a kind of genetic determinism, in which “merit” derives not from social whims but from intrinsic qualities and, again in which all hierarchies are “natural.”  Rand’s clunky Atlas Shrugged imagines a world in which all the creative and productive people have fled to a secret location, leaving the rest of us, “looters” and “parasites,” flailing helplessly like ants bereft of the queen.  Right-wing libertarianism in this way again bears a close relationship to its nineteenth-century antecedent, social Darwinism.  It stresses freedom, but also imagines nature as a set of stable confines and success as the proper reward for genetic superiority.

The book also offers an interesting discussion of the role of the gold standard in 19th century thought.  There are also sections which Brad DeLong would quote at length.

I was surprised to just learn that O’Malley has an interest in Eddie Lang.  I didn’t know anyone else still thought about Eddie Lang, there is YouTube here.


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