Thursday, February 26, 2009

“Think!” Debate on Rand’s Ethics of Self-Interest

On March 2nd, 2009, The Center for Values and Social Policy in the Philosophy Department of the University of Colorado at Boulder will host a "Think!" debate on Ayn Rand's Objectivist ethics. The title, "Making a Virtue of Selfishness? A Debate about Ayn Rand's Ethics", is rather interesting in light of President Obama’s campaign sneer aimed at Republicans (and likely Ayn Rand) late in the campaign -“You know I don’t know when, when they decided they wanted to make a virtue out of selfishness.”

I don’t know if this upcoming debate, or its title, was inspired by Obama’s comment, but it is significant that Rand’s ethics are the subject of a serious debate on the campus of a major university. But more on that later.

Defending the Objectivist ethics will be Dr. Onkar Ghate, a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute. Dr. Ghate states in his preamble:

"Ayn Rand challenges the idea, dominant in the
West since Christianity, that morality consists of commandments. Even though
this conception of morality has often been secularized, its essence has
remained: the source of morality is something external to the self, to which
the self owes obedience. In sharp contrast, Rand argues that the nature and
purpose of morality is to teach one how to achieve one's self-interest."

Thus, Dr. Ghate will make the case that ethics is not a matter of the subjective whims of the state, the collective (i.e., society), one’s personal opinion, or God (i.e., those claiming to speak for God). Rather, he will demonstrate that a proper ethics is derived from the facts of reality and the requirements of man’s survival. Ethics, he will argue, is an objective necessity for man and that this analysis leads rationally and logically to a moral code of rational egoism.

Presenting the case against the Objectivist ethics will be Prof. Michael Huemer (CU Boulder, Philosophy). In his preamble, Prof. Huemer’s argues:

"Ayn Rand champions an excessively egoistic ethic, one in which individuals must place themselves before everyone and everything else. This ethic can lead one to hurt, exploit, or simply ignore the needs of others, when it suits one's own interests to do so. Rand's ethic of selfishness clashes with the moral sense of philosophers, spiritual leaders, and ordinary people the world over. These people are not all wrong-- Ayn Rand is wrong."

It will be interesting to hear what Mr. Heumer means by “excessively”. That aside, the professor’s statement indicates that Dr. Ghate should have a fairly easy time refuting his position, because it is contradictory and misrepresentative of Ayn Rand’s ethical theory.

I certainly don’t mean to preempt Dr. Ghate, and I most certainly don’t mean to present myself as any kind of expert on the Objectivist ethics. But, since the main thrust of professor Heumer’s side is riddled with the kind of altruistic slants on key Rand points, I will make my own rebuttal based upon my own understanding of her ideas.

For example, the professor states that "Ayn Rand champions an excessively egoistic ethic, one in which individuals must place themselves before everyone and everything else."

Rand’s ethics rests on man’s life, qua man, as the standard of value. She states that the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, because each individual is an end in himself. This requires him to rationally identify a hierarchy of values to work for and to maintain over the long term by his own independent judgement and effort. It is these values that he must place as his primary concern, not himself as such “before everyone and everything else”. Rand specifically rejects hedonism and materialism as the standard of ethics. She writes in The Virtue of Selfishness:

The Objectivist ethics…is applicable only in the context of a rational, objectively demonstrated and validated code of moral principles which define and determine his actual self-interest. It is not a license “to do as one pleases…” (introduction, page x)

Mr. Heumer’s next sentence embraces the classic definition of selfishness…one that, once again, Rand specifically and emphatically rejects…with a twist:

This ethic can lead one to hurt, exploit, or simply ignore the needs of others, when it suits one's own interests to do so.

If one accepts Rand’s moral code, one necessarily rejects the pursuit of one’s own self-interest at the expense of others. What in Rand’s seven cardinal virtues (rationality, honesty, independence, justice, integrity, productiveness, and pride) engenders the need or desire to “hurt or exploit” others, and how is that in one’s self-interest? As demonstrated in the characters of Peter Keating (The Fountainhead) and James Taggart (Atlas Shrugged), it is, in fact, the utter helplessness and dependence of the selfless (meaning lacking in self-esteem) personality that seeks to advance by destroying others.

The “twist” in that last quote is an interesting package-deal put over by Heumer when he equates hurting and exploiting others with ignoring “the needs of others, when it suits one's own interests to do so.” Thus, taking destructive action against others (hurting and exploiting others) is equivalent to refraining from any action at all (“simply ignoring the needs of others”). Well, should one ignore one’s own well-being in order not to “ignore the needs of others?” If so, why? (This is the “why” to which Rand asserts no objective answer has ever been given… “Why is it moral to serve the happiness of others, but not your own?”) Notice that Heumer implies that to concern oneself with the needs of others “when it suits one's own interests to do so” does not appear to be a virtue, in his estimation. Why not? Why should an individual make the needs of any and all others his concern, at the expense of his own best interests (including those whom he values)? Why shouldn’t one base one’s concern for the needs of others upon the context of one’s own rational hierarchy of values…one’s self-interest?

And, if placing the needs of others ahead of one’s own self-interest is one’s highest moral duty, does one not then have the moral right to demand that his needs supercede the best interests of all others? But this is the essence of altruism…the inversion which holds the unearned as a moral virtue, and the earned as a vice! As Rand discovered, it is altruism that engenders the need and desire to hurt and exploit others. It is Ayn Rand who identified the viciously false choice between sacrificing oneself to others or others to oneself.

In popular usage”, Rand wrote, “the word ‘selfishness’ is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.

If it is true that what I mean by ‘selfishness’ is not what is meant conventionally, then this is one of the worst indictments of altruism: it means that altruism permits no concept of a self-respecting, self-supporting man-a man who supports his life by his own effort and neither sacrifices himself nor others. It means that altruism permits no view of men except as sacrificial animals and profiteers-on-sacrifice, as victims and parasites-that it permits no concept of a benevolent co-existence among men-that it permits no concept of justice.
(introduction, pages vii and ix)

Professor Heumer’s preamble indicates that he, too, cannot conceive of moral selfishness, or of a virtuous egoist.

Finally, Heumer apparently places great stock in the fact that Ayn Rand stands virtually alone in the ethical field. That she stands alone is indisputable, having challenged the dominant altruist morality of the past several thousand years. He concludes in his preamble:

Rand's ethic of selfishness clashes with the moral sense of philosophers, spiritual leaders, and ordinary people the world over. These people are not all wrong -- Ayn Rand is wrong.

Thus, in the end, Professor Heumer declares that Ayn Rand is wrong…because majority opinion says so! That will not be a convincing argument against Dr. Ghate, or the logic of the virtue of selfishness.

But, as I stated earlier, this debate is significant in that it provides further evidence that Objectivism is gaining in both cultural influence and acceptance as a serious philosophy…especially in academia, the breeding ground of cultural ideas. This debate at a major university is further acknowledgement of what I said in a previous post, Books- Understanding Rational Selfishness:

Around barely 50 years, Rand’s ethics have been mostly ignored, distorted and misrepresented. But 50 years is an historical blink of an eye. [T]he Objectivist ethics has barely begun to penetrate the culture. But penetrate it has, leaving altruism’s apologists to face a choice…continue a policy of evasion, or refute Objectivism outright.

The morality of rational self-interest has broken once and for all the monopoly held by altruism in the field of ethics. It is now up to the altruists to defend their code against a rational alternative, openly and honestly.

Here I must give Heumer much credit for taking on Rand’s ethics head-on against a seasoned Objectivist intellectual. The professor has taken the open and honest road of giving Ayn Rand’s ethical ideas the respect they deserve, even as he expresses his disagreement with her.

I look forward to viewing this very important debate, if it is made available by ARI. (If it is, I will link to it on this blog.) As I have stated repeatedly, Ayn Rand identified the battle between individualism and collectivism…between freedom and tyranny…as primarily moral/philosophical. That is what makes events of this nature much more important than that of being merely an intellectual curiosity.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Announcing "Voices for Reason"

The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, which opened in Washington, D.C. last fall, has begun publication of its new blog, Voices for Reason. It features a daily posting on current events by ARC analysts from the perspective of the moral principle of individual rights.

It is a must for addition to your "favorites".

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hidden "Stimulus" Dangers

Much of the criticism of the $787 billion stimulus bill is focused on its cost. But what's really at issue is a matter of life and death. Buried deep in the package, there is an expensive new healthcare program that could jeopardize the health, even the lives, of millions of patients.

So wrote Lawrence A. Hunter in The American Spectator (The Hidden Healthcare Horror). As I wrote on February 11, 2009 , Obama’s miss-named “stimulus” bill is a “socialist Trojan horse”. The provision Mr. Hunter writes about would work as follows:

The bill funnels about $1 billion into government-run "comparative effectiveness research" (CER). Sounds innocuous enough -- that's a relatively paltry sum given the package's $800 billion-plus price tag. But CER will have profound effects on the availability of top-notch treatments in this country. Stripped of bureaucratic jargon, it is the precursor for a national healthcare rationing board.

After describing the horrific consequences of similar programs in Britain and Canada, Mr. Hunter goes on to say:

Virtually every government-run CER program ends up closing off patient access to the best treatments in the name of "cost consciousness." When bureaucrats are put in charge of medical care, cutting down on bills is prioritized over fighting disease.

Phyllis Schlafly, writing in Investor’s Business Daily (Obama Gives What Doctor Did Not Order), provides more details:

[F]ormer New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey sounded the alarm in her article aptly titled "Ruin Your Health With the Obama Stimulus Plan."

She described how stealth provisions provide massive new funding of billions of dollars to an Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology to monitor treatments and decide which are cost-effective and which will be permitted or denied.

Congress thus legislated a fundamental shift away from the "safe and effective" standard and replaced it with what a bureaucrat thinks is cost-effective or has "clinical effectiveness."

Meanwhile, the stimulus bill lays the foundation for new federal surveillance over electronic medical records, with an online medical record for each and every American. The bill establishes a massive new "federal coordinating council for comparative clinical effectiveness research" to devise ways to ration care based on the bureaucrats' review of patient data.

But there is no denying the harm of this new system that facilitates government oversight of an electronic database and gives bureaucrats (who never went to medical school) the power to punish doctors who provide "too much" care.

Doctors who resist the government's guidelines will be controlled by slashing their fees. Doctors will lose their autonomy, just as Tom Daschle sought, and some patients will be left with nowhere to turn for their illnesses.

Not surprisingly, this latest assault on medical freedom in America has the support of the healthcare establishment. Just as the once-respected American Cancer Society last year became a mouthpiece for statism, Ms. Schlafly reports:

The declining American Medical Association, which is increasingly a shill for left-wing advocacy, tried to downplay the outrage of giving a government bureaucracy access to everyone's medical records and punishing doctors who don't treat as the government wants.

Ms. Schlafly does sound a hopeful note:

Team Obama may have overplayed its hand in bringing control-and-ration to medical care. The news has spread like wildfire on the Internet and talk radio, and nonpolitical patients in doctors' waiting rooms can be heard talking about it.

In 1993, Hillary and Bill Clinton tried with all their might to impose a government takeover of all health care, and the 1994 midterm elections repudiated their efforts. The midterm elections of 2010 could be just what the doctor ordered.

But the GOP has yet to get its philosophical act together. A victory at the ballot box based upon voter disgust of the incumbent would be a hollow one. At this crucial time in American history, with so much at stake, the Republican Party needs desperately to put forth a positive agenda that contrasts sharply with the Democrats openly socialist-fascist policies.

The GOP won in 1994 based upon a “Contract with America” which featured specific policy initiatives but no over-arching philosophical theme. As I proposed on November 29, 2008, the Republicans need a much broader and consistent platform…a “Philosophical Contract with America” based upon individual rights.

The Democrats are openly and brazenly proclaiming the end of capitalism…i.e., freedom…and have embraced the omnipotent state as their guiding ideology. That ideology is stamped all over their policy agenda.

America deserves a radical new alternative to the Dem’s statism-“a choice, not an echo”-from the Republican Party. Nothing less will do. Otherwise, any Republican surge in 2010 will only be but another brief respite from the century-long slide toward a socialist America.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Obama's Flawed Vision of Lincoln

President Barack Obama used the occasion of Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday to continue his assault on the American Revolution and the U. S. Constitution. In a commemorative speech in Springfield, Illinois on February 12th, 2009, the President said, quoting Lincoln:

"The legitimate object of government," [Lincoln] wrote, "is to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, by themselves."

This statement by Lincoln is seen by Obama as justification for his hugely statist agenda. He cites Lincoln’s support for a government-backed construction of a trans-continental railroad which, he implies, could never have been built by “individual effort”, despite the fact that the railroad boom of the 19th century was primarily the enormous achievement of private individual inventors, entrepreneurs, capitalists, and industrialists. (Nor does he mention that government involvement in the railroad business led to the coercive railroad monopolies for which capitalism is unjustly blamed. But that is another matter.)

He declares that Lincoln’s statement concerning the role of government justifies his massive federal takeover of key American industries. Private, free individuals, he declared:

“cannot rebuild our levees or our roads or our bridges. It can't refurbish our schools or modernize our health care system; it can't lead to the next medical discovery or yield the research and technology that will spark a clean energy economy.”

Only government can achieve those things… and much more. As he laid out in his inaugural address, he plans to use the coercive power of the federal government to seize or expand control of our communications infrastructure, energy and healthcare industries, education at all levels, science and (the here-to-for mostly free) technology sectors. This breathtaking agenda is all justified based upon Lincoln’s vague quote and the railroad example. (This last is a good example of how the unfortunate precedent of a single government intrusion into the economic sphere can have dire long-term consequences for economic freedom.)

But what did Lincoln really mean by that statement? The government does play a vital role. Kept within proper constitutional constraints, no free society can exist without it. The protection of individual rights is the only legitimate justification for government. To prevent anarchy and societal breakdown, the retaliatory use of force against those foreign enemies or domestic criminals who violate those rights must be vested in an independent institution governed by objective law. That is something that only government, not private individuals, can do. Another example is the civil law courts designed to settle peacefully honest contractual disputes among private individuals. And, of course, only government can mobilize resources for and direct a war effort to protect its citizens' rights and property…including, of course, the civil war to preserve the union, end slavery, and prevent America from becoming what Lincoln called a “slave empire”. There sure are things that only government can do.

But there are also things that government should not do…violate the rights of private citizens by seizing their earnings to “invest” in projects that they choose not to invest in voluntarily.

Despite his administration’s limited intrusion into the economic affairs of the nation, Lincoln undoubtedly understood the proper limits of government, for the same man quoted above also said:

"I have never had a feeling, politically, that did not spring from ...
the Declaration of Independence ... that all should have an equal
chance. This is the sentiment embodied in the Declaration of
Independence ... I would rather be assassinated on this spot
than surrender it."

It is obvious that the “equal chance” he speaks of is a direct reference to that afforded by the principle of unalienable individual rights possessed by all people and protected equally by government. He also said:

“I believe that every individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruits of his labor, so far as it in no way interferes with any other men's rights”


“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”

Yet Obama claims that the man who ended slavery based upon his ironclad convictions that “spring from ...the Declaration of Independence…” would approve of his authoritarian agenda. The man who ended slavery…i.e., racial collectivism…would approve of the national collectivism of forced “sacrifice and responsibility” to “do the work that must be done” and which is allegedly “part of the definition of being American.” Lincoln, Obama basically claims, would not know the difference between private, free individuals uniting voluntarily and to mutual benefit to achieve a common purpose…and a government that forces that purpose on its citizens through some rights-violating, centrally planned “shared sacrifice”!

It is my contention that the over-arching aim of the American Left is and has been the overturning…no, the obliteration…of the American Revolution, in order to achieve their dream of a socialist America. This country’s founding ideals and documents are obviously an impenetrable bulwark against such designs. Obama seems to understand this, citing the lack of wealth redistributive authority as a "fundamental flaw” in our constitution

America’s implicit founding ideals of reason, rational egoism, individual rights, and laissez-faire capitalism were never clearly expounded philosophically and morally (until the 20th century). As a result, loopholes of statism, such as the power of eminent domain, the commerce clause, and tax-funded government control of education, seeped into our nation’s founding. Like metastasizing cancers, these (and other) loopholes slowly stoked the growth of government and consequent shrinkage of freedom. Therefor, aspiring statists can, and do, find elements inconsistent with our founding ideals in the writings and governance of key figures of early American history to justify their authoritarian initiatives. President Lincoln was no exception. But his or any president’s statist tendencies, such as they were, do not and can not erase the dominant Enlightenment intellectual and philosophical forces that shaped America’s birth.

President Obama is desperately seeking to redefine the convictions of our historical leaders in order to “find” the authority to justify his goals. But it is in a dangerous direction that this president is taking America.

Perhaps our new president should heed this warning from the man that he honored on February 12th:

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

Yes, Barack Obama has a lot to learn from Abraham Lincoln.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Obama and the Government's "Resources"

NEWS FLASH-Socialist Trojan Horse Directly Ahead.

As of this writing, President Obama and congress have reached agreement on a (allegedly) $789 billion “stimulus” package of spending and tax “cuts” (which includes people who pay no income taxes) and a mind boggling array of other items. The original stimulus bills were opposed in the House (where it passed) by every single Republican and in the Senate by all but three…the three defectors being enough to put the bill over the top for the Dems.

I’m hoping that the three defectors (Spector, Snow and Collins) join their colleagues, which will kill this catastrophic bill, thanks to Senate rules. This is a socialist trojan horse. For example, the provision to impose electronic record keeping on the medical industry may really be a mechanism for government rationing of health care (despite denials from the left-leaning American Medical Association), according to former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey.

Votes will be coming up soon. Not a single Republican should have any part in this, if they want to have any shred of principle to stand on going forward. When the details and true long-term inflationary costs of this thing become apparent, the whole blame will rest with the Dems. If the Repubs play the “bipartisan” game now, in their first test of opposition leadership, then it may be time for me to flee to independent voter status. I’m now as close as having the Party Affiliation Declaration Form sitting prominently on my desk.

This post places the above announcement in its true context, and describes what is at stake.

President Obama held a news conference on 2/9/09 to sell his abominable “stimulus” package. Just like the Bush “stimulus” bill of 2008, this one relies on an inverted premise…that consumption drives the economy. But as I said on 2/9/08…exactly one year prior to Obama’s press conference…

"In fact, consumption is not fundamentally a part of the economy at all. It is the goal and end result of the economy. Essentially, the "economy" is your production and that of every other participant. The economy is 100% production and trade, in that order."

The same logic and analogy of that post, entitled The Howell's Check is in the Mail, applies here.

But there is more to this year’s bill…namely, the ideology behind it. In an opening statement, the president said:

"It is absolutely true that we can't depend on government alone to create jobs or economic growth. That is and must be the role of the private sector. But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life."

What is the nature and source of those “resources”? It is the wealth created by the efforts of private, productive Americans, confiscated by government through taxation and inflation (artificial money creation and deficit spending).

In other words, it comes from the private sector…the same private sector that, he claims, is doomed without the “stimulus” of this fraudulent bill, which the private sector itself is funding. Obama pays lip service to the private sector, but that is just window dressing…a sop to those still wedded to that quaint notion of free markets. If, as he said, job creation and economic growth is “the role of the private sector”, then he would instead institute sharp reductions in the economy’s tax and regulatory burdens and, especially, the market-distorting government policies that “helped lead us to the crisis we face right now”.

But facts and historical lessons don’t concern Barack Obama.

We must, he demands, enact this [at the time] $850 billion bill now, because we face “the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression”. Without this bill, we “could turn a crisis into a catastrophe”.

Does this sound familiar? Barely four months ago, President Bush rammed through his infamous $750 billion bailout plan under the same premise-imminent economic catastrophe.

Another president, more double-speak, same old panic-mongering...and another $trillion of private wealth down the drain.

Some “change”!

As bad as all of this is, there is a dangerous premise Obama is sneaking across here…that the earnings, property, and productive efforts of private Americans are a government “resource”, to be confiscated and redistributed according to the whims of Washington politicians and its pressure groups. That premise is the calling card of this Administration. Since productive work is the means by which people sustain their lives, Obama is declaring, in essence, that your life is a government resource.

What will “we” do with those “resources”? We will:

"direct investment in areas like health care, energy, education, and infrastructure,[and rebuild] our crumbling roads and bridges, [and] dangerously deficient dams and levees.

They'll be jobs building the wind turbines and solar panels and fuel-efficient cars that will lower our dependence on foreign oil and modernizing our costly health care system that will save us billions of dollars and countless lives.

They'll be jobs creating the 21st-century classrooms, libraries, and labs for millions of children across America."

All of this will be directed by a central bureaucracy beholden to politicians…which means, to special interests and lobbyists. Obama will reign in the lobbyists as promised in the campaign, you say? Think again! As Robert J. Samuelson wrote on 12/15/08:

"We here in Washington are anticipating a stampede of lobbyists, influence peddlers, media consultants, paid "experts" and self-styled crusaders. Who brought us this onslaught of special pleaders? Why, it's Barack Obama, the man who vowed to "change" how Washington works and banish from the political arena all those "special interests".

The only way to eliminate lobbying and special interests is to eliminate government. The more powerful government becomes, the more lobbying there will be. So, paradoxically, Obama's ambitions for more expansive government will promote special pleading. You need only watch the response to the expected "economic stimulus" plan -- totaling perhaps $700 billion -- to verify this eternal truth. "A Lobbying Frenzy for Federal Funds," headlined a Washington Post story."

And “more powerful government” is what he will bring us.

When investments are made by private individuals and companies, there is an objective standard by which the value of those investments are determined…the rational judgements of the customers of the products and services that those investments yield. The sum of those judgements represents “the market”. In a free market, investments in “wind turbines and solar panels and fuel-efficient cars” and the like must stand against all other alternatives, and sink or swim accordingly. Bad investments yield losses, and good ones bring rewards…to the producers.

With government “investment”, the only standard of “judgement” is political pull. And, unlike the free market where all transactions are voluntary, all of the “investment” proposed by the president must be paid for with money taken by force from private wealth producers. This means you…the government’s “resource”.

The president knows exactly what he is saying. By declaring that, in essence, the wealth of the nation belongs to government, he is laying the intellectual groundwork for the coming massive assault on what’s left of capitalism. As Samuelson writes, Obama has ambitious plans:

"There's more to come. Obama envisions refashioning a third of the economy: the health care sector, representing about 16 percent of gross domestic product; the energy sector, nearly 10 percent of GDP; and the financial sector (banks, securities brokers, insurance companies), about 8 percent of GDP."

“Refashioning” means, essentially, nationalizing those industries along fascist lines-which means, placing them under near total government control, while leaving nominal “ownership” in private hands.

Once this country started down the road to government-guaranteed material benefits…social security, Medicare, unemployment insurance and the like…the logical trajectory of events had to lead to more and more government control of the means of production. The steady erosion of capitalism (our freedom) and the inexorable growth of the state is approaching the tipping point under the new Washington regime, where a president of the freest country in the history of the world can say, ignoring history and economic theory, “It is only government that can break the vicious cycle, where lost jobs lead to people spending less money, which leads to even more layoffs.” (Emphasis added.)

In his first inaugural address, President Ronald Reagan said, “We are a nation that has a government—not the other way around…”

Today we are approaching “the other way around”.

Do not ask for whom the bell of tyranny tolls. It tolls for every productive, self-reliant American.

Monday, February 9, 2009

E.J. Dionne Answers the Call With Assault on "Extreme Individualism"

Following his inaugural speech declaration that to oppose his aggressive statist agenda represents “cynicism”, President Obama’s foot soldiers wasted no time in picking up his theme of silencing debate based upon the Argument from Intimidation. In a Washington Post article on January 22, 2009, entitled Old, True, and Radical, leading liberal columnist E.J. Dionne wrote:

"[President Obama] will cast extreme individualism as an infantile approach to politics that must be supplanted by a more adult sense of personal and collective responsibility."

The undefined “extremist” label is a classic smear tactic meant to discredit, without analysis, any uncompromising (i.e., principled) idea or set of ideas. His “infantile” slander brings into sharp focus the meaning of Obama’s inaugural speech reference to “childish things”. The target Obama was unequivocally aiming at was the supreme American value…the right of every American to his own life and pursuit of his own personal goals and happiness. Each of us must set aside such “childish” or “infantile” concerns for the sake of the country. (John McCain echoed the same essential themes, which is the reason for my first-ever election abstention.)

Mr. Dionne declares that three kinds of “extreme individualism” will be the targets of the new leadership:

"He sets his face against the expressive individualism of the 1960s that defined "do your own thing" as the highest form of freedom.

"But he also rejects the economic individualism that took root in the 1980s. He specifically listed "the greed and irresponsibility on the part of some" as a cause for our economic distress."

The 1980s was a time of reduced taxes, modest restraints on government regulation…and soaring economic growth following the disastrous 1970s. It was a testament to what even modest increases in economic freedom can engender. Yet Mr. Dionne ties “economic individualism” to “greed and irresponsibility”. He adds:

"Obama speaks of responsibilities, of doing things for others, even of that classic bourgeois obligation, "a parent's willingness to nurture a child.

"He spoke of Americans not as consumers but as citizens. His references to freedom were glowing, but he emphasized our 'duties' to preserve it far more than the rights it conveys.

"This communitarian vision fits poorly with 'the stale political arguments' between liberals and conservatives that Obama condemned, because they are really arguments between these two varieties of individualism."

Notice here that Mr. Dionne declares liberals to be advocates of individualism! Modern American liberalism means welfare statism, a form of watered-down socialism that tolerates a degree of economic freedom and individualism…enough to feed the welfare state. Mr. Dionne is being surprisingly candid. Liberals do look like individualists compared to Obama’s “communitarian vision”.

Take particular note that Mr. Dionne separates the abstraction “freedom” from the concept of “rights”, then declares that our “duties” are to preserve “freedom”, which supercedes our “rights”. What is freedom without individual rights? It is “freedom” from material wants such as housing, education, healthcare, and retirement security, which government will somehow guarantee. What Mr. Dionne and President Obama are declaring is precisely that our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness are mere secondary “conveyances” that are superceded by government’s responsibility to confiscate our earnings in order to “free” us of the burden to provide for our own individual well-being. It is, thus, our "duty" to preserve this totalitarian government power, which is labeled "freedom" and which is presumed to be consistent with "our founding ideals and documents." We have seen this kind of “communitarian vision” before, and its devastating results. As I said, Mr. Dionne is being quite open in exposing this president’s true communistic leanings.

The “two varieties of individualism” to be expunged, the 1960s hedonist and the irresponsibly greedy, are a camouflage for the real, third target…property rights. Individualism is the doctrine that holds that each person’s life is an end in itself, and that it is secured by his unalienable rights, including property rights. Economic individualism means, essentially, the freedom to produce and hold property. When Mr. Dionne attacks “extreme economic individualism”, he is attacking, essentially, property rights…without which no other rights are practicable. One’s economic decision-making concerns, ultimately, one’s property.

The reason is clear. Property rights are incompatible with the wealth redistributive intentions at the base of Obama’s policy initiatives. But rights are only secondary to our “duties” to preserve our “freedom”…which means, the duty to support Obama’s expansionist government. Voice opposition to expanded government control…or, in its latest incarnation, government “that works”…and be branded an “extreme individualist”. Obama’s goal, according to Mr. Dionne, is “overturning the Reagan revolution.”

President Obama’s goals, though, are much more ambitious than Mr. Dionne gives him credit for. It is not merely the Reagan Revolution that he wants to overturn, but the American Revolution.

The fundamental concept upon which America was founded is the principle of unalienable individual rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of each person’s own welfare and happiness. The term unalienable means that man’s rights are inseparable from the individual person and is the standard upon which any free society must be based. It means that his rights do not have to be purchased on the installment plan of service, sacrifice, and duty imposed upon him by “ourselves” (some disembodied collective), the nation, the world, or any leader seeking the prestige of “greatness”. Extreme individualism, the unfettered right to live one’s life as one sees fit, is the natural consequence of the principle of unalienable rights.

The Founders sought to establish a nation in which extreme individualism can flourish. That is to say, a nation in which each individual is free to think and act on his own judgement (for better or worse), to set his own goals, to reap the rewards of his own productive work, to trade and contract freely and voluntarily with others, and to decide for himself when, whom, and in what capacity to help others.

Never mind Mr. Dionne’s reference to the 1960s culture’s “individualists” or "the greed and irresponsibility on the part of some". These are straw men. True individualists do not live their lives through others by, say, seeking to be different for the sake of being different. Nor does an individualist use others, through dishonesty, to advance his own interests. An individualist is someone who simply thinks for himself and stands on his own independent judgement. The Founders recognized the individuality of each and every person, and founded a nation (despite certain flaws) to protect his right to exist.

In attacking “economic individualism”, Mr. Dionne strikes directly at the heart of individual rights, particularly the right to life. If one cannot make his own decisions on personal economic matters, which concern his crucial property rights, then he is not free to work to advance his life…to pursue his happiness. The government’s proper role in economic matters, as in all matters, is to protect everyone’s unalienable individual rights. This means, for example, to protect against and prosecute fraud and deception, and to mediate disputes through the civil law courts. Otherwise, laissez-faire…“leave us alone”…is the only moral course for government to follow. Short of violating other’s rights, which are rights to freedom of action, not to unearned material benefits produced or provided by others, each of us must be left free from governmental regulation (i.e., coercion).

America’s founding principles, severely eroded already by decades of expanding government power, will be under tremendous assault in the years to come. Barack Obama’s (and his supporter’s) determination to silence the opposition by intimidation through such accusations as infantilism, dogmatism, extremism, and cynicism should not be allowed to shut down any debate.

Of all of the smears used to intimidate the opposition into silence or defensiveness, perhaps the term “cynic” is the most dishonest. Responding strongly on his blog to President Obama’s charges of cynicism hurled at skeptics of his ambitious statist agenda, Ari Armstrong Wrote;

"Theory and fact, ideology and history demonstrate that economic liberty promotes justice and prosperity, while political controls promote the opposite. Obama's memory seems to have shut out practically all of the 20th Century. Those who argue that federally-controlled medicine wouldn't work (to take but one example) do not embrace cynicism: they embrace reality.

"So who here is the true cynic?

"Advocates of economic liberty hold that each individual properly lives his own life and pursues his own ends, consonant with the rights of others. Such advocates hold that, when people are free from force and fraud, they will join together on a voluntary basis to create a just, prosperous, and peaceful society. This view is the opposite of cynicism: it is a view rooted in the belief that people tend to do a good job leading their own lives and cooperating with others, and that the best society is a free one.

"Obama, on the other hand, unleashes a string of personal attacks against the defenders of economic liberty. He implies that a government that protects individual rights is inadequate for preserving the "greatness of our nation." He holds that people, if left to their own choices in a system of economic liberty, will tend to do the wrong thing. What people need is not liberty, by Obama's view, but the guidance of a Watchful Eye. He holds that people must be watched -- and controlled --by federal politicians and bureaucrats.

"I can imagine no more cynical view than that."

Mr. Dionne ascribes the label “radical” to our new president. “What makes Obama a radical”, he writes, “is his effort to reverse the two kinds of extreme individualism that have permeated the American political soul for perhaps four decades.” But that effort is really nearly three centuries old, and there is nothing radical (new) about Obama’s anti-individualist philosophy. It is part of the anti-Enlightenment rebellion that began with Rousseau and gathered strength with Kant. Obama is merely an inconsequential rider on a trend that has been undermining America almost since its Founding.

The real radicals are the advocates of capitalism, a social system whose true nature is virtually unknown today.

The fundamental choice America faces is collectivism or individualism. Defenders of “extreme individualism”…or unalienable individual rights…have never been more desperately needed in America than they are right now.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Obama's New Faith-Based Whitehouse Office

As I have been chronicling, a powerful and dangerous new force is surfacing in American politics…the merging of the Christian Right and the Collectivist Left based upon common moral underpinnings. Further evidence is provided by Obama’s announcement made on Thursday, February 5, 2009. According to an AP article (Obama creates faith-based office with wide mission):

President Barack Obama on Thursday established a White House office of faith-based initiatives with a broader mission than the one overseen by his Republican predecessor. Obama said the new office, which he created by executive order, would reach out to organizations that provide help "no matter their religious or political beliefs."

To lead the office, Obama appointed Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal minister who headed religious outreach for Obama's Senate office and his presidential campaign. He also named 25 religious and secular leaders to a new advisory board.

Tellingly, the Obama Administration felt the necessity to make it a point to declare its support for the separation of church and state:

[Said DuBois], "We're also going to make sure we have a keener eye toward the separation of church and state."

A “keener eye”…than George W. Bush? This is not exactly a ringing defense of a key American bulwark against tyranny. Established advocates of the “wall”, including traditional leftist groups, weren’t buying:

Groups that were critical of the Bush faith-based office — including the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and People For the American Way — issued statements Thursday expressing disappointment in the Obama version.

The ACLU also charged that the new advisory council amounted to "a president giving his favored clergy a governmental stamp of approval."

The ACLU issued the strongest statement, touching on the core issue…the state establishment of religion. But the response of these three groups was tepid at best, at least based upon what was reported in this article. Perhaps they feel disarmed in having one of their own turn against what has traditionally been a solid cornerstone of Leftist ideology.

Despite repeated assurances, this new office…which builds upon policies started by Bush II…signals the weakening of the Left as a bulwark against the breakdown of the crucial American principle of church-state separation. Obama, a former constitutional law professor, knows full well that this new office is utterly incompatible with the doctrine of separation of church and state. The funneling of tax money to religious organizations, as well as the inevitable governmental religious favoritism alluded to by the ACLU, is unequivocally un-American.

Some on the Left may be bewildered by this development. But viewed from the perspective of philosophy, this makes perfect sense. President Obama, as I argued on 4/28/08 and 1/9/09, is attempting to build a political alliance with the Christian Right. He obviously understands the power of ideas.

It’s too early to tell how successful Obama’s strategy will be. But I suspect that we are witnessing a major re-alignment in American politics that has yet to be recognized by most people, and which can have very far-reaching ramifications for America’s future and its founding principles.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Obama's Inaugural Speech- A Call to Statist Arms

Capping perhaps the greatest political upset in American history, Barack Obama was sworn in as our 44th president on January 20th. (Actually our 43rd, because Grover Cleveland is counted twice since his two terms were not consecutive.) Obama must be given credit for an incredible achievement.

That is where my admiration for our new president ends.

In a rousing inauguration speech, cheered wildly by a huge crowd, President Barack Obama laid out an aggressive agenda for expanded federal control of the economy, massive redistribution of income and wealth, and widespread violations of individual rights. This is no surprise.

What is disconcerting (though also not a surprise) is that, at the same time, he made a pre-emptive strike against the forces of capitalism and free markets, seeking to shut down debate and discourse through the classic tactic of the Argument From Intimidation. This tactic entails, to put it simply, the use of derogatory, insulting terms as a method of discrediting an opposing valid argument or viewpoint without any discussion. That the President of the United States would stoop to this level is certainly not, shall we say, very "presidential".

After recounting the challenges and problems America faces, the President goes on to tell us that his agenda is not open to intellectual, philosophical, or moral challenge;

"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics…the time has come to set aside childish things."

This, after having implored us, just moments before, to;

"remain…faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents…"

Where in our founding documents does government get authorization to do the following?

"For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

"Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage."

It is Obama whose memory is short. The tremendous productive energy that built this country was unleashed by the individual efforts of “free men and women” liberated to selfishly pursue their own happiness according to their own judgement, productive work, and voluntary trade under capitalism. The “courage” to force the people to put aside their self-interest, their “childish things”, in order to conform to a “common purpose” dictated by the state is called collectivism, and is as alien to our founding ideals as one can imagine. Collectivism is incompatible with “free men and women”. But we are not to question or object;

"What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified."

The question we should ask today is; what is the proper role of government?

The fundamental conflict America has faced for decades, and which is now breaking out into the open from behind the old Liberal-Conservative divide, is collectivism vs. individualism, or socialism vs. capitalism, or statism vs. freedom. But, he says, these “stale political arguments…no longer apply”. President Obama has declared, in his first hours of his first term, that statism has won. It is not government’s responsibility to protect the unalienable individual rights of its citizens to chart the course of their own lives free from forcible interference by others…the "ideals of our forebears...[and] our founding documents" which Obama implores us to remain true to, but which he has apparently forgotten (or is more likely ignoring). Rather, his government will determine which science to advance, which technology to employ, and what energy investments to make. He promises to relieve us of the burden (the freedom) of making our own decisions on education, healthcare, retirement, jobs, and childcare. Only a “cynic” would voice any objection to that agenda by, say, upholding individual rights.

This breathtaking agenda, which builds on the illegitimate powers already possessed by our government, must move forward without reference to crucial questions on the proper role of government, individual rights, the basic laws of economics, the dismal (and dangerous) historical record of government central planning, or the true source of wealth creation…the free, individual human mind.

Reminiscent of the theme of “divisiveness” with which he addressed the Reverend Wright controversy, these questions are deemed by him to be irrelevant and “childish”, representing “worn out dogmas” and “petty grievances”, that fuel “conflict and discord” that threaten our “unity of purpose”. Our new president will not tolerate “the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long” to continue to “strangle…our politics”.

To be sure, President Obama pays half-hearted lip service to “the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things”, and to the market’s “power to generate wealth and expand freedom”. But even here, he warns that private economic decisions will only be tolerated as a privilege, not as an unalienable right, as the government’s (big brother’s?) “watchful eye” determines. And notice the glaring omission of the adjective “free” from his reference to “the market”.

His strongest defense of our founding ideals is in his re-affirmation of the American doctrine of church-state separation, when he said;

"We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers."

In view of his embrace of President Bush’s Faith-Based Initiatives, that statement rings with a dangerous hollowness, though.

Despite frequent generalities that seem to imply the right ideas, this speech is perfectly consistent with Barack Obama’s implicit philosophical bent. It is a call for an expanded statism in America, coupled with an attempt to shackle the intellectual opposition. To reverse-paraphrase President Ronald Reagan a generation ago, Obama is here declaring that “In this present crisis, freedom is not the solution to our problem; freedom is the problem."

As I have said repeatedly over the past year or so, Barack Obama understands the power of ideas much more astutely than most politicians do. Over the past 100 years, socialism has been thoroughly and completely demonstrated, both in practice and in theory, to be an abject, brutal failure. That is why Obama and the Democrats run from the socialist label like the plague, despite the obvious fact that they are socialists. Thus, Obama will evade that inconvenient truth by taking the pragmatic road…by disregarding ideas altogether. “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works…” He will reject ideas, ideology, logical consequences, historical lessons, and principles, as all pragmatic adherents of indefensible policies must.

President Obama has set the tone and strategy for pushing ahead with his statist agenda and silencing the opposition. As we shall see, his minions are listening and ready and eager to follow his lead. The good news is, the Left is intellectually bankrupt, and they know it. A movement confidant of its cause does not shy away from ideological debate, but rather embraces it. The fact is, the statist agenda of the Left cannot withstand the force of intellectual scrutiny, or the full and open knowledge by the people of the actual meaning of capitalism and free markets. The Obama strategy is to prevent the American people from ever discovering the nature of the free market alternative to government control. That is why the Left will attempt to smother debate.

It won’t work, at least not for long. But it may work long enough, and that is the danger. The GOP does not have much time to wake up. Here, the signs are not good, as witness this Republican "alternative" to the Democrats’ SCHIP bill currently being debated. The Republicans must purge the party of its own socialists.

All and all, Barack Obama gave a great inaugural speech. He told us plenty. He told us that the “change” he campaigned on is nothing more than an anti-intellectual embrace of the failed collectivist ideas of the 20th century. He told us that his administration is devoid of an ideological foundation. He told us that statism and socialism, fascist style, is advancing in a political and philosophical vacuum. He has told us that debate on fundamental ideas will not be tolerated, because he knows the importance of fundamental ideas and that he cannot win on that battleground.

He has told us that the road is cleared for the intellectual vanguard of a radical new alternative that is waiting to be discovered…a system that is always falsely blamed for problems caused by political forces…the unknown ideal, capitalism.