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.

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