Stalwarts of American conservatism such as Rush Limbaugh assert that “conservatism wins whenever it is tried”. But wins what? Elections? Perhaps. But does it win in the field of ideas where it actually counts? Does it actually score practical results, if defeating statism is the goal?
A look at the history of the rise of statism in America over the past 100 years or so tells a story of the utter failure of American Conservatism. This period of rising statism is marked by a steady, stair-step advance punctuated by conservative -- or “swing to the Right” -- interludes. These conservative interludes have primarily been periods of consolidation for the statists in preparation for the expansion of government under the next electoral “swing to the Left”. Conservatism is utterly devoid of any record of actually stopping the advance of statism, let alone rolling it back. Indeed, statism has often been advanced under conservative rule, such as in the case of the antitrust laws. The strongest of the conservative interludes, the Reagan era, ultimately failed to stem the statist tide. As irrefutable proof, I offer up the current Obama Administration and his Democratic congress.
What accounts for this failure? Steeped in faith and altruism, and closed to new ideas by a dogmatic adherence to tradition, the conservative movement was ill equipped to mount an effective counter-intellectual assault against statism. Yet Mark Levin seeks to re-ignite the movement by clinging to the fatal flaws of American Conservatism. Ayn Rand, in whose ideas interest is now surging, doesn’t get a single mention or reference in his book. This is, I believe, no accident.
Yet Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism offers the only viable counter-force to the statism that Mr. Levin seeks to defeat. It is for these very reasons … that Ayn Rand can fill the fatal holes in Conservatism’s intellectual armor … that Mr. Levin chooses to ignore her. Where Mr. Levin asks “why” there is reason and science, ascribing the source of those attributes to a supernatural realm, Rand recognizes the absolutism of existence. Her philosophy, Objectivism, then establishes the fact of the validity of man’s reason, rather than kicking that responsibility off into a mystic realm ruled by an omnipotent God. She then goes on to do what Mr. Levin declares to be the impossible; she offers a secular, scientific, objective validation of individual rights and of the moral code that those rights rest upon.
In the matter of rights, including property rights, Rand lays out the fundamental, scientific case in her essay, Man’s Rights. Here are a few excerpts:
“Rights” are a moral concept -- the concept that provides a logical transition from the principles guiding an individual’s actions to the principles guiding his relationship with others-the concept that preserves and protects individual morality in a social context -- the link between the moral code of a man and the legal code of a society, between ethics and politics. Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law.
A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life. Life is a process of self- sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action -- which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)
The concept of a “right” pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.
Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive—of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights.
The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.
Bear in mind that the right to property is a right to action, like all the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object. It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values.
It is hard to imagine that many pro-capitalist Christians would disagree with Rand’s line of reasoning on rights. However one believes man originated, the factual nature of his existence is what it is. Yet Mr. Levin, a very learned man who I’m certain is familiar with her works, steadfastly refuses to entertain any rational description of this most vital concept.
On morality, Ayn Rand offers a direct challenge to Mark Levin’s assertion that a proper ethical code cannot be known to man by “his own reasoning, unaided by the supernatural or God.” This is a challenge that Mr. Levin pointedly refuses to take up. Yet just such a moral code is precisely what Ayn Rand discovered and proceeded to explain and demonstrate; in both fiction and non-fiction form.
In answer to an interviewer’s question, “Without God, who or what determines morality?”, Rand answered:
“This is really an epistemological question. What you are asking in effect is: ‘Without some mystical authority, where does man get his knowledge?’ Morality, along with the rest of the sciences we call the humanities, is not different in this respect from the physical sciences. You do not count on revelation in the physical sciences. One of the most important points in Atlas Shrugged is that the trouble with the world is that men employ a completely different approach for moral issues than for scientific issues. Morality, which is a code of values and actions, has to be as rational as any other scientific discipline. But mankind has always treated morality as if it were a mystical or religious discipline. I claim that morality has to be a rational science.” Objectively Speaking, page 139.
That rational science led her to establish the moral code proper to man – a code that is absolutely essential in the battle against statism/collectivism.
Onkar Ghate of the Ayn Rand Institute explains;
“If Ayn Rand’s philosophy of rational self-interest is irrelevant today, then so is the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration gave sanction to selfishness: to the moral right to live your own life, to exercise your liberty, to pursue your happiness. No more taking orders from king or society. Each was free to live for himself.
“In works such as The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and The Virtue of Selfishness, Rand provided a philosophic foundation for the Declaration’s radical ideas. She originated a moral code that broke with tradition. She believed morality’s purpose isn’t to command you to sacrifice your interests for the sake of others but rather to teach you the rational values and virtues happiness in fact requires.”
(Ethics is a complex subject. For a full study of the Objectivist concept of morality, I refer you to Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, and The Virtue of Selfishness, all by Ayn Rand. Also, see Objectivism, the Philosophy of Ayn Rand [Leonard Peikoff], Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics, the virtuous egoist [Tara Smith], and The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It [Craig Biddle]).
Rand identifies the reason for the mounting failures of conservatism discussed above, and points the way to a turnaround.
“[E]very political system is based on and derived from a theory of ethics. The Objectivist ethics is the moral base needed by that politico-economic system which, today, is being destroyed all over the world, destroyed precisely for lack of a moral, philosophical defense and validation: the original American system, Capitalism.” –From Rand’s essay The Objectivist Ethics, in The Virtue of Selfishness, page 37.
It is true that, as Mark Levin states, the Devine origin of moral law was “the view adopted by the Founders”. Just as the Founders didn’t challenge that view, neither does Mr. Levin. That is the view that he declares must be accepted as the “tried and tested over time and passed from one generation to the next". It is this view that Rand challenges, thus enabling a proper justification for capitalism by breaking through the ethical logjam of the millennia. It is Rand who, in challenging the accepted dogma regarding morality, is consistent with the spirit of the Founding Fathers.
In a 1962 essay entitled “Conservatism, an Obituary”, Ayn Rand wrote;
The argument that we must respect “tradition” as such, respect it merely because it is “tradition”, means that we must accept the values other men have chosen, merely because other men have chosen them—with the necessary implication of: who are we to change them?
They declare that we must defend the American political system not because it is right, but because our ancestors chose it, not because it is good, but because it is old.
America was created by men who broke with all political traditions and who originated a system unprecedented in history, relying on nothing but the “unaided” power of their own intellect. (Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal, page 214)
Aristotle, declared Ayn Rand, is America’s “first Founding Father” (Philosophy, page 211). If so, then Ayn Rand can rightfully be considered America’s last Founding Father. Just as the Founders broke with tradition to achieve a political revolution, Ayn Rand broke with tradition to complete the momentous work of the Founders when she produced a moral revolution. With the Founders’ achievement now complete, the intellectual road to the defeat of the collectivist/statist trend is open to anyone willing to take it.
The rise of Obama statism has galvanized all of the disparate pro-capitalist elements in American society. All but one of those sectors is doomed to fail, as they have been doing for the past century. The rebellion against the statist tide that Mark Levin is attempting to ignite will be stillborn without the reason-based philosophical foundation that he steadfastly declares to be impossible. This time, however, failure is not an option; there may not be another chance.
Capitalism’s gathering counter-forces must recognize that the only movement with the intellectual, philosophical, and moral firepower to succeed is the Objectivist movement…the radicals for capitalism. Craig Biddle, editor of the Objective Standard, wrote:
As the politics of self-interest, capitalism cannot be defended with the ethics of self-sacrifice—nor can it be defended apart from a moral foundation (e.g., via libertarianism or mere economics).
We who wish to advocate capitalism must take the moral high ground—which is ours by logical right…
Indeed it is, and conservatives would do well to heed Biddle’s call to moral action. The final obituary of the failed conservatism of faith and altruism was written in the 2008 elections.
At the close of her 1959 appearance on ABC-TV’s “The Mike Wallace Interview”, Mr. Wallace concluded with;
“…[T]o those who would reject her philosophy [of Objectivism], Miss Rand hurls this challenge: ‘For the past two thousand years, the world has been dominated by other philosophies. Look around you. Consider the results.’ ”