Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ayn Rand Foresaw Conservatism’s Second Obituary

In 1960, Ayn Rand gave a lecture at Princeton University called “Conservatism: An Obituary”. This lecture came on the heals of Democrat John F. Kennedy’s victory over Richard Nixon in the presidential election. It was the eve of a great wave of welfare state advancement in America. In explaining the collapse of that era’s brand of conservatism, she said:

“If the ‘conservatives’ do not stand for capitalism, they stand for nothing; they have no goal, no direction, no political principles, no social ideals, no intellectual values, no leadership to offer anyone.

"No man, and no movement, can succeed without moral certainty-without a full, rational conviction of the rightness of one’s cause.”

A few years later, a conservative rebirth occurred with the nomination of Barry Goldwater for Republican candidate for president. Unrecognized at the time and despite his landslide defeat in 1964, Goldwater’s ascendance signaled the start of the movement that would bring Ronald Reagan to power in 1980. In a 1967 lecture entitled “The Wreckage of the Consensus”…this time at Boston’s Ford Hall Forum…Rand addressed what was then dubbed a “swing to the right”. This followed the GOP’s 1966 congressional landslide in a year that saw Ronald Reagan elected governor of California. She said:

“There was no swing to the Right (except, perhaps, in California)-there was a swing against the Left. Without a firm, consistent ideological program and leadership, the people’s desperate protest will be dissipated in the blind alleys of the same statism that they are opposing. It is futile to fight against, if one does not know what one is fighting for.”

In that lecture, Rand viewed Reagan as a potential leader of a principled movement, calling him a “promising public figure”. Reagan did go on to rise to president based upon a vision…however incomplete and inconsistent…of individual rights and limited government, that had positive moral overtones. But that tantalizing hint of a right-wing movement based upon an “ideological program” was only a fleeting glimpse that was subsequently abandoned. Today, we see that Ayn Rand has been vindicated. That 1966 budding “swing to the right” has ended “in the blind alleys of...statism”. (It was that realization, a few years ago, that led me to go from a sympathizer of Objectivism to a firm, uncompromising Objectivist.)

If there is to be a worthwhile Republican revival…a true swing to the Right…it must be built upon a firm understanding of the nature of the crossroads at which America now stands. In an essay entitled Is it really wrong to be 'selfish'? , Craig Westover clears away the dead underbrush and exposes the essence of the choice we must make:

Like his "spread the wealth around" comment, Obama's intended denigration of "selfishness" reveals much about the ultimate nature of his policies. Analyzing Obama's comment in the context of Rand's philosophy provides further evidence that the conservative-liberal paradigm, the traditional political divide in this country, is shifting to a more overt expression of the age-old battle between individualism and the collective society. (Emphasis added.)

Barack Obama has presented a clear and un-watered down vision on where he wants to lead America, symbolized by the “Joe the Plumber” episode. This presents the GOP with a chance of a political lifetime. Obama’s and the Left’s explicit attack on Ayn Rand, culminating in Obama’s “virtue out of selfishness” gambit near the end of the campaign, is a recognition of where they think the real threat to their power is gathering. The GOP must not only re-embrace its commitment to individual rights, limited government, and free-market capitalism, but it is imperative that, this time, it also embraces the moral case for this vision. It must adopt, as a core set of principles, that it is right to think for oneself. It is right to act upon one’s own judgement. It is right to act to further one’s own life and happiness. It is right to achieve productive success, for one’s own sake. It is right to achieve and to protect one’s own values and property. It is right to demand that government be the protector of one’s right to one’s own life, rather than a predator seeking to redistribute what one has earned. And it is right to strive for independence and self-sufficiency for oneself and one’s family, rather than to become dependent on the “altruistic benevolence” of government, taken out of the hides of other Americans.

It is right, in other words, to be selfish…not in the way implied by the usual package-deal intended by Obama…but rationally selfish. It is vital for the new GOP to embrace Ayn Rand’s new concept of a non-sacrificial, non-predatory, rights-respecting egoism, as a counter force against Obama’s embrace of altruism. Altruism…living for others…is the morality of socialism. Rational egoism…the pursuit of one’s own welfare and happiness…is the moral code of capitalism, and the true meaning of America’s founding ideals of the “unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”—which our next president calls a “flaw”.

Obama has revealed that he understands that the battle between his socialist visions and capitalism is fundamentally a moral one. The GOP must now discover this, as well. Once again quoting Mr. Westover, this time from his article, Camouflage and Kumbaya vs. Individual Freedom:

The fundamental political difference is between those who believe that government is instituted among people to protect the unalienable individual rights of life, liberty and property, and those who believe that government is an instrument for creating a better world including a right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to enjoy good health; the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment.

Individual freedom and planned equality are irreconcilable positions.

That conflict cannot be compromised out of existence. It cannot be dismissed with the cliche "the truth lies somewhere in the middle.”

Ultimately there comes a time for every individual to choose between principle and pragmatism, between the uncertainty of freedom and the security of control, between striving for equality and striving for excellence, between just doing something and doing what is right.

I would add that the only way for a government to ensure the “better world” of “adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment” is to assume totalitarian powers to loot and enslave its citizens. This ultimately leads not to security and a better world, but to the terror and economic destitution of a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

There is no “somewhere in the middle” here, no middle ground. The choice is either-or. The middle is a tug of war between the two ultimate options…individualism (capitalism) and collectivism (socialism)…in which the country is moving one way or the other. For the last 100+ years the movement in America has been toward dictatorship. During that time, the Left has stood on collectivistic principle, however camouflaged, while the Right has retreated into pragmatic compromise.

The consequences have taken us now to the point where it is “time for every [pro-capitalist] individual to choose between principle and pragmatism”. The Left is counting on continued pragmatism from the Right. Objectivism offers principle. The GOP must choose principle…the principles of unalienable rights and rational self-interest…if America is to emerge from “the blind alleys of…statism” in which the wreckage of “compassionate conservatism” has left us.

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