Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2010 - Into the Political Vacuum

"Down through history, various political and philosophical movements have sprung up. But most of them have died. Some, however, like Democracy or Communism, take hold and effect the entire world. Here in the United States, perhaps the most challenging and unusual new philosophy has been forged by a novelist, Ayn Rand. ... Ms. Rand's point of view is still comparatively unknown, but if it ever did take hold, it would revolutionize our lives." (Mike Wallace, The Mike Wallace Interview with Ayn Rand, 1959)"

"My top three fascinating people — my top three fascinating people this year are Ayn Rand, because I think she's at the front of an objectivist [sic] movement that's coming in this country. It's exhibited through No. 2 on my list, which is John Q. Public, as exhibited by these people at the tea party. And the No. 1 fascinating person to me, as it is every year, is the American man and woman in our military forces who afford us the opportunity to sit back here and have capricious endeavors like top 10 lists at the end of the year." - Dennis Miller, O'Reilly Factor, December 10, 2009

One year ago, I noted “momentous shifts in the direction America is moving…politically, culturally, and philosophically.” I warned of the statist trend inherited from the pseudo-free marketeer George W. Bush by the openly socialist President Barack Obama, a festering trend set to explode under the big government central planning ideology of the Democrats. I was hardly unique in fearing what was to come, and the fear proved all-too-true, not surprisingly.

Cap & Trade energy control legislation, socialized medicine masquerading as healthcare “reform”, FCC and FTC initiatives against First Amendment Rights, draconian expansions of EPA powers, the anti-trust assault on economic success, the vast expansion of government control over higher education through the federal takeover of the Federal Student Loan Program, TARP and the de facto nationalizations of the financial and automotive industries are just some of the more egregious actual and pending examples of the virulent statist trends unleashed by the 2008 election.

After the 2008 election, I expressed the belief that within a year of taking office, Barack Obama’s job approval ratings would be down to where Bush’s were, although I didn’t state it in my blog. With his first year coming to a close in a few weeks, that prediction looks pretty good. But one thing is for sure, the standing of the Democratic Party has collapsed, just one year after the Republican collapse. Generic polls show the Dems even with a moribund, directionless GOP.

E.J. Dionne, a columnist with the Washington Post, reports the dismal (for Obama and his party) poll numbers. Dionne, with whom I rarely agree, is right on when he says that the “Republican Party may not be able to win the [2010] midterm elections, but Democrats definitely can lose them.” Yes, just as the Democrats didn’t win the 2008 elections, but the Republicans definitely lost them. Both parties, in other words, are bankrupt.

As we enter 2010, consequently, there is a huge political and ideological vacuum in America.

Today, we are drifting through the vacuum towards statism, by default. With a very likely disastrous 2010 mid-term election looming, and against the strong headwinds of collapsing popular support, the Democrats know that the window for enactment of their agenda is rapidly closing. Their idealistic fire is long gone, just as the GOP’s died last year. All that is pushing their agenda along is the inertia of a rock drifting through airless space - and political bribery, back-room dealing, and Postmodern language distortion.

This nation’s road forward is fraught with opportunity and peril. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the political and ideological vacuum will be filled, for better or worse. What will fill it?

Below the political surface are positive undercurrents. Independents now outnumber both Democrats and Republicans in political affiliation. IBD’s Terry Jones calls Independents a true third party, broadly characterized as economically conservative (free market-oriented) and socially liberal. In other words, the Independent political class represents the raw material for the emergence of a Party of Individual Rights. Dennis Miller’s comments quoted above are a strong indication that there is a hunger for just such a cultural force.

Today’s foremost advocates for individual rights are Ayn Rand Objectivists, led by the growing Washington think tank The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, the public outreach arm of the Ayn Rand Institute. That the Objectivist movement has reached the point where it is recognized prominently on a widely viewed, popular show like O’Reilly is stunningly positive. The Objectivist Movement “that's coming in this country” is a philosophical, not a political, movement. It is just what is desperately needed to break the inertia and turn the tide, and is a hopeful force going forward. Politics follows ideas.

Dennis Miller’s second on the list is “John Q. Public” because of the Tea Party Movement, another positive force. (Read an account of our participation at the 9/12/09 Washington DC March here, here, here, and here.) The Tea Party Movement is a grassroots, politically non-partisan phenomenon. It is powered by and for Independents, in spirit if not in fact. Significantly, Miller ties the emergence of the #2 “John Q. Public” Tea Parties to the leadership of #3 Ayn Rand. This may be somewhat overstating the case. Nevertheless, Objectivism is well positioned to capitalize on the burgeoning Independent sector that leans toward individualism. Independent individualism, such as it exists, is undefined and is evident more in the nature of an implicit “sense of life”. The need for a firm philosophic voice is a fertile frontier open to a consistent, uncompromising defender and advocate for individual rights and limited government. Objectivism fits the bill.

Reflecting on 2009, three powerful trends stand out. The first is the pent-up statist aggression that was unleashed by a Democratic Party enjoying its most dominant political position since 1965-66. No surprise there. The second is the Tea Party Rebellion. Essentially, that is what I foresaw as a consequence of Obama’s election over McCain when I said on 10/31/08:

“The danger is that a President McCain will discredit, demoralize, and split the pro-free market forces between those who feel obligated to support the GOP guy they voted for, despite bad policies, and those who oppose him on principle.

“With Obama in the White House…, the disparate elements of what today passes for the ‘Right’ will present a solid wall of opposition.”

Obama has indeed galvanized the Right in a way that McCain never could have. The “solid wall of opposition” took the form of the Tea Party Movement.

The third trend of 2009 was a stunning surprise. What I didn’t foresee – what I dared not hope for – was the 2009 emergence of Objectivism as so powerful a force within the Anti-Obama rebellion. What this indicates is that the collectivism/individualism philosophical battle has now gained a firm and strengthening position in the national debate, coming more and more to define the Obama-Tea Party political conflict, thanks to last year’s #3 big development.

Today, American politics is dominated by the collision of the Democrat collectivist Left and the Republican Religious Right. A third force of individualism is now unquestionably emerging. Does Dennis Miller's vision of "an Objectivist movement that is coming in America" signal the beginnings of the revolution that, 50 years ago, Mike Wallace predicted would occur if "[Ayn] Rand's point of view ... ever did take hold"?

One thing is certain. A full-fledged counter-revolution is now raging against the American Founding. The counter-revolutionaries are winning by philosophical default, so far. But Dennis Miller is pointing toward the only effective force capable of repelling the anti-American onslaught - a full and complete Second American Revolution.

On a personal note, 2009 was as good a year for me as it was tumultuous for America. My family continues to do well, including my six thriving, Montessori-educated grandchildren…the first letters of whose names form my publishing pen name Zemack.

I have had another letter published in the New Jersey Star-Ledger in 2009, but four rejected (vs. 3 for 4 in 2008). The subject of that letter was our participation in the D.C. Tea Party of September 12. My blog archives continue to expand significantly. And my on-line forum activity has continued, as reported on my secondary blog, Prin-Spec References.

It is not just on my own behalf that I engage on the battleground of ideas. It is for my wife, my two daughters and sons-in-law, and six grandchildren that I fight for the kinds of ideas that will make for a better and freer America. In fighting for the rights of myself and those closest to me, I am also fighting for the rights of everyone; because rights are unalienable and held equally and at all times by all people.

As we enter 2010, we can see that we are in uncharted waters. The battle of ideas, and in particular moral ideas, is more important than ever. This is why the case for individualism must be on the intellectual front lines.

The road toward a better future of expanding freedom and prosperity in America rests on such basics as recognition of the indispensability and irreplaceability of individual self-esteem. Such a person is not likely to easily submit to government control of his life. This is, I believe, the spirit of Dennis Miller’s #2 most fascinating people.

We have it within our power to control our lives. That power is reason. External events that are beyond our capacity of volition can come along, yes. But they are the exception in what is essentially a benevolent universe. Understanding that, for each of us, the values we choose, the choices we make and the ideas we accept are the primary determinant of the course of our personal lives is key to making 2010 a good year.

And recognizing the power of individual self-determination is key to making 2010 a good year for America. The philosophy we choose to govern our own lives will be reflected in our politics.

Individualism leads to freedom.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Vanity of an Ayn Rand Critic

It seems that Ayn Rand is everywhere these days. This is quite exciting for me, a long-time adherent of her pro-life philosophy, Objectivism. I’ve read a lot of essays, reviews of the new Heller and Burns biographies, and mindless “drive by” pot shots. But there are so many these days, it’s hard to keep up. While there has been a decent amount of positive coverage of Ayn Rand, the dominant theme seems to be irrational, even hysterical, hostility. It's almost as if there is a panicky fear among the intelligentsia that her ideas might actually be discovered. Even the pro-Rand perspectives lack depth, concentrating only on the political and economic parallels between today’s events and Atlas Shrugged.

Hostility comes from all vantage points – Left, Right, religious, secular, so-called “moderates”. Most of what is written underscores the fact that very few people actually understand her ideas: or perhaps, even want too. This last is the sense I get from a piece I stumbled upon recently at a website called insidecatholic.com entitled The Vanity of Ayn Rand . At least, this openly hostile critic has the courage to quote Rand directly. Interestingly, the passages he cites are left hanging without analysis or proper context (which I clear up), as though they are self-evidently evil. Perhaps he feels he is preaching to the choir, and doesn’t have any need to explain anything. He just moves along, ripping Ayn Rand. I started out with the idea of leaving a comment, and ended up with an entire blog essay – there being so much fodder for corrective analysis.

It's not the disagreement that is so objectionable. Rand's philosophy is in many ways radical, and no one is demanding unconditional agreement. A spirited debate is justified, and welcome. But is it too much to ask for understanding … and honesty? John Zmirak claims to have read her works, and this makes his piece all the more egregious. He titles his essay The Vanity of Ayn Rand. But if "vain" means "empty, hollow, having no genuine substance, or conceited", it's a very apt description of the author, rather than Ayn Rand, the rich breadth and depth of her work of which he pointedly ignores.

We can throw in the adjective “arrogant” to describe Mr. Zmirak, as well. To him, I'm just a "troll" and a "Gerbil". He'll "pick on" somebody "my own size", he says. That would be the “vain” Ayn Rand, whom he declares to be "in fact much larger [than myself], who has sold millions of books". Well, she is larger than he, and apparently too large, in fact, for him to tackle her ideas seriously, respectfully, and objectively.

It’s interesting that Mr. Zmirak uses the term “programmatic atheist” to describe Ayn Rand. Rand spends a great deal of time and effort explaining, in deeply philosophical terms, why Objectivism rejects theism. “Programmatic” precisely defines and describes religious faith and practice, does it not? Religion is based on faith. If faith in the religious context isn’t the surrender of one’s critical faculty to the unquestioning acceptance of certain beliefs and commands, then what, exactly, is it? It seems that Mr. Zmirak is programmatically opposed to Ayn Rand solely because of her atheism, and doesn’t find it worthwhile to examine her philosophy accurately and in full context. For example, take this quote he lifts from Atlas Shrugged (page 1044-45).

“A mystic is a man who surrendered his mind at its first encounter with the minds of others. Somewhere in the distant reaches of his childhood, when his own understanding of reality clashed with the assertions of others, with their arbitrary orders and contradictory demands, he gave in to so craven a fear of independence that he renounced his rational faculty. At the crossroads of the choice between "I know" and "They say," he chose the authority of others, he chose to submit rather than to understand, to believe rather than to think. Faith in the supernatural begins as faith in the superiority of others. His surrender took the form of the feeling that he must hide his lack of understanding, that others possess some mysterious knowledge of which he alone is deprived, that reality is whatever they want it to be, through some means forever denied to him.”

Taken within the context of the lengthy philosophical statement in which that brief passage appears, Rand uses the term “supernatural” in a very broad sense (See Collectivized “Rights”, where she writes that "modern collectivists ... see society as a super-organism, as some supernatural entity apart from and superior to the sum of its individual members". Emphasis added.). She defines mysticism as “the claim to some non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable means of knowledge, such as ‘instinct,’ ‘intuition,’ ‘revelation,’ or any form of ‘just knowing.’ ” She understood that an atheist can very well be a mystic, and it does not automatically follow that a religious person is. Just three paragraphs later, on page 1045, she writes:

“Every dictator is a mystic, and every mystic is a potential dictator. A mystic craves obedience from men, not their agreement. He wants them to surrender their consciousness to his assertions, his edicts, his wishes, his whims – as his consciousness is surrendered to theirs.”

Collectivism is a form of mysticism, where a “higher reality” is represented by the group that somehow possesses a consciousness apart from and superior to the individuals that make it up. The collective’s mystic rulers somehow “just know” what is good for this group entity, regardless of the horrendous consequences for the millions of actual individual human beings. They simply replace God with the group. Thus, the atheistic Russian communists ruled in the name of the proletariat. For Hitler (who also was a theist), it was the German or Master race; for Mussolini, the state. The pattern extends back, with rare exceptions, throughout history. The same mystic tendency exists in the modern welfare state, where one often hears references to the “common good” or the “public good”, etc., as a justification for the latest government power grab. Rand understood mysticism as a fundamental ingredient of totalitarianism of all stripes. Stalin was as much a mystic as the ruling Ayatollahs of the theocracy of Iran.

It is utterly false that Rand “sneered at any and all religious believers as self-deluding ‘mystics.’ ” While all religious people profess belief in a supernatural realm ruled by a God who most believe intervenes in this world at his pleasure, many (and most in America) don’t actually live their lives that way. They may sincerely believe that “God will provide”, but they don’t sit around waiting for God to provide. I quote Ayn Rand from Ayn Rand Answers, page 63:

In America, religion is relatively nonmystical. Religious teachers here are predominantly good, healthy materialists. They follow common sense. They would not stand in your way. The majority of religious people in this country do not accept on faith the idea of jumping into a cannibalist’s pot and giving away their last shirt to the backward people of the world. Many religious leaders preach this today, because of their leftist politics; it’s not inherent in being religious. There are many historical and philosophical connections between altruism and religion, but the function of religion in this country is not altruism [by which she means not charity, but self-sacrifice]. You would not find too much opposition to Objectivism among religious Americans. There are rational religious people. In fact, I was pleased and astonished to discover that some religious people support Objectivism. If you want to be a full Objectivist, you cannot reconcile that with religion; but that doesn’t mean religious people cannot be individualists and fight for freedom. They can, and this country is the best proof of it.” [Emphasis added. For clarification, Rand’s use here of the term “materialists” should be taken in the narrow sense, meaning the recognition of the value of earthly material values and one’s property. Objectivism does not subscribe to the broader theory of Materialism, a la Karl Marx and others, which holds that the character of man’s soul or consciousness is shaped by physical matter and thus denies the validity of human volition and reason. Objectivism holds that man is an integration of body and consciousness, and thus is a being of self-made soul. Objectivism rejects Materialism outright.]

One may have some quarrels with aspects of that statement, but there is no evidence here or elsewhere that she “sneered” at people simply for being religious. The Founding Fathers were predominantly religious believers, or at least deists, and Rand considered them to be heroes – “as a political group, they were a phenomenon unprecedented in history: they were thinkers who were also men of action.”

Objectivism is not anti-religion or anti anything. It presents a positive vision and a positive alternative to today’s status quo, as any intellectual movement must do if it is to have any lasting impact. Objectivism is pro reason and pro freedom. As an uncompromising advocate for Americanism, Rand stands on the shoulders of John Locke and the Foundering Fathers, building upon their achievements and correcting their contradictions and omissions. You’ll never find a greater defender of the individual’s unalienable right to freedom of religious faith and practice. Rand’s indispensable contribution to the American ideal is a moral defense of the unalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. She completed the political achievement of the Founders, and for this she deserves the title of America’s last Founding Father. The only sneering here is coming from John Zmirak.

Fundamentally, it is incorrect to characterize Objectivism as an atheistic philosophy. Objectivism is reality-oriented and pro-reason, and that has many consequences of which atheism is logically just one. For Rand, the basic moral choice is, to think or not. I notice that Mr. Zmirak doesn’t bother to tell us why “At the crossroads of the choice between ‘I know’ and ‘They say,’ [one should] choose the authority of others, [or] choose to submit rather than to understand, to believe rather than to think.” We apparently must accept as self-evident that faith is a virtue and superior to reason, as a matter of faith. I know plenty of religious people who would choose to understand rather than submit.

That “Rand opposed even private charity on principle” is false, and Mr. Zmirak pointedly evades Rand’s identification of altruism as an intellectual package deal that equates dutiful self-sacrifice for others with personal value-consistent good will assistance or compassion. Rand posited the virtuous pursuit of one’s own long-term happiness as each individual person’s moral ideal, and generosity towards those one values or charitable giving of time or wealth that furthers one’s own principles and beliefs can hardly be inconsistent with one’s long-term personal goals. She reverses altruism’s perverse ethical order by recognizing productive achievement for personal gain as a primary virtue, and charity as a minor, conditional, derivative one. This is consistent with reality, since the second is only made possible by the first. I submit that anyone who would throw an ethical roadblock in a person’s way, in the form of an open-ended moral command to sacrifice his values by putting some mystical “others” above one’s own life and happiness, can not claim concern for others as his motive.

He approvingly cites Rand’s “entirely justified hatred of 20th century collectivism”, then brushes off Rand’s concept of selfishness, the only antipode to collectivism. He quotes Rand:

“Just as life is an end in itself, so every living human being is an end in himself, not the means to the ends or the welfare of others -- and, therefore, man must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.”

The contradiction in Mr. Zmirak’s logic is glaring. If it is not recognized that “every living human being is an end in himself, not the means to the ends or the welfare of others”, then collectivism is justified and so is Marx’s “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” It’s either/or. Either human association is divided between interchangeable slaves and masters, where no one has a moral right to his own life but is simultaneously free to prey on others as a means to his own ends based solely on his needs. Or it is based upon benevolent coexistence, where people respect each other’s rights to their own life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness – where values are gained from one another by mutually beneficial trade (material or spiritual) – and where people seek self-fulfillment while “neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.”

Mr. Zmirak writes:

But Rand's ideal of selfhood amounts to self-deification, fed by the pretense that the individual is wholly self-created, owing nothing to history, ancestors, neighbors, or the future. Think I'm being unfair here? I'll cite Ms. Rand again: "And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: 'I.'"

Which recalls me to my first reflection on Deus Caritas Est:

When a follower of Ayn Rand (for instance) demands of me why he should give a penny of unearned charity to the unfortunate, I like to respond this way: "Did you invent the English language? Did you develop Common Law, or write the Constitution that protects your cherished rights? Did you build up urban civilization, or invent the technology that lets you live better than what man is by nature -- a hunter-gatherer? I didn't think so. It seems to me you inherited a great deal of social capital that you did absolutely nothing to earn. So now it's time to pass along a little bit of the largesse you received. Or else you really ought to strip naked and go hunt wildebeest on the savannah."

Mr. Zmirak, the anti-collectivist, reveals his own collectivist premise here. In answer to the "follower of Ayn Rand" (which obviously disqualifies him as an Objectivist, if he is indeed a literal "follower"), Mr. Zmirak throws out a healthy dose of guilt manipulation, based on a false premise – that wealth is a social product, rather than the product of the minds and work of individual human beings. What did the "unfortunate" recipient of the "unearned charity" do to unconditionally deserve it? Mr. Zmirak offers no answer. Instead, we get a straw man – and a rather silly one at that - which is easily demolished.

Rand does not dispute the great gift of inherited knowledge and achievements. Indeed, that is in large part what Atlas Shrugged is all about - a demonstration of the fundamental source of the misnamed "social capital", the individual mind, with the original creators and discoverers being mankind’s foremost benefactors and basic source of human progress. So, how do the rest of us gain a right to benefit from all of the achievements, great and small alike, that we inherited? Just unconditionally hand our pennies over to "the unfortunate" who also did not "invent the English language, develop Common Law, write the Constitution that protects your cherished rights, build up urban civilization, or invent the technology that lets you live better than what man is by nature -- a hunter-gatherer [!?!]".

Despite the fact that we were not there to create the developed world that came before us, each of us must still earn his own keep to the extent of our ability and ambition. Each of us, as individuals of free will, must expend the effort to learn the knowledge and acquire the skills discovered and invented by others ... by our own choice. We must then, by our own choice, put that acquired knowledge and skills to productive use creating things that others value, so that we can trade them for the things we value but that others produce. Yes, we are fundamentally self-made, both in spirit and materially! All of the “social capital” in the world is useless unless there are ambitious minds willing to pick it up and move it along. Mr. Zmirak calls this largesse. I call this achievement. I call this virtue. As any honest man knows, we must each earn our own keep in pursuit of our own happiness. To put it somewhat crudely or simplistically, one must contribute to the pie, before one can take a slice. This, after all, is how “social capital” came to be. The process by which knowledge is discovered and passed on generation to generation, expanding steadily and raising mankind’s lot along the way, is the unique accomplishment of a rational being, not a primitive hunter-gatherer … of individual achievement, not stagnant inheritors … of the self-generated pursuit of values, not altruism.

This is how we “justify” our existence – through the selfish pursuit of “joy and peace and pride”. The nation that fully unleashed “This god, this one word: 'I' ”, and codified it into its founding documents became the most productive, the greatest, and most benevolent society ever. To the extent that cultures embraced the code of self-sacrifice was and is the extent of the misery, poverty, and brutality that they endured.

Mr. Zmirak may “like to respond this way”, but he doesn't answer the question of "why he should give a penny of unearned charity to the unfortunate" who "did absolutely nothing to earn" it. As Ayn Rand pointed out, no one has ever given a real answer. It’s no wonder he likes “to respond this way”. It’s a clever way to cloud the issue, and evade the responsibility of an answer. Of course, neither Rand, nor the philosophy of Objectivism, precludes generosity, charity, or acts of good will towards others or towards causes one values. But those are consequences of selfishness, properly understood. Integrity, or loyalty to one’s values and beliefs, requires that one occasionally step up when one’s help is needed.

But the plain truth is, the focus on charity is a straw man. Where is the evidence that “Rand opposed even private charity on principle”? She simply placed charity in its proper existential context. The foundation of human life is productive work and achievement, without which we are all dead except for the few who can survive the existence of an animal. And the source of productiveness is the individual human attribute of reason. Man by nature is a rational being and productive achiever, not a hunter-gatherer. For proof, one need only consider the inevitable rise in prosperity and living standards that occur whenever people are left free.

Rand rose to ask a straightforward question - On what premise, other than a mystical one, can anyone claim a moral entitlement to the earnings or property of another, simply because one doesn't have it? As Rand makes clear throughout her writings, there are reasons why one would want to “give a penny of unearned charity to the unfortunate”. (As an example, consider the scene in Atlas Shrugged in which the heroine, Dagny Taggard, takes in a hitch-hiking tramp named Jeff Allen, feeds him, and gives him a job with her railroad company. Chapter X, part 2, page 654.) But then, if one values that person in some way, the charity is not really unearned, is it? The question is, why is giving a moral blank check? On what rational premise can anyone make an ethical case that enshrines the unearned as the only moral absolute and the essence of virtue? In having the courage and genius to challenge the established moral dogmas, she invalidates the entire ethical base of collectivism and socialism (and thus those 20th century horrors), both of which Mr. Zmirak claims to abhor.

The meaning of the "I" quote cited above is misrepresented and taken out of context. It is as anti-collectivist a statement as one will ever read. For clarification and context, here is what appears on page 2, part 11, of the very abstract story, Anthem:

I shall choose friends among men, but neither slaves nor masters. And I shall choose only such as please me, and them I shall love and respect, but neither command nor obey. And we shall join our hands when we wish, or walk alone when we so desire. For in the temple of his spirit, each man is alone. Let each man keep his temple untouched and undefiled. Then let him join hands with others if he wishes, but only beyond his holy threshold.

For the word "We" must never be spoken, save by one's choice and as a second thought. This word must never be placed first within man's soul, else it becomes a monster, the root of all the evils on earth, the root of man's torture by men, and of an unspeakable lie.

The word "We" is as lime poured over men, which sets and hardens to stone, and crushes all beneath it, and that which is white and that which is black are lost equally in the grey of it. It is the word by which the depraved steal the virtue of the good, by which the weak steal the might of the strong, by which the fools steal the wisdom of the sages.

What is my joy if all hands, even the unclean, can reach into it? What is my wisdom, if even the fools can dictate to me? What is my freedom, if all creatures, even the botched and the impotent, are my masters?
What is my life, if I am but to bow, to agree and to obey?

But I am done with this creed of corruption.

I am done with the monster of "We," the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame.

And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride.

This god, this one word:


If one understands Rand’s novelette Anthem, one understands the meaning of This god, this one word: "I". Anthem is a saga of one man’s rediscovery of the value of self, in a future world in which the word “I” has been banished. The deification of the “We” is the essential premise of the Collectivist State, which Mr. Zmirak believes deserves “entirely justified hatred”. Rand is extolling the value and dignity of the individual human being, every individual human being. It is her celebration of self-esteem – the real thing, properly understood, rather than the pseudo variety of today’s usage. That is the only antipode to 20th century collectivism, or any form of statism. She saw people as heroic and possessing the political and moral right (and capability) to make their own lives the best that they can be (which is consistent with the view of the Founding Fathers). Considering his vastly different sense of life, it’s no wonder Mr. Zmirak only sees that “Rand's idea of the autonomy of the individual is so autistic, so clinically isolated from any real, human knowledge of how people grow up in families and cultures… .” Considering the viewpoint of Mr. Zmirak and the Catholic Church as man the depraved and flawed being, a hunter-gatherer by nature, and possessing Original Sin for whom perfection on earth is unattainable, perhaps we should not be surprised.

Ayn Rand proceeds from a different vision.

Ayn Rand has given us a vision of heights to strive for … on this earth rather than beyond the grave. She did not set out to present a documentary of people “as they are”. Inspired by Aristotle, among others, she sought to present a vision of people “as they might be and ought to be”. The virtues of independent thinking, honesty, and integrity – among others that her fictional heroes exemplify – are attainable by all people. Rand’s “self-deification” does indeed exalt man, and properly so. Her idealized human concept portrayed through her characters is desperately needed today, and I for one am grateful to Rand for giving us an ideal to strive for here on earth. Her characters will live on, inspiring people to reach for the best within themselves in pursuit of their own self-fulfillment, because they are worth it. There may be a lot of depravity in the real world, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Man, every man, is a being of free will and thus self-made soul, capable of reaching the highest levels of virtue. This is quite a contrast to the dismal view of Mr. Zmirak, expressed in his snide little dig that “Rand's heroes and heroines are as calculated, and as human, as a mathematical equation”. That’s all his sense of life will allow him to see in Rand’s spiritually uplifting characters. To him, “loss of self” is the ultimate virtue, as if to “fall in love, breastfeed, change diapers” [i.e., having a family and raising children] cannot possibly be of any selfish value to anyone. His is a rebellion against the pursuit of happiness. Children just have to be drudgery. To him, joy and reason are antagonists. To Rand, they are inseparable soul mates.

People should just read the novels and decide for themselves.

Mr. Zmirak has portrayed a fictionalized Ayn Rand, interspersed with Rand quotes for which he doesn’t even bother to attempt an explanation or refutation. And by ascribing to Rand a mere “political ideology”, he exhibits a profound misunderstanding of her philosophy. Objectivism holds laissez-faire capitalism as the political ideal, but that is only a derivative of much deeper philosophical premises rooted in metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Unfortunately, many “followers of Ayn Rand” hijack her politics while ignoring the fundamentals of Objectivism that undergird it, leading to an unjust and erroneous perception of her philosophy.

This great American philosopher's cultural profile is on the rise, yet all most of her critics can muster is a refusal to intellectually and honestly critique Ayn Rand's actual ideas, and instead substitute smears, falsehoods, misrepresentations, and straw man and ad hominem tactics for the inability to refute Objectivist principles. The modus operandi of the Anti-Ayn Rand cult is an intellectual end run around Objectivism. The same old phony charges keep getting robotically trotted out from people who are either dishonest or simply don’t know what they are talking about. While acknowledging that some people honestly don’t understand, we hear repeatedly unsubstantiated charges such as that Objectivism is inimical to children and family (for rebuttal, see Objectivist mom Rational Jenn here and here), is anti-government or anarchist (click here and here), equates to Nietzschean predatory individualism (click here), is “elitist” [?] (simply read her novels), and other such bizarre nonsense.

Beneath the seething loathing and anger, is there the possibility that Mr. Zmirak understands fully the power and thus potential long-term threat Rand poses to religion’s, and in particular Catholicism’s, authoritarianism? Does he realize deep down that Objectivism has broken religion’s monopoly on ethics? Does he perhaps understand that Rand has discovered and articulated a moral code that, similar to religion, lays out a set of moral absolutes and thus a rational alternative to today’s moral relativism – but that can actually be practiced in service to the pursuit of earthly happiness? After all, altruism is plain destructive, to the extend it is practiced, because it ties virtue to the sacrifice of one’s values and thus too human suffering. The pursuit of happiness … i.e., the long-term achievement and protection of personal values … is possible only to the extend one is selfish. Which means, happiness is possible only to the extent one breaks the altruist ethics. Why altruism and self-sacrifice are good is never answered, because there is no rational answer. That is why it comes at us as commands from another, unknowable, supernatural dimension. God demands that you sacrifice, period. Why? Because he says so. Don’t think, obey, is the ultimate cop-out. And when it comes to something as vital to human life as morality, it is a travesty to demand full mindless acceptance of what amounts to prepackaged commandments that require that one simply give up. This is a powerful guilt manipulation tool for the Left, including the Catholic Church.

Ayn Rand has simply said that it is good to make your own life your highest value, and bad to destroy that precious value by your own hand – and to grant to others the same exalted respect and esteem. As Rand has observed, true brotherhood is only possible among people of independent mind and self-esteem, not among those who view others as “sacrificial animals” and who perceive life as guilt. The Objectivist code requires thinking and understanding, because it is grounded in the metaphysical facts of reality as they relate to man’s mode of survival. Man’s life, not death, is the standard upon which Rand’s ethics stand.

If the above two paragraphs are not true, then why doesn’t Mr. Zmirak just explain forthrightly what Rand says and why she is wrong? Why doesn’t he take Objectivism seriously, as it deserves to be?

Mr. Zmirak doesn’t want “to pick on random bloggers or trolls” who “[fancy] themselves the voice of this or that”. Well, I’m not the voice of Objectivism. I’m only a student. I’m just a mere “gerbil”. Instead, he’ll “take on somebody my own size: the philosopher/novelist Ayn Rand”. But, where’s the beef? Talk about vanity.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Link Between "Control, Power, or Socialism" and "What's Morally Right"

In a letter-to-the-editor of the New Jersey Star-Ledger (Doing what’s right, 12/1/09), Dennis Drake of Lopatcong has exposed, with unusual and refreshing clarity, the essence of the national health care debate:

“National health insurance isn’t about control, power, or socialism; it’s about what’s morally right.”

Doing “what’s morally right.” Keep those words firmly in mind, because morality is most definitely at the center of the fork in the road at which America’s destiny is now poised. Down one road lies tyranny, and down the other lies freedom. He continues:

When a person without insurance goes to a hospital, the hospital is morally obligated to treat that person regardless of the patient’s ability to pay.”

Why? There are a million variants of that statement, and no rational answer has ever been given in support of the underlying principle, which is of course altruism. If a hospital is morally obligated – that is to say, the doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel - then need is a moral license to steal. And this is the naked fact about altruism – the enthronement of the unearned as a moral absolute. If medical professionals are “morally obligated” to give treatment, then the person who visits a hospital with no intention to pay has a moral claim on the property, skills, and lives of the hospital personnel. They have no right to act on their own judgement in their own self-interest.

But of course, there is more than an alleged moral obligation involved here. Hospitals are legally obligated, i.e., forced, to treat everyone regardless of ability to pay, through government power (legalized physical compulsion). To compensate, hospitals do indeed compound the injustice by inflating fees charged to others. But as a means of making up the lost revenue, this practice is wildly overblown, as witness the wave of hospital bankruptcies, closures, and consolidations resulting from EMTALA (the 1986 law that mandates hospital “charity”). That is why the revenue shortfall resulting from forced hospital “charity” must be made up by tax-funded state “charitable” aid to hospitals, another way in which the rest of us are forced to pay for the health care of those unable or unwilling to pay their own way. Again, government power.

Mr. Drake is correct that American health care is already semi-socialist. It is forced upon us through government power and control. His solution to the resulting problems is to increase government power and control:

“The only remedy is to require every person [to] get health insurance; everyone pays in, there are no free rides, and insurance costs are lowered.”

In other words, private insurance should be made the fascist tool of wealth redistribution in order to “do what’s right”. In fact, we’re a long way down that road already.

Mr. Drake advocates smothering whatever remnants of freedom still exist in health care, in the name of “free markets”. We can do “just that by creating a national health care exchange.” This would place the already heavily regulated and controlled private insurance industry under total government control. The state will dictate the content of insurance policies, which companies can belong to it, and force everyone to buy his insurance through the government-run exchange. Health insurers will be private only superficially, with every aspect controlled by government. This is called fascism, or socialism through the back door.

Through the exchange, the government will dictate who gets what health care and when, under the guise of such things as “cost control” and “comparative effectiveness research”. Through such provisions as the “Health Data Network”, government officials will mine the personal medical files of every citizen and use its powers to dictate and ration care. The mechanisms for the establishment of the massive power base needed for total control is contained in the bills now working their way through congress.

For a hint of what is coming down the pike, Duke University Associate Professor John David Lewis has gleaned some of the ramifications from the House of Representative’s recently passed HR 3962 in a detailed, albeit partial, analysis of that bill (WHAT THE ‘‘AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE FOR AMERICA ACT,” HR 3962, ACTUALLY SAYS). In introductory comments, he writes:

“This legislation empowers the executive branch, namely the Secretary of Health and Human Services and a ‘Health Choices Commissioner,’ to write thousands of pages of regulations, and to force Americans to comply with them. For every line in this bill, many pages of regulations will be written. As a result, the bureaucracy will expand, the final cost will be many times more than the original estimates—and the impact on American medicine will be devastating.

“The overall result of this bill, if enacted, will be a complete government takeover of the health-care industry.”

Just what do Mr. Drake or anyone else think might fill a 2000 page bill to “remake” American healthcare? Mr. Lewis gives us some scary examples, and he only covers a part of it. Dennis Drake thinks it will “expand the free market” to make the HHS secretary a veritable dictator, as long as you can buy your federally mandated insurance from another state. Slavery is Freedom to Mr. Drake.

In fact, the meager remnants of freedom will be crushed.

The government noose has been tightening around American medicine for decades, resulting in the current semi-socialist, semi-fascist system under which everyone is responsible for everyone else’s health care, but not their own. Directly through taxation and indirectly through insurance mandates and the third-party-payer privately run health insurance system, the government robs some to pay for others, while slowly enslaving the medical professionals who are coming increasingly under bureaucratic control.

The moral justification for the gradual loss of individual freedom in health care (and in America generally) – the fundamental root of universal healthcare - is altruism. (Altruism should not be confused with private, voluntary good-will charity). The doctrine that we are our brother’s keepers applied to the political realm translates into a government that controls all aspects of life, eventually. As the bloodthirsty collectivist dictatorships of the 20th century have demonstrated, there is no other way to implement altruistic doctrines, and tyranny exists in direct correlation to the degree that it is applied to government’s law-making powers. To guarantee everyone health care, the state must possess totalitarian powers to loot and enslave its citizens. As noted above, the “reform” bills in congress do just that.

To fully understand this point, it is important to uncover the real meaning of the viscious doctrine that masquerades as the good.

Altruism is an intellectual package deal (I am indebted to Ayn Rand for her great insight on this point.) That is to say, it presents a double meaning. It equates self-sacrifice with good will and compassion toward others … i.e., it equates pain and loss with being moral. Thus, any charitable help is automatically seen as selfless, contrary to the facts. True charity or any kind of assistance toward others is properly - and most of the time in actual practice - motivated solely by selfish concerns, whether one admits it or not. When people extend a helping hand, it usually is (and should be) based upon one’s judgement as to the worthiness of the recipient (whether a person or a cause), whether one can afford it (in time or money), and whether it is consistent with one’s values. Altruism, on the other hand, means no concern for oneself. Which means: promote the well-being of others unconditionally and in direct contradiction to one’s own self-interest. Every other type of action, according to altruism, is considered selfish and thus evil or at least morally suspect.

Since one’s views regarding proper behavior necessarily and perhaps unconsciously extend beyond oneself to all human beings, the widespread acceptance of altruism must extend to the political realm. Philosophically, politics derives from ethics. Politics is the legal implementation of moral principles – that is to say, what individual human actions are allowed, required, or forbidden as they relate to other individuals. Under the principle of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others, legally forcing hospitals to treat patients whether they choose to or not is doing “what’s morally right”.

Never mind the view that altruism is good but must not be forced upon anyone. There is a glaring contradiction here. The declaration that the individual has a right to determine for himself when to be altruistic is itself inherently selfish and a refutation of altruism. “I have a right to be altruistic” is self-contradictory and self-refuting. A right is an unequivocally egoistic moral principle. Rights belong only to the individual, the only entity that exists in the human realm. When one upholds his rights – including the right to voluntarily self-sacrifice - he is upholding my right to life, my right to liberty, my right to the pursuit of happiness, my right to dispose of my property – including my right to give it away according to my choices. The conviction that altruism is good in the personal realm but not in the social (or political) realm is a result of inconsistent premises. The consistent altruist will always win in the long run, politically. That is why we are on the verge of socialized medicine in this country, despite the fact that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to socialism.

Attempting to defend free market capitalism on altruistic grounds, and failing to defend capitalism’s egoistic moral foundation, has and will continue to pave the way toward totalitarian socialism. Capitalism is the system of rational self-interest. Socialism is the system of self-sacrificial altruism. Capitalism’s defenders have long been whipped by the Left as phonies, with ample justification. The current health care debate is the latest glaring example, which has Republican opponents of ObamaCare offering “free market” solutions for government’s alleged responsibility to provide health care for all. Meanwhile, ObamaCare’s proponents carry the banner of morality. The American Right is helpless, evasive, and weak in the face of Leftist proclamations such as David Drake’s simple letter, because they will not challenge the underlying moral principle involved.

National health insurance is all about control, power, and socialism, Mr. Drake’s monumental mental evasions notwithstanding. The amoral doctrine of altruism is the indispensable corollary. When human sacrifice to need is seen as a virtue, it translates inexorably into government policy, because politics is a reflection of the dominant cultural moral ideas. Altruism and tyranny are inextricably linked.

Mr. Drake’s letter is no accident. There is a direct causal link between his assertion that medical providers have an (open-ended) moral obligation to treat all comers “regardless of the patient’s ability to pay” and his support for socialized medicine. The Objective Standard’s Craig Biddle describes in depth the nature of this link in his article The Creed of Sacrifice vs. The Land of Liberty. He shows how altruism and individual freedom are incompatible. He writes:

The correlation between the morality of sacrifice and the violation of rights is no accident. It is a causal relationship. To see why, we must zero in on the little-understood essence of altruism.

Altruism is not about moral obligation as such; it is about a specific kind of moral obligation. Altruism does not call for a person to serve others if he has made an agreement or a commitment to do so—as in the case of a doctor who contracts to provide a patient with medical care in exchange for payment, or an employer who contracts to pay an employee in exchange for his work. Such obligations are chosen obligations, obligations stemming from mutually beneficial agreements, agreements in which both parties gain a life-serving value. Altruism is not about chosen obligations. It is about “unchosen” obligations or “duties.”

Thus, writes Mr. Biddle, “The morality of altruism is incompatible with the principle of rights, and the theoreticians of altruism are clear on this point.”

To back this argument up, his article contains many references to “the theoreticians of altruism”, including this:

The French philosopher Auguste Comte (who coined the term “altruism”) puts this clearly: Because “to live for others” is “for all of us a constant duty” and “the definitive formula of human morality,” it follows that “[a]ll honest and sensible men, of whatever party, should agree, by a common consent, to eliminate the doctrine of rights.” Altruism, explained Comte, “cannot tolerate the notion of rights, for such notion rests on individualism.” On the premise of altruism, “[rights] are as absurd as they are immoral. . . . The whole notion, then, must be completely put away.” (quoted from Comte’s The Catechism of Positive Religion, pp. 309, 313, 332–33.)

The “whole notion” of “the doctrine of rights” is indeed “completely put away” by the healthcare bill Mr. Drake supports. This is the definitive formula for tyranny. The formula for freedom is individual rights, capitalism, and egoism.

The only alternative is to recognize each individual’s ownership of his own life, through the moral doctrine of the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. The commonly accepted idea of what constitutes “what’s morally right” must be opposed as the predatory anti-morality that it actually is. David Drake has laid bare the moral nature of the battle. And that battle will turn when we can say, in answer to him, that no one is morally obligated to satisfy the needs of another human being, beyond the obligations voluntarily taken on as one’s own personal, selfish values.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Fountainhead of Deception - the Greenspan-Rand Mythmakers

At Politics Daily, Joann M. Weiner has published a piece entitled Ayn Rand: The Fountainhead of Greenspan's Errors.

She starts out with:

"Through their views on the virtues of free markets and individualism,
Ayn Rand and the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan
will be forever linked as architects of the worst financial collapse
since the Great Depression."

And concludes with:

"Greenspan long believed in Ayn Rand and the power of free markets to
self-regulate. Unfortunately, we all are paying for his misguided
belief and failure to recognize that perhaps Howard Roark and man's
ego are not the fountainhead of human progress as Rand stated in her
1943 introduction to 'The Fountainhead.' "

Ms. Weiner "is an adjunct professor of economics at George Washington University, where she teaches public economics in the Economics Department and leads a seminar on the financial crisis in the MBA program at the Business School." What "public economics" is, I have no idea. I've never heard that term. It sounds to this philosophically attuned observer like the classic collectivist view of the economy, which basically holds that the economy is a distinct entity that exists apart from the productive individuals that comprise it. That method virtually guarantees bad economic analysis.

In any event, Ms. Weiner has not done her research on either the financial crisis or Ayn Rand, especially Rand's concept of egoism (I'm being generous here). Incredibly, she is considered an expert who "leads a seminar on the financial crisis"! Her major accomplishment seems to be a book regarding Implementing Formulary Apportionment in the European Union, which proposes a way to apportion tax revenues between countries from the profits of multinational corporations. Put another way, she studies ways to maximize government's take from productive enterprises. This establishes her statist credentials, and perhaps explains how she can seriously discuss the financial crisis without any mention of the massive role government policy and political manipulation plays in the mortgage, housing, and banking industries (aside from Greenspan's "errors", which are all Ayn Rand's fault).

It also explains her desperate desire to tie Ayn Rand's pro-individual rights, pro-limited government, pro-capitalist philosophy to a crisis that occurred in the most heavily regulated industry operating in the most unfree market segment of the economy. Her need to discredit Ayn Rand by tying her name to a massive failure of government central planning, as absurd as that is, at least exposes the seriousness with which some statists view the influence of her ideas. A nation of egoists, as Rand defines egoism, would never submit to government controls on so massive a scale as we have today.

Ms. Weiner and her ilk continue to use Alan Greenspan's decades-old intellectual connection to Ayn Rand to spin a web of myths, and I have dealt with this type of dishonesty and injustice before. So have the much more knowledgable intellectuals from ARC such as Alex Epstein and Yaron Brook. As they wrote in November, 2008:

"But why should we take him seriously? Greenspan, while once associated with laissez-faire philosopher Ayn Rand, hasn’t advocated genuinely free markets for decades. Remember, this is a man who for two decades reveled in being, as the New York Times put it, 'the infallible maestro of the financial system.'

Free markets don’t have 'infallible maestros'; they liberate us from such “maestros”--the central planners who have time and again falsely claimed the ability and the right to orchestrate millions of economic lives. Free markets enable each of us to be our own maestro, conducting our own affairs, producing and trading as we judge best, and taking responsibility for the consequences when we fail."

Of course, Ms. Weiner would never consider balancing Greenspan against authentic laissez-faire thinkers such as these two Objectivist "New Intellectuals" in the interests of simple fairness. I've left the following comments, sprinkled with a little well-deserved, if humorous, sarcasm.

Mike Zemack
9:34PM Nov 20th 2009

Intellectual clarity (an attribute of a true egoist) demands that the financial crisis be viewed in full context.

For example, we have Fannie, Freddie, and Ginnie, three government sponsored enterprises, which bought up the sub-prime mortgages as fast as they could be originated and sold. There is the grossly mis-named Federal Deposit "Insurance" Corp., which rewards and promotes unsound lending practices and drains the responsible banks – a semi-socialist scheme that privatizes profits and socializes losses. The Clinton-Bush affordable housing crusades used covert and overt tactics to undermine and destroy underwriting standards. The CRA, as well as the massive control and regulatory apparatus under which the banks operate, were the means to this end. "Too-big-to-fail" policies, government-imposed "mark-to-market" accounting rules (which drove many solvent banks into artificial collapse), and the government-licensed rating agency cartel (S&P, Fitch, and Moody's, which are protected from competition) are all significantly culpable.

All of this stoked by the 800 pound gorilla, the Greenspan-led central bank money monopoly and its massive money and credit expansion policies. Yet, Greenspan is shocked – shocked – that the heavily regulated, politically manipulated financial services and mortgage industries, operating under a "maestro's" dictates, didn’t act like a free market should!

But, in a monumental act of intellectual evasion (which an egoist would never engage in), Ms. Weiner not only wears blinders, she views the whole mess through a veritable straw. She blames derivatives! Greenspan, it seems, "allowed" the derivatives market to "self-regulate" (to use that ridiculous term) because self-interest is a be-all and end-all - the massive market distorting, coercive government interventions notwithstanding. Of course, a free market by permission is a contradiction in terms. Apparently, the monetary dictator forgot what the "free" in free market actually means, or that real free markets don't guarantee that everyone will act in his own long-term best interest, but rather leaves whoever doesn’t free to bear the consequences of his own actions. Baked into the whole of government policy is the removal of natural market risk and creation of a heads I win, tails the taxpayers lose environment. A real free market rewards good decision-making and penalizes the bad, as a matter of course. But, of course, you first need a real free market.

Blaming derivatives is like blaming skin cells for the ravages of skin cancer, yet we now need an army of central planners who just KNOW how other people should invest their own money. But it's not the innovative financial derivatives market that is the problem. It's what was in these instruments – the flood of sub-prime mortgages that the government-created conveyor belt of bad lending unleashed on the world – and with AAA-ratings to boot, bestowed on them by the rating agency cartel acting under the premise of implicit government (i.e., taxpayer) guarantees.

Everywhere one looks, one sees the intrusive hand of government. So whom do we get to sort it out? Why, the pseudo-free marketeer Alan Greenspan, the bubble-maker who ran the very central planning agency whose very existence he once argued persuasively against, who declared his mistaken "free market beliefs" to be the excuse for his own statist blunders! Ms. Weiner enthusiastically swallows this tripe, declaring with a straight face that the taxpayer bailouts are "incontestable proof that the markets failed". If she had any intellectual courage and independence (attributes of an egoist), she would seek out the judgement of authentic experts on capitalism and free markets (such as those at the Ayn Rand Institute) before writing on a subject that she obviously is quite in the dark about. Instead, like Alice, she prefers her Wonderland world where everything is anything she wishes it to be, which to her is to imagine that "the markets run free from any sort of regulation [in] a wild west style world where ... that lawless culture contributed significantly to last year's financial meltdown."

Ms. Weiner and all of the other Greenspan-discredits-Rand mythmakers need to re-think... Oh, that's right: thinking (the most fundamental of all egoistic attributes) is "not the fountainhead of human progress as Rand stated in her 1943 introduction to "The Fountainhead.' " Oh, well, maybe it's just as well, because as Henry Ford once said: "Thinking is hard work. If it weren’t, more people would do it."

I do agree with her on one thing, though, sort of. "Ayn Rand and the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan will be forever linked” to the “worst financial collapse since the Great Depression" – Alan Greenspan as the chief architect, and Ayn Rand because she was right.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lessons from the Recent Elections

The dominant philosophy of our culture, pragmatism, has resulted in a short term-oriented focus on concrete issues, at the expense of broad abstract principles. The casualty has been a subject that is desperately needed today – political philosophy, or the application of principles to politics. Without political philosophy, there would be no United States of America. The Founding Fathers were intellectuals who took ideas very seriously, and so were able to study history and the Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke and apply its lessons to their work in creating this nation. It is only through philosophy that one can bridge the gap between history’s civilizations that are vastly different in concrete terms, and learn from them. It is by virtue of the abandonment of a belief in principles as a practical guide that America is sliding along a path toward statism, despite the ominous parallels to the lessons of past society’s slide into dictatorship and destruction that history screams out to us.

One of the fundamental concerns of political philosophy, and of the Founders, is the proper role and nature of government.

A Washington Post column by liberal Obama media field general E.J. Dionne, entitled On Election Day, a win for Government, is very interesting both for what it omits, what it assumes as the given, and the lessons it teaches. I addressed one of the key issues that Mr. Dionne deliberately omits (or evades) in my posted comments to the article. Mr. Dionne begins his article with:

"Here's a story you may have missed because it flies in the face of the dreary conventional wisdom: When advocates of public programs take on the right-wing anti-government crowd directly, the government-haters lose."

And here is my published response:

One of the gimmicks statists use to promote their authoritarian agenda is to frame the important issue of the role of government as ... for or against. Thus we get catch phrases such as “the right-wing anti-government crowd”.

Of course, what today passes for the “Right” is a diverse array of frequently antagonistic elements such as Conservatives, Libertarians, and Religious Rightists. But that aside, the purpose of painting anyone who advocates any rollbacks or even restrictions on the further expansion of government power as “anti-government” is to obliterate any acknowledgement of the proper purpose and limits of government. So let’s get some clarification here.

A government is a unique institution. It and it alone possesses a monopoly on the legal use of physical force. This is as it should and must be. The apprehension and prosecution of domestic criminals and the protection of the nation from foreign military aggressors is the job of government (among certain other functions relating to human association), and that requires the organized use of force. No civilized society can exist without a government. Without government, society would quickly degenerate into mob rule and chaos. Government is a necessary good.

At the same time, government’s status as a vehicle of physical coercion also makes it the gravest threat to its citizens. To alleviate that potential threat, a government must be strictly contained, or limited. What standard defines the nature of those limits? The principle of inalienable individual rights. What is the method for implementing those limits? A constitution. This is the original American system. Rights, it should be remembered, are a guarantee and a sanction for freedom of action within the context of social organization (such as the right to freedom of speech, religious practice, and the earning and use of property). Rights are not an automatic entitlement to “home nurse visits” or any other product or service that must be provided by others.

So the choice is not, as Mr. Dionne suggests, between pro- and anti-government positions; or between a government of unlimited powers and anarchy. The choice is between a government limited to the protection of the rights of its citizens and a predatory government that is a tool of any political party, special interest pressure group, or voting block to be used to extract economic privileges at the expense of the rights and property of others.

The “win for government” is a loss for the revolutionary American system. Our nation - which was founded upon the principles of individual rights and limited, rights-protecting government – has degenerated into a chaotic political free-for-all of power-seekers competing for temporary control of the reigns of government’s unique powers of legalized coercion. The winner is any one or group laying temporary claim to the title of representative of that mystical historical siren song of all those who seek forcible domination over the lives, property, and productive work of others … the common good.

Today, the role of our government is being progressively inverted. Instead of protecting our lives, freedom, and property, it has become a major violator of our rights. Instead of protecting us from criminals, it is increasingly using its unique powers for what amounts to legalized criminal activities. I submit into evidence the former Bush Administration and the current runaway statism of the Obama Administration – especially the 2000 page House blueprint for totalitarian control of American medicine.

Growing government power and the consequent loss of individual liberty is a trend that has been going on for more than a century in America. Today, our government is breaking free of all constraints of the constitution and the rule of objective law. If not reversed, the consequences will be dire. Americans desperately need to rediscover the principles of individual rights and the proper role of government.

What Mr. Dionne and the “left-wing pro-government crowd” (to adopt his catchphrase) want us to accept as the unchallengeable given is all of the functions that government has heretofore improperly arrogated to itself, at the expense of the private sector. Mr. Dionne explains:

[The anti-government crowd] lost in part because opponents of the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights measures (known as TABOR) did something that happens too rarely in the national debate: They made a case for what government does, why it's important and why cutbacks in public services can be harmful to citizens and the common good.

In Maine, one ad featured several taxpayers warning about what less government would mean in practice: "Our school budgets have already been cut. This would mean even less money for our classrooms. . . . Community health centers could be cut. People rely on them, especially now." A sympathetic-looking man then appeared on the screen to add: "My wife relies on our home nurse visits. What will we do?"

Nor was the anti-TABOR campaign confined to what individuals get out of government. Another ad highlighted the larger social and economic impact of public education. "Without strong public schools, our kids won't be prepared for good jobs," the announcer said. "Maine's future could be in doubt."

Notice that what Mr. Dionne and the anti-TABOR forces are counting on is for the voters to protect that which they have already become dependent upon government for. Based upon the vote margins, that strategy worked beautifully, at least in the liberal states of Washington and Maine. And that is precisely the danger. The more dependent private citizens become on the rights-violating government programs, the less will people have to fight for their own freedom by voting for rollbacks of government power. Embodied in Mr. Dionne’s article is a dramatic concretization of the abstract fable relayed by Dr. Evan Madianos on 8/27/09.

And this is and has been the implicit strategy of the statists/collectivists to bring socialism to America, without openly advocating that thoroughly discredited ideology. It is a continuing trend; its momentum carried forward not only by the Left but, sadly, by conservatives and alleged “Rightists” as well. Mr. Dionne notes that:

"Opposition to these measures went well beyond the ranks of ideological liberals. Recall that on the same day that Maine rejected TABOR, it also rejected gay marriage. In Lewiston, a socially conservative working-class city, 59 percent voted against gay marriage -- but 58 percent also opposed TABOR.."

Mr. Dionne apparently sees a contradiction there. But, in fact, Lewiston voted against individual rights on both counts. So much for the idea that conservatism necessarily stands for individual rights. Conservative or liberal, too many people are willing to reject any attempt to cut their socialism. This fact is readily exploited to advance the next government program. Just in the past decade, and using existing government programs as a precedent, we have seen the bipartisan expansion of Medicare, SCHIP, educational control (via funding increases) of pre-school and college, government control of home mortgage and finance, etc.

There is no mystery behind the seemingly inexorable statist trend that just keeps going, like the Energizer Bunny, through both liberal and conservative political seasons.

The crucial lesson for pro-freedom forces to learn here is the incredible importance of explicitly naming one’s principles and then applying them consistently. It’s not enough to fight for some vague notion of “smaller government”. One must be courageously willing to challenge the moral validity of compulsory public education (government-run schools), government-funded Community health centers and home nurse visits, etc., etc., etc.

(This does not mean that one must necessarily forego the use of the government services one opposes. When one is unjustly forced to pay for something one concienciously objects to, one is nonetheless entitled to its use, even while fighting to abolish it. This is not hypocritical, and one must not be cowed by those who hurl that accusation. This is a rather complex issue, and refusing to partake of some government program on principle, despite taxes paid and if one can afford it, is always commendable. I anticipate having to defend myself when I sign up for Social Security and Medicare, despite having consistently opposed both programs on principle since the mid sixties, and I will do so vigorously)

These and a myriad of other similar government functions are all based on the premise that there is a “common good” that exists apart from the good or interests of “individual citizens”. There is never any definition of what is actually meant by the common good, or why some government program must be forced upon everyone based upon that vague catchphrase.

Strictly speaking, only if some function is voluntarily accepted as good by every single citizen can it be said to be in the common good. That being the case, if everyone agrees, there ceases to be any need or reason for government to violate the rights of its citizens by imposing that particular function. If a single citizen (or more) believes that some alleged common good imposed by governmental force is harmful to himself, then the good ceases to be “common” and instead becomes a special privilege bestowed on some at the expense of one or more others.

The “common good” argument, as I pointed out in my posted comments cited above, has become nothing more than the rationalization to protect existing illegitimate government powers and to justify further expansions of coercive government interference into our lives. There is, in fact, just one fundamental common good – the abolition of physical force from human relationships … i.e., the recognition and protection of individual rights. All else that concerns societal organization flows from, and must be subordinated to, that principle. As Ayn Rand explains in her important essay The Nature of Government:

Man’s rights can be violated only by the use of physical force. It is only by means of physical force that one man can deprive another of his life, or enslave him, or rob him, or prevent him from pursuing his own goals, or compel him to act against his own rational judgment. [Note: Fraud, breech of contract, and the like would fit under the principle of the initiation of physical force because they separate a party from their property or interests against their will.]

The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationships—thus establishing the principle that if men wish to deal with one another, they may do so only by means of reason: by discussion, persuasion and voluntary, uncoerced agreement.

The necessary consequence of man’s right to life is his right to self-defense. In a civilized society, force may be used only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use. All the reasons which make the initiation of physical force an evil, make the retaliatory use of physical force a moral imperative.

If physical force is to be barred from social relationships, men need an institution charged with the task of protecting their rights under an objective code of rules.

This is the task of a government—of a proper government—its basic task, its only moral justification and the reason why men do need a government.

A government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of physical force under objective control—i.e., under objectively defined laws. (Emphasis is Rand’s.)

Though Mr. Dionne trumpets the twin defeats of the TABOR referendums as a “win for government”, the truth is not quite that simple. It may be, but until and unless the voters are offered a real alternative – i.e., a principled moral, philosophical, and practical defense of freedom – we’ll never really know for sure.

One thing that is for sure: The principles of individual rights and limited, rights-protecting republican government have no major political party sponsorship. That is the province of political philosophy, and that is what is desperately needed today. The E.J. Dionnes of the world need to be made to face the issues squarely and honestly, rather than being allowed to dance around the issues at will. Their free philosophical pass must end.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Heller Book Review - or Rand Hatchet Job? - @ Barnes and Noble

Barnes & Noble has chosen a professor of philosophy at London University to review one of the new biographies on Ayn Rand. Entitled The Thinking Read, by A.C. Grayling, I have to wonder just what B & N was thinking in choosing this reviewer. Grayling's essay, as I state below, "seems less ... a review than a polemical springboard for attacks on Ayn Rand and capitalism."

The subject of this review is Ayn Rand and the World She Made By Anne C. Heller. Interestingly, Ms. Heller appeared at a symposium on Ayn Rand sponsored by the Libertarian CATO Institute. In answer to a questioner, she said: "It's the rare book reviewer who understands Rand".

Grayling's "review" is so biased and dishonest and full of holes that it can only be described as a propaganda piece by a Rand hater. The reader will gain no incite into the book itself. Whatever the book's merits or demerits, Grayling has done an injustice to Ann C. Heller by using her work to produce a rant against Rand and capitalism.

Ms. Heller was being generous in her use of the term "understands". In many cases, I have found, reviewers who should, and probably do, know better simply distort Rand's ideas or substitute outright fabrications for her thought. Mr. Grayling certainly fits this discription. After all, he himself is a philosopher. It's hard to imagine that he can be so utterly clueless on the philosophy of a woman who is the subject of one of his essays.

Ignorance can not possibly explain Grayling's unjust diatribe.

Here is my review of A. C. Grayling's review:, posted at barnesandnoblereview.com

by MikeZemack on 10-30-2009 05:51 PM.

I must begin by pointing out that Professor A. C. Grayling seemingly establishes his Marxist credentials early on, with this apparent criticism of Ayn Rand:

“She attacked those who located the basis of rights in need rather than achievement; for her this was to stand both reason and morality on their heads.”

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, said Karl Marx. Indeed, she did attack that insidious principle, dramatized in the saga of a large industrial concern portrayed in Atlas Shrugged. (I must point out, though, that achievement – i.e., productive work - is recognized by Rand as the source of property rights. The fundamental source of individual rights is to be found in man’s nature as a reasoning being and the consequent social requirements for his mode of survival. This is but one of a myriad of examples of intellectual sloppiness in this piece.) Though he doesn’t specifically endorse Marx’s view, the flow of the entire essay validates the assumption that he agrees with “those” that “she attacked”. The above quote is the tip-off, I believe. This points to a possible hidden agenda. More on that later.

As a long time admirer and student of Ayn Rand - and as an Objectivist husband, father, and grandfather who lives by that philosophy – I can most emphatically say that I do not recognize the portrayal of Ayn Rand’s ideas or of her philosophy of Objectivism presented here. But then, an accurate exploration of her philosophy is apparently not A. C. Grayling’s intention. He makes this plain early on with this escape clause:

“The close identification of these ideas with Ayn Rand's name shows how intimately her life and thought were one thing. A biography of Rand therefore has to consist largely in an exposition of her philosophy and an exploration of its effects on her personal life and those around her.”

In other words, he openly employs the fallacy of ad hominem. But no matter how one cuts it, a critique of a philosopher’s personal life is not a critique of his philosophy, regardless of how strictly he adheres to it (or not) in his own life. An examination of Rand's personal life is a valid undertaking, of course. But it does not and can not pinch-hit for a critique of Objectivism, which seems to be his primary motive. I am not in a position to discuss Rand’s personal life, which are outside the scope of my current knowledge. Objectivism, however, is not. Though it is Rand’s monumental intellectual achievement, Objectivism is not “about” Ayn Rand. Mr. Grayling apparently cherry-picks from Ms. Heller’s biographical study a host of Rand’s personal failings, real or imagined, and constructs from that an ethical straw man that is alien to the true Objectivist ethics.

Mr. Grayling’s assertion of an “intimate” linkage between “her life and thought” as a justification for his ad hominem tactics is nothing more than a clever rationalization for evasion. The inaccuracies and even irrelevancies evident here are too numerous to rebut in a single commentary. But there are a few that stand out.

Mr. Grayling’s portrayal of Rand’s ethical views closely resembles Nietzsche’s predatory individualism, not her concept of rational egoism. Rand defines individualism as follows:

“Individualism regards man—every man—as an independent, sovereign entity who possesses an inalienable right to his own life, a right derived from his nature as a rational being.

“Do not make the mistake of the ignorant who think that an individualist is a man who says: ‘I’ll do as I please at everybody else’s expense.’ An individualist is a man who recognizes the inalienable individual rights of man—his own and those of others.

“An individualist is a man who says: ‘I will not run anyone’s life—nor let anyone run mine. I will not rule nor be ruled. I will not be a master nor a slave. I will not sacrifice myself to anyone—nor sacrifice anyone to myself.’ ”
(From the Ayn Rand Lexicon. Though not a substitute for in-depth study, the Lexicon is a good shortcut to Ayn Rand’s thought on many subjects.)

The heroes in her novels, both male and female, are just such individuals. I question whether he ever actually read We the Living, The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged.

What is so repulsive about respecting and defending the moral right of each individual human being to his own life and the freedom to pursue his own goals, values, and happiness? How does that transmute into callous disregard for one’s fellow man? What long-term value does any rational person gain from that? What happens to the “small guy” in a rightless society? Just look at the results of the first nation, the United States of America, created on the premise that “the individual must stand alone or starve to death” … i.e., the premise of the unalienable and equal rights of the individual. The result was an unprecedented and unimaginable explosion of progress and prosperity and a stark demonstration of the fact that there are no “small guys” in a free society where rights are protected equally and at all times. Would the alternative be good? What are the results when the individual is forbidden to “stand alone”? Look to humanity’s bloody tribal history, and especially the collectivist hellholes of the 20th century, for the answer to that question. The “callousness of the jungle” is exactly what you get when need is a moral justification and license for human predation and exploitation, rather than a spur to productive achievement, trade, and self-improvement.

Mr. Grayling’s desperate and unjust attempt to frame the issue is clearly exposed with his quote that equates Ayn Rand’s concept of the rational egoist with someone who would “rush out of a burning building and leave a helpless child behind”, as if stepping up in a disaster is incompatible with one’s pursuit of happiness! This is a slap not only at Rand but also at the Founding Fathers of this great nation who, like Rand, saw their fellow men as individuals capable of self-determination under a rights-protecting government, rather than as helpless “small guys” in need of the “protection” and guidance of a benevolent authoritarian state. Mr. Grayling fears that the individual can’t “stand alone” without starving. (Or perhaps he fears that when the individual stands alone, he won’t starve. Then what will the philosopher-kings do with themselves?)

Of course, “standing alone” is a straw man. Egoism does not mean isolationism. Human interaction is enormously beneficial. Romantic relationships, friendships, and trade in a free market are all life-enhancing values and fully consistent with rational selfishness, as is charitable compassion and voluntary assistance to people and causes one values. Objectivism is a philosophy for the individual which is geared to normative living – a moral guide to the achievement of a fulfilling life and to proper (i.e., mutually respectful and beneficial) relationships with others.

Throughout this essay, Mr. Grayling systematically constructs a picture that bears no resemblance to Rand’s strong and benevolent ethical theories. In fact, Ms. Heller’s book seems less the subject of a review than a polemical springboard for attacks on Ayn Rand and capitalism. Perhaps the connection of the two is a clue to Mr. Grayling’s motives.

He ignores the central theme of Rand’s principle work Atlas Shrugged - the role of reason in man’s existence and the freedom that the individual rational mind requires. Instead, he tries to define the novel by reference to a few non-essentials … and he doesn’t even get those right … so here’s some clarification. He refers to John Galt as “a businessman”, when in fact he is an innovative young engineer – and not even the head engineer – employed by a large industrial concern. Despite modest means, Galt quits to lead a principled fight against collectivist injustice. The independent “men of the mind”, as Galt calls them, are “taken along” from all walks of life, not just “the business community”. The heroes of the novel who join Galt in the “hidden valley” do represent the top talent in their respective fields. But more broadly, they symbolize the thinking human being of action and purpose on any level of ability. The rebellion is not merely against “regulations that impede getting rich” but against force that impedes the individual’s exercise of his means of survival, his rational faculty. The story dramatizes what happens to a society in which people are no longer free to think and act according to their own judgement in pursuit of self-betterment.

Similarly, Mr. Grayling rails against capitalism, employing the usual false smear tactics. For example, he ascribes to capitalism the creation of child labor, despite the historical fact that child labor was a left-over remnant of Feudalism which, over time, was eliminated thanks to the rising productivity enabled by capitalistic freedom. He also throws in the modern straw man of the anti-free market crowd, blaming the recent financial meltdown on capitalism rather than the real culprit, massive government economic intervention. These are “just two of a million examples” (to paraphrase Mr. Grayling) of capitalism being blamed for problems it didn’t create.

Mr. Grayling’s motives become clearer under cover of his praise for “her opposition to the use of force in world affairs” which “merits applause”. This is both misleading and incomplete and, perhaps, is intended to steer the reader away from the implications of a key principle of Rand’s thought. Rand was not a pacifist. She strongly upheld the right of any legitimate (predominantly free) nation to militarily defend itself against international aggressors. But more precisely, she opposed the initiation of force - not only by one nation against another - but also domestically, by government against its own citizens. She understood the connection between a nation that militarily violates the territorial integrity of other nations, and an authoritarian government that violates the rights of its own people - through, for example, systematic violations of property rights, non-objective law, political prosecutions, confiscatory taxation and economic controls, and censorship. Mr. Grayling doesn’t bother to address Rand’s true views regarding physical force in human relations, nor tell us why the use of force is bad in the international arena but apparently OK in the domestic one.

But this may be a clue to where Mr. Grayling is coming from.

Capitalism is the social system that abolishes force from human relationships by means of the recognition of individual rights and a government constitutionally limited to their protection – and made possible by America’s founding ideals and the consequent War for Independence. Ayn Rand gave us, through Atlas Shrugged and Objectivism, the philosophical foundation and validation that completes the political revolution of the Founding Fathers. Rand’s formidable moral defense of Capitalism, Americanism, and the rights of the individual entitles her, in my view, to the designation of America’s last Founding Father.

Many of those of the statist/socialist/collectivist persuasion, I think, understand this all to well, and so seek to discredit Ayn Rand in any way they can, but rarely by confronting her actual ideas. We’re seeing plenty of that these days, and the philosopher A. C. Grayling’s twin assaults on Ayn Rand and capitalism is perhaps an indication of his recognition of a key connection between the two - the long-term importance of Ayn Rand and Objectivism to the preservation of free market capitalism. With economics, logic, and history going against them, the Postmodern collectivists must be getting nervous that their last remaining socialist pillar of strength, the altruist trump card, is beginning to crumble. This is the fundamental meaning I draw from this piece (and others like it).

Mr. Grayling’s review essay is so biased, distortive, non-objective and philosophically agenda-driven that it behooves BarnesandNobleReview.com to run a rebuttal review of Ayn Rand and the World She Made as a matter of balance and fairness, perhaps by an Objectivist intellectual from the Ayn Rand Institute. I don’t know what Mr. Grayling’s analysis says about Ms. Heller’s book that he is reviewing here, since I have not read it myself. But I’d suggest that anyone interested in learning about Ayn Rand’s ideas should read and study her novels and non-fiction works and judge for himself (which requires independent thinking, a cardinal virtue in the Objectivist ethical system).