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!

4 comments:

Clay Barham said...

SELF INTEREST OR SELF-CENTERED
This is directed at those who admire and criticize Ayn Rand’s beliefs about people who stand on their own feet. It is not new to America, however. The 19th century libertarian Democrats, from Jefferson to Cleveland, promoted what Ayn Rand promoted. Most who criticize Rand say she promoted selfishness, thereby greed, which is self-centered and anti-individual creativity, therefore, anti-Rand. Rand admired the creative individual, such as James Jerome Hill, on whom she was reputed to have based her character Nathaniel Taggart in Atlas Shrugged. If we look at Howard Roark’s summation to the jury, from Fountainhead, we do not see a self-centered individual destroying his work. Were he greedy, he would have simply accepted his payment. We see a self-interested, other- and outer-centered individual in love with his own dreams and creations, as one would love a spouse, child or family and refuse to allow them to be assaulted. Though love for anything spiritual may be missing, a great idea or vision also measures up to that which is spiritual, beyond self, and that view is not that inconsistent with Christianity. Claysamerica.com.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your blog. Could you turn on your BLOG FEED so I can subscribe to it. Thanks.

Mike Zemack said...

Clay;

Good observation about Rand’s concept of self-interest vs. self-centeredness. I made essentially the same point on 4/7/09:

“Egoism, in Rand’s conception, is a world view that applies to all individual human beings…past, present, and future. While egoism defines each individual’s own long-term happiness as his only proper moral purpose, it is not a self-centered egoism. It is not “my happiness is more important than yours”. Rather, it is “my happiness is of primary importance to me, just as yours is to you.” As Rand has said, egoism is not a license to do whatever one pleases, on the whim of any moment, regardless of the consequences to others (or to oneself, for that matter).”

I think a key difference between Rand’s ethics of self-interest and that of others is her scientific validation. She bases her view on the observable metaphysical facts of reality and the laws of nature. I think hers is the most (and only, to my knowledge) complete ethical system, by which I mean not relying on any shred of faith or supernatural validation. I also agree, however, that the Founders implicitly endorsed the basics of Rand’s ethics in the Declaration.

Your point that “Most who criticize Rand say she promoted selfishness, thereby greed” is certainly true. The mistake they make (or deliberately evade) is to fail to understand that Rand condemned the conventional definition of selfishness. All they see is the provocative title of her book, “The Virtue of Selfishness”, and lazily take it at face value without bothering to explore the rich depth of her strong ethical system.

Where Ayn Rand and Jesus concur is that both held to a fundamentally individualist conception of man. Leaving aside the issue of Christianity’s soul-body split which Rand rejected, both believed that each person is a being of self-made soul. But the similarities end there, I believe. Christian ethics does not hold that self-interest is necessarily immoral, but that it is amoral at best. The essence of morality in the Christian view is self-sacrificial service to others, not profit-motivated service to others (i.e., mutually advantageous trade). It’s true, though, that the Christian concept of altruism is not the virulent uncompromising version promoted by Auguste Comte, who actually coined the term and who believed that altruism and individual rights were utterly incompatible. But still, I think that Christian ethics and the Objectivist ethics are on opposite ends of the ethical spectrum.

Thank you for the thought-provoking comments.

Mike Zemack said...

Anonymous;

Thank you for your interest in my blog. I checked the settings, and the blog feed is enabled. I don’t really know what the problem can be. But this is a custom-designed template, so maybe there’s a problem there. I’ll check it out.