Saturday, November 29, 2008

My Challenge To the GOP: A Philosophical Contract With America

In two previous essays (11/13/08 and 11/16/08), I established the reasons for how we got to where we are, and the philosophical ground upon which I believe the Republican Party must begin to rebuild. Now it is time to begin to get specific.

The pattern since FDR and his crusading band of New Deal thugs has been for the GOP “defenders” of free markets and property rights to initially oppose some welfare state program being advanced by the Left. After passage, the initial, usually tepid and apologetic, opposition fades…to be replaced by a grudging acceptance and ultimate embrace of the now “popular” legislation. Each new rights-violating program…each new step toward total government control…follows the same pattern. A good example of this is the 1980 GOP platform, which promised to abolish the brand new Carter-era Federal Department of Education. That promise quickly fell away and…during an era of GOP domination…morphed into a $70 billion behemoth that became a tool to implement President Bush’s massive expansion of federal intrusion into local public education, called “No Child Left Behind”.

Now, our time is running out. The road ahead demands an end to me-too-ism. The compromising pragmatism of the old Republican Party has reached its inevitable dead-end. The GOP must now embark on a politically risky path that may not lead to immediate electoral success, but is vital to the cause of individual rights and free markets, long term. Thanks to decades of Republican compromises, the job is now much harder. It is no longer enough to simply slow the further expansion of government and consequent shrinkage of individual rights that is sure to come next year. It is time for the GOP to fully and proudly assert its commitment to free market capitalism by laying out an agenda for rolling back the welfare state.

This courageous path will undoubtedly require taking some lumps at the polls in the near term, but it must be done. We are rapidly approaching the point where individual freedom’s time will run out. Bold, new policy ideas based upon the principles of rational self-interest, individual rights, laissez-faire capitalism, and limited government will require an extended educational campaign. But it must be remembered that only 53% of the electorate voted for Obama, and much of that support is “soft”. And while much of the 47% of the electorate that voted for McCain cannot be called pro-capitalist, much of Obama’s 53% likely is open to swinging toward the philosophical platform outlined above, provided it is consistently applied to all of the concrete issues. There is a substantial base of support from which to build, I believe. (click here and here).

The GOP has become known as the party of business, and the party of the Christian Right. It must reject those two labels, and become the party of the individual. This means to embrace the twin pillars of a truly free society;

The separation of religion and state…which means religious freedom, or the right to hold and to act on the belief system of one’s own choice, free from the coercive interference of others.

The separation of economics and state…which means economic freedom, or laissez-faire capitalism.

Freedom in the field of ideas and freedom in the field of production and trade are inseparable corollaries. Yet, each of the major political parties has split down the middle on these fundamental issues. The Republicans tend to advocate freedom of production and trade…capitalism…while simultaneously sanctioning government control in the field of ideas…seeking to impose the religious agenda of political Christianity. And the Democrats tend to advocate freedom in the field of ideas, while simultaneously seeking to shackle production and trade under mountains of taxes, regulations, and controls.

Neither party is a firm and consistent advocate of individual rights. The result is that individual freedom is under withering assault in both the spheres of ideas and of economics. In economics, the Republicans are in retreat in multiple areas…the bailout bill, Sarbanes-Oxley, to name two. In ideas, the Democrats are retreating…witness Obama’s embrace of Bush’s Faith-Based Initiatives. And…from campaign finance “reform”, to the fairness doctrine, to the issue of “indecent language” in media…the first amendment is under attack as never before, by both parties.

The sad fact is, both parties have abandoned America…the first nation in the history of the world founded on the principle of inalienable individual rights and of a government constitutionally charged with the task of protecting those rights…of a government as servant, not ruler, of its people. Both parties, in other words, are bankrupt…intellectually and morally.

Herein lies the opportunity for whichever party wants to seize it. I hope it will be the Republican Party.

It is worth repeating the words of Craig Westover:

Analyzing Obama's comment in the context of Rand's philosophy provides further evidence that the conservative-liberal paradigm, the traditional political divide in this country, is shifting to a more overt expression of the age-old battle between individualism and the collective society. (Emphasis added.)

It is time to cast aside the contradictory, unprincipled, and self-defeating doctrines of liberalism and conservatism, and instead forge a new coalition based upon the primacy of the individual and his unalienable rights.

It is time for the individual American to find his political voice, defender, and champion.

From retirement planning, to healthcare and health insurance, to education, to abortion, to gay marriage, to eminent domain and property rights, to the first amendment, to immigration…all across the board…the GOP should forge an agenda in which each of us, as individuals, will have our freedoms restored. The “unalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness” means the right to think and act on one’s own judgement, to set one’s own goals, to pursue one’s own happiness by one’s own efforts, to decide whether, when, and how to help one’s fellow men, and to keep the product of one’s own productive work. And it means to restore the vision of the Founding Fathers-that government’s proper role is to protect the rights of its citizens.

This will not be easy. Nor will it mean an immediate end to all of our government’s intrusive practices. An agenda based on individual rights will face ferocious opposition and hostility from entrenched interests all across the cultural landscape, from powerful politicians, to business and labor, to the beneficiaries of government largess.

But simply discerning the political wind direction in order to determine which positions to take on the issues for the purpose of winning elections is a path the GOP must abandon. America must learn the meaning and nature of man’s rights and the legitimate nature of government, if current trends are to be reversed. The establishment of a firm, uncompromising philosophical platform…one might call it a Philosophical Contract With America…from which Republicans can launch a broad assault against the collectivist tide on one issue after another can draw freedom lovers from all across the political spectrum. It must also mean a complete rejection of the social tyranny of the Religious Right, and the economic tyranny of the Socialist Left.

In the clash between statism and individual liberty, the Democrats have come down clearly and openly on the side of the state. The GOP can, and should, meet the challenge with a bold alternative, presenting not merely a loyal opposition but explicit, positive alternatives to the liberal agenda based on this new Contract. The challenge is to demonstrate what the party is for. The Republican Party must finally realize the promise of Barry Goldwater. In answer to the rise of Obama collectivism, the GOP must finally offer “A choice, not an echo”.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Thanksgiving Message

Reprinted below is a thanksgiving message that I think captures the true essence of Thanksgiving, a holiday practiced only in America. Regardless of how one believes he came into existence (God or nature), the reality is that man is a being of self-generated wealth based on reason who requires certain social conditions for his survival. America was the first country founded explicitly on those conditions; i.e., a country where every individual owns his own life and possesses inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and to the pursuit of his own happiness, coupled inextricably with the obligation to accept the reality that all people are equally endowed and to treat them accordingly.

It is thus that America, born of the enlightenment ideas of individualism, capitalism, and republican government, achieved in the span of a mere two hundred-plus years (following centuries of stagnation) its spectacular standard of living. The ensuing essay correctly recognizes where the credit for America belongs: to any man or woman, on whatever level of ability or accomplishment, who contributed to American greatness by doing an honest and productive day's work in pursuit of his or her own well-being.

Thanksgiving: A Most Selfish Holiday

By Debi Ghate

Ah, Thanksgiving. To most of us, the word conjures up images of turkey dinner, pumpkin pie and watching football with family and friends. It kicks off the holiday season and is the biggest shopping weekend of the year. We're taught that Thanksgiving came about when pilgrims gave thanks to God for a bountiful harvest. We vaguely mumble thanks for the food on our table, the roof over our head and the loved ones around us. We casually think about how lucky we are and how much better our lives are than, say, those in Bangladesh. But surely there is something more to celebrate, something more sacred about this holiday.

What should we really be celebrating on Thanksgiving?

Ayn Rand described Thanksgiving as "a typically American holiday . . . its essential, secular meaning is a celebration of successful production. It is a producers' holiday. The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production." She was right. This country was mostly uninhabited and wild when our forefathers began to develop the land and build spectacular cities, shaping what is now the wealthiest nation in the world. It's the American spirit to overcome challenges, create great achievements, and enjoy prosperity. We uniquely recognize that production leads to wealth and that we must dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. It's no accident that Americans have a holiday called Thanksgiving--a yearly tradition when we pause to appreciate the "bountiful harvest" we've reaped.

What is today's version of the "bountiful harvest"? It's the affluence and success we've gained. It's the cars, houses and vacations we enjoy. It's the life-saving medicines we rely on, the stock portfolios we build, the beautiful clothes we buy and the safe, clean streets we live on. It's the good life.

How did we get this "bountiful harvest"? Ask any hard-working American; it sure wasn't by the "grace of God." It didn't grow on a fabled "money tree." We created it by working hard, by desiring the best money can buy and by wanting excellence for ourselves and our loved ones. What we don't create ourselves, we trade value for value with those who have the goods and services we need, such as our stockbrokers, hairdressers and doctors. We alone are responsible for our wealth. We are the producers and Thanksgiving is our holiday.

So, on Thanksgiving, why don't we thank ourselves and those producers who make the good life possible?

From a young age, we are bombarded with messages designed to undermine our confident pursuit of values: "Be humble," "You can't know what's good for yourself," "It's better to give than receive," and above all "Don't be selfish!" We are scolded not to take more than "our share"--whether it is of corporate profits, electricity or pie. We are taught that altruism--selfless concern for others--is the moral ideal. We are taught to sacrifice for strangers, who have no claim to our hard-earned wealth. We are taught to kneel rather than reach for the sky.

But, morally, one should reach for the sky. One should recognize that the corporate profits, electricity or pie was earned through one's production--and savor its consumption. Every decision one makes, from what career to pursue to whom to call a friend, should be guided by what will best advance one's rational goals, interests and, ultimately, one's life. One should take pride in being rationally selfish--one's life and happiness depend on it.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to recognize what we are truly grateful for, to appreciate and celebrate the fruits of our labor: our wealth, health, relationships and material things--all the values we most selfishly cherish. We should thank researchers who have made certain cancers beatable, gourmet chefs at our favorite restaurants, authors whose books made us rethink our lives, financiers who developed revolutionary investment strategies and entrepreneurs who created fabulous online stores. We should thank ourselves and those individuals who make our lives more comfortable and enjoyable--those who help us live the much-coveted American dream.

As you sit down to your sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner served on your best china, think of all the talented individuals whose innovation and inventiveness made possible the products you are enjoying. As you look around at who you've chosen to spend your day with--those you've chosen to love--thank yourself for everything you have done to make this moment possible. It's a time to selfishly and proudly say: "I earned this."

Debi Ghate is associated with the Ayn Rand Institute.

Have a joyous, and well earned, Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Activism-The Health Care Debate

I have signed up to participate as a commenter at Opposing Views, a website dedicated to reasoned debate on the issues of the day. The comments below are related to the debate question, "Should the U.S. Have Universal Healthcare?”

The verified expert answering no is FIRM (Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine). I have chosen to take to task two supporters of universal health care…one a verified expert and the second a commenter.

The National Physicians’ Alliance, an Opposing Views verified expert declares that "It is the moral thing to do”.

Here is my response:

Moral, On What Basis?

"Morality ends where a gun begins"- Ayn Rand

On what basis does one call government-run "universal health care" "the moral thing to do"?

It is only the morality of altruism...the creed that holds individual human sacrifice for a "higher" purpose as the standard of the good...that can sanction any proposal to force others to act against his own will, judgement, and self-interest. But altruism is really an anti-morality, which offers a person no moral guidance on how to achieve the values required for his survival and happiness, but rather simply declares that he is moral only to the extent that he gives up his values for the sake of others...any others.

That is why altruism is always the justification for all forms of tyranny, including government-imposed "universal health care", which is merely a health care dictatorship in disguise. A consumer's right to decide for himself whether and what type of health insurance to purchase; An insurance company's right to determine what insurance products it will offer, based upon its own market judgement; A doctor's right to choose his patients, the treatments to pursue, and the price he will charge; The rights of consumers, insurance companies, and doctors to negotiate and contract voluntarily with each other to mutual advantage; The rights of all people to decide whether, when, what type, and what level of voluntary charitable giving to offer others...these are all merely selfish concerns, according to altruist principles, of no consequence next to a government takeover of a major industry.

It's quite all right for the government to trample and sacrifice the rights of people acting in their own self-interest. It's quite all right to sacrifice the earnings, the healthcare decision-making, the careers, the goals, the personal judgements, and the business decisions of private citizens. It's quite all right to hand enormous coercive dictatorial power over other peoples' lives to "altruistic" central planning bureaucrats. It is quite all right to bestow unearned benefits obtained forcibly from the sacrificial victims of an altruistic state on those who did not earn them, but for whom it is apparently o.k. to selfishly accept their stolen property.

Well, the game is nearing an end. Tyrants, "social justice" totalitarians, humanitarians with a "good cause" in one hand and the lever of a guillotine in the other, and all manner of politically-connected do-gooders have been riding the altruistic gravy train long enough.

All of the "should be" goals listed by the National Physicians' Alliance are desirable when taken out of context. But a government that attempts to achieve those ends can only do so through the power to loot and enslave, which ultimately leads to the opposite results. It is an immoral government. So now let it be said. No one who would use initiative physical force, including "democratic" or "legislative" force, against his fellow citizens to achieve his ends…no matter how worthwhile…can wave the banner of morality. That banner belongs only to people who renounce the initiation of physical force, and turn instead to respecting and protecting individual rights...everyone's rights equally and at all times.

And that means, in the field of medicine, pursuing the moral goal of phasing out the current crumbling government-hampered system, and establishing a completely free market.

Now that would be the moral thing to do.

- Mike Zemack November 16, 2008 4:59PM

This commenter, alisaterry, starts off quoting statistics concerning infant mortality rates in countries with socialized medicine, then goes on to touch upon other thoughts.

Here is my response:

Setting the Record Straight

There are some facts about those infant mortality statistics that perhaps you should consider...namely, the criteria used to compile them. For example, Dr. Linda Halderman shed some important light on this. /

In this article, Dr. Halderman documents the myriad differences from country to country in the methodology.

Adjusted for these differences, infant mortality rates in the U.S. are no worse than other countries, despite the large number of illegal immigrants living here, as well as a less healthy lifestyle. Of course, mere statistics never justify the violation of anyone’s rights. As for the level of neo-natal care in America, I can attest to its high quality. My granddaughter was born at 25 weeks and 1.4 pounds, and is now a healthy, thriving 5 year old.

Cuba? Cuba is a dictatorship. That means the flow of all information is strictly controlled by the government, and there is no free, investigative press or freedom-of-information laws. But just the fact that you use a dictatorship to support your call for socialized medicine is quite telling.

When did " a society" decide on government-run schooling? It evolved from a flaw at our founding…the failure of the Founders to protect freedom of education from political intrusion, in the way that religious freedom was protected behind the “wall of separation” between church and state. I fully and passionately believe that a proper education for every child is one of a parent’s most solemn responsibilities. But I oppose government-run schools, for the same reason as I oppose government-run healthcare. It is immoral, impractical, and a violation of individual rights. But I guess, as an independent thinking human being, I don’t qualify as a part of this “society” that you claim makes these decisions. What’s interesting here is that you would actually use the example of public education to justify socialized medicine. Public education is beset by exploding costs, and deteriorating quality...just what one would expect from a coercive political monopoly. American medicine is heading down the same path, due to massive government interference and controls. A complete healthcare dictatorship, rather than a return to freedom in medicine, is the wrong solution for anyone who values quality, readily available health care.

An "American caste system" is exactly what would result from putting the state in charge of all economic decision-making…which is apparently what you want to do. In a free market...which we now have only in bits and pieces…everyone is free to act on his own judgement, and to advance as far as his ability and ambition will carry him. If one wishes to increase his pay, he is free to increase his skills, work longer hours, seek another job, or create his own job by starting a business. What he is not allowed to do, in a free, rights-respecting society, is force job-creating businesses to pay him more than they are willing to pay through government-imposed minimum wage laws. If you don't like the fact that a particular company hires people you don’t approve of (moving jobs across seas), you are free to protest by refusing to buy their products. If you don’t like a company's "benefit" policy, then again, you are free to move on. You see, when you are free, you control your life...which means you are not at anyone’s mercy. That is what the "free" in free market means. When government regiments the economic life of a nation…when we are at the mercy of government officials...then actual individuals are locked into a cast, having become dependant on government favor.

But I agree with you that " 'Entitlements' aren't just lazy people trying to rip you off." They are also big businesses seeking government subsidies, bailouts, and other favors. They are middle and upper middle class earners seeking "affordable" this or that, and then demanding that government force someone else to provide it. They are workers seeking "living wages" that they are not qualified for or that no one is willing to voluntarily pay them. They are residents of wealthy towns seeking to keep out lower-income "undesirables" in order to preserve the "quality" of "their" communities through restrictive zoning and planning practices. And, yes, they are also "just lazy people trying to rip you off." They come in all shades, classes, and regions.

And the entitlement mentality engulfing this country is made possible by one single common denominator…the government’s power to hand out economic favors to some at the expense of others. A universal healthcare entitlement is a lose-lose proposition. You hand over your money to a central planning bureaucracy, and in return you give up the right to make your own health care decisions.

- Mike Zemack November 16, 2008 4:09PM

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ayn Rand Foresaw Conservatism’s Second Obituary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Individual freedom and planned equality are irreconcilable positions.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2008

Dionne's "Solution" to the Abortion Controversy

In an article entitled Obama's Promise to Pro-Lifers, liberal columnist E.J. Dionne urges President-elect Obama to follow through on his promise to end four decades of political and cultural strife over abortion by proposing an intellectual package deal. Using the abortion issue as a cover, he calls for program after program aimed at making abortion “safe, legal and rare”, to quote President Clinton.

Here Mr. Dionne is conflating two different issues, while completely side-stepping the essential moral consideration of the abortion issue.

No where in this piece does Mr. Dionne tell us why abortion should be legal. Instead, he dances around this all-important question by calling for a myriad of new initiatives to make it “rare”…and then calls this a solution to “cultural and religious wars that have disfigured American politics for four decades.”

And here-in lies the key to his approach. Mr. Dionne calls for “appropriate education [for] our youth”, “helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby”, and “expanded health coverage for women and children, more child care, adoption help and income support for the working poor.” These are all worthwhile goals. But education, child care, health insurance, offering or accepting charity…these are all properly the province of individuals making uncoerced, personal judgements based on their own values and life circumstances.

But, in the classic collectivist tradition, Mr. Dionne simply assumes that our lives belong to the state…and proposes to confiscate other peoples’ earnings to pay for his pet causes…which means, expanded government control of our lives, especially children’s lives. By what right does anyone claim to usurp the responsibility of parents’ to educate and care for their children? By what right does anyone claim to force others to pay for his “solutions” or charitable causes? But the issue of rights…specifically, individual rights (the only kind that exist)…is the missing ingredient in Mr. Dionne’s entire argument.

The answer to the question Mr. Dionne evades…the why…can only be addressed by reference to individual rights. Specifically, a woman’s unalienable right to life…which means, the unfettered right to chart the course of her own life, to act upon her own judgement, in the pursuit of her own happiness. The profoundly personal, solemn decision on whether or not to terminate a pregnancy does not belong to “society”, the state, or any religious sect claiming to act on the “word of God”. Nor should it be subject to coercive pressure from a government (or politician) seeking to make abortion “rare”. It belongs solely to the woman whose body carries the unborn child. If it is not her decision…then whose decision is it?

But those same unalienable rights, possessed equally by all people, also forbids the kinds of wealth confiscation and extensive government interference into peoples’ lives implied by all of those programs he proposes to fulfill President Obama’s campaign promises. A government’s proper role is to protect individual rights, not to manipulate peoples’ lives by violating their rights. In a free society, anyone who opposes abortion and wishes to make it rare is free to engage in non-coercive social activism, based upon rational persuasion and public educational campaigns. Whatever assistance pregnant women seeking to avoid an abortion may need and desire, should be supplied only through the voluntary, uncoerced charity of people of genuine good will and generosity, and not through government coercion.

Mr. Dionne is being quite disingenuous here. He offers social conservatives a “deal”…or more specifically, an intellectual package deal. Give up your quest to legally ban abortion, and help us expand the welfare state. He proposes to defend his pro-choice position, by trampling the only moral justification for legal abortion…individual rights. This position is untenable. But Mr. Dionne simply employs that ever-present tool of all statists…evasion.

If Mr. Dionne really believed in keeping abortion legal, he should simply take the principled stand and state the obvious…it is a woman’s unalienable right.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Election 2008- What it Does, and Doesn’t, Mean.

My first observation is that this election was not a landslide…not even close. Previous landslides…Johnson in 1964, Nixon in 1972, and Reagan in 1980 and 1984…saw the victors win some 60% plus of the popular vote. Reagan captured 49 states in 1984 against Mondale. In this election, the popular vote margin in favor of Obama was 53% to 47%. The Electoral vote count was strongly, but not overwhelming in Obama’s favor. To be sure, Obama’s win was impressively broad…but again, no landslide.

I do not believe that this election portends a conscious swing to the Left. It is an acceleration of the swing towards big government, yes. Since 2000, we have seen the resumption of the statist trend that began with the creation of the anti-trust laws over a century ago. That trend has been marked by an aggressive socialist Left and a timid, compromising Right. (By “Left” I mean pro-socialist, and by “Right” I mean pro-capitalist.) With each new expansion of government control and diminution of individual freedom, the remnants of capitalism get the blame for the problems caused by government, which then justifies the next set of controls. The current crisis offers a stark demonstration of that pattern, with our next president calling the government-created financial collapse of a government-regulated banking and housing industry a failure of free market capitalism. And, in typical pattern, the alleged representative of free markets…the Republican Party…is not only failing to rise to its defense, but is actively hastening the destruction of the remnants of economic freedom in America.

In other words, the resurgence of the big government trend is advancing in an intellectual vacuum. I believe that the basic American belief in individualism, though battered and receding, is still dominant…not yet having been overtaken by the entitlement mentality slowly engulfing the culture. But this individualist spirit desperately needs a voice. To be sure, it does have a voice…the Objectivist movement. But in a two-party political system, the philosophical foundation for Americanism and capitalism established by Ayn Rand must eventually be embraced by one of the major parties. This is the challenge facing the Republican Party, now disintegrated and intellectually leaderless. The chance for stopping a new, major lurch toward socialism in the short term is virtually nil. The Democrats will almost certainly use their firm control of Washington and the GOP disarray to push for rapid enactment of their programs this spring. So the focus must be turned to building the intellectual case for rolling back the growing fascist welfare state. And that begins with building the case for an alternative.

This election has been called the end of the Reagan era. This is blatantly false. The Reagan era ended with the election of George W. Bush. The “big government conservatism” of the Bush years…more accurately called right wing liberalism…is being used to discredit tax cuts and reduced government economic regulation, two hallmarks of Reaganism. The Bush tax cuts did mimic the Reagan cuts, albeit on a much smaller scale. But the parallels end there. Even the way in which Bush “sold” his tax cuts clashes with Reagan. Reagan portrayed his tax cuts…which brought the top income tax rate down from 70% to 28%…as a means of liberating the productive members of society. Bush saw his as a means of “growing the economy”, a collectivist premise.

Even more absurd, some on the Left have called this election the end of the era of Ayn Rand. Rand advocated reason, individual rights, laissez-faire capitalism, and a moral code of rational self-interest. Despite the mildly anti-statist Reagan interlude, the last half-century has seen the exact opposite of those principles…a major expansion of government and, simultaneously, a resurgence of religion in America. Neither trend would be possible in a Randian culture. Ideas are never defeated, until they have been confronted openly and refuted. While indisputably a growing intellectual force over the last 50 years, the “era of Ayn Rand”, if there is to be one, is clearly in the future. A declaration of the end of a philosophical movement whose essential characteristics have been evaded, distorted, and ignored by its critics says something else entirely. The true, benevolent nature of capitalism must not just be obscured, but must never be discovered. For this reason, the newly invigorated Left fears the Objectivist movement.

Much of Obama’s support is “soft”. Just listen to the reasons given by his supporters for their votes. They are rich in empty cliches, vague generalities, shallow euphemisms, and an arrogant ignorance. Obama centered his campaign around the intellectually shallow, even as he laid the philosophical foundation for a socialist agenda. Listen to the Hoover Institution’s Shelby Steele

His talent was to project an idealized vision of a post-racial America -- and then to have that vision define political decency. Thus, a failure to support Obama politically implied a failure of decency.

Obama's special charisma -- since his famous 2004 convention speech -- always came much more from the racial idealism he embodied than from his political ideas. In fact, this was his only true political originality. On the level of public policy, he was quite unremarkable. His economics were the redistributive axioms of old-fashioned Keynesianism; his social thought was recycled Great Society. But all this policy boilerplate was freshened up -- given an air of "change" -- by the dreamy post-racial and post-ideological kitsch he dressed it in.

This worked politically for Obama because it tapped into a deep longing in American life -- the longing on the part of whites to escape the stigma of racism. In running for the presidency -- and presenting himself to a majority white nation -- Obama knew intuitively that he was dealing with a stigmatized people. He knew whites were stigmatized as being prejudiced, and that they hated this situation and literally longed for ways to disprove the stigma.

Obama is what I have called a "bargainer" -- a black who says to whites, "I will never presume that you are racist if you will not hold my race against me." Whites become enthralled with bargainers out of gratitude for the presumption of innocence they offer. Bargainers relieve their anxiety about being white and, for this gift of trust, bargainers are often rewarded with a kind of halo.

But there is an inherent contradiction in all this. When whites -- especially today's younger generation -- proudly support Obama for his post-racialism, they unwittingly embrace race as their primary motivation. They think and act racially, not post-racially. The point is that a post-racial society is a bargainer's ploy: It seduces whites with a vision of their racial innocence precisely to coerce them into acting out of a racial motivation. A real post-racialist could not be bargained with and would not care about displaying or documenting his racial innocence. Such a person would evaluate Obama politically rather than culturally. (Emphasis added.)

There is nothing new or original or unique about Obama’s rhetoric or policy proposals. He represents the tired, worn-out, bankrupt ideology of collectivism…cloaked in the usual, sinister altruistic call for service to the state and sacrifice for one’s neighbor…a blatant appeal to envy, guilt, and the entitlement mentality. His is a rise propelled not by ideas, but by the upward pull of an ideological vacuum. Note that Obama and his forces ran for their political lives, as from a plague, from the “socialist” label. It is crucially important to understand the significance of this. Socialism…i.e., collectivism…is dead as a cultural and intellectual ideal. Thus, Obama is reduced to a mental shyster who must sneak across his socialist agenda while denying its essence, counting on not enough people seeing through the fog of “hope” and “change”. He won against an opposition that had nothing to offer, no fundamental alternative to inspire…which offered only “an echo, not a choice”. He won against an imploding GOP. With all of that, he still couldn’t convince 47% of the country.

The question now is, will a true, principled, pro-capitalist, pro-individualist opposition arise in time to thwart the statist tide to come. The signs are not good, if one looks to the GOP. More hopeful is the prospect of a popular backlash against the Democrats once their socialistic designs come into clearer focus. Here, there is some cause for cautious optimism. The widespread, spontaneous revulsion that erupted over the bailout tsunami is one positive sign. Also, polling indicates that the Dem’s congressional gains were driven mainly by disgust with the incumbents, rather than support for higher taxes and more regulations. When confronted explicitly with socialism, Americans still reject it.

There is no way to put a positive spin on this year’s election results…not if one values his freedom and his life. I am merely saying that the situation is bleak, not hopeless. The problem is, socialism in America is coming bit by bit, always disguised behind some “good cause". Blinded by pragmatism and altruism, most people can’t or won’t see through the disguise. That is why we have built an enormous welfare state, when no welfare state was ever explicitly chosen by Americans. This blindness is going to have to change…and quickly.

I believe America is ready for…indeed, desperately needs… a principled, ideological, morally confident intellectual leadership to arise in defense of capitalism, with all that that implies. It can not come too soon.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

"A Moral outrage", Revisited

On February 8, 2008, I documented the case of a British woman, Debbie Hirst, who was denied the cutting edge cancer treatment she needed to treat her breast cancer. Though she was willing to mortgage her home in order to be able to pay for the treatment with her own money, she was legally prohibited from doing so by Britain’s National Health Service because it “would violate the philosophy of the health service by giving richer patients an unfair advantage over poorer ones”.

Egalitarianism is the doctrine that holds that the individual achievements of life-promoting values is a vice. No one should be allowed to enjoy the fruits of his own efforts, as long as there is someone else who has not achieved the same values. Virtue is thus turned into a noose around the necks of anyone who possesses ability, ambition, intelligence, independence, good fortune…to the extent that they possess it. Their right to life is to be sacrificed to the extent that someone else...anyone else...does not possess those virtues and values. If you want to see the naked essence of altruism…the view of man as a sacrificial means to some “higher” good…this is it. The “poorer ones” have nothing to gain from the denial of the “richer patients” right to get the treatment they need. Their lives are to be literally sacrificed for no reason whatsoever, in the name of “fairness”. Egalitarianism is the governing “philosophy” of the NHS.

So I am pleased to report a bit of good news here. So-called “top-ups”…the bizarre name given to the practice of individual human beings exercising their inalienable rights to act on their own judgements, by their own efforts…will now be “allowed”. According to the BBC, “The bar on topping up NHS care by paying for drugs not available on the health service is to be lifted under plans drawn up by ministers in England.”

The lifting of the ban will come with multiple strings attached, as one might expect. “But strict rules are to be applied meaning patients will also have to pay for staff time and the scans and blood tests associated with the extra care.” This, despite the fact that the patient will still be heavily taxed to support the NHS.

Such is the nature of a system where the individual works to earn his health care dollars, but government bureaucrats make the individual’s healthcare decisions.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Capitalism's Destructive Defenders-1

A recent correspondent was drawn to my blog by a response to a blog essay by Mark Shuttleworth, entitled This is not the End of Capitalism. To read my commentary and the related essay, please go to Commentary 47 on my other blog, or go directly to Mr. Shuttleworth’s blog post. Following is a somewhat expanded version of my response.

Mr. Shuttleworth conflates two separate and distinct issues…the government’s proper role as protector of individual rights vs. the arbitrary power of government regulators, which results in the violation of those rights.

The answer to the issues of environmental pollution and fraud, for example, can be addressed with relation to individual rights. Here, it is proper for government to step in when the economic activities of one pollutes the property of another…a violation of that person’s property rights…by ordering fines and restitution be paid to the injured party (based upon the objective findings of a court). Objective, clearly defined environmental laws such as anti-littering laws, statutes banning the dumping of specific industrial wastes proven to be harmful into rivers, or legal bans on the selling of paints containing lead intended for sale to the general public are also examples of appropriate governmental actions. Each of the above examples represents objectively provable physical harms, strictly delimited to specific, clearly defined issues that result in the violation of individual rights.

Similarly, fraud (such as “cooking the books” or deliberate misrepresentation of products) is a violation of the rights of the injured party. Civil and criminal penalties against fraudsters can, and should, be a tool of government in its role as protector of individual rights.

The civil courts, another proper function of government, is a powerful “regulator” where people can settle disputes involving harmful products or breech of contract, in an objective forum. Here, the “regulation” that may take place in the form of damages paid to the winner by the loser is strictly limited to the parties directly involved, while avoiding the “guilty-until-proven-innocent” nature of the imposition of costly rights-violating regulations on all companies in a given industry because of the wrong-doing of the one. Civil case law itself thus becomes a restraint on bad behavior, rather than the arbitrary politically-influenced and unpredictable whims of government regulators. Rather than be subject to the intrusive meddling and warrantless searches (“inspections”) of government officials, company behavior is thus guided by their own self-interest based upon their own legal analysis of the objective findings of the courts. In a free society, this is the only proper role of government in the “regulation” commerce.

None of these governmental functions involve groups of bureaucrats with the power to impose rules that carry the force of law.

But the arbitrary powers Mr. Shuttleworth would delegate to government regulators who would, for example, have the authority to “make very tough decisions about innovation” is scary indeed. This is odd, after Mr. Shuttleworth starts out with a strong denunciation of central planning. This is a call for dictatorial powers to be placed into the hands of one individual, or a group of individuals, which usurp the free and voluntary decisions of free individuals…i.e., the free market. Never mind the idea that some innovations may not flourish in a free market. To make a determination of that kind, a regulator would “have to be able to tell the future”-a logical impossibility given the kind of dynamics inherent in the billions of choices made by millions of participants of a free market. Short of the coercive roadblocks enabled by the kind of political connections endemic to a mixed economy…i.e. of “regulated capitalism”…there is virtually no way any company, no matter how large, can stop innovative new technologies in the long term. In any event, if the result of the voluntary, uncoerced trading decisions of private individuals pursuing their own best interests occasionally means that some “superior” product doesn’t “make it” in the market, then so be it. There is no inherent “societal” entitlement to “superior” or “innovative” products. No one should have the power, in a free society, to violate the rights of others through governmental coercion in order to impose his idea of which, or whose, products should “succeed” in the market.

Government regulation is inherently corrupt, leading to “many stories of regulators being wined and dined by the industries they regulate only to make sure they don’t look too hard in the back room”. Industry influence on the bureaucrats, or that of any special interest, that regulate it is a necessary result of “regulated capitalism” (a contradiction in terms, actually). Mr. Shuttleworth’s solution, however, is far worse than the disease. He proposes to eliminate the corruption by trampling all over the first amendment right of “the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”. Regulated companies are made up of people who have the right to “assemble” (form lobbies) in order to “petition the Government (i.e., the politicians who create the regulatory agencies)”. To make a regulator “independent” means to shield government from the peoples’ influence…an inversion of a key American principle. The problems caused by rights violations in one area, end up leading to rights violations in another. Anyway, how do regulators get “to know a lot about an industry, but be independent of that industry”, in “capitalist economies [that] evolve quickly”…without maintaining a close relationship with the very companies being regulated?

Mr. Shuttleworth actually builds a stronger case against regulated capitalism than he does in its favor, in my view. His four steps to an “effective regulator” sounds contradictory and utopian after his description of central planning in the first few paragraphs. His description of the difficulty faced by government regulators (planners?) is specific and concrete. For example, he says “The leaders and decision makers in a centrally-planned economy are just as fallible as those in a capitalist one - they would probably be the same people!” Exactly! Government regulation only ensures that mistakes and misjudgments of individual regulators are spread throughout an industry or the entire economy (witness the current credit crisis), rather than being confined to the private individuals and companies involved.

Under point one of his plan for effective regulation, he calls for the hiring of “superb talent”, by employing “key salaries and performance measures that are just behind the industries they are supposed to regulate”. Who is to determine the “performance measures”? On what standard of performance? What will make these “superbly talented” regulators worth as much as the producers of the products in “the industries they are supposed to regulate”? On the free market, the salaries of the employees of productive companies are ultimately determined objectively…by the value the company’s customers place on the products they produce. But unlike the voluntary, uncoerced exchanges that take place in the marketplace, a government regulator’s “performance” is based purely on coercion…which means there is no objective standard. How does one determine the value of a regulation? You can’t. No one can. Yet the money will keep flowing in from the taxpayers…that is, coercively. And this must lead inevitably to the phenomenon that Mr. Shuttleworth dreads…the “hiring [of] more and more people”…each cranking out more and more regulations. What else would one expect? Regulators regulate. The only “encouragement” that one can expect from an ever-growing congressional endowment of taxpayer money is an ever-growing regulatory bureaucracy. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, “The closest thing we will ever see to eternal life on earth is a government agency”. He wasn’t exaggerating.

Point three exposes Mr. Shuttleworth’s statist credentials. He demands that the regulators be given “teeth and muscle” while legally disarming the private companies by stripping them of access to the courts to settle any dispute they may have with the government. At least, that’s what he seems to be saying. “Regulators need to be able to drive things forward, they need to be able to change the way companies behave, and they cannot rely on moral suasion to do so.”(Emphasis added.) The very same “fallible” people who are the cause of “the destruction wrought by central planning” are to be given dictatorial powers!

Mr. Shuttleworth wants to have his central planning, and eat his capitalism too.

And, if the government can’t even manage its copyright and patent functions without eliminating the undue influence of established players seeking to block innovative newcomers, how in the world can it ever hope to regulate entire industries in a capitalist system where “the imperative to innovate and the consequences of failure drives capitalist economies to evolve quickly”?

The biggest contradiction is perhaps the key to this confusing essay. After exposing the futility of centrally planned economies, Mr. Shuttleworth ends by declaring that “regulation is…very much worth investing in if you are trying to run a healthy, vibrant, capitalist society”. Nobody “runs” a capitalist society. You "run" a planned society. Under capitalism, people run their own lives and government protects their right to do so.

Throughout the entire essay, Mr. Shuttleworth offers not one argument in favor of “regulated capitalism”. In the final analysis, he falls back on that favorite, undefined rationalization of all statists…the “common good”. Who are the “common”? What is their “good”? The implied answer is…the producers are to be shackled by the “teeth and muscle” of regulators who will “change the way companies behave”, in the name of all of the people who have one thing in common…they don’t produce the valuable products created by the regulated companies. What justifies the shackling of the regulated companies is not their vice, but their virtue…the ability to produce valuable products.

No, this is not the end of capitalism. The closest the world had ever came to capitalism…the separation of economics and state…ended long ago. If it hadn’t, this massive financial breakdown would not have occurred. In defending “regulated capitalism”, Mr. Shuttleworth is merely defending the mixed economy status quo, not capitalism. Capitalism means one thing and one thing only…individual rights and a government that protects those rights. Not once is the issue of individual rights raised by Mr. Shuttleworth.

With “defenders” like this, capitalism doesn’t need enemies.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Others' Commentary-1

"The Answer to 1984 is 1776"-- Judy Aron

As we await the outcome of the election, I thought I'd share some comments made by others.

The following are excerpts from Let Them Fail, by Amit Ghate, which were posted on the blog of The Objective Standard.

Everywhere today politicians are blaring that they must save America’s financial institutions, alleging catastrophic risk to the economy were any to fail.

Capitalism doesn’t work, they declare, but fortunately the government is here to rescue us.

Sadly, they have it all backwards.

Overlooked here is that in a free market business failures are not just normal, they’re crucial for the best products and ideas to emerge. Most restaurants fail in their first three years because customers have other preferences. Many mom-and-pop grocers go out of business because Walmart offers better selection and lower prices. Even whole industries—think typewriters, 8-tracks and horses and buggies—vanish because new inventions and competitors arise.

None of these failures are a problem, nor do they threaten the system. On the contrary, they are an inherent part of the progress which only capitalism makes possible.

So why would failures in the financial industry be any different?

When the free market functions—and failure is allowed—people become viscerally aware of risk, with the result that they voluntarily assume less of it.

Conversely, when the government tries to “manage” the economy—when the consequences of risky behavior are shifted from self-interested actors to taxpayers...risks are concealed and amplified until they become catastrophic.

An analogy may be helpful here. Historically certain types of forests naturally experienced frequent, but small, wildfires. Because their frequency kept deadwood at a minimum, the fires never grew into large conflagrations. However, when government forestry services instituted fire suppression policies, they eliminated most small fires, but caused deadwood and other fuel to accumulate. When at last a fire came that could not be suppressed, it grew into a devastating inferno.

Learning from their errors, forestry services have abandoned fire suppression policies.

It’s time for our government to do likewise. First, by immediately abandoning its bailout binge, and then by phasing out all of the economic controls by which it attempts to “manage” the financial system—from the FDIC to the Federal Reserve itself. Nothing less can reestablish the freedom essential for a sound and vibrant economy.

Subject: Obama's "Virtue of Selfishness" Theme

The following comment was posted at Political Punch, the ABC News website.

In his own way, Obama understands that there is a conflict between selfishness and sacrifice. He just misidentifies which one is good and which one is wrong.

There's nothing wrong with pursuing one's rational self-interest in economics, romance, and life. That's our essence as human beings. This sort of selfishness does *not* include screwing others, robbing, rape, etc. -- those acts are immoral because they aren't rationally selfish.

It's a long-standing mistake to lump together in a package-deal both "selfishness" and abhorrent behaviours such as those. The truly selfish man neither wants to trample on others or be trampled himself -- he merely wishes to be left free to produce and trade values with others, and seek his own happiness.

In contrast, Obama's calls for "service" and "sacrifice" are just disguised calls for submission to state, i.e., slavery -- something I find profoundly ironic coming from someone who aspires to be the first African-American president of the US.

The sort of selfishness advocated by Ayn Rand is compatible with (and the only solid foundation) for the various virtues that most Americans correctly respect and seek to embody, such as integrity, honesty, productiveness, etc.

For more on this, I highly recommend the book by Dr. Tara Smith (professor of philosophy at Univ. Texas - Austin), published by Cambridge University Press:

"Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist"

Posted by: Paul Hsieh | Nov 3, 2008 11:49:32 AM

(Dr. Paul Hsieh is co-founder of We Stand FIRM (Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine)

The following comments were left at a website by an author which escapes me. Suffice it to say that this post tickled my fancy:

The full [Obama] quote is as follows: "John McCain and Sarah Palin, they call [my politics] socialistic. Y'know, I don't know when they decided they wanted to make a virtue out of selfishness. Y'know, the next thing I know, they're gonna find evidence of my communistic tendencies because I shared my toys in kindergarten — cause I split my peanut butter and jelly sandwich with my friend in sixth grade." - Barack Obama

Incredible! Our next president, who believes in taking from the rich and giving to the poor, completely obliterates the distinction between voluntary sharing and forced sharing — between sharing your toys with others and stealing the toys of others in order to share them — between sharing your sandwich with a friend, and grabbing my sandwich, so you can share it with your friend. The real question is: When did Barack Obama decide to make a virtue out of stealing other people's property? Not that the Republicans don't believe in doing the same thing, if only to a lesser degree!

As for the virtue of selfishness, sharing your sandwich with a friend is not unselfish if it is something you enjoy doing. Demanding that others share their sandwiches with perfect strangers certainly is. And who does this? Who expects you to share your hamburger with the bum sitting next to you at McDonalds? Who besides someone like Barack Obama?

And who better to answer him than the author of "The Virtue of Selfishness," Ayn Rand: "Why," she asks, "is it moral to serve the happiness of others, but not your own? If enjoyment is a value, why is it moral when experienced by others, but immoral when experienced by you? If the sensation of eating a cake is a value, why is it an immoral indulgence in your stomach, but a moral goal for you to achieve in the stomach of others. Why is it immoral for you to desire, but moral for others to do so? Why is it immoral to produce a value and keep it, but moral to give it away? And if it is not moral for you to keep a value, why is it moral for others to accept it? If you are selfless and virtuous when you give it, are they not selfish and vicious when they take it? Does virtue consist of serving vice"? Is the moral purpose of those who are good, self-immolation for the sake of those who are evil?

"The answer you evade, the monstrous answer is: No, the takers are not evil, provided they did not earn the value you gave them. It is not immoral for them to accept it, provided they are unable to produce it, unable to deserve it, unable to give you any value in return. It is not immoral for them to enjoy it. provided they do not obtain it by right."
(Atlas Shrugged, p. 1031)

So when did Obama decide to make a virtue out of selflessness? When did he decide that sharing was morally superior to the pursuit of happiness, and that forced sharing was morally superior to the right to the pursuit of happiness? The answer is: He didn't "decide" it; he simply absorbed it uncritically from the leftist academic environment in which he was raised and educated, and is now cashing in on it for his own political benefit.

Happy Election Day. At least this is one freedom that hasn't been eroded...yet.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Obama's Pre-Emptive Strike

No man, and no movement, can succeed without moral certainty-without a full, rational conviction of the moral rightness of one’s cause. –Ayn Rand, Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal, page 218

Objectivists know this.

Barack Obama seems to know this.

In a recent speech, he uttered these widely publicized words;

“The point is, though, that — and it’s not just charity, it’s not just that I want to help the middle class and working people who are trying to get in the middle class — it’s that when we actually make sure that everybody’s got a shot – when young people can all go to college, when everybody’s got decent health care, when everybody’s got a little more money at the end of the month – then guess what? Everybody starts spending that money, they decide maybe I can afford a new car, maybe I can afford a computer for my child. They can buy the products and services that businesses are selling and everybody is better off. All boats rise. That’s what happened in the 1990s, that’s what we need to restore. And that’s what I’m gonna do as president of the United States of America.

“John McCain and Sarah Palin they call this socialistic. You know I don’t know when, when they decided they wanted to make a virtue out of selfishness.”

He is leaving no doubt about the seriousness of this theme. Continuing along these lines in a subsequent speech, he said;

"The change we need won’t come from government alone," Obama said to a crowd of an estimated 80,000. "It will come from each of us doing our part in our own lives, in our own communities. It will come from each of us looking after ourselves and our families but also looking after each other. You know I – it’s been awhile now – we’ve made a virtue out of selfishness, there’s no virtue in that. We made a virtue of irresponsibility and we need to usher in a new spirit of service and sacrifice and responsibly."

Leaving aside the distortions (equating selfishness with irresponsibility), the inversions (equating charity with his taking of other peoples’ tax money to “help” the middle class, while deriding as “selfish” the victims’ resistence), and the intellectual package-dealing (selfishness as an unqualified evil, regardless of the method one employs in achieving one’s “selfish” goals), there is something significant in this new line of attack. The Obama machine must have come to the realization that new forces hostile to his agenda are gathering in the culture.

Make no mistake, Barack Obama…a deeply philosophical thinker…was referring to Ayn Rand’s book, The Virtue of Selfishness, in which she lays out in non-fiction form the essence of the ethical system dramatized in her classic novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. These are not isolated comments, or coincidences. They come directly on the heals of the Left’s anti-Objectivist barrage triggered by the Greenspan testimony. As I previously argued, at least some on the Left understand the basic conflict. Barack Obama knows who his real enemy is. And it’s not McCain-Palin, the GOP, or the modern conservatives, who hold the same basic altruist-collectivist premises as the American Left. It is not a battle between the secular altruists of the Left, and the religious altruists of the Right. It is a moral battle, however. The battle between socialism and capitalism…i.e., the battle for America…is a battle between the view of man the individual as a sacrificial piece of a societal whole, and man as a sovereign entity whose own life is an end in itself.

It is a moral battle between altruism in all of its forms, and rational egoism.

Such is the true meaning of Obama’s, and his collectivist machine’s, frontal assault on America’s, and capitalism’s, only moral defender…Ayn Rand. On the eve of what looks to be the historic election of a black man as president, Barack Obama has launched a pre-emptive strike against America’s premier philosopher. Why?

Obama is in essence declaring victory against McCain, and is turning his attention to the process of laying the philosophical groundwork for the coming assault on America’s Founding Enlightenment ideals. Obama’s vision for “fundamentally changing the United States of America” is rooted in the anti-morality of altruism. Throughout history, the altruist creed of service and sacrifice has served as the justification for every form of tyranny, from the Roman welfare state, to the theocracies of the Dark Ages, to Middle Age Feudalism, to Imperial Japan, to the collectivist slaughterhouses of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, and right up to the newly emerging socialist states such as Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. So it is no accident that Obama’s socialist agenda is based on altruism (“We are all our brothers’, and our sisters’, keepers.”).

But there is a fly in the ointment, this time. This time, there is a small, but committed opposition armed with “a full, rational conviction of the moral rightness of [it’s] cause.” That is Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. While difficult to gauge, its influence has been penetrating the culture for more than half a century. The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged continue to be best sellers decades after their release. Atlas Shrugged shows up on Book-of-the-Month Club and Library of Congress surveys as America’s second most influential book (after the Bible). A measure of Objectivism’s intellectual power is that its critics must rely on misrepresentation, distortion, lies, and ridicule, rather than objective analysis and dialogue. An indication of the relevance of its influence in the culture is the level of vocal opposition. Today, that opposition has reached its pinnacle…in the words of a major presidential candidate on the eve of an historic election.

To understand the significance of the events surrounding the sudden, seemingly inexplicable assault by the Left against Rand and Objectivism, I would point to the radically differing perspectives with which Rand and Obama view America’s Founding. Both see a fundamental flaw, having negative consequences continuing to this day. That is where the similarities end.

In a 2001 Chicago Public Radio interview, Barack Obama discussed what he saw as a fundamental flaw that the Founding Fathers “allowed” into the U.S. Constitution and that continues to this day…the failure to establish the means for bringing about “redistributive change”…or “economic” and “political” justice. “Economic” and “political” justice means the “right” of certain groups of people, characterized by nothing more than a declared need of material benefits that they have not earned, to use the coercive power of the state to seize those benefits from those who have produced them. It means a predatory state with the power to loot and enslave some, for the unearned benefit of others. What stands in the way of Obama’s predatory state? It is the “flaw’, or “blind spot” that he sees in America’s Founding. Although he doesn’t explicitly say it, what he is referring to is the fundamental principle that makes America America…the equal, unalienable individual rights to life, liberty, property (addressed in the fifth amendment) and the pursuit of happiness.

What he does say…and this makes clear exactly what he means…is that the fundamental flaw is represented by the Constitution’s “charter of negative liberties”, which “says what the federal government can’t do to you, but doesn’t say what the federal government or state government must do on your behalf.” It should be becoming clear by now. What he is attacking here is the second great philosophic achievement of the Founders…that of the proper role of government to protect those unalienable rights. “To protect these rights, governments are instituted among men”.

Barack Obama sees the principle of individual rights and of a government designed to protect them as flawed. That flaw must be corrected, by turning the protector of the individual into his predator, in order to “do on your behalf”. But, Ed Morrissey says, "The Constitution was intended as a limiting document, to curtail the power of the federal government vis-à-vis the states and the individual. Barack Obama wants to reverse that entirely.
The government does not exist to determine the acceptable level of wealth of its individual citizens. For government to assume that role, it would have to end private property rights and assume all property belonged to the State. That is classic Marxism.”
That is Obama’s vision.

Ayn Rand, too, saw a “fundamental flaw” inherent in America’s founding. Obama sees a “fundamental flaw” in the principle of the individual’s “negative” right to be free from the predatory physical force of an altruistic state. Ayn Rand presents the Left with a formidable counter-force. As Rand sees it:

“Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophic opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society. The conflict between capitalism and altruism has been undercutting America from her start…

"The American political system was based on a different moral principle: on the principle of man’s inalienable right to his own life-which means: on the principle that man has a right to exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself, and that men must deal with one another as traders, by voluntary choice to mutual benefit.

"But this moral principle was merely implied in the American political system: it was not stated explicitly, it was not identified, it was not formulated into a full, philosophic code of ethics. This was the unfulfilled task which remained as a deadly flaw in our culture and which is destroying America today.” (CUI, emphasis hers)

It was not America’s founding ideals that were flawed. It was that those ideals were accompanied by the altruist ethics, which America and its Founders inherited from a primitive past. It was not until the 20th century that that missing “full, philosophic code of ethics” was discovered and explicitly formulated, with the publication of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged"America’s Second Declaration of Independence". The missing moral ingredient of America’s Founding, now slowly taking root, is the only hope for halting Obama’s utopia of redistribution…and ultimately America’s decent into totalitarian socialism…and he knows it.

Regardless of who wins on November fourth, the nature of the battle will not change. Evading the moral essence of the battles to come will not do. Either one selfishly stands up for one’s right to one’s own life, or one submits to progressive enslavement. It is not enough to want to fight. The battle must be fought with the proper weapon…the weapon of moral certainty.

Barack Obama and his charged-up socialist brigade believe that they have morality on their side. To the extent that his adversaries accept the altruist premise, they are declaring unilateral moral disarmament. This is their most potent weapon. To advance the Marxist agenda of Barack Obama, the enemy must be kept morally disarmed. The attack on McCain-Palin within the context of the “virtue of selfishness” gambit is intended to do just that. They are just window dressing for the real target. They already accept service and sacrifice “for a cause greater than one’s own self-interest”…altruism…as the essence of morality. They are already disarmed.

Objectivists know the real nature of the war, and are ready with a full, philosophical stock of armaments. This is the reason for the rabid, almost hysterical attacks on Objectivism.

The choice comes down to…altruism or rational self-interest. The outcome of the battle for America depends on the outcome of that choice.

It’s time for every American who values his freedom to selfishly, and virtuously, declare his right to his own life…before that time runs out.