SELECTED INTERNET POSTS
Part 1: 13 December 2001 - 16 May 2003
Part 1 (13 December 2001 - 16 May 2003); Part 2 (18 May 2003 - 30 June 2003); Part 3 (1 July 2003 - 2 December 2003); Part 4 (3 December 2003 - 29 January 2004); Part 5 (3 February 2004 - 17 April 2004); Part 6 (16 May 2004 - August 2004); Part 7 (12 December 2004 - June 2005)
By Chris Matthew Sciabarra
Chris Matthew Sciabarra participates on occasion in several Internet discussion forums, including several Objectivist lists (including The Atlantis Discussion List [ATL], Atlantis II, Mudita Forum, Objectivist Outcasts, Philosophy of Objectivism List [OWL], Secular Individualism List, SOLO HQ, SOLO Yahoo Forum [SOLO], Starship Forum, among others), and lists devoted to Nathaniel Branden, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Karl Marx, psychology, Randian feminism, ifeminism, and so forth. Below are a few posts from the various lists.
Table of Contents
Re: World War I (16 May 2003)
Re: Life, Value, and Rand's Life & Value (13-14 May 2003)
Re: God Speaks (12 May 2003)
World War I (7 May 2003)
Life, Value, and Rand's Life & Value (5 May 2003)
Revisionist History Revised (2 May 2003)
Churchill on World War I (30 April 2003)
Historical Interpretations of Intervention & Colonialism (22 April 2003)
More on "Intervention" and "Interventionism" (19 April 2003)
Re: "Democracy, Interventionism, Dominance, Imperialism" (18 April 2003)
More on "Sympathy with the Enemy in Wartime" (8 April 2003)
Rand on "Sympathy with the Enemy in Wartime" (1 April 2003)
Re: "History Continues," Part 2 (30 March 2003)
Re: "History Continues," Part 1 (27 March 2003)
Star Wars' Yoda and Rand on Fear (17 December 2001)
Music and Freedom (13 December 2001)
RE: WORLD WAR I
(OWL. Posted: Fri, 16 May 2003 07:36:15 -0400)
I wanted to thank both PC and WT for their responses on this thread. W and I are completely agreed that World War I was "a political and cultural disaster for Western Civilization," and that "[i]t helped give the 20th Century many of the nasty features that dominated it (nihilism, collectivism, statism, militarism, socialism, etc.)." I'm not entirely sure, however, that W alternatively plotted history is something that would have come to pass; I'm also not entirely sure that ~even if~ a German victory had occurred that it would have been ~worse~ necessarily than what eventuated anyway. For example, I am not certain that German authoritarianism would have devolved into a particularly virulent Nazi form, or that such an authoritarian system could have even survived for long without the nourishment of market liberalism. And even ~if~ the Germans had conquered Russia---highly questionable given that neither Napoleon nor Hitler could do it---I don't think it would have been ~worse~ than what happened in that country anyway, given the rise of Lenin, the Bolshevik revolution, and the Communist takeover. I do ~not~ believe that a "wonderful world would have resulted" if only the U.S. hadn't gotten involved. All those trends that W points to---authoritarianism, anti-Semitism, militarism, and such---were very much on the rise, given the 20th century collapse of classical liberalism. And even though the British were far more liberal than the Germans, the fact is that they too were already on the road ~away~ from liberalism. If W is right "that the U.S. did not, and probably could not, establish the terms of a magnanimous peace," then it brings me back to my initial question Why should the U.S. have gotten involved at all? For if these anti-liberal trends were overtaking the European continent in any event, why should the U.S. have entered the conflagration---sacrificing the lives of thousands of conscripted US soldiers abroad, and laying the groundwork for collectivist-corporatist political economy at home?
As a WW 1 film once asked "What price glory?" Alas, we'll never know the answers to these "counterfactual" scenarios... and we will have to live with the ~reality~ as it is. PC compliments me on my "valid points about how war and imperialism and big government have often been intimately related in [the 20th] century." But he criticizes my view that the current crop of neoconservatives have embraced Wilsonian folly. P is absolutely correct, of course, that there are many issues here, including ~how~ democracy can be spread. He points to his previous posts, as I will do the same; most of these posts are indexed at my "Not a Blog" . The virtue of these discussions is that we can make lots of bald statements, which require follow-up in the give-and-take, and I continue to appreciate the many contributions here.
A distillation of my views has recently been published in the pages of THE FREE RADICAL 56 (May/June 2003) 16-22. The article is ~not~ a full-fledged critique of neoconservatism---whether of Straussian or "social-democrat" lineage; that critique will have to be saved for another day. It is, however, a critique of those Objectivists who have not shown sufficient appreciation for Rand's radical understanding of the "New Fascism," which has global politico-economic implications. In the article, I summarize my views of the current crisis. I discuss its deeper philosophic origins and Rand's interpretation of the historic role of U.S. foreign policy in its development. I examine both the methodological basis of Rand's critique and the character of other Objectivist responses. I conclude with a call for a reclamation of Rand's analytical radicalism. . . .
All the best,
RE: LIFE, VALUE, AND RAND'S LIFE & VALUE
(Nathaniel Branden List, Posted: Tue, 13 May 2003 18:00 pm; Wed, 14 May 2003 18:42 pm)
. . . I don't think that dialectics---or what I've called the "art of context-keeping"---allows anyone "to play levels of generalization and context deuces wild." I also don't believe there is ~any~ division between an "objective" method of analysis and a "dialectic" method of analysis. I think context-keeping is a requirement of objectivity, just as surely as logic is a handmaiden to context-keeping.
The ~problem~, throughout the history of dialectics, is that most thinkers ~did~ create a lethal separation between dialectics and logic. As I state in TOTAL FREEDOM: TOWARD A DIALECTICAL LIBERTARIANISM (Penn State Press, 2000):
"... dialectics, as an orientation, is not in opposition to logic, but rather is a fundamental ~complement~ to logic and, as such, cannot correctly be said either to undermine or to 'transcend' logic. The widespread failure to grasp this fact has resulted in the irony that dialectics has been as seriously jeopardized by some of those who have sought to preserve and extend it as by those who have endeavored to destroy it. Those so-called dialectical theorists who champion dialectics as 'superior to' logic fail to appreciate logic as the foundation of knowledge, an undeniable constituent of all concepts of method. Those who refer to dialectics as being 'transcendent of' the axiomatic laws of noncontradiction, excluded middle, and identity are thus speaking nonsense every bit as much as those who claim that dialectics is destructive of those laws. Defending the rightful status of dialectics as a methodological or research orientation is thus made doubly difficult, because those most in need of keeping logic foundational to their dialectical inquiries do not think they need to, while those most capable of showing that logic is foundational to dialectics think that dialectics is antithetical to logic. Logic and dialectics are mutually implied: just as logic is the art of noncontradictory identification, dialectics is the art of context-keeping, and both arts entail various techniques for achieving these mutually reinforcing goals."
. . .
MM writes: >>Hi Chris, It seems I was wrong in stating that you were drawing a dividing line between objectivity and dialectics. I haven't read Total Freedom in a few years, so I will need some time to refamiliarize myself with it. But as I began to refamiliarize myself with concept of dialectics, I came across a few things you said in an interview, which lead me to the conclusion that you were making the distinction I suggested above: You answer: "I'd like to say that dialectics is a method of analysis, a mode of inquiry, but in a sense, it is a kind of meta-methodological orientation that has several basic characteristics. I say "meta-methodological" because it is not to be confused with such things as logic, induction, deduction, statistical inference, all of which, in various contexts, dialectical thinkers have used." You also answer: "I don't doubt Rand's objectivity, but this is somewhat external to the central focus of my book. Ultimately, Rand's "objectivity" pertains to how she validates her positions. My book is less concerned with validating her ideas, which is a separate scholarly endeavor, and more concerned with grasping how she looks at the world in all of its integrated complexity." In the first quote, are you suggesting that context can be "abstracted away" from the laws of logic and then be used in analysis?<<
C: First, let me say, that these quotes come from an interview I gave in 1995, and I do believe that I've gotten better at expressing the central ideas of my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy (which wasn't even completed back then). I think eight years of discussing these issues has had a positive effect on the clarity of my exposition---and my thinking.
Second, with regard to your actual question: I don't believe that context can be 'abstracted away' from the laws of logic. What I was trying to say in that reply was that it wasn't my focus to prove, validate, or even criticize Rand's substantive views in my book. For the purposes of AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, I did not ~question~ the substantive views of Rand (though I certainly ~raise~ questions about potentially problematic Randian positions). Rather, I focus on how it all "hangs together." For me, the integrated structure of Rand's analysis hangs together "dialectically," that is, with an eye toward grasping the full context of any problem or issue.
Ultimately, one cannot separate Rand's contextualism from her substantive positions, of course. And it is my view that her substantive positions are more likely to be correct when she embraces the larger context of any issue that she examines---simply because she brings more and more relationships to bear on the issue at hand. She does this by engaging in shifting levels of generality and vantage point.
MM continues: >>Also, I still have problems with your particular method of analysis. Do you remember our discussion on Iraq and justice when I suggested you were "unfocusing what was under the microscope"? I am interesting in how you set your limits when it comes to historical context? According to dialectics, where do you draw the line on relevance? Where do you draw the line on essentiality?<<
C: Here, I think that the primary issue is: What is your philosophy of history? One of the reasons I quoted Roy Childs in a previous discussion on historiography is that I do believe that the historian's premises with regard to what is ~important~ in human life/experience will very much ~shape~ the character of the historian's understanding. Noting that everything is interconnected is not a prescription for granting every connection ~equal~ weight.
Dialectics doesn't tell us ~where~ to draw the line on relevance; what it counsels is that the line ~must~ be drawn ~somewhere~, and the nature of our abstractions will almost always be dictated by the nature of our assumptions about human efficacy, that is, about the nature of human action in a social context---and the extent to which certain factors, in any given context, predominate in terms of their causal efficacy.
So, for example, you might actually fault ~me~ for inadequate assumptions about human efficacy, while ~not~ faulting dialectical method per se---which does not dictate any ~specific~ assumptions in this regard. It only dictates the necessity for abstraction or "boundary-drawing" in our relative weighing of essential and nonessential factors, whatever our area of investigation.
And the fact is that different dialectical thinkers have drawn the boundaries differently because not all dialectical thinkers agree about the causal efficacy of this or that factor. I tend to agree with Rand that ~ideas~ are at the foundation of historical dynamics, and this assumption certainly shapes the character of my own historical essays.
On the issue of how one draws the line on essentiality, I would say that a lot depends on the investigation and its purpose. If, for example, I am investigating social change, ~that~ cognitive purpose will frame the character of my investigation as I distinguish between those relations that are essential (i.e., “internal”) to a fundamental alteration of the system, and those that are nonessential (i.e., “external”). (As Brand Blanshard says: "A given term is internally related to another if in the absence of the relation it could not be what it is. A term is externally related to another if the relation could equally be present or absent while the term was precisely the same." In other words, A is internally related to B if B is necessary to the existence of A ~as~ A. A is externally related to B if B is not a necessary condition for the existence of A. And there are plenty of permutations between these extremes.)
This does not mean that the context or cognitive purpose ~determines~ the internal or external character of the relation. But our identification of the essential (internal) or nonessential (external) character of the relationship will frequently depend on how we view it. Shifting our perspective on a relationship will bring certain ~existing~ factors into—or out of—focus. (In other words, as Rand says, context is indispensable to the ~definition~ of essential characteristics.)
For one illustration of how relations can be perspective-dependent, take a look at my TOTAL FREEDOM, pages 22023, wherein I examine the relationship between the “coercive” and the “voluntary.” Both Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand suggest that, from one perspective, the coercive is in stark opposition to the voluntary: in other words, they are externally related, mutually exclusive factors. Either you are coerced into acting, or you act of your own accord. There is no middle ground when a gun is pointed at your head.
But, from another perspective, the "coercive" and the "voluntary" are internally related, because coercion requires the “voluntary” sanction of the victim. Coercive social relations cannot be what they are in the absence of this “voluntary” sanction. (And there is no contradiction between these observations; the law of noncontradiction tells us that A cannot be both A and not-A at the same time and in the same respect. Clearly, by altering the perspective on a relation, both Rand and Rothbard are changing the respect—the context—of the analysis.) Understanding the internalist dynamic between the coercive and the voluntary is therefore revolutionary in its implications, since the removal of the victim’s sanction helps to de-legitimize and overturn coercive social relations.
So, I'm ~not~ saying that essence is perspective-dependent; I ~am~ saying that different ~real~ aspects of a relationship will be emphasized or diminished depending on the perspective we take and the cognitive purpose we have in mind. One can fully appreciate the antagonism between the coercive and the voluntary, and still appreciate the "voluntary" dynamics upon which "coercion," as a social relation, is often built.
MM asks: "Also, could you explain exactly what you mean by "meta-methodolocial"? Flourish, MM"
C: This was an early version of what I later characterized as the genus of "methodological orientation." In TOTAL FREEDOM, I define a methodological orientation as "an intellectual disposition to apply a specific set of broad ontological and epistemological presuppositions about objects of study and their typical relationships to particular fields of investigation." I see dialectics as a species of this genus---one of five basic methodological orientations, as they have been manifested throughout intellectual history. The other four orientations are atomism, dualism, monism, and organicism, and each of them offers a different position on how to distinguish between essential and nonessential factors in any given investigation. The five orientations are five different broad ways of seeing the world, which have significant implications for the character and quality of one's research. I argue that dialectics is far superior to the others, since the others typically entail an "a priori" imposition of hard core assumptions on any and all contexts, thus dispensing with the active role of the knowing subject in understanding any object of inquiry.
RE: GOD SPEAKS
(SOLO, Posted: Mon, 12 May 2003 18:27 pm)
. . . Rand had some very provocative things to say about Jesus, even if she wasn't enamored of Christianity's altruist morality.
For example, when a fan (Sylvia Austin, 9 July 1946) compared Jesus and Roark, Rand recoiled at the comparison, but still acknowledged: "Jesus was one of the first great teachers to proclaim the basic principle of individualism—the inviolate sanctity of man's soul, and the salvation of one's soul as one's first concern and highest goal; this means—one's ego and the integrity of one's ego." She goes on to say: "But when it came to the next question, a code of ethics to observe for the salvation of one's soul—(this means: what must one do in actual practice in order to save one's soul?)—Jesus (or perhaps His interpreters) gave men a code of altruism, that is, a code which told them that in order to save one's soul, one must love or help or ~live for~ others. This means, the subordination of one's soul (or ego) to the wishes, desires or needs of others, which means the subordination of one's soul to the souls of others."
She continues: "The solution? We have a choice. Either we accept the basic principle of Jesus—the preeminence of one's own soul—and define a new code of ethics consistent with it (a code of Individualism). Or we accept altruism and the basic principle which it implies—the conception of man as a sacrificial animal, whose purpose is service to others, to the herd (which is what you may see in Europe right now—and which is certainly not what Jesus intended)."
Note above, Rand's suggestion that Jesus's alleged altruism may have been an outgrowth of "His interpreters." She repeats the charge in the early drafts. In notes for Roark's speech (1942), she mentions "Christ and Nietzsche" in the same breath and in an earlier version of Roark's courtroom speech, Roark mentions both of them in a list of creators who were made to suffer. The list includes Socrates, Joan D'Arc, Galileo, Spinoza, Luther, Hugo, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Nieztsche, Ibsen, Dostoevsky, and Jesus Christ ("against the majority of [indecipherable] crucified").
Shoshana Milgram makes the additional point in her analysis of these drafts (see THE INTELLECTUAL ACTIVIST, August 2001) that Rand had curtailed allusions to both religion and Nietzsche in THE FOUNTAINHEAD. But she reveals a very interesting passage that was initially included in Roark's speech: "Men have come close to the truth, but it was destroyed each time. . . . Christ proclaimed the untouchable integrity of Man's spirit [stating] the first rights of the Ego. He placed the salvation of one's own soul above all other concerns. But men distorted it into altruism. Nietzsche, who loved Man, fought against altruism---and destroyed his own case by preaching the Will to Power, a second-hander's pursuit."
I don't have a Nietzsche reference in front of me, but it is possible that this view of Jesus's egoist message being distorted into altruism ~may~ have been anticipated by Nietzsche himself. Rand's early drafts are peppered with a few additional religious references---religious metaphors are actually plastered all over the published version of THE FOUNTAINHEAD---including a Biblical quotation from Matthew 12:31-32, which centers on the issue of sin against one's own highest virtues. Rand goes a long way toward explaining the power---and reclaiming the imagery---of religious metaphors in her 25th anniversary introduction to THE FOUNTAINHEAD.
It should also be noted that in her interview in PLAYBOY (and in a later interview with Phil Donahue), Rand made an additional point about Christ's crucifixion. She stated that "the cross [is] the symbol of the sacrifice of the ideal to the nonideal. . . . Christ, in terms of the Christian philosophy, is the human ideal. He personifies that which men should strive to emulate. Yet, according to the Christian mythology, he died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the nonideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal, or virtue to vice. And it is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors. That is precisely how the symbolism [of crucifixion] is used. That is torture."
Finally, if we were playing a version of "Six Degrees of Separation," I suppose I should at least mention that Rand got her start, ironically, in Hollywood, when Cecil B. DeMille cast her and Frank O'Connor as extras in "King of Kings"---a silent epic on the life of Jesus (who was played by the H.B. Warner).
WORLD WAR I
(OWL, Posted: Wed, 7 May 2003 17:15:47 -0500)
I appreciate PC's comments on World War I. I'd like to address the issues he raises---briefly.
First let me repeat: In principle, I agree that, in certain crucial instances, one ~must~ respond to aggression militarily --- hence, my support for the war on Al Qaeda. What I have questioned in a whole series of posts here and elsewhere is the quality of that response today and throughout U.S. history. (Check out my "Not a Blog" for links to recent entries http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/notablog.htm ).
In my view, World War I was ~not~ a war that the U.S. should have entered. I am fully aware of German threats to sink U.S. ships and of the Zimmerman message---both of which were rooted in Germany's view that the U.S. was ~not~ staying "neutral" in the European war. U.S. entry was made inevitable because of nationalistic fervor among Progressive intellectuals and imperialistic fervor among certain big business financiers. I am not suggesting that the U.S. should have forcibly prevented business from trading with the British or the French. What I am suggesting is that the underwriting of loans to British and French governments was a by-product of the incestuous relationship between various financiers, central banks, and foreign treasuries. That is not my idea of "capitalism: the unknown ideal." The war was truly a watershed moment in American history that established a ~model~ for business-government alliances for the remainder of the 20th century. (On this point, I recommend Murray Rothbard's essay, "War Collectivism in World War I," in the Radosh and Rothbard anthology, A NEW HISTORY OF LEVIATHAN.)
It is not insignificant that in the years leading up to World War I, both the income tax and the Federal Reserve System were established. (Most wars are preceded by these kinds of political-financial machinations.) The war was financed by intense borrowing and rising taxes: rising income taxes, corporate taxes, war estate taxes, excise & import taxes, and excess-profits taxes. As Bruce Porter argues, WW I tax legislation "permanently altered the structure of American taxation." Progressive taxation became "the mainstay of American federal financing." The war also generated increased power in the Executive Branch, the virtual nationalization of the ocean shipping industry and outright nationalization of railroads, telephone, telegraph, and international cable industries. More than 5000 mobilization agencies were created that bureaucratized the U.S. economy. And even though much of this was abandoned after the war, the blueprint had been set; it was a hop-skip-and-a-jump to the New Deal---which drew heavily from the experience of War Collectivism and Mussolini's fascist Italy. (Take a look at John V. Denson's edited collection, THE COSTS OF WAR for some fine essays on this subject.)
As Arthur Ekirch argues---the same Ekirch whom Rand cites approvingly in her "Roots of War" essay---"[t]he war made partners of government and business," as the Progressive ideologues of U.S. intervention whipped up a frenzy of sacrifice and duty in crusading for "democracy" at home and abroad. It was the true fulfillment of the Progressive movement's ideals of nationalism and statism. And important elements of the big business community had overwhelmingly embraced this Progressive agenda---and the war mobilization and destruction of market competition that it entailed. From the 1916 Committee on Industrial Preparedness to the War Industries Board, World War I engendered a massive assault on both economic and civil liberties (the latter through the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918). It also enshrined military conscription. And given that its aftermath made possible the birth of Communist Russia, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy---and the Second World War---I would say that there is simply ~nothing~ good that came out of that war or its aftermath. The war was ~everything~ the Founding Fathers warned against in their calls to avoid Old World political and military entanglements.
Let me be clear: I am not advocating "Marxist" revisionism here. I'm not even advocating "libertarian" revisionism, per se. What I am claiming is fully informed by Ayn Rand's own historical understanding of World War I---and the history of U.S. foreign policy. To this extent, my forthcoming article is not a reclamation of libertarian or Marxist paradigms of interpretation. It is a reclamation of Rand's own ~radical~ understanding of U.S. foreign policy as an outgrowth of U.S. interventionist domestic policy. Call it "Randian foreign policy revisionism," if you will ... but it is rooted in Rand's actual ~writings~ on foreign policy, which have been woefully neglected by too many Objectivists.
In "The Roots of War," Rand focuses not on the business interests promoting war but on the ~intellectual~ roots of World War I. This is fully in keeping with her historiographical method, which sees "ideas" as the central causal factor in history. Her words are worth recalling here. Citing the arguments of the aforementioned Ekirch, Rand writes:
>>The rise of a spirit of nationalistic imperialism in the United States did not come from the right, but from the left, not from big-business interests, but from the collectivist reformers who influenced the policies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. For a history of these influences, see ~The Decline of American Liberalism~ by Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr. (New York Longroans, Green, 1955.)
>>"In such instances," writes Professor Ekirch, "as the progressives' increasing acceptance of compulsory military training and of the white man's burden, there were obvious reminders of the paternalism of much of their economic reform legislation. Imperialism, according to a recent study of American foreign policy, was a revolt against many of the values of traditional liberalism. 'The spirit of imperialism was an exaltation of duty above rights, of collective welfare above individual self-interest, the heroic values as opposed to materialism, action instead of logic, the natural impulse rather than the pallid intellect.'" (p. 189. Quoted from R. E. Osgood, ~Ideals and Self-Interest in America's Foreign Relations~, Chicago University of Chicago Press, 1953, p. 47.)
>>In regard to Woodrow Wilson, Professor Ekirch writes: "Wilson no doubt would have preferred the growth of United States foreign trade to come about as a result of free international competition, but he found it easy with his ideas of moralism and duty to rationalize direct American intervention as a means of safeguarding the national interest." (p. 199.) And "He seemed to feel that the United States had a mission to spread its institutions—which he conceived as liberal and democratic—to the more benighted areas of the world." (p. 199.) It was not the advocates of capitalism who helped Wilson to whip up a reluctant, peace-loving nation into the hysteria of a military crusade—it was the "liberal" magazine ~The New Republic~. Its editor, Herbert Croly, used such arguments as "The American nation needs the tonic of a serious moral adventure."<<
(Note: This is the same ~New Republic~ that was founded and published by Willard W. Straight, a partner of J.P. Morgan & Company, and fully in league with Morgan's support of U.S. entry into WW I---"to make the world safe"... for the global investments of the House of Morgan.)
Ultimately, Rand is correct: ~Ideas~ move the world. It is the ~idea~ of spreading U.S. "liberal and democratic" institutions "to the more benighted areas of the world" that is fueling the current neoconservative reincarnation of Wilsonian folly. And it is an idea that strengthens further the connection between business and government that Rand condemned as the "New Fascism." Until or unless the pernicious causes and consequences of such policies are checked, similar disasters beckon.
LIFE, VALUE, AND RAND'S LIFE & VALUE
(Nathaniel Branden List, Posted: Mon, 5 May 2003 19:30:00 -0500)
I appreciate the discussion on the "pre-moral choice to live." I think this has been a kind of sticking point in Objectivism for many years; I, myself, have always found the "eudaimonist" arguments of Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen a bit more persuasive. In his recent article, "Rand on Obligation and Value" in THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES (Fall 2002), Rasmussen takes the neo-Aristotelian approach (which has been imputed to Rand in various essays, chief among them, the chapter on ethics in THE PHILOSOPHIC THOUGHT OF AYN RAND  edited by Den Uyl and Rasmussen). Rasmussen writes:
Both a dominant ultimate end (or value) and an inclusive ultimate end (or value) are never sought for the sake of anything else; but the former reduces the value of everything else to that of a mere means, while the latter comprises activities that express the ultimate value in various forms. To better appreciate this distinction, focus on the difference between two relations of subordination to some end the difference between (a) activities that are purely means or instruments to that end, and (b) activities that are ingredients in or constituents of that end.
For example, consider the relationship of obtaining golf clubs to playing golf, and the relationship of putting to playing golf. While both are "for the sake of" playing golf, the former is only a necessary preliminary, but putting is one of the activities that make golfing what it is. Further, the actions taken to obtain golf clubs produce an outcome separate from the activity—namely, the possession of golf clubs that can be used—while putting has no end or result apart from itself. Its value is not that of a mere means. Its value lies in its being an expression or realization of the activity of which it is a constituent. As J. L. Ackrill (1980, 19) notes: "One does not putt in order to play golf . . . . Putting ~is ~playing golf (though not all that playing golf is)." [...]
If life is understood as an inclusive ultimate end, then it is an activity whose constituents express the value that is life. Their value is not determined because they are simply means. Furthermore, understanding life as an inclusive ultimate end (or value) has important implications for how one understands the ultimate moral value, "man’s survival qua man." One might say, for instance, that such activities as friendship, knowledge, or virtue are valuable not simply because they produce a life that is appropriate to man, but also because they actually express what it is to live in such a manner. Causality is still the principle of determining one’s obligations, but it would in this instance be ~formal~, not simply, efficient causality.
Once we awaken from our Cartesian slumbers, we can locate human choice in the middle ground between compulsion and radical freedom. On the one hand, human choice is not reducible to some causal string—the mere result of antecedent genetic or socio-cultural factors. Human beings ~are~ moral agents, and choosing is the central, necessary element in the achievement of the life that is proper to man. It is the key to making the human good both actual and personal. On the other hand, human choice is not radically free. It does not create its context and is not some primitive, inexplicable, unconditioned act. It does not create ~ex nihilo~ either the need for choice or the way of living that constitutes what it is to ~be~ a good human being.
Accordingly, human beings can choose not to hold man’s survival qua man as their moral standard, but they cannot choose not to be human or not to have the overall potentiality ~for~ such a manner of living. Nor can they choose to make the human good anything other than the actualization of this overall potentiality. That is something real, and it is that for the sake of which human choice is exercised. Living the life that is proper to man is the ultimate ~telos~ of human choice whether or not human beings recognize it or choose it.
I think what is interesting here is the implication that virtues and subsidiary values are both ~means~ and ~constituents~ of the ultimate value that is life. This speaks to a much more enriched, ~nonlinear~, dialectical perspective on means and ends. In other words, in her ethics, despite her hierarchical emphasis, Rand really doesn't think in terms of strict logical dependence, or one-way causality, that A leads to B, which leads to C, and so forth. Rather, she thought in terms of reciprocal causation and mutual reinforcement A leads to B which leads to C, with each of the elements being both a precondition and consequence of the others. As I write in AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL: "Such an integration allowed Rand to view the sex act, for instance, as simultaneously, a celebration of life, an expression of happiness, a manifestation of self-esteem, and a product of human values. The constellation here cannot be understood in its abstracted units, but only in its organic unity."
Reciprocal causation also helps us to understand the "pre-moral choice to live" in more ~constitutive~ terms, rather than as an ~explicit~ deliberative decision made at birth (something that is not even possible in conscious, conceptual terms for a new born baby).
In RUSSIAN RADICAL, I argue that this whole question entails also a distinction between tacit, implicit, subconscious, unarticulated choices and articulated, explicit, conscious choices---apropos the discussion between Michael M. and Robert C. I argue further that Rand endorsed a kind of "internal relationship" between life and value. As I write in Chapter 9 ("Ethics and Human Survival"):
Rand's argument that there is an inseparable link between life and value is, in fact, circular. But it is not a vicious form of circularity. Such circularity is inherent in any internal relationship. When Rand states that "metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself," she is ~identifying~ both life and value. Life ~is~ the ultimate value. It entails value in its very identity. Life is internally related to value because it could not be what it is in the absence of this relation. To attempt to separate life and value would be to evade the meaning of both concepts. Both life and value are conditional upon each other. One can no more refer to life without value, than to value without life. Thus, Rand maintained that their bifurcation is "worse than a contradiction." Rand did not see the relationship of life and value in strictly linguistic terms. She did not deduce the concept of value from the concept of life. Her arguments for their internal relationship are inductive. They are based upon an observation of a fact of reality. Epistemologically, Rand recognizes that the concept of life is prior to the concept of value. But ontologically, the two are simultaneous. The very existence of life depends on the pursuit and achievement of values; the very phenomenon of value depends on the existence of life.
In this internal link, Rand is not offering an immediate defense of any particular value system. She is merely observing that life and value cannot be separated from each other. To say that the choice to live is metaethical, is to acknowledge that it is a fact inherent in the conditional nature of human life itself. A person's continued existence is predicated on his or her choices. None of these choices can have any meaning if they are disconnected from the most basic choice to live. It can be said that even if someone pursues contradictory values inimical to his survival, he or she may still be affirming the will to live. Subjectively, these choices may appear to have short-run survival value, even if they objectively threaten long-term survival interests. Rand's critique of altruism is at once her explicit articulation of the means by which people unwittingly accept a death premise on which to base their actions. Just as the principle of altruism is based on a self-sacrificial death premise, Rand proposed that those who attempt to practice it will, in fact, subvert their own ultimate survival. One cannot consistently engage in self-sacrifice without negating the basic choice at the foundation of ethics. Those who consistently live by self-abnegating principles achieve literal suicide.
Rand acknowledged that one's conceptual awareness is governed by cognitive concepts and evaluative choices that are often subconscious and tacit. Thus, she suggests that even the primary choice to live is implicit. As a child learns to distinguish between right and wrong, he may not be making a calculated decision "to live." Indeed, he may not even know ~why~ certain actions are good and others are bad. Even as its consciousness evolves toward full conceptual maturity, it is more likely to take for granted the moral principles governing its actions as it follows certain traditional precepts by habit. In most cases, the choice to live becomes apparent in the everyday pursuit of life-sustaining material and spiritual values. In Rand's view, it is the task of ethics to objectively validate values that confirm this most basic choice to live through the conscious, articulated, principled pursuit of goals that make ~human~ living both possible and desirable.
In any event, I realize it is impossible to come to any conclusions here---people have been debating this topic for many years. But I do like the idea that virtues and subsidiary values, which are a means to living, are also ~constitutive~ of the ultimate value of life, and I think it is in keeping with what I call Rand's overall neo-Aristotelian "dialectical" orientation.
I realize this opens a whole can---or several cans---of worms; I therefore encourage interested readers to consult some of the sources above, and several other interesting works on the subject. I'd include Neera Badhwar's recent TOC monograph, IS VIRTUE ONLY A MEANS TO HAPPINESS? (which features replies by Jay Friedenberg, Lester H. Hunt, and David Kelley, and a Badhwar rejoinder) and Roderick Long's TOC monograph, REASON AND VALUE ARISTOTLE VERSUS RAND (which features replies by Fred D. Miller, Jr., Eyal Mozes, and a rejoinder by Long). I'd also recommend Rasmussen and Den Uyl's 1991 work, LIBERTY AND NATURE AN ARISTOTELIAN DEFENSE OF LIBERAL ORDER (Open Court).
All of this is my way of saying too that I think Mike L. is correct in many respects Rand didn't flesh out her thinking on this subject, and on many subjects. And because she didn't write any full-fledged philosophical treatise on Objectivism, the reader is left with the daunting task of trying to piece the philosophy together. Mike L. mentions that Rand wrote novels and polemics, "but spent only about a hundred pages on 'real' philosophy in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology." However, if you look ~just~ at ITOE for Rand's epistemic insights, you are cutting off vital theoretical building blocks that impinge precisely on the "tacit" dimensions of consciousness I mention above. One can find enormously valuable discussions of these dimensions in Rand's essays on aesthetics, for example, but also in her lectures on fiction-writing and nonfiction-writing. I've often said that people who focus on ITOE to the exclusion of these other essays and lectures, are only getting one ~portion~ of Rand's approach to epistemology.
I don't think it was an issue of Rand not being smart enough either; she wasn't a "scholar"---this much is true. She was a fiery literary artist, a passionate social critic and a nonacademic philosopher (not unlike the great writers of the Russian Golden and Silver Ages). She developed the core elements of a philosophic system that is going to need enormous "fleshing out." In an interview, she said explicitly "I do have a complete philosophical system, but the elaboration of a system is a job that no philosopher can finish in his lifetime. . . . There is an awful lot of work yet to be done" ("Focus on Youth" Broadcast Transcript, 14 November 1976, p. 4).
So much for the suggestion that Objectivism is a ~closed~ system. It isn't. For if it is ~closed~, it is ~dead~ --- it becomes nothing more than a "history of thought" question on philosophy exams.
Finally, I do want to say that I've never been keen on interpreting the correctness of a philosophy by reference to the choices made by that philosopher in his or her life. I think it was Nietzsche who once said that a philosopher must be forgiven her first disciples. I would extend that---because not even the ~philosopher~ herself should be evaluated necessarily as the ~exemplar~ of the philosophy. It is certainly ~interesting~ to question how consistent Rand, Marx, Aristotle, Jefferson, Plato, and Hegel were with their basic philosophic assumptions, but I don't think we invalidate Jefferson's call for liberty, for instance, by condemning him for the ownership of slaves. ~Inconsistency~ is not unusual---neither in life nor in the history of thought. That's why I'm less apt to evaluate ~any~ thinker on the basis of the personal decisions or tastes they exhibit in life.
REVISIONIST HISTORY REVISED
(OWL, Posted: Fri, 2 May 2003 20:11:56 -0500)
PC writes in typically endearing fashion: "Chris, Are You Falling for Libertarian/Marxist Revisionist History?... Don't Do It, Young Man!"
Ah, I'm 43, and still feel young, so I think this is a wonderful way to begin the discussion. :) However, I do admit that I've been posting rather long posts, so I'm going to try to keep this brief. For now.
My post on Churchill was ~not~ an argument that Nazism and Communism would ~not~ have happened ~if only~ the US had not entered World War I. It was simply to provide some additional, surprising speculation, from Winston Churchill, to support Rand's comment that World War I, which was fought---ostensibly---to make the world safe for democracy, did nothing of the sort. I honestly don't want to get into the game of "if only" --- because historical circumstances are incredibly complex, and it is virtually impossible to speculate what would have happened in the absence of this or that action---since every action and every inaction leads to a whole network of reactions from other parties.
As for the war being a response to aggression... well... we have since learned, for example, that the sinking of the Lusitania, a commercial vessel, by a German U-Boat, was a response to the fact that the Lusitania was transporting arms under cover. And the U.S. was not acting as a "neutral" power, not when its politically powerful business community was underwriting loans and export orders to England and France. World War I was largely a battle among old European colonial powers---and it should have stayed in Europe. I do agree completely with PC, however, that the aftermath of the war was a major contributing factor to the rise of fascism and Nazism (though communism was on the rise before and during the war). And the Great Depression---which was exported through the Federal Reserve to the rest of the Western world---was a major factor in the rise of European authoritarianism.
Let me state a few things for the record, however:
1. I have not argued and do not believe that the U.S. must ~never~ get involved in wars because wars have "destabilizing" unintended consequences. I am not a pacifist. I did not believe the Iraq war was necessary (my arguments for this are archived on OWL, but a forthcoming article of mine, "Understanding the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy," is a distillation of those arguments, and I will post a link to it when it is available). I did support the war in Afghanistan. I have supported and continue to support U.S. efforts to destroy Al Qaeda. I also believe that the U.S. must begin a long-term strategic disengagement from the region. I applaud the Bush administration's long overdue military withdrawal from Saudi Arabia.
2. I do believe that ~all~ wars have the ~potential~ to cause long-term distortions in political economy---even the good ones (and clearly, the American Revolution is the model of a good war, but even some early revolutionaries wanted to create a new American mercantilism, and to control freedom of expression through the Alien and Sedition Acts). The cartelization of the U.S. economy in World War I, coupled with railroad nationalization, became a virtual blueprint for the New Deal in the 1930s. Price controls, the destruction of civil liberties at home, and, at least in the 20th century, military conscription---have all been staples of war. Even when the U.S. fights for right and rights, its citizens must be ever-vigilant in protecting against the extension of government power. On this point, I should at least mention in passing that the U.S. Patriot Act is potentially a gargantuan threat to American liberties. This doesn't mean that the war against Al Qaeda must be abandoned; it only means that Americans cannot fight for global freedom by abrogating it at home. I'll post a link to my article within the next week or so---it will be available on the site of SOLOHQ.
CHURCHILL ON WORLD WAR I
(OWL, Posted: Wed, 30 Apr 2003 20:16:23 -0500)
In our various discussions of U.S. wars, I've
suggested that World War I was ~the~ defining moment of the 20th century,
especially with regard to its long-term consequences
for U.S. foreign policy. As Ayn Rand argued, the war did not "make the
world safe for democracy"; the Wilsonian dream became
a nightmare and gave birth to Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and
Soviet Russia---and all the nightmares thereafter.
I was reading a very interesting review of Warren Zimmermann's new book, FIRST GREAT TRIUMPH: HOW FIVE AMERICANS MADE THEIR COUNTRY A WORLD POWER (Farra Straus & Giroux). The review, entitled "Teddy Roosevelt's Hidden Legacy," written by Michael McMenamin for REASON magazine (6/03, pp. 56-63), includes a very interesting quote from Winston Churchill. McMenamin writes:
"A good argument can be made . . . that American foreign policy in the 10 years after the first Roosevelt---especially the policy followed by Roosevelt's nemesis, Woodrow Wilson---played a major, albeit unintended, role in the births of both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.
"No less than Winston Churchill suggested as much in 1936: >>America should have minded her own business and stayed out of the World War. If you hadn't entered the war the Allies would have made peace with Germany in the spring of 1917. Had we made peace then there would have been no collapse in Russia followed by Communism, no breakdown in Italy followed by Fascism, and Germany would not have signed the Versailles Treaty, which has enthroned Nazism in Germany. If America had stayed out of the war, all of these 'isms' wouldn't today be sweeping the continent and breaking down parliamentary government, and if England had made peace early in 1917, it would have saved over one million British, French, American and other lives.<< "
Clearly, there is no way to know the accuracy of Churchill's alternate history. But it does provide a bit more speculative substance to Rand's own view of Wilsonian folly.
HISTORICAL INTERPRETATIONS OF INTERVENTION & COLONIALISM
(OWL, Posted: Tue, 22 Apr 2003 17:03:34 -0500)
I wanted to reply briefly to PC
before addressing the issue of colonialism---as interpreted by the great liberal
thinker, Herbert Spencer.
Reply to PC
PC writes that in terms of "overseas intervention . . . Intervention could be rights-protecting or rights-assaulting. One can be talking about defensive action . . . or aggressive action. . . ." I agree. And my posts have not disputed this.
PC also suggests that ~I~ made the argument that "our 'intervention' in WWI and WWII had harmful effects (some of which [I list]). All of these claims would require a -very sizable- amount of historical argument, including refuting the standard views of most historians - left, right, and center."
I agree wholeheartedly; but I actually wasn't making ~any~ argument in my April 18th post, and was only ~hinting~ at an argument in my April 19th post. What I was claiming was that ~Rand herself~ argued that our intervention in those wars had effects that were entirely opposite from the stated intentions of two US Presidents---beloved in the "standard" historical view: Woodrow Wilson and FDR. The first argued for "making the world safe for democracy" in WW 1, and the second argued for the "Four Freedoms" in WW 2, and, ~according to Rand~, neither of these goals was achieved. So, I agree with (and chuckled over) PC's suggestion: "If you're going to do libertarian revisionist history, you'd better come well armed and bring the apache attack helicopters, the tank divisions, and the frogmen." But while I do marshal lots of evidence in my own revisionist historical work, my central concern has not been ~libertarian~ revisionist history per se.
My central concern has been ~Ayn Rand~, and it was ~Ayn Rand~ who made these revisionist claims---claims with which I largely agree, actually---and I could not have possibly documented these claims in a post on OWL.
Finally, I would agree with PC that Islam is a ~necessary~ condition for the shape of the Middle East ("It's the *religion*, stupid" is a classic statement of this)---but it is ~much more complicated than that~, and certainly not ~sufficient~ as an explanation, as my previous posts suggest.
On British Colonialism
The whole discussion about the "good" or "bad" character of British colonialism brought me back to the books... again.
Ayn Rand takes her cue from Isabel Paterson
on the issue of colonialism, praising the British emphasis on the rule of law
and commerce. Rand argued: "As in the case
of Rome, when the repressive element of England's
mixed economy grew to become her dominant policy and turned her to statism, her
empire fell apart. It was not military force that had held it together."
British colonialism went through several distinct phases; its earliest manifestations were fully mercantilist---which is why American colonists revolted against British rule. The 19th century brought a much freer economy, but the mercantilist aspects of British colonial policy were ~never fully abandoned~. And as Britain turned increasingly toward statism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, its policies became more and more "neomercantilist."
Herbert Spencer: Foe of Colonialism
The original critics of British colonialism were not 20th century communists. They were 19th century classical liberals. One of the most vocal critics of 19th century British colonialism was none other than the great liberal thinker, Herbert Spencer. I'd like to share some of Spencer's words with my colleagues here---for even though the British are to be applauded for extensions of the common law and free commerce into the outer reaches of their Empire, I hardly think of colonial rule as the paradigm for "capitalism: the unknown ideal." I don't want to engage in ahistorical reasoning here, but these issues are important---especially since there is a segment of the current intellectual world that is now calling for a new U.S. colonialism in the 21st century. That new U.S. colonialism won't have the benefit of drawing upon the strengths of the 19th century's approximation to laissez-faire capitalism, which is now a distant historical memory. Neofascism and neomercantilism rule the day.
In both his SOCIAL STATICS and his THE MAN VERSUS THE STATE, Spencer argued that even though much revenue was derived from trade, colonial expenditure still required various oppressive taxes to support "a judicial staff, a constabulary, a garrison, and so forth," and that these taxes, as such, were morally "unjustifiable." Spencer states that no government can "without reversing its function, tax one portion of its subjects at a higher rate than is needful to protect them," and that such taxation violates the rights of the citizens of the colonizing power.
But Spencer also argued that "colonial government, properly so called, cannot be carried on without transgressing the rights of the colonists. For if, as generally happens, the colonists are dictated to by authorities sent out from the mother country, then the law of equal freedom is broken in their persons, as much as by any other kind of autocratic rule." Spencer admitted that the British had seriously backtracked from the "tyrannies so atrocious" as those committed against the American colonies. But even in the 19th century, Spencer says, the British were constantly quelling discontent among their colonial subjects: three times with the Boers, "tumultuous agitation" in the West Indies, Jamaica, Guiana, Ceylon, massive "mismanagement" in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and so forth.
The British were just as guilty of barbarities as their French and Dutch colonial counterparts, Spencer maintained. Indeed, in their past rule over indigenous populations, "the English compelled the natives to buy or sell at just what rates they pleased, on pain of flogging or confinement. . . . Princes were betrayed into war with each other. . . . Dependent chiefs holding coveted lands were impoverished by exorbitant demands for tribute; and their ultimate inability to meet these demands was construed into a treasonable offense, punished by deposition. . . . Down to our own day, too, are continued the grievous salt monopoly, and the pitiless taxation that wrings from the poor ryots nearly half the produce of the soil. Down to our own day continues the ensuing despotism which uses native soldiers to maintain and extend native subjection---a despotism under which, not many years since, a regiment of sepoys was deliberately massacred for refusing to march without proper clothing. Down to our own day the police authorities league with wealthy scamps and allow the machinery of law to be used for purposes of extortion. Down to our own day so-called gentlemen will ride their elephants through the crops of impoverished peasants and will supply themselves with provisions from the native villages without paying for them. And down to our own day it is common with the people in the interior to run into the woods at the sight of a European!"
Spencer argued further that British colonialism had an insidiously negative effect on British society. "No one can fail to see that these cruelties, these treacheries, these deeds of blood and rapine, for which European nations in general have to blush, are mainly due to the carrying on of colonization under state management, and with the help of state funds and state force. . . . A brutality will come out which the discipline of civilized life had kept under, and not unfrequently they will prove more vicious than they even knew themselves to be. Various evil influences conspire with their own bad propensities. The military force guarding them has a strong motive to foment quarrels, for war promises prize money. To the civil employees, conquest holds out a prospect of more berths and quicker promotion---a fact which must bias them in favor of it. Thus an aggressive tendency is encouraged in all---a tendency which is sure to show itself in acts and to betray the colonists into some of those atrocities that disgrace civilization."
Spencer does ~not~ deny that colonization, though "accompanied by endless miseries and abominations," can have positive effects if it is carried on in an "equitable" manner. He surely praised the importance of the rule of law and of property rights. But, in most instances, Spencer observes, the "equitable . . . mode of colonizing" is carried on not by the state, "but by private individuals. It needed no mother-country protection, for it committed no breaches of the moral law." He points to the work of William Penn in Pennsylvania, who concluded treaties with the Indians that were "never broken" and that "served it in better stead than any garrison. For the seventy years during which the Quakers retained the chief power, it enjoyed an immunity from that border warfare, with its concomitant losses and fears and bloodshed, to which other settlements were subject. On the other hand, its people maintained a friendly and mutually beneficial intercourse with the natives; and, as a natural consequence of complete security, made unusually rapid progress in material prosperity."
Spencer extends his belief that an
"equitable" policy, free of state privilege, would have worked much better; for
example, if "the East India Company [had] been denied
military aid and state-conferred privileges, both its
own affairs and the affairs of Hindustan would have been in a far better
condition than they now are. Insane longing for empire would never have
burdened the Company with the enormous debt which at present paralyzes
it. The energy that has been expended in aggressive wars would have
been employed in developing the resources of the
country. Unenervated by monopolies, trade would
have been much more successful. . . . Private enterprise would long ago
have opened up these sources of wealth, as in fact it is at length doing, in
spite of the discouragements thrown in its way by
Spencer denied that "the extension of empire" was "synonymous with increase of wealth." Indeed, "on the contrary, aggressions bred of the desire for territorial gain entail loss. The notion that we secure commercial benefits by legislative connection with colonies is a proved delusion. At best we throw away the whole sum which colonial government costs us; while we may, and often do, incur further loss by establishing an artificial trade."
Words from a 19th century classical liberal observer---well worth remembering.
MORE ON "INTERVENTION" AND "INTERVENTIONISM"
(OWL, Posted: Sat, 19 Apr 2003 11:40:40 -0500)
I decided to do a search for both
"intervention" and "interventionism" on my trusty CD-Rom of Rand's writings.
I wanted to share the results with my colleagues here
I thought PC had made a ~valid~ distinction between intervention in its ~defensive~ aspects versus intervention in its ~initiative~ aspects.
In general, however, I think that the word, as used by Rand and the Austrian economists has almost always connoted "initiative" intervention. Taking his cue from Ludwig von Mises, for example, Murray Rothbard defines intervention as "the intrusion of aggressive physical force into society; it means the substitution of coercion for voluntary actions" (MAN, ECONOMY, AND STATE). He examines different categories of intervention in his economic analysis, including so-called "autistic" ("when the invader coerces a subject without receiving any good or service in return," e.g., homicide, assault), "binary" ("when the invader forces the subject to make an exchange or a unilateral 'gift' of some good or service to the invader," e.g., slavery, taxation, and conscription), and "triangular" ("when the invader compels a pair of people to make an exchange or prohibits them from doing so", as in any price or product control) (POWER AND MARKET).
I think Rand's understanding of
"intervention" is consistent with these Austrian uses.
Note, however, that before Rand made a ~clean~ distinction between
defensive and initiative use of force, she makes this point in her
unpublished journal notes ("The Moral Basis of Individualism", October 28,
>>Breach of contract comes under the same category. If a man is up against a single man and a contract is broken, the man can deal with the breaker by force. But he cannot [protect himself] if the breaker has a collective of followers under his command. Then the intervention of government—of law to protect contracts—is needed, because this keeps the issue between two men and their rights, allowing no recourse to violence in which the man with the most followers would win. Again, a contract society is an anti-collectivist society.<<
So this seems closest to the points that PC was making. But, again, I don't think the rule of objective law and the defensive use of force to protect individual rights at home or abroad, qualifies as "intervention" in the sense that it has been used by most free-market thinkers.
Speaking of "intervention" abroad, however,
one can find Rand quoting approvingly from Arthur Ekirch on the coercive nature
of a certain ~kind~ of foreign intervention:
>>In regard to Woodrow Wilson, Professor Ekirch writes: "Wilson no doubt would have preferred the growth of United States foreign trade to come about as a result of free international competition, but he found it easy with his ideas of moralism and duty to rationalize direct American intervention as a means of safeguarding the national interest." (p. 199.)<< ("The Roots of War")
This is why I focused, in my previous post,
on the nature of intervention as a ~politico-economic~ phenomenon (especially
with regard to how the "mixed economy" globalizes its
"pull-peddling"). And it is also instructive that Rand agreed with Ekirch
specifically on the folly of the Wilsonian project;
this Wilsonian project [making the world safe for
democracy by "direct American intervention"] is of ~central~ importance to the
current neoconservative architects of U.S. foreign policy.
Of course, Rand's most typical use of "intervention" can be found throughout her writings. See, for example, "The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Our Age":
>>The fundamental principle of capitalism is ~the separation of State and Economics~—that is: the liberation of men's economic activities, of production and trade, from any form of intervention, coercion, compulsion, regulation, or control by the government. . . . A full, perfect system of capitalism has never yet existed in history. Various degrees of government ~intervention~ and control remained in all the mixed, semi-free economies of the nineteenth century, undercutting, hampering, distorting, and ultimately destroying the operations of a free market.<< (emphasis added)
I also did a CD-Rom search for "interventionism." In "The Chickens' Homecoming," for example, Rand clearly takes the "isolationist" side, and repudiates the notion of "interventionism" because it undermines a proper U.S. foreign policy. She writes of the Vietnam war:
>>But a philosophical approach [examining the Vietnam war] would consist of tracing the ideological history of how we got into that war, what influences or interests pushed us in, what errors of our foreign policy were responsible, what basic premises created that policy and how they should be corrected. If such a study were made, it would remind the country that the war in Vietnam was started by President Kennedy, who is the idol of all the anti-war protesters; that the basic premises of our foreign policy were set by another idol, President Roosevelt, and reinforced by the United Nations and by every peace and One-World group ever since: the premises that we owe a duty to the rest of the world, that we are responsible for the welfare of any nation anywhere on earth, that isolationism is selfish, immoral and impractical in a "shrinking" modern world, etc. Such a study would demonstrate the evil of altruistic "interventionism" or "internationalism," and would define the proper principles (the premises of national self-interest) that should guide America's foreign policy.<< (The Chickens' Homecoming)
Finally, I would like to make one more point about the character of U.S. action abroad, even when it is legitimate. ~Because~ the U.S. has a mixed economy, ~because~ the dynamics of the New Fascism do not cease at the nation's borders, even ~legitimate~ action by the U.S. government to retaliate against those who violate the individual rights of American citizens must be carefully and constitutionally controlled. I say this because even so-called "good wars" like World War II have had a tendency to bring about all sorts of deleterious long-term alterations in social life caused by the extension of government power. It is no coincidence that Randolph Bourne saw war as "the health of the state."
I'm not talking just about the use of conscription and increasing levels of taxation. I'm talking about both the government cartelization of industry (which industry has historically ~welcomed~) and outright nationalization of industry for the "common good." I hope to republish, soon, an old article of mine on this subject: "Government and the Railroads During World War I"---where I document how railroad executives ~welcomed~ the government takeover, something that should be kept in mind as we careen toward possible government nationalization of the airlines. I'm also talking about the control of prices and wages, full-scale regulation, the criminalization of certain forms of speech and expression (the Alien & Sedition Acts, US Patriot Acts, etc.), and so forth.
Thus, even when a semi-free country wages
~just~ war, it must guard against infringements of individual rights at home;
too often, these infringements become a part of the
permanent architecture of political economy. And, unfortunately, because
of the nature of a mixed economy, the waging of war and the infringement of
liberty often go hand-in-hand. The infrastructure
for governmental control of the economy is often established during war
(much of the New Deal benefited from the infrastructure created by "war
collectivism" in World War I), just as the establishment of governmental
control of the economy lays the institutional groundwork for massive
military action (see, for example, the creation of central banks throughout
history as a means of funding war).
Indeed, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance (attributed variously to Wendell Phillips and Thomas Jefferson).
RE: DEMOCRACY, INTERVENTIONISM, DOMINANCE, IMPERIALISM
(OWL, Posted: Fri, 18 Apr 2003 12:47:21 -0500)
I very much enjoyed PC's
two posts, one on "Democracy, Interventionism, Dominance, Imperialism," the
other on "The Objectivist Center vs. The Ayn Rand Institute." I will have
a lot more to say on the themes of his posts in my
forthcoming article, "Understanding the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical
Legacy," which will appear in the May/June 2003 issue
of THE FREE RADICAL, and will be published online in
due course on http://www.solohq.solopassion.com .
Here, I'd like to make one or two brief points. There is no doubt that (as PC puts it) "Intervention can be good if it is defensive or involving retaliatory force (or alliances whose purposes are to defend lives and rights including property)." But I don't think it is necessarily sloppy to use the term to describe aspects of U.S. foreign policy. Rand recognized the same dynamics at work in both U.S. domestic and foreign policy. She states unequivocally (in "The Shanghai Gesture"): "Foreign policy is merely a consequence of domestic policy."
In my forthcoming article, I present Rand's critique of both domestic and foreign policy (in their inextricable connection), showing how Rand saw the same forces at work in each sphere. In fact, Rand routinely saw the failures of government policy (in each sphere) as the pretext for more and more government involvement. Intervention caused a problem or made it worse, and government routinely used this as the pretext for ~further~ intervention to 'resolve' the problem, only creating more problems in its wake. Rand points this out in her examination of government intervention in the economy (with its consequences for individual rights---economic and civil liberties), but she does the same thing in her examination of U.S. intervention abroad.
In a sense, one can find this on display in Rand's discussion (in "The Roots of War") of the twentieth-century history of U.S. wars, where there is the clear implication that U.S. entry into World War I did ~not~ make the world safe for democracy... but that it made fascism, Nazism, and communism possible; that U.S. intervention in World War II did ~not~ bring forth the Four Freedoms, but that it delivered 750 million people into communist despotism; that the resulting Cold War made possible the illegitimate "hot wars" in Korea and Vietnam. And so forth. (Granted, there were very complicated reasons for the genesis of each of these wars; I'm simply focusing here on how each war, like each regulation, begets another.)
One can also see these interventionist dynamics at work in Rand's discussions of U.S. foreign aid policy (not just her written essays, but in her audio lectures, Q&A periods, and radio interviews---all of which I have referenced extensively in my forthcoming essay). Here the connections between government ~politico-economic~ intervention at home and abroad are mutually reinforcing.
This is an almost-lost aspect of Rand's approach to global politics. Rand focuses on the global financial manipulations of the Federal Reserve System, the World Bank, etc.---upon which statist businessmen built their illicit fortunes. One can glean a radical critique in Rand's examination of international political economy that echoes many of the concerns voiced by New Left critics of U.S. "capitalist imperialism." Except that, for Rand, the cause was not capitalism---but its opposite.
It is for this reason that I believe both the TOC and the ARI sides to this discussion have come up short. Yes, each points out something of value. But there is almost ~no~ appreciation for Rand's ~radical~ understanding of global political economy, a system that was an international extension of what Rand identified as the "New Fascism." (I should note that not ~all~ Objectivist commentary on these issues comes up short; there are notable exceptions.)
And this is not simply a legacy of ~substantive~ radical insights; it is a radical ~methodological~ legacy: one that seeks to grasp things by the root. As I write in a recent essay [a preface to my forthcoming article, see here: --- which you may have to cut and paste into your browser], "for Rand, to examine roots and origins, to engage in any analysis of fundamentals, one must be committed to a thoroughgoing, comprehensive strategy. Rand's strategy entailed both logical and dialectical thinking. The art of noncontradictory identification (logic) required the concomitant art of context-keeping (dialectics)."
And in her analysis of any social problem, Rand ~never~ dropped the context---the realities and conditions of global statism and the irrationality it required and perpetuated---that was slowly destroying the world. That is why Rand wrote: "If . . . mankind cannot afford war any longer, then ~mankind cannot afford statism any longer~ . . . if war is ever to be outlawed, it is ~the use of force~ that has to be outlawed"
MORE ON "SYMPATHY WITH THE ENEMY IN WARTIME"
(OWL, Posted: Tue, 8 Apr 2003 08:26:45 -0500)
Just a couple of points in response to AC's
In discussing Rand's injunctions against expressing sympathy with the enemy in wartime, AC breathes a sigh of relief; he sees me as "ever the contextualist" and was worried that "the Marxists [might] have [my] Dialectics Union card revoked! ;)"
No worry, AC, though I should point out that most Marxists don't like what I've done to dialectics. Then again, many of my Objectivist colleagues don't like what I've done either. :)
Now, looking at the Rand letter to Doris Gordon in question, I do think we need to pay even more attention to context. Rand was against the wars in Vietnam and Korea, despite the fact that she was virulently anti-communist. This anti-communism, however, put her in an awkward position---much like the position, I think, of those of us who are anti-Islamicist but against ~this~ particular war in Iraq. Rand knew that our involvement in the jungles of Vietnam was a nightmarish no-win situation; she also argued that, without a proper philosophical defense of a ~rational~ US foreign policy, any withdrawal from that war would be viewed as capitulation and appeasement. And yet staying in that war was akin to self-sacrifice. “There is no proper solution for the war in Vietnam," she wrote. "It is a war we should never have entered. We are caught in a trap: it is senseless to continue, and it is now impossible to withdraw" ("From My 'Future File'")
Still, I think she had a strong reaction against those New Leftists who had objected to the Vietnam war because they had an ideological affinity for communism. Note that Rand expresses no objections to those who refuse to serve in the armed forces because they reject conscription as a violation of individual rights. She also has no objections to those who refuse to serve "on the ground of . . . convictions, even if they were religious ones." What she ~does~ object to is any refusal to serve because of ~communist~ sympathy. She writes: "But those who objected neither to the draft nor to war, as such, but to this particular war, do not deserve amnesty, because their motive was not one of principle but of sympathy with the enemy." Here, I do think she means "sympathy with THIS enemy." Here, I do think she means "sympathy with the ~immoral principles~ of the Vietcong."
She continues: "The most outrageous examples in this category are the men who expressed sympathy with North Vietnam and publicly carried the Vietcong flag—at a time when Americans were being killed in Vietnam. Such men are never to be forgiven."
Now, putting aside the question of amnesty (which is very complicated), Rand does seem to enunciate what appears to be a universal principle at the end of her letter (the comment I cited in a previous post): "One is free to disagree with the government of one's country on any issue, including its foreign policy, but one has no right to express one's sympathy with the enemy in wartime, because this amounts to sanctioning the killing of one's countrymen." I do believe that AC has raised some very important objections to treating this principle as some sort of acontextual maxim.
But Rand was speaking from a definable context: she could not conceive of the Vietcong as a principled army of liberation in that brutal Vietnamese civil war. Her anti-communism was deeply engrained---let's not forget that she lived under the Soviets---and I think this reaction against Vietcong sympathizers is very understandable, given her context (personal, historical, ~and~ philosophical).
Still, I reject the universality of the above principle, given the possibility that one's own government could complete its slide into total statism. I think one could argue, however, that Rand's convictions would have led her to the same violent reaction against "enemy sympathizers" in the pre-Cold War context. For example, Rand certainly expressed support for the "America First'ers" and the Old Right in their "isolationist" opposition to World War II, but I could not conceive for a moment that she would have applauded those who might have objected to the war, while waving German swastika flags. Rand thought it possible to exhibit principled opposition to a war even though she opposed, ideologically, the Nazis or communists against whom the US government fought.
And I suppose that I raised this whole issue precisely because I, myself, have a deep ideological opposition to those whom the US opposes in the Middle East---even though I am also opposed to the strategies that the US has adopted in this particular instance. Just as Rand was opposed to ~communism~, while also opposing "anti-communist" wars in Korea and Vietnam, so too, I wanted to emphasize that it is possible to be opposed to Hussein's Pan-Arabist authoritarian regime and to other manifestations of Islamicism (fundamentalist or otherwise), while also opposing this particular US war in Iraq and the projected occupation to follow.
I am almost sorry to have to articulate these issues, but I have received enough private email, expressing concern over my status as a "good American." I have even seen public commentary from some who paint the antiwar "movement" as a monolith, branding all of those who are opposed to the current action as "un-American," "un-patriotic," "treasonous" or "pro-Hussein." All I can say in response is that I am about as "pro-Hussein" as Rand was "pro-Stalin."
Finally, AC asks, "what do [I] mean by 'support of our troops'?" Well, let me talk a bit about my own personal context: I think of the Vietnam generation with great sadness; I saw cousins and friends of the family returning from the battlefield and being treated disrespectfully. I saw those men return to their country, while being spat upon and denounced as if ~they~ were responsible for the insane policies in Southeast Asia and the lies perpetuated by the U.S. government (Pentagon Papers anyone?). I don't think that was right. (BTW, as an aside, I've heard from a number of military men and women since my post last week, and I've learned more about the nature of the all-volunteer army. I've discovered that those who volunteer for a typical 8-year term, do agree to abide by the rules of military justice. Which means that if any particular soldier objects to the policies of her
government, she is not allowed to ~quit~ or to go AWOL, without facing court-marshal and such. So, yes, it is a voluntary contract, but it is not one that you can opt out of, simply being held accountable in civil proceedings for, say, the amount of money that was invested in your college education and basic training. Attempting to opt out will get you thrown in prison or worse.)
I should mention too that "support of our troops" is not ~blind~ support. I would certainly hold ~all~ troops to high standards of behavior; I would certainly ~not~ support those who violate the rules of military engagement or who commit atrocities, and would hold all such violators responsible, morally and legally, for their actions. But in the ~current~ context---with emphasis on ~current~---I do not hold the troops responsible for the policies that put them over there. And the sooner they
come home, the better.
RAND ON "SYMPATHY WITH THE ENEMY IN WARTIME"
(OWL, Posted: Tue, 1 Apr 2003 09:52:27 -0500)
In my earlier post I said that I appreciated
Rand's sentiments with regard to expressing "sympathy for the enemy in wartime,
because this amounts to sanctioning the killing of
one's countrymen." Please note that my expression of appreciation was not
the endorsement of this as some sort of universal or tribalist principle.
AC brings up a scenario that is surely one valid
reason to disagree with Rand's sentiments as a
universal ethical maxim.
Here's a situation where we do need to historically situate Rand's comments. The comments were made to Doris Gordon, who had written Rand on the question of amnesty for draft dodgers during the Vietnam war, a war that Rand opposed. Though Rand also opposed the draft, she expressed disgust at those who "carried the Vietcong flag---at a time when Americans were being killed in Vietnam."
So, while I agree with AC that Rand's sentiments are not a universal principle, I would find it impossible, in the ~current~ instance, to carry an Iraqi flag as an expression of my criticism of U.S. foreign policy. I do not have ~any~ interest in supporting the moral legitimacy of a morally illegitimate regime, and that's why I said that I appreciated Rand's sentiments---under these current circumstances. I would prefer that U.S. troops ~not~ be in Iraq, but not because of any moral approval of the Iraqi regime. And I don't want the troops to come home---in body bags---simply because I disagree with the direction of this country's foreign policy.
This said, I think AC has raised some very, very interesting points. And I have some questions that I'd like to ask: Let's say we have an imperialistic foreign policy, the way AC suggests. Would support of our troops, but not of our policy make a ~moral~ difference if the troops were made up of draftees? Of volunteers?
How much moral culpability do the troops have for the folly of their leader? I know that soldiers are told that they have the obligation ~not~ to follow immoral orders on the battlefield. But I don't believe that soldiers are told that they have the same obligation ~not~ to follow orders, emanating from the Commander-in-Chief, that they might find morally objectionable.
Active Duty enlistment in the U.S. Army entails signing a contract for 2 to 6 years. I don't know all the ins-and-outs of contract enforcement, but I do know that the Army tries to provide incentives for joining with a host of educational benefits and job opportunities. I would appreciate hearing more from people who know more about the terms of service. I could be wrong, but I don't think these contracts are the same as contracts between private parties. If somebody decides to opt out of a private contract, the aggrieved party can sue for damages, but opting out doesn't entail being hunted down, charged with going AWOL, or being court-marshalled for noncompliance. I don't think an 18 year old kid who signs up for a six-year term can tell the Army: "Sorry, I signed up for college benefits, and fighting in the streets of Basra wasn't on my agenda, so I'm leaving." And should the character of this "voluntary" contract be factored into one's ethical analysis?
Again, I could be wrong---so I'd like to hear more from more knowledgeable people. Unfortunately, the military people in my family were all ~draftees~ for former wars, except for a deceased Uncle of mine, who volunteered to join the Navy Seabees in World War II. In any event, what is the ethical distinction (if any) that we might make in terms of "sanctioning the killing" of U.S. troops, in the scenario that AC suggests, should those troops be volunteers or draftees?
Also... what about all those imperialist
armies of yore? The Nazis built a brutal army on military conscription.
If a German citizen opposed the Nazis, but her son went off to serve in the
Polish campaign, or the French campaign, is she
immoral for wanting her conscripted son to live? Is she
immoral for not carrying the flag of the Western allies? Is she
immoral for not wishing negative consequences on those agents, including her
son, who are acting on behalf of the Fuehrer?
I realize there are a lot of hypotheticals here, but I am sincerely interested to hear from my colleagues on this question.
RE: HISTORY CONTINUES (PART 2)
(OWL, Posted: Sun, 30 Mar 2003 19:24:04 -0500)
MR questions U.S.
involvement in Iraq after I expressed support for U.S. troops. Let me be
totally clear: In my previous post, I said that I
hoped our troops would finish the job (which, to me, means:
neutralizing any ~imminent~ threat). I
remember what Rand said about the dilemma faced by those who are against a war
that their own government wages: "One is free to disagree with the
government of one's country on any issue, including its foreign policy, but one
has no right to express one's
sympathy with the enemy in wartime, because this amounts to sanctioning
the killing of one's countrymen." Coming from a family of people who have
served honorably in the armed forces---in World War II, Korea, and
Vietnam---I can appreciate Rand's sentiments here.
And I didn't want ~anything~ I have said, which was intensely critical of
U.S. foreign policy, to be interpreted as being ~friendly~ to Saddam
Hussein, a mass murderer. I don't want to see thousands of American men
and women coming home---in body bags, just because I am critical of the
policies that have put them in harm's way.
At this stage, if we ~literally~ packed up and walked out, I think we'll be leaving that country in chaos. I don't think we should have even committed troops to this incursion at this time. But I see no alternative ~once troops are there~ but to "finish" the job. If this war dragged on, I'd seriously re-evaluate the situation. I can only echo Rand's thoughts about Vietnam, which was a "war we should never have entered"---leaving a choice between senseless options, the consequence of decades of "suicidal foreign policy." In any event, my warnings about this situation have less to do with the war itself (though there is ~plenty~ to worry about on that score), and more to do with the projected post-war occupation (see my previous posts).
As for Bush's possible ~unstated~ purposes: Unfortunately, we can speculate about "hidden" motives ~forever~. If there are purposes to this incursion that go beyond the ~stated~ ones (of which I'm already very critical), we'll have to hope that some future historian discovers a ~smoking gun~ (and this does happen, especially where there are tapes, "Pentagon Papers," and other archival material that is later de-classified). Otherwise, those of us who are opposed to this war will sound like a bunch of nutty conspiracy theorists.
MR asks a very
important question: "Why are Iraquis willing to risk life and limb in
support of his government? To believe US reports (dare I call them
'propaganda?'), the Iraqui army was willing to surrender immediately
to the benevolent 'liberators.' That has not been happening."
All I can say in response is that we are dealing with a very complex picture: Many people who oppose or support Hussein, within Iraq, are probably hedging their bets on the outcome of this conflict. Those who support the U.S. incursion may want to be sure that the U.S. won't abandon them, thereby leaving them to Hussein's wrath afterwards; those who support Hussein may want to be sure that the U.S. doesn't win---or they will face the U.S. wrath afterwards.
I don't like speculating, but I'm sure there are also some people who believe the old adage: "The Devil We Know is Better than the Devil We Don't Know." In addition, people in that part of the world have had a long history of dealing with foreign occupiers and colonialists. They do not take well to the "noble intentions" of foreigners.
There is a deep-seated issue here that speaks
to the importance of a proper cultural foundation for the achievement of
political freedom---which is why I have argued,
following Rand, that ~culture~ trumps politics. Here's what I wrote in
TOTAL FREEDOM: TOWARD A DIALECTICAL LIBERTARIANISM
(Penn State Press, 2000), about another "liberated" people: the people of
"... in Mauritania, five hundred years of bondage has created a culture of obedience. There are ninety thousand slaves who have been freed but remain slaves. They do not rebel and do not protest their lot. They continue 'to haul water, herd animals, cook, sweep and reproduce.' Burkett tells us that they remain slaves in their own minds, even though they are 'no longer technically indentured to anyone.' As the descendants of generations of slaves, with no salaries or education, with no understanding of the concept of emancipation or individual autonomy, they are 'perched between slavery and freedom.' There is nothing in the custom or culture of the country, says Burkett, that 'has ever awakened [their] ability to dream.' Simply instituting [political freedom] in Mauritania would not yield a free society---not when slavery is a state of mind."
I think about Iraq and can't help but see prophecy in what Rand said about another U.S. war (Vietnam): that the U.S. had "sacrificed thousands of American lives, and billions of dollars, to protect a primitive people who never had freedom, do not seek it, and, apparently, do not want it"
All the best,
RE: HISTORY CONTINUES (PART 1)
(OWL, Posted: Thu, 27 Mar 2003 17:43:01 -0500)
I appreciate AR's
feedback; he had posted a version of this on the
SOLO forum, where I
replied to him. I'll simply reply in brief here:
With regard to AR's emphasis on history: he'll get no argument from me.
He is also correct that THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES has not had much in the way of historical essays in its pages. I can promise that we have no fewer than four articles currently in development that attempt to redress this imbalance.
AR is also correct to observe that "social and political systems change in real time." But while the statements that Rand made on foreign policy "were grounded in the specific historical setting in which they were written," that doesn't make them any less philosophical or any less applicable to our current context. Rand's discussion of the "new fascism," though historically specific to her evaluation of JFK and LBJ, did ~not~ change fundamentally in her evaluations of Nixon, Ford, Carter, or Reagan thereafter. I'm confident that they would not have changed even in the light of the fall of the Soviet Union, or in any evaluation of Bush I, Clinton, or Bush II---because she spoke not to the historical ~concretes~ as much as to the ~principle~ entailed in interventionism.
And that system of interventionism has not gone away. If anything, it has increased in scope. Just because economic realities killed ~central~ planning, they did not kill the state impulse to regulate economic life. The fall of communism has not meant a victory for capitalism. And what we've seen is a vast extension of the neofascist way of doing things---which entails massive interest-group privileges that have gone ~global~. The "new fascism" that Rand described was ~never~ about central planning; it was about a pragmatic, ad hoc, interventionist process that made possible the ever-increasing proliferation of civil war among pressure groups, each vying for a special privilege at one another's expense. Like Mises and Hayek, Rand predicted that this process would only increase over time and go global in its reach---unless checked fundamentally.
"New Fascism" is not "fascism with the gloves off." It is much more subtle than that; it is a kind of "liberal corporatism"---keeping procedural democratic selection, while keeping ~real~ political and social change out of the voting machine. It entails massive economic manipulation through such financial institutions as the Federal Reserve; it matters not ~who~ runs the central bank. Not even a former Objectivist such as Alan Greenspan could ~stop~ the process of boom-and-bust that emanates from the financial levers of that central bank, or the massive redistribution of wealth that occurs subsequently, enriching some groups at the expense of others. Government-business partnerships are alive and well and ~much~ more extensive and prolific than they were in the 1960s when Rand made her first statements on the neofascist nature of the mixed economy.
Now, just because the ~system~ is one that might be tending toward the kind of dictatorship that AR projects does not mean that we can do ~nothing~ in the face of other despotisms, especially against murderous organizations like Al Qaeda. To be frank, whatever my views on the wisdom of the Iraqi incursion at this time, I certainly hope that US troops finish the job soon, with minimal loss of life. I have never had sympathy for a morally illegitimate regime that feeds its dissidents feet-first into a wood chipper. And I never had sympathy with the argument that the US required international consensus from a morally bankrupt United Nations in order to act.
Be that as it may, I still advocate, in the long-run, a ~massive~ change in foreign policy. Rand stated unequivocally that such a change could not occur without a correlative change in domestic policy, which is why the revolution she sought was so ~comprehensive~ in its implications.
~Neutralizing~ imminent threats, such as Al Qaeda, does not require the remaking of the world in our own image---especially when attempting to do so will involve a further extension of the very ~neofascist~ system that Rand repudiated on every level. Attempting to impose a new US colonialism in the Middle East, as some Objectivists have argued (see, for example, Ron Pisaturo's post-WTC essay) does not make the world safe for democracy. Rand rejected Wilsonian social engineering and nation-building as a pretext for World War I and as a pretext for World War II---though Ron Pisaturo goes far beyond what Woodrow Wilson could have ever imagined. I am confident that she would ~not~ have
supported it today.
I'm working on an article for THE FREE RADICAL that will explore these themes in a more structured fashion, so thanks, as always, for additional food for thought...
STAR WARS' YODA AND RAND ON "FEAR"
(ATL, Posted: Mon, 17 Dec 2001 09:54:07 -0500)
I recently had the occasion to watch a tribute to the great Alfred Hitchcock. One of the individuals interviewed remarked that Hitchcock knew how to exploit the most basic of human emotions: fear. Fear of vicitimization, fear of unwitting plots, fear of conspiracies, and fear of betrayals. It was fear that Hitchcock's films revealed in all its primordial glory. Maybe Hitchcock understood implicitly a "Jedi" principle that fear was the basis of so much destruction in this world.
Every so often, a few kernels of philosophic truth come blaring forth from the dens of pop culture, and "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," like other films in the George Lucas series, is no exception. Discussing whether young Anakin Skywalker (who shall become Darth Vader) is an appropriate subject for Jedi training, Yoda senses that the boy is filled with fear and even if he proves to be the "chosen one," there are too many unresolved contradictions and questions within his soul. "Fear," says Yoda, "is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to Anger. Anger leads to Hate. Hate leads to Suffering."
I thought this especially interesting since in previous posts we have discussed how fear is the "enemy within" (as the Rush lyricist Neil Peart expressed in three songs, the so-called "Fear" trilogy). Ayn Rand has had a lot to say about "fear"---in fact, I conclude the final chapter of my book, AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, with a passage from THE FOUNTAINHEAD that has long been my favorite, and that centers on this very issue. It is a passage that other writers (such as Slavoj Zizek) have greatly appreciated. As Roark stands before a jury of his peers, ready to provide a defense of himself, Rand writes:
"He stood by the steps of the witness stand. The audience looked at him. They felt he had no chance. They could drop the nameless resentment, the sense of insecurity which he aroused in most people. And so, for the first time, they could see him as he was: a man totally innocent of fear. The fear of which they thought was not the normal kind, not a response to a tangible danger, but the chronic, unconfessed fear in which they all lived. They remembered the misery of the moments when, in loneliness, a man thinks of the bright words he could have said, but had not found, and hates those who robbed him of his courage. The misery of knowing how strong and able one is in one's own mind, the radiant picture never to be made real. Dreams? Self-delusion? Or a murdered reality, unborn, killed by that corroding emotion without name - fear - need - dependence - hatred? Roark stood before them as each man stands in the innocence of his own mind. But Roark stood like that before a hostile crowd - and they knew suddenly that no hatred was possible to him. For the flash of an instant, they grasped the manner of his consciousness. Each asked himself: do I need anyone's approval? - does it matter? - am I tied? And for that instant, each man was free - free enough to feel benevolence for every other man in the room."
I think Rand and Yoda and Hitchcock all recognize a great truth: the reciprocally reinforcing relationship between fear, anger, hatred, dependency, malevolence, and suffering. It is only by facing the root of fear and triumphing over it that one can begin to express the best within oneself.
Interestingly, there is a new book out by Stanley Weintraub called SILENT NIGHT: THE STORY OF THE WORLD WAR I CHRISTMAS TRUCE (apropos for the season). In it, Weintraub discusses how enemy soldiers on the night of December 24, 1914, spontaneously erupted into peace on the battlefield along the French-Belgium front line. Men from both sides of the battle negotiated a temporary cease fire, and they joined amidst lit Christmas trees, and the British, French, Scots, and Germans exchanged rations and cigarettes and sang carols, and on Christmas Day they played a game of soccer, and the men gave each side the opportunity to claim and bury their dead comrades. The truce was not completely observed, and stray shots eventually escalated into full-scale battle once again. But for one Silent Night, men triumphed over their fear---and discovered their common humanity.
"Perfect friendship," says Aristotle, "is the friendship of men who are good, and alike in excellence." We might add that it can only be found among those men---and women---who do not fear.
Peace and goodwill to all of you during this holiday season,
MUSIC AND FREEDOM
(ATL, Posted: Thu, 13 Dec 2001 11:52:11 -0500)
If freedom were a movie, music would be its soundtrack. The connection between the two cannot be underestimated.
Politically, it would be great if artists of whatever ideological stripe realized that their ally is a free society, wherein they might practice their craft without state interference or regulation. Culturally, they might realize that only a free society can give strength to the appreciation of their aesthetic in a variety of forms. And on that ever important personal level, artists might also realize that response to art is deeply personal---and that it is THIS connection to the personal that the totalitarians among us wish to sever. That human beings might be affected so strongly, so emotionally, so individually, by the beauty of art is something that governments have long understood, and tried desperately to control or regulate. Control access and response to art of whatever sort and you begin to control human beings on a level that assaults their individuality and autonomy.
The musicians among us here on Atlantis probably didn't realize that, qua musicians (rather than merely qua Atlanteans), they are warriors for freedom in the noblest sense. For years, we've heard of the connection between music and sensuality, and music and sexuality, but the connection between music and freedom is certainly as important.
A really interesting article that deals with some of these issues appeared in the Sunday NEW YORK TIMES (Arts and Leisure, section 2, December 9, 2001, lead story). It is entitled, "Music's Dangers and The Case for Control," by Richard Taruskin, but it might have been entitled: "Farenheit 451 for Music."
"And on top of everything else," Taruskin begins, "the Taliban hate music, too." Apparently, after taking power in 1996, the Taliban "undertook search-and-destroy missions in which musical instruments and cassette players were seized and burned in public pyres. Wooden poles were festooned with great ribbons of confiscated audio and video tape as a reminder of the ban, imposed in keeping with a maxim attributed to the prophet Muhammed warning 'those who listen to music and songs in this world' that 'on the Day of Judgment molten lead will be poured into their ears.' "
Taruskin continues: "Musicians caught in the act were beaten with their instruments and imprisoned for as many as 40 days." (Poor Roger would not survive, I fear... that trombone of his could inflict serious bodily harm, I'm sure!!) Only "ritual chanting" was recognized as legitimate.
"So what else is new? Utopians, puritans and totalitarians have always sought to regulate music, if not forbid it outright." Khomeini, for example, forbade music, whose "effects" he likened to "opium." Religious thinkers as far back as Augustine and John of Salisbury (in the 12th century) condemned music for causing more "titillation between the legs than a sense of devotion in the brain." But even secular thinkers have warned of the effects of music. Socrates claimed that the rhythm and harmony of music find their "way to the inmost soul and take strongest hold upon it." Tolstoy compared its effects to hypnosis. And in the 20th century, governments "tried to turn the arts [including music] into a delivery system for political propaganda." Both the Nazis and the Soviets recognized this, and given this history, Taruskin wisely observes, "[t]here is unanimity in the West today that when it comes to the arts, laissez-faire (coupled, perhaps illogically, with handouts) is the way to go." (It is to Taruskin's credit that he recognizes the internal contradiction here between "hands-off" and "hand-outs." Too often, he---or she---who pays the piper calls the tune...)
Though Taruskin deplores censorship, and spends some time discussing the current PC environment (wherein controversial operas, like "The Death of Klinghoffer," are rarely staged in their original versions because of the use of "taboo" music---like Wagner---which offends the sensibilities of Holocaust survivors), he does believe that artists should show a bit more self-control precisely because of the power of their art.
Taruskin concludes: "In a recent essay . . . Jonathan Dollimore writes that 'to take art seriously --- to recognize its potential --- must be to recognize that there might be reasonable grounds for wanting to control it.' Where should control come from? Unless we are willing to trust the Taliban, it has to come from within. What is called for is self-control. . . . Censorship is always deplorable, but the exercise of forbearance can be noble. Not to be able to distinguish the noble from the deplorable is morally obtuse. In the wake of Sept. 11, we might want, finally, to get beyond sentimental complacency about art. Art is not blameless. Art can inflict harm. The Taliban know that. It's about time we learned."
While it is true that certain themes or subjects in art might make people angry or upset, it might be more precise to say that "Culture is not blameless." Those metaphysical values portrayed by artists in varied art-forms, which might offend our sensibilities or sensitivities, only retain their hold upon a culture if that culture reproduces aesthetic nihilism. In the long-run, what is needed is not self-censorship but a bold new war, whose front-line warriors include literary writers, painters, sculptors, and musicians---who celebrate life-affirming themes in their work, and who thereby begin the process of transforming the culture. That takes courage. But as Anais Nin once said, "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."
Ultimately, Rand was right: If you want political freedom, start fighting for the values of personal and cultural liberation that make such freedom possible.
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