Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Some Fairness Toward Ayn Rand, From an Unlikely Source

The liberal Huffington Post, of all places, has published a relatively fair-minded piece on Ayn Rand, entitled The Real Rogue Warrior: Ayn Rand, Not Sarah Palin, by Michael Shermer. Here are a few excerpts:

"Despite the media frenzy surrounding Sarah Palin's autobiographical Going Rogue, the real rogue warrior making a political conservative comeback today is not Palin, but the Russian immigrant turned champion of American conservative principles, Ayn Rand.

"You can no more understand the right without Rand than you can understand it without Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan. The dismissal of Rand by both the left and the right as mind candy for college kids is fatuous. It may be true that many of us (myself included) were first introduced to Rand in college, but that's when most of us are introduced to most of the philosophical and literary figures in history. So what?

"What are Rand's principles and which of her books should you read to understand the modern conservative movement? Start with Atlas Shrugged. According to a survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month club, readers ranked it #2 behind the Bible as the most influential book they had ever read. It is a murder mystery, not about the murder of a human body, but of the murder of the human spirit."

I addressed, in my comments below, Mr. Shermer's erroneous (in my view) contention that modern conservatism is a good surrogate for Ayn Rand's ideas. Though he did his best, Mr. Shermer doesn't seem to have a firm grasp of the many fundamental differences between Objectivism and conservatism. There are, too be sure, many areas of agreement, as well, especially in economics (although few, if any, conservatives would embrace full laissez-faire capitalism, or the separation of state and economics). That she is decribed as making a "political conservative comeback" is an indication of how much must still be learned about her.

There are some other errors in this piece, such as this quote from Burns:

"Rand intended her books to be a sort of scripture, and for all her emphasis on reason it is the emotional and psychological sides of her novels that make them timeless."

"Scripture" is an odd, and utterly wrong, description of a philosophy that has as a prime fundamental tenet to think for yourself.

Her books do have powerful emotional appeal, but if that is mainly what one gets out of her writing, then you're likely to ... as they say ... "outgrow Ayn Rand".

All in all, though, this is a decent piece that captures the the reason for Ayn Rand's enduring relevance.

Here are my brief comments:

Thank you, Mr. Shermer, for a pretty good article, although the appropriate term to describe Ayn Rand is not rogue, but radical. You make a crucial point all too often forgotten: “Criticism of the founder of a theory does not, by itself, constitute a negation of any part of the theory.” I agree that Sarah Palin (who I am not a fan of) cannot hold a candle to Ayn Rand.

It should be pointed out that many people of various political persuasions in what today passes for the American "Right" - from conservative to libertarian to Republican to "Tea Partyers" - cherry-pick aspects of Rand’s ideas for their own purposes, while ignoring the rich depth of her comprehensive philosophy. Also, a large swath of American Conservatism abhors Ayn Rand for her secularism, social “liberalism”, and the challenge she hurls at Judeo-Christian morality through her ethics of rational self-interest.

You’ll learn little about Objectivism (Rand’s philosophy) by listening to conservatives. So, take some advice from an Objectivist husband, father, and grandfather who never “outgrew” Ayn Rand. If you’re seriously interested in understanding Rand’s enduring appeal, you’ll just have to study her works yourself, and exercise a cardinal virtue of the Objectivist ethics – your own independent judgement.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

E. J. Dionne on the "Win for Government"

On Election Day, a win for government, by E.J. Dionne.

Monday, November 9, 2009


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

This is what happened in two statewide referendums last week that got buried under all of the attention paid to the governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey. In Maine, voters rejected a tax-limitation measure by a walloping 60 percent to 40 percent. In Washington state, a similar measure went down, 57 percent to 43 percent.

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

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

Here are my comments:

Zemack wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 9, 2009

Where's the "Milestone"? Where's the "Change".

The New Jersey Star-Ledger has lauded the House of Representatives for its passage of the 1990 page health care "reform" bill, HR3962. They're calling it a Health care reform milestone!

It's no such thing. Here are my comments:

We’ve all heard the story of the fireman who starts fires, so that he can be the first on the scene to “save” lives and property. Well, in regard to American health care, the government is that fireman.

For the past 75 years, ever-increasing government interference into health care has led to a steady escalation of problems. The solution to the problems has always been more government interference. This has been mainly led by the openly socialist Democrats, but too often supported by Republicans (ex. – the HMO Act of 1973, SCHIP in 1997, and Bush’s Medicare prescription drug benefit).

The Editors themselves cite several examples of government-created problems. But once again, they don’t draw the obvious conclusions.

“When crisis hits, they land in emergency rooms, where steep costs drive up the health bill for all of us.”

Why do people who are unwilling or unable to pay their own way “drive up the health bill for all of us”? Because the government forces hospitals and doctors to treat all comers even if they can’t or won’t pay, whether the hospitals want to provide charitable care or not. This forces them to raise rates elsewhere, and causes states to tax the rest of us to subsidize the hospitals.

“For millions of middle-class families, the loss of a job has meant a loss in coverage.”

And exactly who created this absurd situation? The government did, by creating the third-party-payer health insurance system through its tax and regulatory policies, tying our insurance to our jobs.

“[The current bill] also ends the most obnoxious games that insurers play, like banning people with pre-existing conditions and imposing lifetime spending limits.”

“Pre-existing conditions” is a government-created condition, thanks to the aforementioned third-party-payer system, which forces you to find another insurer when you lose or change jobs – a situation that would not exist in a free market in which the patient/consumer actually owns his own policy. Did you ever wonder why you never hear of people losing their life insurance coverage because they contracted a life threatening illness or lost a job? It’s because people own their own policies, and they are guaranteed renewable. By contractual agreement, which is enforceable by the courts, the insurer cannot drop you as long as you pay your premiums (which is your responsibility, not your neighbor’s or other taxpayers).

Terms of contracts - such as “lifetime spending limits”, if any – are a matter between the insurance company and the customer. In our current system, the third party makes those decisions. Insurance companies can’t “impose” anything, at least not in a free market where there is real contractual freedom and competition (which, by the way, the government now forbids). They can only offer products for sale, which the consumers (which should be individuals spending their own earnings) are free to reject or accept. The most successful insurers in a free market would be those that are best at tailoring their products according to the needs and pocket books of the customers they seek.

Of course, if you don’t protect yourself and get sick, you must pay for your care out of pocket. You have no right to expect others to pay for it through government mandates on pre-existing conditions. But first, we need the freedom to take responsibility for our own lives, which only a free market can provide.

We need to get rid of the kinds of draconian government coercion that is crippling health care in this country, and restore the freedom of patients, providers, consumers, and insurers to contract directly and voluntarily with each other. Government has no right to dictate the contractual terms. Individual rights and personal responsibility are two sides of the same coin.

A true debate would begin with an examination of how we got to where we are today. Instead, we get an insane 2000 page blueprint for coercion to “fix” the problems created by government itself, and which is designed to ultimately fail, paving the way for a single-payer health care dictatorship.

The mawkish concern for the uninsured and the janitors and the “children [who] don't get the preventive care” is just a cover. The architects of this bill, and their supporters, are after power, and nothing else.

There’s no “milestone” here. There’s no “change”. There’s just another marker on the road to totalitarian government control of American medicine

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ayn Rand Misrepresentations @ Wake Forest

A sophomore at Wake Forest University has published an article in the campus newspaper entitled Objectivism conflicts with humanitarian spirit. The author, Matt Moran, dives headlong into a criticism which conflicts with the truth about Objectivism. He then engages in a lengthy dialogue with correspondents in the comments section, though he ignores mine. He repeats every conceivable argument for socialism and tyranny one can think of.

Mr. Moran is clearly a Marxist and a collectivist. He makes many false claims about what Ayn Rand allegedly stood for, such as that she “exhibits a worship of … corporations”, “envisions, unregulated corporate capitalism” (as opposed to laissez-faire capitalism), and “glorif[ies] the wealthy and show[s] contempt for the poor”.

Politically, Mr. Moran is an unabashed statist. He advocates pure tyranny, in the form of democracy: “I consider a moral social system to be a system which benefits the majority.” If the majority benefits from the enslavement of a racial minority, as in the pre-Civil War south, that presumably is all right.

At one point, he declares that the “government (i.e. not a dictatorship) as the tool of a society, reserves the right to tax people to fulfill other social needs and goals.” The contradictions in that statement are obvious.

On what basis does government have a “right” to redistribute anyone’s property and earnings to others? What about the rights of the individual victims of government confiscation? It’s either/or. Either individuals possess rights that are protected by government, or the government has the “right” to do whatever “society” pleases, at the behest of whatever voting block happens to seize control of the “tool” of state. Either a country is free, it is a dictatorship, or it is an unstable mixture of freedom and dictatorship (a mixed economy).

And in another comment: “If you don’t (sic) want welfare to exist, …the poor will either die or work bad jobs for bad money.” In other words, the “poor” are incapable of improving their own lives in a social setting of individual freedom. So, they must be enslaved to a benevolent socialist dictatorship “where survival and basic goods are guaranteed [by whom?]" so they can achieve “the maximization of creative potential[!]”. This society of slaves, slave masters, and profiteers on slavery represents freedom, and humanitarian concern for the poor! One cannot imagine a more contemptible example of “contempt for the poor”.

Mr. Moran’s comments are full of moral equivocations and relativism, floating abstractions (ideas disconnected from reality), rebellions against nature, anti-concepts, context-dropping, etc., etc., etc. I’ve given just a few examples. Other correspondents have called him on many of his absurdities.

Objectivism, of course, is the only intellectual force that defends both the political and moral rights of the individual to his own life, liberty, property, and pursuit of his own goals, values, and happiness from all human predators.

And this conflicts with the humanitarian spirit! Freedom is Slavery!

Here is my commentary, taking Matt Moran to task on one of his points:

Mike Zemack October 11, 2009 5:19 pm

By focusing in on Ragnar Danneskjold, the pirate character in Atlas Shrugged, Matt Moran reveals himself to be less than honest. He writes:

“Among the more impactful quotes in Atlas is the manifesto of a pirate named Ragner Danneskjold.

“This Dane steals from government ships in order to refund the taxes of wealthy individuals and states.

“Somewhere in one of Rand’s many sanctimonious speeches, Danneskjold steals from the undeserving poor and gives to the deserving rich’ in a sick twist of the Robin Hood story. This is, I kid you not, an action that Objectivism celebrates. Normally I would find it refreshing to listen to someone who thinks Americans are not selfish enough.

“However, I consider Objectivism and other philosophies that glorify the wealthy and show contempt for the poor to be sufficiently dangerous to warrant constant opposition.”

Mr. Moran is getting sloppy here. The encounter between Danneskjold and Reardon takes up some 13 pages (572-584, 11th printing, 1957 addition), and nowhere do the words he quotes appear. If he actually read the book (which is doubtful) and wanted to accurately report on the meaning of Danneskjold’s character and purpose, he would have stated the exact quote and the context and full meaning of it. Here is the passage to which he probably refers, which appears “somewhere” on page 576, along with further selected excerpts from Danneskjold’s statement for context and understanding.

“I’m the man … who robs the thieving poor and gives back to the productive rich.

“I have never robbed a private ship and never taken private property. Nor have I ever robbed a military vessel – because the purpose of a military fleet is to protect from violence the citizens who paid for it, which is the proper function of a government. But I have seized every loot-carrier that came within range of my guns, every government relief ship, subsidy ship, loan ship, gift ship, every vessel with a cargo of goods taken by force from some men for the unpaid, unearned benefit of others…

“It is said that [Robin Hood] fought against the looting rulers and returned the loot to those who had been robbed, but that is not the meaning of the legend which has survived. He is remembered, not as a champion of property, but as a champion of need, not as a defender of the robbed, but as a provider of the poor. He is held to be the first man who assumed a halo of virtue by practicing charity with wealth which he did not own, by giving away goods which he had not produced, by making others pay for the luxury of his pity. He is the man who became the symbol of the idea that need, not achievement, is the source of rights, that we don’t have to produce, only to want, that the earned does not belong to us, but the unearned does. He became the justification … for that foulest of creatures – the double-parasite who lives on the sores of the poor and the blood of the rich – whom men have come to regard as a moral ideal.”

If Mr. Moran were to present an accurate portrayal, he would realize that Rand is here upholding justice – that you deserve what you earned but not what you haven’t. Rand condemns not the poor, but the “thieving” poor who exist off of a lifetime of government handouts; not the rich but the productive rich. A full understanding makes it plain that – and this is one of the clear messages of the book – Rand is defending the property of any human being, on any economic level, who earns his own keep – and condemning all moochers, rich as well as poor, such as the wealthy parasites who are the villains in AS.

Rand also does not condemn charity as such, but coercive charity and the phonies – the “double-parasites” – who seek the unearned prestige of practicing “humanitarianism” with other peoples tax money under the “halo of virtue” called altruism. Altruism, as Rand has proven for anyone with the courage and independence to question the accepted “wisdom” of the ages, does not mean benevolence, good will, or true compassion. Instead, it is a moral code that enshrines the unearned as a moral absolute, thus fostering envy, the entitlement mentality, resentment of achievement, and predatory collectivism – cancers that are slowly consuming this country.

Mr. Moran’s article is riddled with inaccuracies and irrelevancies, belying his statement that “I have, to date, tortured my eyes with Atlas Shrugged, the Fountainhead, Anthem, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal and The Virtue of Selfishness.” I have addressed one of them. There’s nothing wrong with criticism, of course. Unfortunately, his criticism of Rand comes at us not from a standpoint of understanding, but from a somewhat Marxist narrative.

Objectivism stands up for every individual person’s right to his own life (rational selfishness), not the right to prey on others for his own ends. It is, first and foremost, a comprehensive set of philosophical principles to guide the individual in his personal endeavors and in his relationships with others. As such, Objectivism provides a moral defense of individualism, capitalism, and America’s founding ideals as laid down in the Declaration of Independence. Ayn Rand is, I firmly believe, America’s last Founding Father because of her philosophic achievement. I urge everyone to study Objectivism and decide for himself. I’m confident that he will learn that Objectivism is a truly humanitarian philosophy.