OVERTURE – Why libertarianism? – The answer lies closer to the surface than one might think; humans long ago began running out of ways to express their uniqueness both to themselves and more importantly, to their peers. Call it human pride. Call it a consequence of genetic inbreeding (or maybe not). Suggest to a libertarian that he's really just masquerading as an ultra conservative and he'll deny it immediately. Then take it to the next level and ask if he isn't philosophically closer to the objectivist point of view than that of a mundane conservative, and he's likely to reply with, “That depends on what you mean by 'objectivist.'”
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No it doesn't. It doesn't depend on anything of the sort. Objectivism (see note 1) has been defined and redefined to the en-th degree. We've known libertarians, and we've also cornered them in debate over their serpentine political philosophy. We don't find the people pretentious or withering but do find their labyrinth of political constructs to be heading in that direction. We'd call it prideful at times, and at others overreaching. But that's just the overture. Let's flood the stage with a few illuminating details.
SCENE ONE – Voice Offstage – Give me liberty or … well, you know the rest. The speaker of that line, Patrick Henry, was an instigator of insurrection and revolution, and one who, unless he'd changed his ways, today would be imprisoned were he to be discovered roaming through the country he'd helped found. Then too, we might first want to determine what exactly is defined by the term liberty. This is what Webster's 20th Century has to say about it (also note 2):
1. “The state of a free person; exemption from subjection to
the will of another claiming ownership of the person or
services; freedom; -- opposed to slavery, serfdom,
bondage, or subjection.”
This seems pretty close to the definition that Patrick Henry would have seen in print and seized upon immediately … the state of a free person. In other words, a free person has liberty. Refreshing, isn't it? Particularly in light of a line or two taken from a popular biographical accounting of Henry:
“Henry attended local schools for a few years, and then was tutored by his father. After failing in business, in 1754 he married Sarah Shelton, with whom he would have six children. As a wedding gift his father-in-law gave the couple six slaves and the 300-acre Pine Slash Farm.” (from Wikipedia)
Liberty or death. F-a-a-ascinating. We can't help but wonder over his slaves' state of mind.
SCENE TWO – Drop Scrim Litho of Ayn Rand … not known for taking kindly to theology, but that aside, libertarians seem to fall pretty much in line with general population statistics when it comes to religion. Yet Rand herself, the founder of the objectivist movement, was an atheist. A true objectivist is aware of this and seemingly not terribly put off by it, but we're here on location with libertarians along with a few of their kissin' cousins, and many of them are indeed put off by what they describe as the cult following of Rand. When speaking of her philosophical IQ, Rand's detractors, of whom there are many, insist that there's no there there. Still it is doubtful that a majority of these every day types (perhaps even the religious) are at all aware just how minor the script change would have to be, in some cases, in order to go from libertarianism to objectivism.
Of course the theory surrounding objectivism had to be built on something, but many here would probably ask why it had to look as though it had been cobbled together by a committee. A closer study ultimately reveals that objectivism is less about what to believe than what not to believe, as there are so many split factions within this ideological construct that forming a clear majority view of the aims and goals of its members is a near impossibility.
We begin by walking through the various incarnations of egoism – rational, ethical, altruistic and psychological, along with a few that haven't yet been invented. Some objectivists argue that the non-aggression principle (see note 3) is a necessary precondition toward achieving virtuous conduct. Rand argued that liberty is the precursor of virtuous conduct, and that her non-aggression principle differed from that of others by just enough to warrant changing the name from non-aggression principle to non-aggression axiom. You see, we could be coming close to discovering just how many angels can in fact dance on the head of a pin.
Rand's ideas are known to resonate with libertarians who do not identify with objectivism, while at the same time some objectivists are hostile to the libertarian movement. It's all quite … confusing. But not unlike a cancer, ideas such as objectivism have their own way of metastasizing, thereby bringing us to the first stage of clinical detection … ethical egoism, another libertarian construct advocated by Rand, even as she claims further to have rejected altruistic egoism (see note 4) – a decision which could, of course, stand on its own as the term is an oxymoron to begin with.
According to her legacy, Rand would have preferred the advancement of rational egoism, or just egoism. And it wouldn't be hard to imagine that from a literary perspective, egoism would be something of a hard sell. Well, in the interest of ones own philosophical self-interest (It's really all about me) the solution is simple – if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.
Then with what to her must have seemed like thunderous political insight, she threaded into her novels what would be the equivalent of late 20th Century compassionate conservatism. Rand does deserve credit, however, for making a conscious effort to inject morality into American libertarian discourse, thereby escalating populist yearnings to new heights in a hoped for “ethical” overhaul of a political ideology that was apparently in dire need of one.
Yet it must be said that Rand's faulty political constructs are founded on one simple idea … the idea that as the individual I am at the center of the Universe. It says to the world, “If it pleases me I should be able to do it.” This is also the way three-year olds think, and we're talking here about behavior that is not far removed from that of a three-year old.
But she doesn't stop there. Rand goes on to dub her philosophical musings as the most moral political system on Earth.
Excuse me? Since when is a system either moral or immoral? Systems are tools like any other. It's patently absurd. Rand tried to push the philosophy that only through the mind do we know reality … accepting free will as an existentialist idea while rejecting determinism. Under these rules she has no choice but to begin passing judgment on everything and everyone in a universe where all things exist exactly as we perceive them. Never mind that things are perceived differently by different people. (Sometimes education is even a factor, not forgetting that the Sun does appear to trans-navigate the Earth.)
So if you need a good excuse for murder, you invoke transference, saying simply, “I was only acting on behalf of an immoral system. I had no idea there was evil lurking behind those doors.” And while Rand claimed to be vehemently opposed to Nazism, this is exactly the tactic invoked by the Nazis. The world also knows how far it got them.
This is the American right turn traditional anarchist libertarianism has taken since Rand. … born under the Tsar and raised under the Bolsheviks. Suddenly, and not unlike a euphoric college sophomore who has just completed her first readings of Hegel and James, Rand declared that Laissez-Faire capitalism, when wedded to her notions of objectivist ethics and morality, yields the world's most moral political system, and one that deserves to be unleashed upon the world in all it's unfettered glory. This is what Hollywood saw in her writing, not surprisingly, and yet her novels were not that well written. Unfortunately for Hollywood, the movies weren't much better.
CAMEO APPEARANCE – The Ghost of Ludwig von Mises (1881 – 1973) … who in life as in death was the godfather, one might say, of the modern free market libertarian movement. Pro-capitalist and virulently anti-socialist, he was quite the natural attraction for Ayn Rand who was known to have attended his seminars.
Clarity of word is at least as important as clarity of deed, and von Mises is a little short on clarity of word in at least two areas: (1) distinction between the terms, “reactionary” and “progressive,” and (2) an apparent failure of appreciation for the growing consequences of an out-of-balance triumvirate between the consumer, corporate giantism and mass media advertising. In regard to the above items (1) and (2), von Mises says this:
1.“The usual terminology of political language is stupid … why should Hitler be 'right' and Stalin, his temporary friend, be 'left'? … who is 'reactionary' and who is 'progressive'? Reaction against an unwise policy is not to be condemned. And progress towards chaos is not to be commended. Nothing should find acceptance just because it is new, radical, and fashionable. 'Orthodoxy' is not an evil if the doctrine on which the 'orthodox' stand is sound.” (from Wikipedia)
2.“The captain is the consumer…the consumers determine precisely what should be produced, in what quality, and in what quantities…They are merciless egoistic bosses, full of whims and fancies, changeable and unpredictable. For them nothing counts other than their own satisfaction…In their capacity as buyers and consumers they are hard-hearted and callous, without consideration for other people…Capitalists…can only preserve and increase their wealth by filling best the orders of the consumers… In the conduct of their business affairs they must be unfeeling and stony-hearted because the consumers, their bosses, are themselves unfeeling and stony-hearted.” (from Wikipedia)
In the first instance von Mises links a “reactionary” position to that of orthodoxy when in fact the orthodox condition he baselines in his argument lies closer, actually, to a preference for the status-quo ante. One either proposes or reacts. It's a switch – either it's switch on, or switch off. Hence, when one is devoid of ideas and proposes nothing (by tacitly deferring to the status quo) one is by definition a reactionary. America hasn't room for the status quo in the 21st Century. It's time for libertarians to give up on their 18th and 19th Century thinking.
With regard to von Mises second postulate, this could hardly be characterized more accurately than through the 19th Century thinking that it is. It's surprising to realize that someone who lived during the golden age of marketing innovation could make statements such as these. Throughout all of recent history American consumers have been force-fed a steady diet not of what they want, but of that which will sell massively and quickly through the unprecedented power of corporate media advertising. Was it really Wall Street that gave birth to American super power status? We say no. We say that Wall Street may have been the midwife, but it was Madison Avenue that took the baby out of diapers. Libertarians arise! Look not to your dreamed-of liberation from big government! Look instead to your liberation from General Electric, Google, Toyota, Exxon-Mobil … and Barron's.
SCENE THREE – Enter the Stunt Double of Rand Paul … who overnight seems to have captured an even greater number of reactionaries than has his father, Ron Paul, over his political lifetime. Yet it's clear in this case that the apple never falls very far from the tree. Rand Paul … Ayn Rand … the Rand Institute … as Shakespeare once said, “What's in a name” anyway? Well, to the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon we respond to his question with, “Vote getting, my good man … that's what's in a name.”
And yet the argument is being made that Rand Paul is not that much of a libertarian to begin with (see note 5). Well does that mean we need to apply one or more of the infamous political litmus tests? … is he for this? … is he against that? Maybe, but that doesn't get at the heart of the matter. Not at all. The question is, does his chronological age match his emotional state of mind? We think that's a legitimate question considering how close he comes to the egoist point of view, particularly when one considers the challenges involved in attempting to define the general order of political ambiguity.
Best guesses, however, would have to characterize Rand Paul as positioned clearly with von Mises and Rand all the way, making Paul a 19th Century man if there ever was one. There is no place in America for the political construct called egoism as the rest of the world moves toward ever more complex structures of human interdependence globally. Movements like the Tea-Partiers should be in diminishment, not ascendance. It's precisely wrong, and at precisely the wrong time.
SCENE FOUR – Raise the Curtain on Robert Slayton … professor, author/journalist extraordinaire, and a feature writer for the Huffington Post. His article, Libertarians, posted May 22, 2010 (noted earlier) makes the case that Rand Paul may actually be somewhat “soft” on the Tea Party movement and rather more firm on traditional GOP conservatism, which is the case we too are making, actually, mostly by emphasizing the latter. We think the professor presents a strong case, but we would hope to see some future focus upon an answer to the following, because inquiring minds really want to know: Is it Rand Paul's view that public taxation violates the anarcho-libertarian non-aggression principle, and therefore all mandatory public taxation should be abolished, to be replaced with a purely voluntary (of ones own volition) tax system?
It is our belief that this question should be asked of Rand Paul and that it would yield the quickest, most straightforward answer to the question, “Is he is, or is he ain't, a closet anarchist libertarian?”
1.“Libertarianism is a political theory that advocates the maximization of individual liberty in thought and action and the minimization or even abolition of the state. Libertarians embrace viewpoints ranging from a minimal state (or minarchist) to anarchist. Enlightenment ideas of individual liberty, limited government, peace and a free market were part of 19th century liberalism. While liberalism kept that meaning in most of the world, modern liberalism in the United States began to take a more statist approach to economic regulation [and] while conservatism in Europe continued to mean conserving hierarchical class structures [...] conservatives in the United States began to refer to conserving traditions of liberty. This was especially true of the Old Right, who opposed the New Deal and U.S. military interventions in World War I and World War II.” (from Wikipedia)
2.(more on liberty from Webster's 20th Century Unabridged)
The power of choice; freedom from necessity; freedom from
compulsion or constraint in willing:
The idea of liberty is the idea of a power in any agent to
do or forbear any particular action according to the
determination or thought of the mind, whereby either
of them is preferred to the other. – John Locke
This liberty of judgment did not of necessity lead to
lawlessness – J. A. Symonds
(Civil liberty) Exemption from arbitrary interference with person,
opinion, or property, on the part of the government under which
one lives, and freedom to take part in modifying that government
or its laws.
3.“Libertarians typically believe that the non-aggression principle includes property as a part of the owner; to aggress against someone's property is to aggress against the individual. Thus, the principle leads to the rejection of theft, vandalism, murder and fraud. When applied to governments, it has been taken to prohibit many policies including taxation, the military draft, and individual participation in non-defensive state wars. When taken to the logical conclusion, anarchists argue that it calls for abolition of the state itself and protecting individuals from aggression through voluntary payments rather than taxation.” (from Wikipedia)
4.“Ethical egoism (also called simply egoism) is the normative ethical position that moral agents ought to do what is in their own self-interest. It differs from psychological egoism, which claims that people do only act in their self-interest. Ethical egoism also differs from rational egoism, which holds merely that it is rational to act in one's self-interest. Ethical egoism contrasts with ethical altruism, which holds that moral agents have an obligation to help and serve others.” (from Wikipedia)
5.Link to Article – Robert Slayton http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-slayton/libertarians_b_586096.html