That truth should be silent I had almost
Antony and Cleopatra, Act 1, Scene 2
August 8, 2002
The Peace of Objectivism
By RONALD N. NEFF
I have had occasion lately to look in on my old friends the Objectivists.
I call them my friends because I grew up intellectually among them. I consider Ayn Rand the most important intellectual influence on my life, the influence who made all others possible and defined the limits in which they could function.
As both a Catholic and an anarchist, however, I find that my Objectivist friends don't think much of the influences to which I have opened myself since those earlier days. Well, I can't say I think much of the turns they have taken, either.
I've been looking at their Websites both the "official" one (the Ayn Rand Institute, the one that holds all the copyrights), and the most important of the "unofficial" ones (the Objectivist Center, the one that gets along with other libertarians). I find that they're both just too friendly with tyrants. I would like to imagine Ayn Rand turning over in her grave, but I fear that is wishful thinking.
There are all sorts of minor objections one can make to the Objectivists' cozy attachment to the United State: from an article stating that concern with a national I.D. program was "trivial" to an explicit claim that the president was right to declare war on Afghanistan even though he has no such authority, as limited-government constitutionalists should know.
Those are all side issues. The main issue is rather that these old friends of mine just blank out when it comes to thinking about the United State. They are self-blinded to its nature. They think of it as "we," that pronoun one finds all over their Websites when they talk about the so-called War on Terrorism. They identify with their government. They give it their moral sanction, and they are loyal to it.
Here is what Ayn Rand said, in answer to a question at a Ford Hall appearance about those who live under a tyranny: "If by neglect, ignorance, or helplessness, they couldn't overturn their bad government and choose a better one, then they have to pay the price for the sins of their government as all of us are paying for the sins of ours." Essentially, if those who live under wicked government will not or cannot overturn their governments, then they deserve whatever they get. Not much room for "we" thinking there.
What are Objectivists doing today to overturn their government? Well, they are doing a lot of writing about epistemology and about the virtue of selfishness, and by no means are those projects to be despised. But surely it is clear that if you support a government when it goes to war, you cannot be said to be working to overturn it. You can't really serve God and mammon, and you can't really rush to the defense of a "bad government" and pretend to be working to overturn it.
Moreover, let us just think about U.S. history for a moment. Rand condemned the Kennedy administration's "New Frontier" as fascist. Some thought she had gone too far with that characterization; I do not. I think she was right on target; I only wish that her successors would show as much clarity. It has been nearly 40 years since the Kennedy administration came to an abrupt end. Has any administration since then been more devoted to liberty? Has the U.S. government gotten even the tiniest better by Objectivist standards? Or has it become even more tyrannical with each passing administration?
Yes, some freedoms have survived at least Objectivists would say so. But are they more in number than those that existed in those far-off days of the New Frontier, or are they fewer? Objectivists acknowledge that we live in a mixed economy. We've been living in one for decades. And the World Trade Center was a magnificent, breathtakingly beautiful symbol of all that mixed-economy fascism. Let's not be seduced by its beauty. One would like to think it symbolized the spirit of man as he should be and could be, that it symbolized productivity, free minds, and free markets. But beauty doesn't always serve the good and noble.
Has the mixture in the mixed economy become more pro-liberty or more pro-state over the years? Did the WTC symbolize Howard Roark and Hank Rearden? or everything that attempts to corral and bridle them before exhausting them and sending them to the glue factory?
The answers are surely self-evident. So what should those answers suggest for Objectivists? Shouldn't they suggest that their objections to the U.S. government should be louder than Rand's were? Shouldn't their criticisms be harsher? Shouldn't they be more virulent in their enmity towards this government? War or no war?
Isn't Objectivism an enemy of fascism?
If so, shouldn't Objectivists be enemies of fascism and of fascist governments wherever they find them, even on these shores under the Stars and Stripes? Shouldn't they oppose fascism at every step? Don't they know that in waging war against "terrorism," the U.S. government is going to become even stronger than it is now? That it will move ineluctably closer to the totalitarianism Rand depicted in Atlas Shrugged?
Yes, of course, terrorists are enemies of civilization, and superstition the enemy of reason. But who is on the side of civilization and reason here? The U.S. government? Is fascism to be thought of as the defender of civilization and reason?
The simple fact is that Objectivists and Randians have always been just a little in love with the United State, always willing to make excuses for it. One can perhaps give a naturalized immigrant, a refugee from communism, a pass here. But what about these others who owe this government nothing, who have taken no loyalty oaths? They can bluster all they want about the evil of compromise. But the U.S. government commits crimes and initiates violence and threatens to do so every single day against every one of them and against every other American. Period. It is no friend of liberty. It is no friend of reason. Nevertheless, the Objectivists have made their peace with it. They have made their peace with fascism.
While terrorists are indeed a threat to the safety of Americans, they are no threat whatever to our liberties. They cannot hope to take over the country; they cannot hope to force their views on us. There is only one institution that wages unsleeping war on the liberties of Americans, and it is the institution that will become stronger in response to the cheering calls for expanded war. It is the institution that will continue to exceed the imaginary limitations placed on it by the rule of law, and to exceed them ever more. One can hardly hear the Objectivists' tsk-tsking its encroachments on our liberties, even though it's the institution that they say has only one justification: to defend those liberties. Not to defend our lives or our safety, but our liberties.
As an anarchist, I have been warning Objectivists whenever I can that the state, by its nature, cannot defend liberties. But if that is its job, if that is its justification, then what is the United State, except a lawless predator on each and every one of them?
Ayn Rand was right: There can be no compromise with evil. None whatever. And as Roy Childs wrote in an essay now forgotten, "The only logical attitude that any Objectivist should take toward the present government and constitution is one of uncompromising hostility. And since one does not sanction evil in any capacity, that means that every Objectivist should withdraw his sanction from the political establishment immediately and in every possible way."
The U.S. government can fight the terrorists perfectly well without the Objectivists' supporting it and rallying around its flag. It doesn't need them. The cause of justice does. So what's it going to be? Friendship with the cause of justice or with fascism? It looks, I'm afraid, as if they have made their choice.
© 2002 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.
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