Margaret Thatcher, R.I.P.

She was Britain’s first and only female prime minister and served longer in that capacity than anyone in the twentieth century. If that weren’t remarkable enough, the iconic Meryl Streep portrayed her in a major movie.

On Monday morning, as the news of her death broke, on MSNBC—what some, somewhat overstating the case, call the broadcast home of American liberalism—the Iron Lady’s death brought forth mostly effusive praise of her and her accomplishments. On Morning Joe again this morning, more praise.

I confess: when I was a conservative, she was one of my heroes. Okay, my heroine.

Thus, it is only fitting that the legacy of Margaret Thatcher, as historically important as it is, deserves more than hagiographic commentary, and Chris Hayes, new to MSNBC’s evening programming, did Thatcher’s legacy justice, at least from the point of view of a thoughtful liberal, in two segments:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Finally, as only he can do, Lawrence O’Donnell put in perspective the important relative differences between British conservatism and American conservatism, differences overlooked by those who essentially put Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the same ideological boat:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Light And Dark Of Conservatism

I chose to listen to the immediate reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling today on Fox “News” Channel. And, of course, I wasn’t disappointed. The spin began immediately, particularly the idea that this is really a win for Romney, who will find his base newly “energized,” just like in the 2010 election.

Well, that may be right, but what struck me about the right’s reaction to the ruling is just how far conservatism, as a philosophy, has strayed from its parenting.

If political conservatism has any legitimacy at all, that legitimacy is found in conservatism’s traditional  respect for, and interest in maintaining, social stability. This implies a resistance to radicalism and opposition to those who would seek to disrupt an otherwise stable social order.

That traditional stance of conservatism is what originally attracted me to it, way back when I called myself one. And it is that centuries-old conservative posture that radicals and extremists like Justice Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas and Rush Limbaugh have undermined, if not completely eradicated. In short, what we see from the right these days would shock conservatism’s father, Edmund Burke.

I say all that to say that it turns out that the real conservative, among those on the Supreme Court who generally are called conservative, turns out to be John Roberts.

Justice Roberts joined the four “liberal” justices (more about that another day; judging by this decision, I see only two consistent “liberals” on this court, Ginsburg and Sotomayor) in the decision to uphold the constitutionality of the insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

Granted, Roberts found the constitutionality of the mandate by essentially not interpreting it as a mandate at all, but as a tax levied on those who choose not to buy health insurance. And it is in that interpretation that Roberts actually exercised the restraint that conservatives are famous for advocating, but infamous for failing to honor when it goes against their political preferences.

Roberts wrote of the ACA:

We do not consider whether the Act embodies sound policies. That judgment is entrusted to the Nation’s elected leaders. We ask only whether Congress has the power under the Constitution to enact the challenged provisions.

That, my friends, is the stance of a conservative jurist, one who is willing to honor his principles even if it means offending his own politics, or his own party. Cited in the majority opinion today was Hooper v. California, which included this language:

…every reasonable construction must be resorted to, in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality…

Again, that is how a conservative should look at his job of interpreting a law passed by the people’s representatives, the Congress. That is the opposite of a Scalia, who pretends to adhere to some lofty principle of originalist interpretation, but who really is a radical who refuses to find any construction of a statute that would save it from unconstitutionality—if he doesn’t like the statute in question. And we knew he didn’t like it from the oral arguments, during which he absolutely embarrassed himself as a jurist.

It would have been remarkable, and a small step towards getting extremists like Rush Limbaugh to sober up a little bit, if Scalia—one of Limbaugh’s intellectual heroes—had railed against the law all he wanted, but found, as Roberts did, a legitimate constitutional hook—and the taxing power of the federal government is legitimate and constitutional—to hang the ACA on.

But, no, the heavy lifting was left to John Roberts, who in his conservative reading of the Constitution rejected (wrongly, in my view) the government’s first rationale for the mandate (the Commerce Clause) and its second rationale for the mandate (the Necessary and Proper Clause), but found merit in its third rationale for the mandate, the taxing power of the government.

In other words, Roberts gave deference to the Constitution itself, which prioritizes the will of the people as expressed through the people’s Congress, instead of his own policy inclinations and judgments.

If that kind of conservatism were the kind dominating the Republican Party today, this country would be a much better place to live, and would have a much greater hope of maintaining a stable—and ultimately just—social order.

Alas, as Fox “News” and Mitt Romney and the right-wing punditry make clear, as they drone on about this dark day, conservatism itself is in a very dark place.

Political Junkie Stuff

The pending retirement of Olympia Snowe has started a lot of talk about political polarization and moderation and the state of our politics.

I realize most of you aren’t political junkies, but if you want something you rarely get on cable television news—an almost non-stop political science lesson—then watch the following segment from St. Rachel Maddow, who clearly demonstrates that there is no symmetry between what liberals do and what conservatives do, in terms of extremism.

(I stopped the segment before Rachel introduced Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine who will seek Snowe’s seat, but you can go on site and watch that if you are interested) :

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Conservatism and Low IQ

Whatever one thinks of the study referenced below, one has to admire the choice to illustrate the point:

As for the substance of the study, here is the abstract:

________________________

Abstract

Despite their important implications for interpersonal behaviors and relations, cognitive abilities have been largely ignored as explanations of prejudice. We proposed and tested mediation models in which lower cognitive ability predicts greater prejudice, an effect mediated through the endorsement of right-wing ideologies (social conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism) and low levels of contact with out-groups. In an analysis of two large-scale, nationally representative United Kingdom data sets (N = 15,874), we found that lower general intelligence (g) in childhood predicts greater racism in adulthood, and this effect was largely mediated via conservative ideology. A secondary analysis of a U.S. data set confirmed a predictive effect of poor abstract-reasoning skills on antihomosexual prejudice, a relation partially mediated by both authoritarianism and low levels of intergroup contact. All analyses controlled for education and socioeconomic status. Our results suggest that cognitive abilities play a critical, albeit underappreciated, role in prejudice. Consequently, we recommend a heightened focus on cognitive ability in research on prejudice and a better integration of cognitive ability into prejudice models.

_______________________

Gordon Hodson, one of the authors of the study, was quoted in a Live Science article:

Hodson was quick to note that the despite the link found between low intelligence and social conservatism, the researchers aren’t implying that all liberals are brilliant and all conservatives stupid. The research is a study of averages over large groups, he said.

“There are multiple examples of very bright conservatives and not-so-bright liberals, and many examples of very principled conservatives and very intolerant liberals,” Hodson said.

All of this reminds me of the controversy surrounding The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray. The book asserted that cognitive ability can be expressed in a meaningful single number (g) and that it is substantially, though not completely, the result of genetics.

The book also argued that IQ tests accurately measure this ability and that those tests can be designed to eliminate bias. That led to controversy because the authors asserted that racial differences in IQ were real (blacks, for instance, tend to score lower on IQ tests than whites) and like all differences in IQ involves an important genetic component (so they argued).

Now, there was a raging debate after the publication of The Bell Curve and the author’s analysis was found to be wanting by many critics. Right now all I can offer is that I distrust such studies.  We don’t yet know enough about how the brain works to pronounce with confidence the relationship between “intelligence” (the definition of which is also problematic) and performance on IQ tests or the adoption of a set of beliefs.

But I do think there is validity in the idea that low intelligence folks tend to prefer black and white explanations of an otherwise complicated reality, and that would apply to people on the left and right as far as I can tell. (But some intelligent folks prefer the black and white explanations presumably because of the emotional comfort involved, so go figure.)

But I do like the idea that Donald Trump is the poster child for the alleged link between low intelligence and racism and conservative beliefs.

Just Who Are The Malcontents These Days?

When I was a conservative, one of my heroes was the wonderfully eloquent right-wing writer, Joseph Sobran.  If you’re not familiar with him, think: Pat Buchanan, also a Sobran admirer.  Probably more than any single writer, with maybe the exception of the great William F. Buckley, Joe Sobran shaped the way I thought and reasoned as a conservative, and still shapes the way I think and reason as a liberal.

As you might imagine, he was a severe critic of liberals and the liberal mind, of the “malcontents.” The theme that permeated his most philosophical writings was that liberals “fail to appreciate” our “normal life,” a life lived outside the boundaries of politics. To him, a conservative was one “who regards this world with a basic affection,” and liberals simply lacked that basic affection for things.

He was wrong, of course.  But I won’t go into that now.  What I want to do is bring attention to an important question he asked, which I have never forgotten:

What we really ought to ask the liberal, before we even begin addressing his agenda, is this: In what kind of society would he be a conservative?

This idea—that one’s philosophical views might not be static, might need some adjustment—so bothered me, that I once phoned Mr. Sobran, while he was still working for Bill Buckley’s National Review, before Sobran was given the left foot of fellowship by the serious members of the conservative movement (believe it or not, serious conservatives policed themselves in those days) for his attitude toward Israel and what he considered to be the too-strong Jewish lobby in the United States (I told you, think: Pat Buchanan).

I asked my conservative hero about the idea of finding ourselves, as conservatives, in the kind of society we don’t wish to preserve, don’t wish to “conserve,” and finding ourselves wanting to dismantle the welfare state rather than see it continue.  How, I asked him, can we continue to call ourselves conservatives when we essentially are radicals who want to fundamentally change the course of our country? 

His answer was underwhelming.  In fact, he didn’t have an answer.  As I realize now, he could not answer that question because much of what Sobran so eloquently wrote could actually be used to defend today’s “big government” reality, at least in terms of what he called “an appreciation of the role of appreciation.”

He wrote,

Habits of conservation depend heavily on our affection for the way of life we are born to, which always includes far more than we can ever be simultaneously conscious of at a given moment. We speak our language and observe our laws by habit. It would be too much of a strain to have to learn a new language or a new set of laws every day. Habit allows a multitude of things to remain implicit; it lets us deal with ordinary situations without fully understanding them. It allows us to trust our milieu.

Only a madman, one might think, would dare to speak of changing the entire milieu— “building a new society”—or even to speak as if such a thing were possible. And yet this is the current political idiom. It is seriously out of touch with a set of traditions whose good effects it takes too much for granted; it fails to appreciate them, as it fails to appreciate the human situation.

Sobran wrote that in 1985.

That “set of traditions,” to the chagrin of the modern and brutal conservative movement, is now the New Deal and the Great Society, traditions and programs engrained in our way of life, a way of life people are loath to give up.  “Conservation is a labor, not indolence,” Sobran wrote, “and it takes discrimination to identify and save a few strands of tradition in the incessant flow of mutability.” Yes, it does take labor. Hard labor.

Sometimes, as we watch the struggle to keep alive the institutions that represent our social safety net, as we watch Republicans try to tear down those institutions of stability, as we watch shaky Democrats try to preserve—conserve—our traditions, it seems like the labor is not only hard, but impossible.  

And it seems that in terms of the kind of conservatism that Sobran and Edmund Burke and the Old Guard wrote about, Democrats today are the conservatives, and Republicans today are the radicals who fail to appreciate the things of this—our modern—world. 

Just watch Barack Obama as he desperately tries to defend New Deal and Great Society institutions and tell me who the real conservative player is in the “negotiations” on how to save our country from the irresponsible politics of the Right.

You see, we now have the answer to that wonderfully insightful question Joe Sobran asked liberals more than twenty-five years ago: In what kind of society would you be a conservative?

This one.  The one we are trying to save from the ravages of a radical Republican ideology, an ideology that inappropriately and inaccurately calls itself conservatism.

Conservatives And The Myths They Tell

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

—2 Timothy 4:3,4

Thomas Sowell, whose national columns appear regularly in the Joplin Globe, is quite good at telling local conservatives what they want to hear, or at least what they think they want to hear. 

In today’s offering, he extolls the virtues of old industrialists and inventers—”heroes”— like “Rockefeller, Edison, Ford and the Wright brothers.”  These people, Sowell says, revolutionized our lives and made America a better place to live.

And so they did.  No one—and I mean no sane person—would argue with Sowell that in so many ways such ambitiously creative and enterprising folks have enriched our lives.

But that, of course, isn’t really Sowell’s point at all.  What he really wants to do—and this is what pleases his readers—is to bash those mythical meddling liberals, who obviously hate the rich and powerful and want to punish them at any cost. He saves his obvious and typical jab for the end:

But today we seldom even know the names of those who have made these monumental contributions to human well-being. All we know is that some people have gotten “rich” and that this is to be regarded as some sort of grievance.

Many of the people we honor today are people who are skilled in the rhetoric of grievances and promises of new “rights” at someone else’s expense. But is that what is going to make a better America?

Get it? The myth that conservatives love to tell each other is this: While those virtuous John Galts are out there holding up the American sky, success-hating liberals and progressives are kicking them in the shins with their worries—”grievances,” as Sowell phrases it—about some of the obvious negative consequences of industrialization and advancement. 

In Sowell’s column today he inadvertently gives an example of what I mean.  Crediting Rockefeller for “cost-cutting innovations” he writes:

Before he came along, gasoline was considered a useless by-product that petroleum refineries often simply dumped into the nearest river. But Rockefeller decided to use it as a fuel in the refining process, which made it valuable, even before automobiles came along.

While we can all applaud Rockefeller for finding a “cost-cutting” way of using gasoline, we have to ask:  What if he hadn’t found a way of utilizing it?  Would it be okay in Sowell’s world to just keep pouring gasoline into our rivers?  Huh? 

One of those bothersome grievances brought by the liberals that Sowell and other conservative writers hate so much is industrial pollution.  I suppose we could simply let each industry pollute the air and the water until someone comes along and finds a use for the pollutants, but we would live in a much different America if we did: “Look kids! The river’s on fire again! I’ll get the marshmallows!

Now, it happens that also in today’s edition of the Globe is a story headed, “Man pleads guilty to dumping light bulbs.”   The man—a businessman—was a contractor who replaced a lighting system for another business in 2008.  Rather than dispose of the nearly 800 pounds of fluorescent tubes, the man—a businessman—simply dumped the mercury-tainted hazardous waste on land he claimed he thought was his aunt’s.  Turned out it wasn’t.

But the point is this: Should the man—a businessman—be allowed to dump 800 pounds of hazardous waste even on his own property? Should there be a “grievance” brought against him for that, or should we just wait and see if the man can find some later use for his “by-product”?

Which reminds me of a story I read in the paper earlier this month. It concerned a local and, no doubt, proud Republican legislator from Carthage, who is a member of this year’s pro-business, anti-regulatory Missouri House.  The story began this way:

CARTHAGE, Mo. — If there are persistent odor problems from a reopened Renewable Environmental Solutions plant, state Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, wants a state law on the books to respond.

I am sure Rep. Flanigan was quite eager to join his conservative Republican colleagues in Jefferson City in order to get started on making Missouri attractive to businesses—despite the fact that Republicans have practically turned the state over to business interests—but it is interesting that Mr. Flanigan has no problem with pursuing his “grievance” against polluters:

Flanigan on Thursday introduced a bill that would require a company to forfeit its state operating permit and face financial penalties if it persistently violated state air and water pollution standards.

Actually, Flanigan’s grievance against polluters is not just his grievance in this case.  He is rightfully representing the neighbors of the former RES plant (which shut down in 2009), some of whom are pursuing the matter in court and fear that an ongoing effort to reopen the plant will result in more odor problems and diminish their quality of life.  

And that’s the point.  Is Rep. Flanigan a nannyish liberal who wants to exact revenge on the rich with his anti-pollution legislation? No, he’s not.  He is merely representing his constituents, who have been aggrieved by a local business, and presumably he thinks other Missouri residents would benefit from his legislation.

In the same way, liberals and other “do-gooders” and “nannies” don’t want the government to regulate businesses because businessmen are filthy rich and don’t deserve the rewards of entrepreneurship, risk-taking, and hard work. But that’s the myth that liberal-hating Thomas Sowell and other conservatives tell and sell to their readers and listeners.

No. Liberals believe that we have a better world not just because today’s Fords and Rockefellers provide us with cars and gasoline—which undeniably add to the quality of our lives—but because they provide us such things without unnecessarily polluting our air and water.

And many of those Fords and Rockefellers wouldn’t worry much about the quality of our air and water if it weren’t for those who, in Sowell’s words, “are skilled in the rhetoric of grievances and promises of new “rights” at someone else’s expense.”

Iranian Conservatives May Stone Woman To Death

As reported by CNN, at any moment now a woman in Iran—a mother of two—could be buried up to her chest and stoned to death, using stones “not so large as to kill her immediately.”

Her alleged crime?  She was convicted—without a single witness—of adultery, which is a capital offense in Iran, a nation whose laws reflect Bronze Age religious morality, and whose justice system functions most decidedly against women.

Obviously, the civilized world—all those who have evolved beyond ideas hatched in ancient ignorance—is outraged and is attempting to pressure the Iranians to stop the execution of Sakineh Ashtiani. 

Our own State Department, perhaps in an effort to avoid forcing the Iranian’s hands, has not exactly expressed outrage at the possibility that in the year 2010, a nation that once was part of the modern world could bury a woman in the ground and brutally murder her with stones for an alleged adulterous affair:

“We have grave concerns that the punishment does not fit the alleged crime, ” Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley said Thursday. “For a modern society such as Iran, we think this raises significant human rights concerns.”

Grave concerns” and “raises significant human rights concerns“?  Look, I understand that diplomats in the State Department specialize in rounding off the corners of controversies, but should the execution actually take place, something more reflective of our outrage should emanate from the top of Foggy Bottom.

In any case, what makes the execution of Sakineh Ashtiani possible is not just the awful reality of Islamic law, but a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that the age-old, infallible “truths” handed down by God were not in fact handed down by God and therefore not infallible.

That fact is something which religious conservatives everywhere have trouble digesting.

Here is the CNN report:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Let Obama Be Reagan

I don’t blame Republicans one bit.  Naturally, they want folks to forget their governance malfeasance.

With the help of sympathetic journalists, the cry is, “When are Obama and the Democrats going to stop blaming Bush for everything?

Well, Obama has only been in office about 17 months.  Certainly, by now he should have either have fixed all our problems or at least stopped reminding people that many of those problems are attributable to the prior administration’s conservative political philosophy and policies.

Having said that, let’s look back at 1984.  Ronald Reagan had been in office for about 44 months—almost a full term.  Certainly, this conservative icon was all about taking responsibility for the country and wouldn’t stoop to blaming a prior Democratic administration or liberal philosophy, right?

Wrong. From his acceptance speech at the Republican convention in Dallas—in 1984:

Our opponents began this campaign hoping that America has a poor memory. Well, let’s take them on a little stroll down memory lane. Let’s remind them of how a 4.8-percent inflation rate in 1976 became back-to-back years of double-digit inflation…

Under their policies, tax rates have gone up three times as much for families with children as they have for everyone else over these past three decades. In just the 5 years before we came into office, taxes roughly doubled…

The Census Bureau confirms that, because of the tax laws we inherited

For the 26 years prior to January of 1981, the opposition party controlled both Houses of Congress. Every spending bill and every tax for more than a quarter of a century has been of their doing…

And while we have our friends down memory lane, maybe they’d like to recall a gimmick they designed for their 1976 campaign…

The biggest annual increase in poverty took place between 1978 and 1981… And 1983 was the first year since 1978 that there was no appreciable increase in poverty at all…

In the 4 years before we took office, country after country fell under the Soviet yoke…

We’ve heard a lot about deficits this year from those on the other side of the aisle. Well, they should be experts on budget deficits. They’ve spent most of their political careers creating deficits. For 42 of the last 50 years, they have controlled both Houses of the Congress. And for almost all of those 50 years, deficit spending has been their deliberate policy…

They call their policy the new realism, but their new realism is just the old liberalism

It’s what they’ve done to America in the past. But if we do our job right, they won’t be able to do it again…

I say Obama and the Democrats should model themselves after Ronaldus Magnus and the Republicans and keep strolling down memory lane,  just in case folks forget “what they’ve done to America in the past.” 

Only this time, the “they” is them.

 

Ayn Rand And The Seduction of the New Right

NOTE: The following is a reply to a comment on my post, “Another Ayn Rand Nut For Our Times,” by someone with the moniker, “Wants.”  Those of you not interested in Ayn Rand or political philosophy should skip the following entry.

Wants,

Thanks for that thoughtful response.  And I must say it is refreshing to engage someone who holds the views you do (“I can understand the root of the fear“), yet understands that those who hold a different view are not anti-American or unpatriotic devils.  The following is a rather lengthy response, but your comments allow me to do something I have wanted to do for a while: briefly explore the strange world of those conservatives who seem to have an affection for the once-heretical ideas of the little Russian-American philosopher, Ayn Rand.

To begin, let us move away from a discussion of We the Living to the much more familiar, Atlas Shrugged, about which Glenn Beck said on his radio show several months ago:

Ayn Rand understood and identified the deeper causes of the crisis we’re facing, and she offered in “Atlas Shrugged” the principled and practical solution consistent with American values.

Ayn RandThe core idea of Atlas Shrugged is that, in the words of Whittaker Chambers, “the Children of Light win handily by declaring a general strike of brains, of which they have a monopoly, letting the world go, literally, to smash.

I can’t imagine a more arrogant or elitist conception of life, and it is a weird irony that many of the contemporary proponents of such a view would also see themselves as populists, much like Glenn Beck does.  The idea that without these “brains” (those who “get it”) the rest of us will make a mess of the world is a sentiment echoed (sometimes thunderously, sometimes faintly) throughout the world of right-wing talk radio and television.  

But no matter the intensity, there exists the notion that those of us on the outside—who are “asleep”—cannot  possibly survive without those insightful, productive, clear-eyed egoists leading the way, and it is incumbent upon us to subordinate ourselves, if we wish to have any kind of decent life.  And the grand irony is that they present the necessary subordination of ourselves and our ideas to their views in the language of liberty.

Admittedly, this hybrid philosophy is believed only by a relatively small group of people, but many of its propagandists have a rather large megaphone, sometimes influencing professional politicians who call themselves Republicans.  And I have often argued that they are doing irreparable harm to the Grand Old Party, like Darwin’s parasitic wasp feeding on its host. 

You wrote,

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with questioning government expansion, but I also don’t agree that it is inherently an irretrievable step closer to totalitarianism.

Now, that is a sensible view, and one that thoughtful people can discuss.

Your most perceptive statement, though, was:

Most people will agree that some form of government is necessary to protect and guarantee the basic rights of individuals in a society, but when it comes to modifying the power and reach of the government it is perfectly viable to question whether an expansion of power is needed and justified or whether it is over-reaching.

There are always legitimate questions about the propriety of government action.  Is the action necessary?  Does it increase or at least preserve the reservoir of liberty?  A quick example would be federal civil rights laws that effectively ended Jim Crow.  Were they an expansion of federal power?  Yes.  But did they serve to increase the reservoir of liberty?  Absolutely.  Thus, such laws were not only justified, they were necessary in order to give to culturally disenfranchised black citizens a degree of liberty enjoyed by whites.

colored signBut a sterile, Randian analysis of such laws these days might suggest something different:  What about the rights of the restaurant owner who doesn’t want black people eating with whites?  What about his rights?  And there is the problem: The contraction of the “liberty” of a proprietor—(“You can’t discriminate against a man because he is black“) is understood as an evil.  And the expansion of the liberty of multitudes of African-Americans is never considered, certainly not considered as a “good.” 

Another discovery, when one mines the rich vein of irony in contemporary (as opposed to the old-line variety represented by William F. Buckley) conservatism’s flirtation with Randian philosophy, is highlighted by Chambers, as he references Karl Marx:

He, too, admired “naked self-interest” (in its time and place), and for much the same reasons as Miss Rand: because, he believed, it cleared away the cobwebs of religion and led to prodigies of industrial and cognate accomplishment. The overlap is not as incongruous as it looks. Atlas Shrugged can be called a novel only by devaluing the term. It is a massive tract for the times. Its story merely serves Miss Rand to get the customers inside the tent, and as a soapbox for delivering her Message. The Message is the thing. It is, in sum, a forthright philosophic materialism.

And there you have it.

In order to attack liberalism, particularly the caricatured liberalism of Barack Obama, contemporary conservatives are willing to put into service a naked materialist like Ayn Rand, if not utilizing the letter of her writings, at least making use of the spirit of them.

chambers1939Chambers, a religious man, was naturally dubious of Rand’s atheism, and he portrayed her philosophy as one in which, “Man becomes merely the most consuming of animals, with glut as the condition of his happiness and its replenishment his foremost activity.

He continues:

Systems of philosophic materialism, so long as they merely circle outside this world’s atmosphere, matter little to most of us. The trouble is that they keep coming down to earth. It is when a system of materialist ideas presumes to give positive answers to real problems of our real life that mischief starts. In an age like ours, in which a highly complex technological society is everywhere in a high state of instability, such answers, however philosophic, translate quickly into political realities. And in the degree to which problems of complexity and instability are most bewildering to masses of men, a temptation sets in to let some species of Big Brother solve and supervise them.

The final irony of the new coalition of conservatism and Randianism is that her “noble” philosophy, predicated on a fierce but false idea of freedom, will inevitably end in a kind of tyranny.  Chambers sees in Rand’s call for “productive achievement” a necessarily “technological achievement,” which can only be supervised by “a managerial political bureau.”  Such a situation, according to Chambers,

…can only head into a dictatorship, however benign, living and acting beyond good and evil, a law unto itself (as Miss Rand believes it should be), and feeling any restraint on itself as, in practice, criminal, and, in morals, vicious (as Miss Rand clearly feels it to be).

Whittaker Chambers, a former communist, had at least some insight into the totalitarian mind.  He wrote of Atlas Shrugged, but really of the Nietzschean Ayn Rand herself:

From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: “To a gas chamber — go!” The same inflexibly self-righteous stance results, too (in the total absence of any saving humor), in odd extravagances of inflection and gesture… At first, we try to tell ourselves that these are just lapses, that this mind has, somehow, mislaid the discriminating knack that most of us pray will warn us in time of the difference between what is effective and firm, and what is wildly grotesque and excessive. Soon we suspect something worse. We suspect that this mind finds, precisely in extravagance, some exalting merit; feels a surging release of power and passion precisely in smashing up the house.

I can’t help but admire the voice of Whittaker Chambers, even as I have moved away from that despairing “man of the right,” and even as his voice is increasingly unfamiliar to a new generation of philosophically deaf conservatives.

But there is no denying that he accurately pegged the little Russian woman, who though he thought her sophistic and egoistic philosophy would have no “lasting ill effects,” nevertheless could not countenance her literary supposition, “that the Hippocratic Oath is a kind of curse.”

If you doubt the influence of Ayn Rand on some of those who are leading the New Right, here is a short video of Glenn Beck conversing with Yaron Brook, Executive Director, The Ayn Rand Center:

%d bloggers like this: