... what a beautiful, beautiful name. Okay, so maybe I don't like Barbra Streisand's politics, but I really liked the movie"Funny Girl." So sue me. Omar Sharif, the"Hello Gorgeous" Egyptian-Lebanese actor who played Fanny Brice's husband in the film, has shown that he's also pretty astute on Middle Eastern affairs. (Perhaps he learned a thing or two when he played Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish in"Lawrence of Arabia"...)
At the Capri-Hollywood Film & Music Festival, Sharif criticized the Bush administration for attempting to impose democracy in Iraq."The moment the troops leave," he said,"that culture will return to its old tribal governing ways." He adds that if Bush"went to Iraq to achieve a democracy, he was wrong. If he went to Iraq to remove weapons of mass destruction, he was wrong, because there never were any."
Sharif likes the idea that a tyrant was removed from Iraq, but he asks:"So many tyrants in this world, why this one? There is more reason to attack North Korea. And Pakistan has the atomic bomb."
Who said actors know nothing about international politics?
I've got a year-end essay at The Atlasphere on The Cultural Ascendancy of Ayn Rand. It deals with an increase in Rand references throughout popular culture, from television shows to comic books.
Happy New Year!
The NY Times tells us that James Baker's call to service in Iraq is all well and good, but that he"is far too tangled in a matrix of lucrative private business relationships that leave him looking like a potentially interested party in any debt-restructuring formula. The obvious solution is for him to sever his ties to all firms doing work directly or indirectly related to Iraq." The editorial continues:
Mr. Baker is senior counselor to the Carlyle Group, a global investment company that has done business with the Saudi royal family. He is also a partner in Baker Botts, a Houston law firm whose client list includes Halliburton. Baker Botts has an office in Riyadh and a strategic alliance with another firm in the United Arab Emirates, and it deploys Mr. Baker's name and past government service on its Web site to solicit Middle East business. It is inappropriate for Mr. Baker to remain attached to these businesses, whose clients and potential future clients could be affected by the decisions made about Iraq's official debt.
Duh. The"iron triangle" has been a perennial staple of the"mixed economy," a central characteristic of what Rand called the"new fascism." It involves a reciprocally reinforcing relationship between interest groups, bureaucrats, and politicians, wherein the personnel are very often the same: former interest group members become the bureaucrats who administer the political relationships that impinge upon the very interest groups being regulated. The alphabet soup of regulatory agencies functions by virtue of this iron triangle, blurring the line between the regulators and the regulated.
If the NY Times would like James Baker to sever his economic ties for the purposes of being a more objective participant in this folly, then it should be advocating the end of the system that makes the James Bakers possible, a system that institutionalizes such ties. But then Halliburton, Bechtel, and the rest of crony capitalism would have to give way to a free market. We can't have that, now, can we?
The New York Times has an editorial in today's paper on The New Republicans, which argues that the 21st-century GOP has embraced big government in a way that is very much at odds with its allegedly historic support for"smaller government."
That's news to me. The modern GOP has been"me-tooing" the growth of government for most of the 19th and 20th centuries. Some have tried to slow the increase in government, but the current crop has endorsed deep deficits, Medicare spending increases, vast increases in defense spending and corporate welfare, major foreign adventures, and so forth.
In many ways, this" change" in the Republican Party harks back to its 19th-century Civil War-era origins, when it embraced national government domination, protective tariffs, business subsidies, monetary inflation, and conscription. Indeed, it was the Democratic Party, the Jeffersonians and Jacksonians in the 19th century, that was the"small government" party. My, my, how times have changed. Now, both parties fight over how large the US government can be!
My debate on Atlantis II continues. I'd like to reproduce here some points of interest.
Does anyone honestly believe that World War II would have happened anyway without World War I and the events that transpired in its aftermath? Ayn Rand often said that World War I—the war"to make the world safe for democracy"—led to the birth of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Soviet Russia, and that World War II led to the surrender of three-quarters of a billion people into communist slavery. These were"unintended consequences" writ large, on a scale that was previously unimaginable.
With Rand, I would agree that ideas, especially philosophical ideas, are the driving force of history. If human beings accept a virulent strain of philosophy, it is no less lethal than being exposed to a deadly strain of virus. But there are all sorts of inoculations and vaccines that one can take to prevent a virus. And there are all sorts of things that one can do, once a virus has hit, to shorten its course, making certain, for instance, that it doesn't spread.
Thus, if one looks strictly and only at the philosophy of Nazism, outside of any historical context, one could certainly conclude that this was a militant, racist, anti-Semitic creed that had to lead, by its very nature, to death and destruction. But just because the logical implementation of an idea can lead to death and destruction does not mean that it must. When Rand endorsed the view that ideas have efficacy, she didn't endorse the view of philosophic determinism: that ideas must result in certain outcomes, regardless of context or circumstance. There is nothing inevitable or inexorable about it. Nazism, the flame, needed oxygen to flourish. The loss of Germany in World War I, the Treaty of Versailles, and the Great Depression were all its sources of oxygen. [...]
Everything about Islamic fundamentalism reeks of death and destruction. But there is nothing inexorable about this. Such ideas do not exist or flourish in a historical vacuum. They can only become lethal in the context of a certain constellation of historical conditions. That is why Rand emphasized the political conditions of tribalism's rebirth (which I mentioned in an earlier post). That is why I've emphasized that so much of what is happening today is a product of the collision of fundamentalism with a particularly short-sighted,"pragmatic," interventionist US foreign policy, which created the conditions for the empowerment of autocrats, despots, and fundamentalists. You cannot abstract virulent ideologies from the conditions that allow them to rear their ugly heads. If such things are deadly flames, past US foreign interventions have been their oxygen. (And, furthermore, you cannot abstract US foreign policies from the system of interventionism that Rand characterized as the"New Fascism," since such policies emerge from, and perpetuate, that system.)
So too, we can't abstract the current situation from the history of US foreign policy: from US enrichment of the Saudis—who export fanatical Wahhabism to the rest of the world; from US involvement with the Shah of Iran—which led to the rise of the Khomeini theocracy; from US encouragement of Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war—which bolstered the Hussein regime; from US encouragement of the mujahideen in Afghanistan—which empowered the Taliban.
Granted: We can play the game of"what if" forever. So, let me play that game, briefly, by quoting from Thomas Fleming's book The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I (Basic Books, 2003). Fleming is worth quoting at length:
If the United States had refused to intervene in 1917, would a German victory in 1918 have been a better historical alternative? The answer is debatable. By 1918, the Germans, exasperated by the Allied refusal to settle for anything less than a knockout blow, were contemplating peace terms as harsh and vindictive as those the French and British imposed, with Wilson's weary consent, in the Treaty of Versailles.
There is another possibility in this newly popular game of what-if. What would have happened if Wilson had taken William Jennings Bryan's advice and practiced real rather than sham neutrality? Without the backing of American weaponry, munitions, and loans, the Allies would have been forced to abandon their goal of the knockout blow. The war might have ended in 1916 with a negotiated peace based on the mutual admission that the conflict had become a stalemate. As a genuine neutral, Wilson might even have persuaded both sides to let him be a mediator. Lloyd George's argument—that unless the United States intervened, Wilson would have no place at the peace table—was specious at best. Both sides would have needed America's wealth and industrial resources to rebuild their shattered economies.
Germany's aims before the war began were relatively modest. Basically, Berlin sought an acknowledgment that it was Europe's dominant power. It wanted an independent Poland and nationhood for the Baltic states to keep Russia a safe distance from its eastern border. Also on the wish list was a free trade zone in which German goods could circulate without crippling tariffs in France, Italy, Scandinavia and Austria-Hungary. It is not terribly different from the role Germany plays today in the European Economic Union. But the British Tories could not tolerate such a commercial rival in 1914 and chose war.
Some people whose minds still vibrate to the historic echoes of Wellington House's propaganda argue that by defeating Germany in 1918, the United States saved itself from imminent conquest by the Hun. The idea grows more fatuous with every passing decade. A nation that had suffered more than 5 million casualties, including almost 2 million dead, was not likely to attack the strongest nation on the globe without pausing for perhaps a half century to rethink its policies. One can just as easily argue that the awful cost of the war would have enabled Germany's liberals to seize control of the country from the conservatives and force the kaiser to become a constitutional monarch like his English cousin.
A victorious Germany would have had no need of political adventurers such as Adolf Hitler. Nor would this counterfactual Germany have inserted the Bolsheviks into Russia and supported them with secret-service money. Lenin and Trotsky might have agitated in a political vacuum in Switzerland unto a crabbed old age. Or ventured a revolution in their homeland that would have come to a swift and violent end. On the eve of the war, Russia had the fastest-growing economy in Europe. The country was being transformed by the dynamics of capitalism into a free society. The war created the collapse that gave Bolshevism its seventy-year reign of blood and terror.
Let me conclude by reiterating a Hayekian point: All human action—by its nature—leads to unintended consequences. But war especially leads to far-reaching unintended consequences, and most of these are negative. The reason for this is that it creates a dynamic that feeds on destruction: destruction of life, liberty, and property. It creates a host of institutions geared toward such destruction, and these institutions—no matter how important they might be to a relatively free society's defense of life, liberty, and property—have had long-lasting effects on their diminution over time. That's because the institutions left in place after the war are almost always consolidated in the peace, and used to further erode the very values that they were put in place to"defend."
If war is necessary against those who have attacked innocent American lives, then it is all the more necessary to pay careful attention to the kinds of strategies and institutions that are created to forge this battle. The Iraq war was unnecessary, in my view, to the defense of American security—but it has now extended the dynamics of unintended consequences in ways that we have yet to understand fully. We have not learned the lesson of the complications that result from"pragmatic" US intervention abroad. We don't wish to concern ourselves with the new oxygen that we may be providing for future flames—that will consume more American cities and lives.
Karl Marx said it best when he declared that history repeats itself: first as tragedy, then as farce.
And the joke, I fear, is on us.
I started my day today in a playful mood on the subject of conspiracy theory. But I think the following takes conspiracy theory to a new height. A relative of mine, who shall go nameless, said something similar months ago that sounded terribly cynical to me. If I didn't know for sure, I'd say this relative wrote into the"Voice of the People" of The New York Daily News under the pseudonym of"Leo F. Marshall" of Kew Gardens, Queens. My relative insists not. But here's what Mr. Marshall had to say under the title,"Perfect Timing" on 16 December 2003:
We're supposed to believe that the U.S. military happened to capture Saddam Hussein on Saturday afternoon—just in time to be covered on all the Sunday morning news shows and to divert attention from the Halliburton overcharging scandal, the economy and Howard Dean's popularity. It's obvious the military knew where he was all along and were just waiting for the right moment to" capture" him. It's equally obvious they know where Osama Bin Laden is and will" capture" him just before the November 2004 election. So, y'all heard it here first. If there's an October surprise, we'll have to get in touch with Mr. Marshall and congratulate him for his soothsaying abilities.
Meanwhile, on a more serious note: All Hail the Freedom Tower: The New York Spirit of 1776 (feet) that will stand like a huge Middle Finger to Al Qaeda.
We're supposed to believe that the U.S. military happened to capture Saddam Hussein on Saturday afternoon—just in time to be covered on all the Sunday morning news shows and to divert attention from the Halliburton overcharging scandal, the economy and Howard Dean's popularity. It's obvious the military knew where he was all along and were just waiting for the right moment to" capture" him. It's equally obvious they know where Osama Bin Laden is and will" capture" him just before the November 2004 election.
So, y'all heard it here first. If there's an October surprise, we'll have to get in touch with Mr. Marshall and congratulate him for his soothsaying abilities.
Meanwhile, on a more serious note: All Hail the Freedom Tower: The New York Spirit of 1776 (feet) that will stand like a huge Middle Finger to Al Qaeda.
First it was the (intentional?) leak of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's memo, which brought into question the administration's effectiveness in the"War on Terror." Rumsfeld may have been born in Chicago, but he was educated at Princeton University. In New Jersey. Hold onto that fact for a moment.
Then, it was former EPA head and former governor of New Jersey (do you sense a pattern here?), Christie Todd Whitman, who slammed the Halliburton contracts in Iraq."That was dumb," this former Bush appointee said in November's Harper's Bazaar."Why in God's name [would] you let that happen? Halliburton may be the best people to do the job, but you have to bid it, because it just looks terrible."
Now it's another former New Jersey governor, Tom Kean, who is singling out"immigration inspectors,""visa people,""FBI people," for not being vigilant enough to thwart the 9/11 attacks. He's not"yet" naming any incompetent senior administration officials, but he's hinting that more than a few heads should have rolled because of the monumental collapse in US intelligence and defense on that dark day.
Forget Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Forget the Hollywood Left and the antiwar movement. Perhaps the administration ought to take a closer look at New Jersey, and all of its own appointees who are being a little too critical, and who may have had some connection to that state. Methinks there's a conspiracy afoot.
I have been debating"pro-war" advocates on several lists over the newest developments in Iraq, but it seems that I've earned the disapproval of at least one antiwar advocate too, because of my"Death to Tyrants" approach to Saddam Hussein.
Let me say, in response, that I am second to none in my appreciation of the role of U.S. foreign policy in engendering the demons it now seeks to exorcise from the world stage. I address the issue of Saddam and U.S. complicity in this post, where I quote appropriately from scripture:"If we sow wickedness, we will reap the same."
My recent discussion of the lethal triangular relationship between the US government, the Saudi government, and ARAMCO is yet another instance of my emphasis on the role of US complicity in the eradication of life, liberty, and property. (And if you want to puke over the Saudi role in all this, take a look at this article.)
But I do not believe that US complicity qualifies as a"mitigating circumstance" in judging Saddam's guilt. It is not a defense in morality or international law for Saddam to say:"Hey, everybody knew I was doing this, and the US encouraged me, and nobody raised hell about it before. Why now?" Saddam deserves due process, and if found guilty, he deserves the ultimate penalty for his crimes.
Still. US complicity must also be put on trial. In the court of public opinion. It is my hope that such a court will begin to understand the horrific internal contradictions that US policy has generated, day-in, day-out, for decades now, with no end in sight. And perhaps its political pragmatism will be put to death too, to make way for the rebirth of a politics of principle.
Vice President Cheney is in the news today. First, Paul Krugman, in Patriots and Profits, mentions Cheney in connection with Halliburton and crony capitalism. No surprises there. Even the liberal Krugman admits that"worries about profiteering aren't a left-right issue. Conservatives have long warned that regulatory agencies tend to be 'captured' by the industries they regulate; the same must be true of agencies that hand out contracts." I talked about this phenomenon in"Mixed Economy 101."
But the best Cheney reference today, by far, is this one, in Todd S. Purdum's NY Times article,"After 12 Years, Sweet Victory: The Bushes' Pursuit of Hussein." Purdum writes:
There were ample reasons for the first President Bush not to go after Mr. Hussein. The current vice president and then the secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, outlined some of them in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1992, when he said:"If we'd gone to Baghdad and got rid of Saddam Hussein — assuming we could have found him — we'd have had to put a lot of forces in and run him to ground someplace. He would not have been easy to capture. Then you've got to put a new government in his place, and then you're faced with the question of what kind of government are you going to establish in Iraq?"
"Is it going to be a Kurdish government, or a Shia government or a Sunni government?" Mr. Cheney continued."How many forces are you going to have to leave there to keep it propped up, how many casualties are you going to take through the course of this operation?"
Purdum adds:"Most of those questions remain as relevant today as they were a decade ago..."
I have some follow-up discussion on the capture of Hussein here. In that post to the SOLO Forum, I actually reiterate a point I made way back in February 2003 to the Philosophy of Objectivism list, which Arthur Silber republished on his blog here. There is no mystery as to why Hussein didn't go down in a blaze of glory. Telling his captors,"Don't shoot" is rather typical of a man who sees his own survival as the only barometer by which to measure victory in any battle. As I wrote:
This brings to mind a really wonderful skit from earlier this season on"Saturday Night Live." A group of Islamic terrorists are sent out to die so they can all get the rewards that come from sacrificial martyrdom: X number of virgins in paradise, etc. When somebody asks the Osama Bin Laden character why he isn't fighting, why he hasn't died for the cause, he fumbles over his words, screams out something about Allah, and proceeds to send out another group of martyrs to die—in his place.
We all know why this is the case. [Ayn Rand's villain from The Fountainhead] Ellsworth Toohey provides the answer:"Don't bother to examine a folly—ask yourself only what it accomplishes. . . . It stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting sacrificial offerings. . . . The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master." Hussein, Bin Laden, and other leaders of Islamic terrorism are fully capable of sacrificing their own people; they most assuredly do not wish to die themselves. I think it is reasonable to assume that pointing a nuke at Baghdad can still have the required effect of keeping Hussein in check, since he apparently wants to live. Why would he have so many tunnels and escape routes under his various castles if living were not a priority?
And so it was that he was captured in one of those filthy holes in the ground. How apropos. Now, the Butcher of Baghdad will put on a show to keep himself alive in the Mother of All Jury Trials. We're already hearing all the psychobabble about how the poor guy suffered abuse as a child, as if this should be a mitigating factor in our judgment of his crimes.
And so, the US armed forces find this brutal mass murderer cowering in a mud-hole. I understand Sheldon's mixed feelings, especially given the US government's former support of Saddam Hussein. It is therefore my hope that the Iraqis give him the due process he denied others and that his crimes against humanity be fully exposed. There isn't an industrial plastic shredder big enough to make him pay for the enormity of those crimes.
Will this end the unrest in Iraq? I doubt it, because the unrest is deeper than any one man, even the Ace of Spades. We can only hope, however, that it will bring some stability to this region, and that it will hasten the withdrawal of US troops.
I've enjoyed the dialogue between David Beito (here and here) and Lutheran pastor Allen Brill on Martin Luther: Randian Hero? Of course, Rand and Luther had greatly divergent beliefs. But I've got an odd tidbit to share with my colleagues.
In an earlier manuscript version of the classic novel, The Fountainhead, Rand had written a longer speech for architect Howard Roark, who is busy defending himself in a jury trial toward the end of the book. Roark opens that speech on the"soul of an individualist" with the famous line:"Thousands of years ago, the first man discovered how to make fire. He was probably burned at the stake he had taught his brothers to light."
Interestingly, Rand scholar Shoshana Milgram tells us that"Rand originally had Roark provide a list of creators and an inventory of their suffering." Here's what Rand wrote, even though she later decided to delete this list from the final version of the novel:
Socrates, poisoned by order of the democracy of Athens. Jesus Christ against the majority of [indecipherable] crucified. Joan D'Arc, who was burned at the stake. Galileo, made to renounce his soul. Spinoza, excommunicated. Luther, hounded. Victor Hugo, exiled for twenty years. Richard Wagner, writing musical comedies for a living, denounced by the musicians of his time, hissed, opposed, pronounced unmusical. Tchaikovsky, struggling through years of loneliness without recognition. Nietzsche, dying in an insane asylum, friendless and unheard. Ibsen [indecipherable] his own country. Dostoevsky, facing an execution squad and pardoned to a Siberian prison. The list is endless.
Now, it is true that Rand and others writing in the Randian tradition are not too thrilled with Luther and others on the above list (though Rand did have a much more complex view of religion in general and Christianity in particular than some of her writings indicate; see my post, God Speaks). But to have listed Luther among those whom Roark acknowledges as among the sacrificed martyrs and tortured individualists, suggests that Rand herself might have appreciated the integrity of Luther, despite her rejection of his beliefs. Let's not forget that Rand does reserve a special respect for people of integrity, even if she rejects their explicit principles. Her novel We the Living boasts a character named Andrei Taganov, an idealistic Communist, who is among the strongest men of integrity in all her fiction.
Gene Healy's post on neoconservatism and the doctrine of unintended consequences was deliciously ironic. But what do we do when administration officials seem to embrace intended ignorance as a raison d'etre?
In a new Reader's Digest interview, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice reportedly states the following... ostensibly about her personal life, but, in my view, the perfect embodiment of the administration's Iraq policy:
There's nothing I am worse at than long-term planning. I have never run my life that way. I believe that serendipity or fate or divine intervention has led me to a series of wholly implausible steps in my life. And I've been open to those twists and turns because I don't have a long-term plan.
Donald H. Rumsfeld went to Baghdad in March 1984 with instructions to deliver a private message about weapons of mass destruction: that the United States' public criticism of Iraq for using chemical weapons would not derail Washington's attempts to forge a better relationship, according to newly declassified documents. ... The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the nonprofit National Security Archive, provide new, behind-the-scenes details of U.S. efforts to court Iraq as an ally even as it used chemical weapons in its war with Iran. An earlier trip by Rumsfeld to Baghdad, in December 1983, has been widely reported as having helped persuade Iraq to resume diplomatic ties with the United States. An explicit purpose of Rumsfeld's return trip in March 1984, the once-secret documents reveal for the first time, was to ease the strain created by a U.S. condemnation of chemical weapons. The documents do not show what Rumsfeld said in his meetings with Aziz, only what he was instructed to say. It would be highly unusual for a presidential envoy to have ignored direct instructions from Shultz. ... [T]he administrations of Reagan and George H.W. Bush sold military goods to Iraq, including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological agents, worked to stop the flow of weapons to Iran, and undertook discreet diplomatic initiatives, such as the two Rumsfeld trips to Baghdad, to improve relations with Hussein.
Thomas Friedman, who supports the war in Iraq, notes in his Sunday New York Times article,"Presidents Remade by War," that the events of war often transform presidents. Such men as Lincoln and Wilson moved toward broader,"bigger purpose" in the wars in which they were engaged. What started out for Lincoln as a war to preserve the Union became a war to fulfill the promise of the Declaration of Independence. What started out as a purely European mess for Wilson became a war to make the world safe for democracy. And what started out as a war to strip Iraq of weapons of mass destruction has now become a war of democratic nation-building, in the hands of George W. Bush.
It should not be forgotten, however, that both the Civil War and World War I entailed massive increases in the scope and power of government—increases that simply became institutionalized in the postwar period, as a means to achieving such"bigger purpose." As Jeffrey Rogers Hummel argues, the history of the American Civil War was one of Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men. It entailed a face-off between Republican neomercantilism and confederate war socialism, and while slavery ended, the war had perennial deleterious effects on American political institutions and culture. And, as Thomas Fleming argues, US involvement in World War I only provided The Illusion of Victory. It resulted in a massive increase in US government power at home and abroad, and laid the basis for the nightmarish events that would engulf the globe in a Second World War and beyond.
It matters not if such wars are pursued for petty reasons or for"bigger purpose." Cliche though it is, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And it is often the case that the"nobler" the intention, the more hellish the long-term consequences.
Ironically, Friedman embraces the nobler goal of democratic nation-building. He says he's"partial to Mr. Bush's new emphasis on the freedom and democracy argument ... the only compelling rationale for the Iraqi war." But this really is not a new emphasis. The promise of bringing"democracy" to Iraq and to the Middle East in general has been a part of the neoconservative rationale for this war from the beginning. Mr. Bush may have emphasized the WMD issue as a rhetorical device, he may have eschewed the notion of democratic"nation-building" as a presidential candidate, but as President, he has bought into this Wilsonian neocon project in a very big way.
Friedman ponders"how deeply Mr. Bush has internalized this democracy agenda, which is going to be a long, costly enterprise," but he finds hope in Bush's"heartfelt, almost ... religious conviction" in the stated goals."Only the future will tell us whether his attachment to this issue is the product of epiphany or expediency—or both."
From my perspective, such"religious conviction" might well contribute to another"bigger purpose," with"religious" implications. It's called Armageddon, and the only thing"democratic" about it is that the majority of us will perish.
That's the profoundly provocative message of L&P colleague Arthur Silber in his essay"Please Do Not Call Me an 'Objectivist'," at the Light of Reason blog. And it's a message with which I find myself largely in agreement.
I say"largely" because I know, deep down, that, in terms of the fundamentals of Ayn Rand's framework, both Arthur and I are certainly in sync with"Objectivism," the name that Rand chose for her philosophy. It is an integrated system of thought—of realism, egoism, individualism, and capitalism—and it irks me that those of us who embrace it may end up forfeiting the"Objectivist" label to those who undermine its essential radicalism. Given the fact that I've been calling myself a"dialectical libertarian" now for about ten years, I suppose I forfeited that label some time ago.
But it is hard to disguise one's disenchantment with what has become of"Objectivism" in an era of increasing US government intervention at home and abroad. Too many of its most visible spokespeople have become apologists for neoconservatism, at war with Rand's radical legacy, which I discuss here, here, and here.
I, myself, have suggested that there might be a developing distinction between"Objectivism" and"Randianism." As I argue here, it is conceivable that future generations will distinguish between"Objectivist" and"Randian" schools of thought, where the"Objectivist" label would designate strict adherence to every detail of Rand's philosophic framework, and"Randian" might designate"of, relating to, or resembling" Rand's philosophic framework. In this instance, one can say that"Randian" is the broader designation, within which"Objectivist" is one possibility.
Rand herself was a bit uncomfortable with those who would have called themselves"Randians" or"Randists"; she wrote that she was"much too conceited to allow such a use of [her] name." On this point, she expressed"sympathy for Karl Marx who, on being told about some outrageous statements made by some Marxists, answered: 'But I am not a Marxist.'" So, she cautioned:"If you agree with some tenets of Objectivism, but disagree with others, do not call yourself an Objectivist; give proper authorship credit for the parts you agree with—and then indulge in any flights of fancy you wish, on your own."
With that advice in mind, I once entertained writing an article entitled"Why I No Longer Consider Myself an Objectivist." I long suspected that if I'd authored such a piece, my critics would have simply retorted:"Whoever said that you ever were an Objectivist?" Indeed, given my self-conscious absorption of lessons from Aristotle, Carl Menger, Herbert Spencer, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, F. A. Hayek, Karl Marx, and Bertell Ollman, among others, I've long been accused of engaging in eclectic"flights of fancy" by the official, orthodox"guardians" of"Objectivism." But since these guardians themselves have become veritable performance artists in their selective re-creation of Rand's philosophy, bracketing out anything of any lasting radical political value that Rand ever uttered, I'd say"Objectivism" is dead. Long dead. We are all Randians now... even if I'm still convinced, on some level, that some of us are better"Objectivists" than others.
Paraphrasing Ayn Rand's conclusion from her essay,"For the New Intellectual," we might say:"There is an ancient slogan that applies to our present position: 'The king is dead—long live the king!' We can say, with the same dedication to the future: 'The Objectivists are dead—long live the Objectivists!'—and then proceed to fulfill the responsibility which that honorable title had once implied."
Reading Arthur's post reminds me of the heavy burden of such a responsibility, especially in an era when human authenticity, dignity, and freedom are at stake, demanding the integrated, radical response that Ayn Rand pioneered.
Lindsay Perigo, editor of The Free Radical, a New Zealand-based libertarian and Objectivist magazine, wrote a piece condemning"Saddam's Succours" to which I respond in the current issue. In" A Question of Loyalty: A 'Saddamite' Responds to Perigo," I reply to Perigo's criticisms of many who opposed the war in Iraq. Lindsay is a great pal and colleague of mine—I'm even Assistant Editor to the magazine (and you can start here for pics of his recent visit to Brooklyn)—but it doesn't stop us from disagreeing on so many issues. Here's some of what I have to say:
The long-term consequences of the Iraq war are slowly coming into focus. The most recent Bush request for another $87 billion—on top of the $45 billion already spent for military preparation and invasion—is more than double what the US is spending on “homeland security.” The war has contributed to a ballooning deficit that will be in excess of $500 billion next year, “but could reach a cumulative total of $5.8 trillion by 2013” ... The federal debt increases exponentially, even as the US aims to pay off Iraq’s $350 billion foreign debt, not to mention resettlement and reconstruction costs, estimated at another $200 billion over the next decade. And for those who thought Iraqi oil reserves would pay for this: Nice try. Oil revenues from a devastated Iraqi oil industry might rise to $20 billion annually by 2006. ...
Meanwhile, the threat to domestic liberties from a variety of euphemistically named “Patriot Acts” is growing too, as the Bush administration uses the provisions of these acts in criminal investigations that have nothing to do with terrorism—prosecuting everyone from drug traffickers to suspect Internet users ... And while the thousands of wounded are nowhere near the number of casualties from previous wars, the US has now lost more troops in the occupation—an occupation with no end in sight, costing an additional billion dollars per week—than in all of its combat operations. Worse yet, if Iraq actually had WMDs—they were not used in the war and they have not yet been found—then the invasion has most likely brought about the very condition the US feared: their dispersal in chaotic social conditions among hostile terrorist groups. Fanatics are picking off US troops daily, as Iraq becomes a magnet for terrorists from all over the Muslim world.
Moreover, the US is facing massive ethnic conflict within Iraq, as each group vies for a different part of the “democratic” pie, with no history of knowing how to “share” the pie, let alone eat of it. This is not unusual in the period after the fall of a despotic regime. When the Soviet Union fell, many were astonished at how ethnic warfare re-emerged as if unaltered from 70+ years of Communism. Democratic nation-building presupposes that there is a nation upon which to build democracy. But as columnist George Will has observed, Iraq—like the Soviet Union—is not a nation. Iraq was a makeshift by-product of British colonialism. So if the US is trying to bring “democracy” to Iraq, the question remains: Which Iraq? Sunni Iraq? Kurdish Iraq? Shiite Iraq? (Which Shiites?)
This is not to say that the world was better off with the Soviet Union or Saddam Hussein in place. Good riddance! Those regimes exercised monopoly control over the instruments of oppression in brutalizing their populations. In the absence of a monopoly terrorist regime, however, and in the absence of any culture of individualism, the only “democracy” that is emerging in Iraq is an anarchic “democratization” of the means of terror: a war of all against all, instead of one against all. Not quite the Wilsonian democracy envisioned by US policy-makers. ...
And throughout this whole “War on Terror,” the poisonous soil from which Bin Laden emerged—Saudi Arabia—remains untouched. While the US is busy fighting in Iraq, it sleeps with the Saudis, continuing a 60+ year-affair that most likely led the Bush administration to blot out 28 pages from a report on the failure of 9/11 intelligence, which might have embarrassed its Saudi “allies.” US corporations engage in joint business ventures with the Saudi government—from petroleum to arms deals—utilizing a whole panoply of statist mechanisms, including the Export-Import Bank. The US is Saudi Arabia’s largest investor and trading partner. Historically, the House of Sa’ud’s alliance with—and exportation of—intolerant, fanatical Wahhabism has been strengthened by the US-Saudi government partnership with Western oil companies, especially the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO), a merger of Esso, Texaco, and Mobil. This is precisely the kind of “pull-peddling” that Rand condemned as “the New Fascism”—a US-Saudi-Big Oil Unholy Trinity that sustains the undemocratic Saudi regime.
And so, it is unlikely that Saudi Arabia will ever be touched significantly in the “War on Terror,” even if 15 of the 19 people who rammed those planes into US targets were Saudi. So close is the US-Saudi relationship that the US government worked with the Saudi embassy to facilitate, by private jet, the evacuation from the US of 140 prominent Saudis, among them members of the Bin Laden family, in the days after 9/11.
Within the Saudi cultural climate, however, anti-US sentiment is on the rise. Some terrorists gain the sanction of Saudi government officials, who talk out of both sides of their duplicitous mouths. Other terrorists flourish in reaction to the despotism of the Saudi regime and to its US alliance. It is a regime that depends upon a barbaric network of secret police and sub-human prisons, using the kinds of torture tactics that would have made Saddam proud: routine floggings, rotisserie hangings, amputations, penis blocking, and anal molestations. Such is the “pragmatic” nature of official US government policy, which goes to war for “human rights” in Iraq, while tacitly sanctioning their eradication in Saudi Arabia.
It’s this kind of pragmatism that has been the midwife to anti-American terrorism—from US support of the Shah of Iran that led to the establishment of an anti-American Islamic theocracy to US support of the Afghani mujahideen that led to the establishment of an anti-American Taliban. It is not a question of loyalty to one’s “friend,” therefore, when that “friend”—the US government—appears to be more loyal to its autocratic allies than to its own citizens.
Dante may have reserved the Ninth Circle of Hell for those who, like Satan, Judas, Brutus and Cassius, are treacherous to kindred, country, party, lords, superiors, and benefactors. But loyalty is of no ethical import unless it is loyalty to an idea. And, in this instance, it is the idea of America to which I owe my loyalty. It is to the rational individualist and libertarian ideas of Western civilization to which I owe my loyalty—ideas that the United States of America embraced in its infancy, and that have faced extinction over the past two centuries.
As Ayn Rand once wrote: “Loyalty can be maintained in only one of two ways: by terrorism—or by dedication to ideas," ... by fear or by conviction. I owe no loyalty to any group, party, class, or Commander-in-Chief, when such adherence undermines loyalty to moral principles. And it is only those principles that will save my country—and the rest of the world—from utter destruction.
Again, read the whole essay here.
I have never been a fan of Al Sharpton, but he did a pretty good James Brown imitation during his monologue last night on"Saturday Night Live." On the campaign trail, Sharpton has been resident comedian of the Democratic Party. On hearing that President Bush wanted $87 billion for his new Great Society program in Iraq, Sharpton said:"Why doesn't Bush just run for president of Iraq?" But he's been no kinder to his Democratic foes. Asked if Democratic candidates should have more time to respond to questions during the umpteen debates that have been scheduled on the primary trail, Sharpton answered:"What are we really talking about? A minute or two? It's not like some of them were on the verge of brilliance and somebody cut them off!" Stay tuned. This guy won't be President, but he does have a future as a comedian.