Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Religious Cult of Alcoholics Anonymous


A good friend of mine, who I'll call "Harvey." was fighting alcohol and drug addiction has recently reappeared from a very expensive six month recovery at an elite private hospital that used as a model Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and the Twelve Step Program. What was the opinion of the program by my friend? He said, "AA is a cult! I swear to God that the old timers in AA are raving Jim Jones loony tunes! If I'd read, THE ORANGE PAPERS before I went into this AA rehab rip off, I'd saved a fortune!"

I thought my friend's opinion was a little harsh because I had heard only good things about AA, so I decided to verify these negative claims on my own. This was easily accomplished, since AA meetings are to be found everywhere and at all times of the morning, noon, or night. Thus I found myself one Sunday morning attending a crowded AA meeting in Cocoa Beach, Florida at about 9 a.m. I was forced to sit near the front of the audience against the wall, and had a good view of the crowd and their reactions during the course of the hour long meeting.

What did I see? The same sort of rapture on the faces of the audience that I could view in any number of churches up and down A1A this Sunday morning. This was especially true for the women who seemed to hang on to every word of the self confessions coming from the speakers, who were in contest with one another to tell how much they had degraded themselves while drinking, and how much they loved AA for saving them from a fate worse than death.

After a seemingly endless period of time that lasted 50 minutes divided into three minutes of confession per attendee, we were asked to stand in a circle and say The Lord's Prayer. The meeting concluded with the audience shouting, "Keep coming back, it works if you work it." The woman I held hands with during the prayer asked if I was a newcomer and when I answered, "yes" put a copy of Bill Wilson's book, "Alcoholic Anonymous" into my hands. "We give all first time visitors a free copy of the Big Book. It tells you everything about recovery."

I accepted and actually read about a hundred pages of awful prose by the author of the book and founder of Alcoholic Anonymous, the late Bill Wilson. My verdict? My friend Harvey hit the nail on its head: Alcoholic Anonymous is a religious cult; a heresy of Christianity that substitutes belief in the gentle Jesus to the tyranny of the fascist G.O.D. -- Group Of Drunks.

In case you wondered about Harvey's fate, he's doing quite well and is back with his wife. When we last talked about a week ago, I asked what program of recovery worked for him? Harvey went silent for a moment and took a big sip of Starbuck's coffee house brew, "Ronbo, all that happened was that old Harvey lost faith in old Harvey for a few years because he was a coward who couldn't face the realities in life all humans must face - marriage, family, friends, work - and decided to escape from life by jumping into a bottle and pulling the plug in with him. Well, I've escaped from that bottle, and thanks to nothing other than my own iron will to walk alone. Once I could stand on my own two feet like a man everthing came back to me."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Completing The American Revolution



When forced to assume [self-government], we were novices in its science. Its principles and forms had entered little into our former education. We established, however, some, although not all its important principles.

--Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright, 1824.

It was in honor of the 50th anniversary of the American Revolution that Thomas Jefferson wrote, in his last public letter: “May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. . . . . All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man.”

It is noteworthy that Jefferson qualified his pronouncement: “All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man.” Notwithstanding his characteristic optimism, Jefferson shared with his fellow Americans of the founding generation a realization that the Revolution they began in 1776 was still incomplete a half-century later. During his presidency and retirement years, he continued to believe that America had a mission to prove to the world “the degree of freedom and self-government in which a society may venture to leave its individual members.” Indeed, as author of the Declaration of Independence, he was perhaps even more aware of how imperfectly the ideals of that founding document had been realized in American legal and political institutions. And he certainly was aware of the need for future constitutional change – of the need for laws and institutions to advance “with the progress of the human mind.”

Ayn Rand clearly shared with Jefferson and other Founders the hope that America would serve as a model for the rest of the world. She began the conclusion to her March 6, 1974 address to the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point by saying, “The United States of America is the greatest, the noblest and, in its original founding principles, the only moral country in the history of the world.” Although her magnificent novel, Atlas Shrugged, depicts the United States in decline, at various places throughout the book Rand reminds her readers of the nobility of America’s founding ideals. One of the novel’s principal heroes, Francisco d’Anconia, describes this country as one “built on the supremacy of reason – and for one magnificent century, it redeemed the world.”

Through the uniquely effective mode of communication afforded by fiction-writing, particularly in the form of a novel, Rand presents her readers with a vision of America as it is today as well as a vision of what it could—and should—be. It is a utopian novel, in a sense; but unlike other classic works in that genre, it is not merely a radical critique of the status quo. Here it may be helpful to note the relevance of the symbolism of the Atlantis myth—a lost land populated by heroes—which Rand employs as a key theme throughout the novel. Atlas Shrugged itself is Atlantis: its critique of modern America is presented in terms of the degree to which the nation has fallen short of its founders' vision, which is also Rand's. In this sense, the novel is at once radical and conservative—much like the American Revolution itself, as discussed below. Perhaps this feature of the novel explains both the breadth and the depth of its appeal, at least to American readers: Americans who read Atlas Shrugged sense that the radically different philosophical vision Rand offers in the book is not entirely new but is rather the fulfillment of the Founders' vision, one that somehow had become lost by the last half of the twentieth century.

Rand was also aware that the American Revolution had been incomplete, and this awareness was part of her purpose for writing Atlas Shrugged. As she stated in her essay “For the New Intellectual,” just a few years after the novel’s publication:

The world crisis of today is a moral crisis--and nothing less than a moral revolution can resolve it: a moral revolution to sanction and complete the political achievement of the American Revolution.
In so identifying the “moral crisis” of today and the “moral revolution” needed to resolve it, Rand was echoing the statements made by two of the principal heroes of Atlas Shrugged, John Galt and Francisco d’Anconia. Indeed, the heroes of the novel may be seen, essentially, as the Patriot leaders of a second American Revolution, to complete the first. Atlas Shrugged is a significant book in many respects; one of its most significant aspects is the way Rand uses the novel to show us not only that the American Revolution was incomplete but also we must do to complete the Revolution—that is, to complete the unfinished work of 1776 and the hope that it represents to the world. This article discusses the historical background necessary to a full understanding of how the novel accomplishes this purpose.

Part One discusses the truly radical nature of the Revolution: the philosophy of government of America's Founders, who put the rights of the individual first and then attempted to design a system of government that would safeguard rather than destroy those rights. This revolution in the philosophy of government was neither sudden nor rapid. It did not happen on July 4, 1776, with the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, for that was the culmination of a series of events traceable back to the founding of the English colonies in America. Nor was the revolution fully accomplished with the mere declaration of American independence: it required not only the successful waging of the Revolutionary War, but also the successful establishment and maintenance of new constitutions to help safeguard the Founders' vision of limited government.

That vision, however, was quite imperfect; and the Founders' revolution in the philosophy of government was incomplete, as the dramatic growth in the size and pervasiveness of governmental power (at all levels, and particularly the national government) in the twentieth century so vividly has illustrated. The American Revolution was incomplete – and the Founders' carefully devised constitutions failed – because the Founders' generation had no consensus about where exactly to draw the line between individual liberty and the coercive power of law, especially in the realm of economics. They failed, in short, to have a coherent theory of individual rights. This failure can be explained by two "gaps" in American thought, one in ethics and the other in politics.

Part Two discusses the first aspect in which the American Revolution was incomplete: the non-existent moral revolution. America's Founders compromised the premises on which their individualistic political philosophy rested by continuing to adhere to a profoundly anti-individualistic moral code, rooted in Judeo-Christian religion. Because that anti-individualistic moral code remained not only dominant but also virtually unchallenged in early American culture and intellectual thought, Americans continued to regard capitalism, money, and the profit motive as base, immoral, and even downright evil.

Part Three explores the second aspect in which the American Revolution was incomplete: the incomplete revolution in political thought and the law. Notwithstanding the Founders’ efforts to “Americanize” their political and legal systems, many ideas and institutions inherited from England—from a feudal, paternalistic society that by the eighteenth century had only partially shifted to a capitalist, individualistic society—persisted in early American politics and law. This section focuses on two important illustrations of the persistence of Old World, paternalistic, anti-capitalist or anti-individualist, notions in American politics and the law: the concepts of the so-called "public interest" and of "monopoly." These two concepts lie at the heart of government regulation of businesses "affected with the public interest" and the antitrust laws—the regulations and laws which today continue to severely limit the freedom of American businessmen and which formed the real-world inspiration for the horror stories Rand presents in Atlas Shrugged.

Part Three also briefly discusses the failure of American constitutional law to safeguard individual rights against the rise of the twentieth century regulatory and welfare state. The so-called “New Deal revolution” on the U.S. Supreme Court in the late 1930s marked the modern Court’s failure to enforce the Constitution’s limits on the powers of government and its protection of economic liberty and property rights.

Finally, Part Four briefly discusses what must be done to complete the American Revolution, and the relevance of Atlas Shrugged and of the Objectivist philosophy it presents, to accomplish that end.

I. The Radicalism of the American Revolution

(back to beginning)

The American Revolution was unlike any other great revolution in human history. Some scholars have characterized it as conservative, for—apart from the long, bloody war for independence from Great Britain—it lacked the cataclysmic social upheaval that characterized the later French and Russian revolutions. Yet the changes it brought to American society, governmental institutions, and philosophical thought were profound. Despite its apparent conservatism, the American Revolution was truly radical, in the literal sense of the term. Radical derives from the Latin word radix, meaning "root, base, foundation"; to be radical is to get to the root of the matter. The Revolutionaries of 1776, although influenced by a variety of classical political writings going as far back as Aristotle, managed to transcend much of the dogma of traditional western political thought and to profoundly rethink the origins, purpose, and limitations of government.

America's Founders established—for the first time in the history of the world—a society whose government was founded on recognition of the inherent, natural, and inalienable rights of the individual. They asserted the "self-evident" truths that Thomas Jefferson had stated in the Declaration of Independence: that "all men are created equal” and are endowed with “inherent and inalienable rights" of "life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness"; that "to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"; and that "whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it."

The Founders institutionalized these principles by establishing written constitutions, founded on "the consent of the governed," and containing various institutional checks on the power of government designed to prevent it from being abused, for the Founders understood that, paradoxically, it was government—which was created to protect, or "secure," individual rights—that poses the greatest danger to them. The reason was the unique nature of political power: that government, alone of all institutions in society, may legitimately use force to achieve its ends. A good society, the Founders believed, would have few laws—laws that were clear to, and respected by, the people. Accordingly, they sought to create a "new science of politics" that not only checked the power of government, through constitutions, but also minimized the role of government (at all levels, but especially the national government) to a few, essential and legitimate functions.

These truly revolutionary changes did not all suddenly happen in 1776, however. The Declaration of Independence was the culmination of a series of events which may be traced back to the founding of the English colonies in North America. "What do we mean by the American Revolution?" John Adams rhetorically asked one of his correspondents, late in life. "The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations. . . . This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution."

Although they considered themselves loyal subjects of the British king, colonial Americans were separated from their Old World countrymen by more than geography. The English colonies in North America each had its own unique history, but all had certain basic features in common. They were settled by people who, for one reason or another, were leaving Europe to find a new life in the wild lands across the Atlantic Ocean; to the settlers, it was quite literally a "New World." Some of the settlers were dissenters from England's established church—both Catholics and radical Protestant nonconformists—and thus came to America for religious freedom, or at least a greater degree of religious freedom than the laws of England permitted. Other settlers came to America seeking wealth: to them, the wilderness across the seas—as to later generations of Americans, the wilderness across the mountains, in the trans-Appalachian West—represented economic opportunity. Like the religious dissenters, those who came to America for economic reasons also sought a greater degree of freedom than was permitted under the stifling paternalism of English law. Whatever their reasons for emigrating to America, the English settlers generally might be regarded as a kind of distillate of people who somehow did not fit – or did not want to fit – in English society.

Significantly, the early colonization of North America coincided with one of the most turbulent time periods in English history: the seventeenth century, a century of revolution, which included not only the English Revolution, or Civil War, in mid-century but also the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688-89, as well as the unstable years of the early eighteenth century following the Hanoverian succession. Most dramatically, this era witnessed the trial and execution of King Charles I and, for the eleven years of the Commonwealth (1649-60), England transformed from a monarchy to a republican form of government. Accompanying the political unrest of the times was a remarkably rich ferment of ideas. Writers such as Thomas Hobbes, Algernon Sidney, and John Locke questioned basic assumptions about the origin, purpose, and structure of government: Why have government at all? Which form of government is best, and why? Some, like Sidney, who was executed for treason in 1683, even lost their lives for their boldness in challenging orthodoxy. Political stability returned with the post-1689 settlement, which established the modern English constitutional system, with powers of the monarch greatly circumscribed and subordinated to those of Parliament. Radical dissent, once started, was not easily stopped, however; and in the 18th century new generations of dissenters from mainstream politics – the second and third generations of the "Commonwealthmen," or English radical Whigs, whom historian Caroline Robbins and other scholars have described – found a ready audience for their ideas in a small minority of their fellow Englishmen and in far greater numbers of their countrymen across the Atlantic.

The founding of the English colonies in North America and their evolution into mature political societies also corresponded in time with perhaps the most significant philosophical movement of the modern era, the Enlightenment. The American colonists were also profoundly influenced by the writings of Enlightenment rationalists, whose texts were cited along with those of the English radical Whigs, particularly when Americans argued for the legal recognition of their natural rights. The thinkers of the eighteenth century Scottish Enlightenment—Adam Ferguson, David Hume, Adam Smith, and other lesser writers—also influenced American understanding of the social order and limited government.

The Declaration of Independence itself directly reflected the influence of Enlightenment ideas on the leaders of American Revolution. In drafting the Declaration, Jefferson employed the language of eighteenth century logic and rhetoric to present the argument for American independence; indeed, the overall argument of the Declaration is in the form of a syllogism—with a major premise, minor premise, and conclusion. Moreover, ideas expressed in the Declaration were given added persuasive power by their adherence to the best contemporary standards of mathematical and scientific demonstration; for example, in calling the key propositions of the major premise "self-evident truths," Jefferson used a term with a precise, technical meaning, which told his audience that they were like the axioms of Newtonian science. The grievances against George III in the main body of the Declaration were not only tyrannical acts which would justify rebellion against a monarch, under established principles of English constitutionalism, but also complaints that the King, in conspiracy with "others" (namely, his ministers and Parliament) had deprived Americans of their natural rights, including economic freedom.

As historian Gordon Wood has shown, the American Revolution was far more radical than commonly believed. Wood considers the Revolution to be "as radical as any revolution in history" as well as "the most radical and most far-reaching event in American history," altering not only the form of government—by eliminating monarchy and creating republics—but also Americans' view of governmental power. "Most important," he adds, "it made the interests and prosperity of ordinary people – their pursuits of happiness – the goal of society and government."

By rejecting the British monarchical system, America’s founders also rejected the paternalism through which the British system operated in the realms of law and politics. The rejection of paternalism was manifest in many developments in Revolutionary-era society, among them the rise of contracts and even the growing popularity of laissez-faire economics, perhaps best illustrated by the Philadelphia merchants' opposition to price controls in 1777-78. Moreover, Wood adds, "[t]he Revolution did not merely create a political and legal environment conducive to economic expansion; it also released powerful popular entrepreneurial and commercial energies that few realized existed and transformed the economic landscape of the country."

The far-reaching social changes that came into being with the American Revolution also were accompanied by correspondingly significant changes in law and constitutionalism. With independence, the American legal system—and particularly the constitutional system—was free to depart dramatically from its English roots. "We have it in our power to begin the world over again," wrote Thomas Paine, succinctly describing the unprecedented opportunity Americans had after 1776 to frame new forms of government with written constitutions.

The first American constitutions were framed largely by a process of trial and error, as their framers experimented with a variety of devices to check governmental power, both to prevent it from being abused and to safeguard the rights of individuals. As previously noted, the Founders understood the essential paradox of government: that the very institution created to secure individual rights itself posed the greatest danger to them. Influenced by the English radical Whig political tradition, they understood that government, by its very nature – given its monopoly on the legitimate use of force in society—inherently threatened liberty and would abuse its power unless constrained by institutional checks. Accordingly, they incorporated into the early American constitutions various devices for limiting power and safeguarding against its abuse. These included federalism (the division of powers between the national government and the states), the principle of separation of powers (at each level of government, separating its powers among three distinct and independent functional branches, legislative, executive, and judicial), frequent elections and "rotation in office" (what we call "term limits"), explicit rights guarantees in bills of rights, and the power of the people both to ratify and to amend the constitution.

The framers of the federal Constitution of 1787 benefited from the experience of Congress’s governance under our first national constitution, the Articles of Confederation, as well as the experience of the majority of the states, which had framed state constitutions during the period between 1776 and 1787. Hence, the Constitution of the United States utilized more of these devices for limiting power or safeguarding rights than did the early state constitutions, which were framed at a time when Americans were, in Jefferson’s words, “novices in the science of government.” State constitutions, for example, generally failed to enumerate legislative powers, vesting state legislatures with the broad, loosely-defined regulatory power known as the “police power.” Although most did follow the principle of separation of powers, they generally did not supplement it with checks and balances, as the federal Constitution did. Only in one respect was the federal Constitution lacking—the document as adopted by the Constitutional Convention failed to include a separate bill of rights—but that omission was quickly remedied by the addition of the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

Even with their new constitutions, however, Americans of the early national period struggled to fully implement in politics and law the radical changes resulting from American independence. During the 1790s, the first decade of national government under the new Constitution of the United States, the two-party American political system emerged from Americans’ competing visions about how to “secure” the Revolution. When the opposition party led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison—their self-described “republican” party—defeated the previously-dominant Federalist Party in the elections of 1800, Jefferson called their victory “the revolution of 1800.” He saw it as a vindication of the American Revolution, “as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 1776 was in its form.”

The Federalists had failed to fully grasp the radical promise of the American Revolution, or to fully reject the English paternalistic view of government; their principles, rooted in what Jefferson called the “doctrines of Europe,” emphasized use of the coercive power of government to order society. The Jeffersonian Republicans, in contrast, distrusted political power (even when they wielded it) and emphasized instead the ability of people to govern themselves and of a free-market society to order itself. The Republicans’ political ascendancy after 1801—the Federalists became a permanent minority party at the national level and disappeared altogether by the 1820s, the “era of good feelings”—signaled to Jefferson a magnificent opportunity for America. Its mission, as he frequently noted in his writings during the first two and half decades of the nineteenth century, was to prove to the world “what is the degree of freedom and self-government in which a society may venture to leave it’s [sic] individual members.”

When the young French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in 1831-32, he was so struck by the profound differences between America and Europe that he wrote a book, his famous Democracy in America, to warn his countrymen of the tremendous changes that the American Revolution had wrought. He began the book by noting that among those differences "nothing struck me more forcibly than the general equality of condition among the people." He described the people in America as free, independent individuals who not only held equal rights under the law but also related to one another as social equals—in vivid contrast to his native society, where notwithstanding the egalitarian impulses of the French Revolution, people still thought in terms of rigid social classes. Indeed, he coined the term individualism to describe Americans’ attitude about themselves: “They owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands.”

America’s Founders indeed had radically transformed traditional ideas about the individual, society, and the role of government; their new nation offered proof to the world that it was possible for people to create, in Jefferson’s words, something “new under the sun.” Notwithstanding the profound changes they had made in politics and law—particularly with the novelty of written constitutions, with various devices for limiting governmental power and keeping it accountable to the people—the Founders’ revolution was not complete. In many important ways, they failed to fully transcend the Old World from which they had rebelled. Not only in law and politics, but in other important fields, the American Revolution was not quite radical enough. The result was that the principles of 1776, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, were quite imperfectly realized in American politics and law. Government, which was supposed to be instituted in order to “secure” the natural rights of the individual, continued to pose the greatest threat to those rights, especially in the sphere of economics. As the Industrial Revolution swept over the United States during the late nineteenth century, the rights of all Americans—including the businessmen who were bringing about the industrialization of America—were only marginally more secure here than they were in Europe. The mixed ideology in American political thought of the Founding period and the nineteenth century made possible the so-called "mixed economy" of the twentieth century.



II. The Non-Existent Moral Revolution

(back to beginning)

Unfortunately, the American political revolution was not accompanied by a revolution in moral philosophy. Many of the Founders adhered to traditional Judeo-Christian ethics based on altruism. Others, as "free-thinking" students of the Scottish Enlightenment—men such as Thomas Jefferson—instead naively believed that humans had an instinctive "moral sense" that vaguely inculcated one's moral "duties" to others. Under either the traditional or the "enlightened" ethics, it was regarded as "immoral" for an individual to pursue his own self-interest, even if he did so in such a way as not to harm others or even to interfere with the equal freedom of others to do the same. To be "moral," it was assumed, one must sacrifice one's self-interest to the "needs" of others.

Such a moral philosophy—rooted in older visions of a homogeneous communitarian society—was hardly compatible with the reality of American capitalism: the free, robust society of energetic, enterprising individuals, mutually profiting from each others' pursuit of their self-interests—the society described in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Indeed, just as Tocqueville had to coin the term individualism to describe the unique way he observed Americans relating to one another in society, he also invented a concept that he called “the principle of interest rightly understood” to describe Americans’ moral code. As Tocqueville understood it, this principle moderated or tempered American individualism; it produced “no great acts of self-sacrifice” but prompted “daily small acts of self-denial.”

The persistent and pervasive influence of the Judeo-Christian altruistic moral code in American society should not be surprising, given the strong hold that Christian religion had on most Americans, particularly after the Second Great Awakening and other religious revivals in the nineteenth century. These revival movements were followed by the so-called “social gospel” movement, which sought to give Christianity a greater “social relevance” by preaching the ethics of Jesus, the values of altruism and self-sacrifice. Preachers of the social gospel were among the leading proponents of the regulatory/welfare state—and the leading critics of individualism.

When the great American classical liberal philosopher, William Graham Sumner, defended American capitalism in the late nineteenth century—including not only the free-market system but also specifically the rights of capitalists to keep the wealth they had earned—he conceded that it was difficult for Americans to overcome what he called “the old ecclesiastical prejudice in favor of the poor against the rich.” Without directly challenging the traditional Christian altruistic moral code, Sumner nevertheless suggested that in ethics as well as in public policy, American society needed a new code, based on his vision of the Golden Rule: “Laissez-faire,” or translated “into blunt English,” as he put it, “Mind your own business”—the “doctrine of liberty” and personal responsibility.

III. The Incomplete Political and Legal Revolution

(back to beginning)

To paraphrase a late-eighteenth century English radical Whig: America's Founding Fathers were provident, but not provident enough. They created written constitutions with various devices designed to check the abuse of power and to safeguard individual rights; but their handiwork was imperfect in many ways. As noted in Part I, the Founders were, in Jefferson's words, "novices in the science of government"; the early American constitutions—including the United States Constitution of 1789, as amended by the Bill of Rights in 1791—were often more the product of experimentation, of trial and error, or even of political compromise than of deliberate design. Even after Jefferson's so-called "revolution of 1800" and the reinvigoration of first principles he believed it represented, there were many unresolved fundamental problems and inconsistencies in American government and law.

Among the most important of these were the various ways in which economic liberty and property rights were imperfectly protected by American constitutions, both state and federal. Notwithstanding explicit protections of liberty and property rights, generally—most notably, under the Fifth Amendment due process clause of the federal constitution and its equivalent provision in most state constitutions—American constitutional law in the nineteenth century permitted both state and federal governments to regulate business in various ways reminiscent of the old English paternalistic system. As the United States became more industrialized by the late nineteenth century, government regulation of business expanded in scope, both quantitatively and qualitatively, under two general rationales: government regulation of businesses "affected with the public interest" and government prohibition of “monopolies” through the antitrust laws.

A. Civic Republicanism and the Chimera of "Public Interest"

In American political thought, coexistent with the dominant radical Whig, or libertarian, political tradition—with its emphasis on individual rights—there was an older, competing tradition. This tradition, which scholars have called the "civic republican" tradition, traceable back to ancient Rome, preached civic "virtue" as consisting in the subordination of self-interest to the "public interest," or "common good." This notion was central to sixteenth and seventeenth century paternalistic theories of government. An interesting example in English law is the 1606 decision by the Exchequer Court in Bate's Case, upholding the power of King James I, without consent of Parliament, to impose a tax on imported goods, under the rationale that the king had virtually unlimited discretionary power when he was acting for the “general benefit of the people.”

The concept of the “public interest” or “common good” being paramount to private interests, unfortunately, persisted in American political thought and in American law. One consequence was a hostile attitude toward commerce and commercial activities that long has been part of American culture but which, too, was incompatible with a capitalist, "free enterprise" economy. Another consequence was an ambiguity inherent in the definition of the “police power,” the general regulatory power vested in state legislatures to pass laws limiting individual freedom and property rights. Traditionally, the police power was exercised to protect public health, safety, and morals. Courts and legal commentators in the nineteenth century justified the exercise of the power in terms of the old common-law principle of nuisance, which limited uses of one’s property that were harmful to other persons or the general public. The scope of the police power, however, “proved incapable of precise delineation,” in the words of a modern legal scholar. Not only were the traditional categories of public health, safety, and morals ill-defined, but the courts added new categories—including, by the early twentieth century, the category of “public welfare,” the elastic concept which justified virtually limitless expansion of the police power.

The rise of industrial capitalism in the late nineteenth century, during the several decades following the end of the Civil War, was accompanied by a growth in government regulation of business, at both the state and federal levels, under expansive definitions of the states' "police power" and Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce. Not surprisingly, the railroad industry was the first major industry in the United States subjected to regulation by government commissions, first at the state level and then at the federal level with the passage of the Interstate Commerce Act in 1887.

The Supreme Court, in a series of decisions beginning in the 1870s, sanctioned this expanded role of government by applying the old, seventeenth century English concept of "public interest"—particularly, "business affected with a public interest"—to undercut the constitutional safeguards given property and economic liberty through the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. For example, in the early landmark case of Munn v. Illinois, the Court uphold an Illinois law, passed at the behest of the farmers’ association known as the Grange, which set maximum rates that grain elevators could charge in Chicago. Citing seventeenth century English precedents, the majority of the justices held that the law was a legitimate exercise of the police power, under the rationale that the storage of grain (in elevators owned by railroad companies) was a “business affected with a public interest.” Although the Court in a series of decisions during the first three decades of the twentieth century tried to delineate the scope of this concept, by the mid-1930s the majority of the justices concluded that there was “no closed class or category of businesses affected with a public interest,” thus opening the floodgates to all sorts of government regulation, including the licensing of a wide variety of occupations.

B. Antitrust vs. Capitalism

The rise of "trusts"—business combinations, such as holding companies, designed to enhance efficiency—was a response by businesses to the intense competition that characterized most major American industries in the late 19th century. Populists and other proponents of bigger government during the so-called "Progressive" era often exploited the public's fear of big business in making the case for their political programs. Responding to American public opinion—which was profoundly distrustful, indeed paranoid, about "big" business—as well as political pressure from various special interest groups, Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890, allegedly to "protect" competition from the supposed threats of the trusts. Unfortunately, when it passed the Sherman Act, Congress deliberately used vague terms such as monopoly and restraint of trade, the meaning of which were undergoing substantial changes in popular and legal culture at the time. Thus Congress left for the courts the crucial task of interpreting the provisions of the law and so determining precisely what sort of business practices it made criminal.

Antitrust law, together with the law of unfair trade practices, subjected American businessmen in the twentieth century to vague legal standards, under which entrepreneurs may be penalized for being too effective, or too good, as competitors. Consider, for example, the problem of pricing one's goods or services. Ayn Rand only slightly exaggerated the dilemma that the antitrust laws created when she described it this way:

If [a businessman] charges prices which some bureaucrats judge as too high, he can be prosecuted for monopoly, or, rather, for a successful “intent to monopolize"; if he charges prices lower than those of his competitors, he can be prosecuted for “unfair competition” or “restraint of trade”; and if he charges the same prices as his competitors, he can be prosecuted for “collusion” or “conspiracy."
Rand also aptly described the precarious position in which the law leaves American businessmen:

This means that a businessman has no way of knowing in advance whether the action he takes is legal or illegal, whether he is guilty or innocent. It means that a businessman has to live under the threat of a sudden, unpredictable disaster, taking the risk of losing everything he owns or being sentenced to jail, with his career, his reputation, his property, his fortune, the achievement of his whole lifetime left at the mercy of any ambitious young bureaucrat who, for any reason, public or private, may choose to start proceedings against him.
Essentially the same criticism has been made by modern economists critical of the antitrust laws.

A notorious example of the injustice of antitrust law from the turn of the last century involved the man who probably was the real-life model for Nathaniel Taggart: James J. Hill, founder of the Great Northern Railroad Company, the only major transcontinental line built entirely by private capital, without federal land grants or other government subsidies. When Hill created the Northern Securities Company, a holding company combining his and his partners' railroads into a larger company in order to avert a takeover attempt by the Harriman interests who controlled the Union Pacific, the Company was immediately targeted by President Teddy Roosevelt's "trust-busting" campaign. The Justice Department brought suit under the Sherman Act; and the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 opinion written by Justice Harlan, found the Company in violation of the Act as a "restraint of trade," even though the creation of the Company in fact had enhanced competition.

Another oft-cited example is that of ALCOA, found guilty of antitrust violations in the 1945 case, United States v. Aluminum Company of America, because, in the words of Judge Learned Hand in his opinion for the court, the company produced more of its product to meet the public demand:

It [ALCOA] insists that it never excluded competitors; but we can think of no more effective exclusion than progressively to embrace each new opportunity as it opened, and to face every newcomer with new capacity already geared into a great organization, having the advantage of experience, trade connections, and the elite of personnel.
Thus has antitrust law been used in the twentieth century to penalize, for their ability, men of magnificent productive achievement: whether James J. Hill at the beginning of the century, or men such as Bill Gates today.

Application of the antitrust laws to Gates’ company, Microsoft, in recent years has prompted many commentators to question particularly the application of antitrust laws to high-technology industries. The Microsoft case, moreover, has prompted not just academics, but also “mainstream media” commentators to question the wisdom of the antitrust laws generally.

Ayn Rand was a good student of American business history. The world she portrayed in Atlas Shrugged, of course, exaggerated this fatal flaw in the law – but only slightly. As she said in her 1964 lecture "Is Atlas Shrugging?", "the principles of every edict and every directive presented in Atlas Shrugged—such as `The Equalization of Opportunity Bill' or `Directive 10-289'—can be found, and in cruder forms, in our antitrust laws."

C. The Failure of the Constitution


The rise of the twentieth century regulatory/welfare state also can be explained in terms of the failure of the Constitution, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, to curb the power of government, particularly the federal government, and to safeguard individual rights, particularly property rights and economic liberty. Although the Court’s sanctioning of broad federal regulatory power over business can be traced to a series of cases in the late nineteenth century and the early decades (the so-called “Progressive era”) of the twentieth century, the significant shift in the Court’s interpretation of key constitutional provisions occurred in the so-called “New Deal revolution” of the late 1930s. Prior to a series of landmark decisions in 1937, the Court had protected economic liberty and property rights as part of the “liberty of contract” it had recognized as a fundamental right safeguarded by the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment, against federal and state regulatory laws that went beyond the traditional confines of the police power. The Court also had applied the Tenth Amendment—which reserves powers not granted to the federal government to either the states or to “the people”—to limit the reach of Congress’s powers to regulate interstate commerce and to spend the money it collected through federal taxes. After 1937, the Court ceased to protect liberty of contract as a fundamental right; it also allowed Congress to exercise broad, virtually unlimited, powers to regulate commerce and to spend money—upholding, among other things, federal labor laws and the Social Security Act.

The Supreme Court’s post-1937 “liberal” constitutionalism generally has meant not only that Congress has virtually unlimited powers to regulate business but that a double standard exists in the Court’s protection of individual rights. Those “preferred freedoms,” which is to say those rights that left-liberal judges value most—First Amendment freedom of speech and the press, certain rights of accused persons under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual” punishments, and the unenumerated “right to privacy”—have been broadly protected, as fundamental rights, against laws that lack a “compelling” governmental interest to justify limiting individual freedom. On the other hand, those rights not favored by left-liberal judges—including economic liberty and property rights—have been given minimal, if any, constitutional protection; these rights can be restricted by any laws meeting the modern Court’s minimal “rational basis” test—that is, any government regulation deemed “reasonable in relation to its subject” and “adopted in the interests of the community.” Under this broad standard, virtually all kinds of government regulation of business have been upheld by the courts against constitutional challenges.

The Court’s failure to protect economic liberty and property rights against expanding governmental powers can be explained in various ways: for example, as a result of changes in personnel on the Court, or as a result of the justices’ historical tendency to give little regard for individual rights, generally. In a 1973 essay, Ayn Rand offered an especially insightful explanation of the Court’s failure to protect individual rights, when she found that the justices generally were guilty of “context-dropping”—that is, of failing to appreciate the importance of context—in interpreting the Constitution. One could say that it is not just justices on the Supreme Court but also other judges, lawyers, legal scholars and commentators—indeed, virtually all players in the modern debate over constitutional interpretation—who have failed to take a contextual view of the Constitution and its essential function, to protect individual rights.

IV. Conclusion: Completing the Revolution

(back to beginning)

To be sure, Atlas Shrugged portrays America in decline, as the inevitable consequence of its “mixed economy.” But the significance of the novel goes far beyond its critique of the modern regulatory/welfare state. Rand herself noted that the story of Atlas Shrugged "demonstrates that the basic conflict of our age is not merely political or economic, but moral and philosophical," the conflict between "two opposite schools of philosophy, or two opposite attitudes toward life": what she called the "reason-individualism-capitalism axis" and the "mysticism-altruism-collectivism axis." That conflict is at the heart of the basic contradictions in American law and constitutionalism discussed in the previous sections.

To resolve the conflict, and to place the Founders' "new science of politics" upon a firm philosophical footing—and thus to complete the work of the American Revolution—we need not only to reaffirm the Founders' commitment to individual rights but to ground that commitment in a coherent theory of rights. Constitutional protections of life, liberty, and property have been proven insufficient to guard individuals from the tyranny of the so-called "common good" or the "public interest"; we must realize, as clearly and as fully as Rand did, that there is no such thing, that it is an undefined and an indefinable concept, and that this "tribal notion" indeed "has served as the moral justification of most social systems—and of all tyrannies—in history."

By presenting a new code of ethics—the morality of rational self-interest—Rand’s novel helps to provide what the Founders failed to grasp, the missing element of the American Revolution: the moral justification of capitalism, and with it, of the rights of all persons—including the American businessman. Although Atlas Shrugged outlines the essential principles of Objectivism as a philosophical system, the format of a novel—even one as philosophical as Atlas – has inherent limitations. As David Kelley, founder of The Atlas Society, has observed, the complete development of a new philosophy, particularly one based on reason as Objectivism is, requires much work by many thinkers. Like the American Revolution, Objectivism is incomplete: among the many areas where gaps or inconsistencies appear in Rand’s presentation of the philosophy, not only in Atlas Shrugged but in her subsequent non-fiction works, are many of the areas most relevant to the completion of the American Revolution: political philosophy and philosophy of law. Among other things, a comprehensive theory of rights (particularly of constitutional rights, or rights against the government) and a contextualist theory of constitutional interpretation need to be developed. The Constitution of the United States needs to be rediscovered, not just as it was meant to be understood by its framers but also as the text of the document calls for, as a limitation on the powers of government and a safeguard of individual rights. To fully protect property rights and all aspects of the basic right to liberty, including economic liberty, it might even be necessary to add such provisions to the text as the amendment suggested by Judge Narragansett, in the concluding section of Atlas Shrugged: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade.”

To complete the American Revolution, much work has yet to be done. Thanks to Ayn Rand’s magnificent novel, however, we can identify the path along which we must travel to reach that destination. As John Galt states in the closing lines of the novel, “The road is cleared.”


Editor’s Note: This essay expands upon the paper that the author presented at The Atlas Society’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, held in Washington, D.C. on October 6, 2007. This essay first appeared in the Spring 2008 edition of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Copyright © 2008 David N. Mayer.



The World Laughs At Obama


RUSH LIMBAUGH: We're coming up on this mythical 100 days of the Obama administration. I'd like to refer to it, my friends, as "finals week," and I put together a list of things that I have noted since the outset of this administration. Just today, I think you'd have to say Obama's failing, because Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has just ripped him a new one; and his buddy, Fidel Castro, just called him superficial. I mean, now, this cannot be good. The next thing you know Hugo Chavez will come out with some criticism here. After all of these worldwide tours to get all of these dictators and thugs on our side, they are being highly critical of the Bamster.

Also, ladies and gentlemen, the interrogation memos. It is amazing what is coming out about this. We're going to get into that in detail as the program unfolds before your very eyes and ears, but I have to tell you something. I've heard more than one person say -- because Obama changed his mind on this. Originally he said, "We can't keep looking to the past. We've gotta look to the future here. So I don't think it would serve any purpose to prosecute or investigate former administration officials on these interrogations the CIA did." All of a sudden he changes his mind yesterday. I'm hearing a lot of people say, "He must be buckling to pressure from his left wing. He must be buckling to pressure from people reminding him of a campaign promise." He's not buckling to anything but his own desires! Folks, this is part and parcel of, "Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He doesn't know all this that's happening in his administration. He's such a wonderful guy! He doesn't know about all of this." Well, he's orchestrating all of this. As he himself said: he's the visionary. He's setting the tone. The Canadians... Did you hear Janet Napolitano the other day? Janet Napolitano -- this is a rumor that has been debunked years ago. Janet Napolitano said the 9/11 hijackers actually got into our country through Canada.

So now the Canadians are up in arms and the National Post in Canada today has a piece asking how in the hell did this woman get her job? Earlier this week she says it's not a crime to illegally enter the country, cross the border, when it is. She's a ditz. She's a total hick, hack, left-wing kook that is now in charge of Homeland Security -- and she's there because who chose her? Obama! I mean, you Obama people cannot have it both ways. You cannot say this guy is something brand-new and fresh like we've never had before, and he's so smart, and he's so in control, he's so in touch. And then say he has no clue what's going on in his own administration, or that he's being pressured and he's buckling to pressure. What was funny about the interrogation memo flip-flop was when he talked about allowing Holder... If this happens -- we keep talking about overreaching. If this happens, if Eric Holder -- and he could very well do this -- does instigate investigations or let Conyers do it over in the House or somebody start investigating former Bush administration officials, if they subpoena them, and if these guys have to go out and get lawyers, let me tell you something. If this happens, they don't care whether they get a conviction or not. It won't be about that.

It'll be about destroying these people a la Scooter Libby. It will be about destroying and criminalizing policy circumstances with which you disagree. Here you've got these lawyers, who the administration consulted, and they consulted, by the way, the Bush administration did, all over the world, with various nations on interrogation techniques of terrorists, because it's a new kind of prisoner, and Congress signed off on all of it. Nancy Pelosi, they all signed off on all of this in 2002. And in fact, when they were explained waterboarding and all this, nobody in Congress objected, they said you've gotta do more. So if Holder proceeds with this, he's going to have to send out subpoenas not just to the executive branch, he's going to have to send out subpoenas to the lawyers, the White House counsel and anybody else who had anything to do with this. And once that happens, you're gonna see the earth move because nobody's going to go work for the executive branch ever again.

If this precedent is set where you can go back and criminalize the policy disagreements you have with previous administrations that could be the point everybody's hoping that is going to happen, overreach. I, frankly, think we've had a hundred overreaches. I'm going to go through them here in just a second. But nevertheless, that could be something that will awaken a lot of people who still appear to be dormant. So it's stunning to watch this and it's kind of funny yesterday because after Obama flip-flopped there in the Oval Office, he had this photo-op with the king of Jordan, King Abdullah, and that's where, in answer to a reporter's question, he said, (paraphrasing) "You know what, I'm gonna let Holder go ahead and do what he wants to do. If he wants to investigate these people in the Bush administration, fine and dandy." Well, at the afternoon press briefing yesterday, poor old Gibbs, who on a good day is incompetent, poor old Gibbs was -- it's like the White House press office was just blindsided by this. They sent poor old Gibbs out there, and he didn't really have any intelligent, credible answers to why the flip-flop and so forth 'cause of course he's gotta protect Obama.

The director of communications in the White House, not a spokeswoman, but the director of communications, she quit. She resigned the White House. They've reassigned her to some other agency. She went over to Commerce committee, whatever, Commerce department. She was the only one that was not part of the campaign. She's the only one that hadn't drunk the Kool-Aid. And then you've got the suicide today of the CFO over at Freddie Mac. The homicide detectives are on the scene now, the wife phoned in at 4:48 this morning, the cops arrive, said looked like no foul play, looked like it was a suicide, but they've got to investigate. Ellen Moran was the White House communications director, outta there, quit. Now, we don't want to assume what's going on here, but she was the only one that hadn't drunk the Kool-Aid. I chronicle all this stuff and I'm in 100% disbelief.

BREAK TRANSCRIPT

RUSH: I'm going to go through the finals week for Obama here, I don't know when the first 100 days is. It's 90, a hundred days after January 20th. But, regardless, this is an incredible list of things that I've been thinking about, and I've been taking notes, and I've been putting them all down. And when I go through all this, at the end of it, all of this is being spun as productive and historic, and it's nothing but buffoonery. It's embarrassing incompetence and inexperience.


BREAK TRANSCRIPT

RUSH: Finals week, Barack Obama approaching a hundred days. Now, they say this has been a historically productive 100 days. I have just put a list here together in no particular order, just off the top of my head, of the things in this administration that have stood out to me since it began. Admiral Blair -- this is all over the New York Times today -- Admiral Blair admitting the CIA received high value, lifesaving information from terrorists, while President Obama is condemning the same interrogations as immoral and counterproductive. President Obama is throwing and has thrown grand White House parties with Kobe beef, a hundred bucks a pound, while telling the nation to cut back in order to survive the greatest economic downturn supposedly since the Great Depression, bowing to the king of Saudi Arabia, listening patiently and respectfully while a two-bit dictator lectures Obama -- it was Daniel Ortega -- with false charges for 50 minutes about the criminal country he leads, and Obama doesn't say one word to object, one word in disagreement, does not stand up for his country at one point during the Summit of the Americas.

He has run around the world and apologized for the greatest, the most compassionate, the most innovative and freedom-loving country in world history. Now we've got Fidel Castro setting Obama straight about how Cuba handles political prisoners and its economy. Fidel Castro, one of Obama's idols, calling him superficial. We had the nomination of tax cheats to his cabinet, including the man who oversees the IRS, five tax cheats in the Obama administration. We have Obama's joke of a press spokesman, who makes a complete idiot of himself on a daily basis. He sends back a symbol of freedom, that bust of Sir Winston Churchill to Great Britain just after moving into the White House. He wants nothing to do with it. He did of his own volition. They said you can keep it. He said no, we don't want it here. They said put it in a different room in the White House. We don't want it here, and sent it back to the British embassy. It was given to us, President Bush, after 9/11, by the Brits. He insulted the prime minister of England, the queen of England, with embarrassing, thoughtless gifts.

We have the French president Sarkozy ridiculing Obama's messianic complex, inviting him to walk on water at Normandy beach. We have Iran taking a hostage, an American journalist, as Obama promises better relations. We have North Korea humiliating Obama with their missile launch. We have Obama putting the country in debt for generations to come while promising fiscal responsibility, offering up laughable budget cuts, banning lobbyists from his administration, while appointing them left and right. Openly lying that Caterpillar would hire up with the passage of his stimulus bill, then watching while that company lays off thousands after the stimulus bill passes. He pledges to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay where I have a thriving merchandise business. But then he keeps it open with no plan for its future. Proclaiming total transparency, while keeping secret who got the TARP funds, when, where, why. Being incapable of communicating without a teleprompter, while the press declares him a Reaganesque, Great Communicator.

He attacks a private citizen broadcaster from the White House as part of an orchestrated plan to distract the country from legislation and policies we don't want, which thus touched off a political firestorm, all of this while claiming to be a unifier. He makes a ham-handed attempt to nationalize the banks preventing financial institutions from paying back TARP money they don't need or want. We got a column today in the Wall Street Journal by Holman Jenkins that General Motors is a debacle; it is an absolute debacle and mess, and soon Wall Street is going to be the same thing. He has made bad situations worse with car manufacturers, and the worst is yet to come. He has sparked hundreds of protests involving hundreds of thousands of Americans at tea parties regarding irresponsible government spending while his Homeland Security chief labels peacefully demonstrating Americans and veterans as security risks. Now, that's just the things I could think up the top of my head. Oh, yeah, moving the census over to the Commerce department to politicize that. I mean, this administration has been one part joke, one part unbelievable, and many parts scary. Because while all this has gone on, this man is reported upon and reported to be the best president we've ever had, a shining light, a beacon, historical figure.

We have a sycophantic mainstream media in this country. How about the New York Times. The New York Times, $34 million in cash. The New York Times is in debt $1.3 billion. By the way, this is cool, folks. The New York Times' corporate president and CEO, Janet Robinson, received a compensation package valued at $5.58 million last year while the publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. received a total of $2.4 million while this company is losing its shirt. Does that not sound a little bit like Wall Street? Does this not sound like excessive bonuses? Does this sound like CEOs paying them when the performance of their company is in the sewer? And haven't we demonized private sector CEOs for this very thing? Oh, and that is another one: making enemies out of people in the private sector and ginning up protests by his ACORN buddies at the homes of AIG executives, fomenting class hatred and rivalry.

The list goes on of the egregious things this administration's done. His House organ, the New York Times, $1.3 billion in debt, $34 million in cash on hand. They borrowed some money from some guy named Slim down in Mexico, and he's charged them 18% interest. And now Hillary Clinton's out there saying US is laying groundwork for tough, crippling sanctions on Iran if Iran rejects engagement. Iran says, "We'll talk, but we're not doing anything about our nuclear program." I mean the world is making a joke, the world is making a joke of our country, and the president is being praised for it!


BREAK TRANSCRIPT

RUSH: Here are details on the reprimands. You might say the teachers are trying to educate the student, Fidel Castro commenting on Barack Obama. Castro rejects President Obama's suggestions that Cuba should free political prisoners or cut taxes on remittances from the United States. Fidel Castro on a blog, no less, said that Obama "misinterpreted remarks by his brother and successor Raul and bristled at the suggestion that Cuba should free political prisoners or cut taxes on remittances from abroad as a goodwill gesture to the United States." All of this enraged Castro, who wrote in an essay posted on a government website that Obama, without a doubt, misinterpreted Raul's declarations. "Castro appeared to be throwing a dose of cold water on growing expectations for improved bilateral relations -- suggesting Obama had no right to dare suggest that Cuba make even small concessions. He also seemed to suggest too much was being made of Raul's comments about discussing 'everything' with US authorities."

Castro: "Affirming that the president of Cuba is ready to discuss any topic with the president of the United States expresses that he's not afraid ... It's a sign of bravery and confidence in the principles of the revolution." Now, there's a hidden little secret here that everybody with a half a brain knows about the Castros. The last thing they want is an open relationship with the United States. The last thing they want is the blockade to come down. That's what Fidel's always called the embargo. He tells Cuban citizens that there are Navy ships out there preventing goods, he calls it a blockade. So here comes our naive young boy president down there, (paraphrasing) "We're going to open up, we're going to have this new dialogue, we're going to send you some money, we're going to send some more people down there, you ought to free some political prisoners," and Castro bristles at the naivete of his student, Barack Obama. It's the last thing they want. You understand that the US embargo is what gives the Castro brothers and the Cuban government the ammo to tell their citizens what a rotten economy they have and what a rotten life they all have, even though it's the best damn health care in the freaking world, according to the stupid idiots in the American left.

The last thing they want is the embargo lifted. "The ex-president had previously expressed his admiration for Obama, but this time Castro blasted the new US president for showing signs of 'superficiality.'" Whoa-ho! Well, I mean, here's Castro the teacher, Castro the professor, he can see the weaknesses in the student far more than American leftists can see the weakness, superficiality. I mean Castro's got it. And let's go to another teacher, another professor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today criticized Obama's boycott of a United Nations racism conference, dubbing it unhelpful. "On Monday, The International Racism Conference in Geneva, which the US boycotted --" now, by the way, I think we did the right thing not to go to this thing, don't misunderstand, we did the right thing, but Ahmadinejad is somebody that Obama wants to talk to and Hillary Clinton says today we're going to put really tough sanctions on them. Hardy-har-har.

BREAK TRANSCRIPT

RUSH: So Ahmadinejad's all upset we didn't go to the racism conference, lecturing his student, Barack Obama. Obama, the US, right not to go to this thing. The whole thing was a fiasco, but Ahmadinejad is considered one of our grave threats and enemies with his nuke program, and Obama says that he's going to forge a new relationship out there with them, and all we have to do is talk to them, and all we have to do is show 'em we mean 'em no harm. Such naivete, the ugliness, the hypocrisy of President Obama's morality plays. This guy is very cold, folks. He is a 100% pure leftist extremist political animal. I have a difficult time putting up with him lecturing us, the United States of America, on matters he identifies as requiring the pushing of a morality reset button with him as the chief protocol director of morality.

According to Obama, our response, after being attacked on 9/11, was immoral. Of all the people, of all things, Barack Obama should be the last person to lecture anybody standing atop a rock of morality. His foundation is leftist. He identifies with anti-American politics. He laughs, he yucks it up with these people who hate our country. He's been masterful at deceiving a large number of Americans with the help of his friends in the Drive-By Media. Look at who Obama has accused of being morally deficient: Wall Street, all CEOs, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the CIA, and essentially America itself. He has declared those five things morally deficient. And only now will Wall Street and CEOs, Bush and Cheney, CIA, and even America be straightened out with a new moral rudder headed by himself, The One, The Messiah, Barack Obama, the Most Merciful. Yet he supports infanticide. He attended a racist, bigoted church for 20 years. He had active support of the criminal political bullying enterprise known as ACORN. He has dealings with Tony Rezko, his working relationship with Bill Ayers, embracing and smiling Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, and not defending his country after it was slandered, this guy tells us he's in charge of our new morality. Sorry, folks, it's just tough to stomach. Tough to deal with on a daily basis.


END TRANSCRIPT

THE RULES OF THE GAME


A few days ago, I happened to meet a doctor in our area who has an unusual background. He emigrated to America from Russia, and I heard from one of the nurses in his practice that he had to go back through medical school and earn a new degree in order to get his medical license in the United States. This, I thought, is a man who has uprooted his life to an extraordinary degree, all so that he can live and work in America. So when I had the opportunity to talk to him, I asked him why he did it.

He is a very quiet-spoken and reserved man, so much so that I felt sheepish asking him a personal question, and I did not expect much in return. Instead, I got an answer more thorough and profound than I could have guessed at.

"I came here," he said, "because of my son." His son is ten years old, and he moved to the US ten years ago. I thought perhaps this meant that his son had some rare medical condition that could be better treated in America. But that wasn't it. He came here, he said, because "they won't change"—by which he meant that Russia's culture had not fundamentally changed after the collapse of the Soviet system. I asked if he left because of Vladimir Putin, who has spearheaded the effort to re-impose an authoritarian political system in Russia. But he replied, "Putin is nothing. It is the system."

You can get by in the system and have a decent life, he explained, if you know the rules—that is, if you know which wheels to grease and which authorities to please, if you know the right things to say and the things you aren't allowed to say. "I grew up in the system, so I learned the rules," he continued. "But you ask yourself whether you want your child to learn the rules." That is a profound and courageous observation. It is not just the material effect of living under a corrupt, bureaucratic, tyrannical system that he feared; it was the soul-destroying psychological effect of having to learn and internalize the rules of that system.

There was one particular set of rules that he seemed to be particularly concerned about. He pointed out that Russia still maintains a system of internal passports, which means that you don't need a passport just to travel outside the country; you need a passport to travel from one province to another. Internal passports are a standard tool of dictatorships, because they allow the state to control the internal movement of its own people. Russia's internal passports, he noted, name each person's ethnic nationality. Besides ethnic Russians, the Russian Federation encompasses many small ethnic minorities, particularly in Central Asia and the South Caucuses.

This division of the population by ethnicity, the doctor explained, limits what you can do and how far you can rise in the system. When he said this, I noticed that he had bushy black hair, a darker complexion, and a last name that did not sound traditionally Russian. I didn't ask, but I assume that he comes from one of the Central Asian ethnic minorities, which is discriminated against in favor of ethnic Russians.

Keep that in mind whenever you hear someone talk about America's "legacy of racism." In fact, America has a legacy of overcoming racism, which is still endemic in many other parts of the world. Thus, we just elected a black man as our president, but in Russia, minor differences in ethnic background, which are almost indistinguishable to outsiders, still determine a man's fate in life.

His overall summary of Russia's culture of authoritarianism is that "They do not value human life." This was his introduction to the subject on which he was most passionate: socialized medicine. A major part of the reason he left Russia was because socialized medicine is just as intolerable for doctors as it is for patients.

Socialized medicine, he stated flatly, "doesn't work." Why doesn't it work? He explained that a doctor works for the state—not for his patients. So he spends much of his time filling out forms. "As long as the forms are filled out, no one cares what the patient says," how he is doing, or whether he survives.

He then went out of his way to point out that the current administration wants to move us toward socialized medicine. (He did not know my political views, so he had no idea how much I would agree with him on this issue.) "If they move us just a little bit, it will not be so bad. But if they move us a lot, it will be a disaster."

Keep that in mind during the coming debates over President Obama's plans for the de facto nationalization of our medical system.

After our conversation, I shook his hand warmly and told him we were happy to have him here. But that one question he asked kept haunting me. "Do you want your child to learn the rules?"

It struck me that this is not just the question he had to ask himself when he decided to leave Russia. It is the question we Americans ought to be asking ourselves right now. Do we want to live in a society where the state has such a predominant role that you get live a decent life if you know the rules? Do we want our children to learn those rules—the rules they will have to follow to show their proper subordination to the power of the government and those who run it?

That is what socialism is about.

But America is cherished the world over as the ultimate example of a place where no one has to learn the rules. We have traditionally been a country where the average person can speak his mind and plan his career path without having to think twice about the arbitrary rules that might be imposed on him by some government authority. And when it comes to informal rules about social customs or the way things are done in the business world—well, we pride ourselves on being people who break the rules. They key to our dynamic society and our enormous productivity is that we are constantly rearranging "the way things are done"—and we are rewarded for doing so.

That is what capitalism is about.

Fundamentally, America is a place for independent men—which is why it attracts independent thinkers from around the world. But the current push toward a dominant role for government in our economy—with government running automakers, hospitals, universities, banks, and who knows what else—threatens to change our culture at the deepest level, converting us into a population of compliant rule-followers.

So that's the choice we face, and you are going to have to decide where you stand. Do you want your children to learn the rules? Or do you want them to grow up as free men?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Tea Parties And Ayn Rand

The Ayn Rand Factor in the current political debate continues. John Tamny from RealClearMarkets is the latest to show the Ayn Rand influence, starting his column for Forbes with an extended reference to Atlas Shrugged.


Meanwhile, David Horowitz's FrontPage Magazine has an interview with Objectivist comic book writer and illustrator Bosch Fawstin. Raised Muslim, Fawstin has since created an anti-Muslim superhero, and the interview covers his journey "From Mohammed to Ayn Rand."


I've already linked to a recent article about renewed interest in a movie version of Atlas Shrugged. Through a reliable source, I heard a little snippet of news that might help the project move forward faster. It looks like the producers are thinking of giving up on Angelina Jolie, who had been attached to the project for a while because she was supposedly interested in playing Dagny Taggart. This hasn't shown up anywhere in the news yet and it may not be final, but that's the latest rumor.


Having a mega-star attached to the film was a good idea, and while I can see how some Objectivists would balk at the choice (because of Jolie's own personality), I thought she was a good enough actress to play the role. Plus, the guys in makeup could have covered up all those tattoos. But the downside of a mega-star is that they are like the gods of Mount Olympus: capricious and elusive. That, along with Jolie's successive pregnancies, has slowed the project down instead of moving it forward. So it's a very good idea to start looking elsewhere.


Meanwhile, more and more people are starting to grasp the real-life parallels to Atlas Shrugged. New York magazine has a new article describing the anger and disillusionment of Wall Streeters who find themselves unfairly vilified and punished.


The article is written with a snide tone, based on the Marxist assumption—implicit throughout the piece but never justified—that Wall Street financiers were "privileged" parasites who didn't earn their wealth. But the author quotes extensively from the Wall Streeters themselves, quoting one, for example, who declares that "JPMorgan and all these guys should go on strike—see what happens to the country without Wall Street." Where do you think he got that idea?


The author describes these people as being influence by a "belief shared on Wall Street but which few have dared to articulate until now: those who select careers in finance play an exceptional role in our society. They distribute capital to where it's most effective, and by some Ayn Rand–ian logic, the virtue of efficient markets distributing capital to where it is most needed justifies extreme salaries—these are the wages of the meritocracy. They see themselves as the fighter pilots of capitalism."


How many of these people will be confirmed in their support for Objectivist ideas by the events of the past six months?


Where we will really begin to see big results, however, is if we can combine this Ayn Rand Factor with the politics of the tea parties. That would be a trend with the potential to stop the Obama agenda cold, and we are already seeing signs that the tea party movement is posing a big political obstacle for the left.


The New York Times reports that even the Democratic Congress is now showing some reluctance to raise the taxes needed to pay for Obama's massive expansion of government.


The administration's central revenue proposal—limiting the value of affluent Americans' itemized deductions, including the one for charitable giving—fell flat in Congress, leaving the White House, at least for now, without $318 billion that it wants to set aside to help cover uninsured Americans. At the same time, lawmakers of both parties have warned against moving too quickly on a plan to auction carbon emission permits to produce more than $600 billion.


The unwillingness to embrace some of the major White House tax and revenue proposals has frustrated administration officials. They note that lawmakers, many of them supporters of the president's ambitious agenda, clamor to hold down the deficit while balking at the proposals to finance his program.


Blogger Jennifer Rubin notes:


Who knew there would be a limit to the amount Congress would be willing to tax and spend? The Congress–Democrats included—are getting nervous about raising taxes to pay for a huge new domestic agenda. When Sen. Kent Conrad cautions that we are talking about "hundreds of billions" for healthcare, one senses that there is perhaps greater distance between the Congress and the White House on spending than between the Congress and all those tea party protesters. Maybe the fact that 435 congressmen and one third of the Senate must face the public in less than two years has the legislators' enthusiasm for another round of spending (and the required tax hikes) running thin.


It was not a surprise to me that there is a solid core of cultural resistance to expanding government, leading to a backlash against the Obama agenda. What has been surprising is that this opposition to statism has gained so much strength so quickly, and that it could even be having an immediate politic impact.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Patriot Day Article: A Second American Revolution Brewing?


Last week, in his now-famous rallying cry against the Obama administration's march toward socialism, CNBC financial commentator Rick Santelli called for a "Chicago Tea Party" to protest against the rapid expansion of government.

The idea of a Boston Tea Party-inspired tax protest had already been percolating, if you will, and when Santelli gave voice to it, it emerged as a new movement. A group that calls this the "New American Tea Party" has set up a website to coordinate protests across the nation this Friday, including in Washington, DC.


The comparison to the Boston Tea Party is appropriate, because it is a reminder that the American Revolution began with a revolt against taxes—and against a government that was much smaller and less intrusive than the one we have now.

It is also appropriate because it captures the sense that the political class has been acting without our consent. The ever-changing bailout plans have been hatched by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve on their own apparently unlimited authority, backed by a blank check rammed through Congress last year with little debate. Or consider the automakers' bailout, which the Bush administration decreed after Congress had specifically refused to approve it. Or take the stimulus bill, the final version of which was pushed through the House with only ten hours to read through a thousand-page preserve of leftist giveaways and insidious new regulations.

It has been said that freedom is indivisible, and since the beginning of the financial crisis we have seen that in taking away our economic freedom, our leaders in Washington are also increasingly giving unchecked power to unelected bureaucrats and turning Congress into a mere rubber stamp.

A backlash has been brewing against this rapid expansion of government power, and this week's tea party protests are just the beginning. The American people as a whole are still largely giving President Obama the benefit of the doubt, and his approval ratings are still relatively high. But what will happen in a year or so, when it is likely that his interventions in the economy will have made things worse, rather than better? The new administration's policies have already driven the stock market down to levels not seen since 1997, wiping out more than a decade of wealth-creation. What happens in 2010, when the public finds that they're still afraid of losing their jobs, and their personal savings haven't recovered? I think we will see these protests grow and spread.

But we will need more than just a political rebellion against the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress. We will need to engage in an ideological struggle, a battle of ideas. Columnist Monica Crowley named it best early last week when she called for a "21st century Boston Tea Party" and said that we needed a "second American revolution of ideas," "of getting back to the ideals of limited government, of constitutional parameters on government power, of individual liberty, and of the free market."

But such an ideological revolution would need to be more extensive than Crowley realizes, because we have to ask: where is the intellectual ammunition for this battle of ideas going to come from? It is important to remember that a Republican administration started us down this plunge into socialism. President Bush started the bailout frenzy, and John McCain pointedly refused to defend capitalism when Barack Obama tried to make the presidential election into a referendum against free-market economics.

For the right, this taxpayers' rebellion should be seen, not merely as a way to regain some of the political power they have lost, but also as a means for the Republican Party to reform itself and revive its ability to defend the free market after a decade of Bush-style "big-government conservatism." For too long, the right has neglected the case for free markets, and they need to re-learn it. That's the revolution we need most of all.

In praising Rick Santelli, conservative author Roger Kimball asks a very good question: "do we really need to go back to economic kindergarten and relearn" the lessons of the failure of statism and the superiority of capitalism? The answer is that we never learned the fullest, deepest, philosophical reasons for the moral and practical superiority of capitalism.

Fortunately, we know where to find the free-market ideas we need, and this source is already indirectly driving the new taxpayer revolt. It's time to bring it fully out into the open.

Note that in defending his stance against the bailouts, Rick Santelli referred to himself as an "Ayn Rander"—a reference to the great 20th-century novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, who is most famous for her ideological defense of laissez-faire capitalism. (That's not Santelli's first reference to Rand; TIA Daily reader Bill Sims found an earlier one.) Similar references seem to be lurking behind nearly every expression of resistance to big government. Rush Limbaugh—whose coining of the term "porkulus" helped galvanize the right's resistance to the so-called "stimulus" bill—has frequently recommended Ayn Rand's magnum opus Atlas Shrugged in recent months, as has conservative talk show host Glenn Beck.

In January, Stephen Moore caused a stir by arguing, in the Wall Street Journal, that the current crisis is turning Atlas Shrugged "from fiction to fact." References to Ayn Rand have even popped up at such unlikely sources as Human Events—a magazine for religious conservatives that recently published a surprisingly friendly article referring to the atheist philosopher—and even from the New York Times's safely timid in-house conservative David Brooks, who is the farthest thing from an "Ayn Rander" that you could imagine. And those who are warning that increased government restrictions will cause the nation's most productive workers to withdraw their talents have taken to calling this the "John Galt Effect," a reference to the hero—and the main plotline—of Atlas Shrugged.

It is no coincidence that the strongest resistance to a government takeover of the economy is coming from people influence by Ayn Rand. She has functioned as a stiffener of resolve and as the fountainhead of pro-free-market ideas.

I have written about this at greater length, but Ayn Rand's contribution to the philosophical defense of capitalism can be summed up in one central idea: individualism. Ayn Rand demonstrated that the ultimate source of all wealth—everything from steel mills to microchips—is the individual reasoning mind. Thus, a society that wants to prosper has to ask what is required by its thinkers and producers, the "prime movers" who originate and implement new ideas. And the first requirement of these thinkers is that they be free from coercive interference by bureaucrats, by blowhard legislators, or by federal "czars."

Ayn Rand was an individualist in the fullest sense: she regarded the unfettered individual, not just as a source of wealth, but also as an end in himself with the right to pursue and enjoy his own happiness, without being forced to sacrifice himself for the greater good of the collective. The issue, as she once put it, is not whether or not you give a dime to a beggar. The issue is whether you have a right to exist if you don't—and whether you have to buy your life, one dime at a time, from every moocher who comes along asking for a handout. She gave the clearest and most consistent "no" to that standard of morality, and clearest and most consistent "yes" to the moral rights of the creators and producers.

There has been some recent crowing about how the current financial crisis has discredited Ayn Rand's defense of the free market, as demonstrated by the defection of Alan Greenspan, who has now gone so far as to advocate the nationalization of failing banks. But Greenspan actually rejected Ayn Rand's philosophy decades ago, and he did it during the triumph of free markets in the early years of the Reagan Revolution. In reality, the current financial crisis does not demonstrate the failure of Greenspan's alleged pro-free-market ideas; rather, it demonstrates the failure of his presumption that a talented "maestro" can ensure prosperity by setting himself up as the monetary central planner of the economy.

In fact, the current crisis has vindicated Ayn Rand's warnings. And the policies of the current administration are about to do so yet again and perhaps more fully than ever before, by sacrificing more and more of the nation's productive minds to provide handouts for the beggars.

Far from facing growing rejection, Ayn Rand's ideas are the mostly unnamed fuel giving fire and confidence to people like Rick Santelli. There are many people who have a detailed practical knowledge of the superiority of markets and of the values behind free markets—but they are cowed and neutralized by the conventional altruist morality which signs our lives over to all of those moochers with their hands out. Even if they don't fully accept Ayn Rand ideas, their encounter with her writings gives them the confidence to embrace their suppressed knowledge and act upon it. She gives them the confidence to declare that they have earned their wealth and that they have a right to keep it and enjoy it.

That's the Ayn Rand factor that we are observing now—and we need more of it.

If we're going to have an ideological Boston Tea Party, a rebellion against the whole theory behind state management of our lives and wealth, then Ayn Rand is the ideal philosophical hostess. ---Robert Tracinski

Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at TIADaily.com. He is the editor of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily.com.