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News ::
The Post-Modern or "Leftover" Left (english)
01 Mar 2003
Modified: 09:20:45 PM
The World Trade Organziation meeting in Seattle, Nov/Dec 1999, surprised almost everyone with the level of violence and vandalism that was manifest. Although there were many indignant and militant radicals at the demonstrations, the lawlessness was largely the doing of self-styled anarchists, often recognizable by all black clothing and black face masks, not to mention actual black flags
The World Trade Organziation meeting in Seattle, Nov/Dec 1999, surprised almost everyone with the level of violence and vandalism that was manifest. Although there were many indignant and militant radicals at the demonstrations, the lawlessness was largely the doing of self-styled anarchists, often recognizable by all black clothing and black face masks, not to mention actual black flags. This "Black Block" contingent was also conspicuous at the political conventions in 2000. This seems to be the largest reactiviation of self-consciously anarchist action since the 60's and is perhaps understandable given the level of incoherence, irrationality, and desperation in recent leftist thought. Nor is it surprising that the ignorance and nihilism promoted by public eduction would produce the crop of clueless idiots who seem to be involved in this movement. The folly of such people is painful, when nothing is more brightly written on the pages of history than the fact that, when they actually get the kind of Revolution that they want, anarchists are subsequently the first people to be massacred by the more realistic militants, e.g. Lenin.

There are, indeed, libertarian anarchists, e.g. Murray Rothbard. Few libertarians have much love for the World Trade Organization, and there is nothing in principle to prevent such people from using violence, even Revolutionary violence (as in, indeed, the American Revolution). But an animus for capitalism, business, and "corporations" in general, trashing and looting small businesses, and rejection of free trade at all, not just the "regulated" trade of the WTO, distinguishes the leftist bent of the conspicuous anarchists, as with their opportunistic allies in the following categories.

Despite the painful level of folly among the anti-capitalist anarchists, they can invoke apparently significant intellectual support. Seminal linguistics pioneer Noam Chomsky, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has for years spent much of his energy on a lunatic fringe political crusade against capitalism and the United States. Chomsky considers himself an "anarcho-socialist," regards people like Lenin as "right wing," and supports free speech to the extent of travelling to France, where it is illegal to deny the existence of the Holocaust, to defend the questionable people who were doing just that. Chomsky, to be sure, should be particuarly sensitive about such an issue, since he was one of the people who at the time indignantly denied that a holocaust was going on in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. Nevertheless, Chomsky's views are otherwise in general little more than a depressingly familiar repeat, root and branch, of Soviet propaganda points. Thus, the United States is wealthy and successful only because it "exploits" other countries and its own poor. In this the United States is merely the logically and causal successor of Nazi Germany, whence it derived an irrational and vicious hatred of the Soviet Union. Chomsky, consequently, is one of the people who tend to regard the repressive totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union, or other Communist countries, as merely the excusable response to American opposition. Their hearts were in the right place, and if they did bad things, it is our fault -- and they certainty didn't have corporations. Chomsky can only honor any such regime that refused to participate in the Western economic system, with the United States at its rotten core. Indeed, he thinks that U.S. policy is to destroy even economically insigificant countries (using unspeakable levels of torture and terror, his view of the U.S. role in El Salvador and Nicaragua) just so that the possibility of their setting an alternative "good example" is erased. Unfortunately, when such countries, like the Soviet Union itself, Vietnam, and Cuba, actually do break free of American control and the Western economic system, it is nevertheless still our fault that they do not subsequently prosper economically. How they can continue to fail although free is mysterious, although perhaps, if Chomsky is an anarchist, he assumes that they maintain a repressive state apparatus only to protect themselves from us, and that otherwise the state would "whither away" in true Marxist fashion, allowing a prosperity that the state as such precludes.

However much Chomsky's worldview seems like a Twilight Zone of counterfactuals and dishonest, unfalsifiable ideology, his influence is nevertheless great in a generation whose own political and economic education is a mush of incoherent welfare statism -- the true fascism whose affinities are, indeed, more with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union itself than with laissez-faire capitalism or American Constitutional government. But since Chomsky presumably doesn't like any of those things, there is literally no precedent for the kind of regime he would prefer and no evidence for the practicality, or even coherence, of whatever economic and political system he envisions. The idea of giving power to anyone of the sort is terrifying. When I find self-identified anarchists complaining that it is an outrage that conservatives are able to be heard on talk radio, I have no doubt that the excuses for Communist regimes that someone like Chomsky offers can very easily become excuses for their own violent repression of dissent should they ever have the chance to do so. As in the Soviet Union itself, free speech and such can be allowed after class enemies are eliminated and the state does whither away. Thus, until the whole world is assimilated to their system, they don't have to apologize for any acts of violence or oppression. By resisting, we are to blame.

In the 1993 movie Bram Stoker's Dracula [Columbia, American Zoetrope/Osiris], there is a scene where Count Dracula, confronted with his pursuers, turns into a figure made of rats, who then scatter and run in all directions. This is rather like what has happened to Communism since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Few in the West today would identify themselves publically or self-consciously as Communists (though some do, like the present poet laureate of New Jersey, Amiri Baraka, who sees no hope for the United States outside a "Marxist-Leninist" political party), but a large body of leftists and even advocates of "liberal" opinion, when taken together, can more or less be reassembled into Soviet attitudes and policies. As Talleyrand said of the Bourbons, they have learned nothing and fogotten nothing. For instance, a Hobbesian absolutist statism can be found in the popular historian Garry Wills (cf. A Necessary Evil), who denies that government can be limited by laws, since it makes the laws, and so cannot really be limited or divided at all. This ejects, of course, all the principles of the rule of law (which is now only invoked by the Left to require blind obedience to the government), separation of powers, checks and balances, enumerated powers, and all the other devices conceived for the limitation of government. Wills, in short, doesn't believe in and doesn't like any of the basic or original principles of Liberal, Constitutional, or traditional American government. What we get instead is an authoritarianism which is exactly what the Left wants for its other assaults on freedom. These assaults in general are what can be assembled as the rats to reconstitute the whole of Communism, even when we overlook the explicit Marxists who can be found thick on the ground at every American university. Thus, besides socialist economic policies that dismiss property rights, and that endorse price fixing for wages, medicine, gasoline, and whatever else seems unsatisfactory at the moment, we also find a growing totalitarian dimension in attacks on personal rights and voluntary association. A crude joke at work is now a "civil rights" offense (unless it is done by someone on "our side," like Bill Clinton). Any activity whatsoever, indeed, with any dimension that can be construed as economic, like advertising for a roommate, is now subject to high standards of anti-discrimination and political correctness. All of this not only violates the Fifth Amendment prohibition against the taking of private property for public use without just compensation but really breaks the Thirteenth Amendment prohibition of "involuntary servitude." When we then find fashionable theories denying that free speech should be allowed, or that it even means anything (cf. Stanley Fish -- with practical manifestations in common university "speech codes," as well as hostility, obstructionism, and tolerated violence towards non-leftist speakers at American universities), the direction in which the whole project is headed should be clear. Communism did not die; its unrepentant followers and sympathetizers simply executed a tactical dispersal. Since Communist strategy was always one of deception, misdirection, dissimulation, and dishonesty, there is nothing out of character about all this.

More overt Communism can be found in a recent book that has become beloved of the Left. This is Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri [Harvard Unversity Press, 2000]. Part of what is going on here is evident in who Antonio Negri is. Formerly a political science professor at Padua, Negri is presently under house arrest in Italy because of evidence of his connection, even participation, in the infamous terrorist campaign of the "Red Brigades," including the kidnapping and murder of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978. That Negri is not in prison may be due to the continuing influence of the (former) Communist Party in Italian politics. Nor are the Red Brigades ancient history. On March 19, 2002, Marco Biagi, an economics professor adivising current Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on the reform of Italian labor law, was gunned down outside his home in Bologna. A group identifying itself as the Red Brigades claimed credit for this, as part of the post September 11 fight against "imperialism." Michael Hardt is a literature professor at Duke University, thereby nicely fitting the profile of an English Department Marxist, at a school infamous for a reign of deconstuctionist political correctness. What Negri and Hardt want is a fantasyland version of Marxism in which the Soviet Union was "in fact...a society crisscrossed by extremely strong instances of creativity and freedom." Perhaps this is why no art of note, except for novelists who were then suppressed, was produced after the 1920's in the Soviet Union, and nothing significant ever invented outside of the Soviet military sector (of which, of course, the space program, which never did get to the Moon, was a part). The "Empire" of the book's title is thus the Leninist image of capitalism as imperialism -- a point where Chomsky, of course, is unlikely to disagree. This all gives us an extremely fine example of intellectuals as fools, self-blinded to the most conspicuous events of recent history, vicious fools for whom terrorism may be the most promising tool for bringing about the revolution.

Environmentalism can be thought of as a broad based and popular movement, but its activist and militant wing goes far beyond what most people would think of as protecting the environment. Vandals and terrorists who break equipment on isolated ranches, who "spike" trees so that lumber mill saws will be destroyed, may seem to be a mere lunatic fringe, but all organized environmentalism shares many views and strategies with the rest of the Left, with the distinguishing feature that, while traditional Communism believed in expanding production and ever greater wealth for all, many or even most real environmentalists, fringe or not, do not believe in economic growth and would just as soon have many fewer humans living in virtuous poverty. Few will say in public, of course, "Most of you should go and die," but slow growth policies, to preserve the "quality of life," imply that anyone shut out by the lack of construction or economic growth should simply go elsewhere. When a California law professor goes to Cuba and finds "ecotopia," precisely because of the poverty into which Communism has plunged the country, we have a very curious reversal on the failures of Communism and a striking point of alliance between environmentalists and unreconstructed Communists. When Castro is the darling, not just of crypto-Communists, but of environmentalists, one may well suspect that the Greens are truly "watermelons" -- green on the outside and red on the inside. The popularity of the Green political movement with former socialists, and even Mikhail Gorbachev, may reveal that the stated purposes of socialism, like greater wealth, were never the most important things. Instead, it was power and control that mattered, regardless of either its positive or negative effects on economics.

The purely political dimension of the Green movement is especially clear in the nomination by the American Green Party, two times in a row, of "consumer advocate" Ralph Nader. Nader has relatively little interest in environmentalism, is not a member of the Party, and, at least in 1996, admitted that he hadn't even read the Green Party platform. But the Greens know that Nader's anti-corporate and anti-business views are something they are comfortable with and that there is nothing incongruous with him representing their movement. Indeed.

The poverty of ecotopia and an anti-capitalist assault on all the conditions of modern life, which will be productive of general poverty, will all be happily conformable to the beliefs of those who actually want to preserve or return humans to pre-modern ways of life. Thus, an anthropologist at Hunter College and the City University of New York, Marc Edelman, has written a book, Peasants Against Globalization [Stanford University Press, 1999], in which the indictment of capitalism, free trade, and "globalization" is pitched in terms that traditional peasants tend to be forced off the land, which destroys their way of life and simply makes them underpaid urban workers. This is a far cry from Marx's remark about the "idiocy of rural life," let alone the hatred that Lenin and Stalin had for peasants and their intention to destroy them as a class, which they did. Mao, who did not have enough of an urban proletariat to make a revolution (the orthodox Marxist requirement), used the peasants to make the Chinese revolution, but then he put the peasants on communes, just like Stalin, and denied them what peasants had always actually wanted, a bit of land of their own. What Edelman seems to want to less arcane: tariffs, price supports, commodity cartels, and all the other (neo-Mercantalist) devices of protectionism. Peasants in Central America are leaving the land because the international prices of coffee and corn are falling. This kind of thing has been rendering much agricultural labor superfluous for a long time. Thus, in the United States in 1840, 68.6% of the work force was in agriculture. By 1880, this was below 50%; by 1950 it was only 11.6%; by 1980 2.2%; and by 1990 1.6%. Edelman wants to "protect" traditional rural life by preventing the prices of food and other agricultural products from falling. This implies the rather paradoxical idea (although long popular with American farmers) that expensive food is a good thing. Since Edelman worries about possible famine in Central America, it is especially curious that his policy prescriptions would make food more costly. He does seem to realize that displaced farmers could find other kinds of employment, but then he complains that high interest rates prevent the kinds of loans that could fund small business creation. What Edelman doesn't seem to know is that in the 19th century the Chinese in Malaya, Indians in East Africa, and even the Jews in America did not start businesses with loans from colonial authorities or other ethnic groups that usually were unsympathetic or actively hostile to them. They worked at some of the most thankless labor available, rubber plantations for the Chinese, the Kenya railroad for the Indians, and Lower East Side sweatshops for the Jews, but nevertheless they managed to accumulate capital and rise in business, in all these three cases to dominate the economies in the areas where they found themselves. For this to work in Central America, where there is little of the entrepreneurial culture manifest in the immigrant Chinese, Indians, or Jews, Edelman (and the countries of the area) must allow foreign capital and foreign business -- perhaps even Chinese, Indians, and Jews. But Edelman can countenance no such thing. Foreign capital and business will exploit the locals and refuse to pay a "living wage." Thus we come full circle: Marx was right, capital exploits labor, and we must use all the force of the state, not just to drive up commodity prices, but to drive up the cost of labor also. If what Edelman wants is to preserve pre-modern poverty, this will certainly do it. But what Edelman wants isn't even coherent -- expensive food to prevent famine and high labor costs to prevent unemployment. What he wants, in short, are all the devices of a command economy, with the illusion that these things have not been dismal failures.

Although the assault on freedom and on the proven institutions of the free market and liberal democracy was given a bad moment by the events of 1989-1991, the pace and the confidence of the Left is picking up again. Since the intellectual and moral case for collectivism, command economics, and coercive, authoritarian politics is still bankrupt, the "Post-Modernist" adaptation of irrationality and relativism has proven useful. Ad hominem arguments were always the bread and butter of the Left anyway. All a Marxist ever had to do was identify someone as a class enemy, and then arguments were unnecessary -- just kill 'em. Now it is a matter of "race, class, and gender" enemies -- the only thing good about the "dead white males" (Plato, Milton, Jefferson, etc.) was, indeed, the first attribute.

The reason for the renewal of the Left through all these movements, anarchist, Communist, and Green, may be the muddled nature of the victory of freedom in 1991. Few realized that the socialist approaches of the New Deal and of earlier Progressivism were discredited along with Lenin and Stalin. These were foreign growths in free institutions; and, like a cancer that has metastasized, the removal of the tumor does not mean the end of the disease. The cancer comes back. Thus, to the Democratic Party, the Press, and the "chattering" university and literary elites, something like nationalized medicine is still a wonderful, progressive idea; and they can hardly wait to burden the already foundering systems of Social Security and Medicare with further expenses, control, and obligations. Having refused to learn better, they are ironically heartened by their own failures: That the War on Poverty failed, is now the reason to try it all over again. That "progressive" education (with teachers unions and a federal Department of Education) has resulted in ignorant and illiterate students, is now the reason to spend even more money on the same approaches (and self-interested institutions). One hardly knows, indeed, whether to laugh or cry.

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand (born Alice Rosenbaum) is a fascinating person and an inspiring advocate of freedom but a very mixed blessing philosophically. Her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are still best selling introductions to the ideas of personal freedom and of the free market. As literature they may have drawbacks, but they are compelling "reads," which is certainly what Rand would have wanted. Rand's passionate and moralistic tone, while off-putting to many, is nevertheless probably a real part of her appeal and is no less than an equal and opposite reaction to the self-righteousness that is still characteristic of leftist rhetoric. Few writers convey an irresistible ferocity of convictions as Rand does. To many, including the present writer, raised and indoctrinated with the standard disparagements of capitalism, a novel like Atlas Shrugged can produce something very much like a Conversion Experience. At the same time, the harsh certainty of an autodidact and self-made person, and the high handed authoritarian manner of Rand's personality, worked against her case, her cause, and her life.

Although David Kelley, Leonard Peikoff, and others now try to develop her thought into a complete philosophical system, nothing can hide the relative shallowness of her knowledge: She despised Immanuel Kant but then actually invokes "treating persons as ends rather than as means only" to explain the nature of morality. Perhaps she had picked that up without realizing it was from Kant. At the same time, the Nietzschean inspiration that evidently is behind her "virtue of selfishness" approach to ethics seems to have embarrassed her later: She very properly realized that, since the free market is built upon voluntary exchanges, capitalism requires firm moral limits, ruling out violence, coercion, fraud, etc. That was certainly not a concern of Nietzsche, but it was very much a concern of Adam Smith, who realized that, in a context of mutually voluntary exchange, people will always go for the best deal, producing the "invisible hand" effect of mutual and public goods being produced by private preferences. This confuses people enough in regard to Smith; and that makes it all the easier to mistakenly see Rand as advocating a view of capitalists as righteous predators -- especially unfortunate when the popular vision of laissez-faire capitalism is already of merciless and oppressive robber barons. A careful reading of Rand dispels that idea, but her rhetoric works against a good understanding.

Rand also confuses her case with her emphasis on individuals being deliberately "rational." That sets her against the Austrian and Chicago principles of economics that the free market is the means of coordinating limited knowledge, not some place where rationalistic supermen (e.g. the John Galt of Atlas Shrugged) display superhuman intellectual and moral powers. That makes it sound like the free market works just because such supermen exist to control it. Rand herself was actually aware that was not true: At her best moments she asserts only that capitalism is superior because it automatically, through the "invisible hand," rewards the more rational behavior, not because some superrational persons must exist to hand out those rewards. That would have been F.A. Hayek's "intentionalistic fallacy." Nevertheless, one is left with the impression that Rand and her "Objectivist" successors do commit Hayek's "fatal conceit" by supposing that heroic characters will exercise a superrationalistic control over themselves and the economy, and that capitalism is not really a way of coping with ignorance, or with dispersed knowledge.

Rand certainly tried to exercise a superrationalistic control in her own life, with disastrous results: Her psychological understanding of people, and even of herself, was clearly and gravely limited. Thus she engineered the marriage between Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, even though (according to Barbara, in The Passion of Ayn Rand) they weren't all that attracted to each other -- their unease was "irrational" to Rand. Then she decided that she and Nathaniel should have some sort of "rational" love affair, like characters in her novels. That Nathaniel was not comfortable with that, especially since they were both already married, does not seem to have mattered. When he finally refused to continue their relationship, Rand furiously expelled him from her "movement" and then scuttled the "movement" itself. That was, curiously, all for the better, since under her control the Objectivist movement was taking on more and more of the authoritarian or totalitarian overtones of the very ideologies it was supposedly opposing.

In another incident, related by the columnist Samuel Francis, when Rand learned that the economist Murray Rothbard's wife, Joey, was a devout Christian, she all but ordered that if Joey did not see the light and become an atheist in six months, Rothbard, who was an agnostic, must divorce her. Rothbard never had any intention of doing anything of the sort, and this estranged him from Rand, who found such "irrational" behavior intolerable.

It is revealing that as Rand refined her idea of the heroic personality from the Howard Roark of The Fountainhead to John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, the type became steadily drained of, indeed, personality. Galt seems little better than a robotic mouthpiece of merciless ideology. Howard Roark was already peculiar enough, since he would just sit staring at the phone while waiting for work. He might at least have read magazines. Subsidiary characters, like Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart, possess something more like real personalities. This deadness of such central characters is an excellent warning that Rand had passed beyond a desire for mere human beings as her ideals. (Jung probably would have detected an animus projection.) This was an unhelpful bit of falseness with which to burden her case for capitalism.

One drawback of Rand's literary method to present her ideas, although it follows in the great Russian tradition of philosophical novels, is the manner in which it sometimes obscures historical realities that would reinforce her argument. Thus the Taggart Railroad of Atlas Shrugged may strike someone with an average knowledge of American history as the kind of thing that never existed. Most people know that the transcontinental railroads were built with federal subsidies and federal land grants. They may also know that such railroads were tangled up in hopelessly corrupt, politicized financial schemes and in the end were so badly run and managed that they all (Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, & Northern Pacific) went bankrupt in the Panic of 1893. It takes somewhat better knowledge to know about James J. Hill, who built his own transcontinental railroad, the Great Northern, without public subsidies or land grants and often with the political opposition and obstructionism of the rival Northern Pacific and its political backers. Some of Rand's stories about the Taggart, for instance the challenge of building a Mississippi bridge, seem to have been inspired by real incidents in the building of the Great Northern. Unlike the other transcontinentals, Hill's railroad was financially sound; and after they went bankrupt, he was able to buy the Northern Pacific and also the Burlington. Hill, sadly, had to end his days furious and frustrated with the ignorant manipulations of the Interstate Commerce Commission. By merely fictionalizing Hill, Rand did not help combat the standard, biased history of American railroads (cf. Albro Martin, Railroads Triumphant, The Growth, Rejection & Rebirth of a Vital American Force, Oxford University Press, 1992).

Rand's respect for philosophy is one virtue of her system, but her epistemology and metaphysics miss much of the point of modern philosophy. Indeed, her ideal, rather like Mortimer Adler, was Aristotle. This could be good, since Aristotle's view of substance steered Rand away from a reductionistic materialism. Her development of Aristotle, on the other hand, ends up with something rather like Leibniz's view of concepts: Concepts refer to every characteristic contained in their objects. This was not an improvement on Aristotle, who realized that if there are natural kinds, then there are both essential and accidental characteristics of those kinds. The meaning of concepts would be about the essential characteristics. For Leibniz's view of concepts to work, one would have to have, as Leibniz well understood himself, the infinite knowledge of God: It would be impossible for our finite understanding to encompass all the characteristics of objects. One suspects that Rand was not one to let God claim some superior status to human (or her) comprehension and knowledge.

Rand's description of "concept formation" seems more sensible. Qualities are "abstracted" from experience and formulated into concepts. Rand shoots for a "conceptualist" theory of universals, which avoids an Aristotelian "realism" of substantial essences on the one hand and the subjectivism of "nominalism," where universals are just words, on the other hand. However, a conceptualist theory cannot be consistently maintained (and this is not just a problem for Rand). Even if concepts may be conventional and arbitrary in many ways, they can only be connected to reality if they are based on some abstract features that are really in the objects. Thus, as soon as Rand allows that the terms for features "abstracted" from experience refer to features that are really there, then she has let in some form of Aristotelian realism, whether she wants to or not. And if there are indeed natural kinds, then there must be natural, and real, essences. Otherwise her theory is nominalist and subjectivist. Evidently aware of that tension, we have the motivation for Rand's idea that concepts refer to everything in the objects. That preserves the objectivism of her theory, and so the appropriateness of "Objectivism" as the name of it, but, as we have seen, it leads down the paradoxical road of a Leibnizian theory of concepts.

Rand's theory of concepts, regarded by both Rand and her successors as the centerpiece of her thought, leads, as in Leibniz, to a view of all truth as essentially analytic. Such a theory, in turn, is pregnant with the potential for speculative dogmatism, ultimately relying, as it must, on a Rationalistic (and Aristotelian) sense of the self-evidence of first principles. Rand's "Objectivism" is, indeed, Rationalistic metaphysics. The watershed insights of Hume and Kant are thus overlooked and their theories denigrated. Peikoff ("The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy," in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Meridian, 1990) even confuses Kant's definition of synthetic propositions with the Logical Positivist interpretation that all synthetic propositions are contingent. Since Kant would not accept such a trivialization of his theory for a minute (he would even regard it as a misunderstanding of Hume), Peikoff cannot even begin to address the substance of the issues that Kant considers. "Objectivist" epistemology has not been awakened, as Kant was by Hume, from its "dogmatic slumber."

Rand's fundamental law of morality, that one is never justified in initiating the use of force against others (though I am now told that this originally came from Lysander Spooner), has been adopted as the basic Principle of the Libertarian Party. This is an illuminating version of the Moral Law in that it highlights an aspect of morality, politics, and law often overlooked: That they are about the justification of the use of force. People who casually toss around ideas about what should and should not be allowed in society, or about how much of people's income should be taxed, or what restrictions should be put on property rights, often don't seem to be aware that they are talking about sending men with guns, the police, against people who don't agree with such dispositions and who may not be willing to comply with them. Thus, since it has not seemed wise to many to "allow" people to harm themselves by freely using opiates, cocaine, or marijuana, people have shown themselves willing to harm the uncooperative with equal or greater severity by fining or seizing their wealth and property, putting them in jail for long periods among hardened, violent criminals, and denying them various rights and privileges of citizenship and commerce in addition to the natural penalties, such as they may be, of drug use -- in short, by ruining their lives in retribution for disobeying "society." Behind even those sanctions, furthermore, is the threat of death should the uncooperative choose to defend their Natural Rights to control of their own bodies by "resisting" the representatives of "authority," the men with guns, by force. Few Americans have sympathy for people who resist the police, whatever their reasons.

Despite this edifying emphasis, however, Rand's moral principle is clearly incomplete. First, it makes no provision for "privileges of necessity", which means it would be morally acceptable to let a drowning person die or a starving person starve even if it would present no burden or difficulty to rescue them. No use of force would be involved, simply a wrong of omission. Since wrongs of omission present difficulties of definition and implementation in any case, this is not too serious a fault for Rand's principle, unless it is to be insisted upon that the principle is perfect, rigorous, and exhaustive. It would be foolish to do so, though many do. The second problem with the principle is that it leaves issues of property rights entirely undefined. Is stealing someone's unattended luggage at an airport a moral wrong? It involves no obvious use of "force" against the victim's person. Therefore, if "force" is to mean any unauthorized action against property, property rights must be independently defined; and historically, among libertarians, there have been considerable differences of opinion about the scope of property rights -- including "Georgist" ideas that more property should not be allowed than can be used. Decisions in that area, however, can be no logical consequence of Rand's moral principle. As with cases of necessity, such a difficulty with Rand's theory does not discredit it but does show its limitations and incompleteness. The only really serious error would be to deny such limitations and incompleteness.

Consequently, Ayn Rand as a philosopher has relatively little to contribute to the doctrine of the Friesian School. She may be taken, nevertheless, for what she will continue to be: An inspiring advocate for the free market and for the creativity of the autonomous individual. With her intimate, personal knowledge of the Russian Revolution, and all the loathing that it inspired in her, Rand will always be an invaluable witness to the practice and folly of totalitarianism. She is also a useful one person test to distinguish libertarians from conservatives: Her atheism alienates most conservatives, who may even speak of her bitterly and dismissively. A defining moment in that respect was the savage review by Whittaker Chambers of Atlas Shrugged, when it came out, in the National Review. Many admirers of Rand have never forgiven William F. Buckley or conservative Cold Warriors for that attack. At the same time, Rand presents a difficult case for the Left. Since the preferred political universe for leftists contains a one dimensional spectrum from "progressive" to "reactionary," where the reactionary end is a seamless fabric of capitalism, religion, racism, and sexism, Rand is disconcertingly off the track and invulnerable to typical modes of leftist ad hominem religion and race baiting argumentation. Also, as a tremendously successful self-made woman, long before the ascendancy of political feminism, she is invulnerable to the typical feminist mode of gender argumention against "dead white males." These inconveniences make it preferable for the Left to ignore Rand, which mostly they can and have, given the minority and ignorable status of libertarianism. Rand herself and her followers have made that easier by often resenting and taking a sort of heresiological attitude towards fellow libertarians who are suspicious, as Charles Murray has recently put it [in What It Means to be a Libertarian, a Personal Interpretation, 1997], of the "well fortified" ideology of "Objectivism." Rand herself even wanted to sue Reason magazine for running a cover story on her in the late 1970's. Such conflicts and absurdities are typical in ideological movements, but it is a weakness. Rand's own seriousness about philosophy, although to her credit, was also a weakness, in that it complicated and ideologized her case for capitalism and gave her followers this heresiological attitude and a standoffishness to other advocates for freedom. That seems less of a problem for the self-made Objectivist David Kelley than for the anointed successor of Rand, Leonard Peikoff. But, like most philosophers, Rand is better taken as a goldmine for ideas than as authoritative doctrine.

Another of Rand's sins against the Left and still of current interest was her willingness to testify as a "friendly witness" in the 1947 hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Acitivies (HUAC) on Communist infiltration of Hollywood. Rand's only complaint was that they didn't let her testify enough. She was the only person at the hearings who had actually lived under Communism, indeed been a witness to the entire Russian Revolution and Civil War, and she wanted to explain how anti-capitalist messages were included in many mainstream Hollywood movies. It may not be remembered much now that Rand got her real start in America working in Hollywood, living for many years in the San Fernando Valley. This is still of current interest because, after many years of hard feelings, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 1999 finally gave an Oscar to Elia Kazan, director of such classics as On the Waterfront (1954) -- which itself was about a man fighting with his conscience over whether to expose his gangster (i.e. Communist) friends. Kazan, after leaving the Communist Party, was willing to "name names" to HUAC in 1952.

While Communism failed and fell in the real world, in the make-believe world of Hollywood Communist propaganda succeeded quite nicely, and many people still believe that the HUAC investigations were "witch hunts" for non-existent enemies or well-meaning idealists. Well meaning idealists there were, but they were not the targets of the Committee. Instead, they became the "useful idiot" liberals, in Lenin's words, who whitewashed all the real Communists and their activities. The useful idiots are still at it, though since the 60's many of them, as anti-anti-Communists, have been all but indistinguishable from their Communist friends in Vietnam, Cuba, and Nicaragua. As it turned out, the easiest way to find the Communists in Hollywood was just to subpoena all the suspects. Almost everyone who then refused to testify or took the Fifth Amendment, it happened, actually were Party members (acting on Party orders) or fellow travelers, as we know now from many sources, including the Soviet archives that also reveal the Soviet funding and direction of the Communist Party USA and its activities in Hollywood. These were not idealists but willing agents of tyranny, murder, and crimes against humanity. Rand would have no more patience now with leftists whining about "McCarthyism" than she did in 1947 with the lying and dissimulating agents of the living mass murderer Josef Stalin.

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The N30 Seattle Police Riot (english)
01 Mar 2003
The article isn't a history lesson, it's false-to-fact from the first paragraph on -- Seattle N30 was actually a police riot.

"Libertarians", gotta love 'em. Even their name is a lie.
Go consume some petroleum products and watch the war on MSNBC