Buckley’s Observations on Libertarianism Sound Awfully Familiar
In 1957, Whittaker Chambers reviewed Atlas Shrugged, the novel by Miss Ayn Rand, wherein she explicates the philosophy of “Objectivism,” which is what she has chosen to call her creed. Man of the right, or conservative, or whatever you wish to call him, Chambers did in fact read Miss Rand right out of the conservative movement. He did so by pointing out that her philosophy is in fact another kind of materialism – not the dialectical materialism of Marx, but the materialism of technocracy, of the relentless self-server, who lives for himself and for absolutely no one else, whose concern for others is explainable merely as an intellectualized recognition of the relationship between helping others and helping oneself. Religion is the first enemy of the Objectivist, and after religion, the state – respectively, the “mysticism of the mind,” and “the mysticism of the muscle.” “Randian Man,” wrote Chambers, “like Marxian Man, is made the center of a godless world.”Her exclusion from the conservative community was, I am sure, in part the result of her desiccated philosophy’s conclusive incompatibility with the conservative’s emphasis on transcendence, intellectual and moral; but also there is the incongruity of tone, that hard, schematic, implacable, unyielding dogmatism that is itself intrinsically objectionable, whether it comes from the mouth of Ehrenburg, or Savonarola, or Ayn Rand. Chambers knew that specific ideologies come and go, but that rhetorical totalism is always in the air, searching for the ideologue-on-the-make; and so he said things about Miss Rand’s tone of voice which, I would hazard the guess, if they were true of anyone else’s voice, would tend to make it eo ipso unacceptable for the conservative. “…the book’s [Atlas Shrugged’s] dictatorial tone…,” Chambers wrote, “is its most striking feature. Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal…resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final can only be willfully wicked. There are ways of dealing with such wickedness, and, in fact, right reason itself enjoins them. From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To a gas chamber – go!’ The same inflexibly self-righteous stance results, too, in odd extravagances of inflection and gesture….At first we try to tell ourselves that these are just lapses, that this mind has, somehow, mislaid the discriminating knack that most of us pray will warn us in time of the difference between what is effective and firm, and what is wildly grotesque and excessive. Soon we suspect something worse. We suspect that this mind finds, precisely in extravagance, some exalting merit; feels a surging release of power and passion precisely in smashing up the house.”As if according to a script, Miss Rand’s followers jumped National Review and Chambers in language that crossed the i‘s and dotted the t‘s of Mr. Chambers’ point. (It is not fair to hold the leader responsible for the excesses of the disciples, but this reaction from Miss Rand’s followers, never repudiated by Miss Rand, suggested that her own intolerance is easily communicable to other Objectivists.) One correspondent, denouncing him, referred to “Mr. Chambers’s ‘break’ with Communism”; a lady confessed that on reading his review she thought she had “mistakenly picked up the Daily Worker“; another accused him of “lies, smears, and cowardly misrepresentations”; still another saw in him the “mind-blanking, life-hating, unreasoning, less-than-human being which Miss Rand proves undeniably is the cause of the tragic situation the world now faces….”; and summing up, one Objectivist wrote that “Chambers the Christian communist is far more dangerous than Chambers the Russian spy.”What the experience proved, it seems to me, beyond the unacceptability of Miss Rand’s ideas and rhetoric, is that no conservative cosmology whose every star and planet are given in a master book of coordinates is very likely to sweep American conservatives off their feet. They are enough conservative and anti-ideological to resist totally closed systems, those systems that do not provide for deep and continuing mysteries. They may be pro-ideology and unconservative enough to resist such asseverations as that conservatism is merely “an attitude of mind.” But I predict on the basis of a long association with American conservatives that there isn’t anybody around scribbling into his sacred book a series of all-fulfilling formulas whcih will serve the conservatives as an Apostles’ Creed. Miss Rand tried it, and because she tried it, she compounded the failure of her ideas. She will have to go down as an Objectivist; my guess is she will go down as an entertaining novelist.The conservative’s distrust of the state, so richly earned by it, raises inevitably the question: How far can one go? This side, the answer is, of anarchism – that should be obvious enough. But one man’s anarchism is another man’s statism. National Review, while fully intending to save the nation, probably will never define to the majority’s satisfaction what are the tolerable limits of the state’s activity; and we never expected to do so. But we got into the problem, as so often is the case, not by going forward to meet it, but by backing up against it.There exists a small breed of men whose passionate distrust for the state has developed into a theology of sorts, or at least into a demonology, to which they adhere as any religious fanatic ever attempted to adhere to the will of the Lord. I do not feel contempt for the endeavor of either type. It is intellectually stimulating to discuss alternatives to municipalized streets, as it is to speculate on whether God’s wishes would be best served if we ordered fried or scrambled eggs for breakfast on this particular morning. But conservatives must concern themselves not only with ideals, but with matters of public policy, and I mean by that something more than the commonplace that one must maneuver within the limits of conceivable action. We can read and take pleasure in the recluse’s tortured deliberations on what will benefit his soul. Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest was not only a masterpiece; it was also a best seller. And we can read with more than mere amusement Dr. Murray Rothbard’s suggestion that lighthouses be sold to private tenants who will chase down the beam in speedboats and collect a dollar from the storm-tossed ship whose path it illuminates. Chesterton reminds us that many dogmas are liberating because, however much damage they do when abused, it cannot compare with the damage that might have been done had whole people not felt their inhibiting influence. If our society seriously wondered whether or not to denationalize the lighthouses, it would not wonder at all whether to nationalize the medical profession.But Dr. Rothbard and his merry anarchists wish to live their fanatical antistatism, and the result is a collision between the basic policies they urge and those urged by conservatives who recognize that the state sometimes is, and is today as never before, the necessary instrument of our proximate deliverance. The defensive war in which we are engaged cannot be prosecuted by voluntary associations of soldiers and scientists and diplomats and strategists, and when this obtrusive fact enters into the reckonings of our state haters, the majority, sighing, yield to reality, whereas the small minority, obsessed by their antagonism to the state, would refuse to give it even the powers necessary to safeguard the community. Dr. Rothbard and a few others have spoken harshly of National Review’s complacency before the twentieth-century state in all matters that have to do with anti-Communism, reading their litanies about the necessity for refusing at any cost to countenance the growth of the state. Thus, for instance, Ronald Hamowy of the University of Chicago complained about National Review in 1961: “…the Conservative movement has been straying far under National Review guidance…leading true believers in freedom and individual liberty down a disastrous path…and that in so doing they are causing the Right increasingly to betray its own traditions and principles.”And Henry Hazlitt, reviewing Dr. Rothbard’s magnum opus, Man, Economy, and State, enthusiastically for National Review, paused to comment, sadly, on the author’s “extreme apriorism,” citing for instance, Dr. Rothbard’s opinion that libel and slander ought not to be illegalized and that even blackmail, “‘would not be illegal in the free society. For blackmail is the receipt of money in exchangef or the service of not publicizing certain information about the other person. No violence or threat of violence to person or property is involved.’…when Rothbard wanders out of the strictly economic realm, in which his scholarship is so rich and his reasoning so rigorous, he is misled by his epistemological doctrine of ‘extreme apriorism’ into trying to substitute his own instant jurisprudence for the common law principles built up through generations of human experience.”“Extreme apriorism” – a generic bull’s-eye. If National Review’s experience is central to the growth of contemporary conservatism, extreme apriorists will find it difficult to work with conservatives except as occasional volunteers helping to storm specific objectives. They will not be part of the standing army, rejecting as they do the burden of reality in the name of a virginal antistatism. I repeat I do not deplore their influence intellectually, and tactically, I worry not at all. The succubi of Communism are quite numerous enough and eloquent enough to be counted upon to put their ghastly presences forward in effective protest against the marriage of any but the most incurable solipsist to a set of abstractionist doctrines the acceptance of which would mean the end of any human liberty. The virgins have wriggled themselves outside the mainstream of American conservatism. Mr. Hamowy, offering himself up grandly as a symbol of the undefiled conservative, has joined the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.We ran into the John Birch Society – or more precisely, into Robert Welch. Mr. Welch’s position is very well known, Scrubbed down, it is that one may reliably infer subjective motivation from objective result – e.g., if the West loses as much ground as demonstrably it has lost during the past twenty years to the enemy, it can only be because those who made policy for the West were the enemy’s agents. The ultima ratio of this position was the public disclosure – any 300-page document sent to hundreds of people can only be called an act of public disclosure – that Dwight Eisenhower is a Communist. (To which the most perfect retort – was it Russell Kirk’s? – was not so much analytical as artistic: “Eisenhower isn’t a Communist – he is a golfer.”)In criticising Mr. Welch, we did not move into a hard philosophical front, as for instance we did in our criticism of Miss Rand or of the neoanarchists. Rather, we moved into an organizational axiom, the conservative equivalent of the leftists’ pas d’ennemi a gauche. The position has not, however, been rigorously explicated or applied. Mr. Welch makes his own exclusions; for instance, Gerald L. K. Smith, who, although it is a fact that he favors a number of reforms in domestic and foreign policy which coincide with those favored by Mr. Welch (and by National Review), is dismissed as a man with an idee fixe, namely, the role of Perfidious Jew in modern society. Many right-wingers (and many liberals, and all Communists) believe in a deus ex machina. Only introduce the single tax, and our problems will wither away, say the followers of Henry George….Only expose the Jew, and the international conspiracy will be broken, say others….Only abolish the income tax, and all will be well….Forget everything else, but restore the gold standard….Abolish compulsory taxation, and we all shall be free….They are called nostrum peddlers by some; certainly they are obsessed. Because whatever virtue there is in what they call for – and some of their proposals strike me as highly desirable, others as mischievous – no one of them can begin to do the whole job, which continues to wait on the successful completion of the objectives of the Committee to Abolish Original Sin. Many such persons, because inadequate emphasis is give to their pandemic insight, the linchpin of social reconstruction, are dissatisfied with National Review. Others react more vehemently; our failure to highlight their solution has the effect of distracting from its unique relevance and so works positively against the day when the great illumination will show us the only road forward. Accordingly, National Review is, in their eyes, worse than merely useless.The defenders of Mr. Welch who are also severe critics of National Review are not by any means all of them addicts of the conspiracy school. They do belong, however inconsistently, to the school that says that we all must work together – as a general proposition, sound advice. Lenin distinguished between the sin of sectarianism, from which suffer all those who refuse to cooperate with anyone who does not share their entire position, right down to the dependent clauses, and the sin of opportunism, the weakness of those who are completely indiscriminate about their political associates.
Around the Web
Justice Antonin Scalia tells it like it is on the “right” to abortion.
Is the DEA worse than WikiLeaks? Crap like this is why I find it so difficult to take libertarians seriously.
The new Speaker of the House isn’t taking any bull from Harry Reid. Let’s hope things stay that way. (Hat tip: Eternity Matters)
Michelle Malkin has 10 simple rules for the GOP.
The PC police are going after Huck Finn. Where’s the anti-censorship crowd when you need it?
R. Lee Ermey disappoints his fans.
Not even good enough for government work: snow cleanup workers in the Big Apple trash a Jewish cemetery.
The feds find yet another crisis that demands their immediate attention: insufficiently-regulated garage sales.
Radical Reading in Education, Part 2
Tonight Glenn Beck alerted his audience to the fact that the problem isn’t limited to Fondy – it turns out the National Education Association’s website has a page recommending the works of an author “widely recognized as the father of, and pre-imminent expert in, grassroots organizing” – Saul Alinsky.
Yeah, that guy.
Paging John Boehner, Jim DeMint, Paul Ryan, Michelle Bachmann…any of you feel like maybe trying to do something about this sort of thing for once?
You Know There’s a Problem When You Need a Talking Gorilla to Make Your Ideas Sound More Plausible
Anybody ever heard of Ismael? The 1992 novel by Daniel Quinn is a self-described “adventure of the mind and spirit” and, I gather, something of a cult-classic among the environmentalist and population-control crowds. I first encountered it in high school, where a leftist English teacher shared an excerpt with us. It was utter crap, so laughably bad that, as Dennis Prager would say, you’d have to be an academic to buy into it. Ishmael found its way back into my life again a couple weeks ago, when I came across a copy at a rummage sale. I’m about halfway through, and it’s every bit as bad as I remember.
Ishmael is the story of a disaffected man who desperately wants to “save the world,” and soon meets the titular Ishmael, a wise teacher who promises to show him how. Oh, and did I mention Ishmael is a talking gorilla? It seems the world’s troubles are all due to the fact that Earth’s “community of life” has become divided by two competing mythologies: the Takers (i.e., civilization), who believe in using Earth’s resources to their hearts’ content and dominating over all other species; and the Leavers (i.e., primitive tribes and every non-human species on Earth). Taker belief that “the world was made for man” has thrown the ecosystem off balance and led to an ever-expanding human population unsustainable by an ever-diminishing food supply.
The section we read in high school concerned a drastic re-imagining of the Book of Genesis (this version’s, er, polytheistic) as a Leaver story that, instead of boring crap about morality and human nature (incredibly, Quinn has the characters befuddled as to why anyone would think its message was along these lines), was really about the roots of Taker arrogance.
For more on just how off-kilter the world of Daniel Quinn’s imagination is, check out this piece by Professor Allen B. Downey (Olin College of Engineering).
What’s So Great about Christianity?
Judging from this, you’d think I just made-up the phrase from whole cloth. Nowhere does Neiwert mention that I get the phrase from H. G. Wells, quite possibly the most influential English-speaking public intellectual during the first third of the 20th century. It was H. G. Wells who sought to rechristen liberalism as “Liberal Fascism” or — again, his words — “Enlightened Nazism.”
This point about race that Neiwert brings up is an important one — and one that I anticipate and discuss in my book. Because he believes that racism is inherently right-wing, the fact that the Nazis were racists means they had to be right-wingers. I concede, and talk at length, about the fact that the Nazis were racists. But racism, I’m sorry to say, is not definitively right-wing in my book (literally and figuratively). Stalin’s Russia was replete with anti-Semitism. The American Progressives were astoundingly racist (as I show). The Communists in Germany competed with the National Socialists by trying to out-Jew-bait them. Are the American Progressives, Stalin, or the German Reds now all right-wingers? Moreover, are American conservatives somehow racists because a bunch of socialists in Europe were racists? These dots do not connect.
Very quickly: As I write in my book, the Nazis were determined to destroy their competition. That is why they hated the Communists. The propaganda that says the Nazis were the opposites of the Communists because they hated each other is idiotic. Hamas and Fatah hate each other deeply, Trotsky and Stalin battled for power, and left-wing academics get their panties in a bunch over where some fellow left-winger puts a comma in a sentence. In none of these cases does mutual hatred translate to ideological divergence. Please: Stalin was a genocidal dictator. Hitler was a genocidal dictator. They both ran totalitarian, militarized regimes of total war. But yes, Nazism and Communism are opposites. Riiiight.
Around the Web
More good news from Iraq, but the bulk of the article is about how decreasing violence is bad for the cemetery business. Cry me a river.
As mayor, Rudy Giuliani formed a coalition to combat “anti-immigrant” legislation—which included George Soros, who “Hizzonor” (dopey nickname) recently lashed out at. Seems to me like a two-in-one flip-flop at least as bad, if not worse, as the charges the Rudy hacks regularly level at Mitt Romney. Ye hypocrites!
Speaking of the hacks, you know something’s rotten in Denmark when “Republicans” favorably cite the Associated Press.
The other frontrunners were unsurprisingly peeved last week when Romney claimed to be the candidate representative of the “Republican wing of the Republican Party,” and responded in kind. That’s politics. But, none of the others came close to telling the kind of lie Fred Thompson’s campaign did, by claiming Romney “ran for Senate to the left of Ted Kennedy.” The discrepancies in Romney’s record are a fair issue. This, however, is a lie – not a matter of casting facts & circumstances in a certain light. I guess ol’ Fred is OK with lying to people to win the presidency. That should give his supporters pause.
New, promising books: there are too many of ‘em!
Dinesh D’Souza (author of one of the aforementioned books) has an interesting take on miracles, science, and the lack of conflict between the two.
What I’m Reading Right Now
I’ve finally started The Da Vinci Code, and I’ve got to give Dan Brown this much: he knows how to write suspense. The mystery and the distinct characters surrounding it do have quite an allure. Which is why all the falsehoods (Wikipedia’s article on ‘em is surprisingly long, but be careful—it is Wikipedia, after all) within are so inexcusable, especially considering Brown’s “Fact” preface in the front. And occasionally Brown wanders into displays of sheer idiocy like this line: “Langdon was always surprised how few Christians who gazed upon ‘the crucifix’ realized their symbol’s violent history was reflected in its very name: ‘cross’ and ‘crucifix’ came from the Latin word cruciare—to torture.” Uh, note to Dan: the torture Christ endured for our sins isn’t exactly an obscure part of Christianity…Bottom line: if Brown had instead prefaced the book with something along the lines of, “The following story takes creative license with several elements of history, religion and art,” I could probably give The Da Vinci Code a thumbs-up (at least so far; we’ll see how things go when I’m finished).
Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel—Why Everything You Know Is Wrong by John Stossel and The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Radicals in America by David Horowitz. These gems—the former on various falsehoods in all walks of life, the latter on demented college professors—are nice because they’re broken down into bite-sized passages that can be read & set aside without forgetting some important context that came before. Highly recommended.
At a thrift shop tonight I found Reagan: The Political Chameleon. It’s a book written before the Gipper’s presidency by ex-California Governor Pat Brown. Once I finish the above, I look forward to reading how spectacularly wrong Brown, in retrospect, is with his assertion that “there is no need to qualify this view in the slightest: Ronald Reagan’s election to the presidency would be a national disaster.” Also, this passage from the jacket got me thinking:
“What sort of man is Ronald Reagan? His philosophy has ranged the political spectrum—from left-wing Democrat during the McCarthy era, to capitalist spokesman for General Electric, to Goldwater conservative—changing colors as the chameleon does, constantly camouflaging himself to match his environment. Do Reagan’s beliefs truly reflect the man, or are they merely a method of matching the views of his current circle, with no more depth or profundity that the varying hues of the chameleon?”
Hmm…who does the Left level that charge against these days? (Now, I don’t want to jinx anything, or prematurely make him into another Reagan…but we can hope…)