Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Left-Wing “Conspiracy” of the Right

If one wanted an instance of how political power or the pursuit of it can, first, corrupt one’s epistemology, and then one’s moral judgment, consider this story from the British Daily Mail of January 17, “Government renames Islamic terrorism as ‘anti-Islamic activity’ to woo Muslims.”

“Terrorism by Muslim fanatics was yesterday re-named ‘anti-Islamic activity’ by Jacqui Smith.

“The Home Secretary said that rather than acting in the name of Islam they were behaving contrary to their faith.

“Her words were chosen carefully to reflect new Government strategy on the language used to describe fanatics….Security officials believe that directly linking terrorism to Islam is inflammatory, and risks alienating mainstream Muslim opinion.”

A more thoroughly cowardly and covinous capitulation to the irrational would be hard to match. Change the terminology, or invert the identity of a thing, and, like magic, the thing changes into what one wishes it to be. (This is symptomatic of what Ayn Rand called the “primacy of consciousness," or the mind creating reality.)

Thus Islam, a barbaric political and theocratic creed whose fundamental nature requires complete domination of the individual and society by a theocratic state – and whose murderous record in Britain itself is ongoing, with its insular population of Muslims, its “no-go” areas in major British cities and towns, its home-grown, self-alienated Muslim youth ready to declare war on the country in which they were raised, the seditious, inflammatory preaching imams and the plethora of Muslim councils seeking to censor any criticism of Islam – becomes what its propagandists wish non-Muslims to perceive it to be, a “peaceful” religion ready and willing to coexist with other faiths.

Blanked out by government officials who do not wish to rock a leaky boat of their own making is the sorry record of Islam wherever it has taken root in the West, with its vociferous anti-reason tirades and threats, and its totalitarian nature and ends.

The “radicals” – also deemed “fanatics” or “militants” by the government and by Western apologists who do not wish to “offend” rank-and-file Muslim manqués – are what they are. Contrary to the notion that Islam is at root a “peaceful” religion, Muslims who practice their creed according to its fundamental dictates are the most consistent adherents to the creed. They are not acting “contrary” to the nature and content of Islam; they are implementing its nature and content. They cannot be “wooed” or persuaded to “integrate” into a secular society their creed and clerics tell them must be conquered and converted into a purely Islamic society, even at the cost of their own lives and the lives of others.

The anti-concept of “anti-Islamic activity” is as irrational a concept as would have been, for example, “anti-Nazi activity” or “anti-communist activity” to describe the actions of the Gestapo or KGB, serving to segregate so-called “moderate” Nazis or communists from the “fanatics” and “militants.”

What can match that kind of perilous evasion is the wish of the Democratic Party of the U.S. to discard the term “liberal” and replace it with the term “progressive.” It is a reverse form of epistemological corruption its advocates wish to foist on the American electorate. “The liberal brand is tarnished,” said Rob Glaser, a member of the Democracy Alliance, an organization of wealthy Americans that funds and provides ideological direction to a multitude of other organizations affiliated with the Democratic Party, in a January 16 article in Human Events, “Billionaires for Big Government.”

Why is the label “liberal” tarnished? Why is the label so disreputable? It is chiefly because of the failure of astronomically costly social legislation that has never fulfilled and cannot deliver on its promise of “social justice” and a prosperous socialist society. The liberals wish to change the name but keep the collectivist philosophy that identifies it. It is as ludicrous a ploy as dubbing a gangster an “entrepreneur,” or a Nazi storm trooper a “militant social worker.” In this instance, it is statists advocating “anti-statist activity” by… statists.

What they are counting on is Americans not discovering that “progressivism” is just socialism by another name. They may get away with it. After all, who is there in politics, the news media, or the intellectual establishment to tell them?

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton once complained of a Republican “right-wing conspiracy” dedicated to foiling her political ambitions and to perpetuating a “conservative” political hegemony that did not fit her vision of a completely regimented country. (She recently charged that bout of paranoia to her “inexperience.”) Similarly, conservatives accuse most Democrats with being party to a “left-wing conspiracy” to transform the U.S. into a socialist country. Although the conservative charge is more credible – the U.S. is burdened with a variety of socialist and semi-socialist programs ranging from health care to employment to education – there is something flawed in the notion of a conspiracy.

In truth, though the Republican Party has been characterized as “conservative” (of what, I have never been able to determine) and nominally pro-capitalist, pro-freedom, pro-limited government, and so on, as I have remarked in another commentary, the Republicans have more or less partnered with the Democrats to expand government into virtually every realm of American life. It is chiefly because, ideologically, the party shares the fundamental altruist premises held by the “progressives”: to “manage” the country for the “greater good,” even if it means violating individual rights and rendering the Bill of Rights meaningless in practice, the “greater good” being any collectivist program, and it not meaning the preservation of individual rights, private property, and unregulated liberty, all of which would truly be a “greater” good.

Historically, it is the Republican Party that gave impetus to the Democrats and enabled them to acquire so much political influence and to advocate “social justice” legislation as the federal government’s moral imperative. To trace the ideological roots of progressivism one would need to go back to at least the Populism of the 19th century; its philosophical roots can be traced back even further, to Immanuel Kant, and ultimately, to Plato. But the watershed event in American history that can illustrate the connections between conservatism and progressivism is the 1912 Republican national convention.

William McKinley, a Republican who defeated the “Great Commoner” and Democratic candidate for the presidency, William Jennings Bryan, first in 1896 and again in 1900, advocated high import tariffs, increased customs duties, and greater regulation and control of business trusts. His vice president in 1901, Republican Theodore Roosevelt, assumed the office of president when McKinley was assassinated in September 1901.

Roosevelt, in a zealous enforcement of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, beginning with J.P. Morgan’s Northern Securities Company, initiated over forty actions against “big business” during his first administration, including against Swift and Company, Standard Oil, and the American Tobacco Company. These were prosecuted by Attorney General Philander Chase Knox (who “flirted” with advocacy of a federal income tax, and, who, as Secretary of State under Taft in 1912, declared it established after some states ratified the Amendment).

In 1904 Roosevelt ran for election and defeated the Democratic candidate Alton Parker, who campaigned for the “rights” of “big labor.” During his second administration he oversaw the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration, and expanded the regulation of railroads, signed “consumer protection” legislation, and sired the conservation movement for forests, parks, oil and coal lands.

Declining to run for reelection in 1908, he promoted and was succeeded in office by his Secretary of War, Republican William Howard Taft, who was no less zealous in his prosecution and persecution of “big business,” instituting over eighty antitrust suits, including one against U.S. Steel. (Ironically, trust-busting Philander Knox’s early career was as corporate lawyer for Carnegie Steel, which was bought by J.P. Morgan and absorbed into the U.S. Steel Company). Taft also defeated the Democratic candidate, Bryan. Taft empowered the Interstate Commerce Commission (created in 1887), expanded the civil service, and endorsed the direct election of senators (the 17th Amendment), a move that suborned the Constitution and opened the Senate to influence by populist or democratic movements, when it was intended to be a check on House legislation (as the House of Lords once served as a check on the House of Commons in Britain).

Most importantly, he supported a federal income tax on limited liability corporations as a solution to the tariff question. High tariffs were imposed on imported food and manufactures and were intended to protect the competitiveness of American businesses and farmers. “Social justice” reformers considered this an inequitable government policy that favored “rich” stockholders at the purported expense of less-wealthy Americans, who were “forced” to pay higher prices. Taft agreed with this thinking, and campaigned for the removal of the apportionment requirement on income taxes from property such as dividends, interest and rents. A personal income tax was enacted in 1862 and lasted until 1872, and was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1894 because it was interpreted as a direct tax that ignored “apportioned” population representation in Congress.

Taft and Roosevelt, both Republicans, wished to see that requirement removed and a tax imposed on such income regardless of Congressional representation. In 1909, the proposed amendment to remove the apportionment requirement was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate and House, and sent to the states for ratification.

In 1912, Roosevelt opposed Taft’s nomination for the presidency because of Taft’s campaign for the independence of the judiciary. The Republicans nominated Taft. Roosevelt defected from the party and founded the Progressive or “Bull Moose” Party. As a result, the Republican vote was split between “conservatives” and “progressives.”

Consequently, Taft lost the election to Democrat Thomas Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt the spoiler, and Taft, the losing incumbent, did not really “lose” in terms of their political philosophy. Shortly after Wilson took office, the 16th Amendment that legalized the income tax was declared ratified by Philander Knox, outgoing Secretary of State, which cabinet position was taken by Bible-thumping William Jennings Bryan.

So, Woodrow Wilson, the ultra-progressive, cannot be blamed for the income tax, though he certainly endorsed it. We can credit him, however, with the creation of the Federal Reserve banking system, the virtual nationalization of the railroads, laws governing working hours and conditions, the Federal Trade Commission, and a host of other socialist legislation, not to mention instituting ninety-two antitrust suits, and for endorsing the 18th Amendment, which gave the country Prohibition, the incubator of organized crime (aided and abetted by legislation that empowered the FDA to “police” the manufacture and consumption of food and drugs).

The questions to ask are: If Roosevelt had not broken with Taft, and if Taft had won the 1912 election, would it have mattered much to the general trend in American politics in the direction of government controls over the economy and personal lives? The same can be asked had Roosevelt out-maneuvered Taft within the Republican Party and won the election. Would the general drift towards the “socialization” of the U.S. have been arrested, but not stopped, or would it have been accelerated, as it was during Wilson’s administration? One cannot deny that Taft and Roosevelt were ardent and active statists. Theirs was an incremental move in the direction of total government control of the economy, while Wilson’s was a wholesale move.

No one in politics or the intellectual establishment has seriously questioned the trend or the direction or the fundamental premises of statism, not even succeeding presidents.

The questions are moot, but not irrelevant. From the advantage of hindsight, the Republicans would probably have won the 1912 election. Thanks to Roosevelt’s “spoiler” tactics, Wilson garnered the most votes in the Electoral College, which is based on Congressional apportionment, the very system condemned by Taft and Roosevelt in tax policy. He won by default as a consequence of policy conflicts within the Republican Party.

The conclusion to draw is: There were no conspiracies to vanquish the country, neither by the right or the left. From the end of the eighteenth century, shortly after ratification of the Constitution, the collectivists and “progressives” have steadily gained ground only by default of the defenders of individual rights and private property not grasping the value of their causes and defending them on proper grounds. For example, the Supreme Court declared an income tax unconstitutional on the specious grounds of apportionment, and not on the fact that it violated the right of a person to keep his property.

To illustrate how endemic is the idea even in academia that the “progressives” advanced in politics by virtue of their “superior” moral stance (as opposed to the greedy, selfish, avaricious, “immoral” stance of big business and private interests), Professor David C. Hanson, of Virginia Western Community College, wrote that the progressives “saw government not as only a protector of private property and individual freedom, but as an agent for social justice….Many progressives, like Theodore Roosevelt, possessed a fundamental conservatism, fearing that the consolidation of power and wealth in the hands of private interests threatened the morality and stability of the nation. Roosevelt’s [and Taft’s, and Wilson’s] aim was not to restructure American capitalism but to protect it from its own excesses through prudent government intervention….”

Has it ever occurred to Hanson, or to anyone else, that government cannot both protect private property and individual freedom and also act as an “agent for social justice,” in the course of which it must violate private property and individual freedom? (And we are now hearing the Democrats claim to be active “change agents.”) Has any establishment academic, historian, commentator or pundit asked: Why would the consolidation of wealth and power in the hands of bureaucrats and politicians be a less fearsome threat to the morality and stability of the nation than in the hands of the producers?

Someone might ask: Would the nation have fared any better if such power and wealth were retained without apology by the “barons” of capitalism? Possibly – had those barons a rational moral philosophy that would have completed the American Revolution. To my knowledge, they did not bother to seek one, either. To a man, they were infected by the viral moral code of altruism, which purportedly sanctioned their actions. For example, and without deprecating his achievements in productivity and in the accumulation of wealth, Andrew Carnegie explicitly subscribed to the policy of “giving back” to society. He was the original and the most prominent advocate of that policy, which has been emulated ad nauseam ever since by successful businessmen (undoubtedly motivated in his time and in his successors’ as a tax dodge; recall the tax and tariff issues of the 19th century).

Successful businessmen today are far more corrupted by that moral code – for example, George Soros, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates – most of whom unabashedly advocate the dissolution of private fortunes and the redistribution of everyone’s wealth and who ally themselves with the worst elements of collectivism and statism in especially the Democratic Party.

On the subject of the impotency of evil, Ayn Rand wrote in 1966, in her essay, “Altruism as Appeasement,” that

“The truly and deliberately evil men are a very small minority; it is the appeaser who unleashes them on mankind; it is the appeaser’s intellectual abdication that invites them to take over. When a culture’s dominant trend is geared to irrationality, the thugs win over the appeasers. When intellectual leaders fail to foster the best in the mixed, unformed, vacillating character of people at large, the thugs are sure to bring out the worst. The ablest men turn into cowards, the average men turn into brutes.”

Her hero John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, told a collapsed nation that

“When men reduce their virtues to the approximate, then evil acquires the force of an absolute, when loyalty to an unyielding purpose is dropped by the virtuous, it’s picked up by the scoundrels – and you get the indecent spectacle of a cringing, bargaining, traitorous good and a self-righteously uncompromising evil.”

A better description of the current presidential contest cannot be written.

Evil, by its anti-life nature, is impotent. To credit the collectivists, the statists, and the nascent totalitarians in this country with a “conspiracy” is to concede that evil is powerful and can out-maneuver and out-think the advocates of reason. This is the principle crime of the Republicans and the conservatives, when one remembers that they have disagreed with the progressives and “liberals” only on the means to reach the same end. Is there any fundamental difference between the policies of George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton, except in the speed with which they wish them implemented? Have the Republicans acted contrary to their political principles, just as Islamic terrorists are claimed to act contrary to their religious beliefs?

If there ever was a left-wing “conspiracy,” it was one of opportunism to exploit the weaknesses, oversights, loopholes, but most importantly the moral cowardice of the conservatives in politics. And the notion of a right-wing “conspiracy” is too fantastic: men who claim to stand for something do not conspire or plot to lose their causes, which is what the conservatives have done for the last century or so.

So, in the campaign for the presidency that is famously noted for the absence of any substantive issues, all the Democrats can think of doing is to relabel their platform from “liberal” to “progressive” in an attempt to deceive the electorate with a lot of rhetoric about the need for “change.” And all the Republicans can think of doing is to split their appeal to the electorate between a semi-secular and a semi-religionist image, much as they did in 1912 over the judiciary.

And we know what happened as a consequence of that conflict. If Americans see any “change” come November of this year, it will be a promise of the worst kind of change: a few steps closer to totalitarianism.

Will Americans fall for the “anti-big-government” line of the advocates of bigger government? The November election will tell. The best justice Americans can give the party that wins is to not give it a sizable mandate to further destroy the country.

4 comments:

Bill Bucko said...

What a testament to the power of ideas.

The corollary being that the RIGHT ideas, once unleashed (as Ayn Rand did unleash them) can also have an unexpected power.

All the work being done by the Ayn Rand Institute and others in increasing readership of her books is going to pay off.

Burgess Laughlin said...

If Americans see any “change” come November of this year, it will be a promise of the worst kind of change: a few steps closer to totalitarianism.

So far as I can tell from news reports, most candidates from both parties are urging change in one form or another. None are saying the Bushite movement's policies are exactly on target, so let's continue politics as usual.

If that is true, there will be "change" regardless of who wins the presidency and Congress. The change will either be toward a more theocratic statism or toward a more secular statism, with statism gaining either way. Nothing in the present political scene suggests an imminent move away from statism overall.

Will Americans fall for the “anti-big-government” line of the advocates of bigger government? The November election will tell. The best justice Americans can give the party that wins is to not give it a sizable mandate to further destroy the country.

An individual voter cannot know ahead of time whether there will be a "sizable mandate" or not. The electoral results depend on too many factors. So, a voter can't intelligently vote to counteract a mandate.

That leaves open the question: What principle should the voter follow in voting for a party (if he is voting wholesale) or for particular individuals (if he is voting retail) from either side of the partisan menu?

Identifying--and succinctly stating--the principle a voter should use as a guide is the problem, at least for me.

Cedar Bristol said...

I would say the first thing a voter should consider is what kind of results are possible. That limits his considerations to a very small and manageable number of things. If between the possibilities there's a significant difference, (if it's 1860), then you vote that way, for Lincoln.

In 2008, I don't believe the results of the next election will directly do anything to advance statism or slow that advance. But it's very likely that one party will lose some amount of power and the other will gain some. It's certain that the Republicans will either lose the White House or keep it while the Dems either gain it or remain outside of it.

If the republicans lose the White House, they will have to explain why. They can't denounce W for being a communist welfare queen while they're hoping to hold on to the executive branch, but they can if they're out of power trying to explain how they got there. This doesn't mean that they will, but the possibility of it is enough to make me look forward to voting against whatever empty suit they nominate. They might not openly question their relationship with the drinkers of their savior's blood, but then again they might. They'll have to explain the loss somehow. This possibility is worth voting for in my view.

So I guess the more succinct answer to Burgess's question is take the possible outcomes and the likely interpretations of those outcomes and look for a combination that's worth voting for or against.

Cedar Bristol said...

Oh, and another thing that could happen in the next couple decades is that Jesus could go back to the Democrats. If the Jesus vote were to be split evenly between partys and thus become irrelevant, or if it were to go entirely to the Dems, William Jennings Bryan was, after all, the original prosecutor of the Scopes Monkey Trial. Then we might have a Republican party possibly capable of redemption. I don't think the Democratic party is ever going to be anything but statist. The very name of the party is anti-freedom and its entire history is consistent with that. But the Republican party could conceivably change back into something less destructive. That change will never happen if they keep winning and thanking Jesus for it.

"Jesus is the reason" It has such a nice ring to it and wouldn't it be great if we could say it in answer to "why did the Republicans lose?"