Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Tyranny Postscript

I want to thank and compliment those who left comments in response to “An Inauguration of Tyranny” (January 20) for their perceptive and concerned remarks. The essay certainly excited vigorous thought and argument, more than I had expected. What those comments are evidence of is the existence of rational minds at large, minds that will be needed if the suicidal course this country is on is ever to be grasped, communicated and corrected. Many respondents’ remarks were outstanding, deserving some annotation here.

One respondent suggested that definitions of the terms tyrant and dictator would be helpful in determining whether Barack Obama is one or the other. In history, tyrants usually seized power in contravention to an established political process, and seized it with popular support or with the connivance of politicians. Dictators usually came to power by means of a formal political process, also with popular support. But, in the end, such persons wielded the arbitrary and destructive powers of a tyrant. Technically, then, Obama is now an elective dictator (and what president over the last 150 years hasn‘t been one, exercising powers the Founders never intended the office to have over the economy, property, science, the arts, and health?), but together with an eagerly compliant Congress, he will be a tyrant, cashing in on the uncorrected trends in philosophy, in the culture, and in politics so aptly described by Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff.

However, not even the OED is helpful in distinguishing the fundamental difference between a tyrant and a dictator, except that its definition of tyrant stresses the cruelty of someone exercising absolute power.

One respondent remarked that Obama is the first “anti-American” president. True. Obama is a thorough-going collectivist committed to everything the Founders opposed, all his assurances to the contrary notwithstanding. Now that he is in office, he has become a statist. He is now sporting an American flag pin on the lapel of his suit jacket, as though that will deflect charges of his anti-Americanism.

Another respondent wrote: “Together with Obama’s claim that he is not an ideologue, what this statement sets up is the opportunity for him and his supporters to call those who disagree with him small minded, prejudiced and bigoted ideologues.” True. The irony is that Obama is what could be called an anti-intellectual ideologue, a person who, as a matter of conscious policy, dispenses with ideas and demands “action” without thought of the consequences, except for the wish (or hope, to borrow Obama’s term) that the action has the results he imagines and wants. The only people who could confound or delay the realization of those wishes, hopes and ends are identifiable “ideologues” who question the wisdom of the action on moral and/or practical grounds. These are the persons he and his allies in and out of Congress wish to silence or denigrate or so side-line that they are for all practical purposes unheard of and unheard.

Furthermore, the only ingredient left that would complete the picture of total control is blatant censorship (barring for the time being the incarceration and/or trial of political opponents, but the ”bailout” and “stimulus” packages are direct or indirect seizures or nationalizations of private property). Obama needn’t issue a directive that silences Rush Limbaugh or anyone else who disagrees with government policies and actions. He has the Federal Communications Commission and other government bodies with the power to permit free or controlled expression, in addition to that vampire, the “Fairness Doctrine,” ready to climb out of its coffin and sink its thought-numbing teeth into the minds of all Americans. He needn’t stick his neck out so obviously and leave himself open to the charge of censorship, a concept which, to him and its advocates, retains as much a superstitiously negative or unsavory connotation as does the term socialist. As many other commentators have noted, Obama et al. instead prefer to be called progressives.

As with the original Progressives, they do not want Americans to know what it is they are “progressing” to, which, in a word, whether they intend it or not, is to totalitarianism.

The established press and news media are already losing audiences to the Internet and are also in financial straits. Expect to hear louder calls in and out of Congress to regulate the Internet.

Another respondent observed that I did not call Obama a tyrant. This is correct. I called him a “horror.” It will be his administration that will have the trappings and characteristics of tyranny.

One respondent noted that “Obama himself is much less a harbinger of coming tyranny than are his followers.” This is true. For space and length reasons, I did not dwell on the potential danger of Obama’s supporters. If he succeeds in pushing through Congress his idea of a “civilian army” the coequal of the military, it will be largely composed of the “community thugs” identified by another respondent, the kind who made so much “change” in Obama’s old Chicago neighborhood in his pre-Illinois senate activist days. This “army” will be managed and directed by persons in business suits, but instead of Nazi brown or Fascist black shirts, their recruits will come knocking on your door in jeans, T-shirts and baseball caps or the equivalent. Without such an army of “enforcers” (a.k.a. “volunteers”) Obama could not hope to “persuade” the recalcitrant to become “public spirited” and sacrificially cooperative. Or to just shut up…or else.

Long live Lady Liberty!


Anonymous said...

I come to the conclusion that either O'ists go into politics and quite literally take over, or this nation is doomed.

Why aren't any O'ists going into politics? Or are there some I don't know about?

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how you can praise a commentor for suggesting we look at the definition of dictator, and then fail to consider it. You say Obama is an "elective dictator," by Ayn Rand's definition of "dictatorship" does not support this.

shahnawaz said...

Obama represents the soil from which the carnivorous plant of dictatorship will grow.The fact that goose stepping nazis are nowhere in view yet cannot be cited as proof of his "good intentions".
Think in terms of essentials,read history and above all don't focus myopically on definitions sundered from concretes.
IF a president invokes the founders to buttress his case for stifling the economy,destroying the sacred freedom of speech,sacrifice human life for the sake of snale darters and spotted owls, appease barbarians who are threatening to devour the very foundations of western civilization-than i don't care what the OED or some other authority chooses to denote by that term.obama is a tyrant in waiting.

shahnawaz said...

With regard to the first bloggers question concerning the existence of o'ist politicians.First of all, consider that for that to happen people at large would have to learn to appreciate an uncompromising laissez faire advocate which, given the pragmatic miasma america is wrapped in, would be a tall order, to say the least.
The only rational course for us is to keep disseminating Ayn Rand's ideas and wait for the day when those ideas and the rational context they presuppose are on the ascent in the culture.

Michael Smith said...

Obama is simply another step -- albeit a very ambitious one -- down the road to pragmatist-fueled fascism.

His inaugural speech stated that "whatever works" will be the standard of determining what the Federal government will do. This is an outright repudiation of the very notions of limited government and individual rights. In effect, he's declared that there is no limit on how much of our money can be looted or how many of our rights must be abridged to achieve the desired "results".

In practice, “whatever works” means “anything goes”.

So thoroughly does Obama eschew principles that his mind is oblivious to any link between ideas and their consequences in practice. This is why he was so taken aback at the controversy over Reverend Wright’s outrageously racist, anti-American rants; Obama simply does not understand why anyone would think there could be any adverse consequences to acting on Wright’s ideas.

The great danger here is that Obama’s pragmatism permits him to advocate a mixture of statist proposals which, if enacted, spell economic doom for America. Obama has, at various times, proposed all of the following:

1) Raise the top income tax rate .
2) Raise the corporate tax rate.
3) Raise the dividend tax rate.
4) Raise the capital gains tax rate.
5) Create a new tax on businesses that outsource jobs overseas.
6) Punish the oil companies by seizing a portion of their profits.
7) Punish the pharmaceutical companies by seizing a portion of their profits.
8) "Spread the wealth around" with a scheme whereby those who don’t currently pay taxes will receive a rebate funded by those who do pay taxes -- a scheme which Obama calls a “tax cut”.
9) Eliminate the secret ballot in union elections and allow union organizers to bring intimidation and threats to bear directly on anyone who dares to oppose a union.
10) Raise the minimum wage by 50%.
11) Impose "cap and trade" limits on CO2 emissions that will, in Obama’s words, "cause electricity rates to soar" and "bankrupt anyone who builds a coal-fired power plant".
12) Force all businesses to pay 100% of their employee's healthcare costs.
13) Complete the nationalization of the healthcare industry.
14) Impose protectionist trade restrictions by "renegotiating" existing free trade agreements.
15) Commit America to funding U.N. anti-poverty programs, so that American taxpayers are not only bled to fund our home-grown bums and deadbeats, but the whole world’s as well.
16) Eliminate a trillion dollars of private spending so he can create a trillion dollars of government spending.
17) Create a civilian defense force equal in size and strength to our current military, i.e. ACORN funded to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars to unleash millions of “community activists”.

It is a demonstration of the power of ideas -- pragmatism in this case -- that Obama actually believes these measures will “restore prosperity” and generate “economic growth”. It remains to be seen how much of this the American people are ready to swallow.

Anonymous said...

So, to ask a likely naive question... what's everyone's plan then? Sit and wait? Where do we "file a complaint?" Are you communicating at all with your representatives? Is it even worth it? Does anyone have their own plan of action, so to speak, to protect their life, wealth and livelihood? How can we most efficiently and effectively spread these ideas? Again, do we just sit on the sidelines and wait?

Anonymous said...

So, that's it? Objectivists assert themselves or it's over?

Jim May said...

The problem with Objectivists going into politics qua Objectivists is that there is no demand for such.

Obama is the president this culture demanded. They got him.

If you want a different president, then the culture must want something different.

How do you make that happen?

Education. Disseminate ideas, and stand up for the right ones. Create the demand for the right kind of leaders.

It's much cheaper than the historical alternatives.

Jim May said...

I should have added, for the ones asking: there are plenty of opportunities for activism, and there are now a group of Objectivists headed up by Paul and Diana Hsieh that is organized specifically for that purpose.

Go here to read activism tagged posts at Diana's blog "Noodlefood".