Thursday, October 30, 2003

The Culture: Political activism and political philosophy

You might not have known it, but a self-styled Objectivist ran for California governor. Darrow Clements, businessman and host of FreeNation.TV ran as a Republican. His website has him holding a copy of Atlas Shrugged and quoting Ayn Rand. Clements ran on a platform calling for limited government and political and economic freedom. So how many votes did Clements receive? 274. Only four candidates received less.

I do not know Mr. Clements; I can speak nothing to his intelligence or character. But as a political scientist, I can speak to his judgment: there was no point to his candidacy. It was, truly, an exercise in futility. Clements had zero chance of beating Gary Coleman, let alone winning. Yet by running, Clements made the classic libertarian error—he placed political activism before political philosophy.

And that’s not to say that Clements does not attempt political philosophy. I watched the sample TV pilot on his website, where he promises to tell "true stories of citizens battling government tyranny." He does deliver, but uses the usual libertarian anti-government premise and aims at the usual libertarian suspects. His lead story is the war on drugs.

I will admit that I admire the effort Clements’ puts into his TV show. On one level, I think it is courageous. It may even have potential. Yet at the same time, the pilot was infuriating for me to watch. Every libertarian goes after the drug war. And as much as I detest it, the drug war will never be the tipping point. One can never defend drugs as such; one must defend individual sovereignty. Clements attempts this, but he falls short: the drug war is not the place to defend tyranny against the mind. One can not defend the sovereignty of the mind to those who question it by holding up the irrational as an example.

The practical way to fight for the freedom is to defend the right of rational men to make rational decisions. It requires a broad understanding of philosophy to make such a case; one must understand how the mind works, its role in human existence and, as an activist, where most people make their errors regarding its use. Only then can one compellingly show that individual sovereignty demands that a person have unfettered ability to make every decision that affects his life. And while that would spell an end to the criminalization of drugs, that would only come as an after effect, a consequence of the larger respect for freedom.

The real fight in America is not excessive government—it is insufficient individualism. Yet by placing the libertarian crutch of anti-government whim-worship center, Clements misses his opportunity. He holds Atlas Shrugged in his hands, yet his activism is without sufficient foundation. And this is what really upsets me: I think Clements could have real potential if he navigates though his errors in philosophy. I wish him the best, but it remains to be seen.

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