Thursday, November 27, 2008

Warm wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday for only a proud and productive people would even have the ability to be thankful for anything. Wherever you are, may you be able to savor the fruits of your virtue and hard work. From all of us at CAC, Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Humor Me

As a change of pace, I would like to respond to or rebut some reader comments made about a trio of movies mentioned in “A Mess of Pottage” (November 24) on the Rule of Reason site, particularly about The Manchurian Candidate and His Girl Friday. President-elect Barack Obama and his plan to expand FDR’s welfare state programs, together with the looming threats of Islam, Russia and other predators, including Congress, are not going away any time soon, so there will be plenty of time and opportunity to discuss them in the future.

Some readers agreed with my very brief endorsement of The Manchurian Candidate. It is a very serious, revealing, and compelling drama. But, believe it or not, some critics treated it as a comedy or satire! I can only surmise that these critics’ intention was to deny the seriousness of the story and infect the minds of anyone who saw it soon after its release. Virtually the sole humor in it is expressed by one of the villains, Yen Lo (played by Khigh Dhiegh), the apparent mastermind behind the Sino-Soviet plot to install a president in the White House who could help facilitate the Communist conquest of the United States. This humor attacks the U.S. and Lo’s immediate victims, and is not funny. But, in the context of the story, Lo’s humor plays a legitimate role. It underscores his and his co-conspirators’ evil, much as Ellsworth Toohey’s humor underscores his evil in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.

My only reservation about the film is that it credits evil men with too much intelligence or with a species of omniscience, that is, with a capacity for successful long-range planning or with the ability to make the unreal appear to be real. Recall, for example, those notoriously failed Five-Year Plans, and our own government’s actions to “fine-tune” or “manage” the economy, a policy failure which it refuses to acknowledge and which Obama plans to exacerbate with his own Lenin-esque New Economic Policy.

It seems that two readers of the “Pottage” commentary have based their objections to the humor in His Girl Friday on what very little Rand wrote or spoke about humor. While she addressed or identified some fundamentals concerning humor, I do not think she exhausted the subject, perhaps having had little time or interest to devote to it. She did remark, however, that

“Humor is a metaphysical negation. We regard as funny that which contradicts reality: the incongruous and the grotesque.”*


“What you find funny depends on what you want to negate. It is proper to laugh at evil (the literary form of which is satire) or at the negligible. But to laugh at the good is vicious.”**

Rand wrote what I would say were general guidelines to humor, and sketched out the parameters of what is legitimate and vicious humor. There may be in the Rand archives at ARI as-yet unpublished material on the subject. I am reminded of the plot of The Name of the Rose (1986), set in a medieval monastery about a lost book or treatise by Aristotle on comedy (with Sean Connery as the detective monk).

Some comedies are funny, other comedies not so funny, and still others not funny at all. His Girl Friday (1940) is uproariously funny. It does not rely on sight gags or humor as crude as that of The Three Stooges or even of the Marx Brothers. Its humor is just a shade above subtle, and pokes fun at the metaphysically negligible, such as Rosalind Russell’s fiancé and the Mayor and his lackey sheriff. This was the second film version of the 1931 production, and far superior to it. It was based on the play co-written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur (1928), who also collaborated on the screenplay of another “screwball” comedy, Twentieth Century (1934), and on three non-comedic dramas: Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), and Gunga Din (1939).

The central story line of His Girl Friday is the hilariously unscrupulous campaign waged by Walter Burns (Cary Grant), the editor-in-chief, to keep his best reporter, Hildy Johnson (Russell), from leaving his newspaper and his life. (In the original play and first film version, Hildy was a male role, and no romantic relationship between Burns and Hildy was suggested or insinuated). Burns entertains no dichotomy between his paper and Hildy; they are one and the same, and he is in love with them both. Of course, all the actions Burns takes to keep Hildy are exaggerations of actions that could be taken in real life: setting up Hildy’s insurance salesman fiancé for several falls, beating other newspapers to a breaking story, getting the goods on a pompous, two-faced politician and his cronies.

As for Hildy, she is tempted to leave the career of a “newspaperman” (that’s what she calls herself) for the sedate existence of a housewife (“…and in Albany, too,” Burns kids her), and possibly because her romance with Burns hasn‘t progressed beyond chasing the news together and the occasional bedroom fling.

Burns and Hildy are divorced, but the divorce isn’t working (now, that’s funny). Burns knows Hildy better than Hildy knows herself, and it doesn’t take long for him to convince her that Bruce Baldwin (played wonderfully down to the meanest mannerism by Ralph Bellamy) is not the man for her and that the conventional life Bruce promises her would be suffocatingly dull.

Burns succeeds in keeping Hildy. She is a value to him. That makes him, if not the hero of an epic, then the hero of a satire on newspapers. “Screwball” comedy like His Girl Friday is not supposed to be taken seriously. It is a kind of dessert to be enjoyed after a main course. Both Rule of Reason commentators implied that since the film did not adhere to the defining attributes of an epic or serious drama, then it couldn’t be good. No one is supposed to take seriously the bête noire of the story, the pathetically meek and unstable Earl Williams, scheduled to be executed for shooting a policeman but whose timely pardon by the governor is suppressed by the corrupt mayor. He escapes in the most ludicrous circumstances and winds up hiding in a roll-top desk. Another commentator asked,

“How can you laugh at a woman convincing a murderer that it isn’t his fault that he used a gun to kill a man because, after all, the purpose of a gun is to kill?”

In this instance, one can’t. Hildy, in the prison interview scene, isn’t trying to convince Williams that it wasn’t his fault; she is simply probing the mind of a lunatic to find a context in which to write her story, and in the bargain mocking Marxist economics (production for use, not for profit, etc.). And, one doesn’t laugh at Hildy; one merely appreciates her sense of a news story and the lengths to which she will pursue it. So, one laughs with her as she pursues it, such as when she literally tackles the bailiff who can grant her the prison interview with Earl Williams.

What is also humorous is Hildy’s futile efforts to combat Walter Burns’ constant scheming to stymie her impending marriage to Bruce Baldwin. She is foiled by him everywhere she turns. By the film’s end, she is furiously pounding out the story on her typewriter, taking her cues from Walter Burns, while Bruce is on the far periphery of her consciousness, contradictory to her character and rendered negligible. She is at home, and Walter Burns has won.

His Girl Friday is one of my favorite comedies. Each line of dialogue in it feeds the next at a nonstop pace; it is the dialogue that establishes the context for the action, instead of the other way around, which is the standard practice in most comedy. It is from this and other films (not all comedies, of course, not to mention plays and novels) that I learned how to craft dialogue for my own stories.

Rand wrote,

“Good natured, charming humor is never directed at a value, but always at the undesirable or negligible. It has the result of confirming values; if you laugh at the contradictory or pretentious, you are in that act confirming the real or valuable.”***

That statement can apply to much of what could be called benevolent comedy. A comedy can feature admirable, eccentric, or likeable characters caught in preposterous or absurd situations. American instances of this in film are Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Ball of Fire (1941), and Born Yesterday (1950). British instances are The Importance of Being Earnest (1952), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), and The Man in the White Suit (1952). There are many more instances of this level of comedy in film, too numerous to mention here.

Humor -- the benevolent, non-vicious kind, at least -- also is highly contextual. Someone who might enjoy the television series Fawlty Towers may be left cold by My Name is Earl; conversely, someone whose measure of good comedy is The King of Queens may be unmoved by P.G. Wodehouse Theatre. The context and what enjoyment one derives from any of these television series, or any comedy, both depend on one’s sense of life: Is it benevolent and rational, or malevolent and eclectically chaotic?

Does a person need a laugh track to prompt him that something funny has happened or has been said? Should a comedy require a person’s full focus to detect, appreciate or evaluate its humor, or should it patronize his mental passivity? Does one enjoy seeing a good character get his “comeuppance,” or a bad character his? Is one willing to suspend belief in order to enjoy a light-hearted, benevolent comedy, or should one emulate the Classicists, and approach it in a second-hand, doctrinaire frame of mind?

If Aristotle truly wrote a treatise on comedy as a companion or supplement to his Poetics, these and other questions might have been answered. Except for plot, characterization, and resolution, the requisites for great drama are not all applicable to comedy. Drama is the broader literary form and subsumes all the criteria necessary for good comedy. Some of the greatest literature also includes unparalleled humor.

What did not amuse Queen Victoria might have amused me.

*Chapter 11, ”Special Forms of Literature,” in Ayn Rand -- The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers, edited by Tore Boeckmann, Plume softcover, 2000, p. 165.
**Ibid, p. 166
***Ibid, p. 166

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Housing Downfall

Too funny (hat tip: Isaac) . . .

The Barbary Wars and the Lessons from History

The recent hijacking of a crude oil tanker by Somali pirates [1] raises important issues in foreign policy. Historian and best-selling author Michael Oren [2] as well as my friend and fellow Objectivist Ole Martin Moen [3] have drawn parallels between these recent pirate attacks and the attacks by the ruthless Barbary pirates at the turn of the nineteenth century. Given this renewed interest, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the Barbary Wars that I gathered from reading Frank Lambert’s The Barbary Wars: American Independence in the Atlantic World as well as from Michael Oren’s Power, Faith and Fantasy: The United States in the Middle East: 1776 - Present.

I think the Barbary Wars are an excellent case study in what a proper foreign policy ought to be. To quickly overview the conflicts, the Barbary Wars were two wars fought between the United States of America and three of the Barbary States (i.e., Algiers, Tunisia and Tripoli) in the early 19th century. The first Barbary war was fought in 1801-1805 and the second Barbary war was fought during 1815. The sources of conflict is that the pirates would routinely hijack merchant vessels in the Mediterranean Sea to demand both ransom for the captured sailors as well as tribute for use of the waters.

Both Barbary Wars are often touted by conservatives as an excellent example of how to combat to state-sponsored terrorism. However, I suspect it is a mistake to label the first Barbary War as a full success. The most obvious question to ask is, if the handling of the first Barbary War was so ideal, why did Algerian pirates resume abducting U.S. sailors in 1807? Moreover, why did the war essentially resume in 1815? I suspect the reason, is that the United States failed to achieve a decisive military victory, the negotiated peace was premature and the approach to settling the conflict was unprincipled.

Consider the negotiated settlement at the end of the first Barbary War. Before the conflict ended, the Tripolitan pirates originally demanded $200,000 for captured U.S. sailors as well as tribute for using the Mediterranean seas. However, instead of paying the full $200,000, U.S. diplomat Tobias Lear talked the Tripolitan leadership down to letting the U.S. pay them $60,000. Lear rationalized the payment by claiming that it was for ransom but not for tribute and President Jefferson applauded these negotiations [4]. I cannot think of a worse example of Pragmatism in foreign policy. Furthermore, this treaty also did not demand the relinquishment of all U.S. property captured through piracy or financial restitution for the past crimes of the pirates.

This settlement is especially outrageous since the U.S. had two major points of leverage against the Bashaw of Tripoli. First, the U.S. recently gained occupational control of the Tripolitan city of Derna, thanks to William Eaton’s heroic 500 mile march through the Libyan desert. Second, the U.S. had the military might to remove the current Bashaw Yusuf Karamanli from power and replace him with the exiled ex-bashaw Hamet Karamanli, who was fighting with the U.S. during the war. (As a side note, this might not have been a wise decision, but I merely wish to argue that it is a point of leverage.)

The second Barbary War seems to be a much better example of how to properly negotiate peace at the end of a conflict. Unlike the treaties at the end of the first conflict, which was negotiated, the terms of this treaty were essentially dictated by war hero Stephen Decatur. Moreover, Decatur demanded [5]:

* All future vessels bearing a U.S. flag are to pass unmolested throughout the Mediterranean without tribute. (this is also stated in the first treaty.)

* Tunisia pay $60,000 in restitution to the U.S. for two captured vessels and an indemnity of $30,000 from Tripoli for a ship captured in the previous war.

* All captured U.S. sailors be released without a single cent of ransom. With regards to Tripoli, Decatur also demanded that all European prisoners be released. (I am presently unclear if Decatur made a similar demand towards Tunisia and Algiers.)

* The U.S. hostilities toward Barbary vessels would not cease until the treaty was signed.

The leadership of Algiers even requested that Decatur return two particular captured Algierian vessels to their country. Decatur did agree to do this, however he deliberately and emphatically did not include this in the terms of the treaty. Decatur wanted the Barbary states to know that he was dictating the terms of the treaty, that they were in no position to negotiate and that his returning of these ships was an act of generosity on his behalf and not an obligation. With terms like these, I find it no surprise that the Second Barbary War was also the last Barbary War.




[4] The Barbary Wars by Frank Lambert, pg 154, 2007.

[5] Ibid., pg 192-194.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Mess of Pottage

Having recovered from a despairing disgust with Barack Obama's successful bid for the presidency, I turned my attention to some other matters one could say are cultural partners to that victory deserving of brief attention. While Obama assembles his administration, recruiting some leftover veterans of the Bill Clinton era and some other choice political Pharisees and mountebanks to fill various posts, the news media, which enjoys a larger viewership than newspapers have of readerships, continues to offer through their news desk anchors regurgitated items with patronizing and earnest disingenuousness in cadence with Entertainment Tonight-style segments such as NBC's Matt Lauer in Belize and ABC's Diane Sawyer on the "hot seat."

This is in addition to end-of-broadcast special reports on "making a difference" and "the American spirit," which focus on "giving back," "community service," and other episodes of dutiful selflessness.

All three major news channels, for example, have devoted at least five minutes to where Obama's two daughters will go to school in Washington -- a private school, of course, their parents justifiably wary of public schools, into which the president-elect wishes to pour even more billions-- and their rooms in the White House. Also, the news media waits breathlessly for the selection of the new White House dog, placing almost as much importance on that as on the composition of Obama's cabinet.

One can take only so much of this kind of pap before developing chronic nausea.

I recently finished reading Albert Jay Nock's Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (1943) and will probably also read his Our Enemy, the State (1935). Nock tempered his admiration of the Founder when discussing the subject of universal public education, which Jefferson advocated. Nock did not believe, as Jefferson did, that education, compulsory or otherwise, necessarily improved one's intelligence or capacity for independent thought.

"I think...he [Jefferson] would have risked a wry smile at the spectacle of our colleges annually turning out whole battalions of bachelors in the liberal arts who could no more read their diplomas than they could decipher the Minoan linear script. He might also find something to amuse him in the appearance of eminent shysters, jobholders, politicians, and other unscholarly and unsavory characters, on parade in gowns and hoods of the honorary doctorate."*
Or addressing graduating classes on the value of selfless service to the community or the nation. However, not once in the Memoirs did I encounter a hint that Nock regarded man as a "being of volitional consciousness." He was one himself, but he seems to have overlooked the fact while implicitly denying most other individuals that defining attribute.

Nock rarely involved himself in any political movement of his time, choosing rather to remain a detached observer and commentator, and consequently superfluous.

"If all I had casually seen...was of the essence of politics, if it was part and parcel of carrying on the country's government, then obviously a decent person could find no place in politics, not even the place of an ordinary voter, for the forces of ignorance, brutality and indecency would outnumber him ten to one."
The recent presidential election would seem to confirm the truth of Nock's assertion; it matters not who would have won this round of politics, Obama or McCain, for each offered a different style of fascism or statism. But that is no excuse to simply resign one's self to the alleged inevitability of decline and destruction. This is what Nock did and it is what he recommended others do, asking his successors to address the "Remnant" and hope for the best.

I concluded that Nock was a kind of fastidious, Epicurean Robert Stadler, the scientific villain in Rand's Atlas Shrugged who wailed that since there was no reasoning with people one had to compromise one's principles and accept the status of being rational but irrelevant, and that since most people were ignorant, brutal and indecent, the sole way to deal with them was with force.

Nock did not advocate force to compel men to be rational, but neither was he a consistent exponent of the primacy and efficacy of reason, except among the cultivated and discriminating few (the "Remnant") whom he thought may or may not have any power or chance to effect cultural change for the better.

One saving grace of Nock was his agreement with Aristotle (and with Rand) that

"History...represents things only as they are, while fiction represents them as they might and ought to be; and therefore of the two, he adds, 'fiction is the more philosophical and the more highly serious.'"(Nock's own translation from the Greek from Aristotle's Poetics.)**
If he had lived long enough (he died in 1945), Nock might have observed the commercial successes of Rand's The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and their influence in the culture, and perhaps retracted his earlier dismissal of those novels' millions of readers as interchangeable "mass-men," the willing dupes and playthings of criminally-minded politicians.

Speaking of Aristotle's judgment of fiction and history, Stephen Adams in The Daily Telegraph, in a November 6th article, "Novels 'better at explaining world's problems than reports'," discussed that very subject without once mentioning Aristotle. The subject of his article is how fiction can better communicate ideas and the "real life" of people in or from the Third World.

He quotes Dr. Dennis Rodgers of Manchester University's Brooks World Poverty Institute:

"Despite the regular flow of academic studies, expert reports, and policy position papers, it is arguably novelists who do as good a job -- if not a better one -- of representing and communicating the realities of international development....And fiction often reaches a much larger and diverse audience than academic work and may therefore be more influential in shaping public knowledge and understanding of development issues."
Adams cites three prize-winning novels written by Third World authors, Brick Lane, The Kite Runner, and The White Tiger, as instances of (naturalistic) fiction which, as far as one can determine, not so much have shaped public knowledge and understanding as complemented public policy and sanctioned diversity and multiculturalism.

While some Western academics are lauding fiction as a handmaiden of government social programs, Hollywood continues its bungee free-fall into unreality and fantasy. Bankrupt to the core, except when it has left-wing messages to convey, and unable or unwilling to depict real life heroes and real world conflicts, it has turned more and more to animation, comic books, and graphic novels for material to sustain box office revenues. As evidence of this trend, one website carries an article by Martin Anderson, "75 comics being made into films."

A goodly number of the stories are set in grim futures or in parallel universes, while many others feature magic or heroes with super powers. Only one of them looks promising, The Megas, scheduled for release in 2010.

"Megas postulates an alternative America where the founding fathers created an aristocracy instead of a democracy, and centers on a detective investigating the seedy underbelly of the American royal family."
The Founders created a rights-protecting republic, not a democracy, as practically everyone today believes they created; the terms, as I have often stressed elsewhere, are not synonymous. But the story line is similar to Robert Harris's novel Fatherland, in which Nazi Germany won World War Two, and a German police detective in the 1960's investigates the seedy underbelly of the Third Reich to learn that the Holocaust really happened. One can only suppose that the story idea's originator was inspired by the fact that many Americans wished to make George Washington a monarch.

All of these films are in some stage of production, but upon their release it is doubtful I will want to see a single one.

It is interesting how fiction -- or movies -- often apes reality. Many years ago I saw for the first time The Mouse that Roared (1959), little realizing at the time that the story line, in which a postage stamp-sized European country declares war on the U.S. for the sole purpose of being defeated and thus qualifying for massive injections of American monetary aid, took its inspiration from history. Is this not what happened in the 1950's, and has happened recently with Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, and other countries that hate America a little less because of our no-strings-attached aid and financial rescue programs? Peter Sellers in his triple roles in Mouse was at least amusing, while his real life counterparts are not.

Art emulated history before history was even made in John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate (1962), a controversial political thriller based on Richard Condon's novel that pre-dated John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas the following year. Few films can match its production and esthetic qualities. Its level of intelligence and suspense is impossible to achieve in Hollywood today. (The recent remake of it is utter and politically correct rubbish.) The Manchurian Candidate demands one's full focus to appreciate a single scene or single line of dialogue, much as Howard Hawks' newspaper comedy, His Girl Friday, is a perfect, non-stop integration of dialogue and action requiring one's full, undivided attention.

Recently I revisited The Manchurian Candidate, and was struck by the performances of James Gregory, as Senator John Yerkes Iselin, and Angela Lansbury, as Mrs. Iselin. Gregory plays an addle-headed, buffoonish politician very reminiscent of President George W. Bush. He is putty in the hands of his power-seeking wife, who was too evocative of Hillary Clinton, and who schemes to put her husband in the White House by mostly foul means. She predicts that her husband, at the climax of his party's nomination convention, will rally "a nation of television viewers into a hysteria that will sweep us up into the White House with powers that will make martial law look like anarchy...."

Perhaps we will have a foretaste of that, now that a demagogue has been swept up into the White House to work with a very simpatico Congress.

*Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, Hallberg Publishing, 1994 edition, p. 264.
** Ibid. p. 161.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Christianity is an Impediment to Success in Engineering and the Sciences

Dr. Dewey H. Hodges, a Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, likes to wear his faith on his sleeves. For example, in the Powerpoint slides of the introductory lecture of his graduate class on advanced dynamics, Dr. Hodges reveals that the "most important person in [his] life is Jesus Christ", that the "most important aspect of [his] life is that he is [Christ's] servant" and that any aspect of his course is praiseworthy "because of Christ" [1]. Dr. Hodges continues to indicate anyone who believes that "a Christian cannot possibly be a knowledgeable engineer or scientist" is "misinformed". He then goes on to cite Sir Isaac Newton and the famous Renaissance mathematician Leonhard Euler as prime examples of practicing Christians who were monumentally successful in the sciences. Dr. Hodges then informs the class that out of the "56 universally acknowledged fathers of modern science, all but two professed faith in Jesus Christ."

Leaving the discussion of the appropriateness of this content for a graduate course in aerospace engineering aside, one must recognize that the claim that one cannot be a good Christian and a good scientist/engineer is very misleading. To whatever small extent this may be true, this message misses the more important point that taking Christianity seriously is a major impediment to being a good scientist or a successful engineer. When consistently practiced, Christianity demands a complete rejection of all that makes advancements in the science and engineering disciplines possible. The philosophical essence of religious faith demands the blind embrace of ideas in absence of evidence or proof. This is in stark contrast to a proper foundation for sound science, which requires that truths be corroborated with sensory evidence or logical inference from such evidence. In other words, good science mandates an uncompromising adherence to reason.

Christianity in particular has furiously opposed any form of scientific progress that challenges perceived Biblical truths. These include the violent persecution of astronomers who advanced a heliocentric view of the universe, to the criticism of the use of geological techniques to determine the age of the Earth, to the opposition of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection and to the modern objections to the morality of therapeutic cloning. In fact, it is when Christianity was most prevalent in the Western World that the West saw the fewest advances in science, medicine and technology [2].

Thus, while there are certainly many practicing Christians who are successful scientists and engineers, we must recognize that their success derives from their commitment to reason and is in spite of their Christian faith. No achievement of the human intellect has ever stemmed from religious devotion and any claim that Christianity is not diametrically opposed to reason is outrageous.

[1] The full lecture, including the Powerpoint slides, can be viewed in its entirety here:
[2] For more on this important history, see:

Friday, November 14, 2008

Harnessing the Networked Masses

Recently, an Op-Ed column in the Wall Street Journal stated that Barack Obama had run his campaign in a capitalist manner and proposed that he govern the country in the same fashion. Columnist Bret Swanson, in a seeming defense of entrepreneurialism (he strangely never uses the word "capitalism"... not once), exhorts President-elect Obama to learn from his campaign and foster "the unforeseen abundance that entrepreneurship can bring" to help the economy.

Swanson claims that Obama's campaign relied on individual initiative by grooming his supporters and then unleashing them on the web and on the streets - as opposed to the command-and-control, centralized McCain campaign that couldn't make heads or tails of the "Internets." He describes the "entrepreneurial" quality of Obama's campaign in primarily web-centric terms, listing the "8,000 web-based affinity groups" and millions of web volunteers and donors, and how his "even temper and relentlessly consistent message . . . encouraged supporters to take risks." This is held up as celebrating individual achievements.

The proposed "heavier hand of government" that comprises Obama's policies, including restricting free trade and "higher tax rates on capital and entrepreneurs," apparently runs counter to the actions of the successful campaign, and "do not reflect his campaign's deep trust in individuals."

Against this background, Swanson proposed an intriguing thought experiment.
Mr. President-elect: What if as your campaign raised more and more money it was taxed away and given to Mr. McCain to level the field? Or think of this: What if you were not allowed to opt out of the public financing scheme that left Mr. McCain with a paltry $84 million, about a quarter of your autumn total? [emphasis added]
Now, this is a great example that should show even the most myopic person the realities of taxing the great producers to pay for welfare state programs. Sadly, this is not at all what Swanson means by this example.

Not once does Swanson make a principled defense of capitalism, or the moral right of every individual to keep the product of his efforts without fear of forced government redistribution. It's not that he holds that government intervention in the economy is wrong, per se, he just thinks that if Obama wants to "raise the revenue he needs for his lofty priorities", he had better leave the "diffuse networks of entrepreneurs" free enough that he doesn't choke them to death. You can't tax a dead man, at least not enough.

Under the guise of promoting capitalism, Swanson has mapped out a blueprint for Obama to treat entrepreneurs the same way he treated his campaign automatons; fill them full of vagaries and promises, a frothy mix of hopes and dreams and change, all members of a cause greater than themselves, and then let them loose to do whatever it is that those entrepreneurs do to create wealth that he can tax.

Swanson's ideas amount to "we don't quite understand what it is that makes these fellows so productive, but it seems that freedom has something to do with it. We need them to keep going, so let's lay off the yolk a bit so we can keep working them. Somehow, they'll get us out of this recession."

Neither Obama nor Swanson understand or respect the individual right of each person to follow his own course, or that a society in which this is possible is the prerequisite for the "individual initiative" and the "technology [that] allows us to leap, obliterate or ignore" the various obstacles in the way, whether they are man-made or not. Swanson takes technological advances as a given--as if they are magic that invades our brains from "the ether"--trusting that even though government throws regulatory roadblocks up that stifle innovation, the spark of ingenuity somehow always hops right over.

At the core, both Obama and Swanson see the enigmatic producers of the world only as a key resource in wielding power. This is not a new concept, as despots of all stripes have long relied on the virtues of their subjects to feed their tyrannical regimes. It is perhaps just a new variant on the theme, made novel by the appeal to social networking and the web, but the meaning is the same: it is the duty of the productive members of the collective to carry the rest on their backs.

Swanson ends his appeal to his brand of pseudo-capitalism with this cynical bit of advice for President-elect Obama:

Mr. Obama should throw away his tax-regulate-and-centralize white papers. Instead, he should follow his campaign playbook and trust the networked masses. The best way to harness their power is to undo the reins. [emphasis added]

Welcome to Despotism 2.0

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Post-Election Autopsy

The Republican Party has entered into a state of post-traumatic shock after its resounding defeat in the 2008 presidential election. Christian conservatives are licking their wounds. Conservatives are engaged in a half-hearted pep rally about how Republicans can reclaim Congress and the White House, or are wandering off in various stages of dazed soul-searching. "What did we do wrong?" "What hit us?" "Where did that come from?"

Some conservative columnists and bloggers have even begun to question whether the G.O.P. has anything of substance to offer the electorate in terms of political philosophy. (It certainly has not been freedom, or capitalism.) Others are accusing president-elect Barack Obama and the Democrats of advocating socialism in the guise of populism.

These last are right, but they cannot pursue the truth any real distance without jettisoning their own collectivist political philosophy and ethics of altruism.

And while these last are more honest than their colleagues, it is doubtful they will connect the dots and concede that the very political agenda Obama slyly put over most American voters is simply a more consistent, more vigorous version of what the Republicans have endorsed or tried to co-opt from the Democrats for decades. The Republican Party for too many years can be likened to Cervantes's Sancho Panza, a credulous squire obediently following the lead of a shrewd, dissembling Don Quixote out not to save America, but to conquer it.

President George W. Bush and many of his predecessors in office helped to prepare the ground on which Obama now triumphantly stands with their own programs of altruism, collectivism and appeals to selflessness and self-sacrifice. What is to wonder about? Obama and Company owe George Bush and the Republicans so much. The president-elect and his amoral cronies in and out of Congress wish to implement their own "No American Left Behind" program to ensure that as many Americans as possible are enlisted in the march to full-scale statism.

"The thing that truly depresses me," wrote Burt Prelutsky in his article, "All the News That's Fit to Censor" on November 10th, "is that millions of my fellow Americans know the truth, but simply don't seem to care." The root of his depression is the fact that the news media and Obamaniacs are emotionally and psychologically insulated against all revelations about Obama's questionable political past, his disreputable associations, the role of ACORN's voter fraud, the suspicious sources of a big chunk of Obama's campaign donations, and his socialistic agenda. It is not likely many members of the press will seriously pursue any of those avenues of investigation. They want to believe.

Without defining what he meant by "hope" and "change," Obama persuaded countless rudderless and predisposed Americans that he was the man of the moment. After all, he makes Americans and the news media feel good, so what have facts got to do with that? They must not be allowed to get in the way to spoil the euphoria or shatter expectations.

Making whole populations feel good about their futures has been a device of ambitious power-seekers for millennia.

In the meantime, the news media is still beating the team of dead horses that pulled the Republican gun carriage through the two-year war of the presidential campaign, one of them vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's $150,000 wardrobe. But Obama's $650 million war chest is beyond the scope of the news media's concerns, and also that of the Federal Election Commission. His image as a Messiah armed with a bag of miracles at all costs must not be sullied, and woe to those who attempt to examine more closely his cash cows or his ideology. Most news anchors, journalists, and editors speak and write about Obama from a realm of self-induced myopia. They want to believe, and not doubt, suspect, question, or think.

"Obama can deny it all he likes," wrote Prelutsky, "but anyone who subscribes to the belief that we should adopt a fiscal policy based on 'From everyone according to his abilities to everyone according to his needs' is a disciple not of Warren Buffett, but of Karl Marx." But Warren Buffett, together with George Soros and countless other very well-heeled rich, are apparently disciples of Marx, as well, for they supported Obama, knowing full well what he represented. They did not care, either.

"When I suggest that socialism often leads to tyranny," wrote Prelutsky, "I am not indulging in right-wing hyperbole. After all, aside from control of capital and the means of production, one of the essentials of all dictatorships is central control of the media. In 2008, the left already controls most of the MSM, not to mention the liberal arts departments on most college campuses."
The news media surrendered their moral and philosophical press passes to Obama a year ago.

Prelutsky might have added most high schools, middle schools and pre-schools. Also, socialism is tyranny. What leads to it is the unwillingness or inability of freedom's defenders to oppose on rational moral grounds the incremental encroachments of statism that are the benchmarks of a mixed economy. And from socialism a country is led to dictatorship, once a population has been softened up for a final assault.

And a population can be softened up if the minds of countless individuals have been softened up beforehand. It would be interesting to learn, for example, how many college-age Americans voted for Obama as a consequence of their liberal arts education, a pedagogical venue largely in the control of leftists and nihilists. It is no secret that they dominate the subjects of political science, economics, and literature in most universities and colleges, and react with voluble outrage when accused of indoctrinating their charges. They invoke their "academic freedom of speech" while upholding campus speech codes that restrict or deny students their freedom of speech if that speech conflicts with their politically correct criteria of what is permissible.

But, A is non-A, writes Patricia Cohen in her New York Times article of November 3rd, "Professors' Liberalism Contagious? Maybe Not." She reports that most academics think that the left-liberal dominance of the humanities is a myth invented and perpetuated by envious "right-wingers." She quotes two political scientists who claim that "There is no evidence that an instructor's views instigate change among students."

"If there has been a conspiracy among liberal faculty members to influence students, 'they've done a pretty bad job,' said A. Lee Fritschler, professor of public policy at George Mason University and an author of the new book 'Closed Minds? Politics and Ideology in American Universities' (Brookings Institution Press).

"The notion that students are induced to move leftward 'is a fantasy,' said Jeremy D. Mayer, another of the book's authors....When it comes to shaping a young person's political views, 'it is really hard to change the mind of anyone over 15,' said Mr. Meyer, who did extensive research on faculty and students."
But college students can be and are softened up beginning in primary schools with an insidious combination of politically-correct textbooks, mandatory group think and "team work," and the subtle or not-so-subtle power of teachers to punish non-conformity and reward conformity to comply with local school board and federal and state guidelines. Combine those factors with speech codes and mandatory or "voluntary" community servitude and a host of other collectivist imperatives extorted from 15-year-olds, and helpless students, by the time they reach a college campus, will be unable to think or speak for themselves.

What is more, no "conspiracy" of left-liberals was necessary for professors to corner the market in the humanities. They are simply the beneficiaries of the ongoing pandemic destruction of philosophy in Western culture over the last century or so, which entailed the abandonment of reason, which in turn led to the disparagement of freedom and the advocacy of statism as the panacea for all "social" problems, all of which most of them have aided and abetted throughout their careers.

Is America headed for fascism? All political and cultural indications point in that direction. But I have been saying for years and years that if fascism ever comes to this country, it will not emulate the concrete manifestations of German Nazism or any other European style statism. No gangs of brown-shirted thugs roaming the streets, no jackboots tramping in unison on parade, no swastika emblazoned banners flying over government buildings will appear to alert one to the phenomenon. (Not so curiously, one can see these manifestations adapted by Islamist groups in the Middle East, together with the Nazi salute.) Substitute T-shirts, sneakers, and smile buttons, and one will have the American style of fascism.

What was disturbing were the Obama rallies during the campaign. Not a few commentators have remarked how similar they were in spirit and size to Hitler's Nuremberg shows of "solidarity." Obama spoke emotively, seductively, saying nothing but promising everything, and his audiences responded wildly in answer, thinking nothing but believing he had said it all. Audience and speaker blended into a single beast in a scary gestalt, transcending the sum of their emotions to become a force ready and willing to brush aside or crush any evidence of individual, rational resistance, in a kind of reverse demonstration of Orwell's Two Minutes Hate in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

People who participated in those rallies, or who see Obama as their earthly savior, have carried that spirit beyond into their everyday lives. Because they are governed by their emotions, they are not capable of calm argumentation or debate. To question Obama's motives, means and ends, is to invite a cold stare or a livid flaring of the eyes in reply. These people have put themselves outside the bounds of rational discourse. There is literally no reasoning with them.

Edward Rothstein, writing for The New York Times on November 4th in his article, "What Would George Bailey Do?" hauled out that hoary old cinematic chestnut, It's a Wonderful Life, and painted the bailout in terms of a run on Bailey Brothers Building & Loan Association. While his article is a skeptical critique of both the government's and Wall Street's actions, whether he realized it or not, it was a good choice for an analogy. After all, George Bailey sacrifices his values and goals repeatedly to serve the "general good." Rothstein concludes:

"What is strange is that now we depend on the state to re-establish trust by rescuing and even nationalizing financial institutions, relying on the same authority that gives paper money its value. But after the events of the last century, can anyone fully believe that the state should be the ultimate standard for trust and fiscal faith? And would even a real-life George Bailey be able to coax us into confidence, let alone belief that good intentions have power over principles of finance? We are in for perilous times."
Perilous and dangerous times, to be sure. The times ahead of us will be perilous, because of the government's powers to enforce obedience and conformity with little chance of dissention; and dangerous, because so many Americans are comfortable with those powers, and see in them the ingredients for "hope" and "change."

It is interesting to note that early in the 1770's, the British government forbade importation into the American colonies muskets and gunpowder, to reduce the ability of the colonists to resist by force the force that would be initiated by the Crown. Soon after news of Obama's election as president, gun sales in this country skyrocketed on the bet that the new president and Congress would so severely limit gun purchases and ownership that the market - and the right to bear arms - would simply cease to exist.

Take that bit of news as you will.

Objectivist Round-Up - November 13, 2008

Welcome to the November 13th 2008 edition of the Objectivist Round-Up. This week presents insight and analyses written by authors who are animated by Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. According to Ayn Rand:

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.

"About the Author," Atlas Shrugged, Appendix.

Without any further ado, it is my pleasure to present this week's round-up:

Edward Cline presents Of Subversion, Subservience, and the Suffocation of Freedom posted at The Rule of Reason, saying, "Those of you who value their freedom, you know what is now expected of you, to argue, while you still can, for the reinstatement of a republic of reason."

Darren Cauthon presents My Argument Against Voting posted at Darren Cauthon.
Greg Zeigerson presents Two Topics: The U.S. Elections and The Merging of Man and Machine posted at Zigory.

Khartoum presents The American Dream -- As Possible As It's True. posted at Philosophy, Law and Life., saying, "Capitalism has been vindicated -- yet again. A fascinating new memoir, Scratch Beginnings, tells the story of Adam Shepard who finished grad school and went to check if the American Dream could ever really come true."

Khartoum presents Free Speech Forum Pisses Off Audience Members. posted at Philosophy, Law and Life., saying, "The members of the audience stormed out of a panel discussion hosted by the American University's Objectivists' free speech forum. The forum sought to discuss the nature of free speech and how totalitarian Islam was a threat to free speech."

Andy Clarkson presents Reason As The Basis Of Human Interaction posted at The Charlotte Capitalist.

Rational Ryan presents The Preposterous Premise of Proposition 8 posted at The Dirty Kuffar, saying, "Examines the recent decision in California to ban gay marriage, the motivations and the false premise any ban on gay marriage carries."

Paul McKeever presents Banking and Morality: 100% Reserve versus “Fractional” Reserves posted at Paul McKeever, saying, "this blog post, made in response to a vlogger who advocates fractional reserves, preceded my video response to his video (my video response is now available here: )."

Burgess Laughlin presents Asymmetrical Debate? posted at Making Progress, saying, "This post wrestles with the problem of the conflict of reason and mysticism in society. Exercising reason, which is rare, requires a great deal of time and effort, but mysticism, which is common, requires neither. How can reason possibly win?"

KLB presents Measure Q and the Lending Crisis in Education posted at The Undercurrent, saying, "Los Angeles recently passed Measure Q, a $7 billion dollar bond measure to fund public schools. This is on top of the $19 billion worth of bond measures already passed to prop up the L.A. public school system over the last eleven years. Must we keep pouring money into a dysfunctional educational system that has shown itself clearly incapable of translating that money into a quality product?"

Michael Labeit presents On the Purpose and Productiveness of Entrepreneurship posted at Philosophical Mortician, saying, "The role of entrepreneurship as well as of the profit/loss system has been thoroughly corrupted by Marxist "thought." Dr. Ludwig von Mises eviscerates the Marxist and anti-profit arguments in his monograph "Profit and Loss" as well as laboriously explains and the defends to virtue of entrepreneurship and of the profit/loss system. Entrepreneurs, Mises holds, are our allies not our enemies. This essay is a brief synopsis for those who wish to understand the nature of entrepreneurial profit but who may not possess the time necessary to read and fully understand Mises's monograph."

Beth Haynes presents Thoughts after the election posted at Wealth is not the Problem, saying, "I am not sure exactly how this works, so if you could refer me to a source or explain a little more, I'd greatly appreciate it. But, it looks interesting enough to give it a try and see what happens! Thanks, Beth"

Adam Reed presents Objectivist Activism Report: The Defeat of Proposition 4 posted at Born to Identify, saying, "When I began my activism for the recent elections, the Christo-Fascists had placed two propositions for constitutional amendments on the ballot. All the pollsters were predicting that Proposition 4 would win, and Proposition 8 would lose. I estimate that my OpEds reached about a million voters. Proposition 4 lost with 223,088 votes from the half-way mark. I consider it likely that my OpEds contributed to this result. All while opponents of Proposition 8, the second Christo-Fascist warhorse, managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory."

Paul Hsieh presents The Future of Social Security? posted at NoodleFood, saying, "Why do some liberals want the government to confiscate private 401(k) retirement accounts? To "protect" American workers, of course!"

Shaun Connell presents Will You Survive the Financial Storm? posted at Financial Planning, saying, "One thing is certain: the next few years will unveil more and more global economic restrictions, crises and "hard times." Don't be among the losers -- learn how to turn economic hardship into profit by rationally analyzing your situation."

K. M. presents Book Review: NEXT posted at Applying philosophy to life, saying, "A review of Michael Crichton's novel NEXT that raises issues of patent laws, intellectual property and role of government in research"

C. August presents America Urges Government to 'Do Something!' posted at Titanic Deck Chairs.

Myrhaf presents Is There a There There? at Myrhaf.

Cogito presents Determinism Versus Causality: Frozen Abstractions at Cogito's Thoughts saying "A somewhat disorganized post discussing what I think is an example of the frozen abstraction fallacy that occurs in the thinking of many."

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of objectivist round up using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

John Allison to speak at Duke University

Dr. John Lewis of the Program on Values and Ethics in the Marketplace, Duke University sends the following announcement that I pass on to those interested:

"Financial Trauma: Causes and Possible Cures"
A Lecture by Mr. John Allison, President and CEO of BB&T Corporation

November 19, 2008, 3:30 PM

Griffith Theatre, at the Bryan Center, Duke University

As the world struggles with the current financial crisis, we should listen to the executives of successful financial institutions. BB&T is such an institution.

Mr. Allison will outline the causes of today’s financial chaos, including the errors that led to the crisis. He will discuss the broader implications for the economy, including the effects on the housing and mortgage industries, and offer economic and political suggestions for both short-term and long-term cures.

John A. Allison became CEO of BB&T on July 7, 1989. At the end of 1989, BB&T was ranked 96th largest bank in the nation with $4.8 billion in assets. After 60 bank and thrift acquisitions, and the implementation of innovative training and measurement programs, the former eastern North Carolina farm bank has grown to become the nation’s 14th largest financial holding company. Assets have increased from $4.8 billion, when Allison began his tenure as CEO, to $137 billion today.

Sponsor: The Program on Values and Ethics in the Marketplace, Duke University

President Coolidge on Taxes and Government Efficiency

A friend of mine brought the following short address by President Calvin Coolidge to my attention.

I recommend that you all watch this. A few pleasantly surprising sound bytes made by President Coolidge includes:
the cost of government is forced upon all citizens ... every tax dollar taken forces everyone to work, part-time, for the government.
The emphasis is mine. I find it truly impressive to hear a 20th century U.S. president acknowledge taxes as a use of force instead of an admirable sacrifice or a moral duty. Of course, President Coolidge is not calling for the abolition of taxes; he is just honestly stating the reality of what they are. Here is another refreshing quote:
I want the people of America to work less for the government and more for themselves. I want the people to have the rewards of their own industry. This is the chief meaning of freedom.
From what I recall from Robert Sobel's Coolidge: An American Enigma, Coolidge viewed taxes as a necessary evil to fund the basic functions of government. Needless to say, Coolidge's perception of what was necessary went beyond police, military and a court system as it included public works and schools. However, as a general standard, he seemed to strive to avoid expanding the government's role beyond its current functions, he seemed to work to improve the overall efficiency of government so as to reduce the tax burden on America and he tried to let the "business of America [be] business". Of course, it would have been much better had the Coolidge Administration actively fought to undo the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Interstate Commerce Commission or the Anti-trust laws. Nevertheless, Coolidge's Administration still sounds very good relative for the early 20th century.

The address that I have posted ends with a general call for more efficiency in government spending. I have no idea to what extent Coolidge delivered on this last point. Every politician calls for more efficiency in government spending. None are going to (explicitly) call for the government to be more wasteful. However, this still sounds more believable when Coolidge calls for it.

Contrast the overall spirit of Coolidge's speech (to the extent we can tell with limited context) to the various speeches of modern politicians. Most politicians today never acknowledge that taxes are forced upon Americans. Most politicians today also insist that their economic policies will only negatively impact the wealthiest of Americans as opposed to affecting all taxpayers. Most importantly, politicians today brag about how many new government programs they have helped create, as if they are bragging points to be itemized on a resume. Almost no politicians today call for less government. How far things have fallen.

Happy 233rd, US Marine Corps

From Tun Tavern to today, Happy Birthday, U. S. Marine Corps—Semper Fi!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sunday Open Thread: Post-Election Edition

This Hugh Laurie song (hat tip: HBL) hits today's nail right on the head:

Yup, all we gotta do is . . .

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Of Subversion, Subservience, and the Suffocation of Freedom

"So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other."
That might have been the appeal uttered by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to support the subprime bailout, but it is actually an excerpt from president-elect Barack Obama's victory speech, reprinted in the Daily Telegraph (London) on November 5.

Compare that excerpt with:

"The first obligation of every citizen must be to work both spiritually and physically. The activity of individuals is not to counteract the interests of universality, but must have its result within the framework of the whole for the benefit of all."
That was Point Ten of the program of the NSDAP, or the National Socialist German Workers Party, better known as the Nazi Party.

It gets better.

"John McCain and Sarah Palin, they call this socialistic. You know, I don't know when they decided they wanted to make a virtue of selfishness."
That was Obama glibly papering over his attacks on "the rich" in defense of his proposed tax policies, which in spirit are little else but a populist appeal to envy, to counter John McCain's accusation late in the campaign that they were socialistic. Excuse the expression, but it was the pot calling the kettle black. McCain's proposed tax policies were watered down versions of Obama's, and no less socialistic than the Illinois senator's.

And, in the realm of the ludicrous, it is a measure of Obama's superficial grasp of economics that he could accuse McCain of wanting to make a "virtue" of selfishness, when McCain's moral imperatives differ in no way from Obama's, both men invoking selflessness and sacrifice as "virtues" that will help revitalize the country's economy. Obama, however, was too preoccupied with his own appeal to voluntary servitude to take notice of McCain's. If he had noticed it, and belabored the point, perhaps even an Obamaniac would have seen or at least sensed there was no difference between them.

It is also a measure of Obama's ignorance and of his patronizing arrogance that all throughout the campaign he expressed concern about the plight of the middle class, which he seeks to make dependent on government largesse and favors.

"It combats the selfish spirit within and around us, and is convinced that a lasting recovery of our nation can only succeed from within on the framework: common utility precedes individual utility." [Italics mine.]
"It" being the Nazi Party, in Point Twenty-four of the Nazi program. The italics are mine, selfish substituted for "Jewish-materialistic." If one were able to ask any member of Congress if he agreed with the italicized statement in Point Twenty-four (without identifying its source), that the needs of the many trump the freedom of the individual, one would receive an affirmative. And, given the fact that the Democrats have taken virtually complete control of Congress, and that the Democratic Party's determination to "reinvent" America is in accordance with the "change we seek" to make -- that is, the change Obama seeks to make -- the Democratic Party may as well be redubbed the National Socialist Democratic American Party.

It may strike some as a wild idea, but all one need do to see the parallels is compare Obama's program for "change" with the Nazi program for "change" to grasp how closely the programs mesh in means and ends. Omit all references to Jews and Germans in the Nazi twenty-five point program, and in the appropriate points substitute individualism and private property for what Hitler and the Germans were obsessed with nationalizing, stealing, eradicating or "changing," and one has the Democratic Party platform.

Others may assert that I am being too easy on Obama and the Democrats, and claim that Obama especially is a communist. Certainly the junior senator grew up in the company of adults who were communists or sympathetic to communism, and his activist work in Chicago before he ran for Illinois office was blue-printed by Saul Alinsky, the man who wrote a manual or two on how to "change" politics and society and who has also been praised by Hillary Clinton, who was less successful in applying his ideology.

But fascism, or National Socialism, or Nazism, in fundamentals is merely watered-down communism, a glittering fool's gold side of the same ideological coin. It merely allows one to strive in the illusion that one has private property and a modicum of dissent, but expects one to shut up and take one's orders from on high in service to the "general welfare" or the "public good." Communists, when they nationalize everything, take the blame when things go wrong, and Party heads roll.

Under fascism, if things go wrong, it is the nominally private sector that will take the blame for failed policies and plans and receive the punishment, not their governmental authors and enforcers. This is what happened with the collapse of the subprime mortgage industry. That whole scam was socialism with a twist of Wall Street. The debacle gave Congress, the president, and both presidential hopefuls the excuse to blame "greed" and impose more controls, especially in the matter of suborning financial institutions that were in better shape than their failed or failing colleagues.

As has been widely noted elsewhere, the parallels of current events with events in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged are eerily applicable. Think of the Steel Unification plan that the government tried to talk Henry Rearden into, a scam that was intended to save Orren Boyle's inefficient and looting steel company by enslaving Rearden's. The same extortionate, larcenous plan can be seen in the bailout. The recent enlistment of BB&T in the bailout is a singular instance of the government's program to leave no instances of solvency unshackled and independent of control.

To subvert the ideas of the Founders is to require obedient subservience to Obama's vision of a socialist America in the name of "patriotism."

I am picking up here where Nick Provenzo left off in his November 3rd posting on the parallels of Obama's agenda with fascism, but have instead focused on the language of fascism as expressed by Obama from a few of his unacknowledged sources, the language of absolutism in politics that he slickly disguised in American patois.

"The Promise of American life is to be fulfilled -- not merely by a maximum amount of economic freedom, but by a certain measure of discipline; not merely by the abundant satisfaction of individual desires, but by a large measure of individual subornation and self-denial....The automatic fulfillment of the American national Promise is to be abandoned, if at all, precisely because the traditional American confidence in individual freedom has resulted in a morally and socially undesirable distribution of wealth."*
Barack Obama would certainly agree with that assertion, because, among other recommendations, its author called for the expansion of executive authority, the growth of federal regulations and control of not only the economy, but of the personal lives of Americans to redirect them from their individualism to achieve social and nationalist ends, among them a morally and desirable redistribution of wealth. To make that possible, Obama proclaims, America must "break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution."

Constraints, or obstacles to his quest for power? But, allow us to let Obama speak for himself.

"This is our reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth -- that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, We Can."
From beginning to end in his campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama appealed to emotion, not to facts, not to men's reason, not to their repugnance for selfless service to causes higher than themselves. I do not believe, as some commentators claim, that the Americans who voted for Obama were "lulled" by his emotionalist oratory. These are the Americans whom Ayn Rand might have said had "let it go" -- "it" being the idea of a great nation founded on the recognition of inviolate individual rights and the liberty to enjoy them without interference or coercion -- and have settled for a demagogue who offers hope and promises change.

In the name of the values the Founders argued and fought for, I would deem such Americans "Tories for statism."

"Hope and change" are what Hitler promised the Germans who enthusiastically supported him even while he and the Nazis were impoverishing them in pursuit of the German "dream." They believed him even when scandals broke concerning the racketeers, incompetents and charlatans that Hitler had assembled around him or who were appointed to the various ministries, just as Americans who support Obama will repress knowledge of the racketeers, incompetents and charlatans Obama is assembling for his White House staff and cabinet.**

Point Twenty-three of the Nazi platform should concern anyone reading this who is certain that the best way to counter Obama's and Congress's perfidious subversion of America is to spread the ideas of the Founders, of life, liberty, property and the pursuit of one's own happiness. That Point in no way conflicts with the agenda of the Democrats, which is to adopt censorship but call it "fairness" and "equal opportunity."

"We demand legal opposition to known lies and their promulgation through the press....Publications which are counter to the general good are to be forbidden. We demand legal prosecution of artistic and literary forms which exert a destructive influence on our national life, and the closure of organizations opposing the above made demands."
While Obama is in office and while the Democrats control Congress, expect a demand to revive the "Fairness Doctrine," in addition to renewed demands to regulate the Internet. The federal government already monitors the Internet to detect terrorist plots and its actions often render it sluggish and even inoperable. There is no reason to doubt that a government which regards Americans answerable to the state for their ideas and opinions and whose freedom of speech would be deemed counter to the general good and a destructive influence would not refrain from silencing critics by every foul and coercive means imaginable.

Obama cheerleaders, you will have asked for the incipient totalitarian regime that is about to take office. All others who value their freedom, you know what is now expected of you, to argue, while you still can, for the reinstatement of a republic of reason.

* Herbert Croly, The Promise of American Life (1909), Northwestern University Press, 1989, p. 22. Croly, founder of The New Republic with the guilt-soaked money of multi-millionaires, was a proto-fascist writer whose books influenced and were admired by a number of reformers, ambitious politicians, and dictators. It is noteworthy that he was heavily influenced by Auguste Comte, the French founder of Positivism and sociology who coined the term altruism. For the link between Croly's Progressivism and the collectivist policies that have been adopted and continue to be implemented in the U.S. beginning with Teddy Roosevelt, see Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.

**See Ian Kershaw's nonpareil two-volume biography of Hitler, Hubris and Nemesis for the kinds of men Hitler chose to consult on foreign and domestic policy and to run Nazi Germany. The Hitler "cult," subscribed to by countless Germans, discounted any revelation of the ubiquitous criminality of Hitler's "inner circle," just as Obama's political antecedents are discounted by Obama cultists, as well as the shady and murky backgrounds of the people he is now picking for his administration. But the best philosophical exposé of both Nazi Germany and modern America is Dr. Leonard Peikoff's The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America (1982).

Friday, November 07, 2008

In Defense of John Allison’s Moral Character

I respectfully disagree with Nick Provenzo’s post alleging that Mr. John Allison is guilty of giving the “sanction of the victim.” Other readers of this webblog have expressed their agreement with Nick’s post. For example, in the comments section, Ed Cline refers to John Allison’s recent press release as a “defection”. There are also several anonymous posts that are far more incendiary but are not worth deigning to address. The rest of this post is a presentation of my assessment and is not an attack on anyone else's view.*

Rest assured that I found the BB&T press release [1] to be a grave concern. The particular statement that expresses open support for the U.S. Treasury’s efforts to achieve financial stabilization is the most unsettling part. At first glance, this certainly seems unnecessary and unjust. However, Burgess Laughlin raises the valid point that it is unclear to what extent Mr. Allison, as CEO, has control over this statement compared to, say, the Board of Directors. We also presently have no idea of Mr. Allison’s motivation for releasing this statement. The fact is, there is presently an enormous amount of uncertainty surrounding this press release.

Nevertheless, if any of us who value Objectivism is to judge Mr. Allison properly, then we must consider the entire context of his actions and his public statements. First, consider Mr. Allison’s many ostensible commitments to spreading Objectivism. He:

  • Gives speeches promoting Objectivist principles in business. [2]
  • Oversaw that BB&T would not lend money to any commercial developers that acquired property from private citizens through eminent domain. [3]
  • Responsible for financing the start and expansion of the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism, where Objectivist intellectuals Dr. C. Bradley Thompson and Dr. Eric Daniels hold research positions. [4]
  • Is probably one of the biggest financial supporters of both the Ayn Rand Institute and the Anthem Foundation.
  • Created numerous BB&T programs to get Atlas Shrugged in particular and Objectivism in general taught in universities. For example, see [5, 6].
  • Probably converted hundreds of productive businessmen into Objectivists.
  • Serves as a shining example of what an individual can accomplish who lives his life and conducts his business according to Objectivism [7].
  • Stuck his neck out to e-mail all of Congress with a resounding critique of the recent bailout proposal at the end of September [8] and blamed the government for the crisis two weeks ago [9].

In my opinion, John Allison has probably done more to effectively spread Objectivism than just about anybody sans a handful for ARI intellectuals and employees. This strongly suggests that Mr. Allison is not an individual who concedes the sanction of the victim at the slightest increase of pressure.

Second, before making our judgment, we should recognize that even Dr. Yaron Brook expresses the necessity for the short-term economic stabilization of the housing market, the banking industry and the stock market [10]. Of course, this does not say that supporting the Treasury’s efforts for financial stabilization is justified, especially since Dr. Brook goes on to suggest free market solutions to achieve this stabilization. Nevertheless, Dr. Brook’s opinion still suggests that it is not unreasonable to support some effort for stabilization.

Lastly, I wanted to address the broader issue of life and philosophy. Being an Objectivist does not mean that you refuse to file your income taxes because not doing so will result in your incarceration. Nor does being an Objectivist mandate that you actively and publicly denounce Islamic Totalitarians, as it could force you and your family to go into hiding for fear of your life. Being an Objectivist also does not require that you risk your life by defiantly standing in front of the tanks at Tiananmen Square. Simply put, it is a contradiction in terms to demand that an Objectivist choose between his life and an allegedly higher philosophic cause.

Again, this is not to say that the infamous press release is worded well or is morally justifiable. However, we must not forget that it is only moral for John Allison to take a defiant stance if it will make his own life better. It is not moral for him to martyr himself to ignite an Objectivist cultural revolt that he may not be able to enjoy.

In summary, I do not think it is fair to debate John Allison’s commitment to Objectivism. His actions prior to this press release show he has lived his life and conducted his business according to Objectivist principles. Furthermore, there is presently an enormous amount of uncertainty underlying both the motivation for releasing the press release as well as the amount of creative control Mr. Allison had over its content.

In Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Dr. Leonard Peikoff writes:

The "sanction of the victim" means the moral man's approval of his own martyrdom, his agreement to accept--in return for his achievements--curses, robbery, and enslavement. It means a man's willingness to embrace his exploiters, to pay them ransom for his virtues, to condone and help perpetuate the ethical code which feeds off those virtues...

The emphasis in the above excerpt is mine. I do not perceive that we have enough information to validly conclude that Mr. Allison has willingly sanctioned the regulators, as there is very good reason to believe he was coerced into releasing the statement in question. We should take the full scope of his life as well as this great uncertainty into account when judging Mr. Allison. Anyone who values Objectivism owes him this much.**

*Added with an edit on 11/08/08

** This last section was edited and expanded on 11/08/08










[10] Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein on "Real Orange" (KOCE) October 19, 2008, around 2:30 into the video clip. The video can be viewed here:

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

BB&T to participate in U.S. Treasury program

As you may have already heard, BB&T, led by long-time Objectivist John Allison, has elected to participate in the Treasury Department's capital purchase program [Press release here]. I for one am disappointed by Mr. Allison's stand for the following reason. To my knowledge, no one forced Mr. Allison to say this:

"We support the Treasury's efforts to stabilize the credit markets and restore confidence in the financial system," said BB&T Chairman and CEO John A. Allison.
Mr. Allison may have had no choice when it came to accepting government control over his bank. He may have had his reasons as we all do when faced with a mixed economy. Nevertheless, Mr. Allison was under no obligation to publicly praise the government for its latest encroachment.

There is a concept in Objectivism that describes such conduct. It is called the sanction of the victim. With all due respect to Mr. Allison for his support for Objectivism, he just did so via press release.

Monday, November 03, 2008

An Obama Militant Youth Group and the Parallels to Fascism

Anyone familiar with the rise of Fascism in the early 20th century should see the clear parallels in the Obama campaign. The Obama campaign is filled with unjust attacks on free market capitalism, vague promises of revolutionary changes, a platform of unprecedented expansions of government control of the economy and a wide-scale cult of personality. Several specific economic promises of the Obama campaign include:

Now consider Mussolini's crafting of Fascist Italy. Mussolini's platform included:
  • a minimum wage
  • an eight-hour workday
  • old-age and pension reform
  • a large progressive tax on capital [1].
More alarmingly, Hitler's National Socialist (Nazi) Party included provisions on:
  • breaking "rent-slavery" (think Obama's war on poverty and his campaign for affordable housing)
  • confiscating all war profits (think Obama's criticisms of the profits of oil companies when gasoline prices surged)
  • expansion on a large scale of old age welfare (think Obama's staunch commitment to preserving social security, Medicare and Medicaid)
  • prevention of speculation in land (think of the blaming of commodity speculators and subprime lenders)
  • National health care (think Obama's universal health care)
  • media controls. Specifically, restrictions requiring state-licenses for Non-German newspapers, laws abolishing "any financial interest" in German publications, laws forbidding any publications counter to the "general good" as well as legal prosecution of any art or literature that exert a "destructive influence" on "national life." (think Obama's support for net-neutrality and encouraging diversity in media ownership)
  • a general statement that the state is charged with "providing the opportunity for a livelihood and way of life for the citizens." [2]
One major similarity that has always been lacking pertains to the absence of an Obama militant youth group. Mussolini, after all, had his blackshirts and Hitler had his Hitler Youth. However, I recently encountered this part-scary, part-laughable video of an "Obama Youth" militant group.

Fortunately, this goofy but militantly disciplined youth group seems to be the product of an extremist Obama fanatic who is not representative of Obama's campaign. Nevertheless, I think the ludicrous worship of Obama displayed by these young men is merely taking the emotional appeal of the Obama campaign to its extreme but logical conclusion.

This post is not intended to be an implicit endorsement of John McCain.

[1] Source is Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg. Needless to say, this is not a primary source.
[2] Source is also
Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg. The quotes are direct from Goldberg's book. I drew all comparisons to Obama's platform.

Richard Dawkins, Dithering as Usual.

Richard Dawkins is funding a campaign to post the following advertisement on public buses in London: "There is probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." [1]

Probably no god!? There is no god. Richard Dawkins' wimpy arguments from skepticism are not going to have any major impact in the culture--at least not a positive impact.


Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sunday Open Thread: Election Edition

So, how are you voting on Election Day and why?