Archive for the ‘Objectivism’ Category

True in 1974, True in 2008

September 22, 2008

“It is at a time like this, in the face of an approaching economic collapse, that the intellectuals are preaching egalitarian notions. When the curtailment of government spending is imperative, they demand more welfare projects. When the need for men of productive ability is desperate, they demand more equality for the incompetents. When the country needs the accumulation of capital, they demand that we soak the rich. When the country needs more savings, they demand a ‘redistribution of income.’ They demand more jobs and less profits—more jobs and fewer factories—more jobs and no fuel, no oil, no coal, no ‘pollution’—but, above all, more goods for free to more consumers, no matter what happens to jobs, to factories, or to producers.” – Ayn Rand, “Egalitarianism and Inflation” (listen)

Ayn Rand and Barry Goldwater

June 22, 2008

At a recent Goldwater Institute event centered around the recently-released Pure Goldwater, Mike Renzulli asked Barry Goldwater Jr. and John Dean whether they had found anything in Barry Goldwater’s correspondence about Ayn Rand—mispronouncing her name no less. Both tenatively answered (question and answer starting at 9’40”) that they hadn’t and that they didn’t think he was aware of her.

That’s been stewing in the back of my mind for awhile. Ayn Rand explicitly supported Goldwater in 1964 (The Objectivist Newsletter, vol. 3, no. 3, March 1964 and a wrap-up in vol. 3, no. 12, December 1964). Her marginalia, letters, journals, and Q&A sessions have all been made available so I decided to find out for myself.

It turns out that there was quite a bit of material on Goldwater by Ayn Rand. It started with a letter from him to her dated May 11, 1960: “I am particularly proud of the fact that you were the one to [defend my conservative position on Mike Wallace’s show], because I have enjoyed very few books in my life as much as I have yours, Atlas Shrugged.” She responded to him at considerable length on June 4, 1960 (Letters of Ayn Rand, pp. 565-72), taking him to task about Conscience of a Conservative, which he had sent her. In the margins of that book, she wrote three pages worth of notes along the same lines of her letter. (Ayn Rand’s Marginalia, pp. 183-8) She also answered three questions about him at a lecture. (Ayn Rand Answers, pp. 58-9)

There was clearly a mutual regard between the two, but their philosophies couldn’t have been more different and they weren’t the fellow travelers one would have hoped.

On Eudaimonia

April 5, 2008

“… eudaimonia is the human entelechy.” — Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 349

I can vividly remember the first time I read those words back in 1991. I was still in high school and I immediately went to the dictionary to find out the meaning of the two words I didn’t know. That phrase solidified my desire to study philosophy in college. (There wasn’t enough courses that fit my schedule to get my bachelor’s in philosophy, so I had to minor in it and major in history.)

Eudaimonia, Aristotle’s idea of happiness or the good life derived through rational living, has informed my entire life since then. Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is, I think, the perfect realization of his conception. Lately I’ve gotten it into my head that I need to write on the subject and bring their ideas into the self-improvement, self-help canon.

If you’ve read that genre to any degree, you’ll know that it invariably takes emotion as a given, such that the goal of it is to feel better about yourself. It’s almost as if the authors regard the subject of virtue and reason as irrelevant. Even the cognitive psychologists like Seligman and Beck emphasize the centrality of emotion, though they’re immeasurably better because they understand that thought precedes emotion.

I’m working on my outline but I’m not going to get into it just in case it fizzles like so many of my grandly-started ideas. I’m really enamored of the central idea, which I think could be the start of something big. We’ll see. I will, of course, keep this blog updated with any progress.

Pushing My Buttons

October 30, 2007

I’m not normally into Fisking, but this column in Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times has my blood boiling. A commentator described the column as fatuous, but it’s also quite representative of the kind of sloppy thinking I saw throughout my college experience.

Everything is being corporatized, which is reducing our freedom as individuals in today’s world.

“Corporatized?” This is a standard liberal bugaboo. From what I can gather, it’s some mystical sound that magically makes anything it is pronounced upon tainted and odious. And Mr. Stone is particularly effective here in casting it across “everything.” All freedom-loving people—nay, all freedom-loving “individuals”—should not be on alert.

The most recent example of this phenomenon was announced last Wednesday by the College of Business, which has received a $1 million gift from BB&T. The gift (better viewed as an investment by BB&T) will be given in $100,000 installments over the next ten years.

The wooziness continues. “The most recent example” of corporatization was nearly a week ago? Really? And this corporatization is represented by a gift to a university—a corporation—segment by a bank—another corporation? Is the writer really this naive? Oh wait, he’s a college student with five pomo courses courses under his belt. So that’s a silly question.

In return for the investment, the bank will be allowed to give high-profile public lectures in the Holtzman Alumni Center and to create a new undergraduate and graduate course where BB&T is allowed extensive freedom to choose the curriculum and syllabus. The course being offered is about “freedom” and its relation to the “market.”

Oh the horrors! The corporatization is even more insidious than we could have imagined. Not only is BB&T ponying up $1 million over ten years, they’re giving public lectures (no, “high-profile” public lectures) that no one has to go to and offering courses (low-profile?) that no one has to take. He sure wasn’t kidding about this attack on our freedom. In a supreme twist of irony, the very abuser of our freedom is making this course about “freedom!” And the “market,” which from the scare quotes is obviously a lie or fabrication or imaginary. The writer’s never heard of such a thing—and probably never will since he appears to be an aspiring academic.

During the hour-long lecture last Wednesday given by John Allison, the CEO and chairman of BB&T, the ideological agenda the bank wishes to promote was very apparent. The lecture was nothing more than a very boring and dry discussion that failed to go outside the most basic and elementary talking points for Objectivism, a radical free-market philosophy created by Ayn Rand. Free copies of Rand’s book “Atlas Shrugged” where given to every student in attendance.

Oh, the turgidity! After an “hour-long lecture” Allison’s views were “very apparent.” And you know his “very boring and dry discussion” is just going to attract college students in droves so they can be reprogrammed to be good little corporatizers. And you know they will because they “where” given a 1,200 page book that’s not required reading. He’s got them now!

According to Allison, the purpose of the gift to the university is to counter the bias that is already present in academia across the country. According to supporters of the corporate partnership, the class, which plans on discussing “the moral principles underlying free markets,” is fair and balanced because it teaches both Marxism and free markets by comparing and contrasting the two systems. The other free book given during Allison’s lecture was “The New Industrial State” by John Kenneth Galbraith.

The class, which presumably has already achieved sentience and is going to be one of the primary warriors in this battle against our freedom from being able to attend lectures at Virginia Tech, intends to cover this “market” nonsense by comparing it to Marxism. Oh, and the writer forgot to mention earlier that he also gave out another book. He can’t forget that fact, so now’s as good a time as any to throw that out there.

Such an argument, though, is based upon a false dichotomy and stems from a lack of reasoning. The question of bias in academia is not a “liberal” or “conservative” issue, nor is it a question of Marxism versus Capitalism. These are false dichotomies (especially in regards to a question of morality and capitalism) because there are many (if not infinite) different ideological frameworks that do not fall into either of those two categories.

Isn’t “dichotomy” a fun word to use over and over? This argument, presumably the one about <cite>The New Industrial State</cite> being the “other free book” handed out by Allison, suffers “a lack of reasoning.” I don’t really know why the name of the “other free book” is so controversial but it probably has something to do with dichotomies. This dichotomy is dichotomous and boy is it false! And bias in academia is infinite, so John Allison was way off track when he said there was just a liberal bias in academia.

To claim that bias is a question of liberal versus conservative is to demonstrate a lack of knowledge regarding how science functions and works.

Oh, he’s dropping science on you, John Allison! You’re in for it now. I looked it up and science just does not claim that bias is “a question of liberal versus conservative.” It has something to do with chemicals and gravity and stuff–way beyond the writer’s liberal arts province but he knows science enough to know that you’re no scientist, John Allison.

The framework called “Objectivism” is not simply an economic argument, but an epistemological, moral and political one as well. Competing epistemological frameworks would include Imre Lakatos’s famous methodology of scientific research programmes, or Paul Feyerabend’s idea of epistemological anarchism. Competing frameworks of morality would include existentialism, nihilism or the ideas of economic justice promoted by John Rawls, Bruce Ackerman or Robert Nozick. Competing political or economic frameworks are just as numerous. A very short list would include different broad categories such as feminist, Neo-Walrasian, participatory economics, Keynesian or post-modernism, and these lists could easily continue.

Uh oh, Objectivism’s got the scare quotes now. Just four paragraphs earlier it didn’t, but now we’re on high alert. Aren’t “epistemological” and “framework” fun words to say over and over? And look at how well-educated the writer is already! He can classify various frameworkers into neat, simple categories. Existentialism? That’s a morality framework, not an epistemological or political one. Post-modernism is a “competing political or economic framework.” It’s all cut and dry if you just read one of them philosophy encyclopedias, er I mean framework encyclopedias. I would say that this laundry list has a purpose other than name-dropping to sound sophisticated but I doubt that. I’m guessing that the writer is trying to point out that academic bias is all over the map rather than just being liberal, but it could just as easily be that all those frameworks are “how science functions and works.”

Depending on the selection of epistemological, moral or political frameworks an individual chooses can drastically change that person’s conception of “freedom” and how it relates to the “market.” To claim that a course promoting Objectivism is balanced because the syllabus includes Hayek and Marx is an insult to the diversity and intellectual developments that have been made in academia for the past 60 years.

Is this the vaunted attack on freedom un-scare-quoted? That the course on Objectivism isn’t balanced because it only
covers Marxism and not the panoply of academic garbage foisted upon students after the war? This paragraph is perhaps the most telling of any because it underscores the relativistic bullshit that graduates from our nation’s universities: “freedom” is different for everyone and all ideas are equal. If there is to be any philosophic progress in our lifetime, these are the two ideas that we must root out. Underlying them are the notions that everyone’s “reality” is valid, that there are no universal truths, and that we have no way to distinguish among competing frameworks. If this triumverate of irrationality takes cultural hold, then it’s going to be the Dark Ages all over again.

Granted, there has always been a corporate bias at universities and colleges across the country. The bias in academia stems from the structure and design of how academia is organized. The success of competing schools of thought are determined by a number of mechanisms, including the process of peer review, tenure, the allocation of research grants by the government and large corporations, or the prestige that is given to certain schools of thought when a leader in that field is given greater access or influence over policy makers. Through these various mechanisms, corporations and governments are able to influence which schools of thought become more popular. These mechanisms therefore act as a filtering process to determine which ideas are normally taught in the classroom to prepare students for the ‘real world.’

Wait, this problem’s always existed? Why the alarm, brother? The writer probably means that businesses have been sponsoring chairs in academia since the Industrial Revolution. And if a professorship is sponsored, then the professor that accepts the position is a parrot for the corporation and everything out of his mind is tainted with the dread stain of money. But if that professorship is paid for by the government, then that’s okay. Everything out of his mind is deep and pure. And when there’s a dozen of those unsponsored professors for every sponsored one, it’s definitely the sponsored ones that control the show. That’s why academia is so friendly to business and the free market. Because John Allison and the corporatizers like him done bought and paid for the whole show.

The difference is that the influence of corporations used to be indirect. Now, corporations are able to skip all of these mechanisms to directly decide the curricula of the education students receive. It is an attack on the freedom of the intellectual and the scientific process because it circumvents the barriers and spaces that have been established to foster diverse and original ideas. It is a signal to professors that career advancement and gaining full tenure means falling lockstep into line with the ideas corporate donors wish to purchase. It is a reminder that at a university, ideas do not win or lose because of reason, logic or sound debate; it is instead a question of power. Having a large pocketbook is merely one weapon that can be used in the battle for our minds. [emphases mine]

The writer has inadvertently spilled the beans. He was trying to say that big-time sponsorships like John Allison’s have bought the foisting of a rationale for capitalism onto hapless students. He wanted to illustrate that there’s no liberal bias in academia that would require such a purchase to be made in order to get the case for capitalism to be heard. But then he went and blew it by noting that it’s subverting the “barriers” erected against capitalism. And then to compound the issue, he undercut his whole argument by the use of the word “merely” in the last sentence.

The loser will always be the student since we have no control over the future of our university or the selection of ideas we are taught. Instead, the actions of the College of Business simply demonstrate that they are more interested in serving their corporate donors than their students. In practice, BB&T is a consumer that is purchasing a school where the pool of potential job applicants will conform to their ideological agenda. Therefore, BB&T is nothing more than a modern day “witch doctor” that sets the agenda and ideological boundaries presented in the classroom.

Ah, the student as passive receptacle of the ideas spewed by the professors. That is the liberal dream of “freedom” from capitalist ideas hinted at in the first sentence of the column. Unfortunately, he overstepped his intellectual capacity in the previous paragraph and took the breath out of his last sentence. BB&T is paying for this course and the lecture series because there’s no other way for a moral defense of capitalism to get presented. We all hope that students will discover Ayn Rand and Objectivism on their own, but that’s a very long-term hope. John Allison and BB&T are just trying to provide the catalyst that might whet their appetite for true freedom and diversity of ideas.

Atlas Shrugged and Me

October 12, 2007

I wrote the following essay for a speech class in 1997 and am publishing it now
because today is the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication. I encourage you
to read this fascinating novel. Like it or hate it, it brings a perspective you rarely hear.

If I had not read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, I can honestly
say that I would not be standing before you today. For me, Atlas
put into words the implicit philosophical foundation and
values that I had accepted my whole life. After reading it for the first
time, I can still vividly recall the moment of completion—I remember
the exuberance and joy of suddenly seeing, simultaneously, the course of
my future and understanding the path of my past. Even after rereading its
thousand plus pages four more times, I still gain new insights and joys
each time I pick it up. And I am not alone in experiencing this sort of
feeling: a study by the Library of Congress pegged Atlas
as the second most influential book in America, bested
only by the Bible. My reaction to this book determined my career choice
(read: my future) and my acquisition of morality.

Philosophy is, or should be, a guide to life. In Atlas
, Ayn Rand expounds her philosophy, later called
Objectivism, through character development and explicit speeches given by
the protagonists. After reading these aforementioned elements, I was
struck by the anti-philosophical nature of our culture. I could not help
but notice that I had never been exposed to philosophy in all my years of
lower education. I had neither listened to nor talked with anyone who had
ever explicitly recognized the importance of philosophy. In fact, however,
philosophy is of prime importance. As Ayn Rand later said, “The men who
are not interested in philosophy need it most urgently: they are most
helplessly in its power.” It was then, at the ripe age of fifteen, that I
determined that I was going to be a professor of philosophy. I have never
wavered from that decision, nor have I ever regretted it.

But the fundamental change brought about by reading Atlas
was not primarily career-oriented—it was personal.
Prior to reading Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, I had never explicitly
defined my morality, my ethical system. What shreds of morality I had were
disconnected tidbits of common sense and convention. There was, at best, a
hazy definition of what “good” people did. What Atlas
gave me was a moral system explicitly enumerated and
concretely demonstrated through the book’s characters and events. Ayn Rand
believed, as do I (I might add), that while philosophy, in general, is a
metaphysical necessity of man, morality is of particular importance
insofar as it is a guide to the good life. Without going into the tenets
and principles of her ethics, I will just tell you that it defines a code
of selfishness that sets two thousand years of Judeo-Christian tradition
on its ears. The benefit of having an explicit moral code, I have found,
is that you know what is the good in any situation at any time. If
something happens, I must simply apply the principles and I will know what
is the “straight and narrow.” Moreover, since you know what the good is,
achieving it is that much easier. Think of what uncertainty in morality
leads to: personal anarchy.

Atlas Shrugged is an amazing achievement, being both a
philosophical treatise and a novel. It is splendidly written and
incredibly applicable. I’ve kept the speech deliberately away from plot
and thematic revelations because I did not intend this speech to be a book
report. This book is at the root of my philosophy and, thus, at the core
of my being. If it had not given me the words to formulate my creed, I
doubt I would have pursued a career in philosophy and I would not,
therefore be taking this class to help me with my speaking style.

Defense Values

January 4, 2007

I encountered a pregnant concept in Edwin Locke’s article “The Educational, Psychological, and Philosophical Assault on Self-Esteem” in the most recent issue of The Objective Standard. Since it’s only available to subscribers, here’s the relevant quote:

A third type of defense is the use of defense values. A defense value is a personal attribute or aspiration that one uses to gain the illusion of self-esteem. The value itself may be irrational (e.g., the approval of others, sexual conquest, the ability to manipulate people, power-seeking), or it may be a legitimate value that one holds in a distorted way (e.g., intelligence). A person who holds intelligence as a defense value may, for example, seek compulsively to prove to others that he is smart, react with anger or anxiety if he meets someone who seems to be smarter than he is, avoid situations where his intellectual superiority might be threatened, boast of his genius, and/or scorn those who are less intelligent than he is. Defense values are not always held in the form of actual traits that one possesses; they may also be held in the form of aspirations—aspirations which one has no capacity to achieve and/or takes no action to achieve (e.g., becoming a great novelist, businessman, or singer). Defense values are held in a kind of desperate, compulsive manner, as though they were a matter of life or death—which, in a perverse way, they are, considering that they are used as a substitute for real self-esteem. Achieving defense values temporarily lowers anxiety but does not lead to happiness.

The only problem with the notion is that it could easily be overused. That’s a problem with psychologizing in general: there’s a subtle line between pretentious and well-read that only becomes obvious with time and observation.

Postscript: Dr. Locke offers this footnote to the passage quoted above: “The concept of defense values was first identified by Dr. Allan Blumenthal.” Does anyone know where that identification was made? To my knowledge, Blumenthal has only published in the periodicals associated contemperaneously with Ayn Rand.

Angelina as Dagny

September 21, 2006

Wow, Angelina Jolie has officially signed on to the movie version of Atlas Shrugged to bring Dagny Taggart to life. The rumors were true!

Jolie is exactly how I would have wanted Dagny to look. She claims to be a big fan, so maybe she’ll give a great performance. I certainly hope so.

Brangelina as DagnyJohn?

April 27, 2006

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are contemplating roles in the perenially in pre-production film version of Atlas Shrugged. Such star power, I think, would be enough to get it produced as their collective gravity attracts interest. I think that casting them as Dagny Taggart and John Galt would be a master stroke, but I’m still leary of the whole endeavor. More here and here.

She Would’ve Been 100

February 3, 2005

I let the Ayn Rand Centenary pass without comment yesterday. I just didn’t think I could add anything substantive to the celebration. I have stated my gratitude for Ayn Rand and Objectivism elsewhere on this site and I stand firmly behind the sentiment of that essay, even if the style is a little immature. I wish Ayn Rand had lived to be 100 because I would be very interested to read her take on the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of Internet entrepreneurs, and the developments in genetics.

I haven’t done much writing of late on the subject of Objectivism because I haven’t been active in graduate school for awhile. The needs of grad school really spurred my writing output: it’s hard to muster up the will to research and write an essay for no external purpose. I also haven’t blogged about Objectivism because I didn’t really have anything to add. Objectivism informs my writings even when the subject matter isn’t explicitly Objectivist.

I haven’t been an outspoken Objectivist for several years—instead I chose to quietly pursue my studies and focus on integrations. This Metafilter thread, though, was too much for me to stay quiet.

I cannot believe how dismissive people are of her philosophy. Metafilter certainly attracts the pedant, but I hadn’t encountered such a patronizing tone in a long time. At first, it was disheartening because people were making pronouncements about Objectivism while stating that they had read The Fountainhead in high school. Then I realized that there rhetoric was so over the top that ambivalent lurkers might conclude that where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire and seek out Atlas Shrugged.

In the week leading up to yesterday, my Google alert was buzzing with activity. Combined with the recent press surrounding ARI‘s op-eds, I thought Objectivism was actually gaining some traction within the culture. The articles in the nation’s newspapers were similar in tone to the MeFi thread, though.

In that thread, I stated:

I also enjoy the people who casually dismiss her philosophy as only adequate for youngsters. “Oh, wait till you grow up, sonny, then you’ll understand.” Have you noticed that most of the Objectivist intellectuals out there are not young? I’m sure that you would just casually dismiss them as stunted in their development, but it just shows how intellectually snobby you are. I am 30 years old and have been an Objectivist since I was 14. Time has emboldened my Objectivism, whose implications I understand far better than I could have appreciated at such a tender age.

Newspaper writers also denigrated her ideas as the folly of youth. It makes me wonder how the average adult reader would react to such condescension. Would they avoid investigating her views because they’ve passed a certain age? It seems likely to me, especially given the firming up of one’s personal philosophy—used loosely since most people are not explicit about their beliefs—over time.

How does that bode for Objectivism as a philosophic movement? I would imagine that it will spread in the future because of the association with youth. If more young people are exposed to it, then a higher number of them will probably adopt it as their own. Do we forsake the mass of adults then as irretrievable? ARI’s programs seem to be aimed towards that end; I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad strategy though the young are not typically the best source for donations.

Election 2004

October 16, 2004

I mailed in my ballot last week. It was nice to be able to take my time and research just about every issue—I still can’t bring myself to vote one way or the other about judicial performance.

I voted for George Bush. I know that’s not a popular position among Objectivists lately, but I couldn’t vote for John Kerry. Since so many words have been spilled on the subject, I thought I should add my two cents out there and explain my vote.

The primary reason why I voted for Bush was because of his foreign policy. I’ve listened to Yaron Brook’s lecture “The Morality of War” and I agree with it completely. I’ve read Victor Davis Hanson’s excellent article “What Would Patton Say About the Present War” and I agree with it completely. So why would I vote for Bush, who has done a regrettable job protecting and projecting America’s interests? I think we’ll see a more thorough job in the next term and John Kerry would be even more weak-kneed than Bush.

I believe that much of our trouble in Iraq was due to the upcoming election. Bush is not a coward and he is not afraid to take bold, aggressive action (look at his time as Texas governor and how that state led the nation in executing prisoners). He (and his handlers) is not stupid and he knows that leveling Fallujah—to use Yaron Brook’s memorable phrase—would lead to his defeat. It’s quite clear, however, that Bush is aiming to leave a legacy on the order of Ronald Reagan. He can’t do that in a single term, though, and so I think he had to tone it down in the interest of being re-elected.

Dr. Brook’s central theme in his lecture is that the just war theory permeates the American military and that that theory undercuts the possibility of the decisive, overwhelming acts of force necessary to end the insurgency in Iraq and defeat the terrorists. I agree that this altruistic theory of war is utterly incompatible with an effective war strategy and I also agree that this theory is probably de rigueur in the war colleges. But when push comes to shove, I don’t believe that a general, sergeant, or corporal is going to worry too much about the Iraqi soldiers and citizens that they would be asked to kill. The rules of engagement may say that Iraqis should be spared, but they could just as easily encourage pitched battles. Military men obey orders and they’ll likely welcome such a sea change.

Terrorism’s foundation is Islamic fundamentalism. Like fundamentalism throughout history, it seizes on violent means to effect its ends. Bush is a fundamentalist Christian and many Objectivists see that as a major issue because they are brothers in spirit. From the perspective of an atheist (and especially an Objectivist), the distinction between an Islamic and Christian fundamentalist is zero. The reality is that these two groups see themselves as polar opposites and generally hate each other. It started with the expulsion of the Moors from Spain and Europe and continued throughout the Crusades. Bush may talk nice about the Islam religion, but he surely regards them as heathen deep down in his fundie heart. It’s a politically unpalatable position, but most Christian fundamentalists I’ve encountered (and lo I’ve met many) despise Muslims. (For the record, I can’t stand fundamentalists of any stripe and am generally tolerant of the church-on-Sunday crowd of theists by default that populate most religions.)

Bush has done perilously little to protect the homeland—Kerry is correct about that. Frankly, I’d prefer him to spend considerably less on the Department of Homeland Security and considerably more on the military. The best defense is a strong offense, bring the fight to them, et cetera. The terrorists are largely impotent and the best they could muster wouldn’t put a ding in our way of life. They are a threat, but they’re not much of one. We’re not talking about Nazis or Communists here; we’re talking about suicide bombers. These people don’t have the wherewithal to develop long-range missiles—they have to rely on willing victims to deliver bombs. We can beat them and we can beat them soundly.

If we made a concerted effort to destroy terrorists and those who support them, we would not have much to worry about on the American subcontinent. When we half-ass it around the world, we end up having to protect our homeland because we’re not putting the hurt on those who might want to destroy us. During World War II, we spent a lot of time and money protecting America’s coasts and cities from Nazi and Japanese attack. In the grand scheme of the war, though, it was a drop in the bucket. Why? Because we forced the enemy to allocate their resources to defending themselves against our attacks; they didn’t have any more to expend towards hitting the United States.

I also believe that electing John Kerry would send a mixed message to the terrorists, to the Islamic world, and to the civilized world. Prior to the terrorist bombings in Madrid, the Spanish people were supporting the Iraq War and a fairly strong stance against terrorism. The election, which was expected to maintain the status quo, ousted the hardliners (such as they were) in favor of socialists who pledged to get Spain out of Iraq and appeasing the terrorists. Al-Qaeda won in that instance. I firmly believe that electing John Kerry would suggest to the rest of the world that we didn’t want the “cowboy” George Bush and that we regretted the pre-emptive attack on Iraq and the isolation it engendered. That is a message I do not want to send to the rest of the world.

I would much rather tell the world to go screw itself. I am sick and tired of Americans apologizing for their successes and achievements. I am sick of foreign cultures lapping up our products, our culture, and our way of life while lamenting it as “cultural imperialism.” We are the number one nation in the world for a reason and we should trumpet our heritage of freedom as a beacon and model. The world would do well to emulate our history. If we were unapologetic about our tremendous success, we could possibly foster a Pax Americana that would easily outshine the Pax Britannica of the nineteenth century. (I also acknowledge that we are largely drifting on the philosophic foundations of freedom laid forth by the Founding Fathers in the eighteenth century and that we would have a difficult time enunciating a justification for capitalism without a philosophic foundation of Objectivism.)

The other major reason that I voted for George Bush was personal. He has been pledging to do something about Social Security. As a thirty-year-old who contributes 10% of his income every year to a 401(k), I covet the money that I am forced to give to Social Security. If I were to add in those funds, I could easily double the amount I will have available at retirement. Bush hasn’t presented many of the details of his plan, but the trial balloons he’s been floating sound an awful lot like the plans for Social Security privatization that have been developed in the last decade or so. I assume that it wouldn’t deviate from those terribly much. My retirement would be considerably better if he is successful in implementing his vision; it would even be better if the plan that got passed was but a shadow of his vision. Anything is better than the current system, where I am likely flushing money down the toilet to pay for overzealous promises made to previous

Finally, I like his tax cuts. I pay a lot in income taxes—way too much, in fact. The government has no business taking away the fruits of my labor and any reduction in its expropriation is alright by me. It’s unfortunate that the president has continued to spend the money that he returned to the citizenry. I have given up hoping that a president would actually reduce the size of the budget: the last president who did that was named Warren Harding and he died in 1923. It is practically unheard of nowadays to propose spending reductions or government that governs least.

I can’t say that I’m excited by George Bush: I could never get into one of his rallies. I have serious misgivings about a second term for the second Bush, some of which were so grave that I actually considered voting for Kerry.

Bush’s stance on stem cell research is dangerous. He argues religiously that stem cell research should be curtailed or even banned. This research promises to eventually lengthen human life significantly, cure previously incurable diseases, and produce everlasting youth. The medical breakthroughs could make my life so much more pleasant and my retirement as long as I desire. Rendering it stillborn before it has a chance scares the dickens out of me. The thought of restricting our scientific pursuits because of some mystical dogma is ludicrous. I can’t underscore enough how close I came to voting Kerry for this reason. In the end, I realized that even a complete ban on stem cell research in the United States wouldn’t stop the research itself—the potential is too great and the profits too attractive for that. Singapore has made no bones about its desire to allow anything to be pursued and there are countless other nations that would welcome the biomedical companies with open arms. I would be sad at the new brain drain that a stem cell research ban would cause, but I would feel comfortable that the fruits of it would be available to me.

In a second term, Bush would have the singular opportunity to nominate at least two and possibly three or more Supreme Court justices. Knowing his fundamentalist background, I can only assume that he has a number of litmus tests in mind for any potential candidate: “Will you support prayer in schools?”; “will you oppose abortion in all its forms?”; “will you uphold the use of publicly-funded vouchers to pay for parochial school tuition?”; and “will you uphold a traditional definition of marriage?” come to mind. We could easily see a judicial legacy that would last for forty or fifty years and rival the one that upheld the welfare state. The questions above are just those obvious theocratic legal positions that I can conceive; I am sure that conservative minds could come up with dozens of others that would further establish the United States as a Christian nation. As an atheist (and especially as an Objectivist), the prospect of a de jure theocracy in the land that established religious toleration and the separation of church and state frightens me. For the first-time in U.S. history, the modern-day Puritans may be able to enforce their views on dissenters.

This was a disturbing issue and I almost voted for John Kerry because of it. What convinced me otherwise was the fact that John Kerry would have the exact same opportunity. Conservative justices like Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and William Rehnquist offer opinions that I would agree with 80% of the time since they come from a strict constructionist perspective. Using the Constitution as a reference point is not the worst position that a conservative can take. They evince a fundamental misunderstanding of the Constitution’s purpose, but the text itself is pretty compelling. Liberal justices like Earl Warren, Louis Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter, and Hugo Black offer opinions that I would disagree with 80% of the time. They take the Constitution as a suggestion, a document to consider. Their activist perspective has led to sanctioning most of the welfare state and our current grave misunderstanding of rights. The prospect of another forty or fifty years of liberal activism was a little too daunting.

There are countless examples of judges who were nominated by presidents because of their ostensible views, but proved to be utter disappointments once on the bench. Earl Warren was nominated by Dwight Eisenhower and turned out to be a major regret. It is entirely possible that Bush might nominate someone he thought would be an Antonin Scalia that turned out to be a Clarence Thomas. It’s seriously a crapshoot because the Supreme Court is completely independent and insulated from political shenanigans.

Finally, Bush enacted his faith-based initiatives in his first term of office. Freed from the political considerations necessitated by re-election, he could easily become an American Ayatollah and turn things real ugly for those of us who love a separation of church and state. This view formed the basis of Leonard Peikoff’s statement of support for John Kerry. The notion is that getting John Kerry in office will forestall the rise of the religious right, which would surely triumph were Bush elected to a second term. The election of Kerry, they suggest, would deflate the aspirations of the fundamentalist politicians.

I disagree that Kerry’s election would do anything of the kind. If the religious right is just biding their time for one of their own to get elected, then it is quite obvious that they can wait another four years. If their ascendancy is inevitable unless Democrats are elected, then the theory requires the continual election of Democrats for the next several decades for the right to be quashed. Is that feasible? Not really. Not only would such an unbroken string of Democratic successes be unlikely, it would be positively devastating for the American way of life.

If the potential American theocracy was so imminent that it only required four years to establish, then I submit that there is nothing we can do to avoid it—it is inevitable. There is nothing left but to welcome our Christian overlords. If all of this sounds preposterous, it is. American Christianity, even its fundamentalist strains, just doesn’t have a takeover of government as an aim. They definitely want to legislate their morality and do not shy away from telling others what to do. That, however, is a far cry from theocracy. By and large, we have that situation in existence now and it was much worse in the past. It is plausible that a second term would embolden Bush to enact some more religion-derived policies but they would fall far short of the Puritan model of governance. Couple this with the fact that Congress would need to pass it and that the Supreme Court would need to uphold it and it becomes even more unlikely.

Further, I do not believe that the American people would stand for it. Peikoff et al base their predictions on the fact that religion is on an upswing as it has become more fundamentalist. They believe that religion is both more pervasive in American life and more serious in the conviction of its adherents. That’s probably true as far as it goes. While more people are more serious about their religion, most people aren’t. The vast majority are okay with the separation of church and state, recognizing its foundations at the root of our republic. I feel confident that my fellow Americans would balk at a totalitarian nanny state and that most politicians aren’t interested in seeing it enacted.

I made my decision after wrestling with these issues for months. I must say that I cast my vote with a heavy heart. George W. Bush is no friend of the free market: his compassionate conservatism is just the mixed economy reprised. The amalgamation of capitalism with socialism is the most devastating result of the welfare state and the philosophy of altruism that inspired it. Unfettered capitalism could remake our economy into the
unstoppable powerhouse that it could be instead of the limping milquetoast it has become. The conservative is an enemy of capitalism as much as a socialist is—more so, in fact, because he concedes the rightness of the system to the socialist.

It is tempting, thus, to vote for liberals such as John Kerry because they could not be confused with free marketers in the public’s mind. I made my first presidential vote for Bill Clinton in 1992 for that very reason. Years of experience and the wisdom that comes with age have shown me the error of that position. While we must keep our eyes on the long term, we cannot escape the reality of the present. We must sometimes cast votes for the lesser of two evils or lend our support to candidates who will further the march towards capitalism (I am thinking of the volunteering I did for Steve Forbes in 1996 and 2000). We must not, of course, ally ourselves wholesale with conservatives but we cannot make ourselves martyrs to our philosophy—a morality of selfishness prohibits such a course of action.

To be sure, we must conduct such interactions with the conservatives strategically. For example, I don’t mind voting for Bush because I know that his second term will also be his last. I also know that there is currently a very substantial vacuum for a successor: Cheney will likely not run due to his poor health, age, and general unpopularity; Colin Powell never capitalized on his rampant popularity when he had the chance; and McCain is close enough to being a Democrat to have made it unlikely that he could mount a successful presidential campaign. It’s probable that someone will step up to the fore in the four years of Bush’s presidency and there’s a good chance that it will be someone worth having as president: Steve Forbes, your time has come—please run in 2008! There is even some speculation that Donald Rumsfeld might try for it. If John Kerry won, the Republican nominee in 2008 would either be in the same mold as George Bush (if not Bush himself) or a McCain-style candidate that is basically a Democrat without being a liberal. We definitely don’t need one of those (Bob Dole was quite enough, thank you).

Bush for four might lead to Forbes for eight. My heart sings at the thought.

[UPDATE (10/21/04): Harry Binswanger, a prominent Objectivist intellectual, treads much the same territory but more succinctly. I like the healthy debate about this issue that is going on throughout the Objectivist movement.]