Monday, October 06, 2008

The Premise of Power and the Power of Premises

I chatted with a liberal Democrat today. She denounced Sarah Palin as an idiot. Like a parrot she recited the impression of Palin the MSM have been working overtime to convey to voters. Palin is stupid, dangerous and unworthy of power.

And Obama and Biden are what? Geniuses?

Democrats never think Democrats are stupid or inferior. Democrats can smell the aura of power lust in their fellow party members, and this aroma -- an intoxicating blend to the left -- gives their side legitimacy and weight. If a politician has nothing else but the will to power, he has enough for the left. To want to control others -- to deprive them of their freedom and dictate how they should live their lives -- is the be all and the end all of leftist politics. It is their moral and political ideal.

Democrats can sense that Sarah Palin is not consumed with power lust. She is a typical middle class American, with values outside the quest for power that are as important to her as her political career. To the left she should be among the ruled, not the rulers; among the cattle, not the cowboys. Their outrage at her is like that of a slavemaster in the ante-bellum South toward a slave who wants to learn to read. This one is uppity. This one must be put back in her place.

This year we have seen the premise of power intensify on the left. For the first time, a major party candidate has taken on elements of a cult of personality usually seen in communist countries. Children sing mawkish songs praising the great Obama. Obama has used legal threats and intimidation to shut up those who would speak against him. The MSM act like Pravda in the old Soviet Union, self-censoring any news that makes their glorious leader look bad. On top of all this, the financial crisis has led to greater government intervention in the economy. Things are changing quickly for the worse in America.

Most people, I would submit, do not understand how bad things will get or how quickly we can lose our freedom. Many Americans, especially pragmatists, have a hard time understanding that principles tend to work for those who act most consistently by them. Philosophic premises follow logic to its extreme end, despite the denunciation of extremism by moderates.

Perhaps the greatest example of the logical working out of premises in history is the struggle between Augustine and Pelagius that climaxed at the Council of Orange in 529 a.d. Wikipedia explains:

Pelagianism is a theological theory named after Pelagius (ad. 354 – ad. 420/440). It is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature (which God called very good), and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without Divine aid. Thus, Adam's sin was "to set a bad example" for his progeny, but his actions did not have the other consequences imputed to Original Sin. Pelagianism views the role of Jesus as "setting a good example" for the rest of humanity (thus counteracting Adam's bad example). In short, humanity has full control, and thus full responsibility, for its own salvation in addition to full responsibility for every sin (the latter insisted upon by both proponents and opponents of Pelagianism). According to Pelagian doctrine, because humanity does not require God's grace for salvation (beyond the creation of will),[1] Jesus' execution is devoid of the redemptive quality ascribed to it by orthodox Christian theology.


Pelagianism was opposed by Augustine of Hippo, who taught that a person's salvation comes solely through a free gift, the efficacious grace of God, and that no person could save himself by his works.

It would have been much better for Christianity and the west if Pelagianism had held sway and man had not been condemned with Original Sin. But the logic of Christianity's premises made Augustine's victory inevitable. Man was stripped of nobility and considered a worm, a helpless wretch entirely dependent on the grace of God for salvation. Life on Earth was belittled as an illusion; this was a place where one could be tempted by Satan. Augustine denounced science as "the lust of the eyes." This was the philosophic death blow to classical civilization.

The triumph of Augustinism resulted in the Dark Ages. Though the empiricist-minded love to cite 20 or 30 reasons that might have contributed to the Dark Ages, from weather patterns to barbaric migrations, those factors always existed. They had the power to devastate civilization in the 6th-10th centuries because the west was disarmed by philosophy. People were not taught to look at reality scientifically in order to find solutions that would improve human existence. What was the point? This world was an illusion. Only life after death had any meaning.

Doubtless, there were many upper class Romans in the fourth and fifth centuries who scoffed at the idea that Christians would take things to extremes. How could anyone without a suicidal death wish want to destroy their glorious classical civilization? Why would they let their institutions, their cosmopolitanism, their learning and their rule of law slip away and be forgotten? Rational people don't do such things.

And yet it happened. It had to happen because people would rather be moral than practical. In a conflict between the moral and the practical, people go with their morality. (A proper morality does not conflict with practicality, but the west does not follow a proper morality.) The premises of Christianity are at war with happy, productive life on Earth. Christians followed their premises into darkness and chaos.

Today the premises of altruism, statism and collectivism are leading America toward a fascist dictatorship. The left is more consistent with these premises and more committed to following them to their logical end. And that end -- make no mistake about it -- is totalitarian dictatorship. Many will scoff at this as those Roman patricians did, but we have already caught a glimpse this year in that list of trends noted above where the logical working out of our premises is taking us.

The lust for power is greatest on the left, but the right is catching up. The right is declining rapidly as it forgets its heritage of half-hearted mumblings about free markets and becomes a full-throated welfare state party. In the long run the right is more dangerous than the nihilist left because it brings with it that great destroyer of civilization, religion. People cannot live long with nihilism; they can, however, accept the destruction of values on Earth if they think they will be rewarded for eternity after death. Religionists will make hell on Earth for the promise of heaven in a supernatural realm.

Altruism, the idea that only sacrifice is moral, is a morality of death. It is opposed to the Enlightenment values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The premise of altruism is leading America toward the abyss. Our only hope is to change our philosophic premises.

For those who yearn for good news, I will say this: we are much better off than the west was in the 6th century a.d., for now we are philosophically armed. Now we have a defense of the morality of rational self-interest, the epistemology of reason and the metaphysics of reality. We have the philosophy of Ayn Rand. It's just a matter of spreading the news.

Until then, things will continue to get worse. Before this year I thought we had plenty of time to get the word out. Now I'm not so sure.


Tenure said...

"Until then, things will continue to get worse. Before this year I thought we had plenty of time to get the word out. Now I'm not so sure. "

This represents my own thinking.

Are we pessimistic much, or realistic?

Myrhaf said...

I don't know, Tenure. I recently accused Madmax of being too pessimistic, but maybe he'll accuse me of hypocrisy after he reads this. This year has been rough for lovers of freedom. It's like being a villager on the coast of England in the 9th century. You've heard about the Vikings all your life in stories about how terrible they are -- then one day you actually see the tops of their masts poke up on the eastern horizon. This is the year we see the masts. What comes next?

Richard said...

The "Children sing mawkish songs" link will not work because it is listed as a "private" video. I do not know how you were able to view it, but if there is a way you can open it up for your site visitors, that would be a good idea.

The same web page to which you linked has that wonderful scene from Cabaret where the Nazi sings "Tomorrow belongs to me". Is that singer a boy or a girl?.. I hope it's a girl because s/he was darned attractive... meh.

Richard said...

Then there is the fact that people are reproducing very rapidly. Is the population growth rate outstripping the growth rate of ARI and the ideas of freedom? That may well be so in other parts of the world, but let's hope it is not so in America. If America returns to near-original principles then there is hope for the rest of the world. I say "near-original" only because the Founders left the door open for religion, which in many respects was the avenue by which altruism enabled resistance to, and manipulation of, their intent.

As for optimism vs. pessimism, I imagine it is no worse now than then. Imagine this. Once a year the older Franklin would ride, for two weeks, from Pennsylvania to Virginia, to enjoy the company of Thomas Jefferson for one month of that year! Then he would ride back, for a total time of two months a year ("The Enlightenment in America", Earnest Cassara). That is how rare good men were.

Perhaps, one hundred years ago, good men were more common, but here we are. Good men are, proportionally, rare. Yet, just as the Founder's influenced all Americans, so can ARI, if we keep doing what we are doing. I rather hope that in my lifetime I will see America swing back to right ideas, but as Rand said, "It is sooner than [we] think".

Objectivists love life, and love human intelligence and decency. To stop, or give up, trying to convince others, is to give up personal integrity, honesty and justice. Ayn Rand saw her efforts as justice to those brilliant minds who brought 'fire' to man, and to the minds who are yet to do so. Though long dead, her actions and struggle were to that end, ...that's serious, long-range integrity!

It has been said that after the publication of "Atlas Shrugged" Rand fully expected other like minded and brilliant people to appear in her life, to support her and further general understanding. After some months, none appeared. She gradually had to accept that she was alone in the World. That realization was, and would be, depressing in the extreme. Apparently she went through a six month 'depression' where she neither wrote nor accepted public engagements, because the world was not as open to her as she had hoped.

What she could not know is that Peikoff, Binswanger, Schwartz & Brook et al. have taken the baton and are performing brilliantly.

I cannot blame her for her depression, in the least. She deserves a Heaven, in a sense, from which she can observe the spread of her ideas, and their ultimate implementation.

Even after the *rubble* that America will be after Obama or McCain, they/we will not stop. America may have to rise from its own ashes, as a Phoenix.

Kyle Haight said...

At the 2007 OCON, Peikoff praised Brook for his knowledge and integrity in advancing Objectivism in the culture, saying that "I only wish Ayn Rand could have known him, because he would have restored her faith in mankind."

Richard said...

Thanks Kyle,

A sad & rare justice, but eminently appropriate coming from Leonard.

Dare Balogun said...

Richard and Kyle Haight:

Kindly provide references for your assertions that Ayn Rand was "depressed" or that she need her "faith in mankind" "restored."

There are too many people who think they can slyly smear Ayn Rand while pretending to be her friends.

Richard said...


You are absolutely right about people smearing Rand. I do not see my comments as a smear, if you grasp the full context of my comment. Don't read so much into it.

I am afraid the point about her becoming depressed about humanity is based on reading Objectivist material in the late 1980s, and I cannot reliably recall the source.

It may have been Barbara Branden's book, or some other. If it was Branden's then the information is certainly suspect. I do recall that I already knew of the Brandens' break with Rand, and that I borrowed the book rather than buy one. Also, while reading it I was trying to separate fact from distortion. I believe there is other evidence to support Rand's reported disappointment, including that recent comment by Peikoff, which Kyle reports.

The term "depression", as I used it, was not intended to indicate the clinical disorder (which I would have capitalized), but the sadness that comes with lost optimism after a long period of hard work towards a difficult goal. Rand soon pulled through, focusing on the very real, rational audiences working to understand her philosophical principles.

I suppose a member of "The Collective" might clear up any doubt on the issue, but I would not presume to bother them over it.