Do you have an interest in Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, or just an interest in how intellectual movements splinter and toss out dissidents who refuse to defer to authority? An interesting new split in the Objectivist movement has just occurred involving the resignation of Stanford professor John McCaskey from the Ayn Rand Institute. On this topic see The Objectivist Movement Commits Suicide by Robert Tracinski. He places the latest turn of events into a larger pattern involving unreasonable demands for deference to philosophical authority.
The Objectivists have a history of such splits. The most famous involved Ayn Rand's much younger lover Nathaniel Branden and his wife Barbara Branden. You can read their books on the subject for an inside look at Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan, and others around Rand at the time. Another split came in 1993 when George Reisman and his wife Edith Packer were condemned by people associated with the Ayn Rand Institute. The letters at that URL will give you a sense of how these splits play out, with anyone who won't defer to Leonard Piekoff's judgment getting condemned as immoral. This demand for deference is what amazes me. It is so much like Plato's philosopher-king idea that I marvel at the capacity for the dedicated believers in reason and evidence to reject the physical world as secondary to philosophical ideas.
Note: My favorite comment from Tracinski's article is about how scientists have done a better job at epistemology than philosophers. I've long thought that. I expect neurobiologists and artificial intelligence researchers to do a better job at philosophy than the bulk of philosophers just as physicists have done in the past.
One of my own objections to Objectivism is that its model of human nature is not based on biology. The same is true of all the political ideologies which are built on mythological views of human nature which are incompatible with real human nature.
March 14 (Bloomberg) -- How gloomy Americans are about the direction of the country and President George W. Bush's leadership depends on how much money they make.
Twenty-three percent of all Americans said the country is on the right track, a 15-year low, according to a new Bloomberg poll. Among those with higher incomes, 43 percent said the country is on the right path. Three-fifths of Americans disapproved of the job Bush is doing, compared with 38 percent who approved. Among those with household income higher than $100,000, the gap is smaller, with 53 percent disapproving and 46 percent approving.
I see this poll as a reflection of the trend toward US national wealth gains accumulating mostly in the upper classes. The rest grow more resentful of their lower status. The wider the income disparity gets between the top and the bottom the more dissatisfied people are going to get. This is a problem because the dumbing down due to demographic trends is going to swell the ranks of the lower middle class and lower classes.
The Democrats can make some headway by supporting more taxes on the rich. Robin Hood politics seems likely to play a bigger role on the American political scene.
But the poor are likely to be disappointed. They are more willing to vote for people who will raise taxes on the upper income brackets. But the additional revenue raised is increasingly going to go toward financing old age retirement benefits, especially medical costs. So the lower class workers will end up voting for taxes to pay for the living standards of old folks.
Will poor folks turn against middle and upper class old folks and demand less be spent on the old and more on the youthful and middle aged poor?
It is interesting to note that Rush Limbaugh has joined the chorus of people who have all determined that it is the party, not “the ideology,” that has failed. (Hat tip: Rod Dreher) In one sense, this is a true statement. It is true that Republicans did not lose because they were conservative (because they were, by most standards, not that). It is not true, contrary to Limbaugh’s claims, that they lost because of their lack of “conservative ideology” (whatever that is). Whatever “the ideology” is, however we might describe it, the GOP embodied it, try as some might to push the defeat off onto allegedly non-ideological, morally compromised “Lincoln Republicans” or whatever fantastical oppositionist faction Headquarters can conjure up to excuse failure. To hear some disillusioned GOP supporters tell it, it was a lack of commitment to the ideology that brought them down because there continues to be the belief that somewhere among them this ideology perseveres unsullied and unconnected to the party in whose support it was constantly invoked.
Traditional conservatism isn't an ideology. It is more of a sentiment of pessimism about human nature and about the limits of what good can be accomplished by governments. Neoconservatism, by contrast, is a lot more ideological. Rather than opposing left wing ideologies because they are ideologies the neocons tend to oppose left wing ideologies because they are left wing. Ideologues on the right argue for their simplications and myths against simplifications made on the left. But they both turn away from empirical reality in the process.
Larison takes a skeptical look at people who try to separate their policies and ideas from the resulting failures.
The “ideology” of which they speak was certainly never conservative (far from it!), but if the vehicle of the ideology has failed then the ideology has failed as well. We are constantly told, usually by some of these same people, that Marxism was discredited by the collapse of the Soviet Union–when it was really discredited by its own falsity the moment Karl Marx started putting pen to paper–but watch how many of these people will rush to the defense of their own ideology even after the political vehicle bursts into flames around them. When a car breaks down, it is normally because there is something wrong with the engine–you cannot blame the car’s failure on the steering wheel and the reclining seats when there is smoke pouring out from under the hood. One should never rule out corruption, sheer ambition, pride and flawed execution in understanding why a political movement fails to win support and actually manages to lose a good number of its old supporters, but it is impossible to ignore the reality that the things that the partisans claimed as their ”ideas” contributed mightily to both the practical failures of the government on their watch and also contributed to the alienation of people who were previously favourably inclined to them. Conservatives know that conservatism hasn’t failed, because they know full well that it hasn’t been tried in recent memory. Whatever dreadful thing that has been inspiring people, though they might call it conservatism, clearly has failed.
A number of things went wrong in the Republican Party in the last 10 years. One of them is that the party came to be seen as a useful vehicle for very ideological neocons and became very unconservative in the process. While some neocons have tried to drop the neocon label (though not neoconservative policies alas) since it became a term of derision. They've even tried to claim there is no such thing called neoconservatism distinct from conservatism. Yet Bill Kristol's father neocon Irving Kristol has not been bashful about proclaiming the ideological nature of neoconservatism and the distinctiveness of neoconservative thought.
I think it is time for Republicans to recognize that ideological neoconservatism is incompatible with conservatism and that the neocons have brought the party policy disasters and electoral disasters. It wasn't a lack of faith in their ideas that caused those ideas to fail. The ideas were foolish in the first place.
Behind closed doors even George W. Bush is acting like his ideas are discredited. He just appointed Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. Robert Gates was Brent Scowcroft's top deputy under George H.W. Bush. Gates agreed with Scowcroft that invading Iraq all the way to Baghdad during the first Gulf War was a bad idea because the US as army of occupation would inevitably face an insurgency.
Some liberal blogs are arguing that conservatives are trying to disassociate themselves from Bush due to the mess in Iraq and other areas (and these liberal bloggers are even quoting a commenter from one of my posts) and that the conservatives doing this are somehow unprincipled. I'd say that the opposite is true. Conservatives are becoming so shocked by Bush's moves that they are overcoming their loyalties to a Republican leader and returning to principles. This is seen most clearly on immigration where the Right is increasingly angry with Bush's disloyalty to them. They aren't turning against Bush on immigration to score points against liberals or to shift blame to liberals. They are angry with Bush and the Open Borders crowd while the liberals want what Bush wants. John Zogby says no US President has reached as low a level of disapproval on a single issue as Bush has on immigration and border security.
Thirteen percent of respondents in a new Zogby Interactive poll approved of Mr. Bush's handling of immigration, and 9 percent approved of his handling of border security. Among conservative and very conservative people, he was below 25 percent.
Meanwhile, a separate Associated Press-Ipsos Public Affairs poll released yesterday found 45 percent of self-identified conservatives disapprove of Mr. Bush's job as president, and 65 percent disapprove of the Republican-led Congress.
"One of the things clearly that's happening is a breakdown of the coalition that elected and re-elected the president," said John Zogby, who said his surveys show Mr. Bush getting less than 45 percent support among groups such as investors, NASCAR fans, gun owners and Catholics, and just over 50 percent among born-again Christians.
He also said he had never seen any presidential ratings as low as Mr. Bush scored on immigration and border security.
A majority of born-again Christians continue to be Bush's suckers. No, his being a fundamentalist isn't making him a better leader. Wake up. Stop putting your faith in a human. It is contrary to your religion.
81% of Bush's base (or former base) wants the House Sensenbrenner bill to crack down on illegals while, by contrast, Bush wants amnesty, Open Borders, and a massive worker permit program. Is there a depth he can reach in the decline in his popularity on the Right where he'll listen to what people on the Right actually want? If a Republican President wants one thing (which most liberals want too btw) and the vast bulk of the Republicans want another thing then for Republicans to decide he's doing a bad job and that he's a liberal doesn't seem unprincipled to me. It sounds pretty reasonable. His spending, support for racial preferences, immigration policies, and other policies are plenty reason to think the guy is not a conservative.
Bush's argument for continued US involvement in Iraq is a liberal argument. Paleoconservatives argue that the Iraqis are not liberals, not democrats, too dumb to run a democracy, too entwined in consanguineous marriages to have loyalties to the state. Bush's response? We are racists and liberalism has universal appeal. He's making a liberal argument on Iraq. That's why liberals can't manage to organize serious opposition to him on Iraq (you don't hear Hillary Clinton calling for withdrawal). They can't challenge Bush on the empirical evidence without abandoning the assumptions at the base of modern liberalism that hold it has universal appeal the world over. Instead they fantasize about a big right wing capitalistic oil plot (while ignoring the rather organised and intense Jewish neocon desire to help Israel). Only conservatives who have a more pessimistic view of human nature and human biodiversity realists can say why he's wrong for the real reasons he's wrong.
Similarly, he's wrong on immigration for liberal reasons. No, we do not each individually have the ability to graduate from high school or college. No, not all races have intellectual abilities in equal proportion. No, the various races and ethnic groups do not have equal average propensities to commit crimes or fight for individual rights or engage in other behaviors and they differ in these matters for genetic reasons. Liberals are caught up in their taboos and deny the empirical evidence while calling realists all sorts of nasty names. Liberals marginalize the more empirical minded by use of gatekeepers in major media organs and universities who keep out those who commit liberal thought crimes. Bush is one of them.
For the last couple of decades, America has had, in effect, two minority parties. Both parties are dominated by ideological activists who are more extreme than the electorate. The Democrats are to the left of the average voter; the Republicans, to the right. Neither party can govern except in coalition with a large body of nonideological centrists, who feel (and often are) neglected by both parties. In 2004, both parties held their bases, but the Republicans improved their performance in the center. That won them the election, but it gives them little cause to relax. The center remains in neither party's camp; in the 2004 presidential race, independents split their vote evenly.
I would quibble with Rauch on whether the Republican Party's activists are to the right of the registered Republican electorate. The activists are not to the right when it comes to spending constraint. The activists are not small "c" conservative when it comes to foreign policy. The neoconservative Republican activists in control of Republican Party foreign policy are pursuing what they perceive to be Jewish interests in the Middle East and Europe (and harming Israel's interests in the process - fools).
If the Republican Party's elected officials were really obeying the desires of their conservative base then there would have been no Medicare drug benefit and we'd have a barrier wall on the entire US border with Mexico along with vigorous interior immigration law enforcement. Curiously, such an immigration policy would also appeal to most centrists and quite a few non-elite Democrats.
The Democratic Party has become so unmoored from the interests of what one might think is its working class base that it too isn't serving its base well. This is the bizarreness of American politics today. On key issues the elites of the two parties are closer to each other than they are to their bases.
What Rauch says about parliamentary majorities without a popular majority certainly describes the Republican Party today.
What the Tories then discovered is what ruling parties all too easily forget: There is no position more treacherous than having a parliamentary majority without a popular majority. With undivided power goes undivided credit, but also undivided blame. Worse, the possession of a parliamentary majority may embolden the party's extremists and lull the party away from the center, thus blocking, rather than advancing, progress toward a popular majority.
But my problem with this analysis is that the people in the Bush Administration who Rauch might (correctly) label as extremists are not really on the far right of the Republican Party. They are extremists pursuing ethnic interests of Likudnik Jews in foreign policy or of Hispanics in immigration policy. Or they are pursuing rather narrow economic interests. They aren't pursuing conservative policies for more limited government or more law enforcement. Quite the contrary in fact.
Bush has certainly pursued policies that caused a lot of blame to be heaped on Republicans. The Iraq debacle and the federal government's budget deficit come to mind. But these policies were not implemented to placate the Republican base. That's the tragedy of this situation.
This reminds me that before the 2004 election Tyler Cowen opined that the Republican spending spree was the result of their lack of a strong ruling majority.
I look less at what politicians say, and more at what kind of coalition they would have to build to rule. The high domestic spending of Bush I take as a sign of perceived political weakness ("we need to buy more allies"), rather than a reflection of Bush's ideology.
5. If Bush is re-elected, it affirms that a Republican can get away with jacking up domestic spending. Such a precedent is worrying for the longer run, not just for Bush's second term.
Irresponsible government therefore is the result of a need to buy off swing voters. If either party had a larger secure voting block it would have far less need to buy off voters.
Both major political parties in the United States want to get out of the current stalemate where a large center prevents either party from dominating. The Democrats want to return to the level of power they enjoyed during their New Deal golden era of a large governing majority and secure control of Congress. They hope to break the deadlock by use of the growing Hispanic minority. However, Steve Sailer relays from a tax accountant and reader the observation that the Hispanics aren't going to have the same interests and values as the elite Democrats:
One other thing about taxes and illegal aliens. The folks they are letting in, they are not going to be smart enough to actually comply with our complex tax laws and other regulatory obligations. So there is going to be an increase in the flouting of those laws. They also will not see the need of such regulatory burdens - why should they care about the environment, zoning laws, etc.
Most liberal-left Democrats are making a false assumption: Whoever votes for the Democrats will have the same values they do. Wrong-o sleighbell lovers. Half of Hispanics in America drop out of high school. Working class manual labor high school drop-outs aren't going to support the arts or public television or housing growth restrictions or pollution emissions reductions or embryonic stem cell research. They won't care or will see the regulatory state and tax collection agencies as obstacles to circumvent.
When the stalemate in American politics breaks up neither side is going to be happy with the result.