Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Common Thread: A Classic Essay From 2004

A Common Thread: Anti-Egalitarianism in Objectivism, Conservatism, and Libertarianism
by Neil Parille


             Matthew Humphreys, in an interesting article, draws attention to the fact that many Objectivists and libertarians feel a greater affinity to the contemporary Right than the Left.  Mr. Humphreys notes that there are various “currents of thought” found in the Right with which Objectivists and libertarians can make common cause.
             One current of thought (which Mr. Humphreys doesn’t discuss) between these three traditions is their opposition to egalitarianism.  Although not an easy concept to define, I take egalitarianism to mean the belief that all people are (or can be) equal in intelligence and worth and that society should attempt to promote equality (particularly of income) among people.  On a cultural level, egalitarians often assert that all societies and cultures are of equal value.
             I will discuss the opposition to egalitarianism focusing on the works of three American authors who each represent one tradition: Russell Kirk, Ayn Rand, and Murray Rothbard.  In spite of their differences on many issues of fundamental importance, there is a common thread of anti-egalitarianism running throughout their writings.

 Conservatism: Russell Kirk
             The twentieth century’s leading American conservative author was Russell Kirk (1918-1994).  Although Kirk was a frequent critic of Rand and Rothbard, his critique of egalitarianism was similar.  In one of his later essays, Kirk rejects the concept of  “equality of condition” by which he means the “equality of incomes and other awards.”  (Kirk does not reject the idea that people should be equal before the law.)  [Kirk, Redeeming the Time, p. 217.]  He states:
 In short, I have been arguing that it is profoundly unjust to endeavor to transform society into a table land of equality.  It would be unjust to the energetic, reduced to equality with the clack and indolent; it would be unjust to the thrift, compelled to make up losses of the profligate; it would be unjust to those take the long view, forced to submit to the domination of a majority interested chiefly in short-run results.  [Id., p. 225.]
According to Kirk, the drive for equality has resulted in high taxation, a decline in educational standards, and multiculturalism.

 Objectivism: Ayn Rand
             Needles to say, Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was not an egalitarian.  Her novels depict a world divided between the good and the evil, the intelligent and the stupid, and the strong and the cowardly.  Although she was skeptical of genetic and racial differences in character and intelligence, she was clear that human beings and cultures differ in many respects and equality was neither possible nor desirable. 
             Perhaps Rand’s fullest exposition of her anti-egalitarianism is found in her 1971 essay “The Age of Envy.”  Her criticism of egalitarianism is somewhat similar to Kirk’s and she sees similar consequences, including multiculturalism (although she didn’t use the term) and a decline in educational standards.  [Rand, Return of the Primitive, pp. 140-49.]
             In “Galt Speaks,” Rand advances what Objectivists call the “pyramid of ability principle,” namely that those less capable benefit when the more capable are allowed to advance to the limit of their abilities.  [Rand, For the New Intellectual, pp. 185-86.]  This concept is not unique to Rand, and Kirk quotes the British conservative W. H. Mallock to the same effect in his 1894 book Labour and the Popular Welfare: “Equality benefits no one.  It frustrates men of talent; and it reduces the poor to a poverty still more abject. . . . For inequality produces the wealth of civilized communities: it provides the motive which induces men of superior benefit to exert themselves for the general benefit.”

 Libertarianism: Murray Rothbard
             Murray Rothbard (1926-1995), the last century’s most important libertarian thinker, was likewise a staunch opponent of egalitarianism, who attributed to egalitarianism many of the same ills as Kirk and Rand.  Indeed, two of Rothbard’s most important essays were “Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature” and “Freedom, Inequality, Primitivism, and the Division of Labor.”  Rothbard sees similar results flowing from the egalitarian agenda:

Equality of condition would reduce humanity to an anthill existence.  Fortunately, the individuated nature of man . . . makes the ideal of total equality unattainable.  But an enormous amount of damage – the crippling of individuality, as well as economic and social destruction – could be generated in the attempt.
[Rothbard, Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature, and Other Essays, p. 279.] 
       Throughout Rothbard’s vast cultural criticism, he exposed the egalitarian fallacies behind “Women’s Liberation,” multiculturalism, and “progressive education.”  In particular, his attack on progressive education mirrors Rand’s critique, focusing on the political, cultural, and “epistemological” aspects of this movement.  [Rothbard, Education: Free and Compulsory, pp. 53-55.]

             How this common opposition to egalitarianism “plays out” in contemporary politics is beyond the scope of this brief article.[1]  Yet, anti-egalitarianism constitutes a common thread among the Objectivist, libertarian, and conservative traditions. 

[1]  Likewise, there is not space to discuss the common influences on these thinkers.  Kirk, Rothbard, and Rand each read (and approved) of Ortega y Gasset's The Revolt of the Masses.  They also read Schoeck's Envy (although Rand didn't appear to approve of it, judging from the Marginalia).

Open Immigration: Has the Pushback Begun?

According to Objectivists such as Craig Biddle and Diana Hsieh, a person should be free to emigrate from country A to country B as long as he doesn't have a criminal record, an infectious disease, and isn't a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer. 

This is commonly called "open immigration."  Most Objectivists associated with the Ayn Rand Institute appear to be for it.

Harry Binswanger is even more radical.  

This is a defense of a policy of absolutely open immigration, without border patrols, border police, border checks, or passports.  After a phase-in period, entry into the U.S. would be unrestricted, unregulated, and unscreened, exactly as is entry into Connecticut from New York.

If 100,000 men from the Taliban region of Pakistan want to come to the United States, Binswanger thinks they should be allowed in, no questions asked. 

Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand's legal and some say "intellectual" heir, is against open immigration.

Now, on the website of the eccentric Ed Cline, one Ed Mazlish has posted an outstanding rebuttal of open immigration

A couple of the many excellent comments:

A free society with a government limited to protecting individual rights is a monumental achievement in the history of mankind - it is not the product of random happenstance or chance, as tens of thousands of years of tyrannies demonstrate. It is not something that occurs in nature, waiting for man to come and pick it off trees as though it were low hanging fruit. A free society has certain cultural requirements and prerequisites, without which it could never be created and without which it cannot be maintained. Proper immigration policy must reflect these facts and must serve to preserve the cultural factors on which a free society is based.
* * *
The true justification for immigration restrictions is the need to protect those who respect individual freedom from those who are cultural collectivists - not the need to protect the welfare state from overload or even the need to protect innocent Americans from jihad. Even if the welfare state were repealed today and all jihadists were terminated tomorrow, the ideological requirement to protect a free, democratic, and rights respecting society from masses of incompatible cultural collectivists would still remain.

Hopefully, writers such as Biddle and Binswanger will respond to Mazlish's critique. I'm not holding my breath.

Robert Knapp: Mathematics is About the World: How Ayn Rand's Theory of Concepts . . . .

Robert Knapp (ex brother-in law of Shoshana Milgram, future Rand biographer) has a book out about mathematics. He is associated with the Ayn Rand Institute.

Well, the books just keep on coming, don't they?  I don't see how you can get 532 pages on mathematical theory from Ayn Rand's theory of concepts, but what do I know.

Certainly things have changed for the better in terms of books by Objectivist writers.  There was next to nothing not too long ago.

The Unconquered


Robert "Rewrite" Mayhew will soon be coming out with The Unconquered, with Another Earlier Adaption of We the Living.  

From Amazon:

In the 1930s, Rand was asked to adapt her first novel, We the Living, for the theatre. We the Living is a story of life in post-revolutionary Russia and Rand's first statement against communism. It was not a commercial success when it was published, but has gone on to sell over 3 million copies.

The first substantial fiction of Rand to appear in over twenty years, this important volume contains two never-before published versions of the play - the first and last versions (the latter entitled The Unconquered). With a preface that places the work in its historical and political context, an essay on the history of the theatrical adaptation by Jeff Britting, the curator of the Ayn Rand Archives, and two alternative endings, this book is a must-have for anyone interested in Rand's philosophy. 

Well, let's just say that anything Prof. Mayhew edits should be used with extreme caution.  That being said, I enjoyed his collections of essays on Rand's fiction.

A Companion to Ayn Rand (Blackwell Companions to Philosophy)

In February Gregory Salmieri and the late Allan Gotthelf's long-awaited A Companion to Ayn Rand (Blackwell Companions to Philosophy) will be published.  This is Amazon's description:

The first publication to offer a serious academic study of Rand’s often marginalized corpus, this comprehensive companion provides critical analysis of her prolific and iconoclastic writings, including her novels, her political commentary, and the essays in which she laid out her philosophy of Objectivism.
  • The first publication to provide a wide-ranging critical commentary for an academic readership on Rand’s varied and challenging output
  • Contains chapters by many of the leading experts in Rand’s thought
  • Provides informed contextual analysis for scholars in a variety of disciplines
  • Features original research on unpublished material and drafts from the Rand archives in California
  • Features insightful and fair-minded interpretations of Rand’s controversial beliefs

The editors and the comments about "original research . . . from the Rand archives" makes me think that all the contributors will be associated with the Ayn Rand Institute.  While ARI writers have produced much good material, it tends not to be very critical.

Of course, this book will not be "[t]he first publication to offer a serious academic study of Rand's often marginalized corpus . . . ."  In the early 80's Den Uyl and Rasmussen edited The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand.  The book was something of a mixed bag, but certain essays were quite good.

"New" Book by Leonard Peikoff - The Cause of Hitler's Germany


Leonard Peikoff published many years ago The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America.  Peikoff argued that America was on the same path as Germany during the Weimar years.  There were chapters on Germany and chapters on the U.S.

In November The Cause of Hitler's Germany will be published.  The cover says "previously published in The Ominous Parallels," so I'm wondering if its just the chapters on Germany.

In any event, the book had its share of problems.  One of Peikoff's sources was Rauschning's The Voice of Destruction (aka Hitlers Speaks), which is now known to be bogus. 

Some of the alleged Hitler quotes that Peikoff uses from this book sound too good to be true, such as "We are now at the end of the Age of Reason"

David Gordon: The Life of Murray Rothbard

David Gordon discusses Murray Rotherbard's life.  Brief mention of Rand and Objectivism early on.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Objectivists For Welfare

Mmost Objectivists (such as Harry Binswanger) support virtually unlimited immigration (although I’m told that Binswanger exempts Israel from his belief in open borders).  Well, this was apparently the featured post recently on Binswanger’s email list
A young man named Jan Koum was raised by immigrants who were on welfare and food stamps--exactly what the anti-immigration advocates warn us about.
Except that he grew up and became a software developer, and just sold his company, WhatsApp, to Facebook for $19 billion.

Being anti-immigration is very short-sighted, to say the least.

Also, I see no reason at all why immigrants should be treated differently with regard to welfare: if anything, I suspect they tend to be morally superior and more eager to not depend on handouts, than the Americans who take them. Or at least the next generation makes it, which is so often not the case with Americans on welfare. 

     —  Chip Joyce

Immigrants – even when they are on welfare – are morally superior to the rest of us.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Amazon Review: How We Know

I posted a brief review of Harry Binswanger's new book on Amazon.Com.

Harry Binswanger is a philosopher who was associated with Ayn Rand in her later life. This is his long awaited book on epistemology written from the perspective of Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. It covers most of the major topics in epistemology, including some that Rand didn't comment on, such as propositions.

Generally speaking, I enjoyed this book. Although Binswanger is a rather dogmatic Objectivist, the tone is surprisingly mild. More than the typical Objectivist he tries to understand the ideas with which he disagrees and present them in a fair manner.

The heart of the book is an exposition of Rand's theory of concept formation, which her acolytes consider her greatest achievement. She developed an elaborate theory of "measurement omission" in her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. I'm not persuaded that all concepts are formed on the basis of measurement omission (what measurements are omitted when we form the concept "justice"?), but Binswanger makes a decent effort. Unfortunately, he presents no evidence that the Objectivist theory of concepts is true. I'd like to see the psychological studies that adults (much less children) form concepts the way Rand and Binswanger claim. Indeed I suspect that we often form concepts without having two or more examples and a "foil." If I'm wandering in Borneo and see an animal that no one has seen before, do I need to see another one to conceptualize it?

On the negative side, Binswanger appears to believe the urban legend that people in the Middle Ages thought the world was flat. I was surprised that he doesn't mention David Kelley's The Evidence of the Senses, an important Objectivist work on epistemology

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How We Know - Harry Binswanger's New Book

Objectivist philosopher Harry Binswanger's new book, How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation is out.  I've started reading it and it's quite good.

A few preliminary comments:

1. The tone is actually surprising.  Although he disagrees with other views, it’s not in the snarky tone of something like OPAR.
2. He generally says “Rand” and not “Ayn Rand,” which was quite a relief.
3. No mention of Branden, Kelley or any published criticisisms of Rand.  I guess that’s not a surprise.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ten Questions for Open Immigration Objectivists

According to open immigration Objectivists such as Craig Biddle, Harry Binswanger and Diana Hsieh, a person should be free to emigrate from country A to country B as long as he doesn't have a criminal record, an infectious disease, and isn't a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer.

I have a few questions.

1. In the modern age it's easy for anyone to come to the US. You can hop on a plane and be here in 24 hours or less. If the US had open immigration, what would its population be in ten, twenty, thirty years?

2. What are the potential negative effects, if any, of what might be the largest population transfer in human history?

3. What would happen to wage rates in the US if tens of millions of low income workers arrive in a short period of time? Wouldn't it reduce the wage rates of US citizens, in particular low skilled workers?

4. There are countries such as Greece and Israel which border much more populous Islamic nations. Should they have open immigration? Will the world be a better place when Greece becomes "Greekistan" and Israel "Palestine"?

5. There are cities in Europe that are approaching 20% Islamic population. Has this been good for Europe? Would Europe be better if country after country eventually turned majority Islamic? Isn't this a distinct possibility given the low birth rate of the natives and the high birth rates of Moslems?

6. Is the creation of "no go" zones in major European cities related to immigration?

7. How should the US determine if a potential immigrant has a criminal record? Do Afghanistan and Pakistan keep good records? Are their officials in this area not subject to bribery?

8. How do we screen out potential terrorists? Assume someone from a pro-Taliban region of Pakistan wants to come to the US. Explain the process by which we determine if he is a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer.

9. California has become a one party leftist controlled state thanks to immigration. Wouldn't this happen to every other state if the US opened its southern border?

10. What would have prevented the Boston Massacre - restricting immigration or bombing Iran?

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Ari Armstrong Standard

The Objective Standard was once something of the house organ of the Ayn Rand Institute.  However, following the McCaskey schism (which resulted in Yaron Brook resigning from the magazine) it appears that many former writers associated with the ARI no longer publish there.  As of late Ari Armstrong, a friend of Dr. Diana ("Did I tell you I have a Ph.D.?") Hsieh, Ph.D., seems to have become a mainstay.  The current issue has twelve articles by Armstrong. 

The three most recent blog posts on the magazine's website are by Armstrong.  They are: (1) a piece about someone who is running for Lt. Governor of a place called "North Virginia"; (2) a gadget that can help you find your lost keys; and (3) a recent study that shows that plenty of people still believe in the Devil.

Let's look at the post concerning Lt. Governor candidate E. W. Jackson

Why is it noteworthy that someone who believes in God and Christianity is running for office?  In addition to being pointless, it shows Armstrong doesn't understand the topic on which he is opining.

1. Jackson miraculously misses the obvious fact that some people reject all religion. I assume Jackson knows there are quite a few non-religious people out there.

2.  How does he deem any religion true or false?  He does so according to religious faith—that is, he believes it without reason. Well, I don't know why Jackson believes the way he does, but he may have what he considers good reasons.  Most religious believers I know think it is rational to believe the way they do.  Christians have been defending their faith with arguments from reason for centuries.  Maybe these arguments aren't very good, but Armstrong shouldn't attribute fideism to Jackson without evidence.

3.  On the same grounds, he believes, among other niceties, that the minds of homosexuals "are perverted." Maybe he has natural law reasons for believing homosexuality is immoral, like the greatest philosopher since Aristotle had.

4.  Does Jackson not know that the scriptures of other religions say that their religion is the correct one? It would seem so. I assume Jackson knows that many if not most religions maintain they are correct to the exclusion of others.

I'm sure Mr. Armstrong is a nice guy, but Craig Biddle needs to get some real talent.