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Choose your team: our election is a conflict between long-dead philosophers

12 September 2012

Summary: Philosophy has always been a driver of social and political evolution in western civilization. Especially at inflection points, like today. Here we look at two formerly obscure philosophers who have been brought to life by the unassailable power of money. Their theories both fight for the soul of the Republican Party. On another day we’ll discuss the philosophical battles taking place for the soul of the Democratic Party. We’ll leave it to our our readers the task of reconciling Ayn Rand’s objectivism with Christianity.

“Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.”
— John Maynard Keynes, chapter 24 of the General Theory, pg. 383 (1936)

“Trouble rather the Tiger in his Lair than the sage among his books. For to you Kingdoms and their armies are things mighty and enduring, but to him they are but the things of the Moment, to be overturned with the turning of a page.”
— From Gordon R. Dickson’s Tactics of Mistake (1971)

“Mark this well, you proud men of action: You are nothing but the unwitting agents of the men of thought who often, in quiet self-effacement, mark out most exactly all your doings in advance.”
— Heinrich Heine, History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany, Vol. III (1834)

“It’s all about power and the unassailable might of money.”
— E. P. Arnold Royalton, the great 21st century industrialist and philanthropist

Grand Old Marxists” by Timothy Snyder
From the blog of the New York Review of Books, 28 August 2012
Reposted with their generous permission.

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A specter is haunting the Republican National Convention — the specter of ideology. The novelist Ayn Rand (1905–1982) and the economist Friedrich von Hayek (1899–1992) are the house deities of many American libertarians, much of the Tea Party, and Paul Ryan in particular. The two thinkers were quite different, subject to much misunderstanding, and, in Hayek’s case, more often cited than read. Yet, in popularized form, their arguments together provide the intellectual touchstone for Ryan and many others on the right wing of the Republican Party, people whose enthusiasm Mitt Romney needs.

The irony of today is that these two thinkers, in their struggle against the Marxist left of the mid-twentieth century, relied on some of the same underlying assumptions as Marxism itself: that politics is a matter of one simple truth, that the state will eventually cease to matter, and that a vanguard of intellectuals is needed to bring about a utopia that can be known in advance. The paradoxical result is a Republican Party ticket that embraces outdated ideology, taking some of the worst from the twentieth century and presenting it as a plan for the twenty-first.

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Romney’s choice of an ideologist as his running mate made a kind of sense. Romney the financier made hundreds of millions of dollars in an apparent single-minded pursuit of returns on investment; but as a politician he has been less noted for deep principles than for expediently changing his positions. Romney’s biography was in need of a plot and his worldview was in need of a moral. Insofar as he is a man of principle, the principle seems to be is that rich people should not pay taxes.

His fidelity to this principle is beyond reproach, which raises certain moral questions. Paying taxes, after all, is one of our very few civic obligations. By refusing to release his tax returns, Romney is likely trying to keep embarrassing tax dodges out of public view; he is certainly communicating to like-minded wealthy people that he shares their commitment to doing nothing that could possibly help the United States government.

The rationale that Ryan’s ideology provides for this unpatriotic behavior is that taxing rich people hinders the market. Rather than engaging in activist politics, such as bailing out General Motors or public schools, our primary responsibility as American citizens is to give way to the magic of the marketplace, and applaud any associated injustices as necessary and therefore good.

This is where Ryan comes in. Romney provides the practice, Ryan the theory. Romney has lots of money, but has never managed to present the storyline of his career as a moral triumph. Ryan, with his credibility as an ideas politician, seems to solve that problem. In the right-wing anarchism that arises from the marriage of Rand and Hayek, Romney’s wealth is proof that all is well for the rest of us, since the laws of economics are such that the unhindered capitalism represented by chop-shops such as Bain must in the end be good for everyone.

The problem with this sort of economic determinism is that it is Marxism in reverse, with the problems of the original kind. Planning by finance capitalists replaces planning by the party elite. Marx’s old dream, the “withering away” of the state, is the centerpiece of the Ryan budget: cut taxes on the rich, claim that cutting government functions and the closing of unspecified loopholes will balance budgets, and thereby make the state shrink. Just like the Marxists of another era, the Republican ticket substitutes mythical thinking about the economy for loyalty to the nation.

The attempt to add intellectual ballast to Romney’s career pulls the ticket downward into the slog of twentieth-century ideology. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, which in its better passages is a paean to modesty in economics, is read by leading Republicans as the formula that intervention in the free market must lead to totalitarianism. This is a nice confident story, with a more than superficial resemblance to the nice confident Marxist story that a free market without intervention would bring revolution.

Like Marxism, the Hayekian ideology is a theory of everything, which has an answer for everything. Like Marxism, it allows politicians who accept the theory to predict the future, using their purported total knowledge to create and to justify suffering among those who do not hold power. Ayn Rand is appealing in a more private way because she celebrates unbridled anarchic capitalism: it magnifies inequality and brings pleasure to the wealthy, who deserve it for being so wonderful, and pain to the masses, who deserve it for being so stupid. Hayek thought that we should hesitate to intervene in the market because certainty about economic matters was impossible; Rand thought that the law of the jungle was itself a rather good (and sexy) thing.

Though he now prefers discussing Hayek, Ryan seems to have been more deeply affected by Rand, whom he credits for inspiring his political career. It is likely the combination of the two — the theory of everything and the glorification of inequality — that gives him his cheery, and eerie, confidence. Hayek and Rand are comfortable intellectual company not because they explain reality, but because, like all effective ideologists, they remove the need for any actual contact with it. They were reacting to real historical experience, Hayek with National Socialism and Rand with Soviet communism. But precisely because they were reacting, they flew to extreme interpretations. Just as untethered capitalism did not bring proletarian utopia, as the Marxists thought, intervention and redistribution did not bring totalitarianism, as anti-Marxists such as Hayek claimed.

Hayek’s native Austria was vulnerable to radicalism from the right in the 1930s precisely because it followed the very policies that he recommended. It was one of the least interventionist states in Europe, which left its population hugely vulnerable to the Great Depression — and to Hitler. Austria became a prosperous democracy after World War II because its governments ignored Hayek’s advice and created a welfare state. As Americans at the time understood, making provisions for citizens in need was an effective way to defend democracy from the extreme right and left.

Rich Republicans such as Romney are of course a small minority of the party. Not much of the Republican electorate has any economic interest in voting for a ticket whose platform is to show that government does not work. As Ryan understands, they must be instructed that their troubles are not simply a pointless contrast to the gilded pleasures of the man at the top of the Republican ticket, but rather part of the same story, a historical drama in which good will triumph and evil will be vanquished.

Hayek provides the rules of the game: anything the government does to interfere in the economy will just make matters worse; therefore the market, left to its own devices, must give us the best of all possible worlds. Rand supplies the discrete but titillating elitism: this distribution of pleasure and pain is good in and of itself, because (and this will not be said aloud) people like Romney are bright and people who will vote for him are not.

Rand understood that her ideology can only work as sadomasochism. In her novels, the suffering of ordinary Americans (“parasites,” as they are called in Atlas Shrugged) provides the counterpoint to the extraordinary pleasures of the heroic captains of industry (which she describes in weird sexual terms). A bridge between the pain of the people and the pleasure of the elite which mollifies the former and empowers the latter is the achievement of an effective ideology.

In the Romney/Ryan presidential campaign, Americans who are vulnerable and isolated are told that they are independent and strong, so that they will vote for policies that will leave them more vulnerable and more isolated. Ryan is a good enough communicator and a smart enough man to make reverse Marxism work as a stump speech or a television interview. But as national policy it would be self-destructive tragedy. The self-destructive part is that no nation can long survive that places stories about historical necessity above the palpable needs of its citizens. The tragic part is that the argument against ideology has already been won. The defenses of freedom against Marxism, above all the defense of the individual against those who claim to enact the future, also apply to the reverse Marxism of the Republican ticket.

The great political thinkers of the twentieth century have discredited ideological systems that claim perfect knowledge of what is to come and present politicians as scientists of the future (remember, Ryan’s budget plan tells us what will happen in 2083). The way to national prosperity in the twenty-first century is surely to think non-ideologically, to recognize that politics is a choice among constraints and goods rather than a story about a single good that would triumph if only evil people would allow it to function without constraints.

The market works very well for some things, the government is desperately needed for others, and stories that dismiss either one are nothing more than ideology.

About the author

Timothy Snyder is the Housum Professor of History at Yale. His books include Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin and, most recently, Thinking the Twentieth Century, a book of conversation with Tony Judt (June 2012).

The ultimate Ayn Rand analysis (an oldie)

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

— John Rogers, posted at Kung Fu Monkey, 19 March 2009

For more information about Any Rand

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Friedrich Hayek, Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand — Photo from the NY Books

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. 12 September 2012 1:51 am

    I read both Atlas Shrugged and Rand’s other book The Fountainhead as a teenager. Needless to say I didn’t really need those two novels as a tour de force (or farce depending on your sense of irony) of egoism that early in my life. I was a libertarian of sorts for a few months until American History and AP Macroeconomics (read Keynes) disabused me of my incredible ignorance.

    As for the juxtaposition of Rand (read Objectivism) and Jesus (read Christianity), I believe it is logically impossible to hold both ideologies in one’s mind at the same time. To do so is Orwellian, it’s Doublethink. You cannot both love thy neighbor and only love thyself at once, this isn’t No True Scotsman fallacy territory the belief systems are diametrically opposed, not even Hegel could use a dialectic to reach a synthesis.

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    • Bluestocking permalink
      12 September 2012 9:51 pm

      Personally, I find that Ayn Rand’s works — or more specifically, their effects on people — are not without a sense of irony. The source of irony for me lies in the fact that many of the people who claim to be devotees of Rand have conveniently — as human beings are unfortunately so prone to do with the ethics, religion, and philosophy that elevate human beings above the “law of the jungle” (and even animals are more altruistic than some people) — twisted her gospel to suit their own purposes by sacrificing their own integrity for the sake of monetary gain. In this sense, even though they believe they’re following in her footsteps by catering to self-interest in the shape of material wealth, they’re actually not following her philosophy because they’re so willing to parrot the opinions of others and change the principles which they claim to support in order to increase their chances of getting that wealth (and often, the social superiority and power over others that usually accompanies it).

      In this sense, rather than following in the footsteps of Howard Roark of “The Fountainhead”, they’re actually following in the footsteps of Peter Keating and Gail Wynand without realizing it, becoming little more than paper boats on the shifting tide or drifting leaves on the prevailing wind in their efforts to secure their own comfort and security (which in many respects are increasingly illusory anyway). Of course, this description (unfortunately) could be applied to just about all American politicians these days…but it’s particularly odd to see it in someone like Paul Ryan, who claims to be a devoted disciple of Ayn Rand as well as a Christian (when the two philosophies are mutually exclusive in most respects) and who has likewise talked out of both sides of his mouth in an attempt to garner votes (although perhaps not quite as much as Romney). Granted, I didn’t always agree with or approve of Howard Roark’s choices either (such as his treatment of Dominique and his decision to blow up the Courtland project) but I nevertheless accepted and acknowledged the fact that I do not and will not always agree with or approve of the choices which other people feel it necessary for them to make in their own pursuit of integrity — provided that they are honest about it and prepared to accept the consequences of their own actions — because their lives are their own and they are entitled (within reason) to live their lives as they see fit as long as this does not deprive other people of the same freedom.

      When I read “The Fountainhead” (which I admit is the only one of her works I’ve read so far, and I gather it’s a bit tamer than “Atlas Shrugged”) I didn’t perceive it as an argument in favor of selfishness as such but rather as an argument in favor of maintaining personal and artistic integrity even when it costs you. Whether you agree with Ayn Rand’s general philosophy or not (and I do not) the fact remains that maintaining your integrity even when you’re penalized for it is the essence of what it means to have ethical principles. Indeed, this is the proverbial acid test of an ethical principle because talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words. If you genuinely believe that a particular belief or position is vitally important, then you should be willing to fight for it and make sacrifices for it because it has value for its own sake rather than merely for the benefit it can bring you. If you do not defend it and adhere to it when it costs you as well as when it benefits you, then your own actions condemn you as a hypocrite and demonstrate that you do not truly believe in the importance of that belief or principle. If nothing else, they imply that you’re a narcissist (and possibly a bit of a sociopath as well) who believes that the rules should apply to everyone except you because you’ve allowed your ego to persuade you that you’re superior to them and therefore entitled to privileges which they do not deserve (or even that you’re entitled to take advantage of them). If you choose to take the path that so many of our politicians these days are taking — recanting or disavowing previous statements and discarding previously-cherished principles the instant the polls say they’ve become inconvenient — you’re demonstrating that you have absolutely no integrity or character and that your primary (if not your sole) ethical imperative is self-interest.

      Of course, another ironic fact about so many self-professed devotees of Rand these days — neo-Libertarians or pseudo-Libertarians, if you like — is that they’re often not willing to accept the consequences of their own decisions either. A lot of them are eager to wax rhapsodic on the incredible virtue and importance of “taking personal responsibility” at the slightest opportunity when they’re talking about other people…but not so much when their own backsides land on the proverbial hot seat, at which point many of them become every bit as quick and every bit as desperate to deny any suggestion of fault on their part and point fingers at someone else. This may be self-interest, but it is not the same thing as integrity — Peter Keating, whom Rand depicted as an “also-ran” incapable of being as great as Roark, had plenty of self-interest but very little integrity (and what little integrity he did have, he tended to keep to himself).

      Of course, the supreme irony of Rand’s works is that they are works of *fiction* and therefore need not bear any relation to the real world — and indeed, Rand’s books do not since they (conveniently) cling to and cater to the “belief in a just world” fallacy where the hero is heaped with deserved rewards in the end for all his struggles in defense of virtue and the villains are punished for their lack of virtue and/or vision. In the real world, the commitment to maintain personal integrity is one that often comes at a high price and usually offers little reward apart from the personal satisfaction that comes with the confidence of having done the right thing and chosen “the path not taken” (which is supposed to be the point of virtue in the first place). Even that can sometimes be mixed with regret over having not chosen the easier, more well-trodden road — after all, if the path of personal integrity were easy, the world would be filled with whistleblowers and other heroic figures, but it’s not.

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  2. Thomas More permalink
    12 September 2012 2:08 am

    “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.”
    — John Maynard Keynes, chapter 24 of the General Theory, pg. 383 (1936)

    Like

    • 12 September 2012 2:39 am

      I forgot that one! Thanks for pointing it out. I’ve added it to the intro of this post.

      Like

  3. Thomas More permalink
    12 September 2012 2:24 am

    Hoyticus remarks on the cognitive dissonance twixt Christians (often fundamentalist Christians, at that!) espousing Ayn Rand’s philosophy of monstrous selfiness and solipsism.

    Gore Vidal wrote Comment in Esquire, July 1961:

    She is fighting two battles: the first, against the idea of the State being anything more than a police force and a judiciary to restrain people from stealing each other’s money openly. She is in legitimate company here. There is a reactionary position which has many valid attractions, among them lean, sinewy, regular-guy Barry Goldwater.

    But it is Miss Rand’s second battle that is the moral one. She has declared war not only on Marx but on Christ. Now, although my own enthusiasm for the various systems evolved in the names of those two figures is limited, I doubt if even the most anti-Christian free-thinker would want to deny the ethical value of Christ in the Gospels. To reject that Christ is to embark on dangerous waters indeed. For to justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil. For one thing, it is gratuitous to advise any human being to look out for himself. You can be sure that he will. It is far more difficult to persuade him to help his neighbor to build a dam or to defend a town or to give food he has accumulated to the victims of a famine.

    But since we must live together, dependent upon one another for many things and services, altruism is necessary to survival. To get people to do needed things is the perennial hard task of government, not to mention of religion and philosophy. That it is right to help someone less fortunate is an idea which has figured in most systems of conduct since the beginning of the race. We often fail. That predatory demon `I’ is difficult to contain but until now we have all agreed that to help others is a right action.

    You really get a hair-raising glimpse into Rand’s narcissistic personality disorder from her essays — here’s one little prize morsel:

    “I am done with the monster of ‘we,’ the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame. And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: ‘I.’”
    — Ayn Rand, The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, 1961.

    Sounds like something the BTK killer or Ted Bundy would say. But maybe that’s just me…

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    • _John permalink
      12 September 2012 7:23 am

      “Sounds like something the BTK killer or Ted Bundy would say. But maybe that’s just me…”

      It’s interesting that you should say that, because Ayn Rand was famously an admirer of the American murderer William Edward Hickman.

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    • 12 September 2012 1:16 pm

      From his Wikipedia entry:

      William Edward Hickman was an American criminal responsible for the kidnapping, murder and dismemberment of Marion Parker, a 12-year-old girl. The Los Angeles Times referred to Hickman’s actions as “the most horrible crime of the 1920’s”

      William Edward Hickman

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    • 12 September 2012 1:05 pm

      No, it is not just you. It is rampant, increasing and causative/symptomatic of what threatens to bring even more dislocation to the American experience.

      “You really get a hair-raising glimpse into Rand’s narcissistic personality disorder ”

      There really was a time (about 40 yrs ago) when Americans were not so basically selfish and self absorbed; truly felt and acted as if they could affect their world for the “other” or Common Good and were so engaged in such. ( the Ban on CFCs was almost totally citizen originated.)

      That is clearly in descendancy. Witness the spectacle of this pitiful Election Season. And the adolescence of a Randian Experience offered by a Candidate for VP of the USA.

      I can recall a time in Univ when no one would seriously take Ayn Rand as anything more than the ravings of a demented mind. Now I know of a Board Member of a local Comm Bank who gives these Books out to anyone who he considers worthy of such screeds!

      Check with any seasoned practicing Clinician and they will offer that the continuum of development is arrested at 2-3 yrs old by a lack of parental nurturing and voila!—the young one seeks comfort in the fantasies of self pre-eminence. Many these days awake years later and still have not left such infantile orientations. Narcissism? Nah.

      Well, let’s get back to me!

      Breton

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    • 12 September 2012 7:22 pm

      Here are some short notes on Ayn Rand’s actual morality, not the false, straw-man one that opponents smear her with: The Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

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    • 12 September 2012 7:54 pm

      Thank you for posting this! Other perspectives are always welcomed here.

      Like

    • 12 September 2012 8:46 pm

      Don’t leave out my favorite part:

      “Ayn Rand’s ‘philosophy’ is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society. Moral values are in flux. The muddy depths are being stirred by new monsters and witches from the deep. Trolls walk the American night. Caesars are stirring in the Forum. There are storm warnings ahead.”

      Read more: http://www.esquire.com/features/gore-vidal-archive/comment-0761#ixzz26I4BQbwn

      Such good writing, and unfortunately prophetic.

      Like

  4. slapout9 permalink
    12 September 2012 5:07 am

    Romney is a big fan of Joseph Schumpeter and his Creative Destuction, he has even said so a few times on the campaign trail but I doubt if most people even know who Schumpeter is or what he stands for.

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    • 12 September 2012 1:11 pm

      We have had many discussions about economics in the comments on the FM website, clearly showing that most of the people talking knowledgably about Austrian economics have almost no idea what it is. As a tell, they tend to talk of “Keynes” as a rapid fundamentalist does of “Satan” — but with less knowledge of the subject.

      As for Schumpeter, we printed my favorite story about him: “A depression is for capitalism like a good, cold douche.” It’s become legendary, in a mistaken way. Much like Chou En Lai’s famous statement about the significance of the French Revolution – “It’s too soon to say”. Both are misunderstandings of what the sage said (see here for the truth behind the China story), but in a sense the wrong verson better represents the truth than the true version.

      Like

  5. jonh permalink
    12 September 2012 6:06 am

    ” We’ll leave it to our our readers the task of reconciling Ayn Rand’s objectivism with Christianity.”

    Would that be the mega-churches with Starbucks inside?

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    • 12 September 2012 1:26 pm

      That’s a fascinating comment! Fundamentalist (more broadly Evangelicalism) Christianity has grown to become the dominant form in America — surpassing in vitality and growth the massive centralized institutional Churches which dominated the religous scene during the 20th century — for many reasons, but their fusion with base capitalism (perhaps even Mammon) has been a driver to soem degree (this is, of course, a long-standing tension in Christianity, going back to the 2nd century at least).
      .
      .
      Welcome to our services!
      Welcome to Church!

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    • 12 September 2012 2:16 pm

      Ha. Surely you jest! There is no reconciliation possible and none needed as one witnesses the demeanor of the Parish people. So comfortgable in the compartmentalization of all things Worldly.
      An Answer for all Things and oh, heavens, do not get too active or….well, in South America, they Ban a “Social Gospel”

      Same as it ever was does not reduce the egregiousness. It has been Three Hundred Years in Europe and the people still have not forgiven the Church.

      America has just perfected the current Vision of God as a Vending Machine. And in Synagogue they know who sits up front.

      Breton

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  6. 12 September 2012 5:12 pm

    I don’t like seeing either Jesus or Rand called a “philosopher.” Neither offered a consistent world-view based on any kind of argument that can be assessed rationally. Rand’s got the advantage of being able to put words into the mouths of cardboard cut-out characters, so she doesn’t have to actually craft a system that would survive skeptical challenge. Can you imagine the hilarity that would ensue if David Hume or Voltaire were to comment on Rand’s “philosophy”? Voltaire would probably dismiss Rand as, “another of Rousseau’s dogs, who prefers to run on all fours through the woods, achieving the blessed state of selfish nature.” Except he’d say it better and it’d be funnier, shorter, and more cutting. Jesus didn’t offer a philosophy, one was grafted on to a bunch of bon mots by his followers – he was more a cardboard cut-out character, himself, than a philosopher. If he existed at all.

    My reaction when I heard that Ryan was a Randian was “At least he isn’t a Gorean.” I mean, if you’re going to base your politics on bad novels, why not base your world-view on Danielle Steele or perhaps Harry Potter?

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    • 12 September 2012 7:53 pm

      I think that is a bit harsh on Jesus. As a good disciple of Nietzsche, I question if any personal philosophy can be “rational” in any meaningful sense of the world. There is no firm foundation on which to build.

      “question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing”
      — Euripides

      “Just turtles, sonny. Turtles all the way down.”
      — another perspective on foundational truths

      As philosophy goes, that of the people of Gor has a lot going for it. I refer, for those of you lacking a good education, to that in John Norman’s pulp sci-fI books.

      These books also prove the unknowable mysterious nature of the universe: I read that his publisher did a survey and found that one-third of his readers were women.

      Like

    • 12 September 2012 9:11 pm

      Isn’t Harry Potter’s philosophy just High Tory?

      That’s how it seems to me. Every important character in the book is an aristocrat (a Wizard), the good wizards have a sense of noblesse oblige, the bad wizards want to hunt the lower classes (Muggles) for sport.

      I have a bit of a soft spot for High Toryism, though I wouldn’t vote for it, I recognize it as principled, moral and patriotic.

      I certainly prefer it to Thatcherism and “New” Labour (otherwise known at Thatcherism). Though I’m not sure what benighted constituency likes “New Labour.” It would be fun to map every character in the book onto some recent strain of British politics, actually.

      The Death Eaters would be the BNP, obviously.

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    • 12 September 2012 9:36 pm

      “These books also prove the unknowable mysterious nature of the universe: I read that his publisher did a survey and found that one-third of his readers were women.”

      Women are weird. My fiance gave me “50 Shades of Grey” for my birthday. (And she wants to read it herself, of course, hopefully she’s not waiting for me to read it first… that’ll be a long wait.)

      Like

    • Todd Guthrie permalink
      12 September 2012 9:51 pm

      “if you’re going to base your politics on bad novels, why not base your world-view on Danielle Steele or perhaps Harry Potter?”

      LOL, Dumbledore for President!

      Like

    • Bluestocking permalink
      12 September 2012 10:44 pm

      “LOL, Dumbledore for President!”

      Nah, it would never work. If anything, Dumbledore would probably be likely to quote the statement (commonly attributed to William Tecumseh Sherman) that he would not run if nominated and would not serve if elected. After all, at the end of the last book in the series, Dumbledore cites his relationship with his friend-turned-enemy Grindelwald and the fight which ended up claiming the life of Dumbledore’s little sister as evidence of the old adage that those who most want power are the ones who are least suited to wield it and who should probably not be allowed to have it (which in turn goes back to the statement attributed to Lord Acton that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”).

      Ironically, the reason why Dumbledore declined to pursue greater power despite the encouragement and exhortations of other people to do so was actually because he craved it but realized that his thirst for it meant that he couldn’t (and shouldn’t) be trusted with it. Indeed, even though he deliberately chose not to pursue official power, he couldn’t seem to resist meddling in other people’s affairs and manipulating them for his own purposes (no matter how good his intentions may have been, and the road to Hell is said to be paved with those)…which reminds me of a discussion I had last week in response to a post on another blog dealing with Clinton’s speech at last week’s Democratic National Convention.

      One visitor described the speech as the work of a “grand old Jedi master”, to which I replied that this really might not be a complimentary or even positive analogy. After all, one of the skills of a Jedi master is the “mind trick” — the ability to persuade a non-Jedi that something is true when it is not in order to manipulate the non-Jedi into doing something that is in the Jedi’s interests but which does not agree with or even conflicts with their own. This doesn’t sound like the sort of thing that a “good guy” Jedi like Obi-Wan Kenobi or Qui-Gon Jinn should be doing (or in Qui-Gon’s case, trying to do) but that doesn’t stop them from doing it anyway…which should tell you that even the people whom you consider to be the “good guys” aren’t necessarily above bending the rules and using dirty tricks in order to get what they want

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    • 12 September 2012 11:17 pm

      I think that is a bit harsh on Jesus

      There is a philosophy built around Jesus. But since we have very little of the man’s actual words, it amounts to a construct of hearsay. Compare that with what Plato has brought us of Socrates: we recognize that Plato is speaking through Socrates and we also clearly see that Plato had a fairly consistent world-view. That Jesus’ teachings are primarily words other people stuffed in his mouth is pretty clear, since he’s simultaneously a peacenik and a militant messiah, a supporter of the status quo and a radical, pro wealth and anti-wealth, mosaic and refutation of mosaic, etc. It’s not “philosophy” it’s a fragmented mirror in which people can seek themselves – more like a zodiac/horoscope that triggers people’s pleasure-centers when they see a match. (“Hmmmm, Marcus, you’re a man who has a strong sense of justice but sometimes can act unfairly… You’re foolish but sometimes have flashes of cleverness.” etc) Furthermore, any decent philosopher would credit his references at least a bit and christian “philosophy” actually holds very very few unique or novel ideas.

      More to the point, we can realize that Jesus was neither a philosopher or a god, and nor were any of his followers philosophers. Because we can know for certain that any philosopher who found himself in the presence of someone claiming to be god would immediately ask Epicurus’ question, “whence, therefore, evil?” A god could answer it and that answer would not slip unremarked through the cracks. Indeed a divinely inspired philosopher would either answer that question or pose it (and then run off stage pursued by an angry mob of philosophers)… While philosophers often lack physical courage (though what man could call Socrates “coward”?) every philosopher who has ever followed Socrates or Epicurus has surely and knowingly done more grievous offense to the gods by wielding the deadliest weapons: enquiry and an insistence on consistency. No philosopher who has ever lived would not immediately ask a god the painful question – because simply by being a philosopher, they ask it anyway – and if they are adherents of a religion that claims horrific punishments for blasphemers, the philosopher must by definition go where even the angels – but one – dare not tread. Jesus’ great skepticism was directed toward Rome (or, if you will: earthly authority) and earthly religious authority. He didn’t aim as high as Socrates did, which should tell you all you need to know about Jesus’ philosophical chops.

      I’d make the same complaint about Buddha and Mohammed not being philosophers. There are bodies of work built around a core of oral tradition attributed to them. Mohammed plagiarized nearly as heavily as Smith the mormon later did. Buddha – ah – “temporized” at best. Though we see a consistent world-view through some parts of Buddha’s alleged teachings, namely, that some things like these cannot be taught. He, at least, existed as much as Lao-Tze and of all of these men, Lao-Tze and Buddha might be claimed to be “philosophers.”

      A little more thought and I realize that a “gorean president” would look a lot like Julius Caesar: an adamantine creature of will. I would rather not have such a president for surely they would reshape the US as much as Caesar reshaped Rome.

      Like

    • 12 September 2012 11:54 pm

      “There is a philosophy built around Jesus. But since we have very little of the man’s actual words, it amounts to a construct of hearsay.”

      While correct, I think that misses the key point. Plato’s works built on a long traditional of pre-socratic philosophers — brought to maturity by Socrates, and refined into a system by Plato. If we called it by the name of the one of the early pre-Socratics, the philosophy would be the same — just a different label. So it is with religions. Christiantity was built on a large platform of Israelite philosophy, brought to maturity by Jesus, refined into a system by Paul (the relationships of Socrates:Plato and Jesus:Paul are similar). Later folks deepened both into full systems of life and thougth.

      How we label the vague foundational elements of any system of values matters little. History (Marx), God, reason, will to choose, cheese…

      Like

  7. 12 September 2012 8:54 pm

    You know, Mitt Romney’s Dad, George actually had a fairly solid world view and philosophy. It’s detailed in this article, “What Mitt Romney Learned From His Dad, ” http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/national-affairs/what-mitt-romney-learned-from-his-dad-20120117

    A highlight from the article:

    “That’s another rebellion against his late dad. Not only was George Romney, that loser, ironclad in his ideological commitments; his vision of how capitalism should work was in every particular the exact opposite of the one pushed by the vulture capitalist he sired. (If George Romney’s AMC was around now, Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital would probably be busy turning it into a carcass.) A critic once said he was ‘so dedicated to good works his entrance into politics is like sending a Salvation Army lass into the chorus at a burlesque house.’ As a CEO he would give back part of his salary and bonus to the company when he thought they were too high. He offered a pioneering profit-sharing plan to his employees. Most strikingly, asked about the idea that ‘rugged individualism’ was the key to America’s success, he snapped back, ‘It’s nothing but a political banner to cover up greed.’ He was the poster child for the antiquated notion that corporations have multiple stakeholders: the workers that breathe them life, the communities in which they are situated, and the nation to whom they owe a patriotic obligation – most definitely and emphatically not just stockholders, as Mitt and his defenders say.*

    Like

    • 12 September 2012 10:51 pm

      That is an important point. George Romney was great, but rejected by the American people for saying an ugly truth about Vietnam.

      Much like an incident in Russian history. Czar Alexander II was a great reformer, assassinated by revolutionary reformers. His son took the lesson not to reform Russia.

      Mitt saw his father mocked for his principles and willingness to say unpopular truths. Mitt appears to have taken that lesson to heart.

      We get not the leaders we want or need, but those we deserve. That’s one of the great themes of the FM website.

      Like

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