Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy,"
The Free Radical 56 (May/June
2003): 16-22. PDF available.
UNDERSTANDING THE GLOBAL
RECLAIMING RAND'S RADICAL LEGACY
By Chris Matthew Sciabarra
"The tree of liberty," Thomas Jefferson wrote, "must be refreshed from time
to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." And so, when I saw those
startling images of a liberated Iraq-those first photos of fellow New
Yorker, Major David "Bull" Guerfin of the U.S. Marines, ripping down the
poster of Saddam Hussein in Safwan or that riveting footage of fellow
Brooklynite, Marine Cpl. Edward Chin, helping jubilant Iraqis in Baghdad's
Firdos Square to topple Hussein's 20-foot statue-it seemed to me that
Jefferson's remark was as true as ever. The blood of that tyrannical
regime-and the blood of patriotic American soldiers-had been shed, becoming
what Jefferson had once called the "natural manure" necessary for the full
flowering of human freedom. Liberty and eternal vigilance against despotism
go hand-in-hand, after all.
But powerfully symbolic images such as these have a surface appeal that
obscures a much more complex reality. Too much Objectivist commentary on
that reality has become a mere apologia for neoconservative folly. At risk
is the abandonment of Ayn Rand's radical legacy.
The Current Crisis
Over the last few months, I have aired my views about the war in Iraq
throughout cyberspace (see the various links posted to my Notablog.
To be clear, there has never been
a time where I doubted the immorality of a regime that fed its dissident
citizens feet-first into wood chippers and industrial plastic shredders. I
never doubted the rightness of striking back against those who initiate
force or striking preemptively or unilaterally against imminent threats
to American security-whatever the objections voiced by members of that
morally bankrupt organization known as the United Nations. While I
questioned the wisdom and timing of the Iraq war, the imminence of the
Hussein threat, and the alleged links between Hussein's secularist
Pan-Arabist Ba'ath Party and Bin Laden's fundamentalist Al Qaeda, my
overwhelming concern was-and remains-the aftermath of the incursion.
I have strongly supported the attempt to bring to justice the fugitives of
9/11-the murderous Al Qaeda-or "to bring justice to them," as President Bush
has said. I think this is an unconventional war
requiring unconventional warfare,
including ongoing disruption of terrorist finance, weapons, and
communications networks. But I remain wary of any long-term U.S.
expansion into the region. And I believe that a projected U.S. occupation of
Iraq to bring about "democratic" regime change would not be comparable to
the German and Japanese models of the post-World War II era.
Iraq is a makeshift by-product of British colonialism, constructed at
Versailles in 1920 out of three former Ottoman provinces; its notorious
internal political divisions are mirrored by tribal warfare among Shiites,
Sunnis, Kurds, and others. By contrast, both Germany and Japan possessed
relatively homogeneous cultures and the rudiments of a democratic past,
while retaining no allies after the war. And in the case of Japan, the U.S.
had the full cooperation of Emperor Hirohito, who stepped down from his
position as national deity, to become the figurative head of a
For those of us bred on Ayn Rand's insight that politics is only a consequence of
a larger philosophical and cultural cause-that culture, in effect, trumps
politics-the idea that it is possible to construct a
political solution in a culture that does not value procedural democracy,
free institutions, or the notion of individual responsibility is a delusion.
Witness contemporary Russia, where the death of communism has given birth to
a society of warring post-Soviet mafiosi, leading some to yearn for the good
ol' days of Stalin. Clearly, "regime change" is not enough. But even if
procedural democracy were to come to Iraq, it may be no less despotic than
the brutal dictatorship it usurps, for majority rule without protection of
individual rights is no check on the political growth of Islamic
The lunacy of nation-building and of imposed political settlements-which
have been tried over and over again in the Middle East with no long-term
success-does not mean that there is no hope for the Arab world. Former
Reagan administration advisor Michael Ledeen (The
Intellectual Activist [TIA],
January 2003) speaks of a rising revolt against theocracy in Iran, for
example, among a younger generation that is fed up with their oppressive
government. They eat American foods, wear American jeans, and watch American
TV shows. I don't see how a U.S. occupation in any part of the region will nourish this
kind of revolt. If anything, the United States may be perceived as a new
colonial administrator. Such a perception may only give impetus to the
theocrats who may seek to preserve their rule by deflecting the
dissatisfaction in their midst toward the "infidel occupiers." I can think
of no better ad campaign for the recruitment of future Islamic terrorists.
Even though I support relentless surgical strikes against terrorists posing
an imminent threat to the United States, I have argued that America's only practical long-term
course of action is strategic disengagement from the region. In the
long-run, I stand with those American Founding Fathers who advocated free
trade with all, entangling political alliances with none. If that advice was
good for a simpler world, it is even more appropriate for a world of immense
complexity, in which no one power can control for all the myriad unintended
consequences of human action. The central planners of socialism learned this
lesson some time ago; the central planners of a projected U.S. colonialism
have yet to learn it.
A Deeper Cause
"Armies are in motion," observes Paul Berman, "but are the philosophers and
religious leaders, the liberal thinkers, likewise in motion? There is
something to worry about here," Berman continues, "an aspect of the war that
liberal society seems to have trouble understanding-one more worry, on top
of all the others, and possibly the greatest worry of all" ("The Philosopher
of Islamic Terror," NY
23 March 2003).
That worry is deeply philosophical-and one that cannot be ignored. There is
a profound antipathy between Islamic fundamentalism and Western values, an
antipathy that lies at the root of their mutual cultural alienation. But it
took centuries to
secularize the Western mind, and it is liable to take generations to
accomplish a modicum of cultural change among Islamic nations. Berman
provides one indication of the obstacles that lie ahead. He focuses on the philosophical forefather
of Al Qaeda: Sayyid Qutb, who violently opposed the secular, socialist
Pan-Arabist regime of the Egyptian dictator, Gamal Abdel Nasser. As a member
of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, Qutb was executed in 1966. But his
poisonous legacy lives on.
Qutb's progeny, Bin Laden, stands at one end of the Islamic spectrum, while
Hussein's Ba'ath Party, the most violent Pan-Arabist successor, stood at the
other. That Bin Laden sees Hussein as an immoral "infidel" is an extension
of a fundamentalist credo, which repudiates "Zionists" and "Christian"
Westerners from without, and secularists from within, the Muslim world. The
fundamentalists want to marginalize or destroy not only the Pan Arabists,
but also any "liberal" Muslims-who are viewed as no better than the
pre-Islamic pagans of the Arabian peninsula. This is quite typical:
Fundamentalists of any sort always begin by attacking the "impure" among
their own faithful.
Pining for a theocratic Islamic caliphate, Qutb's influential "theological
criticism of modern life" lamented the dualistic "schizophrenia" of the
secular and the sacred, science and religion. But as is typical with
religious monists, Qutb sought to collapse secular life into religion.
His "deepest quarrel was not with America's failure to uphold its
principles," Berman explains. "His quarrel was with the principles. He
opposed the United States because it
was a liberal society" (emphasis added). The most "dangerous element" of
that society was, in Qutb's view, the "separation of church and state." His
version of liberation entailed an adherence to strict Islamic law
("Shariah") in defense of "freedom of conscience." But such liberation
"meant freedom from false doctrines that failed to recognize God, freedom
from the modern schizophrenia." It is no great leap to realize the
dictatorial implications of this utopian vision, whose enforcement would
echo the totalitarian projects of fascism, Nazism, and communism.
Berman wonders who, in the West, will defend liberal ideas against its
enemies. Those who admire Ayn Rand know the answer. Rand fought against the
mystics of muscle and the mystics of spirit; she fought for a
passionate integrated view of human existence that triumphed over the false
alternatives of mind and body, reason and emotion, morality and prudence,
theory and practice. She fought for reason,
but not against spirituality, for productive
purpose, but not against creativity, for self-esteem,
but not against a humane society
of voluntary cooperation and shared values.
But the power of Rand's vision is two-fold: It enunciates broad
epistemological and moral principles that guide us
in the rational pursuit of rational goals. At the same time, it provides an
engine for contextual analysis, which enables us to understand the
factors that thwart both moral means and the pursuit of moral ends.
Objectivists have been very vocal in stressing the principles of
Rand's vision, while often failing to grasp the comprehensive
Rand offered of the statist enemies in our midst.
The History of U.S. Foreign Policy: Capitalism Thwarted
Rand, who wrote minimally on foreign policy, recognized nevertheless that
"[t]he essence of capitalism's foreign policy is free
the abolition of trade barriers, of protective tariffs, of special
privileges-the opening of the world's trade routes to free international
exchange and competition among the private citizens of all countries dealing
directly with one another" ("The Roots of War").
For Rand, capitalism had never existed in its purest form. Still, semi-capitalism
was powerful enough to demolish the remnants of feudalism, mercantilism, and
absolute monarchy throughout the world. But with the rise of the
collectivist, paternalist ideology and nationalistic imperialism of
"progressive reformers" such as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, relatively free markets gave way to government
regulation and privilege. The twentieth-century history of U.S. foreign
policy, according to Rand, was a history of "suicidal" failure and hypocrisy
("'Extremism,' Or the Art of Smearing"). Failure-because the U.S. had
abdicated the moral high ground, destroying economic and civil liberties
from within, and losing any rational sense of the country's moral
significance. Hypocrisy-because the U.S. often fought evil with evil.
Rand maintained that Wilson had led the charge "to make the world safe for
democracy," but World War I gave birth to fascism, Nazism, and communism.
FDR had led the charge for the "Four Freedoms," but he only empowered the
Soviets in the process ("The Roots of War").
Rand had long believed that the Soviet Union was a primitive country, doomed
to economic stagnation and systemic collapse. She had once excoriated Ronald
Reagan for invoking "fear" of the Soviets, for "exaggerat[ing] the power of
the most incompetent nation in the world," which was "not a patriotic
service to the United States" ("The Moral Factor"). Her Objectivist
featured a series of review essays by various writers who had argued that
the parasitic Soviets had stolen military and other technology from the
West, and that it was U.S. foreign policy that had stabilized the regime.
Drawing from John T. Flynn's book, The
Barbara Branden stressed that FDR was inspired by Bismarck, Mussolini, and
Hitler in establishing a liberal corporatist "New Deal" that further
devastated a depressed economy (The
December 1962). Provoking war in the Pacific, Roosevelt used "national
defense" as a pretext for resolving the unemployment problem by drafting
American boys to fight and die in foreign wars, while sending $11 billion in
Lend-Lease assistance to the Soviets, and developing secret post-war
agreements with Stalin to surrender nearly three-quarters of a billion
people into communist slavery. (Rand herself believed that this strategy
made Russia "the only winner" of World War II ["The Shanghai Gesture, Part
I"]. She also questioned the wisdom of entering that war's European theater
on the side of the Soviets-suggesting that a Nazi-Soviet conflict might have
severely weakened the victor [e.g., see "Communism and HUAC" in Journals
of Ayn Rand].)
Government intervention in the economy and U.S. intervention abroad mirrored
each other in one significant respect: each problem caused by statist
intervention led to new interventionist attempts to resolve it. Just as
World War I begat World War II, and World War II begat the Cold War, so too
did the Cold War beget "hot" wars in Korea and Vietnam, in which more than
100,000 drafted Americans lost their lives. Vietnam especially had laid bare
the inner contradictions of U.S. foreign policy. "There is no proper
solution for the war in Vietnam," Rand counseled at the time; "it is a war
we should never have entered. We are caught in a trap: it is senseless to
continue, and it is now impossible to withdraw" ("From My 'Future File'").
Rand had opposed U.S. involvement in both Korea and Vietnam, and wondered
why the U.S. had "sacrificed thousands of American lives, and billions of
dollars, to protect a primitive people who never had freedom, do not seek
it, and, apparently, do not want it" ("The Shanghai Gesture, Part III"). It
is advice well worth keeping in mind-anytime the U.S. wages war with the
expressed aim to free an oppressed people.
Rand understood that "international politics" among "statist regimes" often
entailed a "'balance of power' game"-though she believed that U.S. statist
politicians were "crude, naive and innocent compared to their European and
Asian counterparts" ("The Shanghai Gesture, Part I"). In contrast to the
"range-of-the-moment manipulations" of "Metternichian amorality" on display
in the global political arena ("A Last Survey, Part I"), Rand invoked the
spirit of the Old Right critics of U.S. involvement in World War II, who had
been smeared as "America First'ers" ("Britain's 'National Socialism'"). She
despised those who had coined the "anti-concept" of "isolationism" as a
means of denouncing "any patriotic opponent of America's self-immolation"
("The Lessons of Vietnam"). Rand was not against all involvement
in overseas affairs. In the context of the Cold War, for example, she
opposed the appeasement of the Soviets, and recognized the strategic
importance of Taiwan and Israel-despite her antipathy toward the latter's
socialist, religious, and tribalist nature. Israel was preferable to the
Palestinian Liberation Organization, argued Rand, which had abdicated any
"rights" it may have once held by engaging in a sustained policy of terror
("The Lessons of Vietnam"; "Global Balkanization" Q&A tape, 1977). Still,
Rand stood firmly against the "altruistic" evil of foreign "interventionism"
or "internationalism" that had undermined long-term U.S. interests. She
repudiated the claim "that isolationism is selfish, immoral, and impractical
in a 'shrinking' modern world" ("The Chickens' Homecoming").
The crisis of U.S. foreign policy did not end in Southeast Asia. Containment
of insurgencies throughout the world often enraged local populations, as the
U.S. propped up puppet dictators to do its global bidding-stationing its
troops till this day in over 100 countries worldwide. This policy was
partially responsible for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as an
anti-American political force
in Iran; the Iranians threw off the U.S.-backed Shah, and elevated Khomeini
to a position of leadership. A hostage crisis followed. Supporting the
Iraqis in their war with Iran, opposing the Soviets by aiding Afghan
"freedom fighters"-the theocratically inclined mujahideen who became Al
Qaeda and Taliban warriors-"put the U.S. wholesale into the business of
creating terrorists," as Leonard Peikoff observes. "Most of them," says
Peikoff, "regarded fighting the Soviets as only the beginning; our turn soon
came" ("End States Who Sponsor Terrorism").
A Radical Insight
The crisis of U.S. foreign policy led Rand to a key radical insight-that
there was an inextricable connection between government intervention at home
and abroad. Rand states unequivocally: "Foreign policy is merely a
consequence of domestic policy" ("The Shanghai Gesture, Part III"). When
Rand called for a complete "revision of [U.S.] foreign policy, from its
basic premises on up," she knew that this would entail a simultaneous
repudiation of the welfare state at home and the warfare state abroad, an
end to "foreign aid and [to] all forms of international self-immolation."
She knew that "a radically different foreign policy" required a radically
different domestic one-and that both required a philosophic and cultural
revolution ("The Wreckage of the Consensus").
Rand had identified U.S. domestic policy as the "New Fascism." This was-and
is-a de facto, predatory fascism, the result of pragmatic expediency and of
ad hoc, incremental policies that had enriched some groups at the expense of
others. A business-government "partnership" was its "economic essence" ("The
New Fascism: Rule By Consensus"). In such a system, she argued, we are all
victims and victimizers; the whole society becomes a "class of beggars"
is Where the Money Is").
For once the rule of force begins to predominate, the institutional means
for legalized predation expand exponentially. "If this is
a society's system," writes Rand, "no power on earth can prevent men from
ganging up on one another in self-defense-i.e., from forming pressure
["How to Read (and Not to Write)"].
The New Fascism therefore "accelerates the process of juggling debts,
switching losses, piling loans on loans, mortgaging the future and the
future's future. As things grow worse, the government protects itself not by
contracting this process, but by expanding it" beyond its national borders.
Just as pressure groups had slurped at the government trough in seeking
domestic privileges, so too did they benefit from a whole global system of
foreign aid, involving financial manipulation (through, for example, the
Federal Reserve System, the Ex-Im Bank, and the IMF), "credits to foreign
consumers to enable them to consume" U.S.-produced goods, "unpaid loans to
foreign governments, and subsidies to other welfare states," to the United
Nations, and to the World Bank ("Egalitarianism and Inflation").
Rand goes further: "If looting collectivists did not exist, America's
foreign aid policy would create them." The overwhelming profiteers of
this system were those peculiar "products . . . of the mixed economy," those
statist businessmen who "seek to grow rich not by means of productive
ability, but by means of political pull and of special political
privileges." Rand observes "that there are firms here and there, in various
businesses and industries, who are growing prosperous by trading with
foreign countries, the specific foreign countries who receive American aid.
In other words, there are businessmen who are selling their products to the
foreign countries receiving American aid and who are paid by
American funds-who are paid by the aid money granted to those countries. In
other words, some Americans are draining the money, the tax money, of other
Americans, into their own pockets, via a longer tour through every corner of
the globe which receives our foreign aid. This tax money is taken from some
citizens, handed to foreign governments and pressure groups and then comes
back to some of
our citizens, through those successful pressure groups who have pull in
Washington." This was a "siphoning" process, in Rand's view, a "necessary corollary
of a mixed economy, or rather the necessary expression of
a mixed economy, now being carried to the international scene. It is a civil
war gone international; it is pressure groups using foreign countries in
order to destroy our own. That is the meaning of our foreign aid policy"
("The Foreign Policy of the Mixed Economy," tape).
Thus, the New Fascism exports "the bloody chaos of tribal warfare" to the
rest of the world, creating a whole class of "pull peddlers" among both
foreign and domestic lobbyists, who feed on the carcass of the American
taxpayer, causing massive global political, social, and economic
dislocations ("The Pull Peddlers"). Whereas the Left derided "capitalist
imperialism" for this state of affairs, Rand recognized that capitalism,
"the unknown ideal," had taken the blame for the sins of its opposite. She
lamented the internationalization of the New Fascism; given "the
interdependence of the Western world," all countries are "leaning on one
another as bad risks, bad consuming parasite borrowers." She recognized how
the system's dynamics propelled such internationalization, but advised: "The
less ties we have with any other countries, the better off we will be."
Suggesting a biological analogy in warning against the spread of neofascism,
she quips: "If you have a disease, should you get a more serious form of it,
and will that help you?" ("Egalitarianism and Inflation" Q&A tape, 1974). In
discussing a section of the 1972 Communiqué between the U.S. and Red China,
Rand suggests a universal principle. "[L]ike charity," she writes, "courage,
consistency, integrity have to begin at home . . . [w]hat we are now doing
to others . . . we began by doing it to ourselves. We are the victims of
self-inflicted bacteriological warfare: altruism is the bacteria of
amorality. Pragmatism is the bacteria of impotence" ("The Shanghai Gesture,"
This critique of the "New Fascism" is as relevant today as it was in the
time that Rand first presented it. Some writers (e.g., Adam Reed, 26 March
2003, SOLO Yahoo Forum) have argued, however, that Rand's critique was
limited to-and grounded in-the historically specific period of the Kennedy
and Johnson administrations (see, for example, "The Fascist New Frontier,"
in which Rand cites approvingly the similarly constituted critique of New
Leftist Charles A. Reich). But while the world scene has changed
immeasurably in the last 40 years, Rand did not quell her attacks on this
neofascist system in any of her subsequent analyses of the Nixon, Ford,
Carter, or Reagan administrations. Not even the collapse of central planning
and the Soviet Union would have given Rand pause in these attacks, because
neofascism was never about central planning-even if its current court
intellectuals (i.e., the formerly socialist neoconservatives) wish to apply
the precepts of such planning to the task of global nation-building. Rand's
comments focused not on the historical concretes,
but on the principles entailed
in interventionism. Like Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek, Rand predicted
that the interventionist system would expand its reach, making possible an
ever-deepening social fragmentation among warring foreign and domestic
Rand never saw the New Fascism-or what the Left had called "socialism for
big business" ("The Moratorium on Brains, Part II")-as authoritarian in
character. For Rand, the real "dividing
line" between neofascism and dictatorship is "freedom of speech," since
"censorship is the tombstone of a free country." This is why she condemned a
"servile press" even more than a "censored press"; the "servile press"
embraces "'voluntary' self-enslavement," relying on government manipulation
of news "'as an instrument of public policy'" ("The Fascist New Frontier").
The New Fascism, therefore, is a kind of liberal corporatism, which keeps in
place democratic forms and procedures, while deadening the prospect of real political
and social change. Not even an Objectivist sympathizer, such as Alan
Greenspan, can stop the system from the boom-and-bust that emanates from the
financial levers of the central bank that he controls, or the massive
redistribution of wealth that ensues from that control. In Rand's view, even
noble actors pursuing noble goals are defeated by this system. The New
Fascism can only engender "parasitism, favoritism, corruption and greed for
the unearned"; its power to dispense privilege, Rand emphasizes, "cannot
be used honestly"
("The Pull Peddlers").
It is a process of privilege-dispensing that, I might add, will only be
augmented in the wake of any long-term U.S. occupation of Iraq. Whereas the
estimated war costs are over $75 billion, the open-ended price tag on
occupation is anyone's guess. Already, officials are suggesting $1 billion
in taxpayer start-up costs for the "bidding" process, going directly to U.S.
corporations responsible for re-building Iraqi "infrastructure" ("Who Will
Put Iraq Back Together?," by Diana B. Henriques, 23 March 2003, NY
The projected costs of Iraqi reconstruction are upwards of $100 billion,
"the largest postwar rebuilding since the Marshall Plan in Europe after
World War II" (Henriques 2003)-a plan that, according to Rand, brought the
United States to "the brink of economic ruin" (Letters
of Ayn Rand,
490), a typical by-product of the U.S. tendency to "waste her wealth on
helping both her allies and her former enemies" ("Philosophy: Who Needs
It"). The NY
that the U.S. government has invited "only American corporations to bid on .
. . contracts . . . financed by the taxpayer" for reconstruction of
transportation, communication, irrigation, medical facilities, education,
and utility plants. The bidding process has been a closed one, allegedly
because only a select few corporations have security clearance. Of course,
these corporations are among the "largest and most politically connected."
It is claimed that the reconstruction will be funded by Iraqi oil revenues
for the benefit of the Iraqi people-thus relieving much of the U.S. tax
burden. This, of course, remains to be seen-though it is always possible
that the Iraqis will not want to
invest their money in precisely the way dictated by U.S. occupiers. Not
quite a free market. Nevertheless, as one consultant puts it: "Anytime you
have an emergency response driven by time, the opportunity for fraud, waste
and abuse is huge . . . And when the opportunity is that great, it will
occur" (Henriques 2003).
The Objectivist Response
The response of Objectivists to the prospect of this kind of U.S. occupation
has been mostly positive (with a few notable exceptions, e.g., Arthur Silber
at The Light of Reason).
Robert Tracinski, for example, rightfully criticizes the pragmatism and
religiosity of the Bush administration, which pays no attention to "context
or history" ("The Era of Muddling Through: How We Got Here and Why We're
Still Moving," TIA,
March 2003). But this does not stop Tracinski from applauding Bush for "a
breathtakingly new grand strategy to remake the Middle East," a policy that
Tracinski admits "is a kind of indirect colonialism. The colonial
administrators will be the nominally independent leaders of Middle Eastern
countries-but the essence of their form of government and their foreign
policy will be inspired or imposed by the United States of America."
Deriding the muddling ways of "Old Europe," Tracinski suggests approval of
the U.S. ambition "to remake the world, sweeping aside hostile regimes and
securing America's safety" ("New Hollywood and Old Europe," TIA,
William Thomas writes ("What
Warrants War? The Challenge of Iraq and North Korea")
that "[t]he Objectivist view of foreign policy derives from its view of
morality. Just as each person should pursue his rational self-interest in
his personal matters, so should a proper government uphold the interests of
its citizens in its conduct toward other nations." Thomas goes on to say
that it is a "basic tenet" of "Objectivist political philosophy . . . that
the only just governments are the free countries-and all the free countries
are natural allies. Free countries are those that essentially embrace the
principles of liberty, including freedoms of speech and assembly,
competitive elections, the rule of law, and property rights." In Thomas's
well-reasoned discussion of principles, the New Fascism is never mentioned.
And though he admits that certain foreign policy goals require us "to hold
our noses" when entering into "alliance[s] of convenience" with less free
countries, he does not seem to appreciate the extent to which such pragmatic
considerations have brought the globe to the current crisis.
In the end, however, Thomas supported the war in Iraq-and a possible war
with North Korea as well. He sees the post-war reconstruction as a
requirement, "the only means of eliminating the longer-term threat." Keeping
the peace, funding our allies, and building a free Iraq, will require
"billions upon billions of dollars . . . for reconstruction and
re-education." Reconstruction? Re-education? Funding our allies? I am
tempted to ask the perennial Randian question: At whose expense?
To his credit, Thomas recognizes that "if it is culturally or financially
infeasible to transform . . . enemies into allies-or at least into stable,
non-threatening regimes, then war will not resolve the longer-term threat .
. ." To his credit, Thomas accepts the possibility that U.S. occupation
might "fuel anti-Americanism throughout the region." To his credit, Thomas
understands "that political policy is a symptom, but culture is the root
cause." Still, he supports the risk of
war and a long-term occupation that empowers "better educated" and "more
secular" Iraqis, so as to "cement the transformation" of other Middle
To "cement the transformation" is Ron Pisaturo's goal as well. Except that
he offers a much more robust strategy. Writing in the aftermath of the World
Trade Center disaster, Pisaturo is an unabashed Objectivist advocate of a
new U.S. colonialism ("Why
and How to Conquer the Savages," Capitalism
Pisaturo begins on the correct premise-that Americans have the right to
defend themselves from murderous attacks. But he goes further: He urges the
creation of a new Middle East as if from a state of nature; his regional tabula
however, requires the "nuclear" incineration of millions of "savages" in
order to start from scratch. Pisaturo stands, like Archimedes, outside the
context he wishes to reconstruct. His canvas-cleaning strategy is the
logically horrific conclusion and destructive essence of his utopianism. It
applies literally to
'no-where' on earth-though, in all fairness, the Brave No-World of Ron
Pisaturo is far more dystopian than
it is utopian.
According to Pisaturo, the U.S. must crush all the "evil governments" of the
Middle East (e.g., Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan, Saudi
Arabia, Kuwait, and other "murderous regimes"). This is a sentiment shared
by his Ayn Rand Institute colleagues, including Yaron Brook (ARI Media, 10
April 2003) and Leonard Peikoff ("America versus Americans," Ford Hall
Forum, 7 April 2003)-both of whom see Iran as the next target in the war
against Islamic fundamentalism. Pisaturo argues that the U.S. government
must take back the oil fields for Western oil companies, appropriate Arab
assets worldwide (including "real estate, bank accounts, and all other
financial holdings"), and "isolate, colonize, and settle the lands the
savages now roam." Sensing perhaps that such a proposal for massive
colonization of the region might entail an exponential increase in U.S. tax
rates and in the size of the U.S. military-perhaps even necessitating
conscription-Pisaturo declares that if the Western oil companies "agree to
pay the cost of waging this war," then the U.S. government could continue
"occupying and defending these oil-rich territories." Once the U.S. has
seized the Middle East-I suppose after several years of waiting for the
nuclear fallout to settle-it will allow American pioneers to enter the
region as international homesteaders. "Over time, pioneers, with the paid
support of our military, can go into these isolated territories, subdue the
remaining savages, install a civilized, colonial government protecting the
rights of both the pioneers and the savages, and settle the land-as American
pioneers subdued the savage, murderous American Indian tribes and settled
America." Of course, the "savages" will eventually realize that they will be
the "most fortunate beneficiaries" of such colonialism.
In truth, Pisaturo's view of the Arab world finds inspiration in Rand's own
condemnation of Arab terrorists as
"savages" (on "The Phil Donahue Show"). She saw the "Arab whose teeth are
green with decay in his mouth" ("The Left: Old and New") as living "a
nomadic, anti-industrial form of existence" ("Requiem for Man"). But this is
a far cry from Pisaturo's genocidal call for an American Lebensraum.
I submit that this "cure" is far worse than the disease.
Let's analyze Pisaturo's proposal more closely. The Western oil companies
whose interests Pisaturo wishes to defend are the same Western oil companies
that collaborated with the U.S. government and Middle Eastern governments to
develop the oil fields. The U.S. government socialized much of their risk,
and replaced the colonizing British as the chief power in the region. From
the 1920s through World War II and beyond, the government and the oil
industry worked hand-in-hand to win concessions from, and bolster the power
of, various "pro-Western" Arab regimes, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,
and Jordan, trying to create stability with money, munitions, and political
machinations (see Sheldon Richman's "'Ancient
History': U.S. Conduct in the Middle East Since World War II and the Folly
The "pull-peddling" between the oil industry and the various governments was
a quintessential expression of the New Fascism. (Rand did not examine these
oil industry-government ties; but she did believe, ironically, that U.S.
foreign policy had "brought the entire Western world to the position of a
colony ruled by Arab sheiks" ["The Energy Crisis, Part II"]).
When a neoconservative defends the ideal of a new U.S. colonialism, I am
disgusted-but not surprised. Neoconservatism was founded-as a movement-by a
group of disaffected socialists and "social democrats." Its modern
representatives are now the intellectual architects of
U.S. foreign policy. Having given up the fiasco of defending economic
central planning, they now embrace global
social engineering to
bring the ideal of "democracy" to the rest of the world. And if some of them
get their wish-of establishing a new "American Empire"-they'll find out that
the pretense of knowledge, which destroyed socialism, will similarly destroy
their Wilsonian designs. We simply never know enough to
construct or reconstruct, wholesale, social systems and nations from the
ground up. (On this point, see especially Hayek's Law,
Legislation, and Liberty,
Vol. 3, pp. 107–109.) Such schemes for a Pax Americana are fraught with
endless possibilities for negative unintended consequences, however "noble"
So "nation-building" as a neoconservative goal is understandable-given the
socialist lineage of its champions. But when an Objectivist advocates
mass murder and U.S. colonialism and supports the oil industry's employment
of the government like a mercenary private protection agency to secure its
foreign financial and material holdings, it is beyond
These are the same kinds of Objectivists who would accuse the U.S.
Libertarian Party of "context-dropping" (in contradistinction to
"atomic-bomb-dropping") for wanting to build political solutions on a
fragile philosophic and cultural foundation. Pot. Kettle. Black.
Rand's Tri-Level Model
Human liberation from tyranny is a noble and just cause. But the pursuit of
freedom, like the pursuit of justice, can never be disconnected from the context that
gives it meaning. And ethical discussions cannot be considered in a vacuum,
disconnected from other levels
of analysis that help us to understand the nature of that broader context.
For example, in a recent
Objectivist Joseph Rowlands begins an analysis of the principles upon which
a rational foreign policy must be built. Based on an individualist ethics,
such a policy must recognize that there are no fundamental conflicts of
interest among rational men-or rational nations. Echoing Rand, Rowlands
states that any nation has the right-though not the obligation-to retaliate
against those nations that initiate force. Justice requires judgment and
consistency or "evil wins by default." These are important insights-but
their application requires careful attention to context. A "nation" does not
exist separate from the individuals who compose it. To equate a "nation"
with that nation's "government" and to assume that the government can
and should come to the aid of other nations under attack may be a valid
application of an individualist ethics-only if the assisting government
generates its revenues and armed services through voluntary means. The
principle cannot possibly apply unconditionally to less-than-ideal social
Indeed, Rand's view that the rational interests of human beings do not
conflict pertains to laissez-faire
"In a non-free society"-such as the one we have today-"no pursuit of any
interests is possible to anyone; nothing is possible but gradual and general
destruction" ("The 'Conflicts' of Men's Interests"). In examining the
"interrelated considerations which are involved" in judging one's rational
interests, Rand stresses first and foremost reality and context.
And one cannot drop the reality of the given context when offering ethical
advice in the realm of international politics. We can certainly strive
toward an international political order that recognizes the individualist
principles Rowlands emphasizes, but those principles will never be
achieved globally in the absence of a similar domestic movement. Rand's
maxim is worth repeating because it is right:
"Foreign policy is merely a consequence of domestic policy." If governments
rob the wealth of their own citizens to fund foreign adventures, and if they
conscript people to fight and die in such adventures-all ethical bets are
Rand: The Russian Radical,
I explored Rand's mode for analyzing every social problem on three distinct
levels: (1) The Personal, in which she focused on the psycho-epistemological
and ethical dimensions; (2) The Cultural, in which she focused on the
linguistic, pedagogical, aesthetic, and ideological dimensions; and (3) The
Structural, in which she focused on the political and economic dimensions.
Every social problem-and solution-entailed mutually reinforcing personal,
cultural, and structural factors. This is why Rand maintained: "Intellectual freedom
cannot exist without political freedom;
political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a
free mind and a free market are corollaries"
("For the New Intellectual"). It is also why she criticized Libertarians:
for seeking political and economic change without the requisite personal and
cultural foundations. But it is just as faulty to focus on ethics or culture
to the exclusion of structural realities. By disconnecting any level from
the others, we drain the radical life-blood out of Objectivism and ossify
Rand's system into a form of conservatism. The active embrace of
one-dimensional thinking by some Objectivists undermines fundamentally
Rand's contextual, dialectical way
of looking at the world. It is a perverse kind of "vulgar" one-sidedness
that has led "far too many Objectivists [to] act as if they are
conservatives who simply don't go to church," as economist Larry Sechrest
suggests (OWL list, 29 January 2003).
An Objectivist resolution to
the current global crisis will require a veritable revolution on every
level. Rand stresses the interconnectedness between levels: Rampant
tribalism is "a reciprocally reinforcing cause and result" of "rule by brute
force" ("The Missing Link"), she argues, just as the neofascist "mixed
economy" is "the political cause of tribalism's rebirth" ("Global
Balkanization"). Tribalism and statism require each other; this is as valid
an assessment of the situation in the Middle East as it is of the situation
in the United States of America-whether we call the interventionists
"theocrats" or "social democrats."
This is not to say that the U.S. government is the moral equivalent of the
despotic regimes in the Middle East. Context-keeping means, among other
a sense of proportion.
One of the most important insights on this subject comes from Lindsay
who writes of the libertarian antiwar crowd: "They invoke imperfection to
justify inaction against evil.
They say America may not liberate slave pens because America itself is not
wholly free & is becoming less free. They blur the distinction between 'not
wholly free' and 'wholly unfree' & effectively advocate surrender of the
former to the latter. They evade the fact that in America, one is still free
to proselytise against its slide into statism, just as they are
free to apologise for despots." While I take exception to Perigo's belief
that the antiwar crowd-which is far from monolithic-has offered nothing but
an apologia for despots, I do believe that he puts his finger on a crucial
principle and problem: Just because we cannot do everything to
change the system radically and immediately, does not mean that we should do nothing to
lessen threats to our freedom. On this point, Perigo and I are in complete
The bottom line, therefore, is indeed practical: Will a U.S. occupation of
the Middle East lessen despotism-or
provide renewed impetus for its long-term growth at home and abroad? Is
there not any other way to deal with such despotism short of establishing a
new U.S. colonialism? That I have argued for surgical strikes to neutralize
outright and imminent threats to American security coupled with a long-term
shift toward strategic disengagement suggests one alternative.
Such practical alternatives cannot be considered, however, without
addressing briefly the issue of "Weapons of Mass Destruction" (WMD). It is
said that the existence of WMD changes the whole equation significantly.
Looking at what terrorists can accomplish with box cutters and commercial
passenger jets, the destructive possibilities are infinite should they ever
come to possess WMD. Much of the practical argument for intervention in
Iraq, for example, revolved around the belief that any illegitimate
chemical, biological, or radiological weapons that it possessed could be
dispersed to terrorist organizations, like Al Qaeda. In my view, however,
the pro-war advocates did not present any conclusive evidence of a link
between the lethally opposed Ba'ath and Al Qaeda gangs. That it was
"pragmatic" U.S. foreign policy that first gave Hussein's regime the
wherewithal for the production of some of these weapons, that the U.S. could
have used its own overwhelming WMD stockpile effectively to contain Iraq by
threat of "mutually assured destruction," that a growth in direct U.S.
intervention could make WMD proliferation among potential terrorists more likely,
since it becomes their prime manner of counteracting an overwhelming U.S.
military force-have all been dismissed by pro-war advocates.
In the end, however, it is simply wrong to think that an advance in the
technology of death changes the central principle involved
in our understanding of the roots of war. As Rand puts it, "there is
something obscene in the attitude of those who regard horror as a matter of
numbers." Indeed, "it makes no difference to a man whether he is killed by a
nuclear bomb or a dynamite bomb or an old-fashioned club. Nor does the
number of other victims or the scale of the destruction make any difference
to him . . . If nuclear weapons are a dreadful threat and mankind cannot
afford war any longer, then mankind
cannot afford statism any longer .
. . if war is ever to be outlawed, it is the
use of force that
has to be outlawed" ("The Roots of War").
A military battle of any scope is like a "political battle"-"merely a
skirmish fought with muskets"; for Rand, "a philosophical battle is a
nuclear war"-and only rational ideas will
ultimately win it ("'What Can One Do?'").
The Middle East is a region with many oppressive, theocratic regimes at war
with human life, human liberty, and human justice. But even when the U.S.
government retaliates appropriately against those who act out their jihad-ic
desires, it cannot hope to transform that
region's despotism by creating, necessarily, a garrison state at home to
support a colonial occupation abroad. Destroying American liberties in order
to "liberate" the few remaining "savages" who survive the nuclear winter is
not a prescription for peace, "homeland security," or freedom. Unless one
wants the New Fascism to look a lot like the old one.
Those who think that the interventionist power of the state will wither
away, after it has built a mighty colonial fortress, atop deficits and debt,
rising taxes and the threat of conscription, are suffering from a Marxist
delusion. Objectivists are neither Marxists nor conservatives.
Objectivists are radicals. And it is only by reclaiming Rand's radical
legacy that we can begin to understand this global crisis as a means to
overturn the irrationality and statism that breed it.
(Rebirth of Reason site)