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A. Man is a tribal animal.*

B. I hate tribalism; I’m an individualist.†

C. I am not a man.‡

* Humans instinctively think and act in in-group/out-group fashion. The Friend/Enemy distinction is the most important distinction any person makes; where that distinction is widely drawn in the same way constitutes a culture, or perhaps nation. In-group love feeds off of out-group hate; fear of the out-group nurtures trust in the in-group. Liberalism grew to deal with this elementary and dangerous aspect of human nature. Modern liberals have found a way around this: they hate conservatives as the ultimate out-group.


† There are of course many meanings to “individualism” and “individualist.” I define individualism — my individualism, the classical liberal individualism — as the simultaneous method of focusing on individual action and behavior as the primary building block of all social systems (without denying emergent properties to those systems) and the norming of individual autonomy as a key to moral growth and human betterment. It is at base anti-tribal not in being against clans and tribes, but in being against tribal agendas as trumping and deciding what individuals may do. Individualism is the extension of the Law of the Stranger, and is a systematic regulation of deciding where coercion may be applied in assigning people to any possible out-group.


‡ Considering the low standards of the human, all-too-human, not finding inspiration in phrases like “man up” and “be a man” is hardly radical. In an age of the Last Man, and his low-level egoisms and altruisms, the Individual might laugh off suggestions of the Over-man, but hey: he’s gotten over being merely a man.
It is possible, of course, for a woman to transcend such old norms, too. All one has to do is meet a competent woman professional, or a confident married mother homeschooling her children, and you may see a fine example of an over-woman. A woman “so over” her tribal inheritance. But, alas, the modal Last Man, today, is either a welfare mom or a “mangina.” Servility is the lot of the average person in a welfare state —  the servility of the kept pet. The kind who always votes for “her party.”
It is time for White Fang to Go Dingo. 

Those of us who learn on our own to think for ourselves do not require immersion into the work of writers who relentlessly promote “rationality” and “reason.” We accept it as bedrock. We move on.

That is my usual explanation to my friends who admire Ayn Rand, or who went through an  “Ayn Rand phase,” or were once or (alas) are now self-describing as a “student of Objecctivism.” She was of little use to me. I read her “too late” for her work to have an impact.

I waited until I was 22 before I opened the pages of The Fountainhead. I had read, the year before, the essays making up The Virtue of Selfishness. I liked the novel. But I was not blown away. I grew leery of the essays. But it took me a while to see her central error.

I had already discovered the “pro-liberty” novels I needed in my teens: The Once and Future King, Titus Groan, Brave New World and others. As for philosophy, I had read Plato, Aristotle, John Locke and as much as I could find out about anarchism in my backwater locale before I found and devoured Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia, which did indeed “blow my mind.” But I did not come to any big conclusions about political philosophy for several years, until after I had read more, including some economics.

Before political philosophy, I confronted religion. Also without Ayn Rand’s help.

I started, in a sense, with C.S. Lewis’s Miracles, which, as a Christian, I judged dishonest, and moved on to consider a wide array of ideas. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man was a bit of a challenge, in that I learned a lot from the book, but came to disapprove of its basic modus: attacking low-level exponents of a philosophy (the textbook writers who annoyed him so much) without addressing that philosophy’s high-level theorists (Ogden, Richards, Ayer, Stevenson). Surely that was a form of intellectual dishonesty as well.

So I by the time I was 20 I was reading existentialists and Walter Kauffmann and C.S. Peirce and many others. I had put aside Heidegger. I had bracketed Husserl. I was thinking for myself. By 22 I had moved from a sort of Millian liberalism to something like a full-blown libertarianism, without any input from Rand.

Hence my jesting status as a member of the Null Rand League. I am one of those individualists — rare in my generation — who has not been influenced by Ayn Rand directly, except in the negative, and whose intellectual inheritance comes from other sources. I had read Lysander Spooner and Auberon Herbert and Herbert Spencer and F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises before I ever read one word of Ayn Rand.  (I had also read Marx, Schumacher, Wilson and many, many others of an anti-libertarian stripe.)

And when I did finally get to The Fountainhead (and only because a cute girl I knew had read it), I was impressed with parts of it, and creeped out by a few things as well. (I have written about this before.) As for her philosophy at large, I have many problems with it. (Also written about elsewhere.) So I simply am not the go-to person to write a level-headed reappraisal of Rand. I have never been bitten by the bug. I have never had to recover, or fight it off to any great extent.

So Charles Murray’s recent piece on the subject is worth consulting. I have no problem with it. And I do have many friends who would concur. Though he does not float one idea I have often heard — that her best work of fiction was her first.

But, once again, I have read neither We, the Living, nor Atlas Shrugged. I cannot even stomach a foray into the much shorter Anthem.

This conclusion to Murray’s review seems spot on:

Ayn Rand never dwelt on her Russian childhood, preferring to think of herself as wholly American. Rightly so. The huge truths she apprehended and expressed were as American as apple pie. I suppose hardcore Objectivists will consider what I’m about to say heresy, but hardcore Objectivists are not competent to judge. The novels are what make Ayn Rand important. Better than any other American novelist, she captured the magic of what life in America is supposed to be. The utopia of her novels is not a utopia of greed. It is not a utopia of Nietzschean supermen. It is a utopia of human beings living together in Jeffersonian freedom.

The “greed is good” theme that progressives revile so much in Rand is, to the extent it is there, of course idiotic. Greed is the excess of acquisitiveness, which is a necessity; despising profit and the profit motive is for witless ninnies. But the excess of a virtue is not virtuous. It is the definition of vice. Even suggesting that greed is good is folly.

But hey: Rand extolled what she called “selfishness” more often than greed. And redefined it, and balled it all up, too, in the process. But give her her due.

So it is good to see an interpretation on the utopian element in Atlas Shrugged interpreted in a way more in line with the moral and political philosophy of Bastiat and Spencer than with what we might think of as Ayn Rand’s.

Whatever she wrote about the subject, I didn’t need her to tell me. I worked out my thoughts on utopianism by reading Nozick, William Morris’s News from Nowhere, and many other books, and by confronting economic theory and the realities of history . . . on my own, without one one guide to call “hero” or “master.”

Or Mistress.

What classical liberals call the market order — and what many people just make do with as “the free society” — is about reciprocity, not equality.

Further, the governmental institutions of such a society should not be based on the family, but should enable families and other voluntary, peaceful organizations to coexist. Neither of George Lakoff‘s competing family paradigms, right-wing “paternalism” or left-wing “maternalism” — nor the Abel-to-raise-Cain “fraternalism” of the French Revolution — should be idealized for great-society governance.

The “family” paradigm of the State, or civil society, is dangerous.

What we want are the standards that treat strangers not as family members, but as non-threats. That is, the stranger is not your brother, or sister, worth special concern. But neither should he or she be assumed to be The Enemy. The non-familial other must not be automatically regarded as an out-group usurper — unless the stranger actually starts usurping.

So, to repeat, the standard for the free society must not be family-based, but merely civilized. Allow for the stranger. Do not immediately include the stranger in intimate society.

In other words: a middle ground. Between social inclusion and social exclusion lies the just indifference and toleration and forbearance we give to unknown but sometimes quite nearby others. This middle ground is where manners should have its most important governing role.

Each person should not merely be allowed to favor his or her allies and clans and friends, but encouraged to do so. But those instances of inclusion must not be automatically construed so to exclude the outsider with force, bigotry or institutionalized persecution. The freedom of association that allows such a varied mix to flourish also requires non-inclusion, just not belligerent exclusion.

The equal application of the standard of justice is not equality as construed by today’s self-styled progressives. The classical republican virtue of the equal application of a universal standard allows for, indeed requires, reciprocal relations as the social norm. Not equality-as-identity, or as identical (or even comparable) allocations.

Now, the regime of contract that this enables is a kind of social equality — and that is all that Tocqueville meant when he wrote about the amazing “equality of conditions” in the America of 1835 — and is basically freedom as practically understood. This standard does not demand Christian charity to all comers. It demands the kind of commutative justice and limits to coercion that serve as the inherited commonsense morality of the Western tradition (and many Eastern traditions as well).

Distributive justice — “social justice,” with its advocates’ perverse love of a literal “equality” — has no place in the open society other than in voluntary associations. Which include families and clans and churches and synagogues as well as the local Rotary or Odd Fellows.

The motto for freedom-loving liberals (“libertarians”?) should not be “liberty, equality, fraternity,” but “liberty, reciprocity, civility.”

I wrote the forewords to both volumes of Laissez Faire Books’ ebook editions of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (I and II). Though this book is a much-admired classic, it astounds me how few people I meet have read it. Perhaps the challenge of the book wards them off. Perhaps the concept of “the tyranny of the majority,” floated in the first volume, and the chapter on the kind of tyranny that could grow in democracy, in the second, are, together, too much of a challenge for the tender ears of modern politically correct ideologues. Maybe the idea that a Frenchman in 1835 could not merely accurately predict, but acutely describe, the moral failures of the modern age is just too much.

Read it, serviles, and weep.White_FiatMoneyInflationInFrance_933x14001-303x475

And, while you are at it, take a look back in French history, when government “hope and change” ruined an economy, deeply crippling a culture, and brought on totalitarian state terror. Read Andrew Dickson White’s excellent discussion of fiat money inflation in France, during the revolutionary period. I wrote the foreword to that book, too.

My adventure in court, this morning, proved more than amusing.

The judge got a kick out of it, too. Smiles all around, until the end.

I went to plea mitigating circumstances, and inquired how the court’s educational task in fining me for “unlawful lane change” could serve a purpose, since, believe me, lessons learned. (Unexpectedly falling asleep, driving off the road, and totaling the car and walking out alive is a bracing experience, more than enough education for one day.) He offered me the standard deferment out, I rebuffed it, asking, instead, for a complete dismissal. There was some badinage. And the judge consulted the dour prosecutor, who had all the humanity of an autobot Bill O’Reilly simulacrum. (The prosecutor expressed surprise that I had not been cited with a negligent driving charge. I challenged the prosecutor’s logic about the plausibility of this hypothetical alternate citation, arguing that it would have been inapposite, since negligence seemed to me to imply moral culpability, which seemed a huge stretch in this case.)

I didn’t bother making the case that, on some private turnpikes, the owners of the roads don’t seek penalties so much as help people after accidents. In private enterprise, unlike under road socialism, the paternalistic impulse to discipline and punish is replaced by a more common-sense (and humane) standard. The reason for my reticence? A mitigation hearing seemed an inappropriate occasion to cry “Out of order? This court is out of order!”

The judge merely took $25 off the ticket. And went all serioso at the conclusion, when he gave a most implausible rationale for the fine — nonsensical, really. But government must be served, and the awesome dignity of traffic court must carry on. Or so say all reasonable men.

In the hall afterwards, a lawyer gave me a thumbs up, saying “good try.” More smiles at my quixotic legal gambit.

Aristotle: Man is the Rational Animal.
Freud: Man is the Rationalizing Animal.
Economists: Man is the Rationing Animal.
Technocrats: Man is just another animal to be rationed.

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

— Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII(425)

Say what you will about Pascal’s famous observation, but, as near as I can make out, what most souls exhibit is not so much that much-talked-about “God-shaped hole” but a Stalin-shaped cavity. And they seem all too willing to fill it with the most outrageous provocations, plans and prejudices.

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Sheldon Richman has it right. Today’s pols are so addicted to the word “terrorist” that they have forgotten words like “insurrection.”

What we are witnessing is state creation the old-fashioned way, by conquest. Oh, with a little crowd-sourcing thrown in at the recruitment end of the conquering organization.

We are present at the creation. But don’t realize what is really going on, because, you know, “terrorism.”

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From 9/12/2001, I have been confident that U.S. leaders and the American people habitually underestimate the threat of militant Islam. One of the reasons I encouraged caution, and limited engagement (to say the least), was to avoid the dire consequences of American policy furthering, inadvertently, the dangerous craziness of the Islamic worldview, which I thought then and think now more dangerous than Communism.

Why more dangerous?

Because the agenda of Islam, in the Koran, is clearly imperialistic, deceitful, retrograde, murderous, and despotic. And because, unlike the commies, Islamic extremists believe in an afterlife, they can be convinced to do even more despicable acts than the commies did (and communists were the world’s greatest mass murderers). Muslims are taught that death in the cause of jihad will be rewarded in the next life; communists in the secular tradition were limited by some perceptions of worldly self-interest.

Further, today’s Muslim pride is of an ancient variety, and tied to a distinct idea of self-rule (which was and remains frankly imperialistic). So, any conquest of a Muslim area by the West would not likely have the salutary effects that, say, the humiliating conquests of World War II had on its defeated populations: Germany and Japan became civilized after defeat. We can expect no such thing from the Islamic world. I see little hope that any defeat in battle or hegemonic rule could dispirit Muslims in the East (particularly the Arabs) — and certainly not to peace. No, every win in battle will call up more jihadists, and help lose the war.

The war with Islam (and it has now become a war with Islam, because of idiotic war policies of Bush’s neocon buddies as well as the Obama administration) can be won in only two ways:

  1. stealthily, with caution, restraint, strategic disengagement, and a whole lot of trade; or
  2. by near genocide.

It is my fear that the U.S. policy towards the jihadists has made — or is making — genocide inevitable.

This is bad not only because genocide is a horrifying, criminal enterprise that sears human souls even to the corruption of civilization. It is bad because it might not work . . . while, in the attempt, destroy what little civilization we have.

Civilization may be more fragile than some think. Turning the Arab world, along with the pan-Islamic civilization, into a “sea of glass,” as folks at the Free Republica dream about, would have global environmental as well as political consequences that few dare contemplate.

And yet we may be driven to such horrendous extremities, simply to deal with the madness that is Islam.

The only key to the defeat of jihadism is letting reality creep into the common culture of the Muslim world, and “corrupt” — the polite word is “educate” — Muslims. Just as Christians were educated by the religious warfare and witch crazes of the period following the discovery of America. The Enlightenment occurred in no small part because of the rise of secular intellectualism and religious nonconformism, where Europeans, over the course of three centuries, realized at last that religious warfare was not a tolerable condition of mankind. The absolute craziness of the Reformation/Countereformation period was squelched by a popular ideological change of heart that was widespread. Christendom — the popular result of mixing Christian teaching with practical politics, micro and macro — was tamed. And it in turn began to tame the secular order. But it could only have this salutary effect after it was boxed in by a widely understood rule of law.

Thank you, Hugo Grotius.

Islam, as victim of Islamic misogyny (and terrorism) Ayaan Hirsi Ali has cannily insisted, has never gone through such an experience, and remains an uncivilized culture. Indeed, it is still tied to the honor cultures of the ancient world and even of pre-civilized life.

It is very hard to “force” wisdom on people. The “basic deal” of civilized morality requires the giving up the hegemonic instinct. The Koran does not teach this; or, it teaches it in one passage and utterly repudiates it elsewhere.

So Western leaders have to be more sophisticated than those who “won the Cold War.” Fighting the last war is the folly of old men. Neocon foreign policy, and its simpleton shills at Fox News (like Bill O’Reilly), is superficial and utterly foolish.

It is not easy to slay the Hydra, which replaces every severed head with two more. Just so, in dealing with Islam. It is pointless to go to battle in such a way that ensures more enemies in the future.

At this point the reader may question my assertions, as well should be. Why am I right, and so many others wrong? Well, I have observed, for years. And read much, from many sources. I am not the only person to have been left with the impression I have of the Muslim world. In 1887, novelist Francis Marion Crawford mused along similar lines, as he described the worshipers in the Hagia Sofia:

It was not possible . . . that such men could ever be really conquered. They might be driven from the capital of the East by overwhelming force, but they would soon rally in greater numbers on the Asian shore. They might be crushed for a moment, but they could never be kept under, nor really dominated. Their religion might be oppressed and condemned by the oppressor, but it was of the sort to gain new strength at every fresh persecution. To slay such men was to sow dragon’s teeth and to reap a harvest of still more furious fanatics, who, in their turn being destroyed, would multiply as the heads of the Hydra beneath the blows of Heracles. The even rise and fall of those long lines of stalwart Mussulmans seemed like the irrepressible tide of an ocean, which if restrained, would soon break every barrier raised to obstruct it.   — F. Marion Crawford, Paul Patoff

Unfortunately, the only group of successful politicians with a long tradition of opposing simple-minded interventionist nonsense, and promoting the idea of complexity in foreign affairs — recognizing elements of self-fulfilling prophecy, blowback, and other unintended consequences of reckless intervention — is the left-leaning Democrats. And their ability to think clearly is hampered by their witless commitments to politically correct egalitarianism and their association with First World Marxist academicians.

Libertarians only possess a mere scant influence in politics, and that only through the Tea Party contingent, and this group is corrupted by all the idiocies that conservatives are prey to. And even the intellectual libertarian movement — a far more impressive clade than the popularly political — has little real history of sound theory on foreign policy and war. Most libertarians merely repeat simplistic wisdom (which is, at least, in a limited purview, wisdom). There is no libertarian intellectual tradition in the foreign policy realm to match the sophistication of the scholarship and theory in economics.

Of course, there is a lot of sane caution in the popular libertarian intellectual movement, from folks like Sheldon Richman, Justin Raimondo and Nick Gillespie. But, for all these gentlemen’s savvy council, their influence is muted. And I am not convinced that any of them really understand the enormity that is at the heart of Islam. Gillespie, for example, is cautious enough to doubt the severity of the threat of ISIS. But this particular threat is not what makes Islam dangerous. It is the corrupting influence of the viral memes of supremacy and murderous hegemony quite plainly written in the Koran. These pernicious ideas make all of the Islamic world a major threat.

It has been 13 years since “9/11.” I am, more than ever, worried about the future of civilization. It’s not just that I fear our enemies. I fear its defenders even more.

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I hate Islamists, terrorists, mass murderers, imperialist wannabes, and a whole mess of things about the mid-East.

The bloody execution of anyone is a horrendous thing, and the recent beheadings of two American journalists as a form of taunting warfare is horrific. But I fail to see how the deaths of American journalists who risked their lives by going into a war zone provide reason enough to re-ignite and escalate an ill-conceived war of alleged conquest halfway around the world.

Americans who travel to other countries do so at their own risk. The world is not American. We cannot expect justice to roll evenly everywhere . . . especially when we cannot get it here.

On the other hand, it would be wonderful to take ISIS down.

Were I in charge, my policy would encourage those nearer to it to take care of the problem . . . and if the situation escalates in horror and homicidal and repressive power, then strike back against the evil madmen in a big way.

I think I know how this could be done.

The plan looks nothing like Obama’s.

Or the witless Republicans. . . .

But wait. I am not in charge. “Being-in-charge” fantasies probably should not be encouraged.

What should be encouraged? Careful thought. Maybe we should begin by asking and answering some tough questions.

Here’s one. Many people think warfare and attacks and bombing and “boots on the ground” and the like are all about toughness, about asserting control.

But if you let your policy — the policy of a whole country — be determined by upstarts and insurrectionists (we call them, incorrectly, “terrorists”) in foreign lands, who is in control?

Surely not you.

Surely it is your enemy who is in control.

In light of this, maybe the control freaks in this Great Shaitan of ours might want to rethink their quick-to-the-draw preference for retaliation and war. Or at least the diplomatic context within which they would engage in the most extreme acts humanity has devised.

(Yes, I’m suggesting that anyone in favor of warfare is extremist. By definition.)

timo-dither

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