It struck me, the other day, just how much time I have to spend making a case that so-called “moderate” wings of the dreadful movements that America faces are effectively indistinguishable from the so-called “radical” or “extreme” wings. That it is not just, to give a few (by no means exhaustive) examples, “radical” Environmentalism, “radical” Marxism, or “radical” Islam which require steadfast opposition, but Environmentalism as such, Marxism as such, and Islam as such which must be opposed.
This shouldn’t be as hard as it is. The central ideas of all these movements are essentially disastrous and in complete opposition to the individual rights that formed the basis of what America was founded on. It isn’t just that respect for individual rights is fading from our culture in the face of the onslaught of the aforementioned movements and their kin. Granted, this is a factor, but it doesn’t account for the systematic dismissal I’ve observed of any attempt at opposition. People have been disarmed against judgment of any movement by its fundamental meaning. The unspoken yet widely pernicious cultural view I’ve seen is that differences of simple degree and consistency should be allowed to excuse things which are fundamentally alike.
I’ve come to understand that this failure represents a form of systematic denial – one that has far-reaching consequences to any effort to save our country from the disintegration of individual rights that these movements are foisting upon us.
To illustrate what this denial means, consider the example of the difference between a petty thief and a murderer.
Every petty thief accepts in his soul the same basic premises as a mass murderer. In both cases, it is only cowardice and self-deception that keeps the pikers small; not any difference in kind. That is, the self-deception to believe that one’s premises don’t lead to the horrible ends that they actually do, and the cowardice to not face that fact. Meanwhile, they act on their premises, walking in small steps toward that end which they refuse to believe is there.
A petty thief may never murder anyone – but he nevertheless acts on the premise of Death, destroying men’s lives in smaller and more spread out, but no less real, ways. Every thief murders his victims in part because by taking their property, he takes the life and effort that were spent to make the things he takes. Concurrently, a murderer is a thief that takes the whole thing, irreplaceably. Because a thief doesn’t take quite so much, however, he can try to deny to himself the evil that he does.
Although the degree of punishment that the law places on murder and theft differs, (mostly because the damage of theft can at least partly be replaced) both acts are nevertheless universally recognized as crime; as an attack on not just the direct victims, but also on the rights of all men – and as such as an assault on civilization itself. Yet the same cannot be said for the so-called “moderates” in movements, even where the radicals are generally recognized as threatening.
Just as petty thieves deny or refuse to see that they act on the premise of murder, so the petty Statists (“moderate” Environmentalists, Muslims, Marxists, and so on) and their various apologists are self-blinded to the final and inevitable conclusions of the movements that they support and/or acquiesce to. (Welfare Statism to Communism, the mingling of church and state to theocracy, and Environmentalism to Ludditism if not outright human extinction – though the full enumeration of these is beyond the scope of this article.)
In both examples, there is a common philosophical force driving the ignorance – or refusal to see – the lack of fundamental difference between the “moderates” and the more consistent practitioners.
This source is Pragmatism: the refusal to look at matters in principle. Philosopher Leonard Peikoff explains,
By itself, as a distinctive theory, the pragmatist ethics is contentless. It urges men to pursue “practicality,” but refrains from specifying any “rigid” set of values that could serve to define the concept. As a result, pragmatists—despite their repudiation of all systems of morality—are compelled, if they are to implement their ethical approach at all, to rely on value codes formulated by other, non-pragmatist moralists. As a rule the pragmatist appropriates these codes without acknowledging them; he accepts them by a process of osmosis, eclectically absorbing the cultural deposits left by the moral theories of his predecessors—and protesting all the while the futility of these theories.
The dominant, virtually the only, moral code advocated by modern intellectuals in Europe and in America is some variant of altruism. This, accordingly, is what most American pragmatists routinely preach . . .
In politics, also, pragmatism presents itself as opposed to “rigidity,” to “dogma,” to “extremes” of any kind (whether capitalist or socialist); it avows that it is relativist, “moderate,” “experimental.” As in ethics, however, so here: the pragmatist is compelled to employ some kind of standard to evaluate the results of his social experiments, a standard which, given his own self-imposed default, he necessarily absorbs from other, non-pragmatist trend-setters . . . When Dewey wrote, the political principle imported from Germany and proliferating in all directions, was collectivism.
The thief may be acting on the principle of murder, but he can get away with it in his own mind because, as a Pragmatist, he doesn’t concern himself with principles. If confronted with the consequences of his actions, a Pragmatist – just like the thief that ends up killing a man in the course of a robbery – will scream that he didn’t mean it, and he couldn’t have foreseen that things would come to this. He’s right, in a twisted way: without principles, he can’t foresee what anything he does will come to.
In their blind terror, the only thing Pragmatists can do is to run screaming from any consistency at all. They know, deep down, that the only difference between themselves – the thieves – and the bloody murderers of the world is that the latter are consistent. The problem is that virtuous, principled men are consistent, also. But the pragmatist makes no distinction between the two. Without principles, he is incapable of such distinctions – he knows only that consistency, for him, is the road to a dark place he dare not visit. He is thus trapped – his only defense mechanism is also the very thing that pulls him constantly toward, and work in the service of, what he knows on some level to be evil.
And so they simply deny the whole thing – as with any principle, they refuse to see it; they refuse to think of the consequences. They look only to the immediate moment – to expediency, to action, to “what works.” (and without principles, they have no real way to measure “working” as opposed to failure)
Enabling this denial is the unfortunate fact that government adds a layer of abstraction: men have the power to do, by proxy of the government, things that their consciences would never permit them to do personally. The same man who voted for the politician who platformed on the expansion of welfare might never break into the house of his neighbor and take his money at gunpoint. But it is, of course, the same thing: both morally and in results. Men of principle know this because they can see it. Concrete-bound Pragmatists, however, can fail or refuse to see it.
The thief can merely pretend that his crimes don’t take men’s lives (in part). But he still has to accept that he robs them. Acting through the state takes this one step further: since men don’t personally take the actions they vote into place, they can pretend that no crimes happen at all. They can hide behind vagaries like “progressive income taxes,” “carbon trading programs” and “universal healthcare.” All of the above mean only one thing: plain, naked, jackbooted force, but they happen out of sight and so it is easier for the Pragmatist to push them into law, or at least fail to resist them.
And Politics, of course, acts on a scale that makes the petty Statist much more dangerous than any petty thief.
Most Americans are not Communists. Nevertheless, America did passively allow such men as Franklin D Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and now George W Bush to implement and then massively grow a welfare state which has gone most of the way to implementing the 10 planks of the Communist Manifesto. It was Pragmatism which stopped men from opposing this transformation on principle. It was Pragmatism which said, “well maybe just a little bit,” while the bits added up to trillions. In precisely the same way as the thief’s Pragmatism says, “I won’t kill men… I’ll just rob them a ‘little bit.'”
Like every Pragmatist accomplice to the mass-murderers of history, today’s apologists refuse to take the movements they support at face value. Most citizens of Nazi Germany did not advocate the extermination of the Jews. They simply refused to believe that their leaders really meant what they said and would carry through to the end the premises that they advocated. They believed that the more consistent men they supported would stop short for some reason. And so they continued to feed and support their movement and put it into power, where it did everything that it had promised.
This will be the direction of Environmentalism, Islamism, and the encroaching growth of state control of the economy if they are not stopped. Not “reformed,” mind you, any more than one could ask to reform the Nazis, but stopped and stopped not only at the “extreme,” but also at the supposedly “moderate” level.
And the major obstacle to this won’t be Environmentalism, Islam, ideological Marxism, or similar. It was Pragmatism which has brought the culture and the country to the point where they are today, with the success of each movement possible only because of the philosophic disarmament that the near universal spread of Pragmatism has enacted.
If we are to find success in restoring individual rights and ousting those movements which are assaulting them, Pragmatism will have to be addressed. We will have to learn its sources and its workings, and present an opposition to Pragmatism as systematic as the ones needed for any of the individual movements that it has enabled.