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False Hope

December 2nd, 2008 by Bill Brown · 1 Comment · Politics

“Barack Obama will save us—he’ll know what to do.” That seems to be the plaintive cry of people desperate for some sense of hope. Obama’s election represents a turning point: the ravages of a century of pragmatism have culminated in a people ready to be led.

I never thought that I would see this transpire. I always shared Ayn Rand’s sentiments about the common man:

A dictatorship cannot take hold in America today. This country, as yet, cannot be ruled—but it can explode. It can blow up into the helpless rage and blind violence of a civil war. It cannot be cowed into submission, passivity, malevolence, resignation. It cannot be “pushed around.” Defiance, not obedience, is the American’s answer to overbearing authority. The nation that ran an underground railroad to help human beings escape from slavery, or began drinking on principle in the face of Prohibition, will not say “Yes, sir,” to the enforcers of ration coupons and cereal prices. Not yet.
“Don’t Let It Go,” Philosophy: Who Needs It

I would expect to see this sort of fawning adoration from the media or the intellectuals, but the cult of personality that has developed around Obama is troubling.

It is hard to say whether the situation seems more dire now due to the increased accessibility of information. But I can’t remember any past presidential candidate that inspired anyone to shave his likeness onto his head, visit his favorite haunts, seek to declare a national holiday for him, rename a school in his honor, or promote tourism using his name.

He’s certainly not the first politician to believe that we are bound “together as one American family—the belief that we rise and fall as one people; that we want that American Dream not just for ourselves, but for each other.” But he’s definitely the first to find an American populace receptive to that message. I would like to believe that individualism is still a vital facet of our cultural DNA but there is scant evidence of it.

For pragmatism has replaced principle. Is a move to “renewable energy” warranted? Who knows, let’s try it and see. Should we bail out American finance and industry? We have to do something. Our founding principles would have told us that the government should not dictate how people choose to produce or consume electricity, and the ideas of liberty and private property demand that one person’s property should not be taken and given to another person. Under pragmatism, anything goes and so the nation lurches fitfully through trial and error—mostly error.

Each stutter is a move towards statism. It is not long before the pretense of purposeful action is jettisoned and action becomes an end in itself. Action, in this context, means a planned economy. Who will defy this “overbearing authority” then? How will they even recognize that it has become overbearing since that presumes a reference to some standard, a principle of governmental restraint? We are closing in on Rand’s “not yet” admonition: there’s still hope for change but it’s never been bleaker than now.

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