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Rush Limbaugh and His Critics

By Myrhaf · March 4th, 2009 7:18 am · 21 Comments ·

Rush Limbaugh’s speech to CPAC (transcript) over the weekend seems to be the political story of the week. It’s probably a bigger story than it should be. Why it is such a big story is interesting to ponder in itself.

Over the years I have come down on Rush hard. I’ve called him Republican Water Boy and Statist Monster. I have a lot of problems with him, but I agree with something Leonard Peikoff said on his radio show back in the ’90s, that Rush is better than his enemies on the left. (Dr. Peikoff’s opinion of Rush might be less now that he sees the religious right as the greatest threat to American freedom.)

The worst thing about Rush’s speech is his religious explanation of freedom:

Freedom — freedom is the natural yearning of the human spirit as we were endowed by our creator. And the United States of America is the place in the world where that yearning flourishes, where freedom is expected because it’s part of the way we’re created.

Freedom is good because man’s nature as a rational being needs a political system that protects individual rights. However, there is no yearning for freedom instilled in man’s soul by a supernatural being. If people have sufficiently good philosophic premises, they will want to be free. Bad premises will lead to a yearning for dictatorship. (See our nihilist left and Islam.)

His religion notwithstanding, Rush is an individualist conservative. A college dropout who never cared much for big, boring books, his nonintellectual quality has actually saved him from the corruptions of modern philosophy. He is a product of the American sense of life. He speaks to average Americans with an ease and authority that is unmatched. This is why the left wants to destroy him: he represents the individualist America they are trying to wipe out and “recreate.”

Rush got huge publicity when he said he wants Obama to fail. The left has made much of this statement, thinking they can persuade people that Republicans are unpatriotic because they want their president to fail. It’s funny when you remember that for eight years the left actively worked to ensure that Bush would fail at home and abroad.

But who would not want Obama to fail? In his own words he wants to “recreate” America. He wants to expand state power over the individual. Any sane person would want him to fail.

The Kossacks and the Democrats want to make Rush the leader of the Republican Party. They think this will destroy the party because independents do not like Limbaugh a whole lot. All they are doing is giving Limbaugh free publicity. Do they really want to make such a big deal out of a man who has 15 hours of radio time a week to bash the hell out of the left? I’m convinced that some of the independents who tune in out of curiosity to find out what all the hubbub is about will be persuaded by Rush. Many independents and moderates are just people who have not paid enough attention to politics to form an opinion. If those people begin paying attention by listening to Rush, they could very well become conservatives. Sounds like the Kossack left is in Wile E. Coyote mode again.

As always, the left is as bad as we expect it to be, but the right manages to be even worse. The neoconservative David Frum, who thinks Republicans should accept the welfare state to remain politically viable, shares the left’s idea that Rush is poison to independent voters.

On the one side, the president of the United States: soft-spoken and conciliatory, never angry, always invoking the recession and its victims. This president invokes the language of “responsibility,” and in his own life seems to epitomize that ideal: He is physically honed and disciplined, his worst vice an occasional cigarette. He is at the same time an apparently devoted husband and father. Unsurprisingly, women voters trust and admire him.

And for the leader of the Republicans? A man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as “losers.” With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence – exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party. And we’re cooperating! Those images of crowds of CPACers cheering Rush’s every rancorous word – we’ll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time.

Notice that Frum’s analysis is all about image. Never mind that Obama wants to turn America into a European socialist state — he’s soft-spoken and in shape, two things Rush Limbaugh will never be. It looks to me like Frum has given up on the rationality of the American people. Ideas don’t seem to be important any more.

“Crunchy Con” Rod Dreher, who opposes strip malls because they offend his esthetic sensibility, says Limbaugh is not a conservative. In a way, he has a point.

It is Rousseau conservatism: the idea that man is born innocent, but corrupted by society, or government. Remove the chains of government, and man will return to his natural, good state, which is one of limitless possibility. This denies two bedrock truths of philosophical conservatism, which are that 1) human nature is fallen, and 2) man must learn to live within limits. A conservatism that is not founded on a conscious recognition of those two truths is a false conservatism, and has a shaky foundation from which to criticize liberal utopianism.

To Limbaugh’s line, “As I say, we want the best: Happiness for everybody,” Dreher responds,

I give up. It’s going to be a long, long Lent for American conservatism.

For Dreher, Limbaugh is not a conservative because he thinks too highly of human nature. Dreher is absolutely right! Dreher’s contempt for man leads him to embrace environmentalism and big government. And Dreher is the true conservative. The contradictions between conservatism and capitalism lie in Rush Limbaugh, not in Dreher, Frum, David Brooks and the rest of the big government conservatives.

Rush is the last of a dying breed, the pro-capitalist conservative. Once he is gone, maybe those who love freedom, reason and individual rights can finally junk conservatism and religion and move on to a radical capitalism.

UPDATE: Politico reports that the Democrat campaign to demonize Rush Limbaugh comes straight from the White House. Perhaps this is the fruit of Obama’s training in Alinskyism. More discussion here, here, here and here.

21 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Andrew Dalton // Mar 4, 2009 at 10:09 am

    It’s hard to overstate how pervasive and poisonous the Christian doctrine of original sin is.

    The Left even has their own nihilistic version of it: human nature is “imperfect” or “flawed” (thus justifying government controls)–except that there’s not even a standard of perfection that we can look up to! The relatively nonreligious, Pragmatist conservatives such as David Brooks seem to have bought into this version, too.

  • 2 madmax // Mar 4, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Great post and great quote from Dreher.

    Conservatives always link the Left to Rousseau (which is correct) and link Rousseau to the Enlightenment (which is incorrect). True conservatives believe in original sin because they see it as necessary for a moral order. As I understand their argument, it goes like this: God is above man and gives order to the universe. Also, god is perfection and since man is not god, man is less than perfection and can not be inherently good because that would mean that he was perfect like god. So man is flawed, less than god, and has a tendency for evil. Conservatives will also say that man has the potential for good as well but they link this in with the Free Will defense of theism; ie without evil there could be no good, so evil is part of man’s nature being that we have free will. All of this is of course nonsense because an omniscient god implies – make that mandates – hard, fatalistic determinism. But nevertheless this is how conservatives see man and god.

    Conservatives will also conclude that it is only liberals who reject original sin and thus in doing so reject all of morality. By rejecting original sin, it is inevitable that if you believe all man are good, then you will believe all men are equal and should be totally equal in everything. So, a true conservative believes, rejecting original sin means being an egalitarian. Believe it or not I have read conservatives call Rand an egalitarian and a Utopian liberal. Greg Nyquist has made this argument relying on Burke and Kirk for his premises.

    Bottom line, true conservatism is every bit as vile as leftism. Which is why, as I have come to learn, Objectivists must be very careful with whatever praise they give to conservatives. So much of that movement is medieval and hostile to Rand and her philosophy.

    Lastly though, I have a question about Objectivism’s view of man. Conservatism believes that man is either innately depraved or tends toward evil and depravity. Liberals sometimes see man as innately innocent or innately flawed. But what is Objectivism’s view of man’s nature? Is it morally neutral? Rand said a man “is a being of self made soul.” Is it that man has the potential for good and nobility but its up to each individual man to achieve that end or not on his own?

  • 3 Andrew Dalton // Mar 4, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    “True conservatives believe in original sin because they see it as necessary for a moral order.”

    I don’t think that this is how conservatives defend the idea of original sin.

    Conservatives, to the extent that they are honestly mistaken, see evil in the world and attribute its origin to the metaphysical (human nature) rather than the man-made (human choices). Christian doctrine basically hands this explanation to them. From this point they derive the idea that humility and submission to God is necessary for morality.

    Since many leftists and left-liberals basically deny the idea of evil altogether, conservatives see this as a stark denial of reality by their opponents (which it is) and a vindication of their own position (which it is not).

    “Is it that man has the potential for good and nobility but its up to each individual man to achieve that end or not on his own?”

    This is my understanding.

    The idea that man is born virtuous, only to face corruption by society is the leftists’ version of determinism. The idea that man is born “fallen,” and must be hammered straight by religion and social institutions is the conservatives’ version of determinism. Objectivism rejects determinism and hence both sides of this false alternative.

  • 4 Jim May // Mar 4, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    But what is Objectivism’s view of man’s nature? Is it morally neutral? Rand said a man “is a being of self made soul.” Is it that man has the potential for good and nobility but its up to each individual man to achieve that end or not on his own?

    Man’s nature is just like the rest of nature, from rocks to crocs: a metaphysical given. It is neither good nor evil; it just IS. Good and evil only come into play with regards to each individual’s character.

    Conservatives and Leftists believe that human nature dictates individual character, at least to an extent; that is the specific meaning of “Original Sin” and its secular deterministic equivalents. (This is why the Left denies free will outright, while the conservatives pay it lip service, but still end up seeing us as helpless children, burdened with “tendencies” to evil).

    Andrew, your last paragraph isn’t quite right. Conservatives do see man as “fallen” (i.e. morally defective), but they do not expect religion and social institutions to “hammer him straight”; they see these as merely holding him in check, because the defect cannot be corrected (see “tragic” view, as expressed by Thomas Sowell).

    The view that you ascribe to Leftists did exist once in the last century, when it was still influenced by the vestiges of liberalism and its Enligthenment optimism. Today, however, that liberal influence is gone, and they have moved closer to their conservative brethren: they too see man as born “broken” and in need of being re-engineered by society. Where they differ is that the Left really does expect society to “hammer us straight” — that is, to remake our **nature** into something it is not.

  • 5 Jim May // Mar 4, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Bottom line, true conservatism is every bit as vile as leftism. Which is why, as I have come to learn, Objectivists must be very careful with whatever praise they give to conservatives. So much of that movement is medieval and hostile to Rand and her philosophy.

    My approach is to try and push them into their own contradictions, especially as regards freedom. Many conservatives think that individual liberty is a conservative principle; men like Dreher know better, and we should use the latter against the former, with the goal of rescuing liberty from conservatism.

    As Myrhaf writes, Dreher is right; he is the more consistent conservative.

    Speaking of which, I did not know that Nyquist was a conservative; that’s the second time I have found a conservative/theist where I expected to find a Leftist (the first being Bill Vallicella, the “maverick philosopher”.) I’ve not bothered investigating Nyquist further since I found made-up BS in the very first paragraph of one of his articles that I had selected at random.

  • 6 Andrew Dalton // Mar 4, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    Jim –

    You’re right; I didn’t mean that conservatives see man as *perfectible* by institutions; rather, “hammered straight” in this context means “kept straight enough to get by.” To conservatives, the only alternative while living on Earth is imperfection vs. total depravity.

  • 7 madmax // Mar 4, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Andrew and Jim,

    Thanks a ton. I feel it is necessary to understand both the left’s and the right’s view of man because in the end that is what is driving these movements and their politics. Thanks for setting me straight.

    Regarding Nyquist, he is somewhat difficult to classify but I do feel at root he is a conservative. He is a theistic apologist who has attacked Peikoff’s arguments against god using much the same type of AP arguments that Vallicella does, albeit he is not as bright and crafty as Vallicella.

    Also, he argues that Rand is a liberal precisely because she believes that mankind can make an ideal society using “unaided” reason. To Nyquist, relying on Edmund Burke and what he considers confirming evidence from the social sciences, he argues that reason is limited and we must rely on our institutions, traditions, etc to build a lasting society because this is where mankind’s “knowledge” is stored. [He also says it has to be this way because there can be no absolute morality due to Hume's Is/Ought and morality must be determined by society. This is where he differs slightly from many conservatives because while he argues that atheism is false, he isn't heavy into revealed religion.] I have seen this argument used by Larry Auster, George Will, Pat Buchanan just to name a few (and diverse bunch of) conservatives.

  • 8 Andrew Dalton // Mar 4, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Here is something else that I realized:

    The idea of a “fallen” nature is a stolen concept unless one also has an idea of something that human nature has *fallen from*. Not only are the conservatives wrong, but they are also being incoherent unless they are willing to argue that the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is literal history.

    Protestant Fundamentalists will do this of course, but they are only a small fraction of the conservatives who make use of the argument from original sin.

  • 9 madmax // Mar 4, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Andrew,

    In one of your posts you wrote:

    “Conservatives, to the extent that they are honestly mistaken, see evil in the world and attribute its origin to the metaphysical (human nature) rather than the man-made (human choices). Christian doctrine basically hands this explanation to them.”

    This made a light bulb go off for me. Many conservatives, especially sophisticated religious apologists, are Platonists. They see good and evil as metaphysical essences that exist “out there.” Auster, for example, thinks that goodness is god and we must “turn towards” god to be good. When we “turn away” from god we are turning towards evil. He gets this from a whole host of 19th century Christian theologians. So it is not surprising that conservatives would think of morality in general as an essence built into the very “order of being” and therefor metaphysical.

    Relating this to your ideas about our “fallen” nature. I think you are right, its a stolen concept. Christian apologists will argue that god is perfection and man, because he is not god, is therefore not perfection but “fallen.” This, I believe, is Plato’s influence on Christianity. Of course this is a stolen concept because it assumes that there is a god and that Christians know his nature. So if we trace original sin back far enough it all rests on a foundation of quicksand.

  • 10 Myrhaf // Mar 4, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Andrew, thanks for bringing up original sin in the first comment. I knew there was something I was forgetting when I wrote the Dreher passage, and that was it.

  • 11 Phoroneus // Mar 4, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    Again the New Clarion proves its worth in both the content of its articles and the conversations in its comments.

  • 12 Grant Williams // Mar 4, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    I wonder why it is that the likes of David Frum never ask themselves why it is that an ideologically-hardened socialist like Obama is better able to keep it together psychologically inside a mixed-economy than does a non-philosophical advocate of free markets like Limbaugh.

  • 13 SCROLL FOR UPDATES..ALERT: White House The President And Congress Declare War | Right Voices // Mar 4, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    [...] Rush Limbaugh and His Critics — The New Clarion [...]

  • 14 Jim May // Mar 4, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    Also, he argues that Rand is a liberal precisely because she believes that mankind can make an ideal society using “unaided” reason.

    That is actually correct, historically. Enlightenment liberalism is very much about the ability to discover what *ought* to be, by using reason to discover what *is*. Leaving aside the baggage currently attached to the term for the moment, Objectivists are pretty much the only philosophical liberals left.

    Moverover, America is the biggest (and so far, only) historical validation of liberalism — and at the same time, a real-world refutation of the “is/ought” dichotomy. Core conservatives desperately hope they can rewrite history and put over the “Christian nation” lie before anybody notices.

    As for the “reason is limited” shibboleth, the ultimate weapon to be used against Nyquist, Dinesh D’Souza and Kant (who is behind them all) is a question that Ayn Rand asked flippantly at one point, but in fact contains the basic refutation of the pernicious idea that reason should “know its limits”:

    “Is it rational to use reason?”

    Clearly, the answer is a tautological “yes”.

    So how, then can reason “discover its own limitations” and point away from itself, as Kant and his children say?

    How is it possible for a person to rationally conclude that reason is the wrong tool to use?

    It isn’t logically possible. Moving away from reason cannot happen at the behest of reason; it *must* be an arbitrary, faith-driven action.

    Or, to put it another way: when you are deciding whether to be rational about something, what are you using in order to make that decision? Reason, or whim?

    And how did you decide which one to use for that decision? Reason or whim?

    And on it goes. Reason will always choose reason, because it is always rational to use reason. The only way out is for your *ultimate* standard to be unreason.

    This doesn’t bother Objectivists, because 1. we know that reason is man’s moral faculty, and 2. we know that if it exists, it is knowable. We know that reason encompasses all real things — that is, if it is real, it is knowable — so there is nothing outside this sphere we are interested in.

    But it sure as hell bothers conservatives, because 1. they emotionally rebel against such moral constraint, and 2. wish for unknowable things outside the reach of reason, because that is their path to rationalizing #1.

    Religious faith is not a source of morality; it is a LICENSE to escape it.

    A man of faith, accordingly, can use reason 99% of the time, none of the time, or any random variation thereof, since unreason can choose to be reasonable at one point and unreasonable at another, whenever one wants. But permitting that necessarily means that their *ultimate* choice, is unreason/faith/whim — else they can’t “escape”.

    Kant/D’Souza/Nyquist cannot claim the sanction of reason for their position — because it can never be rational to abandon reason.

    If a man finds himself outside of reason, he did not get there rationally; he cheated. When Kant denied reason in order to make room for faith, he was acting on faith in the first place — and from the beginning.

  • 15 Rob Diego // Mar 5, 2009 at 7:17 am

    Based on Rush’s definition of freedom, it appears that his definition is based upon the subjective theory of value rather than the objective theory which is Rand’s foundation for her definition of morality.

  • 16 Rational Jenn // Mar 5, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Thank you for participating in the carnival! By the way, I’m sure you all knew this already, but in case you didn’t, each New Clarion author should feel free to submit a post each week if you’d like to. We often receive multiple submissions from multiple-author blogs like Noodlefood and The Undercurrent. Thanks again!

  • 17 EdMcGon // Mar 6, 2009 at 4:56 am

    If those people begin paying attention by listening to Rush, they could very well become conservatives. Sounds like the Kossack left is in Wile E. Coyote mode again.

    Myrhaf,
    That is classic! ROFL!!!

    Seriously though, you should have more respect for freedom of religion. Regardless of what you think of God, your view that He doesn’t exist is protected under freedom of religion also.

  • 18 Myrhaf // Mar 6, 2009 at 6:03 am

    Why do you think I don’t respect freedom of religion? People have the right to believe any nonsense they want and I will defend to my grave their right to be fools.

  • 19 EdMcGon // Mar 9, 2009 at 1:21 am

    Myrhaf,
    I am merely stating that whenever the conversation turns to religion, your writing drips with condescension. You need to remember that atheism is a religion too, even if you don’t have to go to church on Sunday. ;-)

  • 20 Myrhaf // Mar 9, 2009 at 5:47 am

    Does that make Richard Dawkins the Pope of the atheists?

    Seriously, atheism is not a religion. It is not a statement of any positive belief, but merely a statement of what one does not believe. It is just a negation of theism: a-theism.

    I will admit that my writing about religion drips with condescension, which happens when a writer holds religion to be the greatest evil in the history of mankind. I do hold my thinking to be superior to religion. If I couldn’t condescend to this historic evil that now threatens to destroy America, then writing would be no fun at all. I think I should get credit for not foaming at the mouth and writing, “F**K RELIGION!”

  • 21 madmax // Mar 9, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    “If I couldn’t condescend to this historic evil that now threatens to destroy America, then writing would be no fun at all.”

    Actually, I think it is skepticism which will destroy America and deliver into the hands of religion.