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The Intellectual Quality of the Left

April 2nd, 2009 by Myrhaf · 9 Comments · Culture

Business Week’s Debate Room features a debate between Onkar Ghate and Christina Patterson, a Brit who is obviously a leftist. The difference in the quality of their arguments is striking. Ghate argues that Ayn Rand provides the philosophical foundation for the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness put forth in the Declaration of Independence. Patterson offers nothing but sneers, and asserts without evidence that Rand is a “crypto-fascist.”

Patterson’s argument, or lack thereof, is so typical of the left. Instead of a principled discussion of ideas, they go for ad hominem attacks and intimidation.

Years ago, a liberal answered an argument I put forth for laissez-faire capitalism by saying I was “hypnotized by the oligarchy.” He ignored my ideas and said, in other words, “There is something wrong with you that you would make this argument. You have been blinded by corporate propaganda so that you will support a social system based on greed.”

The left has lost confidence in reason because it is the party of the intellectual elite, the academics and modern philosophy. The black hole of postmodern philosophy is a radical subjectivism. If you believe that individuals act from “narratives” instead of reason that corresponds to the facts of reality, then there is not much use in arguing ideas. One might as well focus on intimidating people into accepting your side and communicating that the other side will win you no friends at a cocktail party.

The left has followed nihilist philosophy to its logical end: they have no ideas. They have nothing.

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Right now we are seeing in the Obama Presidency/Pelosi House/Reid Senate just how far the left can go on nothing when it is supported by lies, demagogic rhetoric, a fawning mainstream media, and, most importantly, a culture of altruism. The damage is considerable and is far from over. However, I think the worst fears of the right are a bit exaggerated: I do not think we will see a total economic collapse anytime soon.

Sheldon Richman, a libertarian, made an interesting point on Glenn Beck. In the fascist states of the 1930’s the market was abolished. In America we still have a market with a pricing system that allows individuals to make rational calculations. I think this is the dividing line between a full fascist economy and a mixed economy with fascist tendencies in which the market is heavily burdened by state control.

It seems unlikely to me that the leftists in power at the moment could abolish the market in America even if they wanted to. And they do not want to go that far — they need the market in order to avoid the blame they would get for an economic collapse. The big businessmen that the Democrats demonize and blame for our crisis will continue to pursue a profit, American innovation will find ways around the dictates of the state, and the producers will keep the welfare state from ruinous collapse.

If there were radical leftists in power who actually wanted to cross the Rubicon of abolishing the market, they would need more intellectual ammunition than the nothing of sneers, smears and “Ayn Rand? Surely, you can’t be serious, darling.” The intellectual collapse of the left makes economic collapse less likely.

We will see an intensification of state control, the direction we have been heading for over a century, but it will take further crises to plunge us into dictatorship. For now, Atlas is still there, holding up the world.

One final thought. The intellectual collapse of the left is evidence that, in the long run, freedom’s greatest enemy will be religion. Religion doesn’t have much in the way of ideas but faith. Although it is intellectually insupportable, faith is something, as opposed to the black hole of postmodern philosophy. The west’s fate could come down to a battle between faith and reason.

9 Comments so far ↓

  • Burgess Laughlin

    Faith is only one type of mysticism–which is any claim to knowledge other than reason. But faith is the most prominent form and the only form of mysticism that is explicitly cited in a routine way. Even today, most on the left — excluding the overtly nihilists — still pretend to be “scientific.”

    Ayn Rand, “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World,” Ch. 7 in Philosophy: Who Needs It, pp. 76-77, concisely identifies the various species of mysticism.

    Her title shows, as Myrhaf has indicated, that faith is the main form of mysticism, and certainly the one cited by conservatives — who are therefore enemies of capitalism, which stands on a foundation of egoism and reason.

  • TW

    “The left has lost confidence in reason because it is the party of the intellectual elite, the academics and modern philosophy. The black hole of postmodern philosophy is a radical subjectivism.”

    I don’t believe that’s quite true. I think that radical subjectivism is actually believed by very few. Living day in and day out in an academic department, I see how leftist academics use radical subjectivism when it suits them (when they want to avoid moral judgments for themselves and those with whom they are in solidarity) and drop it in an instant when they want to seem empirical or, especially, when they want to be moralistic.

    “If you believe that individuals act from “narratives” instead of reason that corresponds to the facts of reality, then there is not much use in arguing ideas.”

    Sadly, I think that most individuals I meet do act from narratives, and insulate themselves very well from reality. Nor do I acquit myself of this accusation. But I would like very much to act based on the facts of reality and reason and I try to.

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  • Mike N

    Myrhaf:
    I think you’re right about radical subjectivism and TW is right about how leftists can drift back and forth between it and empiricism. But I think that personal subjectivism is their default mode.

    I also think that Christina Patterson was a rank amateur compared to someone like Obama who is pretty much a pro. Your identification of how they use ‘narratives’ is also right on. They use these pre-packaged lines of reasoning for all occasions. They are of course rationalizations. Rationalizations are almost always approximations and maybes so that one cannot be held responsible for anything in particular. He will have a bromide for everything.

    I agree that the left is intellectually bankrupt. But then, if they have no ideas to offer, what is it that people find so attractive that they keep voting for the Pelosis, Rieds, Kennedys and Obamas? It has to be the morality of sacrifice that they wrongly see as virtuous. Both the left and right believe in sacrifice and I think a non-sacrificial way of life will be a hard sell for anyone except the young. I do think there is time yet.

  • Myrhaf

    Why do people continue to vote for welfare statists? Aside from morality, we’ve lived in the welfare state all our lives. People don’t question it, but accept the welfare state as a metaphysical given of existence, like oxygen. This is why some moderates such as Frum and Brooks think Republicans need to forget all that Goldwaterite radicalism and learn to live with big government.

  • L-C

    Confusing the “is” with the “must be” (i.e. accepting the status quo as metaphysically given) is very common with people who are sceptic about laissez-faire Capitalism.

    “What will happen to children from poor families without education?” As if public schools are the only possible kind.

    “What will happen to the unemployed and the poor?” As if the productive poor wouldn’t be earning twice as much, and the competent unemployed wouldn’t have a job in a healthy economy.

    Government gets away with this systematic destruction of wealth because it is presented as that which must necessarily be. Maybe people need to recieve their untaxed paycheck in cash, only to get a visit from the police every week to take half of it away before they understand?

    The statist system is built to be a siphoning leech attached from birth to death. Little old ladies in office buildings rob billions through the proxy of big men hiding behind uniforms. Drug addicts messing up perfectly good opportunities for production and self support recieve a cash of other people’s money directly onto their bank account every month.

    It isn’t done this way because it’s practical. It’s done this way to be invisible. Have a child grow up in a swamp and he’d never know the air doesn’t have to stink.

  • mike

    “And they do not want to go that far — they need the market in order to avoid the blame they would get for an economic collapse.”

    1) Why are you so sure the left would understand the connection between abolishing the market and an economic collapse? If they do understand this, why have they taken things as far as they have already? They have abandoned reason in pursuing ever greater State control over society, and you expect them to hesitate from the really big steps because of their – reason?

    2) I agree with you in your point about religion – and its’ place as a claim to knowledge outside of reason as another commenter made. Environmentalism is an obvious candidate for a religion of the left. Therefore the crises of which you speak when you say: “but it will take further crises to plunge us into dictatorship.” – could well be environmental crises (whether true or false), not economic crises.

  • Myrhaf

    Mike, I think fear of being blamed for an economic mess is a powerful force in mixed economy politics. Right now they have the perfect mixture of freedom and control so that anything that goes wrong, they blame the greedy capitalists. They have turned corporations into mini-welfare states, and when something goes wrong, people blame the corporations first, without understanding all the government control that hampers those corporations. Michael Moore started his career with a documentary blaming GM for laying off workers and so on.

    But abolishing the market — having all wages and prices set by the federal government — would bring on an economic collapse that was obviously the fault of the state. The Democrats would be wiped out in the next election. They don’t want to lose their power. Their power-lust more than their reason will stop them.

    However, as we move closer and closer to the line, at some point they might be forced (as they see it) by events to control all wages and prices by the central power. At that point we will be without question a fascist state.

  • Rajesh

    “I think this is the dividing line between a full fascist economy and a mixed economy with fascist tendencies in which the market is heavily burdened by state control.”

    Reisman in his “Capatalism” said:
    “Mises showed how price controls destroyed the price system and resulted in the establishment of de facto socialism, of which Nazi Germany was leading example. He explained why socialism had to fail economically, because of its lack of markets and consequent inability to have a price system and thus to perform economic calculations. He showed how political freedom depended on economic freedom and thus why socialism, with its utter lack of economic freedom, was necessarily a system of dictatorship.”