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Out Of Touch

January 6th, 2011 by Myrhaf · 20 Comments · Politics

Yaron Brook often makes an interesting point in his appearances on Front Page with Allen Barton: people don’t learn from experience. Not when it comes to something big and fundamental like statism. Leftists can see their schemes fail over and over, but their confidence in socialism will not be shaken. The members of the “reality-based community” stick to their whims even when reality slaps them in the face. (See James Taggart in Atlas Shrugged.)

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, has moved from Majority Leader to Minority Leader in the House of Representatives because of the 2010 election. Here is his explanation of the Tea Party movement:

There are a whole lot of people in the Tea Party that I see in these polls who don’t want any compromise. My presumption is they have unhappy families. All of you have been in families: single-parent, two-parents, whatever. Multiple parent and a stepfather. The fact is life is about trying to reach accommodation with one another so we can move forward. That is certainly what democracy is about. So if we are going to move forward compromise is necessary.

Sean Higgins writes,

So, there you have it. The Tea Party movement is not motivated by, as its members claim, record-high levels of spending and debt by the federal government and the possible economic consequences of that. It is not upset by the various federal bailouts of recent years. It is not riled up by a stagnant economy with 9.8% unemployment. No, they go to rallies because it is easier than going home apparently.

Warner Todd Huston notes,

This is the arrogance and cluelessness we are up against, people. According to Hoyer his polices and those of the far, far Democratic left of which he represents under Nancy Pelosi, those polices couldn’t possibly be wrong. You couldn’t possibly have actually cast an informed vote against him. No way. It has to be because you are psychologically damaged by your Mother. You MUST be a mental case.

This quote is just the latest example of the mentality we are up against in the welfare-regulatory state establishment. These people cannot be persuaded or changed; they can only be replaced. It won’t happen overnight.

20 Comments so far ↓

  • Jason Goldsmith

    I’d be wary of going to the opposite side of the same coin though, which is sort a simple-minded, tradition-bound, stale, going-through-the-motions without much intellectual depth conservatism. Of course those above statements are jerk-ish, but simple-mindedness is just as bad intellectually, and I think actually worse from a sense of life level.

    I cringe just as much when, as one example, I hear conservatives drag on about the America being a republic and not a democracy. Yes, that point is true, but it’s so so minute a point and so far short of explaining what freedom really means. It does not even scratch the surface of the philosophic and intellectual depth and intricacy of the idea of freedom that needs to be developed and explained to change the culture.

    So, okay, Steny Hoyer is a jerk and is wrong about family unhappiness being a political motivator, but I don’t find passive Constitution-worship on the other side any better.

    The attempt by the Republicans to have each bill explicitly cited with a Constitutional reference is just the most recent superficiality by them. A Constitution is a basic set of principles, not the laws; the whole document is a basis for the laws; it’s not some piecemeal thing where some parts apply here and some apply there; it’s a highly essentialized total sum. Plus, our Constitution does not even come close to providing the proper philosophic and moral basis for freedom. Frankly, it is highly incorrect and needs to be drastically changed if it is to be of use.

  • Andrew Dalton

    The difference between a republic and a democracy is crucial. It is the difference between a government in which voting is a means to the outcome of protecting rights, versus one in which majority rule or the “will of the people” is treated as an unquestionable end in itself.

    A large part of our awful foreign policy is based upon the confusion between these concepts. (Think about the election of Islamic theocrats that our government encouraged in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Palestinian territories.)

  • Jason Goldsmith

    A republic does not mean a free society in the complex way Ayn Rand defined. The term republic literally means once removed from the public. It just means elected leaders. It does not refer to anything about the content of the laws. Yes, it means a nation of laws and not of men (majority rule), but like I said, that says nothing of any essentiality about what the laws should be.

    I do have some admiration for the Founding Fathers and the fact that they did not try to create a communist majority rule political system.

    But they did not at all develop the idea of freedom in the way Ayn Ran did. Not even close. They barely scratched the surface of the concept of inalienable individual rights. She did not just build off of and develop the political ideas of the Founders. She thought of a completely new and radical political system and just as importantly, the type of basic ideas, morality, and esthetics that are needed in a culture to support that political system–without those broader ideas, one cannot really grasp the full concept of freedom. She was, in her time, on her contemporary scene, 100X more revolutionary and radical in her political ideas than the Founders.

    If the concept of a democracy is a 1 on the scale of the its level of development, and a republic a 2, Ayn Rand’s political ideas on freedom get a 9 or 10.

  • Andrew Dalton

    Yes, the name republic does not ensure freedom. It is, however, an identification of a particular type of government that is necessary (though not sufficient) to protect liberty. This is a necessary identification, particularly to distinguish it from democracy which is never a good form of government and must not be treated as an ideal in any context.

    Conservatives make a lot of errors, but they are right on this issue — both as a matter of fact, and in identifying its importance.

  • Jason Goldsmith

    The fact that the identification of the difference between republic and democracy is necessary is very trivial. Necessary, but insignificant.

    I would say a much more telling issue is abortion. A basic view of the right to have an abortion, at least in the beginning months (grasping that it is okay up until the birth is a much more complex and difficult point to grasp), is a much much more significant issue when judging a person’s socio-political views. A person who generally supports a woman’s right to have an abortion has a much better grasp, even if only implicitly, of the concept of individual rights, than does a person who says they are against majority rule. Being for elected officials does not have much meaning.

    Plus, conservatives generally pay lip service to the concept of a republic. During the health care debate, a major argument of conservatives was that “the people don’t want it.”

    But whether conservatives grasp the difference is besides the point: the difference between democracy and republic is a very minor point.

  • Andrew Dalton

    Jason –

    Merely asserting that the distinction is “trivial” is not an argument.

    The abortion issue is a distraction, since I was not defending conservatives in general, but rather on this one issue of democracy versus republic.

  • Jason Goldsmith

    Oh my goodness, I am trying to present some complex ideas, and hit the essential point, and that requires branching out from narrowness of democracy and republic. I am not trying to go off on a distracting tangent.

    One, on the point of abortion. I bring it up because of that last part you said about the conservatives at least being right on this issue. You are implying here that this is a big plus for the character of conservatives, even if you don’t think you are.

    I bring up abortion to show my view of what an important issue is. In general, I don’t think one’s view of democracy/republic tells you anything significant about a person’s ideas. As a contrast, I was bringing up an issue that I think does make a big difference.

    As to why I think the distinction of democracy and republic is trivial, I said above:

    “The term republic literally means once removed from the public. It just means elected leaders. It does not refer to anything about the content of the laws. Yes, it means a nation of laws and not of men (majority rule), but like I said, that says nothing of any essentiality about what the laws should be.”

    To expand upon this briefly, the term republic does not mean freedom and capitalism. Even if we define republic not just as elected leaders, but as the Founders’ view of individual rights, it still is hardly an adequate grounding of freedom. I bring this up to look at the broader issue of republic as the Founders view of government.

    Looking at the Constitution–a main political statement of the Founders–its main problem is that it is way too vague and unspecific, as well as having major contradictions (the general welfare clause and right to print money, tax, and regulate trade are not minor points).

    The Founders did not grasp freedom on an objectively solid level. The word regulate would not be in this document if they grasped it. Even if they “really meant” regulate to mean “keep consistent,” leaving such sloppy language and not fixing it eventually is a major, major mistake, and just shows that they did not grasp the full concept of freedom.

    Some clauses in the most substantive part, of Section 8 – Powers of Congress:

    The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

    To borrow money on the credit of the United States;

    To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

    To establish Post Offices and Post Roads;

    To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

    Even the “good” parts are way too broad, vague, and unspecific. The idea of patents is not radical and brilliant; there is no guide for the length of them in general, which is the most challenging part. Besides, in an enlightened society, this type of thing (length of exclusive right to an invention or writing), like basically all issues, is figured out by regular people in their work, not by courts. People would selfishly cooperate and use their minds, their desire to be happy, their benevolence towards people in general, and the market (i.e., people socializing and interacting and making decisions that other people can monitor and judge for themselves) to figure things out like exclusive patent lengths.

    To ground freedom, one needs to make points so clear that it reads as if saying “If buildings are collapsing, the government cannot send in “experts” to “make things safe”; if America is under jihadist attack, and not enough people sign up for the military, a draft is still not allowed; if a nuclear energy factory accidentally releases radiation into the air, and it was as a result of a scientific mistake (not blatant negligence), the government cannot send in “experts” to fix it, it is up to people to work and figure it out; if car steering wheels are malfunctioning in mass, the government will not step in, it’s up to private companies, research firms, and citizens to figure things out; the government only protects people from murderers and thieves and blatant destructive negligence.

    I know I went much broader than your original point but my purpose was to show what I think is the central issue here regarding the democracy/republic point: If the concept of republic is not a significant milestone in politics, then what is? What is the essence of social issues and politics? What is an adequate grounding of freedom?

  • Andrew Dalton

    You are implying here that this is a big plus for the character of conservatives, even if you don’t think you are.

    No, I am pointing out the corruption of the Left in their praise of democracy. Identifying this fact requires no great intelligence or virtue, but if the conservatives accomplish this much, well, they’re not wrong just because they’re conservatives.

  • Andrew Dalton

    Jason –

    I’m really losing interest in this discussion. If you insist on calling the distinction between a democracy and a republic “trivial,” despite the fact that the former explicitly identifies an evil form of government, then I cannot compel your agreement.

    I have, however, noticed a common theme in your post here and also the one on NoodleFood. This theme is a lack of appreciation for the hard-won knowledge and accomplishments of people prior to Ayn Rand or outside of Objectivism.

    Objectivism is about identifying the truth, regardless of the source. It requires acknowledging the historical fact that certain problems, such as establishing a rational government, actually are hard problems for which proper moral principles are an integral but by no means sufficient component for solving them. The Constitution of the United States is flawed, but it is nevertheless a brilliant accomplishment and a huge step toward the goal of consistently protected liberty. In practical politics, nothing like it has been created before or since.

    Objectivism identifies and corrects the errors that made previous attempts to defend liberty inconsistent and vulnerable to attack. But we must not fall into the rationalistic trap of insisting that we can or should start over at Year Zero, either conceptually or politically.

  • Fareed

    you said that the constitution is not inspirational or broadly philosophical document but in your last post you said it is a brilliant accomplishment. isn’t that a contradiction?

  • Andrew Dalton

    Fareed –

    Edison’s electric light is a brilliant accomplishment, but that doesn’t make it philosophical or (primarily) inspirational, either. Now, both the Constitution and the electric light depend upon prior philosophical discoveries, but the fact remains that each is primarily a practical instrument with a delimited purpose.

  • Roger Theriault

    Mr. Dalton is correct. The difference between a republic and a democracy is crucial, and for the reasons he has stated. I would go a little further. “Republic” and “Democracy” are forms of government, and fall into the political realm of a philosophy. But politics is based on more fundamental branches of philosophy. If you start with either “Republic” or “Democracy”, and work your way down the philosophical tree to ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics, you end up in very different places.

  • L-C

    I wouldn’t say that a person’s opinion on abortion is a determinant or even a good indicator of laissez-fair views. The vast majority of Sweden’s Marxist population supports abortion rights.

  • Jason Goldsmith

    I think one’s view on abortion is a much much better indicator of one’s basic ideas, though not a determinant one by any means. But also be aware that people mouth a lot of things they do not really mean, and quickly give up their supposed ideas when even sightly pressed.

    To the main point: Democracy or republic is a tactic–not only minor, but also a tactic. It’s not a political premise.

    Democracy and republic are not starting points that one builds off of. They are not forms of government. Freedom/capitalism is a form of government. Communism/collectivism is a form of government. Those are the only two basic types.

    Fascism is a slight derivative of communism. A “mixed economy,” welfare statism, or any other so-called mixture falls under communism/collectivism; it’s not a mixture of freedom and communism/collectivism; it’s just a slow “death by a thousand cuts” and culturally speaking, a big thing that keeps a “mixed economy” in existence is that it is referred to as a partly free political system.

    We have some major freedoms now but we are living under an essentially collectivist socio-political system.

    And the idea that republicanism is so powerful an idea is wrong. Nazism was a republic–its leaders were elected. And the idea that democracy as such is so evil is wrong. A society even slightly more rational than ours could produce a much freer political system using democracy.

  • L-C

    The point of a democracy is that rights are subject to popular vote, in a similar way and for the same given justification as in despotism. Is this compatible with Laissez-Faire Capitalism?

    As for a democracy “producing” a free society: a society in which individual rights are upheld only by permisson of the vote is not free. The self is the warrant and sanction for liberty, not the withdrawable mercy of others.

  • Inspector

    Actually, I thought it was most Republicans who had the problem distinguishing Republic vs Democracy. After all, GW Bush is famous for his speeches about bringing “Democracy” (headdesk) to the world.

    I agree this is an important distinction – once it’s made, you open up a whole conceptual chain of distinctions. It’s like pulling the thread that unravels the sweater.

    They key is in the follow-up – does the writer take the necessary steps to explain why Democracy is an evil form of government, explicitly condemned by the founding fathers? And so on.

  • Fareed

    As Winston Churchill said (I think it was him) democracy is not the greatest, but when we look around, it’s better than most. Even he got it wrong.

  • Embedded I

    I no longer say that “the U.S. is a Republic“, I say “the U.S. was founded as a Republic respecting Individual Rights“. If applicable, I add, “but it strayed.”

  • Jim May

    The distinction between “republic” and “democracy” is crucial in that the Left substituted the latter for the former in association with freedom, with the goal of slowly degrading the popular conception of the latter idea way from individual rights, and towards majority rule.

    As always, the point is to slowly erase the very idea of liberty and individual rights as if it never existed.

  • Jim May

    Back on point: the reason why the Leftists insist on substituting physical causation (such as being “crazy”) for ideological causation, is because you can reason a person out of the latter.

    Underlying it is a determinist premise; nobody is personally responsible for who they are or what they think, it is determined for them by forces beyond their control. That is why you see this exact same thing issuing from conservatives; they share with the Left a basic antipathy towards the notion of individual self-determinism and moral self-authorship, for fear of the moral responsibility for who they are that necessarily comes along with such freedom.

    The danger in this insistence on describing political opponents as physically defective instead of merely wrong, is that it implicitly dismisses outright the possibility of rational persuasion. As the old saying goes, you can’t reason a man out of something he didn’t reason himself into.

    Well, if no one’s viewpoint was born in reason, but in forces beyond his control — his parents, his race, his gender — and he’s always going to be like that, then there is only one way left to deal with such people: force.

    Ask Gabrielle Giffords about that one.