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The Power of Philosophy

January 5th, 2011 by Myrhaf · 11 Comments · Uncategorized

Back in the ’90s I remember watching some news story on the Oslo Accord and thinking, “My God — the Israeli left is as suicidal as the American left.”

It surprised me. Israel used to be better than that. But then, America used to be better than that. Such is the power of philosophy that it has both nations set on a suicidal course. The key idea is altruism: that the strong must sacrifice to the weak. Without this premise neither country would twist itself into knots appeasing its enemies.

This is why Christopher Hitchens, as brilliant and erudite as he might be, is wrong to criticize Ayn Rand because people don’t need to be taught to be selfish. If self-interest were a metaphysical fact, then how do we explain that the the world is, as Miss Rand put it, “perishing in an orgy of self-sacrifice”? How do we explain that socialism continues to thrive, in Europe and in the White House, despite economic theory and the facts of history for the last century?

On his radio show yesterday Rush Limbaugh hit one of his favorite topics in the current presidency: is Obama purposefully destroying the American economy? This is the kind of bold talk that makes the girls in the No Labels choir hate Limbaugh so. Indeed, it is hard even for those on the right to imagine.

I think Rush got sidetracked by a caller who said Obama is corrupt. This is the same mistake the left makes when they accuse the neoconservatives of waging war because they’re greedy and evil. Bush waged war not from corruption, but from morality, and if Obama is purposefully destroying capitalism, it’s for the same reason. He thinks he is justified because he has a higher moral purpose.

All my life I’ve watched the right get sidetracked because they don’t understand the power of philosophy. In the ’60s it was the John Birch Society seeing conspiracies everywhere. Today you hear people obsessed with seeing Obama’s birth certificate, as if such a detail could possibly be important compared to ongoing welfare state policies that predate Obama’s birth. (Even if they could prove that Obama was born outside the US — despite notices in two Hawaiian newspapers at the time of his birth —  would such a “gotcha” change anything? Would it cut the budget? Would it turn around 60 years of a foreign policy of appeasement? At this point would it even force Obama out of office?)

No, America is not in trouble because of corruption. It’s not people at their worst that are destroying us, but people at what they think is their best. We are being destroyed by our ideals. What a dire situation!

We march to our doom in a fog of moral piety. Nothing can stop a lemming from jumping off a cliff if he thinks it’s the right thing to do. Nothing will turn us around except the denial of altruism and the acceptance of the morality of rational self-interest. And such a cultural change depends on philosophic change. Such is the power of philosophy.

UPDATE: Minor edits and proofreading corrections, and I add the parenthetical passage about Obama’s birth certificate.

11 Comments so far ↓

  • JH

    The article is excellent, except for your point about Israel, which is a core issue in Objectivism and their support for actions in the middle east that needs to be corrected:

    1. Isreal was created at the barrel of a gun. That is, the UN under the aspises of the US with US troops marched into the region of which Jews and Muslisms (Palistinians as if there was much difference) lived side by side in relative peace for over a hundred years and gave the muslims a choice: Take $3000 and leave your land and your livelihood or get a bullet in the head.

    Thus, the same tactics as Hitler used were used to secure a Jewish state after WW2 and it was no more right then than it was under Hitler.

    And before someone claims that it has always been the Jew’s land, that’s patently false. It has changed hands many times, including from others to the Jews before the Roman empire and then back to to what became the Muslims after the Roman empire fell.

    Chrisindom (the collective name for Western Europe during the dark ages) waged the crusades against the Muslims to take back (Assuming that they were Romans of some sort, but more to the point, it was a way to get rid of the knights and military class by having them kill themselves on a foreign person’s sword as clearly outlined by the Pope in his diaries) what we now call Isreal and in the process raped and murdered innocents with impunity all with the blessing of the Pope. Accounts of the first taking of Jerusalem is of streets litterally knee deep in blood and bodies to the point where the city wasn’t livable for months after as they cleaned up the mess that they created.

    Thus: Israel does not have a right to exist. It is a nation founded on the initiation of violence against peaceful people. It is the ultimate imminent domain case and just like it’s immoral that the government can take anything of which you own in the US, it is just as immoral in the middle east. One religion is no better than an another. They are all just as immoral. To claim that Islam is dangerous is the same as saying that Christianity is dangerous. Both murder innocents and have done so throughout their entire history. It is a logical fallacy to assert that the Western world has a right to wipe out Islam because it’s dangerous when the western world is run by just as dangerous a religion. (In most European countries Christianity of some sort is actually the official religion and even in the US the President is sworn in on a Bible)

    Everyone in the region knows this. Everyone dealing with the situation knows this. Everyone knows why the violence started in the first place and knows that the UN (And the Pope in the Crusades before it) is to blame. This is why they bend over. This is why Israel accepts terms that any legitiment country would never accept.

    This was also the start of (substantive) US interference in the middle east that begot the suicide bombers and the almost universal hatred of Americans (even though they try and copy their image of us… t-shirts of “Rich or Die” are the norm on the streets of Riyadh for instance)

    I suspect that if Objectivists knew and understood the hight of the evil of the UN’s actions surrounding Israel’s creation, very few would support wars in the middle east, or have any question as to why they use the only means available to them to fight back against their violent oppressor.

    The failure of philosophy is that of the UN’s. The organization that was created and first act was to remove an entire people from their land is to blame. It is the UN and every country that voted for the UN to act in this manner that is to blame for the problems in the middle east and specifically in and around Israel.

    While your article makes excellent points the basis for it is a lie that we’re fed so that we don’t get too angry at our governments just like fractional banking, among other things. I just wish that this lie would be exposed prominently and permanently as it would solve a great many problems in the middle east, and for the United States.

  • Andrew Dalton

    JH –

    I’m not sure how much of a detailed response your post deserves. Right now, I’ll just say that it is loaded with rationalistic equivocations based upon analysis of words rather than reality. (“It is a logical fallacy to assert that the Western world has a right to wipe out Islam because it’s dangerous when the western world is run by just as dangerous a religion.” So, the Western world is “run by” Christianity in the same sense that Saudi Arabia or Iran is run by Islam? This doesn’t pass the laugh test.)

  • NT

    JH – are those peaceful arabs in the middle east the same ones who teach their children that strapping bombs and killing civilians will earn them a spot in heaven? The same arabs who hide behind women and children, and fire rockets from the roofs and windows of hospitals and kinder gardens?
    Israel’s right to exist does not rest upon a UN resolution from decades ago. It rests on the fact that Israel is a nation that largely respects individual rights and freedom (on par with other western nations). The regional arabs, on the other hand, can’t even seem to stop killing jews long enough to realize that they are gaining and have a lot more to gain still by living with peace with the jews.

  • JH

    NT: Your contradiciton is that Israel was formed through the initiation of violence against those same Arabs. The reason they strap on the bombs is because of the theft of their land and subsequent oppression by the West and continual wars waged by the west in the middle east.

    You have a problem of causality in your assertions and that’s my point. Arabs were not suicide bombers and weren’t sending their kids out to murder innocents before the West stole and killed. (in fact the first recorded instances of terrorists were Jews under the Roman empire ironically)

    We have created the problem. We are responsible for it. Israel should not exist in a just society, and I think that if you had your land stolen and your family murdered in the name of giving someone else a home land, you would react violently in defense of your life, liberty and property rights too. It’s hypocracy to assert that the very actions that Objectivism espouses (self-defense) are unjust for Arabs but just for us, or that Israel is a just nation because we created it, even though it was created through the initiation of force, which Objectivism demands is wrong.

    That Israel bends over and takes it is just a sign of the same flawed value system that created it in the first place and the rightful guilt over how it was formed.

  • Kyle Haight

    Returning to the original post, there is a grain of truth in the charge that the government is corrupt, but it’s an attempt to replace a cause with its effect. What, in essence, is corruption in government? The use of government resources (money, authority) for an improper purpose. A charge of corruption implies a standard of propriety.

    What is the standard of propriety which is being violated by our government? The conservatives don’t provide an explicit answer because it would require an appeal to philosophy — they would need to identify the proper purpose of government as the protection of individual rights. But doing that would reveal that most of their own programs over the decades are just as improper — just as corrupt — as those of the administration they are currently excoriating.

  • Jason Goldsmith

    JH- Israel was not owned by anyone until it was formed into a mostly free society with enforceable protection of peoples’ basic natural rights, including a person’s right to make use of natural resources and profit (personally, spiritually, financially, etc.–to make personal gain from) from it, which is necessary for human survival and happiness. People need to be able to make things and benefit from it, like using oil or building homes or making any art they choose without fear of being imprisoned or having their work destroyed because it conflicts with the popular culture.

    Up until then, throughout all history, that land was unowned even if there were tribal cultures on it. Those tribal cultures, which are now Muslims in the surrounding areas of Israel, failed to develop the social-political conditions (and culture) that generally allow people to go about living, so in effect, there was no legitimate owner of the land until Israel was established. There were just people roaming on land that was not theirs. And such uncivilized people are inherently aggressive by their communal, tribal culture which makes it impossible for people to live. They will get hurt when civilized people make use of resources and implement protection of natural rights and property. They either turn to violence or impede existentially good and necessary social conditions, making them the aggressors.

    Israel is not justified as a Jewish state, but as a mostly free state with some relatively minor policy contradictions (like its military draft). If it turns into a dictatorial religious state like the surrounding Muslims ones, it will be treated as a similar threat. But now, it is mostly free so it is an ally.

  • Gideon Reich

    Contrary to JH bizarre rant, the history of Israel is somewhat different:

    During the 20th century Palestine (as it had been called since the Romans renamed Judea) was ruled by the Muslim Ottoman Empire. It was conquered by the British during World War I. Some Jews had lived in Palestine for centuries but started arriving in greater numbers starting the 19th century. At the time, as reports by numerous travelers testify, the land was sparsely populated. The Jews worked the land and over time established new cities (such as Tel Aviv) and industry. The increasing economic activity attracted some Arab immigration from the surrounding Arab countries. Throughout this process it was some of the Arabs who were not peaceful but rioted and attacked Jews during the 1920s and 1930s. Many Arabs did want peaceful coexistence with the Jews but were assassinated by those who would not compromise.

    There is simply no evidence that Jews ever intended to expel the Arabs. All early Zionists envisioned a modern nation state (not a theocracy) and only hoped that after sufficient Jewish immigration the Arabs would become a minority.

    After the British reneged on their promises and forcefully prevented Jewish immigration to Palestine during the 1930s and 1940s, Jews fought a guerilla war against the British so that by 1947 or so the British had enough and submitted the issue to the UN. The UN decided that there should be a Jewish and an Arab state in Israel. The Arabs rejected it, while the Jews accepted. Israel suffered attacks from both domestic Arabs and then 5 Arab armies that did not tolerate the establishment of Israel. The result was the Palestinian refugees, as well as the Jewish refugees from Arab countries who were also expelled, some before Israel was established. Jewish refugees were integrated into Israel while the Arabs did nothing for their brethren.

    As others have pointed out, there are many problems with Israel that an Objectivist might point out. Ideally, it would be a completely free state based on individual rights but the fact is the Arab leadership does not want to replace Israel with a freer state but with a secular (Fatah) or religious (Hamas) dictatorship. While that is the case, support for a semi-free Israel is morally mandatory and quite frankly, anybody who is opposed to Israel’s existence is either woefully ignorant or worse.

  • Embedded I

    JH might also take note that many Palestinians sided with
    Hitler, with explicit admiration for his Final Solution. One
    Palestinian mufti assembled an entire Division of Muslim men to
    help Hitler. The Muslims (Palestinians
    too) ‘bet their farm’ on the losing side. Except, as Gideon R.
    points out, they never really owned their farm in the first place!
    The Palestinians, one might say, are the ‘sorest
    losers‘ in history. The best hope for any Muslim
    is to become an Israeli or American citizen.

  • Jim May

    NT: Your contradiciton is that Israel was formed through the initiation of violence against those same Arabs.

    Your contradiction is exposed by the question: what nation in all of history wasn’t founded in warfare? Nearly all the world’s existing borders and nations were born of war, and wars of conquest at that.

    Your arguments are the same sort as those advanced by Leftists against America; it was “forced” upon the natives, an attack on “peaceful” people etc. etc. ad nauseam.

    Andrew Dalton nailed it when he said that this doesn’t pass the laugh test.

  • Inspector

    “UN under the aspises of the US with US troops marched into the region of which Jews and Muslisms (Palistinians as if there was much difference) lived side by side in relative peace for over a hundred years and gave the muslims a choice: Take $3000 and leave your land and your livelihood or get a bullet in the head.”

    Also, whence this part? As far as I remember my history, Israel was attacked immediately by all of its neighbors at the instant it became an independent state and I don’t remember anything about the UN or US troops having anything whatsoever to do with its defense.