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.