Thank you again, Mr. Romney!

September 18, 2012

 

Once again, Mitt Romney tells it like it is!  Could we ask for a better statement of the views of the power elite than his flippant dismissal of 47% of the United States population as self-victimized freeloaders on the government?  Never mind the facts, which have been rehearsed, to his detriment, ad infinitum, in the news, but he has clearly told us what the mental picture of the land is in the hearts and minds of his monied donors.  (And those that give to the Democrats, too, probably!) 

And as for that other 53%?  I’m sure he knows that it is only that top sliver that does any real productive work, making jobs (disappear) and making piles of money, and the like.  Everyone else is just the hired help.  What a guy!  You gotta love ’em!

Uh…but these latest remarks sort of contradict the ones quoted in the earlier post.  No matter, it’s always 1984 somewhere!


The Fountainhead?

August 4, 2012

For a critical judgment of The Fountainhead (1949), I bow to the courtly derision of Bosley Crowther’s review from that year:

…a more curious lot of high-priced twaddle we haven’t seen for a long, long time.

With little to go on in the way of drama, he [Vidor] has worked for his emotional effects with clever cutting, heavy musical backing and having his actors speak and behave in solemn style.

I watched this film on the suggestion of Ducky’s Here who made this comment on my post regarding my abandoned attempt to read Atlas Shrugged. I agree; it’s a must-see.  There’s nothing like it, and since Ayn Rand was directly involved in creating and approving this film treatment, it sheds yet more light, if any is needed, on the essential kookiness of her ideas.

At the core of the story is a tale of sexual dominance and submission.  In the scene above, Dominique tells Roark that she will not, cannot be subdued.  He, the Male Principle, replies that it depends on the strength of the adversary.  She’s doomed, and she knows it. Nothing can keep her from going to his apartment, where he calmly awaits her submission.  But she cannot endure her slavery to passion, so she ‘escapes’ by marrying a man she doesn’t love, and whom she regards as corrupt.

Roark is supposed to be the noble man of ideas, suffering the derision of the Mob.  He wanders, solitary, like a samurai, following his code, not caring about his enemies.  His arch detractor, Toohey (rhymes with phooey) accosts him, and tries to engage him dialogue, just for the satisfaction of it, but Roark doesn’t even give him the time of day.

Toohey is an evil, hypocritical, power-hungry, ‘collectivist’ who despises people, loves humanity, and spares no means in pursuit of his ends.  In short, a socialist, and a sort of comic Stalin-in-waiting figure.  How amusing that the picture on the wall in his office here is a portrait of John Locke.  Rand getting cute with the production team, no doubt.

This scene also gets at the essential absurdity of this film and its story.  Toohey convinces a hack architect, a former classmate of Roark’s, to try to design a big project.  The hack can’t do it, and he begs Roark to design it for him, “just like you did in school.”  So, this habit of academic and professional fraud is natural to Mr. Roark, the honorable egoist?  And when his design is changed, he blows up the buildings, careless of property (John Locke would vomit) and human safety.  He gets off after an amazing speech to the jury in which he regurgitates Rand’s cockeyed philosophy.  (The speech is amazing for its length – Rand must have insisted on it.  The delivery is wooden.)

We may also wonder why, if “the masses” are so stupid, which is the point of much of Roark’s speech (they always denounce the geniuses who bring them gifts), why do they acquit him?  Apparently they can think?

The fountainhead refers to the spirit of the individual from which flows all human good.  Roark’s is polluted with plagiarism from his schoolboy days.  And maybe I’m asking too much from a Hollywood flick, but why is Roark’s trashy work seen as so avant garde, when by 1949, the International Modern Style was the favorite of corporate tycoons everywhere?


Atlas Shrugged…

March 1, 2012

I like to read things I disagree with – keeps me sharp.  Besides, if I’m going to condemn something, a movie, a book, a philosophy, I prefer to have dealt with the original.  Thus, I began this doorstop of a novel.  I’ve read short pieces by Ayn Rand, and found them lacking.  Fifty pages or so into this one, I had to stop.  The book is without any literary merit whatsoever.  Even that commie turned red baiter, Whittaker Chambers, reviewing it on publication said that to call it a novel was to “demean the term.”  Hey, he was right about Alger Hiss, too!

The one book that this writing reminds me of very strongly is What is To Be Done?  That too is without literary merit.  Ironic, isn’t it?  A book of right-wing libertarian cliches is the literary twin of the bible of the early Russian revolutionaries.  Both have characters of phantastic nobility, character, discipline and resolve.  Both are …

Well, read it if you can.


Liberty for all

December 24, 2009

“When I am old, I shall write criticism; that will console me, for I often choke with suppressed opinions.”

Gustave Flaubert in a letter to Georges Sand

I feel compelled to unburden myself on the topic of libertarianism.  There are all sorts of people who describe themselves as libertarians, and it’s hard to make sense of the mix.

  • You have gun-obsessed Rambo-wannabees like the guy who created the picture here (Click on it to visit his blog if you have a robust tolerance for the way out!).
  • There are folks like Clint Eastwood who once remarked, “My political philosophy is simple.  Everybody should leave everyone else alone.”  Yep, good one, Clint.  That’s a real roadmap for governing a modern industrial state of 300 million.
  • There are those inpsired by the crackpot intellectual, Ayn Rand, who at least must be granted the credit for inventing a new literary genre, the philosophical soap opera.
  • And then there are thoughtful people, like a fellow I work with, who are quite reasonable but seem to revel in the libertarian cachet of ornery contrarian thinking.

I often find myself in agreement with specific critiques of libertarians, whether they are left-libertarian nearly-anarchists or right-libertarian, free market ideologues.  In fact, many of the respectable, i.e., rational and scientific, critics of the global warming point of view (AGW) are, in fact, libertarians.  But, in the end, I find it to be a bizarre and utopian political philosophy that is in full denial of the facts of human history.  As a point of view that influences the political choices you make, yes, I can see that, but anything more…?  Closer to wacko.

For libertarians of all stripes, the state, um…I mean, THE STATE, is the greatest evil.  The state, and “collectivist” actions that seek to improve life, or enslave others.  I’m all against enslavement, but I rather like improving life, even if the agent is the evil state.  Libertarians would say that’s a Faustian bargain, bound to end in the Gulag or the death camps.

Why The State?  Why not money?  Isn’t that the root of all evil?  Or…language?  Without language, no state, no money!  It’s a rather simplistic point of view.  Are they realistic in their expectations of what would succeed the present situation of vigorous state activity?  Do they care?  Do they want to revert to pre-industrial, geographically isolated “eco-regions?”  I dunno…

Sure, some state solutions fail.  Bureaucracies are cumbersome and can mutate into strange things that frustrate the very improvements they were created to bring about.  What else is new in this, the fallen state of mankind?

As a practical political philosophy, liberatarianism is hokum.  People advocating it are either naive or dishonest.  Naive if they believe that a general attempt to apply libertarian principles would result in anything other than the most powerful economic and political forces capturing the state and bending it towards their own ends, which is what they are always trying to do; or dishonest because they are part of those forces and they see libertarianism as a nifty way to pursue that goal under cover.  Mostly the former, I think, because corporate and political power has captured so much of state power today, that libertarianism is probably more of an annoyance than a help.


Tom Paine, Libertarian. NOT!

April 5, 2008

Poor Tom Paine! He was all for the French Revolution, and travelled to Paris to support it, but was nearly guillotined for his trouble! In his own land, with the post-revolution religious revival under way, he was reviled as a free-thinking atheist, though he was a Deist who denouced as wrongheaded those who denied the existence of a Supreme Creator (I beg to differ…) And today? He is the favorite of right wing libertarians, many of which can be found spouting off here and there around the Internet.

When I hear so-called “conservatives” say that they are against people being “forcibly taxed” to support things that some others have decided is a public good, I am reminded of Lenin’s characterization of anarchists as “infantile.” Not that I’m a Leninist, but he had a point – and these libertarians are similarly situated on the maturation-politico spectrum. In other words, like so many of us, they want something for nothing, though they will not admit it.

The excerpt below is from an essay Tom Paine wrote for the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1782. Would that it were read more widely by students of American politics and history (emphasis added):

It is a pity but some other word beside taxation had been devised for so noble and extraordinary an occasion, as the protection of liberty and the establishment of an independent world. We have given to a popular subject an unpopular name, and injured the service by a wrong assemblage of ideas.A man would be ashamed to be told that he signed a petition praying that he might pay less than his share of the public expense, or that those who had trusted the public might never receive their money; yet he does the same thing when petitions against taxation, and the only difference, that by taking shelter under the name, he seems to conceal the meanness he would otherwise blush at.Is it popular to pay our debts, to do justice, to defend an injured and insulted country, to protect the aged and the infant, and to give to Liberty a land to live in? then must taxation, as the means by which those things are to be done, be popular likewise.

…Why has the back country been ravaged by the repeated incursions of the enemy..but from the inability of the revenue to provide means for their protection?And yet the inhabitants of those countries were among the first to petition against taxation.In so doing, they eventually prayed for their own destruction, and, unhappily, for them, their prayer was answered.Their quota of taxes would have been trifling, compared with their losses, and, what is still worse, their domestic sorrows.


Terror Neat, Please

March 8, 2008

Medusa Cellini

As readers of my drivel know, I have a fondness for extreme political rhetoric, the more apocalyptic the better. There is also a bizarre frisson to be had from the prose of political “theorists” who stare down the abyss of terrorism, and find it good. Maximilien Robespierre is one of the best (emphasis mine):

The two opposing spirits that have been represented in a struggle to rule nature might be said to be fighting in this great period of human history to fix irrevocably the world’s destinies, and France is the scene of this fearful combat. Without, all the tyrants encircle you; within, all tyranny’s friends conspire; they will conspire until hope is wrested from crime. We must smother the internal and external enemies of the Republic or perish with it; now in this situation, the first maxim of your policy ought to be to lead the people by reason and the people’s enemies by terror.

If the spring of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the springs of popular government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country’s most urgent needs.

There you have it. The Last Days are upon us, and the battle between good and evil will be resolved. Enemies are everywhere – anyone could be a traitor. There is a need for merciless terror, but it is virtuous. With such axioms and logic, almost anything can be justified.

I love the formula by which he clearly demonstrates that terror is justice. I am fascinated by the tone of the piece – so elevated, alluding to the revered, shared values of the classical past. It brings to mind that wonderful piece by the ever able propagandist for the revolution, and later, for Napoleon, Jacques Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii. Can we be so virtuous? We can, we must, but we must not flinch from the use of terror!

As the history of revolution moseys along, things change a bit. Here’s V. I. Lenin:

“We will turn our hearts into steel, which we will temper in the fire of suffering and the blood of fighters for freedom. We will make our hearts cruel, hard, and immovable, so that no mercy will enter them, and so that they will not quiver at the sight of a sea of enemy blood. We will let loose the floodgates of that sea. Without mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies in scores of hundreds. Let them be thousands; let them drown themselves in their own blood.

Sounds so much more emotional than Robespierre. Who knew Lenin was so romantic? Almost biblical, could easily have come from the mouth of Martin Luther, mutatis mutandis. Ah, this is more like it:

“We stand for organized terror – this should be frankly admitted. Terror is an absolute necessity during times of revolution.

Here, however, Trotsky waffles a bit:

Our class enemies are in the habit of complaining about our terrorism. What they mean by this is rather unclear. They would like to label all the activities of the proletariat directed against the class enemy s interests as terrorism.

Whatever the eunuchs and pharisees of morality may say, the feeling of revenge has its rights.

If we oppose terrorist acts, it is only because individual revenge does not satisfy us. The account we have to settle with the capitalist system is too great to be presented to some functionary called a minister.

What bothers me is the drift away from aesthetically pleasing moral certitude that Robespierre states so succinctly. Lenin and Trotsky argue. Maybe they felt guilty. The ends justify the means, but all that blood! Stalin was a stronger man, but not so eloquent.

Finally, we get the degenerate prose and rhetoric of the apologists for terror of the 40s to the 60s; the supporters of Stalin and his successors who were repelled by the violence of the Soviet State, but wished to portray it as somehow necessary, or no worse than the concealed violence of the capitalist regimes. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, with his Humanism and Terror is prominent here. Why not just come out and say YES to terror?  “I’ll take my terror neat, please.”

I’m not trying to knock the left here, though it might seem that way. It’s just that liberal-socialist-marxist thinkers have a professed committment to reason, so they have to argue for the goodness of killing women, children, innocent men, etc. They have to show that in the end, it’s all for the best, sort of like Pangloss proved in Candide. This perversion of rationality is what intrigues me. Except for Ayn Rand, I cannot think of people on the right who do the same. (She perverted rationality, but I don’t know that she supported terror.) When they plunk down for terror, they usually do it out of blood lust, romantic hero worship, satanic apocalyptic yearnings, or unutterably sick, evil, and convoluted workings out of their own psychological problems. Many vicious fascists, anti-semites, Nazi fellow travellers fit this bill.


Free Trade – A Whiff of Rand

January 16, 2008

freetrade.jpg

There is a column on the opinion page of the New York Times today that gives off the smell of Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and all those blinkered dray horses of the dismal science.  The writer says that society has no “moral obligation” to address the hardships that may be imposed on American workers when jobs move overseas under a regime of free trade.  (He was attacking proposals to fund programs of this type suggested by Republicans!  In Michigan, of course.)  Curiously, he couches all of his arguments in homey, individual terms:  schoolyard bullies, our personal decisions when we buy things at the drug store (We don’t feel the need to do something for a landlord who raises our rent when we leave for a cheaper apartment and he finds he can’t get another tenant, do we?)

Is it really that simple?  Alas, these folks don’t care about the complications of society, the fact that people vote to create a certain social regime and expect their desires to be honored in some way, the fact that we have democracy that attempts to allocate political power according to the wishes of the majority.  For these econometrists, democracy is the free market, the free market is democracy – end of story. They don’t even recognize the political power exists in this sense.

I happen to be a pretty thorough free trader, and I agree with the fellow’s arguments that it’s benefits outweigh its costs, as well as his claim that those who are hurt by it now have also benefited from it.  So what?  Society exists to make life better, so isn’t it practical to address these hurts that occur, if only for self-preservation so people don’t get really mad and irrational and urge something truly destructive?  No, we should all recognize (i.e. worship) the rationality of the market, and be thankful for what it bestows…on some of us.