To protect the people and secure their rights

Liberty and Democracy are not opposing ideas. The political center is where all change is made. Let's embrace reason and civility.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Secular Conservatism and the Modern Age

Anti-Greed, Anti-Trust, Anti-Life
These are the section headings from Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, a book with enormous influence over modern conservative thinking since the early 50s and the foundation of the "libertarian" movement.
Rand's objective was to present a "moral argument for capitalism" bereft of empathy or compassion. She advocated the "morality of greed", the morality of private monopoly, and that the only moral function of government is, not to protect life, but to protect property.
In spite of her focus on creating a "moral code", Rand was an atheist, which put her opposite of traditional Christian conservatives at the time. This is why I use the term "secular conservative" to describe the libertarian movement today.
Rand set up two very large strawmen as the cause of humanity's moral decay: collectivism, and altruism. She wrote extensively about returning to a gold standard, the aggregate effects of free market capitalism, and the implicit evils of democratic governance.
In my youth, I was mesmerized by this ideology, which offered me an "individualist" moral code. I realized early on, however, that her followers were very much a collective, that a "cult of individualism"" was an oxymoron, and that "enlightened self-interest" was an ineffective dodge for real feelings of empathy and compassion that I had toward others, especially friends and family.
Rand's contribution to our modern discourse is seen all around us. GOP Senators and Congressmen adore her. The Koch Brothers revere her and see themselves as the romantic heroes of her novels. Anarcho-capitalists don't believe that Rand was moral enough, that all government and citizenship, our Constitution, has no value to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Fact is that monopoly is bad. It is authoritarian. It relies on the compassion and empathy of the Aristocracy that Rand claimed was corrupted by altruism. In a word, it's just Calvinism updated for the industrial age.
Liberty and democracy are not opposing ideas. They are essential to each other, like two sides of the same (fiat) coin. The "golden age of capitalism" was the period from FDR through JFK, a period when we left the gold standard domestically and invested in public infrastructure and jobs.
Democratic capitalism is much better than the authoritarian, monopolistic capitalism that hails back to the dark ages, when religious conservatism ruled over Europe. We should return to demand-side federal deficits, and dispense with the supply-side deficit strategy of the past half-century.
Life is more than property. It is the whole reason for human society. A peaceful, growing industrial society requires a vibrant public infrastructure, which includes citizen benefits to pensions, medical insurance and education.

It took me a lifetime to figure this out. Hopefully those who read Ayn Rand don't take as long as I did.