Friday, November 09, 2007

Out of the archives

 I was perusing my blog notebook where I keep all manner of ideas for posts, and happened upon an old summary I had done when I was reading Robert Bork's Slouching Towards Gomorrah several years ago. Many of the posts I've done recently have looked at the idiocy of so-called conservative policies in an attempt to demonstrate that while the Democrats are no friends of Objectivism, neither are the Republicans. And they may actually be more dangerous to the cause than the Democrats.

What struck me about this essay was that it was all before the last elections, before Leonard Peikoff has convinced me that the Republicans and more importantly, their social/religious conservative base were as dangerous if not more dangerous than today's liberals. And yet, here was the same fundamental analysis which I'd put down on paper long before I understood the consequences of it enough to take action with conviction. The second thing that drew me to it was that here in Bork's thinking, published more than 10 years ago were the basic philosophic ideas clearly articulated that if perpetuated by the Republican party will make it a dangerous threat to liberty. So I transcribed it just out of sense of discovery...

2/7/04 - One of the things that has bothered me about most thought labeled as "conservative" is that while it has a tendency toward advocating more (though not consistent) free market policy and less socialistic policy, it seems to want to replace social policy with a more paternalistic, moralistic use of government. Interestingly enough, Robert Bork in his book Slouching Towards Gomorrah espouses just such a philosophical view on more philosophical grounds. I can clearly see the influence of his ideas and those like him on today's conservative thought...

Bork's thesis is that modern liberalism has "over-extended" two ideas: individualism and egalitarianism into mutated forms which he calls "radical". That the founders never intended and which are incompatible with a free society. He then claims that today's conservative thought represents "true" classical liberalism and that we must return to a more moderate form of these in order to survive as a culture. He then goes on to give examples of today's social and cultural decline and ascribes them to the two trends above.

In English, he claims that today's liberals use government (and change culture) to a) force equality, and b) not morality. Borks solution then is to a) stop forcing equality and b) start forcing morality [sic!]. It is Bork's second action that I have a significant problem with.

I believe that the big issue is in the intrinsic-subjective dichotomy, and that Bork's thesis is a crystal-clear example of intrinsicism run amok to the liberals subjectivism run amok. Today's liberals claim no morality is correct and want society to dictate equality in it's absence. Today's conservatives see one morality from God, but because it is arbitrary and absolute, (and divorced from reality) necessitates the force of it on society.  Both views result in unnecessary force on society. The liberal's claim to it is bankrupt (and Bork rightly exposes it) but Bork's claim is equally wrong.

Which is more dangerous, a bankrupt ideology, or one that is gaining strength in the wake of today's religious fundamentalist movement?


Anonymous said...

"The second thing that drew me to it was that here in Bork's thinking, published more than 10 years ago were the basic philosophic ideas clearly articulated that if perpetuated by the Republican party will make it a dangerous threat to liberty."

I agree. Lately I have been reading regularly many sites of the religious/social/cultural conservatives and I too have arrived at the conclusion that they present a bigger danger to the long term freedom of America. As John Lewis said of conservatives, they are essentially interested in "conserving" traditional values. Decades ago that meant conserving some remnant of capitalism. Today being that the welfare state is the unquestioned norm, all conservatives want to conserve is religion.

Actually, from what I've read, cultural conservatives want to conserve a white, Christian, heterosexual, male-dominated America. I was shocked to see the degree of racism and homophobia in their thought. The true believing cultural conservatives remind me of Sharia loving Muslims with their anti-sex, anti-homosexual views. Thrw in a visceral hatred of immigrants and that sums up the cultural conservative movement.

I've also come to realize how much these Christians hate Darwin. They hate anything which threatens their belief in God. They have totally accepted the mystic/skeptic split and believe that without God and religion (especially Christianity) no morality is possible. This is why they really hate liberals. They associate them with secularists and to a cultural conservative a secularist is worse than a Jihad waging Muslim.

So I completely identify with your post. The religious conservative movement (exemplified in many ways by Bork although he still sees some value in classical liberalism, Many of today's religious conservatives *hate* classical liberalism) is a scary one. Objectivists would do well not to get so caught up in hating liberals that we make excuses for an evil just as great if not greater.

John Kim

Kendall J said...

John, what a great analysis. The reason I wanted to post this passage is because it then took me another 2 years to see what you have so clearly articulated. Thanks!

Burgess Laughlin said...

"Which is more dangerous ... ?"

I would like to put a spot light on a problem. Unfortunately, I don't have a definitive solution, but I still think the question needs to be clearly stated. Here is my attempt.

To say, as I often off-handedly do, that x is more than y, is to make a measurement, in this case an ordinal measurement.

My question is this: How can a layman go about measuring x politician or political party's threat to or support for liberty?

Like many people, I have relied mostly on "impressions." I now think that that isn't good enough. So, what is needed is a way to measure a party's threat or support and then compare it to another party's.

Perhaps the situation is analogous to the situation professional investors face. How do you decide which company is more likely to earn the highest profit? Are there indices that you follow that you can rely on? Are there comparable indices for political parties (or particular candidates)?

Dr. Peikoff, in establishing his DIM hypothesis in his very early, recorded walk-through sessions, used a variety of statistics. That is an example of what I have in mind, but I think what one needs is a sort of "general theory of measuring social phenomenon" and not simply a list of statistical conclusions. In other words, is there some systematic way to approach such a problem (either for investors or for voters) that would allow anyone too plug in the numbers, so to speak, and get the same answer?

In summary, is there a publicly objective way to measure threat to or support for liberty?

Burgess Laughlin