Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Glenn Reynolds, calling it a "sad indictment of contemporary culture," quotes the following from The Corner, the blog presence of National Review:brief exchange between Phil Donahue and Milton Friedman.
As far as the comparison between Jon Stewart and Phil Donahue went, I would agree that Phil Donahue is the better interviewer, but we could do better in the vein of examining cultural trends. If you watch the video of Friedman, you will see that he does not even attempt to take or defend what rightfully belongs to capitalism, which he is allegedly defending: the moral high ground. He simply concedes the premise that greed is bad, while pleading that it's "practical". Worse, he implies that the whole world operates on "greed" (i.e., selfishness), which it doesn't, and equates "virtue" with altruism throughout his response.
With "defenders" like this, Phil Donahue, as a fellow opponent of capitalism with Stewart, does better in that way, too -- by handing Friedman the rope and letting him hang himself, which he does. So long as nobody raises a moral defense of capitalism, it is doomed, because when people who subscribe to irrational moral codes sense a conflict between the moral and the practical, they will, unless they are hypocrites, go with the moral. What people need is not an excuse to do what is right anyway: They need to know that there is a moral alternative to altruism, and that it provides the moral justification for capitalism. The fact that the GOP shares Phil Donahue's moral code is why the Republican Revolution of 1994 failed to dismantle the welfare state and devolved into compassionate conservatism instead.
And it is why, I suspect, that the same publication that regularly savages Ayn Rand, who defends capitalism on moral grounds, would heap praise on such a weak-kneed performance as Friedman's when far better alternatives are easily available and deserving of more publicity. At least "Uncle Milt" doesn't demand too much in the way of critical self-examination: The conservatives can continue going on thinking that they can have the fruits of the tree of selfishness while continuing to suck the sap from its roots.
Our cultural decline is a direct result of the irrational and impractical -- in sum, the self-sacrificial -- moral ideals that guide the majority of the members of our society.
Fortunately, while the conservatives are looking at the liberals, or the past, or at anything that will allow themselves to claim, "I'm not so bad," Objectivists are working to reverse the tide. When Ayn Rand appeared on Donahue, she was known primarily as a best-selling novelist; the intellectual movement she started was still very small. Now, it is common for educated people to know her philosophy by name, and have some inkling of what it is. (See Note 1.) The Ayn Rand Institute now runs a policy think tank in Washington, and, I am happy to see, has joined the blogging fray (HT: Diana Hsieh). That last is another small step in the right -- I mean correct -- direction!
The conservative movement -- as exemplified by the likes of "Uncle Milt" -- is incapable of filling today's intellectual vacuum. Fortunately, the real opponents of statism are!
Note 1: For example, when I recently mentioned getting published in The Objective Standard to a free-lance journalist I met at a networking event, he asked whether that journal came from a "Randian or libertarian or 'right-of-center'" angle. He added that he was no fan of hers, but still, he made the connection with no help from me.