Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Via Glenn Reynolds is a Jennifer Rubin piece that asks the question, "[I]f [Barack Obama's] so smart and well-educated, shouldn't he have come up with something better than the stimulus boondoggle?" She gets frustratingly close to the right answer, but ends up whiffing:
[F]inally, as Ronald Reagan said, "The trouble with our liberal friends isn't that they are ignorant; it is that they know so much that isn't so." In other words, they have a set of views at odds with the way the world operates (meekness will endear us to our enemies, terrorists will be impressed with American legal procedures), the American political scene (the public wanted a lurch to the Left), and basic economic realities (you can load mandates and taxes on employers without impacting employment). These views are a great impediment to a successful presidency.True enough, but Rubin ends on the following note: "[H]e has time. Maybe with experience, he'll wise up." I'm not so sure about this, because Rubin overlooks the fact that among the ideas one holds are the standards for what constitutes "success."
On the one hand, I applaud Rubin for seeing the importance of ideas in shaping the actions of the President, but on the other, I'm still unsatisfied with the level of analysis. What if Barack Obama's fundamental ideas are telling him that what he's doing is the best way to realize "equality" not only among all Americans, but among all people in the world? No pain, no gain -- and we haven't even gotten around to asking whether Obama sees suffering as a good thing, as many Christians do. Maybe he thinks the pain is the gain.
Conservatives who happen by here should not dismiss me for nit-picking. One need only open the digital pages of City Journal to see altruism/collectivism infecting even their own ranks. Luigi Zingales, attempting to argue for small government, seems to think that our government should be in the business of addressing income disparities, of all things!
Though American GDP has doubled in real terms over the last 25 years, median real income has grown by only 17 percent. While the richest 1 percent of the population has almost tripled its real income and the richest 0.01 percent has more than quintupled it, the bottom 10 percent has increased its income by only 12 percent.So what? If the government didn't meddle with my personal choices and have its hands in my pockets all the time, I'd be thrilled to have any kind of income increase. Bill Gates hasn't picked my pocket or broken my leg if he is a trillionaire instead of a billionaire -- assuming, of course, he earned it rather than having been handed loot by the government.
Zingales goes on to praise "Republican" Theodore Roosevelt for creating the FDA and trust-busting. This he does on the way to counseling that, rather than, "give these poorer citizens entitlements disguised as rights," like the Democrats, the Republicans "should focus on providing" welfare state programs of their own disguised as "opportunities."
What's going on here? Rubin naively assumes that Obama has the same pro-prosperity goals she has, and Zingales seems to think that his goal of small government is compatible with egalitarianism. Why?
Because neither sees morality as having anything to do with life. Rubin's tack is that Obama will eventually see the "impracticality" of his idealism and back off on his destructive agenda. She underestimates the power of Obama's ideas to guide his actions. Zingales, on the other hand, fails to see the power of his own altruism (an apparently "compassionate" conservatism) to turn his enthusiasm for small government on its head and, in the process, transmogrify him into a "Democrat lite."
I strongly suspect that both hold an altruistic moral code and see morality as a matter of duty. On such a score, Ayn Rand made the following profound observation:
In order to make the choices required to achieve his goals, a man needs the constant, automatized awareness of the principle which the anti-concept "duty" has all but obliterated in his mind: the principle of causality--specifically, of Aristotelian final causation (which, in fact, applies only to a conscious being), i.e., the process by which an end determines the means, i.e., the process of choosing a goal and taking the actions necessary to achieve it. ("Causality Versus Duty," in Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 98)Conversely, a means causally incompatible with an end will fail to lead to that end. Altruism does not inform political choices (i.e., the selection of means) that lead to the protection of individual rights, whose purpose is to enable men to live for their own sake.
Thus, to the extent that one's goal is altruism or egalitarianism, that end (and not individual rights) will guide his actions and his thoughts, meaning it will obliterate his ability to make use of his intelligence for the means of furthering his own life. And further, to the extent that one's goal is freedom, that end will be frustrated by the means of achieving altruistic or collectivist goals.
In the political sphere, this means that one will regard individual freedom (and the economic prosperity that follows from it) only as means to that end (if that), and not as the proper end of government. The result will be that one will fail to see the danger of those more consistent than oneself, and that freedom will fall by the wayside when it frustrates egalitarianism.
This is why Jennifer Rubin underestimates Barack Obama's effective stupidity and Luigi Zingales fails to offer a real alternative to same.
Today: (1) Corrected a typo. (2) Added a word in clarification (HT: Cogito).