Why I Fear the Left in Power

Monday, October 30, 2006

Myrhaf came out of retirement yesterday to urge his fellow Objectivists to "Wear a Gasmask and Vote Republican", making him among the few who, like me, have publicly disagreed with Leonard Peikoff's election advice and advocated keeping the Republicans in power. His main reason is the same as mine: The Republicans are dangerous, but the Democrats pose the far greater immediate threat to America particularly due to their desire to quash freedom of speech.

Our campaign to spread Objectivism needs the right to free speech more than anything. The Democrats are the worst threat to this right. Political correctness, campus speech codes and thuggish attempts to shut up free speech are old news on the left.
Myrhaf does a pretty good job fleshing this point out with several recent examples of how hostile today's left is to the free expression of ideas it deems unacceptable. But if you need even more evidence, stop by Spiked and read this article by Brendan O'Neill on Wendy Kaminer. The article looks at threats to freedom of speech from across the political spectrum, but it quickly becomes clear that it is the left that has been working overtime to destroy freedom of speech.

Like a recent skewering I blogged of George Lakoff by a fellow leftist, this article describes the criticisms of the left by a leftist -- Kaminer was a former member of the National Board of the ACLU -- who is objective enough to see that the abuses of many of her fellow travellers could even be causing the left to get in its own way. O'Neill quotes her:
Looking at the history of the US, it is hard to imagine how any of our truly progressive movements could ever have advanced if people were not free to assemble and speak -- and in ways that other people often found offensive! One hundred and fifty years ago people thought that women shouldn't speak in public; that was a violation of God's law. It was only by violating God's law -- and in the process offending a lot of people -- that women's rights were put on the agenda. It is sometimes by being offensive that we push society forward.
I am no fan of the left, nor would I ground a defense of freedom of speech in the philosophy of John Stuart Mill, but this is plainly true.

O'Neill paraphrases Mill in his attempt to explain why freedom of speech is important:
In modern English, truth, whether you are right or wrong, can only be established through full and rigorous public debate. And those who seek to stifle public debate -- because they presume that they're right and their opponents are wrong/corrupt/hateful -- denigrate truth by turning it into something that, by necessity, must exist separately from that messy marketplace of ideas.
This is an okay first stab, except that one need not necessarily consult with others to reach the truth: It merely becomes, when freedom of speech is protected by the government, far easier to do so -- and about many more things than one could alone due to division of intellectual labor . Those who stifle public debate make it far more difficult for large numbers of people to learn from each other factual information, including the merits of various ideas, progressive or not.

Since we need information to live and guide our lives by philosophical principles, those who seek to stifle public debate do not simply "denigrate the truth". They threaten our very lives. Thus freedom of speech is important to each of us, personally.

This weakness of the article aside, it has value in demonstrating to those who may not have been paying much attention lately to the out-of-power American left just what type of fire they play with in advocating its return to power. Here are some examples of what life is like when today's left is given free reign. They are taken from universities on each side of the Atlantic.
  1. [A] "mob of students" at Brown University in Rhode Island ... stormed the offices of the student newspaper The Brown Daily Herald and seized its entire print run after it ran an advert paid for by a right-wing politician who denounced reparations for slavery....
  2. [T]he Sussex University Students' Union [in Britain] has banned the right-leaning tabloid the Daily Mail for being "bigoted" ..., leading one Sussex student to complain that the union is "treating us like babies"....
  3. At the School of Oriental and African Studies in London the union has banned Israeli Embassy representatives from speaking because part of its union policy states that Zionism is racism, and racists should "not be given a platform".
  4. Other unions have banned the sale of Coca-Cola and Kit-Kats in protest at the working practises of their parent companies.
  5. "Kids come to college, and for the first couple of weeks of freshman year they're in a sensitivity course, where they're told what they're allowed to say and what they're not allowed to say", says Kaminer. "They are subjected to thought-control programmes the minute they arrive. That is not a very good start." [Actually, that sounds like the beginning of the end. --ed]
I have no doubt that given half a chance, the left would be happy attempt to model our larger society on the universities it already controls.

I will close by quoting Kaminer:
One of the saddest trends among people who consider themselves liberal or progressive over the past 10 or 15 years has been this increased intolerance of free speech, and this notion that there is some right, some civil right, not to be offended, which trumps somebody else's right to speak in a way that you find offensive. It is like a disease, an infection, that has taken hold on the left. It is an incredibly regressive notion. [bold added]
Like I said, "This is not your father's Democratic Party."

-- CAV


Anon. said...

You might want to displays these points to capmag; are the current articles are agreeing with Peikoff.

Anonymous said...

None of this is any different from the Republican desire to silence criticism of religion.

It seems to me that, whenever the Democrats are bad, the Republicans are just as bad, or worse.

Gus Van Horn said...

You are missing two things here.

(1) The left pretty much runs the educational establishment and news media, It has ZERO interest in permitting the Internet or other alternative media to survive. The right does.

(2) The left is far less heterogeneous than the right, which is why there is some merit to Tracinski's argument for clearing the left away for good and letting the secular vs non-secular portions of the right duke it out.

Both Objectivist sides agree that the current party coalitions are both dangerous to individual rights. The disagreement is over whether public debate will move forward more effectively with one side or the other in power.

The dominant "pro-Democrat" side holds that with that side in power, it becomes clearer what disasterous ideas are attached to what consequences. This is not without merit, but what will we do if one consequence of their being in power is a loss of our freedom of speech?

And how will this improve the Republican party? We were already in this situation in 1994. If the GOP is completely rotten to the core, it will just pretend to be pro-free market again until it (probably more quickly and completely) takes power and the religionists reassert control. In the meantime, the GOP has been out of the limelight and the public have not had the opportunity to observe how incompatible religion and capitalism are. This is the very reason it is possible for the Republican coalition to exist at all!

The Tracinski side sees that each coalition represented by the two parties is bad, but that fault lines exist within the secular and religious wings of the GOP. Why not keep the GOP in power so it can finally splinter apart?

SN said...

A very minor point, but "making him among the few who, like me, have publicly disagreed with Leonard Peikoff's election advice" is true only of the Objectivist bloggers and what they're saying on their blogs.

If one considers sheer numbers and quantity, then the public posts on various Objectivism-related forums show that people who call themselves Objectivists disagree with Peikoff's recommendation at least 2-to-1. (Needless to say, this does not make either side right.)

Gus Van Horn said...


If I can find the time, I will. In the meantime, I see that Craig Biddle has weighed in.


Thank you for making that point. I haven't been to the forums much lately, although Diana's recent post had made me curious. Time is my enemy for that today, though.


Jennifer Snow said...

I, personally, am voting with my feet. Part of this is that I can never remember to register, but the reason I can't remember to register is that I just don't care. Voting qua voting is actually not that important. What IS important is the promulgation of ideas that may eventually make it possible to have candidates that are actually worth voting about.

I prefer to speak in a forum where my voice can actually be heard.

Gus Van Horn said...

I certainly am under no illusions about the size of the "Objectivist vote", but since many of us hope to put our $0.02 into the public debate, I think that that is where the merit of the question lies.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little more than a third of a way through the FREE DIM lecture series and so I noticed this:

the contrast between the old left that stood for free speech and the new left that is perfectly willing to stifle it falls very clearly along the D1, D2 lines, respectively.q

Gus Van Horn said...

Hmmm. I have not heard any of the lectures yet, although I have gathered that the course material forms the basis of the "vote Democrat" argument.

(Before I start, let me be clear: The following is what I THINK Peikoff argues. If anyone reading this quotes me on it, that person may find himself putting words in Peikoff's mouth.)

My impression is that, according to how he is applying this theory, Peikoff sees the Republicans (being more philosophically consistent -- but wrong, and hence mis-integrated) than the Democrats (who Peikoff argues are not philosophically consistent at all, and hence dis-integrated) as more dangerous to America because their actions will be guided by their principles and their hierarchy of values. Ceteris paribus, this is true.

Someone on HBL used what I thought was a great analogy. It went something like this (I purposely avoid precise replication of details.): The GOP is a cold, calculating killer driving a Hummer and intent on running you down. The Dems are like a stoned hippie in a VW Thing who is also intent on running over you, but he's high and distracted. And the Thing is in poor repair besides. Who would you rather run over you? Obviously neither, but you'd take your chances with the hippie because he's more likely to miss you for whatever reason.

His analysis fails to convince me because I don't agree that the hippie and the fundie are starting from the same distance away, so to speak.

Your skull is in front of the tire of the Thing and the Hummer is a half-mile away. Who do you want to start his engine? In that case, I'd pick the fundie. I could then get out from under the Thing and figure out what to do about the fundie.

In short, I plan to listen to the DIM course, but I do not think it will necessarily definitively persuade me of Peikoff's point of view.

Anonymous said...

Tracinski wrote on Peikoff's comments in today's TIA. Here's a quote:

"Bear in mind that Dr. Peikoff is addressing this statement to Objectivists, to those who have read Ayn Rand's works, accepted her philosophy as true, and who regard her philosophy and their understanding of it as a profound value. To tell them, on the basis of this brief statement, that if they don't accept his exact recommendation on how to vote in an election—and in a mid-term congressional election at that—that they don't understand Objectivism, is a form of intellectual bullying."

He called Dr. Peikoff's view the "Dominique Francon" view of the world.

This is getting out of control.

B. Visconti

Anonymous said...

Only being 1/3 of the way through the course, I don't know how Dr. Peikoff is going to form his argument on this point, yet.

But I am far enough to be able to tell that this is clear evidence of D2 Democrats. Not sure how that will factor in, or even if it will be relevant but we shall see.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, just reached the part of the lecture where politics is discussed. I'm no longer sure that such an act would be D2, which consists of the total nihilist/anarchist/environmentalist wing.

I'm going to have to withold such comments until I know this theory better...

Gus Van Horn said...


Thank you for leaving this comment! Having been in jury duty over the last couple of days, I have not even opened those emails.

Now I know that I must, before they burn a hole in my inbox.

Having said that, I stand by what I said concerning Peikoff's argument. I think there is too much room for disagreement on this subject, based upon my own judgement, for him to claim that anyone who isn't voting Democrat doesn't understand Objectivism. His DIM Hypothesis course was released for free a day or so ago. If this proves crucial to his argument (and his argument is correct), then its unavailability up until that point is rather interesting.