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Unequal Protection — Chapter 4: Jefferson Versus the Corporate Aristocracy and more...

Unequal Protection — Chapter 4: Jefferson Versus the Corporate Aristocracy


From THOM HARTMANN
Truthout

Let monopolies and all kinds and degrees of oppression be carefully guarded against. ~ Samuel Webster, 1777

Although the first shots were fired in 1775 and the Declaration was signed in 1776, the war against a transnational corporation and the nation that used it to extract wealth from its colonies had just begun. These colonists, facing the biggest empire and military force in the world, fought for five more years—the war didn’t end until General Charles Cornwallis surrendered in October 1781. Even then some resistance remained; the last loyalists and the British left New York starting in April 1782, and the treaty that formally ended the war was signed in Paris in September 1783.

The first form of government, the Articles of Confederation, was written in 1777 and endorsed by the states in 1781. It was subsequently replaced by our current Constitution, as has been documented in many books. In this chapter we take a look at the visions that motivated what Alexis de Tocqueville would later call America’s experiment with democracy in a republic. One of its most conspicuous features was the lack of vast wealth or any sort of corporation that resembled the East India Company—until the early 1800s.

The First Glimpses of a Powerful American Company

Very few people are aware that Thomas Jefferson considered freedom from monopolies to be one of the fundamental human rights. But it was very much a part of his thinking during the time when the Bill of Rights was born.

In fact, most of the Founders never imagined a huge commercial empire sweeping over their land, reminiscent of George R. T. Hewes’s “ships of an enormous burthen” with “immense quantities” of goods. Rather, most of them saw an America made up of people like themselves: farmers.

In a speech before the House of Representatives on April 9, 1789, James Madison referred to agriculture as the great staple of America. He added, “I think [agriculture] may justly be styled the staple of the United States; from the spontaneous productions which nature furnishes, and the manifest preference it has over every other object of emolument in this country.”1

In a National Gazette article on March 3, 1792, Madison wrote,

The class of citizens who provide at once their own food and their own raiment, may be viewed as the most truly independent and happy. They are more: they are the best basis of public liberty, and the strongest bulwark of public safety. It follows, that the greater the proportion of this class to the whole society, the more free, the more independent, and the more happy must be the society itself.2

The first large privately owned corporation to rise up in the new United States during the presidential terms of Jefferson (1801 to 1809) and Madison (1809 to 1817) was the Second Bank of the United States. By 1830 the bank was one of the largest and most powerful private corporations and, to extend its own power, was even sponsoring its directors and agents as candidates for political office.

In President Andrew Jackson’s annual message to Congress on December 3, 1833, he explicitly demanded that the bank cease its political activities or receive a corporate death sentence—revocation of its corporate charter. He said, “In this point of the case the question is distinctly presented whether the people of the United States are to govern through representatives chosen by their unbiased suffrages or whether the money and power of a great corporation are to be secretly exerted to influence their judgment and control their decisions.”3

Jackson succeeded in forcing a withdrawal of all federal funds from the bank that year, putting it out of business. Its federal charter expired in 1836 and was revived only as a state bank authorized by the State of Pennsylvania. It went bankrupt in 1841.

Although thousands of federal, state, county, city, and community laws of the time restrained corporations vastly more than they are today, the presidents who followed Jackson continued to worry out loud about the implications if corporations expanded their power.

In the middle of the thirty-year struggle, on March 10, 1827, James Madison wrote a letter to his friend James K. Paulding about the issue:

With regard to Banks, they have taken too deep and too wide a root in social transactions, to be got rid of altogether, if that were desirable….they have a hold on public opinion, which alone would make it expedient to aim rather at the improvement, than the suppression of them. As now generally constituted, their advantages whatever they be, are outweighed by the excesses of their paper emissions, and the partialities and corruption with which they are administered.4

Thus, while Madison saw the rise of corporate power and its dangers during and after his presidency, the issues weren’t obvious to him when he was helping write the U.S. Constitution decades earlier. And that may have been significant when the Bill of Rights was being put together.

The Federalists versus the Democratic Republicans

Shortly after George Washington became the first president of the United States in 1789, his secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, proposed that the federal government incorporate a national bank and assume state debts left over from the Revolutionary War. Congressman James Madison and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson saw this as an inappropriate role for the federal government, representing the potential concentration of too much money and power. (The Bill of Rights, with its Tenth Amendment reserving powers to the states, wouldn’t be ratified for two more years.)

The disagreement over the bank and assuming the states’ debt nearly tore apart the new government and led to the creation—by Hamilton, Washington, and Vice President John Adams (among others, including Thomas and Charles Pinckney, Rufus King, DeWitt Clinton, and John Jay)—of the Federallist Party.

Several factions arose in opposition to the Federalists, broadly referred to as the Anti-Federalists, including two groups who called themselves Democrats and Republicans. Jefferson pulled them together by 1794 into the Democratic Republican Party (which dropped the word Republican from its name in the early 1830s, today known as the Democratic Party, the world’s oldest and longest-lived political party), united in their opposition to the Federalists’ ideas of a strong central government that could grant the power to incorporate a national bank and bestow benefits to favored businesses through the use of tariffs and trade regulation.

During the Washington and Adams presidencies, however, the Federalists reigned, and Hamilton was successful in pushing through his programs for assuming state debts, creating a United States Bank and a network of bounties and tariffs to benefit emerging industries and businesses.

In 1794 independent whiskey distillers in Pennsylvania revolted against Hamilton’s federal taxes on their product, calling them “unjust, dangerous to liberty, oppressive to the poor, and particularly oppressive to the Western country, where grain could only be disposed of by distilling it.”5

The whiskey distillers tarred and feathered a tax collector and pulled together a local militia of seven thousand men. But President Washington issued two federal orders and sent in General Henry Lee, commanding militias from Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia. To demonstrate his authority as commander in chief, Washington rode at the head of the soldiers in their initial attack.

The Whiskey Rebellion was put down, and the power of the Federalists wasn’t questioned again until the election of 1800, which Jefferson’s Democratic Republican Party won, in a contest referred to as the Second American Revolution or the Revolution of 1800.

In the election of 1804, the Federalists carried only Delaware, Connecticut, and part of Maryland against Jefferson’s Democratic Republicans; and by 1832, as the Industrial Revolution was taking hold of America, the Federalists were so marginalized that they ceased to exist as an organized party, being largely replaced by the short-lived Whigs, who were themselves replaced by today’s Republican Party, organized in the 1850s.

Jefferson and Natural Rights

Back in the earliest days of the United States, Jefferson didn’t anticipate the scope, meaning, and consequences of the Industrial Revolution that was just starting to gather steam in Europe about the time he was entering politics in the Virginia House of Burgesses. He distrusted letting companies have too much power, but he was focusing on the concept of “natural rights,” an idea that was at the core of the writings and the speeches of most of the Revolutionary-era generation, from Thomas Paine to Patrick Henry to Benjamin Franklin.

In Jefferson’s mind “the natural rights of man” were enjoyed by Jefferson’s ancient tribal ancestors of Europe, were lived out during Jefferson’s life by some of the tribal peoples of North America, and were written about most explicitly sixty years before Jefferson’s birth by John Locke, whose writings were widely known and often referenced in pre-revolutionary America.

Natural rights, Locke said, are things that people are born with simply by virtue of their being human and born into the world. In 1690, in his Second Treatise of Government, Locke put forth one of the most well-known definitions of the natural rights that all people are heirs to by virtue of their common humanity. He wrote, “All men by nature are equal…in that equal right that every man hath to his natural freedom, without being subjected to the will or authority of any other man…being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions…”

As to the role of government, Locke wrote, “Men being…by nature all free, equal and independent, no one can be put out of his estate and subjected to the political power of another without his own consent which is done by agreeing with other men, to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living…in a secure enjoyment of their properties…”

This natural right was asserted by Jefferson first in his Summary View of the Rights of British America, published in 1774, in which he wrote, “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.” His first draft of the Declaration of Independence similarly declared, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all Men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and unalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”6

Individuals asserted those natural rights in the form of a representative government that they controlled, and that same government also protected their natural rights from all the forces that in previous lands had dominated, enslaved, and taken advantage of them.

The Three Threats

Thomas Jefferson’s vision of America was quite straightforward. In its simplest form, he saw a society where people were first and institutions were second. In his day Jefferson saw three agencies that were threats to humans’ natural rights:

  • Governments (particularly in the form of kingdoms and elite groups like the Federalists)
  • Organized religions* (he rewrote the New Testament to take out all the “miracles” so that in The Jefferson Bible—which is still in print—Jesus became a proponent of natural rights and peace)
  • Commercial monopolies and the “pseudo aristoi,” or pseudo aristocracy (in the form of extremely wealthy individuals and overly powerful corporations)

Instead he believed it was possible for people to live by self-government in a nation in which nobody controlled the people except the people themselves. He found evidence for this belief both in the cultures of Native Americans such as the Cherokee and the Iroquois Confederation, which he studied extensively; in the political experiments of the Greeks; and in histories that documented the lives of his own tribal ancestors in England and Wales.

Jefferson Considers Freedom against Monopolies a Basic Right

Once the Revolutionary War was over and the Constitution had been worked out and presented to the states for ratification, Jefferson turned his attention to what he and Madison felt was a terrible inadequacy in the new Constitution: it didn’t explicitly stipulate the natural rights of the new nation’s citizens, and it didn’t protect against the rise of new commercial monopolies like the East India Company.

On December 20, 1787, Jefferson wrote to James Madison about his concerns regarding the Constitution. He said bluntly that it was deficient in several areas:

I will now tell you what I do not like. First, the omission of a bill of rights, providing clearly, and without the aid of sophism, for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction of monopolies, the eternal and unremitting force of the habeas corpus laws, and trials by jury in all matters of fact triable by the laws of the land, and not by the laws of nations.7

Such a bill protecting natural persons from out-of-control governments or commercial monopolies shouldn’t be limited to America, Jefferson believed. “Let me add,” he summarized, “that a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular; and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.”

In 1788 Jefferson wrote about his concerns to several people. In a letter to Alexander Donald, on February 7, he defined the items that should be in a bill of rights. “By a declaration of rights, I mean one which shall stipulate freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of commerce against monopolies, trial by juries in all cases, no suspensions of the habeas corpus, no standing armies. These are fetters against doing evil, which no honest government should decline.”8

Jefferson kept pushing for a law, written into the Constitution as an amendment, which would prevent companies from growing so large that they could dominate entire industries or have the power to influence the people’s government.

On February 12, 1788, he wrote to Mr. Dumas about his pleasure that the U.S. Constitution was about to be ratified, but he also expressed his concerns about what was missing from the Constitution. He was pushing hard for his own state to reject the Constitution if it didn’t protect people from the dangers he foresaw:

With respect to the new Government, nine or ten States will probably have accepted by the end of this month. The others may oppose it. Virginia, I think, will be of this number. Besides other objections of less moment, she [Virginia] will insist on annexing a bill of rights to the new Constitution, i.e. a bill wherein the Government shall declare that, 1. Religion shall be free; 2. Printing presses free; 3. Trials by jury preserved in all cases; 4. No monopolies in commerce; 5. No standing army. Upon receiving this bill of rights, she will probably depart from her other objections; and this bill is so much to the interest of all the States, that I presume they will offer it, and thus our Constitution be amended, and our Union closed by the end of the present year.9

By midsummer of 1788, things were moving along, and Jefferson was helping his close friend James Madison write the Bill of Rights. On the last day of July, he wrote to Madison,

I sincerely rejoice at the acceptance of our new constitution by nine States. It is a good canvass, on which some strokes only want retouching. What these are, I think are sufficiently manifested by the general voice from north to south, which calls for a bill of rights. It seems pretty generally understood, that this should go to juries, habeas corpus, standing armies, printing, religion, and monopolies.10

The following year, on March 13, he wrote to Francis Hopkinson about continuing objection to monopolies:

You say that I have been dished up to you as an anti-federalist, and ask me if it be just. My opinion was never worthy enough of notice to merit citing; but since you ask it, I will tell it to you. I am not a federalist….What I disapproved from the first moment also, was the want of a bill of rights, to guard liberty against the legislative as well as the executive branches of the government; that is to say, to secure freedom in religion, freedom of the press, freedom from monopolies, freedom from unlawful imprisonment, freedom from a permanent military, and a trial by jury, in all cases determinable by the laws of the land.11

All of Jefferson’s wishes, except two, would soon come true. But not all of his views were shared universally.

The Rise of an American Corporate Aristocracy

Years later, on October 28, 1813, Jefferson would write to John Adams about their earlier disagreements over whether a government should be run by the wealthy and powerful few (the pseudo-aristoi) or a group of the most wise and capable people (the “natural aristocracy”), elected from the larger class of all Americans, including working people:

The artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and provision should be made to prevent its ascendancy. On the question, what is the best provision, you and I differ; but we differ as rational friends, using the free exercise of our own reason, and mutually indulging its errors. You think it best to put the pseudo-aristoi into a separate chamber of legislation [the Senate], where they may be hindered from doing mischief by their coordinate branches, and where, also, they may be a protection to wealth against the agrarian and plundering enterprises of the majority of the people. I think that to give them power in order to prevent them from doing mischief, is arming them for it, and increasing instead of remedying the evil.12

Adams and the Federalists were wary of the common person (who Adams referred to as “the rabble”), and many subscribed to the Calvinist notion that wealth was a sign of certification or blessing from above and a certain minimum level of morality. Because the Senate of the United States was appointed by the states (not elected by the voters, until 1913) and made up entirely of wealthy men, it was mostly on the Federalist side. Jefferson and the Democratic Republicans disagreed strongly with the notion of a Senate composed of the wealthy and powerful.

“Mischief may be done negatively as well as positively,” Jefferson wrote to Adams in the next paragraph of that 1813 letter, still arguing for a directly elected Senate:

Of this, a cabal in the Senate of the United States has furnished many proofs. Nor do I believe them necessary to protect the wealthy; because enough of these will find their way into every branch of the legislation, to protect themselves….I think the best remedy is exactly that provided by all our constitutions, to leave to the citizens the free election and separation of the aristoi from the pseudo-aristoi, of the wheat from the chaff. In general they will elect the really good and wise. In some instances, wealth may corrupt, and birth blind them; but not in sufficient degree to endanger the society.

Jefferson’s vision of a more egalitarian Senate—directly elected by the people instead of by state legislators—finally became law in 1913 with the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment, promoted by the Populist Movement and passed on a wave of public disgust with the corruption of the political process by giant corporations.

Almost all of Jefferson’s visions for a Bill of Rights—all except “freedom from monopolies in commerce” and his concern about a permanent army— were incorporated into the actual Bill of Rights, which James Madison shepherded through Congress and was ratified on December 15, 1791.

But the Federalists fought hard to keep “freedom from monopolies” out of the Constitution. And they won. The result was a boon for very large businesses in America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which arguably brought our nation and much of the world many blessings.

But as we’ll see in the way things have unfolded, some of those same principles have also given unexpected influence to the very monopolies Jefferson had argued must be constrained from the beginning. The result has sometimes been the same kind of problem the Tea Party rebels had risked their lives to fight: a situation in which the government protects one competitor against all others and against the will of the people whose money is at stake—along with their freedom of choice.

As the country progressed through the early 1800s, corporations were generally constrained to act within reasonable civic boundaries. In the next chapter, we examine how Americans and their government viewed the role of corporations, up to the time of the Civil War and its subsequent amendments.

Notes:

The First Amendment protected citizens from the predations of churches by guaranteeing freedom of religion in a new nation that still had states and cities that demanded obedience to and weekly participation in state-recognized churches or religious doctrine. The Ninth Amendment was a direct and clear acknowledgement of Jefferson’s concept of the natural right of humans to hold all personal powers that they haven’t specifically and intentionally given to their government of their own free will. It reads, in its entirety, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

James Madison, speech in the House of Representatives, April 9, 1789, in James Madison, The Writings of James Madison, vol. 5., ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1900): 342–45.

James Madison, “Republican Distribution of Citizens,” National Gazette, March 3, 1792, http://olldownload.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3F title=875&chapter=63884&layout=html&Itemid=27.

Andrew Jackson, fifth annual message to Congress, December 3, 1833, http://miller center.org/scripps/archive/speeches/detail/3640.

James Madison to James K. Paulding, March 10, 1827, http://oll.libertyfund.org/ ?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1940&chapter=119324&layout= html&Itemid=27.

A statement by Albert Gallatin, who later became secretary of the Treasury after the Federalists lost power.

This early draft of the Declaration of Independence can be viewed at http://www.us history.org/declaration/document/rough.htm.

Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, December 20, 1787, http://teachingamerican history.org/library/index.asp?document=306.

Thomas Jefferson to Alexander Donald, February 7, 1788, http://press-pubs.uchicago .edu/founders/documents/a7s12.html.

Thomas Jefferson to Mr. Dumas, February 12, 1788.

Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, July 31, 1788, http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ library/index.asp?document=998.

Thomas Jefferson to Francis Hopkinson, March 13, 1789, http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/P/ tj3/writings/brf/jefl75.htm.

Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, October 28, 1813, http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/P/tj3/ writings/brf/jefl223.htm.


Filed under: Thom Hartmann Unequal Protection Series
 


Ayn Rand Was A Lunatic, Her Economics Nuts, Her Philosophy Cruel: Republicans, Of Course, Love Her


From JOHANN HARIJ
Slate

[Want to know what the Republicans are really trying to do to our democracy? Read on... -DS]

The perverse allure of a damaged woman

Ayn Rand is one of America’s great mysteries. She was an amphetamine-addicted author of sub-Dan Brown potboilers, who in her spare time wrote lavish torrents of praise for serial killers and the Bernie Madoff-style embezzlers of her day. She opposed democracy on the grounds that “the masses”—her readers—were “lice” and “parasites” who scarcely deserved to live. Yet she remains one of the most popular writers in the United States, still selling 800,000 books a year from beyond the grave. She regularly tops any list of books that Americans say have most influenced them. Since the great crash of 2008, her writing has had another Benzedrine rush, as Rush Limbaugh hails her as a prophetess. With her assertions that government is “evil” and selfishness is “the only virtue,” she is the patron saint of the tea-partiers and the death panel doomsters. So how did this little Russian bomb of pure immorality in a black wig become an American icon?

Two new biographies of Rand—Goddess of the Market by Jennifer Burns and Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne Heller—try to puzzle out this question, showing how her arguments found an echo in the darkest corners of American political life. But the books work best, for me, on a level I didn’t expect. They are thrilling psychological portraits of a horribly damaged woman who deserves the one thing she spent her life raging against: compassion.

Alisa Rosenbaum (her original name) was born in the icy winter of czarism, not long after the failed 1905 revolution ripped through her home city of St. Petersburg. Her father was a self-made Jewish pharmacist, while her mother was an aristocratic dilettante who loathed her three daughters. She would tell them she never wanted children, and she kept them only out of duty. Alisa became a surly, friendless child. In elementary school, her class was asked to write an essay about why being a child was a joyous thing. She instead wrote “a scathing denunciation of childhood,” headed with a quote from Pascal: “I would prefer an intelligent hell to a stupid paradise.”

But the Rosenbaums’ domestic tensions were dwarfed by the conflicts raging outside. The worst anti-Jewish violence since the Middle Ages was brewing, and the family was terrified of being killed by the mobs—but it was the Bolsheviks who struck at them first. After the 1917 revolutions, her father’s pharmacy was seized “in the name of the people.” For Alisa, who had grown up surrounded by servants and nannies, the Communists seemed at last to be the face of the masses, a terrifying robbing horde. In a country where 5 million people died of starvation in just two years, the Rosenbaums went hungry. Her father tried to set up another business, but after it too was seized, he declared himself to be “on strike.”

The Rosenbaums knew their angry, outspoken daughter would not survive under the Bolsheviks for long, so they arranged to smuggle her out to their relatives in America. Just before her 21st birthday, she said goodbye to her country and her family for the last time. She was determined to live in the America she had seen in the silent movies—the America of skyscrapers and riches and freedom. She renamed herself Ayn Rand, a name she thought had the hardness and purity of a Hollywood starlet.

She headed for Hollywood, where she set out to write stories that expressed her philosophy—a body of thought she said was the polar opposite of communism. She announced that the world was divided between a small minority of Supermen who are productive and “the naked, twisted, mindless figure of the human Incompetent” who, like the Leninists, try to feed off them. He is “mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned.” It is evil to show kindness to these “lice”: The “only virtue” is “selfishness.”

She meant it. Her diaries from that time, while she worked as a receptionist and an extra, lay out the Nietzschean mentality that underpins all her later writings. The newspapers were filled for months with stories about serial killer called William Hickman, who kidnapped a 12-year-old girl called Marion Parker from her junior high school, raped her, and dismembered her body, which he sent mockingly to the police in pieces. Rand wrote great stretches of praise for him, saying he represented “the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul. … Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.” She called him “a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy,” shimmering with “immense, explicit egotism.” Rand had only one regret: “A strong man can eventually trample society under its feet. That boy [Hickman] was not strong enough.”

It’s not hard to see this as a kind of political post-traumatic stress disorder. Rand believed the Bolshevik lie that they represented the people, so she wanted to strike back at them—through theft and murder. In a nasty irony, she was copying their tactics. She started to write her first novel, We the Living (1936), and in the early drafts her central character—a crude proxy for Rand herself—says to a Bolshevik: “I loathe your ideals. I admire your methods. If one believes one’s right, one shouldn’t wait to convince millions of fools, one might just as well force them.”

She poured these beliefs into a series of deeply odd novels. She takes the flabby staples of romantic fiction and peppers them with political ravings and rapes for the audience to cheer on. All have the same core message: Anything that pleases the Superman’s ego is good; anything that blocks it is bad. In The Fountainhead, published in 1943, a heroic architect called Howard Roark designs a housing project for the poor—not out of compassion but because he wants to build something mighty. When his plans are slightly altered, he blows up the housing project, saying the purity of his vision has been contaminated by evil government bureaucrats. He orders the jury to acquit him, saying: “The only good which men can do to one another and the only statement of their proper relationship is—Hands off!”

For her longest novel, Atlas Shrugged (1957), Rand returned to a moment from her childhood. Just as her father once went on strike to protest against Bolshevism, she imagined the super-rich in America going on strike against progressive taxation—and said the United States would swiftly regress to an apocalyptic hellhole if the Donald Trumps and Ted Turners ceased their toil. The abandoned masses are described variously as “savages,” “refuse,” “inanimate objects,” and “imitations of living beings,” picking through rubbish. One of the strikers deliberately causes a train crash, and Rand makes it clear she thinks the murder victims deserved it, describing in horror how they all supported the higher taxes that made the attack necessary.

Her heroes are a cocktail of extreme self-love and extreme self-pity: They insist they need no one, yet they spend all their time fuming that the masses don’t bow down before their manifest superiority.

As her books became mega-sellers, Rand surrounded herself with a tightly policed cult of young people who believed she had found the One Objective Truth about the world. They were required to memorize her novels and slapped down as “imbecilic” and “anti-life” by Rand if they asked questions. One student said: “There was a right kind of music, a right kind of art, a right kind of interior design, a right kind of dancing. There were wrong books which we should not buy.”

Rand had become addicted to amphetamines while writing The Fountainhead, and her natural paranoia and aggression were becoming more extreme as they pumped though her veins. Anybody in her circle who disagreed with her was subjected to a show trial in front of the whole group in which they would be required to repent or face expulsion. Her secretary, Barbara Weiss, said: “I came to look on her as a killer of people.” The workings of her cult exposed the hollowness of Rand’s claims to venerate free thinking and individualism. Her message was, think freely, as long as it leads you into total agreement with me.

In the end, Rand was destroyed by her own dogmas. She fell in love with a young follower called Nathaniel Branden and had a decades-long affair with him. He became the cult’s No. 2, and she named him as her “intellectual heir”—until he admitted he had fallen in love with a 23-year-old woman. As Burns explains, Rand’s philosophy “taught that sex was never physical; it was always inspired by a deeper recognition of shared values, a sense that the other embodied the highest human achievement.” So to be sexually rejected by Branden meant he was rejecting her ideas, her philosophy, her entire person. She screamed: “You have rejected me? You have dared to reject me? Me, your highest value?”

She never really recovered. We all become weak at some point in our lives, so a thinker who despises weakness will end up despising herself. In her 70s Rand found herself dying of lung cancer, after insisting that her followers smoke because it symbolized “man’s victory over fire” and the studies showing it caused lung cancer were Communist propaganda. By then she had driven almost everyone away. In 1982, she died alone in her apartment with only a hired nurse at her side. If her philosophy is right—if the only human relationships worth having are based on the exchange of dollars—this was a happy and victorious death. Did even she believe it in the end?

Rand was broken by the Bolsheviks as a girl, and she never left their bootprint behind. She believed her philosophy was Bolshevism’s opposite, when in reality it was its twin. Both she and the Soviets insisted a small revolutionary elite in possession of absolute rationality must seize power and impose its vision on a malleable, imbecilic mass. The only difference was that Lenin thought the parasites to be stomped on were the rich, while Rand thought they were the poor.

I don’t find it hard to understand why this happened to Rand: I feel sympathy for her, even as I know she would have spat it back into my face. What I do find incomprehensible is that there are people—large numbers of people—who see her writing not as psychopathy but as philosophy, and urge us to follow her. Why? What in American culture did she drill into? Unfortunately, neither of these equally thorough, readable books can offer much of an answer to this, the only great question about her.

Rand expresses, with a certain pithy crudeness, an instinct that courses through us all sometimes: I’m the only one who matters! I’m not going to care about any of you any more! She then absolutizes it in an amphetamine Benzedrine-charged reductio ad absurdum by insisting it is the only feeling worth entertaining, ever.

This urge exists everywhere, but why is it supercharged on the American right, where Rand is regarded as something more than a bad, bizarre joke? In a country where almost everyone believes—wrongly, on the whole—that they are self-made, perhaps it is easier to have contempt for people who didn’t make much of themselves. And Rand taps into something deeper still. The founding myth of America is that the nation was built out of nothing, using only reason and willpower. Rand applies this myth to the individual American: You made yourself. You need nobody and nothing except your reason to rise and dominate. You can be America, in one body, in one mind.

She said the United States should be a “democracy of superiors only,” with superiority defined by being rich. Well, we got it. As the health care crisis has shown, today, the rich have the real power: The vote that matters is expressed with a checkbook and a lobbyist. We get to vote only for the candidates they have pre-funded and receive the legislation they have preapproved. It’s useful—if daunting—to know that there is a substantial slice of the American public who believe this is not a problem to be put right, but morally admirable.

We all live every day with the victory of this fifth-rate Nietzsche of the mini-malls. Alan Greenspan was one of her strongest cult followers and even invited her to the Oval Office to witness his swearing-in when he joined the Ford administration. You can see how he carried this philosophy into the 1990s: Why should the Supermen of Wall Street be regulated to protected the lice of Main Street?

The figure Ayn Rand most resembles in American life is L. Ron Hubbard, another crazed, pitiable charlatan who used trashy potboilers to whip up a cult. Unfortunately, Rand’s cult isn’t confined to Tom Cruise and a rash of Hollywood dimwits. No, its ideas and its impulses have, by drilling into the basest human instincts, captured one of America’s major political parties.
~

Paul Ryan And Ayn Rand

Another part of Christopher Beam’s piece on libertarianism that caught my interest was this bit about Paul Ryan and his deep affinity for Ayn Rand:

Representative Paul Ryan, also of Wisconsin, requires staffers to read Atlas Shrugged, describes Obama’s economic policies as “something right out of an Ayn Rand novel,” and calls Rand “the reason I got involved in public service.”

Earlier this year I wrote about Ryan and his deep devotion to the philosophy of Rand, particularly her inverted Marxist economic-political worldview:

Ryan would retain some bare-bones subsidies for the poorest, but the overwhelming thrust in every way is to liberate the lucky and successful to enjoy their good fortune without burdening them with any responsibility for the welfare of their fellow citizens. This is the core of Ryan’s moral philosophy:

“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” Ryan said at a D.C. gathering four years ago honoring the author of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.” …

At the Rand celebration he spoke at in 2005, Ryan invoked the central theme of Rand’s writings when he told his audience that, “Almost every fight we are involved in here on Capitol Hill … is a fight that usually comes down to one conflict–individualism versus collectivism.”

The core of the Randian worldview, as absorbed by the modern GOP, is a belief that the natural market distribution of income is inherently moral, and the central struggle of politics is to free the successful from having the fruits of their superiority redistributed by looters and moochers.

Ross Douthat furiously objected, dismissing Ryan’s relationship as him having “said kind words about Ayn Rand,” as if he had merely offered pro forma praise at a banquet. I think at this point trying to deny Ryan’s attachment to Rand is pretty hard to sustain. He’s not requiring his staffers to read Ran because he thinks they need a good love story. And given that it’s not just a teenage fascination but the continuing embodiment of his public philosophy, it’s worth noting again that Rand is a twisted, hateful thinker.
~~


Filed under: Around the web, Aw, ya selfish greedy bastards ya, Books & Reviews
 


Gene Logsdon: Tired of Tires


From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer
Upper Sandusky, Ohio

Do you know how many pneumatic rubber tires you own? I bet when you count them up, you’ll be surprised. Even on my little one horse farm, there are 40 tires in use, not counting the ones on the car. And ten percent of them are flat at any given time. This is partly because most of my tires were vulcanized in the late Middle Ages or thereabouts. But it is also because there is something unsustainable and unnatural about riding around on air wrapped in a substance that comes from trees that grow half a million miles away.

This is the time of year when I fare forth to another season of mowing and planting. I know without looking, that my first chore, after getting all the motors (6) running, will be fixing flats. I thought maybe this year would be an exception. The green tractor started right up and the hydraulic system on it worked fine. I backed up to the disk to hitch up and the hole on the disk tongue lined up with the drawbar hole perfectly on the first try. Oh perfect joy.

One pass across the field and behold, the left tire on the disk was as flat as a pancake. I pumped it up (by hand) and proceeded on to the gardens which were actually dry enough to disk (the corn ground wasn’t) and worked up two of the plots before the tire went flat again. Pumped it up again and it lasted until I had finished the other two plots. I would not have been so stubborn about it except rain was threatening and it might be another two weeks before the soil was dry enough to work again.

Have you ever stopped to think just how dumb it is to have pneumatic tires on a disk? They are only in use when the disk is not disking and that would mean, in my “operation”, about three hundred feet a year at a speed of not more than two miles per hour. Those tires could easily be made out of metal or even some high grade plastic. I should never have gotten rid of my really ancient disk which had no tires at all, but an adjustment to swivel the disk blades straight enough so they wouldn’t cut into the dirt as they rolled along.

Yes, I know, I know. Modern farming requires many acres scattered over ten townships or so, with more time spent moving on the road than actually working in the field. But how about us small timers and slow timers, or how about garden tillers and lawn mowers that will never move off the homestead and rarely move faster than 3 mph?  How about my two-bottom plow once owned by Daniel Boone’s grandfather, or my manure spreader, wheelbarrows, and pull-type sickle bar and rotary mowers? The only piece of farm implement I own that exhibits intelligent design is a side delivery rake. It mercifully has steel wheels.

None of my garden and farm implements need tires made of rubber with air inside them. Nor my tractors. Sometimes I even wonder why science has not found better things for cars and trucks to ride on than air. We had to replace all four tires on our 2005 car because of faulty valve stems. I hear other people complaining about car tires too— they refer to “bad batches” of tires where the outer tread slips loose from the inner tread.

The most ludicrous of all are pneumatic wheelbarrow tires. They are, in my experience, very cheap and go flat almost before you get them home from the hardware store. I have seriously thought of sawing off nice round discs from a red elm log of the right size to make wheelbarrow wheels. Or why does a rear end garden tiller need pneumatic tires? My tiller’s tires like to annoy me by taking turns going soft. They could be made out of metal easily enough.

I am very much in accord with those Amish sects which allow their members to use tractors so long as they aren’t equipped with rubber tires. One Amish community I know decided it was okay to cover their steel wheels with rubber mat treading so they wouldn’t tear the road up too much. When the bishop was teased about this minor transgression of the rule (I tell this story in one of my books), he replied:  “We prayed over the matter and finally decided it was not the rubber itself God was against, but riding on air. Only angels should ride on air.”

During spring flat tire fixing time, I heartily agree. And the next time someone tries to get me on an airplane, that’s going to be my answer.
~~


Filed under: Guest Posts
 



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