Libertarianism is a Bad Fad

While it’s certainly a minority, there seems to be are a few Christian voices out there I’ve come across who find Ayn Rand appealing.  Demonstrating the radical antithesis of Rand’s philosophy to Christian and genuinely humanist thought is so easy, one wonders where to start. Rand herself gladly admitted that her philosophy attacks our “contemporary American way of life, Judeo-Christian religion, [and] rule by majority will,” and that she “scorns churches and the concept of God.”

At the center of Rand’s libertarian ethic is the individual ego. While traditionally egoism was considered the heart of original sin, Rand flippantly raised it as the standard of her new morality.  Humanity’s problem is that we do not love ourselves enough. Christians have nothing to learn from Ayn Rand that is not better said and more soundly concluded by any number of thinkers.  Between a social ethic that flows from Christian reflection and one that results from Rand’s premises, there is only accidental coincidence on a vanishingly few number of points.

Whittaker Chambers—one of the Cold War’s greatest anti-Communists—unmasked Rand in National Review after her mainstream debut. And so long as undeveloped intellectual palates swallow the cold gruel of Rand’s “philosophy,” Chambers’ 1957 critical article of Atlas Shrugged remains the go-to prescription:

Nor has the author, apparently, brooded on the degree to which, in a wicked world, a materialism of the Right and a materialism of the Left first surprisingly resemble, then, in action, tend to blend each with each, because, while differing at the top in avowed purpose, and possibly in conflict there, at bottom they are much the same thing. The embarrassing similarities between Hitler’s National Socialism and Stalin’s brand of Communism are familiar. For the world, as seen in materialist view from the Right, scarcely differs from the same world seen in materialist view from the Left. The question becomes chiefly: who is to run that world in whose interests, or perhaps, at best, who can run it more efficiently?

Rand is as much a materialist as the communists she despised. Instead of a dictatorship of the proletariat, she proposed an oligarchy of the economic elite.  It is only because Rand and Marx are estranged philosophic twins that her ideology is so systematically individualist on every point in response to the collectivist ideas he spawned.

Once any political theory evacuates a holistic account of the human person and society, it becomes an ideology and provokes an ideological alter-ego. The ideologies of collectivism in the twentieth century reduced the human person to an economic cog and treated society as a machine—the state became absolute. The ideology of individualism reduced the human person to an economic island and treated community as a commoditized matrix—the individual became absolute. 

Rand simply replaced the hammer and cycle with the dollar sign.

 

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“We shape our buildings, and afterwards they shape us.”

A wonderful article by Dr. McClay.

Resistance to urban identity goes back to the very beginnings of American history. At the time of the Founding, and well into the early national years, the United States could well be described as a rural republic.  At the turn of the eighteenth into the nineteenth century, there were only six places featuring populations of more than 10,000, a number that is hardly a city by most present-day standards, and the combined population of these six was 183,000 in a nation of five million. Agriculture was not only the predominant mode of economic activity, but the one held to be most exemplary, a sentiment most vividly expressed in these famous words of Thomas Jefferson: “Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever He had a chosen people, whose breasts He has made His peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.” Nor was Jefferson shy about extending the implications of this analysis to urban life: “The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body.” His fellow Virginian George Washington agreed: “the tumultuous populace of large cities are ever to be dreaded.”

The very idea of conservatism itself, far from being intrinsically anti-urban, has in the West always been inextricably bound up in the history and experience of a particular succession of great cities. When Russell Kirk wrote his celebrated book on The Roots of American Order, he could have chosen to present that history strictly in terms of unfolding structures of ideas.  But instead, he built it around the central cities of the history of the West: Athens, Jerusalem, Rome, London, and Philadelphia. Each city was taken to exemplify a foundational stage in the development of American liberty and American order. This was not merely a literary conceit, like a metonym. The clear message was that such developments could only occur in cities. The very civilization that conservatives wish to conserve is rooted in such cities. It is no accident that the Book of Revelation aims at the creation of the New Jerusalem, not the New Tara Plantation or the New Mayberry. We should think about why this is so.

We have been taught to think of our American cities as hothouses of “creative destruction” and holding pens for atomized and anonymous “mass men.” But our actual experience of cities tells us something different. For one thing, every great city is really a collection of strong neighborhoods, in each of which there is far less anomie than may appear to be the case to an outside observer. But the conservative, civilization-sustaining aspect of the city goes far beyond that.

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Opening Prayer for the First Sunday in Lent, Jerome

Show me, O Lord, your mercy, and delight my heart with it. Let me find you whom I so longingly seek. See, here is the man whom the robbers seized, mishandled and left half dead on the road to Jericho, O kind-hearted Samaritan, come to my aid! I am the sheep who wandered into the wilderness–seek after me, and bring me home again to your fold. Do with me what you will, that I may stay by you all the days of my life and praise you with all those who are with you in heaven for all eternity.

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Ash Wednesday, by T.S. Eliot

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Continue reading

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My critique of Durkheim’s theory of religion (for what it’s worth)

So, to reiterate, the elementary form of religion that Durkheim examines, “totemism,” is his paradigm for primitive religion as the bond of social cohesion.  He says that all religions share this primordial function, but have added to it in diverse ways.  Durkheim is saying that “totemic religion” is what has structured human thinking, not any particular religion such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc. And to study the nature of how religion has structured human society (which in his day was then giving way to political ideologies like nationalism and communism), he had to avoid the traditional epistemological schools of David Hume’s empiricism (which leads to radical skepticism of science) and Immanual Kant’s a proiri transcendental reasoning (because of its “unscientific” nature… though I’m going to come back to this.) Remember, Durkheim is trying to show that science naturally replaces religion as the dominant paradigm of modernity. (This is the philosophical backbone of the “secularization thesis” in international relations and political development).

To do this, Durkheim has to answer the age-old problem that Plato and Aristotle wrestled with, and to which Hume and Kant postulated their opposing schools of thought : where do mental categories come from? Because it is with mental categories that religion, science, and philosophy govern our thinking.

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Community and the Religious Imagination of Modernity

The Sea of Faith

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled

But now I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar

Retreating, to the breath

Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world.

“Dover Beach,” Matthew Arnold

Watching the increasing revolutionary ferment rolling across the Arab autocracies and monarchies (now Bahrain in addition to the states of the Maghreb), I’m reminded of a book I read back in graduate school, Emile Durkeim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Durkheim sought to explain “the long, withdrawing roar” of the realm of faith on the one hand, and on the other, the rise of a peculiar set of unifying principles in modern society: egalitarianism, democracy, and The People. Ultimately, I think the book is about Durkheim’s realization that in modernity people transfer religious belief to ideological belief, and trade their faith in God for faith in the state, and in human organization… it’s the story of the Tower of Babel, really. I am convinced that his argument fundamentally applies today because what motivates people’s mass behaviors is still the same. Look at Egypt: masses of individuals still come together in a belief about their collective destiny and act on those beliefs, and hope for a tangible future they can build on their own by taking control of the state and harnessing the power of human organization. Isn’t that what revolution is, in the end? Isn’t that what democracy has given human beings, in the end? Collective belief and the power to act on collective belief.

I also think Durkheim makes a powerful case for why social conservatives identify religion and the social order, or identify religion as a pillar of their social order. But if you accept his (very persuasive) argument, you also accept a serious undermining of the truth value of religious claims. It’s a subtle but ultimately deadly theory of religion. Continue reading

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Collect on the Sunday called Septuagesima, the BCP

O Lord, we beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people; that we, who are justly punished for our offenses, may be mercifully delivered by thy goodness, for the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

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