Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago was published today in 1973 in Paris. The novel describes the torture and murder of tens of millions of Soviet citizens by the communist regime in the Soviet Union (mostly during the rule of Josef Stalin from 1929 to 1953).

The word "Gulag" refers to the far-flung system of forced labor camps run by the Soviet secret police and its institutions. The prisoner population in these camps grew from a relatively small number after the revolution of 1917 to more than 15 million during the peak of Stalinist terror.

Solzhenitsyn has relied on his own experience as a prisoner for 8-years in a gulag labor camp, and on eyewitness accounts and research material to give a comprehensive picture of the terrible methods that the Soviet police and interrogators used to mount pressure on the citizens.

The saga of the Soviet gulag experience is told in a series of vignettes.

A citizen is threatened by an interrogator that his daughter will be locked up in a cell filled with syphilitics. When a prisoner protests that when the crime for which he was being accused occurred he was only 10-years-old, he is threatened that he should not try to insult the Soviet intelligence service. A infant's coffin is searched for hours in front of the parents.

At times the prisoners are murdered in mass killings, at times deliberately frozen to death in punishment isolators, and at times shot by guards eager to claim bonuses for killing escapees. But the vast majority of the prisoners are not killed directly; they are denied food so that they slowly starve to death. Hunger is the biggest killer in the gulags.

Why did the Soviet regime destroy the lives of tens of millions of its citizens? Solzhenitsyn rejects the idea that the murderous acts of Josef Stalin were an aberration in communist history. He is of the view that the idea of attaining and maintaining political power by unleashing a reign of terror is ingrained in the Marxist-Leninist ideology, which, he points out, is devoid of moral principles.

In Part VII of The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn writes: "Oh, Western freedom-loving "left-wing" thinkers! Oh, left-wing labourists! Oh, American, German and French progressive students! All of this is still not enough for you. The whole book has been useless for you. You will understand everything immediately, when you yourself — "hands behind the back" — toddle into our Archipelago."

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Isabel Paterson: On The Banditry of Paper Currency

"If a bandit holds up the owner of a motor car at the point of a gun, takes the car, and rides off in it, and then obtains gas, repairs, and whatever else he requires by the same means, what kind of an economy is he running on? If a sufficient number of bandits should seize the whole economy in the same manner, but "legalize" it by compulsion of the courts and legislatures; and if they should also "pay" for what they take in paper currency, in whatever sums they chose, what kind of an economy would it be?”

~ Isabel Paterson in The God Of The Machine

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Isaac Newton: Money Must Have Fixed Quantity of Precious Metal

In Isabel Paterson’s classic book The God Of The Machine, there is an informative discussion on the nature of sound money in the chapter, “Why Real Money Is Indispensable.”

Paterson says that the economists who advocate fiat money (paper currency not redeemable in gold) are below the mental level of savages. She shows that the economic prosperity of a nation directly linked to the soundness of its currency. When money gets debased, economic activity comes to a standstill. She says that “the material used for money must be durable, divisible, incorruptible, portable, not easily imitated, and found in nature in sufficient but limited quantity.”

The chapter has an interesting account of Isaac Newton's argument on why money needs to have a physical value attached to it.

Here’s the excerpt:
"Sir Isaac Newton was asked by the British Treasury officials and financiers of his day why the monetary pound had to be a fixed quantity of precious metal. Why, indeed, must it consist of precious metal, or have any objective reality? Since paper currency was already accepted, why could not notes be issued without ever being redeemed? The reason they put the question supplies the answer; the government was heavily in debt, and they hoped to find a safe way of being dishonest. But Newton was asked as a mathematician, not as a moralist. He replied: "Gentlemen, in applied mathematics, you must describe your unit." Paper currency cannot be described mathematically as money. A dollar is a certain weight of gold; that is a mathematical description, by measure (weight). Is a piece of paper of certain dimensions (length, breadth, and thickness, or else weight) a dollar? Certainly not. Is a given-sized piece of paper a dollar even if numerals and words of a certain size are stamped on it with a given quantity of ink? No.”
Unfortunately the modern economists and politicians have forgotten Newton’s answer to why the monetary pound must have a fixed quantity of precious metal.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s Resignation Speech

Twenty-five years ago, on December 26, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last President of the Soviet Union, resigned and declared his office extinct.

Gorbachev was forced to resign because four days earlier 11 of the former Soviet republics had established the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), effectively throwing the Soviet Union into the garbage dump of history.

In his resignation speech, Gorbachev accepts that in the Soviet Union people were doomed to cater to a totalitarian ideology. He says that the communist regime had caused unimaginable devastation, and he sees the rejection of communism and the acceptance of free-market ideas as a positive development. Here’s an excerpt from his resignation speech:
We had a lot of everything -- land, oil and gas, other natural resources -- and there was intellect and talent in abundance. However, we were living much worse than people in the industrialized countries were living and we were increasingly lagging behind them. 
The reason was obvious even then. This country was suffocating in the shackles of the bureaucratic command system. Doomed to cater to ideology, and suffer and carry the onerous burden of the arms race, it found itself at the breaking point. 
All the half-hearted reforms -- and there have been a lot of them -- fell through, one after another. This country was going nowhere and we couldn't possibly live the way we did. We had to change everything radically. 
It is for this reason that I have never had any regrets -- never had any regrets -- that I did not use the capacity of General Secretary just to reign in this country for several years. I would have considered it an irresponsible and immoral decision. I was also aware that to embark on reform of this caliber and in a society like ours was an extremely difficult and even risky undertaking. But even now, I am convinced that the democratic reform that we launched in the spring of 1985 was historically correct. 
The process of renovating this country and bringing about drastic change in the international community has proven to be much more complicated than anyone could imagine. However, let us give its due to what has been done so far. 
This society has acquired freedom. It has been freed politically and spiritually, and this is the most important achievement that we have yet fully come to grips with. And we haven't, because we haven't learned to use freedom yet. 
However, an effort of historical importance has been carried out. The totalitarian system has been eliminated, which prevented this country from becoming a prosperous and well-to-do country a long time ago. A breakthrough has been effected on the road of democratic change. 
Free elections have become a reality. Free press, freedom of worship, representative legislatures and a multi-party system have all become reality. Human rights are being treated as the supreme principle and top priority. Movement has been started toward a multi-tier economy and the equality of all forms of ownership is being established. 
Within the framework of the land reform, peasantry began to re-emerge as a class. And there arrived farmers, and billions of hectares of land are being given to urbanites and rural residents alike. The economic freedom of the producer has been made a law, and free enterprise, the emergence of joint stock companies and privatization are gaining momentum. 
As the economy is being steered toward the market format, it is important to remember that the intention behind this reform is the well-being of man, and during this difficult period everything should be done to provide for social security, which particularly concerns old people and children.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

On Currency-Money Dichotomy

The idea of currency-money dichotomy is analogous to the theory of body-soul dichotomy. 


Currency consists of the banknotes and coins issued by the central bank that are in circulation. When the central bank issues currency, it is issuing credit. 
A transaction through currency is a transfer of debt from one party to another. In a currency based transaction the debt is not extinguished; it is merely transferred.  


Money stands for something like gold, silver, or any other commodity that has an objective value of its own. Economist Keith Weiner points out that money is the most marketable commodity.

When the transactions are carried out through real money the debt is not transferred; it is extinguished. This is because the currency being used has an objective value of its own. It is not necessary for the currency to be made from gold, silver, or any other commodity. In a gold standard system paper currency can be issued by the central bank or the private banks. But this paper currency must be redeemable in gold.

Just as the theory of soul-body dichotomy has created a havoc in ethics and epistemology, the idea of currency-money dichotomy is creating a havoc in economics.

When currency does not have an objective monetary value, the financial transactions have to be backed by government power.

In a paper money system, the financial value of the piece of paper or coin that we regard as currency is dependent on the pleasure of the government. Out of political considerations or economic confusion, the government may demonetize the currency at any point of time leading to incredible hardships for the people and the businesses.

Also, when the currency is not linked to real money (which is gold, silver or any other commodity), the government enjoys the power to issue credit for speculative bubbles which result in speculative mania and inflation in the price of assets. When the bubble bursts there is massive sell-off and many businesses get ruined.

As long as the government has control over the issuance of currency, the economy will be plagued with all kinds of problems. We must adopt gold standard because it is the only way of safeguarding the private property of the individuals and businesses, and ensuring economic growth. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Robert Paul Wolff On Immanuel Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason

Professor Robert Paul Wolff is an anarchist in politics and Marxist in economics.

But a Professor who is devoted to anarchism and Marxism is, in my view, qualified for elucidating Immanuel Kant’s philosophical system. After all, Kant’s ideas are the basis on which the structure of Marxism and anarchism is built.

I find Wolff's lecture series on Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason very interesting and informative. In these lectures Wolff explores not only Kant’s ideas but also the range of philosophical disputes that Kant was trying to grapple with.

Kant lived in a period in which epistemology had replaced metaphysics as the world’s first philosophy. For more than two hundreds years before Kant the leading philosophers of Europe had been trying to decipher how the human mind acquires knowledge. Wolff draws a connection between Kant and the epistemological ideas of Descartes, Locke, Newton, Leibniz, and Hume.

In the time of Kant a dispute was razing across Europe between the continental rationalists like Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, and the British empiricists like Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Wolff says that as Kant looked into this philosophical dispute, he dove so deep into the depths of human knowledge that he emerged from it, not as Immanuel Kant the professor of logic, but as Immanuel Kant the world’s leading philosopher.

Wolff is an admirer of Kant; in his lectures he repeatedly points out that he regards The Critique of Pure Reason as the greatest work in philosophy since Aristotle and Plato. In his view Kant is the world’s leading moral philosopher, and he claims that teaching Kant has been the greatest experience of his lifetime.

In his Inaugural Dissertation (1770), Kant has said that both the rationalists and the empiricists are right, and their differences are because they are trapped in Antinomies. According to Wolff, Kant’s intellectual universe was turned upside down in 1772 when he read the German translation of An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth by James Beattie and became acquainted with the ideas of David Hume. In this work, Beattie has made extensive use of Hume’s ideas.

Wolff lectures in a rather rambling style. Every now and then he digresses from the main topic to reminisce about his past experiences with students, colleagues, some famous philosophers, and other things. But I think these digressions are of some value as they lead to a better understanding of not only Kant’s ideas but also of how Kant is seen in the contemporaneous period.

For instance, Wolff has described his meeting (when he was a 20-year-old student of philosophy) with Bertrand Russell, who was then regarded as the world’s intellectual pope. When Russell learned that Wolff was reading Kant, he said, “You prefer fiction, do you?” Russell also asserted that he hadn’t “read Kant seriously since 1897.” Wolff says that after meeting Russell he realized that famous people are quite useless.

As of now there are nine lectures by Wolff on The Critique of Pure Reason—each lecture is of around one hour. He has not made any syllabus because he says that he plans to set the agenda for the next class on the basis of the progress that has been made in the previous class. Overall, this is turning out to be an interesting survey of Kant’s life and ideas.

Professor Wolff is well known for his work on Kant. He is the author of books like In Defense of AnarchismKant's Theory of Mental Activity, and Understanding Rawls

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Ayn Rand’s Criticism of Orwell’s Animal Farm

George Orwell is often regarded as a right-wing writer, but he was a lifelong socialist. In his writings he has criticized totalitarianism but he never said anything in favor of capitalism.

His famous book Animal Farm is a satire on Soviet Union—every event in the book mirrors an event in the Soviet Union, from the Bolshevik Revolution to Stalin’s purges and personality cult.

But Animal Farm is not a critique of socialism and communism, just Stalin’s regime. Orwell did not regard Stalin’s Soviet Union as a socialist country. He thought that Stalin had corrupted the socialist ideal. Orwell abandoned the Soviet Union but continued to call himself a socialist. He thought that a real socialist state cannot be totalitarian, and that a socialist state ruled by a benevolent liberal government was the best option for mankind.

Orwell had a low opinion of capitalism. He believed that the capitalist countries are rife with class warfare and oppression of the masses. He equated capitalism with fascism. Animal Farm is full of egalitarian ideas and it can be seen as a parable on the problems caused by capitalism.

On August 29, 1946, Ayn Rand wrote a letter to Leonard Reed in which she said that Orwell’s Animal Farm was a preachment of communism and a perverse disfiguration of rational political ideas. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

As an advance warning, for God’s sake DON’T recommend Animal Farm. You have probably heard about it—it’s a little booklet that has just come out and is being whopped up as a lesson against Communism, which it is not. I have read it. It made me sick. It is a book against Stalin, not against Communism. In fact, it is the mushiest and most maudlin preachment of Communism (I suppose the author would call it Socialism, but there is no difference), that I have seen in a long time. The moral of the book is not: “Communism is evil,” but: “Stalin’s Communism is just as evil as Capitalism.” Don’t let’s help preach that idea.” ~ (Source: Letters of Ayn Rand)

It is worth noting that there is lot of anti-booze propaganda in Animal Farm. The Bolshevik type revolution happens in the animal farm when the farmer gets drunk and forgets to feed the animals. When Napoleon, the pig, wants money for whiskey he has the horse Boxer killed for his parts. In the novel’s climax there is a drunken brawl between the humans and the pigs.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

A Companion to Aristotle

A Companion to Aristotle
Edited by Georgios Anagnostopoulos

A Companion to Aristotle is a good presentation of Aristotle’s life, methods, and ideas. The book of 650-pages is divided into five parts and has articles from 37 professors of philosophy from major universities.

According to the book’s editor Georgios Anagnostopoulos, a professor of philosophy at the University of California, the book's aim is to treat some central topics of Aristotle’s philosophy in as much depth as is possible within the space of a short chapter.

In the book’s first part titled “Aristotle’s Life and Works,” the focus is on Aristotle’s life and certain issues about the number, edition, and chronology of his works. Anagnostopoulos is the author of the two articles in this section. He says: “Aristotle was the last great individual philosopher of ancient times, one of the three thinkers – the others being Socrates and Plato.”

The second part, “The Tools of Inquiry,” has articles from five authors on the ideas on deductive logic and knowledge that Aristotle has proposed mainly in the Prior Analytics and Posterior Analytics. However, Aristotle has commented on such topics in passages from several works, and therefore this section of the book includes brief discussion of Metaphysics, Categories, Physics, de Anima, and other works.

The third part, “Theoretical Knowledge,” is subdivided into four parts — Part A is on Metaphysics, Part B is on Physics, Part C is on Psychology, Part D is on Biology. This is the longest, and in my view the most important section of the book. It has 16 chapters by different authors and it gives a lucid overview of Aristotle’s seminal contributions in philosophy and science. Here’s a quote from Aristotle’s Metaphysics—on his firmest principle, the principle of non-contradiction: “For the same thing to hold and not to hold of the same thing at the same time and in the same respect is impossible, given any further specifications added to guard against dialectical objections.”

The fourth part, “Practical Knowledge,” with 13 chapters is subdivided into two parts: Part A is on, and Part B is on Politics. The practical focus of Aristotelian ethics comes to light in the section on ethics. As Aristotle says in the very first sentence of the Nicomachean Ethics, “Every craft and every inquiry, and likewise every action and decision, seems to aim at some good. For which reason people have rightly concluded that the good is that at which all things aim.” Dr. Robert Mayhew, an expert in Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, has written a chapter, “Rulers and Ruled,” in the section on politics.

The final or the fifth part of the book carries the title, “Productive Knowledge.” It has two parts, each with two chapters—the first part is on Rhetoric, and the second is on Art.

On the whole, A Companion to Aristotle offers a careful analysis of the elements of Aristotelian thought. It brings to light the greatness or the vast scope of Aristotle’s works. In my view, the book’s presentation is sufficient to convince you that it is Aristotle’s ideas that stand between civilization and barbarism.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

On The Moral Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Philippa Foot, and Elizabeth Anscombe

A Companion to Ayn Rand
Edited by: Allan Gotthelf and Gregory Salmieri

The similarity in the moral philosophy of Ayn Rand, Philippa Foot, and Elizabeth Anscombe is briefly mentioned in two chapters of A Companion to Ayn Rand. The first chapter is “The Act of Valuing (and the Objectivity of Values)” by Gregory Salmieri, and the second is “The Morality of Life” by Allan Gotthelf (completed by Gregory Salmieri).

The focus of Salmieri’s, “The Act of Valuing (and the Objectivity of Values),” is on tracing the act of valuing as an activity of the soul or mind that can be found in Ayn Rand’s literature, and in the notes that she made while planning her novels.

Salmieri looks at the acts and thoughts of several characters in Rand’s novels. While discussing James Taggart (the negative character in Atlas Shrugged), Salmieri mentions that there are a few parallels between the moral ideas of Rand and Foot.

Here’s the relevant excerpt from “The Act of Valuing (and the Objectivity of Values)":

“Though James Taggart’s failure to choose to live does place him beyond the reach of moral guidance, it does not change the fact that his chosen actions are contrary to morality (that is, to the code of values a person needs to follow in order to live); nor does it change the fact that he has, by his own choice, become an enemy of life. Therefore, those who do value their lives must judge him as evil and treat him accordingly… On Rand’s view, life-haters like Taggart can and must be morally condemned, but their evil cannot be understood as a violation of an obligation to live, for Rand held that there are no such categorical obligations or duties. Rather she shared the view that Philippa Foot nicely expressed in the title of a (1972) paper: ‘Morality as a system of Hypothetical Imperatives.’”

To elucidate Rand’s formulation of the point, Salmieri quotes from Philosophy: Who Needs It. “Life or death is man’s only fundamental alternative. To live is his basic act of choice. If he chooses to live, a rational ethics will tell him what principles of action are required to implement his choice. If he does not choose to live, nature will take its course.”

Further, Salmieri writes: “For Rand, as for Foot, morality’s grip on a person depends on his holding a value that not all people hold. In particular, for Rand, it depends on his valuing his life. This value is not one among a set of alternative values that someone might hold, for (as we have seen) Rand held that the phenomenon of valuing only arises in the context of an organism’s pursuit of its life as its ultimate value.”

In all her major works, Philippa Foot has acknowledged the great intellectual debt that she owes to Elizabeth Anscombe whose works on moral theory were published in 1958, around the time when Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was published. While giving this information in the notes to his chapter, Salmieri points out that it is worth exploring the parallels between Rand and Anscombe.

In the notes to the chapter by Allan Gotthelf, “The Morality of Life," Salmieri has mentioned Elizabeth Anscombe. Salmieri points out that Rand’s answer to Hume’s famous challenge — it is impossible to derive an “ought” from an “is” — is similar to the one made by Anscombe. In The Virtue of Selfishness, Rand answered Hume in this way: “the fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do.” Anscombe has written on the subject in her classic paper “Modern Moral Philosophy.”

According to Salmieri, there is no evidence that either Rand or Anscombe was familiar with the other’s works—the similarities between them could be due to the common influence of Aristotle.

Related:

Moral Evil Is Due To A Natural Defect

Morality as a system of Hypothetical Imperatives

Book Review: A Companion to Ayn Rand

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Moral Evil Is Due To A Natural Defect

Natural Goodness
Philippa Foot

Philippa Foot’s Natural Goodness is a slim volume of 125-pages, but it carries the remarkable agenda of reorienting our understanding of practical rationality and making a case for a naturalistic theory of ethics. In the first chapter, “A Fresh Start?”,  Foot sheds light on what she is aiming for in the book:

“I have in this book the overt aim of setting out a view of moral judgement very different from that of most moral philosophers writing today. For I believe that evaluations of human will and action share a conceptual structure with evaluations of characteristics and operations of other living things, and can only be understood in these terms. I want to show moral evil as ‘a kind of natural defect’.”

If subjectivism in values is allowed then moral judgement must become linked to individual feelings—instead of the facts of the natural world being the criteria, morality will become dependent on the speaker’s emotions, attitudes, intentions, or state of mind.

Foot asserts that life is at the center and “moral evaluation does not stand over against a matter of fact, but rather has to do with facts of a particular subject matter." Further, she states, "On barren Mars there is no natural goodness, and even secondary goodness can be attributed to things on the planet only by relating them to our own lives, or to living things existing elsewhere.” When facts get separated from values, there is dissociation between morality and rationality.

A few other academic thinkers have come up with a similar interpretation of Aristotle’s ideas on life and values. For instance, John Herman Randall in Aristotle has talked about the Aristotelian idea of the relationship between life and values. In Rational Man, Henry B. Veatch has advocated the practical life of reason where the aim is "living intelligently" as opposed to a life in which contemplation is supreme. In The Perfectionist Turn Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen point out that there is a relationship between an individual’s well-being or flourishing and his or her capacities or nature.

Foot traces the problem of flawed moral judgements to David Hume’s view that morality is necessarily practical, serving to produce and prevent action. She says that the intellectuals have been trying to meet Hume’s “practicality requirement” in a wrong way, and she suggests a simple solution: “acting morally is part of practical rationality.”

Human beings can act on moral, as well as non-moral considerations, so how can a virtuous individual who wants his action to be a good action know what is the right moral judgement?

In answering the question, Foot invokes the Aristotelian idea that a creature must act in accordance with its nature. And the same thing holds for human beings: The action that we take must depend on our human nature. Therefore a right moral judgement can only be derived by taking cognizance of the nature of the human beings.

In the chapter, “A Fresh Start?”, Foot posits:

“Nobody would, I think, take it as other than a plain matter of fact that there is something wrong with the hearing of a gull that cannot distinguish the cry of its own chick, as with the sight of an owl that cannot see in the dark. Similarly, it is obvious that there are objective, factual evaluations of such things as human sight, hearing, memory, and concentration, based on the life form of our own species. Why, then, does it seem so monstrous a suggestion that the evaluation of the human will should be determined by facts about the nature of human beings and the life of our own species?”

Foot thinks that by aligning moral judgments with man’s nature society can prevent a monstrous evil like Hitler’s Nazi regime from arising once again in the future.

It is noteworthy that Foot became interested in moral philosophy when the news of the atrocities that the Nazis had committed became known after the World War II. She thought that the evil politics of Nazism was the result of the flawed subjective value system that had seized the intellectuals of the mid-twentieth century, and continues to grip them today.

In the final chapter, “Immoralism,” Foot has analyzed Nietzsche’s attack on morality and its premises. The explanation that she offers is quite convincing. She points out that human beings are limited to the life form of their own species—for being a superman we would require to evolve into a different species.

“Nietzsche believed that under his influence a higher type of man could develop on earth, and wrote as if he could imagine this new being: as if he saw the possibility of a new species or life form that could develop from our own. My point is that it is only for a different species that Nietzsche's most radical revaluation of values could be valid. It is not valid for us as we are, or are ever likely to be.” 

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Friedrich Nietzsche Versus George Santayana

George Santayana; Friedrich Nietzsche
Considering that Friedrich Nietzsche wrote Thus Spake Zarathustra in the early 1880s, it is surprising how relevant and invigorating many of the book's ideas remain in 2016.

In the book’s Part One (Section: “Of the New Idol”), Nietzsche says:
A state? What is that? Well! open now your ears to me, for now I will speak to you about the death of peoples. 
State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it lies; and this lie slips from its mouth: "I, the state, am the people."
It is a lie! It was creators who created peoples, and hung a faith and a love over them: thus they served life.
Destroyers are they who lay snares for the many, and call it state: they hang a sword and a hundred cravings over them.
Where there are still peoples, the state is not understood, and is hated as the evil eye, and as sin against laws and customs. 
Nietzsche’s view of the state is clearly anti-egalitarian. In fact, anti-egalitarian elements are there in most of his works, and that is why he is criticized by the egalitarian thinkers like George Santayana.

Santayana sneeringly refers to Nietzsche as the author of “boyish blasphemies,” which were put into the mouth of the protagonist of Thus Spake Zarathustra.

In Reason and Society, Santayana says:
The state may be a monster, as Nietzsche called it; a monster of unnecessary size; but its centralized tyranny has the virtue of abolishing the miscellaneous and innumerable petty tyrannies by which life was of old pestered and confined. One master pirate, accepting tribute quietly, is better than a hundred pirates, taking toll without warning and without stint. 
Santayana accepts that the State is a monster —he likens the State to a master pirate—but he wants people to accept its rule because of his conviction that civilization can only be conducted by a totalitarian system.

In another work The German Mind: A Philosophical Diagnosis, Santayana criticizes Nietzsche’s ethics and theory of superman. He accuses Nietzsche of "subjectivity in thought and wilfulness in morals."

There no justification for the insults that Santayana has levelled on Nietzsche.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Blaise Pascal on Cleopatra’s Nose

Bust of Cleopatra at Altes Museum, Berlin
“Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed,” says Blaise Pascal in his famous work Pensees (Thoughts) which was published posthumously in 1669.

Pascal was of the view that the nose is an indicator of a person’s character, and if Cleopatra’s nose had been smaller she would have lacked the strength of character and she could not have mustered the will to dominate the world.

She could have not have held the powerful men of the Roman empire, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, under her spell if her nose had been longer or smaller by a few millimetres, and then the great wars of that era would not have been fought.

Pascal's Pensees is a defense of Christian religion, but in it he has included several random ideas and jottings. 

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The Labour of Zarathustra

Friedrich Nietzsche
In my view, “The Labour of Zarathustra”  is the most interesting chapter in Daniel Halevy’s The Life of Frederich Nietzsche.

Halevy has described how Nietzsche got the inspiration for his book Thus Spake Zarathustra. Here’s an excerpt from The Life of Frederich Nietzsche:
Friedrich Nietzsche never ceased to hear and gather the words of Zarathustra. In three distiches of a soft and almost tender seduction he tells how this companion entered into his life :  
I sat there waiting—waiting for nothing,
Enjoying, beyond good and evil, now
The light, now the shade; there was only
The day, the lake, the noon, time without end.
Then, my friend, suddenly one became two—
And Zarathustra passed by me.
But Nietzsche could not find a publisher for Thus Spake Zarathustra. Eventually he agreed to pay for the book’s publication. Less than 50 copies of the first-edition got sold, and no one praised it. The sad fate of his book further actuated Nietzsche’s feeling of loneliness.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Marx is in the scrapyard, but there is no respite from Marxism


Marx is in the scrapyard, but there is no respite from Marxism. The Marxists continue to wreak havoc with their irrational political, economic, and cultural ideas.

Fashion changes. Weather Changes. People change. But a socialist society never changes—it is always one government-made catastrophe away from utopia.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Will Durant On The Rediscovery Of Aristotle

Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy has a good concise account of Aristotle’s life and ideas. It is true that Aristotle is such a vast subject and Durant has barely skimmed the surface, but in my opinion Durant has provided a good overview.

Here’s an excerpt from The Story of Philosophy where Durant is talking about the rediscovery of Aristotle in Europe:
It may be doubted if any other thinker has contributed so much to the enlightenment of the world. Every later age has drawn upon Aristotle, and stood upon his shoulders to see the truth. The varied and magnificent culture of Alexandria found its scientific inspiration in him. His Organon played a central role in shaping the minds of the medieval barbarians into disciplined and consistent thought. The other works, translated by Nestorian Christians into Syriac in the fifth century A.D., and thence into Arabic and Hebrew in the tenth century, and thence into Latin towards 1225, turned scholasticism from its eloquent beginnings in Abelard to encyclopaedic completion in Thomas Aquinas. The Crusaders brought back more accurate Greek copies of the philosopher’s text; and the Greek scholars of Constantinople brought further Aristotelian treasures with them when, after 1453, they fled from the besieging Turks. The works of Aristotle came to be for European philosophy what the Bible was for theology—an almost infallible text, with solutions for every problem. In 1215 the Papal legate at Paris forbade teachers to lecture on his works; in 1213 Gregory IX appointed a commission to expurgate him; by 1260 he was de rigueur in every Christian school, and ecclesiastical assemblies penalized deviations from his views. Chaucer describes his student as happy by having 
At his bedded hed
Twenty books clothed in blake or red,
Of Aristotle and his philosophie; 
and in the first circles of Hell, says Dante, 
I saw the Master there of those who know,
Amid the philosophic family,
By all admired, and by all reverenced;
There Plato too I saw, and Socrates,
Who stood beside him closer than the rest.
 
Such lines give us some inkling of the honor which a thousand years offered to the Stagirite. 

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Is The Big Government Rational Or Irrational?

The big government’s actions are not necessarily irrational.

Irrational actions are those in which the entity in some way defeats its own purpose, doing what is calculated to frustrate its ends. But if the big government’s policies enable it to usurp several new powers and eviscerate the political opposition then it is not frustrating its own ends.

There is, in most cases, a carefully designed strategy behind what may seem like irrational and destructive policies of the big government. There is a method behind what may seem like madness.

A big government is a government that has metamorphosed into a powerful mafia organization. It is no longer concerned with protecting the rights and liberties of the people. The fate of the citizens is not the priority. The fate of the regime is the most important of all considerations for the big government.

The big governments planners intentionally develop policies that will create a major crisis in the lives of millions of citizens because their plan is to use the crisis as an excuse for increasing manifold the powers and the size of the government. The consistency in never letting a major crisis go waste cannot be termed irrational.

A big government that rocks the country with one crisis after another can be fully rational. It can be accused of villainy of the most venal kind, but not necessarily of irrationality.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

On Categorical And Hypothetical Imperatives

Virtues and Vices and other Essays in Moral Philosophy
Philippa Foot

In Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals Immanuel Kant has said that moral judgements are categorical, not hypothetical, imperatives. Was Kant right?

In her essay “Morality as a system of Hypothetical imperatives” (Virtues and Vices and other Essays in Moral Philosophy), Philippa Foot looks at Kant’s theory of categorical and hypothetical imperatives. She points out that moral judgements have no better claim to be categorical imperatives than do hypothetical imperatives such as the statements about matters of etiquette. It is possible for people to follow either morality or etiquette without asking why they should do so, but equally well they may not. They may ask for reasons and may reasonably refuse to follow either if reasons are not to be found.

Here’s an excerpt from the essay:
Kant, in fact, was a psychological hedonist in respect of all actions except those done for the sake of the moral law, and this faulty theory of human nature was one of the things preventing him from seeing that moral virtue might be compatible with the rejection of the categorical imperative.  
If we put this theory of human action aside, and allow as ends the things that seem to be ends, the picture changes. It will surely be allowed that quite apart from thoughts of duty a man may care about the suffering of others, having a sense of identification with them, and wanting to help if he can. Of course he must want not the reputation of charity, nor even a gratifying rôle helping others, but, quite simply, their good. If this is what he does care about, then he will be attached to the end proper to the virtue of charity and a comparison with someone acting from an ulterior motive (even a respectable ulterior motive) is out of place. Nor will the conformity of his action to the rule of charity be merely contingent. Honest action may happen to further a man's career; charitable actions do not happen to further the good of others. 
Can a man accepting only hypothetical imperatives possess other virtues besides that of charity? Could he be just or honest? This problem is more complex because there is no end related to such virtues as the good of others is related to charity. But what reason could there be for refusing to call a man a just man if he acted justly because he loved truth and liberty, and wanted every man to be treated with a certain respect? And why should the truly honest man not follow honesty for the sake of the good that honest dealing brings to men? Of course, the usual difficulties can be raised about the rare case in which no good is foreseen from an individual act of honesty. But it is not evident that a man's desires could not give him reason to act honestly even here. 
The essay is concluded with these lines:
This conclusion may, as I said, appear dangerous and subversive of morality. We are apt to panic at the thought that we ourselves, or other people, might stop caring about the things we do care about, and we feel that the categorical imperative gives us some control over the situation. But it is interesting that the people of Leningrad were not struck by the thought that only the contingent fact that other citizens shared their loyalty and devotion to the city stood between them and the Germans during the terrible years of the siege. Perhaps we should be less troubled than we are by fear of defection from the moral cause; perhaps we should even have less reason to fear it if people thought of themselves as volunteers banded together to fight for liberty and justice and against inhumanity and oppression. It is often felt, even if obscurely, that there is an element of deception in the official line about morality. And while some have been persuaded by talk about the authority of the moral law, others have turned away with a sense of distrust.
Virtues and Vices and other Essays in Moral Philosophy is a collection of 14 essays that Philippa Foot wrote between 1957 and 1977 on different issues in philosophy. "Two themes run through many of the essays: opposition to emotivism and prescriptivism, and the thought that a sound moral philosophy should start from a theory of the virtues and vices."

Sunday, 27 November 2016

On the Correlation Between Lack of Freedom and Nihilistic Violence

There exists a correlation between people’s sense of morality and reason, and the freedom that they enjoy in the country.

When the government usurps the power to dictate what is moral, what is good economics, what is good culture, what is social justice, and how the nation’s wealth must be redistributed, then most people develop the mindset that it is not their job to think about such issues. As they begin to depend too much on the government, they loose the capability of applying their minds for taking a rational stand on social, political, economic, and moral problems.

People with smothered minds are ineffective and dangerous because they are not guided by any sense of morality or reason. They are nihilists who think that all values are unfounded—they will blindly believe the propaganda from the government and the intellectuals. When the country faces economic and political problems, they won’t blame themselves or the out of control government. They actively seek scapegoats onto whom they can displace their aggression.

The private sector is an easy target for such nihilists. They hate the private sector because they are jealous of anyone who has achieved some kind of creative and financial success. Prosecuted by the government and hounded by the citizens, the private sector fails. But there are not enough government jobs and most people see a dramatic fall in the quality of their life.

The government is too arrogant to accept that its policies are responsible for the failure of the economy, and the people are too ignorant to recognize that they are responsible for the mess because they blindly supported the government’s encroachments into all spheres of life. As unemployment rises in the country, the confused people spill into the streets and there is unrest in the cities and towns.

The massive hordes of unthinking people that the ruling class had indoctrinated and groomed hoping that they will be the regime's strongest supporters for all times start turning against the government. The law and order machinery responds by launching a severe crackdown on the protestors. Normal life is thrown out of gear as thousands are arrested and locked up in jails.

The police action inevitably results in further disintegration of freedom, and this in turn generates even more immorality and irrationalism in the minds of the people. The situation continues to escalate and brainless-destructive-mobs start sprouting in different parts of the country. The mobs comprise of people who don't have any sense of morality, reason, or politics; the common bond that binds them consists of their blind hatred for every symbol of the regime.

There is a civil war between the statist government and the irrational mobs. They are nihilists on both sides; they don’t have any ideas for creating a better society; they fight with the sole purpose of causing maximum destruction to the other side. Even if the dictatorship gets overthrown, there is no chance for a saner system of governance to emerge. The cycle of cruel dictatorships and violent anarchy is likely to continue for years, perhaps decades.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

A Comparison of Objectivist and Aristotelian Ethics

Ayn Rand saw Aristotle as the greatest of all philosophers. In "Review of Randall’s Aristotle," she says that Aristotle is the philosophical Atlas who carries the Western civilization on his shoulders.

Yet she is critical of Aristotle’s ethics.

In Aristotle, John Herman Randall has claimed that “Aristotle’s ethics and politics are actually his supreme achievement.” Rand rejects Randall’s assertion. She is of the view that ethics and politics are not Aristotle’s greatest achievement “even in their original form—let alone in Professor Randall’s version, which transforms them into the ethics of pragmatism.”

In her lecture “The Objectivist Ethics,” Rand has made another negative observation on Aristotelian ethics: “Aristotle did not regard ethics as an exact science; he based his ethical system on observations of what the noble and wise men of his time chose to do, leaving unanswered the questions of: why they chose to do it and why he evaluated them as noble and wise.”

The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand has an essay by Jack Wheeler in which an attempt has been made to draw a comparison between Rand’s Objectivist ethics and Aristotelian ethics (Chapter: “Rand and Aristotle: A Comparison of Objectivist and Aristotelian Ethics”).

Wheeler finds Rand’s view on Aristotle's ethics troubling. He says that “Rand’s criticism that Aristotle did not regard ethics as an 'exact science' is equally odd, for this has nothing to do with 'observing wise men,' but rather, as Aristotle notes: 'It is the mark of an educated mind to except that amount of exactness in each kind which the nature of the particular subject admits.' Or does Rand really wish to claim that one can have mathematic precision for ethics on a par with physics.”

According to Wheeler, there are several similarities between the Aristotelian and Objectivist positions on ethics:

“Both Rand and Aristotle propose… a metaethics that is nonrelativist and nonsubjectivist but, rather, objectivist—naturalistically objectivist and not religiously or supernaturally so. There are no appeals to God or a cosmic supernatural power in either theory to give ethics its binding legitimacy, but rather an appeal to the very objective nature of things. The good is what is good for: goal-directed, purposefully acting entities for Aristotle; living, organic entities for Rand.”

Wheeler goes on to say that “it should come as little surprise that Aristotle, whom Rand lauds for advocating an objectivist metaphysics paralleling her own, should advocate an objectivist metaethics (paralleling her own).”

There is considerable difference among philosophers regarding the meaning of Aristotelian eudaimonia. But Wheeler posits that the Aristotelian eudaimonia corresponds to Rand’s happiness. He points out that Rand has described happiness as “that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values,” and “a state of non-contradictory joy.”

Both Rand and Aristotle have expressed the view that rationality is man’s distinctive capacity and “basic means of survival.” And it is through the active and continuous exercise of reason that man achieves happiness and moral virtue.

Wheeler ends his essay with this observation: “Ayn Rand stands higher and sees farther than any other thinker of our day. She does so because she stands, not just metaphysically and epistemologically (as she would admit), but ethically (as she would not admit), on the shoulders of Aristotle.”

Edited by Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen, The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand has nine essays on Ayn Rand's philosophy by ten academicians.

Related:

The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand

Can Socrates Flourish Without Philosophizing?

Rational Man by Henry B. Veatch

Monday, 21 November 2016

Is India Moving Towards Implementation of 5-point ArthaKranti Proposal?

Anil Bokil, the leader of a Pune based economic think-tank called ArthaKranti, claims to have advised Prime Minister Narendra Modi to demonetize Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes.

According to media reports, in 2013 Bokil and few other members of the ArthaKranti had a two-hour long meeting with Modi, who was then serving as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. The ArthaKranti team gave a detailed presentation to Modi on how the country’s financial system could be cleaned up, and made more transparent and corruption-free.

Bokil also met Modi in 2014, 2015, and even this year when Modi is reported to have met Bokil with the financial services secretary Hasmukh Adhia.

The demonetizing of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes is one of the key proposals of ArthaKranti. The organization also wants the government to abolish income tax and 56 other taxes and replace it with a Banking Transaction Tax (BTT) of 2% on earnings.

ArthaKranti’s five-point agenda includes the following:

1. Withdrawal of all taxes and duties of central, state, and local body government except customs or import duties.

2. Every transaction will be routed through the bank and will attract deduction in appropriate percentage as “Transaction Tax” of around 2%. 

3. Withdrawal of high denomination currency notes. 

4. Cash transactions will not attract any transaction tax. 

5. Government should make legal provisions to restrict cash transactions up to a limit of Rs. 2000. 

Anil Bokil
The ArthaKranti website lists the following direct benefits of their economic proposal:

1. Savings in amount of taxes paid

2. No tax returns & No tax compliance cost

3. Adequate tax revenue for each level of Government (Center, State and Local)

4. Transparency in the Economy

5. Significant drop in commodity prices (Approx 15% to 20% )

6. Loans from banks at lower rates (Approx 4% to 5% annual rate of interest)

7. Substantial Reduction in construction cost (Approx by 15% to 20%)

8. Terrorist and anti-national activities can be controlled

Anil Bokil is trained as a mechanical engineer. He started working on his economics ideas in 1999, but ArthaKranti was registered in 2004.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

By Banning Cash The Government Wants To End Privacy

The intellectuals and the politicians hate cash because they assume that any transaction where cash is involved is illegal. You already have a system which restricts you from using cash for high-value transactions unless you can produce identification papers.

If you are travelling with significant amount of cash you can be pulled up by the law enforcement and your money can be confiscated. You may have to go through a cumbersome and costly legal process to get your hard-earned money back.

According to the government, cash is a barbarous relic which allows terrorists and criminals to carry out malicious transactions in secrecy. But what is the guarantee that the such groups will not find some other way of financing their operations?

The idea that banning cash will end the activities of terrorists and criminals is as foolish as the idea that a government funded education and healthcare will improve the quality of peoples lives.

When people switch to digital payment systems, every transaction, big or small, is recorded and can be tracked.  The government agencies will have the ability to keep track of peoples most private financial dealings. This can mean an end to the privacy of not just the political opponents of the regime but also of the ordinary citizens.

In 1984 George Orwell has described a dystopian world where a totalitarian government tracks people’s movements and habits through a system of giant TV screens.

By coercing the businesses and the individuals to make payments through digital financial systems which can be “supervised” by the bureaucrats, the government is getting closer to creating an Orwellian dystopia where the citizens are being constantly watched.

In her article “The Soul of an Individualist,” Ayn Rand nails it: “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.”

It is unfortunate that now we are now on verge of moving away from a society of privacy.

Liberty can’t exist in a world where there is no privacy. A cashless society, where our entire existence is public, will be a savage society ruled by a totalitarian regime. When the politicians have more information on our spending habits, they will be able to impose more control and levy more taxes.

The switch from gold based currency to paper currency gave the government huge control over our money. The move towards cashless society is designed to complete the process and give the government absolute control over our money and thereby on all aspects of our lives.

A cashless society is an easy-to-monitor-and-tax society. It is a recipe for disaster.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

All Democracies Are Marching Like The Fascists

As We Go Marching
John T. Flynn

In As We Go Marching, John T. Flynn defines fascism as “a system of social organization in which the political state is a dictatorship supported by a political elite and in which the economic society is an autarchial capitalism, enclosed and planned, in which the government assumes responsibility for creating adequate purchasing power through the instrumentality of national debt and in which militarism is adopted as a great economic project for creating work as well as a great romantic project in the service of the imperialist state.”

Flynn goes on to break down the definition of fascism into 8-elements which he says are present in every fascist regime. But it is clear these 8-elements are part of the political culture of every democracy in the world. Therefore we must accept that every democracy in the world is a fascist regime.

Here’s Flynn’s list of the 8-elements of fascism:
1. A government whose powers are unrestrained.

2. A leader who is a dictator, absolute in power but responsible to the party which is a preferred elite.

3. An economic system in which production and distribution are carried on by private owners but in accordance with plans made by the state directly or under its immediate supervision. 
4. These plans involve control of all the instruments of production and distribution through great government bureaus which have the power to make regulations or directives with the force of law.  
5. They involve also the comprehensive integration of government and private finances, under which investment is directed and regimented by the government, so that while ownership is private and production is carried on by private owners there is a type of socialization of investment, of the financial aspects of production. By this means the state, which by law and by regulation can exercise a powerful control over industry, can enormously expand and complete that control by assuming the role of banker and partner. 
6. They involve also the device of creating streams of purchasing power by federal government borrowing and spending as a permanent institution. 
7. As a necessary consequence of all this, militarism becomes an inevitable part of the system since it provides the easiest means of draining great numbers annually from the labor market and of creating a tremendous industry for the production of arms for defense, which industry is supported wholly by government borrowing and spending.  
8. Imperialism becomes an essential element of such a system where that is possible—particularly in the strong states, since the whole fascist system, despite its promises of abundance, necessitates great financial and personal sacrifices, which people cannot be induced to make in the interest of the ordinary objectives of civil life and which they will submit to only when they are presented with some national crusade or adventure on the heroic model touching deeply the springs of chauvinistic pride, interest, and feeling.  
You may call your country a democracy but the truth is that it’s a venal fascist regime.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Did Churchill Admire Mussolini?

Winston Churchill; Benito Mussolini
Winston Churchill is regarded as the conservative leader who rallied the British people during the Second World War, led the fight against nazism and fascism, and won.

But was he always against the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini?

In As We Go Marching, John T. Flynn provides an interesting perspective on the way Churchill viewed Mussolini’s strong-arm political methods. The few quotes from Churchill’s letters and articles that Flynn has cited create the impression that Churchill was an admirer of Mussolini.

In  January 1927, Churchill wrote to Mussolini: “If I had been an Italian I am sure I would have been entirely with you from the beginning to the end of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism.”

“If I were an Italian I would don the Fascist black shirt,” Churchill asserted in his correspondence to Mussolini. In 1928, Churchill wrote an article in Collier’s magazine extolling Mussolini above Washington and Cromwell.

Churchill was not the only one to see Washington and Cromwell in Mussolini. Several liberal and conservative politicians, intellectuals, journalists, and businessmen in England and USA used to look at the fascist dictator with admiration.

But this does not mean that they approved the suppression of liberty and democracy by Mussolini. It only shows that decent people have the capacity to tolerate and even defend bad political ideas in the name of some cherished public good.

Even after the Second World War had commenced, Churchill continued to propagate the idea of Mussolini being a great man. In December 1940, in a speech to the House, Churchill said, “I do not deny that he is a very great man. But he became a criminal when he attacked England.”

Like most conservatives, Churchill was a pragmatist. He did not wage war against Hitler and Mussolini because he was ideologically opposed to totalitarian political ideas. His only concern was to defend Englands’s geopolitical interests.

It did not matter to Churchill that Hitler and Mussolini were enemies of liberty; in his eyes their only crime was that they had attacked England.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Why Did Ayn Rand Reject Conservatism?

Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical
Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Ayn Rand has rejected the ideas of both the conservatives and the leftists.

In Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (chapter: “The Predatory State”), Chris Matthew Sciabarra notes that “Rand’s fundamental antipathy toward racism was a contributing factor to her rejection of political conservatism. She observed that many conservatives claimed to be defenders of freedom and capitalism even though they advocated racism at the same time.”

Rand’s antipathy towards conservatism extended equally to its representatives in the political parties and the media. She regarded “William Buckley’s National Review as the worst and most dangerous magazine in America.” She accused the conservatives of destroying the fabric of capitalism by aligning it with faith, tradition, and depravity.

According to Sciabarra, Rand distanced herself from the conservatives because she was of the view that it was dangerous to have political allies who shared some of her free-market and anti-communist opinions, but based these on irrational philosophical premises.

She regarded Ronald Reagan as a moral monster. She viewed Reagan’s ties to the militant mystics of the moral majority and his opposition to abortion as an unconstitutional union of religion and politics.

She denounced the Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for the same reason for which she rejected Reagan. Solzhenitsyn had achieved a heroic expose of the Soviet Gulag, but he stood for the integration of religion and politics. “[Rand] argued that Solzhenitsyn had rejected Marxism, not for its statist and anticapitalist character, but for its “western” atheistic focus.”

Even though Ayn Rand recognized the importance of the parent-child relationship, she maintained that the conservative obsession with the “Family” was at root, a vestige of tribalism. She argued that ‘the family was a cultural institution that frequently undercut the individual’s independence and autonomy, breaking “a man’s or woman’s spirit by means of unchosen obligations and unearned guilt.’” In a family, the relationships can often mirror those of a master and a slave.

Ayn Rand; William Buckley
As early as 1962, Ayn Rand noted that the two major political parties in the USA were dedicated to preserving the status quo. “Whereas the Democratic liberals sought to ‘leap’ into the abyss of statism, the Republican conservatives preferred to crawl ‘into the same abyss.’ Elections were contests in which the voters casted their ballots not for a particular candidate or program, but merely against the politicians or proposed policy changes that they feared most.”

But why do the conservatives and the liberals tend to embrace different sides of the same mind-body dichotomy. Here’s the relevant excerpt from the book:

“The conservatives tended to advocate freedom of action in the material realm of production and business, but favored government control of the spiritual realm through state censorship and the imposition of religious values. The liberals tended to advocate freedom of action in the spiritual realm of ideas, the arts, and academia, but favor government control of the material realm in their adherence to economic regulation and welfare statism. Ayn Rand explains: ‘This is merely a paradox, not a contradiction: each camp wants to control the realm it regards as metaphysically important: each grants freedom, only to the activities it despises.’”

Sciabarra suggests that the roots of Rand’s antipathy towards the doctrines of political dualism may lie in her childhood. As a child of the Russian culture, Ayn Rand had a firsthand experience of political dualism in the confrontation between the religious idealists and the Bolshevik materialists. Like the modern conservatives, the idealists in Russia used to oppose Bolshevism with their own vision for creating a theocratic utopia.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Is Plato’s the Republic a Work of Politics or Ethics?

Ancient Philosophy
Julia Annas
Oxford

Plato’s the Republic is often assumed to be a work of political theory because it describes his vision of an ideal state.

But in Ancient Philosophy, Julia Annas points out that Plato’s thrust in the Republic is on ethics. The description of an ideal state takes up only a small part of the Republic, and it is far too brief and sketchy to serve as a ‘blueprint’ for political action. It does not give the work its framework.

Plato developed a basic model of an ideal state only because he wanted to depict it as a parallel to the moral person’s soul. Here’s an excerpt from Ancient Philosophy:
The main argument of the [Republic] is posed at the beginning of the second book and answered at the end of the ninth, and it consists of Plato’s attempt to answer the question, ‘Why should I be moral?’ Morality, it seems, benefits others rather than myself; would it not be better for me to live a kind of life in which I pursue my own ends in a way which ignores or exploits others? Plato thinks that a life in which morality is supreme can be rationally defended as the best life for an individual, even in the worst possible circumstances of the actual world. To make out his case, he introduces the ideal state as a parallel for the structure of the moral person’s soul; as he says at the end of the argument, the ideal state shows us the abstract structure which the moral person takes as an ideal to internalize in his aspiration to live a good life. But the ideal state is not the idea which structures the Republic, and the questions Plato asks about the actual world cannot be answered by reference to an ideal state without breaking the back of the work’s argument.
In his model of a just society, Plato has proposed a complete division of labour between wealth on the one hand and political power on the other. The ruling class of the “Guardians” is educated and trained primarily for the common good. The Guardians are inculcated with the spirit of sacrificing their own interests for the larger good of the society.

Plato believed that the Guardians would devote their lives to the public good and running the state. “Those engaged in what we call economic activity would be excluded from political rule, on the grounds that their way of life narrows them to consider only their own self-interest and makes them unfit to take part in the public arena where what is at stake is the common good.”

According to Plato, people can be virtuous and happy only in an ideal state, ruled in the interests of all. He believed that wealth, status, and other things commonly valued are irrelevant to happiness. He has given a brief description of an ideal state because he wanted to describe the general environment in which virtue and happiness can thrive.

The Republic has moved from being an ethical work to being a political one because many political movements have used the work to develop their own ideas of the state. Julia Annas holds several modern interpreters of Plato responsible for propagating that the theory of an ideal state is central to the Republic. She seems to suggest that Plato’s ideas have been incorrectly deployed to defend modern political theories, some of which are democratic and some are totalitarian.

The Victorians in the mid-nineteenth century used to be worried about creating a more just society and they saw Plato’s Guardians as meritocratic officials.

On the other hand, many thinkers of the twentieth century have seen the Guardians as a totalitarian, sometimes fascist idea. Plato’s insistence on common public education and culture has been claimed to be propaganda and brainwashing. The model of the Republic has been associated with the Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and several communist regimes, including the Soviet Union. 

Monday, 7 November 2016

The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand

The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand
Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen
University of Illinois Press 

The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand by Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen was published in 1984, and is regarded as the “first scholarly study” of Ayn Rand’s ideas.

The book is divided into three parts: Part 1 is Metaphysics and Epistemology; Part 2 is Ethics; Part 3 is Politics. The three parts of the book indicate that the authors have tried to cover all aspect of Rand’s philosophy, except for her aesthetic philosophy.

The dedication page has a quote from Ayn Rand’s Anthem:

And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. 
This god, this one word: I. 

Here’s an excerpt from the preface:

Ayn Rand is among the most controversial figures of our age. The sense of vehemence emanating from the pens and mouth of her critics is matched only by the devotion she commands from her admirers. She has been heralded as bringing forth a new vision for mankind also for advocating the destruction of the very roots of western civilization.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Brave New Village: Hillary Clinton and the Meaning of Liberal Fascism

Liberal Fascism
Jonah Goldberg

Progressivism and fascism are essentially the same because they are forms of statism. In Liberal Fascism Jonah Goldberg notes that “liberalism — the refurbished edifice of American Progressivism — is in fact a descendant and manifestation of fascism.” He says that fascism has been there in America for nearly a century.

In the introductory chapter, “Everything You Know about Fascism Is Wrong,” Goldberg refutes the concept that fascism is “right-wing.” He points out that the ideas of the progressives are much closer to those espoused by the fascists.

Goldberg begins his observations on what he calls liberal fascism from the 1930s, but his main target is the fascistic politics of contemporary politicians like Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama, and others.  He draws a convincing picture of the connection between the Italian Fascists and the modern progressive politicians. He sees fascism as a disease that affects only the Democratic Party.

On Hillary Clinton, he has a chapter with a rather provocative title: “Brave New Village: Hillary Clinton and the Meaning of Liberal Fascism.” This chapter shows how Clinton evolved into a politician who is intent on imposing fascism or bringing the country terrifyingly close to it.

Goldberg points out that in her days as a student, Hillary Clinton was inspired by several communist intellectuals, including Saul Alinsky. She regarded Alinsky as her hero. She wrote a 92-page senior thesis on him: "There Is Only the Fight: An Analysis of the Alinsky Model."

“Hillary's attraction to radical groups and figures such as the Black Panthers, Alinsky, and — according to some biographers — Yasir Arafat is perfectly consistent with liberalism's historic weakness for men of action.”

On Hillary Clinton’s present day politics, Goldberg says:
Hillary is no fuhrer, and her notion of the "common good" doesn’t involve racial purity or concentration camps. But she indisputably draws her vision from the same eternal instinct to impose order on society, to create an all-encompassing community, to get past endless squabbles and ensconce each individual in the security blanket of the state. Hers is a political religion, an updated Social Gospel —light on the Gospel, heavy on the Social — spoken in soothing tones and conjuring a reassuring vision of cooperation and community. But it remains a singular vision, and there's no room in it for those still suffering from the "stupidity of habit-bound minds," to borrow Dewey's phrase. The village may have replaced the fasces with a hug, but an unwanted embrace from which you cannot escape is just a nicer form of tyranny.
Like the fascists the progressives like Clinton are obsessed with race. The progressive idea of multiculturalism has placed racial and religious identity above all else and beyond the reach of rational argument.

The aim of the fascists and the progressives is to reconstruct society by increasing government intervention into the economy and culture. They tend to justify government control of the economy, and they propagate nationalism and militarism. They seek to develop a war spirit in the country to inspire people to sacrifice their personal interests for the achievement of certain common goals.

Goldberg traces the origin of fascism and modern progressivism to the ideas of Rousseau. “A brief review of the intellectual origins of fascist thought reveals its roots in the Romantic nationalism of the eighteenth century, and in the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who properly deserves to be called the father of modern fascism.”

While the focus is on fascism, the book also examines the German Nazi movement—it traces the historical background of Nazism and detects its links with progressivism. In the chapter, “Adolf Hitler: Man of the Left,” Goldberg says that “the Nazis rose to power exploiting anticapitalist rhetoric they indisputably believed.” There was nothing right-wing about Hitler’s politics.

The book’s title comes from a speech that H. G. Wells gave in July 1932 at Oxford. In the speech Wells told the students that the Progressives must become "liberal fascists" and "enlightened Nazis.” Goldberg points out that fascism in America predates the rise of Mussolini’s fascist regime.

The American Liberals of the 1930s era were great admirers of Mussolini’s fascism. In 1934 Rexford Tugwell, a leading member of Roosevelt's Brain Trust, said, "I find Italy doing many of the things which seem to me necessary.... Mussolini certainly has the same people opposed to him as FDR has. But he has the press controlled so that they cannot scream lies at him daily.”

Woodrow Wilson’s wartime regime was progressive and fascistic. “War socialism under Wilson was an entirely progressive project, and long after the war it remained the liberal ideal.... If we are to believe that "classic" fascism is first and foremost the elevation of martial values and the militarization of government and society under the banner of nationalism, it is very difficult to understand why the Progressive Era was not also the Fascist Era.”

The New Deal had a strong affinity with fascism. It institutionalized the idea of collective action by the government to tackle economic emergency. Goldberg draws attention to the close parallel between the National Recovery Administration and Mussolini's corporatism. In fact, both Hitler and Mussolini praised Roosevelt’s New Deal. Mussolini used to refer Roosevelt as a “dictator.”

The progressives reject the classical liberal idea that human flourishing requires individual liberty under rule of law and free-markets. Like the fascists, the progressives believe that enlightened politicians, bureaucrats, intellectuals, and technocrats must use the government to improve material and moral well-being of the people.

Written in a breezy and readable style, Liberal Fascism is a blistering attack on the progressivism. It is an interesting examination of political history.