Monday, July 20, 2009

Rules for Patriots?

"What is the rationality of those who expect to trick
people into freedom, cheat them into justice, fool
them into progress, con them into preserving their
rights, and while indoctrinating them with statism,
put one over on them and let them wake up in a perfect
capitalist society one morning? --Ayn Rand*
*Rand, Ayn (1967). Conservatism: An Obituary. In Ayn Rand (Ed.), Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (Centennial Edition). New York: Signet Books, p. 216.

I'm not a conservative. There are conservatives who have lately tried to convince me that this is what I am, and 'liberals' who have ended friendships with me because that is what they think I am. But I am not a conservative. And, like many libertarian thinkers, doubtless, I will have to write the obligatory essay entitled "Why I Am Not a Conservative." Someday. Until then I will refer you to those self-same essays by F.A. Hayek, Ayn Rand, and David Boaz. You can find the rest through those intellectual giants upon whose shoulders I stand.

In the meantime, take my word for it. I am not a conservative.

In the patriot communities that I have been frequenting lately, however, I run into a lot of conservatives, blue-dog Democrats, and Republicans who have found that their party left them just as the Democrats left my libertarian-minded parents back in 1968. I have also run into a lot of Constitutionalists--but they have known for a long while that the major parties are unprincipled. Many of the newly awakened, on the other hand, are not sure of that yet.

Many of these people are just waking up to the fact that in the past 10 years the pace of the US move into democratic socialism, majority mob rule, and a weird liberal fascist statism has increased from a walk to an outright run. They have been living their lives, as good liberty-minded people tend to do, and they find themselves surprised by the tactics of the Progressives (dressed as Teddy Roosevelt Republicans, as well as Wilson Democrats), who have been working toward this time for nigh unto a hundred years. (See American Progressivism: A Reader by R.J. Pestritto for background).

As these good folks rub the sleep out their eyes, and stretch, they pick up bits of the Progressive agenda in a variety of places, and sooner or later they hear about Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky, a Marxist from Chicago. And they notice that Alinsky's tactics (taught to both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, among others), have been achieving results. Thus it is that I have heard it suggested in two different forums that the patriot community should re-write Rules for Radicals, calling it Rules for Conservatives or Rules for Patriots. Hey, it works!

This is a very bad idea.
The moral core of the organizing principles in Rules for Radicals is relativism, and Alinsky's overt statement is that the ends justify whatever means are necessary to achieve the desired goal. This is moral utilitarianism, in which the moral worth of an action is weighed according to its outcome. In general, although certain of Alinsky's tactics are good for organizing any group to do anything, his philosophy is based on lies and deceit. His object is to win at all costs, and thus his heroes are Machiavelli and Lucifer.

I have the 1971 copy of Rules. I don't remember how I came by it--but I read it for a political science class at Illiniois in 1980 (taught by an avowed Marxist in love beads, tie-dye and sandals, no socks or coat in the midst of a record breaking cold Illiniois winter. His name was Joel K. His outfit made me think that Marxism was not only dead since Stalin, but also hopelessly impractical). In the preface of the 1971 edition, I read:

"Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history . . . the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom—Lucifer." -- Saul Alinsky*
Alinsky, Saul. (1971). Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals. New York: Random House.

I remember thinking about what this implied. Although I am a Jew, and I do not believe in the Christian Satan--human beings are well able able to choose between good and evil for themselves-- but I do understand that Alinsky is here implying that winning the kingdom is to be done by appealing to the least honorable of human desires, that of gain through trickery and deceit. In Milton, Lucifer tricks Adam and Eve by implying that knowledge of good and evil leads to life eternal without the necessity of work and struggle. That should they eat the fruit of the tree of such knowledge, they will be as gods, who have no need to earn their living, but can remain perpetual children in Paradise, their living provided to them for free.
Digression: In the Jewish Midrash, knowledge of good and evil is a metaphor for growing up and becoming creative and productive human beings in the image of G-d, who clearly engaged in creative work. Thus Chavah is not vilified as Eve was by the Church. Earning one's living is considered honorable, and work is as important as rest. Thus Jews do not consider money, the symbol of productive work, as evil--it is a tool that can be used for good or evil as a person chooses.

In the part of his book on the ethics of Marxist revolution, Alinsky clearly lays out his relativism and utilitarianism. All of it adds up to the idea that the ends justifies the means in one way or another. In particular, his ethics state that the morality of an action is directly related to whether the act takes place in a situation of victory or defeat, that it is relative to whomever is judging it, and that a radical should do whatever is deemed necessary and make moral arguments for it later.

Thus could Stalin starve millions off their land and make the argument that good came out of it.

This man, a Marxist with very questionable ethics and no objective principles, is not a good model for Patriots who are working to restore the Constitution of the United States. Our founding principles are based on the concept that the very nature of the human being requires liberty, and that all human beings are endowed with unalienable rights not subject to the whims of a king or the mad desires of the mob. Liberty requires that individuals make choices based on objective principles, and that they respect the rights of others. Certainly, Lucifer can trick a man or a woman into slavery, appealing to unrealistic desires that violate the Laws of Thermodynamics. But Franklin and Jefferson could not trick a people into Liberty. And neither can we restore the Republic through lies and deceit.

To quote Rand again:
"The world crisis today is a moral crisis--and nothing less than a moral revolution can resolve it: a moral revolution to sanction and complete the political achievement of the American Revolution . . .[The Patriot] must fight for capitalism, not as a "practical" issue, not as an economic issue, but with the most righteous pride, as a moral issue. That is what capitalism deserves, and nothing less will save it." Ibid. p. 225, (originally in Rand's For the New Intellectual).

Fortunately, we do not need to model ourselves after Lucifer the Deceiver Saul Alinsky.

We have those honest and forthright heroes, the original Radicals for Liberty, our Founders. Their methods of organizing the Revolution are as useful today as they were in 1775. We can use Committees of Correspondence, but our technology is the keyboard and the internet instead of the quill pen and pony post. Our Committees of Safety can prepare our communities for the crisis by riding into town in an F-150 instead of a horse and wagon. Our Continental Congress will meet by electric light instead of candlelight, and can deliberate in the comfort provided by modern HVAC systems. These are cosmetic differences.

But the methods are the same. The Committees of Correspondence will provide people with information, not Alinsky's glittering generalities. The Committees of Safety will provide our communities with real strategies to be self-reliant, not to surrender their liberties for Alinsky's imagined security. The Continental Congress will deliberate the civil disobedience of citizens, not Alinsky's desired surrender of slaves.

We do not need Alinsky, nor should we desire to emulate his empty rhetoric. We have Jefferson and Franklin, Adams and Patrick Henry.
May they inspire us to the righteousness and liberty!


C. August said...

I stop by your blog once in awhile, often when RationalJenn links to it, and am always struck by your eloquence, the depth of your thought and how you dig into ideas and explore them, and, inevitably for me, the contradictions between your ideas as espoused in this post, and what I presume to be your faith.

I remember from past reading that this line of questioning has not borne any fruit but animosity when brought up by others, so I want to say that the only reason I bring this up is because I'm impressed, and I bear no ill will or desire to play logic "gotcha" games.

Here's my question (and I wanted to preface it with the words above because I'm not trying to play word games, but gain some genuine understanding): you refer to the natural rights of man, upon which most of your arguments in the post lie. What, ultimately, do you think is the source of those rights?

To frame the question, assuming it's one of the two, do you subscribe to the Lockean notion of rights from god? Or Rand's idea of rights as derived from the metaphysical nature of man as a rational animal, and the requirements of a being who lives by the free reason of his own mind?

Basically, I'm curious how you square -- assuming you do -- faith in god with a this-worldly view of the rational, egoistic life of man that is seemingly implicit in your arguments (much like it was in the Founders' arguments).

PS. This comment is based on assumptions gleaned from reading your blog here and there. If I've made bad assumptions or misrepresented things, just correct me. I'm just attempting to reconcile the words I read with my impression of your metaphysics and epistemology. I hope you'll reply!

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

C. August--since you are an Objectivist, I cannot help but respond with this: When you detect a contradiction, check your premises, because one of them must be wrong.

I appreciate that you do not want to play logical gotcha games because your question was so graciously put. The people who raise my hackles are those that I perceive to be a)trying to convert me to Christianity or b) who are not really asking a question, but use that format to demonstrate how much smarter and cleverer they are than I with their word games. You are clearly not in either category. (I am not very clever, but I have enough experience in life to know that I am more than reasonably intelligent).

Really, this question, put this way deserves a whole blog post, and I will probably write it. But in short, I agree with Locke that rights are endowed by the Creator. This however, is not a full answer because I use the term "Creator" as a metaphor for the idea that a person's rights come from the qualities that make us human--the need to know the difference between good and evil, and the need to choose the good in order to choose life. (I suspect that you and I agree that these moral qualities are predicated on the condition of intention, that is, the ability to choose. A tsunami that kills a million people is aweful, but not evil).

The contradiction you perceive is that you immediately assume when I say that I am a Jew that I therefore believe in an omniscient, omnipotent busybody in the sky. A Jewish version of the Christian god. And I suspect, though I am not sure, that you also probably assume that belief (right doctrine) is as important to Jews as it is to Christianity. Actually, it is not. Judaism has never had a well developed theology about the nature of G-d. Jews are members of a people and thus there is no need to impose right beliefs. Actually, Jews are much more concerned about right action. The misnamed Orthodox Judaism should actually be called Orthoprax. In addition, although we have some charming folklore, we actually put no emphasis on an afterlife, we have no concept of heaven and hell except as metaphors. Nor do we take Hebrew scripture literally, although doing so does provide for some entertaining stories. Everything is interpreted through the lens of Midrash, which gives a wide latitude for understanding the point of the story.And our understanding of every story differs significantly from that of Christianity. The Hebrew language itself does not lend itself to literalism, nor does it let one pin any theological attribute firmly as the "nature of G-d."

I will stop here, but suffice it to say for now that my understanding of what the Creator is radically different from what most Christians would believe.

I freely admit that much of our ritual practice is tradition, and some, like not eating pork, has outlived any utility. These are customs, and as such, are really preferences that have developed the force of law through habit. They are not moral issues, and are differentiated from the commandments that are by the use of a different Hebrew word.

I have to stop here as it is way past my bedtime. But before I do, I want to point out that there is nothing unusual about how I wrestle with ideas among Jews. We do that. We have a long intellectual tradition of questioning and pondering, and there are very few boundaries.

Another mistake is to conflate Rabbinic Judaism with the primitive Israelite religion, as Christians are wont to do--but that is truly another blog!

I enjoyed your question and I will expand upon it further. But first, to bed!

Judy Aron said...

Elisheva - this was a terrific post - thanks so much for writing it. Your analysis and commentary are always so worth reading! I especially enjoyed your answer to the commenters question. And I came away with thinking... yeah, what she (Elisheva) said....
I would so much like to meet you in person some day.

C. August said...

Thanks for your response. I do actually have a few friends who are "practicing by not religious" Jews, so I have a pretty good sense of what you're talking about there.

But I'm having difficulty parsing this train of thought:

But in short, I agree with Locke that rights are endowed by the Creator. This however, is not a full answer because I use the term "Creator" as a metaphor for the idea that a person's rights come from the qualities that make us human--the need to know the difference between good and evil, and the need to choose the good in order to choose life.

If I took out the word "Creator," we'd be left with something approximating the Objectivist view of rights. I'd put it another way, saying that rights are derived from man's nature as a rational being -- reason being his means of survival -- and are the recognition of the fact that his life requires freedom of action to pursue values and act on his own judgment. Rights, as bridging the gap between ethics and politics, tell us what are you free to do? (politics) and what should you do? (ethics).

But the word "Creator" confuses me. If it's really just a metaphor, I can't see any reason to use it at all, because it muddies the reality-based tie between rights and the metaphysical nature of man. So do you mean it that way, or in something akin to the Deism of the Founders? As in, God created the universe and man in a particular way, and from that follows the arguments of Locke.

You highlighted as one of the qualities that make us human "the need to know the difference between good and evil, and the need to choose the good in order to choose life." I'm curious how you determine what is the good?

The Objectivist view is succinctly put in Galt's speech: "All that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; all that which destroys it is the evil." And this of course is based on the metaphysical facts of man's nature as a rational being, and one of volitional consciousness, who must pursue values (the good) to further his life (the ultimate value).

Perhaps this all comes down to what this "Creator" is, and how that concept fits into your thinking. The Founders, as implicit rational egoists but explicit Christian altruists, didn't have a strong enough understanding of the nature of rights, and thus were blind to certain glaring contradictions in the political system they built. Because they lacked a fundamental defense of rights, those rights were susceptible to the terrible erosion we see evidenced today.

OK, I fear that's a bit off track, though I do think it's related. I'll stop for now because this has gotten too long. I'll be interested to see your response!

(Also, you might be interested in some debates I had recently on my blog concerning the nature of rights, the Constitution, and the men who wrote it.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Judy: I saw that you are a county chair for the Continental Congress, so I am guessing that we might meet in November. I hope so!

C. August: You are posing very good questions that really do deserve a whole blog post. I find myself challenged to clarify for myself how I think about these ideas, and I expect that as I work to word that post, I will find myself further challenged. I love questions like these! But I do beg your indulgence. This one is going to take a bit of time writing so that I can be careful to say what I really think clearly.