Thursday, October 25, 2007

Islam is Islamo-Fascism

As part of the “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” David Horowitz tried to give a talk at Emory University. Prevented from speaking by thugs in the audience, he finally had to be whisked away by security. Horowitz said, “I've spoken at Emory University several times and I've never seen it this bad … This is exactly what the fascists did in Germany in the 1930s.” (Hat Tip LA).

Lawrence Auster rightly criticizes the notion that only a false variant of Islam, Islamo-Fascism, is the problem. I’ve talked about the alleged “bad” variants of Islam, so-called radical Islam or militant Islam, in a discussion of terminology in this post. I have no problem with phrases that, at best, have rhetorical redundancy. However, Auster has an excellent point. Without clarification, one is misleading the audience about the true nature of Islam, which is problematic at the core.

Full practicing Muslims, however, aren’t fooled. They know their religion is under attack. This is one of the reasons they are striking back at Horowitz. The moderates, i.e. lax or lapsed Muslims, have no conceptual defense because slacking-off isn’t a principled alternative – it isn’t an ideal to rally the fight against Islam’s revival.

The focus of “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” is inherently altruistic – Islam is bad for them. Auster points this out. Still, I’d give Horowitz credit for exposing life under Islamic rule because the inherent nature of an Islamic social order is evil. They aren’t fighting for a noble ideal. However, it's Islam’s threat to the West that is our first concern, not Islam’s moral and material self-immolation. Care has to be taken not to make a priority of a concern which asks “is it good for them?”

Neither Auster nor Horowitz delves deeper into how the epistemological aspect of Islam – that of blind faith, deferral to authority, and a rejection of reason in human affairs – undermines the ability of Muslims to escape the suffocating grip of Islam.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Unholy Alliance Revisited

The children of Che Guevara were in Iran joining forces with the jihad when an Iranian speaker said that Che was “a truly religious man who believed in God and hated communism and the Soviet Union.” At this point Che’s daughter, Aleida, said “My father never mentioned God; He never met God.” (H/T Fausta.)

The Guevara children were quickly “whisked away.” Later, Aleida “insisted that ‘progressists everywhere’ focus on fighting America rather than probing each other's personal beliefs.” Recommended reading: The Unholy Alliance.

As I wrote on DD's blog: "The left is now driven by nihilism. After socialism has failed and the Berlin Wall fell, the left had nothing left but its visceral irrational hatred of capitalism and America. Multiculturalism is merely a means of rejecting the West, environmentalism is merely a means of rejection the industrial revolution and science, affirmative action is merely a means of rejecting standards of excellence, and their sympathy for the 7th century theocratic barbarian Islamists is the ultimate rejection of Enlightenment ideas. And I haven’t even mentioned post-modernism!"

Monday, October 15, 2007

Individualism, Capitalism, Egoism

Venezuela’s government follows the standard communist line that holds the state must mold a “new man” for socialism. The Economist notes: “Venezuelan parents can have any schooling they like for their children—so long as it's red.” Chavez launches a new campaign aimed at “the formation of the new man.” He says, “The old values of individualism, capitalism and egoism must be demolished. New values must be created, and that can only be done through education.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Atlas at Fifty

Fifty years after the publication of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s controversial philosophy continues to inspire its readers. Alan Greenspan, a long-term admirer, gives an accurate summary of her philosophy in his recently published autobiography. No summary, however, can do justice to Rand’s original ideas and her grand synthesis; but I’d like to give an indication of her original approach for those not acquainted with her ideas by selecting a few aspects of her philosophy.

Rand was a system builder who seamlessly integrated metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics and aesthetics. But she was also a public intellectual, engaged in debate with her fellow citizens. Like Socrates who sought to do both – fundamental philosophy and civic debate – she challenged her readers to examine their most fundamental assumptions. In content, however, Rand is an antipode to Socrates/Plato’s otherworldly mysticism and this-worldly collectivism. Rand’s philosophic hero, as Greenspan explains, is Aristotle but augmented by Locke’s political philosophy.

What Rand did for many was present capitalism not as a necessary evil but as a glorious and righteous social system based on human dignity and designed for human flourishing. Greenspan noted how he, as an economist, understood how capitalism “worked” but Rand’s galvanizing moral message was fuel for a passionate commitment to this noble institution. She influenced many in this manner even those who don't completely agree with her total synthesis.

Rand is often misunderstood or worse deliberately distorted. Politics was for her a derivative outcome of deeper and more important concerns. It’s when we move beyond politics that her ideas are hard to grasp for most readers including some of her fans. In ethics, Rand advocated rational self-interest but this gives little clue of what she holds as rational and what is in one’s interest. Her key concept of “reason as man’s tool of survival” can’t convey her original epistemological work on human conceptual reasoning nor can it convey her rich concept of human life.

Her style of non-fiction writing requires some re-orientation to appreciate her main points. Rand was a feisty intellectual warrior. She was “in your face” before the phrase was coined. One of her rhetorical ploys was to seize a word meant as a pejorative and defiantly embrace it. It’s a bold combative style reminiscent of Patrick Henry’s “if this be treason make the most of it.”

When Rand was accused of advocating ‘selfishness,’ for example, she’d title her book of essays on ethics: “The Virtue of Selfishness – a New Concept of Egoism.” She knew that words like egoism and altruism are commonly used in another manner. But more than being provocative, she rightfully argued that current usage obliterates an important distinction. She would take these words and given them a rigorous meaning – actually closer to the original meaning – to re-establish a clear and powerful ethical dichotomy.

The common notion of a self-interested man is a narrowly-focused rights-violating schemer who exploits his fellow man in the pursuit of mindless indulgence. Altruism (a word coined by the 19th century socialist Auguste Comte) meant selfless service to others regardless of any return or self benefit. Conventional morality defines ethics as altruism. Any concern for one’s advancement and well-being is seen as practical but not ethical. Ethics, in this modern view, comes into play when one is concerned with others’ well being. Any practical advancement must be justified by the benefit to others; it is dedication to the welfare of others that is the ultimate criteria of virtue.

If one reads the classical ethical treatises, Aristotle’s and Cicero’s, one finds a very different view of ethics. This is true also for Rand. Her ethics has its root in the very notion and fact of human life. Ethics isn’t merely social but embodies actualizing one’s potential in all dimensions of human endeavors that further life enhancing values. There is no denigration of personal self-actualization as mere practical or amoral selfishness. This notion may not seem as surprising today as it was in the 1950s and 1960s. To the extent that this is true, it is in large part because of Rand’s influence.

The social dimension is never ignored by Rand. Her detractors create a straw man by claiming that Rand has no use for other human beings, that Rand sees others as objects to be used, or by claiming that Rand is anti-social. This is bizarre. Rand is passionate about the moral importance of every social interaction from trade (which is done for mutual benefit) to the deepest personal romantic relationships where the person’s very being is one of the greatest joys of one's life.

Rand is opposed to the service to others as a blind duty. She opposes the slave-mentality either imposed by the state or chosen by the individual. The dutiful altruist, if consistent, believes that other's happiness comes before one’s own and that of one’s loved ones. Few swallow this whole. Rarely would one take care of one’s neighbor’s children before one’s own. But altruism, strictly speaking, would find less moral credit in helping those whose well-being is of value to one’s self (such as one’s children) than helping faceless children on the other side of the earth who may even grow to be one’s enemies. An altruist doesn’t ask “how will this affect me?” He only submits to duty or the state.

Most people, in light of such an explicit or implicit notion of ethics, recoil not by rejecting this monstrous idea but by retreating into a more banal posture of mixing “ethics” and “practicality.” Conservatives, in Rand’s day, would concede the ethical high ground to the socialists and retreat behind the slogan that you can’t expect utopia here on earth; humans are too base and evil to be so good. “Don’t immanentize the eschaton” as Buckley would say echoing Voegelin. Rand rejected this weak-kneed apologetics and cynicism by adopting a proud moral vision of a society based on individual rights and human prosperity. While this energized many on the right it frightened others, particularly many ex-communists whose embrace of conservatism was a rejection of reason, abstract theory, and political ideology.

Yet, Rand isn’t a mere libertarian, if one uses that term generically. Individual rights define the realm of allowable action but don't insure the moral requirements for successful action. Rights, for some libertarians, define a "do your own thing" realm of hedonism. In Rand’s novel, the Fountainhead, the hero withholds immediate gratification as other quickly achieve a hollowed success by pandering. Rand’s hero preservers until he can succeed by producing something of pride. Indeed, the novel has little to say about politics but much to say about character. The notion that Rand is concern with mere material gain is absurd. She presents a very demanding ethical code but with a more fulfilling and profound success as its reward.

Hopefully the above is an indication of her ethical underpinning of a just political order. It doesn’t even hint at her distinctive epistemology and metaphysics. Rand is an engaging writer who will challenge the most thoughtful reader. Her work brings to light ideas seldom found in other quarters. Agree or not, she is indispensable for a vigorous debate on the underpinning of a free society. Those seeking to advocate individual liberty would do well to consider her ideas.

Update: MM McQ TH CT TB

Update2: Fox review, Wash Times review, Sun-Times review,

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Dream of Moderate Islam

A reader mentions the debate surrounding Ayaan’s Reason interview. The question is whether there is or can be a moderate Islam. In the debate between Daniel Pipes and Lawrence Auster, I’ve taken Auster’s side that Islam can’t be moderate. I’ve discussed it further here and suggested that Muslims can moderate by becoming secular. In the recent Reason interview Ayaan is clear:

Reason: So when even a hard-line critic of Islam such as Daniel Pipes says, "Radical Islam is the problem, but moderate Islam is the solution," he's wrong?

Hirsi Ali: He's wrong. Sorry about that.

Spencer believes (as does Pipes) that a moderate Islam can be invented to which Hugh Fitzgerald says: “Vaste programme, monsieur.” Squaring the circle is more than ambitious, it’s impossible. Auster believes that Ayaan has changed. I believe she’s just clarifying her evolving thoughts by following their logical implications. In either case, she has arrived.

Update: The full Ayaan Hirsi Ali interview.