Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Obama and the Horde - Reagan and Bill Ayers
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 1/14/09
Stephen Moore, senior economic writer for The Wall Street Journal, believes Congress should become conversant with Ayn Rand’s classic Atlas Shrugged, as it seems to be tailored to the Department of Rhetoric, which is forming the Obama bailout packages.
“Many of us who know Rand's work have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that Atlas Shrugged parodied in 1957, when this 1,000-page novel was first published and became an instant hit,” he writes.
A survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that readers rated "Atlas" as the second-most influential book in their lives, behind only the Bible, he says.
In the Randian vision politicians invariably respond to crises -- that in most cases they themselves created -- by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations: “Every new act of government futility and stupidity carries with it a benevolent-sounding title. These include the "Anti-Greed Act" to redistribute income (sounds like Charlie Rangel's promises soak-the-rich tax bill) and the "Equalization of Opportunity Act" to prevent people from starting more than one business (to give other people a chance). My personal favorite, the "Anti Dog-Eat-Dog Act," aims to restrict cut-throat competition between firms and thus slow the wave of business bankruptcies. Why didn't Hank Paulson think of that?”
I think this is good stuff. The problem is that Ayn Rand, having escaped from the Soviet Union by her wit, comes to us as an anti-Soviet. Which is good, but Sovietism, as it was cooked and cultivated in the Russian serf state by Lenin and Stalin, was already an “anti” philosophy. It was an anti-capitalism materialist philosophy which rose in the world as America rose under Hamilton’s vision of an economic world order in which New York – thus the Empire State – was the center of the wheel.
Rand’s writings became so popular in the 1950s that they soon-after fostered an anti-Randian element which helped advance Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society spending. And that in turn brought about neo-Randians and people like Ron Paul and the Cato Institute who were anti-Great Society, much as the original Randians were critics of Roosevelt’s pre-war spending.
Mathematicians will see what is going on here. We have entered a negative Fibonacci Curve, spiraling from anti to anti back from some original spot that can be traced back in time to Hamilton, Marx and Adam Smith.
Being old enough and lucky enough to have shared friendship and conversation with Lincoln Brigade soldiers and Communists with a big C who were influential in New York and Brooklyn in the 1930s and 1940s, I’d point out that Rand is a theory and not an actual accurate life picture. The commies I knew were probably the most individualistic and committed and heroic and courageous people I have ever known. And they did not really believe in ideology, but used it only as a blunt weapon. They believed in the poor when most of the world was poor. And in Russia and China they showed some historic success.
But the world changes in moments almost unseen and their world changed substantively on two occasions. The one change agent was Ronald Reagan. The other was Bill Ayers.
First Reagan. Early in his Presidency, air traffic controllers went on strike. Reagan ignored them. The air traffic controllers had taken the tool of the poor and the starving anarchists of the mid-1800s and used it to their own means. These were people making up to 40 and 60 thousand a year – big money in those days - and were using a strike for a life style issue.
When Reagan ignored them he hit a cord with millions of Reagan Democrats whose families had come from the factory system and felt that the tools of the poor to fight poverty were not the tools for the near and neuvo wealthy.
There is Obama’s problem today, and Hillary’s. Their constituency is a class between the poor and the rich; they come from common roots but are well off by every benchmark in the American tradition of poverty and would actually be on the way to family wealth if they had any kids. But still they use the tools of the proletariat to advance middle class status.
Neo-Randianism was a natural consequence. Many of the old socialists, taking their cue from the most original Arthur Koestler, who wrote Darkness at Noon, a novel about the Stalin purges, joined Reagan. Some even advised him.
Rand’s novels and seminars recall the Roosevelt period and the ideas currently adopted by Obama, modifications of Keynes and Marx: If you just throw money off a building, the people will respond as a horde, go all Bridzilla and tear down the doors at Macy’s.
Both Keynes and Marx are philosophers of the horde. And according to their theories the behavior of the horde is predictable. Sometimes. Like when the Boston Brahmins took to the John Brown cult, they could readily count on the army of the recently arrived Irish Catholic proles which they despised to do the fighting for them in the Civil War. And on September 16, 1940, when Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act he could well have been assured of passage in the Senate (47-25) and especially the House (232 – 124). Without any doubt, the country would follow into the army without caveat or question.
When these ideas were formulating, we were a nation primarily of factory workers and field hands. Some of the most influential writing of the day was about this. World Socialist H.G. Wells, who gave us the phrase The New World Order as the title of one of his books, saw us as a half-beast species which could easily be formed to the will of the elite. Others, like Frank Baum and Czech writer Karel Capek (R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Roberts, 1921) and Thea Von Harbou and Fritz Lang (Metropolis, 1926/27), couldn’t help noticing how readily the behavior of a human being on a production line resembled a robot. In Ozma of Oz (1907), Baum’s nicely-named Tiktok, a relative of his industrial Golem, Tim Man in The Wizard of Oz, sings, "Always work and never play!/Don't demand a cent of pay!"
These ideas, like Rand’s novels and seminars, carried over post war to Isaac Asimov and others. But Aldous Huxley, who wrote of Ford – seeking subsidy today by Obama and co. - as the robot’s god in Brave New World, declared that we need not be a species of beasts or robots on a production line. And within each of us is a little Ramakrishna, striving to get out and be free.
Huxley’s writing took the day. The rising post-war generation was unbeholden to priest or politician. The Doors of Perception became not only a model of psychedelic psychological venues pioneered by Timothy Leary and others, but was so influential as a primary source that it morphed into the name of a popular band at the time, The Doors. And Heaven and Hell, the essay which accompanied The Doors of Perception, became the opening theme of The Who at Woodstock. Between 1964 and 1968, Khrishnamurti had trumped Keynes, Marx and the horde.
Good to know because it was, perhaps, a point of no return. In 1966, when I was drafted, it didn’t go like it did in 1940. Americans said no. Bill Ayers said no and so did about half of the 40 million born in the same few months that I was. And we will say no again, next time we are asked to go blind into the night.
Jefferson’s vision was complete. For the factory workers, the European immigrants, the Chinese and Irish peasants who met in the middle of the country building the railroad, the field workers and the former slaves, the age of the horde had ended.
We had become individuals and we had become citizens. And any federal mandate which treats us otherwise, from Obama, Bush or Hillary, will henceforth be repudiated.