Rational Capitalist on Facebook

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Intellectual Role Reversal: Towards "The Good Deal"

I think an important point has been reached in the struggle for freedom which is actually positive (believe it or not).

Marx's Communist Manifesto was published in 1848. What do you think the immediate reaction was of Western industrialists to his argument that capitalism would be replaced by a "classless society" after a transitional "dictatorship of the proletariat"? Yawn. As the West was exploding in a torrent of growth and the limits of prosperity and technological achievement seemed limitless, did anyone take some kooky German philosophy professor seriously?

Forty-two years after the publication of this book, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was passed in the United States. Sixty-five years after its publication, the Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified legalizing the income tax. In the same year, the Federal Reserve Act was passed nationalizing the banking system. The Bolshevik Revolution occurred in 1917 and Soviet Russia formed in 1922. The 1930's saw the rise of National Socialism in Germany, America's "red decade" including FDR's socialist New Deal policies, and the overthrow of the gold standard. Then came the communist revolution in the 1940's under Mao, the start of America's cold war with the Soviet Union, and a series of communist revolutions around the world. Today, as we know too well, despite the blood soaked catastrophe wrought by global communism, America is being directed down the same dead end road. So, what could possibly be positive?

I am not an expert in intellectual history, so I will not even attempt a detailed argument but merely sketch my argument.

First, consider this quote from Frederich Engels Socialism: Utopian and Scientific:
These two great discoveries, the materialistic conception of history and the revelation of the secret of capitalistic production through surplus-value, we owe to Marx. With these discoveries, Socialism became a science. The next thing was to work out all its details and relations. [emphasis mine]
I think it is well known that Socialism was the system of the intellectuals. As the above quote demonstrates, it was considered scientific, i.e., associated with secular thought and reason. In addition to many academics in the social sciences, many prominent scientists were socialists. Atheism and the rejection of the supernatural followed from this "scientific" approach and was an essential ingredient of socialism's appeal. Consider this quote from Lenin's Socialism and Religion:

The proletariat of today takes the side of socialism, which enlists science in the battle against the fog of religion, and frees the workers from their belief in life after death by welding them together to fight in the present for a better life on earth.
My point is that socialism was a system that carried with it the prestige of science and reason. The opposition to socialism was anything but scientific. Capitalism's defenders mainly relied on arguments from tradition or religion due to most Americans' aversion to atheism, hence the epithet "godless communism." If the defenders of socialism were prestigious intellectuals and prominent scientists but the defenders of capitalism were folksy mysticists - which side do you think was likely to win?

Since the publication of Atlas Shrugged in 1957, I believe that a role reversal has slowly been taking place putting defenders of capitalism on the side of science and reason and casting the socialists as the folksy mysticists. We know that this is what should be, but are we there yet? There are some positive signs.

In the same way that 19th century defenders of capitalism could not counter the "scientific" arguments of the socialists, we are at a stage where leftist intellectuals (the new establishment) brush off scientific arguments supporting reason, egoism, and capitalism yet are unable to provide rational counter arguments. Hence, we hear statements like "how can we take these people [Ayn Rand fetishists] seriously" [1] offered in place of any substantial criticism The left has been intellectually neutered by their own dead end philosophy of unreason and subjectivism.

In fact, just like the Religious Right, the Left has rejected reason as a means of knowledge, and so the only alternative open to them is faith, i.e., belief in the absence of evidence or mysticism. Many socialists, like Obama, have turned to movements like Liberation Theology which fuses Christianity with Marxism described in my post At Least Pastor Wright Is Consistent. This trend was on full display at the Democratic National Convention which I described in my post The Religious Left.

Another example of the leftist trend towards mysticism is environmentalism. The entire environmentalist movement is a modern day pagan religion replete with an object of worship, Mother Earth, a modern day St. Paul (Al Gore), and a modern Council of Nicaea (the U.N. IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) to define orthodox truth (see my post Pagans vs. Christians: The Sequel). Consider this brilliant excerpt from a Michael Chrichton speech which I have quoted many times [1, 2]:

Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe."
It is fifty-two years after the publication of Atlas Shrugged. We are going through the "how can we take these people seriously" stage while Objectivism is making major in roads into academia and a grass roots movement of people who have had fifty-two years to think about Ayn Rand's philosophy is starting to emerge. Reason is on the side of freedom and capitalism and the left is intellectually bankrupt. Let's make the next ten years, the "amendments and acts" stage which we can lovingly call "The Good Deal".


Burgess Laughlin said...

If they are unfamiliar with the philosophy of Ayn Rand, some of your readers might have an interest not only in her novel, Atlas Shrugged, but also her essay, "Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World."

In it, among other points, is the idea that mysticism (which is any claim to knowledge other than through reason) appears in many forms. One species of mysticism is faith. Others include appeals to "instinct," "intuition," "revelation," and "just knowing."

Her essay appears on pp. 70-92 of the anthology, Philosophy: Who Needs It, hard bound. Her comparison of reason vs. mysticism appears on pp. 75-77.

Roberto Brian Sarrionandia said...

This is a great post - I agree completely.

Jenn Casey said...

Thanks for sending this post to the Objectivist Round Up this week!

The Rat Cap said...


Thanks so much - I was honored to be included and will keep submitting-thanks again

Amit Ghate said...

Nice post Doug. One thing that makes our work harder though, is that coming out of the Enlightenment the socialists could count on a respect for science that today I don't think we can, or at least not nearly to the same extent. (OTOH, our defense of, and appeal to, science and reason makes our message stand out that much more, which could increase the speed at which the ideas gain traction?)

The Rat Cap said...


That is a great point. The Socialists were able hold the mantle of "science" in an era that revered it and it made their job much easier, unlike today. I think we can see this by considering that if Ayn Rand and the Objectivist movement had been around in the late 18th to mid 19th century it would have had a major influence quickly.

I think the trend towards unreason makes it harder to begin with since we have to make a double argument -that reason and principles are valid, then go on to egoism, rights, etc. It will be virtually impossible to change the culture from a moral perspective without progress on the reason front. You can see this just by talking to a typical conservative who is supposedly for capitalism. To do this, we just need to change the secular trends in the universities - this will have a moderating effect on religion as it did in the Enlightenment.

Secondly, this is a dangerous problem. Given the faith/force corollary, if trends toward unreason combined with altruism continue, this must logically result in increasing violence as the entire history of socialism or fascism demonstrates. Hopefully, we have time.

You said: OTOH, our defense of, and appeal to, science and reason makes our message stand out that much more, which could increase the speed at which the ideas gain traction?

Absolutely. You can see this in how people react to Objectivism. O lectures are sell outs, her books sell like crazy. It's the only movement that actually provides unapologetic, concrete answers to philosophical questions and is consistently right. I think it is shocking for people to read a principled logical argument today. I really do. I have trouble even reading a lot of science literature today because it is often unintelligible particularly in physics. Rand once said something to the effect of "reason and reality are powerful allies". I believe that a small trend is all we need to get it going.

Thanks again.

Unknown said...

Come check out my blog, the Meritocratic Revolutionary Front. Leave your comments.

Phaedros said...

Sorry but socialism could not answer the refutations by people like Mises and others so they began to attack reason itself. Your analysis is wrong.