The Objectivist Death Cult

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In
some ways, it really isn't fair to raise the most extreme example
of the pro-war faction of the libertarian movement, the orthodox
Objectivists centered around Dr. Leonard Peikoff and the Ayn Rand
Institute, because — judging from his pronouncements on the subject
of the Iraq war — the man is clearly crazed, as his Ford Hall Forum
speech, "America
Versus Americans
," given last year, makes all too abundantly
clear. But it is really such a clear distillation of pure evil that
I can't resist citing it: it is far too inviting a target.

Peikoff
is sorely disappointed by this war, for a number of reasons, first
and foremost being that his preferred target, Iran, is not yet in
America's crosshairs. The war in Afghanistan was a letdown for him
because we took care not to inflict civilian casualties. This, says
Peikoff, is immoral: in Iraq, too, we are far too squeamish about
innocent civilians. And I note that Peikoff emphasizes the word
"innocent," even as he proclaims that it would be immoral
not to condemn these innocents to death. When someone in the audience
cried out in horror at this brazen display of naked evil, Peikoff
interrupted his talk and imperiously demanded "please throw
that man out." A far cry from Ayn Rand herself, who, during
the 1930s, took to the stump for Republican presidential candidate
Wendell Willkie, and, when confronted by hecklers — of which there
were plenty — gave as good or better than she got. But the thuggish,
hectoring Peikoff, whose high-pitched voice is in stark contrast
to his stern admonitions, will have none of that.

Unlike
the neocons, whose foreign policy he faithfully echoes, up to and
including their iconization of Israel, Peikoff doesn't hide behind
any beneficent-sounding slogans, like "exporting democracy"
and implanting free markets and the rule of law. This, he claims,
would be "altruism," the worst sin in the Objectivist
theology — although why freedom, in the abstract, and not just one's
own freedom, cannot be a value in and of itself is not at all clear
to me. And the clear implication is that the Iraqis, like the Palestinians,
are considered "savages" by Peikoff, who wouldn't appreciate
such a gift in any case. No, what we must do, says Peikoff, is kill
them — enemy soldiers and innocent civilians alike.

This
same maniacal bloodthirstiness is expressed by Yaron Brook, the
executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, in a recent lecture
on "The
Morality of War
," in which he outdoes Peikoff — and also
Cuffy
Meigs
— in the complete thuggishness of his stance, advocating
the wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians in a total war of
annihilation against the entire Middle East — except Israel, of
course. When one timorous questioner raises the issue of how Mr.
Brook reconciles such a view with the central doctrine of individualism,
which is that all people are endowed with inalienable rights, Brook
brushes this aside with an impatient wave of his hand and declares
that all enemy civilians are legitimate targets. The reason is because
your government represents you, whether you like it or not.

So
much for the idea of individualism.

Yes,
but what about a six-year-old child, asks the persistent — and clearly
perplexed — questioner, who complains that he has trouble "internalizing"
(his word) this monstrous doctrine of collective responsibility
for the crimes of a ruling elite. What, he wants to know, has the
child done to deserve such a fate? Brook hems, and haws,
apparently reluctant to come right out and advocate child murder
on a mass scale — and in the name of "individualism,"
yet! — but, in the end, he gathers up his courage, and, in a wavering
voice that sounds eerily like Elmer
Fudd
, declares that six-year-old kids suffer all the time because
of their parents' behavior. This instance — in his view – is
no different, he says, except in degree, reiterating his crazed
view that when a government violates rights, all the citizens of
that state are guilty, and can therefore be put to death.

How
can people who claim to hold "rationality" as their highest
value sink to such depths of depravity? The problem is that these
people are living in a fantasy world of pure abstractions, in which
everything is viewed through the lens of a Manichean struggle between
Reason and Unreason, Modernity and Primitivism, the West and the
Rest. The humanity and reality of anyone deemed "irrational"
is defined out of existence, so that it's okay to torture and kill
six-year-olds. Because, you see, they aren't really people. Not
like us.

As
I said, it is a bit unfair to hold up the Ayn Rand Institute and
the Peikoff cult as an example of anything but pure psychopathology.
Because they really have gone over the edge. But the influence of
their West versus the Rest mentality runs deep in libertarian circles,
due almost entirely, I would submit, to the influence of Ayn Rand,
who dismissed Palestinians as subhuman "savages" and whose
foreign policy views were based, not only any knowledge of specific
areas of the world, but on highly stylized abstractions unconnected
to any facts.

The
same abstract, supposedly "philosophical" outlook is shared
by the "soft" Objectivists, represented by the Objectivist
Center, headed up by David Kelley. In a statement, the Center had
the following to say:

"The
attack was a deliberate assault not only on America’s civilian population
and government, but on its culture of reason, individualism, achievement,
and freedom, with all their derivatives such as science, technology,
capitalism, progress, and toleration. In many public statements
– and in their choice of the World Trade Center as a target
– the terrorists have declared their hatred for this culture
and their wish to destroy it."

The
idea that Osama bin Laden and his cohorts, sitting in a cave somewhere
in Afghanistan, suddenly came upon a copy of the Bill of Rights,
and were so outraged that they decided to put a big dent in the
New York City skyline is absolute nonsense. The last time we had
a problem with these people was back in the late eighteenth century,
when the Barbary pirates decided to hijack American shipping. To
imagine that, suddenly, the Muslim world has decided to go on a
crusade against America because we're so rational, so tolerant,
so wonderful, and so free is narcissism, pure and simple — and just
plain wrong.

Listen
to what Michael Scheuer, a currently serving CIA analyst who had
served for years on the Agency's Al Qaeda task force, has to say
about this Bushian-Objectivist view of 9/11:

The United
States is hated across the Islamic world because of specific U.S.
government policies and actions. That hatred is concrete not abstract,
martial not intellectual, and it will grow for the foreseeable
future. While important voices in the United States claim the
intent of US policy is misunderstood by Muslims, that Arabic satellite
television deliberately distorts the policy, and that better public
diplomacy is the remedy, they are wrong. America is hated and
attacked because Muslims believe they know precisely what the
United States is doing in the Islamic world. They know partly
because of bin Laden's words, partly because of satellite television,
but mostly because of the tangible reality of US policy. We are
at war with an Al-Qaeda-led worldwide Islamist insurgency because
of and to defend those policies, and not, as President Bush mistakenly
has said, "to defend freedom and all that is good and just
in the world.

Bin
Laden's credibility and stature in the eyes of Muslims is due to
his success in persuading them that they must fight a defensive
jihad against those intent on eradicating Islam and conquering the
Middle East. The invasion of Iraq has certainly done much to convince
any skeptics that he has a point, but many did not need much convincing,
as our record in that part of the world already provided bin Laden
with plenty of grist for his mill. As anyone who examines what bin
Laden and his allies have actually said — and Scheuer’s recent book,

Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror
,
is a rich source of information on this subject — the Islamists
are up in arms over five issues of major import:

  • US support
    for Israel that keeps Palestinians in the Israelis’ thrall
  • US and other
    Western troops on the Arabian Peninsula
  • US support
    for Russia, India, and China against their Muslim militants
  • US pressure
    on Arab energy producers to keep oil prices low
  • US support
    for apostate, corrupt, and often tyrannical Muslim governments

In
short: They are over here, because we are over there.

Chalmers
Johnson, the foreign policy analyst, has popularized the concept
of "blowback" — the unintended consequences of government
action in the international arena. It is an idea that ought to be
all too familiar to libertarians, who are second to none in tracing
the origins of these consequences when it comes to government intervention
in domestic affairs. We face a worldwide insurgency directed at
the American homeland as a direct consequence of our interventionist
foreign policy.

Its
roots, however, are not in abstractions, such as the terrorists'
alleged hatred of our way of life, but in blood-and-flesh realities
such as the March 8, 1985 car bomb that went off in a Beirut suburb.
The intended target, a radical Muslim leader, was shaken but left
alive. Eighty others, mostly women and children, were killed, and
200 were wounded. The bombing, according to Bob Woodward of the
Washington Post, was the work of CIA director William Casey,
who had enlisted the cooperation of the Saudis. Retribution was
not long in coming.

A
few months later, Arab terrorists took over a TWA flight from Athens
and executed a US Navy seaman on board, as they railed that it was
payback time for the Beirut bombing. One hijacker kept yelling "New
Jersey! New Jersey!" as terrified passengers cowered in their
seats. He was talking about the battleship New Jersey, which
had rained down death and, yes, terror in the form of 2000-pound
shells on Beirut the previous year.

Scheuer
deals, not in abstractions, but in specifics: not in "philosophy,"
but in empirical, verifiable facts. In order to discover the truth
about what is going on in the world, it is necessary know what you
are talking about: you can't derive the answers to the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict, or the how to defeat Al Qaeda, or what position to take
on the Iraq war, from knowing that "A is A." The daffy
method of Peikoff, of Kelley, and of all too many libertarians leads
to support for militarism, empire-building, and the defeat of the
very values they claim to uphold.

The
abstractionists are taking the easy way out: all they have to do
is repeat a few rote formulas, insert a few words here and there,
and — bingo — they have a glib explanation, an instant position,
all worked out in advance. That's a lot easier than taking a reality-based
approach: it means you don't have to do any research, you don't
have to read the newspapers (except the editorial page) and you
don't have to educate others, except to inculcate in them the same
formulas you have memorized for the occasion.

The
policy of global interventionism has a long and complex and bloody
history, and it must be understood in order to see the present horror
we face in context. Osama bin Laden did not just pop up out of nowhere:
he was, in a sense, our own creation. We funded him, supported him,
armed him in order to "liberate" Afghanistan from the
Red Army — and when he turned on us, like a "tame" cobra
gone rogue, we had to "liberate" Afghanistan again — essentially
undoing the previous "liberation."

Antiwar.com,
the popular website of which I am editorial director, exists to
educate Americans and readers worldwide. What is the War Party up
to? Where will they strike next? What is the history of the latest
target of our campaign of "liberation"? Like our sister
site, LewRockwell.com, we debunk the lies, expose the frauds, and
take a magnifying lens to the elaborate deceptions that rationalize
America's policy of perpetual war. And we do it because this is
the central issue of our times. If we take the road to Empire, then
the idea of limited government is doomed: the crushing weight of
confiscatory taxation will smother our old republic, and stamp out
the last vestiges of America's libertarian legacy.

Every
war is a test, and, with this war we face our greatest test. Most
libertarians, I am glad to say, are rising to the occasion: others
– swept along by the rising tide of militarism and statism,
enthralled by the rhetoric of warmongering demagogues, blinded by
narcissism and hubris — are falling by the wayside. The American
libertarian movement has gone full circle: we have come, in the
end, to a replication of our beginnings. The modern libertarian
movement was born in the shadow of the Vietnam war, and the split
with the neocon-ized conservative movement over the question of
the war and civil liberties. Only this time, we are bigger, stronger,
more confident: we have not forgotten our history. Now let us prove
ourselves worthy of it.

October
12, 2004

Justin
Raimondo [send him mail]
is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An
Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard
and Reclaiming
the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement
.
This article is adapted from his talk to the 2004 Freedom Summit.

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