• 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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