The Bush Inaugural: Faith and Force

Ayn Rand seems to have fallen out of favor in recent years but I couldn't help but notice that Bush's inaugural speech is a nice example of her insight that "faith and force are corollaries." True, the actual religious wars of past and present are bloodier examples, but still Bush the man, his beliefs, words and actions offer sparkling confirmation of the connection.

Bush repeatedly invoked the divine ("the Maker of Heaven and earth," "the Author of Liberty," "the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran, and the varied faiths of our people," "Abraham Lincoln" – just kidding) in his speech, though he tactfully sidestepped the bad vibes associated with the word "crusade" in laying out his "ultimate goal of ending tyranny" to be won by "the concentrated work of generations."

Nobody questions Bush's adherence to his Christian faith or his willingness to initiate the use of physical force. Bush has stated, in almost so many words, to hell with what the rest of the world may think, I'll attack whom and where I please. Yea, yea, yea, cheered his adoring campaign crowds. On this more solemn occasion, his words were more circumspect: "My most solemn duty is to protect this nation and its people against further attacks and emerging threats.u201D Put heavy emphasis on the word u201Cemergingu201D and you'll understand neocon foreign policy. There's the key to preemption and global preeminence, anointing Bush and his crowd with the dispensation to kill resisters anywhere they like. On to Teheran! Or is Damascus next? A rogue superstate has that marvelous unpredictability.

It's become abundantly clear – despite initial, insincere promises to the contrary – that Bush's force is no longer addressed at bringing the alleged attackers on that "day of fire" to justice. Criminal convictions in the United States for participating in the 9/11 attacks are zero so far and the prospects for convicting any guilty "Islamist extremist" are slim to none. A serious problem in a real court of law would be the fact that the United States government committed the atrocities of 9/11 for its own evil purposes and prosecutors have no real evidence for the PR theory that the pain "was inflicted by 19 young Arabs acting at the behest of Islamist extremists headquartered in distant Afghanistan." OBL supposedly has been "marginalized," al Qaeda is on the run and Bush has bigger fish to fry, like ending tyranny as we know it, across the globe and galaxy forever and ever. So move on, would ya? Nothin' to see here. Just forget about the original justification for the central government's response to 9/11, OK?

A slice of Ayn Rand's discourse on mystics pegs Bush but good: "His feelings become his only guide, his only remnant of personal identity, he clings to them with ferocious possessiveness," "power-lust is a weed that grows only in the vacant lots of an abandoned mind," "anyone who resorts to the formula: u2018It's so, because I say so,' will have to reach for a gun, sooner or later." Sooner, much sooner, for brother Bush.

Bush is big on the word, "evil." OK, let's bring in Ayn again: "Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that may not, the act that no man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive. So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate – do you hear me? no man may start – the use of physical force against others." Most everybody, including Bush, would agree: initiating violence is a no-no (And, what about taxation? Hmmm.).

Iraq is a four-letter that presents something of a problem for Mr. Bush if he genuinely believes in no initiation of violence. OK, so under what circumstances can the righteous use violence? "Men have the right to use physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use," writes Rand. "The ethical principle involved is simple and clearcut: it is the difference between murder and self-defense. A holdup man seeks to gain a value, wealth, by killing his victim; the victim does not grow richer by killing a holdup man. The principle is: no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force."

Whew! That puts Bush in a heap of moral trouble, even though we've had that great moment of accountability called the 2004 election. Judging by their rhetoric, Bush, Cheney and their retinue of liars (a harsh word but truth is an absolute defense against a libel suit) implicitly embrace the same principle as Rand. That's why they argue that their military invasions of distant lands, past and forthcoming, are purely defensive – "our intelligence" shows the evil doers have got WMD, they're working on WMD, they're gonna acquire WMD, they might dream of WMD and so on. Or, our enemies harbored some terrorists, funded 'em, or dreamed of harboring u2018em. Look at all the reliable intelligence we've got on it, cooked up and delivered by our political appointees. Emerging threats are everywhere! Well, not everywhere, but concentrated in nations with lots of petroleum or valuable real estate for transporting it. Those "regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny – prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder." Yup, must be some kind of interaction between oil and ideology over there that makes people hate our freedom. Maybe it escapes from the ground into the air. Maybe we should send some inspectors over to discover how it works. Ahem.

The blame for today's sad state of affairs goes far beyond Mr. Bush. Edmund Burke famously wrote, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Ayn Rand explains that the spread of evil is the symptom of a vacuum. "Whenever evil wins, it is only by default: by the moral failure of those who evade the fact that there can be no compromise on basic principles." People like Bush are a very small minority, and "it is the appeaser who unleashes them on mankind; it is the appeaser's intellectual abdication that invites them to take over." In this dark era, of course, cowardice is enhanced by elevated risk of encountering weaponized anthrax in the mail, dying in a mysterious plane crash or falling off a bridge no matter how high its guardrails might be.

Chaucer asked, "If gold ruste, what shal iren do?" And Ms. Rand wrote that when intellectual leaders do little to foster the best in the inchoate and vacillating character of people at large, "the thugs are sure to bring out the worst. When the ablest men turn into cowards, the average men turn into brutes." Et tu, brute?

January 22, 2005