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Commentary

The Moral Poverty That “Self-Esteem” Requires War


     
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According to an August 31st news release from the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), the "war on terror" is being lost because of "compromise," "appeasement," and a "lack of self-esteem." For these Randians, America needs to "adopt self-interest and victory." The ARI appears to believe that the U.S. is just not tough enough and lacks the courage to kill and keep on killing, bomb and keep on bombing, torture and keep on torturing, tax and keep on taxing, etc.—all in the name of "reason" and "liberty" of course.

Apparently, I have missed something here. It would appear that the supporters of preemptive war in Iraq and elsewhere have had anything but a "lack of self-esteem." Indeed, the very bravado and imperial adventure of invasion and occupation would seem utterly contrary to "compromise" and "appeasement." To make this very point, former CIA anti-terrorist expert Michael Scheuer correctly entitled his book Imperial Hubris, after the delusional pride and arrogance of all tyrants and collectivists.

One wonders who exactly the ARI believes Bush is appeasing, other than interest groups who have pushed for and are benefiting from the neo-mercantilist spending and hegemonic bonanza of the war and the enormous explosion of federal government power? As Robert Higgs has shown in such books as Against Leviathan, Neither Liberty Nor Safety, Crisis and Leviathan, and Depression, War, and Cold War, war socialism is a very profitable racket for (and in the "self-interest" of) those business and government interests on the take, and moreover that war "crises" are the major engine of Leviathan statism.

Perhaps, the "appeased" are the untold millions who have been threatened, killed, devastated and displaced by the U.S. invasion/occupation of Iraq and the civil war and record terrorism that has resulted. And what is Bush compromising, other than the freedom and security of countless millions of people who have had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11?

Apparently for ARI, the answer is that since Bush has not yet launched total war against Iran as ARI has repeatedly proposed (see here, here, here, here, and here), what Bush and the U.S. Leviathan allegedly need is a jolt of good-old, John Galt-type, guilt-free, "self-esteem" so that the U.S. will kill anyone in its way on a mass scale without hesitation or regrets.

According to ARI President Yaron Brook, and in league with the views of the unapologetic-Trotskyist/neoconservative, war-mongering Christopher Hitchens,
"What specific military actions would have been required post-9/11 to end state support of Islamic Totalitarianism is a question for specialists in military strategy, but even a cursory look at history can tell us one thing for sure: It would have required the willingness to take devastating military action against enemy regimes—to oust their leaders and prominent supporters, to make examples of certain regimes or cities in order to win the surrender of others, and to inflict suffering on complicit civilian populations [emphasis added] who enable terrorist-supporting regimes to remain in power."
Could totalitarians have stated a better case for collective guilt and that "the end justifies the means"? And true to form, Brook is an apologist for the World War II U.S. atomic bombings of Japan and the use now of nuclear weapons in the Mideast.

Or this from ARI Founder, Leonard Peikoff, which appeared in a full-page ad in the New York Times on October 2, 2001:
"A proper war in self-defense is one fought without self-crippling restrictions placed on our commanders in the field. It must be fought with the most effective weapons we possess (a few weeks ago, Rumsfeld refused, correctly, to rule out nuclear weapons). And it must be fought in a manner that secures victory as quickly as possible and with the fewest U.S. casualties, regardless of the countless innocents caught in the line of fire. These innocents suffer and die because of the action of their own government in sponsoring the initiation of force against America. Their fate, therefore, is their government's moral responsibility. There is no way for our bullets to be aimed only at evil men."
Instead of a defense of natural rights, such a creed implodes into a strictly utilitarian ethics of what ARI believes will benefit them situationally (even if they are wrong). For these Randians it would apparently be "immoral" to not force others to fund and fight a war for them and to push wholesale slaughter to the maximum, so long as they are not threatened. Again for them, "the end justifies the means."

In other words, what ARI is saying is that their "objective" defense morality can only be subjective self-interest enforced by the "might-makes-right" collectivism of all-out war. Any claim to justice, the rule of law, or the natural rights of individuals that does not conform with ARI’s situational self-interest is "altruism," which of course means the very liberties, security, compassion, love, justice, well-being, humility, decency, etc., that virtually all people wish to defend. Hence, for ARI any qualms about killing an innocent person must be a sign of "a lack of self-esteem," "compromise," and "appeasement." As a result and as Brook states, ARI firmly rejects natural law, "Just War" theories for being too lenient and "altruistic," and presumably the same would also go for the Geneva Conventions and any universal moral codes—after all, only utilitarian concerns are relevant when it comes to "self-defense." Thus, the slippery slope of power becomes an all-consuming abyss.

This is obviously no trivial issue. In contrast, neo-Thomist, Christian, natural law advocates have long claimed that "Objectivism" and all other forms of "naturalist" ethics are unfounded and contradictory, in which rights are simply subjective and situational calculations, based at best on some form of transient reciprocity. In C.S. Lewis’s classic book The Abolition of Man, he shows that natural law is tautologically true, and no situational ethics can alter this fundamental reality without producing profound contradictions. And in his brilliant book, Warrant and Proper Function, analytic philosopher and rational theist Alvin Plantinga refutes all claims that deny the "substance dualism" of objective moral ethics and the "properly basic knowledge" of free will, rational inference, human consciousness, and moral conscience. In other words, Good and Evil are not situational, crisis or no crisis, crime or no crime, war or no war.

Instead of the inane claim of a "lack of self-esteem," I would suggest that what is lacking here is wisdom, justice, common decency, and moral responsibility. Those who are so morally deluded or impoverished to dismiss universal individual rights and moral standards that restrict political power in order to champion warfarism and the national security state are no friends of liberty and mankind.
David J. Theroux is the Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Independent Institute.






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