“Hmm. Imagine if sodomy laws could be used to punish the stingy, unconcerned rich!”
So writes popular columnist Nicholas Kristof in a recent New York Times article. Lest you think he is poking fun at religious conservatives, however, as one might expect from a left-of-center Times columnist, think again. Kristof does not write it as tongue-in-cheek parody but pines for it with a yearning, dreamy bliss. If faith-based laws can be placed in the service of a traditionally leftist agenda – namely, soaking those who produce wealth – so much the better for Nicholas Kristof.
Setting aside the fact that he would actually favor such a manifestly irrational and unjust policy, Mr. Kristof’s overall argument is right on target. He demonstrates insight that few of his colleagues seem to have when he notices that alleged political enemies – Democrats and “liberals” on the one hand, Republicans and religions conservatives on the other – have much in common and are largely fighting on the same side. He writes:
[T]he divide has dissolved, in ways that many Americans haven’t noticed or appreciated. Evangelicals have become the new internationalists, pushing successfully for new American programs against AIDS and malaria, and doing superb work on issues from human trafficking in India to mass rape in Congo . . .A growing number of conservative Christians are explicitly and self-critically acknowledging that to be “pro-life” must mean more than opposing abortion.[Note 1.]
To be “pro-life” in this sense means to sacrifice all humanity, not just pregnant women, on the altar. Which altar? That is where disagreement is introduced; some think God or Allah demands their servitude, while others think it is the nation, race, species, planet, or class. Kristof exhorts his fellow “liberals” to put aside these differences and temper their snobbishness toward evangelicals. After all, he writes, “those doing the sneering typically give away far less money than evangelicals,” and are “less likely to spend vacations volunteering at, say, a school or a clinic in Rwanda.” Stop flaying conservatives as mere knuckle-dragging, gay-bashing hypocrites, advises Kristof, when they can be adopted as allies committed to the grand humanitarian goal of universal, voluntary slavery. Similarly, religious conservatives should not hesitate to jump into bed, figuratively speaking, with those contemptibly effete, bleeding-heart save-the-worlders whom they despise; they are, after all, doing God’s work.
I have long argued that for all their superficial differences, the political left and right share the same essential moral foundation. The left sees the right as ignorant, homophobic fascists and the right sees the left as Godless, iconoclastic socialists. But they agree on one thing: all men ought to live their lives in servitude to the needy. The moral underpinning of both conservatives and “liberals” is altruism.
Observe the “debate” over the legislation that threatens the medical care industry today. The Democratic agenda is unambiguously driven by the morality of need. Leftists do not even bother to hide behind lip-service; the justification for the federal government taking over the already over-regulated health care industry is that some people can’t afford the same level of health care as others. Period. The so-called “liberals” assume that “everybody knows” health care is a right, and they need not elaborate upon so uncontroversial a notion.[Note 2.]
What is the Republican opposition to this? Scott Brown, whose recent election in Massachusetts was widely seen as a rebuff of a heavy-handed Congress and Obama administration (and for whom I myself voted for exactly that purpose), believes “all Americans deserve health care coverage.”[Note 3, emphasis mine.] He voted for and still favors “Romneycare” in Massachusetts, an outrageous compulsory insurance plan that is a precursor to “Obamacare.” Such an obscene violation of individual rights, such a naked redistribution of wealth, such a sacrifice of those who have earned to those who have not, is okay, according to Senator Brown, as long as it is not the “one-size-fits-all” plan of President Obama. Behind empty and contradictory platitudes about “private market systems,” Brown and his conservative colleagues cannot escape the gravitational pull of their moral premises. Altruism infests and informs the policies of all parties today - left, right, and center.
As has been pointed out by others, the reason Americans are trapped and paralyzed, frozen into passive compliance as we plunge into serfdom, cannot possibly be because they are wholly ignorant of the superiority of capitalism to socialism. Outside of academia and Hollywood, no sane, sentient person in the modern world could think the facts of history show socialism and collectivism to produce wealth while capitalism and individualism lead to poverty. The primary explanation for the willingness of Americans to sacrifice themselves - to surrender happiness for misery, prosperity for privation - has to be because they think it is moral to do so.
The disaster here is not that Americans are driven by moral concerns, which is a good thing, but what Americans have accepted as being moral. From birth, we are bombarded with the mantra that “Selfishness is wrong,” and scolded with the universal and unquestioned dictum, “Don’t be selfish!” - despite the fact that all life, especially human life, demands the opposite. What Americans need to do is cease to swallow whole the morality of sacrifice and see that altruism is the very opposite of “pro-life.” Altruism, as Ayn Rand wrote, “holds death as its ultimate goal and standard of value - and it is logical that renunciation, resignation, self-denial, and every other form of suffering, including self-destruction, are the virtues it advocates.”[Note 4.]
I happen to be re-reading Atlas Shrugged and I just came upon a passage that captures the essence of this paralysis, this hesitation of Americans to defend their own lives and liberty. In the novel, Orren Boyle, a villainous businessman who is perfectly willing to play the “pull-peddling” games that arise when the government intrudes into economic matters, makes his choices according to the prevailing ethics - from which we can see the indirect effect upon an economy already crippled by such choices.
Orren Boyle made a selfless sacrifice to the needs of others. He sold to the Bureau of Global Relief, for shipment to the People’s State of Germany, ten thousand tons of structural steel shapes that had been intended for the Atlantic Southern Railroad. “It was a difficult decision to make,” he said, with a moist, unfocused look of righteousness, to the panic-stricken president of the Atlantic Southern, “but I weighed the fact that you’re a rich corporation, while the people of Germany are in a state of unspeakable misery. So I acted on the principle that need comes first. When in doubt, it’s the weak that must be considered, not the strong.” The president of the Atlantic Southern had heard that Orren Boyle’s most valuable friend in Washington had a friend in the Ministry of Supply of the People’s State of Germany. But whether this had been Boyle’s motive or whether it had been the principle of sacrifice, no one could tell and it made no difference: if Boyle had been a saint of the creed of selflessness, he would have had to do precisely what he had done. This silenced the president of the Atlantic Southern; he dared not admit that he cared for his railroad more than for the people of Germany; he dared not argue against the principle of sacrifice.[Note 5, emphasis mine.]
Americans must question the premises that would have us don our own yokes . . . before it is too late.
1. “Learning From the Sin of Sodom,” Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times, 27 Feb 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/opinion/28kristof.html.
2. On this topic of the alleged “right” to health care, I highly recommend these articles:
Leonard Peikoff, “Health Care is Not a Right,” Capitalism Magazine, 27 Dec 2006, (http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=4880).
John David Lewis, “What ‘Right’ to Health Care?” RealClear Politics, 3 Aug 2009, (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2009/08/03/what_right_to_health_care_97742.html).
Paul Hsieh, “Health Care Reform vs. Universal Health Care,” PajamasMedia, 5 May 2009, (http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/health-care-reform-vs-universal-health-care/).
Richard Ralston, “Orange Grove: Wrong way to think of rights,” The Orange County Register, 19 Oct 2009, (http://www.ocregister.com/articles/right-215397-government-care.html).
3. “Scott Brown and the debate over health care,” The Economist, 19 Jan 2010, (http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2010/01/scott_brown_and_debate_over_health_care).
4. Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, Signet, New York, 1964, p. 38.
5. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, Plume/Penguin Group, New York, 2005 (originally 1957), p. 499.
I fixed a minor usage error.