Is there no way to resolve this perennial conflict? Are both sides morally equivalent? The United States seems to support Israel but does it really and why should it? For those interested, I recommend this older but clearly still relevant lecture by Yaron Brook, “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: What is the solution?” Dr. Brook’s talk is from 2002 but sadly, little seems to have changed over the last 10 years. (For a more recent take on the Obama administration’s approach to this age-old conflict, please see this talk by Dr. Brook on “Washington v. Jerusalem”.)
Debi Ghate leads ARI's Education and Research Division, whose focus is to introduce Ayn Rand's books and ideas to a range of audiences, including students, educators, policy makers and consumers. The Division writes scholarly and policy-aimed books, articles and other materials based on Rand's philosophy, Objectivism. Ms. Ghate is co-editor of "Why Businessmen Need Philosophy: The Capitalist's Guide to the Ideas Behind Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged." Her Op-Eds have been published in newspapers such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Providence Journal, Education Update and The Christian Science Monitor.
Personally, I have found the recent discussion about abortion to be much more disturbing than all of the back and forth about the economy and foreign policy. Setting aside the more absurd positions (pregnancies from rape are “something that God intended to happen“?), what we’ve heard in the past few weeks has been a debate about whether there should be exceptions to an outright ban on abortion (for rape, incest, etc.), whether one’s Catholic dogma should influence one’s legislative agenda, whether new Supreme Court appointees will affect Roe v. Wade and by how much, etc. The more serious-sounding discussions have been about where to draw the line on abortion.
All of these positions assume that a woman should not have the absolute right to make decisions about her own body and life. In the case of abortion, the decision is often complex and difficult. It carries with it consequences that can be life-long. If a woman does decide to abort, there may be many around her who disapprove, even vehemently, with her choice. But it is still a decision that only the woman involved can make, and it should be her legal right to do so. What motivates anti-abortionists to want to substitute their judgment for the woman’s?
This passage by Ayn Rand helped me understand why anti-abortionists advocate what they do (Ayn Rand wrote this in 1981, when there were some women’s groups protesting against abortion):
The question of abortion involves much more than the termination of a pregnancy: it is a question of the entire life of the parents. As I have said before, parenthood is an enormous responsibility; it is an impossible responsibility for young people who are ambitious and struggling, but poor; particularly if they are intelligent and conscientious enough not to abandon their child on a doorstep nor to surrender it to adoption. For such young people, pregnancy is a death sentence: parenthood would force them to give up their future, and condemn them to a life of hopeless drudgery, of slavery to a child’s physical and financial needs. The situation of an unwed mother, abandoned by her lover, is even worse.
I cannot quite imagine the state of mind of a person who would wish to condemn a fellow human being to such a horror. I cannot project the degree of hatred required to make those women run around in crusades against abortion. Hatred is what they certainly project, not love for the embryos, which is a piece of nonsense no one could experience, but hatred, a virulent hatred for an unnamed object. Judging by the degree of those women’s intensity, I would say that it is an issue of self-esteem and that their fear is metaphysical. Their hatred is directed against human beings as such, against the mind, against reason, against ambition, against success, against love, against any value that brings happiness to human life. In compliance with the dishonesty that dominates today’s intellectual field, they call themselves “pro-life.”
By what right does anyone claim the power to dispose of the lives of others and to dictate their personal choices?
David Frum’s October 29, 2012 article caught my attention. Frum has previously favored the idea that abortion should be legal in the first trimester and illegal thereafter unless it is necessary for the mother’s health.
This position, of course, seems more reasonable than some of the downright loony positions Republican politicians have taken recently (“rape” versus “forcible rape”?). However at the end of the day, Frum seems willing to accept some limits on a woman’s right to an abortion. In my view, this is one issue where any restriction is a violation of a woman’s right to her life.
But there’s another interesting issue that Frum’s article raises. He suggests that we ought think about how to reduce the number of abortions by creating the kind of social conditions that increases the likelihood a woman will keep the child. As he puts it: “Abortion is a product of poverty and maternal distress.” Reduce poverty and maternal distress, and the number of abortions will go down even if they are legal and accessible, according to Frum.
Notice the social agenda that Frum is advancing: it is desirable to reduce the number of abortions, it is desirable to provide economic security to women who might get pregnant and it is desirable to create conditions under which they might keep their babies.
Frum isn’t explicit on how this agenda is to be advanced. It may mean introducing legislation in varying forms to create the necessary conditions. Employers might have to pay benefits, perhaps welfare payments would increase, maybe there would be laws requiring certain pay levels for women.
Whatever the government-sponsored mechanism, Frum’s solution is still one in which society is trying to engineer a certain outcome with respect to abortion. This misses the point as badly as those who want to ban abortion outright.
Frum’s kind of thinking brings to mind the “safe, legal and rare” advocates for abortion. Yes, abortion should be safe and it certainly should be legal. Whether or not it is “rare” is nobody’s business but the individual woman’s, who must make and be responsible for what is often a difficult decision about her life and body.
So President Obama has read Ayn Rand.
Contrasting his ideas with what he takes to be Rand’s outlook, he tells Rolling Stone: “That view of life—as one in which we’re all connected, as opposed to all isolated and looking out only for ourselves—that’s a view that has made America great.” Though I don’t think President Obama understood Ayn Rand’s ideas (based on his description of them), it’s clear that he and Ayn Rand would have fundamentally disagreed about the source of America’s greatness.
A summary of Rand’s thoughts about, and reverence for, America can be found here, but let me highlight this one statement by her:
The most profoundly revolutionary achievement of the United States of America was the subordination of society to moral law. The principle of man’s individual rights represented the extension of morality into the social system—as a limitation on the power of the state, as man’s protection against the brute force of the collective, as the subordination of might to right. The United States was the first moral society in history. All previous systems had regarded man as a sacrificial means to the ends of others, and society as an end in itself. The United States regarded man as an end in himself, and society as a means to the peaceful, orderly, voluntary co-existence of individuals. All previous systems had held that man’s life belongs to society, that society can dispose of him in any way it pleases, and that any freedom he enjoys is his only by favor, by the permission of society, which may be revoked at any time. The United States held that man’s life is his by right (which means: by moral principle and by his nature), that a right is the property of an individual, that society as such has no rights, and that the only moral purpose of a government is the protection of individual rights.
President Obama’s view that we are “all connected” to one another means that each individual is subordinated to society, that each individual bears a responsibility to society as a whole. It’s on this basis that he and others from all parts of the political spectrum work to implement their particular views on how to redistribute wealth, disposing of the life and work of individual Americans in the process.
But it was America’s explicit rejection of such ideas, and her pursuit of and respect for individualism, that made this country great.
On the eve of the presidential debate on foreign policy, ARI’s Elan Journo has released a new essay, “Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand and U.S. Foreign Policy.”
Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has credited philosopher Ayn Rand with inspiring him to enter politics—and made her 1,000-plus-page magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, required reading for his staff. “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” he said in 2005 at a gathering of Rand fans. “The fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.” It is a theme that pervades Rand’s corpus. While Ryan has distanced himself from Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, he continues to express admiration for Atlas Shrugged.
The addition of the Wisconsin congressman to the GOP ticket naturally unleashed a flash-mob of analysts parsing his speeches, articles, and signature proposals for evidence of her influence. On domestic policy, the impact of Rand’s ideas on Ryan’s outlook is marked, though uneven and sometimes overstated. Religion, in particular, has driven a wedge between Ryan, who would enact Catholic dogma into law , and Rand, an atheist, who championed the separation of church and state. But what has received far less attention is Ryan’s outlook on foreign policy—and whether it bears the mark of Rand’s thought. [...]
Read the entire essay [PDF].
In my last post, I shared an observation that government regulation always seems to grow in scope and, once established, almost never shrinks. How does that pattern become established? There are many factors that lead to the entrenchment of regulatory power and it’s ever-growing reach. Over the next few posts, I’ll discuss some of these underlying causes.
Ayn Rand viewed the pattern of increasing regulation as inevitable in the kind of political system that we have, which she described as a “mixed economy.” Because we have a combination of freedoms in the form of individual rights and controls in the form of ad-hoc, piecemeal regulations curtailing those rights, Rand viewed our system as inherently unstable. In her words:
“A mixed economy has no principles to define its policies, its goals, its laws—no principles to limit the power of its government. The only principle of a mixed economy—which, necessarily has to go unnamed and unacknowledged—is that no one’s interests are safe, everyone’s interests are on the public auction block, and anything goes for anyone who can get away with it. Such a system—or, more precisely, anti-system—breaks up a country into an ever-growing number of enemy camps, into economic groups fighting one another for self preservation in an indeterminate mixture of defense and offense, as the nature of such a jungle demands. While politically a mixed economy preserves the semblance of law and order, economically it is the equivalent of the chaos that had ruled China for centuries: a chaos or robber gangs looting –and draining the productive elements of the country.”
When a question arises about whether stem cell research of the kind that Regenerative Sciences is doing should be regulated, think about all of the lobbying groups with their varying agendas and motivations that claim to have a stake in what the outcome is. Doctors, private corporations, researchers, patients, relatives of patients, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, religious opponents of scientific research, universities, political parties, and so on. Each group will immediately feel the urgent need to clamor for regulations and actions that will protect what they claim are the interests of some deserving group. Each group claims to have its own need for protection or concessions–which entail new restrictions or controls on others. No wonder lobbying is a multi-billion dollar industry! No wonder massive institutions like the FDA have expanded, in the face of these alleged high-priority claims! The upshot is a continual erosion of freedom in favor of regulation.
In all of this clamoring, legitimate questions get lost. Questions such as whether there is really a safety threat presented by these particular stem cell technologies (unclear), whether existing laws around fraud and product liability are already sufficient to protect patients’ rights (they are), whether there might be private groups or companies that can offer an independent evaluation of stem cell technology providers (try Googling it).
Instead, in a mixed economy, the pattern is that every problem looks like a nail and the hammer is always to increase regulation.
But surely there’s a limit to all the claims that might be raised and therefore some limit to the growth of regulation? Stay tuned for my next installment.
A lawsuit between the FDA and a medical technology company, Regenerative Sciences, has been getting attention recently. The company has pioneered a procedure (Regenexx-C) whereby a person’s own stem cells can be extracted and reinjected into his or her body to help repair damaged joints. The FDA argues that they have jurisdiction in this case because the stem cells are being extracted and manipulated via a technological process. They claim that as a result the stem cells themselves need to be regulated the way other medications are.
People are reacting with outrage, and rightly so, that this is a new expansion of governmental power that puts the FDA in control of what individuals do with parts of their own bodies.
While it’s encouraging to know that some Americans find the FDA’s arguments in this case to be ludicrous and to be a particularly offensive increase in the government’s intrusion into our lives, it’s dismaying to observe that the direction in cases like these always seems to be one of increasing regulatory power, never decreasing.
In the current case, the discussion is focused on whether and where the lines of FDA’s authority should be expanded (not shrunk). Should it be able to regulate drugs but not stem cells used in medical therapies? Should a drug be defined as something chemical and manufactured as opposed to something chemical and natural (such as stem cells)? How much manipulation is required for something to be considered a drug? And so on and so forth.
The answers always seem to push us in the direction of increasing levels of regulation. Once a precedent is set for regulating a sphere of human activity, the default becomes a growth in regulation. The pattern seems to be: if you’re not sure where the line should be drawn, better err on the side of regulation . . . just in case.
How does such a pattern become established? That’ll be the topic of my next post.
image: wiki commons
The Objectivist Academic Center is currently accepting applications for its Fall 2010 incoming class. Designed to provide a comprehensive and systematic study of philosophy, Objectivism and objective communication, this unique program is for those who are serious about advocating pro-reason, pro-individual rights, pro-capitalism views.
The program is especially designed for full-time college students, for whom there is next to no cost. Applications from professionals interested in pursuing careers as intellectual activists are also welcome.
For those who are not able to commit to a full program, the OAC offers an auditing option. Consider taking our “Seminar in Ayn Rand’s Philosophy of Objectivism.”
The final application deadline for this year is July 30.
As 2009 draws to a close, all of us at Voices for Reason wish you a festive and happy holiday season! Thank you for reading our commentary, and for sharing it with your friends, colleagues, or other contacts. We’ve appreciated all of your feedback and comments, and look forward to hearing more from you in 2010.
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Here’s an item of potential interest for college students who’d like to study Ayn Rand’s corpus and philosophical system. The Ayn Rand Institute is accepting applications for its 2010 Summer Internship Program. The program runs in June and July 2010 in Irvine, CA. This is a paid internship for bright students planning on an intellectual career and who are interested in studying the philosophical foundations of liberty, among other topics. The internship is one among several programs for college students including essay contests, a comprehensive educational program in Objectivism, and campus club support.