Atlas Ideas - Your Brain on Unity; Q&A on Altruism & Strife

The Atlas Society's picture
Submitted by The Atlas Society on Sat, 2009-01-31 00:42

Atlas Ideas - Your Brain on Unity; Q&A on Altruism & Strife

Your Brain on Unity
By Edward Hudgins

January 30, 2009 - President Barack Obama took office promoting the need for the country in general-and policy-makers in particular-to overcome petty differences and to unify to solve the nation's serious problems.

But all differences are not petty. Surely anyone who truly wants to make the country better will need to define what, exactly, "better" is and to ask what the best means are to get there.

House Republicans asked some of these questions and showed rare unity in the week following Obama's inauguration by voting against the $819 billion "stimulus" package. Even though it was supposed to create jobs and launch an economic recovery, all 177 Republicans, joined by 11 Democrats, opposed it. For almost any proposed bill each party usually can peel off at least a few votes from the other. Not so in this case.

The bill still passed with 244 votes, and you can bet that Obama will sign it into law as soon as the House and Senate can unite on one package.

So did the Republicans vote "nay" in unison for petty reasons? Or to embarrass the new president? Or to commit further political suicide by seeming to be insensitive to the plight of Americans, even as Obama soars with a nearly 70 percent approval rating?

Many Republicans rightly observed that the $750 billion Bush bailout bill, which many of them reluctantly and unfortunately supported last year, did little to stop the economic downturn. Further, many recipients used those taxpayer dollars to line their own pockets as their companies declined further: that's wealth appropriation, not wealth creation.

Many Republicans observed that there is no evidence that the current bailout will do any better than the first one and that many of the package's proposed projects will only start years in the future. That's hardly a way to immediately create jobs.

Many Republicans worried about future inflation and other adverse economic consequences of this spending.

Many Republicans pointed out that the new bailout is full of pork, special handouts, and socialistic and market-restricting measures that will limit individual liberty in the long-run and be difficult to undo. The Wall Street Journal on January 28 called the package "A 40-Year Wish List" for including $1 billion for the government's Amtrak trains (that have lost nearly a billion a year for four decades); $2 billion for child-care; $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, and on and on. You get the picture.

And some Republicans might point to the full-page ad on the same day in The New York Times, placed by the Cato Institute, which included a statement denouncing such spending. It was signed by hundreds of economists, including Nobel Prize winners uniting in disunity with the administration's proposal.

In the face of the stimulus package, the Republicans seem to reject the call for unity in favor of using their brains, for a change, to ask about the consequences of the package they're asked to vote for. It might seem like they are pointing out important facts that the Democrats haven't thought about or considered fully. But that would not necessarily be an accurate analysis.

Obama and most Democrats surely know that this package might or might not help the economy in the short-run but it certainly will advance the statist agenda they've been pushing for decades. They know it will replace the freedom of individuals to run their own lives and spend their own money with the rule of arrogant, self-styled elites.

That's why the rush to push the package through Congress so quickly, before its real intentions and effects can be exposed. And that's why the rhetorical emphasis on unity.

"Unity" in this context means that defenders of freedom should go along to get along, that is, to surrender their principles and their independent judgment for the sake of-what?...the short-term approval of some of those who will be the victims of foolish policies in the long-term, policies that the victims will come to hate them for?...the approval of politicians who reject their ideals and would prefer that they shut up about them?

In 1965 Ayn Rand gave a speech entitled "The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus," followed in 1967 by "The Wreckage of the Consensus." In the former essay she discussed the nature of a mixed economy, which is what we have had for years and what should get the blame for our current economic mess rather than the non-existent unregulated free market.

She then wrote, "It is clear what sort of unity (of consensus) that game requires: the unity of a tacit agreement that anything goes, anything is for sale (or 'negotiation'), and the rest is up to the free-for-all of pressuring, lobbying, manipulating, favor-swapping, public-relation'ing, give-and-taking, double-crossing, begging, bribing, betraying."

What an accurate description of how Washington works today and of a system that creates the disunity of an eternal power struggle.

For most of the past eight years too many Republicans-and moderate Democrats as well-placed themselves in bondage to the idiotic mixed economy impulses of George W. Bush, impulses that grew the government, expanded its power, and then handed it over to the Democrats who are the real pros at running other people's lives. Now as they are rubbing their wrists where those bonds used to be, these politicians who should have known better face the possibility of a new set of even heavier chains. Heeding the call for "unity" means binding themselves voluntarily and surrendering our freedom in the process.

Retaining their own independent judgment has at least given them and us a small chance to resist the further erosion of our liberties and to set the stage for us to regain the freedom we have lost. Let's be thankful that Republicans have at long last taken a stand for what they should have stood for all along. And let's remind them and anyone else who might be seduced by the word "unity" that this is a call to shut down our brains and to guarantee our enslavement.
Hudgins is executive director and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.

For further reading:

Ayn Rand, "The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus" and "The Wreckage of the Consensus" in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.

Edward Hudgins, "Will America Unite in One Obama?" December 29, 2008.

Thomas explains why altruism causes strife

William Thomas, TAS director of programs, answers questions on Objectivism that come in through our website. This week's is:

Altruism - Does being your brother's keeper cause strife?

A questioner asks for examples supporting the Objectivist assertion that throughout history wars and bloodshed have been caused because of the ideal of being your brother's keeper. Will Thomas shows that there is no shortage of examples of carnage causes by the self-sacrifice philosophy.

The Atlas Society website contains over 170 questions and answers about Objectivism. You can view them all or ask your own question by visiting our Q&A section.

The Atlas Society: The Center for Objectivism

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Misplaced negative/ otherwise, kudos

Ellen Stuttle's picture


But all differences are not petty.

You meant: But not all differences are petty.

Can that be fixed, or is the essay in print multiple places?

Another area (along with J H-N's suggestions) where it's timely to expend effort is in encouraging the growing questioning amongst the scientific community of the desirability of government funding of research. The misexpenditure and the hoaxery involved in the AGW scare is becoming understood by increasing numbers of scientists and is leading them to an awareness that their professional standards are in jeopardy with government funding.


The irony of all of this is

James Heaps-Nelson's picture

The irony of all of this is that the current big government intervention will and has disproportionately hurt those big government advocates say they want to help: the poor, the poorly educated, middle class Americans with mortgages or nearing retirement, those with preexisting medical conditions etc. There is no free lunch and to the extent that people have voted for and advocated for big government controls: brother you asked for it.

To everyone else, stay out of debt, stay liquid, limit your exposure to housing, health care and higher education expenditures if possible and embrace the newest technologies. Big government mostly cares about businesses that are currently making big money.

Also, for all of the liberal pillorying of big oil, Exxon put in a remarkable year, highest profits ever, anticipation of oil price declines and concomitant modest production investments in the new environment: amazing and bravo!



Ross Elliot's picture

"The only choices the U.S. government has are about how fast it will happen and whether it will happen in the U.S. or elsewhere."

True, James. Atlas is Shrugging, and not in a good way. Volatility is the order of the day, and the US has made itself impotent to address the problem. Rome is proving to be more of a lesson than I thought it would be.

For examples of bright

James Heaps-Nelson's picture

For examples of bright spots, look at and This is our future.


We need this kind of

James Heaps-Nelson's picture

We need this kind of principled opposition to the current statist nightmare. However, we also need to look to tactical opportunities and focus on what we can do. The real killers and have been Sarbanes-Oxley, global trade restrictions, biotechnology regulation, internet regulation and immigration restrictions. I see real opportunities to sway moderate Democrats and even Obama on these issues. The Republican party is hopelessly backward when it comes to technology and the Democrats are already going to shove big government down our throats.

The important part of our economy is yet to be created. New biotech diagnostics such as second generation DNA sequencers, genome analyzers; new wireless and mobile computing applications, next generation databases will be created. This will be done regardless of what the U.S. government does. The only choices the U.S. government has are about how fast it will happen and whether it will happen in the U.S. or elsewhere.


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