Tag Archives | Leonard Peikoff

The Hush of Charlottesville

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This summer’s violent clashes, climaxing with a neo-Nazi’s recent murder of a protestor in Charlottesville, Virginia, highlight the false left-right division destroying the nation’s political discourse. A desperately needed debate over the government’s proper role has been replaced by mindless assaults, grunts and rants between warring tribes — an anonymous band of anarchists, Marxists, transgendered, Moslems, feminists and multiculturalists versus a band of Nationalist Socialists, traditionalists, Christians, racists and nativists — bringing what Leonard Peikoff subtitled his great study The Ominous Parallels, “the end of freedom in America”, closer. If you really want to know why both left and right are destroying America, read The Ominous Parallels. If you prefer the great novel, read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

First, much of the horror over what happened in Charlottesville strikes me as insincere. If you value life, you’re rightly horrified that the young woman in Charlottesville was murdered by a car driven by a Nazi. However, you were also horrified when an innocent American in Barcelona was mowed down by a vehicle driven by an Islamic terrorist days later, too. Why the glaring disparity in public expressions of horror? I think it’s because Islamic terrorist attacks murdering Americans are accepted by most Americans as common and normal. Why does a Nazi’s murder elicit outrage while a jihadist’s murder does not? Or, for conservatives, vice versa? That’s the vicious cycle; those on the left, who dominate today’s major businesses and media, deny and downplay wrongdoing on the left and among their favored tribes, such as Moslems. So do those on the right, who deny and downplay wrongdoing on the right and among their favored tribes, such as Christians. Both should consistently and persistently defend the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Some on both sides do to the extent possible with mixed premises.

But, in general, those on the left and the right do not. I think this leads both to today’s deep, tense political disunity and also to the pervasive sense of sameness, the maddening status quo that Donald Trump claims to oppose (i.e., “drain the swamp”) which actually makes an anti-intellectual leader of his low caliber possible and which he, in fact, supports (see his continuation of Obama policies on ObamaCare, such as community rating and guaranteed issue, the Iran deal and, last week, more endless war with yet more troops in Afghanistan). This is my second point — that, as families and friends, conservatives and liberals, colleagues and teammates are divided over a range of issues, the state gains more power over the life of the individual. (Again, read Leonard Peikoff’s brilliant book, The Ominous Parallels, about pre-Nazi Germany to learn why). Voters for Trump and Obama may fight in the streets, forums and media threads but on fundamental issues, such as health care as a right or Snowden as a traitor, Obama and Trump loyalists agree. As they do, the government spreads more of the same.

This goes to my third point. Here, I invoke this moment in American history as the hush of Charlottesville; a kind of national silence and suppression as the public essentially stops speaking the thoughts on their minds. This is extremely dangerous. As I argued when I endorsed Starbucks‘ idea for a national discourse on race, the fragmented nation needs more speech, not less. Banning Nazis from dating apps, as OKCupid recently did, banning “hate music” from music apps, as Spotify recently did, and supporting groups that persecute the individual for exercising free speech, as Apple recently did when endorsing the Southern Poverty Law Center, which persecutes secular feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and former Islamic jihadist Maajid Nawaz for denouncing Islam on principle, discourages exercise of free speech, though certainly as private companies they have the right to such actions.

Look at what happened to the Starbucks campaign, which was attacked by both the leftists and the conservatives. Anti-Starbucks leftists and anti-Starbucks conservatives came together to denounce a free speech exercise initiative. The result is widespread silence among reasonable people who think they can’t get a decent hearing and more inflammatory speech, including by the inflammatory president (again imitating his inflammatory predecessor), and, worse, initiation of the use of force on both sides. The left, especially Communists and anarchists, has a long history of trying to destroy the U.S. government, from assassinating presidents to riots whether attacking President Truman, the Standard Oil Building or Carnegie Steel with anarchists, Puerto Rican terrorists or the Unabomber. So, too, does the right, from assassinating President Lincoln to blowing up a federal building in Oklahoma City and abortion clinics with Confederates, Christian terrorists, and various misanthropes. The worst monsters in history, from Charles Manson and the Rev. Jim Jones to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, spawn from the left. But both sides seek government control and are fundamentally wrong.

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I do not digress. Leftist U.S. political strategy and tactics, I know firsthand and this originates with the New Left, is systemized to initiate the use of lower levels of force, such as throwing rocks at police and others they oppose, in order to provoke greater acts of force in defense or counter-offense. As we’ve seen with the vile, racist thugs of the right, followed by the president’s outrageous equivocation, the right responds to the use of force with the use of force. So, the cycle disrupts civil law and not in some benign display of civil disobedience. The use of force as a means of resolving disputes becomes more common. Judges are shot (the most recent by a rapist’s father in Ohio). A left-wing terrorist from Illinois attempts this summer to assassinate members of Congress. The assault on Dallas police, too, which murdered five police officers, is committed by a racist who’d cited Black Lives Matter and says he sought to kill white policemen.

Police, legislators and judges are crucial to the proper role and function of the United States government. At the same time, government officials such as President Trump and San Franciso’s mayor and police chief make reckless statements which exacerbate tensions, leading to more destruction of private property and bloodshed, as happened before with Obama and the first Bush. In this sense, the false left-right dichotomy is especially damaging and dangerous. Contrary to the left’s hyperbole in the aftermath of the murder at Charlottesville, however, the gravest danger lies not in the racism expressed in exercises of free speech and free association, which is relatively rare and was widely denounced. Leaving aside the deficiency of Charlottesville’s government in protecting the public and preventing the murder, the greatest danger lies in the silence that follows our deepening divisions. It precedes worse outbursts to come.

An orthodox Jew opposed to the Trump administration recently wrote about this self-imposed silence, this soft censorship, in Forward (read the essay here). Those on the right, too, undoubtedly know in a hardened, pompous and cynical culture dominated by New Left orthodoxy why one might feel compelled to go silent. But, to paraphrase the gay community’s anti-AIDS slogan, silence in this tense, national post-Charlottesville hush ultimately equals death. Conservatives and leftists alike, and, of course, those of us Objectivists and like-minded Americans for rights, reason and capitalism who are the true liberals, must speak up and strive under the most difficult circumstances to engage in rational discourse as often as possible. Going silent now, as the left and right resort to murder, masked destruction and radical plans for their respective forms of religious totalitarianism is the worse thing one can do. (For a preview of what horror may result from your silence, read religious conservatives’ anti-gay, anti-contraceptive Nashville Statement, a kind of pre-theocratic companion piece to the New Left’s Port Huron Statement — which condemns, for instance, “sexually immoral behavior” and affirms, for instance, “obedience to Christ”).

The more you exercise your absolute right to free speech — which is not a right to initiate the use of force, block traffic and violate the law — today, the less likely there’s murder, mayhem and dictatorship tomorrow. Americans must break the hush of Charlottesville and start speaking up and speaking out, especially with those with whom one disagrees. In a few weeks, as the University of California at Berkeley is scheduled to host conservative speakers on campus, the silence will be tested. If America still stands for liberty, the hush will be breached in peace with voices exercising free speech. In the meantime, to make sense of the world, as always, I urge every adult to read The Ominous Parallels and Atlas Shrugged.

New Title, Art for Peikoff’s First Book

TCOHGOn November 25, Penguin gives a new title, cover art (pictured here) and author’s preface to Leonard Peikoff’s brilliant first book, The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America.

The book, The Cause of Hitler’s Germany, is an exhaustive philosophical study of what caused Nazi Germany. As the publisher’s new promotional material promises, Dr. Peikoff examines self-sacrifice, Oriental mysticism, racial “truth,” the public good and doing one’s duty—seductive catchphrases that circulated in Weimar Germanyand he demonstrates how unreason and collectivism led a seemingly civilized society to become Nazi Germany. Peikoff, who grew up in western Canada, lives in southern California and teaches a writing course in which I am enrolled, worked closely with Ayn Rand for 30 years. The preeminent Rand scholar and estate heir taught philosophy at Hunter College and New York University. Here, he offers a breathtaking comparative study and analysis of the rise of fascism in the United States. This was the first book by an Objectivist author other than Rand that I read and I found it utterly absorbing, like taking an intellectual odyssey in a style distinctly different from Rand’s non-fiction in the form of a cogent and captivating lesson in the modern history of philosophy culminating in the Nazi atrocities while ingeniously integrating what the author warns is the impending meltdown of the New Left. I was fascinated to learn that most Germans possessed, read and accepted Hitler’s Mein Kampf and to see how the ideas of Schopenhauer, Hegel and Kant continue to spread and influence the world around me. Philosopher and podcaster Peikoff, who was Ayn Rand’s long-time associate, has written two other books, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand and The DIM Hypothesis: Why the Lights of the West Are Going Out.

This volume includes the original introduction by Rand, who endorsed The Cause of Hitler’s Germany as “[a] truly revolutionary idea…. Clear, tight, disciplined, beautifully structured, and brilliantly reasoned.”

A Brilliant Speech

Leonard Peikoff delivered a speech that changed my life 20 years ago today.

His talk was titled “Health Care is Not a Right”. I was in the audience at the Red Lion Hotel in Costa Mesa, California, when he delivered it. I can attest that Dr. Peikoff, his speech and the audience response were a breathtakingly brilliant exercise in objective communication. What made the speech exceptionally powerful was his mastery of the extremely difficult subject, his radical theme, understanding his audience, the context of the presentation and its stirring delivery.

I had been acquainted with the trials of working in medicine. I knew firsthand that Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), created by government control through the HMO Act of 1973 by Nixon and Ted Kennedy, were ruining people’s lives and livelihoods and that – other than Ayn Rand, who had passionately argued against government-run medicine including Medicare – only one serious intellectual had made a moral case against socialized medicine. I’d read Dr. Peikoff’s ingenious “Medicine: The Death of a Profession” (1985), based on his speech at Ford Hall Forum in Boston. His explanation had opened my eyes to the spreading bureaucracy of socialized medicine and alerted me to the fact that the emerging new jargon was to be questioned, challenged and not taken lightly and that to do less was to sanction the insidious creep of dictatorship.

When Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, vowing to offer “health care that can never be taken away”, I knew that meant individual rights that will instantly be stripped away; the right of the doctor to practice medicine, the right of the drug company to make and sell drugs, the right of the health insurance company to assess, measure and price risk, terms and treatment – and of course the right of the patient, policyholder and individual to choose his or her own health care including whether to own a policy. I knew that medicine was, as a profession, dead or dying and I knew that President Clinton’s “health security” was a monstrous ideal. An organization started as a grass-roots effort to stop it and invited Dr. Peikoff to address its Town Hall Meeting on this date in 1993.

There were conservatives, libertarians and others among the speakers. The Red Lion’s ballroom as I recall was packed with hundreds of people from across southern California. I saw and talked to people who were truck drivers, waitresses, families, businessmen, entrepreneurs, medical professionals, doctors, nurses, housewives – all Americans uniting against the prospect – which we’d been told was imminent – of total government control of medicine. Several people spoke, some droned on. None made a moral case for capitalism. Then, Leonard Peikoff stepped to the podium.

He was electrifying. With passion, vigor and reason, like a surgeon cutting with precision, he railed against the premise of the Clinton health care plan. His argument that health care is not a right was an undeniably concise, clear case yet its thesis was framed with an unmistakable reverence for life, liberty and the founding American ideals. I was first on my feet as I rose amid the thundering applause and saw in my peripheral vision the audience rise in a kind of wave – row after row after row – while applauding in an explosion of energy I’ve not seen since. I was fixed on the face of Dr. Peikoff. He was clearly moved by the response.

I think I had known then that he was the son of a doctor, that he had once been a pre-medical student and that his brother was a doctor. I, too, had loved ones who worked in medicine. I think I appreciated how personal this issue – freedom versus slavery in medicine – must have been for the speaker. I became emotional, feeling an intense swell which comes from knowing that someone you love is under siege by those who seek to put him in chains. I thought it was just me … until I looked around. Tears were streaming from people’s faces. The feeling in the hall was not fear, pain or guilt. It wasn’t exactly anger, though a strong sense of justice had been evoked. It struck me as a response based on an overwhelming sense of justice – the feeling was an affirmation: this is good, right and just – mostly matched by a strong sense of resolve.

I was later hired to write about the Clinton health care plan for the group that sponsored Dr. Peikoff’s talk, Americans for Free Choice in Medicine (AFCM). We helped to stop the plan, which was killed before it was even proposed as legislation. It wasn’t as easy as that and the effort was an enormously fast and constant stream of disseminating facts and evaluations. Looking back 20 years later, I credit Dr. Peikoff’s “Health Care is Not a Right,” which, it must be noted, was not sponsored by any Objectivist group or anything with Ayn Rand’s – or Peikoff’s – name on it, with propelling the crusade against the Clinton health care plan. The talk’s brilliantly integrated abstractions and concretizations are logical, rational and very persuasive. It provided high-octane fuel to ignite the moral passion of those opposed to government control. It bought us time to win over men such as Wyoming Sen. Malcolm Wallop among others, including some who later formed alliances such as the Tea Party-oriented Freedom Works and it allowed groups such as the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) to spread Objectivism.

It is impossible to convey the sense of doom that hung over the country’s medical profession during those days. The Clinton health care plan was inevitable, we were incessantly told. And many believed it. The most ardent believers were on the right. Only one man stepped forward first to declare that the notion that health care is a right is a moral abomination. He did it 20 years ago today. That we as a movement can even conceive of calling the nation’s 3-year-old dictate ObamaCare – which at once names the dictator and mocks his dishonesty – and steadfastly fight for its repeal is possible thanks to Leonard Peikoff.

It is true that we’re losing the battle for freedom. ObamaCare is law. Today, Republicans compromised again in favor of the welfare state. One of the chief Republican welfare-statists, a smooth-talking, mealy-mouthed conservative congressman from Georgia named Tom Price, went on Fox News today and answered, after evading Charles Krauthammer’s question whether health care is a right, that conservatives hold that the government has a moral obligation to provide health care to all. That the question is even asked – in a forum on Fox News Channel, which didn’t exist 20 years ago – owes to the power of a rational philosophy. We should be grateful to Leonard Peikoff for interpreting, advancing and acting on it. We should finish what he started.