‘Tis passing strange at first sight. Current discussion in Washington about capping deductions threatens to limit drastically the amount of private funds given to charities, non-profits and universities. Why isn’t anyone talking about this outside of Foundationland? Why doesn’t the political world seem to care?
OK, Foundationland and the universities are generally 95% Democrat, so you wouldn’t expect the Republicans to care. It’s a little harder to explain why Democratic politicians and political websites aren’t complaining loudly.
Even we bleeding-heart libertarians ought to be protesting, at least to show that we’re not Randians. We are always trying hard to show why the usual choice between Randian hyper-egoism and statist pseudo-idealism excludes a huge, libertarian-friendly middle ground.
Thank to Rand’s status as the popular face of libertarianism, the assumption is widespread that the libertarian soul, insofar as libertarians can be said to have a soul, is a selfish one. Even many non-Randian libertarians after all embrace the doctrine, going back to Mandeville, that private vices make public virtues. Everyone pursuing his/her own interests makes the world a better place, at lease in a purely materialistic sense. The common good is nothing but the sum of private interests. A critic of this view might remark, and with justice, that it’s too bad the greatest good to the greatest number seems to require bad behavior from everyone. That the only way to serve the human race is to give up on idealism and to serve yourself. The reaction of the neutral observer will be: Really? Since when is any society better off because everyone is behaving selfishly?
An excellent point. It shows why the first society dominated by free enterprise values, that of England in 18th century, produced the morally defective philosophy of utilitarianism.
Here’s a question: does market liberalism lead ineluctably to utilitarianism? Or to ask the question a different way, is John Galt the only possible product of a libertarian society? If the state is brought under strict limits, as the founding fathers intended, and if citizens are allowed a maximum of liberty, including economic liberty, does that necessarily lead to a hyper-selfish individualism, a spiritual poverty, an end to idealism?
This is the lie we hear every day from statists, a subtle lie since it is never stated in so many words. It is merely implied that if you prefer a free economy, it must be for selfish reasons. If you don’t want to turn over half your income to the government for it to be ‘redistributed’ (i.e. used to pay for wars and professional busybodies, i.e. bureaucrats), it must because you have alternative, ‘selfish’ purposes in mind.
The lie is subtle, but at the same time it shows an astonishing ignorance of human nature and human history. The only way that human beings can be idealistic is if the government is the focus of their idealism? There is no idealism in religions, in sport, in private charities, in the Boy Scouts, in the Masonic Lodges, YMCAs, the Salvation Army, and thousands more such associations in civil society?
But the objection socialists have to such organizations is not that they are not idealistic in the required sense, of wanting to serve others. The problem is who the idealists are and the principles on which they act. From the statist point of view, the problem with non-state charities is that they are run by amateurs. They have no scientific knowledge of politics and other social sciences. They are not part of what H. G. Wells called the Open Conspiracy, the unspoken, often unconscious desire of socialists to control others and advance the Enlightenment project.
Open Conspirators want to create a Cosmopolis controlled by soi-disant intellectuals who base the legitimacy of their rule, like Plato’s philosopher-kings, on their superior scientific knowledge. In effect, they want to monopolize idealism for themselves; the worker-bees exist only to pay the taxes and to be taken care of by the state. This is why the left of the Democratic Party is delighted to cripple private charities in the US via the new tax legislation. Open Conspirators want to destroy enemy cultures such as religions and (eventually) nation-states to build their Cosmopolis. The universalist religion of multiculturalism is not so much intended to allow many cultures to flourish in peace together (an admirable goal) as to destroy the dominance of particular cultures in particular places. For them, that‘s bad, because a religion, if truly believed and acted on, is a site of resistance to Cosmopolis.
Some libertarians – the less thoughtful ones in my view – may well want a Randian world of egoistic individuals, but what libertarians as a whole want is to prevent a government takeover of civil society (in this respect agreeing with communitarians). They want people to be free to pursue their own idealisms, not be forced into idealisms chosen for them by bureaucrats and politicians. Noting the poor track-record of the state in protecting us from ourselves, they prefer to choose their own foods — or their own poisons if they like — make their own judgments about dangers to the environment, decide themselves how to spend their means on the needy, on the arts, on the common good.
Worse, statists fail to appreciate that the ‘hyperselfish’ Randian character they so deplore is in fact their own creation. It was the hypertrophy of the state during the early 20th century, with its ambitions to dominate every aspect of life, to create Soviet Man, that led to the perversion of human nature represented by the hyper-selfish kind of libertarian. John Galt is the mirror image of – an extreme reaction to — Soviet Man. But in the world of free minds and free markets advocated by libertarians, a world where bureaucrats were no longer bent on taking away personal liberty, the Randian character, perhaps, would wither away.