A Blind, Indifferent Juggernaut

As Independence Day approaches, and talk of the Boston Tea Party event and OCON heats up, I've been particularly enjoying the fact that I'm reading Ed Cline's Sparrowhawk again. If you ever need motivation and inspiration to step back and truly appreciate the meaning of July 4th, Sparrowhawk is the place you should go. I just started Book Six: War, and the foreword to this volume struck me as particularly timely.
The engine of tyranny is a blind, indifferent juggernaut, insensible to reason, justice and equity, and so necessarily inimical to them. It matters not the good intentions of the hand that launches it into the affairs of men. Once started, it moves almost of its own volition, corrupting, consuming and destroying everything in its path. It is a fundamentally nihilistic phenomenon. Its power is both centripetal and centrifugal, on one hand drawing its potency from that which it can corrupt; on the other, crushing or flinging aside the incorruptible.

The juggernaut of Parliamentary supremacy collided with the American colonies' incorruptible sense of liberty, which could be neither crushed nor flung aside. The result was a spectacular explosion: the American Revolution. That explosion was neither necessary nor foreordained. The colonies could have submitted to that supremacy, and existed for a time in a haze of semi-legality, occasional concession, and dependent prosperity. But British-Americans valued their liberty and were willing to claim it whole, come what may. Therefore, the clash between them and the legislative authority of Parliament could be postponed but never resolved. The colonials would not allow their claim to unabridged liberty to be corrupted. In the course of that political transfiguration, they became Americans.
We are seeing the war engine of tyranny chewing up what is left of our liberties on a daily basis now. Doug Reich just called it a "clumsy but swift campaign" straight out of Sun Tzu's Art of War.

Whereas the juggernaut of tyranny ran up against "the American colonies' incorruptible sense of liberty" two hundred and thirty years ago, it is now finding a relatively compliant and subservient American populace. The Tea Parties offer a spark of the fire that once raged in the colonies, but the question remains whether it is too little, too late, or too isolated in a swampland of irrationality to ignite an "incorruptible sense of liberty" in the minds of Americans today. Are there enough true Americans left, namely, those who understand and value unabridged liberty? (This is, and always will be, the fundamental definition of "American.")

Billy Beck has this to say about what is left of the American sense of life:
The spirit of this place that was not born of the slave's obesience [sic] will require this government to bare its fangs. I still believe that. The ways in which and the singular souls from which Americans select their values are not yet so beaten to any alien molds so well that they will peaceably stand for the conformations that this government will eventually require and demand -- not "ask".
The colonials refused to submit, and the Parliamentary juggernaut bared its fangs. Anyone who thinks our government wouldn't do the same is evading reality and the lessons of history. Such is the nature of any government that rules, because if you have rulers, you have people being ruled, and that means by force.

Beck goes on to say that things will likely have to get much worse before the breaking point is reached. I agree. But the "conformations that this government will eventually require and demand" don't seem that far off anymore. The campaign being waged against liberty is both very clumsy and shockingly swift -- the frightening prospect of a juggernaut traveling at 100 mph.

When thinking about the world I'll be leaving for my children, I used to think that they would be long gone and their great-great-grandchildren would be living their lives before this country might be unrecognizable as a bastion of liberty (at least more so than it is now), and that there was still plenty of time to reverse that course. Events of the past year have me reevaluating that assessment.

I haven't given up on the possibility of a rebirth of reason and a just government in my or my children's lifetimes, and will continue to strive for it and support others who do the same. Working to realize my values has benefits even when the odds seem poor. Perhaps one of the few bright spots in recognizing the nature of tyranny, and how it is at work today, is that history shows it can be stopped.

Update: (06/23/09) Revised closing paragraph.


Burgess Laughlin said...

What surprises me -- both as a citizen of the USA and as a student of history -- is not the rapidity of statism's advances but their slowness, considering that the statists have faced no radical, explicit, and coherent opposition in the main arena of debate.

Here is an excerpt from the Democratic Party platform of 1960 -- fifty years ago:
- It promises that if elected to power, Democratic administration "will reaffirm the economic bill of rights which Franklin Roosevelt wrote into our national conscience sixteen years ago."
- It promises many new "rights," but in particular the "right to adequate medical care" for all.

Statists have made a lot of "progress" in fifty years, but they still are struggling for control of the whole.

(The quotes come from Ayn Rand, "Man's Rights," The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 113, pb.)

Have conditions worsened in fifty years? Of course, but the "progress" of statism has been glacial -- relentless, all crushing, but relatively slow. To see quick degeneration look at the brief years of the Weimar Republic.

Only within the last few years -- and that thanks to The Ayn Rand Institute and many active individuals -- has qualified opposition begun to emerge in the main arena of debate.

In summary, what is surprising to me is how little the supernaturalists, mystics, altruists, and statists have accomplished in a culture armed only with partial and implicitly objective principles. When a fully armed pro-reason opposition bursts into the arena -- probably within the next few years, the terms and prospects of debate will change radically.

Cogito said...

Small typo: talk of OCON is heating up. The OAC ended for the summer a couple of weeks back.

C. August said...

Thanks, Cogito. I just fixed that strange typo.

C. August said...

Thanks for the historical perspective, Burgess, and I agree with you about the overall slow pace of statism, considering the nearly complete lack of a principled fight against it.

You mentioned the Democratic platform from 1960, and it is quite interesting that they advocated FDR's second bill of rights. But is there not a difference now, where Obama is in power and actually acting on all the pent up, corrupt ideas the Left has been yearning for, for so long?

It seems like the statist juggernaut is picking up speed. Do you see that as well? Or is it simply more of the same, in your view?

Doug Reich said...


That's a great observation.

It seems America lags Europe by about 20-50 years intellectually but I'm also surprised it's not worse by now.

I think that Ayn Rand and various classic liberal authors have managed to slow down statism in the United States.

I also think that post modernism's anti-intellectual trends ironically have slowed down statism. In other words, it's hard for even socialists to gain favor as it is too systematic. That's why we have the hybrid mixture of statism and freedom today. As someone told me, the philosophers are such subjectivists now that they will even teach Objectivism.

C. August said...

Perhaps, in the midst of the battle, I'm just feeling punch drunk, but even looking back 20 years to how poorly our country has been governed over that time (i.e. how individual rights have suffered), the last few months have a different quality than I recall at any other time. The statist faction in power is pushing very hard on all fronts and gaining significant ground, and the opposition is more weak-willed and unprincipled than I ever recall it being.

So are you (Doug and Burgess) saying that things really are not speeding up, or that it's but a blip in an larger, slower historical trend, or that it will collapse under its own corrupt weight? Or something else?

Burgess Laughlin said...

I see several issues here, for discussion. Two involve the Problem of Measurement, that is, how does one go about measuring social phenomena? (The classic example is deciding and proving which country has the most freedom.)

One issue is the amount of freedom. How does one measure that -- and for whom? For example, I have vastly more freedom today than did some people living in the USA in 1850. They were slaves and I am not. On the other hand, if I compare the most free individuals today to the most free individuals in 1850, then I have less freedom. (I would measure more and less here simply by enumeration: In 1850, I could hire or fire employees at will, and now I can't, etc.)

Another issue is the speed at which statism is moving. How does one measure that? I don't know. Speed of movement and extent of control are not the same. Perhaps, for example, if speed is a function of fundamentality of change across time, then maybe the 1910-1930s saw the most rapid advances in statism. Those advances were, so to speak, going from zero mph (no controls) to 30 mph, some controls. That is relatively worse than going from some controls at 30 mph (where the principle is already established and accepted) to adding more controls, at 40 mph.

What we can all agree on, I suspect, is the direction of change. I see no counter-moves in the legislative arena, as there were in past decades (deregulation of trucking, airlines; reduction of income tax rates; etc.) I know of not even a single effort in Congress to privatize any government function, abolish any taxes, or deregulate any industry. Every trend is moving toward more statism, without any mainstream opposition.

That could be depressing if one forgets that the political activities of today are the consequence of broader culture trends 20 or 30 years ago. What is encouraging is that the Objectivist movement which is just barely beginning to enter the mainstream arena is radical, coherent, consistent, and clear. If it continues growing it will have a stunning effect -- in about 20 or 30 years.

The Left -- in both forms, that is, conservatism and socialism -- is a zombie. No "new, big thing" has emerged from the Left since the post-modernist bubble popped.

Those are the reasons why I am more encouraged than at any time in the 47 years I have been studying Objectivism (as a part-timer and slow learner). We are on the verge of changing the terms of the debate -- radically. Once that happens, we will either be crushed violently, or we will see progress. I think the latter.