Beware of darkness

eclipse“The … Conservative is concerned, first of all, for the regeneration of spirit and character—with the perennial problem of the inner order of the soul, the restoration of the ethical understanding, and the religious sanction upon which any life worth living is founded. This is conservatism at its highest.” Russell Kirk

Do not be misled: Randian objectivism is not a conservative option, much less a Catholic option.

Objectivism supporters are everywhere these days filling the airwaves with their fluff. They follow Ayn Rand’s technique of presenting a ridiculous straw man, then their position. They sometimes present some false option like the one espoused here: Sanger or Rand a preposterous option like Himmler or Hitler (whom both Sanger and Rand admired.)

The person making the comment tries to force the belief that the choices are Margaret Sanger progressives or Ayn Rand conservatives (the last one an actual contradiction in terms.) Why trying to present Rand libertarians as a class to include all conservatives? The idea may be that muddling the options may be pro-life conservatives can be presented as being just as evil as pro-abortion progressives. In that fashion potential Catholics voters that are politically conservative can be convinced that there are no political options for them because both (false) choices are opposed to Church doctrine. Here’s the quote:

Neither Ayn Rand nor Margaret Sanger are going to be designated saints or doctors of the Church. That is because the views of those women were, and are, directly contrary to Church doctrine. Now would be a good time to stop providing their views the cover of “prudential judgment” and “conscience.” [1]

Central to this example is the case of Rand herself. Rand seriously misrepresents the history of ethics. Take for example Rand’s two alternative views in ethics: the first asserts moral knowledge is believed to come to us by mystical revelations from God. Then her assertion follows that moral principles are arbitrary conventions. The left has adopted that last view lately.

Ethics is falsely presented as something either irrational akin to superstition or as an arbitrary set of customs. Both choices are bogus. To reinforce Rand’s position she goes and sticks her own previous definition of ethics to Aristotle (he’s the author of something called Ethics isn’t he?)

Here comes the deformation: Rand says that Aristotle understands ethics as the habits and conduct of noble and wise people and she adds that he neglected to explain the reasons why noble and wise people adopted such rules.

For someone only partially formed in philosophy Rand’s sleight of hand looks brilliant. Yet the maneuver is just a crude ruse: Aristotle never thought that ethics were mere social customs. On the contrary in his Ethics he clearly presents ethical norms as ideals that can benefit any society: “Where no one wills to be wicked, no one fails to be blessed” (Ethics). Of course Rand never offers any reference or quotes any passages to support her outrageous conclusions but she manages to confuse the ignorant with that rubbish.

Normally objectivists are cultish and verbose, pretty much like the Jehovah’s Witnesses with a different lingo and a different leader. They display an abysmal incompetence in philosophical matters but because no one studies any philosophy anymore they manage to pass for “intellectuals” just like sloppy little Ayn did. The fact that her soporific books continue to be sold, studied, and even taught in some places is a testimony to the darkness of our age. The above is a gross caricature of the history of ethics, and Rand makes no effort to document her claims at all. Rand simply draws plausibility for her position by attacking straw men.

It is not hard to conclude that faithful Catholics should not waste our time with a philosophy that presents selfishness as a virtue. We don’t even need to be Christians to dismiss a priori something that contradicts one of the things that all classic philosophers agree with. But there’s the rub: objectivists are just like a Jehovah’s Witness trying to convince us that the Bible was not understood until they came along nineteen centuries after the fact. In the same fashion objectivists present their unnatural view of ethics as a revolutionary insight that no one ever was able to see until they came along.

In one of the last letters to his daughter, Marx noted his preoccupation with something he calls (paraphrased) “the survival of meta-historical values in the culture.” The story goes that he went to see a play (The Trojan Women by Euripides) and he was surprised that women among the audience would cry or become emotional. If every era’s mores are simply a construction derived from economic pressures and class struggle: Why should women of today be touched by a play written thousands of years ago? We know the reason but for Marx that was a torpedo hitting below the flotation line of dialectic materialism. He admitted in that letter that the problem had to be resolved or the whole thing was over.

Well, his life was over before he could solve the problem but none of his followers ever even noticed that passage of his letters. The proof is in the pudding… almost a century later we got Derrida.

Those meta-historical values in the culture are essentially Marx’s cloudy understanding of what Russell Kirk refers to as norms [2] and Aristotle presents as immanent virtues.

Today I publish this here to manifest my disdain for liberal thinking and this sort of trap appearing everywhere someone is trying to present the truth. This being my blog I am allowed to dismiss liberals for what they are: ignorant petulant rabble for the most part. In the forum where this was originally published liberals can insult but traditional conservatives cannot respond in kind. That kind of censorship is eventually noticed and readers vote with their feet. This is a mere observation and not wishful thinking on my part I hope the site grows in readership in spite of the insipid and confusing liberal comments. That kind of “neutrality” -learned from the legacy media- gives equal value to everything no matter how outrageous and that is precisely the root of the disease. Pope Benedict XVI made it clear in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate:

“What eclecticism and cultural leveling have in common is the separation of culture from human nature. Thus, cultures can no longer define themselves within a nature that transcends them, and man ends up being reduced to a mere cultural statistic. When this happens, humanity runs new risks of enslavement and manipulation. [3]

We can end up being fair to death in pursuit of a plural and “diverse” audience. That is the fatal error of many. Once the destroyers are in clarity is out and darkness ensues.


[1] Hell, Heaven, and Progressive Catholics, Samuel Gregg. Comment by a reader, Catholic Lane, 2011.

[2] Real progress consists in the movement of mankind toward the understanding of norms, and toward conformity to norms. Real decadence consists in the movement of mankind away from the understanding of norms, and away from obedience to norms. Russell Kirk, Enemies of the Permanent Things, 1969.

[3] Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 2009. Chapter 2, 26.

Published 24 June 2011.