Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount vs. America

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend doesn't disagree with the Sermon on the Mount.  I think we can agree on this.  She made it abundantly clear in her article, "Ayn Rand vs. America", which was published on the website of the Atlantic on 8/23/2011.  So it's not surprising to me that she disagreed with the views of Onkar Ghate that the government should not be permitted to interfere with economic activities.

And, she seems to consider it essential to her conception of America that there is a "preeminence of faith in the American consciousness."  If you  take a survey of people to find out what kind of morals they hold, this is more or less true.  The religious people are altruists and the non-religious people will not challenge the ideas of the Sermon on the Mount.  

There is an important debate to be made here and a question which must be asked:  What is the core ethic that has made America free and prosperous?  Was it Sermon on the Mount as Townsend suggests? She sums it up as, "We can only be free when we work together for the well-being of all Americans--including the least among us".  

It is my deeply held conviction that it was not.  Contrary to what a statistical poll on the beliefs of Americans would suggest, the Declaration of Independence contains the core ethic of the United States of America.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
This is nearly as opposite to the views of the Sermon on the Mount as you can get.  It holds that there is a right to *pursue* happiness.  This is not a right *to* happiness and recognizes that we must achieve it by our own actions.  To pursue happiness is to engage in industry, and that is to be secured by government.  Industry,  when applied to an individual person is defined simply as "systematic work or labor".  If we re-arrange the words, we arrive at this: The purpose of the government, is to protect the liberty of people to engage in their systematic work for the pursuit of their lives and happiness.

So was Ayn Rand against America?  Or was she more faithful to the principles that made the United States of America more free and more prosperous than any regulator or welfare statist who operates on the ethical premise of altruism?  The answer to the question requires a lot of diligent research, and an open enough mind that you can set aside your emotions long enough to hear what she actually had to say.

People say that Ayn Rand misunderstood the nature of life as a human being.  I don't think I understood it at all until I read her words on the matter.  In a nutshell, she argues:  Life requires self-interested action, action requires thought and rationality, thought is an individual process.  Nothing I can disagree with there.  For more details, see her essay, "The Objectivist Ethics".

Going into the social sphere, where men interact with other men, she defined and wrote voluminously on the topic of individual rights.  Similarly here, I feel more American with an understanding of these ideas.  In a nutshell, she argues: Man needs to be free to exercise the rational use of his faculty of reason, a right is a freedom to action, force compels a man to act against his judgment, the role of government is to prevent the initiation of force by individuals against other individuals, i.e. to protect individual rights. For more details, see her essay, "Man's Rights".

Her words are all there, and largely available for free, to anyone who might wish to assess for themselves which set of ideas are at the core of why America works as a country and prospers.  Why we are free.  Why we need freedom in the first place.  Is it freedom if the government can use force against you and deprive you of property when you haven't violated anyone else's rights?

Here is my challenge to anyone who thinks Ayn Rand is unamerican in her ideas: Read the Declaration of Independence again.  Decide for yourself what is more American:  The Sermon on the Mount or Ayn Rand.