Letters to the Editor: December 10, 2005
The Immigration Debate, Old and New
I just read your article on immigration and agree very much with your assessments, both as to the political hay that's being made with it and the best solution to the "problem," if the rhetoric can ever be toned down. Unfortunately, the way things are headed now there will be a big fence or a wall built before our politicians understand the full implications of their current unworkable policy.
Although the concern among right-wing Republicans right now seems to be with illegals from Mexico, it's not always been that way. Before 9/11 changed the nation's course, Tom Tancredo and Richard Lamm held a joint press conference to push Tancredo's bill to reduce legal immigration by two-thirds, from 1,000,000 to 300,000 annually. They weren't even talking about illegals then but touched sensitive nerves anyway.
I'm sending along the 8/9/01 Rocky article by John Sanko in case you missed it.
Dave Bishop, November 29, 2005
John Sanko, "Ex-Gov. Lamm, Tancredo urge immigration moratorium; Denver Hispanic activist characterizes proposal as racist,"Rocky Mountain News, August 9, 2001: "Former Gov. Dick Lamm and congressman Tom Tancredo joined... in blaming immigration for many of Colorado's and the nation's growth problems. The two held a joint news conference at the state Capitol to urge support for a bill Tancredo introduced last week seeking a five-year moratorium on immigration into the United States. It eventually would reduce total immigration from 1 million to 300,000 a year... 'We must stop this massive flow into our country or we will see irreversible damage done to our economic and social resources,'' Tancredo warned..."
God and Government
I am the questioner from the audience who asked Richard [Ebeling, president of the Foundation for Economic Education] about the importance of the Creator in the Declaration of Independence. I was nearly completely satisfied with his answer. Frankly, I didn't think he went far enough. I think the idea of God is absolutely essential to the essence of the Declaration.
Your critique is quite lengthy and I shall not try to answer point for point. I concede that you are well read and learned and make some good arguments. I think your strongest case is at the end of the critique: "Objectivists see the "Creator" in the Declaration of Independence basically as a proxy for natural law."
What exactly is natural law? Is natural law that curious animal behavior that I see everywhere in nature around me of the strong preying on the weak? Is natural law quantum mechanics and thermodynamics? Is it strictly the hard sciences or is there also a social element. Needless to say, when I see Creator in the Declaration I pretty much think Jefferson (et al) were referring to God. I don't see a proxy to natural law.
So here is where I was trying to get to with my question.
Our society (and many other democracies around the world) has decided it's a good idea to surrender the monopoly use of force to the government (except in cases of self-defense). We have also decided that government should protect the individual rights of everyone, including the weak against the strong. I think that's not too controversial. Here is where the "fun" comes in.
One of the best argued cases for a strong, redistributionist government that I've read goes like this: Ownership can only be defined as that which you can control. If you don't control it, then you don't own it. Imagine a time long ago without government for a moment. If you are a 140lb weakling and a 350 pound giant comes along and takes your knife and you cannot get it back then you no longer "own" it. He does. You could say "give it back" and he might say "who's going to make me? You and which army?" And if you lack an army, then you will no longer "own" the knife. Is this an element of natural law? It doesn't yet matter if it does or it doesn't. We're still working on the liberal version of government.
Now fast forward to the present day. The giant may take your possessions but now you have some legal recourse: you can call the police and have them find the man and return your stuff (sort of like having your own army). Or you can take the man to court for restitution (again, like having your own army). But according to the liberal, you still don't truly 'own' your property because you had to rely on the government to retain control. So you only 'own' it because the government has basically allowed you to control it. They could just as easily decide not to recover your stolen property or enforce the laws against big guys taking stuff from little guys. So your supposed "ownership" basically rests on the whims of the government (or the voting populace) who acted as an enforcer for you.
Now, if man has simply descended from a common ancestor to the ape and lives according to natural law (still unsure of what natural law is), he is only bounded by the laws he sets for himself. After all, man is part of nature (in Ayn Rand's world, man is the center of nature) so whatever man decides is considered part of the natural way, isn't it? Of course he cannot repeal the law of gravity, but that's not what we're after. Society can simply change the definition of what it means to own something and can run roughshod over the whole idea of private property. Perhaps we're sliding into a new realm of the concept of ownership from "what you control" to "how you use it" (think of the Kelo decision -- why should we allow someone to own a nice chunk of property if they're not going to properly develop it?).
So if man lives according to natural law and not God's law, then where are the limits on our laws? The Judeo-Christian foundation of laws (coupled with a healthy dose of Greek philosophy) at least gives us a nice starting point. We have Moses's 10 Laws plus Christ's big two: love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul and love your neighbor as yourself. Don't worry about Moses's other 603 laws -- no one pays much attention to them anymore anyway. Let's just agree on his 10. Man's laws should respect these laws. Okay okay, let's leave out the laws instructing us to worship only one God and putting no gods before Him and not taking His name in vain and keeping holy the Sabbath. I don't want to live in a theocracy just as you don't.
So if a new Declaration were written, would it go like this?
We hold these truths to be mostly correct at least within the error bars of human knowledge accumulated up to this point of history, that all humans should be treated as equal before the laws we create, that they are endowed by the fact that they have evolved from the common ancestor to the monkey with certain rights which we have granted for ourselves that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as long as those rights are used in a manner approved of by said government. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, but retaining ultimate ownership over all property in the land, due to the fact of government's ultimate authority not least of which is the monopoly use of force. Etc., etc., etc.
Sounds sort of hollow doesn't it? Of course I'm being facetious, but my point is pretty plain to see: humans get into all sorts of problems on our own and we need to acknowledge a higher power to keep us on the right path.
If you want to live in an atheist country, Russia has already run the experiment and China and North Korea are working on it.
Perhaps a better example would be present-day Europe with their rampant secularism. Then again, they have very strong Christian roots which cannot be completely ignored, but I think they're working on it. I don't get to Europe very often but from what I understand they seem to have little problem taking people's property. An atheist friend of mine says on the whole he would much rather live in a Christian country than one with any other religion: atheist, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, etc.
Wouldn't you admit that Christianity works pretty well for democracies?
The real question is: is it necessary? I argue that acknowledgement of a higher power is essential. And it is good to live in a country that acknowledges God rather than one which acknowledges Allah.
Ari Armstrong Replies
Thank you for your letter.
Your basic error is to regard subjectivism as the only alternative to mysticism (and skepticism as the only alternative to faith). The possibility that you leave out is an objective morality based on reality and reason. The standard Objectivist literature describes the false alternative you describe, and its remedy. For instance, I'm currently reading Craig Biddle's excellent book, Loving Life, and he has a good explanation of the issue.
Leonard Peikoff gave a lecture and is working on a book about that idea that, with respect to integration, there are generally three possibilities. "Misintegrators" try to build principles based on some (alleged) supernatural or transcendent realm, not reality. "Disintegrators" reject such rationalizations and, like your atheist friend, become skeptics and subjectivists. "Integrators" believe that there is one reality, and they build principles, including moral principles, based on reality, using reason.
It is both wrong and harmful to believe in a supernatural "higher" power that does not, in fact, exist. The history of Christianity is characterized by war, violence, and severe oppression. It is only when the West began to re-adopt the reality-based philosophy of Aristotle, and Christianity began to lose its grip, that a political philosophy and practice of individual rights started to develop. Of course, many Christians (and deists -- Jefferson rejected the religion of Paul) advocate individual rights, but I would argue (with Peikoff) that this is in spite of, not because of, their religion.
The essential characteristic of Communism is NOT atheism, but collectivism. Collectivism essentially seeks to replace the supernatural realm with a "transcendent" society. While Christianity calls for sacrifice to God, Communism calls for sacrifice to the collective. Neither provides an objective basis for morality.
I'm glad you asked the question at the FEE event, for it gave Richard Ebeling a chance to describe his justification for liberty -- and it gave me a chance to respond to him.
-Ari Armstrong, December 7, 2005
Mike Jennison Replies
But what is natural law? You say that "integrators" believe there is one reality and they build principles based on reality using reason. Sounds great. Except that our understanding of reality is flawed (we do not and cannot know everything) and our reasoning faculties are flawed as well (again, there is no perfect knowledge).
So mankind uses a flawed knowledge of reality and less-than-perfect reasoning faculties to construct a document that lays out the basis for society. That's great. However, what happens when we err? Such as Kelo. Or it could be worse, collectivism in which the individual means much less than the whole.
Has there ever been a society based on reason alone? The ancient Greeks? I suppose you read Plato's Republic and the society described by him (through Socrates). Sounds like a great place, eh? The children getting snatched away from their parents and raised in a communal style and those who have a strong mind, body and character as the only leaders. Nice place.
Couldn't the Objectivists meet the Christians half way? Isn't there room for an acknowledgement on your part that man is less than perfect and needs to recognize a higher power to keep him in line? And shouldn't Christians acknowledge that reason can, and must, play a part in ethics and morality and is needed as one of the bases society?
As a truster of man over God I would think you would strongly support paper money and the central bankers. After all, it's better to simply print money (not too much!) than to dig in the ground for that "barbarous relic."
You say that God, in fact, does not exist. I may not be able to prove that He exists but I've yet to hear a credible argument that explains the Big Bang. You have your beliefs and I have mine.
Good talking to you. Take care,
Ari Armstrong Concludes
Again, your central error is to accept skepticism as the only alternative to faith. That's a false alternative. Notably, Plato helped create the metaphysical dualism on which Christianity is patterned. (December 8, 2005)