The Practical Application of Principles

It’s been years since I read Ayn Rand’s book, Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal, but her essay, The Anatomy of Compromise was recently brought to my attention. (If you haven’t read the book, it is highly recommended.  Trust me.  No really.)

In the essay, Rand defines three rules “…about the working of principles in practice and about the relationship of principles to goals.”  Leaving out her extensive lead-in:

1. In any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent one who wins.
2. In any collaboration between two men (or two groups) who hold different basic principles, it is the more evil or irrational one who wins.
3. When opposite basic principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side.

Does that remind anyone else of the Democrats and Republicans?  In my observation (feel free to correct me) the “basic principles” of the Democrats, if they can be determined by long-term observation, are founded in altruism, or at least feigned altruism, and “the common good” which can only come about though central planning.  If left to run our own lives, we would surely self-destruct.  If there’s a principle in there, it is the conclusion that people are inherently destructive, and must therefore be directed in their daily lives by someone else or all hell will break loose.  Forget for a moment the issue of the left’s success rate in achieving “the common good”, or the means of coercing us into compliance.

The Republicans talk about smaller government, free enterprise, (and maybe once in a while they’ll give us a passing mention of property rights) with the protection of “individual” rights (in fact there is no other kind) being the proper role of government (actually, they’re seldom ever that clear in their rhetoric).  If there’s a principle in there, it’s the conclusion that people are basically rational in judging their self-interests, and people are capable– that people running their own affairs and owning the fruits of their initiative is not only right, moral and just, it results in the best outcomes in terms of quality of life– win, win.  You may have heard it somewhere.  Our country’s founders talked about it a lot.  But how consistent have the Republicans been?  “Not at all” would by my immediate answer.  Are their stated goals really much different from the stated goals of Democrats?  Better schools, better health care, yadda, yadda.  Are their means to those stated goals all that different?  There are differences, but is the message clear and consistent?  How many times have we heard “Certainly, we all want the same things for our country..”

No, we don’t.  Far from it.

What I want is the protection of rights and the dispensing of justice.  The better schools, better health care, and all the rest, naturally follow from that, and in most cases those things are not the business of government (it’s protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, ensuring our security in our persons, houses, papers and effects, not giving us happiness, and not giving us houses, papers and effects).

To a leftist, the mere exercising of one’s rights (say, in hiring and firing for example, or allowing smoking in a restaurant for another, or in owning a gun in some cases) is a violation.

It seems to me that’s a pretty clear-cut difference in principles, yet which Party has been the most consistent?  You guessed it– The Dems.  Republicans are all over the map, talking about the virtues of free markets and the need for subsidies literally in the same sentence, espousing the benefits of small businesses and vowing to “crack down” on “Big Oil” at the same time, as if rights are inversely proportional to size or success.

Not that the Dems are consistent, and they’re certainly not rational, but the Dems are much more consistent than Republicans, in my observation.

In claiming to support individual rights while supporting gun laws and mandating certain lightbulbs, the Republicans showing hypocrisy.  When talking up the value and power of entrepreneurialism and trying to “save social security” at the same time, they’re being inconsistent.  When G.W. Bush tells us the free market is the best engine of prosperity in history, then piles on a new federal education program, he’s being ridiculous.  A joke.  When promoting his prescription drug give-away, Bush is trying, lamely, to “out Democrat” the Democrats.  Who’s going to fall for that?  I hear Republicans talking and I think, “Yea!.  Boo!  Yea!  Boo! Hell, I give up!”  It’s a mess.  They’re not using principles to guide either their goals or their means.  Even if there are a few snippets of rationality in there at times, there are few signs that they actually believe them.  No consistent principles are visible, unless you consider the act of trying to please mutually exclusive interests a “principle”.  It’s this sort of behavior that caused Ayn Rand, over forty years ago, to say that the death of conservatism can be blamed more on the self-described conservatives than on anyone else– they give conservatism a bad name.

Being more consistently pro-big government, pro-redistribution, and collectivist, and with neither side being rational, the pro-big government side seems to have been winning consistently for generations.  During Bush’s eight years, we’ve seen the federal budget grow from about 2 trillion to about three trillion dollars, and there’s no end in sight no matter who wins the next election.  The measurable “Change” seems to be primarily a matter of speed and not of direction.

“Oh, but we all want the same things for our country. Surely we can agree on that much.”

No we don’t, and we can’t.  Realizing that is a first step toward getting our “…opposite basic principles clearly and openly defined”.  I submit that Reagan’s popularity was in his more consistent application of clear and open principles (specifically American principles) to his goals and to his means of achieving them.  Now what are the Republicans going to do about it?

Read The Anatomy of Compromise in the book, Capitalism, and get back to me.


2 thoughts on “The Practical Application of Principles

  1. You know I hate homework, although I have been recommending Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged recently, because I think America is coming to a collision point.

  2. Think of it as recommended entertainment. Good as it may be, Atlas Shrugged is fiction. Capitalism is a collection of relatively short essays by several authors. You can read it front to back, or back to front, or any which way, and it works, as each essay stands largely on its own. You’d hardly know that the Allen Greenspan who wrote essays for the book, and the Alan Greenspan of Federal Reserve fame were the same person. As I say– entertaining.

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