Thursday, April 23, 2020

By Permission Only

     It’s odd how often an old anecdote will echo in thunderous harmony with some contemporary crime. It’s the sort of thing that makes me happy about my frequently annoying near-eidetic memory. (Don’t look so shocked. Try waking up at 4:15 AM with an old CrackerJack commercial resounding in your head and see what you think.)

     In 1987 I attended a lecture by Nathaniel Branden, once a very close associate of Ayn Rand’s, during which he narrated the process by which he came to understand Rand’s political-philosophical convictions. As nearly as I can recall – see the “near-eidetic memory” part above – it went this way:

     Branden had read The Fountainhead and two other books Rand had recommended to him – if you really care, they were Economics in One Lesson and The God of the Machine, which I also recommend highly – and found that he still required clarification about Rand’s core precepts about capitalism. So she sat him down and asked him a simple question: “Do you believe that man has the right to exist?”

     Branden was surprised, to say the least: “Why, Miss Rand, of course he does!”

     Rand continued, “You understand that the right to exist means the right to exist for one’s own sake?”

     Once again, the question puzzled Branden: “Well, of course! If he doesn’t exist for his own sake, it would mean he was existing by permission.”

     Rand nodded and said, “The political implementation of that idea is capitalism.”

     And Branden said “Oh!”

     “From that moment forward,” Branden told the audience, “capitalism for me was filled with moral energy…It was the only system fit for human consumption.”

     Ponder that for a moment, as my second pot of coffee should be ready by now.

     And now for the episodes and articles that caused me to remember that old lecture:

     The tyrants of Czechoslovakia escaped the fall of the Iron Curtain with their lives. (Apparently, the writing on the wall was legible to them.) As for what will become of the tyrants of the Empire State, the Tarheel State, and the Land of Fruits and Nuts, the future has yet to speak. (If it speaks to you, keep it to yourself. Please.) But Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania could educate them about the fate that awaits the tyrant who clings over-stubbornly to his “power,” once his subjects have decided that only the most definite and permanent of answers to overweening authority will serve their needs.

     Far better, in my opinion at least, that we detect and thwart the aspiring tyrant before he rises to high office, rather than wait until it becomes necessary to drag him forcibly from his palace and dangle him by the neck from a gibbet.

     Now and then, some wag will attempt to distinguish among the varieties of tyranny and their associated tyrants. It’s almost always a false trail that leads nowhere useful. Yet even William F. Buckley was seduced by it. I remember him straining to discriminate between the Soviet and Red Chinese systems, and thinking “What on Earth does he think he could accomplish?”

     Still, some will try. In most instances, the hairsplitting involved would enrage a bald man. Yet now and again it can tell us something of importance.

     Let’s start with the “novice” or “apprentice” tyrant. However he rises to power, he’ll be proud – and jealous – of his position and its supposed authority. But he’ll start small. He’ll solicit the advice of an inner circle of the like-minded. He’ll put a sincere effort into persuading his subjects that he knows what’s best and that it’s “for your own good.” He does these things because he still respects consensus and “the consent of the governed.” If he can’t have that consensus and consent…

     Then we get to the “intermediate” tyrant. This fellow is seldom sincere about the rationales he expresses to anyone, whether inside his circles or well beyond them. Neither does he ever doubt his own superiority in wisdom. If the moral dimension of his rule ever troubles him, he dissolves it in alcohol or sex. Needless to say, the intermediate’s jealousy over his power and status goes beyond that of his “novice” colleague, though he might take occasional pains to conceal it. Still, his critics tend to recant. His opponents have shorter than average lifespans.

     The “advanced” tyrant has moved beyond pretense. He’s also moved beyond remorse, regret, and the twinges of conscience. You don’t dare to criticize him, much less oppose him; for that he’d have your whole family murdered and you personally tortured to death for a live audience. He uses whatever forces respond to his command to make his word the absolute law of the land, and his judgments un-appealable. Photos of him are frequently retouched for “accuracy.”

     With these three grades of tyrant go three grades of tyranny, each one fitted to the developing character and individual personality of the tyrant. I’m sure I don’t need to describe them for you in detail. But despite their differences, they share a common trait: in whatever matters the tyrant has chosen to assert his will, his subjects exist only by his permission.

     Those states in which the governor has ruled out a lifting of his “lockdown” order, whether he qualifies his decree to any extent or simply says “I said no, so sit down and shut up,” are places where the citizenry is being treated as subjects: men without rights who can move and act only by permission. Some such subjects think it easier to submit, and to hope that the tyrant’s will soon falters. Others, braver than the rest, merely go about their chosen business, essentially daring the tyrant to do his worst. Some have paid a price, though none, as far as I know, have paid the ultimate price…yet.

     But given the proclivities of “law enforcement officers” and their frequent recourse to the self-exculpation that “I’m only doing my job,” that price is always “on the menu.” Should some citizen resist with sufficient determination, some thug with a badge will pull his gun. At that point things will become terribly, unambiguously clear.

     Tyrants of all grades are alike in another thing: they never willingly surrender their power. It must be taken from them by their subjects. But of course, that act of will never receives official permission.

     Free men don’t ask for permission to do what must be done.

     Food for thought.


Michael Stone said...

It's become very clear what they are about.

Interesting times.

BTW, your second link is incorrect...

Francis W. Porretto said...

Thank you, Michael. I've corrected the link.

daniel_day said...

The Fox website is no longer opening its pages to the link from your domain. I was able to see the page by copying the link.

Francis W. Porretto said...

The Fox link opens for me, Daniel, so I can't explain it.

Rick C said...

"Now and then, some wag will attempt to distinguish among the varieties of tyranny and their associated tyrants. It’s almost always a false trail that leads nowhere useful."

I see a lot of that the last couple years and my response is I don't really care whether the means of production are controlled outright by the government, by government workers in the corporations, or other such slight variations. They're all totalitarians.

Andy said...

Pardon the interruption. A random thought occurred to me, home schooling is now permitted. If I had children I would like some child oriented sites like this and others where we go. Are there any? Can you recommend any? Not for me but for the good people here and their children. Just a thought.

Linda Fox said...

I've also noticed just how often the police are handcuffing, and dragging parents off to jail for violations of the law. Now, for many parents, seeing that will likely deter them from asserting their rights in public, as they fear that the state will bring in the Child "Protective" Services to take their children for an extended time.

Funnily, the CPS just never seems to find a reason to take children from truly abusive parents, until the kid ends up in the morgue. Or, for that matter, to uncover those foster families that abuse - often sexually - their charges. Even after multiple complaints, they just keep sending them kids, over and over again. Why, it's ALMOST as though the purpose of the foster homes wasn't to keep kids safe.

The scorn and abuse of those eager to end this overly strict lockdown is rising. I've had 3 FB friends in the last 3 days write a message that they will "unfriend" anyone who WANTS PEOPLE TO DIE! - which, of course, is the only reason to want to open up the state.

Naturally, this is because the Freedom People LOVE MONEY AND DON'T CARE HOW MANY PEOPLE DIE! While they, who are not in danger of monetary bankruptcy and losing their home, are solely motivated by LOVE!

Sorry for the caps and exclamation points. I haven't had my coffee yet.