World views

Ed Cline of The Rule of Reason has a couple of posts on fatalistic world views – the first one is about libertarian philosopher Albert Jay Nock, and the second one is about Margaret Thatcher. Cline is an Objectivist and he makes excellent reading because he brings a historico-philosophical perspective to his posts. But I find ‘some’ of his writings to be pessimistic (go back to some of the posts he wrote about the US presidential elections, especially the one where he said – I am paraphrasing here – that voting only encourages politicians by making them believe that people support their ideas), and I was surprised because I don’t know of too many pessimistic (the word is a loaded one) Objectivists. But then he defines the word in the first post-

The difference between pessimism and fatalism is that the first term reflects a realistic, fact-based appraisal of the outcome of a conflict between ideas, movements or men. It does not rule out the eventual triumph of the good. The second term concedes — too often based on an invalid premise — the inevitable victory of one party of a conflict and the dismal defeat of its opponent. A fatalistic premise promotes the futility of fighting for the good and ensures its defeat.

This definition does not match the one given by COED – “a belief that this world is as bad as it could be or that evil will ultimately prevail over good.” Its definition of fatalism – “the belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable,” and determinism – “the doctrine that all events and actions are ultimately determined by causes regarded as external to the will,” and nihilism – “the rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless; the belief that nothing has a real existence.” But then its the same dictionary that says that egotism is another word for egoism.

My pessimistic-cynical-misanthropic world view matches Cline’s definition in the sense that given the present day political and intellectual landscape – if this is the context – I don’t see how “reason” is going to triumph within my lifetime – mankind might, in the next few centuries give up its destructive attitude towards life and the mind, and the world might become a peaceful place where laissez-faire capitalism will thrive because men want it to, but that isn’t going to happen in this century; there are no indications it will. This view dominates most of my posts which deal with politics – the bitterness more than the hope. This is neither fatalistic nor deterministic nor nihilistic – it is based on ground realities. And that’s why I disagree with anyone who calls me a fatalist (I have been called that).

Returning to Cline, he writes-

Albert Jay Nock (1870-1945), American essayist and social critic, considered a “grand old man” of libertarianism, was later in his life deemed a pessimist by both his friends and enemies, when in reality he was a fatalist. Mixed in with his many piquant and accurate observations on history and politics is a bitter surrender to a species of determinism — which I would call a secular version of original sin — one which governed his main political thesis and spared him the task of becoming an articulate and powerfully eloquent advocate of freedom. That is, while he advocated freedom, individualism and limited government that would protect life, liberty and property (through what he called “negative intervention“), he did not believe they were sustainable in man, and, in most circumstances, not even desirable by him once he saw a way of securing his existence via political or coercive means (via what he called “positive intervention”).
After [Nock’s] death, his works faded into obscurity, until rediscovered and promulgated by conservatives and libertarians later in the 20th century.

This was a logical adoption; both camps disdain the necessity of a comprehensive philosophy of reason, and treat such concepts as freedom and liberty as self-evident concretes not requiring metaphysical validation or a foundation. Conservatives remain clueless or hostile to a morality founded on a rational, non-religious view of the nature of man. Libertarians remain hostile to a non-subjectivist view of the nature of man as a being of volitional consciousness who must be consistently rational in his mind and actions in order to survive and flourish.

Reverting to my cynical self, I have to say that the connection between “rational” and “survive and flourish” is a weak one in current times. Let me explain. While survival means simply being alive, flourishing is a different concept – it means thriving – it is something beyond mere subsistence. But in the present age where dishonesty is a way of life, people can always rely on adopting practices wherein they “flourish” at some one else’s expense. It won’t work if everyone does it to everyone else, but there will always be one group of people who will get away with it. Is this group being “rational”? If being rational means acting for self-preservation considering reality in the process, then they are – don’t get caught, and you can be as crooked as you want to be, and the law and the political system even helps in your actions; there are always enough people available who can be taken advantage of. If it means the first definition plus ethics

[The virtue of Rationality] means one’s acceptance of the responsibility of forming one’s own judgments and of living by the work of one’s own mind (which is the virtue of Independence). It means that one must never sacrifice one’s convictions to the opinions or wishes of others (which is the virtue of Integrity)—that one must never attempt to fake reality in any manner (which is the virtue of Honesty)—that one must never seek or grant the unearned and undeserved, neither in matter nor in spirit (which is the virtue of Justice). It means that one must never desire effects without causes, and that one must never enact a cause without assuming full responsibility for its effects—that one must never act like a zombie, i.e., without knowing one’s own purposes and motives—that one must never make any decisions, form any convictions or seek any values out of context, i.e., apart from or against the total, integrated sum of one’s knowledge—and, above all, that one must never seek to get away with contradictions. It means the rejection of any form of mysticism, i.e., any claim to some nonsensory, nonrational, nondefinable, supernatural source of knowledge. It means a commitment to reason, not in sporadic fits or on selected issues or in special emergencies, but as a permanent way of life.

then they are not. But they will thrive nonetheless.

Cline’s post on Thatcher is in contrast to the one on Nock because he considers her world view to be opposite to Nock’s fatalistic one. He writes-

Britain, by the time Thatcher became Prime Minister, had reached exactly the kind of political and economic nadir forecast by Nock when the State assumed coercive and near total sovereignty over the lives and fortunes of its citizens, otherwise known as “society.” Presumably, by Nock’s formula, the country should have descended into total bankruptcy, anarchy, and extinction. “There is no such thing as Society,” she once remarked. “There are only individual men and women and there are families.” Nock would have agreed with her, but while he condemned most individuals for harboring what he called an “invincible ignorance,” Thatcher was certain that most people would listen to clear reason when their liberty was at stake, and that those who harbored a willful ignorance were in the minority and beyond reclamation (such as Arthur Scargill of the National Union of Mineworkers).

His only problem with Thatcher is regarding her position on Hong Kong-

Hong Kong was happily a Crown colony, and its dazzling prosperity a reproach to impoverished Mainland China and its communist dictatorship. Thatcher even flew to Peking in September 1983 to discuss the future of the colony. She hated the communist dictatorship of the Soviet Union, but apparently was not so discriminating about the one that ruled China.

The original issue was the status of the New Territories on the mainland per se, for which Britain had signed a 99-year lease with the Qing Dynasty. The leaders in Red China, however, insisted that any “handover” must include Hong Kong island and Kowloon, for which Britain had signed treaties of perpetuity with the Chinese monarchy. In any event, Britain, and presumably Thatcher, caved and endorsed the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984-1985 ceding all of Hong Kong to Red China, to go into effect in 1997.
Hong Kong now exists in a political purgatory. I am reminded by this whole sorry episode of two of Ayn Rand’s rules on compromise: 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.

Two very interesting posts; read them both- Nock, and Thatcher.

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