The Small Guns

 Posted by on 9 April 2006 at 4:37 pm  Uncategorized
Apr 092006

Ed Hudgins, Executive Director of The Objectivist Center, has finally responded (sort of) to the various questions and criticisms of David Kelley’s speech at the “March against Terror” explicitly endorsing the Muslim organization that organized the event. (Although I was certainly not the only critic of that speech, my two posts on it can be found here and here. Other critics are more than welcome to post their links in the comments.)

Ed Hudgins’ comments were posted on the more-or-less dead TOC Forums, largely in response to this opening question by “jasong”:

In his speech “The Ideas That Promote Terrorism” David Kelly states “I salute the Free Muslims Against Terrorism for sponsoring this rally. I urge everyone to support them and make common cause with them.” Yes, this group is against terrorism, but they are still a religious/faith/mystic/subjectivist group. Is this not contrary to my interests as a person of reason? By this logic, I’d be better off support the scientologists since not only are they against terrorism, but the they are all about the “study of truth” (at least according to their website). Why not support groups that actively promote values such as The Ayn Rand Institute instead of giving sanction to those who are anti-reason and therefore anti-life; even if they just so happen to be against doing it with bombs.

Good question!

Three months later, Ed Hudgins replies. I’m going to quote his comments in full, adding my comments throughout. (Oh, it’s a genuine, bona fide fisk!)

Thanks everyone for raising these important questions and for the good responses on this thread. I’ll add a few more.

To begin with, for over three decades I’ve seen a major problem with Objectivists (but not Objectivism) concerning this “sanction” issue. For some Objectivists it’s meant they don’t function well in the world because they’re always trying to decide whether they should associate with or denounce this or that person because of their beliefs. (95 percent of Americans believe in some sort of god so does that mean we give everyone with whom we might deal a religious test and deal only with non-believers?) Dealing with the world doesn’t mean accepting the majority beliefs of society. But you need to ask how does this practice advance your own rational self-interest and what, exactly is the purpose of your actions?

Some Objectivists are just plain obnoxious and unpleasant, in the name of never sanctioning evil. They mistake being nasty with standing up for principles. (See a lot of the discussions on some other website.)

First, notice the two ad hominems: Objectivists concerned about sanctioning evil “don’t function well in the world” and they are “just plain obnoxious and unpleasant.” Ed serves up those personal barbs before offering any reasons to think their views wrong. In fact, he never does that, but only later accuses such people of some undefined “rationalist fallacy.” (Is that the same as rationalism? I have no idea.)

The barbs are not merely false, they are arbitrary assertions. The first barb about not functioning well is just thrown out, even though Ed surely knows of the great success of the Ayn Rand Institute (i.e. the very people concerned about sanction) in recent years. The second barb about “plain obnoxious and unpleasant” seems on firmer ground, since Ed recommends looking at “a lot of the discussions on some other website.” However, since he doesn’t mention the name of the web site or link to any of those discussions, that reference is of no use to those unable to read minds.

Second, notice the importance that Ed places on “function[ing] well in the world” and “dealing with the world.” I wouldn’t put much emphasis on that — were it not for TOC’s consistent policy of appeasing ideological opponents of Objectivism left and right.

Third, notice Ed’s misrepresentation of his unnamed opponent’s view of sanction as forbidding contact with any and all religious people. That’s a gross strawman. If he isn’t aware of Leonard Peikoff’s explicit comments on that very example in both Objective Communication and Understanding Objectivism, then he’s not competent to be the Executive Director of any “Objectivist Center.” (That’s hardly news though!)

And in any case, if one’s goal is to help create a freer, more rational society and culture that facilitates their own happiness, this kind of behavior is counter-productive. Isn’t it better to praise someone who gets something right — this Muslim, anti-terrorist group — rather than simply damning them for what they get wrong?

First, let’s remember what David Kelley actually said in support of this Muslim organization: “I salute Kamal Nawash for the absolute, unqualified stand he has taken, and for his courage and commitment in speaking out. I salute the Free Muslims Against Terrorism for sponsoring this rally. I urge everyone to support them and make common cause with them.”

So David Kelley did not just offer some qualified praise for a Muslim organization opposed to terrorism. He endorsed that Muslim organization wholeheartedly. Moreover, David never criticized Islam in that speech — not once. Instead, he argued for an “open system” interpretation of Islam on which the classical liberal values supposedly “transcend[ing] differences in religion and worldview” should be grafted onto Islam — even though Islam is wholly opposed in principle to all such this-worldly values.

Second, as Paul has repeatedly argued — never obnoxiously nor unpleasantly! — agreement on derivative conclusions without agreement on the underlying fundamentals isn’t genuine agreement at all. (See his posts Why It’s Important To Agree On The Fundamentals, Moral Foundations of Modern Libertarianism, and The Fable of the Cardiac Surgeon.)

Yet that kind of illusory agreement is all that is possible between even the best of Muslims and Objectivists. That’s glaringly obvious in the case of the Free Muslims Coalition, the group endorsed by David Kelley. For example, the group does denounce terrorism — but on the grounds that “holy war is obsolete”: “no holy war needs to be waged; there is no clear and present threat to Islam; the only war that needs to be waged in the modern world is one against terrorists and extremists.” Even their advocacy of democracy depends upon the premise that “Islam is a religion, not a blueprint for the creation of a modern state” because “the Koran does not contain sufficient guidance for the creation of a state.”

As I’ve argued elsewhere, such “moderate” Muslims are intellectually disarmed against their more consistent exploding brothers. These particular “moderates” offer no principled reasons for rejecting violent jihad or an Islamic state, but merely say that such is no longer required and not possible, respectively. They’ve reduced themselves to niggling about particulars because they’ve ceded the important philosophic premises. In face of that kind of weak opposition, all that the militant Islamists must do is convince Muslims that jihad is required and that an Islamic state is possible — and that’s not exactly a difficult task given the content of Islamic holy texts.

The proper approach would be to defend constitutional government based upon rights, egoism, and reason — regardless of what the Koran says. That’s not what the Free Muslim Coalition does, nor is it the approach advocated by David Kelley. Both attempt to graft secular Western ideals onto a wholly incompatible Islamic foundation — rather than forcing Islam to give way to secular Western ideals.

A second point is you need to do your homework and establish the full context of an issue rather than simply resorting to rationalist fallacy to which many Objectivists are prone — in this case saying “they’re Muslim therefore they’re irrational, mystic, subjectivists, etc. etc. who by accident said some right things but on balance must be promoting evil ideas and thus should be shunned.”

First, Ed’s characterization of his opponent’s view is somewhat skewed. The original questioner “jasong” said, “Yes, this group is against terrorism, but they are still a religious/faith/mystic/subjectivist group.” In other words, the problem is that the group in question is a Muslim organization — and Islam is necessarily mystical, irrational, altruistic, and so on. Those features of Islam are why it’s important not to sanction Islam — say, by endorsing a Muslim organization.

Second, the “on balance” reference is misleading at best: it implies that Ed’s opponents employ a cost-benefit analysis approach to moral sanction. In fact, as Ed ought to know, cost-benefit analysis is the hallmark of David Kelley’s pragmatic approach to sanction, but it is very much rejected by his opponents, as discussed in this post.

Third, Ed never tells us why we should ignore the basic tenets of Islam in considering whether alliances with Muslims are wise. He just says that’s “resorting to rationalist fallacy.” Um, okay, but that’s somewhat less than helpful.

Let’s establishing that context:

At the rally Kelley said explicitly that he was not a Muslim and not religious at all. So there was no implicit endorsement of Islam.

David’s opening statement was “I am not a Muslim. Nor am I a Christian, or a Jew. My philosophy of life, Objectivism, is a secular philosophy.” That kind of perfunctory note cannot possibly wipe away all the rest of his speech, including his failure to criticize Islam, his endorsement of a Muslim organization, and his claim that the mystical, primitive, death-worshipping faith of Islam is compatible with “human life and happiness,” “freedom,” “progress,” and “the free exercise of reason.”

If such perfunctory statements were all that was required to avoid moral sanction, then an enthusiastic supporter of Hitler could avoid all blame by simply saying “I support everything that Hitler does… except the evil stuff.” Or how about I just say: “I hereby endorse everything good and nothing evil.” That should cover me for a lifetime!

He referred to the Aristotelian parts of the Islamic tradition, which are similar to the Thomist traditions in Catholicism; indeed, the Catholics recovered Aristotle through the Muslims in Spain. Rand had no problem saying she was an admirer of Aquinas, though obviously not of his Christianity.

However, Ayn Rand didn’t refrain from criticizing Christianity because she admired Aquinas. Nor did she ally herself with Christian defenders of capitalism. She knew that Christianity was an evil, anti-man, anti-life, anti-reason religion — and she said so. She knew that capitalism could not be supported by religion of any kind — and she said so.

If you look at the Free Muslims Against Terrorism website you find them saying something that I’ve never seen or heard from any other Muslim group, not even strongly free market ones: they have a section called “Don’t blame the Jews.” These guys are clearly different from hate-filled Islamists.

You also see on the website a defense of a secular society, not rants about the need to spread the words of the Prophet. You also find a defense of rights for women — in this context against the regression found in most Muslim countries.

Further, Kamal Nawash, the founder of the group, is an articulate spokesman for these beliefs and is often criticized and ignored by pro-Republican Party or pro-free market Muslims because they think he goes too far with his secularism.

Clearly, Nawash is addressing Muslims and individuals from that culture and promoting for the most part the right ideas among them.

I have no doubt that the Free Muslim Coalition is substantially better than most Muslim organizations. They are surely not “hate-filled Islamists.” That doesn’t make them proper intellectual allies.

Similarly, Mr. Nawash may well be an honest, even admirable man. The fact remains that the approach of his organization is still fundamentally flawed. The Free Muslim Coalition is not a secular organization promoting rational, secular values to Muslims. It is a Muslim organization attempting to convince Muslims that values wholly contrary to their faith are actually compatible therewith. It’s an approach doomed to failure.

In this context, we should applaud this group when it stands against terrorism. David Kelley certainly was not sanctioning irrational Islamists at this rally.

Notice the switch: Now we conclude that David Kelley wasn’t “sanctioning irrational Islamists.” Does that mean that he was “sanctioning rational Islamists”? I have no idea.

Finally, this discussion raises the issue of how Objectivists view social change. Do we expect that in the future millions of Muslims will read Rand, become Objectivists, reject their religion as well as the irrational aspects of their culture and the will lead to a better world? I do want more Muslims — and everybody else — to read Rand and change their ideas.

But changes in ideas and culture are a complex process. The process involves introducing ideas into public debates, popular culture, university classrooms, the media, etc. Over time, if promoted well, these ideas can catch on and provide the basis for promoting more good ideas. So if more people understand Rand’s notion of the sanction of the victim and thus, for example, more business folks stop accepting unearned guilt for creating the richest country on earth, that’s a good basis for promotion other Objective ideas on which this understanding is based.

And this approach means that if you find Muslims who are generally promoting the right ideas but not all of the right ideas, you help them if possible and reinforce the positive.

Given the pathetic ineffectiveness of The Objectivist Center over the years, I’m somewhat less than interested in a lesson how to change the culture from Ed Hudgins. That practical failure is due to TOC’s policy of attempting to smuggle quasi-Objectivist ideas into the culture by concealing, diluting, and betraying them. That’s exactly what they’ve done in the case of Islam — with just as much practical success, i.e. none at all.

Moreover, to suppose that the only alternative to TOC’s appeasing approach to Islam is the mass conversion of Muslims to Objectivism is just false. The proper course is to clearly and openly advocate rational, this-worldly, egoistic ideals as an alternative to Islam. If religion in the Islamic world can be reduced to Mosque on Fridays, that would be a huge step. If that can be done effectively — and I doubt it can — then those nominal Muslims might be somewhat receptive to Ayn Rand’s ideas.

Once again, it’s just so embarrassing to see just how small the big guns of The Objectivist Center are.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha