Julian Edney’s recent article, “How did liberals lose the road map?” is yet another worried leftist commentary on the ideological crisis of the left. (“Help! Help! We have no ideas!”) However, two points caught my attention.
First, I’ve never seen the fallacy of the frozen abstraction better exemplified than in this paragraph from early in the article:
What is an ideology? It states the common good. It is a statement of values, it names ideals. It joins people in a purpose, it urges loyalty and sacrifice. It is visionary and explains what we are all doing here. It says why and how we must work together.
For those unfamiliar with “the fallacy of the frozen abstraction,” Ayn Rand coined the term in her essay “Collectivized Ethics” in The Virtue of Selfishness. She defined it as “substituting some one particular concrete for the wider abstract class to which it belongs” — such as by “substituting a specific ethics (altruism) for the wider abstraction of ‘ethics.’” In this case, the author substitutes his own vague muddle of altruistic collectivism for “ideology.”
Second, the author seems to regard Ayn Rand as the major ideological foil for the left.
He claims that leftism’s lack of ideology is the natural outgrowth of its embrace of materialism: “And we have lost the ability to think. Ideology and materialism are mutually exclusive. Acquiring stuff never was an intellectual ability. Insects know how to hoard.” (That sounds straight out of Atlas Shrugged — and not in a good way.)
Mr. Edney says: “How did liberals get over there? There was a time when selfishness and materialism were moral problems. Now they are goals in life.” He continues, “What about the ’60s cultural revolution, with music and hippies? Daniel Bell thinks it was an ersatz revolution, just an expansion of sex and drug and rock-and-roll freedoms which was paralleled foot by foot by the power hungry Ayn Rand, whose rants for no-holds-barred self advancement seem to have won the cultural race.” (Uh, okay.)
He then sort-of vaguely suggests that we ought not eliminate this scourge of materialism since “our economy would halt without [it].” Instead, we need to hold our society together with “ideals, direction, and trust — for people to come together with a common cause.” Liberals need “ideological direction” for that to happen, although (ever so typically) he can’t even suggest an ideology, since the liberals will all have to commune about it collectively. And so he concludes by saying:
Before we start searching for direction, we need to put ideas back on top. To decide whether freedom is more important than equality. To stop watching TV whose advertising, collectively, promotes greed, because greed also destroys trust. To think, to reclaim our own judgment. And to refute Ayn Rand’s antisocial tracts, because we have become what she poisonously prescribed: selfish, unhelpful, and denying of the common good.
Then we can start the search.
That’s just a bizarre chronology. First, liberals must decide between equality and freedom, stop watching the advertising of greedy corporations, and refute Ayn Rand. Then they can start searching for an ideology.
In any case, it’s quite odd for the author to give so much prominence to Ayn Rand. Just based upon this article, I suspect that he saw a bit too much of his own ideas and values reflected in the villains of Atlas Shrugged.