"Isolationism" or The Art of Smearing


Although I no longer consider myself an Objectivist (or, if you like, a Randian), it is a sad fact that I happen to know more about the philosophy of Ayn Rand than almost all of her numerous defenders.

Case in point: some recent criticism of Ron Paul by several declared Objectivists.

First up, Robert Bidinotto, a staffer at the Atlas Society and editor of a magazine called The New Individualist:

... Add to this also Paul's indiscriminately declared hostility to "war" as such, which (regardless of his protestations) can only translate into a de facto pacifism and isolationism.

Is this foreign-policy outlook realistic? Not since about 1789.

The relentless advance of communication, transportation, satellite, and weapons technology has simply obliterated the geographic "isolationism" that was still largely possible at the time of America's founding.

Next up, Shawn Klein, a professor of philosophy at Rockford College:

War and Foreign Policy... Though this is where much of Paul’s growing popularity is coming from, this is where I have the biggest problem with Paul. His isolationism is dangerous and unrealistic. He appears to accept the view, unfortunately peddled by the otherwise great Cato Institute, that if only we would leave the Islamists alone they would not attack us....

Now I have my disagreements with Ron Paul's understanding of the state of the world and I yield to no one in my condemnation of Islam. But I also know an anti-concept when I see one, and "isolationism" is just such a smear. On the topic, consider some choice words from Ayn Rand herself, in an article entitled "Extremism" or The Art of Smearing (in The Objectivist Newsletter, Volume 3, Number 9, September 1964) wherein she discussed the attacks against Barry Goldwater's so-called extremism during the 1964 election:

Observe that everyone at the Republican Convention seemed to understand the implicit purpose behind the issue of "extremism," but nobody would name it explicitly. The debate was conducted in terms of enormous, undefined "package-deals," as if words were merely approximations intended to connote an issue no one dared to denote. The result gave the impression of a life-and-death struggle conducted out of focus.

The same atmosphere dominates the public controversy now raging over this issue. People are arguing about "extremism" as if they knew what that word meant, yet no two statements use it in the same sense and no two speakers seem to be talking about the same subject. If there ever was a tower-of-Babel situation, this is surely it. Please note that that is an important part of the issue.

In fact, most people do not know the meaning of the word "extremism"; they merely sense it. They sense that something is being put over on them by some means which they cannot grasp.

In order to understand what is done and how it is being done, let us observe some earlier instances of the same technique.

A large-scale instance, in the 1930's, was the introduction of the world "Isolationism" into our political vocabulary. It was a derogatory term, suggesting something evil, and it had no clear, explicit definition. It was used to convey two meanings: one alleged, the other real—and to damn both.

The alleged meaning was defined approximately like this: "Isolationism is the attitude of a person who is interested only in his own country and is not concerned with the rest of the world." The real meaning was: "Patriotism and national self-interest."

What, exactly, is "concern with the rest of the world"? Since nobody did or could maintain the position that the state of the world is of no concern to this country, the term "isolationism" was a straw man used to misrepresent the position of those who were concerned with this country's interests. The concept of patriotism was replaced by the term "isolationism" and vanished from public discussion.

The number of distinguished patriotic leaders smeared, silenced, and eliminated by that tag would be hard to compute. Then, by a gradual, imperceptible process, the real purpose of the tag took over: the concept of "concern" was switched into "selfless concern." The ultimate result was a view of foreign policy which is wrecking the United States to this day: the suicidal view that our foreign policy must be guided, not by considerations of national self-interest, but by concern for the interests and welfare of the world, that is, of all countries except our own.

Ayn Rand opposed American involvement in the Vietnam War, the Korean War, World War Two, and for all I know World War One. Given that track record, I think she would have opposed the Gulf War and the Iraq War, too. By god, was she a pacifist and an isolationist, clinging blindly to a principle of international relations that went out of fashion in 1789? You betcha, and she was proud of it! "If this be isolationism, make the most of it!"

What these pseudo-Objectivist anti-isolationists fail to recognize is that the interventionism is a form of altruism in the sense that Rand defined: selfless concern for others. The real argument for the Iraq War is not and was not protecting America from weapons of mass destruction 6,000 miles from our shores, but the old Wilsonian chimera of making the world safe for democracy and helping other peoples join the modern world (not out of concern for the American national interest but out of selfless concern for other countries).

But what do I know? I'm not a philosophy professor or think-tank policy wonk, just a poor slob new intellectual.

Peter Saint-Andre > Journal