September 04, 2007

Ayn Rand and the Song of Russia

I also read Robert Mayhew's Ayn Rand and the Song of Russia on my birthday vacation. It was a really fascinating read and a very well-organized book.

It's difficult to say much about this book without spewing forth various facts and arguments made in the book. I will say this: a lot of what I read surprised me, although I have to admit I haven't spent much time learning about this part of American history.

The book focuses on the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings in 1947. These hearings preceded the McCarthy hearings that get so much publicity. McCarthy wasn't involved in these at all.

I did not know that the HUAC was actually one aspect of an ongoing criminal investigation into Soviet activities in the US and that Soviet Russia actually was engaged in funding and organizing the Communist Party in the USA along with acts of espionage and other treasons against the American government.

People like to claim that sending the Hollywood Ten to jail for contempt of Congress (they refused to answer questions, namely whether or not they are or were members of the Communist Party) was a violation of their First Amendment rights. Unfortunately, that argument really doesn't hold up given the criminal nature of the Communist Party. The mafia, for instance, cannot claim that it is a violation of their First Amendment rights if they refuse to say whether or not they're part of organized crime. They might plead the Fifth while on trial, but this wasn't a trial.

After quoting Rand at length on the matter (If you take issue with this, I strongly recommend reading Ayn Rand's full remarks on this issue, which can be found in the Journals of Ayn Rand, pp 381 - 84) Mayhew adds two remarks including this one:

[T]he availability of previously secret documents from both the United States and the former Soviet Union confirms Rand's claims about the nature of the Communist Party: it was an organization funded by, controlled by, and working in the interest of a foreign government, namely Soviet Russia. Further, a number of members of the Communist Party were engaged in espionage and worked directly with the Soviet government. It makes no difference that not every member of the Party was engaged in espionage or sabotage (or even was as devoted to the Party as the Party demanded). The HUAC was investigating possible illegal activities of the Communist Party; no one was on trial for treason. But given the nature of the Party, membership alone was enough to justify the government simply asking questions as part of a criminal investigation. (pp 86)

Like most people in the US, I have been lead to believe that Hollywood Communists are victims of fascist witchhunts in Washington fueled by some insane fear of communism that was sweeping the nation. These poor people -- though very, very wrong -- were innocent victims of government oppression and blacklisting.

As it turns out, these blacklists were private actions -- not governmental -- and Communists actually engaged in their own blacklisting as well. Further, some of the "Hollywood Ten" continued their careers by writing under pseudonyms, which is to say, they continued their careers fraudulently.

It's also flagrantly dishonest that these people would claim that their First Amendment rights were violated when they wanted to do away with First Amendment rights for anyone they claimed was a fascist, which is to say, anyone who is non-communist.

I'm also rather appalled at the dishonesty that Mayhew discovered in other "scholarly" works on this topic. Errors in dates and names as well as some pretty obvious cherry-picking from testimonies are apparently somewhat common.

Back to the topic of blacklists. I was somewhat surprised by this claim: "As we have seen, Ayn Rand believed that -- at least in the case of the Hollywood Ten -- there was no (or no effective) Hollywood blacklist of Communists."(90) Originally, I misunderstood the discussion in the book (due to careless reading) and thought the claim was that there weren't ANY blacklists against Communists, but Mister Bookworm and I were discussing it and I went back and re-read the remarks and he looked up the blacklists on the internet and we noted the specificity of that claim.

Mister Bookworm and I discussed this book meanderingly but at some length. He hasn't read it, but I do recommend it to him and others.

The scholarship is impressive; I really like the extensive, careful notation of sources and references. It's a short book and, as mentioned, it's well organized.

In our discussions, we debated over the relative success of the Communists and non-Communists. Mayhew contends that the Communists won in Hollywood but that outside of Hollywood their ideology has been thoroughly repudiated.

I agree that the Communist Party in the US today is an all but dead and the economics of communism have been proven repeatedly as destructive and immoral, but I also notice that on this blog I spend a lot of time arguing against policies that are in line with the Communist agenda. We have presidential candidates running with socialized medicine as major parts of their campaign. The vast majority of candidates are almost uniformly interventionist when it comes to government involvement in trade and support the redistribution of wealth.

With the exaggerated influence of religion in today's political atmosphere adding momentum to these socialistic/communistic (I regard attempts to draw a distinction between socialism and communism as silly and naive if not dishonest attempts at distraction.) policies and ideas...

An idea just struck me as I was about to finish that thought.

I was just thinking about the (ongoing) debate about whether religion or communism poses the greater threat to freedom and I remembered: there is a single threat to freedom. In the realm of politics, the threat is that of statism.

That sounds so bland, but there isn't a name for that ideology at the political level.

The threat is the ideology that makes people think in politics that they (or a committee of them) know better than you about your life. But it's deeper than that. The threat is the ideology that makes people think -- in their private lives -- that they owe you something and they resent you for not thinking that you owe them more.

This debate about whether or not religion or communism is the bigger threat misses the point. It's the same threat. The question is only about which form is metastasizing at the moment.

I think the confusion arises because "Communism" is a name we give to a political ideology. "Religion" is a name we give to a metaphysical and ethical ideology. People think, "Well, you can have Communist Christians and Capitalist Christians. The two aren't exclusive."

That's exactly the point. They aren't exclusive. In fact, given the rise of right-wing support for both religion and communist/socialist policies, we could even argue that they go together all too well.

They go together because they have at their core, the same basic set of ideas.

Those who argue that communism represents the greater threat -- on the grounds that their policies are rampant -- is ignoring the simple fact that no one of importance is calling themselves communist or even socialist. The people who are promoting the policies that we associate with communists aren't communists by name. They're conservative and liberal and increasingly they're religious "nuts."

Yes, they're the same evil. They've only changed their name and the veneer that they wash over their justification for these policies. The communists used to say things about stopping the "exploitation" of the "proletariat." The religionists say things about serving their fellow man. The words are different, but the meaning is the same.

Contrary to many people's assertions to the contrary, I do think that George Bush did represent a majority of Americans when he was elected -- both times. I shudder to think it, but he probably represents a majority now. This is due largely to his pandering to the Christian Right.

I still think the Christian Right is, in itself, is a minority, but I think they exert a huge influence on the rest of the American public by being very successful in advancing their ideas and that's how they've come to influence these elections. I don't have any facts to support this and I haven't seen any facts to contradict it. I just have a hard time thinking ill of Americans at large.

What do we do? We're mired in a two party system and that won't change any time soon. Neither party really seems to be moving toward a more rational ideology. So, what do we do?

The best we can really hope for is a deadlock, I think. Obviously, we need to do what we can to stop the Christian Right. In terms of elections, we need to work against those who pander to them and they back. This means voting for Democrats.

I didn't start this post meaning to go on about this, but I suddenly figured out what the problem was so many months ago, what Leonard Peikoff was trying to get out there.

Anyway, Robert Mayhew's Ayn Rand and the Song of Russia is a good book. Go read it.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at September 4, 2007 12:44 PM | TrackBack

You wrote: I still think the Christian Right is, in itself, is a minority, but I think they exert a huge influence on the rest of the American public by being very successful in advancing their ideas. . . .

I can't agree with you more. Their influence is huge, especially with regard to this whole idea of America as a nation founded on Christian principles. This heinous notion keeps popping up more frequently on the internet and on tv. This is concerning because it's following a similar path as the global warming idea: keep repeating it in a thousand different ways and venues from different people until the masses forget to question it and begin accepting it at face value.

I will add Mayhew's book to my list. Thanks!

Posted by: Rational Jenn at September 7, 2007 02:19 PM
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