Independence Day Special 2011
Freedom : The Moral Issue
By Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.
There has been a lot of talk on the internet that the GOP (The Republican Party) is going to have to decide if they are going to follow Jesus or Ayn Rand when it comes to their admiration for either in the light of trying to uphold capitalism or freedom. I do agree that the choice is rather stark, as the morality of Jesus contradicts the morality of Ayn Rand. In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s novel about re-securing freedom in America, she outlines a new morality, one in which each individual man has the right – the moral / political right – to pursue his own interest for his own sake. The primary values are reason, purpose, and self-esteem; and the primary virtues (the actions by which one achieves one’s own values) are rationality, productiveness, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, and pride. Clearly, these are not the virtues of Christianity, which holds pride in disarray and upholds faith over reason; and as far as I can tell, Jesus never said one ought to work for a living so that one can earn one’s own keep. The Enlightenment – the resurrection of individualism and freedom during the time of the Founding Fathers of the USA -- did not have an explicit pro-freedom morality, but Ayn Rand was able to come up with one based on Aristotle’s teachings on logic.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus decries men to turn the other cheek when assaulted by a brute, give one’s cloak to a thief if one’s shirt is stolen and to give to the poor until it hurts, and to practice charity as the height of virtue. Turning the other cheek is supposed to be as way of demanding to be treated as an equal, according to some Biblical scholars; that is, it was traditional at the time of Jesus to slap the left cheek of an underling or a slave, indicating subordination, and Jesus admonished those slaves and servants to turn the other cheek, their right cheek, in order to indicate a protest of being treated as less than human. However, Jesus did not admonish his followers to rise up against one’s enslavers or to fight a government that is trying to take everything away from oneself. In fact, Jesus said to give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s, leaving little room for keeping what one has earned. I don’t see anything in the Bible that says one ought to pursue material wealth, including a high paying job, so that one can obtain and earn that which one wants out of life.
So, clearly, the two moralities are at conflict with one another. But which one will lead to political freedom? Which one will lead to a man being free of others – from the initiation of force – to pursue his own values by his own standards? Many Republicans who admire Ayn Rand claim that Christianity will lead to freedom. That there is a fundamental respect for the individual included in Christianity – as opposed to communism, which has no respect for the individual. And while it is true that Christianity does show respect for the individual soul – as in all individuals are important and all souls can be saved -- it does not show any respect for the business hero who gets goods and services to the market at a profit. Such businessmen are not practicing charity, but rather justice – the justice of making a viable trade of value for value. Christianity, if it says anything about trade and the pursuit of profit, admonishes that it is harder for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a wealthy man to get into heaven; which means those people pursuing profits are not practicing a virtue, according to Christianity.
I don’t think it is possible to uphold individual freedom – to live one’s own life and to pursue the American dream of earning one’s own wealth and products – based on a morality that says one ought to give it all away to the closest beggar or thief. And when Christianity had all of Europe in its power and a theocracy of Christianity was formed starting with Constantine, there was no freedom to pursue one’s own values by one’s own mind and hand – there was only the Dark Ages whereby man ceased pursuing material pursuits and focused primarily on spiritual pursuits and nearly starved to death in the process. And those who might have disagreed with this morality could be punished by the State and The Church, leading to no freedom. Freedom means the ability to decide for oneself what moral code one is going to follow. It does not mean that one is free so long as one is Christian and imprisoned if one rejects Christianity. And yet, that is what Christianity led to shortly after Constantine imposed Christianity onto all of Europe by force via the Roman government. This is not freedom.
Freedom can only come from a recognition of the sovereignty of the individual due to the fact that each individual has a mind of his own and that he ought to use it – ought to be rational, as a primary virtue. It is the needs of the independent human mind that makes freedom a moral demand – that is, the fact that one has a mind and has to use it to live one’s life is the justification of freedom; the only justification that is needed is the recognition of the fact that the human mind is individual, not collective. Ayn Rand was able to fashion a new morality based on this recognition and to restate the demand for freedom in completely secular terms. No appeal to authority – the State or God – can take away from the fact that a man is in control of his own mind and can use it to further his betterment on earth. Having a primary concern for oneself – of being an egoist instead of an altruist – of being independent instead of dependent on others – of pursuing real values on earth created by man and distributed by businessmen – only this will lead to freedom. And this is the stark choice Americans are going to have to make if they want to continue to have Independence Day celebrations for the next generations to come. Nothing less will do.
Ayn Rand’s morality – of rational egoism – embodies all of the virtues that was only implicit in The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States. So, for this Independence Day celebration, take a moment or two to think about the connection of morality to politics and how only a morality of rational self-interest can lead to prosperity and freedom for all.