Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Opinion

July 9, 2012

STUMPTALK: There's more to life than stuff

CROSSVILLE — A subscriber to and a regular reader of Reason and other libertarian publications, a devoted if incompletely schooled follower of the Austrian school of economics, a fan of John Stossel, and a regular visitor to lewrockwell.com, I find much to recommend in libertarianism: the importance of private property rights to individual liberty, the unarguable assertion that the free market provides the greatest good for the greatest number, and the defense of civil liberties. 

But like most religious paleoconservatives I strongly object to the atheistic, materialistic orientation of some libertarians, especially fervent Ayn Rand devotees, John Stossel, and Reason writers like Katherine Mangu-Ward, whose materialism in one respect resembles the progressive (and Marxist) view that economic determinism drives human behavior and that man is not a spiritual being at all but an organism the zoological classifiers would label Homo economicus.

Like leaders of the Enlightenment, libertarian materialists believe that man can redeem himself with his own unaided reason. An average observer with a modicum of historical knowledge must wonder why liberals (or progressives) and libertarian materialists, who have declared themselves officially smart, learned nothing from the carnage of the Twentieth Century, where mass murderers like Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot led states that had elevated ideological materialism to a religion while outlawing religious observance. Hitler, of course, with his religious national socialism as a guide to the development of the Nietzean (“God is dead”) superman, committed mass genocide to ethnically cleanse Europe of unhealthy influences.

Too many libertarians reject tradition and traditional morality by relying instead on the discipline of the market. And while the discipline of the market is superior to that of government, it is not enough in itself to produce a good society unless one believes that life’s purpose is the acquisition of stuff, that is, an endless search for a bigger house, a flashier car, expensive vacations, a second home, or, if one is desperate for high social status, a collection of objects d’art of poor taste, copies of classics he never reads, or fancy country club memberships.

This is why I strongly object to Ayn Rand’s atheistic, materialistic philosophy, which she called objectivism. While it may often appear otherwise, most people are not motivated primarily by material concerns but are instead spiritual beings. This obvious truth has led liberals such as Thomas Frank, who wrote, What’s Wrong with Kansas, to complain about Middle Americans who concern themselves with social issues like abortion or marriage and do not appreciate all the good things liberals have provided them with their mega welfare state. 

A convincing moral argument for Austrian economics and free markets is made by Catholic Thomas Woods, Jr. in The Church and the Market but he remains a traditional, committed Catholic who gives his full assent to the teaching of the Church’s Magisterium, which eschews materialism. As Pope Pius XI said in Quadragesimo Anno in 1931, “No one can be at the same time a sincere Catholic and a true socialist.”

Libertarians argue, and I agree, that the current economic crisis is largely the result of government interference in the economy, especially programs designed to make it possible for people without means to buy homes they could not afford. These programs opened government backed candy stores for sugar starved thieves, beginning with unscrupulous loan officers, continuing with rating agencies that gave high ratings to instruments that deserved no such ratings, and culminating in “tranches,” combinations of bad loans sold as investment entities: Wall Street manipulators bundled packages of nothing and sold them for lots of money. The immorality that permits people to behave that way must be continually pointed out and condemned by decent people. Market activity cut loose from traditional morality cannot in itself discipline the dishonest, nor can government. Only sincerely held, rigorously followed, and spiritually grounded moral precepts can produce a good society. Ayn Rand, read Adam Smith.

While those with the talent to amass wealth usually do society a great service: they create wealth, hire workers, and contribute to charity, they nonetheless must live for a higher purpose than the accumulation of stuff. As Jesus says, “To whom much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12:48) By the way, let me note here for the record that I reject President Obama’s recent use of this text as pretext for raising taxes, his so called “Buffet Rule.” As I wrote recently in answer to a writer who believes that paying taxes is an act of charity, coerced charity is not charity, nor is the Buffet Rule anything more than a rich man’s “affluenzae,” that is, his guilt over having done well.

 

• • •

Stumptalk is published weekly in the Crossville Chronicle. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. To contact Stumptalk, email coordinator Phil Billington at stumptalk@charter.net.

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • LION AND THE LAMB: Four ways to demonstrate opposition

    Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan mention in their book, “The Last Week,” that Roman-occupied Palestine during the first century was under the control of Pontius Pilate who lived in the coastal city of Caesarea. Each year at the beginning of the Passover observance when Jews celebrated their liberation from Egypt, Pilate feared that they might be getting ideas about revolting from Rome, so he would come with additional soldiers on horses to beef up the Roman garrison in Jerusalem. 

    April 15, 2014

  • WE THE PEOPLE: Is it (new) party time?

    The Democratic and Republican parties are toast, according to Joe Trippi. The Republican Party is coming apart at its Tea Party seam. Democratic candidates struggle to celebrate President Obama’s health care successes, while responding to criticism of his failed promises, e.g., government transparency.

    April 15, 2014

  • TIDBITS: I found it at the library

    I have such fond memories of going to my local library as a child, searching through shelf after shelf and finding a book that would make me a Little Princess in World War II England, or bring me along as Nancy Drew solved the Secret in the Old Attic.

    April 14, 2014

  • STUMPTALK: The reason words have meaning

    If words did not have accepted meanings we would not be able to communicate effectively and civilized society would not exist.

    April 14, 2014

  • Lion and the Lamb: Do we really believe in democracy?

    The recent Supreme Court decision, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, is in a long line of debates about power in a democracy. Should power be in the hands of all the citizens or should it be in hands of those who have greater wealth and social position?

    April 8, 2014

  • We the People: Public education or business opportunity?

    A month ago, we followed the money trail left by a ‘think tank’ to the major sources funding an attack on our traditional, locally controlled public schools. We saw that a handful of billionaires provide major support to many organizations lobbying for change.

    April 8, 2014

  • Stumptalk: Just another government lie?

    There is a vault located in Fort Knox, Kentucky. It was built in 1936 and encased in 16 cubic feet of granite and 4200 feet of cement. The door is made of 20-inch thick material that is immune to drills, torches and explosives.

    April 7, 2014

  • GARY'S WORLD: The chance to speak your mind

    Are you tired of hearing people complain about the way things are run in Cumberland County? Or, do you like the way the county government is run and operated in our beautiful county?
    Are you happy with the way things are, or would you like some change?

    April 3, 2014

  • LION AND THE LAMB: Digging beneath the headlines

    Our media have been focusing on two important events that have taken place overseas during the last several weeks.

    April 1, 2014

  • WE THE PEOPLE: SNAP, health and work

    A recent letter from Representative Diane Black to me states that she voted for the farm bill (with $8 million in Food Stamp (SNAP) benefit cuts) because she, like me, is a supporter of food stamp benefits for Tennessee families who qualify. That’s a lot of families, as most recipients are families with children and the elderly. Now, recall that there was already a major cut to the food stamp program back in the fall. But for some Republicans, that was not enough.

    April 1, 2014

Marketplace Marquee
Parade
Must Read
Section Teases
Seasonal Content
AP Video
Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Weather Radar
2014 Readers' Choice