Glenn Beck’s Common Sense Lacks Sense, Common or Uncommon

The Man (not the fake).

Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine

Or, What Glenn Beck and the Radical Right Understand About the 18th c. Underpinnings of Our Democratic Republic Would Fit in the Dimple of a Thimble

 

“It don’t make much sense

That common sense

Don’t make much sense

No more…”

                John Prine

                Common Sense

Let’s Cut to the Chase, Shall We?

 

I’ve no patience for Glenn Beck.  There it is, out in the open.  The man claims to write a book “inspired” by Thomas Paine, one of our finest thinkers and propagators of Enlightenment thought and, as near as I can tell, really only managed to latch onto about two things from Paine:

 

1.  The title of Mr. Paine’s pamphlet, which was aimed specifically against a monarchy acting in a tyrannical fashion, and

 

2.   This sole set of sentences, out of hundreds he should have paid attention to, both in Paine’s Common Sense and other works:

 

“Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise.”

                Thomas Paine

                from Common Sense

 

Borrowing (stealing?) Paine’s title, Mr. Beck gets to play a bit of propagandistic “look-at-me-wrapping-myself-in-the-flag” dress-up himself: He is hoping that most Americans remember that Tom Paine was a Founding Father who wrote a stirring pamphlet during the Revolution – this will add a veneer of legitimacy to whatever he says.  He is also, more cynically, betting that few have read or recall what Tom Paine actually said or stood for in the entirety of his career as a revolutionary – because, if people did recall, they would understand how completely out of place it would be to attempt to associate Paine’s ideas with anything we nowadays call American “conservatism.”

 

Complaining about Beck wrapping himself in the Founding Fathers, however, is the easier attack to make on his book and ideas (inasmuch as they are “ideas”).  The more difficult attack, and the more rewarding, is to cut the premises out from beneath his arguments – and the premises to Beck’s nonsense are contained in the two sentences from Paine cited above.  Summing them up, they are:

 

a) Government, all government, at best, is a necessary evil.

 

And

 

b) Government is the badge of lost innocence – there was a better and more paradisiacal state humans existed in prior to the invention of this “necessary evil,” government.

 

Implicit in (b) is an assumption that conservatives like Beck then run with: The less government we have, the closer we come to returning to paradise.

 

I intend to dismantle both of these assumptions, one at a time.

All Government is NOT a Necessary Evil – Some Forms of Government Are Positively Good.

 

Yes, Thomas Paine was a formidable thinker, and yes, Thomas Paine did say in Common Sense that government, at best, is a necessary evil.  I think he’s wrong, if we take him literally, and I also have my doubts as to how literally he should be taken on this point.

 

Why not take him literally – as Beck and his ilk take him and every other written document they lay hands on? 

 

To begin with, Thomas Paine was a citizen of the British Crown; British constitutional monarchy was the only form of government he’d ever lived under.  His pamphlet was addressed to other citizens of the same constitutional monarchy, people who lived under the thumb of George III and his capricious parliament. 

 

Paine was attempting to stir up a discussion about independence from the British Empire – and his writing in Common Sense is a polemical tour de force.  He provided the common people with the rational arguments they lacked words to articulate; he condensed and clarified and made popular the more complex arguments of the other theorists of the revolution, who wrote for the educated classes.  In his work, he is explaining to the populace why their desire to rebel against the Crown is a reasonable desire, not simply an anger-based stirring excited by a pack of half-cocked malcontents.

 

In short, read Paine’s Common Sense in its context: If he thinks governments, even the best ones, are necessary evils, it might have something to do with the fact that he was living under what most people considered the best government of the time – the British Crown – and it was not all that one could have hoped for in a government.

 

Would Thomas Paine have said the same thing of the American Government formed after the Continental Congress ratified the American Constitution?  While the man certainly had problems with this and that political figure in the American Government, notably John Adams, I do not find that he wrote any pamphlets denouncing the new American form of Constitutional Democratic Republic after its inception. In fact, he returned here to live his remaining years after playing his role in the French Revolution.  And he was not a fellow who kept quiet when things were on his mind.

 

Maybe, in hindsight, Paine might have written that, up to that point in history, governments, at best, had been necessary evils – but after the establishment of the American Constitution, something better was to be seen in the way of governments.  In any case, even if Paine did not write it that way, Glenn Beck, from the vantage point of 2009, has no business pretending that times and governments and their functions did not change after the 1770s in the West.  That’s being a bit disingenuous, to be extremely charitable.  Even if Thomas Paine could get away with saying “all government is, by definition, evil” in so many words, he could only get away with it because of his limitations of time and place in history.  Glenn Beck does not live under a non-responsive monarchy, under a capricious parliament, or under colonial laws that render his citizenship “less equal” than if he lived in the Empire proper.  Paine and his fellows had these problems when Paine wrote his version of Common Sense; Beck has nothing to whine about that vaguely compares to that situation.

 

But I’ll go further:  The idea that “All government, by definition, is evil” is wrong.  First off, Paine introduced (or repeated) the notion of a “necessary evil.” I’ll argue the contrary – there is no such thing as a “necessary evil;” if something is necessary, it is not evil.  “Necessary” means “it could not be otherwise;” “for this state of affairs to exist, this thing (whatever it may be) must exist.”  Hold that thought and we’ll return to it in a moment.

 

Thomas Paine begins his work by extolling, and rightly so, the superior virtues of society – people voluntarily cooperating and living together peacefully.  But in the next breath, Paine makes his fatal error – he defines government in a wholly negative fashion, as something that “curbs our vices,” and “punishes.”  Society gives and is free; government limits and withholds.  This is why he says government is, essentially, “evil,” though “necessary” – it restrains us, which is allegedly “bad,” but it allows society to function in peace, which is necessary, as no functioning society has ever existed without some form of government.

 

I think this is muddled.  If civil society cannot exist and flourish without government and law to curb and guide the irresponsible and the violent and the untrustworthy – if some ethical values have to be enforced by law, in other words, and if some rules must be agreed to and arbitrated by a disinterested force in order for a society of free people to even exist at a minimal level, then government is not “evil.”  It is necessary, yes – for humans cannot live fully as humans outside societies.  But “evil,” no, not necessarily. 

 

Is government sometimes an evil?  Yes, just as a society can be cankered and corrupt, run like a con game by predatory criminals to fleece the common folk, a government and its laws can be used to prop up a corrupt society or even to corrupt an otherwise healthy society.  Such was the case with the British Empire in America. 

 

But can government sometimes be good?  Yes, it can.  A government might not only protect me from the violent criminal down the street with his arsenal of weaponry.  It might also recognize that: if I am poor, I need to be paid enough to live on by the company I work for; if my health is in danger and a simple drug or doctor’s visit, out of my price range, would cure me, steps need to be taken to assist me in obtaining what I cannot on my own through no fault of my own; if I am born to a family that does not care about education or cannot afford it, it should make open public schools for my learning; and so forth.  By doing these things, government is not only in the business of “restraining” and “punishing” but of actively promoting the common good and strengthening society.

 

People such as Beck still see these things as “punishment” a.k.a. “socialism.”  “Why should I have to pay for some other guy’s kids to get an education?”  “Why should my tax money be spent on some welfare cheat’s health care?”  “Why should my business be forced to pay any worker a minimum wage – let the market sort it out!”  To my ears, it sounds an awful lot like a murderer complaining that the state won’t allow him to kill indiscriminately – what makes the murderer think he has a right to kill indiscriminately to begin with?

 

Similarly, I’d like to know why the person who “decides” she doesn’t want to support universal public education has any right to deprive would-be students of knowledge; or why the person who “feels” he doesn’t owe his workers enough to live even if they work a full day at hard work has any right to actually deprive them of the means to live; or why people decide that they have any right at all to decide who lives and dies by perpetuating a health system that discriminates against the uninsured and underinsured or people with chronic illnesses?

 

It is the responsibility of a properly functioning society to see that working people are adequately rewarded for work, that people are kept healthy, and that all have access to an education; this means all able members of a society are responsible, whether they feel like it or not, to participate in providing these things to all other members of the society who require assistance.  And when the society cannot or will not do this voluntarily, it is the legitimate role of government, not simply to restrain people and keep them from being vicious, but to cause people to occasionally participate in endeavors we could call virtuous.  Law sometimes may ask us to do good things, not simply keep us from doing the bad – especially if the society in question is so morally disoriented it has forgotten many of the reasons societies exist in the first place.

 

No, “doing the right things” because laws make you do them will not make you a good person, but restraining yourself from doing bad things for fear of legal punishments won’t make one moral either and we all see the sense in that sort of law.  What laws do is make sure the right things get done if that is the only way a society can be prodded into action – the laws and the government, at least, may be good.

 

*****************************************************************

 

Against Beck and his kind, I’ll call up the ghost of Thomas Paine again.  In his day, he wrote (in Common Sense) that America should be a place for refugees from persecution from all over the world – this flies directly in the face of Glenn Beck’s xenophobia and anti-immigration mongering; at the outset it is a different idea of what a free society is supposed to be than Beck’s.

 

And I will quote freely an Editor’s Note {Philip S. Foner, The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. I,  p. 242.} in Paine’s The Rights of Man:

 

“What Common Sense meant for the people of America in their struggle for' independence and democracy, the Rights of Man meant for all people everywhere struggling to overthrow oppression. As during the American Revolution, so during the French Revolution Thomas Paine brought home sharply to the people the most advanced thought of the age. Indeed, in some sections of this work Paine advocated social measures which were far in advance of his time and singularly prophetic of the future development of enlightened government.

 

“Paine boldly announced that it was the duty of the State to care for the indigent and the young, and declared that those who received such assistance were entitled to it, "not as a matter of grace and favour but as a right." These old-age pensions were to be paid for in part by those taxes to which every one contributed and in part by further exactions "from those whose circumstances did not require them to draw such support," and this program he defended as "not of the nature of a charity but of a right."

“Expenditures for public education, old age pensions, state aid to the youth, unemployment insurance and soldiers' bonus, he argued, were far better employed than in the support of useless royalty. "is it then better," he asked, that the lives of 144,000 aged persons be rendered comfortable or that one, million a year of public money be expended on any one individual, and him often of the most worthless or insignificant character?"

 

Equally interesting was his demand for the removal of all legislation restricting wages of workmen. "Several laws are in existence," he wrote, "for regulating and limiting workmen's wages. Why not leave them as free to make their own bargains as the lawmakers are to let their farms and houses? Personal labour is all the property they have. Why is that little and the little freedom they enjoy to be infringed?"’

Phillip S. Foner, quotes are from Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man

 

None of this sounds like Glenn Beck or the conservatives or their version of “Common Sense.”  All of this sounds as if Paine himself, over the years, developed a solid notion that some uses of government could be good, not inherently evil.

Humans Never Lived in a State of Nature During Which There Was No Government, and the Removal of Government Will NOT Return Us to This Mythical Paradise

"You pay for this,

but they give you that..."

Neil Young & Crazy Horse

The Black and The Blue

Thomas Hobbes, in his highly influential 17th c. work, Leviathan speculated that humans once lived in a “state of nature” where there was no government – and quickly gave up their freedom and established government because, in short, the state of nature was a horrible, violent, war of all against all.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau took the idea and decided the state of nature was a state of innocence and invented the myth of the “noble savage.” His basic idea was that civilization and culture – and things such as government – corrupt the already perfect “natural man.” By definition, to move away from the “state of nature” was to depart from a sort of Eden into a world of artificial troubles.

One problem with these theories, if taken literally, is that they are not true. There is no evidence to support their suppositions and much to suggest the opposite.

We have never found evidence of any group of humans living that did not have some set of rules or laws to live by enforced by what can be called a government of some sort. Using Hobbes own ideas, when we have a group of humans that suddenly destroys the existing order of laws, such as in a disaster or civil war, chaos erupts and humans cannot live together – humans tend to become very effective at killing one another and stealing: civil society ceases to exist. What immediately follows is either everyone destroys everyone else, or some group or groups flee or resist the chaos, reestablish government and law for self-protection and to guarantee peace and safety.

Rousseau and his followers grossly underestimate the complexity of what he calls “noble savages.” Indigenous peoples have complex societies and cultures, taboos, rules, laws, ethics and methods of self-government. They do not live in a state of nature like tigers or crows or some other animal – they have highly developed societies and forms of government to protect and further their chosen forms of life, just as much as any European. By the 18th c., Europeans for the first time were coming into close contact with groups of people in the Americas that had forms of life and culture that were different from their own; it was all too easy to mistake “different” for “innocent” or “natural” or “pure” or “completely free.”

Thomas Paine was influenced by ideas such as those of Hobbes and Rousseau. This is forgivable given Paine’s location in history. However, it is again unforgivable for anyone professing to be a thinker in the 21st c. , and Glenn Beck is professing to be a “thinker” of some sort by writing his book and associating himself with Paine.

The fact is, where we find human life, we find societies, and where we find functioning societies we find some sort of functioning government. Humans, to live as humans, require societies; and societies, to function well, require laws and a disinterested agency to make and enforce the laws.

So, the notion that humans at some time lived without either society and law is unsupported by anything except fantasy. If we think for a moment this will be more clear. If humans at some time wandered around as unassociated, atomistic individuals, totally free to do as they wished, how were children ever born? How did the human race survive?

“In the beginning,” men and women had to associate with one another in groups in order for pregnancies to occur and for children to be cared for while those caring for the children were provided for and protected. Rearing children is an inherently cooperative venture, especially for humans living in the wilds.

Moreover, there had to be a set of universal ethical principles at work – people associating together (in a rudimentary society) had to be trustworthy, had to value rearing children, had to avoid killing one another for no good reason, had to avoid stealing from one another, and so forth. And when some members of the society arose (inevitably) who could not follow these basic ethical principles, laws and rules had to be in place to state what happened to the violators to protect the society, and a means to carry out the sentences (law and government).

People such as Glenn Beck and many of his Libertarian brethren are laboring under a spectacular delusion. Their fervent belief is that, if we weaken government or dismantle it to the point it barely exists in 21c. America, we can have a functioning society without a functioning government. Paradise is at hand. Hallelujah.

The Founding Fathers understood that government was always supposed to be limited – in other words, the business of government was to stay out of what is properly my own personal business. For example, my religious opinions are my own – it is not the business of government to tell me which opinions to have or to force me to support any belief over any other. And it is the business of government to protect my right to have my own religious opinions and to keep groups from assaulting me for my beliefs on the subject.

But the Founders also recognized that each citizen was responsible for the support of her society. The watchword of the American Revolution, if one reads the Founders carefully, was not “Liberty” and nothing else, it was “Liberty AND Virtue.” The maker of the statement that “the government that governs best is the one that governs least” was counting on citizens who, without being told what to do by a central authority, would choose, on their own, to do the right thing and recognize the rights of their fellow citizens. “Less external government” could be achieved ONLY if the citizenry had strong internal government in the form of a strong rational code of ethics, the virtues. Read the writings of Thomas Jefferson – he is explicit on this subject.

The belief of the Founders did not include what seems to be the libertarian/conservative daydream: Government should be minimized in order that citizens should do as they damn well please with their freedom. Beck and others seem to propose that government should be shrunk to a miniscule size so they can hole up into private fiefdoms and hermitages while “natural forces” such as laizzes-faire capitalism go to work rewarding the cunning and industrious and punishing the stupid and lazy; and if the wealthy are so inclined, they might share some of their gains with the less well-off – who better scrape and bow for the privilege of receiving their occasional crust of bread so they might live another day.

Political Libertarians advance from what is a reasonable premise: “All ethical principles cannot be legislated without a descent into tyranny” to a more extreme and less reasonable claim: “Forcing me to do anything I don’t feel like doing is tyranny.” The Founders believed in the former statement. Our modern Libertarian usurpers believe in the latter statement. There is a difference, a huge difference between the two positions. The Founders most certainly believed a) there are some universal moral principles that apply to everyone, whether they like it or not (virtues) and b) some but not all of these principles must be legislated and enforced by a government to support and protect society.

Many Libertarians seem to operate on the basis of what is called ethical subjectivism – all ethical principles have their origin in what I desire or feel is right. Ethical principles are not objectively real. If I feel like spending the rest of my life doing nothing except being submerged in an orgy of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, then that is good FOR ME. If I feel like living as a Puritan and abstaining from cursing, drinking, smoking, movies, and live my life by an extremely rigid interpretation of Christian scriptures, then that is good FOR ME. Read the Libertarian Party website – it pretty much advertizes this approach openly.

Regardless of how many Libertarians – such as Ayn Rand and her followers – protest their ethical system is “objective,” the reality is, it is radically subjective. To believe that, in order for an ethical value to be good someone must desire it is the very hallmark of subjectivism – there are no universal moral values that every rational person should recognize, in other words. Ayn Rand and her sort attempt to get around this by claiming “selfishness” is a virtue – self-interest is A or THE universal moral value. Absolute freedom to pursue my selfish vision of what I want my own life to be, whatever that is, is therefore moral and government has no business stopping me from doing this by whatever means I choose.

Government may not tax me to support things I don’t personally believe in. Government may not ask me to assist people or programs I don’t feel like assisting. To make a long story short, Government, for Beck, Rand, and all Libertarian/conservatives exists to do two things:

1. Protect my absolute right to be selfish,

And

2. Protect a completely unfettered free capitalist market system, with no regulations whatsoever.

Glenn Beck could have avoided wasting several pages of ink by summing up his entire career with those two sentences.

I would argue that, aside from being, at base, a childish vision of the world, one fit for someone locked at the emotional level of a toddler, this is an intellectually bankrupt set of beliefs that cannot adequately defend itself if attacked properly. Reality, adult human reality is far more complex than this, and moral reality is far too important to reduce to as simplistic a principle as selfishness.

People like Ayn Rand – and Beck, to be certain, is influenced by her – when asked about morality, instantly counter “whose morality?”, as if each person makes up his or her own ethics. Rand asks this question incessantly in her writings and pretends she has scored some great intellectual point by doing so. In reality, all she has done is reveal her own subjectivist bias: the assumption that someone invents genuine moral principles from her own self-interest or desires.

To be certain, some people do pretty much invent their ethics ad hoc, in an inconsistent fashion, as the winds of their wants and desires blow them. However, this does not answer the question: Is there anything that is morally right and wrong for all humans, regardless of what anyone thinks about it, regardless of what we feel or desire or want?

Are genuine moral principles things that arise because we want them, or are genuine moral principles things we should strive to learn to habitually desire and put into action because in some way, they pre-exist us and we need them?

Rand, Beck and American conservatism presently think wanting something badly makes it right and nothing should stand in the way of obtaining their wants nor should anything external ever guide their wishes, whatever they are. I, on the other hand, defend the other position: Some principles are good for all humans, some principles lead to us becoming good at being human if we follow them, and we cannot, as a community, live good lives if some moral principles are completely ignored or left to become matters of pure choice.

We have evidence there are universal moral values – discovering some of them is easy enough, oddly. They do not come from holy books and scriptures about which people fight incessantly; we can see them by reason alone.

For example, no human society can exist without some sort of prohibition on murder. In every society, there is some class of people defined as “innocent” who cannot be killed without some sort of just cause. Each society and culture may differ in their interpretation of the principle – of who is innocent and what counts as just cause – but there are no societies or cultures that exist that allow the random killing of any and everyone inside their own ranks. We may judge different cultures by how justly they apply the principle – Nazi Germany did a horrendous job of it, for example – yet one cannot find a culture, even Nazi Germany, that simply allowed any and everyone to be slain by anyone on a whim.

The reason for this is obvious if we consider it: Prohibition on murder is a prerequisite for humans to live together. It isn’t that people got together in a society and then decided, “OK, no more murder.” Instead, in order for any society to exist, its members must not murder one another. This applies to any people anywhere who wish to live together with other people. The people do not invent this, it does not erupt because people desire it. Instead, it is what must be done of people are to live together and it is what must never be allowed if people are to remain together in peace. It is an objective moral value, it applies to all people. One may decide one does not believe in it all day long, but it still applies – and other humans may justly hold one accountable for violating it.

There are many other such values. We must value raising children – it is a prerequisite for humans being here and flourishing in the first place. We must be honest under most circumstances – this is a foundation for communication and trust and all social structure. We may not steal except, perhaps, under severely limited circumstances – else one or one’s group cannot plan for the future. And so forth.

None of these moral values exist because anyone invented them or desired them. They exist like the air: The air exists first and then this allows certain forms of life to evolve and emerge. Objective, universal moral values pre-exist us and our desires and make possible certain forms of human life. The trick is not to invent our own morality and seek to live out a life of purely subjective, selfish desires. The trick is to use our reason to identify and refine our understanding of what is moral and what is not, and then further use our reason to construct our own individual lives and the lives of our community and the laws of our government in such a way as they are supported and vivified by these moral principles.

Glenn Beck whines, essentially, “No one should be able to tell me what to do with my life.” I answer by saying, “Morality, objective, universal morality should tell you what to do with your life, and when you fail to use your reason to seek out what is virtuous and avoid what is vicious, then, within strict limits, society can and must guide you by use of government and law, whether you like it or you don’t – if not for your own benefit then for justice, to make certain that each person gets his or her objective due, whether you feel like recognizing such exists or you don’t.”

There is nothing “immoral” in this position. Beck thinks he has an absolute right to “freedom”: freedom from government intervention in his life at all. But that was never the American idea of freedom. Freedom is not an absolute value, it is a relative one. If we have “freedom from” external control, it is only so that we can exercise “freedom for” taking responsibility, on our own, to do the just and the good voluntarily.

There is no such thing as “freedom from” external control to have “freedom for” whatever I please to do, regardless of its lack of rational value in relation to a good human life. People who misuse their freedom to do immoral things – and freedom can be abused – are no longer truly free in the first place. They are slavish – they have become slaves, moved around by external things worth much less than their own value as a human being. They are overcome by their desires for pleasures of one sort or another, or for power and money, or for fame, or they take the wrong steps to cheaply obtain something that should only be sought by paying the proper price in time and effort and sacrifice.

A people who decide that “freedom” means “the freedom to sell themselves into slavery and abandon the welfare of their society” are no longer a free people. They are irresponsible. They have no care for whom they hurt, how their actions affect the lives of others or the future. They are utterly irresponsible. What people like Glenn Beck truly desire, in their heart of hearts, is freedom to be irresponsible – this is the “state of nature” they fervently think they will “return to if only “government” would get out of the way. They are wrong.

Imagine a society of selfish individuals who only do what they voluntarily decide. They will, since they, by definition and self-proclamation, only do things from which they get a benefit. They abolish most of the functions of government except the military – which they propose to pay by voluntary taxation: if you feel like paying for it, you will; if not, you won’t.

First off, in times of peace, how many of these self-interested people are going to decide to plan ahead and fund a military for the day when they are needed? They might ante up when we’re in danger, but by then it is too late. Even in times of danger, many of these selfish people might decide to do a cost/benefit analysis and decide how much profit would be raked in by selling out the country and becoming turncoats to save their own skin and assets.

Where are the soldiers going to come from? If the pay is bad or fluctuates because taxes are never steady from year to year – and they wouldn’t be – and if their families are having to have bake sales to buy body armor and state of the art weaponry for the soldiers, how many people will volunteer, and for how long? What’s in it for the soldier? If she’s supposed to be selfish and self-interested and make her decisions on that basis alone, how are we going to field a military – unless we are going to build this paradise of selfishness on the backs of hard working suckers who are not mainly selfish?

Can you imagine an army in the hands of hardcore egoists? When would they use it? You’d never get a consensus unless you could find a circumstance in which everyone got a direct or indirect measurable benefit, probably monetary. And if they did use the military and half the army walked off the field because they didn’t personally feel they were getting anything out of the exercise, who’d tell them they shouldn’t? On what grounds? Are the folks back home supposed to be self-interested while soldiers surrender that right? On what grounds would one say, as a libertarian/conservative, that individual soldiers must surrender that right – other than by admitting that libertarianism cannot act as a glue to hold a society, such as the military, together in the first place?

And if it isn’t going to hold the military together without law and government to force the individual soldiers to do things they may not agree with, why would anyone think that civilian society will fare any better?

Somewhere, deep in here, is a mass of contradictions. The Glenn Becks and Ayn Rands of planet Earth want to have a society without being forced to take any responsibility for the problems of living together as humans – problems such as pollution, healthcare, education, adequate wages and working conditions – because they secretly count on some segment of the population to choose not to be selfish, to choose to be responsible, to choose to be virtuous and clean up the playpen behind them after they’ve made an unspeakable mess of things. Or they understand that, really, someone is going to have to be forced to play maid. Pure libertarianism and its political party is a con game: they think there will always be suckers to fleece to keep their selfish other-using lifestyles amped up and running at full tilt.

Ayn Rand, in her personal life and in her philosophy, was a user. Go and read Barbara Brandon’s book about her years with Rand and the “Objectivist” movement, how Rand conned her into allowing an affair between her and Brandon’s husband, Nathaniel, for many years on the basis of the argument that Rand was “the ultimate value” and that Nathaniel should show homage to her through sexuality. Rand used philosophy to gain an audience, fame, and money, to influence people in government (such as Alan Greenspan, who was her pupil).

But, in the end, Rand was not selling philosophy, real philosophy, real love of wisdom – she was selling the snake oil dream that one should be utterly self-interested in all one’s dealings with others and never take the needs or rights of others into account when they stood in the way of one’s desires.

She sold the philosophy of manipulation.

People like Glenn Beck are just selling the same snake oil in slightly different packaging with slightly different flavoring to appeal to a wider audience than Rand enjoyed. The end effect will be the same: We, your masters, will do as we please while you, our servants, clean up behind us in our paradise of selfishness; because we have the cash and will do anything to get it and you need cash and are probably limited by your morality that takes others into account when you make decisions.

This egoist’s paradise is not “the state of nature” of Hobbes, Rousseau, or even Paine. It is the paradise of “Social Darwinism,” the belief that the weak deserve to fall by the wayside and die while the strong are allowed to do anything to keep their place in the order of things; the strong may never be required to help anyone else, especially those weaker than themselves.

Oh, we are a far distance from Thomas Paine, friends, a far distance from the Enlightenment. Our Founders would not recognize this cobbled together piece of immoral trash as anything vaguely akin to what they had in mind for our country when they set it up. Glenn Beck and his brethren are talking about the “triumph of the will,” not about the triumph of reason.

Glenn Beck wants government shrunk and despised for one reason: It protects the common people against the wolves. He wants the common folk to give up their one means of leveling the playing field against oligarchs and plutocracy – who may as well be monarchs and aristocrats, as they represent the same spirit Tom Paine railed against in the 1700s.

The conservative movement is up to the one thing it always has been up to for decades: convince the people they will be more “free” with less government when the reality is, less government will leave the wealthy and the powerful more “free” to treat normal people any way they wish, to use them any way they desire, to put them in desperate economic circumstances and then require them to work harder for less and surrender, bit by bit, contract by contract, every opportunity for them and their families to ever rise far up the social ladder to threaten the power of the already wealthy.

At least when government is abusive, one may repair it. One may elect representatives to debate and rewrite the laws. Remove government and the power of societal control will NOT disappear – it will transfer into the hands of the wealthy, an unelected set of legislators. And once it is there, our de facto kings and dukes and baronesses will never surrender that power again.

Tear apart our government in the manner that people like Glenn Beck ask and one thing is certain: the Monarchs will return, not a paradise of “freedom.” And you will then truly understand in your bones why Thomas Paine wrote what he wrote and how Glenn Beck’s garbage so little resembles the spirit of the Enlightenment.

Richard Van Ingram

4 January 2010

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Richard VanIngram 4 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

I make no mistake here, ax123man. I simply don't fit into the libertarian groupthink categories you've been taught to reduce all people and ideas into.

In a liberal democracy, e.g. America, *you* are the government. You hold the first and most basic office: enfranchised citizen. The legislators do not do anything without you having an opportunity to be heard, have your opinions taken into account; you have the ability to participate in politics at whatever level you wish; you have the ability to put yourself up for elected office, if you think you're fit and have something to offer. You are hardly "oppressed" here by government "force."

No one steals anything from you. First off, you benefit from living in a civil society protected and kept stable by laws, by a relatively educated populace, by all manner of things -- in return, you are responsible for doing your share for the upkeep of this system and for the general welfare. If you refuse to do this, I suppose you'd see the penalties we have to impose on the irresponsible and anti-social as "force" -- but a man who thinks he should be allowed to kill whomever he wishes at will often sees himself oppressed and forced to act against his will, too. Just because you wish that you could live as a hermit while enjoying the fruits and benefits of civil society with no responsibility to contribute anything "unless you feel like it" does not mean reality is going to coddle you and that law ought to fade away and leave you and your resentful self alone. You can refuse to cooperate with the society you live in -- and you can try to change it, if you live here, peacefully. But in the meantime, you will cooperate or there will be consequences -- that's no more or less an application of "force" than the fact that many would-be murderers have to make the choice of fearing the consequences of the law, and so not killing, or deciding to violate the law and face the reaction of society protecting itself through law. The question you need to ask yourself is: do you have anything like a right to live in a civil society and enjoy the benefits granted you by that blessing while complaining about the laws that keep it a civil society?

Is the law and government in a liberal democracy a matter of force or a matter of cooperation?

Secondly, before you make what you make financially, our culture decided what you'd be paid. You don't earn what you are worth (who could adequately and accurately quantify the value of one moment of a finite human life?), and you don't earn what the market will bear exactly.

There is no real justice involved in who earns what -- in our society, a pro basketball player earns millions and a school teacher responsible for teaching your child how to read and think earns barely enough to live and works twice as hard. And on and on through all jobs and all instances of people living off inheritance and wealth accumulated through the privilege and accident of birth.

Culture and the society that birthed it decides who gets what up front. Therefore, there is no reason why culture and society can't decide to even it out a little with income taxes that tax the wealthy more or adjust wages, within reason, or subsidize the poorest wage earners who are not paid enough to support a family or just themselves, or see that people can be educated to the extent they are able to benefit from it, to support a military, social services, and so on.

All because this strengthens society and a strong society strengthens and provides a platform for free individuals to be creative. Or sit around and bitch they are being "forced" (i.e. expected) to act like adults and not spoiled, selfish four year-olds.

Think about it.


ax123man 4 years ago

you make the most basic mistake all govt apologists make with:

" Yes, it can. A government might not only protect me from the violent criminal down the street with his arsenal of weaponry. It might also recognize that: if I am poor, I need to be paid enough to live on by the company I work for"

You make the simple mistake of assuming the things government "gives you" (actually they steal from me and hand to you) would not happen without them. However you put forth no proof of that. You also cannot refute the fact that historically ALL of the things that government "gives" you have been supplied without force (and government IS force, make no mistake of that).


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Richard VanIngram 5 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

Smkmdb11 -- You say: "If Glenn is so far from the truth, if he is so "wrong", why is Fox news at the top of the ratings as usual? Why are his books flying off the shelves?" My answers:

a) Truth is not a popularity contest -- no matter what FOX's ratings, that hardly means it is the repository of truth or is interested in being truthful. FOX and Glenn Beck are entertainment/info-tainment oriented; Glenn Beck does not teach real history on his show -- he fills itching ears with a narrative of conspiracy theories people in this country have grown to find exciting, much more exciting than the pedestrian or complex realities of existence. Beck and FOX have little to do with truth and everything to do with taking your money and getting you hooked on a soap opera-like Manichean story of good and evil which can be influenced by whether or not you invest in gold coins through Goldline.

b) Why are Beck's books flying off the shelves? The same reason Tom Paine's books are not; the same reason few in this country read Voltaire or Diederot or Ben Franklin or Bayle; and the same reason more people buy porn than will ever spend a dime on a work of genuine thought; because most people in America would rather be entertained and titillated than faced with genuine ideas and the possibility their deeply cherished prejudices are ridiculous and dangerous. Beck panders to the worst in people and people love to be pandered to.

Why are "all" of Obama's "employees" leaving the White House? They aren't. Whoever told you they were (FOX) is a liar. The Secretary of State is still there, the Sect'y of Defense, the Cabinet members, etc. If "all" his employess left, none of these would still be around.

In any case, what the hell does that have to do with the essay I wrote here on this page? Did you bother to READ it before posting this?

"The majority of the Country is center Right when it comes to politics. You don't think so only because you believe what most of cable news is telling you, and they are wrong."

And again, where would anyone get the idea I believe that the American people are anything other than conservative in their outlook? *I* am not but I don't agree with the majority of people from what I can tell -- I think the majority is being persuaded to think and judge and act and vote against their own interests by arguments and advertizements that are essentially lies and misrepresentations of reality. They have been persuaded nonetheless, so they tend to be right wing and sliding further to the right every day.

I do not get my information, my thoughts, or my ideas from "cable news" or other such. All you have to do is actually read what I write, "my friend," before responding.


Smkmdb11 profile image

Smkmdb11 5 years ago from North Carolina, USA

All that needs to be said is this...If Glenn is so far from the truth, if he is so "wrong", why is Fox news at the top of the ratings as usual? Why are his books flying off the shelves? Why are all of Obama's "employees" leaving the White House? The majority of the Country is center Right when it comes to politics. You don't think so only because you believe what most of cable news is telling you, and they are wrong. All you have to do is look at history my friend. It never lies.


skylinerj34 profile image

skylinerj34 5 years ago

Very detailed and thoughtful hub. I admire anybody that actually research the subject instead of the nonsensical rants that we usually get from the likes of Glenn Beck.


Richard VanIngram profile image

Richard VanIngram 5 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

Jason,

Thank you for reading my Hubs. I leave out many things when I write, especially if I can't adequately cover the topic in a reasonable amount of space. I was aiming at Beck here and his misuse of Thomas Paine and that man's ideas.

You say:

"I just want to state that you were very careful in your hub to not mention any of the excesses which upset conservatives about our current dictates from congress. Our government is beginning to reach deep within our minds by telling us what we better accept."

Sir, respectfully, I have no clue what you are talking about. Government enacts laws which we all have to accept & abide by. That is its normal function. And in America, laws have to coincide with the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Precidents of the Supreme Court. I keep track of the news pretty carefully and, in the past 1 and a half years, I haven't heard much at all that doesn't pass Constitutional muster coming out of Congress as law. Unless you are a conspiracy theorist, in which case you'll have to explain to me your theories and the facts they're based on and where you got them.

You said:

"You were equally careful in leaving out the fringe left and the polar opposites of desired government they wish to inflict upon us all."

You'll have to define who this "fringe left" is -- America has no fringe left of which I'm aware, at least not one holding any real power or influence. Are you saying there are godless Communists running amok, running the government? You are speaking in a mysterious tone here -- be more clear for me and name names. Don't put it to me to name the names for you when I disagree there's even a problem.

You say:

"Was not the colonial militia entirely volunteer from its inception?"

and

"Did not our Continental Congress start pro bono? These were indeed virtuous men, who like all humans still succumbed to particular vices. But, their gift of the Republic to us is immeasurable and born free of payroll taxes."

All very nice points -- but beside the point. All of these things happened this way in the first place because **there was no state, no united states to pay for any of this**. The preliminaries had to be gotten out of the way: the revolution, the theories, the idea of the Constitution, the need to tax, the framework subordinating the states to a federal system and eliminating the Articles of Confederation and the idea each state was a separate little country with a completely free "will." It was accomplished by those who wanted to accomplish it and had the means.

Ironically, one of the first things these men did was give their new invention, the government of the US, the ability to levy taxes by whatever means seemed most efficient. And the first president had to put down the Whisky Rebellion over just this issue, setting the precedent that the government can, will, and must tax, and tax evaders are out of luck and acting against the law.

No real debate to be had. Just the end of the idea that government can be run on bake sales and an effective union can be held together by refusing to take care of the various functions of the state and by cooperating.

Or we can all move to Somolia, where there are no taxes, no government, no laws, nothing -- but guns, warlords, dead people: Libertarian Paradise. I need to hear a conservative show me just how far they are from the Libertarians these days before I will believe it, to be honest. Today's conservative is much, much further to the right than 30 years ago or 40 years ago -- Richard Nixon would be considered a moderate to liberal conservative today, which should be enough to make anyone wonder about the state of the Republican Party and the very existence of so-called "non-libertarian conservatives."

I'm sure they exist. I'm sure they're awful quiet, too, and are happy to let Beck and Limbaugh and Palin bring in the extremists to the polls that will keep some of them in power a bit longer. But the Tea Party faction -- with people like Sharon Angle, Rand Paul, and that silly witchy-woman in Delaware whose name I can't remember -- is displacing "traditional" right wing Republicans with libertarian conservatives and conspiracy theorists, if not worse.

Conservatives have made a deal with the Devil to stay in power . . . and at the end of the day, only the Devil may be left.


Jason R. Manning profile image

Jason R. Manning 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

Mr. Vaningram, I have read a few of your hubs and I truly enjoy them. This particular hub is the first I am responding to because of the blanket statement you have made in regard for conservatives. I am not a follower of Beck, nor have I read his book. I admit my age and depth of Colonial history is a work in progress, but one I highly value broadening. I believe we should have a government, one that is as trust worthy as ‘humanly’ possible, and one that does not take excessive advantage of treating high achievers like walking check books. I equally find Libertarian platforms disturbing and counterintuitive to how human nature works.

Having said that, I think you mischaracterize most conservatives by lumping us with the Beck faction of Libertarian leanings.

Was not the colonial militia entirely volunteer from its inception? Somewhere along the way to a new colonial awareness, there was an awakening to the power these new colonies were developing, soon followed the realization that they had something to protect; an idea, not just themselves form foreign invaders. Did not our Continental Congress start pro bono? These were indeed virtuous men, who like all humans still succumbed to particular vices. But, their gift of the Republic to us is immeasurable and born free of payroll taxes.

I am not looking to debate you one the merit of taxes and how government operates. I just want to state that you were very careful in your hub to not mention any of the excesses which upset conservatives about our current dictates from congress. Our government is beginning to reach deep within our minds by telling us what we better accept. You were equally careful in leaving out the fringe left and the polar opposites of desired government they wish to inflict upon us all. You may very well have a Hub addressing this issue I have raised, forgive me for not having read it yet. Thank you for the thoughtful hub nevertheless.

Good Day.


Richard VanIngram profile image

Richard VanIngram 6 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

tdarby -- Thank you for your thoughtful comments here and elsewhere. I do make some sort of attempt to think before I speak (usually) -- and these are issues that occupied my mind for decades before they became fashionable.


Richard VanIngram profile image

Richard VanIngram 6 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

Jon -- My guess is that, since FOX makes its millions as the clearing house for far-right wing misinformation and propaganda and so many people take it as seriously as they do, the president really has little choice than offer explanations to correct the plethora of nonsense they offer.

Obviously, I haven't commented on your hubs, but since you've indirectly invited me, I'll do so when I've time.


JON EWALL profile image

JON EWALL 6 years ago from usa

Richard VanIngram

OBAMA SEEMS TO THINK HIGHLY OF FOX NEWS. Whenever the other TV news shows have the president on,Barak Obama always makes remarks related to the Fox News commentators.

Oh, thanks for your thoughts on my hub.


tdarby profile image

tdarby 6 years ago

Richard, I especially like the thought you put into your hubs. I don't agree with everything you say, but unlike many on both the ends of the spectrum, you clearly think out your positions. I wish more in the US would begin to do so. There is so much angry rhetoric right now, from both of the major political parties, that I fear thinking has taken a backseat to emotion anger. Keep thinking--and please keep sharing.


OpinionDuck profile image

OpinionDuck 6 years ago

Who is Glen Beck?


Richard VanIngram profile image

Richard VanIngram 6 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

Joe Ewall: Beck reminds me of a carny huckster trying to mesmerize the rubes with a never-ending monologue while someone picks their pockets.

By all means, feel free to post an ad here at the bottom of my essay without taking time to attempt to counter even one of my points or answer any of the issues I've brought up.

Sure, people should watch Beck at least once or twice -- but if you've caught his shtick once, you've seen everything he has to offer: He's a one trick pony, not Paul Revere on his noble steed.

But I'd also add that people would better spend their time reading some philosophy and some of the writings of the Founders in order to check up on old Glenn to see if he's actually in line with the Enlightenment ideas of our forefathers when he does his act.

The only antidote to Beck is self-education. Otherwise, one may mistake a clown for a thinker.


Richard VanIngram profile image

Richard VanIngram 6 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

habee: I'm sure that's a common story throughout homes across the land!


JON EWALL profile image

JON EWALL 6 years ago from usa

HUBBERS

Beck reminds me of Paul Revere warning that the British are coming.

Watch him and get an unbiased no spin on what our government is doing with our economy and Washington's failure to produce the jobs that were promised.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

Beck is kinda scary to me, but my hubby loves him.


Richard VanIngram profile image

Richard VanIngram 6 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

Thank you, De Greek. Things are becoming tense here in the States and men like Beck are throwing gasoline on the fire claiming to represent the tradition of the Founding Revolutionaries -- when nothing could be further from the truth. Americans in general have no historical sense or background -- we are taught to look forwards, not back at the situations from where we came and the ideas that made the present possible. It becomes easy for men like Beck to make specious claims of historical pedigree in such a climate and most people, no matter how much they disagree, are left unarmed to respond. It truly angers me that the American far-right, which owes little to the 18th c. origins of our country, regularly hijacks the message of our Enlightenment thinkers, misquotes fragments of their writings, and has built an industry on (mis)-representing "who we REALLY are" in the process.


De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

Richard, it is very rare that I come across a text with which I agree absolutely. Yours is such a one. Well done on a brilliant assesment of a brilliant man like Paine and also of an assesment of a person who barks at the command of his well known employer. Thank you for this. Really excellent


Richard VanIngram profile image

Richard VanIngram 6 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

That is the beauty of it -- let all have their say and then let's sort out who makes the most sense.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

I agree with you 100% about Glen Beck. Tom Paine would be rolling in his grave if he knew of the misuse and abuse of his title and his concept.

This is one reason I believe in free speech. Ole Glen Beck (aka the village idiot taken to ranting on a soap box in the middle of the concrete jungle) can have his say. Fine.

You, my friend, can have yours. That's the beauty of it.

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