TOS Blog: Daily Commentary from an Objectivist Perspective

Principle vs. Pragmatism in Supporting Romney-Ryan

Here is another question I’ve received in various forms regarding my endorsement of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan: “Isn’t it pragmatic and unprincipled to campaign or vote for Romney-Ryan on the grounds that the ticket is merely less bad than Obama-Biden?”

This question entails a misunderstanding of both pragmatism and principle.

Pragmatism is not the weighing of alternatives, but the rejection of principles, truths, absolutes. Philosophical pragmatists, such as John Dewey and Richard Rorty, reject principles across the board, openly proclaiming that there are no absolutes or truths; there is only what “works.” Political pragmatists, such as many Republicans today, do not necessarily say that there are no truths, but they nevertheless fail to recognize that the principle of rights is an absolute. They regard rights as rules of thumb, and they aim to do what “works” politically.

Contrary to claims of pragmatists, principles do exist and are absolutes. Principles are fundamental truths or ideas to guide people’s thought and action. But, properly understood, principles are not purposeless rules or contextless absolutes; rather, they are purpose-oriented tools that are properly applied with respect to the context of a given situation. To apply a principle correctly, one must recognize the purpose of the action in question, and one must apply the principle with respect to both that purpose and the surrounding facts.

Voting in a presidential election for the less-bad ticket among two possibilities when those possibilities are the only viable alternatives, and when there is some value to be gained by voting for the less-bad alternative (e.g., more time to educate people about the moral foundations of freedom), is not pragmatism but an act of principle. It is the application of the principle that the purpose of voting in a presidential election is to help put into office the best (or least bad) team that can possibly be elected at the time. To refrain from voting when one of the only two viable alternatives is significantly worse than the other is to aid the worse ticket by withholding a vote for the less-bad one.

(To vote for a candidate who has no chance of winning, such as Gary Johnson in this election, is to do the same thing. Johnson supporters would do well to recognize the principle that “ought” implies “can.” To use one’s vote to say that Johnson should be president is to imply that it is possible for him to be president. But it is not possible—so there is no “should” about it. And even if Johnson could win, his choice to join the Libertarian Party, not to mention his suicidal foreign policy, would disqualify him.)

Thinking and acting on principle requires recognition of both the proper purpose of a given action and the full context of the situation in question. To ignore either is to commit the fallacy of context dropping.

A U.S. president is (among other things) the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military and a major participant in the passage of legislation. Unless the viable candidates running for the presidency are equally bad—in which case a protest vote can be proper—the purpose of voting for a presidential candidate and his running mate is to help place them, rather than the worse candidates, in office.

Determining who is better, who is worse, and who has a chance of winning an election requires taking into account the relevant facts concerning the candidates, the election, and the culture at large. In regard to the coming election, we know (among other things) the following:

  • Either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is going to win.
  • As bad as Romney is, Obama is substantially worse, especially in regard to the economy, which is in dire straits and continues to deteriorate.
  • Romney and Ryan aim to slow the increase in government spending and the expansion of entitlement programs; Obama aims to accelerate both.
  • Romney and Ryan have some respect for businessmen and profits; Obama, to put it mildly, has none.
  • Romney and Ryan recognize that if you built a business, you built it; Obama says, “You didn’t build that.”
  • Romney and Ryan aim (however confusedly) to save the Land of Liberty; Obama aims to destroy it.
  • Ryan calls (however confusedly) for protecting individual rights and embracing the moral foundation for capitalism; Obama calls for taxing “the rich” and “spreading the wealth around.”
  • Ryan, while making clear that he is not an Objectivist, expresses respect for Ayn Rand’s ideas—which are the ideas of the future if America is to have a future; Obama embraces the ideas of Saul Alinsky.
  • Ryan’s presence on the Republican ticket has invigorated and will continue to invigorate discussion of individual rights and of Rand’s ideas in the news, on talk shows, on editorial pages, in op-eds, across social media, and so on; Joe Biden’s presence on the Democratic ticket is an embarrassment to the human race.
  • Ryan’s presence in a Romney administration would invite constant comparisons of the administration’s proposals and policies with Rand’s ideas.

This context matters.

Voting in a principled manner involves recognizing the purpose of voting and the context at hand and making a decision with respect to that goal and those facts.

Of course Romney and Ryan are far from ideal candidates. They are middle-of-the-roaders, torn between reverence for religion and respect for rights. But they are also far from as bad as Obama. There is a big difference between having a religion-induced misunderstanding of freedom, rights, and the American ideal on the one hand—and harboring outright hatred of freedom, rights, and America on the other. Likewise, there is a big difference between engaging in rights-violating policies because one is mistaken about what is the good, and engaging in such policies because one eagerly seeks to destroy the good. Such differences make a difference.

Endorsing or supporting Romney and Ryan does not imply that one endorses or supports their flawed fundamental philosophies. Rather it implies that one recognizes the purpose of voting and the context at hand. Far from being unprincipled, supporting Romney-Ryan is precisely what principle calls for at this time.

Support Romney and Ryan during the election cycle, and make clear all along why you are supporting them. When appropriate, point out that Ryan is not an Objectivist, that many of Romney and Ryan’s policies are at odds with Objectivism, and that you would provide more support if they were more in line with Rand’s ideas. Then, once Romney and Ryan are in office, help keep the national discussion focused on individual rights, on Rand’s philosophy, and on the relationship of the new administration’s proposals and policies to the fundamental principles of a free society.

This is the principled thing to do.

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Creative Commons Image: James B. Currie

Posted in: Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Politicians and Candidates

Comments are welcome so long as they are civil.
  • Anonymous

    By continuing to vote we are granting legitimacy to a completely bankrupt “electoral” process. We are allowing ourselves to be manipulated by an evil and murderous establishment that believes (with some justification) that the American people are idiots.

    That Obama is evil is beyond question. However, why is the “other side” which promises to “maintain Medicare for future generations” (when it cannot and should not be done) and balance the budget by 2068 while continuing the Empire’s killing of thousands of people to be preferred? Unless and until the Welfare/Warfare state is dismantled, our situation will not improve. It is well past time to for people to stop playing Washington’s game.

  • Russ Karlberg

    The electoral process was not imposed on us by Washington – we voted for it. The poor choice of politicians available is a product of the current dominant philosophies.

    However – it seems that many Objectivists fail to keep context in mind. Craig is right; given the current environment, Romney/Ryan are the best we could possibly hope for.

    I just came from the town hall meeting today in NH, and I was actually very inspired. They said very little that an Objectivist would disagree with. In fact there was much talk about the value of hard work, individual rights and freedom.

  • Philip Nelson

    Did you not read this article?

    We vote because to not vote is to hand over freedom with a smile and a wink. You can beat your chest about the evils of Washington and can point out the flawed nature of the Romney-Ryan ticket (You think you are the only one who knows what you know?) but to suggest that a life of slavery to a “noble ideal” that will be realised with the sweat and tears and ultimately blood of hard working individuals is preferable to voting for someone who isn’t perfect requires a severe evasion of reality orders of magnitude higher than man collectivists go through.

    To proclaim America is an “empire” “killing thousands” suggests to me you are of the Gary Johnson / Ron Paul variety of voters who fundamentally see America as the problem. Also you show a lack of understand of how deeply ingrained the welfare state is in the current economy. People – through no fault of their own – would be left destitute without these programs, they cannot simply be wiped out over night to satisfy your desire for immaculate political conception.

    As an aside, you say by continuing to vote we grant legitimacy to a bankrupt system. I challenge this assertion. The system is not bankrupt, the individuals within it are. What system would you propose? A benevolent dictatorship run by Libertarians? Perhaps an Objectivist dictatorship! That would be a feat. You cannot profess to love freedom, nor truly desire the flourishing of the individual on his own terms if you honestly suggest political anarchy and economic suicide are the proper and just way to help American society.

  • Jordan Zimmerman

    For those living in big blue states, there is no reason to vote for Romney/Ryan. California’s electors will go to Obama. Therefore, I will vote for the candidate that most closely resembles my values. That said, I will strongly encourage those in swing state to vote for Romney/Ryan. Remember, in Bush v Gore it came down to a few hundred votes in Florida.

  • Mike Dunlap

    Those darn abolitionists! Sure, the individual has no moral obligation to continue supporting the generational wealth transfer promises made by others, but the sociological and financial disruption (of freeing the slaves) would be too much to bear; so suck it up and lend credibility to the two-party monopoly by voting for a “viable”. We sacrifice our principles and then get upset when elected leaders do the same? Huh?

  • jayeldee

    All of the major-party candidates in this election are socialists, to one degree or another. Their differences are only over the rate at which they want to, or think they can, consume their unwitting hosts. So their “economics”—which is TOS’s focal point, here and elsewhere—simply don’t matter.

    But missing from your bulleted list and from the text
    encompassing it is any mention of “the ‘A’ word”: abortion.

    Now, thanks to the initial honesty (it was no gaffe) of Representative Todd Akin, we FINALLY have a substantive matter front-and-center, in this “campaign”—and one in which there IS a meaningful difference between the two “parties”…. Akin’s cited “initial honesty”, by the
    way (he soon tried to backpedal—hence the qualifier), entitles him to praise that Ryan & Co. certainly doesn’t merit—with the latter’s apparent strategy being, to surreptitiously implement controls over human reproductive processes,
    while assuming the pose of “putting America back on track” (as the cliché goes); i.e., to allow the subjugated populace to thrive just enough to keep
    paying their dues, affording the brutes in charge the time and wherewithal to slip the coercive effects of their demented creeds into place, while their intended victims are in an unthinking frenzy, producing and consuming.

    Allowing them, the religious right, this gambit would be tantamount to forfeiting ownership of one’s body, for a mess of chattel. (And those who encourage it to happen will, I would say, richly deserve the consequences.)

  • Anonymous

    “There is a big difference between having a religion-induced misunderstanding of freedom, rights, and the American ideal on the one hand—and harboring outright hatred of freedom, rights, and America on the other.”

    There’s not a big difference in the actions they take against our liberty. What actions would Obama take that you believe Romney would not?

  • Mark Wilson

    What makes you
    think that these candidates are ‘torn between reverence for religion and
    respect for rights?’ Have they
    equivocated on their support for religion? What have they stated that shows confusion
    or a wavering on their commitment to their respective forms of
    Christianity? Further, what have
    they stated that indicates a genuine respect for rights, absent a mystical,
    non-rational basis? It’s not as if
    either of them have revealed that their thinking on fundamental ideas is a
    work-in-progress. Quite the

    Since philosophy
    is hierarchical, one’s views on metaphysics and epistemology form the
    foundation upon which their views on ethics and politics are built. Since a genuine respect for rights
    cannot arise from a flawed metaphysics, neither Romney nor Ryan are in favor of
    rights, period. Not if one
    understands what rights are, thanks to Ayn Rand.

    The principled
    thing to do is to act on principle. What, in this context, is the principle at stake? A principle
    is ‘a fundamental truth or proposition
    that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain
    of reasoning’ (Apple Dictionary v. 2.1.3).

    So to act on principle is to act
    on a fundamental truth – a truth that defines the context of any particular
    issue. In this context, the
    principle is the principle of rights, the fundamental idea within the field of politics.

    The original post advocated that Objectivists not only vote for, but actively campaign for the Romney/Ryan
    ticket. I reiterate my opposition to
    this position, and add that to actively campaign for avowed mystics is a
    violation of principle.

    Objectivists might properly vote
    for this ticket given the alternative, but active support is out of the
    question, regardless of whether or not it would be possible to consistently
    explain that one’s active support should not be construed as in any way condoning
    their fundamental ideas (an untenable position).

    A vote in favor – possibly. Active campaigning– never.

  • James Beley Jr.

    Another well reasoned
    article. Unfortunately, too many of our Libertarian friends are so invested in
    their ‘noble’ floating political abstractions, that righteous suicide pacts seem to have
    the romantic force of art.

  • Robert LeChevalier

    “As bad as Romney is, Obama is substantially worse, especially in regard to the economy…”

    As bad as Obama is on the economy, which is, to say, catastrophic, his approach to national defense and foreign policy is worse. I’ve been 100% correct in every prediction I’ve made of Obama in the 4 years he’s been on-stage, so I will say again: his primary objective is the destruction of the United States as a sovereign nation. Destruction of our economy is one arm of that strategy; eviscerating the national defense and hog-tying us with disarmament treaties is the other arm of his approach. It’s no coincidence that the single biggest accomplishment of the first year of his administration was to sign the new START treaty with Russia — which cuts our nuclear forces 2/3, while letting the Russians re-arm and modernize their own. It’s no coincidence that another big accomplishment of his administration was a Congressional “budget deal” that called for automatic, draconian 50% reductions in our military if Congress couldn’t reach a deal — which they didn’t, because the Democrats had people like Patty Murray in charge to negotiate in bad faith. (Murray is one red star shy of being a Soviet commissar.)

    Obama himself is some brand of Stalinist or Castroite communist, not a socialist as some claim. That variety has an agenda, which the health care bill accomplishes very nicely, in an egregious expansion of power over every aspect of our lives. It’s quite consistent with his expansion of Presidential authority as well, as he ignores congress.

    Evidence? One can always point to Obama’s associations, and though some dismiss that as irrelevant, it’s worth reviewing: Obama’s mother was a communist, his birth father was a communist (who died in Kenya while trying to organize an overthrow of the government under KGB orders), his adopted father was a communist, his grandparents were communists, his mentor (Frank Davis) was a communist in the CPUSA under KGB control. We can go past close associates to actions — communists he’s appointed to top government posts and positions, including Van Jones, Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod (who has ties that go all the way back to Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, the Soviet spies executed for giving them the secret of the H-bomb). Elena Kagan, his nominee now on the Supreme Court, is an openly admitted socialist and likely a communist. Etc.

    It’s actually much worse than this. Read Trevor Loudon’s blog, or his book, “Barack Obama and the Enemies from Within”. Loudon is not a crackpot or political hack; he’s the one who first started exposing Obama’s communist ties, but it came about while researching Soviet influence on the New Zealand anti-nuke movement. (He’s a Kiwi.)

    The point is: Obama is far more dangerous than his effect on our economy. My own personal opinion based on studying him is that one of his first acts if reelected will be to try to use executive authority to unilaterally eliminate the entire U.S. nuclear deterrent. He only needs enough Democrats to refuse to impeach him for it. He’s already eliminated our anti-ballistic missile defense. As he said in Korea, “after the election I will have more flexibility.”

  • jayeldee

    Yes, all catastrophic, undoubtedly. And B.O. is in many
    respects a known quantity, to those that care to know.

    But then—all of what you say, said: what of Ryan/Romney?
    What does their intended foreign policy amount to? Have they uttered a word
    about it? …. And I don’t mean simply in regard to Israel; important as that is,
    a visit there and some (not unintelligent) commentary about Arab “culture,”
    amongst the usual bromides, does not a foreign policy make.

    And when it comes to that, has there been a modern American
    president who has left us stronger rather than weaker in this world, after
    leaving office? …. Johnson? Nixon? Carter? Reagan? Bush I & II? Clinton?
    They have all been disasters, to differing degrees and in different respects.

    And there is no reason whatsoever to think that Ryan/Romney
    would be any less damaging than were their predecessors—or indeed any less
    damaging than B.O. has been, or intends to be. For which is worse? Deliberate
    sabotage (ala, as you allege, B.O.), which sooner or later becomes manifestly
    evident, and conceivably preventable or punishable (including by execution)? Or
    inadvertent blundering and cowardice (ala—as I fully expect, and not unlike
    their predecessors—Ryan/Romney), the effects of which might not be immediately
    evident, and not fully evident until far into the future, when the culprits are
    long gone? (See, for example: Truman v. MacArthur) …. Blundering or sabotage; I
    don’t know which is worse.

    But here is what I do know: B.O. won’t save us—and might
    destroy us; ditto that, for Ryan/Romney. America’s resurrection doesn’t lie in
    its politicians (to state the brutally obvious). We cannot even trust any of
    them to buy us time. I think the only semi-viable solution at hand lies in
    incapacitating our government, to as great an extent as possible, so to minimize
    the damage it can inflict on what there is left of us. And the only non-treasonous
    way I’m aware of to accomplish that (at least, to some extent) is through the
    inefficiencies of “gridlock,” hard though it is to arrange. Republican
    Executive Branch, Democratic Legislative Branch, or vice-versa. Of course, that
    still leaves the Judicial Branch, doesn’t it, as a sort of wild card….. But
    given what we’ve got to work with, it does make for the “least worst” of all
    possible worlds. The trick is, to arrange for it. Somehow.

  • Morry Markovitz

    The decision John Galt made when he quit the 20th Century Motor Co. and which created the theme for Atlas Shrugged was based precisely on the view Craig explains above. I emphatically agree with Craig and offer a comparison with Atlas Shrugged’s heroes in the hope of clarifying the correctness of Craig’s view. All of Atlas’s heroes, even John Galt, started out (in a very broad sense) in roles (in their contexts) similar to the roles Romney and Ryan are now playing (in their current contexts): John Galt was the FIRST of Atlas’ heroes to understand that by his prior lack of FULL correct knowledge regarding ALL the implications of his life decisions, he had actually been helping to further the ideas he abhorred. It took him only moments to understand this fully and draw the right conclusions for his future actions (immediately after the announcement of the new remuneration plan at 20th Century Motors). He then adopted a self-appointed mission to enlighten others who shared certain fundamental values with him, but who had not yet grasped the subtleties of how their continued pursuit of the right values — in the full context of their historical/political/philosophical situation — was, almost “counter-intuitively,” actually supplying “aid & comfort” to their worst adversaries. They, like Romney and Ryan, did not realize that some of their conclusions for action were actually helping to destroy other of their highest values. For all we know, Paul Ryan — conceivably but less likely even Romney — may move closer to understanding and adopting the full canon of Ayn Rand’s ideas over time. What we do know with virtual certainty is that there is zero chance Obama or Biden will. Did John Galt condemn, or even withhold his fundamental support for,Dagny or Rearden because in fighting the right battle under a misapprehension, their error caused them to UNWITTINGLY impede or even destroy the possibilities for victory? No. Galt fought them on what might loosely be called a “technical” issue, namely that the practical consequences of their chosen METHOD for implementing the IDENTICAL values he held, was actually counter-productive in the longer run. And he devoted his life to the attempt to help them correct that error of theirs, BECAUSE HE UNDERSTOOD their potential value as allies based on the basic beliefs they held & the basic characters they posssessed. He knew he was right, and he knew they shared the right values with him — except for one error or oversight which caused them to seek after sub-values which were — in the FULL context of their existing mutual situations — temporarily the wrong values to be seeking. No analogy is perfect, and this one is far from perfect. But I think it helps illustrate the correctness of the point Craig makes. Galt did not seek Wesley Mouch or even Dagny’s assistant Eddie as aggressively as he went after Dagny or Rearden or Ellis Wyatt, et al. The “candidates” he sought to “support” — by devoting time to “re-educating” them about a few things (while continuing to oppose them in those actions which were based on their current ignorance or error) — were the candidates who were THE MOST LIKELY AVAILABLE to bear the fruit Galt aimed to produce. In that sense, Galt was applying his principles AND HIS CONTEXTUAL UNDERSTANDING in accordance with the advice given by Craig above.

  • Mark Wilson

    This is not a matter of oversight or temporary error. Galt knew that Dagney and Rearden shared his core
    values. His fight with them was over the
    proper implementation of what all three held as common fundamental values. Romney and Ryan do not share the core values of
    Objectivism, hence this analogy lacks any substance and is anti-hierarchical.

  • Morry Markovitz

    Mark’s basic error is revealed by his statement that ” . . . to act on principle is to act on a fundamental truth – a truth that defines the context of any particular issue.” This PRECISELY REVERSES the relationship of principle to context.
    A principle is a BROAD guiding GENERAL TRUTH, but ALL knowledge ends up be implemented in SPECIFIC, CONCRETE CONTEXTS.
    Mark does not understand that
    1. All knowledge is contextual, and
    2. Principles are NOT simply RULES that happen to be correct, and it is COUNTER to the correct epistemological understanding of principles to implement as if they were rules to be slavishly and literally obeyed without consideration of the context.
    This is a common failure of understanding which seems to afflict numerous self-described “libertarians” — or maybe it’s more accurate to say that this is a common failure of understanding which CREATES some of the worst conclusions and some of the worst libertarians.
    The most extreme illustration of my point is Ayn Rand’s commentary on “emergency ethics.” But the principle — that even principles must be implemented contextually — is ever-operative in any application of any principle. This is true even in the hard sciences, not only in human affairs.
    A simple analogy for illustration: You are the last person to leave your office, having worked late. A rainstorm has crippled subway service and you do not have enough money for a taxi home. You know your best friend has $20 kept hidden in his desk for unforeseen expenses. He is unreachable, so you take $10 from his desk with the full intention of replacing it the next day and explaining the situation to your friend. It is a principle that theft is wrong. And by the LITERAL definition of theft, you have stolen that money. But you know your lifelong buddy and you know he would not object IN THIS CONTEXT. Your intent is not the intent of a thief, but you are taking another’s property without his knowledge or permission. You would be happy to have your friend do the same if the roles were reversed. Based on your knowledge and evaluation of the FULL context of your act, while it does satisfy the DENOTATION of “theft” by it’s definition, it does not satisfy what the concept of “theft” would connote IN THIS CONTEXT. That is your conclusion, you are certain of it, but you know you are fallible and stand ready to accept the consequences should it prove that you have erred. No HUMAN being, no RATIONAL being, would judge you to deserve the punishment of a thief. OR: more generally, LAWS are “one size fits all” generalizations for action based on principles. Yet we give judges the authority — and very properly so — to make some degree of change in the application of explicit, clearly defined laws — when the context demands them.
    Principles are not entities and do not exist in physical reality. They are concepts. Some of them are even subject to change as man’s knowledge expands. The purpose of principles is to guide — not to literally DETERMINE WITH PRECISE REPITITION — one’s chosen actions in life so that they will serve one’s life via CORRECT decisions for action. Every APPLICATION of a principle MUST and CAN ONLY be made in a SPECIFIC instance of a CONCRETE situation — and EVERY situation has a CONTEXT. In most of them, the application of a principle is straightforward — after all, a principle IS a GENERAL truth. But there are concrete situations, not infrequently, where more than one principle applies, and the action which respects ALL the applicable principles is sometimes a difficult problem to solve. That’s why man has a thinking brain and reason. That’s why moralilty is not best implemented by a robot with a memorized rulebook.
    In conclusion, I also refer Mark to one of Ayn Rand’s favorite novelists, Victor Hugo, specifically to his novel “Les Miserables” about Jean Valjean. His adversary Javert implicitly accepted the view expressed in my quote of Mark at the outset of this post. Javert, who believed morality to lie in the strictest literal observance of the law, came to realize the flaw in his life’s work: that the law is intended to be a servant of good men, not the other way around. When he realized that his pursuit of the law-breaker Jean Valjean entailed the persecution of a man with perhaps the most honorable and admirable character he had ever encountered, Javert’s world-view was shattered, he grasped on some level that literal adherence to rules is not the same as adherence to principles, and that context-less enforcement of principles amounts to the evil of abandoning one’s own reasoning mind. Realizing that by his error he had spent a good part of his life in pursuing what was evil, and in destroying the life of an admirable, morally superior, great man — or perhaps merely realizing that he was unable to fathom the nature of or distinguish between good and evil — Javert committed suicide.
    If you really believe what you said in that quote, Mark, and if you understand its full implications, then I suggest you open your mind a little wider and re-examine the fundamental purpose of having an Objectivist ethics, as well as the nature and purpose of principles, as well as the meaning of “ALL knowledge is contextual” and why that last phrase does NOT mean mean moral or epistemological relativism — why it in fact is an ESSENTIAL part of a full commitment to reality.

  • Joe Cheff

    After years of hearing, and agreeing with, the Objectivist position that Republicans are more evil than Democrats for their misrepresentation as defenders liberty, I cannot agree with voting for the newly perceived lesser of two evils. I am done voting for evil regardless of its magnitude.

    It is an Objectivist tenant that philosophy drives history; ideas matter. Voting for the Republicans so as to buy time to change society is a mistake in my opinion. The scope of change our nation requires far exceeds the changing of politicians. We need societal changes which are not going to come about by electing the corrupt. Our efforts at this point in the game are better spent in education, publishing rational opinions and art; all of the things ARI was created to do. Buying time to change minds by supporting evil is as corrupt a message as Objectivism could send.

  • Morry Markovitz

    I emphatically disagree. No analogy is perfect. But Ryan does share some of our core values, such as the right of an individual to his own life, and the sacredness of human life (NOT meant as a reference to religion). It is human life that gives rise to the need for a value system for human beings, and Ryan sees things that way, and makes terrible mistakes in thinking those values can be secured by religion. Just as Dagny made a whole series of terrible mistakes by thinking her and Galt’s shared values could be furthered or secured by building a railroad for the looters to consume. By definition, an analogy is not directly, precisely comparable to what is be analogized(?), but I think the broad similarity is valid for illustrative purposes. Dagny was very upset at first with those who’d disappeared. She advocated that they stay and “fight,” and damned them as cowards. Ryan is very upset with atheists, actually NOT as upset it seems as Dagny was with Ellis Wyatt and the others — at first. Dagny made the mistake of advocating the waste of ability, failing to perceive the logical implication that this would serve only to further the interests of the looters. Ryan makes the mistake of advocating faith and of failing to perceive the logical implication that this will ultimately play into the hands of the secular collectivists. The basis for a valid analogy is obvious. The cases are very different, but there is one common characteristic they share, and that is the one the analogy is based on.

  • Alampallam Venkatachalam

    I agree with this argument. There is lot of ground that needs to be covered in changing the culture and that is not going to come about by replacing one right rejecting politician with another. In her essay,” Philosophy who needs it” AR also reiterates this. She calls for writing op eds, articles, participating in discussions etc but never advised campaigning for one politician. In one of her essays, she says that the deadliest enemies of objectivism are not the avowed ones but those who try to apply it with out a complete philosophical understanding. The AR institute in the past has recommended voting for one party or another in the context of that particular election but has not actively canvassed for any party. Semantics don’t alter the basic concept or correct meaning of principles.

  • Morry Markovitz

    There are too many to list. Sure there would be some they’d both take. But there is a very long list of actions Obama would support which Romney would not. A few:
    1. Obama loves to spend and tax, indiscriminately, under any and all circumstances or conditions. Romney would repudiate such actions — not all the time, but quite often.
    2. Obama would bow to the prince or king of a nation under the rule of barbaric legal principles. Romney would not
    3. Obama would negotiate a treaty to destroy 2/3 of our nuclear arms. . . etc
    4. Obama would allow illegal aliens to vote… etc.
    5. Obama would defy Supreme Court orders not to interfere with offshore drilling …
    6. Obama would “stimulate the economy” by hiring ever more government employees . . .
    7. Obama would repeal the 2nd amendment if he could, and is working hard to accomplish as near to full effective repeal as he can . . .
    I will leave you to come up with the other 200 items on the list on your own.

  • Mark Wilson

    I agree. The tricky question in my mind is how to best use one’s vote to ensure that political gridlock ensues – so that we have sufficient time to educate enough people to lead to real cultural change before the total collapse.

  • Mark Wilson

    Well said. I agree. Both parties are rights-rejectors – but one wolf appears in sheep’s clothing. ;}

  • Philip Hopkins

    Obama is much more principled than Romney, he is consistent in his Marxist ideology. Romney shows some elements of respect for the individual and for businessmen but is clearly not consistent in his views. To paraphrase Ayn Rand, in fighting for ideas the more consistent will be the more effective. This makes Obama a clear and present danger! It is painfully obvious to me how much worse Obama is compared to Romney. And only Romney gives us any hope of seeing Obamacare repealed. Romney/Ryan views on abortion are a problem, but abortion is still legal and if Obama is a freight train aiming to wreck the US economy, healthcare and any remaining respect for individual rights, Romney is but skateboard rolling along and threatening the legality of abortion.

    But here’s what worries me, what is the fate of a country that is willing to re-elect a Marxist, altruist, anti-American, anti-business, anti-individual power hungry “leader” such as Obama?

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for your response.

    The actions Romney took as governor and
    the various ideas he’s varyingly held lead me to believe he’s just differently as
    dangerous to my liberty as Obama.

    Newly “awakened” Americans relieved to inaugurate a supposedly Constitution-respecting Republican administration will undoubtedly discover they’ve elected no such thing. Will their probably dimming passion for liberty withstand the assault or will they attribute it to a youth-like idealism and toss it away with a shrug as so many
    toss Atlas when life proves too
    challenging and denial is easier?

    We do need time and we need the energy
    required to keep people on liberty’s side.
    I’m not suggesting a vote for Obama but his rage and hatred for America and Americans is evident so he can possibly be held in check. Most wouldn’t notice Romney’s “love” for America as dangerous to their liberty.

    I used to think Republicans were the
    lesser of two evils and that we could hold their feet to the fire since they
    pretend to care about the Constitution. But
    Romney will shift leftward if he wins since he’ll be eyeing 2016. The Republicans won’t challenge him with a primary. The Democrats will then either offer up an openly communist/socialist candidate or one who’ll pretend to be to the right of Romney. Either way, we’ll be stuck with liberty-crushers for at least eight more years if we elect Romney and people’s passion for liberty may well be extinguished by then.

    I could never vote for Obama but Romney
    is also a very dangerous vote.

    This is gut-wrenching.

  • Scott Webster Wood

    Pragmatism is the forsaking of the long term in exchange for a more expedient solution in the short. Arguing that Obama is ‘worse’ as the reason to vote for Romney is pragmatism any way you slice it. Ignoring obvious faults of Romney to cherry pick the good is just another side of the same coin.
    I have heard a number of people recently raising the accusation of ‘rationalism’ against anyone that points this out – myself included. Rationalism suggests someone relying strictly on reason and ignoring experience. But in response to these allegations, I have pointed out the rationalism on the other side.
    While those applauding the pragmatism and alleging the rationalism are focused on Romney-v-Obama, I have been focused on Romney-v-Obama, Obama-v-McCain, Bush-v-Kerry, Bush-v-Gore, Clinton-v-Dole, Clinton-v-Bush I, Dukakis-v-Bush I, Reagan-v-Carter, etc. all the way back to the days of Lincoln when we first saw the two party system and when the first sparks of progressive ideology started to rear it’s head in government policy.
    It is not the person voting their conscience that is behaving rationalistic, it is the person intentionally and willfully supporting something they know to be bad that is doing so. They are the ones ignoring the big picture experience for the sake of some immediate perceived need to remove an immediate perceived threat. They are the ones forsaking the long term future for the sake of the short term fix.
    Yeah, a third party choice may lose. But that does not mean such a loss is a ‘wasted vote’ as the pragmatic rationalists love to allege. If enough people voted for alternative candidates, do you think the two parties would not take notice?
    Consider one thing, if as they allege, a third party would siphon off enough votes for Obama to win, that still means Obama has considerable support. That still means a lot of people think his ideas are good! That means that the Democratic party still thinks his ideas are good.
    Meanwhile, if enough people nominated a Romney and the RNC put him forward (and the MSM initially put their muster behind him) then there are a lot of folks that think he is good. And the RNC still thinks his ideas are good. What’s going to convince them otherwise?
    So let’s just say that the doomsayers are right and people of conscience voting for someone like Gary Johnson cause Obama to win. And let’s just say Obama doesn’t give a rat’s ass that a number of votes went to third parties (including some of his own). And let’s just say he barrels on ahead with his radical agenda despite the dissention in the voting.
    Part of the problem with Obama’s first four years was a large enough group of similarly radical democrats and wishy-washy republicans that just stood by idly and let him get away with it! So for one thing, support senate and house candidates that will not stand idly by. Support them even if they aren’t in your own district. Support them especially if they are in a key district (like say, Harry Reid’s?)
    If that happens and if there is a considerable third party presence in the presidential election, do you suppose the other house and senate members aren’t going to take notice? How many of them do you suppose will still rally to Barry’s side if it threatens their chances for re-election? It’s not a wasted vote!
    So let’s go back to your original argument, because I realized something earlier today. You said that not only a vote for Ryan(Romney) is wise, but we should ‘enthusiastically support’ them because it will bring more attention to Objectivism. I pointed out to this that Ryan has unequivocally rejected Objectivism, and that the best you can hope for is a vice presidential pedigree tied to that attempted marginalization of the philosophy as a source of influence on government policy.
    But something else just occurred to me. Yes, there has been a lot of attention brought to objectivism in recent years. Yes, some of that is due to the initial (positive) comments by Ryan on Atlas Shrugged and the buzz it created in the press. But I allege that identification by Ryan was a response to the already increasing buzz. A buzz that started back in 2007. A buzz that one man more than any other is solely responsible for creating and maintaining right up to the present day.
    It’s not Leonard Peikoff. And it’s not Yaron Brook. And no, it’s not Paul Ryan, or Ron Paul or Rand Paul. So ask yourself, if raising interest in objectivist philosophy is not a valid enough reason to vote for the one man the most responsible for raising said interest (none other than Barack Hussein Obama), then why should it be a valid excuse to vote or support Paul Ryan?

  • Steve Nunez

    Several questions came to me whilst reading the article. 1) is actively promoting Romney-Ryan ipso facto actively promoting statism? (middle of the road?). Is the context at hand a vote for more regulations (Obama) or slightly less (Romney) not a “package deal” including compromise of conviction to abhor the welfare state altogether with a neat wrapping of “hands on” capitalism?
    2) does “give me liberty or give me death” apply to my vote in this election which is now being translated as “give me a little bit of death and a little bit of life for the time being”?
    3) Is beating Obama in this election simply a cop out in fear of another four years of his presidency as opposed to a consequential objective in one wishing to live life?
    Is fear the incentive here?
    4) Is it really death we are trying to avoid or life we are trying to live here? In which case does the lethal dose matter if it is called Obama-Biden or Romney-Ryan?

  • David Elmore

    Perfectly said, Craig. I’m glad you also explained the irrationality of supporting/voting for Johnson.

  • C. Jeffery Small

    “To vote for a candidate who has no chance of winning, such as
    Gary Johnson in this election, is to do the same thing. Johnson
    supporters would do well to recognize the principle that “ought” implies ‘can.’”

    Interesting article.

    However, I would like to point out one serious error with the overall analysis. In the quoted statement above, there is an implicit assumption that the ONLY reasonable and valid goal for casting ones vote for any particular candidate, is to “help put into office the best (or least bad) team that can possibly be elected at the time”. It is stated that this constitutes an act of applying principle within the context of an election. I would agree, so long as one’s context remains limited to the consequences of the immediate presidential election and the four year term that it represents.

    Quoting again from the article above:

    “Thinking and acting on principle requires recognition of both the proper purpose of a given action and the full context of the situation in question. To ignore either is to commit the fallacy of context dropping.”

    “Voting in a principled manner involves recognizing the purpose of voting
    and the context at hand and making a decision with respect to that goal
    and those facts.”

    But what if one were to broaden their outlook and adopt a longer-range view of the future of this country, extending beyond the immediate election? This changes the goals that one is working towards, potentially altering the purpose behind any particular vote. Would it not then be possible, within this expanded context, to apply principles in such a way as to make alternative voting strategies the more rational choice, because they better align with the achievement of one’s purpose? I suggest that this is obviously the case, and from that perspective, it would then seem to be the short-range voting strategy being suggested above, that was possibly dropping the fuller context.

    It is not my intent to debate the pros and cons of different short and long-range election strategies here. I simply wish to point out that while it is true that people can indeed confuse a principled and a pragmatic approach towards their voting preference, it is not true that there is but a single rational context within which one is required to operate when formulating a political strategy. And because this is true, it is an error to classify everyone who disagrees with your particular approach as unprincipled, confused or mistaken in their approach. That assessment cannot be made without first understanding the context within which others are operating.

  • C. Jeffery Small

    Philip wrote:

    “We vote because to not vote is to hand over freedom with a smile and a wink.”

    Philip, I don’t agree that that is necessarily true. There are many other ways of fighting for liberty and individual rights than voting, which I would categorize as the least effective of all possible actions that one could take.

    If John Galt existed, can you see him voting for Romney? It seems inconceivable to me. Yet, Galt acted effectively in the long-range service of freedom. Maybe those who choose not to vote have come to a different assessment of what the act of voting in today’s context means, and have chosen a different path. Choosing not to vote is not necessarily an act of nihilism.

  • Anonymous

    The whole argument is based on the premise that we can bide time. Biding time only prolongs and grows the inevitable crash, the deeper the crash the more liberty people will give up to save themselves. You also fail to realize that biding time will be viewed as victory by zealots, allowing for no possibility of a conversion to principles.

    Romney and Ryan, when confronted with a few million angry seniors, or student loan recipients, or labor union members, or teachers, or doctors or social workers or community organizers will fold just like the tea party reps have.

    We must hit rock bottom before there is a chance of climbing out of the hole. Obama gives us the best chance of hitting rock bottom sooner rather than later.

  • Anonymous

    Total collapse is the only lesson that will lead to cultural change. You are going to spend time reasoning with the irrational? They reject reason.

  • Mark Wilson

    Oh, no. There are a great many rational people out there who will respond positively to the right ideas. There is always hope, but change on this scale is slow. It’s been less than 60 years since Atlas, and look at the widening interest we are experiencing.

  • Mark Wilson

    Why is a crash inevitable?

  • Anonymous

    Capitol misallocation.
    Loss of trust. Variation. Productivity destruction. Philosophy. Inertia.

  • David Blankenau

    That’s my question as well. Christopolis seems to assume we are already beyond the point of no return, that it is hopeless, too little too late, so Atlas should just go ahead and shrug.
    This is tantamount to saying ARI and The Objective Standard (and all Objectivists) are wasting their time and energy, and should wait until after the Big Collapse to pick up the pieces and rebuild America. Well, I’m not ready to give up the world to the nihilists, and neither are they.

  • Anonymous

    Here’s the real problem, at least in this election. I don’t see any definable difference between Romney and Obama. Term 2 of Obama == term 1 of Romney. Don’t give me the “Ryan changes the ticket” line either. We all know that VP is where future candidates go to hide until it’s their “turn”-they have less than no impact. The very best they can do is not be an embarrassment. Sorry Joe, you failed.

    I understand that many of you, including my friend Craig, have litmus test issues. I do too. Both tickets fail my litmus tests. I have voted for the lesser of two evils my entire adult life… Voting for evil hasn’t done much for me, so I’m going to try a different path.

  • David Blankenau

    Let’s be clear here; we would not be biding time, as that implies passivity, of hunkering down and “waiting out the storm”. We would be BUYING time for Objectivism to establish itself into the culture.
    We have reality on our side, as well as Craig Biddle, the Ayn Rand Institute and a whole host of prominent, articulate Objectivists to teach and spread rational ideas. And you still think it’s hopeless and futile? Talk about a Malevolent Universe Premise!

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think anyone should give up. I think you should actively work to facilitate the destruction of the current system by supporting more wealth redistribution and more laws while also explaining why those laws and wealth redistribution will collapse the system.

  • Mark Coppock

    If you vote for Johnson, the only thing you’re accomplishing in reality (other than helping Obama get elected) is elevating the Libertarian Party. Consider this press release, where the LP beats their chest over their importance because they could cost Romney five swing states. The LP knows Johnson can’t get elected; their focus this election year is on establishing the LP as the viable third party. What Objectivist wants this to happen?