One of the major themes of Senator Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency is a call for national unity. The senator is fond of promoting himself as the one candidate who can provide such unity. One way he goes about this is to reveal as little as he can about what he believes and stands for, so that those listening can feel free to project their own values onto him. It’s a brilliant, if somewhat deceitful tactic.
Ayn Rand wrote about this campaign phenomenon during the presidential election of 1972.
“Every four years, at about this time, we begin to hear louder and louder appeals for national unity.” She characterized this wish for unity as a call for “peaceful coexistence,” and acknowledged that, “in order to exist as a nation, the large number of men who live in the same geographical area and deal with one another, must agree on some fundamental principles.”
She continued: “The big questions, however, are: Peace—at what price? Harmony—on what terms? Agreement—about what? And more: can such terms and agreements be chosen arbitrarily? Can men choose any terms and make them work simply by wishing them to do so? Or are there objective factors which necessitate certain principles of human association, and defeat all others? In sum, the fundamental social question is: What principles should men agree upon in order to live and deal with one another?”
“…Ask yourself: What rules of conduct would you be able and willing to accept in order to deal with your neighbors?” (The Ayn Rand Letter, October/November, 1972)
Of course, Ayn Rand used this issue as a way of underscoring the crucial role which individual rights play as the political foundation for a free society. Needless to say, politicians like Obama have a very different kind of unity in mind.
“National unity, like love, is not a primary,” she said, “but a consequence and must come voluntarily or not at all. Just as one cannot order a child to love his mother, and if one does, one will make him hate her – so one cannot order or urge a nation to unite. When a politician’s demands violate your convictions, when he claims that unity supersedes your judgment, when he urges you to support policies which you oppose, to participate in actions you regard as evil, to join your own destroyers, or to leap into a sacrificial furnace – all in the name of national unity – then pretense, hypocrisy, corruption, hatred and national disintegration will be the only results.”
“This is the kind of unity,” Rand wrote in 1972, “which [Democratic presidential candidate George] McGovern hopes to extort from the nation.”
There is a wider point here. Is not this kind of arbitrary, artificial “unity” exactly what Ed Hudgins, Will Thomas and TAS are attempting to extort from the Objectivist movement?
When so-called philosophical leaders demand that you violate your standards, when they call for an arbitrary “unity” which supersedes your judgment, when they request that you sanction policies (e.g., egregious conduct) you deem outrageous, accede to behaviors (spitting on the Brandens and other prominent thinkers) you regard as evil, fraternize with the philosophy’s destroyers, or get down and wallow in their muck—all in the name of philosophical “unity”---what else can be expected but pretense, hypocrisy, corruption, resentment and complete philosophical disintegration?
Ayn Rand’s words deserve repeating: “The big questions, however, are: Peace—at what price? Harmony—on what terms? Agreement—about what? And more: can such terms and agreements be chosen arbitrarily? Can men choose any terms and make them work simply by wishing them to do so? Or are there objective factors which necessitate certain principles of human association, and defeat all others?"
Clearly, there are objective conditions which must be satisfied before unity becomes a worthwhile, attainable objective. By ignoring those conditions, and then compounding the error by trying to tap dance around them, TAS is promoting the destruction of the very philosophy they claim to champion.