The American Covenant and the American Dream

Can We Restore Our Sense of Community?
John Winfrey, Sept 2011

For generations we Americans have enjoyed a strong sense of community, a community whose members have mutual respect. We enjoy the freedom to pursue our individual goals and our social goals as well. This vision features a free-market economy augmented by a well-functioning democracy. The vision also includes something we see as The American Dream. Most Americans believe that our system should provide “fair starts” for our fellow citizens. Regardless of our political persuasions, from liberal to conservative, we all agree that young people should have adequate health care and education as well as a well-functioning economy that provides a wide array of job opportunities.

As this American Dream has evolved, it has become more and more inclusive in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity. It has been shared by all income classes especially our growing and prosperous middle class.

Our sense of community and our sharing of the American dream take the form of a covenant. This covenant is both formal and informal. It is reinforced in our families and in our schools as we study our Constitution, as we sing our national anthem, and as we pledge allegiance to our flag. One formal example of our national covenant is the Employment Act of 1946. In it Congress and the Administration pledged to use macroeconomic policy to pursue the goal of full employment. It is recognized that the “free market” does not guarantee adequate job opportunity, especially during recessions. Government has pledged to avoid recessions and to expand employment.

We know the stories of individuals and groups who have contributed to our freedom and ability to pursue our individual and social goals. We tell our children of the challenges faced by the early settlers; and of the struggle for independence of past generations and their sacrifices in times of economic crises and military conflicts. Today we observe how we Americans respond to disasters befalling our fellow citizens and other communities as well. The dream has proven very resilient. No matter what the challenge, there has always been healing and a renewed sense of community.

Those now in power blocks in Congress come from a generation that inherited the most productive economy in the world. They were born into a covenant with their fellow citizens. They enjoyed a sense of community. However, more recently the politics of the Far Right and the Team Party has poisoned our sense of community and squandered much of our wealth. Huge budget surpluses have been replaced by huge deficits. They have created what is known the great worldwide recession and have sabotaged all stimulus efforts to resuscitate our economy.

All of this has been done in the name of an extreme form of individualism defined by the libertarian philosophy of Ayn Rand and the simplistic myth of an economy populated by perfectly competitive markets.

The original meaning of American Individualism is a central part of our American Dream. We formed a covenant to give all of our fellow citizens the opportunity to pursue their own vision of happiness, their own dream. That is Thomas Jefferson’s idea of civic individualism that can be realized only in a democracy and a mixed economy. We must be part of a community that is organized and committed to provide fair starts and job opportunities for us all.

Unfortunately the term individualism has become corrupted to mean the pure unadulterated thirst for power of Ayn Rand libertarianism. There is no covenant, there is no sense of community, and there is no commitment to others. There is no empathy or sense of mutual respect.

This is a perverted sense of what it means to be a complete person. But we can find our true being not simply as an individual. We find meaning in community as well. Every one of us cares not only about our individual goals but what we can do as a family, as a community, and as a nation. To fulfill our true selves we must do so as individuals and in community.

Our present situation features a severe recession with high unemployment and two difficult military entanglements. Still, these challenges don’t compare with others we have overcome. We have come through them and become even stronger. But this time we seem to have lost our resiliency and hope. Worse yet, we are divided. We are in danger of losing our sense of community. Our middle class has been decimated, our democracy is dysfunctional, and many of our politicians and their strategists continue to spread distrust and polarization.

Will we be able to resuscitate our sense of community and our faith in the American Dream?

How will we respond to the present crisis? It all depends on whether or not we can first restore our feelings of mutual respect and our sense of community. In order for us to fix our dysfunctional economy, we must first fix our dysfunctional political system.

The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness

There is an important struggle going on over our sense of mutual respect and community. Over the centuries we have shared a strong covenant to support each other in our individual and social goals. Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) characterized this struggle as one between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, New York, Scribner, 1944, 1960). The Children of Light share a mutual respect for fellow members of the community and work to help them realize their individual and social goals. The Children of Darkness, by contrast, are cynical and self-centered. They seek economic and political power and care nothing for their fellow citizens, much less the American Dream. According to Niebuhr these differences have real consequences: “. . . for evil is always the assertion of some self-interest without regard for the whole, whether the whole be conceived as the immediate community, or the total community of mankind, or the total order of the world. The good is, on the other hand, always the harmony of the whole on various levels (op.cit.p.9).”

Niebuhr argues that in a successful democracy and economy, individuals as well as the community require the freedom and the means to pursue their goals. This freedom is not a “freedom from” but a “freedom to.”

Those Children of Darkness, who use a perverted sense of individualism to describe their anti-community, anti-American Dream ideology, are false prophets. Their ideology is simply unadulterated greed and selfishness. They appeal to what is worst in us rather than what is best. Unfortunately liberals, moderates, and conservatives who still believe in the American Dream have been disenfranchised by those political strategists. They have successfully polarized us all. We no longer share a sense of community.

Niebuhr quotes scripture that refers to the children of this world as being more “wise” (i.e., more cunning) than the Children of Light. Our democratic civilization was built, not by the Children of Darkness but by “foolish” Children of Light. The naivety of the Children of Light causes great harm. It is very dangerous because of the fragility of our sense of community. According to Niebuhr: “The result of this persistent blindness to the obvious and tragic facts of man’s social history is that democracy has had to maintain itself precariously against the guile and the malice of the Children of Darkness. “ (p.18) Meanwhile, our well-meaning but naive statesmen always treat their opponents with trusting mutual respect. They assume they will respond to reasonable arguments made in goodwill. They simply “never see it coming.” They cannot comprehend the depths to which their seemingly respectable opponents will sink.

Over the centuries many politicians have found it more expedient to use lies and propaganda rather than real facts and arguments to promote their political goals. In recent years, especially since the dirty tricks of Donald Segretti, this seems to have reached a crescendo. In the election of 2010 political analysts observed that many voters voiced their feelings “against Obama” rather than for any particular program or issue. This part of the “game” makes liberal use of lies and innuendo. It has now been refined into an art form by later Children of Darkness. Donald Secretti went to prison for spreading lies, but he remains a hero to the current political strategists. The political strategists bear much of the responsibility for the polarization and hate that has been achieved within our society. And these political strategists are proud of their many successes. They do it because it works!

In our current cultural polarization it may add to our understanding to expand on Niebuhr’s descriptions. The Children of Light could also be called the Children of Community. Their social goals include an egalitarian community featuring well-being for all. This requires “fair starts” for all our children in terms of health, education, and job opportunities. They are inclusive and forgiving. They favor safety nets and second starts. And, yes, they are naïve and “never see it coming.” They assume they can reconcile any differences with political opponents by bargaining in good faith.

There are political strategists in both parties who make effective use of negative propaganda. The recent attacks on President Obama have been remarkably successful. All political strategists have studied cultural theory and know the effectiveness of appealing to feelings rather than rational thought. We are manipulated constantly by advertising in the private sector that uses those techniques. Most often pleasant associations and feelings are evoked in advertising. But more and more in politics the political strategists have resorted to the dark side. Consider the attack ads on President Obama. The goal was straightforward: create doubt and mistrust.

Naturally all citizens feel vulnerable relative to the powers available to government. It can tax us; and it can spend our money. It can be inefficient and wasteful. At times we worry that it may help other groups of the community more than it helps our own. The attack ads convinced many Americans that Obama was born in Africa and was a Muslim. Supposedly he was following a secret agenda that favored the Islamic fundamentalists.

Most Americans were not convinced but some felt they should reserve their judgment. Our nation’s social programs such as health care insurance, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and public education were attacked as failures and as part of a plan to force “socialism” on us.

All of us want to feel that our government is being conducted by “our kind of people.” We simply don’t trust people who are different or foreign. Obama was successfully cast as one who could not deliver on his promises, who held values foreign to our own, and was turning public policy into socialism. The attack ads reached deep into the dark side of our feelings.

It is no wonder that many of us have lost our sense of community and our trust in the American Dream.

The American Dream and Allocative Efficiency

In order to return to prosperity and the American Dream we must somehow cure our polarization and our dysfunctional government. We depend heavily on a vigorous free market system of competitive markets, but that system simply will not work without proper regulation and augmentation by government. To understand government’s crucial role we need to understand the free market’s strengths and shortcomings.

We have prospered only in periods when the government has pursued effective economic policy. We have suffered when governments have been dysfunctional. When the mixed system of free competitive markets is augmented by appropriate regulation and resource allocation by government, we attain what economists term “allocative efficiency.”

Allocative Efficiency

Economists use the “free market model” to define the concept. The model assumes that the free market system is populated only with perfectly competitive markets. Firms respond perfectly to the desires of consumers. When tastes change, resource allocation responds immediately. Resources are directed to their most profitable use. They produce an array of outputs that give consumers the most satisfaction possible. Thus, the world “allocative” refers to the allocation of resources so as to maximize our well-being. At the same time, “efficiency” refers to the power of competition to encourage firms to produce at the lowest cost possible.

Of course our actual economy is somewhat less than perfect. Our government needs to regulate and augment the economy in several ways if we are to attain allocative efficiency. One of our government’s responsibities is to encourage competition in free markets where possible; but where competition is not possible, the market cannot provide these goods. We can usually rely on the public sector to intervene in various ways so that we approximate allocative efficiency. Thus, we term ours a “mixed economy.”

Where our democratic government cannot nor will not aid our economic system in attaining allocative efficiency, we term the result a “government failure.” Obviously our political system does not always measure up to the ideal inherent in our American Dream.

Market Failures

There are several different ways our markets may depart from the ideal. Thus there are several ways government must respond. These “market failures” include: (1) pure public goods, (2) goods with both private and social benefits, (3) markets with imperfect competition (i.e., monopolies and oligopolies), (4) asymmetric availability of technical information, and (5) imperfect or unfair distribution of income. Finally our mixed economic system may experience (6) a system-wide macroeconomic failure such as our current Great Recession. Each of these difficulties requires a different sort of government intervention.

(1) Public Goods

The classic case of a public good is national defense. The market failure is inherent in the nature of the benefits. There are two characteristics: (1) the benefits are not diminished by additional users and (2) there are difficulties in excluding those unwilling to pay. Providing national defense requires that we impose taxes which enable the government to organize and produce national defense. Everyone enjoys defense equally, and it would be impossible to ration its benefits.

Private goods, by contrast, require no such intervention. Since benefits are exclusive to the buyers, firms have incentive to produce and sell them for a profit. The market produces and rations them very effectively,

(2) Goods with Important Social Benefits

Other goods have both private as well as social benefits. If left to the free market alone, it would only account for the private, excludable benefits and thus would produce a less-than-efficient supply. Consider the case of education. There are definite private benefits to every student and to his or her family. But there are also huge benefits to firms who hire educated workers. Education also complements the “covenant” we discussed as part of our American Dream. A necessary part of providing a wide range of opportunities is to start with proper educational opportunity.

There are also a multitude of social benefits to society as a whole as we become better educated. Thus our consumers, workers, and businesses benefit economically and all of us who enjoy the liberal arts. Unfortunately the traditional argument that a better educated citizenry will lead to a more responsive and efficient political system has proven to have little validity. We sacrifice a lot to challenge our students’ minds; but voting seems not to be a matter of using rational thought. We vote with our emotions but not with our minds. We have found that our emotions are susceptible to being manipulated by the Children of Darkness.

Similarly, health care has both private and public benefits. Individuals and their families benefit directly so that even without public intervention some health care would be provided. How best for the government to intervene is a complicated question and different nations have developed a range of alternatives. Most nations consider health care a basic right. It is hard to argue that our social covenant, the American Dream, does not include health care as a basic right. Our government supports health care in many ways to include medical research and education, mental health, and various regulatory agencies. Here, as in every country, there is wide support for national health insurance. Here, until recently, our dysfunctional political system has denied Americans from realizing this basic part of the American Dream. Our difficulty in providing national health insurance is a prime example of our political polarization and our damaged sense of community.

(3)Imperfect Competition: Monopoly and Oligopoly

In our utopian model of free market capitalism “allocative efficiency” is dictated by competition among a large number of firms. In the real world some markets cannot support large numbers of firms. With a small number of firms, competition cannot guarantee efficiency. The term “economies of scale” refers to the market situation where the larger the firm the lower the cost. Thus, economies of scale can lead to a monopoly or lead to a small number of firms. According to the situation, the government may be required to regulate the firm or firms or even to become the sole producer itself. Alternatively, the good or service could be produced by private firms contracted by and regulated by the government. In every case the appropriate guidelines to be followed attempt to regulate the industry so that it will emulate the results of competitive markets; i.e., so as to achieve allocative efficiency.

(4)Imperfections in Information

One of the more heroic assumptions of the utopian free-market model is that all the players have “perfect information.” In the real world, firms, input owners, consumer groups, and government are willing to pay to fill in their informational gaps. Government is called upon to provide certain parties the information necessary to make efficient decisions. The term asymmetric information is used to describe an unfair vulnerability of one of the parties—say consumers of prescription drugs. In many market situations the appropriate role of government is straightforward—to insure that all parties have the information necessary to make efficient decisions. In other situations, various moral considerations may complicate the role of government: How should insurance pools be organized for health care, hurricanes, floods, retirement, etc.? Is it fair to exclude those with higher risks? Alternatively, should the rates of those with higher risks be higher? Perhaps social norms will conflict with the private sector’s focus on profits. In summary, information failures in various markets require the government to intervene in order for allocative efficiency to be achieved.

(5)Income Distribution as a Market Failure

One attribute of the Free Market Utopian model is that competition requires firms to pay workers and other input owners what they add to the value of the goods being produced (i.e., the value of their marginal product). Thus, income distribution is justified on the “to each according to his or her contribution” criterion. Of course we have other criteria of fairness as well.

More importantly, many of the market failures we encounter in actual “real world” markets create income distributions that do not reflect any of our criteria of fairness. For example, when monopolies are unregulated, they increase profits by restricting output and raising prices. Thus “allocative efficiency” and “fair income distribution” are undermined. Other market failures also lead to unfair income distribution.

In general, we appreciate that income distribution in our economy is relatively fair, but there is still a need for “redistribution” by the government. These redistribution goals are based on the idea of tax fairness. The larger question is how are we to pay for the social goods and services provided through the public sector. Very generally we want the tax to be related to the benefit: Do we get what we pay for?

Our society must depend on our representatives in government to redistribute the returns that occur during market transactions. As noted, the utopian model of competitive free markets distributes income according to “contribution.” Competition requires that input owners are paid according to how much they contribute to the final product. But even if our economy were populated with perfectly competitive markets—which it decidedly is not—our society recognizes several other moral values relating to distribution. At the very least, we require a social minimum safety net.

Society’s choices with regard to income distribution balance several moral values: to each according to contribution to society; to each according to effort or sacrifice; to each according to need; to each according to “rights” or other “merit.” For example, we feel strongly that veterans and the disabled and victims of natural disasters deserve special consideration.

We also consider two broad principles of fairness in taxation: the “ability-to-pay principle” and the “benefit principle. “ Associated with the idea of “ability” is the idea of “equal sacrifice.” When programs have direct benefits to certain groups, it may be appropriate for them to pay more than the general public. In cases where all are assumed to benefit equally, such as with public goods, the ability-to-pay principle attempts to spread the costs fairly. The equal sacrifice principle takes account of the diminishing marginal utility of income. Since dollars mean less to those with greater income, they should pay more. This justifies a progressive tax structure. Unfortunately our tax structure falls short both in terms of efficiency and fairness.

Very generally, our system of taxes and income distribution has failed to reflect our ideas of fairness and our social goals. Especially during the1980s and more recently in the 2000s, the backbone of our mixed economy, the middle income class, has withered and is on the verge of extinction. This trend does great harm to our sense of community and the possibility of fulfilling the American Dream.

(6)Our Macroeconomic Policy Failure

Our expertise in overcoming the challenges of macroeconomic policy is a work in progress. Our economy is dynamic and presents us with new challenges as it evolves. But for the most part economists have become very proficient at analyzing our economy’s ills and prescribing cures.

Our government is armed with powerful macroeconomic tools and the knowledge of how best to use them. Fiscal policy depends on the Administration and Congress to adjust taxes and spending so that aggregate demand (spending by consumers, businesses, and government) just matches our economy’s capacity; i.e., aggregate supply. Thus we have the ability to overcome short-term imbalances and maintain full employment, rapid economic growth, and little or no inflation.

Monetary policy is carried out by the Federal Reserve and ideally is coordinated with fiscal policy to achieve the same goals. The Federal Reserve controls the money supply (and thus interest rates) to influence investment and to some extent consumption. In long periods of our recent history we have had great success in applying macroeconomic policy. During the 1960s and the 1990s we experienced long periods of economic growth, low unemployment, and low inflation.

During the 1970s, a new phenomenon, “cost-push inflation” proved less amenable to our policy tools. During the 1980s and again in the 2000s most of our difficulties were created by questionable practices in the financial sectors.

There are inherent tendencies in the banking, Wall Street and housing sectors of the economy that, if they remain unregulated, invariably lead to downward spending spirals. The market’s usual self-equilibrating forces are overwhelmed.

The good news is that economists know how to turn around such downward spirals by using aggressive stimulus programs. The bad news is that our politicians are more interested in their petty partisan squabbles than carrying out their responsibilities. At that point market failures becomes government failures. Some politicians actually welcome huge deficits and unemployment since it gives them leverage to cut social programs. This has become a classic “mode of operation” for the Children of Extreme Individualism.

Obviously many individuals and families cannot achieve their goals if there are fewer job opportunities. When market failures and policy failures combine to create recessions, they endanger The American Dream. Most Americans would find it hard to believe that those with power in large corporations and our financial institutions and Congress would stand in the way of recovery and full employment. That disbelief demonstrates that most Americans are Children of Light. They are naïve enough to trust those in power. We find it hard to believe that anyone would do great harm simply to increase their own power and greed. But consider the facts. When unemployment is below 5 percent, workers become scarce and the wages and benefits of employees are bid up. The power of unions is increased. When unemployment is high, more power shifts to the employer. The threat of being fired is real and little resistance can be mounted when wages and benefits are cut. Health care insurance is ended. In the most egregious scenarios, firms have been allowed not only to end pension contributions but to raid their employee pension funds to strengthen the firm’s profitability.

Currently the Children of Darkness are waging an all-out war on our most cherished social programs. And, as noted below, these cuts are touted as a way to “create jobs.” That is simply the latest Big Lie of political strategists.. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Political Strategists: Divide and Conquer

It is unfortunate that the political strategists of many of our politicians have learned to divide and conquer. Ordinary Americans often decry the extreme polarization that has been accomplished by these children of darkness. It is tragic that the strategy is so successful in affecting elections.

Now those who no longer share our sense of community and the American Dream are using their power to undermine all of what our national community once held dear: public education, welfare, health insurance, Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare, our infrastructure of transportation and communication; and, of course, the protection of our environment. Their task is made easier by our government’s failure in macroeconomic policy and regulation. Irresponsible risks were taken by those we trusted to run our major banks and investment houses. When the boom in our real estate markets came to an end, the stage was set for a worldwide depression. There was no legitimate excuse for this policy failure. Those responsible in the Federal Reserve and the Treasury have apologized to the public. Some of those responsible have somewhat redeemed themselves by admitting their failure and joining the bailout efforts and other attempts to salvage our economy. Still, it is ironic that the huge deficits are now being used by those politicians responsible for the macroeconomic policy failure. Those who caused the recession are now using it to undercut our social programs and to block any further stimulus.

Would it be possible for us to use macroeconomic policies to overcome these difficulties? Certainly! Most economists would point out that more aggressive stimulus programs should have been employed. A successful stimulus would have already created jobs and reduced deficits. A quick recovery would have led to increased government revenues at every level, as it did in the late 1990s when huge deficits turned into huge surpluses overnight. What is missing now is a failure of will. Our sense of community is broken, and our government has become dysfunctional. The heroic responses of other generations seem well beyond our reach. Now our society, and more especially our government, has lost its ability to respond to our macroeconomic failures; and, in fact, many of those in power seem only intent on undercutting our basic social programs.

What Can Christians Do?

How can we restore the American Social Covenant, Our Sense of Community, and the American Dream?

For Christians the term “covenant” is deep with meaning. We have received the gift of God’s covenant. God has showered us with undeserved Grace and Love.

The main theme of the Bible is the unfolding of God’s revelation and our understanding of how God is reconciling the world through love. God’s plan unfolds in the stories of Creation, the promises to Noah and to Abraham, and the Exodus experience. The new covenant given through Jesus completes our understanding of the inclusive nature of God’s love.

As Christians our covenants with our neighbors as individuals and in community are made in grateful response to God’s covenant of grace to us. To the extent possible our covenants with others should reflect love and mutual respect.

As Christians there is much we can do to help our fellow citizens renew their faith in our community. We Christians are, by definition, Children of Light and Inclusiveness. At their best all of our fellow Americans are Children of Light.

For us to claim that God created us in his own image says more about our hearts and souls than our physical images. We have the ability to respond to God’s love. We have the ability to love ourselves and to share God’s love with others in community. God means for us to live in communities of love and mutual respect. Our American community is not perfect, but now and then we get glimpses of God’s intentions not only as we and others act as individuals but from what we can do in community. Now and then our behavior in community gives us glimpses of the peace, harmony, inclusiveness, self-sacrifice, mutual respect, and mutual support that reflect God’s community of love.

The more we respond to what is best in us as individuals and as community, the more we realize the nature of the process of reconciliation.

So we must go about healing our national community. We must reach out to all our fellow citizens. We must strive to lift the national discourse out of the depths to which it has been debased by the politicians and their strategists. Needless to say, this includes both Democrats and Republicans, all of those who share a sense of community and the American Dream.

We must take on the mantle of the Children of Light in its modern equilivant; i.e., children of community and inclusiveness and optimism and mutual respect. We must seek to renew and refine the American Dream to include those particularly Christian moral values of fair starts and safety nets. We must give special support for the disadvantaged. We must provide for second starts as well as first starts. Of course, Niebuhr would warn us to be a little less naïve than the classic Children of Light. We must reach out and that means making ourselves vulnerable. But we must at the same time counter the most outrageous lies and dirty tricks of the political strategists. We must form a truth brigade to expose and embarrass those who make a game of lying and twisting the truth. The campaigns of attack ads must be countered. To the Christian Community in Ephesus Paul wrote: “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as Children of Light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Ephesians 5:8-11 NRSV)

We have some advantages over the big-lie approach. For example, consider the current claim that cutting social programs (unemployment benefits, Social Security, Medicare, national health insurance, and public education) is actually a way of creating more jobs. Such a claim is an embarrassment to our common sense. Even the most conservative estimates by reliable, bipartisan agencies, such as the Congressional Budget Office, vigorously refute that lie. But that does not stop the Children of Darkness from repeating it over and over.

We must counter the more flagrant lies and attack ads with the truth. Vigorous “watch dogging” may help clean up the public discourse. But a much more positive effort is also required if we are to restore the American Dream.

This happens when the appeal is to what is best in us, not what is worst. There is much good in all of us. We are, after all, children of God. Actually Paul speaks of this appeal when he ends his letter to the Philippians with “finally, brothers and sisters, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, and whatever things are commendable; if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.”

One way to lift our spirits is simply to tell the stories of how our nation has responded to adversity in the past. We must remind ourselves of the greatness of our past; there has been not just one “great generation” but many. Yes, we now face a great worldwide recession with our middle class decimated. But to quote FDR: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

We have the means to restore our politics and our economy! And it all starts with a renewed sense of community.

The generation that faced the Great Depression, World War II, and the devastation of Europe faced much greater challenges than we face today. But they responded with a sense of community and built a new economy and won World War II. In the post-war years, they responded to a recession and huge deficits by (1) creating the GI bill to reward our veterans and give them fair starts, and (2) by creating the Marshall Plan to help rebuild Europe. Part of Marshall’s genius was that he was able to overcome the usual political polarization in Congress by lifting our collective sights higher than ever before.

The generations of the 1960s were equally brave and optimistic. Furious civil rights struggles were waged and won. The assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy (as well as many other civil rights advocates) certainly damaged our sense of community; but Lyndon Johnson and Congress forged ahead with civil rights legislation and the Great Society programs of Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and the Peace Corps.

More recently, we are reminded by how we Americans respond to tragedies around the world. There are moral values within all of us that are much stronger than extreme self-interested individualism.

These are the stories we must share with each other. We really are better than the Political Strategists would have us believe. The Political Strategists are false prophets. We must counter them at every turn and renew our trust in the strengths of our fellow citizens and our community and our God.

Ayn Rand

AYN RAND, A PHILOSOPHER OF GREAT INTEGRITY?

I would argue that Ayn Rand, the philosopher praised by many Republican leaders such as Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, was a philosopher of great integrity. Some would criticize her on moral grounds for her relationships with young men in her coterie. Others would criticize her simplistic and unfounded faith in laissez faire capitalism.

But what I mean by the term integrity is being true to your central core of principles. Ayn Rand advocated using rational thought rather than feelings. This makes her out of step with our political discourse. Ayn Rand was an atheist who argued that individuals had the duty to be the authors of their own morality. Thus her philosophy depended only on the individual. No entity from outside, such as a God reaching out in love, is available; everything must come from within the individual. He must formulate his own necessarily self-centered morality. Ayn Rand’s heroes are self-made men who overcome all obstacles with no help from others. They also are men with their own code of integrity.

Ayn Rand despised religion as evil subterfuge. The weak are undeserving of our attention. Loving your neighbor is immoral. The only moral is self-love. We owe nothing to anyone much less the weak. Spokesmen for several of the Ayn Rand organizations complain that those politicians who claim to be libertarian Christians and followers of Ayn Rand’s philosophy understand neither position. According to Onkar Ghate of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, the philosophies of Christianity and Ayn Rand are completely incompatible. For Christ the greatest commandment was to love God and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus preached altruism and community. Ayn Rand preached extreme libertarian individualism. The only possible “morality” is self love.

Of course, in the political arena the followers of Ayn Rand’s philosophy welcome the support of the radical libertarian Republicans. The two groups are kindred spirits in so many ways. They both fight against the idea that Americans feel an inclusive sense of community and have made a covenant with each other to provide opportunity for every American to pursue his own happiness. The libertarian Republican seeks to undercut the sense of community and the idea that government must play a role in regulating and complementing our market economy. Most Americans believe that the free market by itself is incapable of providing a stable economy, safety nets, and adequate job opportunity for all. Thus, government is necessary in our mixed economy if we are to successfully follow our individual and social goals.

Those philosophers who follow Ayn Rand are justifiably proud of the integrity of her philosophy. It starts with a definition of the human self and proceeds through rational thought to the philosophy they term Objectivism. By contrast, they contend that the politicians who claim to be both followers of Ayn Rand and Christ have no integrity. They do not understand why the libertarian Republicans continue the subterfuge of being Christians when clearly they are not.

Of course the rest of us understand perfectly. Our politicians are not required to use rational thought. Instead, our political discourse depends on feelings rather than reason. And most often, they are those feelings that bring out the worst in us.