Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Atlas surrenders: No Will for Freedom

As this blogger sees it the Atlas Society, that band of Ayn Rand aficionados, has joined the hysterics about immigration. Atlas, the mythical man that is, was strong, holding the world on his shoulders. Atlas, the society, seems to have become something else.

One of their writers, Will Thomas, has penned an essay that betrays Rand's ideas.

Background on the Arizona law.

Mr. Thomas basically says that when a law is passed which throws freedom under the bus, then Objectivists like himself must support the law. In particular he means the legislation that Arizona passed requiring anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant to provide ID to police upon demand. I had wished to gather the evidence to do a full expose of the origins of this law, but in a nutshell, it was written by a group from outside Arizona that has close ties to racist organizations. The law was actually written by a group called the Federation for American Immigration Reform—don't let the name fool you, they don't want to reform immigration they want to end it, especially for non-white immigrants.

FAIR has received $1.2 million in funding from a little-known racist outfit known as the Pioneer Fund, founded by, and this is not hyperbole, Nazi sympathizers and advocates of racial eugenics. This may explain why the local legislator who introduced the law was caught sending out anti-Jewish articles from a neo-Nazi group. The founder of FAIR, John Tanton gave his personal papers to a library, and those papers include his correspondence with numerous racists, anti-Semites, and ne0-Nazis. Tanton introduced FAIR to the Pioneer Fund, founded to promote "race betterment." And he told one of FAIR's major funders to read the work of an anti-Semite in order to "give you a new understanding of the Jewish outlook on life." Tanton told this woman that the book "explains a large part of the Jewish opposition to immigration reform," by reform he means restrictions.

Tanton also said for "European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that." Tanton promoted a book that claims that Jews actively try to undermine cultural majorities in any country where they live in order to enhance their own power. Among the alleged tactics of "the Jews" was promotion of non-white immigration.

Tanton started a publishing house that focuses on two bugaboos: the threat of immigrants and the threat of so-called overpopulation. One book he published is America Extinguished, written by a notorious racist and anti-Semite, Samuel Frances. Another book they print is the racist rant, The Camp of the Saints, a book filled with bad economics, open racism and hysterical projections about the threat of non-white immigration. Tanton's own website says this novel "envisions the overrunning of European civilization by burgeoning Third World populations."

Ayn Rand: Illegal Immigrant?

As further background you should know that Ayn Rand was both Jewish and an immigrant herself. And we should be clear that Ayn, in order to escape communist Russia, lied to get into the United States. She basically entered the country illegally. As has been well documented, the young Ayn pretended to be coming to the U.S. in order to study the film industry so that she could return to Russia to work in the film industry there. Her first actually published writings were two booklets the Soviets published by Rand about the American film industry.

Rand, however, knew she had no intention of ever returning to Russia. Rand's biographer and friend, Barbara Branden, also an immigrant and Jewish, described Ayn's dilemma. Even though Ayn had secured Soviet permission to visit the U.S. for six months, she still had to secure a U.S. visa. Anti-immigrant hysteria in the U.S. had lead to the passing of numerous laws meant to keep out immigrants of a certain kind: and among them were Eastern Europeans, mainly Jews who were fleeing a history of pogroms against them.

Branden says Ayn could only secure a visa "if she could convince the consul that she did not plan to remain in the United States," this in spite of her having every intention of staying in the U.S. Rand had already decided that if the visa were turned down by the consulate in Latvia, where she had to travel to receive it, "she would vanish into the anonymity of Latvia, and find a way to flee to Europe." When Ayn meet with the U.S. consulate official, who would approve or deny her visa, "she thought she must tell him every reason she could invent to convince him that she wished to return to Russia."

As the official was looking over her application she read the dossier he had in front of him. She noticed it said she was engaged to marry an American. Ayn pounced, insisting that the information was wrong. And then she embellished the truth by saying that she was engaged, but to a Russian whom she would marry upon her return. She was not actually engaged to anyone. The official took a closer look and realized that her papers had been confused with another woman's and told her he was about to deny her the visa but would now approve it—after all, she was to be married in Russia, after her temporary visit to the U.S.

As far as I can see, Ayn Rand was forced to lie to U.S. officials in order to secure a visa to come to America. I am no expert on 1920 immigration law but I suspect that lying to secure a visa is itself a crime, perhaps one that would be considered severe enough to cause the cancellation of said visa. Ayn Rand secured her visa under false pretenses, but I don't fault her, legal (truthful) immigration had been closed to her. So, in order to get the papers she needed, she invented a lie. She most likely broke the law to do so and I suggest that her immigration to the United States was illegal as a result. After her arrival in the country, she did go to Hollywood and the rest is history. She met and married Frank O'Connor, and because of that marriage she became a citizen. It was also well known to O'Connor that the marriage was necessary for Ayn to remain in the United States.

A law is a law. But what about rights?

Now I want to turn to precisely what Mr. Thomas said and why I find it so objectionable from a libertarian, even an Objectivist, viewpoint. The Thomas piece starts with the premises: "illegal immigration is illegal, isn't it?" Yes, so is marijuana, so was sodomy up until a couple of years ago, and so are numerous things defended by Objectivists. Objectivists, would even argue that people have the right to engage in activities that are illegal. Rights trump the law, which was a major point of Rand's theory. She argued that individual rights limit the power of the state, not that the power of the state limits individual rights.

Thomas tries to take a middle ground by acknowledging:
People who cross the border without permission are violating no one’s rights. Ignoring the INS does violence to no one. They’re just ignoring a restriction on freedom. When their lives and well-being are at stake, they are morally justified in taking that chance.
So he recognizes a right to immigrate and that the immigrant is not violating the rights of another person. He even says that our current immigration policy is not compatible with a free society. But then he goes off into statism: "Yet the idea of a free society is even less compatible with the failure to enforce the law. The rule of law is the basis of all dependable liberty and open government."

The rule of law was never intended to mean that all laws must be obeyed. That is just a recipe for totalitarianism. Rule of law bound, not just citizens, but governments as well. The premise is that rights, as Jefferson said, exist prior to the establishment of any government. And all legitimate government is founded for the purpose of protecting the pre-existing rights of the individual. As such, the law when properly understood binds the state. In the course of protecting rights government has the obligation to do so in a clear, consistent manner with rules that are obvious, objective and consistent with the rights of the individual. Immigration law is anything but that. It is often arbitrary, and it is clearly inconsistent with individual rights. The sad reality is that illegal immigration is widespread because, for most of these people, legal immigration is not possible.

This isn't a matter of these people "getting in line" like everyone else. They aren't allowed in the line. The line is closed to them. American immigration law denies the possibility of legal immigration and that forces people to resort to illegal means.

Thomas seems to be saying that obeying all laws, regardless of how bad the law, is important for freedom. He puts the worship of law above the primacy of individual rights and liberty. Obedience to the law comes first. He writes:
So if the Arizona government will actually enforce the existing Federal laws, bully for them! Certainly, the Federal government should do more to enforce its own laws. Whatever the law is, please, let’s enforce it objectively and with due process. When the law is unjust or unwise (and so many are!), we must fight at the polls to correct them. But if we undermine the rule of law just to win the odd smidgeon of liberty, we are cutting our own throats.
Read that carefully please. "Certainly, the Federal government should do more to enforce its own laws." What the fuck! Is this what Objectivism has come to? Consider what this means. We have drug laws so, according to Thomas the Federal government should send armed DEA agents into more homes, shoot more family pets, violate more property rights, kill more innocent people. After all, the law must be enforced even more than it already is.

According to the logic of Mr. Thomas, the IRS should do more to audit tax scoffers, more to enforce onerous confiscatory tax policies, and arrest more tax evaders and imprison them. After all "the Federal government should do more to enforce its own laws." As Mr. Thomas has written his statement, the Feds should enforce all the laws on the books and enforce them good and hard—in the name of freedom. Dare I mention that if the Feds actually enforced all the laws on the books, with 100% efficiency, there would be no freedom left in this country.

But according to Thomas "the rule of law" means that government legislation trumps individual rights, something he refers to as an "odd smidgeon of liberty." Consider that in Arizona no one is allowed to work for another person without their name being on a state database giving them permission to work. Under e-verify it is a crime to enter into a private labor agreement with another person without "verifying" with state authorities that they have the "right" to work. This interferes with the rights of every single employer to enter into private contracts. But it’s just an "odd smidgeon of liberty" and so government can control every single labor contract, in the name of liberty and the rule of law.

Another thing Thomas pooh-poohs as meaningless is that government has stripped people of the right to move about without government documents on their person. He writes:
I don’t understand what the griping is about: if you have a passport with a valid visa, or a green card, or a U.S. passport, just carry them. I carry my passport every day living in a foreign country as I now do.
So, in the name of liberty every citizen can be forced to carry government identification. Eduardo Caraballo, who I mentioned yesterday, is a natural-born American citizen who looks Mexican. He was held for three days by Immigration even though he had ID on him and had his birth certificate shown to them. Mr. Thomas may think he is lily-white enough to pass inspection, so that the law never harasses him, but Mr. Caraballo knows the reality. He had ID, he was born in U.S. territory and he was still imprisoned for three days while the Immigration bureaucrats tried to verify this.

In other words, any U.S. citizen can be incarcerated on the assumption that are illegal until the bureaucrats, moving at their usual snail's pace, verify that the person is not illegal. Even carrying government ID, as Caraballo was doing, is not sufficient. Ask Mr. Caraballo if he thought three days imprisonment was merely a violation of an "odd smidgeon of liberty." What is an odd smidgeon of liberty to Mr. Thomas was three days unjust incarceration to Mr. Craballo.

Certainly Mr. Thomas does think he is white enough to be safe. He notes that the “illegals” everyone worries about "are Mexicans and Central Americans. ...So it's perfectly reasonable to check whether apparently foreign-born Latinos are in the country legally. Just as it is perfectly reasonable to check whether anyone with a non-native- accent is in the country legally." Mr. Thomas just doesn't want to get to the point where we have "check-points or conduct random checks: that would hassle everyone, and it would be pretty ineffective at finding illegals, too." See, we shouldn't be "griping" about a law that hassles only people who "look" Mexican, after all the alternative is hassling everyone, i.e. white folk like Mr. Thomas, who currently think they are, or should be, immune from harassment.

There is an interesting aspect to the wonderful Cory Doctorow novel, Little Brother, where the Homeland Security thugs take over San Francisco after a terrorist attack. They begin monitoring everyone's travel habits using RFIDs in the travel cards that people are required to carry. The "Little Brothers" who are out to tear down Big Brother use their knowledge of technology to confuse the RFIDs so that individuals appear to be making suspicious trips, which triggers an investigation by Homeland Security. As more and more people got caught up in the gvoernment's net support for the bad law falls leading to the end of the practice. Mr. Thomas thinks this is a bad law, he just wants to make sure that people who don't look Mexican, like himself, aren't hassled by it.

Try Telling that to Ayn

I also note he thinks it reasonable for government agents to demand ID from anyone they encounter who has a "non-native speaker accent." Imagine this policy being enforced while Miss Rand was alive—she with her deep, guttural Russian accent as thick as the soups from her homeland. I would not want to be the bureaucrat who demanded "papers please" from her. She would have neutered the man on the spot and been livid about the experience for months. You would be able to hear her vitriolic denunciations of this sort of intrusion by the state, merely because she had a "non-native speaker accent," from miles away. She would denounce such a policy as being entirely inconsistent with the premises on which America was founded. And she would be right.

And, if some apologist for the system dared approach her and said: "I don't understand what you are griping about: if you have a passport with a valid visa, or a green card, or a U.S. passport, just carry them. Why are you worried about the odd smidgeon of liberty when failure to obey the state is undermining the rule of law. Why, if you don't put up with this, because you have a Russian accent, we are cutting our own throats."

How do you think Miss Rand would reply to that? If she didn't reach down the weasel's throat and literally pull out his intestines, she would certainly do it metaphorically. But, if said weasel did it in the name of Rand's own philosophy, I wouldn't want to watch the carnage. On second thought, yes I would. I would love to be able to see Mr. Thomas attempt to make this argument to Rand herself. Once he uttered "odd smidgeon of liberty" he would have been out on the pavement. I think I know enough about Ayn to know she would never have tolerated this sort of bullshit from anyone, let alone from someone spreading it in the name of her own philosophy—a philosophy that wouldn't exist today if Ayn Rand had not intentionally lied to secure a visa to come to America—something which I still insist made that immigration an illegal one.

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