login about faq

Seeing all the brouhaha on Twitter censoring itself for certain countries, I find myself puzzled with the idea of freedom when it is applied to societies in turmoil. Unfortunately a lot of the world consists of dictatorships that have crushed their own populations. An example of this could be nations in sub Saharan Africa or countries like Egypt, Pakistan etc.

Many dictatorships have claimed that they exist to "hold the lid" on a boiling pot. The government of Egypt has claimed for years to the USA that they were the last "thin blue line" between us and crazy thugs. Unless we supported them with billions in aid, they claimed that a red tide of savages would take over and make the world "unstable". Seeing images from Egypt today makes it hard to argue with: Islamist types are sweeping to power. The US taxpayers ended up in the bizarre position of sending billions to Israel and Egypt.

Here is my question: what is the proper way to think about this? On one hand, the lid-on-the-boiling-pot theory is thoroughly discredited: pots boil over no matter how harsh the censorship and dictatorship (all the foreign aid could not keep Egyptians under the heel of government). On the other hand, allowing freedom seems to sweep highly unsavory people to power. We may all like Twitter and Facebook but what happens when people use them to organize Marxist or Islamists to power? Should we just grit our teeth and allow societies to evolve as long as they don't threaten us? Note: an increasingly globalized world makes this very difficult since pipelines do not behave nicely and avoid hotspots so we have a major headache. Do we "let" regimes evolve or do we station troops to protect "our" oil/gas pipelines? If we station troops, how quickly does this revert back into the support-the-dictator model that is directly opposed to our principles (freedom). Seeing the unsavory mob-rule that can result from repressed societies gaining liberty, is freedom essentially only a concept for rich, well-fed, educated people?

asked Jan 30 '12 at 09:02

Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image


From the perspective of a free (or predominately free) country, I see this question as a question about foreign policy, albeit expressed in the language of optimism versus practicality. What should be the foreign policy of a free country toward an unfree one? Should a free country try to act as a "world policeman"? Should it act as a "missionary," seeking "to bring civilization to the heathens"? And what ought a dictatorship do (or refrain from doing) toward other countries and toward its own citizens? How would such an "ought" be implemented by other countries, if there is no "world policeman"?

An excellent summary of the Objectivist view of foreign policy can be found in The Ayn Rand Lexicon under the topic of "Foreign Policy." The two lead excerpts (from CUI) explain that a proper foreign policy for America would be "a policy explicitly and proudly dedicated to the defense of America’s rights and national self-interests, repudiating foreign aid and all forms of international self-immolation." And: "The essence of capitalism’s foreign policy is free trade...." The excerpts explain these points in more detail, and the original CUI chapters explain them still further. The national self-interests of free nations do not clash; they allow and encourage philosophically unheard-of cooperation on a vast international scale.

The remaining Lexicon excerpts also explain that any free nation has the right to defend itself against attack by other nations (i.e., unfree nations seeking to survive by plundering others), and to retaliate by physical force if or when another nation attacks it. And the scope of the retaliation needs to be sufficient to remove the threat of future attacks as well as merely stopping and punishing an immediate attack. Refer to the Lexicon topic for further explanation.

I see this as another example, among a great many, of how so much confusion over human and national relations and thinking can be clarified and integrated superbly by the philosophy of Objectivism. Free nations do not have to be, and shouldn't even try to be, "world policemen" or "missionaries." They need only pursue their own national self-interests peacefully and productively, using physical force only in retaliation against attackers when free nations are attacked by physical force. Other countries, in turn, are free to participate in an international economy or not, as they see fit, and as they develop the economic means, and to learn what it takes to become able to participate in a process of production and trade. And they can learn, as the actual history of international capitalism has spectacularly demonstrated.

answered Feb 03 '12 at 22:08

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

I agree completely with what you have said here. How does this square with the muscular support of certain nations by prominent Objectivists (notably Piekoff, Journo etc. on Israel)? Piekoff went so far as to say (I paraphrase) "if you hate Israel, you hate America". If Objectivism holds that a free country has no business being a nation builder/policeman, why do so many Objectivists believe in building a foreign nation like Israel and then keeping it on life-support forever (given its neighbors' hostility it could not really exist without external help)? Why is this critical?

(Feb 04 '12 at 10:23) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

The U.S. does not need to provide aid to Israel. All the U.S. needs to do is get out of the way. Furthermore, defending a nation like Israel against attack by Islamic militants in other Mid-East countries, if it needs our help, would be strongly in America's national self-interest. Islamic militants are very much a threat to the U.S. as well as to Israel, and Israel is a major ally and trading partner with the U.S.

(Feb 06 '12 at 02:48) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

If Israel vanished, I see no chance that America would be hurt (in fact there is a strong chance that Islamic countries would lose their #1 excuse for hating the USA -- if you examine terrorist rhetoric, there is a constant refrain of Americans "occupying" Islamic lands) so I still don't understand the strong support of Israel beyond that of supporting other "trading partners" like Malaysia or France. I discern that Objectivists somehow see Islam as being Nazism and that the loss of Israel = fall of Poland. I see no evidence to support this other than perhaps personal attachments to Israel.

(Feb 13 '12 at 14:41) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

I want to correct one premise in the question. What we are seeing in Egypt and the broader Arab Spring is not liberty coming to repressed nations. It is a civil war between two kinds of repression. As such, it tells us nothing about the effects of freedom in that part of the globe because freedom is not involved. What it does provide is confirmation of the Objectivist claim that political freedom has necessary cultural/philosophical preconditions, particularly respect for reason and value-pursuit. Nations that lack these virtues will not become or remain free.

(Feb 13 '12 at 18:43) Kyle Haight ♦ Kyle%20Haight's gravatar image

Good observation Kyle. Thanks. It does actually answer some of the confusion that I have about this topic. We say freedom but it isn't really freedom, it's a gang war.

(Feb 14 '12 at 13:59) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image
showing 2 of 5 show all

Follow this question

By Email:

Once you sign in you will be able to subscribe for any updates here



Answers and Comments

Share This Page:



Asked: Jan 30 '12 at 09:02

Seen: 1,093 times

Last updated: Feb 14 '12 at 13:59