I wish to make a preliminary statement before addressing this issue, so as to highlight its significance. This is not intended primarily as an opinion piece. It is not a product of slant or opinion. It is simply a matter of historical fact and the deliberate distortion of historical facts which permits the assailants of our liberties a sense of justification. In the May 2011 issue of Esquire magazine, its editors permitted the publication of a “profile” entitled, “A Conservative Cosmology, 2011”— a piece so wrought with historical inaccuracies as to forego the excuse of having merely erred honestly. As a whole, it reads like a bad Google search of conservative political figures with the occasional far-Leftist thrown in so as to completely abnegate all attempts at intellectual discrimination. While I maintain that most smear pieces of its kind are not worthy of a moment’s consideration, the popularity of that publication and the window that it provides us into the uneducated political perspective and style-over-substance, nihilistic worldview of (at least some of) its writers is important in understanding the anti-intellectual nature of the statists we work to oppose.
The profile is designed as a set of concentric circles, at the center of which is the subject of one of the issue’s cover stories, Ron Paul. From his position emanates various political and philosophical figures throughout history, some relevant, others inexplicable. The farther from the center they are, the less that they are portrayed to be in line with libertarian conservatism. Those that immediately stand out as farcically out of place include Bill Maher, who is conspicuously close to the center for a figure who has, for over a decade, derided conservatives as ignorant and uneducated. The caption under Maher’s picture suggests that his placement is attributable to his advocacy for legalizing drugs— a cause that is more unique to libertarians than conservatives, but which, I think, even Paul would agree does not for a moment make one an advocate of small government. Charlie Sheen, whose only prominent political stance was an outspoken suspicion of a U.S. government conspiracy behind 9/11 and a series of unfounded accusations to that effect against President George W. Bush, is also apparently at the heart of American conservatism. Other notable liberals whom the article attempts to reassign as conservative include Bill Clinton and even Barack Obama, whose presence there is explained, “About as radical as Bob Dole. In fact, it was Dole’s health-care alternative from ‘93 that he passed last year” As errant as Dole’s plan may have been (along with Romney’s or Gingrich’s when they proposed the same) and while this publication has repeatedly acknowledged that Barack Obama is not an extremist, but a pragmatist, that makes neither his nor any of their actions in keeping with the current sentiments of the American Right and to equate them is a misrepresentation of facts.
More egregious than these haphazard inclusion of non-conservatives are the untruths that the profile perpetrates, particularly in its treatment of three figures: Ayn Rand, Edmund Burke, and Thomas Jefferson. The article portrays Rand as being next to the heart of the “cosmology”, designating her a “Liberal-tarian… slave to no master. Atheist. Sexual libertine. Pitilessly viewed mankind as lab rats. Most important philosopher in Washington, D.C., at present.” Even the briefest survey of Rand’s writings and philosophy would reveal the dishonesty of this assessment. First, Rand rejected any association of herself and her philosophy with libertarianism, writing of them,
For the record, I shall repeat what I have said many times before: I do not join or endorse any political group or movement. More specifically, I disapprove of, disagree with, and have no connection with, the latest aberration of some conservatives, the so-called “hippies of the right,” who attempt to snare the younger or more careless ones of my readers by claiming simultanteously to be followers of my philosophy and advocates of anarchism. Anyone offering such a combination confesses his inability to understand either.
She echoed that statement in a later publication, warning against
the “libertarian” hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism…To join such groups means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail. It means that you help the defeat of your ideas and the victory of your enemies.
Against the slander of calling her a “sexual libertine”, it should be recognized that Rand held as principled and strict a view of sexuality as a religious person might, merely constituted upon different terms. Unlike the religious, Rand downplayed the significance of marriage in sexuality. Though not opposed to the institution of marriage (as she was married herself), she did not view marriage as a vital precondition to the sexual expression of one’s love for another person. She did, however, hold vitally to the idea that sex was a celebration of romantic admiration for another and that that admiration was to be based upon ones moral values and a recognition of the degree to which one’s partner embodied those values to the fullest— what she acknowledged as true love. To suggest that such a conscientious and deliberately drawn view of sexuality makes one licentious is a true inversion of morality as such.
As for “pitilessly view[ing] mankind as lab rats”, it is a point which one could protest for a thousand pages, but which could never be proven more wrong than by Rand’s own concise summary of her beliefs:
My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.
That anyone, whether in agreement with Rand’s philosophy or not, could so horrendously misrepresent the guiding premise of her philosophy forbids any claim to journalistic legitimacy, surrenders the integrity of the publication that distributes such smears, and lays bare the shriveled and cowardice nature of the mentality that feels so desperately the need to discredit her.
Despite his great historical significance and the legacy of scholarship which has been devoted to his work, too few people are particularly knowledgeable in regards to the 18th Century Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke. As such, it may have been that the writer of Esquire’s profile felt a certain freedom to misrepresent his philosophy without consequence— that, or they simply did such a shoddy job of research as to have read his description as a “conservative political philosopher” and equated him with modern American conservatism, an entirely separate viewpoint to which his 18th Century variety in no way compares. Their commonality goes no further than the shared name. Conservatism in Burke’s time and place entailed the view of government as a product of historical forces which could not be subjugated by the authorship of any social contracts. To Burke, tradition was of tantamount significance and revolution was inherently a threat to social order. If government should require change, according to Burke, it must achieve that change by virtue of slow, gradual shifts over time— thus conserving the established institutions. This view was maintained in contrast to the liberal (a la libertarian, having nothing to do with modern American liberals, before you get excited, Esquire) view that sought the protection of individual freedoms and an end to the arbitrary rule of entrenched, oppressive powers in government. It is clear to be seen that such conservatism shares nothing in common with the current movement which is distinguished by its rampant desire to purge the government of those whom it perceives to be abolishing the individual rights of citizens. Such misappropriation of terms is just bad journalism.
Of equal significance to these perpetrations is the profile’s abhorrent treatment of President Thomas Jefferson. Historians of all political persuasions have agreed to the unrivalled position which Jefferson held in the formation of the United States. Uniquely, that position was attained at least as much by the tasks carried out by Jefferson before his presidency as during. His writings on the concept of natural rights as applied to the contemporary conflict between colony and crown in “A Summary View of the Rights of British America” earned him the reputation as a voice of the colonists, leading later to his election to author the Declaration of Independence. From 1776-1779, Jefferson served in the newly created Virginia House of Delegates. In that final year, he was elected to serve as governor of Virginia from 1779-1781. In 1783, then serving as a member of Congress, he signed the Treaty of Paris, ending the war and securing America’s freedom from Britain. It was not until 1784 that Jefferson went on to serve as a diplomat to France, where he established significant connections with European powers in order to secure America’s trade and relations with the Old World. Unfortunately, this would mean his absence at the Constitutional Convention, though he followed it carefully through an elegant correspondence with its primary author, James Madison, eagerly advocating the idea of adding a list of articles toward the security of particular rights. Their letters are some of the most treasured and philosophically valuable of Early American history.
However, in the face of all of this, the good gentlemen of Esquire are ready to inform us that the esteemed essayist, author, inventor, diplomat, first secretary of state, and third president of the United States was little more than a slick-talking draft-dodger: “Very cool revolutionary rhetoric, but oddly, didn’t actually risk his person in the Revolution— leaving the war heroism to the vilified Hamilton. Fetishized by the constitutionalists, but oddly, wasn’t around for the Constitution. Was in Paris, collecting wine, leaving the Constitution-making to… Hamilton.” The author of the profile clearly has an excited (perhaps “fetishized”?) view of Hamilton, as he goes on to later credit him for “[a]lmost single-handedly creat[ing] the American federal system” and stating that “[t]he country as we know it today wouldn’t exist without him.” Setting that aside, the accusation of having never “actually risk[ed] his person in the Revolution” is an astounding smear to level against a man who served as the governor of a colony under revolt against the world’s largest empire, wielding its most feared army. Failure would have meant charges of treason and an unthinkably gruesome execution. As for Hamilton, it can be said without hesitation that the other members of the Constitutional Convention would be interested to know of his single-handedness in the creation of that document— what with his major contribution to the proceedings having been the persistent advocacy of more and more powers vested in the central federal government, along with the proposal of a complex system of life-term electors voting for life-term senators and a life-term president who had absolute veto without overrule. Hamilton’s views had understandably gained him a reputation as a monarchist before he begrudgingly signed the final version of the Constitution that we observe today.
Though the points detailed here are crucial, what is all the more vital to recognize is the flagrancy with which historical truths are ignored for petty, anti-intellectual forays into political commentary. The purpose of such articles is in no way to inform, but to distort. If a group or individual desires to make a rational political or historical statement, they are required by a just morality to present objective facts for consideration by their audience. They may then proceed to abstract from those facts and data a thesis which attempts to explain them, but never forsakes them. This is the requirement of a rational, Newtonian epistemology. It is becoming increasingly evident, as the proponents of small government become more explicit in their views and embrace a political philosophy of individualism, that those in our society who wish to continue their dire hold on statism must, inherently, be pushed into the light as well. They must seek to defend their untenable position by distortion, by evasion, by lies— whether to themselves or to others. That process, it seems, is well underway, but let it be said definitively that their fight is a long one, for history, as with reason, is not on their side.