Below is Part II of our interview with Dr. Yaron Brook, President and Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute.
Click here to read Part I.
FMM: Recently, we’ve seen – particularly at town hall meetings – an outpouring of anger and concern over rapid government growth. Do you believe this rhetoric is capable of bringing about a change in the course of our nation?
Brook: In the short run, yes. In the short run, these outpourings could slow today’s anti-freedom trend. But even if you were to kick Obama, Barney Frank, and every other leftist out of office, that would do nothing in the long run to change things. Recall that the size and scope of government grew under Bush, even when Republicans controlled the House and the Senate.
That said, we are working to channel these outpourings into more education and more intellectual activism for a positive ideal, not just anger at the current government. Just as the original Boston Tea party started as in effect an emotional response to British tyranny, it became an intellectual movement committed to the ideal of individual rights. That, in essence, is what has to happen today. People need to grasp what a truly free society would look like, and they need to understand at a deep level why such a society is good.
I recommend two of our recently-released essays in this regard: “Atlas Shrugged: America’s Second Declaration of Independence” and “A Call for the Separation of State and Economics.” We have also launched a new website devoted to defining in detail what freedom actually means. It’s called Principles of a Free Society.
FMM: In Atlas Shrugged, the novel’s heroes all, at some point, commit some form of civil disobedience. At what point (if any) do you believe civil disobedience towards government becomes justified?
Brook: Well, civil disobedience is less extreme than what many of the characters in Atlas Shrugged do, which is attempt to overthrow the society. I’ll address both.
I believe that civil disobedience, which means breaking an unjust law to help get it overturned, is valid if the disobeyer has fully thought through and accepts the consequences, which would include some sort of calculation as to the likelihood of success.
Any sort of rebellion is only justified if a society lapses into dictatorship. Here is how Ayn Rand characterized the mark of a dictatorship:
There are four characteristics which brand a country unmistakably as a dictatorship: one-party rule—executions without trial or with a mock trial, for political offenses—the nationalization or expropriation of private property—and censorship. A country guilty of these outrages forfeits any moral prerogatives, any claim to national rights or sovereignty, and becomes an outlaw.
America, fortunately, is not near this point, especially with respect to the all-important issue of censorship (though we are threatened in all areas, including here). Those who seek, freedom, therefore, need to focus on educating themselves and others, on the nature and justification of a free society. Our website, www.aynrand.org, has a multitude of resources.
FMM: Do you believe we need an economic collapse (or other cataclysmic event) to bring about a return to our founding principles?
Brook: Absolutely not. The stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression constituted an economic collapse that massively increased the amount of government intervention in the economy, and took this country farther from its founding principles faster than had ever occurred before.
The fundamental needed is education. We can certainly use the current crisis as an opportunity to educate—just as anti-capitalists are using the opportunity to mis-educate—and at the Ayn Rand Institute and Ayn Rand Center, we are. But this crisis is anything but an educational silver bullet—or silver lining. It is a real crisis, with everything bad that entails.
I think there is a tendency among people interested in liberty to try to avoid the fact that reversing our cultural, economic, and political trends requires reversing the deep-seated ideas and ignorance that led to those trends in the first place. That is a serious intellectual undertaking, not something any crisis is going to magically bring about. Of course, it is also an urgent intellectual undertaking, which is why we at ARI are working as fast as we can, and why we encourage others to do the same.
FMM: How can intellectual activists and concerned citizens most effectively oppose the current trend of government growth and the erosion of individual rights?
Brook: Education, education, education.
What people have to realize is that the fight is not primarily political. We have the politicians we do today because they advocate the policies most Americans endorse. That’s what we need to change, and the only way to change it is through spreading better ideas.
I would say that if you want to change the culture for the better, the first thing to do is know your case. Know what a free market is and why it is good. Don’t offer the same mealy-mouthed, half-hearted, apologetic arguments for the market conservatives have been dishing out for decades. Don’t focus on how corrupt this or that politician or political party is. Be able to supply the moral, economic, and historical—above all, moral—defense that capitalism requires.
Then, if you are interested in fighting today’s trends, speak out on whatever scale is open to you. Write letters to the editor, call your Congressmen, refer people to ARI’s website or Ayn Rand’s books, participate in a tea party, or start a blog. And of course, ARI always welcomes financial support from people who wish to support our efforts. Those are the kinds of individual actions that can help change a culture.
We would once again like to thank both Dr. Brook and his staff for all of their diligent efforts in advancing the cause of individual rights.
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