Socratic Seminars: Learning to think first-hand: Revised 1-27-13

by Marsha Familaro Enright

SOCRATIC SEMINARS are a method of teaching, which, if properly implemented, foster independence, develop excellent reasoning skills, and nurture a sense of the rightness of individual liberty. These seminars significantly increase the participants’ abilities to think for themselves. The term “Socratic Seminar” is used variously, but the following describes the kind I am talking about:

A discussion in which all participants read a common text, or study a common work of art, or scientific experiment, or film, etc. and examine its meaning and implications together, following a delineated set of principles which will be described in the following. In this type of discussion, no person or persons are accepted as an authority about the material studied; Reason is the only authority, i.e. facts and logic concerning the material.

Also called a Collaborative Seminar because participants reason together to understand the material.

PRINCIPLES OF SOCRATIC SEMINARS

THE GOAL OF THE DISCUSSION IS TO THINK CLEARLY AND
TO THINK CLEARLY TOGETHER

Rules of the discussion:

  • Ask questions of the text or work studied, and each other.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what you don’t understand, no matter how trivial it may seem – the goal is to understand the meaning of the work clearly.
  • Cite the text or indicate the feature of the work which gives evidence for your opinions/conclusions.
  • References to material outside of the work must be cogently linked to the work and to the discussion at hand, and explained in general principle, comprehensible to general reasoning.
  • References dependent on knowledge not available to every participant are not considered cogent to the discussion.
  • Be concise.
  • Keep comments related to the work while making connections with your other ideas and experiences.
  • Each person takes responsibility for his or her own learning and for the quality of the conversation; this means that if you are not happy with the way things are going, please speak up and suggest solutions so as to make the discussion better.
  • Each person treats the other participants respectfully.
  • In the discussion, Reason is the only authority.

THINKING SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE

Most methods of teaching assume the teacher’s goal is merely to convey a given body of information. Lecture, testing, review are preferred. What good things are left out of such conventional methods?

– INSTRUCTION AND GUIDANCE IN FIRST-HAND THINKING: e.g. in how to look at any aspect of reality for yourself; a skill needed in order to be independent.

– EXPLICIT TUTELAGE IN THINKING SKILLS: Asking questions while learning is essential to develop thinking skills; it is a way of determining what you know or don’t. But, in a conventional classroom, questions about the ideas being taught are often quashed as interfering with the business of information acquisition.

–  TUTELAGE IN CREATIVITY SKILLS: thinking of many different possibilities and combinations of ideas and facts—the substance of creativity—are not usually encouraged in traditional classrooms. This has been especially true with the focus on testing these past decades because of the assumption of most tests that there’s only one right answer. Creativity researcher Ken Robinson has a very informative talk about this at TED.com.

–  INTEGRATION OF KNOWLEDGE: Very little is done to connect subjects across domains of knowledge. Students aren’t taught the relationship of math to history, science to English, geography to politics, or the relationship of philosophy to all the subjects, and to your life. Yet, the ability to use diverse information and ideas from many sources and knowledge domains is crucial–practically, creatively, and productively.

– CONNECTION OF ABSTRACT TO CONCRETE: Very often students are given little help in connecting the ideas and theories they are taught to the facts, or what they are learning to the practical. What’s the connection between the Napoleonic Wars and my contemporary life? Yet, there is a crucial connection.

– PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT: No special learning or guidance is taught about inner development and interpersonal skills. Yet these skills are crucial for self-control, self-direction, productivity, and working with other people.

Here’s what one of my students said about her education before coming to our The Great Connections summer seminar, which uses Socratic seminars:

“I knew about dates and facts, but I wasn’t able to view processes along history, the connection between the facts and philosophy….in many cases, learning is not meaningful for the student.”

LEARNING TO THINK FOR YOURSELF ISN’T EASY

Identifying your own opinions, how you arrived at them, and whether they comport with the facts is difficult. It’s a lot of work to continuously analyze ideas and assumptions down to their base. One has only a limited amount of time to think; it’s hard to constantly stop and think about fundamentals. But that’s exactly why it’s so important to develop the habits of mind that make it easy to think about fundamentals in everyday life. Once you have developed these habits, you can analyze and understand events, ideas, readings, people, etc. much more quickly.

Thinking in fundamentals also leads to more creative thinking, because you’re going to the root of the ideas, to the actual reality on which the ideas are based. You are looking directly at the facts, and not accepting the conventional package of thinking, the conventional “box” about the issue or problem. This is how hugely productive, innovative thinkers such as Aristotle or Michelangelo or Michael Faraday or Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs proceeded.

PRINCIPLES TO STRENGTHEN THINKING

All of the following skills and values–and more–can be developed through Socratic Seminars.

  1. CHECK YOUR PREMISES: identify the facts and ideas on which your conclusions rest and their justification, follow the chain of ideas from the abstract to the fact it rests upon, thereby developing the habit and ability to identify the fundamentals of an argument or work.
  2. LOOK FOR THE CASH VALUE OF IDEAS: Connect abstract ideas and theories with concrete reality.
  3. INTEGRATION: Connect the facts and meaning related to one set of ideas to all your others. This method of discussion emphasizes connections between ideas. Combined with the study of the Classics, this leads to much integration of one’s knowledge. That’s because many of the works used cover issues and questions that span multiple domains of knowledge, such as Plato’s Symposium, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, or Nietszche’s Ecce Homo. This practice is important for understanding, living, and creativity;
  4. PHILOSOPHICAL DETECTION: Identify the moral implications, the implications for living, of any set of ideas. What would idea X mean if I put it into practice?;
  5. KNOW YOURSELF: like Socrates, identify information/data about yourself and your motivations; learn how to introspect successfully.


FOR A GOOD SOCRATIC SEMINAR, A PREPARED ENVIRONMENT IS CRUCIAL FOR LEARNING

It has three elements:
The text or work.
The teacher.
The physical set up.

1. Role of the Work: You must use a text or work (art, movie, scientific experiment, musical composition) of stimulating depth and interest, because of the CENTRAL ACTIVITY, which is: Participants discuss the exact meaning of the text or work, carefully thinking about the wording (or aspects relevant to the kind of work it is) and the implications, and inferences.

PARTICIPANTS ACT AS SCIENTISTS, with the work as the reality to explain, the facts to grasp and analyze, and to integrate with their knowledge and life.

THE WORK must be able to elicit deep thought, significant insight, and add much to knowledge, which is why the Classics or Great Books are so often used. Examples of useful works:

  • The Pledge of Allegiance,
  • Plato’s Republic
  • Film: “Gattaca”
  • Sculpture: The Winged Victory

2. The Role of the Teacher: the teacher is a guide who demonstrates rather than talks about ways of investigating. He or she must be a highly self-reflective person with a great love of learning, whose passionate aim is the nurturance of minds and spirits.

The teacher must present himself as the Expert Learner who serves as an example of rational inquiry, independent examination, and discovery—rather than an expert in the information. To reiterate, the discussion follows these principles:

  1. Each person recognizes that Reason is the only authority in the discussion.
  2. Participants must ask questions of the text and each other.
  3. Participants must cite the text to give evidence for their ideas and interpretations.
  4. References to material outside of the text must be cogently linked to the text and discussion at hand, and explained in general principle, comprehensible to general reasoning. References dependent on knowledge not available to each participant are not considered cogent to the discussion.
  5. Participants should try to make connections to their lives.
  6. Each person takes responsibility for his or her own learning and for the quality of the conversation.
  7. Each person treats the other participants respectfully.

The teacher guides the discussion, helping participants reason together by asking questions that encourage participants to actively think about the work and its meaning. Questions such as:

  • What does the author mean by using this word instead of that word?
  • How does what the author says in this paragraph relate to what is said in that paragraph?
  • How do these ideas relate to other ideas I know? How can I relate these ideas to general principles I know?
  • If I tried to do what the author suggests in real life, what would happen?

The teacher also models how to respectfully talk to others in the discussion.

Further, the teacher encourages students to take ownership of the discussion by encouraging the student to suggest different strategies to approach issues and do any work needed, such as listing ideas on a blackboard, elaborating on the meaning of a passage, or suggesting a way to make the discussion better.

At the end of the seminar, the teacher leads a DEBRIEF: a 5-minute self-reflective discussion about the process of the discussion, including the reasoning and the personal behavior. The teacher asks what ideas, comments, principles, or conclusions advanced or detracted from learning and how to improve the conversation and the behavior for the next time. Blaming is discouraged; constructive ideas encourage.

The Debrief improves future discussions and develops self-awareness and responsibility by encouraging each person to reflect on:

  1. What they could have done differently or better to improve their or their classmates’ understanding of the work or their understanding of what others said,
  2. How they could have encouraged others to speak, or how they could have modified detracting discussion habits.

The Teacher’s Guiding Principles:

  • Find exceptional works which require careful thinking and analysis to understand, and which have complex import.
  • Help students with careful questions to understand these texts or other material (artworks, scientific experiments, musical compositions, etc).
  • Keep his own opinions mainly to himself; instead, lead by example as a most enthusiastic and careful inquirer into the meaning of the study material; showing relationships to other important ideas, with reason as the only authority.

Encourage students to:

  • Voice their own responses to the work and point to evidence in the work to demonstrate what gave rise to these responses.
  • Be unafraid to admit thoughts about the work that don’t seem, at first glance, obvious conclusions, and then explore why they may be thinking them.
  • Carefully listen to and respond to the meaning of what others are saying.
  • Help other participants voice their reasons.

Gently discourage:

  • Competitive displays of knowledge.References to other works and sets of ideas which cannot be simply explained to other seminar members and/or related directly to the material studied.
  • Anything but respectful comments and behavior towards other participants.

All must be done subtly and artfully, so as not to take away the initiative of students or squash their egos.

The Teacher must also give students lots of rein in the direction of the discussion, even if it gets off the specific topic of the text, as long as the discussion still actively and seriously explores ideas. These diversions are perfectly acceptable as a learning exercise because the goal of the discussion is to learn how to analyze materials well, not to master specific material (mastery comes as a result of learning and thinking about the material on your own, before and after class).

Off topic discussion can sometimes be very effective in achieving the discussion goal.

 

THE ROLE OF THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT

The discussion group should be small, preferably not over 15 people.

  • Enables a controllable discussion.
  • Develops personal relationships among the students; they get to know and care about each other, and gain a depth of understanding which galvanizes the discussion, just like a talk with a good friend.

The discussion should be held in a quiet room, with chairs in a circle, no materials except the works being discussed and water, paper, and pen. This environment:

  • Encourages each member to view others as co-learners;
  • Emphasizes that each person’s mind is his or her ultimate authority.
  • Allows concentration on learning.
  • Establishes seriousness and respect for the learning endeavor.

THE VALUE OF THE GROUP INTERACTION

  • The practice of putting your thoughts into words in order to communicate with others develops your clarity of thought.
  • Each person brings a different focus to the work, thereby drawing participants’ attention to far more aspects and meanings than one person could think on his own.
  • In the discussion, students learn different ways in which the same information can be reasoned about and integrated.
  • The respectful atmosphere can lead to close personal relationships, which can be encouraging and psychologically validating.
  • Students learn how to collaborate to achieve understanding, a very valuable skill in adult life in which trade requires collaboration between buyer and seller and in teams of workers.

THE RESULTS

  • The ability to ask good questions to find the meaning of any work, skill, or situation in reading and analyzing any text or problem, even outside one’s area of knowledge.
  • The ability to be exact about the meaning of words and their definitions, which sharpens thinking and knowledge tremendously.
  • The ability to identify the logic of arguments.
  • A vastly expanded network of information and knowledge, particularly about some of the greatest, most influential thinkers, writers, artists and scientists.
  • The ability to be self-responsible about learning, not dependent on what a teacher says to learn or think.
  • The confidence and ability to question anything and anybody;
  • The confidence that one’s mind is capable to grasp reality and the most difficult ideas, theories, and works available in any domain of knowledge;

The confidence that one can learn anything.

EFFECTIVENESS

Michael Strong is an expert in Socratic Seminars and the author of the book The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice. In addition to this book, you can find him discussing Socratic Seminars on YouTube. He created 5 high schools based on a Socratic Seminar curriculum, over a period of 15 years.

He administered the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (WGCTA), a cognitive skills test, to his students before beginning his program (of 5-day-a-week classes), after four months, and then at the end of the school year.

Here are some of his results:

  • 9 of 12 minority females gained a 20% or more increase in their WGCTA scores in four months.
  • One inner city student tested at the 1st percentile at the start, then at the 85th after four months.
  • Even highly achieving upper middle class Montessori students gained cognitive skills. In four months, the average 8th grade Socratic seminar student (n=71) scored 6% higher than the national average.

Through my organization, The Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, we offer week-long and weekend seminars using the Socratic method described here, and emphasizing integration across domains and with practical knowledge. Here’s what a former Great Connections Summer Seminar student said about her experience:

Liz Parker was a senior at George Mason University in Economics when she attended in July 2009, interviewed in the fall of 2010:

“When my college classes started they were a big disappointment.

“I normally struggle with ideas on my own and say to myself “It’s not too important to understand.”

“But when you share with people, you’re not so scared about getting the wrong conclusion because, together, you find different ways to think about the readings and the ideas. It makes it more fun to read really hard texts.

“For example, we were reading Aristotle’s Metaphysics onThe Principle of Non-Contradiction and we spent so long on just the first sentence, we were going crazy—

“And then, all of a sudden, someone said something that made it all clear, and I thought “Yes, that’s exactly what I understand it to mean!”

“When two people find that same common understanding, that same interpretation of words that someone else wrote hundreds of years ago, that’s so precious—you hardly ever get that moment of understanding with anybody.

“And there’s no upstaging one another or seeing who knows the most. The way you gauge someone is not whether they get all the answers right because the questions you’re asking don’t necessarily have an answer. It’s more how do you interpret this word or sentence or paragraph, or what does that mean.

“Now when I’m reading something about politics, I can take things to their logical conclusion and see if they’re contradicting themselves—it makes a big difference.

“It helped me at an IHS seminar last year with students from Harvard and MIT who were really intimidating political science guys.

“You could tell who really pays attention to the fundamental ideas, who knows the principles.

“I often found that their ideas were just wrong. Maybe they were just following the ideas of their teachers or maybe some intellectual they like, but they really didn’t have good reasons for what they said.

” What the seminar taught me was that no matter what text I have in front of me, or what my knowledge on a subject, I can understand something that the author is trying to say. I can interpret it from their words. I don’t need to do a lot of research or to consult a lot of experts. I can use my reason, and their words and the text and find my own opinion, and their opinion. It was so empowering just to know I can figure out such difficult ideas.

“Also, now when I go to job interviews, I’m not shy and timid about what I have to offer. I think that I can contribute good work and I’m productive. I think “Not only do I have technical skills, I can analyze texts, no matter what they is, I can figure them out, even if I’m ignorant on the subject.”

You can read the full interview and that of 2 other students on our website, www.rifinst.org.

 

The Call of the Entrepreneur

This film celebrates the productive virtue, passion, creativity, and heroism of
entrepreneurs around the globe.

By Marsha Familaro Enright

The New Individualist, Jan/Feb 2008 — This past September, I was thrilled to see The Call of the Entrepreneur, a new documentary by The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, headed by Roman Catholic priest Robert Sirico. Beautifully filmed in high definition, with inspiring music and a riveting story, this documentary celebrates the productive virtue, passion, creativity, and heroism of entrepreneurs around the globe. It dramatically makes the case for the moral value of capitalism—and it’s about time.
Economic and political developments in the last thirty-odd years have proven the factual case for the superiority of capitalism, but the moral case remains to be won. The harnessing and molding of self-interest through capitalism towards creative, productive, life-enhancing, happiness-achieving ends must be trumpeted to the world. This documentary is a clarion call.


The film’s theme is the unstoppable energy, optimism, creativity, and productiveness of the entrepreneur, which has made our world possible. It starts with a dairy farmer in the small mid-Michigan town of Evart, interweaving his story of ingenuity, perseverance, and calculated risk with the thrilling and heart-wrenching story of communist refugee and media magnate in Hong Kong, and that of a self-made merchant banker in Atlanta. Each of these entrepreneurs is remarkable.

Jimmy Lai, founder of giant Next Media, recounts his journey from the desperate poverty of Guangzhou province in communist China to his position as a media mogul aiming to foster freedom through information. The son of a merchant family stripped of their wealth, Jimmy’s mother was sent to work in the fields all week while he and his siblings fared for themselves. The boy left school at the age of ten to work in a railway station, which changed his life.

The communists, he comments, painted China as wonderful in contrast to the nasty picture they presented of the outside world; but his eyes were opened by the travelers at the train station. Their dress, speech, and even the kind way they treated him gave him an education. “I was never treated so well before,” he recalls. After ravenously eating a bar of chocolate handed to him by a client, he resolved to go to where it was bought: Hong Kong. He had to beg his mother for a year before she would allow him the dangerous journey in the hold of a sampan to the freedom of Hong Kong.

Dairy farmer Brad Morgan was searching for a more cost-effective way to dispose of tons of cow manure when his undying curiosity and creativity led him to the compost business. Although he appears only moderately educated, Morgan skillfully uses scientific and business experts from far and wide to turn his farm into one of the largest and best composting businesses around.

Investment banker Frank Hanna describes how his father, rather than guiding his sons to sports or leisure on the weekends, would take them to various properties the family owned. Together, they performed all the chores and learned the processes involved in running businesses—lessons Hanna used well as he and his brother built their merchant-banking business. Hanna has combined this practical knowledge with a study of free-market economics, not only for his successful business but for philanthropy, as well. Recently, he was named Philanthropist of the Year by Philanthropy Magazine because of the thoughtful and principled approach he takes to charity.

In addition to these inspiring stories, the movie deftly explains some key economic concepts through simple illustrations, including the tremendous value that capital markets create—something Tom Wolfe’s bond trader in Bonfires of the Vanities didn’t seem to know. Experts such as Peter Boetkke from George Mason University andWealth and Poverty author George Gilder cameo with pithy explanations of economic principles.

From the opening, the movie attacks the ridiculous idea that capitalism is a zero-sum game, visually puncturing that argument with sweeping views of New York and Hong Kong. You would think that just one of capitalism’s nay-sayers would ask themselves the question: If it’s a zero-sum game, where did all this stuff come from? How did we travel from the caves to New York City?

In justifying the virtue of the entrepreneur, The Acton Institute emphasizes the other-oriented attitude of the entrepreneur in contrast to the view that entrepreneurship is merely about greedy wealth-acquisition. The documentary argues that the entrepreneur must focus on the needs and desires of other people in order to succeed. One of the film’s messages seems to be that entrepreneurs are virtuous because they work for other people, performing a kind of altruism. In fact, during a question-and-answer session after the movie, executive producer Jay Richards confirmed this, emphasizing that the “al” in “altruism” means “other.”

It’s unfortunate that Acton feels the need to justify the goodness of the entrepreneur by his or her ability to help other people. Helping others is a valuable benefit of what they do, but, clearly, that is not always the entrepreneur’s motive. Morgan, Hanna, and Lai are obviously working for the laudable motives of enjoying the exercise of their own powers, and for their desire to change the world for the better—according to their own vision. While entrepreneurs must focus on the needs and desires of others for trade, many entrepreneurs create products that others could never imagine, or imagine wanting, such as PCs or “pet rocks.” Like almost all creators, entrepreneurs often face unrelenting criticism and resistance. Most often, the entrepreneur has to be pig-headedly persistent—“kinda stubborn,” as Morgan calls himself—in his own vision to bring new values to the world. Although the actions of entrepreneurs wonderfully result in benefits to others, in order to succeed, they must cleave to their own selves, to their own vision. Sounds rather self-interested, doesn’t it?

Indeed, the film’s commentators express discomfort with the concept of greed and criticize John Stossel’s ABC specials that focus on greed as a positive force in the market. Unfortunately, in the moral wars, the film’s eschewing of greed could be seen as apologetics for the basic self-interestedness of the entrepreneur, a discomfort that can be attacked by those more consistently altruistic in the self-abnegating sense.

The problem lies in the loaded concept of “greed.” Conventionally, the concept of greed, like that of selfishness, emphasizes excessiveness—in this case, the desire to acquire or possess more than one needs. But what of the entrepreneur’s stubborn insistence on pursuing his vision when others want him to stop? Is that excessive? Is that greedy?What’s needed is a clearer parsing of the concept of greed. Greed to acquire and possess values is a strong human motivational tendency. A more neutral term for this tendency is “ambition.” It’s a good thing that humans have this tendency, or they might not be sufficiently motivated to survive and flourish. It’s a tendency that can be aimed toward good or ill. The primeval, undisciplined tendency of greed often results in the pursuit of fame, money, or power at the expense of integrity, honor, love, family or friendship. Each person needs to focus the aim of his or her greed toward productive values, not toward destructive ones. That makes the moral difference.
On the other hand, some self-defined individualists would do well to broaden their almost autistic concept of the well-lived life. As Aristotle said, man is a political animal. Humans tend to have a great desire to interact and affect others, even when pursuing their own interests.

Given the religious orientation of The Acton Institute, the ultimate message of the film is that man becomes nearer to God through creativity. With stirring music and shots of Michelangelo’s “Creation,” the documentary’s climax testifies that man’s creative ability is God’s gift to man, granting man a special place in the universe. This is the religious idealism of former centuries—a view contrary to that of the radical environmentalists, who consider man and his reality-transforming reasoning powers to be an unnatural scourge upon the earth. Rather, this Scholastic religious doctrine sees man as closer to God than any other creature, by his participation in God’s ability to create. The commentators, including Father Sirico and George Gilder, affirm the inspiring nature of this relationship to God.

As a thoroughly committed scientist and a nonbeliever, I was struck by the topsy-turvy nature of this view. Man’s ability to create and transform reality rather than merely adapt to the given is fundamental to his survival powers, acquired through evolution. Man’s reason and imagination, exploratory tendencies, and especially the energy, persistence, and independence of the personality type that typifies entrepreneurs, allow him to remake the world to suit his purposes. Isn’t it interesting that men feel the need to capture the sacredness of this fundamental of human nature by projecting a god with the same ability—and making man his special protégé?

This transformational power is a sacred ability, because it makes human flourishing possible. As George Gilder says in the film, “There is no reason to explain poverty—poverty is the natural human state” before the first entrepreneurs, the farmers, changed the world. Productive creativity should be celebrated with joyful sanctity—and this film goes far in that direction.

The Call of the Entrepreneur
is premiering around the country at small venues, through organizations like the Sam Adams Alliance. Acton hopes to get it onto PBS affiliates or commercial TV. Despite its philosophical shortcomings, I urge you to see it and to enjoy its dramatic celebration of the optimism and lavish productivity of the entrepreneur.


James Madison Was Right About Property Rights

By Marsha Enright and Gen LaGreca 11:32 AM 09/15/2011

Constitution Day (September 17) commemorates the 1787 signing of the document that established the United States of America. But like the victim of a terrible accident, the government that was formed that historic day in Philadelphia is hardly recognizable today, and the heart that propelled it — the principle of individual rights — is on life support.

Ironically, what started as a government of radically limited powers now mandates that the nation’s schools “hold an educational program on the United States Constitution” on the holiday of its signing.

In fact, the best “educational program” comes from James Madison, the man who scoured political thought and history to create the blueprint for our government, earning him the title “father of the Constitution.” He has a crucial lesson for us on property rights.

To prepare for his lesson, let’s contrast today’s treatment of our First Amendment rights with that of property rights.

People would be shocked if the president of the United States said: “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough speeches,” or “you’ve given enough sermons” or “you’ve authored enough books.” Virtually all Americans would protest such remarks and boldly assert that it’s a free country, so they can say, preach or write whatever they please.

Yet the president can get away with saying: “I do think at a certain point, you’ve made enough money.” And he can get away with seizing and redistributing our money in order to “spread the wealth around,” with only a minority shouting in disbelief at the outrage. These dissenting voices have been unable to stop a century-long growth of the welfare state.

Consider the onslaught against property in recent years: The city of New London, Connecticut can seize Susette Kelo’s house and land to sell to a shopping mall developer. Congress appropriates billions of our dollars and redistributes them to the companies of its choice, including failing banks, auto manufacturers and solar panels producers. And businesspersons like Warren Buffet blithely suggest that the wealthy be taxed more.

Are these attacks on our possessions accepted because the right to property is a lesser right, one that isn’t inalienable like the others?

In his article “Property,” Madison emphatically says no. He explains that our right to property is as untouchable as our freedom of speech, press, religion and conscience. In fact, he views the concept of property as fundamental, pertaining to much more than merely our material possessions.

In the narrow sense, Madison says, “A man’s land, or merchandize, or money is called his property.” But in a wider sense, “A man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them … in his religious beliefs … in the safety and liberty of his person … in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them.”

He then concludes: “[A]s a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.”

This statement represents a profound expression of the individual’s sovereignty over his possessions of every kind: spiritual, intellectual and material. According to Madison, a human being is master of his mind and body, his beliefs and possessions, his person and property. It is all the province of the individual to create and control.

Madison argues that there is no parceling of rights. Our rights to life, liberty and property are indivisible. The reason for this was explained with unusual clarity by Ayn Rand two centuries later: “The right to life is the source of all rights — and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life.”

Government, according to Madison, is “instituted to protect property of every sort,” and is judged solely by this yardstick: “If the United States mean to obtain or deserve the full praise due to wise and just governments, they will equally respect the rights of property, and the property in rights.”

But what does our current government do? Instead of respecting our material property at least as well as it does our other rights, its redistribution of wealth, strangling regulations on business and deeply ingrained entitlement mentality are blatant assaults on our right to property. As Ronald Reagan famously remarked: “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”

It’s as if Madison looked into the future as he observed: “When an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected.” That is precisely our current situation.

Today, the huge onslaught of regulations such as Dodd-Frank, Obamacare and the EPA’s controls on energy production has brought us almost to the point of economic paralysis. Buying and selling homes, as well as autos, has all but halted. Companies are hoarding cash and not hiring as they fearfully watch the latest attempts by government to control them. The stock market is epileptic, with seizures up and down triggered by the latest political and economic news. With these curtailments on our right to acquire, use and control our property in the economic realm, the very essence of our liberty — the right to free action — is lost.

Even worse, government’s violation of property rights isn’t limited to the economic realm. Because our rights are interconnected, it’s spreading to all aspects of life.

Consider the trial balloons we’ve already seen to limit free speech, such as the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” or “Net Neutrality.” Or consider the expanding government grip over deeply personal areas of our lives, such as regulations on what fats or sugars we eat, what physicians we see, what health insurance we buy, what treatments or drugs we’re allowed to have — and what our children may bring to school for lunch.

Because our rights can’t be divided, if we lose one, we could lose them all. That’s why we have to fight against government intrusion in the free market with the same moral certitude — and the same fire-in-the-belly — that we’d have if the government invaded our homes without a warrant, or forbade us to peacefully assemble. We have to treat the government’s encroachment on the economy as we would an encroachment on our opinions, beliefs and conscience.

On Constitution Day, let’s remember Madison’s lesson on the full meaning of property — and fight for our right to property as if our life depended on it, because it does.

Gen LaGreca is author of Noble Vision, an award-winning novel about the struggle for liberty in healthcare today. Marsha Familaro Enright is president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the Foundation for the College of the United States.

Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2011/09/15/james-madison-was-right-about-property-rights/#ixzz1YhVJ5sJL

Defending Western Civilization

As September 11th approaches, Americans remember the morning in 2001 when the World Trade Center turned to rubble. It is a fitting time to consider the nature of the civilizations that collided that day—and how to defend ours.

In their quest to establish a worldwide caliphate, radical Islamists invoke morality, claiming they have God’s sanction for performing their barbarous acts.

To defend Western civilization, we, also, need to invoke morality. But although the world envies the wealth we’ve achieved, it is widely seen as the product of soulless materialism, of unbridled “greed,” of unscrupulous self-indulgence.

What moral claim, then, can we make for our way of life?

To understand the moral values of the West, let’s turn to its beginning. In her prescient 1943 work of political philosophy, “The God of the Machine,” Isabel Paterson chose as the symbol of Western man a figure from Ancient Greece: Pytheas. This enterprising merchant left his homeland to explore Britain and beyond, seeking tin to make bronze. Insatiably curious, Pytheas also discovered the relationship between the moon’s phases and the tides, and was the first to describe the aurora and other phenomena.

Pytheas epitomizes the Western spirit: a self-directed man whose free will determines his life’s course, a thinker who employs reason and science to understand the world around him, and a producer who seeks to sell goods in peaceful trade.

From its founding, America was intended to be the country where Pytheas could flourish—the first nation established to protect the life, liberty, and property of the individual. It did so by curbing government power over the peaceful activities of its citizens.

In this, the contrast between America and radical Islam could not be greater.

Whereas Thomas Jefferson exhorts us to “Question with boldness even the existence of a God,” militant Islam kills people for apostasy.

Whereas James Madison proclaims a man has “a right to his property” and equally “a property in [all of] his rights,” Palestinian Islamists strap suicide belts on five year-olds, seizing their young lives to fight ancient vendettas.

Whereas the Declaration of Independence affirms America’s devotion to life, Osama bin Laden declares: We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the difference between us two.

“The excellence of the West” lies in its “respect for the human being, the recognition of his individuality, the liberty it has granted him,” observes Saudi Shura Council member and Muslim reformist Ibrahim Al-Buleihi.

“Humans are originally individuals,” he continues, “but cultures (including Arab culture) have dissolved the individual in the tribe, sect, or state.” It is only “with the diffusion of philosophical ideas from [Ancient] Greece” that “the human being became an individual of value for himself . . . and not merely a means for others.” (Profile of Al-Buleihi, The Aafaq Foundation, July 6, 2010)

Thus, in our civilization, a person is born free to live for his own sake and to pursue happiness. In radical Islam, a person must obey a central authority and sacrifice his life to its aims. Which society is better?

Granted the West’s superiority, why is radical Islam advancing? Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim, cites “an active propaganda campaign” in which “the Saudis invested at least $2 billion a year over a 30-year period to spread their brand of fundamentalist Islam.” (Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2010)

Why aren’t we passionately defending our civilization? Certainly, money isn’t the obstacle. Is it because we don’t understand the nobility of our individualist foundation, including the virtue of private advancement and profit?

We must never forget that we’re the country of Pytheas: a people of free will, free minds, and free enterprise. Our spectacular prosperity is not our dishonor, but the glory of our liberty.

It is said that Ground Zero is “sacred ground.” In truth, all of America is sacred ground—because the individual is sacred here.

We must assert the moral superiority of our civilization—or lose it to our enemies.

Marsha Familaro Enright is president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the Foundation for the College of the United States. Gen LaGreca is author of Noble Vision, an award-winning novel about the struggle for liberty in health care today.

Originally published at The Daily Caller, 9/8/2010.

A Sad Birthday for Jefferson by Gen LaGreca and Marsha Familaro Enright

On a spring day in 1743, a towering figure in our country’s founding was born: Thomas Jefferson. His skillful hand carved much of the character of America.

Today, however, what Jefferson so painstakingly crafted lies pulverized almost to stone dust. Were he alive to celebrate his birthday this April 13, instead of sipping champagne, he might want to drown his sorrow in whiskey.

What has happened to the revolutionary ideas he penned on the parchment that is the soul of America, the Declaration of Independence? How many of today’s citizens—and elected officials—understand the stirring proclamation that every person possesses certain “unalienable rights,” among which are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?

Today, most Americans don’t understand their rights; the entire concept has been hopelessly muddied. Many now believe that if they want or need anything—from health care, to a “decent” salary, to help paying their mortgage—that they have a “right,” through government taxation and regulation, to compel others to provide it for them. As a result, our actual rights have been eroded at an ever-increasing pace.

So, in homage to Thomas Jefferson, and with his guidance, let’s examine some features of our real rights, to set the record straight.

According to Jefferson, our rights are unalienable. This means that individuals possess rights in virtue of being human. They are neither granted nor invalidated by any person, king, congress, or group. Might does not make right; individual rights are a sacred temple that even the will of the people must respect. “[T]he majority, oppressing an individual,” says Jefferson, “is guilty of a crime . . . and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society.”[i] Further, because they stem from universals of human nature, these rights are legitimate in all societies and all eras. As such and properly understood, they form the rock-solid foundation of our freedom.

Contrary to modern misinterpretations, our real rights—to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness—are rights to take action; they are not entitlements to goods and services. Jefferson defined liberty as “unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.”[ii] This means we may act in our own behalf, for example, to earn money and buy health care, but we may not expect the government to tax and regulate others to provide us with health care for free.

Rights belong to us as individuals, with each of us possessing exactly the same ones. There are no “rights” of groups—be they farmers, seniors, students, workers, homeowners, or the like—to any special privileges at the expense of others. According to Jefferson, “Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare but only those specifically enumerated [in the Constitution].”[iii] What, then, would he have thought of our current government’s using taxpayers’ money to provide privileges to countless special-interest groups—through bank bailouts, government-backed mortgages, programs for the arts, government housing, car-company loans, etc.?

As understood by Jefferson and his contemporaries, our rights include the right to property, which entitles us to keep the things that we legitimately acquire. Does a rich person have less of a right to property than a poor person? According to Jefferson: “To take from one because it is thought his own industry . . . has acquired too much, in order to spare others who . . . have not exercised equal industry and skill is to violate the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.”[iv] What, then, would he have thought of the recent referendum passed in Oregon—typifying the practice of many states, as well as the federal government—in which a majority levied substantial additional taxes on businesses and the wealthy? Wouldn’t that seem like a few sheep and a pack of wolves deciding what to have for lunch?

Jefferson valued productive work as a noble part of the American character. When his Monticello farm fell on hard times, he began producing nails, and did so proudly because “every honest employment is deemed honorable [in America]. . . . My new trade of nail-making is to me in this country what an additional title of nobility . . . [is] in Europe.”[v] He scorned the “idleness”[vi] of the European aristocracy, calling their courts “the weakest and worst part of mankind.”[vii] He expected people to use their minds to judge conflicting ideas, overcome obstacles, and achieve goals, extolling reason as the autonomous person’s tool for successful living: “Fix reason firmly to her seat and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion.”[viii]

When his 15-year-old daughter had difficulty reading an ancient text, he admonished: “If you always lean on your master, you will never be able to proceed without him. It is part of the American character to consider nothing as desperate—to surmount every difficulty . . .” Americans, he continued, “are obliged to invent and to execute; to find the means within ourselves, and not to lean on others.”[ix] What, then, would he have thought of today’s government “entitlements,” which encourage idleness while discouraging people from making their own decisions?

Jefferson swore “eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man,”[x] ardently defending the spiritual and intellectual freedom of the individual. He held that a person’s beliefs and values were an entirely private matter and that “the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions.”[xi] What, then, would this champion of freedom of religion, speech, the press, and conscience have thought of recent threats and insinuations by public officials to influence the content of radio programs? What would Jefferson have thought of a president, able to wield the full coercive powers of the state, discouraging people from listening to the opposing viewpoints of private individuals?

As individuals possessing the right—and glory—of self-sovereignty, what, then, is the proper role of government in our lives? The Declaration explains “that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” Wise government, Jefferson elaborated, “shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”[xii] Government’s exclusive purpose is to protect us from acts of force or fraud, which violate our rights—e.g., to apprehend and punish aggressors who would pick our pockets or break our legs—but otherwise, to refrain from regulating or controlling our lives.

Jefferson’s vision provides “for a government rigorously frugal and simple . . . and not for a multiplication of officers and salaries merely to make partisans . . .”[xiii] What, then, would he have thought of today’s ever-growing swarms of agencies, commissions, and departments that, following King George III, “harass our people, and eat out their substance”?[xiv] What would he have thought of the 2,700-page health-care reform bill passed in the dead of night, with backroom bribes used to obtain the votes of congressmen unclear about its massive contents and implications? Do we have any doubt that Jefferson would be horrified by such corruption and by the dangerous, unprecedented powers this legislation has granted to the state?

Thomas Jefferson fought for a country in which the government had no power to encroach on the mind, the life, the liberty, or the property of the individual. He fought for a country in which the individual, for the first time in history, could live for the pursuit of his own happiness instead of being a pawn in the hands of the state.

Within a mere page of the calendar of history, the world-shaking recognition that freedom is every person’s natural state and sacred right led to the abolition of slavery, the suffrage of women, and the spread of human freedoms in nations around the globe. The dawn of liberty upon the modern world began with the founding principles of America, which the author of the Declaration of Independence so ably articulated.

On Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, we must grasp again and hold dear the fragile gem of freedom that he so carefully carved. We must protest the hammering away at our individual rights by the ignorant, the deceived, and the unscrupulous. And we must polish the ideals for which Jefferson pledged his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor.

***

Gen LaGreca is author of Noble Vision, an award-winning novel about the struggle for liberty in health care today. Marsha Familaro Enright is president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the Foundation for the College of the United States


[i] Letter to P. S. Dupont de Nemours, 1816

[ii] Letter to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1819

[iii] Letter to Albert Gallatin, 1817

[iv] Letter to Joseph Milligan, 1816

[v] Letter to Jean Nicolas Démeunier, 1795

[vi] Letter to Peter Carr, 1787

[vii] Travelling Notes for Mr. Rutledge and Mr. Shippen, 1788

[viii] Letter to Peter Carr, 1787

[ix] Letter to Martha Jefferson, 1787

[x] Letter to Benjamin Rush, 1800

[xi] Address to Danbury Baptist Association, 1802

[xii] Inauguration Address, 1801

[xiii] Letter to Elbridge Gerry, 1799

[xiv] Declaration of Independence, 1776

Copyright © 2010 by Marsha Familaro Enright and Gen LaGreca. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the authors and inclusion of their byline.

Permanent Link: http://fountainheadinstitute.com/a-sad-birthday-for-jefferson/

Originally published at: http://dailycaller.com/2010/04/09/a-sad-birthday-for-jefferson/

Published April 9, 2010 at The Daily Caller

A lesson in profit by Gen LaGreca and Marsha Familaro Enright

Addressing a joint session of Congress on health care, President Barack Obama reiterated his often-expressed aversion to the profit motive:

“[B]y avoiding some of the overhead that gets eaten up at private [health insurance] companies by profits and excessive costs and executive salaries, [the public insurance option] could provide a good deal for consumers, and would also keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better . . .”

Is this true? Is profit wasteful, as Obama implies? Does it lead to higher prices and lower value to consumers? Can the government, unburdened by profit, do the same job as a private company, only cheaper and better?

To answer, let’s consider one business, one product, and one profit-seeking man who lived at a time when the market operated largely free of government subsidies, bailouts, regulations, taxation, and other “progressive” intrusions.

Henry Ford, at age 13, saw a steam-driven land vehicle, a “road locomotive,” which filled his imagination with the vision of a horseless carriage and fueled a passion to create one. As a young man, he worked day jobs, while trying to build a car in his free time. Realizing a viable car could not run on steam, he sought to develop a new kind of engine.

On Christmas Eve 1893, the 30-year-old inventor clamped his first gasoline engine to his wife Clara’s kitchen sink. With the home’s electricity providing ignition, the motor roared into action, sending the sink vibrating and exhaust flames flying while Clara prepared the holiday dinner.

In pursuit of his dream, Ford and Clara moved eight times in their first nine years of marriage. He quit a secure job at the Edison Illuminating Company, banking everything on his vision. He co-founded the Detroit Automobile Company—a venture that failed. Jobless, Ford moved his wife and child into his father’s home. But he kept working on his car. “It is always too soon to quit,” he said.

Ten years passed from the roar of the little engine on Clara’s sink to the launch of the Ford Motor Company. It took five more years to produce his big success, the Model T, and additional years to master its mass production.

Why did Ford persist through years of hardship and uncertainty? How much would his love for the work have sustained him without the hope of eventual profit? Imagine if he had lived in a system where politicians could, at the stroke of a pen, seize his profits or decide how much he could keep. Would he have risked so much or worked so ferociously to bring a world-changing invention to market?

Would an Amtrak employee devote a decade of free time inventing a new train, only to rise a notch on a civil-servant’s pay scale? Dream big, work hard, create something earth shaking, but be paid small is the antithesis of the American dream.

The pursuit of profit not only motivated Ford, but also his bold investors who had the foresight to realize the horse was doomed.

In 1903, a school teacher invested $100—half her life savings—in the Ford Motor Company. Sixteen years later, she sold her stock for a total gain of $355,000. Why would she and others place their money on a highly experimental venture, were it not for the hope of tremendous gain should the enterprise succeed? What kind of person would deny her the reward for recognizing Ford’s vision and risking her own money?

The pursuit of profit also impacted every aspect of Ford’s business operations.

Ford didn’t need a politician’s scolding to lower prices—only the desire to make huge profits by reaching mass markets. Because early cars were expensive, people viewed them as mere playthings of the rich. But Ford sought to “build a motor car for the multitude.” This led him to develop his moving assembly line, significantly reducing manufacturing costs and, consequently, prices. The original $825 price of the Model T finally bottomed at $260. That price-lowering strategy brought him the millions of customers that made him rich.

Similarly, Ford’s pursuit of profit didn’t result in bare-subsistence wages for employees, but in phenomenal pay increases. He shocked the world by introducing the $5 workday, more than doubling the era’s prevailing wage. Why? To attract the best workers, whose talents increased product quality and company efficiency. High pay also decreased employee turnover and training costs, again increasing Ford’s profits.

Ford typifies the successful capitalist, whose profit-driven innovations lower prices, while raising wages and living standards for all.

Even today’s Ford Motor Company, a much-fettered child of our mixed economy, demonstrates the superiority of private- over government-run companies. Ford refused TARP bailout money, choosing to operate without government strings. The result? Ford’s profits are up 43 percent, while bailed-out GM and Chrysler lag behind.

In Henry Ford—a thin man who was the fattest of fat cats—we see an embodied refutation of President Obama’s worldview. Ford developed a new form of transportation vastly cheaper, faster, more convenient, and superior to the old mode. He continually lowered prices so that everyone, rich and poor, would have access to his product. He created thousands of jobs. He raised employee wages. He did all this good without government grants, bailouts, stimuli, subsidies, or coercion, but simply as a result of the honest pursuit of personal gain.

This achievement was possible only because a private individual had the freedom to pursue his own self-interest, in cooperation with others who supported his vision and shared in the rewards, unencumbered by government.

By eliminating profit, Obama implies that everything else about an enterprise would remain the same, only the product would be cheaper and better. Actually, by removing profit, nothing at all would remain the same.

Contrary to Obama’s notions, profit is not an overhead cost, but a vital gain sought over and above costs in order to reward a company’s risk-takers. According to economist Ludwig von Mises, “Profit is the pay-off of successful action.” And “The elimination of profit . . . would create poverty for all.”

Eliminate the hope of profit, and you extinguish that spark which ignites the human engine and powers it to explore uncharted roads: the creative mind. Profit is the proud product of the creative mind, and the creative mind is an attribute of the individual. Obama’s attack on profit is an attack on human creativity and innovation, which is an attack on the individual.

Obama’s antipathy for the self-interested individual is explicit. “In America, we have this strong bias toward individual action,” he said in an interview in the Chicago Reader. “But individual actions, individual dreams, are not sufficient. We must unite in collective action, build collective institutions and organizations.”

It was Henry Ford’s individual actions and individual dreams that brought motorized, personal transportation within reach of everyone in the world.

America is rooted in the “pursuit of happiness”—which means the right of each of us to create, to produce, to rise, to succeed, and to profit from the fruits of our labor. Contrast this worldview with that of a president who disparages the individual and seeks to limit or expropriate his profits on behalf of a faceless “collective.” Obama’s war on profit is a war against the individualist heart and soul of America.

Profits are a badge of honor earned by someone who offers others something they value enough to buy. The first buyer of the first car of the Ford Motor Company was a doctor. He was tired of hitching up his horse and buggy for nighttime emergencies. Ford’s product enhanced his life, as it later enhanced the lives of millions. Profit is the medal Ford received from his customers for a job well done.

If our nation is to cultivate productive geniuses like Henry Ford, it must proclaim that the quest for profit is moral and noble.

POSTSCRIPT: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced “the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.” This means that the federal government, with its vast powers to fund highway projects, “liveability” initiatives, and other aid programs, as well as to tax gasoline, now intends, in LaHood’s stunningly brazen words, “to coerce people out of their cars,” in favor of walking or cycling. A century ago, Henry Ford, through capitalism and the profit motive, brought motorized transportation to the world. Now, an alarmingly anti-capitalist government is reversing that historic achievement and pulling us back to the pre-industrial age.

Gen LaGreca is author of “Noble Vision,” an award-winning novel about the struggle for liberty in health care today. Marsha Familaro Enright is president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the Foundation for the College of the United States. Incidents from the book “Young Henry Ford,” by Sidney Olson appear in this article.

Copyright © 2010 by Marsha Familaro Enright and Gen LaGreca. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the authors and inclusion of their byline.

Permanent Link:  http://fountainheadinstitute.com/a-lesson-in-profit/

Originally published at: http://dailycaller.com/2010/03/31/a-lesson-in-profit/

Can the free market be saved without Ayn Rand?

It’s been a year since Stephen Moore’s article, “Atlas Shrugged: from Fiction to Fact in 52 Years,”seemed to ignite an explosion of interest in Ayn Rand. Sales of this prescient novel tripled; two Rand biographies have been selling like hotcakes; and references to her in the media have skyrocketed.

Yet, some free-market defenders continue to repudiate her and her ideas, as they have for decades. It used to be conservatives such as William F. Buckley of National Review trashing “Atlas Shrugged;” now the critics include libertarians, such as Heather Wilhelm of the Illinois Public Policy Institute, who penned “Is Ayn Rand Bad for the Market?”.

But in their rush to distance themselves from Rand, they succumb to a deadly philosophic trap. It results from their anxious desire to apologize for the individualistic, self-interested motives that actually drive free markets. This anxiety prompts them to defend capitalism on the opposite premise: that capitalism is good only because it is “other-directed”—i.e., that it grants certain groups, such as the poor, opportunities to acquire wealth and power.

Over the decades, this has led such apologists to launch unpersuasive and futile crusades, such as “compassionate conservatism” and “bleeding-heart libertarianism,” which are not defenses of capitalism, but embodiments of its opposite. For example, conservatives and some libertarians plunged headlong into the moral and logical pitfalls of collectivism when, led by “compassionate conservative” Republican president George W. Bush, they created Medicare Part D, then the biggest-ever addition to welfare entitlements.

Likewise, Wilhelm summed up what too many on the right think, when she writes that free markets are best “sold” on the premise that, above all else, they help society’s neediest. She adds that “Rand’s insistence on the folly of altruism, however, tends to overshadow and even invalidate this message.”

You bet it does—and with good reason. That’s because no one can defend capitalism and free markets logically and consistently without a moral validation of enlightened self-interest as the highest good.

After all, the left didn’t rise to power because they had facts and rational arguments on their side. The empirical case for the superiority of capitalism in bringing a better life to the poor is overwhelming, whether we compare Chile to Cuba, Hong Kong to communist China, or the fully communist China of the past to itself today. So, one has to ask: Why haven’t these arguments won over all those who claim to want to help the poor?

The answer is that the left’s ascendance to power wasn’t driven by economic fact but by a moral vision thinly covered with economic claims. This vision was accepted by millions only because of the moral philosophy of self-sacrifice that dominates our culture.

That morality claims that the highest good for each individual is to live for the sake of others—for society or the collective. Ultimately, it implies that each of us is a moral slave to someone else. Whether it’s Marx’s “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” or Hitler’s admonition to live for the German Volk, or Pol Pot’s belief that “since he [the individual] is of no use anymore, there is no gain if he lives and no loss if he dies,” the morality of self-sacrifice kills liberty because it subordinates the individual’s life to the group.

This is the morality that brought us the carnage of the 20th century.

The arguments of “compassionate” libertarians and “bleeding-heart” conservatives do nothing to challenge this ethic. They merely try to slip capitalism in under the tent of collectivist moral philosophy, telling everybody, in effect: “Don’t worry; even though sinful, individualistic self-interest drives capitalism, it is good because it can be harnessed to serve groups, such as the poor.”

In other words, these would-be defenders of capitalism merely “me-too” the collectivist moral claim that our primary ethical responsibility should be the welfare of other people. In this view, they march lockstep with those on the left who revile individualism and capitalism as being anti-poor, anti-caring.

Their view couldn’t be further from the truth. Free-market capitalism arises from a social vision that cares about the smallest minority of all: the individual. That vision recognizes the moral superiority of the right of the individual to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—the very vision identified by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence and fought for by the Founding Fathers.

What is this right, if not the right of each person to pursue his or her own highest self-interest? Remember, the slogan of the American Revolution was “Don’t tread on me.”

Yet, that “selfish” American Revolution established a social system that created the most productive nation the world has ever seen, with the highest level and broadest distribution of wealth. It was a system based on individual rights, limited government, and equal justice under the law, in which everyone could keep and enjoy the fruits of his or her own efforts.

This system was fair because it gave each person the equal opportunity—and the pride-enhancing challenge—to make the most of his or her life, poor and rich alike. In fact, only a capitalist society can truly serve the interests of the poor and the disadvantaged, as well as the rich and the capable, because it is at root based on justice for the individual. And justice for the individual is justice for all.

This is what makes capitalism morally superior to collectivism.

Ironically, given the prevailing presumptions about self-interest, capitalist societies such as the U.S. are also the most charitable. Our individualistic system created a nation of magnanimity due to our unimpeded productivity, overflowing abundance, and benevolent sympathy for other individuals struggling for their own lives, liberty, and happiness.

It’s amazing that in all their talk of Rand’s “harsh message” and “confrontational language,” many free-market defenders haven’t asked themselves why her writings have inspired millions to become advocates of capitalism. They don’t understand that she completes the 18th century vision of the American Revolution by presenting a morality that fully justifies capitalism and individual freedom.

Rand’s morality of rational, enlightened self-interest defends the individual’s right to his own life, the power of his own liberty, and the glory of his pursuit of his own happiness. She said: “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 work as his noblest achievement, and reason as his only absolute.” Her message—that “man’s proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads”—is a message of the glory of the individual, unshackled and free.

We urgently need Rand’s vision of the moral nobility and greatness of a social system based on enlightened self-interest if we, the 21st century advocates of freedom, are to finally free the world from the death grip of collectivism. And that is a vision we must defend with “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Marsha Familaro Enright is president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the Foundation for the College of the United States. Gen LaGreca is the author of Noble Vision, an award-winning novel about the struggle for liberty in health care today.

Copyright © 2010 by Marsha Familaro Enright and Gen LaGreca. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the authors and inclusion of their byline.

Permanent link: http://fountainheadinstitute.com/can-the-free-market-be-saved-without-rand/

Originally published at:

http://dailycaller.com/2010/02/16/can-the-free-market-be-saved-without-rand/

Students Need Mental Ammunition

College students today face an ideological onslaught from educators who are more concerned with creating “good citizens” than teaching them real knowledge. And it’s time for a new approach.

I’m running a program for high school and college students this summer because of a first grade perplexity — and Ayn Rand.

When I was kid in the late 1950s, I looked forward to the exciting new things I was learning every day at school. I was amused at the class clown, Mike, who nearly gave our teacher a heart attack by putting fake ink on her grade book. But I was also annoyed by his antics, and by the distractions of students who talked out of order, threw paper airplanes, and noisily dropped pencils while we were studying.

Why didn’t they find the challenge of learning as riveting as I did?

Slowly, it dawned on me that they were not happy in school. It bored them, or made them feel frustrated, or belittled. Lashing out at others was a consequence, and I was a frequent victim, with humiliating names thrown in as a bonus.

I vowed that none of this would happen to my children. I wanted to ensure their days were filled with the joy of learning, not the dread of school. This set me on a quest to find a different form of education.

Years later I came across Beatrice Hessen’s articles “The Montessori Method” in The Objectivist. Wow, this seemed like the educational method for me! It individualized learning, followed the child’s psychological development, and provided a peaceful, respectful, and orderly environment in which the child could exercise his or her abilities and choices while learning — a great way to learn how to live in a free society.

But I needed more proof than a few articles — and I got it in dozens of books by Maria Montessori in which she described her scientific approach and its results. I followed this with dozens of first-hand observations in Montessori classrooms all over the country and abroad. I also founded Council Oak Montessori School in 1990 which runs to eighth grade, where my own children flourished.

In the meantime, I was worrying about college. Back in the ’70s I attended Northwestern University where my organic chemistry classes were interrupted regularly by Vietnam War protesters. It made no sense to me — how was taking over a class in the Krebs cycle going to stop the war? Then I read Ayn Rand’s “The Anti-industrial Revolution” and understood the collectivist philosophy and anti-mind tactics behind the New Left.

Her article about Progressive education in lower schools, “The Comprachicos,” proved just as revelatory. Today, we’re seeing the consequences of 40 years in which the Progressive Left’s collectivist emphasis on socialization over mastery of knowledge has left many elementary school students ignorant and deficient in learning skills.

And it gets worse. The 1970s leaders of the New Left who destroyed property and bombed government buildings, such as Bill Ayers, are now influential intellectuals shaping the minds of the young. Ayers is celebrated as “Senior Professor of Education and University Scholar” at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

He and many like him are in charge of teacher training programs all over the nation. They’ve transformed the national teacher accrediting agencies into nurseries of the New Left by requiring study of such works as Paolo Freire’s political tract, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, at most teacher education programs.

By Freire’s theory, schooling is not the conveyance of objective knowledge through the development of rational, individual thought. Rather, it is always a political process, subjectively biased to the benefit of those in power. Teachers are urged to develop, not reason, but “critical thinking” skills, i.e. critical of Western civilization. Classic books such as John Locke’s or Adam Smith’s mold students to submit to an oppressive, capitalist society, in this view. Freire and his cohorts had a different power structure in mind — represented most notably by a society he admired, Maoist China.

However, collectivist indoctrination is not limited to education schools. The dominant collectivist left professoriate dismisses great works of Western civilization as the product of the white elite. The consequence: research by The Association of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) finds that many college graduates in 2009 know less than high school graduates 50 years ago.

Knowledge of American history and civics is frighteningly depleted. Studies by the University of Connecticut Department of Public Policy found that 81% of seniors from the top 55 colleges failed a high school U.S. history exam. For example, over one-third could not identify the Constitution as establishing the separation of powers in our government. Thirty-seven percent thought Ulysses S. Grant was the general at the battle of Yorktown.

These are students at colleges ranked “best” by U.S. News & World Report.

If that’s not bad enough, consider what’s happening to free speech on campus. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) litigates many campus restrictions on free speech. But did you know that FIRE is fighting a battle against Purdue University which literally revolves around judging a book by its cover?

A student employee, Kenneth Sampson, was found guilty of racial harassment because he offended another student by reading Notre Dame vs the Klan: How the fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan. The cover shows a Klan hanging, and that was enough for a university administrator to reprimand Sampson. No matter that the book, in fact, is written as an indictment of the Klan!

Not surprisingly, for decades Ayn Rand’s books have been excluded from the curriculum at most colleges and universities, despite the fact that they are some of the best-selling and most enduring works of the 20th Century. Many academicians belittle her literary and philosophical value — while cartoons are studied in UCLA literature classes and feminist authors of every collectivist stripe are lauded in the Ivy League. Her academic critics don’t usually present “arguments,” so much as misrepresentations of her views, or fallacious ad hominen andad majorum attacks.

What does this imply? When people find it necessary to call names instead of make rational arguments, they’re often afraid of the ideas they are confronting. And no wonder: when readers apply reason and facts, her philosophy of reason, individualism, capitalism, and heroic achievement wins many of their minds and hearts and inoculates them against collectivist indoctrination.

Don’t Ayn Rand and Henry Hazlitt deserve to be included in the curriculum, along with Marx and Engels? Shouldn’t Ludwig von Mises be taught beside John Maynard Keynes? Only then will students fully understand the world around them and how it got that way. Only then will they have a real choice of ideas.

I’m convinced it’s time to offer an alternative to balance the current direction of higher education. For this purpose, I have been working with an accomplished group of trustees and advisors to establish a new college, the College of the United States. Of course one doesn’t start a new college overnight. Which brings me to why I’m running a seminar for high school and college students this summer.

Students need mental ammunition to withstand the ideological onslaught at college. They need to learn the great ideas which have formed our remarkable civilization. This means studying the classics along with modern science. This means developing students’ objective reasoning skills to counterbalance the classes in politicized “critical thinking.”

This coming July, we’ve planned a week-long introduction to our College program that will be both a live demonstration of our approach, and a way of giving students the tools and skills they will need, regardless of which college they attend.

And that’s how my perplexity in grade school led me to a seminar this summer.

http://www.theatlasphere.com/columns/090605-enright-seminar.php

Did Ayn Rand Influence Ken Follett?

Ken Follett’s novels are not only inspiring and well-written, but also reveal thematic and stylistic choices similar to those in Ayn Rand’s novels. Could it be more than a coincidence?

I became hooked on British author Ken Follett through his most famous novel, The Eye of the Needle. It’s the gripping World War II story of a ruthless Nazi spy’s attempt to bring secrets of the British military back to Hitler, combined with a tragic love story and a dynamite heroine.

A wonderfully plotted, suspenseful story, a heroine of immense presence of mind and courage, and characters that act with strength and integrity — what’s not to like? Donald Sutherland starred in the movie version, but don’t miss the book just because you’ve seen the movie. There’s a lot more in the book.

After The Eye of the Needle, I ripped through many of Follett’s other novels, including The Man From St. PetersburgTripleThe Key to Rebecca, and Lie Down With Lions. They were all spy novels, but so much more satisfying than many contemporary authors because of the dramatic originality of the stories and because their characters have a psychological depth and self-awareness often lacking in spy novels and thrillers. Simply put, Follett is a modern master of Romanticism.

I moved on from these spy stories to his historical fiction, including A Dangerous Fortune and A Place Called Freedom. The first dramatized the 19th Century banking world, the second, the enslaved life of 18th Century Scottish miners, one of whom escapes to build his life in the challenges — and freedom — of the New World. Their settings and themes, combined with the unusual level of Romanticism in his novels, began making me suspect that Follett may have been influenced by Ayn Rand.

Then I read a novel of his which was entirely different from the others — Pillars of the Earth. (See my husband John Enright’s 2004review for the Atlasphere.) This thousand-page tome recounts the lives and fortunes of 12th Century English men and women, involved in the century-long building of a cathedral.

My suspicions of an Ayn Rand influence soared! The heroes in this book were the red-haired builder of the cathedral and a woman who becomes a wool merchant. An architect and a businesswoman in Medieval times? And there was the author’s positive attitude towards business and the strong independence of his heroes and heroines.

However, I had nothing definitive — only a hunch due to a combination of factors about Follett’s writing. I set aside my speculations until this year, when I tore through his sequel to Pillars of the Earth, titled World Without End.

Set more than a hundred years later, descendants of Pillars’ hero and heroine are instrumental in remaking their medieval town of Kingsbridge into a Renaissance of architectural and business achievements.

Through his creative genius as an innovative architect, builder, and businessman, the red-haired hero, Merthin, achieves fame and fortune. He breaks through the straightjacket of the guilds and lives a uniquely independent life in a time when the church and superstition ruled most people’s thinking. The heroine, Caris, likewise bucks tradition, pursuing the work of a doctor with a very scientific approach, among many other defiant choices, and transforms the town by creating new markets and business methods. She insists on maintaining her personal independence despite tradition and tremendous social pressure.

Both Merthin and Caris habitually demonstrate the close observation of facts and their rational implications — one among the many values drawing them together. And both are de facto atheists in a time of religion’s dominion.

On top of this, the villains are veritable portraits of Attila and the Witch Doctor. Merthin’s brother Ralph is a brutish, power-mad knight, ruthlessly angling for social advancement. And the Priors of the Kingsbridge town Abbey, fearing reason and change, control others through shunning, persecution, appeals to their moral authority, and Ellsworth Toohey-like manipulation.

In addition to themes and characters that echo Ayn Rand, certain scenes also bear an uncanny relationship to scenes in Atlas Shruggedand The Fountainhead. For example, in one scene, Caris is treating a fellow townsman for the plague: “Dora handed Caris a cup of wine, and Caris held it to Mark’s lips. She found it strange to see a big man helpless. Mark had always seemed invulnerable. It was unnerving, like finding an oak tree that has been there all your life suddenly felled by lightning.” Remember Eddie Willers’s feeling when looking at the oak tree in the opening of Atlas?

However, the last scene of the book really did it to me — it parallels, in several ways, the last scene of The Fountainhead. I’ll refrain from describing it here, for fear of ruining a reader’s enjoyment. I’d love to hear what Atlasphere readers think, once they’ve read World Without End.

So what is Follett’s own backstory? Born in Cardiff, Wales, Follett graduated from University College, London with an Honours B.A. in Philosophy. He first wrote as a journalist in Wales, and later, in London for the Evening News. After a number of less-than-successful novels, he struck gold with The Eye of the Needle.

Brought up in a religious Welsh family, he began questioning his beliefs, which led him to philosophy for answers.

On this subject, he once said, “There is a remote connection between philosophy and fiction. When you study philosophy you deal with questions like: ‘Here we are sitting at a table, but is the table real?’ Now that’s a daft question because of course the table is real. When you study philosophy however, you need to take that sort of thing seriously and you have to have an off-the-wall imagination. It’s the same with fiction which is all about imagining situations that are different from the real world.”

Unfortunately for our purposes, this doesn’t reveal much similarity to Rand’s thinking other than that Follett is a realist. And his political leanings — the Labour Party — don’t indicate much affinity for free markets.

If you get hooked on Follett, you’ll be pleased to find many more novels than the ones I’ve mentioned. And in addition to Eye of the Needle, a number of his books have been produced as movies, such asThe Key to Rebecca and The Third Twin.

I was happy to read that a mini-series of Pillars of the Earth is in the works, produced by one of my favorites, Ridley Scott, who directed “Blade Runner,” “Gladiator,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” and produced the mini-series “Rome.”

I emailed Follett through his website, asking whether he might have been influenced by Rand, as I had discovered of novelist James Clavell, of Tai-Pan and Shogun fame. (You can read my report on Clavell here.) But I haven’t heard back from him. If I do, I’ll let Atlasphere readers know. Until then — good reading!

Copyright © 2009 by Marsha Familaro Enright. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the author and inclusion of her byline.

http://www.theatlasphere.com/columns/100115-enright-ken-follett.php

James Clavell’s Asian Adventures

“I came here with no friends, an old typewriter, and look what I achieved. It would have been impossible to achieve this in England.”

So said James Clavell, an Australian immigrant to America who learned the fundamentals of the American outlook on life in a horrific Japanese prisoner of war camp. In over four decades as a novelist, screenwriter, poet, playwright, director, and producer, Clavell added one lushly romantic, gripping story after another to his accomplishments. What’s even more surprising in this day and age, his heroes were often businessmen.

An English-educated Aussie, Clavell was born in 1924 as Charles Edmund DuMaresq de Clavelle. He became a captain with the British Royal Artillery in Southeast Asia during World War II. This position landed Clavell at the infamous Changi Japanese prisoner of war camp near Singapore for half of World War II, where he “collected material” for what would become his first novel, King Rat (1962).

Clavell had planned to be a Naval officer, like his ancestors going back at least to John Clavelle who fought at Trafalgar. But a motorcycle accident left him with a limp and out of the navy.  After a stint as a salesman, he wrote a TV pilot that brought him to the U.S. in 1953, and launched a long career in the movie industry. His first screenplay was the 1958 version of The FlyWatusi followed, along with Five Gates to Hell, which Clavell wrote, directed, and produced.

His remarkable range as a writer-director first revealed itself with Sidney Poitier’s 1967 film hit To Sir, With Love (also made into a TV movie in 1974). The Poitier film was nominated for three major awards, including the Directors Guild of America’s Outstanding Directorial Achievement. He penned the screenplay for The Great Escape, a factually based movie of Allied prisoners’ daring plans to get out of a Nazi prisoner of war camp, which starred Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Richard Attenborough, James Garner, David McCallum, and Charles Bronson. Clavell’s script was nominated for the Writers Guild of America’s award for Best Written American Drama in 1968.

Clavell finally won an award, a 1981 Emmy, for his TV mini-series Shogun. (I remember being so excited about seeing it that I ran out and bought my first color TV!) A later novel,Noble House, also was made into a mini-series starring Pierce Brosnan and Tia Carrera, along with many notables like Denholm Elliott and John Houseman.

But Clavell remains best known for his work as a novelist, which began during a Hollywood writer’s strike in the early 1960s. Almost twenty years after his release from Changi, he had just started talking about his experience when his wife said, “Why don’t you write a novel about it?” Unsure how to write novels, he seized upon Othello’s resentful, envious Iago as an inspiration, and King Rat’s first line spilled out. “‘I’m going to get that bloody bastard.’ And so, once I started, it came out in a tremendous rush.”

King Rat (1962)

In a 1986 interview, Clavell said that his experience in Changi was “as close as you can get to being dead and still be alive.” King Rat recounts life—so to speak—in this place between life and death:

    Changi was set like a pearl on the eastern tip of Singapore Island, iridescent under the bowl of tropical skies…[C]loser, Changi lost its beauty and became what it was—an obscene forbidding prison…[N]ow, in the cells and in the passageways and in every nook and cranny lived some eight thousand men… These men too were criminals. Their crime was vast. They had lost a war. And they had lived.

As are all his later books, King Rat is excellently plotted and highly suspenseful, its characters sharply and colorfully drawn, the details exact and realistic. What makes it singularly fascinating is Clavell’s picture of how different men faced this gruesome experience.

Clavell vividly depicts the squalid conditions and brutal treatment meted out by the Japanese. Preserving their dignity and refusing to be cowed by their captors are the British officers’ primary motives—in the face of awful enfeeblement from chronic dysentery, malaria, and a host of other ailments. Repeated conflicts between the Allied soldiers and their Japanese keepers, resulting in incomprehensible prisoner punishments, dramatize the clash between Anglo and Japanese values.

Also, through Peter Marlowe, a British flight lieutenant and stand-in for Clavell, the author explores British discomfort with the American entrepreneurial spirit, embodied by the book’s title character, Corporal King:

    They always shared what they could find or steal or make. Max and Dino were a unit. And it was the same throughout the world of Changi. Men ate and trusted in units. Twos, threes, rarely fours. One man could never cover enough ground, or find something and build a fire and cook it and eat it—not by himself….Only by mutual effort did you survive. To withhold from the unit was fatal, for if you were expelled from a unit, the word got around. And it was impossible to survive alone. But the King didn’t have a unit. He was sufficient unto himself.

Marlowe comes from a purely military English family. He knows almost nothing about trade and business; his life has revolved around duty and honor. So he finds “the King” fascinating. He’s not sure what to make of the American’s expert trading with the Korean guards and Chinese suppliers, offering Mount Blanc pens and diamond rings in exchange for the food, clothes, and medicine the prisoners desperately need. Without envy, but with growing wonder, he tries to understand King’s outlook and learn from it.

Is his wheeling and dealing in this “lifeboat” situation taking unfair advantage of the others? Or is King a life-saver, able to motivate others and cleverly acquire what they all need to survive? Is it wrong that he believes in making a profit in the process?

While Marlowe ponders the King’s ethics, he comes to respect the man’s ability to seize opportunities and make things happen while everyone else struggles on the edge of survival. “‘Damned if I know how you do it,’ Peter Marlowe said. ‘You work so fast.’ The King replied: ‘You got something to do and you do it. That’s the American style.’”

For his part, the King recognizes Marlowe’s difference from the first moment. “His face was craggy, and though he was Changi-thin, there was a grace to his movements and a sparkle about him…[The King] listened to the rich laugh and knew it was a rare thing. When this man was laughing, you could see that the laugh came from inside. This was very rare. Priceless.”

By contrast, Lieutenant Robin Grey, provost marshal of Changi, despises Corporal King, the American who somehow manages to be healthy, well-fed, and clothed while everyone around him can barely hang on: “‘I’m going to get that bloody bastard if I die in the attempt.’ Lieutenant Grey was glad that at last he had spoken aloud what had so long been twisting his guts into a knot.”

“Nobody gives me nothing,” King objects. “What I have is mine and I made it.” But Grey dogs the King incessantly, with bilious hatred for his rule-bending and his overflowing vitality—hoping, planning, scheming to catch him breaking this rule or that, so he can throw King in the Japanese jail and see him rot.

Unsurprisingly, Grey hates Marlowe as well. Coming from the lower classes, Grey personifies English class envy and social ambition, mistaking Marlowe’s self-confidence for mere upper class snobbery, yet secretly, jealously wishing to be like him. For his part, Marlowe despises the small-minded, vindictive, and senselessly bureaucratic Grey. “You’re such a goddam snob, Grey, when it comes down to it…[The Americans] think that one man’s as good as another.”

King Rat was made into a 1965 movie starring George Segal as Corporal King and James Fox as Peter Marlowe.

Clavell followed King Rat with his blockbuster Tai Pan (1966), the next in his “Asian Saga.” That series included Shogun (1975), Noble House (1981), Whirlwind (1986), and Gai-Jin(1993). I also found a book called Escape, which appears to be the love story from Whirlwindas a stand-alone novel. Before he died in 1994, Clavell wrote two children’s books, The Children’s Story (1981) and Thrump-o-Moto (1986).

Except for the children’s stories and King Rat, these are all enormous novels, most over 1,000 pages long, and offering heaps of factual detail about the countries and cultures in which they are set. To achieve that level of accuracy, Clavell spent about a year researching each, reading histories and sociological accounts, and living in the settings. Many of his main characters are based on real people. The reader rips through Clavell’s stories, yet comes away educated and interested in knowing more about the cultures he reveals.

“I write short stories, they may appear big in size, but they’re four or five novels in one,” he explained. “In return for picking up one of my books, I’m trying to give [readers] value for their money. The goal of writing any novel is creating the illusion that you are reading reality and you are part of it.”

Tai-Pan (1966)

Tai-Pan follows the adventures of the British merchant Dirk Struan during the establishment of Hong Kong as a British Colony in 1841. By means of a blockade and other, more devious means, envious Chinese rulers had effectively curtailed the vast fortunes that British companies, using swift sailing ships, were amassing in China by trading Indian-raised opium. Inventively, the merchants enlist the British government and military to establish the empty, swampy, pestilent island of Hong Kong as British soil and a free trade port.

    As Struan walked along the main deck [of the 74-gun ship Vengeance], he glanced at the shore and excitement swarmed over him. The war with China had gone as he had planned…the prize—the island—was something he had coveted for twenty years. And now he was going ashore to witness the formality of taking possession, to watch a Chinese island become a jewel in the crown of Her Britannic Majesty, Queen Victoria…Hong Kong contained the greatest harbor on earth. And it was Struan’s stepping-stone into China….

Against the machinations of his life-time rival, Tyler Brock, Struan struggles to develop his business into the greatest trading company in the East. “In a company or army or fleet or nation there is only one such man—he who wields the real power…[Struan] was Tai-Pan of The Noble House.” “Tai-Pan” means “Supreme Leader,” and The Noble House is based on a real firm, Jardine-Matheson Holdings Limited, a multinational company based in Bermuda.

Struan not only navigates the South China Seas but the alien culture and cut-throat trading habits of the Chinese. Through him, his Chinese lover May-May, and their son Gordon Chen, the reader’s understanding of China and its relation to the West grows.

Shogun (1975)

Clavell developed a fascination for the East, especially Japan, through his experience at Changi. Apparently, his family’s military background enabled him to respect the Japanese Samurai outlook and what some consider the ultimate warrior philosophy of Bushido, in which honor and duty reign supreme.

In Shogun, based on the real adventures of British navigator Will Adams, Dutch sailors searching for new trading opportunities and riches find themselves shipwrecked and then held captive in a small village on the main island of Japan. The sailors are squirreled away with low-caste prostitutes, remaining as filthy and vulgar as ever—all except the ship’s pilot, John Blackthorne, or “Anjin-san” as the Japanese call him. He is taken in by the Kasigi Samurai clan, where he begins his education in Japanese culture and values.

From the first, the Japanese are impressed by his moxie. Blackthorne is introduced to Yabu,daimyo or feudal lord of the region. An antagonistic Portuguese priest, Father Sebastio, translates while Blackthorne considers the situation:

    Look, the Jesuit’s very deferential and sweating a lot. I’ll bet the daimyo’s not a Catholic…you’ll get no quarter from him!

    “The daimyo says hurry up and answer his questions” [said the priest].

    “Yes. Of course, I’m sorry. My name’s John Blackthorne. I’m English, Pilot-Major of a Netherlands fleet.”

    “Fleet? What fleet? You’re lying. There’s no fleet. Why is an Englishman pilot of a Dutch ship?”

    Blackthorne decided to gamble. His voice abruptly hardened and it cut through the morning warmth. “Que va! First translate what I said, Spaniard! Now!”

    The priest flushed. “I’m Portuguese. I’ve told you before. Answer the question.”

    “I’m here to talk to the daimyo, not to you. Translate what I said, you motherless offal!” Blackthorne saw the priest redden even more and felt that this had not gone unnoticed by the daimyo. Be cautious, he warned himself. That yellow bastard will carve you into pieces quicker than a school of sharks if you overreach yourself.

    “Tell the lord daimyo!” Blackthorne deliberately bowed low to the platform and felt the chill sweat beginning to pearl as he committed himself irrevocably to his course of action.

Unbeknownst to the Anjin-San, he is caught up in the epic conflict of rival Samurai clans which resulted in the domination of Japan by the Tokugawa Shogunate for centuries. The novel’s Toranaga is a thinly veiled, romanticized version of the real samurai Tokugawa, whose Shogunate remained in control from 1603 to the Meiji Restoration in 1865. As in all Clavell novels except for King Rat, a powerful, beautiful, brilliant love interest deeply figures in the plot. In this case, it is Mariko, a high-born Samurai lady turned Christian who interprets the Anjin-San’s speech while she captures his heart. In addition to valuing her translating skills, Toranaga finds her useful for her deep strategic wisdom, integrity, and bravery as well.

I came across Shogun after having made a brief study of Japan by reading such sociological classics as Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Culture and Arthur Koestler’s The Lotus and the Robot. Shogun helped me understand far more about Japanese culture and values than anything I’ve read before or since. Not only does Clavell jam-pack his novels with information, he is an unusually clever teacher, as well.

During the first part of the book, I thought the main hero was the Anjin-San. Only about half-way through did I realize that Clavell had educated me about Japanese values through the eyes of the Anjin-San so that I could understand and appreciate Toranaga. For example, in one of the first scenes, Blackthorne encounters the violently bizarre ways of the Japanese when Omi-san, the samurai in charge of the village, interviews him. A Jesuit priest interprets:

    “Wakarimasu ka? Omi said directly to Blackthorne.

    “He says, ‘Do you understand?’”

    “What’s ‘yes’ in Japanese?”

    Father Sebastio said to the samurai, “Wakarimasu.

    Omi disdainfully waved them away. They all bowed low. Except one man who rose deliberately, without bowing.

    With blinding speed the killing sword made a hissing silver arc and the man’s head toppled off his shoulders and a fountain of blood sprayed the earth. The body rippled a few times and was still. Involuntarily, the priest had backed off a pace. No one else in the street moved a muscle. Their heads remained low and motionless. Blackthorne was rigid, in shock.

    Omi put his foot carelessly on the corpse.

    Ikinasai! he said, motioning them away.

    The men in front of him bowed again, to the earth. Then they got up and went away impassively.

By page five hundred, I understood Omi-san’s motives implicitly. When I finally “met” Lord Toranaga, the central hero of the book, I could sympathize with him instead of despising him. Had I been introduced to him in the beginning, I think I would have been revolted by his actions rather than appreciate his integrity to his own code of values.

I was so swept up in the tale, which I often read while commuting to and from Manhattan, that I frequently found myself muttering Japanese words on the Penn Station platform. And I haven’t been alone. In the Sunday New York Times Book Review section, a writer said:

    Shogun is irresistible…I can’t remember when a novel has seized my mind like this one…It’s almost impossible not to continue to read Shogun once having opened it. Yet it is not only something that you read—you live it…possessed by the Englishman Blackthorne, the Japanese lord Toranaga and medieval Japan…People, customs, settings, needs and desires all become so enveloping you forget who and where you are.

Noble House (1981)

While his other novels dramatize the clash between authoritarian cultures and individualist, Anglo-world heroes, Noble House most directly depicts the conflict between individualism and collectivism. The madly raucous markets and remarkable culture of Hong Kong’s unfettered capitalism during the 1960s contrasts sharply with the devious, totalitarian world of the Red Chinese and ruthless Soviet spies. A rush on gold, a wildly swinging, unregulated stock market, and opportunities galore abound for Ian Dunross, the sharp trader-descendant of Dirk Struan (depicted in Tai Pan)—as well as for people at every level of Hong Kong society, from cleaning ladies to jockeys and military officers.

“Dunross juggles international concerns for profit and protects free enterprise from the Soviets and the British Labour Party,” literary analyst Gina MacDonald summarizes. “He supports dependents, friends, and relatives, assures ‘Old Friends’ status with the mainland Chinese, and fulfills obligations assumed by Noble House a century before.”

Not only relatives from previous stories, but even Peter Marlowe and Robin Grey from King Rat return as substantial characters. Clavell also introduces formidable American entrepreneurs Linc Bartlett and gorgeous Casey Tcholok, who figure in Dunross’s struggle against perennial rival Tyler Brock, descendant of the original Noble House nemesis.

Whirlwind (1986)

Of the thirty intricate plotlines in Noble House, one leads to Whirlwind, Clavell’s novel of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Descendants of Dirk Struan are once again at the center of the strife as they desperately work to protect the people and property of their branch of the Noble House, S-G Helicopters, which services the oil fields. Simultaneously, trading descendants of Shogun’s Toranaga strive to gain oil and gas concessions in the Persian Gulf. “Whirlwind” is the code name for S-G’s escape plan, taken from “whirlybird,” English slang for helicopters.

Whirlwind can deeply educate the reader about world events as much today as it did after the Iranian Revolution. However, where Japanese and Chinese readers were astounded at how accurately and positively Clavell portrayed their cultures, Clavell was not able to make the culture, values, and Islamic mind-set of Iran as comprehensible and sympathetic.

Regardless, it is still a worthwhile tale and garnered Clavell a $5 million dollar fee, selling four million copies in the U.S. alone. As in all his novels, Clavell expertly creates a complex, multi-layered plot, combining action, romance, heroism, brutality, tumultuous historical events, and a great descriptive style—all in the great tradition of the nineteenth-century romantic novel.

Gai-Jin (1993)

Clavell brings together elements of Shogun and Tai Pan, as well as King Rat, in his last novel.

Gai-Jin opens in 1862 with the shocking attack on a group of Europeans by zealous ronin—rogue, clanless, displaced Samurai—near the European settlement in Yokohama. The roninoppose the massive social change wrought by Commodore Perry’s opening of Japan to the West in 1854, and fanatically uphold the static, highly structured society of the previous 300 years. They seek to expel the detested “gai-jin”—foreigners.

Malcolm Struan, heir to the Noble House, struggles to keep his leadership while steering his company on a treacherous but exciting voyage through Japanese society. He strives to take advantage of the enormous trade opportunities between Hong Kong, China, Japan, and the West. Ultimately, his fate rests in the hands of a beautiful young French woman, Angelique Richaud.

Amidst terrorism, espionage, romance, and trade, Gai-Jin depicts the Japanese quandary at encountering Western culture. Since the Japanese had long believed themselves descended from the Sun god, and the highest culture on earth, they are shocked to find out that the rough, uncivil, filthy Europeans are their technological superiors. But they don’t waste time.  Many ambitiously learn from the West so they can again dominate—especially the Shogun, Toranaga Yoshi, descendant of the original Toranaga. The reader of Shogun has an advantage here, being intimately familiar with Japanese culture, values, and thinking, while readers of Tai-Pan and King Rat will enjoy the way Clavell interweaves elements and characters from those books into this one.

Clavell in Context

Modern in many respects, James Clavell’s work echoes British adventure classics likeTreasure Island, King Solomon’s Mines, Robinson Crusoe, and Two Years Before the Mast,but with greater depth of character and lavish historical details. He specializes in the clash of cultures, while his individualist heroes learn deeply from their encounters by independently experiencing and judging foreign situations and people.

Business people are heroes of every Clavell novel. For that reason, I wondered for years whether he had been influenced by that famous literary champion of capitalism, Ayn Rand, who romanticized the lives and careers of business people.

Then one day I came across an online auction of books from Rand’s personal library. Inside a copy of his newly published novel Noble House, according to the auction description page, James Clavell had written this inscription to the author of Atlas Shrugged:

“This is for Ayn Rand/ –one of the real, true talents on this earth for which many, many thanks/ James C/ New York / 2 Sept 81.”

Further on the auction page, I found that Clavell’s editor had sent Rand a copy of The Children’s Story, also printed in 1981, with a note on the letterhead of Delacorte Press asking her to read the book and share her response.

So much made sense now!

Clavell’s genius at revealing the Eastern mind—and the similarity of some of his themes to Rand’s—has not gone unnoticed in academe. In 1996, Loyola University professor Gina MacDonald published James Clavell, A Critical Companion as part of Greenwood Publishers’ “Critical Companions to Popular Contemporary Writers” series. Intended as a teacher’s guide for high school and college courses, the book analyzes his novels in multi-leveled literary detail and includes a well-researched biographical section. MacDonald even compares Noble House to Rand’s Anthem and notes that Clavell’s books are not only adventures and romances but novels of ideas as well—through their repeated exposition of clashes between the individual and the collective and the conflict between capitalism and authoritarianism. I found the book to be a valuable resource, and I hope that it is used frequently in schools, which would bring more readers to Clavell.

That is important because far too many contemporary books for young people revolve around dysfunction, personal disaster, and ineptitude—if they have much of a story at all. Wouldn’t projections of life as a thrilling drama, with conflict, struggle, and triumph, offer far better food for their inchoate souls?

Meanwhile, here’s hoping that someone in the movie industry turns Whirlwind or Gai-Jininto a film, helping to re-ignite broader interest in this marvelous author.

http://www.atlassociety.org/cth–1916-James_Clavell.aspx