Alisa Rosenbaum was one of the most controversial writers in America’s history. Why, then, have few people heard of her? Because both people’s plaudits and their intemperate attacks have been aimed at the new name she adopted after leaving Russia for America—Ayn Rand.
Her influence is beyond question. She sold more than 30 million books, and decades after her 1982 death, hundreds of thousands more sell each year. Atlas Shrugged has been ranked behind only the Bible as a book that influenced readers’ lives.
Some are devoted enough that Randian has become a descriptive term. Others use her name only to disparage opponents. Still others disagree with some of her ideas (e.g., while Rand was an often-strident atheist, capitalism is clearly defensible on Christian principles, and most historical defenses of liberty employed Christian rationales which conflict with Rand’s reasoning), yet find a great deal of insight in her analysis of liberty, rights and government.
“You see them on the street. You watch them on TV. You might even vote for one this fall. You think they’re people just like you. You’re wrong. Dead wrong.” — They Live
We’re living in two worlds.
There’s the world we see (or are made to see) and then there’s the one we sense (and occasionally catch a glimpse of), the latter of which is a far cry from the propaganda-driven reality manufactured by the government and its corporate sponsors, including the media.
Indeed, what most Americans perceive as life in America—privileged, progressive and free—is a far cry from reality, where economic inequality is growing, real agendas and real power are buried beneath layers of Orwellian doublespeak and corporate obfuscation, and “freedom,” such that it is, is meted out in small, legalistic doses by militarized police and federal agents armed to the teeth.
All is not as it seems.
Monsters with human faces walk among us. Many of them work for the U.S. government.
This is the premise of John Carpenter’s film They Live, which was released in November 1988 and remains unnervingly, chillingly appropriate for our modern age.
Political language manipulates political debate. Abortion opponents who define themselves as “pro-life” semantically render abortion proponents as “pro-death.” Abortion supporters who define themselves as “pro-choice” semantically render any opposition as “anti-choice.” Who wants to be “pro-death” or “anti-choice,” after all? Such is the nature of politics. Words are weapons: when wielded deftly, they shape the battlespace for our minds.
So what does it mean when Western leaders these days speak so much of democracy but so little of individual rights? Or that they preach the virtues of international institutions, while demonizing nationalism as xenophobic and dangerous? It means that national sovereignty and natural, inviolable rights are under direct attack throughout the West.
It has become rather common for European and American politicians to divide the world between “democratic” and “authoritarian” nations, the former described as possessing inherent goodness and the latter declaimed as threatening the planet’s very existence. Of course, after two-plus years of COVID-19-related mask, vaccine and travel mandates, often imposed in the West through unilateral executive or administrative action — and not through legislative will or public referendum — it is somewhat difficult to assert that democratic nations are free from authoritarian impulse.
When presidents and prime ministers make and enforce their own laws under the pretext of “emergency powers,” then citizens should not be surprised when their leaders discover an endless supply of “emergencies” requiring urgent action. Should that truth be in any doubt, one need only look to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s iron-fisted decision to quell truckers’ peaceful Freedom Convoy protests against experimental vaccine mandates earlier this year by confiscating bank accounts and effecting forceful arrests with little regard for due process or respect for Canadians’ free speech. Trudeau’s declared “emergency” trumped Canadian citizens’ personal rights.
It is also true that democracy in and of itself is no guarantee for a noble and just society. In a properly functioning democracy of one hundred citizens, fifty-one can vote to deny the other forty-nine property, liberty, and even life. Should a member of the minority find himself enslaved to the state or slated for execution simply because the majority wish it so, he will not be singing the praises of democracy while his neck is squeezed within the noose.