Devout Atheist Ayn Rand Pontificates (photo: wikimedia)

Corey Robin discussed his book, The Reactionary Mind, on Saturday in our Book Salon. Commenter ThingsComeUndone asked a question for a lot of us: are conservatives evil or stupid? Robins replied:

I’m very leery of classifying conservatives as evil or stupid. Part of what I’m trying to do is to restore the genuinely intellectual dimensions of conservatism — and to show that to them, the vision they have of the world is deeply moral. They genuinely believe — at least the ones I’m talking about — that the world is a better place, more beautiful and more excellent, when the right people are in command of the others.

What I like about this answer is the focus on command, rather than power. Republicans long for command, and accept it willingly. George Bush the Last is a perfect example: he reveled in his status as Commander-In-Chief. It helps explain why people vote against their own interests. Robin thinks that the conservatives are good at giving lots of people command over others in their private lives, small unit chiefs in factories, husbands over wives, mothers over children, and so on, and those people vote to conserve their sense of having some power.

Rick Santorum wants to use command structures to enforce the moral views of the right wing of the Catholic Church, the part that really believes in the supremacy of the Pope in Rome and his power to command the moral views of billions of Catholics. The Pope demands allegiance to his view of natural law, the rules that we can all see if we have a properly formed conscience, and are truly honest with ourselves. At least Catholicism claims to have respect for human life, and some interest in protecting the poor from the excesses of the oligarchy, even if Santorum doesn’t know about it.

There are plenty of Republicans who aren’t bound by the moral demands of religion. Take the devout atheist Ayn Rand, whose jewelry wasn’t the Cross, but the Gold Dollar. For Rand, life is a titanic struggle in the economic arena between the Great Man and the moochers. The free market gives freedom and life and meaning, all through the epic battle of the Man of Ideas against the mean-spirited hordes who fight innovation and change. That sounds more like Rand’s native Russia than the US, where the worship of innovation has led to credit default swaps and 22 brands of chocolate breakfast cereal.

Other conservatives realize that there isn’t much to the idea of free market as a test of greatness. Robin says that neoconservatives, like Bill Kristol, “aspire to the epic grandeur of Rome, the ethos of the pagan warrior — or moral crusader — rather than that of the comfortable bourgeois.” Wouldn’t it be great to see Kristol take on Rand? Well, that won’t happen. Republicans don’t ever complain about anyone’s willingness to command others.

The Republican party is thoroughly identified with these ideas of epic struggle, and command as a solution to the problem of dealing with forces of darkness. Any semblance of moderation is leaving the party. Just look at the crazy changes in old Republican senators like Alexander, and Hatch, Snowe, and Lugar.

What do the Democrats offer? “We don’t suck as much as they do.” That isn’t inspirational, if it’s even true. The Democratic party is a flaccid balloon, waiting for a candidate to fill it with some semblance of life for just one more campaign. It’s like the label of a professional football team, meaningless without players; but a potent symbol for some fans who are indifferent to the players as long as they win.

Historically, the source of ideas for the Democratic party has been the left, the progressives, the intellectuals, the people who buy into this view offered by Robin:

But I do think the left believes a version of what Thomas Rainsborough said during the Putney Debates of the English Civil War (these were these incredible debates that happened at the church in Putney among a group of army officers and soldiers, all of whom were battling against the king): “really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he.” Now we on the left would like to see the elimination of those differences between the “poorest he” and the “greatest he.” But beyond that, we believe that each of us has as much of a life to live as the greatest he, that we probably only get one chance around on this earth, and that it should be a pretty good ride, not one filled with misery and penury and difficulty (beyond those difficulties that are inevitable part of the human condition).

Professional Democrats think the left is at best idealistic and ignorant of realpolitik, but mostly they see a bunch of #%$&@ retards . The President has spent three years demonizing and punching out the dirty hippies, and his oh-so-worldly advisers and cowardly Senators and Representatives have joyously rejected every idea, every creative proposal, from the left. They refuse to take any action that might bring on an attack from Republicans, or reduce the money flow from the Oligarchs. Ideas have consequences, and they might get hurt if they act on them.

There is no contest of ideas. One side commands, the other writhes in fear.