I was listening to this address on the way home and found the first portion highly pertinent in this coming election cycle:
From Ayn Rand’s address “A Nation’s Unity” on October, 1972 at the Ford Hall Forum (click the graphic or link to hear the full audio of the address)
Every four years, at about this time, we begin to hear louder and louder appeals for national unity. We hear them between Presidential elections as well—particularly when something is about to be put over on us—though they are uttered in a more perfunctory manner.
Observe, however, that in recent years it has become fashionable to disparage unity, between elections, and to praise dissent as a kind of moral or patriotic duty. But the pattern of a Presidential election remains the same: first, there is a campaign in which the candidates denounce each other and seem to appeal to some sort of unstated principles; then, when the election is over, the appeals become, in effect: now let’s forget all about principles—national unity comes first.
This is, therefore, an appropriate time to examine the issue of national unity and to ask certain questions: Is such unity necessary? Is it possible? What makes it possible? What is the alternative? What are the consequences? The present election campaign offers many clues to the answers.
As in the case of many other errors or evils, today’s appeals for national unity are based on a perverted element of truth. It is true that, in order to exist as a nation, the large number of men who live in the same geographical area and deal with one another, must agree on some fundamental principle(s). And more: any two men who choose to deal with each other must have some sort of basic agreement, at least for the duration of their joint action. If you joined forces with another man in order to lift a heavy boulder, and you strained to lift it while he strained to push it down, nothing would come of both your efforts but failure, frustration, and—if the issue were important enough to both of you—the recourse to blows and mutual extermination.
The fact that in case of disagreement men can resort to physical force, i.e., to human destruction, is the reason why every human association is based on some sort of agreement, which is implemented by certain rules of conduct. An agreement, in this context, does not necessarily mean a common purpose: you may make an agreement with a neighbor that you will not attack him so long as he does not attack you—and if both of you abide by it, you are free to go your own ways and, perhaps, never see each other again. The fundamental agreement which is required of a nation is an agreement on the rules of peaceful coexistence. A territory inhabited by men engaged in perpetual conflicts, chronic fighting, physical violence, and general hatred of all for all, is not a nation nor a country, but a bloody mess. Internal peace and some sort of harmony are the precondition of the existence of a nation.
The big questions, however, are: Peace—at what price? Harmony—on what terms? Agreement—about what? And more: Can such terms and agreements be chosen arbitrarily? Can men choose any terms and make them work simply by wishing them to do so? Or are there objective factors which necessitate certain principles of human association, and defeat all others? In sum, the fundamental social question is: What principles should men agree upon in order to live and deal with one another?
The best way to answer questions of this kind is to start not with an enormous, floating abstraction, such as “society as a whole,” but with one member of society, the one you know best: yourself. Ask yourself: What rules of conduct would you be able and willing to accept in order to deal with your neighbors?
Let us say you are a young man who knows that he must work in order to support his life. You have a good job, a small family, and a home in the suburbs. Since you do not intend to stagnate, you maintain a certain financial and intellectual balance between the present and the future; you budget your money and your time: your money, to provide for your present needs and to improve your standard of living, For example, to pay off the mortgage on your home—your time, to do your present job well and to study in order to qualify for a better one. You like some of your neighbors, and you dislike others, but you are not afraid of any of them: they are not a threat to you, nor you to them.
This is the normal pattern of your life and you take it for granted, as if it were a fact of nature. But it is not. It took thousands and thousands of years to achieve it. Let us see what it depends on.
Suppose this country’s political system was changed. It was decided that the affairs of each community are to be determined at a monthly meeting of all it’s citizens – by general democratic vote, and that the rule of the majority is absolute – without limits or appeals. It would mean that you could be thrown out of your home and out of your community if the majority so voted. It would mean that you could be sentenced to die, if not liking your manners or your ideas, the majority so voted.
This is not fantasy. This was the social system of many Greek city-states – pure democracy, unlimited majority rule. Would you agree to accept it in the name of communal unity? No? Than would you agree to accept it on a much larger scale and by remote control?
Suppose it was decided but never announced openly and explicitly that the nation holds the absolute power of a Greek city-state. But since one cannot convene an entire nation to a monthly meeting, the people are compressed into groups representing various interests, and the government acts as arbiter and ruler – who listens to their clashing demands and enforces the will of those it deems to be representative of the public interest.
These groups are not elected. They are formed informally, spontaneously, democratically. Anyone is free to form them and to clamor demands for anything. How will you adjust to it?
First, there is a business lobby. But you don’t mind it, it helps your boss.
Then there is a labor lobby. But you don’t mind it – it helps you!
Then there is a farm lobby. But you don’t notice it. It is too remote from your activities.
Then a neighbor on the next block forms a group demanding better roads, and two blocks further a woman forms a group demanding better schools.
Another group demands ‘free lunches‘ for all school children and a rival group demands ‘free textbooks‘.
Your windows are smashed one night by a group of the ‘local juvenile delinquents’ or ‘problem adolescents‘. They show non-negotiable demands which you cannot quite untangle, but you gather it has something to do with ‘Youth Power’.
The residents of the local old-folks home form a group demanding ‘Senior-citizen power’.
The old-maid file clerk at the office – that you can’t stand because she can’t keep the files straight – is given a promotion with the help of a group that demands the liberation of women.
You have no time to keep track of it all. You notice only that your taxes keep rising and rising, and your money keeps buying less and less.
You are late getting to the office one morning because the local ‘welfare recipients’ group lies stretched out across the highway demanding a yearly income greater than half of your’s. You slam on your breaks just in time to avoid running over the group’s leader: a lady known as ‘fatso’ who has 12 children and no visible husband.
You had planned to have three children but you decided to wait a little for the third one – you cannot afford them.
A long haired, young man forms a group to forbid anyone to have more than two children, and a short haired young woman forms a group to forbid abortion and the use of contraceptives.
There’s a group that demands the display of sexual intercourse on the screen and another group that demands censorship of all movies above the intellectual level of a 6 year old. So you give up going to the movies.
You fall behind in your mortgage payment but your property taxes keep rising and rising. You consider giving up your house and renting one in a new development five miles away. But a local ‘birdwatchers’ group is suing the developer, demanding that the land he cleared be turned into a public park.
Your boss has promised you a promotion: the job of managing a new branch factory he is planning to build in your district. But he does not build it. The lady who used to have the local poetry club now has a group that demands the preservation of the beautiful ‘swamp’ he was going to kill.
Then, an educational group decrees that you cannot send your children to the local schools which so much of your property taxes has gone to pay for. So your children are bussed to a distant town: a daily trip of two hours going there, and another two hours coming back. This you are told will achieve ‘racial integration’.
You have never thought of it before, but you have become race conscious and try to untangle your own ancestry. You find it so mixed that you cannot qualify for any of the groups into which your community is [based]. The afro-americans, the chicano-americans, the italo-americans, the jewish americans, the irish americans, etc. And you … you are just a ‘mongrel-american‘. (so am I)
A title of which you would have been proud at one time but which is becoming ‘dangerous’. If you lose your job, there will be no preferential quota to help you get another one, and no way of knowing how many ‘ethnic’ applications will be pushed ahead of you. There will be no preferential quota for your son’s admission to a college when the time comes.
You are alone, unprotected, defenseless – and the only reason you know that you are living in a human society and not on a deserted island is the fact that your ‘taxes’ keep rising and rising.
How do you adjust? To whom and to what? The first thing to go is your future.
You can barely keep up with your current expenses. You have no way to plan ahead. If you try to save, you do not know which demands of which groups will eat up your savings in the form of new taxes and higher prices.
Why study to develop your skills? You do not know if you will ever get a better job or what new obstacles will spring up overnight or whether there will be anyone left to hire you.
You used to plan your course in terms of years. The range of your concerns shrinks to one year, then to one month, and then to next payday. You can see nothing beyond but a black void.
Strange things happen to a man without a future. You begin to act like the type of man you once despised.
You become sloppy at your job. You can barely summon the effort just to get by.
You get drunk too often. You buy a luxurious lawn mower which you have no time to use and you quarrel with your wife over the expensive cut of lamb chops she bought for dinner.
And when you hear a seedy lecture at the group meeting that declares that Horatio Alger’s stories are a myth, [and claims] that man cannot rise by individual effort and ability, you applaud defiantly and beligerently.
Oh yes! You have joined a group! You have joined several groups.
You do not know exactly what they stand for but they talk of community action and mutual protection and they denounce other groups. You do not know clearly which ones or why. You had tried to get it clear but gave up.
Everytime you read the newspaper or listen to the snarling voices on television, things grow murkier.
You do not know by what steps your attitude toward your neighbors has changed. You have begun to watch them suspiciously.
Whenever you see two of them in a heated discussion or observe several cars parked in front of a house you feel a touch of anxiety. You do not know what they might be up to, what ‘new group’ might be formed and what it will do to you.
You learn to feel ‘fear’. You are afraid of your neighbors – of any human being.
You are afraid to speak. You smile and you agree with everyone you meet.
You are afraid to think.
One day, you discover that what you feel for men … is hatred.
In that moment, you wonder ‘what has happened to your neighbors?’ They were decent people once – you remember vaguely. They did not act like wild packs, scrambling to get at one-another’s throats – and pockets!
You do not know how many of them are wondering the same thing about you.
You know only that there was a time when the local bird watcher, and the problem adolescent and the poetry-club ladies and ‘Ms fatso‘ were of no danger to anyone – but now they are! Why were they better in the past?
If someone answered:
“Because – they – did – not – have – a – GUN!”
you would not understand it.
You have come to believe that people are no good and that force is the only practical way to deal with them, since ‘reason’ – they all tell you – has failed.
You cannot cope with the enormous complexity of an entire nation’s problems. You have no way of knowing – you conclude – who is right or wrong, so let some groups force others and re-established order.
No one has explained to you that the ‘golden rule’ applies to politics. If certain conditions of social existence are unacceptable and unbearable to you, you cannot expect others to accept them and make them work. And what these conditions do to you, they do to society as a whole.
Do you agree to accept a social system of this kind?
It is of course, the system under which we are living today, but which we have never ‘chosen’.
It is important to consider it now because, in the coming presidential election one of the candidates is asking us to agree – and in the name of ‘national unity’ – explicitly to accept the principle that society has an unlimited power, and that our lives belong to the state!