Pope Bendict Meets Ayn Rand: Part II

By Richard Pimentel

Islamism is an ideology that demands man's complete adherence to the sacred law of Islam and rejects as much as possible outside influence, with some exceptions (such as access to military and medical technology). It is imbued with a deep antagonism towards non-Muslims and has a particular hostility towards the West. It amounts to an effort to turn Islam, a religion and civilization, into an ideology…Islamism turns the bits and pieces within Islam that deal with politics, economics, and military affairs into a sustained and systematic program…Like Marxism-Leninism or fascism, it offers a way to control the state, run society, and remake the human being. It is an Islamic-flavored version of totalitarianism.

Daniel Pipes – “Distinguishing between Islam and Islamism”

This article is the next installment to last month’s article – Pope Benedict meets Ayn Rand. As was written in the concluding statement of the last article, I will explore the ideas that were on offer at the Ayn Rand Objectivist Conference in Boston. The title of the conference was The Jihad Against the West: The Real Threat and the Right Response.

The speakers were Dr. John Lewis, assistant professor of History at Ashland University, Robert Spencer, the director of Jihad Watch, and Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum. Dr. Lewis lectured on the necessity of military offense to defeat Islamic totalitarianism. Robert Spencer’s lecture, Muhammad and His Relevance Today, dealt with the references of Islamic jihadists to the prophet Muhammad and his sayings. Lastly, Dr. Daniel Pipes’ lecture, Radical Islam and the War on Terror, analyzed the two forms of radical Islam – violent Islamism and non-violent Islamism. The three men are experts in their field and they offer incredible insights and thought-provoking concepts about the most important foreign policy issue to the United States government.

The speakers made numerous points about the threat of Islamism, particularly the current war that is being staged against this ideology. It is important to see that it is a war against an ideology not merely a war against terrorism. It is the ideology of Islamism that breeds terrorism against the West. Dr. Pipes correctly asserted that there has been a three stage evolution in thought regarding this conflict. In the 80’s and 90’s, terrorism was seen as a law enforcement problem in which terrorists were to be prosecuted and dealt with according to standard criminal procedures. After 9/11, the war changed its primary focus to a military war on Islamic terrorism. By late 2005, under the leadership of Tony Blair and President George Bush, the focus of the conflict included an ideological battle against Islam as well as a military battle against the terrorism that ideology spawns. The focus was shifted to battling the ideology politically and militarily. This is an important shift the speakers made in their discussions of the conflict.

Of the three speakers, Dr. Lewis has the strongest attachment to Ayn Rand’s philosophy. After all, he is the contributing editor of The Objective Standard – a political and cultural journal that promotes and upholds Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism. For this reason, the remainder of this article will concentrate on Dr. Lewis’ ideas. When discussing the need for military action in order to defeat Islamism, Dr. Lewis stated a key concept. He stated that this war on Islamism is not a clash of civilizations but a clash between civilization and barbarism and between reason and unreason. Dr. Lewis emphasized that this is an ideological war on reason. Islamists are attempting to negate reason with their religious and political totalitarianism.

It might be helpful at this point to say a word about Rand’s notion of reason and her  objectivist philosophy. Although her definition of reason is a non-standard definition, it is necessary to understand if one wants to comprehend her objectivist philosophy. Rand defined reason as the conceptual faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses and is the sole means of acquiring knowledge. In addition, reason is an essential component of objectivism. Objectivism is Rand’s philosophy for how humans ought to on earth. She described objectivism in the following manner, “My philosophy is, in essence, the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Objectivism is clearly a philosophy of individualism, something that Rand made very clear in her writings. She considered objectivism as a comprehensive and livable philosophical system. Epistemologically, reason is man’s only source of knowledge. Metaphysically, objective reality exists. Ethically, man’s self-interest and his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose. Politically, laissez-faire capitalism and man’s individual liberties are the most significant political ingredients of objectivism. This understanding of Rand’s philosophy is crucial to apprehending Dr. Lewis’ arguments.

I believe that Dr. Lewis’ arguments for defeating Islamic totalitarianism contains a philosophical implication in the area of politics that is derived from Rand’s view on epistemology. On numerous occasions, Dr. Lewis mentioned the relationship between Islam and the state and how this relationship leads to totalitarianism. He compares today’s Islamic terrorists to the Japanese fighters of World War II in that both groups were motivated by a politicized religion and both societies did not draw a distinction between religion and state. Therefore, according to Dr. Lewis, the key to defeating Islamic totalitarianism is to break the power of political Islam; to break the power of state sponsored religion. In addition, he makes it clear that the individual’s freedom of religion must be maintained while stopping state-sponsored religion. Dr. Lewis argues that political Islam, just like Japan’s Shintoism, is dangerous because they appeal to something greater than man and this is utilized to subjugate man to totalitarian rule. The political implications stated explicitly by Dr. Lewis is that there is an urgent need to be forthright and aggressive in removing regimes (e.g. Iran and Syria) that uphold political Islam. This political implication is built upon the epistemological views in Rand’s philosophy, specifically in the realm of religion and reason.

It is important to point out that Ayn Rand and other objectivist adherents do not advocate  the elimination of religion nor an individual’s right to live and freely express their religious beliefs but they do demean the value of religion because they believe that religion is contrary to reason. They argue it is contrary to reason because religion normally appeals to unjustified beliefs and thus negates reason which is the only means by which man can acquire knowledge and ultimately survive. On top of that, it is argued that religion is grounded on faith which is characterized as a set of blind beliefs that are detrimental to humans. This is why Dr. Lewis’ speech placed an emphasis on the ability of religion to negate reason. In addition to religion being antithetical to reason, Rand contended that religion was an early form of philosophy that man used to explain life, the universe, and the need for moral codes. It served as a reference point for man. However, once man reached a stage in which philosophy was developed, religion was no longer needed.

Although Pope Benedict XVI and Ayn Rand would disagree on whether religion is reasonable, there is one thing they would agree on – the negative effects of totalitarianism. Pope Benedict has involuntarily been in conflict with Islamism while Ayn Rand opposed the Soviet Communist regime. While Pope Benedict continues his work as the influential head of the Roman Catholic Church, Ayn Rand’s legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of her many admirers who truly believe that her objectivist philosophy provides the answer to combat today’s predominant form of totalitarianism – Islamism.