Friday, September 05, 2008

"Country First, Country First, Country First"

These words championed on Republican banners during John McCain’s acceptance speech last night mark a dangerous inversion of the moral principles America was founded upon. Consider the principles as stated in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Man has certain inalienable rights, and to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. The individual is paramount in the Founders’ vision. The individual’s right to pursue his own happiness and the rights to life, liberty and property, which are his means of achieving it, is the purpose of government. Governments exist solely as the means to secure these rights.

McCain and the new Republican principles reverse that order. For them, it is country first. Service to the state is the ideal. John McCain himself represents that ideal, the patriotic soldier who re-discovered this principle while being tortured for six years in a Hanoi dungeon. In that dungeon, he says that he learned to stop saying “me first,” and learned to say “country first.”

McCain’s new discovery is actually very old. From his earliest days, man has been sacrificing himself to the state. Whether it was embodied in the tribe and king, or the shaman and witch doctor, or the collective, man’s fate was to suffer for others, until the first free country ever clearly enunciated a different moral principle.

The American Revolution was fought to overturn the principle of individual subservience to the state, to overturn the tyranny of kings and their ilk. In America, men could proudly claim their own happiness first. Their patriotism was based on the knowledge that the government existed to protect them from the tyranny of the state and the forceful violations of their rights by their fellow men.

McCain’s old vision is not patriotic, properly understood. Carried to its logical extreme, it will reduce our status to the level of serfs. Man will return to his traditional relationship with the state, that of subservience. Men will be put back in the dungeon.

While McCain himself does not represent that sort of tyrant yet in degree, he does represent it in principle. One of McCain’s heroes is Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt gave us “authoritarianism lite.” Like McCain, he bashed big business. Roosevelt busted up the big trusts, including Big Oil, which McCain also despises. Roosevelt was also an environmentalist, championing the establishment of the massive Parks system.

Expect more of the same from McCain and the new-old Republican Party, for now. For a vision of our longer-term future, study the history of every society that proclaimed the state first. The party of the state is not the ally of each of us who wants to pursue his own happiness. With country first, the individual is subservient.


El Diablo tu sabe said...

Congratulations on completely missing the point and pandering in distortions. McCain's country first slogan, while a reminder to us all the we are Americans first and foremost, is really a reproach to those in Washington that put their personal and party interest first before those of the country and the American people. (And he called out members of both parties for this)

So lets take a look at your argument. Third paragraph, excellent use of the Declaration of Independence. We should be allowed to be individuals, we should be allowed to work and keep the proceeds from our labors not be taxed and penalized for taking risk. We should be able to decide where our retirement funds are invested. We should decide where our children children are educated and what doctors we take them to. The Government of the United States should provide us with the opportunity to exercise our rights of individuals. Now correct me if you think I am wrong but after listening to both speeches, who wants lower taxes, school choice, individual directed social security accounts, and market orientated healthcare?

"Me first" vs. "Country First" you are questioning someone who had a life altering event that drives him to be a servant "of the state". Funny I believe that McCain said a servant of America and the American People. He stressed that public figures are servants to the people they serve not the state (that would be Marxism - you know, Karl Marx one of Obama's favorite authors?)

And while we are on the discuss of calling on people to serve the "state" Let me ask you a few trivia questions. Who said "Ask not what your country could do for you......(do I need to finish this one for you?)". Who created Americorps as said that all americans have a duty to serve the country?

Your paragraph on the Revolution is correct and I believe McCain echoed that in his speech when he said it is not the role of Government to stand in front of individuals but beside them.

So now, based on your argument, you are telling me you are going to vote to the guy that has said he wants more taxes on those who take risks, more government intervention in your private life via a nationalized healthcare system, more entitlement programs to prop up those who want to milk the system more reliance on a Global Body (the UN) to defend our nation and make us better citizens of the world? An political elite that speaks down and mocks to the very individuals you so look to protect because he is Harvard educated and worldly and they are still clinging to the very freedoms you site in your opening paragraph as being paramount to your argument (freedom of religion, right to bear arms - see the constitution for references to these if needed) And you think McCain is authoritarian? Really?

SN said...

"Diabolo" seems to be reading more into that post than is there. I didn't find any mention of voting for a particular party; nor any implication that McCain is left of Obama.

Anyhow, well said, Galileo! McCain showed his socialist roots yesterday. I think he has set himself up well for an assault by Obama, who will demonstrate that the Democrats are more willing to "serve the people" than the GOP.

McCain has set the tone and laid down the common principle. Now, Obama simply has to ask him to be consistent and not wishy-washy. I imagine an attack like:

"McCain wants to serve country with a health care plan that ignores millions of unisured working Americans. If your American employer does not provide health care, I suppose you don't live in McCain's country."

Galileo Blogs said...

I concur with the points made by softwareNerd in defense of my post. I stand behind my argument. Liberty cannot be defended on a collectivist premise such as "Country first." It must be defended on an individualist premise. After all, the nation is nothing but individuals. The rights that are violated or protected belong solely to individuals.

Even if McCain advocates somewhat less government in specific areas, his agreement with the central principle of statism undercuts his message. As softwareNerd observes, it opens our country up towards more principled advocates of statism, whether that is Obama or someone worse.

America will continue to move towards dictatorship and bloody violence until its leaders understand its individualist base and defend it.

El Diablo tu sabe said...

Galileo, your conviction on on the point of individualism is not what I am arguing. I still believe you are misconstruing McCain's call for Country first to be a call to everyone in the country. I only have heard in with reference to those who chose to serve in public office and in that context, to me, "country First" is what an elected official should be thinking. Unfortunately today's elected officials on both sides of the aisle value their own personal profit and their party before the needs of the country (and when I say country I mean and think McCain means the people).

Our elected spend more time worrying about what will get them re-elected versus what is the best for the people of the country to allow us to be the individuals we desire and deserve to be. If McCain is a socialist (and I am not denying that some of his stances are point left of my political and social) compass. What is Obama in your view?

Lastly, softwareNerd says that McCain's central theme is statism and you yourself that a nation is nothing but a collection of individuals. However at some point those individuals have to have a common set of values that draw them together to make them want to form and maintain a nation. Without core values there is nothing that binds the country together thus to some degree there must always be a consideration of "the state" or else there is no state.

Galileo Blogs said...

What binds a nation together is a common set of principles, and in America the key principle is that everyone has a right to his own life and the freedom required to live it. Everyone has the right to the pursuit of happiness.

Loyalty to the country derives from a person's self-interest. If that country's government acts to protect and preserve his life and property, it is in his self-interest to support his country. That is the root of a proper patriotism.

However, such patriotism does not translate to "Country First." Love for the country is a consequence of loving oneself, not the reverse. It always has to be, properly understood, "me first." It is out of (rational) self-interest that I love all else, including country.

Your interpretation of McCain's positions and the slogan "Country First" is too benign. This is not just a call for honest public officials. "Country First," taken literally, means placing the state above the individual. That is a position I cannot agree with.

Because ideas matter, even to mouth this slogan prepares the road for a more strident leader to come later. He will say "Country First," and mean it, and demand that you follow him. That is where our country is headed, and this seemingly innocuous slogan is a not-so-early indication of that destination.

Galileo Blogs said...

As a further elaboration of my argument, I commend to you this excellent article just published in The Objective Standard. The author, Craig Biddle, provides a lot more evidence that John McCain does not stand for the individual or his right to his own life, but for a collectivist vision. Moreover, he shows that in essence, McCain and Obama stand for the same anti-American principle, which is self-sacrifice.

The article is entitled, "McBama vs. America" and is available here:

It was also posted on "Capitalism Magazine," an interesting, pro-capitalist blog:

El Diablo tu sabe said...

I will read the article and thank you for the reading material.

I just glanced at it and it seem that our concerns are more alike than apart however I seem to be willing to give slightly more benefit of the doubt (for the moment) to McCain.

I suspect we will have more to discuss in the weeks to come.


Galileo Blogs said...

I look forward to the discussion,
Con much gusto,

Burgess Laughlin said...

> ". . . after listening to both speeches . . ."

My main personal interest in philosophy is learning better methods. Listening to speeches by politicians is one approach to evaluating them as individuals and as "corporations," that is, the parties to which they belong.

(In politics, I am increasingly becoming a "mutual fund" investor rather than an investor in individual stocks standing alone.)

However, analyzing speeches is only one approach. Another is examining the politicians' actions--and then comparing them to their words.

If a politician uses the right words, do the words name the right concepts? If so, does he carry those concepts and principles through into action?

Unfortunately answering such questions requires a major investment in time, if done systematically. That is one more reason I am moving toward voting for "index funds" (national parties) rather than individuals as if they stood alone.

Galileo Blogs said...


There are pros and cons for investing in index funds versus individual stocks, just as there are for politicians versus their parties.

Rather than address your argument directly, I will comment on the core problem you identify of knowing in advance what a politician will do once elected.

I share your frustration with the difficulty of knowing such. I believe that it is nearly impossible to know what a politician will do in office. I blame pragmatism for that difficulty. Nearly every politician succumbs to pragmatism, and pragmatism means that his ideas are divorced from his actions. Ideas are floating, unreal constructs to him, and actions are taken in response to range-of-the-moment considerations. As a result, any politician who proclaims certain ideals will not take those ideals seriously when he is in office. Instead, when he arrives in office, he responds to the day-to-day pressures that buffet him.

The question then becomes, what kind of pressures buffet him? When Jimmy Carter was president in the 1970s, an intellectual rebellion against regulation had arisen, led by figures such as Milton Friedman. Given the country’s economic malaise that Carter’s and his predecessors’ policies had produced and the need to “do something” new, Carter acquiesced to the de-regulationary proposals of Alfred Kahn and others. As a result, it was under Jimmy Carter’s administration, a left-wing Democrat, that airlines, trucking and railroads were deregulated in the United States.

Consider also the example of Bill Clinton. Faced with the “swing to the Right” embodied in the 1994 elections, Bill Clinton, a conventional left-winger, relented and inaugurated partial welfare reform that reduced the future growth of welfare spending by billions of dollars.

Then consider the examples of Bush Sr. & Jr. Each Bush claimed to be for free markets. We “read the lips” of Bush Sr. on “no new taxes.” We heard the claims of Bush Jr. to be for free markets. Yet Bush Sr. raised taxes when he was confronted by the pressure of Democrats and fellow Republicans complaining about a large budget deficit. Despite his avowed “free market” stance, Bush Jr. could not resist the cries for protection from steel producers, most of whom, undoubtedly, donated large amounts of money to his election campaign. Therefore, he raised steel tariffs.

The examples I have cited show that party affiliation is a poor predictor of what a candidate will do in office. Also, his stated views have little bearing on what he will do. Rather, because of pragmatism, each candidate responded in a range-of-the-moment fashion to the general pressures around him. Carter and Clinton, although ostensibly anti-business Democrats, partially reduced regulation and the growth rate of welfare. Bush Sr. & Bush Jr., two ostensibly free market Republicans, presided over tax increases and protectionist policies, among other statist measures.

All four presidents were pragmatically responding to the “pressures of the day,” not the dictates of party or conscience.

I suggest that we try to understand what will be the “pressures of the day” tomorrow that will bear on McBama, when he is elected. I posit that those pressures will determine the policies, not the man. Moreover, I will venture that there are two sets of strong pressures that will influence him: (1) environmentalism, and (2) fear of intransigence vis-à-vis Islam. Thus, the next President, whoever he may be, will continue to enact alternative energy and anti-carbon policies, and will continue to take half-measures against the Islamists. I do not think it matters which man is President.