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The Intellectual Activist - An Objectivist Review
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What Have We Lost?


One year later, the hole in New York's skyline where the World Trade Center towers once stood is a visual reminder of something else that is missing: the ideas and attitudes that make a vigorous war in America's self-defense possible.

For many of us, the immediate reaction to September 11 was more than anger. It was a livid indignation that demanded that America strike back with overwhelming force.

But this natural war frenzy was carefully suppressed from the very beginning. A typical news story was one that appeared just two weeks after September 11, presenting one-paragraph descriptions of viewers' reactions when they saw the World Trade Center towers collapse on live television. The interviews expressed sorrow, shock, disbeliefbut conspicuously absent were any expressions of indignation at our enemies or the desire to kill them. Such statements were carefully screened out, with one exception. A high-school teacher explained, "There were a lot of kids who said, 'We need to just blow them away.' ... 'I want us to go to war. I want to go over there and kill them all.' And I said, 'Anyone who wants us to go into a war does not have the mental maturity to fight in that war.'"

This sums up the relationship, over the last year, between the American people and the intellectualsthe writers, professors, and media pundits who are supposed to provide guidance in times of national crisis. These intellectuals view it as their job to belittle the American people’s natural self-assertiveness and to beat down our national pride. As one columnist sneered: "Has there ever been a nation before in all of history so confident of the superiority of its cause and its power?"

The question was meant rhetorically, as if national self-confidence were a self-evident evil. But that kind of confidenceand the fact that we can back it upis one of America's greatest achievements.

National pride is the conviction that our ideals and institutions are both moral and practical, that they make us good and they make us strong. America is the first and only nation founded on the moral principle of individual rights, and we have historically been the standard-bearers of liberty. At the same time, the clear lesson of history is that our liberty makes us prosperous and powerful; America is known to the whole world both as the "land of opportunity" and as the world's sole "superpower."

The result, in American culture, is the unique brand of fearlessness and optimism that our intellectuals regard as an arrogant presumption. Americans do not accept the idea that man is doomed to suffering and death; we do not accept that we must resign ourselves to being a target of other people's hatred; we do not accept that we should scale back our ambitions to avoid offending our enemies. Americans believe that it is natural for us to succeed, which means: to win wars and preserve our inviolability from external attack.

Today's intellectuals attack this attitude directly, by denouncing America's "jingoistic bluster" or "imperialism." But more insidiousand effectiveare the subtle ways they try to break down American self-assertiveness.

Consider the basic pattern of the mainstream media coverage of September 11and its one-year anniversary. The safe, uncontroversial approach is to focus on America's loss, on the suffering of the victims and the grief of their families. It is impolite to focus too much on who caused that loss. This attitude is best captured in one memorial message that refers to the "September 11 disaster," as if it were an earthquake or a mudslide, not an act of mass-murder.

After an act of war by a hostile foreign power, to focus primarily on the suffering of the victims turns our attention inward, discouraging us from looking outward to ensure the destruction of our enemies. It makes us think that the appropriate way to memorialize September 11 is to devote a day to "volunteerism" and "national service"rather than, say, the carpet-bombing of Iraq.

But what if we decide to look outward to our enemies? Those whose job is to show us the big picture are trying, instead, to shrink the range of our vision, fixing our attention only on the narrowest concretes. Iraq is working to develop weapons of mass destruction, and Iran is the leading sponsor of Islamic terrorist groupsbut what, we are asked, does that have to do with September 11? In this outlook, September 11 is not one event out of a larger pattern; such wider abstractions as "terrorist states" or "Islamic fundamentalism" do not exist. Thus, a worldwide conflict between civilization and barbarism is dissolved into a criminal prosecution against a single gang of terrorists.

By crippling the range of our minds and focusing on suffering instead of self-assertiveness, our intellectual leadership is trying to dampen our pride and blunt our resolve. September 11 should be the one day, every year, that we regain the sense they want us to loseour sense of America's virtue and of her powerand when we resolve to use the second to defend the first.


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