“Boy, you all want power. God, I hope you never get it. I hope the American people can see through this sham. . . . I hope [they] will see through this charade” (Senator Lindsey Graham, Kavanaugh Hearing: Transcript, September 27, 2018).

Fortunately, the American people have seen through the sham and charade, but those holding and seeking additional power continue their campaigns to gain more.

Is the American sense of life strong enough to slow down and defeat the leftists’ rabid—and rapid—march toward dictatorship?

I have written in earlier posts (1, 2) that our current president won his election two years ago by tapping into what Ayn Rand calls the American sense of life. He did not, and still does not, condescend toward the “deplorables” of middle America. He respects them, and unlike many (most?) politicians, is straightforward and honest with them.

Sense of life is a composite emotional sum of who each one of us is as a person. It consists of what Edith Packer calls our core evaluations, as well as our level of self-esteem. It expresses our view of ourselves and our attitudes toward other people and the world in general (Lectures on Psychology, loc. 180-86, Kindle).

Ayn Rand describes sense of life as a “pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics,” “a generalized feeling about existence . . . with the compelling motivational power of a constant, basic emotion—an emotion which is part of all [our] other emotions and underlies all [our] experiences” (The Romantic Manifesto, pp. 25-26).

Sense of life is what an artist projects in a work of art and what patrons of the arts respond to. It is also what one does or does not fall in love with in a member of the opposite sex and what one initially likes or dislikes in another person.

An astute observer of emotions might notice that one person is “eaten up with envy” and another “really loves life and is at ease with himself” (Packer’s examples). These are descriptions of the two individuals’ senses of life. It is possible and not uncommon for individuals to hold contradictory core evaluations and therefore a contradictory sense of life.

A nation is a sum or average of its individual citizens’ values and behavior, which means a country’s sense of life can be identified, albeit not easily, and described based on its citizens’ dominant traits and emotional expressions.

Ayn Rand identifies the dominant American sense of life as essentially individualistic and hardworking, with fundamental values placed on achievement, initiative, effort, earning your own way, genuineness, a strong reality orientation, and a defiance of authority. Typical Americanisms that describe the sense of life are “you can’t push me around” and “my money’s as good as the next fella’s” (Philosophy: Who Needs It, chap. 18).

The American sense of life insists on the right to the pursuit of happiness and Americans generally are happy and optimistic—happier and more optimistic than the citizens of many, perhaps all, other nations in the world. The American sense of life represents the freedom, accomplishments, and well-deserved benefits of capitalism, while most of the rest of the world is mired in varying degrees of statism and dictatorship, including abject poverty.

This American sense of life, therefore, is best (though certainly not exclusively) represented by the so-called deplorable dregs of society, the ones who live in flyover country and are mocked by the bi-coastal elites, especially those members of the communist-fascist left and their sycophantic followers. The elites, which include most college professors and the condescendingly leftist press, derive their sense of life from European intellectuals and aristocrats. They do not share the same sense of life as the “deplorables,” or at least in the same degree.

The “deplorables” are the ones who voted for our current president in 2016 and supported his program and candidates in the recent midterm election. The elites are the ones who labeled, and continue to label, anyone who exhibits the American sense of life a racist and a bigot.

If we go back a few decades in our political history, we can see the American sense of life in operation in several presidential campaigns. In 1964, the press and leftist elites, for example, were beside themselves when someone like Senator Barry Goldwater could win the presidential nomination of the Republican Party, especially after their incessantly relentless charges of racism and bigotry against the senator and anyone who supported him. Sound familiar?

At that time, Ayn Rand commented on the press’s loss of respect and influence, as well as their considerable myopia and the criteria they must have been using to report the news: “It is as if newsmen, with ‘their ears to the ground,’ had heard everything except an earthquake in full progress.”*

It was their leftist (and European) anti-American sense of life that clashed with that of the deplorables and prevented them from seeing (or feeling) the earthquake. Unfortunately, Goldwater’s subsequent campaign collapsed in anti-intellectualism, causing him to lose by a landslide.**

In 1972, however, the American people were offered explicit socialism in the form of Senator George McGovern. His opponent, the less-than-inspiring Richard Nixon, won forty-nine states. The American sense of life spoke—against McGovern, not for Nixon.

Later expressions of the American sense of life can be seen in the Reagan years and, less enthusiastically, in the years of the two Bushes. The sense of life came back in 2016 and also this year, though not nearly as strongly as the previous years, especially 1972.

The problem with a sense of life is that it is an emotion and emotions are not infallible, nor are they permanent, especially as new generations are educated in the anti-capitalist government-run schools and constantly confronted with the ferocious onslaught of leftist propaganda.

If the American sense of life is not articulated explicitly in terms of philosophy, economics, and psychology, it cannot survive—especially in today’s postmodern Orwellian climate of doublespeak and deliberately chaotic disingenuousness.

The American people and their sense of life have thus far heeded Senator Graham’s call not to fall for the shams and charades of the left. The American people also have not fallen for the Soviet tactic of condemning as “mentally incompetent” both Senator Graham and Judge Kavanaugh for their angry and correctly expressed moral indignation at the left’s flagrantly unjust and dishonest attempt to prevent the judge’s confirmation.

No, our current president is not perfect, though he is committed to defending the American way of life, flawed as his conception may be. He is the best public figure to come along in many years to express the sense life.

Intellectual articulation of that American sense of life is available in the works of Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises, George Reisman, and Edith Packer. These fundamental ideas urgently need to be read, discussed, and understood—and taught in universities, which unfortunately is not likely to happen for some time—then expanded upon so they may trickle down to the press and politicians.

And to the “deplorables.”

Those who feel the American sense of life understand emotionally what the American way of life stands for. They need to understand it intellectually.

 

* “‘Extremism’ or The Art of Smearing,” The Objectivist Newsletter, September, 1964. This section on the media was deleted from the article’s reprint in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (chap. 17).

** The European sense of life, says Rand, sees oneself as fundamentally a servant of the state. Europeans, generally and in contrast to Americans, worship the state and consider it an honor to work in the government. “If you told a [European],” says Rand, “that his life is an end in itself, he would feel insulted or rejected or lost.”

Postscript. Small detail can sometimes capture differences between national senses of life. A charming anecdote I would often tell my students when discussing cultural differences comes from Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini, in Brian Lamb’s Booknotes interview on C-SPAN in 2002 (at 00:17:04 in the video). When asking a question, said Severgnini, of an Italian, a Brit, a German, and an American, he would get the following responses (my paraphrase): the Italian would answer with another question, the Brit would tell a joke, the German would give a little essay, but the American would give an answer. Elsewhere in the interview, Severgnini commented on how Americans love competition, because they do not mind losing. It just means they try harder the next time. In Italy, he said, losing, especially failing at a business, means you are labeled for life as a loser.