The Mask Drops


All we have of freedom, all we use or know—

This our fathers bought for us long and long ago.

Ancient Right unnoticed as the breath we draw—

Leave to live by no man’s leave, underneath the Law.

Lance and torch and tumult, steel and grey-goose wing

Wrenched it, inch and ell and all, slowly from the King.

Till our fathers ‘stablished, after bloody years,

How our King is one with us, first among his peers.

So they bought us freedom—not at little cost

Wherefore must we watch the King, lest our gain be lost,

Rudyard Kipling, The Old Issue



Give an A to Sarah Conly for boldly proclaiming what many of our liberal elites believe but are too wise to state openly:

Since Mill’s seminal work On Liberty, philosophers and political theorists have accepted that we should respect the decisions of individual agents when those decisions affect no one other than themselves. Indeed, to respect autonomy is often understood to be the chief way to bear witness to the intrinsic value of persons. In this book, Sarah Conly rejects the idea of autonomy as inviolable. Drawing on sources from behavioural economics and social psychology, she argues that we are so often irrational in making our decisions that our autonomous choices often undercut the achievement of our own goals. Thus in many cases it would advance our goals more effectively if government were to prevent us from acting in accordance with our decisions. Her argument challenges widely held views of moral agency, democratic values and the public/private distinction, and will interest readers in ethics, political philosophy, political theory and philosophy of law
I would review her book Against Autonomy, but I think I will call on three others to do the heavy lifting for me:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for
our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
CS Lewis
Now I ask you in all soberness, if all these things, if indulged in, if ratified, if confirmed and indorsed, if taught to our children, and repeated to them, do not tend to rub out the sentiment of liberty in the country, and to transform this Government into a Government of some other form. Those arguments that are made, that the inferior race are to be treated with as much allowance as they are capable of enjoying; that as much is to be done for them as their condition will allow. What are these arguments? They are the arguments that kings have made for enslaving the people in all ages of the world. You will find that all the arguments in favor of king-craft were of this class; they always bestrode the necks of the people, not that they wanted to do it, but because the people were better off for being ridden. That is their argument, and this argument of the Judge is the same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it. Turn in whatever way you will, whether it come from the mouth of a King, an excuse for enslaving the people of this country, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent, and I hold if that course of argumentation that is made for the purpose of convincing the public mind that we should not care about this, should be granted, it does not stop with the negro. I should like to know if, taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle, and making exceptions to it, where will it stop? If one man says it does not mean a negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man? If that declaration is not the truth, let us get the Statute book, in which we find it, and tear it out! Who is so bold as to do it? If it is not true let us tear it out! [Cries of “No, No.”] Let us stick to it, then; let us stand firmly by it, then.
Abraham Lincoln
The Founding Fathers established a nation under God, ruled not by arbitrary decrees of kings or the whims of entrenched elites but by the consent of the governed. Theirs was the vision of a striving, God-fearing, self-reliant people living in the sunlight of justice and breathing the bracing air of liberty.
Ronald Reagan

More to explorer


  1. aren’t conservatism and liberalism both visions of society that don’t place personal liberty as the end all? (Russell Kirk wrote a good denunciation of libertarianism on this point) the difference is that conservatism is more concerned with a central morality people should follow, where liberalism places emphasis on general “self-fulfillment” but then thinks it can have the government pick up the pieces from any downsides

    a good example is that very occasionally you’ll get liberals to admit that family breakdown is an issue, however they’re so concerned about “turning back the clock” that they always propose economic solutions for it, on the assumption that wherever we’re at now must represent Progress and we shouldn’t be judgmental

  2. Conservatives usually put God at the end of all. American conservatism has normally followed the Founding Fathers in their innate distrust of government, and the concern for the threat to liberty it always poses. Contemporary liberals, almost all of them, have rejected this precious inheritance root and branch and believe that all the wonderful things, in their eyes, that government can do, more than makes up for limitations on liberty.

  3. I just heard this quote on the radio today, from Monroe’s First Inaugural Address:

    Had the people of the United States been educated in different principles, had they been less intelligent, less independent, or less virtuous, can it be believed that we should have maintained the same steady and consistent career or been blessed with the same success? While, then, the constituent body retains its present sound and healthful state everything will be safe. They will choose competent and faithful representatives for every department. It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising the sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found.

  4. @ Pinky

    And Adams said the Constitution was only for a moral and just people. If not, it would yield to “avarice, ambition, lust, and licentiousness.” Tocqueville also observed the moderating role religion played on the inherent emphasis on individualism within the liberal political ethos. He noted that the American people were “better than their philosophy.” The problem is, and I think Patrick Deneen does a good job of illustrating just why, liberal (the Enlightenment kind) political philosophy eventually neuters religion as nothing more than a private decision, eviscerating it and its restraining influence from the public square. We see the fruits of such a development, two centuries in the making, before our very eyes.

  5. Amazon’s reviews are composed of a self-selected crew who bought the book and so are commonly quite laudatory. This particular book received eight reviews. Five were negative, two were ironic, and one was penned by this fellow here.

    My favorite line from the reviews was this one:

    … like dropping almost **** $100 **** on her book. Presumably the reader os the book live in a world where that’s a “smart” choice.

  6. Bob Zubrin quoted at Instapundit, “The use of fictitious necessity to rationalize human oppression is not new.”

    Camus, “The common good is the alibi of all tyrants.”

    “She can’t run her own life, I’ll be damned if she’ll run mine.” I don’t remember the rock/R&B musician.

    Ms. Conley is walking, talking evidence that Ayn Rand is always right about everything.

  7. “that Ayn Rand is always right about everything.”

    I think Ayn Rand was just as dictatorial T.Shaw as Ms. Conley could ever hope to be, judging from the bitter memoirs of some of her former cultists. Rand was a poor philosopher who made a name for herself by combining her jejune paean to selfishness in pot boilers with plenty of sex at a time when such novels were still considered “shocking” and “cutting edge”.

    Whittaker Chambers had Rand’s number long ago:

  8. Bill Buckley’s obit on Rand:

    “Ayn Rand, RIP
    New York, March 10, 1982

    Rand is dead. So, incidentally, is the philosophy she sought to launch dead; it was in fact stillborn. The great public crisis in Ayn Rand’s career came, in my judgment, when Whittaker Chambers took her on—in December of 1957, when her book Atlas Shrugged best-seller list, lecturers were beginning to teach something called Randism, and students started using such terms as “mysticism of the mind” (religion), and “mysticism of the muscle” (statism). Whittaker Chambers, whose authority with American conservatives was as high as that of any man then living, wrote in NATIONAL REVIEW, after a lengthy analysis of the essential aridity of Miss Rand’s philosophy, “Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal.”

    I had met Miss Rand three years before that review was published. Her very first words to me (I do not exaggerate) were: “You ahrr too intelligent to believe in Gott.” The critic Wilfrid Sheed once remarked, when I told him the story, “Well, that certainly is an icebreaker.” It was; and we conversed, and did so for two or three years. I used to send her postcards in liturgical Latin: but levity with Miss Rand was not an effective weapon. And when I published Whittaker Chambers’ review, her resentment was so comprehensive that she regularly inquired of all hosts or toastmasters whether she was being invited to a function at which I was also scheduled to appear, because if that was the case, either she would not come; or, if so, only after I had left; or before I arrived. I fear that I put the lady through a great deal of choreographical pain.

    Miss Rand’s most memorable personal claim (if you don’t count the one about her being the next greatest philosopher after Aristotle) was that since formulating her philosophy of “objectivism,” she had never experienced any emotion for which she could not fully account. And then one day, a dozen years ago, she was at a small dinner, the host of which was Henry Hazlitt, the libertarian economist, the other guest being Ludwig von Mises, the grand master of the Austrian school of anti-statist economics. Miss Rand was going on about something or other, at which point Mises told her to be quiet, that she was being very foolish. The lady who could account for all her emotions at that point burst out into tears, and complained: “You are treating me like a poor ignorant little Jewish girl!” Mr. Hazlitt, attempting to bring serenity to his table, leaned over and said, “There there, Ayn, that isn’t at all what Ludwig was suggesting.” But this attempt at conciliation was ruined when Mises jumped up and said: “That iss eggsactly what you ahrr!” Since both participants were Jewish, this was not a racist slur. This story was mortal to her reputation as the lady of total self-control.

    THERE WERE other unpleasantnesses of professional interest, such as her alienation from her principal apostle, Nathaniel Branden—who was so ungallant as to suggest, in retaliation against her charge that he was trying to swindle her, that the breakup was the result of his rejection of an, er, amatory advance by Miss Rand. Oh goodness, it got ugly.

    There were a few who, like Chambers, caught on early. Atlas Shrugged was published back before the law of the Obligatory Sex Scene was passed by both Houses of Congress and all fifty state legislatures, so that the volume was considered rather risque, in its day. Russell Kirk, challenged to account for Miss Rand’s success if indeed she was merely an exiguous philosophic figure, replied, “Oh, they read her books for the fornicating bits.” Unkind. And only partly true.

    The Fountainhead, read in a certain way, is a profound assertion of the integrity of art. What did Miss Rand in was her anxiety to theologize her beliefs. She was an eloquent and persuasive anti-statist, and if only she had left it at that—but no, she had to declare that God did not exist, that altruism was despicable, that only self-interest is good and noble. She risked, in fact, giving to capitalism that bad name that its enemies have done so well in giving it; and that is a pity. Miss Rand was a talented woman, devoted to her ideals. She came as a refugee from Communism to this country as a young woman, and carved out a substantial career. May she rest in peace, and may she experience the demystification of her mind possessed.”

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