About This Blog

Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) was the greatest economist of my time. His greatest works can be accessed here at no charge.

Mises believed that property, freedom and peace are and should be the hallmarks of a satisfying and prosperous society. I agree. Mises proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the prospect for general and individual prosperity is maximized, indeed, is only possible, if the principle of private property reigns supreme. What's yours is yours. What's mine is mine. When the line between yours and mine is smudged, the door to conflict opens. Without freedom (individual liberty of action) the principle of private property is neutered and the free market, which is the child of property and freedom and the mother of prosperity and satisfaction, cannot exist. Peace is the goal of a prosperous and satisfying society of free individuals, not peace which is purchased by submission to the enemies of property and freedom, but peace which results from the unyielding defense of these principles against all who challenge them.

In this blog I measure American society against the metrics of property, freedom and peace.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Donald Trump's "Sacrifice"

Politics is a window into our culture. But individuals often don't see the same thing when they gaze through that window. The controversy surrounding Donald Trump and Khizr Khan regarding the latter's presentation at the Democratic National Convention is a case in point.

Khan's son was an American soldier who lost his life in the war in Iraq. Speaking at the DNC Khan said: "Our son, Humayun, had dreams too, of being a military lawyer, but he put those dreams aside the day he sacrificed his life to save the lives of his fellow soldiers."

Later in his presentation Khan spoke directly to Donald Trump: "You have sacrificed nothing and no one."

The next day, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Trump responded: "I think I've made a lot of sacrifices. I've worked very, very hard. I've created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs …"

Stephanopoulos followed up by asking: "Those are sacrifices?"

All this generated commentary and controversy as Americans began to ask themselves: Just what does "sacrifice" mean?

Ann Althouse defined sacrifice in her blog: "Sacrifice means to give up something of value to obtain some higher value, and it's interesting to think about when we use that word — in religion, in baseball..."

If sacrifice means what she says it means, then a sacrifice is nothing special. It's something each of us do every day when we buy and sell. We give up something we value (say, money) for something we value more (say, a new pair of shoes). I think Althouse has something more in mind when she uses the term "higher value," but we'll get to that in a minute.

Dissatisfied with the Althouse definition of sacrifice, I searched for the definition of sacrifice in the Ayn Rand Lexicon, expecting a different take on the subject. I was not disappointed: "Sacrifice is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue."

Well, what do you know? In Ayn Rand's philosophical system of Objectivism "sacrifice" takes on a definition contrary to the one Althouse presented. So which is it? Is "sacrifice" trading something of lesser value to obtain something of greater value? Or is it the other way around?

The science of human action teaches us that human individuals always act with purpose. When we act we always trade something we value less for something we value more, else we wouldn't exert the energy required to act. Thus, the logic of human action refutes the Objectivist definition of sacrifice. Does this mean the Althouse definition of sacrifice is correct? No.

We all understand the word "sacrifice" to signify something extraordinary. Althouse hints at this when she compares Trump's "sacrifice" (giving up the comfortable life of a billionaire for the rough and tumble of politics) to the "sacrifice" of a soldier who gives his life for his country:

Is hard work a sacrifice? Trump seems to have swapped in the idea of doing good in this world. He makes no mention of giving anything up to pursue his line of work, though he could have. When people work long hours, they sacrifice leisure time. That's what the word means — giving up something of value for a higher value — but it's not politically wise to say that in response to a man who seems to be saying my son sacrificed his life for the greater good.

But, as we've learned, sacrifice is not merely "giving up something of value for a higher value." Somehow sacrifice must distinguish itself as something far more significant than a teenager spending her allowance on a new pair of shoes. Is it possible that the true meaning of sacrifice hinges on the nature of the "higher" value for which the lower value is traded?

Perhaps there exists an objective hierarchy of values. Perhaps some values are intrinsically more noble, more valuable and better than other values? However, the problem with objectifying value is deciding upon the standard of good and bad against which each possible value must be measured, and then arranging all of these values into an objective hierarchy -- an impossible task.

So what then is sacrifice?

"Sacrifice" is an act defined by culture. In our culture we value celebrity and wealth to a great degree. An individual who has both is considered the pinnacle of success. Purposely or not, for better or worse, celebrity and wealth is what we train our children to strive for. An individual can say he sacrificed leisure time and resources in pursuit of fame and fortune. He can even claim he created thousands of jobs in the process. But that line of argument is going to be a hard sell to the American public because giving up leisure and chasing success is something we all do.

On the other hand, our culture also values selfless service to our country. When an individual gives up a life of celebrity and wealth in the National Football League in exchange for the modest and dangerous life of a soldier, the story makes headlines across the nation. Such an individual is touted as a hero who has made a great sacrifice for his country. An American would never claim he sacrificed an opportunity to serve in the military in order to play in the NFL. He knows such a claim would be ridiculed as being no sacrifice at all.

Now, when a famous American billionaire gives up an opportunity for even more fame and fortune in order to pursue the position of President of the United States, he also earns a modicum of admiration from the American public because politics has been regarded over the years as "public service" and we Americans respect that.

But nowadays politicians are showered with more and more celebrity. And, thanks to the system of crony capitalism (pay to play) that they created, politicians become more and more wealthy the longer they serve. Consequently, their claim that participating in this self-serving racket requires sacrifice becomes less and less believable.

For these reasons, Donald Trump has an uphill battle on his hands in his war of words with Khizr Khan. In the mind of the American public, Humayun Khan made the ultimate sacrifice, giving up his life to save his buddies. For Trump to equate his "sacrifice" with Khan's is downright laughable.

He should have realized this from the start and kept his big yap shut.

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