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Book Review: The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America by Leonard Peikoff

DECEMBER 01, 1982 by ROBERT JAMES BIDINOTTO

(Stein & Day, Scarborough House, Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. 10510), 1982 • 383 pages • $16.95

Germany was the “land of poets and philosophers”—an educated, industrialized, civilized nation that took pride in its artists, thinkers, and culture. Yet it first appeased, then elected, then obediently followed a man who led it into a global, systematic campaign of aggression, racism, horror, and mass extermination that defied all reason, values, and precedent.

Dr. Peikoffs thesis is that the seemingly incomprehensible madness of National Socialism seized Germany not in spite of, but precisely because of, her “poets and philosophers.” The “ominous parallels” are that similar ideas—and the cultural consequences—are sprouting in America today.

It is a sobering thesis, and controversial: few readers, even those supporting the free market, will fail to be challenged by at least some of Dr. Peikoffs indictments. As the chief spokesman for the late Ayn Rand’s Ojectivist philosophy, he attacks some popularly accepted philosophical and moral ideas. But therein lies much of the book’s value. Nobody can come away from this work without a better grasp of how ideas rule the practical lives of men, and without a deep re- examination of his own basic convictions.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Dr. Peikoffs analysis is its scope. It is a wide-scale synthesis of the history of certain philosophical ideas, and their cultural manifestations, in both the Old World and the New. Among the fields traversed are the arts (from music to architecture), science, religion, political and economic theory and history, education, psychology, even cult fads, in both Germany and America. The writing is clear, colorful, and well organized; and the many subjects are always linked by reference to a few basic principles.

Dr. Peikoff concludes his book with a short, systematic summary of the Objectivist philosophy, a neo-Aristotelian theory offered as an antidote to the doctrines he has indicted. Even those who might disagree will find within these pages the best brief condensation of Ayn Rand’s system in print.

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December 1982

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Around the world, people are struggling to throw off authoritarianism, with deeply mixed results. From Egypt to Venezuela, determined people build networks to overthrow their regimes, but as yet we have not learned to live without Leviathan. In this issue, Michael Malice and Gary Dudney discuss their glimpses inside totalitarian regimes, while Sarah Skwire and Michael Nolan look at how totalitarian regimes grind down the individual--and how individuals fight back. Plus, Jeffrey Tucker identifies a strain in libertarianism that, left unchecked, could reduce even our vibrant movement to something that is analogous to the grim aesthetic of architectural brutalism. The struggle for our lives and freedom is a struggle for beauty; it begins inside each of us.
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