The position of The Objectivist Center on the September 11 terrorist attack is outlined below. As a philosophical research organization, the Center takes no position on issues requiring specialized knowledge or expertise in military strategy, law, or related fields. Our conclusions and recommendations are derived from the philosophy of Objectivism as applied to the publicly known facts.
1. The attack was a deliberate assault not only on America's civilian population and government, but on its culture of reason, individualism, achievement, and freedom, with all their derivatives such as science, technology, capitalism, progress, and toleration. In many public statements—and in their choice of the World Trade Center as a target—the terrorists have declared their hatred for this culture and their wish to destroy it.
2. The values under assault are the core values of modern secular society. Though they were first articulated during the Enlightenment in Europe, and are currently embraced most fully in America, these values are not inherently Western or American. They are values required by human life as such and are essential to the success of any civilization. In the same way, the nihilistic rejection of these values is a philosophical/cultural syndrome that is neither unique to Islam nor universal among the adherents of that religion. The fundamental conflict is therefore not between Islamic and Western culture, nor between Islam and Christianity. It is a conflict between civilization and nihilism.
3. President Bush was justified in declaring war on the terrorists and their accomplices, including the nations that harbor them. Though the scope and conduct of the war are subject to the constraints of military strategy and cost, the U.S. is morally justified in using force against any individual, group, or government that engages in terrorism or aids and abets terrorists. It is under no obligation to limit retaliation to the particular individuals and groups directly responsible for the September 11 attack, nor to prove their guilt by the standards required in criminal prosecution, nor to bring them before a court. It need only have evidence amounting to proof by ordinary objective standards that these parties engaged in past terrorism and/or pose a threat of future terrorism. Such objectivity is morally required as a matter of justice to the American people, who must bear the cost and danger of this war, and to people in the Middle East or elsewhere who will be affected by our actions.
4. While it is legitimate in war to risk civilian casualties, the military campaign should make every reasonable effort to avoid them. This is a matter of justice to those people in the affected countries who are not complicit in terror and who may themselves have been victims of terrorists and of the tyrants who harbor them. In addition, we have no real hope of eliminating terrorism unless such people agree that our cause is just and that our intentions toward them are benevolent.
5. The U.S. has contributed to the current threat of terrorism through short-sighted policies marred by pragmatism, altruism, and relativism. These philosophical influences must be expunged and replaced by a principled, long-range foreign policy.
6. The immediate and urgent goal of eliminating the current terrorist threat should be pursued as part of a broader goal: an international order of nations that reject the use of terrorism against other nations and are willing to support the use of force to prevent it. In light of this goal, there should be a very strong presumption against tactical alliances or collaboration with state sponsors of terrorism, even in dealing with the current threat.
7. If the United States is ever to move beyond an endless series of conflicts with terrorists and other aggressors, it must pursue an even broader and more fundamental goal in its foreign policy: to expand the order of nations that respect the rights of their own citizens. It is legitimate for the U.S. to pursue this goal because tyrannical governments, by their gross and systematic violations of individual rights, have abandoned their right to rule and thus cannot claim sovereignty as a shield against such an assertive policy. It is in the interest of the U.S. to pursue this goal because free countries tend to deal with other states by trade rather than force. And it is practical for the U.S. to pursue this goal because it has a range of foreign-policy instruments—from cultural exchange to trade policy to military assistance—that it can use in support of internal movements to replace tyranny with freedom.
8. Just as our government may take action against other countries and groups that pose a genuine threat, even if they have not actually attacked us, so it may use its police powers domestically to identify and deal with threats from individuals and groups even if they have not yet acted violently. The first responsibility of government is to ensure the security of its citizens—i.e., protect their right to life. In doing so, however, it must also respect their rights to liberty, property, and privacy. Measures that limit the latter rights are justified only if they are objectively required for security and are tailored to minimize restrictions on other rights.
This article was originally published in the November 2001 issue of Navigator magazine, The Atlas Society precursor to The New Individualist.