A Libyan intelligence agent is convicted of murder in the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 that killed 270 people. On the same day, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) reduced interest rates by 1/2 %–for the second time in a month–in order to stimulate the sagging economy. In both cases, those ultimately responsible have been overlooked, band-aid solutions have been applied, and nothing has been done to prevent similar crises in the future.

There can be little doubt that Muammar Qaddafi is behind the destruction of Pan-Am Flight 103. The Libyan agent convicted of this crime was acting at the behest, directly or indirectly, of his Libyan dictator. Even if, in the improbable event that Qaddafi did not personally order the bombing, then he and men like him who sponsor and organize terrorism behind the doors of statecraft must still be held accountable for the violent acts of those they have unleashed on the world. Qaddafi was not officially implicated in the bombing, and, given the conditions under which Clinton allowed this trial to proceed, is unlikely ever to face justice for this or any other of his crimes. Identifying a country’s leader as an actual terrorist is simply too “inconvenient” politically, so a Libyan agent has taken the fall for mass murder in which he was really only the instrument.

In a more “civilized” act of causal cover-up, Alan Greenspan and the FOMC tried to jumpstart our economy by lowering interest rates in order to stimulate investment. Few people have acknowledged that Greenspan and his FOMC are directly responsible for the economic slowdown that they are now panicking to fix. From June 1999, to May 2000, the FOMC drove up interest rates with the explicit intention of stifling the economy. (Greenspan has long opposed tax cuts for the same reason.) Media commentators are fascinated by what they perceive as a complete revolution in Greenspan’s thinking but cannot seem to remember the very recent past that Greenspan himself directed. Their attitude seems to be “the past is unimportant, let’s simply move ahead.”

The unwillingness to hold Qaddafi and Greenspan responsible for their actions is not primarily a matter of blindness, fear or even shared guilt, but one of pragmatism, the dominant philosophy of our time.

Pragmatism holds that there are no consistent principles, and certainly none in the realm of human action. Pragmatism denies the connection between an entity’s nature and his actions. According to pragmatism, the fact that a dictator is a dictator–political or economic–is no reason to believe that he will act like one. What matters to the pragmatist is only the ineffable “now.” For now, Qaddafi is free to continue terrorizing the civilized world, knowing that no one is prepared to take him on. For now, Greenspan remains our economic “protector” just as he was “protecting” us from “irrational exuberance” by suffocating the economy.

In the realm of human action, pragmatism is a blatant refutation of Santayana’s maxim of history, that those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it. Pragmatism denies cause and effect, sentencing its adherents to the effects of unidentified causes time and again. Because it is “time consuming” and “counter-productive” to “point fingers,” people whose actions have caused great suffering are left in place to do so again.

Simply because one doesn’t want to acknowledge the cause of a problem, doesn’t mean you can avoid its effects.

1 “Bush Acts to Deny Money Overseas Tied to Abortion,” New York Times, 1/23/01

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Andrew Lewis

Andrew Lewis is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.