The unprincipled and, indeed, anti-principled nature of the fanatic can be described as a manifestation of obstruction by peripherals, which I have defined in a prior treatise as a situation occurring “whenever a judgment on an issue far from the foundational truths in a philosophical hierarchy is held rigidly and carried to its full implications in a manner conflicting with the fundamentals of the same hierarchy.”
The principled man, the diametrical opposite of the fanatic, is capable of distinguishing between the fundamental and the peripheral; the former occupies a far greater fraction of his devotion, and he constantly seeks to derive the latter in terms of the former, not hesitating to alter his derivations if the fundamentals should so dictate.
The fanatic, however, is an embodiment of what Ayn Rand called the “concrete-bound mentality.” He is incapable of the high degree of abstract thinking required to comprehensively grasp a conceptual hierarchy and what lies at the foundation of that hierarchy. To him, all concepts are created equal, and are treated as such, in the best of cases. In the worst, and most typical of them, the peripherals are reinforced by more of the fanatic’s fervor than are the fundamentals, since the peripherals are more concrete in their manifestations.
For example, when a “closed-system” Objectivist is maneuvered to admit that “abortion rights” are at odds with her own selfish interest, she is prepared to renounce self-interest, a fundamental of the Objectivist ethics, in favor of a dogmatic adherence to the “right” of any woman to kill a fetus.
In the abortion issue, the state will either legitimize abortion or forbid it. People will either have abortions or not; both outcomes are outwardly perceptible to the most constricted minds. Yet, when the invisible yet all-determining roots of the issue are dug at, concepts such as self-interest, futuristic certainty, natural rights, political liberty — the fanatic is confounded.
These are abstractions that his limited mind cannot reach directly; he can only pretend to fathom them through clichés (such as “the right of a woman to her own body,” or the phrase “pro-choice”), name-calling (such as “fascist,” “statist,” or “interventionist,” aimed at those who oppose “abortion rights”) and the endless second-hand repetition of thoughts borrowed from someone else (Leonard Peikoff’s “potential is not actual” creed). This is all too reminiscent of the “duckspeak” described by George Orwell as characteristic of the Oceanian Party orthodoxy in 1984, which I analyze in “Orwell’s Warning: Newspeak:”
“Such a label is perceived to be the ideal of rhetorical expression in Oceania. The orator is required to spill out collectivist blather without the involvement of any voluntary effort or mental processes, similar to the automatic and thoughtless quacking of a duck, in order to be referred to as a ‘doubleplusgood duckspeaker’.”
As I noted in “Abortion versus Selfishness: Obstruction by Peripherals,” Ayn Rand’s stance on abortion is an infinitesimally small portion of the original Objectivist corpus; her only explicit written mention of it was in a tangential paragraph on the 1973 essay: “Censorship, Local and Express.”
Yet, to the fanatic, every peripheral, by its very smallness and concrete-boundedness, becomes as or more necessary to defend unconditionally than a fundamental and far richer concept. Thus, critiques of abortion have been received with rabid backlashes by the “mainstream, conventional” Objectivist movement (note that the word, “conventional,” needs not apply only to the general society; it defines any typical paradigm in the context of any movement or set of ideas). For example, Lindsay Perigo, owner of the SoloHQ forum, chastised me as “a pseudo-objectivist conservative rationalist” and called my action an “abuse of SoloHQ’s tolerance and hospitality” when I had merely posted a witty anti-abortion remark by Ronald Reagan in SoloHQ’s Quote Gallery.
This censure was delivered in absolute evasion of my manifold prior contributions to SoloHQ that did meet Mr. Perigo’s agreement and affirmed beyond doubt our mutual adherence to the same fundamental principles of Objectivism, yet Perigo adamantly refused to apologize for applying such an unwarranted label to me. Mr. Perigo’s willingness to hurl names at and sour relations with a fellow thinker over a disagreement extremely minor to the Objectivist philosophy, reveals a partly fanatical disposition, an adherence to a peripheral mindset comprising the established orthodoxy at all cost, and a lack of hesitation to, in an out-of-context manner and without thorough prior deliberation, crudely chastise the peripheral dissenter as an “unbeliever.” (What else does the term, “pseudo-Objectivist,” imply?)