On the excellent new blog "Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature," there's an interesting essay by Greg Nyquist on Rand's apparently declining influence and popularity. Nyquist suggests several reasons for the decline (and some commenters, including yours truly, add a few more). Among other things, he notes that
Islamic terror has created a world which is not compatible with the sort of individualism advocated by Rand. The full truth of this, of course, has not hit home yet: that will require a second major terrorist attack against America, one that features 100s of thousands of causalities. The world we are heading toward is a militarized world, where security has become more important than "individualism" or freedom.
Sadly, this is probably true. Perhaps this explains why I favor extreme measures of coercive interrogation, such as waterboarding, in order to extract as much information as possible from captured terrorists and minimize the risk of another attack.
Some on the left argue that since millions of Americans die every year from non-terrorist causes, we are overstating the risks of terrorism. From a strictly actuarial standpoint, this is true, but it misses the point: American society is not going to be profoundly changed just because X number of Americans die in car crashes or slip-and-fall accidents. But if we are hit hard by terrorists, hard enough to lose a big chunk of major city, then our whole way of life will be irrevocably changed. We will enter "a militarized world," as Nyquist says. (To those who think we are already a militarized society, I can only say, "You ain't seen nothin' yet.")
I'm not particularly interested in getting into another debate over this. Congress has worked out a compromise that allows us to continue using coercive interrogation, apparently including waterboarding. (News reports on this important detail have not been entirely clear, but most of them say that the bill outlaws only "mutilation and rape" of detainees, which would leave waterboarding as an option.) The issue seems to be resolved, at least for now. Captured terrorists will still be subject to very harsh treatment. This is perhaps unfortunate, but the alternative is the militarized world that Nyquist foresees.