the core belief of Libertarianism and Objectivism
One of the psychopaths I really admire is Dr. James Fallon (The Psychopath Inside). But my politics are at odds with his. He has identified himself as a Libertarian. I am still a Socialist (or Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist, which is just a more technical way of seeking a socialist outcome for society). It seems true intuitively that Libertarianism is the political philosophy of psychopathy par excellance. But, when polled about our political beliefs on the Sociopath Community (formerly Sociopath Forum, attached to Sociopath World), there manifested great diversity ranging from far-left to far-right. Still, the Libertarian viewpoint, with it’s emphasis on self-interest seems the perfect philosophy for our kind. One of the most prominent spokespeople for libertarianism was Ayn Rand. Of course, she called her philosophy Objectivism which she distinguished from Libertarianism by some differences that seem too minor to bother dissecting here. I have been fascinated with Ayn Rand’s ideas since I discovered her in my late teens. I avidly supported her ideas at first. Then I found flaws. Every time I re-read Atlas Shrugged, I find more flaws. (But I think one of the characteristics of good writing is that one finds something new every time one reads it. I have read Atlas Shrugged many times.) Both Libertarianism and Objectivism are implicitly based on social darwinism. Darwinism means survival of the fittest. Social darwinism means that the people who rise and win in a capitalist society are the fittest. My article is meant to be a rebuttal.
Ayn Rand was a Russian immigrant who wrote three major novels, We The Living, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged. Since Rand died in 1982, one wouldn’t associate her writings with the recent phenomenon in American politics. Alas (in this case, anyway)! The ideas of a good writer are often felt years after her works have manifested. So it is with Rand. Gary Weiss’ recent book, Ayn Rand Nation, documents the influence her “Objectivist Movement” continues to have on current political trends. Although Rand was a militant atheist and the Tea Party is full of religious zealots, the latter is willing to overlook, for the most part, what they must consider her flaw. Some of her followers have risen to prominent positions. Alan Greenspan, for example, is a highly influential economist. Representative Paul Ryan once said, “the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”
Rand is known as the adversary of “altruism” which she considered the greatest evil on earth. In The Fountainhead, she promoted individualism and one wouldn’t even infer the rest of her agenda except for a small section in which the hero’s, Howard Roark’s, rant against public housing. It was her final novel, Atlas Shrugged, that revealed her full ideology, and what an ideology it was! The government’s only proper role is to protect private property and protect the country from foreign enemies. Police and military. No regulation of industry, no social safety net, neither Unemployment Insurance nor Social Security. Welfare? Give me a break! She distinguished herself from other laissez-faire enthusiasts by creating a moral, philosophical basis for her views. This is what has made her such an important influence on the Right and informs us, on the Left, of where we must do battle.
According to Rand, everyone is an individual first and foremost. He or she is responsible only for h/erself. One has a duty to live life for it’s own sake, for the sake of no other. In Atlas Shrugged, she tells the tale of a productive genius who, disgusted by the collectivist trends in society, goes on strike and leads other productive geniuses to do the same. Without the most brilliant and productive members of society contributing their intelligent input, the society falls apart. The rest of the world has already succumbed to collectivism and are all “people’s republics.” They are starving, of course, and depend on the United States, the last bastion of capitalism, to send them relief. One of the strikers makes it his business to sink all the relief ships and convert their bounty to gold which he deposits in a special bank in the names of each of the “producers” on the theory that it was stolen from them by the nefarious income tax. After bringing society to it’s knees, the leader of the strike, John Galt, gives a scolding speech that spans about 70 pages. The speech explains all the basics of Rand’s philosophy. Here is an important sample.
Just as man can’t exist without his body, so no rights can exist without the right to translate one’s rights into reality—to think, to work and to keep the results—which means: the right of property. The modern mystics of muscle who offer you the fraudulent alternative of “human rights” versus “property rights,” as if one could exist without the other, are making a last, grotesque attempt to revive the doctrine of soul versus body. Only a ghost can exist without material property; only a slave can work with no right to the product of his effort. The doctrine that “human rights” are superior to “property rights” simply means that some human beings have the right to make property out of others; since the competent have nothing to gain from the incompetent, it means the right of the incompetent to own their betters and to use them as productive cattle. Whoever regards this as human and right, has no right to the title of “human.”
The source of property rights is the law of casualty. All property and all forms of wealth are produced by man’s mind and labor. As you cannot have effects without causes, so you cannot have wealth without its source: without intelligence. You cannot force intelligence to work: those who’re able to think, will not work under compulsion; those who will, won’t produce much more than the price of the whip needed to keep them enslaved. You cannot obtain the products of a mind except on the owner’s terms, by trade and by volitional consent. Any other policy of men towards man’s property is the policy of criminals, no matter what their numbers. Criminals are savages who play it short-range and starve when their prey runs out—just as you’re starving today, you who believed that crime could be “practical” if your government decreed that robbery was legal and resistance to robbery illegal.
Interesting…”no rights can exist without the right to…property.” And “the source of property rights is the law of causality. All property…(is) produced by man’s mind.” She ingeniously leaves out the most basic form of property there is, land. Of course, land is NOT the product of the mind. Our minds had no part in creating the land.The land was there when we came into being. How is it morally justified to “own” land we didn’t create and, if such ownership can be justified, how is the existing distribution morally justified?” If our relationship to land is the product of the law of causality, it was not that of the mind creating the land. Ownership is basically the result of years of traditional ownership passed down through the generations and brute force; the stronger taking it from those who were unable to defend it. The land of the American continents was wrested from it’s native inhabitants by a more “advanced civilization.” European settlers to what is now called the United States of America had the advantages of guns and numbers. What is really strange is the way Rand defends this power of the gun over the Native Americans on the really deep philosophical ground that they were just “savages.” I am claiming that the whole philosophy stated by John Galt breaks down here. Perhaps it breaks down because she is no longer dealing here with individuals but with whole societies. She isn’t talking individualism any more. She is speaking the language of tribalism. She uses the same “logic” to justify Israel’s theft of Palestinian lands. Israel is a modern, industrial society and the Palestinians not so much. This strips the Palestinians of all their rights, just as it stripped the Native Americans of their rights. There is nothing in John Galt’s speech that explains the rules of justice when an “advanced” society confronts a “backwards” one with land coveted by the advanced society.
An ethic that excludes the use of force (except in self-defense) assumes an agreement about the rules of society. For example, if everyone agrees that land belongs to whomever first started working it, there would be no dispute. However, the Native Americans were the first to utilize the land in North America. So taking that land by force violates that agreement, should that been the rule Ayn Rand insisted on. Of course, she never really stated the basis of her claim of ownership of land. Just a reference to the superiority of industrial societies.
According to Rand, it is only the government that operates with guns, never the private sector. Sure, once the rules of the game are established, the designated winners in the game don’t need guns. The government’s guns are available whenever needed to enforce the rules. But these rules enforce that the land is owned by a certain group of people regardless of how they came to own it. Not only are Native Americans annihilated by these rules, all citizens who don’t own any of the land are as well. Those without land are “free” to work for those who do. Rand doesn’t consider the certainty of starvation “force.” It is just nature. She talks as if we were living in a wilderness and the smartest, most able will prevail. A wilderness is rich in resources if one knows how to use them. The only resource for the property-less is the resource of other people who have exclusive access to the resources. It is ironic that Rand glorifies individualism as not needing other people. She means psychologically. But most of us need other people physically to make a living. People who gain their sense of self-worth from others are damned in the Objectivist term, “social metaphysicians.” By what term, I wonder, should us wage slaves be damned?
Galt says, in his speech, “If you want to know what you lost when I quit and when my strikers deserted your world—stand on an empty stretch of soil in a wilderness unexplored by men and ask yourself what manner of survival you would achieve and how long you would last if you refused to think, with no one around to teach you the motions.” It’s as if the “productive” people are collectively responsible for all the productive discoveries made by their fellow “producers” throughout the ages. But everyone, including John Galt, is reaping the benefits (and losses) of past generations. In fact, we were all, without exception, born naked and helpless. We depended utterly on the nurturing of others, mainly our mothers. It was many years before we could earn our own way in the world. We were able to become the adults that we are by imbibing the cultural legacy of the world that spawned us, both the good and the bad. Not that the contributions of individually great people weren’t part of it. I’ll even concede that some individuals contributed a lot more than others. But nobody alive today can claim credit for the modern, industrial world. We inherited it’s largeous as well as our relative positions in the social hierarchy. Rand would have that society is completely fluid and accident’s of social origin are insignificant. Sure, there are people who were born with nothing who were able to rise. But they are the exceptions that prove the rule. So, when John Galt says, “You decided to call it unfair that we, who had dragged you out of your hovels and provided you with modern apartments, with radios, movies and cars, should own our palaces and yachts—you decided that you had a right to your wages, but we had no right to our profits,” he is claiming credit for the radio, the movies and everything else the modern world offers. If people complain that the wealth is distributed unfairly, the wealthy cannot rationally argue that all the blessings (and curses) of civilization were their own doing.
History tells us that the astounding achievements of capitalist United States and Europe were built on wealth created by slavery. While conventional wisdom suggests slavery is relatively inefficient as a means of production, Imara Jones demonstrated the real part played by the slave trade and American slavery. The production generated by the need to transport slaves from Africa built up a great infrastructure. The slaves kidnapped for slavery had skills needed by the slave owners. Human beings can equal wealth just as animals and land can to those who have the “moral” values needed to utilize such a “resource.”
The bottom line of Galt’s arguments is that only the able and productive deserve to live. Whoever cannot produce enough to stay alive is a “looter” if he expects society to provide sustenance. That includes the disabled, the pregnant, orphans. Of course, if such people know someone who cares enough about h/ir to help out, that’s fine. So women should make sure they have a provider before getting pregnant (unless they’re independently wealthy). People had better provide for their own retirement. If they don’t make enough to save for their old age, too bad. We really don’t need “incompetent” people littering up the earth. Best to keep that population down. There’s a name for this philosophy, “social darwinism.” It’s just as ugly now as it was in the 19th Century. That Rand’s arguments can be considered so persuasive as to be leading our country into that particular hell where life can only be short and brutish (except for the rich), forces us to collectively “examine our premises,” as Rand is always saying. Do we really believe the rich are superior to the poor? Do we believe everyone who needs government assistance is a “looter?” Think long and hard about that, folks. (Ayn Rand didn’t live up to her own words. She has likened Medicare to “armed robbery” but applied for it under her married name when she got lung cancer. Her faithful followers didn’t need to know about this. “Ayn Rand” didn’t take Medicare. Alice O’Connor got it. But they both inhabited the same body. She also collected Social Security, damned looter! Her followers today want to deprive us living Seniors of that same right.)
Besides the social and economic inequities of unfettered capitalism, there is nothing built into the law of supply and demand that stops industry from polluting. With all the harm being done to the earth now with some tepid regulation in place, what can we expect with no regulation? Does anyone think BP would have paid ANY reparations for their disastrous oil spill in the Gulf if they hadn’t been forced?
Objectivism is a toxic poison that too many of us are drinking to the dregs. We are too afraid we will be cheated in a society that cares for the have-nots. It can be liberating and exhilarating to explore “the virtues of selfishness.” Rand’s world is all about either/or. If we don’t embrace selfishness 100%, we must be giving up all rights to keep anything for ourselves. Funny that a self-described disciple of Aristotle doesn’t seem to comprehend the concept of the “golden mean.” Mankind evolved to the status of the top species through our ability to cooperate as a community. Throw that away at your peril.
- Ayn Rand as a person. Ayn Rand’s own life surely doesn’t serve as an example of how healthy her philosophy is.
- The Psychopathy of Ayn Rand I disagree with some of the Lucky Otter’s analysis of the books. For example, the changes in Roard’s design of the housing project are a lot more than minor and Roark had agreed to do this project with no pay or recognition. Having it go up as he designed it was his only reward. There were no people living in the project when he blew it up. In Atlas Shrugged, the strikers did NOT engineer the train crash. The incompetence of the people running it was the cause. But I basically agree with the article. I consider Ayn Rand a psychopath. There is more evidence in her life as well as her philosophy and writing.
- Atlas as an Avenging God. An essay on Galt’s speech I wrote years ago.
- 10 Things I Discovered About Ayn Rand’s Addled Brain After Reading “Atlas Shrugged.” Ayn Rand’s “classic” Objectivist novel is full of terrible pointers about how the world works.
- Criticisms of Objectivism
- Why Ayn Rand Was Wrong about Altruism, Selfishness, and Human Nature. Eric Michael Johnson, Evonomics
- Ayn Rand vs. the Pygmies. Groups and Gossip Drove the Evolution of Human Nature
- The Psychopathy of Ayn Rand. I agree that Rand was a psychopath.
- The Vice of Selfishness
- Creeping Galtism
- Atlas Sucked
- Ryan, Rand and the Objectivist Budget.. A very clearly written explanation of Objectivism.
- 10 Things You Need to Know About Slavery (That You Won’t Learn from Django Unchained) by Imara Jones. I argued in my paper that wealth comes from land. But this article demonstrates it also comes from society. In fact, the slave trade paid for the rise of capitalism in Europe and the United States.
- Whittaker Chambers 1987 Review of Ayn Rand. This article appeared in the right-wing National Review The editor, William F. Buckley, Jr., said the presence of this article in his magazine caused Ayn Rand to stop speaking to him and to forbid the mention of the article in her presence.
- Ayn Rand & Atlas Shrugged In Under 10 Minutes, Americans Against the Tea Party
- Tribalism. Ayn Rand claimed to only deal with the individual but, when the deepest weakness in her philosophy, the “right” to own land, is touched upon, she springs up, an unreconstructed tribalist or racist, if you like. She convicts herself in her own words.
- The One Argument Ayn Rand Couldn’t Win by Sam Anderson.
- Ayn Rand Railed Against Government Benefits, But Grabbed Social Security and Medicare When She Needed Them
- Ayn Rand’s “Atlas” alive today. Ron Johnson, a teabagger congressman weighs in.
- How Ayn Rand’s Idiotic Worldview Makes the Wealthy Feel Good About Themselves
- Paul Ryan’s Dangerous Obsession with Ayn Rand.
- Ayn Rand’s Continued Influence by Evan McMurry.
- It’s Ayn Rand’s America Now: Republicans Have Stripped the Country of its Last Shred of Morality. Alternet. Donald Trump has been elected president. Although he didn’t run on a strict libertarian theory, it looks like he is planning to run his administration that way. Who the hell is John Galt anyway?