How not to attack Ayn Rand

We should by all means inform people about all the reasons Ayn Rand’s philosophy is distasteful. That she didn’t believe in God is, pace the “American Values Network,” not one of them.

The popularity of Ayn Rand in Republican and Tea Party circles has given rise, fortunately, to efforts to educate people on what she believed.  ThinkProgress has a three minute video showing Rand attacking Medicare as no better than robbery, extolling selfishness, attacking majority rule, conceding that very few people are worthy of being loved, and so on. It is, to my mind, entirely fair comment.  (Rand’s atheism comes out, but only in a snippet from a quotation containing other points.)

And then, from the American Values Network—and recommended as an indispensable tool of persuasion by The Democratic Strategist—there’s this:

The video hammers on the single point that Rand is to be feared for advocating “a morality [cue ominous type size increase] not based on faith.” The video refers to Rand as an inspiration for Paul Ryan’s brand of economic individualism and capitalism, but strongly implies that the reason to be wary of economic individualism is that it’s secretly linked to atheism. The video carefully edits the quotation mentioned above so that only Rand’s rejection of religion, not her political and economic positions, is left in.  (Transcript after the jump.)

Though I didn’t seem to convince many people when I said this about Jack Conway’s Aqua Buddha ad, I’ll say it again (and the argument applies even more clearly this time): this kind of appeal is reprehensible.  We would be appalled if a fundamentalist Protestant group attacked a candidate for reading books basing his or her world view on books by Catholics, Jews, or Muslims.  As I explained in the earlier post, this is not because there’s anything wrong with being Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim but because the implication profits from the prevailing prejudice (among the intended audience) that it is wrong, holds greater force the more we can count on that prejudice’s being unshakable, and slathers an extra coat of implied respectability on the prejudice. We should find it equally appalling for a progressive religious organization to attack Republicans solely and specifically for reading books having a worldview invented by an avowed atheist.

Attacking Rand for her politics is one thing. Attacking her for the particular value (selfishness) in the service of which Rand rejected the Christian faith is more or less the same thing (and completely fine, as in the ThinkProgress ad). Portraying Rand as ominous and evil because of her rejection of faith as such is something completely different. But that’s what the video does.

The American Values Network should be ashamed of itself. And The Democratic Strategist—to which I’ve contributed in the past—should stop blurbing its shameful appeal.

Update: A reader pointed out that the ad faults politicians for their avowed worldview, not merely for “reading books” as in the original version. Quite right—but the larger point stands.

Transcript of American Values Network ad “Ayn Rand & GOP vs. Jesus”:

Ayn Rand: I am against God. I don’t approve of religion. It is a sign of a psychological weakness…I regard it as evil.

Narrator: Who is Ayn Rand? And more importantly, why has she had such a profound impact on Republican leaders? Like Senator Ron Johnson, who called Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged his “foundation book”? And Senator Rand Paul, who said he is “a fan”?

Mike Wallace: You are out to destroy almost every edifice in the contemporary American way of life…Our Judeo-Christian religion. You scorn churches and the concept of God. Are these accurate criticisms?

Rand: Yes. I am the creator of a new code of morality…a morality not based on faith.

Narrator: Rush Limbaugh called her “brilliant.” And “Fox and Friends” declared her movie a “victory for capitalism.” And as for the author of the Republican budget, Paul Ryan…

Ryan: Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism. And this to me is what—is—matters most.”

Narrator: What matters most to you?

[Cut to a “learn more about” screen with contact information for the American Values Network]

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.

28 thoughts on “How not to attack Ayn Rand”

  1. Beware of those on “your side” who bring the least effective weapons to the fight.

    “Why don’t you try some of these bubble gum bullets when you make the big push?!”

  2. I, for one, completely agreed with you on Aqua Buddha. Here, I’m less convinced, although I think that the ad in question was weak. I think that it is entirely worth pointing to the rather large contradictions between the morality underlying Rand’s work with the morality espoused in the Gospels. It’s fair to ask someone how they can be a Christian and still agree with her philosophy. It’s not directly attacking her for not being Christian, but it’s close, and it’s also valid.

    Ask them how it is clothing the least among us to espouse a philosophy that says that most people are parasites.

  3. And this upsets you, Andrew, because Rand’s point of view, like most rightwing economics, IS based on faith?

    Certainly it’s not based on history, on the outcomes of experiments (natural or otherwise), on observation, or on any of the other correction mechanisms that distinguish genuine science.

  4. I’m no admirer of Rand, but I thought she was born into a Jewish family. If so, she never really “rejected the Christian faith,” unless at some point she decided to become a Christian.

  5. Maynard: What double-blind experiments prove that we are better off living under a mixed-economy, as opposed to laizze-faire capitalism? Other than plain dumb luck, why do you think the United States became the dominant economic force during the past 200 years? Do you honestly think it was because of government intervention into the economy? You might also ask whether you would have wished to live in East Germany or West Germany, South Korea or North Korea. Unlike Ayn Rand, when the fighting broke out in Russia between the “reds” and “whites,” would you have stayed put or emigrated to the United States?

    The only “faith,” which Ayn Rand had was her core belief that every individual should be respected as an end unto himself or herself, and not as a means to anyone else’s ends. A good deal of her philosophy flowed from the simple notion that we are each entitled to our lives and that no one else has a claim to our life. She understood all too well that only by believing the opposite can you end up with the millions of deaths and misery which she observed throughout the 20th century.

  6. I am reminded of a famous knife fight….
    Where that massive fellow (representing here the US pop. that wants SS, Medicare, and to tax the rich)
    is put on pause by Butch’s (representing the rich man’s Wurlitzer) query about the “rules”…

    Andrew…
    I’m tired of seeing the left kicked in the balls.

    There is a time for fairness in war, and a time for war in war.
    We are way past fairness. I’m going to have to disagree with you about this disagreeable ad…

    As an aside, the Bible is only one book I know of that is freely given away in America.
    As of yesterday there are now two:

    http://studentsforliberty.org/upcoming-events/want-a-free-copy-of-atlas-shrugged/

    Given that Atlas Shrugged has obtained biblical status….
    What novel on the left has the same philosophical heft and footprint as Atlas Shrugged?
    Or put another way: What novel argues best for a liberal vision of the future?

  7. Joel, I am referring to such experiments as
    – The Nordic countries don’t seem to have done particularly badly economically through having high tax rates
    – The US has generally grown FASTER under higher tax rates than lower during the 20th century
    – The right continues to assert that we are on the wrong side of the Laffer curve, even though in the 30 yrs since Reagan their claims have been shown to be false

    A different set of experiments (things like the ultimatum game, or mirror neurons) show that normal human beings are not isolated atoms but are naturally sociable, that that sociability is increased by culture, that that sociability appears to essential to the functioning of capitalist economies; and views the world in a way that follows from natural sociability.

    God god, man. Josef Stalin is not the only alternative to Ayn Rand. Do you want to follow up with a comment on how Obama is not just a socialist but a communist, and plans to bring Phnom Penh to America?

  8. The point is to divide the enemy. You’re not going to persuade either the Randists or the fundies to become liberals. They hate us, and that’s not going to change. But if they really understood each other it would be impossible for them to be allies. Showing fundies the truth about Rand is a worth-while goal.

  9. Will someone let me know when the Right stops their hatred and public denouncements of atheists? Until then, I have no problem with an ad that points out the hypocrisy of modern Republican Randites who claim to uphold the teachings of Christ and yet embrace the most selfish ideology of modern America.

  10. I have no problem with causing cognitive dissonance amid the ranks of the Tea Party. The economy is at immediate risk of the catastrophic consequences of a federal loan default thanks to the political targets of this ad’s attack, and thanks to the legions of conservative voters who supported them in the 2010 election. Solidarity among themselves is one source of their political strength. This solidarity was achieved partly through the repetition of simple slogans and the substitution of catchphrases for deliberation and analysis. There are good reasons to disrupt that solidarity, since it represents a direct threat to the well-being of the republic.

    Back in the heyday of objectivism, the Randroids were openly and exuberantly contemptuous of Dwight Eisenhower and of almost everything that the Republicans of the day, especially with their small town values, stood for. Therefore the ad does miss an all-important point about Rand–her attitude that only heroic genius was worthy of admiration. The Tea Party is proud of being “just plain folks.” Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin are valued because they are seen as small town girls grown up and made famous, but still down-home ordinary and vehemently anti-elitist. Ayn Rand, the arch-elitist, had no use for just plain folks who cannot build great cities and create great inventions. The moral key to Atlas Shrugged is the final fate of Eddie Willers, who is left to perish, sobbing, on the railroad tracks where a Taggart Transcontinental engine sits disabled, and where, for all the honesty of his ordinary character, he does not have the right stuff to fix the huge engine and get it started.

    The adherents of the Tea Party need to understand that Ayn Rand had no respect for them. It has been decades since the objectivist movement fell into disarray following the Branden unpleasantness, and the values of the real Rand are largely forgotten. This ad does a public service in starting to remind people of what those values were. The more essential point has yet to be made.

  11. Which do you think was sweeter for the relevant partisans: Rand Paul’s victory or Christine O’Donnell’s defeat?

  12. Sorry Andrew, I disagree. One should be able to be of any religious persuasion, or none at all, and participate in political and policy debates without being attacked for one’s religious affiliation. However, it is perfectly legitimate to point out the fundamental philosophical contradiction between being a follower of Rand and being a committed Christian. The legitimacy of this line of attack is particularly apt in light of the attempt of the Republicans to both appeal to the odious Randian philosophy of greed while, simultaneously, attempting to appeal to Christian fundamentalists.

  13. Joel Levine–“Other than plain dumb luck, why do you think the United States became the dominant economic force during the past 200 years? Do you honestly think it was because of government intervention into the economy?”

    Yes, I do. The historical reality is that government has been key to the US economy’s prosperity and growth from the beginning:

    *** transportation — roads, canals, bridges, railroads, airports, air-traffic control, etc.
    *** water — dams for navigation and flood-control, irrigation systems, etc.
    *** public health — piped water and sewage, vaccinations, food inspection, drug testing, etc.
    *** finance — fiat currency, central banking, deposit insurance, etc.
    *** education — elementary schools up through state universities
    *** R&D — transistors, ARPAnet/Internet, NIH-funded medical research, etc.
    *** environmental protection — clean air and water
    *** innovative organizational mechanisms — limited-liability corporations, intellectual property protection [patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc.], charitable foundations, real-estate zoning, insider-trading laws, condominiums, etc.
    *** union–creating the first continent-wide economy, with order and protection of property, contract enforcement, freedom of movement, economies of scale, etc.

    Ignoring its role amounts to asking– “What have the Romans ever done for us?”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExWfh6sGyso

  14. Stuart makes the point that Rand and Christianity do not mix. Conservatives who believe in Christianity are probably unaware of the Rand philosophy. Republicans, who have been seducing Christians into thinking that their values are shared by that political party, deserve to be thrown onto the defensive.

    The message of the ad is not “Only religion can offer moral values.” The message is “Paul Ryan is not who you think he is.” This message is worthy of broadcasting. I hope that it goes viral. Very few people are aware of the Mike Wallace interview, which was done in the Eisenhower era.

    My earlier point, which is compatible with Stuart’s, is that the Tea Party is a populist movement, and that Rand’s contempt for populism, which is palpable in her works of fiction, is likely to be unknown by people who never read those massive novels. The Tea Party needs a wake-up call, and a short TV message is an appropriate vehicle for the delivery of same.

  15. Contrary to so much of the disinformation out there about her, it isn’t the case that Ayn Rand was against charity. She was personally charitable to her friends and donated to help Israel defend itself. In her own words: “My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.”

    Her point was that you have to have a healthy non-charitable sector in order to be able to provide charity, and that economic freedom (and nothing else) provides that health. How much can one donate if one is starving or dies at age 35, as before technology one did.

    Government welfare is a perversion of charity because it is ill-managed and cripples the productive sector over time. Look at the tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities that are going to cripple our economy; and it’s just going to get worse unless we get the system right.

    One part of the foolishness of the recent debates about Rand is the idea that agreeing with Rand’s prediction and diagnoses in “Atlas Shrugged” – the accuracy of which has been demonstrated in the last few years to a nicety – somehow magically commits one to agreement with her total philosophy. Would this argument be extended to an atheist leftist who recommends Tolstoy or Victor Hugo?

    The other part is a specific misrepresentation of Christianity. Christianity is not a pro-Statism religion; indeed, given who killed their Savior, it tends to the anti-State. (This is something the left has not yet dealt with.) Nowhere in the Bible does it say that wealth should be expropriated and redistributed by the dubious means of government structures; it speaks of personal and *voluntary* charity. One might add, looking at the horrific debt and unfunded liabilities situation that the U.S. is in right now, that the Bible and Jesus were wise in staying away from government panaceas.

    This entire kabuki charade is in bad faith. The Bible does not advocate any Progressive notions of “economic justice.” The progressives who have suddenly discovered religion and its necessary role in politics – after thirty decades and more of stridently and rightly insisting it must be kept out of politics – are not sincere. After this temporary rhetorical bubble is over, they will resume their previous, also ad-hoc, declarations.

    As for the “sociopath” accusation, this is what comes of copying attack website garbage. The whole thing rests upon one author – Michael Prescott’s – highly selective excerpting and chopping up of a private [i.e., thinking out loud without clarifications ] journal written when Rand was barely out of her teens, fresh from the blood bath of 1920s Soviet Russia – and still made it very clear that her read on the personalities of the observers showed that they were not appalled by Hickman’s crime – she said there had been far worse, without the same spectacle of glee – but by his flamboyant and mocking defiance of society. She – who was writing about a *legally innocent man* at the time of the trial – even called him a monster, a pervert, a repulsive and purposeless criminal. Enough with the disinformation and – yes – Satanizing of Ayn Rand.

  16. I don’t care about the details of the author. More important is the bible-like status of her third-rate cr*ppy novels. Most of us were over these overwrought novels in Junior High school and forgot about them. Yet some still must discuss them, like that % of our population whose musical taste stopped evolving in high school, and they haven’t bought an album made after 1984. Except maybe Ratt or some other hair band like Twisted Sister for the anthem song.

  17. Questions for Michael R. Brown:

    Who is Hickman? Who accuses Rand of being a sociopath? Who is Michael Prescott? I know who Whittaker Chambers was but these other names do not ring a bell. None of what you refer to was in the text of Andrew’s post or in any of the comments, nor was it in the Mike Wallace interview. The problems with Rand are all inside her own writing and public utterances.

    The quarter century following the Second World War showed the United States in a long period of economic growth, much of which had a relationship to the factors referred to by Passing By. Strong unions, high marginal tax rates, strict banking regulations, and other things which Rand hated were intricate parts of this period in our history. In the last ten years, the large tax cuts, weakened unions, and loosening of bank regulations have led the economy to a severe downturn. To say that the accuracy of “Atlas Shrugged” has been nicely demonstrated in recent years requires explanation–it is not self-evident.

    Randroids often offer up the utopian gambit when confronted with facts which conflict with their ideology. Everything that has gone wrong is attributable to the fact that their philosophy has not been completely followed; everything that has gone right since the United States was founded has been due to the partial realization of their program.

    Ayn Rand was much less coherent than she thought she was. Her ignorance of science was phenomenal. During the early days of the anti-pollution movement, she was outraged at the concern of environmentalists over the effects of water pollution on plankton in the ocean, assuming that this was the ultimate in collectivist moral degeneracy, assuming that the environmental activists placed plankton on an equal footing with human beings.

    Since these marine microorganisms happen to produce most of the oxygen we breathe, it appears that Rand was some kind of oxygen mystic. Where does oxygen come from? it just exists, as if by magic. Plankton are essential elements in the food chain, which we humans sit on top of. Without them, the higher forms of marine life would not exist. Where do fish come from? Blank out. Where does oxygen come from? Blank out.

    You protest against the idea that agreeing with Atlas Shrugged “somehow magically commits one to agreement with her total philosophy.” But Rand was pretty emphatic that you could not just pick and choose what you wanted to from objectivism; it was a complete package and a comprehensive accounting of reality. You were not “magically” committed to agreement with the total philosophy; you were logically obliged to agree with the whole thing.

  18. “Government welfare is a perversion of charity because it is ill-managed and cripples the productive sector over time.”

    The New Deal is now 70-80 years old. Real economic growth per capita has continued at the same rate since it as before it. Ms. Rand was wrong. Get over it.

  19. Had the ad praised Ms. Rand for her one and only redeeming trait, that of being an atheist, it would have had my enthusiastic support. And probably at least the same impact on the religious as the current version.

    As constituted, however, this ad is indeed both illiberal and reprehensible.

  20. Ed Whitney comments:

    “The moral key to Atlas Shrugged is the final fate of Eddie Willers, who is left to perish, sobbing, on the railroad tracks where a Taggart Transcontinental engine sits disabled, and where, for all the honesty of his ordinary character, he does not have the right stuff to fix the huge engine and get it started.”

    My Response:

    Although the fate of Eddie Willers, when understood in context, is informative of Ayn Rand’s ethical system, your characterization of Eddie Willers’ fate is not. While the text is clear that Dagny would have wanted Eddie to emigrate to Galt’s Gulch with her, she knew it was useless to try to convince Eddie to abandon Taggart Transcontinental. Taggart Transcontinental was Eddie’s life work and the motive force that gave his life meaning and, unlike Dagny and the others populating Galt’s Gulch, he could not envision a life worth living beyond Taggart Transcontinental. Without doubt, Eddie chose to stay.

    Your use of the term “left” implies that the members of Galt’s Gulch had some ethical duty to forcefully remove Eddie against his will to Galt’s Gulch, a proposition that contradicts one of the central tenets of Objectivist ethics that no individual may initiate force against another individual. So you are correct that Eddie’s fate illustrates a moral key of (no initiation of violence) of Objectivism, you opened the wrong moral door.

    Ed Whitney’s next comments:

    “Ayn Rand was much less coherent than she thought she was. Her ignorance of science was phenomenal. During the early days of the anti-pollution movement, she was outraged at the concern of environmentalists over the effects of water pollution on plankton in the ocean, assuming that this was the ultimate in collectivist moral degeneracy, assuming that the environmental activists placed plankton on an equal footing with human beings.”

    “Since these marine microorganisms happen to produce most of the oxygen we breathe, it appears that Rand was some kind of oxygen mystic. Where does oxygen come from? it just exists, as if by magic. Plankton are essential elements in the food chain, which we humans sit on top of. Without them, the higher forms of marine life would not exist. Where do fish come from? Blank out. Where does oxygen come from? Blank out.”

    My response:

    I researched what Ms. Rand had to say about “plankton.” The only comments I could find were in Ayn Rand, “Return of The Primitive The Anti-Industrial Revolution” and bear no resemblance to your characterization of her comments on the subject. The context of Ms Rand’s comments on plankton was a 1970 issue of Newsweek Magazine titled “The Ravaged Environment,” which echoed a dominant theme in the environmentalist literature of the time that unless drastic measures were taken, we were doomed and that the environmental Armageddon was imminent. Thus The Ravaged Environment ends where it began, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
    Regarding Plankton, AR quotes “The Ravaged Environment” statement that “some ecologists are worried about the possible effect on the Eskimo of the oil race on Alaska’s remote North Slope” that would lead to oil spills, the destruction of plankton, the Eskimo’s ecosystem and the Eskimos themselves. AR addresses this scare along with others made by the environmentalists who were prophesying doom by stating “Now observe that in all the propaganda of the ecologists-amidst all their appeals to nature and pleas for ‘harmony with nature’- there is no discussion of man’s needs and the requirements of his survival.”

    At no time in her discussion of drilling on the North Slope does Ayn Rand reject the proposition that plankton is essential to life on Earth. The fact that she was unwilling to accept the unsubstantiated fear that oil drilling on the North Slope would lead to the destruction of man on Earth as the basis for regressing to a pre-industrial revolution era, is evidence of Ayn Rand’s intelligence and her need to base her opinions on facts not on others unsupported and unsubstantiated fears.

    If your comments regarding Ayn Rand and plankton are based on some work other than the one mentioned, please let me know to which work you refer. If they are not based on any other work, please explain why you chose to misrepresent her views

  21. Andrew Sabl:

    Whether or not this is an appropriate attack on Ayn Rand depends on the audience. As at least one other commentor above has noted, the GOP is gripped by both Randian economics and fundamentalist Christianity. The problem should be obvious: those two things are almost diametrically opposed to each other. How can you be both a Randian and believe that the bible is literally true? That is an amazingly blatant contradiction and calling it out is perfectly fair (again, depending on the audience).

  22. If readers of Atlas Shrugged don’t realize that Rand was rejecting religion as a basis of capitalism, then they weren’t reading it closely. Also, could AVN have been more specific about how Johnson takes Atlas Shrugged as a foundation book. Would he agree with the metaphysics espoused in it and then go on to epitemology, ethics, and politics?

  23. I completely disagree, the majority of americans do not understand the nuances of The Courtier’s Reply. The video is shaped to show Rand for what she was, a soulless creep. Frack, her übersmench was a child rapist, google it. Her “religion” boils down to the admiration she expressed for the rapist’s own words, “What is good for me is right”, which to my white, upper middle-class value system, represents the anti-thesis of what civilization stands for.

  24. Joel Levine has challenged me to dig my old Ayn Rand books out of storage to find what she wrote about plankton. In The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (Signet, New American Library, New York, 1971) there is an essay titled “The Anti-Industrial Revolution.” I think this is the essay to which Joel is referring. On page 133, she is discussing the aforesaid concerns about North Slope oil drilling, and the effects of a spill on that ecosystem, where the oil “would be trapped in the narrow space between water and ice, killing first the plankton, then the fish and mollusks that feed on the plankton, then the polar bears, walruses, seals, and whales that feed off sea life, and finally threatening the Eskimos who live off these animals.” Rand goes on to say that oil development royalties would enable the Eskimos to move to a better background, and asks, “Or are the Eskimos to be sacrificed to the polar bears, walruses, seals, and whales, which are to be sacrificed to the fish and mollusks, which are to be sacrificed to the plankton? If so, why?”

    She looked at scientific questions through a moral lens, in terms of “sacrifice,” which was a byword for immoral altruism in her frame of reference. This is a very poor way to consider the strength or weakness of scientific evidence. On pages 141-142, she says that after having been asked to sacrifice for the underprivileged, “you are asked to sacrifice for the seaweeds and inanimate matter.” But you do not “sacrifice” when you take steps to protect what supports you and keeps you alive; you have an obligation to that which produces what you cannot produce on your own. This is missing the point on a basic level, and it comes from trying to consider scientific issues using moral categories.

    She also says on page 136, “In order to survive, man has to discover and produce everything he needs, which means to alter his background and adapt it to his needs.” How does man produce his own oxygen, which the plankton currently produce? Blank out. I read this essay as asserting that man can produce his oxygen through some kind of technology, after the plankton are destroyed. I do not hesitate to criticize her understanding of science.

    She often took certain targets on one end of a spectrum of thought and treated them as if they constituted the whole. There were indeed hippies in 1970 who decried technology and romanticized the concept of life without the blessings of applied science, and her remarks on ecology treat these extremists as representatives of all who spoke out about the need to consider the effects of our actions on the ecosystems of which we were a part. Hippies were a fringe element of the ecological movements of the era; Rand treated them as central actors.

    Similarly, she invented the figure of Simon Pritchett as representative of modern philosophy, who takes skepticism to the point of “consoling” a student who wept over the grief of a bereaved mother with the question of how the mother knows her son ever existed. It is as if the philosophers who think about social construction of systems of thought were unaware that rocks are not houses. The collectivists who existed inside her head were more real to her than the liberals who existed outside her head.

    Regarding Atlas Shrugged: There was no need to “force” Eddie Willers into Galt’s Gulch; that is not the point of my criticism. His fate in the desert comes about because of the assumptions of the inhabitants of Galt’s Gulch, which is that it is necessary for the entire collectivist system to collapse in calamity before they can come forth and remake the world. A corrupt system must totally collapse before an elite revolutionary vanguard can come forth and make the world over again from the ground up. Whittaker Chambers only got it partly right in seeing Rand under the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche; the pattern of her thought was also that of Vladimir Lenin.

  25. I’m with Stuart Levine on this one.

    The ad contrasts her supporters love of her work with the pandering of these same supporters for her to the evangelical, ‘family-values’, crowd.

    I support everyone’s right to be one or the other: be an evangelical or be an Ayn Rand disciple. I support everyone’s right to claim to be both. But I also support messages like this that point out…um…there are some irreconcilable values in these two stands by those that try to serve those two masters here. Only in a fictional world can you claim to serve both.

    So, for members of Congress and members of the media who claim to be supporters of Ayn Rand and who pander to the evangelical community, just come clean and tell us which one you truly worship.

  26. Ed Whitney:

    “Regarding Atlas Shrugged: There was no need to “force” Eddie Willers into Galt’s Gulch; that is not the point of my criticism. His fate in the desert comes about because of the assumptions of the inhabitants of Galt’s Gulch, which is that it is necessary for the entire collectivist system to collapse in calamity before they can come forth and remake the world. A corrupt system must totally collapse before an elite revolutionary vanguard can come forth and make the world over again from the ground up. Whittaker Chambers only got it partly right in seeing Rand under the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche; the pattern of her thought was also that of Vladimir Lenin.”

    Ed you could have and apparantly did fool me about the point of your criticism concerning Eddie Willers alleged abandonment by the members of Galt’s Gulch; but I find it even more remarkable that you blame John Galt and his cohorts for Eddie’s and the rest of humanity’s fate. What you are saying if I understand you correctly is that Galt and his cohorts were responsilbe for the world in which Eddie remained, because they refused to continue working in order to satisfy a society that regarded them as evil, confiscated their property, charged them exhorbitent amounts for the priviledge of being productive, and generally tolerated them only so long as they produced. While many of us generally regard the freedom to live and work or retire where we please as a moral good, you do not, at least not for the most productive. In today’s parlance you regard the most productive as “public goods” and have a moral responsibility to work for their fellow man no matter how they are treated. Your code preaches that we each have a claim on the ability of the most productive. The morality described is that of the looter.

    Friedrich Nietzsche, Vladmir Lenin? You fail to articulate the connection between Ayn Rand’s philosphy and the philosophies of Nietzche and Lenin. I must therefore assume that mention them in order to invoke images of coups, wars and the indiscriminant use of force by power hungry groups to control others in order to suggest that Ayn Rand subscribed to a philosophy that produces fascist dictators. Is that what you believe? If so, on what basis? When faced with a society that wanted to consume them, did men and women of Galt’s Gulch use any physical force to destroy their enemies? No. They retire. They drop out. They do not fire a single bullet that is not in self-defense. They leave. That is what you try to portray as Neitzsheian or Leninisk? Here you have gone off the deep-end and in words you are likely to understand-“Have you no shame?” Why not simply admit that like any religous fundamentalist, your core belief is that you are your brother’s keeper and that you believe that you have a moral duty to force your belief on everyone through your support of an ever expanding welfare-state?

    You also stated:

    “She also says on page 136, “In order to survive, man has to discover and produce everything he needs, which means to alter his background and adapt it to his needs.” How does man produce his own oxygen, which the plankton currently produce? Blank out. I read this essay as asserting that man can produce his oxygen through some kind of technology, after the plankton are destroyed. I do not hesitate to criticize her understanding of science.”

    If you had read a bit further (I have the Kindle edition which shows the following quoted passage on pages 275 and 276), you would have found the following:

    “Have you ever looked at a map of the globe and compared the sized of the area of industrial sites and cities to the size of the area of untouched wilderness and primeval jungles? And what about the greenery cultivated by man? What about the grains, the fruit trees, the flowers that would have vanished long ago without human care and labor? What about the giant irrigation projects that transform deserts into fertile, green lands? No answer.”

    So it is clear that Ayn Rand believed that man had the ability to create a green environment, including a plankton rich, oxygen producing environment. It is equally clear that you wish to interpret her writings in a twisted manner in order to justify your opposition to her.

    Whatever you think of Ayn Rand and her morality, you do yourself a disserevice to try and argue that she was a mystic or believed in the irrational. She did not subject “scientific evidence” to any moral litmus test. As an objectivist, if a proposition or theory was scientifically proven she accepted it as true. At the same time, Ayn Rand examined, questioned and labled the hysteric end-of-world fears (does Paul Ehrlich come to mind?)for what they were.

  27. Paul Ehrlich, bless his heart! I had completely forgotten about him! When I thinned out my library some 20 years, ago, Ayn Rand made the cut but The Population Bomb got recycled into toilet paper. I vaguely remember his predicting world-wide famine by 1975, but am fuzzy on the details. Rand may well have had him in mind as well as the hippies.

    Man is profoundly dependent on nature for his existence, and saving the plankton is enlightened self-interest, not “sacrifice” as she characterized it.

    Uncertainty is an integral part of science; Rand missed this point entirely. There was much uncertainty in 1970 about the consequences of increasing atmospheric CO levels on climate; some people were predicting global warming and others a new ice age. This does not, as Rand thought, mean that atmospheric science was then, or is now, in a “Dark Age.” Statistical models represent estimates of effects of measurable variables on other measurable variables. Tobacco smoke causes cancer in some, but not all smokers. Non-contradiction is applicable here, and so is the principle that A is A, but Either/Or does not always apply in the empirical world. This does not make for a Dark Age in any of the sciences which depend on statistics. The principle of Either/Or works when the specified categories are collectively exhaustive and mutually exclusive, with no overlap and nothing omitted on either end. For mathematical set theory, this works well, but not for disciplines involving measurement of outcomes influenced by large numbers of factors, some of which may be more easily observed than others.

    Progress in the medical sciences does not occur the way it does in Galt’s Gulch, where one man works alone, out of communication with a wide network of other researchers, to come up with a cure for stroke, of which he can be certain of the efficacy, never having tested it in a wide spectrum of patients.

    Novelists cannot be relied upon to understand science. Rand was no exception.

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