Monday, September 2, 2013

Ayn Rand versus Conservatives

Ayn Rand said that labor unions are the only decent group today and hold the greatest potential for saving our society from economic collapse. She suggested that any business that offers unsafe working conditions should be punished under law, whether or not any actual injury occurs. Ayn Rand also said that the only purpose of a handgun is to kill another human being, and no one has that right.

From Ayn Rand:
A Sense of Life

by Michael Paxton
Ayn Rand continues to be popular. Sales of her books always were steady over the past 50 years. None went out of print. Then, the tallies spiked in 2008-2009 with economic crisis and the Bush-Obama bailouts. Between the release of the movies Atlas Shrugged Part 1 and Part 2, Paul Ryan accepted the Republican Party nomination for the vice presidency in 2012. Although he previously had been a guest of the Atlas Society (February 2, 2005), Ryan told National Review (April 26, 2012) that he is a practicing Roman Catholic who rejects Ayn Rand’s atheistic philosophy. 

Ayn Rand would have predicted that. However, because of the obvious political message in the movie, many conservatives continue to be drawn to websites and discussion boards hosted by committed Objectivists. New to the works of Ayn Rand, they do not know of her animosity toward their deepest beliefs.

Ayn Rand’s own published works include four novels and seven collections of essays taken from her three newsletters. Over 40 more books by and about Ayn Rand have appeared. Of these, Anthem, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and The Virtue of Selfishness are easily the most visible, while the others remain obscure or apocrypha.

So, many of the Christians and constitutionalists who claim to admire her do not know of “Conservatism: an Obituary.” That essay began as a speech at Princeton University, December 7, 1960, and was reprinted first as a pamphlet by the Nathaniel Branden Institute in 1962; and then was added to the anthology, Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal published by New American Library in 1966. 
In that she said: “There are three interrelated arguments used by today’s ‘conservatives’ to justify capitalism, which can best be designated as: the argument from faith – the argument from tradition – the argument from depravity.
[…]“Intellectually, to rest one’s case on faith means to concede that reason is on the side of one’s enemies—that one has no rational arguments to offer. The “conservatives’ ” claim that their case rests on faith means that there are no rational arguments to support the American system, no rational justification for freedom, justice, property, individual rights, that these rest on a mystic revelation and can be accepted only on faith—that in reason and logic, the enemy is right, but that men must hold faith as superior to reason.”
Rand explained that the argument from tradition ignores the truly radical nature of the American Revolution. Moreover, arguing from tradition grants all claims to progress and the future to the very people who would return us to primitive, village collectivism. She called it “grotesque” that conservatives offer stagnation as a defense of capitalism which is the one truly dynamic economic system.

She said: “The plea to preserve 'tradition' as such, can only appeal to those who have given up or to those who never intended to achieve anything in life. It is a plea that appeals to the worst elements in men and rejects the best: it appeals to fear, sloth, cowardice, conformity, self-doubt – and it rejects creativeness, originality, courage, independence, self-reliance.”

The argument from depravity says that no one can be trusted to rule. People are weak, capricious, and fallible: “since men are depraved, they are not good enough for a dictatorship; freedom is all that they deserve; if they were perfect, they would be worthy of a totalitarian state.”  Thus, the conservatives grant the premise that dictatorship is based on human potential. From that it follows that it is wrong to enslave the depraved, but morally proper to enslave the virtuous. Moreover, the conservatives claim that the disasters and horrors of the 20th century were the punishment we suffered for the sin of attempting to devise a rational society. Ultimately the argument from depravity rests on the argument from faith, of course.

For Ayn Rand, faith and force were reflected images. She explained that in detail in an essay “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World” which was originally a set of lectures delivered at Yale, Brooklyn College, and Columbia University in 1960, and republished after her death in the anthology Philosophy: Who Needs It? (New American Library, 1982). In the very first issue of The Objectivist Newsletter, January 1962, and reprinted in The Virtue of Selfishness and again in Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal Ayn Rand wrote: “We are not conservatives. We are radicals for capitalism.”  She meant it.

Beyond condemning the mystics, Ayn Rand also proposed, considered, and reflected on many issues, some of which were tangential for her. She was a philosopher.

In 1972, Edwin Newman interviewed Ayn Rand for his show “Speaking Freely” on NBC-TV. Among other statements, Ayn Rand said: “I am not an enemy of labor unions. Quite the contrary. I think that they are the only decent group today, ideologically. I think they are the ones who will save this country, and save capitalism, if anybody can.”  She went on to say: “But the one flaw is that labor unions are government-enforced and become a monopoly and can demand higher wages than the market can offer. This union power creates the unemployable. It creates this vast group of people, the unskilled laborers who have no place to go for work. The artificial boosting of the skilled laborer’s income causes unemployment on the lower rungs of society. Every welfare measure works that way. It doesn’t affect the so-called rich, if that the humanitarians are worried about it, always affects the poor.”

A few minutes earlier, on the same show, speaking of the proper role of government, she said
“But on the matter of protecting people from physical danger, if certain conditions of employment, let us say, are unsafe and it can be proved that there is a physical risk – I don’t say that we have to wait until somebody dies – then the employer who is creating this risk can be sued, and can be severely punished financially. In other words, there can be a law protecting a man from physical injury by another man. In this case, the employer who puts men into conditions of danger – not accidentally, but intentionally or carelessly – can be penalized because he is infringing the right of his workers not to be injured physically.”  
The entire interview and many others are collected in the anthology Objectively Speaking: Ayn Rand Interviewed, edited by Marlene Podritske and Peter Schwartz (Lexington Books, 2009).

Ayn Rand did not cite Max Weber or John Stuart Mill when she said that the government holds a legal monopoly on force. It is a subtle point. John Locke, David Hume, Thomas Hobbes, Aristotle, and Plato, (among many others) all suggested different reasons for the origin of government, and its purpose today. For Aristotle, the state was a union of families. Max Weber spoke in language closest to Rand’s when in a speech to the Free Student Union at the University of Munich in 1919, he said that the government holds a monopoly on force. If the government holds a monopoly on retaliatory force, then why do you want a gun?

From Ayn Rand Answers: the Best of Her Q&A, edited by Robert Mayhew (New American Library, 2005) come two questions and answers.
Q: What is your opinion of gun control laws?A: I do not know enough about it to have an opinion, except to say that it is not of primary importance. Forbidding guns or registering them is not going to stop criminals from having them; nor is it a great threat to the private, non-criminal citizen if he has to register the fact that he has a gun. It is not an important issue, unless you're ready to begin a private uprising right now, which isn't very practical. [Ford Hall Forum, 1971]Q: What's your attitude toward gun control?A:  It is a complex, technical issue in the philosophy of law. Handguns are instruments for killing people -- they are not carried for hunting animals -- and you have no right to kill people. You do have the right to self-defense, however. I don't know how the issue is going to be resolved to protect you without giving you the privilege to kill people at whim. [Ford Hall Forum, 1973]”
When I cited this, some of my conservative comrades online insisted that handguns can be used for hunting, even deer, and for all I know, perhaps even for killing elephants and dinosaurs, but that evades the salient problem. According to Ayn Rand, it is perfectly reasonable for the government to know who owns a handgun. Ownership of an unlicensed handgun would be a crime in Ayn Rand’s perfect capitalist society.

Ayn Rand believed that a woman has a right to terminate a pregnancy. Conservatives disagree. Among them are Congressman Ron Paul, MD, and his son, Senator Randal H. Paul, MD, who introduced a “Life at Conception Act” to make abortion a federal crime.

These are the most visible problems that conservatives face when attempting to assume that Ayn Rand supported their cause. Whether they can support hers is for each of them to decide.



  1. "Ownership of an unlicensed handgun would be a crime in Ayn Rand’s perfect capitalist society."

    This statement is a huge leap to make based on her comments. She says that she doesn't know enough to have an informed opinion except that the issue is not a primary. In other words, gun control laws have little to do with the perfection of her "capitalist society."

  2. Conservatives are well aware of Rand's differences with them. This depends on the incorrect postulate that they think she was 100% with them. Not so. Almost none of them do. (You've also not picked up on the most important, essential ones.)

  3. This is precisely why I agree with the ideas of Ayn Rand and do not consider myself a conservative. I believe that many of the people who use Rand's name and claim to support her ideas to justify morality based on theocracy, control by force and to exercise power by creating fear, these people are shamefully misrepresenting Ayn Rand's philosophy to give backbone to their evils.

    I love Rand's ideas, and hate many of her so called "followers"


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