I know, I know, I'm a fickle fellow but, alas, I must rescind my offer in a recent post for Ms. Ayn Rand to have my babies. The fact that she has been dead for 27 years is neither here nor there, my reasons for premature withdrawal are philosophical rather than physiological!
In my previous post I admitted to being very taken with her philosophical views but even then I added my 'get out' clause, "even whilst reserving some doubts". If anything these doubts have grown as, in my dull-witted way, I have slowly mulled over her various propositions. Yesterday I came across two book reviews, here and here, on the subject of Ayn Rand in The American Thinker which confirmed my hesitation.
Perhaps the most shocking, and I really do mean 'shocking', part of her philosophy is her insistent hostility toward altruism. Now, I am not so steeped in her works for me to be precise as to whether she confined her detestation of it only as it appears in political philosophy or whether she includes personal behaviour. Certainly she will have none of it when it appears in political form because she denounces it as a fraud foisted on the unwary as a means of enslaving them. To understand why, one only has to glance at recent and current communistic regimes in which individual desires and wants are subjugated for the so-called 'greater good'; and you don't have to look much further than our own political parties, yes, all of them, to hear similar if softer sorts of the same clap-trap. In essence the message is always the same; in the name of morality, that's 'Big Brother's' morality not necessarily yours, we will stop you doing 'x' and insist that you do 'y' even though that might harm you in order that the lot of others will thereby be improved. Speaking of the Enlightenment philosophers, she writes:
The great treason of the philosophers was that they never stepped out of the Middle Ages. [...] They were willing to doubt the existence of physical objects [Kant, Hume, etc], they were willing to doubt the validity of their own senses, they were willing to defy the authority of absolute monarchies, they were willing (occasionally) to proclaim themselves to be skeptics or agnostics or atheists - but they were not willing to doubt the doctrine that man is a sacrificial animal, that he has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.
Under all its countless guises, variations and adaptations, that doctrine - best described as the morality of altruism - has come from prehistoric swamps to New York City, unchallenged. In savage societies, men practiced the ritual of human sacrifices, immolating individual men on sacrificial alters, for the sake of what they regarded as their collective [my emphasis] tribal good. Today, they are still doing it, only the agony is slower and the slaughter greater - but the doctrine that demands and sanctions it, is the same doctrine of moral cannibalism."
That is difficult, if not impossible, to deny given the history of the 20th century. Rand idolises the producer, the businessman, the man who uses his skill, his labour and his daring to meet a need that he perceives amongst his fellow men and women. He does it, not out of altruism, but because it satisfies him personally and rewards him handsomely - if he succeeds! Such people, she maintains, should be feted as heroes, not, as they usually are, denigrated as villains. She points to the 19th century which was a period closest to the ideals of free market capitalism and which saw unbelievable growth in wealth and well-being for the world's population. For Rand, everything she believes was encompassed by the Founding Fathers:
The New Intellectuals [as opposed to the 'old' ones with their collectivist ideas] must remind the world that the basic premise of the Founding Fathers was man's right to his own life, to his own liberty, to the pursuit of his own happiness - which means: man's right to exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; and that the political implementation of this right is a society where men deal with one another as traders [her emphasis], by voluntary exchange to mutual benefit.
Rand came to America after her family fled the communist revolution in Russia so you can understand her vehement hatred for all things socialist. However, it seems to me that in her extreme views she simply mirrors the way in which collectivist philosophers think. They construct a theoretical edifice whilst ignoring the characteristics of the building materials, that is, human beings. Rand does much the same in the opposite direction. For example, and to use a trite metaphor, in pursuing his happiness, 'Lord Gradgrind' might well eschew altruism and decide that small boys and girls should work in his factory for a penny a day, and given that they are impoverished and hungry they might well agree and thus comply with Rand's notion of dealing with each other as "traders" indulging in "voluntary exchange for mutual benefit". But can anyone with even the faintest sense of charity accept such a state of affairs? I think not, and indeed, I know not, because the 19th and 20th centuries also saw, in the democracies, a steady improvement in the condition of the workforce without the horrors of collectivisation.
Today we can see that these efforts have gone too far, not as a result of actions by the workers themselves, but mostly because of the malignant and growing power of the political class. Hiding behind apparently 'good intentions' with which it is difficult to argue, they accrue more and more money by means of a vast array of new taxes, the distribution of which then gives them enormous power. The plight of the working man in the democratic west is no longer a matter of urgency, so new means must be attached to new emergencies in order to raise new streams of revenue for the governmental coffers - step forward, amongst others, global warming! All over the western world, government ministers and their 'hand-maidens' are smacking their lips at the prospect of huge amounts of money from taxes aimed at avoiding an entirely mythical end of the world!
I believe we need a Randian revolution to undertake a 'slash and burn' attack on governments in general, and the political class in particular. However, we should not assume that Ayn Rand's objectivist philosophy will cure all our ills, it will merely change them - but as my old mum used to say, a change is as good as a rest!