With most profound gratitude to Hurricane Dean for exposing one of the vital components of the contemporary struggle for the soul of the Republic, this article explores the deceptive and destructive ideology used by reactionary politicians and commentators to corrode and corrupt the moral fiber of the electorate. The modern source of this delusive outlook is Ayn Rand. Though primarily known as a novelist, Ms. Rand expounded an alluring philosophy she called Objectivism. As she explained it, philosophy had five components: Metaphysics, Epistemology, Aesthetics, Ethics, and Politics [http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=objectivism_intro].
The latter two components will be discussed and disputed here.
“Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.”
In order to make this assertion sensible Ms. Rand essentially inverted the common definition of sacrifice. In its original use, sacrifice referred to an offering meant to propitiate a deity. None of the practitioners of ritual sacrifice, from whatever continent and culture, ever viewed the sacrificial offering as having greater value than inhered in the propitiated deity. In the common secondary meaning of the term sacrifice, one surrenders or destroys something desirable and truly prized for the sake of something else considered to have a higher value or more pressing claim. This is rational, not irrational, as Ms. Rand deceptively asserts.
In the absence of actions surrendering something highly prized for the sake of something with a more pressing claim, the starving, ill-shod, nearly naked continental soldiers at Valley Forge would not have been there in the first place. They surely would have not crossed the ice-choked Delaware River. Nobody would have been on either side during Picket’s Charge. Nazi Germany would still dominate Europe. My friend and I would not have fought side-by-side in Vietnam, the villagers there would have been tortured and killed and I would not be here to write this article.
Giving one’s life for one’s country, one’s cause, one’s children, one’s comrades in arms, may be considered in one’s rational self-interest by the person doing the giving. Neither Ms. Rand nor her contemporary, reactionary disciples have the right to impose their value system on a person who makes such a choice. They also have no right to throw people to the wolves based on their dubious assessment of what is in the rational self-interest of a nation that pledges liberty and justice for all. One may also contend and I do contend that it is in the rational self-interest of every citizen who appreciates that he or she is a citizen and not simply a consumer to dedicate his or her life, fortune and sacred honor to the Republic. Those who cannot or will not keep faith with their civic inheritance will soon squander or lose it.
As to happiness, how can Ms. Rand a purported champion of individual rights deny to any the right to determine the warp and woof of one’s happiness? Might anyone rationally conclude that not only her or his pursuit of happiness but also the enjoyment of such happiness is crucially dependent on living in a just society with liberty, equity, and prosperity for all? Or at a minimum, living in a society where the predominant civic effort is to achieve liberty, equity, and prosperity for all even if this triumvirate of social ideals is not presently achieved. Who are Ms Rand and the Reactionary Republicans to dictate that anyone must be indifferent to the deprivation, suffering, and struggles of fellow citizens or fellow human beings? I would say both Ms. Rand and her contemporary proponents make a hugely grandiose and absurdly presumptuous claim when they stipulate that their narrow minded, mean spirited, shriveled and grasping perspective be the criterion of moral purpose. The audacity of hope is one thing the audacity of hubris quite another.
“The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a police officer that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church. Historically, no such separation has ever existed.”
Notice the oddly limited range of interactions Ms. Rand asserts is open to human beings: victim versus executioner, master versus slave or traders. According to her conception of human society, there are only five roles for human beings to fill. What became of parent and child, brother and sister, lover and beloved, citizens, friends, partners, compatriots, teammates, allies, companions, or any other role involving mutual regard, respect, and benevolence? Ms. Rand asserts either we are exploiting one another in a world red in fang and claw or we are haggling with one another in a bazaar.
Ms. Rand recommends the bazaar of laissez-faire capitalism which given her limited vision of possibilities is better than the alternatives. Her claim to nobility for this system is that “it is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force.” Let us all shout “Hooray for capitalism!” as defined by Ayn Rand. People may not plunder one another; pillage and rapine are off the table. If this happens, then we as a people have reached the Promised Land! I may not get there with you; hell, I may not even want to go.
This laissez-faire Eden will have no publicly financed and maintained roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, food inspection and regulation, no air traffic control, no public schools or hospitals or libraries, no publicly operated refuse disposal, no municipal snow removal, no Emergency Relief Agencies, no banking regulation, no Securities Exchange Commission, no welfare system, no Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. Little or no right to bargain collectively; no Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will prevent employers from banning minorities or people unwilling sexually to service their superiors from employment. There will affirmatively be no action to help those who suffer from habitual bigotry, but not physical force to impede their progress. People will be free to live in whatever conditions they can manage; to starve if things go against them. They can sell their children into prostitution to raise the rent money so long as they do not use physical force. Drugs of all types will be openly traded and there will be no annoying liability laws to bother the manufactures or impose care and quality standards. If one wants to trade money or sex for currently illegal drugs and gets an improperly cut bag of heroin for example, too bad. No physical force was used. The unfortunate will just have to get better at that Caveat emptor thing.
Ebenezer Scrooge before his redemption will become the role model for all young people and Tiny Tim will be a cautionary tale. As Scrooge remarked to his deceased partner, “You always were a good man of business Jacob”. That will be the highest encomium in the unbridled capitalist brave new world of Ayn Rand and her reactionary disciples. Marley’s reply to Scrooge “Business!' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again.”Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!" Will be edited from One Nation under Rand and replaced with “Thank you kindly, Ebenezer. Can I interest you in a more lavish cemetery plot? Eternity is a long time you know.”
In Ms. Rand’s utopia, the government is not a Republic sworn to fulfill the purposes set forth in the Preamble to the United States Constitution. It is a national police force. It acts solely “to protect a man’s right to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights.” [http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/individual_rights.html] Conversely, a man has no obligation to his neighbors. To the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Randians answer, “Fuck no!” Thus, they side with the executioner, not the victim. If people are homeless, let them find a bridge to sleep under and keep them from wandering around in the parks when I want to visit or clustering around the Opera Houses and theaters when I am going to see a performance. If people are naked, let those who have the attributes perform in strip clubs and those who do not freeze to death.
According to Ayn Rand and the Reactionary Politicians of today, laissez-faire capitalism will be the ultimate font of trickle down benefits. As long as the rich get ever richer and the tycoons are unfettered, the drones in society, i. e., everyone else, will reap unearned rewards. If these trickles turn out to be merely tricks, nobody has cause to complain. After all, if Atlas shrugs, the world will turn over and the pygmies will perish. This is no great loss. Captains of industry and those they covet are the only ones who matter. This explains why the Randians are not dismayed by the continued failure of tax breaks and deregulation to shower all citizens or all humanity with abundance. They only use the pretext a rising tide lifting all boats to lull others into accepting their depredations. By the time, we the people tumble to the scam, the water is up to our necks and we are up to our asses in alligators. We relate as traders and if some of us make bad trades of money or votes, Caveat emptor sucker!
Ayn Rand has been dead since 1982. Due some duplicitous and greedy political opportunists, her fallacious ideas continue to infect and afflict our country and its culture. Egoism is a fraudulent ethic intended to rationalize self-centered pursuit of advantage, comfort, privilege, wealth, and provide a veneer of moral justification. Capitalism as Ms. Rand advocated it is a perpetual struggle of all against all where one needs to know the cost of everything and ignore the value of anything. It is an each for one’s own self and the devil take the hindmost society. We deal with one another as traders and if many are betrayed and a few conspicuously prosper while most get by on short rations with little or no economic security who cares - caveat emptor!
In a land that is known as freedom, how can such a thing be fair?
For my part, I reject Ms. Rand’s vision of ethics and politics. I do not believe service to others is an ignoble moral purpose; I do not believe the aspiration for one nation, indivisible, with liberty, equity, and prosperity for all is a fool’s errand. I agree with Woodrow Wilson, “America was established not to create wealth, but to realize a vision, to realize an ideal.”
I believe in the vision asserted by Dr. King at the very start of the twentieth century civil rights movement on December 5, 1955, “My friends, we are certainly very happy to see each of you out this evening. We are here this evening for serious business. [Audience:] (Yes) We are here in a general sense because first and foremost, we are American citizens, (That’s right) and we are determined to apply our citizenship to the fullness of its meaning. (Yeah. That’s right) We are here also because of our love for democracy, (Yes) and because of our deep-seated belief that democracy transformed from thin paper to thick action (Yes) is the greatest form of government on earth. (That’s right)
Ms. Rand’s disciples may say what they wish, but my conviction is that my rational best interests are fully served by working with and if need be sacrificing for others to make this vision of Dr. King's come to fruition.