Libertarians and Ayn Rand

BobWallace has a rather interesting (and extremely long, so if you read it, come prepared with a stiff drink) post on the late Ayn Rand, which is worth reading in full. It presents a libertarian's views of Ayn Rand's philosophy and its major shortcomings. Here are some excerpts to give you an idea of what to expect:
In Atlas Shrugged she had, on one hand, her "perfect" producers, the epitome of which was John Galt (who in his radio rant blames all his problems on everyone else). There are about three dozen of these "perfect" people in Galt's Gulch. (Gack, it would be such a bore.)

But they're not perfect. No one's perfect. So where does Rand -- unconsciously -- project all the evil in the world? Right onto her "looters" and "parasites," all of whom she refers to as "subhumans" living in a "hell." Then she commits genocide and gleefully sacrifices almost the entire population of the world. She projects all hate, rage and envy onto them, scapegoats them, and then engages in a sadistic Hitlerian orgy of hate and destruction and kills off nearly everyone outside of Galt's Gulch.

This is exactly what the Nazis and Socialists tried to do to those they labeled as evil. Rand's beliefs are based on the same human-sacrifice psychology as Nazism and Socialism: consider yourself perfect, blame all evil on others, and kill all of them to save yourselves, leaving only "Utopia." This is why so many people who admire Rand's writings still feel vaguely uncomfortable with Atlas Shrugged. How could she so gleefully rub out the entire world? How could she so cold-bloodedly kill innocent children in the infamous train-tunnel-collapse scene?

The similarities between Atlas Shrugged and The Turner Diaries are embarrassing. Kill the evil people, who are the cause of our problems. Then goodness will reign. The Turner Diaries is easier to see through because it is a much cruder fantasy and much more poorly written. But substitute "looter" and "parasite" for "black" and "Jew" and the similarities become much more obvious.

Rand obviously had something very wrong with her, which she was trying to fix through her writing. The psychiatrist Richard Restak, in his book, The Self Seekers, knew what the problem was: "Homicidal rage is the ultimate measure resorted to in an effort to repair the damaged sense of self." Yikes, that's the plot of Atlas! All that hate, rage and envy were Rand's own feelings she projected onto all her "looters." She took to heart the first rule of writing: "write about what you know." She was engaging in self-therapy through writing. Only it didn't work (the Objectivist psychologist Alan Blumenthal called Objectivism a system of psychotherapy for Rand).
And another one:
What Rand did was to take a not-well-thought-out defense of the free market and place it on a foundation of narcissism and scapegoating. That is what I mean by her "secret teachings." They're hidden underneath her "libertarianism." Her philosophy is a house built not on rock but on sand. No society based on it could ever exist. It couldn't even get off of the ground. And according to the definition I gave above, almost all of her writings are clearly propaganda.

And what her propaganda overwhelmingly condones is the scapegoating of religion, generosity and "collectivism" not as wrong, but actively evil. It doesn't surprise me that so many Randroids support the current war; after all, the victims of our bombs aren't exactly human, according to Objectivism.
My own perspective on the subject is somewhat unusual. I read Atlas Shrugged a little under a year ago, and The Fountainhead about 10 years before that. I spent those intervening years basically coming to almost all of the same conclusions that Rand did about free markets, free people, and government power (basically, Hell Yeah, HELL YEAH, and HELL NO). But, I call myself a libertarian- specifically a paleolibertarian, i.e. a libertarian that believes firmly in national borders and the inviolability of national sovereignty- and not an Objectivist. And it's interesting to note that Bob's criticisms of Rand are very similar indeed to the criticisms leveled at Rand's work by master libertarians like Murray Rothbard, for instance.

My view on the subject is that Bob's criticisms of Rand are generally right on the money. Rand herself, for instance, was a lifelong recipient of Social Security cheques, despite her absolute condemnation of those who leach off the productive. She was also an ardent proponent of offensive warfare against America's enemies- the Ayn Rand Centre for Individual Rights to this day argues that a preemptive strike against America's enemies in the Middle East is thoroughly justified. Rand was not entirely coherent in her thinking, and as Bob points out she definitely took to thinking of herself as a "superior being", partly in order to justify her long-standing affair with close associate Nathaniel Branden (who renamed himself Branden specifically to denote his devotion to Rand's cause- anyone who's ever dealt with an Objectivist knows that they tend to be anything but objective).

There is a lot to like about the Objectivist creed. Like the libertarian ethos, its basic and overriding principle is the Non-Aggression Principle. The NAP was hammered home repeatedly in John Galt's famous, brilliant (and interminably long) speech in Atlas Shrugged:
Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that may not, the act that no man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive. So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate-do you hear me? no man may start-the use of physical force against others.
This is the founding principle, the most fundamental belief, of every libertarian. It is the cornerstone of our entire philosophy. From this, and from the Axiom of Human Action, comes the entire beautiful, brilliant, tangled, infuriatingly complex weave of libertarian and anarchocapitalist philosophy. And if we agree on that much, you would think that libertarians like Bob and I would have plenty in common with Objectivists.

The problem is, though, that Rand's philosophy purports to begin with the NAP- and then completely diverges from it in order to justify all manner of stupidity. While the characters of Atlas Shrugged did not, as far as I can remember, ever commit violence against others without just cause, the Objectivist school of thought has essentially used the concept of Man's rationality and the belief that Man should aim to be a perfectly rational being to justify preemptive war, economic sanctions, and hostility towards anyone who does not share these views.

Objectivism is also implacably opposed towards religion and religious belief. Galt points out repeatedly in his speech, which essentially serves as a 63-page primer on Rand's philosophy within a 1,200-page book that is in itself an often highly repetitive encapsulation of her beliefs, that the Church is responsible for war and the degradation of the human mind. Here I do actually find some sympathy for Rand's point of view. I believe that the version of Christianity taught in most churches today is a bastardised, feminised, severely watered-down version of the Gospel of Christ. I believe that Christ intended for His teachings to elevate Man, not to tie him down into timid self-loathing and pedestalised worship of women. I have the highest reverence and regard for the Word of the Lord as exemplified by the words and deeds of His Son, but I am not at all convinced that most modern Church dogma, as taught through most modern churches, is a faithful interpretation of God's Canon. And the one point that Objectivism should learn from Scripture- that Man is fallen, that perfection and perfectibility are impossible- is completely lost upon Objectivists in their desire to emulate this "perfect man", this John Galt.

The funny thing is, I actually quite like Atlas Shrugged. I have vivid memories of reading through the first third of the book, from the introduction of Dagny Taggart to the destruction of Wyatt's oil fields, in the brilliant sunshine of early spring last year. I couldn't put the book down. The feeling of reading it was one of weightlessness, of absolute and utter fascination with a phenomenal story. I couldn't believe that I had waited ten years to read this book; it was one of the greatest books I had ever read. If Atlas Shrugged had limited itself and its philosophy to just that first third of the book with only minor modifications, it would have been the crowning achievement of its age. Unfortunately, the remainder of the book, while still very good, gets completely bogged down in its incredibly dense and extremely tangled philosophy and its very poor attempts at characterisation. The flaws of the book- wooden characters, stilted dialogue, ridiculously overblown speechifying, heavy-handed and wildly unsuccessful attempts at intellectual heft- bog down the second third of the book, and by the latter third, it's a serious effort to wade through the speeches in order to get to what is still an immensely exciting and interesting story.

Objectivism is a philosophy that simply cannot work in real life, just like many of the more... shall we say, esoteric forms of libertarian thinking. In its condemnation of "inferior beings", as Bob points out quite well, Objectivism opens itself to the same fatal conceit that afflicted other ideologies such as Communism and Nazism when it came to their idealistic visions of the perfectibility of Man and society. In advocating the culling of the weak, or at least of their wholesale abandonment by the strong, Objectivism is not really any different in this regard from Fascism, a philosophy that concerns itself with strength- though in the latter's case we are talking of course about the strength of the collective, not the individual.

What makes libertarianism so unique, and so compatible with the Red Pill crowd, is its emphasis on leaving people the f*** alone. Libertarianism is at its core a very simple creed. It says that as long as people are content to leave each other alone and only engage in voluntary trade, Mankind prospers and civilisation ensues, and men should be left alone to rule over themselves by whatever rules they find to be most readily acceptable. Societies that create rules that respect individual skill and achievement proper. Societies that do not, fail. We have over 7,000 years worth of evidence to show us the validity of these truths. Objectivism is most decidedly not a simple philosophy, taking a complex and often weird mix of Nietszchean nihilism and atheism, a rather extreme and abstract version of free-market economics, and libertarian ethics, sticking it all in a blender, sticking it on High, and then expecting the whole mess to somehow make sense.

In conclusion, if you want a good primer from a libertarian's perspective on Objectivism and Objectivist thinking, head over to Bob's corner of the world and take a look at his writing. He hits on some fundamental truths and interesting philosophical points that will make you sit up and think, even if, like me, you have read Rand's works (of fiction) and enjoyed them. The Manosphere is about more than just rebellion, it's about challenging yourself and your mind, and Bob's post does exactly that.

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