Ayn Rand: recruiting sergeant 5

Of extraordinary interest, we think, is an essay by Anthony Daniels in The New Criterion, titled Ayn Rand: engineer of souls. (We cannot link to it, but it’s easy to find.)

We are admirers of Ayn Rand, but not uncritically. We believe, as she does, that capitalism is the only creator and sustainer of prosperity. We despise religion as she does. Like her we value reason. Her enormous novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead have probably won more believers in capitalism and devotees of personal liberty than any other book in any language, even surpassing Hayek’s essential text The Road to Serfdom; and for that she deserves lasting honor.

But her vision of humanity has a comic-book hyperbole about it which keeps her out of the rank of great writers. Her heroes are too big, too superior to us and everyone we’ll ever meet, to be likable. They inspire awe but not affection. We can be sure they’d look down on us if they knew us. We cannot emulate them, we can only wonder at them. They are like gods. They are intensely romantic, and romanticism is the enemy of reason.

Anthony Daniels lists her virtues and vices:

Rand’s virtues were as follows: she was highly intelligent; she was brave and uncompromising in defense of her ideas; she had a kind of iron integrity; and, though a fierce defender of capitalism, she was by no means avid for money herself. The propagation of truth as she saw it was far more important to her than her own material ease. Her vices, of course, were the mirror-image of her virtues, but, in my opinion, the mirror was a magnifying one. Her intelligence was narrow rather than broad. Though in theory a defender of freedom of thought and action, she was dogmatic, inflexible, and intolerant, not only in opinion but in behavior, and it led her to personal cruelty. In the name of her ideas, she was prepared to be deeply unpleasant. She hardened her ideas into ideology. Her integrity led to a lack of self-criticism; she frequently wrote twenty thousand words where one would do. …

A passionate hater of religion, Rand founded a cult around her own person, complete with rituals of excommunication; a passionate believer in rationality and logic, she was incapable of seeing the contradictions in her own work. She was a rationalist who was not entirely rational …

He goes on to paragraphs of stronger condemnation. He finds “horrible” cruelty in her. He perceives that though she was fanatically anti-collectivist, and though she had fled from Soviet Russia to the freedom of America, Stalin’s Russia remained within her.

Her unequivocal admiration bordering on worship of industrialization and the size of human construction as a mark of progress is profoundly Stalinist. Where Stalinist iconography would plant a giant chimney belching black smoke, Randian iconography would plant a skyscraper. (At the end of The Fountainhead, Roark receives a commission to build the tallest skyscraper in New York, its height being the guarantor of its moral grandeur. According to this scale of values, the Burj Dubai would be man’s crowning achievement so far.) Industrialists are to Rand what Stakhanovites were to Stalin: Both saw nature as an enemy, something to be beaten into submission. One doesn’t have to be an adherent of the Gaia hypothesis to know where this hatred of nature led.

Finally, Rand’s treasured theory of literature, what she called Romantic Realism, is virtually indistinguishable from Socialist Realism …

Rand’s heroes are not American but Soviet. The fact that they supposedly embody capitalist values makes no difference. Rand fulfilled Stalin’s criterion for the ideal writer: she tried to be an engineer of souls.

The analysis is not unjust.

But the recruiting sergeant to the Army of Light does not have to be the best exponent of the cause for which it fights.

While acknowledging and regretting all her faults, we keep, for her success as a dedicated recruiting sergeant, an abstract monument to Ayn Rand in our personal Hall of the Defenders of Individual Freedom.

Jillian Becker   June 19, 2010

Burn, socialism, burn 1

Obama says there should be a limit to how much money anyone should make. He and the “progressive” majority in Congress are trying, step by step, to turn America into a European-style socialist state. Only the state, they believe, can be extravagant, taking money from people who’ve earned it and will earn it in the future, and using it to extend and tighten the power of government. Austerity must be imposed on the people. Let them eat less, feel colder, do without cars. Let them have only the medical treatment and the education government will allow them to have. Limit the amount of wealth any individual may acquire. Profit is a dirty word. Tax, tax, and tax again.

It is a recipe for disaster.

Europe is experiencing the disaster. It is seeing its socialist dream go up in flames on the streets of Athens.

What cannot work, won’t work. Socialism, like all Ponzi schemes, can seem to be working for a time, but must fail. In a favorite word of the Left (applying it where the Left would not) Socialism is “unsustainable”.

Capitalism is sustainable. Capitalism is beautiful. A cornucopia. “The incredible bread machine”.  It’s what Adam Smith called “the natural order of liberty”. It could also be called “the system of mutual benefit”.

You want the means to keep yourself alive? Provide something – goods, labor, services, ideas – that others want to buy. You want to live comfortably? Provide more of it. You want to live luxuriously? Provide it better than anyone else does. Both a seller and a buyer you will be. A buyer wants the thing he buys more than he wants the money he pays for it, just as the seller wants the money more than the thing he is parting with.

How can you know what others want? Put what you have to offer on the market and see if it sells. The right price for it is the best price you can get. The free market signals what traders need to know. As the great free-market economists, most notably von Mises, Hayek, and Milton Friedman have explained over and over again, government interference with price controls, minimum wages, rationing, compulsory purchase, bailouts, distort the signals and harm the economy.

Whether idealists and moralists like it or not, human nature is selfish. It has to be. If we were not selfish we would not eat when we’re hungry, warm ourselves when we’re cold, acquire what we need, protect ourselves from enemies. Without selfishness, the human race would not have survived. (It is not only or purely selfish. Individuals can and do choose to act unselfishly too – once they have seen to the needs of their survival.)

The Marxist idea of “from each according to his ability and to each according to his need” ignores human nature. Any attempt by government to put the formula into effect by creating the welfare –  or “entitlement“ – state invariably handicaps, suppresses, and impoverishes the nation.

Capitalism is the reverse of that idea. It is a system that encourages each to contribute according to his self-determined need, to be rewarded according to how ably he does it. From each according to his need and to each according to his ability would be a fair description of how the natural order of liberty works.

To satisfy bare need is a poor political aim. It reflects a pinched, narrow, joyless, life-quelling mentality. “O, reason not the need!” King Lear pleads, “our basest beggars
are in the poorest thing superfluous.” Generally speaking, in practice, the only way to be sure of having enough of anything is to have too much of it. Profit is a very good thing. It is only when people have extra money and extra time that they can invent new things. And those who produce things that improve the lives of multitudes, things that millions of people want to own and use, are doing far more for the general good than the most generous philanthropist could ever possibly do. Bill Gates with his Microsoft (though he seems not to realize it but to hold some silly lefty views) has actually done more for mankind than all the charities that have ever existed put together.

That is why it’s reasonable to propose that there is no sin of greed. There is a sin of envy. Envy is the raw material of socialist idealism. But wealth, Mr Obama, is not a problem. Poverty is a problem. And your socialist policies will cause it on a massive scale. Let us be free to work for our own maximum profit. Let us have abundance. Let us have feasts, fatness, generosity, might, novelty, and splendor.

Jillian Becker   May 11, 2010

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