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

Do not believe them 6

We may all know it, but it needs to be repeated from time to time: The great political divide is between those who favor collectivism and those who favor individual freedom.

Collectivism on a national scale is necessarily statism. Human nature being what it is – instinctively self-preserving and self-advancing – such collectivism requires compulsion, or, to use a softer word, organization: the organization of an entire nation. (At least the nation: the ultimate collectivist dream is the global collective, the organization of the whole world.) And only a government, which is to say the state, has the power to do it.

A collectivized nation is not simply one that is under the rule of a common law. To the contrary, a society in which the citizens consent to be subject equally to the abstract authority of law (a constitution, or a body of laws made by representatives answerable to their electors), is a free society.

A collectivized nation is under the rule of human organizers who exert control of the people according to their own will. It is the opposite of a free society. Such a state is, in the true meaning of the word, a tyranny.

It may be a benign tyranny; its rulers, serially or in concert, could be (in laughable theory) persons of admirable uprightness, possessed of the utmost goodwill and kindly intentions, moved by the highest ideals, inspired by the loftiest visions of human happiness, but it is nevertheless a tyranny.

And besides, what sort of person can believe he knows what’s best for everyone else? How can he be a good sort? Wouldn’t such a man (or woman – there have been tyrannous queens) have to be an insufferably arrogant know-it-all? Or the sort who doesn’t really give a damn about the effects of his orders on others just so long as he has his own way? And is there likely to be a person who really can know enough to be the best arbiter of everyone else’s fate? Or can be trusted to set the best possible direction for millions of lives? And is it conceivable that one direction can be best for everyone?

Collectivists include Socialists, Communists, Nazis, Fascists, global government idealists, the Greens, and in sum the ideologists of any form of totalitarianism, including Islam.

There are two types of collectivist states and movements:

Non-egalitarian: such as Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Salazar’s Portugal, Islam.

This type, except for Islam, has too few devotees at present to constitute an ideological threat. (Islam is an active enemy of freedom, but not only because it is collectivist, so we won’t discuss it any further here.)

Egalitarian: such as Soviet Russia, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, Greens.

A collectivist state of the egalitarian type controls the distribution of material goods, of course. If goods are to be equally distributed, there has to be an agency doing the distributing, and that agency can only be the state. Having the monopoly of force, the state alone has the power to redistribute all property; to seize what is yours and bestow it on someone else. Maybe you worked long and hard for it, but nevertheless the state ordains that someone else who didn’t work for it has at least as much right to it as you have, in fact more. That’s the immorality of redistribution. It is called ‘social justice’. Equality of this sort is incompatible with liberty.

Millions pursue these egalitarian ideals, as ‘socialists’, ‘liberals’, ‘progressives’, or ‘greens’, despite their colossal failure wherever they’ve been tried in practice.

The attraction of an egalitarian collectivist system lies in its apparent guarantee of security. It offers you an alternative to a lonely struggle for survival. It will, theoretically, provide you with food, shelter, schooling, healing. And on top of all that, it will give you a sense of (communal) purpose, and a lifting of responsibility to make life-directing decisions for yourself. If you just do what you’re told, work where you are directed to work, live where you are allowed to live, eat what is made available to you, repeat the lessons you are taught, you will survive. And furthermore you‘ll have nothing to reproach yourself with; you can bear a lightness of moral being, certain that you are no higher or lower than anybody else, having neither to envy others nor to be annoyingly envied by them.

Paradise? For those who think it may be, there is bad news. The whole utopian structure is built on a fallacy. The idea that you will be more secure in the arms of the state than you are if left to your own devices is an illusion. What the state provides the state can withhold. If the state gives you a job, it can deny you a job. The same with housing, education, medicine. You are dependent on it, and if it fails you or punishes you by withdrawing its patronage, you will have no recourse. Your choice is to live as a slave obedient to the state, or perish.

The only real security lies always in your own ability to act for yourself (and your immediate dependents). It may not be easy, yet most who try succeed. The more freely you can act for yourself, the safer you are. The state’s only legitimate role is to safeguard you while you pursue your self-chosen aims, by protecting your country from external enemies with military strength, and you personally by enforcing the law.

The state is forever an incipient threat to freedom. It tends to accumulate power and encroach gradually on the freedom of the citizens. It needs to be kept from becoming too powerful. How to limit the power of government is the chief problem for representative democracies.

The state will take more power to itself in times of national crisis, such as war or severe economic recession. It can – and governments often do – invent crises as an excuse to take more power. They are doing so now. One of the most potent excuses that representative governments are seizing on to expand way beyond acceptable limits is ‘climate change’ with its ‘threats to the environment’.

It is in the name of an apparently overriding necessity – nothing less than the preservation of our planet – that governments are busy trying to organize populations into collective compliance with their will. All populations. The salvation of Earth is only possible, the environmentalists say, if their remedies are applied uniformly to the entire planet. Never has there been such a gift of an excuse for collectivists in power to organize the rest of us. We must all, they insist, henceforth live, work, play, travel, dress, eat, and house ourselves as they tell us to if we are to survive.


Post Script: Green is the new Red (as in Communist Red). The Communist Van Jones, briefly appointed as Green Jobs Adviser to President Obama, made no secret of why he liked the job. He said that the green economy would start off as ‘a small subset’ of a complete revolution, away from ‘grey capitalism’ toward redistribution of all the wealth. ‘We are going to push it and push it and push it and push it until it becomes the engine for transforming the whole society.’

Jillian Becker   September 2009