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Refuting Ayn Rand, Part 2

October 25, 2012

Author Ayn Rand is, of late, experiencing renewed popularity with her philosophy of self-interest (“Objectivism”) increasingly being applied to NeoConservative (NeoCon) and Conservative political policy.

While political views may differ, this essay will attempt to expose the errors and misassumptions in Rand’s reasoning, and the dangers inherent in her philosophy.

The concept of so called supermen was discussed in Part 1 of this series.

Compassion as Worthless

Rand denigrates compassion which, from a biblical perspective, has enormous value (more so than all or most measurable achievements).

Rand argues in The Virtue of Selfishness that all selfishness is morally good, and all altruism morally evil (“moral cannibalism” to use her phrase). She refers to those who do not agree with her philosophy as “lice”, “parasites” and “looters”.

Yet the Bible is filled with exhortations to assist the poor.

You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy…” (Deut. 15: 11).

God is, in part, defined by His mercy toward the poor. Here are a few examples:

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes…”(1 Sam. 2: 8).

But He saves the needy from the sword, from the mouth of the mighty, and from their hand. So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth” (Job 5: 15-16).

“ ‘For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now I will arise,’ says the Lord; ‘I will set him in the safety for which he yearns’ ” (Ps. 12: 5).

He will bring justice to the poor of the people; He will save the children of the needy…” (Ps. 72: 4).

He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty” (Luke 1: 52-53).

Christians hold that there is an affirmative obligation to use their ability and talent not only to benefit themselves, but to benefit those not equally blessed. Men and women with greater gifts will be held accountable for the way in which those gifts are used. It could be said that the challenge for those well off lies in giving generously; the challenge for the destitute lies in avoiding envy, bitterness, and despair.

Man as God                                               

Herself an atheist, Rand argues that man is God and does not need Him. Human beings, in Rand’s view, define their own morality. This is an old argument – false, but as appealing as when first made to Adam and Eve. It flatters readers, minimizing the distinction between their creative acts and those of the Creator who brought them (and the universe they inhabit) into existence.


Despite her inspiring language, Rand sees man only from a material perspective. We are, in her view, intelligent animals and nothing more. The conscience is superfluous. Achievement is all. And when we can no longer achieve in the material realm, we will be expendable. Presumably, we will be asked politely to walk into the gas chambers, at that point.

Another central character in Atlas Shrugged, Hank Rearden, defends himself in court this way:

“I work for nothing but my own profit—which I make by selling a product they need to men who are willing and able to buy it. I do not produce it for their benefit at the expense of mine, and they do not buy it for my benefit at the expense of theirs; I do not sacrifice my interests to them nor do they sacrifice theirs to me; we deal as equals by mutual consent to mutual advantage.”

This speech is based on the following assumptions:

  • That working for any other purpose than profit is illogical;
  • That men in need of a product, but unable to buy it, should fend for themselves;
  • That benefit in any sense other than material is irrelevant;
  • That self-sacrifice to aid another is illogical;
  • That self-sacrifice to aid another is demeaning to the recipient.

Apart from being cold-blooded, every last one of these assumptions is false.

Perfection as a Standard

Those not fitting whatever definition of “perfection” may be in vogue will have preceded us into the ovens. This is as ironic as it is tragic, since no human being can actually achieve perfection which belongs to God alone. Whether you interpret the Eden story literally, figuratively, or dismiss it entirely, human beings are born with the tendency to sin – to which crime worldwide; slavery from time immemorial, in nearly every nation on earth; and war in every generation can attest.

Rand does not dispute this, so much as seek to distract us from it. But her supermen are not noble Native Americans, the pioneers who conquered the West, intrepid immigrants, or any other heroic figures that might come to mind. The form of “perfection” Rand describes is diabolical, devoid of genuine humanity.

She couples this with a rabid Social Darwinism, in effect, humanity devouring itself.

Ethics as Preference

A system of ethics not anchored in morality is merely a set of preferences. As such, it lacks authority, and is subject to change at any time. Under such a system, evil is in the eye of the beholder. One is reminded of the purges by Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin.

Socialism and Laissez Faire Capitalism (Liberals v. NeoCons)

The world grows ever more complex, making simple answers all the more appealing. Ayn Rand’s fit the bill nicely.

Rand identifies a nameless group as somehow responsible for all our ills. The mediocre – at least in her view. The opponents of progress – however that may be defined. Those determined to hold the talented back (or interfere with the desires of the powerful). The slackers – as any seeking assistance surely “must” be. Those determined to harm the nation we love – as any who look or believe differently than we do surely are.

In reality, the group on which Rand so neatly paints her target includes those whose photo will never appear on the cover of a magazine. Those sacrificing for the sake of their children, and the sake of their country on a daily basis. Those extending a helping hand to others simply because that is the right thing to do.

Rand touts selfishness and greed as virtues – perfectly in tune with the corporate greed of the Great Recession, rants at regulation, corrupt politics, the debate over universal health care, and the threatened decimation of programs like Social Security and Medicare.

So much easier for us to demonize some group, than actually solve the difficult problems with which we are faced.

Despite her high flown language, Ayn Rand did not love – or, indeed, understand – America. The concept of an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on the part of any Tom, Dick, Harry, or Sue was foreign to her. She used it solely as cover for her far darker political beliefs.

Liberty, in the sense Rand used the term, i.e. freedom from all sane restraint, runs directly counter to equality as measured by any standard of value other than materialism. We are individuals, and part of a greater whole.

America strives for a balance between freedom and authority. Admittedly, that is not an easy goal to achieve. Sometimes we err in one direction, sometimes the other. Neither socialism nor laissez faire capitalism, however, achieves that goal. Neither extreme serves our nation well.

READERS CAN FIND MY VIEWS ON ABUSE AND ABUSE-RELATED ISSUES AT ANNA WALDHERR A Voice Reclaimed, Surviving Child Abuse  http://www.avoicereclaimed


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