Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ayn Rand as Inverse Marxism

Over on Newsweek, Jonathan Chait attacks Rep. Paul Ryan for "waging war on the weak" with his budget plan and for his allegiance to the philosophy of Ayn Rand. As Chait summerizes Rand:

[She] was a kind of politicized L. Ron Hubbard—a novelist-philosopher who inspired a cult of acolytes who deem her the greatest human being who ever lived. The enduring heart of Rand’s totalistic philosophy was Marxism flipped upside down. Rand viewed the capitalists, not the workers, as the producers of all wealth, and the workers, not the capitalists, as useless parasites.

John Galt, the protagonist of her iconic novel Atlas Shrugged, expressed Rand’s inverted Marxism: “The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains.”

The misinterpretation of Rand here is astonishing. I bring it up less out of desire to defend Rand, but as an example of the unfair treatment liberals usually hand libertarians, throwing out nonsensical arguments designed to ignore the very real objections that libertarians have in reverse.

Workers are not the villains in Rand's novels. Those tend to be politicians, union bosses, public intellectuals and "capitalists," who desire government handouts. In fact, for Rand, there is no worker vs. capitalist conflict in the first place. The conflict is between people who produce, whether the janitor sweeping the floor for dollars an hour or the visionary businessman with his millions, and those who do not produce and feel their lack of actual production gives them some sort of moral right to take from the producers in the name of some "public good." Finally this entire comparison with Marx ignores the very simple fact that Rand's entire philosophy was built around the rejection of violence and coercion as opposed to Marx who was an apostle of violent revolution and coercive State action. This is not hair splitting when you consider the fact that the Marxist support for violence directly led to Communist governments killing millions of their own people. Until someone can come up with a plausible scenario in which an Objectivist government could plot the deaths of millions of people, any comparison of Rand and Marx must be rendered libel.

Chait's attacks on Rand demonstrate a number of liberal blind spots, allowing him to stand in judgement on the morals of libertarians while at the same not being able to even understand how a libertarian might see him as morally objectionable. Chait is clearly unable to think outside of the framework of class conflict. If someone is pro capitalism then they must be anti-worker. The very possibility that someone might think that Chait is the villian for not even producing useful ideas and attempting to take other people's money is never raised. This leads us to the biggest liberal moral blind spot. Chait is incapable of conceiving that someone could morally object to government taking money and see it as a form of coercion.

I may have my objections to Ayn Rand's moral philosophy, particularly as she applied it to her own life, but she did not support violence or attempt to coerce money from others. This alone made her far more moral than any liberal on the planet (or conservative for that matter), who allows the government to coercively take money from people.        


Clarissa said...

This is a great post and you are making very important points here. However, I think you should ease up on the liberals. Those of them who dislike Rand have never read her work.

As a person who considers Obama to be extremely conservative, I can tell you that I love Rand's books and reread them often. There are things in them that I dislike (she was a woman-hater if there ever was one) but I know where she comes from in her hatred of oppressive Communist regimes.

no one said...

Yes stick up for Rand- the best anti communistic writer of all time. But still there are great setbacks in her thinking. Her attack against Kant in unwarranted.