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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Friday, July 20, 2012

RAND SHRUGGED, pt 2

They told us that this plan would achieve a noble ideal. Well, how were we to know otherwise? Hadn't we heard it all our lives—from our parents and our schoolteachers and our ministers, and in every newspaper we ever read and every movie and every public speech?

Atlas
Ayn Rand's writings have always been controversial and generated a great deal of discussion. Most tend to be very polarized when they are aware of objectivism and Rand's ideas, either loving and adoring her thoughts or despising them. You rarely meet someone who understands the woman's writings who is tepid or ambivalent about them.

Most react very poorly to Rand, calling her 'fascist' and 'cold' at best. They think her ideas are heartless and cruel, that she's somewhat insane, and that objectivism is impossible and stupid.

However, while I have some problems with objectivism (which I'll get to in the next part of this series) I do see a lot of good in what Rand has to say, particularly in Atlas Shrugged. And there is far more I agree with than have problems with, in terms of her predictions and concerns.

The most outstanding and beneficial part of Rand's ideology and writing is a basic appreciation of the nobility and importance of work. Simple bits in her books like a bus being driven well through city streets, the use of an architect and a train engineer or a metal worker as heroes show this understanding. Rand not only appreciates work, she praises it. There is no work too ignoble for her; she believes that any work, done well, is good.

When in The Fountainhead Howard Roark cannot find work as an architect, he works in a quarry cutting rocks. He does not complain or bemoan himself, he simply applies himself to the work and does the best job he can. Most of the foundation of objectivism is the idea that production, the act of making and doing something, is the essence of what it means to be human (that and reason). She believed that productivity was the heart of human nature and failing to be so meant being less than human. So any work was ennobled by this principle, no matter how 'mean' or low-paying.

And her idea that reason should triumph over emotion was good as well. I have over the past years on this blog returned to this concept quite often, noting that emotions are fine, but they must be informed by reason. That simply because you feel a certain way does not mean that you should act on those feelings. Follow your heart is a recipe for almost certain disaster. Follow your mind, but let your emotions shape that path. Rand takes this concept to another place I do not agree with, but that's for part three.

It is her analysis of the soulless evil and corruption of human nature in collectivism that is her greatest strength, however. Ayn Rand grew up in Soviet Russia, and lived through the communist revolution. Her wealthy family had its business taken away from them for the good of the whole, and she saw how awful and evil the results of that were. She fled to America at the first opportunity, changing her name from Alisa Rosenbaum to protect her family still in Russia. From this experience she, like many emigres from communist tyranny, understood starkly the horrors that lie on that path.

Always, the collectivist will claim it won't happen this time and the only reason that stuff took place is because the people involved weren't as good as they are now. And yet it always, inevitably does. Ayn Rand understood more than most how taking from the few to give to the many ends up damaging everyone. She understood that creating equality by cutting off the tallest stems of grass merely makes everyone equally miserable.

And she could keenly see the origins of the evil she suffered in Russia, and when she heard Franklin Delano Roosevelt say things like this:
A few timid people, who fear progress, will try to give you new and strange names for what we are doing. Sometimes they will call it "Fascism," sometimes "Communism," sometimes "Regimentation," sometimes "Socialism." But, in so doing, they are trying to make very complex and theoretical something that is really very simple and very practical.
she knew where that was headed. Were she alive today, Rand would shriek a very loud warning about a president who says that we have to redistribute wealth so its more fair and that you didn't build your business.

She understood, however, that collectivism took a lot of different forms. For instance, too often people calling themselves conservatives will be very protective of big business and corporations, to the point of damaging the free market. As Eisenhower famously warned in his farewell speech:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
That cronyism built until it reached the ghastly depths we now are experiencing, where businesses are deemed "too big to fail" and are allowed to avoid the penalties of their poor business plans, and help craft legislation and regulations to protect and benefit them while damaging their competitors.

However, Eisenhower also warned against science and technology being monsters as well, in a less-known part of that same speech:
The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.
Using science and technology to control and command humanity as a collective is a serious problem today as well, as never before, in the form of global climate change initiatives which prompt governments to subsidize ethanol fuel, collapsing 'green' businesses, and control what products they can buy, from light bulbs to washing machines.

In Rand's youth, another form of collectivism arose, one which resulted in not only prohibition, but the welfare state. Liberal Christians, informed by the principles of the 'social gospel' and liberation theology, pushed the principle of government compelling people to do what they believed was right. And again, it is sometimes those who call themselves social conservatives who push this idea upon the public. There was strong support for the welfare state by this portion of Christianity, a portion that more theologically conservative Christians like J. Gresham Machen strove and taught against. Today, many of those same theologically liberal Christian groups push for homosexual marriage, global warming fears, and other pet leftist causes.

This is all done in the name of doing good. It is always done in the name of helping others and for the benefit of us all. Welfare is sold as simply charity: we all help out a little so those in need get a lot. Its wrong to let a man starve when you could help him. It is wrong to have such a wealthy nation where so many go without health insurance (they usually say 'care' but they mean insurance).

Rand saw through this all and understood the tyranny it represented. Compelling people to follow a certain path in the name of doing good is, in fact, evil. Oppression is oppression even with a smiley face. Rand's books are full of opposition to this at every level and in every form.

In The Fountainhead, she uses the analogy of one man merely wanting to design and build structures how he desires, while being opposed by those who demand he knuckle under and obey the system and the way an elite group of people decide things should be designed.

In Anthem, she postulates a culture where even the words and ideas of "I" and "me" have been obliterated, where names are given to children based on numbers, and where all is for the collective. Interestingly enough, the movie Logan's Run has very Anthem-like concepts in it, down to an escape to a forest where the writings of the founding fathers are discovered.

In her first book We, the Living she tells an almost autobiographical tale of life in the communist revolution where all is taken away for the good of the whole and the cruelty that results.

And in Atlas Shrugged Rand describes a nation where a series of crises that are the result of ever-increasing state interference and regulation ends in tyranny by the government, forcing businesses to not fire anyone and no one able to leave their jobs. All businesses are effectively controlled by the state, and the general political mood of the day is summed up in a few quotes:
"private property is a trusteeship held for the benefit of society as a whole."

"If everybody could pull for a common purpose, then nobody would have to be hurt! ... I wish we didn't have to hurt anybody"
Eventually no one can control or run any business, and all free enterprise is destroyed so that the common man can have a share of everything.

Train WreckAyn Rand's most potent explanation of how the creeping tyranny of collectivism reached all across America is in the infamous Taggart Tunnel train wreck, in which Rand coldly kills off a host of people in the train that she has judged unworthy of life. The train, of course was doomed by bureaucrats more wedded to their system and ideology than what worked and was wise, but it was the author's device to give the victims a death she considered just for people like them.

Each of the passengers - politicians, entertainers, journalists, etc - is depicted with an explanation of how they had contributed to the destruction of the country. Each one is damed in their place, such as the woman who tucks her children into bed, married to a man who will not protect them.
  • Dr. Simon Pritchett, the nation's leading philosopher, declares that man is a miserable bit of protoplasm, there are no standards, reason is a superstition, the purpose of philosophy is to prove we can know nothing and that there is no meaning to be found in life, and that when people realize this they will be more "tractable."
  • Balph Eubank is the literary leader of the age (albeit, his books do not sell), declares that suffering is the essence of life, and that free will, achievement, and happiness are laughable concepts of old literature. Plot, he says, is a primitive vulgarity in literature. Moreover, life is about suffering and frustration, that the only thing to live for is brotherlove. He later says, that the machine age has destroyed man's humanity, observing that Dagny Taggett runs a railroad rather than practicing the beautiful art of the handloom and bearing children.
  • Bertram Scudder, the editor, declares that property rights are a superstition. Moreover, even though he has written an editorial filled with groundless insults against Rearden, he is present at Rearden's party.
  • Claude Slagenhop, president of Friends of Global Progress, declares that need is the only consideration, that an empty belly is a fact, and that this consideration justifies anything, that ideas are just hot air - that right is whatever is good for society, and that the people have the right to seize what they need.
All of them are supporters of the new "Equality of Opportunity" bill designed to give everyone what they want without need to provide it themselves.

Step by step, Rand shows how a culture could move from liberty to tyranny all in the name of helping and doing good... and how America could easily follow that path.

And if you look around today, it is hard to argue that we are not far along that path already With the crushing burden of regulation, the takeover of parts of the auto industry and insurance, with the calls for the rich to give up so people who did not earn that money can have it, and the demonization of business, achievement, and individuality, we're facing what Rand warned about over fifty years ago - to largely deaf ears.

Through this and all her writings, Rand warns of the terrors of a government which takes from you anything it desires in the name of providing for all. As Thomas Jefferson said (and Gerald Ford later warned): “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have." And the more power you give government, the less you will have as a result - and the less liberty.

Giving up your liberty for comfort, ease, and safety means giving up much of what it means to be human, and eventually giving up everything. Rand understood the end result of this ideology, how it destroys humanity.

And more, she understood something few seem to: that while it seems good to provide for those in need, eventually more and more will be added to the list of the needy either through a lust for power by those in government or the never-ending definitions of 'progress.' And eventually there just isn't money to keep helping those in need. Eventually you all end up as Greece. Eventually, all those programs end and nobody gets any help, which means they're far worse off than they were before - without what they need and without the ability to even attempt to get it any more.

Ayn Rand's writings were a terrifying prophecy that fell on deaf ears because everything seemed to be going so well. And we're seeing the beginning of the end game of collectivist disaster in America today. Europe is watching as the fires start and the buildings collapse in the distance. This system, which seemed so strong and so good and so kind to the needy and helpless, is causing a far worse fate for them all.

*This is part of a 4 part series on Objectivism and Ayn Rand.

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