"Objectivism"

Over at CrankyCon, Paul Zummo offers a brief review of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged:

The atheism is only a small part of the issue with objectivism. Galt (and thus Rand’s) objection to the concept of original sin is naive, but even absent this aspect of objectivism, it remains a dehumanizing and abhorrent moral philosophy. Rand detests totalitarianism, it is true, but other writers have written better and less repugnant works in defense of capitalism and against totalitarianism. If libertarians and conservatives wish to seek out inspirational works on the topic, they are better off with the likes of George Orwell, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Sowell, Wilhelm Roepke, F.A. Hayek and countless others.

The fundamental problem is that Rand is as naive about human nature as the socialist utopians. After all, a utopian is a utopian, whether they are Marxian or Randian utopians. Therefore the rejection of the concept of original sin is something of a problem because it blinds Rand to the idea that human beings cannot simply shut off their passionate desires. If totalitarians are blind to the reality that human nature cannot be perfected, Rand is blind to the fact that the altruistic tendencies of humans cannot similarly be wiped out. Believe it or not, we are social beings (Aristotle and Aquinas being right), and it is simply unrealistic – and Rand is supposed to be about reason and realism – to expect humans to simply ignore these aspects of their personality.

See also Maclin Horton (Light on Dark Water) with “Ayn Rand, Crank” and what Ayn Rand got right.

And of course, Objectivism illustrated:

33 Responses to "Objectivism"

  • Okay, I actually laughed out loud at that cartoon.

  • ROTFLOL! I’m printing the cartoon.

  • As has been pointed out by others, Objectivism is a philosophy for people without children. Hard to fit a hive-erupting allergy to “altruism” with the need to repeatedly wipe the crap off a wholly dependent being’s behind.

    As between Marxists and objectivists, I’ll hang around with the former every time. Underneath the warped theology (and that’s what it is) is a concern for the downtrodden.

    Objectivism is a middle finger jammed in a human face, forever.

  • My comment on Paul’s post.

    This book sounds like nothing but a temper tantrum in defense of privilege.

    In reality, no one would care if CEOs went on strike. Assuming that the means of production could still be operated by the workers – that they weren’t locked out and threatened by the police – business at all levels could continue as usual.

    Also, the end of that book – replacing the sign of the cross with the sign of the dollar? And there are Catholics that stand up for this trash?

    Christianity is a lot of things; important for this discussion is that it is Matthew 25, which in no way can be reconciled with AS. We are to be judged on the basis of how we cared for the least of our brothers, not the extent to which, and the glee we felt, as we trampled them underfoot. That’s elementary.

  • And there are Catholics that stand up for this trash?

    I’ve never encountered any, but maybe I just don’t run in the right circles.

    The cartoon is brilliant.

  • Objectivists are hard core atheists and pro-aborts which makes their appeal limited among Catholics to say the least, especially among Conservative Catholics who might otherwise have some sympathy for their libertarian world view. I laughed my way through Atlas Shrugged when I was in sixth grade. It still is in my top ten list of the most unintentionally funny novels ever written.

  • As for the cartoon, I suspect this is the Charlie Brown kite eating tree after it has choked down a copy of Atlas Shrugged.

  • In reality, no one would care if CEOs went on strike. Assuming that the means of production could still be operated by the workers – that they weren’t locked out and threatened by the police – business at all levels could continue as usual.

    In a sense, this ties in to the basic implausibility of Rand’s idea of the heroic producers removing themselves from the world until everything falls down around the ears of the “looters” and the producers can them come out and rule the world: It assumes some sort of complete and absolute class solidarity based on ability.

    If all the CEOs, to take Joe’s example, went on strike, what I’d expect to see happen is the people with similar abilities and experience working closely with them would essentially step into their roles, do what the CEOs had done, move other people in to replace them, and so on. Sure, you often have some disruption when someone with a lot of knowledge and ability leaves a job (picture Steve Jobs leaving Apple, for instance) but a well built company can survive that kind of thing pretty well, and even thrive as a result of new people moving in.

    Rand’s scenario imagines that:

    a) the world is clearly divided into producers and “looters”
    b) all the producers would cooperate in stepping out until the looters were tought a lesson.

    But why should they? If according to Rand’s theory people have no higher purpose than to maximize gain and productivity, then according to game theory it’s to the advantage of any given producer to get many of the other producers to step aside, and then gain advantage by breaking the strike and working anyway. So if a CEO goes on strike, it’s in the interest of some other executive to step in and take over running the company (thus benefitting himself and closing out the striker) rather than joining him.

    How a supposedly smart libertarian could miss such an obvious economic implication is beyond me.

    And that’s before I even start in on a rant about how it’s totally unrealistic to posit a clear dividing line between producers and “looters”.

  • Donald:

    Nothing on your keen intellect or am I even advocating the likes of Ayn Rand (who I personally regard with ill disrepute); however, did you actually understand Atlas Shrugged when you read it in the 6th grade?

    I can’t help but think that perhaps it was your own (quite understandably, at that age) puerile musings that might have provided such comedy back then.

  • No e., I understood it. The comedy was all Rand’s crackpot philosophy and the fact that she was a very poor novelist.

  • One quick note as I don’t have much time to get into the details, but what Rand might suggest is that while the existing infrastructure might carry on, innovation would cease as the producers exited stage left. There are numerous holes in all this, obviously, but I think she was less interested in defending CEOs per se (see her treatment of James Taggart) than the people who are the inventors and creators.

  • As much as Rand was herself a crackpot; her followers are undoubtedly an even worse version.

    The greatest irony I’ve ever witnessed was when several representatives from the Ayn Rand Institute actually sought donations from me.

  • A few years ago, John Stossel ran a special on capitalism and “greed.” He interviewed the head of one of the Objectivist organizations and asked, “Who has done more good, Mother Teresa or Bill Gates?” The Objectivist snapped, “Bill Gates, hands down.” There was no recognition that Mother Teresa just might be pursuing a different goal from Mr. Gates. Everything boiled down to material contributions.

  • In my younger days I was very interested in ” Objectivism. ” But I just couln’t buy a world without charity, that would be a world of unbelievable heartlesness and cruelty, a world in which immoral behavior is enshrined as ” enlightened ” self interest. It would be a world of moral ” Fascism. ” And in the end, I think it would be a world much like the one which we see spreading today, one in which immorality is being legislated and enforced. Capitalism is fine, preferable but unfettered Capitalism would be just as bad as unfettered Socialism.

  • Once again, I run into my old friend Ayn Rand. In the last few months, I have run into more mentions of this Philosopher than the rest of my life put together.

    You see, I once was very influenced by Ayn Rand. I considered myself an “Objectivist”. This was thanks to my older brother, who himself was an Objectivist for many years. But God’s grace intervened, and I found Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.

    Ayn Rand is directly opposite from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My brothers hatred of St. Augustine was extremely deep. When I found the writings of St. Augustine on my own, he became my favorite author ever, as he understands the human person better than anyone else.

    I have never finished Atlas Shrugged, although I attempted to live the Objectivist philosophy and read many of her writings. What turned me off of Objectivism was Objectivists, who believed every word of hers was truth, much like a Protestant Fundamentalist believes regarding the Bible.

    My conversion testimony is found at http://quovadisyouth.org/Peter%20Rowe%20conversion.html

    Good news about my brother: he too, has found Jesus Christ and goes to Mass almost every day.

    God bless,
    Peter
    marianconsecration@yahoo.com

  • While I think many of the points posited here are quite valid, I do want to point to another modern philosopher. One who many won’t be expecting, and one that I may catch derision for. That person in Bruce Lee. Yes, Kato from the Green Hornet Bruce Lee. Lee wrote a book on Martial Arts theory called “The Tao of Jeet Kune Do”. The core tenet of his philosophy in a nutshell was to keep the good and strip away the bad. That being said, Rand did have some very valid points, so did Marx. Both also had huge failings and both were as previously stated utopianists. Also as previously stated utopias have a pretty shoddy track record when it comes to human nature. But it doesn’t mean that there isn’t something to learn there. In either case let’s not paint with too broad a brush.

  • I found Ayn Rand unreadable and her characters utterly unbelievable. I agree with Paul Zummo’s view of objectivism, although some of my political views could be characterized as libertarian. For me, libertarianism was a brief way station on the way from left to right, not a place to pitch a tent and build a permanent home.

    I have met a few conservatives who had sort of a nerdy crush on Rand in late adolescence. Well, I suppose it’s better than Madonna, but thankfully they grew out of it.

  • Dale Price: You raise an interesting point. Who’s worse, objectivists or Marxists? It’s a tough call, but I’d have to award the palm to the Marxists, simply because their version of Utopia has been tried many times in real life and has resulted in many millions of deaths, whereas Galt’s Gulch exists only in fantasy. The Marxists are a reminder of the evil that can be done by those professing the highest intentions and great concern for humanity. Objectivism hasn’t been tried in real life the way Marxism has. During my brief time as a libertarian, I noticed Rand fans were actually rather soft touches despite their lip service to the desirability of selfishness. Based on real world track records, I’d choose the finger in the face rather than the boot on the face. The Objectivists will leave you to starve (or say they will), the Marxists will starve you deliberately in the name of a higher good.

  • My husband used to be an Ayn Rand fan, when he was in high school and just before he joined the military. When I met him, he had returned to his Catholic faith and pretty much given up Objectivism, but he still had some of her books, which I later read out of curiosity.

    I do not at all care for her novels (I can tolerate “Anthem” because it’s short, but gave up on “Atlas Shrugged” after about 40 pages) but her essays and books like “Philosophy: Who Needs It” and “The Romantic Manifesto” do make some good points.

    The one thing I give Rand credit for is recognizing that ideas matter and philosophy is not just navel-gazing — it has real-world consequences. In my opinion, a lot of her condemnation of “altruism” was an overreaction to the oppression she experienced in Communist Russia. She had seen people like Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler twist the concept of sacrificing for a common good into a means of exploiting people, so she and her followers to this day reject the whole idea of “common good.” A textbook case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    I also agree with Dale that Objectivist philosophy is pretty difficult if not impossible to reconcile with marriage and family life. I sometimes wonder how her philosophy would have changed if she’d had children. She was married for over 50 years, although she and her husband had a pretty much “open” marriage and they both had affairs with others.

  • Objectivism obviously appeals to young, single, healthy people who have no responsibilities to anyone other than themselves. However, I doubt very much that you will find a lot of married people, parents (especially if their spouses and/or children have illnesses or disabilities), elderly people, disabled people, or minorities in the Objectivist camp.

  • Donna:

    Oh, definitely–Marxism’s body count is unrivalled in terms of world history, and I don’t mean to downplay that aspect of it. I do have The Black Book of Communism on my bookshelf, after all. :) No, objectivism doesn’t have that horrific, bloodstained roll of shame to its discredit.

    I suppose I was thinking of your local Western Marxist (e.g, politically ineffectual) or genuinely good guys like Whitaker Chambers, Sidney Hook and such historians as Eugene Genovese and John Haldon. There are good instincts (for lack of a better world) there to build upon (and definitely some bad ideas to break) in contemporary Western Marxists.

    I don’t see quite the same with Randians, who, despite their worship of achievement, haven’t produced much of material, intellectual or (especially) moral merit. Whatever good there is in objectivism is hopelessly entangled in pride and the worship of self. Objectivism is the opium of adjunct professors, assistant managers, failed writers and jerks destined to stall in middle management. It’s hard to want to associate with those always and only looking out for number 1.

  • I never followed through on the moderate interest in Objectivism I had in my my youth. I found (and still find) appeals to reality, facts, and objective thought quite…well, quite appealing. Unfortunately, Objectivism is neither objective or based on reality.

    I still like old Rush, though.

    ;)

  • Fair point, Rick–Neil Peart is one objectivist who can boast of impressive, enduring achievement. ;)

    Freewill contains a lot of bunkum, but it’s a fine tune!

  • Objectivism and Marxism share materialism in common; that is probably why both are so rabidly pro-abortion. Rand herself mocked women who cared about “fetuses” as irrational and crazy, and her latter day followers use the stupid “an acorn is not an oak” argument to justify abortion now. Here is Rand on the subject:

    “I cannot project the degree of hatred required to make those women run around in crusades against abortion. Hatred is what they certainly project, not love for the embryos, which is a piece of nonsense no one could experience, but hatred, a virulent hatred for an unnamed object…Their hatred is directed against human beings as such, against the mind, against reason, against ambition, against success, against love, against any value that brings happiness to human life. In compliance with the dishonesty that dominates today’s intellectual field, they call themselves ‘pro-life.'”

    In fact, they say abortion is truly “pro-life”.

    http://www.abortionisprolife.com/

    At least some of the prominent Marxists had the tact to say that materialism – technological progress – might one day remove the need for abortion. Objectivists sound like they’d abort for fun.

  • Oh there are definitely aspects of Rand’s philosophy that merit appreciation, but as I said in my review, others have said the same thing without adding all the convoluted drek.

  • Freewill contains a lot of bunkum, but it’s a fine tune!

    Indeed. I learned a new word today. Bunkum is the perfect word for it.

  • You know, Dale brings up a good point. What havve any Randians ever accomplished? For a movement that claims to believe in innovation and production, they’ve innovated and produced very little. I honestly can’t think of any major person who’s accomplished anything that was a Randian. I guess Rorschach, maybe, but he really didn’t amount to much, did he? Also Neil Peart, but he’s distanced himself Rand in recent years, and actually gets annoyed at being called a Randian so I’m not going to include him either, since his “randianism” seems to have been a (protracted) phase.

    Anybody else? Most Randians I’ve encountered just like to troll around on blogs.

  • The best (perhaps only) example I can think of of a Randian who “accomplished something” is Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, who was a close associate of Rand in his younger days. However, the merit of his accomplishments are debatable, and he himself admitted after the financial crisis of ’08 that some of the economic assumptions he had held most of his life had proven to be wrong. Also, hard-core Objectivists (at least the ones who post on YouTube) consider him a sellout because he strayed from their economic creed in a number of ways.

  • The comments on Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s philosophy are generally ridiculous. For example, one of the first comments saying that some producers would basically screw over the others within the strike to gain power, etc., is just plain wrong. The strike as I know about it was based on the morality of production, not on gaining short term benefits. They were striking to make a point.

    You people are socialists in disguise, just like Jesus as a historical figure was.

  • “You people are socialists in disguise, just like Jesus as a historical figure was.”

    I’d rather be mislabeled a socialist by someone like you than accurately labeled an Objectivist by anyone.

  • Alex,

    It is easy to fall for Ayn Rand she makes a compelling argument, some of it is even correct. What it certainly is not is objective. Objectivism is extremely subjective just take a look at all the Randroids that followed her – they were totally conformed to her in a creepy Single White Female/Cable Guy kind of way.

    Ayn Rand’s philosophy falls apart because, just like Marxism, it is athiestic.

    As for Jesus being a socialist – come on, you can’t be serious! Jesus Christ respects human dignity and socialist can’t even spell dignity. For that matter Objectivists view man exactly the same way as socialists. One advocates anarchy to get us to hell and the other advocates collectivism to do the same thing. Chaos is the result which ever extreme you take.

    The only true objective view is from Heaven and that is the most extremely subjective view possible – God’s view.

  • “You people are socialists in disguise, just like Jesus as a historical figure was.”

    I have been called many things in my life, but this is the first time I have been called a socialist! That comment is almost as funny as the unintentional humor that suffuses Rand’s buffoonish novels.

  • McClarey a socialist!!! Now that is funny :)

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