I tried to watch “Atlas Shrugged” the other night and remembered why the libertarian philosophy disgusts me so. I can understand how a traumatized Russian immigrant such as Ayn Rand could become so jaded and stunted that she would come to define selfishness as “freedom” and the death of her own empathy as “objectivity.” And I suppose I can understand why adolescent white males should flock to her philosophy as way of justifying their own unearned privilege in our culture.
As the American Libertarian Party became a snake pit of selfish sexist white males, it justified the freedom of men from any responsibility to the public sector, but not women’s right of reproductive choice over their own bodies. It justified the right of those born rich to exploit workers, but not the right of workers to unionize in self protection.
The word “republic” refers to our common life. A philosophy of selfishness cannot help but be a cancer to that public sphere. It can be argued that not even Osama bin Laden has done as much to turn the American Dream into a nightmare as has Ayn Rand. I would go so far as to say that individualistic libertarianism is a perfect philosophy for fish and crocodiles, but is unfit for any higher mammal.
I’m not sure you understand what Rand meant by selfishness. Her view of selfishness means rational self-interest, whereby each individual assumes responsibility for determining the course of their own life (i.e., the pursuit of their definition of happiness) and undertakes those actions necessary to further themselves towards those goals. It is freedom that makes this possible.
This is in contrast to slavery, where some other authority determines the course of one’s life, and one is forced to labor in service of others, against one’s will.
You evade this simple distinction in your statement above. When you say that Rand has turned “the American Dream into a nightmare,” it certainly appears that your dream is of a slave state in contrast to the nightmare of individual liberty. If that is your purpose, then advocate away. But don’t hide behind unsubstantiated assertions and misrepresentations of Rand’s clearly articulated thoughts. Instead, come out and make a clear declarative statement of what you advocate.
Excerpts form Rand’s writings regarding selfishness may be found here:
Thank you for writing. I understand that Rand means “rational self interest,” but how is it rational to prefer one’s own interest over another’s? A purely rational being would be neutral, but none of us can do that. Instead, we rationalize about wants that have an irrational, animal source. My desire to eat, mate and prosper does not come from reason. Neither do yours nor Ayn Rand’s.
In my opinion an ethical person balances his or her own interest with that of others. I do not consider that slavery.
I am not contending that I am objective and you are not. I am saying neither of us is a purely rational objective being, as evidenced by your putting words in my mouth and then refuting them. For us to live happily on the planet together, we must both realize that. It takes relationships to have that kind of decency, because we all rationalize our lower desires as higher goods. When Rand slept with other women’s husbands she wasn’t being rational, she was being selfish, but an individual cannot figure that out in isolation.
I am not against freedom just because I include your interests along with my own.
Ultimate “freedom” of the kind Rand advocated is also the “least” or smallest common denominator. In such a world view, you become a universe of one; in effect, you opt out of the human community and reject the Kingdom of Love. By the definition I know, that is SIN. I have grown to understand LOVE as the beginning and continuation of Heaven or Hell. To embrace Love and my place and obligation as a member of society, I embrace God and my relationship to Him becomes Heaven. To refuse that, because I might see it as being against “my will” is to reject unconditional, ultimate Love. That is Hell.
Thank you Brian.