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September 20, 2009

The New Republic has an interesting article by Jonathan Chait, which is a review of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right and Ayn Rand and the World She Made, two books about Ayn Rand, as much as it is a critique of her political philosophy and her influence on the right:

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From my perspective, Ayn Rand’s political philosophy can be quite seductive on the surface, but gets problematic on a deeper, more ethical level.

Jeff Walker, a biographer, found this entry in one of her personal journals: “One puts oneself above all and crushes everything in one’s way to get the best for oneself. Fine!” To me, that’s the core of Objectivism. Of course, publicly she put it more poetically. In Atlas Shrugged, for example, she writes, “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

Same idea, but the latter is far more attractive. Hell, I’d even agree with it if I didn’t understand what it actually boiled down to!

I agree with Rand to a certain extent about personal responsibility and the idea that we’re responsible for making good decisions and should reap the fruits of our labour. But I also think that, as a society, we have a collective responsibility to one another as well. We should work together in the spirit of social cooperation, helping each other make good decisions along the way in support of the common good. I think Edward Bellamy summarizes this idea quite well in his 1887 novel, Looking Backward, with the passage:

“Who is capable of self-support?” he demanded. “There is no such thing in a civilized society as self-support. In a state of society so barbarous as not even to know family cooperation, each individual may possibly support himself, though even then for a part of his life only; but from the moment that men begin to live together, and constitute even the rudest sort of society, self-support becomes impossible. As men grow more civilized, and the subdivision of occupations and services is carried out, a complex mutual dependence becomes the universal rule. Every man, however solitary may seem his occupation, is a member of a vast industrial partnership, as large as the nation, as large as humanity. The necessity of mutual dependence should imply the duty and guarantee of mutual support; and that it did not in your day constituted the essential cruelty and unreason of your system.”

For what it’s worth, I don’t see one political ideology as inherently right or wrong, I’ve simply sided with the one I think is geared more towards taking the needs of society as its primary focus. I used to be more of an individualist, but for whatever reason I found myself unable to not take the needs and suffering of others into consideration. Everyone’s mileage may vary, of course.

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