Atlas Snubbed: Has Ayn Rand Been a Negative influence on Libertarianism?

I tend to be a of the school of thought that says yes to this question.  I recognize that many important figures, who are saying a lot of things I agree with, have reached their current political positions as a result of reading Ayn Rand’s books in their younger days, but I still find that her work embodies some of the worst aspects of the movement.  That said, I do recognize the positive aspects of her anti-conformist and pro-voluntarist ideas, but there is a strong part of me that roles my eyes when someone tells me that she is what got them into libertarianism.

To start, there was definitely had an elitist side, that tended to view the big business as heroic.  As noted before I tend to see large centralized business as largely a product of a product of state intervention and the government’s partner in crime, rather than its “most persecuted minority.  I agree with Charles W. Johnson’s argument that:

” The best explanation why Rand chose {to identify her ideas as “capitalist”}…  has to do with what she would have identified with her sense of life — the degree to which her aesthetic and affectional imagination were engaged on behalf of actually existing capitalists, as she understood them, in the known reality of the mixed economy: that is, her view of the grand bourgeoisie — big industrialists, business-owners, money-men, the top tier of entrepreneurial inventors, and ultimately the wealthy broadly — as the heroic prime movers in business, and thus as the world’s motor, driving the production of the material means of survival and human flourishing. (See, for example, Atlas Shrugged or America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business.) Though she’d no doubt fume at the description, one way of putting it is that she made her choices about what language to reclaim and what language to abandon on the basis of class solidarity.”

That said, I do acknowledge, that in her  literature, most businessmen are seen as mindless conformist who are constantly running to the state for favors.  This strikes me as a somewhat accurate picture of how big business actually operates, but Rand seems to want use this as these incompetent businessmen, largely in contrast to her ideal of brilliant captains of industry.  It downplays the role that regular working class people played in creating the comfortable life we westerners have.

In other areas she dismissed the notion of a military industrial complex as “a myth or worse”, denied the US had imperialist tendencies, and favored alliances with places such as Israel.  She had no problem bombing civilians and had no sympathy what so ever for people from non-western cultures:

“They didn’t have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using . . . . What was it that they were fighting for, when they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their ‘right’ to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or a few caves above it. Any white person who brings the element of civilization has the right to take over this continent.”

I find this absurd, their continued use and occupation of the land, in my opinion gives them rights to it.  This not to mention that many native American tribes did practice agriculture, have systems of property rights, and develop civilizations.  I reject the underlying notion that western societies can just kill off any other cultures, who happen to be on lands that they want.

At other points she favored censoring anti-war activist, and usually sided with cops over protesters.  She favored patents and copyright and showed support for McCarthyism.  It seems that much of her mentality, was a reaction to her experiences in communist Russia, and her idealization of the capitalist west.  All this, in my opinion lent itself much to easily to the support of the corporatist militarism that characterized the American right for the last several decades.  I’ll also mention that she was very authoritarian, self-absorbed and personality-cultish, among her inner circle as Murray Rothbard discusses in great detail here.

While I do recognize Ayn Rand as having a positive role in promoting atheism, and questioning conventional values, I think her emphasis on telling Americans to be more self-serving is a bit tedious and harmful.  I do recognize the fact that voluntary exchange helps allows people pursuing their own self interest to make everyone involved better off and I see this as a positive thing, but I also recognized that to create a voluntarist society it, will require a great deal of mutual aid, cooperation, and solidarity with others, rather than just pure pursuit of self interest.  Her emphasis on selfishness also makes commercial exchanges seem to be the be all and end all of human activity, which strikes me as problematic since there is so much more to life.  It also has made it easier for libertarian ideas to be hijacked by corporatists.

I could go 0n about the pros and cons of Randianism, but I think this will do for now.


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One Response to Atlas Snubbed: Has Ayn Rand Been a Negative influence on Libertarianism?

  1. Pingback: My Problems with Environmentalist-Bashing and Global-Warming Denying Libertarians | The Wilson Report

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