Friday, August 24, 2012

Ayn Rand Redux

Ayn Rand is the natural spokesperson for Libertarian ideals.  Her novel, Atlas Shrugged, portrays a dystopian society in which the government suppresses individualism, creativity and initiative. The turning point comes when protagonist John Galt leads the people to stop productive activities, thereby starving the government of its revenue and bringing down the oppressive system. The idea being that human achievement should not be suppressed, and that oppressive structures only exist with the tacit approval of those being oppressed. When the structure collapses, then people will be free. Thus Ayn Rand presents her ideal of a world in which those who work hard get what they deserve, and those who are lacking in worldly goods are poor because they are lazy or morally defective. 

"Objectivism" was Rand's philosophy; individual rights along with the pursuit of one's own happiness was the essential morality that she espoused. She saw laissez-faire capitalism as the most logical milieu for nurturing the values of her philosophy.  Little wonder that Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan was enamored with Ayn Rand and loved her book so much that he gave it out to people. Rand was voicing what the right wing Tea Partyers are extolling: no more government handouts, no more taxing away our money that belongs to us because we earned it.  Government bureaucracy is inefficient and bad, private enterprise is good.  All of these ideals are to be found in Ayn Rand’s philosophy.

Paul Ryan is now backtracking because he found out that Ayn Rand was an atheist, or maybe it’s because she favored a woman’s right to an abortion.  The whole Ryan/Rand incident exemplifies something that I see that is wrong with politics and the media sound bites of our day. For one thing, Paul Ryan should be able to articulate which aspects of Ayn Rand’s philosophy he agrees with and why, and which ones he disagrees with. The problem is that such articulation would require a sophisticated understanding of the world that is not made up of simple black-and-white issues.  Such an explanation would also require more than a 20-second sound bite and unfortunately Ryan’s followers may not attend long enough to hear an explanation.

Ryan has made his political capital on Tea Party issues of private enterprise, no taxes, no government handouts, and family values. He is free to hold his economic and political views, though they are not views that I hold to. As much as I would love to make an issue of the “Godless Free-Market Capitalism” of Ayn Rand and pin that on Paul Ryan due to his past exuberant embrace of her philosophy, and as much as I would love to point out to Tea Partyers that their family values have been sold down-river by the money-mad right-wing politicians, I shall refrain.  It is important, however, for anyone to take stock of what they say they believe and to consider what the consequences of political actions would be.  The ethic that I hold to affirms that we are to take care of one another. The morality of a society is seen in how the weakest and most vulnerable are treated.

Blogger Bob Gifford has very succinctly written about his own conversion from Ayn Rand libertarianism in “My Politico-Religious Journey.” Darrell Grizzle, who has read extensively from the works of Ayn Rand, posted a timely piece on his Blog of the Grateful Bear just last week. I have talked about my views of what makes a society work for the good of all its citizens in “Politics and the Common Good.” Check out each of these short essays and ask yourself what it is that you envision for our society, and how can we get there?


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