Remembering Rand

There are few more controversial people in political circles than Alisa Rosenbaum. But few people have heard of her, because the apoplectic responses are reserved for the new name she gave herself after she left Russia for America–Ayn Rand.

Rand has persistently been among the most demonized persons in America. Yet she sold over 30 million books, and still sells hundreds of thousands of copies every year, decades after her 1982 death, and Atlas Shrugged has been ranked behind only the Bible as a book that influenced readers’ lives.

Some are devotees of everything Rand. Others use her name as a pejorative. Still others find some of her ideas insightful while rejecting others (e.g., anarcho-capitalists, who reject Rand’s minarchism and some Christian libertarians, who reject her lifestyle or insistence on atheism). What readers find most inspirational are her views on individualism, rights, liberties and government. So, for her February 2 birthday, consider some of those words.

 The moral justification of capitalism is man’s right to exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; it is the recognition that man–every man–is an end in himself…not a sacrificial animal…

The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man’s self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force…a government that initiates the employment of force against men who had forced no one…reverses its only moral purpose…

Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law.

The recognition of individual rights entails the banishment of physical force from human relationships…no man or group may initiate the use of physical force against others.

When the framers of the American republic spoke of “the people,” they did not mean a collectivist organism one part of which was authorized to consume the rest. They meant a sum of individuals, each of whom…retains his inviolate guarantee of individual rights.

Under a proper social system…A private individual may do anything except that which is legally forbidden; a government official may do nothing except that which is legally permitted. This is the means of subordinating “might” to “right.” This is the American concept of “a government of laws and not of men.”

The concept of a “right”…means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.

As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights.

The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible.

[T]he right to property…is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it.

The right to property…does not mean that others must provide him with property.

Man holds…rights, not from the Collective nor for the Collective, but against the Collective–as a barrier which the Collective cannot cross…these rights are man’s protection against all other men.

Any alleged “right” of one man, which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right…There can be no such thing as “the right to enslave.”

If some men are entitled by right to the products of the work of others, it means that those others are deprived of rights and condemned to slave labor…No one’s rights can be secured by the violation of the rights of others.

Since only an individual man can possess rights, the expression “individual rights” is a redundancy. But the expression “collective rights” is a contradiction in terms.

[S]ince the only proper function of a government is to protect man’s rights, it cannot claim title to his life in exchange for that protection.

An individualist is a man who recognizes the inalienable individual rights of man–his own and those of others…who says: “I will not run anyone’s life–nor let anyone run mine. I will not rule nor be ruled. I will not be a master nor a slave.”

The doctrine that “human rights” are superior to “property rights” simply means that some human beings have the right to make property out of others…

[T]he collective cannot decide what is to be the purpose of a man’s existence nor prescribe his choice of happiness.

We are fast approaching the stage…where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission…

A society that robs an individual of the product of his effort, or enslaves him, or attempts to limit the freedom of his mind, or compels him to act against his own rational judgment…is…but a mob held together by institutionalized gang-rule.

[F]reedom…comes down to a single question: do you consider it moral to treat men as sacrificial animals and to rule them by physical force?

Whoever claims the right to redistribute the wealth produced by others is claiming the right to treat human beings as chattel.

Freedom, in a political context, means freedom from government coercion. It does not mean freedom from the landlord, or freedom from the employer, or freedom from the laws of nature which do not provide men with automatic prosperity. It means freedom from the coercive power of the state–and nothing else.

There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals.

Since men are neither omniscient nor infallible, they must be free to agree or disagree, to cooperate or to pursue their own independent course, each according to his own rational judgment. Freedom is the fundamental requirement of man’s mind.

America’s abundance was created not by public sacrifices to ‘the common good,” but by the productive genius of free men…They gave the people better jobs, higher wages and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance–and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way.

In a capitalist society, all human relationships are voluntary. Men are free to cooperate or not, to deal with one another or not, as their own individual judgments, convictions, and interests dictate.

It is the institution of private property that protects and implements the right to disagree…

The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities. Individual rights are not subject to a public vote…the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities.

The economic value of a man’s work is determined, on a free market, by a single principle: by the voluntary consent of those who are willing to trade him their work or products in return. This is the moral meaning of the law of supply and demand.

Capitalism has been called a system of greed–yet it is the system that raised the standard of living of its poorest citizens to heights no collectivist system has ever begun to equal…

What is the basic, the essential, the crucial principle that differentiates freedom from slavery? It is the principle of voluntary action versus physical coercion or compulsion.

Whether one slanders or salutes Ayn Rand, or is just trying to find wisdom wherever it can be found, her words on individualism, rights, liberties and government offer a great deal of food for thought.

Comments

  1. The one thing that Ayn Rand did to propagate individual liberty was to take away the weapon of guilt,used by the collectivists and progressives,to instill a sense of shame on productive people who have become financially successful. After Ayn Rand the productive Economic Class did not have to feel guilt and shame about creating and keeping wealth created in a “hands off” market economy. These weapons of shame and guilt have been used by the Left for decades to separate the productive from their hard earned property. This along with envy and coveting are the weapons used by collectivists,liberals,progressives and socialists to achieve power and dominance over other men. Ayn Rand worked to strike those weapons from the hands of the power seekers who wish to rule over and to dominate others. In other words, one doesn’t have to feel shame,but instead pride in the gaining through honest production and trade of one’s wealth. For this,we owe Ayn Rand a word of thanks.

    • One might say they are well-rounded with the deadly sins–how about: their LUST for power; GLUTTONOUS for their use of resources; ANGRY in their tactics (attacks); PRIDEFUL in their criticism (condescending); GREED for popularity (exploiting emotion), SLOTH in their use of other people’s labor…

  2. I like this thought process and find condescension by the intellects repugnant as well–if that is what you were getting at with Rand. About rights, I defend private property to the best of my ability but I still have a hang up on this principle right when I take it to the extreme. My conclusion is that there is nothing fundamental about life as we know it that we can exact, for lack of better words. Perhaps this is the basis of my faith–or mysticism as Rand might say–I don’t know. Defending property rights to me is more about reaching potentials in kindness, humility and genius that cannot otherwise be reached but when I really think of the extremes I can’t help but see oppressive control by people owning land on the inhabitants of that land. The more I learn, the more I believe life is paradoxical–why do people continue to claim moral absolutes? With integrity and intellectual honesty I write this and am eager to listen to responses. Tricia

    • Ah, Tricia- We have encountered a notion of justice. I believe that remaining true to any principle that involves the sustained dynamic of rights-duty-responsibility requires of us proper (and perhaps frequent) appeals to some higher order. As fallible beings- if we are honest- we must at the least prepare room for thought that allows for such appeal, and avoid the (arrogance) of dogma. What order that is may be properly left to the individual, but it remains that if we are to be convinced in our conclusions of the “self evident”, we know that, apart from that (Heaven, Utopia, Nirvana), we may at best continue to aspire. Thank you for your thoughts- interesting and inspiring- it is a dialogue that needs to be maintained—

  3. Well, she sure got some Scientology-level cult going, complete with “psychological examinations” by a “preferred shrink” (for a fee) and Rothbard was actually caught up in this until for some time. Luckily he managed to full free, thus successfully attaining the status of Randian unperson. A sad episode, fully recounted in Justin Raymondo’s biography of Rothbard.

    Upon which this play was written Mozart was a Red

  4. And yet, for all those beautiful quotes, she didn’t mean any of it (for most of them). With her hostile rejection of anarchism, the rational (logical, but she used the word synonymously; different than Mises) conclusion of the majority of those quotes, she demonstrated that she was just full of hot air. It’s not as though she was thinking in a vacuum, or at a time in history when these thoughts were new and thus their implications had not been worked out. Many came before her or were her contemporaries that had taken these concepts she promoted to their logical conclusion and rightly concluded that the state itself is incompatible with them and one must either reject the state or reject those principles if they are to be logically and morally coherent. She was not unaware of these people, she despised and scorned them. She chose logical and moral incoherence even while exulting herself as a champion of rationality.

    I think it’s fair to judge people by the standard they judge others. She was so caustic and condescending to those she perceived as “irrational” that she mocked them as “whim worshippers”. Yet, when applying that standard to her work, with her espousing her subjective values as objective and her outright rejection of the logical conclusion of many of her fundamental principles, one must come to the conclusion that she herself was absolutely a “whim worshipper” of a high order and a hypocrite at that.

    I find nothing that Rand was correct on that I can’t find elsewhere, better elucidated and coherently applied, and since she actively refused to accept the logical conclusions of the principles she espoused, and was such a polarizing character due to her vitriolic condescension, I fail to be impressed as to why any libertarian should hold her in regard.

    BTW, I would strongly recommend ceasing the “Atlas Shrugged has been ranked behind only the Bible as a book that influenced readers’ lives.” claim without at least fully qualifying it. It’s a claim often used when discussing the impact of Rand, and yet, when one does the research to find its origin, the result is very unimpressive. Some years ago, an obscure book club polled its several thousand members (I forget if it was 2 or 5,000) and they ranked Atlas as second most influential to them personally. So while it’s true that Atlas “has been ranked”, it’s also worth pointing out that the ranking was done by a very small sample set of people who belonged to a book club that is not generally recognized as influential or authoritative, let alone generally recognized at all (since virtually no one’s heard of it). I myself have been ranked the most influential intellectual on the topic of political philosophy. When revealing that ranking was by my parents, who I persuaded of libertarianism a few years back, that claim really loses its luster. I’m not so sure the “luster” of the claim about Atlas would persist with most when scrutinized either.

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