Wednesday, February 10, 2010
As a fan of Ayn Rand's fiction and an advocate of her philosophy of Objectivism, I have seen the following charges made ad nauseam by her admitted opponents and false friends alike. [Note: In the below, Cathy Young's words are in plain type, my responses are in italics.]
1. Her vision, articulated in several novels and later in nonfiction essays as the philosophy of Objectivism, earned her a sometimes cult-like following in her lifetime and beyond it.Young ends where she began: Blaming Ayn Rand for the problems inherent in "our current intellectual climate." Among these problems are massive confusion about fundamental philosophical principles and the commonness of people lacking in integrity. Blaming Ayn Rand for these problems will help solve them about as much as ignoring her or, worse, putting words in her mouth and laying unearned blame at her feet. And attacking her and those who wish to carry on her fight for their integrity is unconscionable.
Nearly every major modern thinker attracts the professed allegiance of people who are not looking for intellectual guidance, but rather want to be told what to do.
The question to which any thinker can and ought to be subject is, "Do his ideas encourage or necessitate such slavish, dependence?" Objectivism does not. Cathy Young's charge that Objectivism "earned" for Ayn Rand such a following is thus, to the degree that this even happened, false. Such behavior, when it does happen, is despite the content and meaning of Rand's ideas.
Young's hedging this falsehood by saying "cult-like" is a both a confession that she lacks facts to back her position up and a harbinger of things to come in the rest of her article.
Finally, "in her lifetime and beyond it" is a feeble attempt to preempt anyone challenging her word, and a variety of an argument that Rand once identified: The Argument from Intimidation. To wit: My standing up for Rand does not, ipso facto, make me a "cultist."
2. One of those flaws [in her moral case for capitalism] is Rand's unwillingness to consider the possibility that the values of the free market can coexist with other, non-individualistic and non-market-based virtues--those of family and community, for example.
Would Cathy Young, one wonders, regard it as one of modern medicine's "flaws," that it does not hold that the principles of achieving and maintaining good health can "coexist" with whim-driven behavior or mystic ritualism? As for the notion that "family and community" require self-sacrifice, that's also untrue, and probably accounts for Young's expressed belief that Rand despises family life.
It is noteworthy that Ayn Rand once identified this type of error on Young's part. She called it the "package deal." Family and community need not imply self-immolation. See below on the former and recall Galt's Gulch on the latter.
3. Family fares even worse in Rand's universe. In her 1964 Playboy interview Rand flatly declared that it was "immoral" to place family ties and friendship above productive work; in her fiction, family life is depicted as a stifling swamp.
Cathy Young obviously missed or chose to ignore the passage in Atlas Shrugged about motherhood, not to mention the numerous comments about education Rand makes throughout the body of her non-fiction.
What part of "They [her sons --ed] represent my particular career, Miss Taggart," does Cathy Young not understand?
Here, we don't need Ayn Rand's help to identify an error. This is just wrong.
4. Rand's detractors have often branded her a fascist. The label is unfair, but her work does have shades of a totalitarian or dictatorial mentality. ...
Rand does not advocate these people's murder (though she is sympathetic to a trainmaster who chooses not to avert the disaster, partly in revenge against the regulators). Yet she clearly suggests that they had it coming. Both in Atlas Shrugged and in Rand's nonfiction essays, political and ideological debates are treated as wars with no innocent bystanders.
If Ayn Rand said nothing else, she made the case that ideas matter. In particular, they have consequences when put into practice. If you advocate socialism, get a leader like Hugo Chavez, and find yourself mysteriously sitting in the dark due to blackouts (or beaten to a pulp), you got exactly what you asked for, whether or not you knew or admitted to yourself what the consequences of central planning would be.
Cathy Young would have us believe that warning us that bad ideas have bad consequence is of the same moral category as cheering on fascism. I don't know what to say to that, but to ask: Why?
5. [Rand's] extremism limits her value as a messenger, and our current intellectual climate makes it likely that many of her new admirers will adopt not her best traits but her worst: intolerance, paranoia, and dehumanization of the enemy.
As for her charge of "extremism," I'll allow Rand to speak for herself this time: "If an uncompromising stand is to be smeared as 'extremism,' then that smear is directed at any devotion to values, any loyalty to principles, any profound conviction, any consistency, any steadfastness, any passion, any dedication to an unbreached, inviolate truth -- any man of integrity." (From "'Extremism' or The Art of Smearing", Chapter 17 of Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal)