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Atlas bugged

A defender of Ayn Rand leapt to her defense within hours of my post last night about the appearance of her ponderous tome Atlas Shrugged in three spots on’s Top 10 Fiction chart.

He makes a couple of good points — although my main contention stands.

MichaelM’s comments, followed by my responses:

Your double irony is exceeded only by your triple ignorance:

1 Even a superficial knowledge of Rand’s philosophy is sufficient to grasp that it is in every principle and proof dedicated to the eradication of dogmatism of any kind. To even hint that it could be the basis for a cult is to flaunt one’s own ignorance – or more likely, desperation.

Those who are themselves dogmatic cannot imagine that such a tightly woven system of ideas could be anything other than dogma. How dare Objectivists posit a dogma different from their own! Those who do not believe in truth attack all ideas as dogma. How dare Objectivists claim she was right!

Neither of these anti-intellects can distinguish certainty backed by reason from dogma held on faith alone. So they cannot distinguish devotion to a person who teaches one that ideas are superior to obedience from devotion to a person who threatens one with the reverse. If they could tell the difference, they would not have to resort to cheap-shot slurs and would get busy presenting alternatives to her reasoning.

If you are looking for a cult to ridicule, how about the bloggers who in lieu of ideas traffic in such unsubstantiated characterizations, accepting their validity solely on faith in their number alone.

Ask anyone who disagreed with Rand and was booted from her inner circle whether Objectivism is dogmatic. Or a cult, for that matter, which is typically characterized by the dominance of the creator, guru, or leader.

For a philosophy dedicated to the eradication of dogmatism, straying from Randian orthodoxy carried a pretty high price — the Objectivist equivalent of excommunication. Example: after Nathaniel Branden’s falling out in 1968, Rand supporters were required to sign a loyalty oath which included a promise never to read any future works by the heretic.

Not unique in this world, true, but hardly what one expects from a philosophy supposed devoted to the individual exercise of reason.

2. “The solution Rand puts forward to an evil socialist state in Atlas, the value at the core of her Objectivist philosophy, is selfishness, the creation of wealth at the expense of all else.”

Little do you know that “wealth at the expense of all else” would not qualify per Objectivism as being in one’s own rational self-interest. Furthermore, per the politics of that philosophy, the fascist crony-capitalism embraced by Bush and Obama would not be remotely possible.

MichaelM is right: characterizing Objectivism as “creation of wealth at the expense of all else” goes too far. That’s an erroneous statement and I retract it.

However, Rand’s view that “a person’s own life and happiness is the ultimate good” — “rational selfishness” — is antithetical to the Christian ideal that “greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” No wonder; Rand admits to no God, so in her worldview, the highest moral authority is Self.

What happens when two Objectivists arrive at mutually exclusive conclusions? Is one of them necessarily wrong?

And to the claim that “fascist crony-capitalism” would not be remotely possible in an Objectivist world, I ask, “Why not?” When an Objectivist salesman wins a big order, is it not at the expense of his competitors? (As a guy with about 15 year sales experience, I can answer that: you bet it is.) So should an Objectivist investment banker pass up potential profits for his employer because it might, somewhere down the financial food chain, injure someone?

Not likely. And I suspect that a great many of the players involved in the financial shenanigans that triggered our current mess truly believe that they behaved ethically, morally, and in a manner that served the greater good.

3. How late are you? Last season’s blogs are filled with documentation that Greenspan was more infatuated with what Rand could do for him when he toyed with the ideas of the person who actually influenced her economic ideas most, Ludwig von Mises. After her death he abandoned her ideas and sealed that change by taking his position at the Fed, an institution Rand consistently advocated abolishing.

Pretty late, obviously. Greenspan is far removed from the days when he advocated a return to the gold standard, so I was wrong to imply that Rand’s ideas somehow led to the first depression of the 21st century. I’ve revised the original post.

That said, the irony of Greenspan’s connection to Ayn Rand, given the apparent reason behind the renewed interest in Atlas Shrugged, is striking.

And my main point stands: professing Christians need to look more closely at Rand and what she believed before signing on to this idea of “going Galt”.

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