She’s been referred to as the “Goddess of the Market”, but the ‘Goddess of selfishness’ would be an equally appropriate title for Ayn Rand: and one I’m sure she would be perfectly content with.
Rand’s ideas, and her philosophy of “objectivism”, have strongly influenced conservative politics and economics, and hordes of fans – often in powerful positions, such as Alan Greenspan, Margret Thatcher, and Paul Ryan; who, if the Republicans have their way, is set to be the next US vice president. Her final novel ‘Atlas Shrugged’ has even been voted the second most influential book ever written in one survey, behind only the bible.
I recently made it through the controversial book myself, and it certainly warrants at least one blog post. But instead of writing a standard book review I thought I’d write an ‘objectivists manifesto’, which includes various direct quotes and hopefully summarises many of the books ideas. At the same, I’ve attempted to integrate my thoughts on her ideas.
The Objectivist Manifesto
At the core of the objectivism philosophy is the idea that one’s life should be guided only by the rational, objective perception of the mind, and the rational desires of the individual. To this end, the laws of the ‘mystics of spirit’ and the ‘mystics of muscle’ should be rejected, and all sacrificial or altruistic behaviours abolished. Thus, we must reject these external shackles and recognise the absolute of existence. We must accept that each Man is an end within himself, and therefore that the only morality is to live in pursuit of our own happiness, guided by our own rational minds, with productive achievement as our noblest activity.
Rejecting the mystics
The mystics of spirit –those purveyors of religion and faith– demand from us the surrender of our minds to their mystical beliefs, guided from another dimension. Some preach this to us openly, without fear, proclaiming that our original sin was to eat from the “tree of knowledge” – that act of acquiring knowledge and a rational mind. Thus the sin of which these mystics speak was simply that of no longer fully surrendering the mind to them.
And the mystics of muscle –those who demand from us continual sacrifice for the good of an invisible, undefined society and the welfare of an unspecified public– they too demand that we sacrifice our minds to them, so that we may be tools in their quest for the ‘greater good’. But the essence of their plan, the pure evil that underlies it, is that reward should be based upon need rather than ability, with the justification they proclaim to be noble: that through this the “greatest good for the greatest number” can be achieved. In reality, their only wish is to exploit the virtues of the ‘men of mind’ and redistribute their wealth amongst the undeserved, lazy savage cannibals that are the poor.
Thus, these mystics, in all their forms, must be renounced from the mind.
Altruism and self-sacrifice –the behaviour which provides the human flesh upon which the cannibalistic mystics of muscle rely– must also be rejected in its entirety. The moral code of the altruist demands that you offer your respect, wealth, and love to all other men as your duty, and the less they deserve these offerings, the higher the value of your moral sacrifice.
But there can be no causeless wealth or causeless love. And when any other man is allowed to make a claim upon your life, wealth is transformed to need, happiness to duty and self-esteem decays to self-denial.
True morality and the ego
With these mystics rejected, we must recognise that existence exists, and that each man exists within the absolute of existence as an end within himself. Thus, the only moral way to live is to confidently obey the rational perceptions of our own minds above that of all others, and guiltlessly elevate our desires above the needs of all others.
For this life to be led, the ego must be embraced in full.
The productive, rational being
In order to live life as rational beings, we must adhere to this morality. We must allow our rational perception to guide us though life, remembering that there are always two sides to every issue; one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.
The irrational men that have surrendered their minds to the mystics should no longer be considered to be human. But the machines, metals and railroads that came into existence because of those heroic men who have lived the moral life; who have shaped the earth and its materials with their minds, continually answering every question of right or wrong, true or false; these machines, metals and railroads are an extension of those man who built them. They are more human than all those men who have sacrificed their capacity for reason.
Productiveness we hold as our noblest activity; our primary means of acquiring happiness. We will remake the earth in the image of our selfish, egotistic values. And, although we believe each man is an end within himself, we will extend ourselves invasively into the environment upon which all others depend for their prosperity.
Most importantly, we must endeavour to make the following promise to ourselves:
I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.
Thank the lord for the free market
The only way that this individual freedom and our rigid form of individualistic happiness can be obtained is through the system of laissez-faire Capitalism. This allows every man the chance to flourish by exercising his mind through continual material production, and the selling of his goods through free-trade and voluntary exchange; a system which alleviates physical force as a means of obtaining property and goods.
With their persecution of the rich and productive, all other socialist ideals are fundamentally evil, and lead inevitably to corruption. But we must have faith that our political ideology –even though with its reliance upon human greed it is the most precarious of them all – will not become corrupted and violent itself.
Furthermore, we must blank-out the fact that, even in theory, our ideology is flawed by the unavoidable juncture that is encountered when everyone’s material needs are met; the point at which no rational person will continue to consume, while for us slowing our orgy of material production and accumulation of wealth is not an option. We must not acknowledge that we rely upon a supply of irrational people to feed upon our excessive production and generate our wealth, nullifying the possibility that a world of rational beings could ever exist, and rendering our already erroneous argument that ‘there is no conflict of interest between rational men’ an irrelevant ideal. But fortunately we need not worry about this juncture, as we can easily maintain a pool of irrational people by implanting and nurturing foolish, materialistic desires in the minds of the masses.
So we must proclaim the benefits of the deregulated Capitalist system to the world: the freedoms it brings and the industrial and technological progress that will be achieved by allowing our limitless human potential to be maximised. Only through this system will advanced technologies and industries be continually replaced by those more efficient and more powerful, leading to increases in the quality of human life everywhere. Although, these benefits may not be felt by everyone for some time, and they must be measured by the indices we choose.
Finally, we must be certain not to apply this same logic to Capitalism itself: we must stress that at the moment we believe it to be the best system that has been developed, and hence it must not be meddled with, even though it may in fact be possible that it could easily be exceeded or progressed.
Our rational self-destruction
So we, the objectivists must lead the world in a linear unquestioned goal of material progress. We will be like a flock of birds, flying not in formation and unity, but in bitter competition with one another to reach ever higher heights in our single-minded pursuit. Even those who do not share our vision of happiness will have no choice but to join us in this flight, as it continues defiantly upwards, until eventually the strongest and most arrogant of us lead the flock into thin air, devoid of oxygen: one of the gifts of the natural world which we have taken for granted; omitted entirely from our philosophy; dismissed as an externality of our rationality.
But we have little cause for worry, as when the flock breaches the limits of the environment, when we all grow weak from the thin air and fall from the sky, it will be us, the rational beings, that led the rest into danger, who will have the greatest chance of recovering before we hit the earth. The only casualties will be those that we dragged, unwilling, into this self-destructive pursuit.
A final note...To those that know me, and have perhaps not read Atlas Shrugged, it may seem from this post that I've lost much of my sanity. While there may be an element of truth in this there is no cause for panic, as in general, anything cruel and cold hearted in the above is Rand, while anything sarcastic or otherwise is me.
If you have been pondering reading the book, then perhaps this post will help in the decision, as it gives an indication of Rands rather psychotic character and aggressive condemnation of all things altruistic or egalitarian: over a thousand pages of this is quite difficult to stomach.
If you do however decide you’d like to read the full book, then you can find a copy at my local Oxfam shop, where, in a defiant act of pure evil, I will be gladly parting ways from mine.