• Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Rand?

    So I write a post about the current state of the atheist movement, about certain people who seem to embody what is wrong with it, and how I am frightened that the failure of the atheist movement to stand up to the menace of Islam is driving people into the ranks of some very frightening types indeed.

    And in a half-sentence aside I mention that I am glad for my education at the hands of Nietzsche and Ayn Rand and that that has protected me from falling into that trap.

    Go on, guess which fifteen words out of over two thousand people have been focusing on.

    There is something about just mentioning Ayn Rand’s name that causes people to freak the hell out.  It is a cue for people to start on about how she is absolutely terrible, utterly childish, nothing good there at all – and these people will go on about this for length, IRL, and online, and reassuring each other over and over again that, of course, they are too intelligent to take her seriously.

    Notice that this condemnation is always absolute.  It’s never “Well, she had a few good ideas, but…”  Or “I can see where she was coming from, but…”.  It is always absolute, utter condemnation.

    Selah.

    Pause and reflect how utterly weird this is.  I do not know of any other thinker who inspires this kind of a reaction.  Just about every other thinker gets at least a modicum of consideration, no matter what.  For example, here we have the BBC giving a thoughtful treatment of Karl Marx, never mind the horrors his ideas inspired. You will routinely have people talking thoughtfully about the “contributions” Mohammed made, never mind the fact that the guy was a rapist war criminal.  For that matter, even out and out fascist and fascist-inspired thinkers get a more respectful treatment in some quarters than does Rand.

    In fact, we live in the time when a spokewoman for the President of the United States can openly praise the greatest mass murder of the twentieth century:

    And there are significant number of people who do not see the problem.

    Yet it is Ayn Rand who is universally reviled.

    It’s not even the usual intellectual lightweights you can find online that have this tick.  The Hitch fell into exactly this trap, even though he had no problems defending and praising Trotsky, the hero of Kronstadt, who was very much the architect of the Red Terror that would one day claim him.

    Odd, don’t you think?  And what is even odder is that, for some reason, people slamming Rand can never bring themselves to state her views accurately.  For some reason people feel the need to focus on her prose, or her childhood, or some nonessential detail in her novels, or even what she scribbled in the margins of a book she was reading.  Never – never – the points that stand at the absolute core of her philosophy.

    Which is weird.  When I wrote my anti-racialist Q & A, I had no problems with representing the racialist views to the best of my ability.  I’ve even put up links to racialist responses.  I’ve never felt that afraid of accurately representing even the views that are the absolute opposite of mine.

    One of my readers – a rather vulgar type – has done me the favour of posting a whole swathe of such examples, himself being a particularly ripe one.  A full response to all of them would take more time than is available to me, so I think I will focus on another article, posted by a far more courteous commenter.  It’s by the MIT professor Scott Aaronson, and it demonstrates just how even the most intelligent seem to fall prey to this tick, this need to utterly condemn Rand while simultaneously skittering away from what she actually believed and taught.  I hope that with his own recent experiences of being misrepresent, he learns to knock this off.

    Now at the start, I have to acknowledge that Rand had some very odd ideas.  For example, she believed that the United States should never have gone into Vietnam, but being in there, a retreat would unleash slaughter beyond words, that the increase in government power would principally benefit corrupt megacorps and bent politicians, that the US conservatives compromise with racism would destroy them, that permitting Saudi Arabia to nationalize (steal) US oil extraction equipment and companies would lead to nothing but grief, as it placed vast wealth into the hands of backward theocrats, that Henry Kissinger was the worst secretary of state the US ever had, that US foreign policy is pragmatic, short sighted and disastrous both for the US and the world….

    (Okay, I know sarcasm is the foe of a good argument, but there are times when it is hard to avoid them).

    I’m going to focus on his list of ten things that he says Atlas Shrugged missed, that are fatal flaws in it.

    1.  Recent technologies.  For a novel set in the future, whose whole point is to defend capitalism, technology, innovation, and industry, Atlas is startlingly uninterested in any technologies being developed at the time it was written (the fifties).  For Rand, the ultimate symbol of technological progress is the railroad—though she’s also impressed by steel mills, copper mines, skyscrapers, factories, and bridges.  Transistors, computers, space travel, and even plastic and interstate highways seem entirely absent from her universe, while nuclear energy (which no one could ignore at the time) enters only metaphorically, through the sinister “Project X.”

    Let me take another book for a second – The War in the Air by H.G. Wells.  It’s a real howler.  Wells seriously thinks that a world war could be fought with airships and kites.  There’s not that much about modernized warfare in it.  As technological speculation, even from 1907, it does nothing – the only thing it get’s right is Germany launching a surprise attack with unexpected ruthlessness in order to quickly secure a decisive victory, but this doesn’t quite work, and things spiral out of control and into a conflagration that drags in the rest of the world, as far away as China and Japan.

    Or another book by him, War of the Worlds.  Again, scientific poppycock.  Even in his time he must have been able to speculate that all that stuff about martian invaders with heat rays is nuts.  I mean, where does he get the idea of invaders who are so removed from the natives, and so much more powerful, that they are able to kill and dominate with complete impunity, until diseases they are not adapted to wipe them all out?

    Aldiss once remarked that “Science fiction is no more written for scientists than ghost stories are written for ghosts”.  The depressing thing is that I think Aaronson gets that.  I can’t imagine him panning, say, Nineteen Eighty-Four on the grounds that we have no telescreens.  But when it comes to Rand, usual standards go out the window.

    2.  Curiosity about the physical universe.  […]In Atlas, Rand finally supplies an answer to this question, in the form of Dr. Robert Stadler.  It turns out that in Rand’s eschatology, academic scientists are the worst evil imaginable: people smart enough to see the truth of her philosophy, but who nevertheless choose to reject it.  Science, as a whole, does not come off well in Atlas: the country starves while Stadler’s State Science Institute builds a new cyclotron; and Dr. Floyd Ferris, the author of obscurantist popular physics books, later turns into a cold-blooded torturer.  (That last bit, actually, has a ring of truth to it.)

    Anyone who seriously thinks that Robert Stadler is the “worst evil imaginable” in the book really, really isn’t paying attention.  But leaving that aside, Stadler is not reviled for rejecting her philosophy, but for allowing his tremendous science (which Rand does, incidentally, celebrate) to be put at the mercy of a fascistic government.

    As regards evil, in her article To Young Scientists Ayn Rand explained this as follows: She had absolute respect for those of us who devote our lives to the pursuit of science, but she warned that this did not permit us to ignore ethics and social obligations.  The way she put it is as follows:

    “Imagine a soldier who says his only business is war.  He is not interested in politics or ethics or anything else, just perfecting his art of war, and is willing to put his services to any government against any enemy.  Imagine what we would think of such a person.  But that soldier would not be responsible for the thousandth part of what a scientist would be, who declared himself ‘above the conflict’ and put a formula or equation into the wrong hands”.

    Crazy, huh?  And if you want a real-life parallel to Stadler, consider the case of Werner Heisenberg.  Do her views become a little more understandable, when you consider the fact that one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century was willing, in exchange for being able to pursue his research, to try and make an atomic bomb for Adolph Hitler?  And that is even before I comment on those who did hand nuclear weapons to Joseph Stalin.

    3. Family.Whittaker Chambers (of pumpkin patch fame) pointed out this startling omission in his review of 1957.  The characters in Atlas mate often enough, but they never reproduce, or even discuss the possibility of reproduction (if only to take precautions against it)

    Not exactly true.  In Galt’s Gulch there is a description of a mother who fled there, in the hopes of providing a decent world for her children.  One of the reasons that Francisco D’Aconia says he is doing what he is doing is for future generations, for a world where children are able of having a future that isn’t absolute slavery.

    4. “Angular,” attractive people who also happen to be collectivists, or “shapeless” people who happen to be rational individualists.  In the universe of Atlas, physical appearance is destiny—always, without exception, from John Galt down to the last minor villain

    False.  Mike from The Fountainhead is a hero and described as ugly.  Fred Kinnan is described as attractive in a rugged way and is a villain in Atlas Shrugged, and the aforementioned Floyd Ferris is described as attractive (admittedly, like “a gigolo”).

    5.  Personalities.  In Atlas, as in The Fountainhead, each character has (to put it mildly) a philosophy, but no personality independent of that philosophy, no Objectively-neutral character traits.  What, for example, do we know about Howard Roark?  Well, he has orange hair, likes to smoke cigarettes, and is a brilliant architect and defender of individualism.  What do we know about John Galt?  He has gold hair, likes to smoke cigarettes, and is a brilliant inventor and defender of individualism.  Besides occupation and hair color, they’re pretty much identical.  Neither is suffered to have any family, culture, backstory, weaknesses, quirks, or even hobbies or favorite foods (not counting cigarettes, of course).  Yes, I know this is by explicit authorial design.  But it also seems to undermine Rand’s basic thesis: that Galt and Roark are not gods or robots, but ordinary mortals.

    You can – just about, if you stretch yourself quite a bit – make that claim about Galt and Roark (given that The Fountainhead is about Roark’s life, I’m not sure how that works, but let it pass).  Here are some characters you absolutely cannot say that about: Fred Kinnan, Orren Boyle, Francisco D’Acconia, Hank Rearden. Dagny Taggart, Mike, Robert Stadler, Eddie Willers, “the Wet Nurse”, Wesley Mouch, Peter Keating, Dominique Francon, Steven Mallory, Austin Heller…

    6.  Positive portrayal of uncertainty.  In Atlas, “rationality” is equated over and over with being certain one is right.  The only topic the good guys, like Hank and Dagny, ever change their minds about is whether the collectivists are (a) evil or (b) really, really evil.  (Spoiler alert: after 800 pages, they opt for (b).)  The idea that rationality might have anything to do with being uncertain—with admitting you’re wrong, changing your mind, withholding judgment—simply does not exist in Rand’s universe.

    Again, false.  There whole point about the book is a struggle of people to realize  a fundamental error that has wrecked the world.  And the absence of certainty only flies if you ignore characters like “the West Nurse” or “Eddie Willers”.

    7.  Honest disagreements.  Atlas might be the closest thing ever written to a novelization of Aumann’s Agreement Theorem.  In RandLand, whenever two rational people meet, they discover to their delight that they agree about everything

    Again, false.  One of the biggest arcs in Atlas Shrugged is the violent, often literally violent, disagreement between Rearden and Francisco.

    To underline this point that, for some reason, many have a thing about accurately representing her philosophy, here is a quote from Galt’s Speech – the founding text of Objectivism:

    Accept the fact that you are not omniscient, but playing a zombie will not give you omniscience-that your mind is fallible, but becoming mindless will not make you infallible-that an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error. In place of your dream of an omniscient automation, accept the fact that any knowledge man acquires is acquired by his own will and effort, and that that is his distinction in the universe, that is his nature, his morality, his glory.

    That is one of those things that never seem to get mentioned by people slamming Rand.

    8. History.  When I read The Fountainhead as a teenager, there was one detail that kept bothering me: the fact that it was published in 1943.  At such a time, how could Rand possibly imagine the ultimate human evil to be a left-wing newspaper critic?

    True, Ayn Rand does seem out of order in her hatred of intellectuals.  Here is Fred Kinnan describing intellectuals:

    Your kind of intellectuals are the first to scream when it’s safe-and the first to shut their traps at the first sign of danger. They spend years spitting at the man who feeds them-and they lick the hand of the man who slaps their drooling faces. Didn’t they deliver every country of Europe, one after another, to committees of goons, just like this one here? Didn’t they scream their heads off to shut out every burglar alarm and to break every padlock open for the goons? Have you heard a peep out of them since? Didn’t they scream that they were the friends of labor? Do you hear them raising their voices about the chain gangs, the slave camps, the fourteen-hour workday and the mortality from scurvy in the People’s States of Europe? No, but you do hear them telling the whip-beaten wretches that starvation is prosperity, that slavery is freedom, that torture chambers arc brother-love and that if the wretches don’t understand it, then it’s their own fault that they suffer, and it’s the mangled corpses in the jail cellars who’re to blame for all their troubles, not the benevolent leaders! Intellectuals? You might have to worry about any other breed of men, but not about the modern intellectuals: they’ll swallow anything. I don’t feel so safe about the lousiest wharf rat in the longshoremen’s union: he’s liable to remember suddenly that he is a man-and then I won’t be able to keep him in line. But the intellectuals? That’s the one thing they’ve forgotten long ago. I guess it’s the one thing that all their education was aimed to make them forget. Do anything you please to the intellectuals. They’ll take it.”

    Here is another quote on them from Atlas Shrugged, even stronger (if you can believe it!):

    If given supreme power over the country, I would pardon all the people and even most of the leaders, but I would hang every intellectual in the country and the professors three feet higher than the rest, to be left up as long as public hygiene allows.

    I can see what Aaronson means – I mean, that quote is really so out there that…

    Oh.  Whoops.  Sorry, I got my sources wrong.  That quote comes from the diaries of the jewish Victor Klemperer, written from the Third Reich ~1943.

    The reason Rand made an intellectual newspaper critic her embodiment of evil in The Fountainhead is because she saw plainly that it was the intellectuals who paved the way for the brutes, the ones who installed them on the world.  Hitler and his cronies could never, ever have seized power in Germany, nor could the Communists have unleashed their horrors, were it not for the way their way was paved by intellectuals.

    Lee Harris writes that the 2oth century was the one ravaged by the intellectuals.  In no other century had intellectuals such power to shape the world in the way they wanted.  And look what they wrought.

    Go back and look at Anita Dunn praising Mao, and tell me that that mentality has vanished.  Or how about the following few details:

    James Lovelock has said it might be necessary to “put democracy on hold for a while”. Mayer Hillman, senior fellow at the Policy Studies Institute in London agres with him.

    James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard institute, “Chinese Leadership needed to save humanity”.

    David Suzuki, Canada’s famous environmentalist: ““What I would challenge you to do is to put a lot of effort into trying to see whether there’s a legal way of throwing our so-called leaders into jail because what they’re doing is a criminal act,”

    The New York TimesThomas Friedman.  “One party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks.  But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today it can also have great advantages”.

    As regards the fact that Atlas is set only in the United States – the answer is simple: Owell set totalitarianism in Britain to inform people that, yes, it can happen here.  Rand did the same.

     

    9.  Efficient evil people.  In Atlas, there’s not a single competent industrialist who isn’t also an exemplar of virtue.

    True.  Rand thought that the increase of government power would lead to a situation where corrupt and venal megacorps got together with bent politician to throttle the honest businessmen and enrich themselves at the price of catastrophe for the rest of the nation.

    (Man, that Rand!  What a kidder.)

    But this cuts right to the heart of her philosophy – she argued that the number of really, truly evil people was vanishingly small.  The problem is that too often people who are reasonably decent find themselves sucked into supporting terrible people and evil systems – and often through the best of intentions.

    (Again, what a whacky idea!)

    Incidentally, that is why one of her heroes in her earlier books was an out and out Communist, one who fought in the Russian revolution.

     

    10. Ethnicity.  Seriously: to write two sprawling novels set in the US, with hundreds of characters between them, and not a single non-Aryan?

    Easily answered:

    But if cattle and horses and lions had hands
    or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do,
    horses like horses and cattle like cattle
    also would depict the gods’ shapes and make their bodies
    of such a sort as the form they themselves have.

    Ethiopians say that their gods are snub–nosed [σιμούς] and black
    Thracians that they are pale and red-haired.

    -Xenophanes

     

    But since Aaronson is so much worried about Nazism, let me suggest there is a nearer target.  I infer from his comment about “Republicans”, he is a Democrat of some description.  Well, he might want to think a little more about a party that was notorious for its Nazi sympathizers, was the political wing of the KKK and still defends a chap who is happy to blow up African Pharmacies if it saves his political hide.

    Cheap shot?  It’s a factually based cheap shot, which is more than I can say for anything he writes about Rand.

     

    However, this does allow me to seague into something Rand got dead wrong.  She thought that the rest of the world would fall into collectivism and tyranny until only the United States was left.  What we are actually seeing is that all over the world, Rand’s ideas are becoming more and more popular, and more and more capitalist revolutionaries are arising.

     [I]t was, and largely still is, U.S. republican doctrine that we Euro-weenies were always gonna be socialist, not like the red blooded, capitalist Americans.  Meanwhile, in many ways much of Europe is more free market and less redistributionist than the United States.  And if this complaint is true, then why is it that Atlas Shrugged is a best seller in India?

    Until 2007, Indians conducted more Google searches for the Russian-American novelist than residents of any other country, and in recent years have ceded the top spot only to Americans.

     Why do I keep meeting Nigerian Objectivists?  Why is it that Africa is now giving rise to capitalist revolutionaries like Dambisa Moyo and Paul Kagame?

    I’ve sold many people from the developing world on capitalism with one simple fact: the international order is not capitalistic; it is a socialistic, redistributionist racket designed to completely screw the poorest in the developing world and the average joe in the developed world, for the benefit of no one except corrupt megacorps, tin-pot tyrants, and the collection of anti-globalisation riff-raff that are parasitic off both.

     

    So, a host of non-essential criticisms that completely fail to touch the core of Rand’s ideas, and still manage to be completely wrong.  I return to my point : What is it about Rand that inspires such hysteria, coupled with an unwillingness to accurately portray what she wrote and argued?  Why, if she is so obviously, clearly, and demonstrably wrong, is that necessary?

    Category: Objectivism and neo-Objectivism

    Article by: The Prussian

    • Goosebumps

      Would you endorse this 100%?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objectivism%27s_rejection_of_the_primitive

      I’m not sure what I think about it. On the one hand, the existence of the United States with its admirable founding principles has undoubtedly been a great asset to the world (though it was an utter disaster for the Native Americans). On the other hand, would you be comfortable if someone were to make such an argument for dispossessing people of their land today?

      • ThePrussian

        Thank you! Finally a substantial, serious question about Ayn Rand and her views.

        I’m really not being sarcastic here – that’s a great question, and I will reply over the next few days.

      • ThePrussian

        Let me clear my throat that, while I agree with Rand’s premises, I sometimes disagree with her conclusions on specific issues, because I think she missed certain key facts. For example, I argue for a much earlier cut-off point for abortion than she did, because I think she didn’t have all the facts of embryology to hand – but we agree on the principle, that the cut-off is when the unborn is a person.

        To the question then! I agree with all of that, except, specifically, about the native americans.

        Now, to revisit the premise/conclusion difference: any civilized or more civilized people has a right, though not a duty, to expand civilization, assuming that is what they are doing. For example, consider a bad ghetto on the outskirts of a city, full of gangs and criminals. Some citizens – for whatever reason – move there, and set up their own neighborhood watch and militia. They clean out the gangs, enforce order, people can walk the streets safely at night – that is perfectly fine and just. Let me give two practical examples: Kenya, & the African Union, have an absolute moral right to try and impose civilization on Somalia, and for that matter, the Tutsis under Nkunda had every right to force civilization onto the Congo (not least because they were being threatened with extinction, but that’s another story). So – I agree with the premise.

        Now – does this apply to the native Americans and the conquest of the Americas? Well, yes and no. Let’s be clear: the Amerindians were not hippies. They routinely waged total war against each other, and that war was for annihilation. Cannibalism, the public torture of capture prisoners was common. Imagine the worst biker gang, doubled and squared.

        Now – does that justify what the white men did to them? I’m really not sure it does. No matter how I look at it, I can’t agree with things like enslaving the natives, forcing them to work to death in silver mines, raping native women, cutting off hands, feeding them to the dogs, paying bounties for each Amerindian killed, and so on. Call me a bleeding-heart, but that strikes me as evil. That is not – at _all_ – like what Nkunda was trying to do in the Congo (just for example). Nor is it like Charlesmagne civilizing and uniting ancient Europe.

        Had the white men simply tried to build a civilization, and incorporate those who joined, that would have been fine, and if they limited themselves to defending their settlements, that would have been fine. But that isn’t what happened, is it?

        There’s also the “S” word: smallpox. I don’t believe the stories of deliberate infection, but the facts is that the Amerindians were almost completely wiped out by the diseases whites brought with them. That’s something that needs to be faced. I think that the ideas underpinning the United States, in particular the Declaration, are some of the best in the world, when it comes to founding a nation, and I am hardly alone, but I really would like Americans to remember that it is one thing to found a nation when you’re protected by two oceans and all the natives have conveniently dropped dead. It is quite another to have to do it when you have to unseat an ancient regime, and fight of terrible cultural predators at the same time. It is one reason I look more to the example of men like Mandela, Frederick the Great and Lee Kuan Yew than to Jefferson.

        Does that answer your question?

        • Goosebumps

          Thanks. Your points are certainly relevant, but I think Rand went even farther than that, to say primitive peoples could be stripped of their resources if they were utterly failing to approach the full potential in using those resources.

          For example, you talk about Kenya having the right to intervene and impose law and order in Somalia. I can agree with that, but what if the Kenyans were to actually rule the place like a colony, contending that the Somalis were barbarians who deserved to lose ownership of the land for being mired in perpetual civil war?

          Imagine what a country with the scientific and technological record of Israel could do if it were sitting on top of all that oil, instead of Saudi Arabia. I do get the impression that Rand would have supported an Israeli takeover, justifying it by pointing to the pathetic ways the Arabs have used the oil money.

          This for me is the key point. Even if you don’t commit atrocities, even if you don’t enslave the natives, is it okay to walk in and take control of the land because you feel you can put it to better use?

          • ThePrussian

            Well, the first thing I’d say is that there is no such thing as a “natural” resource. Oil was of no use until people learned how to turn it into something useful. The tribes of Arabia would still be milling around in the sand were it not for Infidel ingenuity that learned how to exploit the oil below the sands. What Rand said – and history has borne her out – is that the United States government should never have permitted the Saudis to nationalize – steal – the companies and the equipment there. Notice how the Saudis still need foreigners to run their stolen equipment because they are that incompetent. Notice how much misery we’ve all been in thanks to their oil wealth. You know where that money goes, right? To funding the Jihad.

            As regards Kenya and Somalia, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Kenya is now at war with Somalia. Kenya has every right to do whatever it takes to defend its citizens. Even if this were not the case, it’d have an absolute moral right to conquer and even annex Somalia if the purpose was to create a free society. In other words, Rand opposed the kind of ‘extractive’ colonial tyranny, the kind you saw in Leopold’s domination of the Congo.

    • im-skeptical

      I will withhold additional comment until I have finished reading Atlas Shrugged. However, my initial impression is that the book lives up to its reputation as being juvenile (or targeted at juveniles). The characters are one-dimensional. The situations are extremely unrealistic. But who knows, maybe it will start to make sense.

    • ElectroJosh

      It does seem that people have a natural “all or nothing” tendency when it comes to agreeing and disagreeing with people. And so it is with Rand.

      Without breaking it down I find many things I agree with and many things I don’t in her ideas – but I would never say she was an idiot and dismiss her out of hand. However I find many people who either embrace her 100% or revile her with equal measure as if there is a need to be completely for or against her.

      You are very much more of a fan than I am but, as you have stated, you aren’t 100% on board with everything she says either. I think her opponents would do better service to the discussion by acknowledging those things they do agree with and then moving onto their points of departure. The knee-jerk anti-Randian screeds do no one any favors.

    • WFC

      “Hitler and his cronies could never, ever have seized power in Germany, nor could the Communists have unleashed their horrors, were it not for the way their way was paved by intellectuals.”

      “Intellectuals” like the Fabians, who were popularising eugenics since the beginning of the 20th century.

      That Britain (almost alone in the western world) managed to avoid substantive eugenics legislation was not because of “intellectuals” – who were the ones pushing it – nor Labourites, nor “Liberals”, nor Tories.

      It was because of the almost single handed efforts of one GK Chesterton – who went up and down the country pointing out the ridiculous premises and illogical reasoning of the supporters of this new fad.

      He was a devout Catholic.

      I mention this not to espouse the quality of organised Christianity (some of his bitterest opponents were God botherers), but merely to point out that a religious belief does not preclude an intelligent mind.

    • im-skeptical

      “What is it about Rand that inspires such hysteria, coupled with an unwillingness to accurately portray what she wrote and argued? Why, if she is so obviously, clearly, and demonstrably wrong, is that necessary?”

      Having finally read Atlas Shrugged, I am now in a better position to comment. The first thing I would note is that the previous conception I had about Ayn Rand, based on what I have read about her and her books, has hardly changed. But I also have a better understanding of how a young mind can be seduced by her utopian vision of a world where people are free and government stays out of the way.

      This utopia is a striking parallel to the vision of Marxists. Both are based on hopes and wishes, but neither is based on a realistic understanding of human nature. At least Marx had the excuse that his ideal society was as yet untried. We now can see more clearly what kind of outcome should have been expected. On the other hand, Rand should have known better. The history of her adopted republic should have told her what she needed to know about laisez faire capitalism. It inevitably leads to severe economic problems, just as Marxism does.

      Did Rand ever hear of the great industrialist Nelson Rockefeller, who created a monopoly by crushing his competition out of existence? Did she hear of his son, who forced his laborers to live in conditions that were virtually indistinguishable from slavery? You might protest that these people don’t exhibit the ideals of Rand’s philosophy, and I would agree. But they are exactly what you would expect in a world where government just stays out of the way.

      Her heroes are wise, noble, intelligent, and virtuous. They are so singularly competent that as soon as they leave, their businesses fall to pieces. I found myself wondering how, if they were so competent, could they fail to staff those businesses with properly trained employees who could carry on in their absence.

      Her antagonists are the embodiment of evil. They are stupid and incompetent, and above all, they are “progressive”. They implement horrendous policies that result in economic destruction, but they are too stupid to see the problems they have created. Even the Soviet Union would have been a showcase of effective economic policies by comparison.

      Government is bad, bad, bad. It gets no credit for building the infrastructure that industries rely upon, for educating their employees, or for sponsoring scientific and technological development that they use in their products.

      I can envision a young Paul Ryan reading this book and thinking Ooh! Ooh! I know why Lawson’s bank failed! I can see him concluding I’m one of the good guys. I hate progressives, and I hate government. And now he’s working to destroy the social institutions that millions rely upon, and yes even Ayn Rand herself relied upon.

      • ThePrussian

        Taking this in reverse order – again, that’s easily answered. Rand said there was nothing wrong with claiming government handouts (certain ones – she was completely opposed to corporate welfare) if you were opposed to the redistributive principle. The point is you are trying to get back some of what the state sucked out of you.

        Next: “Government is bad, bad, bad.” False. Objectivists hold that government is a necessary good – when it is restricted to its proper role of defending individual rights. As to the rest of this: “It gets no credit for building the infrastructure that industries rely upon, for educating their employees, or for sponsoring scientific and technological development that they use in their products” – Looked at Detroit recently?

        Whatever good is created by government redistributionism is more than negated by the opportunity cost of what it has confiscated elsewhere. What research has not been done because the funds were drawn off into taxes?

        “Even the Soviet Union would have been a showcase of effective economic policies by comparison.” – Name them.

        “Her heroes are wise, noble, intelligent, and virtuous. They are so singularly competent that as soon as they leave, their businesses fall to pieces. I found myself wondering how, if they were so competent, could they fail to staff those businesses with properly trained employees who could carry on in their absence.”

        Easily answered. 1) They had been losing their best employees for years even before they quit, and 2) the presence of competent line managers is not the same thing as competent potential CEOs and industry leaders. The departure of Dagny, Rearden etc. is the trigger that causes the last remnant to go on strike.

        “Did Rand ever hear of the great industrialist Nelson Rockefeller, who created a monopoly by crushing his competition out of existence? Did she hear of his son, who forced his laborers to live in conditions that were virtually indistinguishable from slavery? ”

        I know about Rockefeller. Now how did he “crush” his competition? Was he like Don Corleone, sending goons to smash up equipment and murder the opposition? Nope. Okay, so he got together with the government and had directives passed to force his competition out of business? Er, not exactly. So what did he do? He provided oil at a higher quality, with greater reliability and lower price than any competitor, which meant that people preferred to buy his oil and this, incidentally, provided a huge kick to industrialization of the United States.

        What a monster.

        Now his son I don’t know about. But since you say that he forced his workers to work in conditions that were “virtually indistinguishable from slavery”, I take it he had them lynched when they tried to leave, organized posses to get the returned, branded them, controlled where they could live, sold off children as soon as they could work and whatnot?

        “The history of her adopted republic should have told her what she needed to know about laisez faire capitalism. It inevitably leads to severe economic problems, just as Marxism does.”

        [Citation needed]. What I see in the United States is that as its government has grown, its social problems have grown worse as corrupt plutocrats make deals with wicked politicians to advance policies that benefit them for the immediate moment and then are ruinous for the entire country. Hmm, that sounds a lot like Atlas Shrugged.

        • im-skeptical

          “So what did he do? He provided oil at a higher quality, with greater reliability and lower price than any competitor, which meant that people preferred to buy his oil and this, incidentally, provided a huge kick to industrialization of the United States.

          What a monster.”

          Not exactly. He used unfair and illegal business practices to subdue his competitors. Competition was cutthroat, and Rockefeller did most of the throat cutting.
          – Sometimes the technique was as simple as buying up all the oil barrels and causing a shortage that crippled smaller companies.
          – Another technique was to orchestrate price wars between wholly owned subsidiaries, thus forcing holdouts to sell at a loss to compete.
          – A more complex technique involved limiting the number of trains available for shipment by using his close relationship with the railroad companies.
          – Yet another option was purchasing all the equipment and equipment suppliers and refusing to sell replacement parts to holdouts. (http://www.investopedia.com/articles/economics/08/jd-rockefeller.asp)*

          Once he had these companies where he wanted them, he bought them out, adding them to his stable of subsidiaries. This was in violation of US law, which he evaded by hiding their true ownership.

          Yes, Rockefeller (sorry, it was John, not Nelson) was a real peach of a guy.

          * This web site is sympathetic to Rockefeller. It fails to describe the illegal nature of his business practices.

          More to follow.

        • im-skeptical

          Now his son I don’t know about. But since you say that he forced his workers to work in conditions that were “virtually indistinguishable from slavery”, I take it he had them lynched when they tried to leave, organized posses to get the returned, branded them, controlled where they could live, sold off children as soon as they could work and whatnot?”

          That’s not too far off the mark. Rockefeller Jr. had ownership interest in mining operations where the workers lived in an isolated company town (a fenced-in compound with armed guards), were paid in company scrip (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Company_scrip), and had no choice but to use that scrip to pay rent for their company-owned quarters, and buy food in the company store. In the end, they had no money. If they died in the mines (a frequent occurrence), their families were summarily kicked out of the compound with no money, no resources, and nowhere to go. When the workers tried to unionize, they were brutally suppressed with hired guns and government forces. See Ludlow massacre (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludlow_Massacre).

        • im-skeptical

          “Easily answered. 1) They had been losing their best employees for years even before they quit, and 2) the presence of competent line managers is not the same thing as competent potential CEOs and industry leaders. The departure of Dagny, Rearden etc. is the trigger that causes the last remnant to go on strike.”

          That’s not what I got from reading it. In one company after another, the great leader was the only person keeping them running, and without them, they were unable to function. Rearden was the one and only person in his company who knew how to properly operate the smelter? Are you kidding? Taggart made decisions that affected the whole company, yet none of the other executives even knew about them? And this was supposed to be the best-run railroad in the country? Are you kidding?

    • Nice Ekhat

      I know you read SlateStarCodex, so obligatory link: http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/09/30/i-can-tolerate-anything-except-the-outgroup/

      That, in a nutshell, is who is afraid of Rand: people who identify her as a political enemy with enduring relevance. She’s not some abstract founder in the long-ago-and-far-away, like Mohammed, and she’s not the prophet of an ideal like Marx; she is instead The Other, allied with The Enemy, and as such must be denounced at every turn. Endorsing any of her ideas is tantamount to heresy.