Friday, April 02, 2010

Objectivism & Politics, Part 47

Ayn Rand contra Conservatism 1. One of Rand’s weakest articles is her “Conservatism: an Obituary,” which was based on a speech she made in 1960. Rand had at one time identified with conservatism and had even taken part in the nascent conservative movement of forties. But she had become frustrated at the lack of ideological purity she found among her conservative friends. “[T]hey were not for free enterprise,” she complained, free enterprise “was not an absolute in their minds in the sense of real laissez-faire capitalism. I knew then that there was nothing that I can do with it and no help that I can expect from any of them.” Nathaniel Branden encouraged Rand to break with conservatism. “We have nothing philosophically in common with them,” he told her (which is true). [Goddess of the Market, 146] When William F. Buckley, through the auspices of Whitaker Chambers’ incendiary review, “Big Sister is Watching You,” basically made it clear that Rand was not welcome within the conservative movement, Rand’s separation from her former allies was complete. Rand’s essay “Conservatism: an Obituary” must be seen in the context of Rand’s growing hostility toward the Right in America.

Although Rand was especially sensitive to any criticism which, in her opinion, distorted her own views, she showed no such sensitivity when it came to distorting the views of ideologies and philosophies she didn’t care for. Prima facie, one might have thought that an advocate of objectivity and egoism would wish to reassure people that selfishness was not merely
the Golden Rule turned upside down, in which one expects to be treated better than one treats others. But no, Rand was apparently too self-absorbed, too narcissistic to even notice she was reinforcing the very stereotypes about egoism and selfishness that she had so strenuously denied in her ethical rationalizations.

The first accusation she levels against conservatives is a moral one. She denounces conservatives for refusing to own up that their goal is freedom.

What is the moral stature of those who are afraid to proclaim that they are the champions of freedom? What is the integrity of those who outdo their enemies in smearing, misrepresenting, spitting at, and apologizing for their own ideal? What is the rationality of those who expect to trick people into freedom, cheat them into justice, fool them into progress, con them into preserving their rights, and, while indoctrinating them with statism, put one over on them and let them wake up in a perfect capitalist society some morning?

These are the “conservatives”—or most of their intellectual spokesmen.

Since Rand does not give any examples, it is difficult to figure out what on earth she is talking about. In any case, the contention that “most” conservative intellectuals are guilty of “apologizing for their own ideal” and attempting to “trick people into freedom” is grossly implausible. Wherever we find Rand failing to provide evidence for some controversial and implausible assertion, there’s usually a very good reason—namely, because she doesn’t have any evidence to provide. She’s merely making stuff up (no doubt unconsciously) to fit a particular ideological narrative which she wishes to promote.

Rand next turns her attention to her favorite political argument, that is to say, her contention that capitalism requires a “moral base.” It is this contention, and the criticism of conservatism that Rand infers from it, that will be the subject of my next “Objectivism and Politics” post.

12 comments:

Abolaji said...

Since Rand does not give any examples, it is difficult to figure out what on earth she is talking about. In any case, the contention that “most” conservative intellectuals are guilty of “apologizing for their own ideal” and attempting to “trick people into freedom” is grossly implausible. Wherever we find Rand failing to provide evidence for some controversial and implausible assertion, there’s usually a very good reason—namely, because she doesn’t have any evidence to provide. She’s merely making stuff up to (no doubt unconsciously) to fit a particular ideological narrative which she wishes to promote.

I prefer your earlier explanation which I repeat below:

Although Rand was especially sensitive to any criticism which, in her opinion, distorted her own views, she showed no such sensitivity when it came to distorting the views of ideologies and philosophies she didn’t care for.

Christian Prophet said...

What is more important? Rand's intellectual faults? Or the prophecy and solutions she offered? It would serve to ask everyone we know to read Atlas Shrugged not only because of Rand's accurate prophecy, but because of the solution she offers. See the article "Ayn Rand, 20th Century Prophetess":
http://acimmessages.blogspot.com/

Daniel Barnes said...

CP wrote:
>What is more important? Rand's intellectual faults? Or the prophecy and solutions she offered?

If you're going to offer "prophecy" and "solutions", especially those that demand a major restructuring of society, it's pretty important that said "prophecy" and "solutions" get thoroughly examined for faults before installation begins. Hence identifying Rand's intellectual faults is highly important.

In fact, there is every reason to believe Rand's recommendations are shot through with fatal errors , from her epistemology on up.

gregnyquist said...

"What is more important? Rand's intellectual faults? Or the prophecy and solutions she offered?"

I'm not quite sure what the point is here. Let us say that Rand's prophecy and solutions are more important than her intellectual faults. And what are we supposed to conclude from that? Does that mea her intellectual faults have no importance at all? But that hardly follows. Merely because A is more important than B does not mean that B is entirely unimportant or unworthy of discussion and analysis. This is particularly true when B is clearly related to A. Rand's prophecy and solutions are, at the very least, rationalized on the basis of her intellectual faults. And if we were to accept Rand's word that her philosophy—and, indeed, her entire psycho-epistemology—represents an integrated whole, then the intellectual faults are part and parcel of the prophecy and the solutions.

But even more to the point, I've (and others at ARCHNBlog) have been involved in copious discussions about Rand's "prophecy and solutions." So there doesn't seem a whole lot of polemical efficacy in targeting this post for not providing what has been given in abundance in other posts.

Martin H said...

Best not to bother, Christian. The blogosphere has lulled many into thinking that the social rules that govern, say, a dinner party have been put into abeyance by the ease with which we can comment on blogs such as this one.

Not a chance! If you try to break into a dinner party exchange of arcana you'll be snubbed even if, or especially if, you know a lot. Same rules apply here. Actually, this blog, like many, and forums too, are typically dominated by a couple of smart alpha-males who defend their territory well.

Imagine being told you should have read the old posts otherwise your comment lacks polemical efficacy. Love the "polemical efficacy". Male aggression at its finest (yawn).

Daniel Barnes said...

Martin H:
>If you try to break into a dinner party exchange of arcana you'll be snubbed even if, or especially if, you know a lot. Same rules apply here.

Actually, at most dinner parties, I've been to anyone who knows a lot about a subject under discussion doesn't get "snubbed" - quite the reverse!

If CP, or indeed yourself, would like to make a knowledgeable contribution, go right ahead.

Abolaji said...

Martin H,

Imagine being told you should have read the old posts otherwise your comment lacks polemical efficacy. Love the "polemical efficacy". Male aggression at its finest (yawn).

Honestly, when I first saw Christian Prophet's post, I thought it was spam to advertise his own blog. Usually, people who want to deal with an issue with substance post something that relates to the topic under discussion with some depth.

If you've dealt with fans of Ayn Rand, you might realize that many of them take critical discussion of her as Christians take critical discussion of Jesus. So maybe it would be easier for Christian Prophet or yourself to make it clear what about Greg's criticism of Rand does not agree with you. That Martin's overly general criticism was met with a general response does not strike me as a double standard.

Martin H said...

I have nothing whatever against Greg's criticisms of Rand. I regard this site as a valuable public resource and I read it regularly.

Alas, I have had run-ins with Randians, and, as you correctly point out, they certainly don't like to be reminded that they evince religiosity: literalism, excommunication of heretics, etc.

Just ignore my comment. I made it in the spirit of momentary irritation at a display of male aggression, of which there is altogether too much on t'internet. On that last point, I'm sure you will agree.

Abolaji said...

Martin,

I appreciate the clarification and yes, I agree. Not that we necessarily should or would do anything other than what males do :D.

Cheers.

Daniel Barnes said...

Martin H:
>I regard this site as a valuable public resource and I read it regularly.

Cheers Martin, that's exactly how it's intended.
regards
Daniel

Xtra Laj said...

Sam Harris's defence of Objective moral values

http://www.project-reason.org/newsfeed/item/moral_confusion_in_the_name_of_science3/

is getting some play in Objectivist circles.

It's so funny how people tend to just support whatever agrees with their preconceived answers for the most part.

Anonymous said...

"Since Rand does not give any examples, it is difficult to figure out what on earth she is talking about."

Never, that must be one of the rare occurences where she didn't give any...


Steve