Monday, July 12, 2010

Objectivism & Politics, Part 58

Ayn Rand contra Libertarianism 3. In my last two posts, I have detailed the inadequacy of Rand’s arguments against Libertarianism. Rand’s arguments are so bad that it raises questions as to her real motives in the whole business. If she had a clear, rational case against Libertarianism, wouldn’t she have presented such a case and left it at that? But she does no such thing. Instead, her arguments appear drenched in malice and petty resentment. Libertarians, she inveighs, are a “monstrous, disgusting bunch of people” who stole all their ideas from Objectivism and yet have the gall to consort with anarchists and (horror of horrors!) religious conservatives. Now if Libertarianism really is as bad as Rand would have us believe, why did Rand have to resort to name calling and illogical guilt-by-association arguments? I have several conjectures on this score, as listed below.


Conjecture 1: Logical deduction from Rand’s basic premises. Rand’s admirers would have us believe that her views of Libertarianism are merely deductions from the principles of Objectivism. From Rand’s views of history and psychology, she concluded that bad arguments do more harm than outright opposition. This being the case, Libertarians really are “worse” than Marxists and communists, because their bad arguments cause more harm to freedom and capitalism than outright opposition.

While it may be true that Rand’s hostility toward Libertarians was, in part at least, motivated by this factor, it still doesn’t explain why Rand made so many bad arguments against Libertarians. Indeed, it seems altogether anomalous. If bad arguments are worse than outright opposition, then Rand, if she were consistent, would not compound the fault by issuing bad arguments against Libertarianism. If she opposed Libertarianism because its apologists refused to provide good arguments for capitalism and freedom, she hardly did her own cause any favors by issuing even worse arguments against Libertarianism.

Conjecture 2: Vanity motive. Rand had a very high opinion of her ability to persuade people. She regarded her conviction that capitalism requires a “moral base” (i.e., that capitalism should be defended with moral arguments) as a special insight which would allow her political ideals to triumph. However, Rand struggled to find other prominent supporters of capitalism and freedom who shared this view. When Rand’s essay “Textbook of Americanism” was passed around among the donors and staff members of FEE, the first libertarian think tank, few were impressed with Rand’s arguments. One reader complained of Rand’s “illogical jargon,” while another complained that the “line of logic” which Rand used in the essay was “very weak.” [Burns, Goddess of the Market, 119] In short, even those who sympathized with Rand’s political ideals found her arguments unpersuasive. Imagine how galling that must have been to Rand that even people who shared her political convictions found her arguments unconvincing!

Perhaps, then, it was merely disappointed vanity that set Rand against libertarians. Since they refused to bow down and let her be their intellectual leader, following and agreeing with her every pronouncement, she concluded they had to be her worst enemies.

Conjecture 2: Jealousy. Perhaps Rand simply resented that some defenders of freedom and capitalism had more success or were taken more seriously than she was. In the forties, the most successful book defending freedom was Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. Rand hostility toward Hayek was immediate and vitriolic. She regarded Hayek as “pure poison” and “an example of our most pernicious enemy.” “The man is an ass,” she wrote, “[The Road to Serfdom] had no base, no moral base. This is why my book is needed.” [ibid, 104-105] This final boast suggests that Rand regarded Hayek as a rival, and that jealousy may have played a role in her overwrought denunciations of his book.

Perhaps Rand’s hatred of Libertarians was fueled, at least in part, by jealously of other intellectuals such as Rothbard, Hospers, and Nozick. Perhaps this explains her bitter contention that Libertarians were merely cheap publicity seekers. Maybe she resented that they were getting more attention than she was, or less negative attention, as the case might be.

Or perhaps Rand merely resented that Libertarians were be given credit for ideas that Rand thought she herself was responsible for. Maybe she was jealous that she wasn’t being given all or most of the credit for these ideas.

Conjecture 4: Resentment against excommunicated Objectivists. Many Libertarians were former Objectivists; a few were even close disciples of Rand. Perhaps Rand resented that Libertarian these former Objectivist apostates a safe haven.


Now which, if any, of these conjectures is true (or at least true in parts) I will leave to the reader to decide. Apologists for Rand might insist that conjectures two through four must be wrong, because Rand was incapable of vanity, jealousy, and resentment. This, however, is a rather implausible assertion difficult to find creditable. Vanity, jealousy, and resentment are emotions deep within the warp and woof of human nature. Denying these emotions on the ground that this human nature doesn't exist only encourages thinkers like Rand to ignore and repress what they really do feel, rather than confronting these troublesome emotions and taking effective psychological counter-measures against them. It is precisely those who deny human nature that are most vulnerable to its less pleasant manifestations. Rand’s claim that she didn’t have these disagreeable emotions because, after all, she was a woman of self-made soul, is no more creditable than someone denying that his or her organism produces disagreeable body odors. Ironically, it’s precisely the individual who makes such a claim who winds up stinking. The rest of us, recognizing that are bodies, if left to their own devices, will inevitably produce unpleasant odors, resort to such effective counter-measures as bathing and deodorant.

Note: this will be the last post in the current "Objectivism and Politics" series. Although there exists a great deal more territory that could be covered relating to politics, I think we have touched most of the major issues and can proceed to other areas of Rand's philosophy.

18 comments:

Xtra Laj said...

Greg,

The quote that it is precisely those who deny human nature who are most vulnerable to its vices. Did you come up with that or is that a recurring theme somewhere?

Laj

gregnyquist said...

Laj,

I doubt that, outside the precise wording, the quote is altogether original, although I cannot recall anyone ever saying anything quite like it. It's probably a synthesis of multiple influences, combined with observations from the experience of people who, like Rand, denied emotions that they were obviously experiencing, even if only unconsciously. An important influence in all of this is C.S. Peirce, who suggested that the meaning of a theory is its practical outcome. What, then, is the practical outcome of theories denying human nature? This is difficult, because such theories tend to be too vague to put into practice. So here I turn to Pareto, who suggested that impractical theories are rationalizations used to provide a logical veneer for desires, sentiments, interests. Now if, in addition to this, we add insights gleaned from experimental psychology on the role of the unconsciousness in behavior and the widespread ignorance people have of their own selves, the outlines of the consequences of denying human nature are readily at hand.

This insight can also be tied to the Christian tradition which preaches that admitting one's own sins is necessary before one can get over them. This is often presented in the mythical form of admitting to God that one has sinned. This admittance is sometimes found to be therapeutic, as it forces the individual to confront his vices, most of which will have roots in human nature. The old adage that "pride goes before a fall" also illustrates this phenomenon, because the proud person, incapable of seeing his own flaws and weaknesses, renders himself vulnerable to them.

DocBadwrench said...

I think that perhaps if Rand hadn't required uniquely redefined terms, elaborate non-biological explanations for life, confusing moral constructs, and her own variant of newspeak, people might have been more sympathetic.

Before you could even *consider* Objectivism, you had to speak Randish. Sadly, I speak English, and once I figured out what all those artificial things - put together - amounted to, I became the sort of person she'd loathe.

She might've wanted to use the existing language a bit more before inventing her own. She might actually have died with more than handful of friends, too. And that is not meant to be hurtful; I sincerely lament for her when I think of the history of her personal failures.

She coulda used a hug now and then. :)

Interesting as always, Mr. Nyquist.

Rey said...

Greg Nyquist wrote, "Rand’s claim that she didn’t have these disagreeable emotions because, after all, she was a woman of self-made soul, is no more creditable than someone denying that his or her organism produces disagreeable body odors. Ironically, it’s precisely the individual who makes such a claim who winds up stinking. The rest of us, recognizing that are bodies, if left to their own devices, will inevitably produce unpleasant odors, resort to such effective counter-measures as bathing and deodorant."

This analogy reminds me of Xunzi's maxim: "Human nature smells," which is not to say that that people are inherently evil, merely fallible.

Michael Prescott said...

Man is a being of self-made smell.

"I swear, by my whiff and my love of it, that I will never bathe for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to bathe for mine."

(Actually, according to Heller's bio, Rand's personal hygiene really was poor, and someone once asked one of the Brandens to tell Ayn to bathe more often!)

Rey said...

Re: Michael Prescott's parenthetical: Too funny!

Rey said...

Something else that comes to mind re: hygiene is Rand's use of amphetimines. Bear with me.

Chronic gackers tend to ignore personal hygiene, perhaps because the sense of invincibility the drug bestows makes such matters seem trivial---or perhaps because chronic use makes addict simply forget about such things.

Also, her refusal to admit that she had a problem with amphetamines parallels her denial of the humanity's innate fallibility. You can't solve the problem if you won't admit it exists.

Neil Parille said...

Michael,

I get the impression that Rand's hygiene issues were mostly related to her periods of depression. I wouldn't want to draw any conclusions about her from that.

-NP

吳婷婷 said...

If you can not be kind, at least have the decency to be vague.............................................................

Anonymous said...

Regarding Rand's hygiene, that probably reflects her Eastern European Jewish background. Chaim Potok in one of his books writes that Jews in Easter European ghettos would sew each other into woolen undergarments in the fall, then wear them nonstop without bathing until spring.

Anonymous said...

Rand wasn't from a shtetl or a ghetto; she grew up in St. Petersburg in what I understand to be comfortable surroundings....maybe she picked up this funky habit during WWI/Russian Civil War, or maybe it was the amphetemines, but I don't think we can blame it on her childhood.

- mr. mike

Michael Prescott said...

"Rand wasn't from a shtetl or a ghetto; she grew up in St. Petersburg in what I understand to be comfortable surroundings."

True. Rand's family was upper middle class.

I don't want to make too much of her hygiene issues. I just thought it was funny in light of Greg's phrasing.

Could it have been a symptom of depression, as Neil says? Maybe, but the Heller book also reports that Rand and O'Connor let their cats run wild, urinating on the carpet and ruining the furniture. So they may have had a general disinterest in hygiene.

Of course, many intelligent people have peculiar personal habits, so I wouldn't read too much into this. For all we know, Plato was flatulent and Aristotle picked his nose!*

*(I mean his own nose, not Plato's.)

Alex Harman said...

*(I mean his own nose, not Plato's.)

You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose!

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Anonymous said...

Hey I love that joke an oldie but a goodie!

Michael Prescott said...

FYI, some info on the "Atlas" movie(s) can be read at the conservative site Big Hollywood:

tiny.cc/2dj56

Apparently the site plans to have continuing coverage of the movie.

Michael Sutcliffe said...

It was a mixture of extreme rationalism and vanity. She despised people who couldn't argue their moral positions from the most basic first principles and she thought she was the best thing since sliced bread.

Most of us who subscribe to her philosophy don't care, and plenty of us still use the term libertarian to describe our political perspective. And she's right, people who can't argue their moral position from first principles, but still think they have a moral position that others should be forced to live by, are annoying idiots.

(Aren't you four guys sick of each other yet?)

Xtra Laj said...

And she's right, people who can't argue their moral position from first principles, but still think they have a moral position that others should be forced to live by, are annoying idiots.

(Aren't you four guys sick of each other yet?)


People who think that they have a moral position that others should be forced to live by are annoying idiots. Period. No qualifiers necessary.

Anonymous said...

(Aren't you four guys sick of each other yet?)


Ohhhhhhhh, hark at him girls! Bitchy or wot????
Four of us eh? Still twice as large as the average objectivist club. Tell me, do you have any clubs in the real world or are they just on campus?

Steven Johnston
UK