Vladimir Shlapentokh

Март 22, 2010

Ayn Rand Today: The Enemy of Collectivism and Democracy

Filed under: Uncategorized — shlapentokh @ 8:46 пп

Ayn Rand Today: The Enemy of Collectivism and Democracy

My interest in Ayn Rand’s work emerged recently because of two developments, the first of which revolves around the publication of four of her novels in Russia within the last decade: We the Living, The Fountainhead, Anthem, and Atlas Shrugged. Until quite recently, her name was not at all known to Russian readers who were otherwise quite familiar with all leading figures in American and European literature and artistic life after the war. Rand’s name escaped the attention of the Russian intelligentsia even though her Russian origin should have only abetted interests in her work. The cause of this does not lay in draconian censorship because we read in Samizdat and other foreign publications during the 1960s and 1970s such ferocious anti-Soviet authors as Orwell and Koestler. Perhaps our suppliers of foreign books did not like Rand or supposed that the militant style evinced in her stories of tedious moralization were reminiscent of the masterpieces of socialist realism and would not be of any help in the liberalization of Soviet society.
Those who have since decided to publish Rand’s books in Russia thought that they would be very useful for Russians when they try “to live as adult and independent people able themselves to make important decisions without waiting for the state support,” as contended by the author of the preface to Atlas Shrugged. In other words, in his opinion, Rand would enable Russians to love capitalism. My interest in the new analysis of Rand’s books is also instigated by the prominence of her name in the Tea Party movement. Some members of this movement invoke the names Howard Roark and John Galt – the major protagonists from Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged respectively — as their icons, hardly acknowledging the intricacies and contradicting parts of Rand’s heritage. However, in this social movement that is emerging in America today, Rand is erroneously included in the ideological arsenal as a champion of liberal capitalism, when in fact she is its enemy.
The major flaws in the analytical texts on Rand were the disregard of the impact her Soviet experience (she was educated in Soviet Russia before her emigration in 1926) had on her theoretical constructions in addition to the influences of the Marxist and Bolshevik ideologies. Furthermore, those who wrote on Rand with the clear intention to present her as an original thinker (she herself was engaged in self-aggrandizing her accomplishments) did not thoroughly investigate the obvious influence of Nietzsche and Spencer’s Social Darwinism on her social philosophy
Even though touted as an original philosophy, Rand’s “Objectivism” in fact shares the most basic elements of vulgar materialism. The major tenet of her objectivism, which insists that it is necessary to separate facts from opinions, in addition to its direct correspondence to the formula of A = A or “objective reality,” is ludicrous in its primitivism as well her boorish critique of Kant, one of the greatest thinkers of mankind, who she deemed as “evil” as well as his philosophy. Such a passionate detractor of religion as Rand could only be found in Soviet Russia during the 1920s and early 1930s. Later, such boorish attacks on religion were not acceptable even for the Communist leadership
Rand’s economic views can compete in simplicity with her philosophical outlook. She totally ignores the importance of most economic institutions, such as the financial system and the stock market, even though without which the most simple market economy cannot function. In her works, she essentially describes a simplistic capitalist economy which is most comparable to the market economy in a remote African village with buyers and sellers of goods as single actors. She believes in the most elementary versions of exchange theories, and her rationalizations, for instance regarding the role of money, strike as astoundingly primitive.
Following the Communist Manifesto, Rand declared the quest for profit as the main incentive of human activity. She rendered all other motives of human behavior ineffective or fraudulent. Her description of the ideal capitalists as an animals thinking only about dollars is similar to the caricature of capitalist “fat cats,” which entered into the universal folklore.
In congruence with radicals of all sorts, Rand shares the revulsion of Western democratic society. If for Marxists the state is the weapon of corporations, for Rand it is the service of the “bandits,” a term used by Rand for the characterization of all bureaucrats who are only able to damage the economy. She denies any positive function of government in the life of society besides the protection of societal order and the observance of contracts. With a particular fervor, Rand describes the hostility of government toward science, in turn mocking all possible scientific projects financed by the state.
The loathing of class enemies in Soviet society vividly reminds us of the hate which is brimming in the hearts of Rand’s heroes — the detestation of talentless people, dishonest capitalists, government officials, trade unions, beggars or even relatives soliciting help. With her distaste of compassion and aid, Rand called on people to retreat to the pre-civilization form of existence and reject the achievements of mankind in the development of the humanism in society.
Rand shares with the Bolsheviks a weakly veiled contempt for democracy and for all democratic institutions. In Atlas Shrugged Rand does not spare neither elected president nor legislation, nor the courts and media, nor the intellectual community. The Election as an institution is absent in her description of political life in her novels. Rand has openly expressed her disgust not only of Soviet collectivism but also of the ruling majority in democratic society.
Rand came to the United States from Bolshevik Russia with the strong belief that it was not democratic elections but strikes and revolutions which could change the social order. Who, if not the Russian revolutionaries, inspired in Rand the passion for destruction? Even the title of Atlas Shrugged is a near literal repetition of the famous lines from The Internationale which called to “destroy this world of violence down to the foundations.” Rand is absolutely delighted that her protagonists express their discontent with their existing societies by destroying everything that they can, from copper mines to rail roads. The final words in Atlas Shrugged, “We return to our world,” spoken after its destruction indeed looks as a line from a proletarian hymn.
What more, in Atlas the democratically elected president of the United States was forcefully removed from the radio microphone when he tried to make his address to the people. John Galt, who in the novel looked as a Lenin-esque leader, addressed the confused American President with the words, “Mister Thomson will not talk to you. His time as president has expired.” In fact, Galt’s address closely echoed the words and sentiments of the famous sailor Zhelezniak which were spoken when he and his revolutionary comrades expelled the members of the Constitutional Assembly in 1918.
With her contempt for democracy, Rand can hardly be treated as the libertarian and the advocate of liberal capitalism that many people in America have portrayed her as. In fact, her flaunted individualism is deeply anti-democratic and extends only to the CEO of big corporations. How else is it possible to interpret her glorification of the supermen and superwomen in business, who, in her opinion, can determine just what society needs?. Aristotle talked about three types of the political regimes: “the ruling of one” (or authoritarian in contemporary parlance), “the ruling of few” (oligarchic), and “the ruling of many” (democratic). Rand is clearly an apologist of the oligarchic regime, and she can indeed be treated as a sincere contributor to the oligarchic ideology because of its aggressive contempt for the masses which is rarely openly discussed by the members of the economic elite.
Rand attracted the attention of millions of Americans not because of her critique of a state intervention in the economic process, or due to her vehement attacks against anti-trust laws, and definitely not because of her amateurish philosophy of “objectivism.” The source of Rand’s popularity lies in her assaults against social parasites of all sorts, again a tactic borrowed from the Bolsheviks who used as their central slogan the biblical adage, “he who does not work, neither shall he eat.”
Indeed, many Americans are irritated by their financially dependant relatives who demand of them various sacrifices, as well as by the millions of people who live on welfare simply because they do not want to work. In order to release her readers from the guilt of conscience, Rand launched harsh attacks on altruism, once again repeating world for word the Soviet denunciation of this “false bourgeois virtue.” It is only logical for the antithesis of a compassionate human being, that Rand, a Jew who claims to be the major adversary of the totalitarian state, completely ignored the suffering of Jews in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In the 1940s and 1950s Rand’s naïve followers could be exonerated somewhat for their concurrence with her simplistic view on altruism, however at this point in time when many studies have shown the significant role of altruism for the survival of human groups and societies, such acceptance of her ideas look almost as anachronistic.
It is high time that the mythology about the philosophy of Ayn Rand be exposed to the objective critique.

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3 комментария »

  1. It is wrong to assume that Ayn Rand totally ignored the importance of financial system and stock market. She was a fierce critic of statism and government controls and regulations. During her lifetime, she criticized government interventionist policies that were destroying the very foundation of the United States of America. As an advocate of honest money system, she exposed the immorality and evil of the Federal Reserve System that creates money out of nothing. According to her, “those pieces of paper, which should have been gold, are a token of honor—your claim upon the energy of the men who produce” (better read the “money speech” of Francisco D’Anconia in Atlas Shrugged and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, particularly the article written by Alan Greenspan (Gold and Economic Freedom) who has now become the enemy of reason.)

    The financial system and stock market must be governed by free market principles and not by government edicts and by the rules and regulations issued by economic institutions. In a true capitalist society, government controls are no longer necessary because the market or system itself is the best form of control. History tells us that all economic crisis were caused by government control of and intervention into the economy. The government offered nothing but impediment.

    You also stated the following: “The major tenet of her objectivism, which insists that it is necessary to separate facts from opinions, in addition to its direct correspondence to the formula of A = A or “objective reality,” is ludicrous in its primitivism as well her boorish critique of Kant, one of the greatest thinkers of mankind, who she deemed as “evil” as well as his philosophy.”

    What is more ludicrous is when one resorts to context-dropping. I don’t see any sign of “primitivism” in the formula of “A is A” (Law of Identity) except the fact that most people refuse to understand its concept and meaning.

    Ayn Rand considered Immanuel Kant her intellectual enemy. Kant, according to her, did not directly destroy reason; his works were designed to distort the concept of reason. The main tenet of the philosophy of Objectivism is “existence exist” and its metaphysics is “objective reality.” Kant’s philosophy is the total opposite of Objectivism. Kant divided man’s world into two: the phenomenal world, which is not reality, and the noumenal world, which is unknowable. Logic tells us that if the noumenal world is unknowable or cannot be perceived by man’s mind, how did Kant discover it? Did he discover it through the help of an unknowable mystical being?

    With this I quote Ayn Rand:

    “The “phenomenal” world, said Kant, is not real: reality, as perceived by man’s mind, is a distortion. The distorting mechanism is man’s conceptual faculty: man’s basic concepts (such as time, space, existence) are not derived from experience or reality, but come from an automatic system of filters in his consciousness (labeled “categories” and “forms of perception”) which impose their own design on his perception of the external world and make him incapable of perceiving it in any manner other than the one in which he does perceive it. This proves, said Kant, that man’s concepts are only a delusion, but a collective delusion, which no one has the power to escape. Thus reason and science are “limited,” said Kant; they are valid only so long as they deal with this world, with a permanent, pre-determined collective delusion (and thus the criterion of reason’s validity was switched from the objective to the collective), but they are impotent to deal with the fundamental, metaphysical issues of existence, which belong to the “noumenal” world. The “noumenal” world is unknowable; it is the world of “real” reality, “superior” truth and “things in themselves” or “things as they are”—which means: things as they are not perceived by man.”

    The philosophy of Kant waged war on man’s mind and this is the reason why Ayn Rand called him his greatest intellectual enemy. As a philosopher, Ayn Rand understood the role of philosophy in destroying or improving man’s mind. Kant was indeed the “witch doctor” of the Middle Ages whose intention was to close the door of philosophy to reason. We have seen the influence of his philosophy today. His followers and the mini-Kantians of today are simply carrying on the destruction of man’s mind

    There is no doubt that Ayn Rand originated a seminal philosophy. Yes, she read the works of Nietzsche, but she considered him a mystic and an irrationalist because his “metaphysics consists of a somewhat “Byronic” and mystically “malevolent” universe; his epistemology subordinates reason to “will,” or feeling or instinct or blood or innate virtues of character. “

    Based on the axiom “a contradiction cannot exist,” a philosophy should not and ought not contain a package of contradictions. This is the reason why Ayn Rand devised a philosophical system- Objectivism, which “is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

    The fundamental law of logic, the law of Identity (A is A) is a rational man’s paramount consideration in the process of determining his interests. A rational man should know that the contradictory is the impossible, that a contradiction cannot be achieved in reality and that the attempt to achieve it can lead only to disaster and destruction. “Therefore, he does not permit himself to hold contradictory values, to pursue contradictory goals, or to imagine that the pursuit of a contradiction can ever be to his interest.”

    Man, in order to survive, should not and cannot contradict reality. His ethics cannot contradict reason. For example, in order to live as a human being of self-esteem, he should not offer himself as a fodder for other people’s needs and wishes. He cannot hold altruism as his code of morality. Altruism holds that man is a sacrificial animal and that to be moral, he must put the interest of others above his own. Both his epistemology and ethics cannot contradict reality- and both should also not go against his politics. Ayn Rand’s politics is capitalism, a social system that upholds man’s individual rights.

    Remember that Objectivism is all about man as a heroic being. Ayn Rand’s epistemology is reason, which she defined as the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses (here I can only suggest her book The Virtue of Selfishness, For the New Intellectual and Capitalism the Unknown Ideal).

    Ayn Rand wrote: “Man’s mind is his basic means of survival—and of self-protection. Reason is the most selfish human faculty: it has to be used in and by a man’s own mind, and its product—truth—makes him inflexible, intransigent, impervious to the power of any pack or any ruler. Deprived of the ability to reason, man becomes a docile, pliant, impotent chunk of clay, to be shaped into any subhuman form and used for any purpose by anyone who wants to bother.”

    Thus if man wants to survive, he must not go against reality and that his ethical system must be centered on his pursuit of happiness and self-interest. But this doesn’t mean that man can now violate the rights of others. It should be rational self-interest. It is not in man’s self-interest to cheat his neighbors. For example, a banker who cheats his depositors is not acting on his self-interest. In fact he is destroying his business and himself. An utter disregard of the rights of others is an act of self-destruction. The banker may cheat his depositors but he cannot cheat reality. He cannot go on cheating other people to enrich himself because sooner or later he would lose clients. A businessman who tries to corner the market and establish a monopoly cannot last long if he charged exorbitant prices. Other businessmen who would offer a lower price would give this monopolistic businessman a run for his money.

    In politics, men cannot support a political system that is utterly against their rights, liberty and happiness. They cannot give their sanction to government programs intended to invade their individual rights. The worst scams offered to unthinking men in the past centuries were always tied to such social mantras as “common good”, “social justice,” “greater good,” “equality,” and “collective welfare.” Any man who’d like to survive in a society must be very interested in politics. A man of self-esteem cannot vote for his own immolation. A man who knows his purpose cannot give his sanction to a social/government program designed to ruin his life and future.

    Meanwhile, Ayn Rand’s contempt for democracy simply reveals her profound understanding of how politics works. In the first place, she clearly understood the role of language and definition in man’s mind and in the process of concept-formation. According to her, concepts and language are primarily a tool of cognition—not of communication. She defined “definition” as “a statement that identifies the nature of the units subsumed under a concept.” The purpose of definition, specifically of correct definition, is not merely to state the meaning of words, but primarily to “distinguish a concept from all other concepts and thus to keep its units differentiated from all other existents.”

    Now going to your critique of Ayn Rand’s contempt for democracy as a political system, I suggest that you try to know the meaning and concept of democracy. In politics, democracy is intrinsically about unlimited majority rule. Democracy is not synonymous to Republicanism.

    In her book ‘The Ayn Rand Letter’, she wrote: “Democratic” in its original meaning [refers to] unlimited majority rule . . . a social system in which one’s work, one’s property, one’s mind, and one’s life are at the mercy of any gang that may muster the vote of a majority at any moment for any purpose.”

    This is the very reason why the Founding Fathers of America refused to adopt democracy as America’s political system. Federalist papers show that the great founders of the United States intended to adopt Republican system and not democracy.

    Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand’s intellectual heir, expounded on Ms Rand’s contempt for democracy. He wrote:

    “The American system is not a democracy. It is a constitutional republic. A democracy, if you attach meaning to terms, is a system of unlimited majority rule; the classic example is ancient Athens. And the symbol of it is the fate of Socrates, who was put to death legally, because the majority didn’t like what he was saying, although he had initiated no force and had violated no one’s rights.

    “Democracy, in short, is a form of collectivism, which denies individual rights: the majority can do whatever it wants with no restrictions. In principle, the democratic government is all-powerful. Democracy is a totalitarian manifestation; it is not a form of freedom . . . .

    “The American system is a constitutionally limited republic, restricted to the protection of individual rights. In such a system, majority rule is applicable only to lesser details, such as the selection of certain personnel. But the majority has no say over the basic principles governing the government. It has no power to ask for or gain the infringement of individual rights.”

    Indeed, “the words “republican” and “democratic” are two distinct terms, bearing different meanings and denotations. Federalist papers show that the framers of the American Constitution refused to use the word democratic to describe the political system of the United States not merely because it is vague, but also because it was not their intention to establish a democratic state. According to James Madison, his idea of a republican state does not mean popular democracy in which power is left in the hands of the people. In a true republican state, political power is delegated through popular elections to elected officials, thereby providing a shielding barrier from reckless or injudicious mob governance.”

    So far, I have not found a single honest critic who was able to expose “the mythology about the philosophy of Ayn Rand.” Like I stated in my blog entitled ‘Ayn Rand: The Greatest Philosopher On Earth,’ “I’ve encountered a lot of people who denounced Ayn Rand but never read any of her works. These neo-Ayn Rand critics simply echo the old canard manufactured by her dishonest fabulist and/or equivocators who were simply good at myth-making and unscrupulous propaganda campaign. There are some who even claimed they clearly understood her philosophy, yet uttered nothing but downright lie and/or distortions of her works and ideas. Like I said to a blog critic of mine, “If there’s a philosopher of the past century who was a victim of grave injustice, ignorance, and leftist-conservative propaganda, it would be Ayn Rand.”

    комментарий от froivinber — Октябрь 29, 2010 @ 3:12 пп | Ответить

  2. If you’re really honest, don’t delete my reply like you did before… http://fvdb.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/no-they-cant/

    комментарий от froivinber — Октябрь 29, 2010 @ 3:13 пп | Ответить

    • I accepted it even if i decline to discuss your comments:for you Ayn Rand is a Goddess without flaws and contradictions.Only very and very religious people treat the Bible in the same way. With such premises the intellectual debates are impossible. While I reject most Rand’s postulates I still appreciate her interesting contributions into the perceptions of American society and recognize why many Americans (usually without any serious background in philosophy and sociology without speaking about good literary tastes —I do not have you in mind, you are probably an exception) like it. Yours Vladimir

      комментарий от shlapentokh — Октябрь 30, 2010 @ 3:39 пп | Ответить


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