Thoughts on economics and liberty

Ayn Rand, the goddess of liberty

I chanced upon a nice, short discussion on Youtube, of Ayn Rand's philosophy.

Rated particularly highly in my scheme of things, my one complaint with Rand's philosophy – and more particularly with her followers – is the lack of citizenship this philosophy seems to display.

I need to see Whiggism from Rand followers. Only then will she truly join the classical liberal pantheon. Only then will I consider her teachings to be of value.

We must never forget that it was not Ayn Rand who changed the world for the better but the Whigs and the Levellers. The American constitution was an outcome of such ACTORS, not the outcome merely of thinkers who twiddle their thumbs and criticise OTHERS. 

Rand followers are a dead end, as far as India is concerned.

They often hold a "holier-than-thou" attitude in their self-claimed personal superiority of "belief", but are TOTALLY blind to the fact that society does not change through ideas but through action, and that their beliefs mean NOTHING if these do not change society.

Consider socialism – a miserable little foreign idea which held no meaning for India. There is not even a whiff of socialism in Indian thought.

But in the hands of Nehru this miserable idea overtook India entirely and (as expected) TOTALLY DESTROYED it. Nehru's actions were key to socialism's growth in India, not the theory itself – which is weak, self-contradictory, and pathetic .

 

Therefore liberty means nothing if it is not INFLUENTIAL in the governance of society.
 
I would like to see Rand's "followers" engage with POLITICS directly to change things. I want to see ALL Ayn Rand "followers" in India joining the Freedom Team to CHANGE INDIA.
 
Enough of this talk, please!

 

This short talk on Rand, below, is by Jennifer Burns, an assistant professor of history at the University of Virginia and author ofGoddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. Jennifer's website: http://www.jenniferburns.org/.

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13 thoughts on “Ayn Rand, the goddess of liberty
  1. Bhagwad Jal Park

    Ayn Rand is anathema to any logical debate. Her works (the virtue of selfishness of example) are awash with rhetoric and an appalling willingness to slot things into black and white.
     
    She's too eager to pass judgment, too happy to call things "evil" and in general is unwilling to admit that there are more motivations for human behavior than fit into her neat little world.
     
    You merely have to look at her idol – John Galt in Atlas Shrugged. A walking, talking automaton of a man – more like a robot than a person. Easily the most colorless and ridiculous hero I've ever read about.
     
    But you got to admire her writing skills. She's a fantastic author. But her claims to philosophy are absurd. No wonder she's never taken seriously by anyone intent on studying real logic. I certainly wouldn't.

     
  2. sabhlok

    Bhagwad

    We’ve discussed this before. Please note that her philosophy is a genuine, independent perspective, and one of the most logically consistent worldviews I’ve come across. It is your philosophy that is deeply inconsistent, as I’ve repeatedly had occasion to show you. Note that ultimately the truth does triumph. If you’ve got a sensible philosophy please put it forward and the world will judge it on its merit. In the meanwhile, be assured that Ayn Rand is a well respected philosopher in her own right, with entries in numerous philosophy databases, e.g. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ayn-rand/

    A quick search of JSTOR showed me (a moment ago) that she’s been discussed in at least 1349 ACADEMIC (journal) articles, in disciplines ranging from history, philosophy to economics. Just because you don’t agree with her views (and that’s because you don’t know what she stands for), doesn’t mean she has not been a very influential philosopher and writer.

    In DOF I’ve made special mention of her, and regardless of my views about her followers, I believe she herself had gotten to the foundations of the concept of liberty, and I strongly commend her work – all of it. No exceptions. But particularly Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.

    S

     
  3. Bhagwad Jal Park

    But Sanjeev, I don't HAVE a single set philosophy. And I'm deeply suspicious of anyone who has a "system" since that means they're locked in. I'm not a liberal, a socialist, a capitalist or a communist. I'm nothing. So you can't show my philosophy to be wrong since I have none.
     
    There are general rules and principles which I follow, but I'm wise enough to know that every situation is unique and that there are dozens of exceptions everywhere. Rigidity is not a halmark of a mature thought process.
     
    And according to me, Ayn Rand is VERY rigid. The first sign of her problems is how cocksure she is. Never trust anyone who's too sure of themselves and who says that everyone else is wrong.

     
  4. sabhlok

    Bhagwad, you sound like a moral relativist. If there are no ethical benchmarks in your life, you’ll naturally feel like this. So indeed, that explains the lack of coherence in your views. That’s not a sign of “maturity” but of confusion. Do try to see the difference between these two perspectives.

    On the one hand you assert that all people regardless of their mental state have a right to suicide. On the other hand (I only glanced through your article the other day) you write about dogs with great fervour. And so on.

    By all means be a little bit inconsistent – that might indeed be maturity. But being entirely inconsistent, are you being mature or confused?

    And why is Ayn Rand “rigid”? Merely because she follows her initial observations/ assumptions logically? Is mathematics “rigid”? Is physics “rigid”? Is logic “rigid”? I’ve never heard of deductive reasoning being called rigid.

    By all means contest Ayn Rand’s ideas IF YOU CAN. It is not a sign of maturity to provide flimsy whimsical arguments that mean nothing. Publish a journal article (or at least a fully reasoned blog post) rebutting Rand’s philosophy.

    S

     
  5. Bhagwad Jal Park

    There's another label you use – and one that Rand uses happily as well. "Moral Relativist." You make it sound as if I'm saying there's no right and wrong at all, which is not the case.
     
    There IS right and wrong. But it has to be decided individually – not en masse as part of a system.
     
    Rand's logic is flawed because she doesn't take into consideration human psychology. Without an understanding of psychology, trying to use deductions is meaningless because there's no way you will have access to the thousands of little facts about the human mind which are needed to come up with a comprehensive theory.
     
    In physics, maths etc we know the underlying assumptions. They are enumerable and countable. In human morality doesn't have the facts necessary to come up with a theory. Her assumptions are incomplete.
     
    For example, for her the ideal man is a perfect robot – like her precious John Galt. What she sees as consistency is in fact the simple conviction of a fanatic. And that is what Ayn Rand comes across – as a fanatic.
     
    Ayn Rand appeals to those who like a simple world. Teenagers especially. But once people grow up, they realize the world is more complicated than that. Everyone has an "Ayn Rand" phase. I did. But we all grow out of it.

     
  6. sabhlok

    Bhagwad

    You claim:”There IS right and wrong. But it has to be decided individually”. What is Ayn Rand saying? Exactly the same thing. However, she then goes on to show exactly how she determines whether something is right or wrong.

    She doesn’t and hasn’t determined anything for everyone. She has determined it for herself. And she has shown how.

    What I’m saying is simple: you don’t have any coherent, consistent way of determining what is right and what is wrong. Hence you are whimsical in your views. It is YOU who are a teenager in terms of thought process, given your tendency to whimsy. (I apologise to teenagers: not all go through such a stage.)

    The system that distinguishes right from wrong is called ETHICS. The philosophy is called moral philosophy. A subset of that is political philosophy. I assert that you have no system of ethics to distinguish right from wrong. Your views CAN’T, by any coherent system of ethics, be all strung together. What is that but moral relativism (situationalism)?

    Even in a situation, there MUST be a theory of ethics to distinguish right from wrong. Else you can’t predict your action in specific instances.

    Ayn Rand was a genius, a great thinker and while I have issues with her followers, I have very few (or none) with her views – which are thoroughly grounded on a solid system of ethics. If being A GREAT THINKER and logicians means some will not understand her, by all means call her what you like. A quack (unpublished, not with a better worldview) who challenges Einstein is merely a crank people have to live with. Your challenge of Ayn Rand is supremely shallow and doesn’t hold water.

    Stop calling Ayn Rand names, and ATTACK her philosophy if you can.

    S

     
  7. Bhagwad Jal Park

    Sanjeev, you can assert whatever you wish. Merely repeating it doesn't make it so.
     
    You want an example of Ayn Rand mixing rhetoric with logic? Just scan her books and look for these words – "evil", "noble", "heroic" etc etc. You'll never find such words in a psychological textbook.
     
    There is a scene in Atlas Shrugged where the heroine murders someone in cold blood even though he wasn't attacking her, harming her or threatening her. One is reminded of a fanatic striding through the world with a machine gun determining what is right and what is wrong and exacting punishment.
     
    You can determine the truth of Rand's philosophy by looking at the outcomes she herself has created. One sided heroes and villains with no shades of grey in their pristinely evil or noble characters.
     
    I don't know whether to ask this or not, but – have you read her magnum opus's? Atlas Shrugged/Fountainhead? If you have, what do you think of the characters her "philosophy" creates?
     
    I reiterate that Rand primarily appeals to idealistic college students before they realize the world is not black and white.

     
  8. Bhagwad Jal Park

    In fact, I find this focus on Ayn Rand of yours disturbing. You almost sound as if you're worshiping her. Even the title of your post calls her a "goddess."
     
    Why even mention Ayn Rand? Forget Ayn Rand. Let's talk real stuff instead. Let's talk about the philosophy itself. Let's debate first principles. Let's question deductions. The person is unimportant.
     
    This drooling admiration that people have for a person is pretty nauseating. I can never adore someone the way Ayn Rand's worshipers seem to do so. Hero worship is yet another trait of college students which they quickly grow out of.

     
  9. Jerry Johnson

    BJP,
    I've read the entire thread of comments above, and I can only conclude that you're a cheap troll seeking attention. By making contradictory claims like "I have no philosophy" but "I have general principles" — you can't even pretend to become Hegel, let alone some respected relativist.
    You said, no one beyond his teenage years take Ayn Rand seriously. And then Sanjeev demonstrated how ignorant you were by citing facts from JSTOR and the Stanford encyclopedia. 
    Your response to that? Nothing. Evade it and pretend Sanjeev said nothing. Do you really think you can evade something that is so publicly posted here for all to see!?
    Well, here are some more "non-teenagers," and accomplished philosophers who've read more books than you can perhaps even glance at in a life time. 
    http://www.aynrandsociety.org/
    Now, after you finish reading the above links and get your dose of second-handed validation about Rand's worth from other philosophers, let's proceed to actually address the principles of her philosophy.
    You've stated not a single Objectivist premise and debated its merits. So, to begin, let me pose one for you instead.

    Rand's major achievements are not in her political works but in her moral and epistemological theories. And while I'm not inclined to waste my time with you in sharing my knowledge, I'll leave you with this premise to mull over and digest:
    "A concept, Rand holds, is a man-made integration of similar existents in the form of a single mental entity – a unitary awareness of indefinitely many existents of the same kind. Properly formed concepts unit-economize by integrating similar existents. We form concepts by isolating a group of similar existents (or “units”) by differentiating them from foils, and then integrating the units by omitting their particular measurements. In omitting these measurements we do not turn our attention away from their differences to some underlying sameness. Rather, we interrelate the units (and a potential infinity of other units) by projecting a range along the quantitative axis. The integration is retained by means of a word, and the units’ differentiation from all other existents is maintained by a definition in traditional genus-differentia form."
    How is the above principle of Ayn Rand's concept-formation theory incorrect? Demonstrate.

     
  10. sabhlok

    Thanks Jerry, for a spirited defence. I think our goal is to guide and step others through the concept of liberty. Bhagwad is no troll. Indeed, he runs a very significant blog (http://www.bhagwad.com/blog/) and has been a staunch defender of many aspects of liberty (e.g. on freedom of speech). We generally debate quite bluntly (and frequently!), so he might take some liberties and challenge my “worship” of Rand, or suggest that only teenagers read Rand.

    On the former (worship), of course he knows (I’m sure) that this is a metaphorical title – intended to exaggerate and hence test any opposition. On the latter, he knows, too, that I’m not a teenager nor are the tens of millions of Rand’s fans (and academic votaries and challengers).

    The point, though, is clear. Bhagwad doesn’t know what Rand was about. Hence he is continuously misinterpreting her. There has been no substantive rebuttal from Bhagwad about ANY philosophical issue that Rand might have raised. I suspect he doesn’t know Rand’s underlying message.

    In this case, the best would be, I suggest, for Bhagwad to be shown some of the highlights of Rand’s writings. I personally found Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, to be excellent. I read it twice, once in 1983 in the National Academy, and once about 4-5 years ago. The first time around I wasn’t so sure about some of its arguments. This time around, I’m strongly in agreement with most of her arguments. I guess it takes time to truly understand Rand.

    S

     

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