Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Marx’s sine qua non: Ayn Rand

Jen Kuznicki dives into the works of Ayn Rand to claim atheism (objectivism, really) and conservatism are incompatible. Kuznicki notes: “It was the love of the dollar that drove both Francisco D’Anconia and government.”

Rand’s characters are difficult because she modeled them to represent ideals, not real people. Her heroes Dagny Taggart and Howard Roark are emotionally catatonic, single-minded in their ambition, and have neither love nor charity. Outside of work, their lives are meaningless. Who would envy them? I sure don’t. They are machines.

Like Nietzsche, Rand hated socialism, but deified the will. She is opposite Marx on the materialist coin. Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto:

The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part. The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors,” and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment.” It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

It’s as if Marx and Engels, writing in the 1840s, were looking a hundred years ahead at Ayn Rand. Without using her as a foil, communism wouldn’t stick.

Rand is the free market’s worst apologist. Rather than specifically argue the immorality and ineffectiveness of socialism, she targets “altruism” and the “common good,” which operate as socialists’ premises. There’s nothing wrong with altruism and the common good in themselves—as long as they are used to serve man, not enhance state monopoly.

That’s too complicated a concept for Rand’s allegorical tomes. She throws the baby (civil society) out with the bathwater (state socialism). Her philosophy is fundamentally at odds with the building blocks of the society—place, family, faith—which prudently hone the will and the ego to be virtuous, not liberal.

Zechariah Chafee wrote: “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.” Think about that. If people routinely exercised that right, there would be no social trust to create systems of trade and mutual support. There would be no civilization.

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