The following is a recent commentary I had with a blogger who referred to Ayn Rand’s writing as “excruciatingly bad and misogynistic.” The writer provided no specifics, but did motivate me to write a brief, and somewhat hurried, reply.
**Please note that for clarity, I have made a few editorial changes (and may make a few more)**
. . . One point on my reference to Yaron Brook, it was your comment at the outset to which this was a reply. You stated that, “Not only is her writing excruciatingly bad, but I find her misogyny and atheism repugnant.” Well, one could take from that (flashy certainly did) a direct attempt to impugn her using “atheism” and the supposition of hatred for women as a discrediting factor. As if there is something inherently evil with non-belief, “atheism,” that is so recklessly attached to her. Whether one takes facts from Dr. Brook, or from some other source, they are facts nonetheless that can be verified. The link in my reply goes to the article discussing the fact that sales of Ms Rand’s books have exceeded 25 million. Assuming the data on their web page is accurate, I think it is rather obvious that her works are enormously popular and have a world-wide audience of, and appeal to, millions who have been (and continue to be) deeply impressed by her work. The other non-argument I read now and again is this idea that “I read Rand when I was in high school and now that I have grown up her message has been revealed as passe or flawed.” Every time I engage someone who initially states this, I discover that they have not studied her non-fiction works and/or not read all of her novels. Or, they work for the local government school district (just kidding). Now, one may not like her style, and that’s fine, but all too often we see this as a convenient add-on to a knee-jerk reaction to her non-belief in a proactive God, and especially her total rejection of man-made religion. Which, by the way, is utterly consistent with Einstein (note: writer had made a veiled suggestion that Einstein was a God-fearing man).
Also, it is imperative to understand (and frankly, there are some -many- Randians out there who do not get this) that Ayn Rand’s goal in writing novels was not philosophical enlightenment, but rather the “portrayal of man as an end in himself; not the means to any further end.” And that one of the by-products of this is that it will end up benefiting all men better and faster, in fact it is the only way in the long run. Now, this is not to suggest that Ms Rand had some inner, suppressed, pangs of altruism. It is simply the recognition that by pursuing ones rational self-interest (not hedonistic, irrational, greed and consumption) when applied across the spectrum that it turns out all men benefit personally far better, with a higher living standard, and profoundly greater self-esteem and confidence than any other approach. I try to explain this to people who have not read substantially in her work and it typically just escapes them (and I am not referring to you here) in their fog of self-immolation and inbred or indoctrinated sense of self-sacrifice as a virtue. So in portraying the ideal man, she necessarily had to first define and describe the conditions necessary for him to exist. I think the quote she made in this regard was that this portrayal would be the “greatest value” she could ever offer a reader. I agree. At the end of the day, this is her greatest legacy because clearly it is the system of capitalism, the theory of the trader, that she championed in a way, and at a time, that was (and is) so dearly needed..
Now, one can draw a rather profound distinction between entertaining the idea of a “creator” (active, passive, no longer functioning, temporarily on vacation, etc) verses man-made, revealed, religion. The former cannot be ruled out conclusively while the latter, when subjected to even rudimentary, fact based, scrutiny falls apart rather quickly and is, quite frankly, the root of many world problems and the justification for socialism as well as many-a-slaughter. Where all man-made religions run afoul is this pretext of death worship, self-sacrifice, and self-immolation that is implicit (in fact, required) – it implies the antithesis of capitalism (its requirements) and glorifies collectivism, and in some versions, such as Christianity, explicitly does so. Taken to its logical consequences you end up with slaughters in Jerusalem with glowing reports back to Rome of “blood up to our stirrups,” and on and on and on – all under the banner of Christianity. Then there are the presumptions of the reality of supernatural interventions into an otherwise physical, natural law-based world. This is particularly what Rand utterly rejected, this is what Einstein rejected, this is what Newton and Galileo implicitly rejected, this is what Aristotle rejected. Moreover, for Rand, her absolute conviction on the non-initiation of physical force flew in the face of many/most religions that from time to time actually glorify it. Then you have the devout Islamists, and I don’t think I need to describe the viciousness of their man-made version of the the supernatural realm… Far worse are the eastern man-made religions that essentially celebrate one simply becoming an abject zombie – nonthinking, nonentity, where the non-life is the ideal. What a great world that would be… The eastern religions are far worse, in my view, than the western religions because of this profound anti-mind goal/premise. In all cases, without exception, man-made religions require you to check your mind at the door and forces you to be, at best, a psychological dualist – and when there is a conflict all of these religions require you to abdicate your mind to the will of a non-entity’s dictates as revealed to someone apparently connected to the other-world. This is what Rand rejected in favor of the rational man who never is required to check his mind at any door because it is his mind that allows him to survive, it is the unique requirement of man that he has to use his rational mind to survive. All the successes one can point to, all the discoveries that have allowed man to thrive are due to the use of his own mind in the pursuit of survival and to increase his knowledge of the natural world. Again, this is fully consistent with both Einstein and Mises.
So, what Rand did was to take a very logical step in the development of a philosophical system that would in one package defend the only social system (capitalism) for humans living together on earth that was simultaneously rational and profoundly moral, but did not rely on revelation or the supernatural. No one had ever even attempted this before in such a way, and she accomplished a great deal in this effort. In order for her philosophy (Objectivism) to be consistent, it had to summarily eliminate all the man-made religions as the basis for making moral decisions. At that point, rejecting any deist possibility is merely a logical step in the development of that package that she took, but such can hardly be characterized as evil. It should be obvious to all that Pol Pot and Stalin, although atheists, did not slaughter under that banner, but rather under the name of communism. Ayn Rand and Mises were atheists, pro-capitalist, egoists, and clearly promoters of free market economics, non-violence, peace and prosperity. I think we can all agree that these are positive things… Their writings are a case for why such a doctrine serves to promote human life and well being. Personally, I think Ayn Rand made a mistake by calling herself an atheist because it results in a whole host of unrelated diversions away from the essence of her work and allows people to think of her as an intellectual bedfellow of the likes of the above named creeps – nothing could be further from the truth.
A true scientist does not dogmatically read and presume it truth a religious text, say the discussion of the end days (which is now again popular), or creationism, or the virgin birth and resurrection, and then use “reason” by accumulating conveniently assembled artifacts that, when stacked and linked to support the forgone conclusion, stands up and says, viola! We have used “reason” to show that the earth was created in six days, dead men can get up and walk, a virgin actually did give birth, and the facts now clearly “prove” that we are all going to come to judgment day in four years. Quite the contrary, a scientist, whether it be Newton in developing Principia or Optics or Einstein in his development of the theory of relativity use a process of integration, not revelation. They start by observing phenomena or questioning a claim of some phenomena, testing alternative possibilities to explain the cause and effect relations, and then painstakingly experiment and subject to rigorous scrutiny by other scientists their thesis or the claim. Only then can they begin to broach the level of a theory or scientific law, using reason. Such a process of integration does not start with a conclusion and then go about finding convenient facts or dramatic visions to justify the conclusion. It starts with using previously discovered scientific truths and facts and then applies that knowledge in analyzing phenomena for which no explanation has been developed. In this process, the true scientist may actually discover that the prior theory was indeed correct in all applications, or in fact only correct in a certain sphere due to an environment or level of analysis unavailable to the prior scientist. But nevertheless there is a process of building on facts and sound science as one progresses. The real scientists then goes about the process of peer review and analysis, multiple testing by others to show the results are duplicable, etc. Revelation based, creationist style thinking, on the other hand, has no such testing mechanism because the the core conclusion cannot, by definition, be questioned! Nor is it possible to subject it to scientific scrutiny. The fact that it is scientifically impossible for a virgin human to spontaneously give birth (there is no evidence that this has ever happened in reality), that there is zero scientific evidence that dead men get up and walk about the planet and then “ascend” fully to another world, and that all the evidence we do have shows that evolution, not creationism, is precisely what led to the development of our species doesn’t stop the mystics from this game they play of assuming a conclusion cannot be questioned, and then proceeding to find convenient artifacts of history to merely piece together a flimsy connection to prove their supernatural belief – and then preposterously call this a reasoned analysis.
The fact of the matter is that Einstein was not a friend of man-made religion. He was far closer to the views of, say, Thomas Paine who, being a deist, similarly rejected all man-made religion, particularly Christianity. Einstein rightly rejected both the dogmatic believer (evangelicals) and the radical atheist as closed minded. You get no arguments here… If Einstein would have been a fully practicing evangelical fundamentalist Christian, which he most certainly was not, I dare say he could not have allowed himself to proceed with his work lest he live as a hypocrite. More importantly, consider Newton, or for that matter Charles Darwin (who studied divinity at Cambridge). Incidentally, just like Newton, Darwin’s theory was the result of a lifelong effort of integration using an incredible amount of factual evidence (just his travels upon the Beagle are a part of his life that we all should look up to). All three men (and Rand) stood on the shoulders of those scientists and thinkers who came before them. Clearly, Einstein stood on the shoulders of Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton. My view on Einstein is that because of some of the radical atheists attempting to claim him as one of their own he had to say something to shut them up, and he did. He also said something when he was accused of being part of the Judeo-Christian community – he rejected both, but left open the possibility, however improbable, of some otherworldly power – but his work did not come from that notion, it came from the integrations performed and the mathematics he labored upon, just as Newton did. The parallel to Jefferson and many of the founders (notably Thomas Paine) in that regard is interesting (recall the problems Jefferson had when he was campaigning for the presidency – the letter he wrote to the Danbury Baptists).
The problem I see, and will typically react to rather quickly, is the presumption that the tag, atheist, as applied to Rand (or von Mises for that matter) is presumptively evil. Communism is evil, National Socialism is evil, Fascism is evil, Marxism is evil, and most recently, Islam, is demonstrating evil. And they are evil (bad) because of the atrocities done in their name and the fact that the initiation of violence, physical force, and tyranny are part and parcel of such doctrines’ full implementation.
So, the answer to your question is that I would not argue that Rand is wrong while Mises and Hayek right, or vice versa. On this issue you can only have an opinion that she might be wrong based upon religious faith, not objective fact. That is, by the way, the point of departure for the radical Randians. Mises was willing to be a bit more reflective, but was certainly not personally advocating for religion, let alone the evangelical nonsense that we see bubbling up today in, for example, the republican party. Rand’s ideas are geared specifically to man here on earth, whatever else there is beyond the grave is of little concern for if life is to mean anything it should be that it is to be celebrated and pursued with gusto for its own sake and wonderful value. If she is to be considered a radical for something it is capitalism (and pursuing ones own life, for its own sake) for which she was a radical, because such is the one and only system that can truly free man to live up to his potential. Aristotle taught us that reality is real, Rand brought us a philosophical defense of capitalism based on that notion; a notion that does not require one to check their brain at the door of the church, synagogue, or mosque, or leave our minds completely at the foot of a buddist temple. She, just like the scientists you mentioned, stands on the shoulders of Aristotle and Locke, but through a process of integration developed a unique philosophical approach that in my view gets far too little honest attention.
Lastly, I find it utterly refreshing that Rand, Moses and Thomas Paine could all sit down together and agree on the proper state for man here on earth (individual freedom and liberty), while disagreeing on the best path to get there…
Again, thanks for the tenor of your reply – and don’t be alarmed if I don’t re-reply to your reply to this, I got a million things to do!!