Ayn Rand, the founder of Objectivism, was born in 1905 in Saint Petersburg. She witnessed the disastrous rise of Communism during her youth, before moving to the USA. In addition to provocative monographs such as The Virtue Of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, she conveyed much of her philosophy in the books Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged. Her capsule summary of Objectivism was:
Metaphysics: Objective Reality; Epistemology: Reason; Ethics: Self-interest; Politics: Capitalism.
It’s often regarded as rather extreme, and a problem it shares with many ideologies is trying to fit everything into conceptual boxes. From an Alternative Right perspective, Objectivism has some drawbacks. Still, it has many useful concepts. For example, I mentioned “the sanction of the victim” earlier. The takeaway is that our enemies are basically parasitic, drawing their strength and substance from others, so refusing to cooperate with them will get them off our backs. There’s quite a bit to say about Objectivism, but I’ll cover the highlights, taking—shall we say—an objective look.
The importance of reason
Objectivism emphasizes rationality. Rand’s perspectives on the nature of reality are a great contribution to philosophy. Academia largely dismisses it as unworthy of consideration, because they don’t like Rand’s politics. That’s actually a good endorsement, considering the sorry state of faculty departments ridden with cultural Marxists these days. She wrote with crystalline clarity, quite unlike the tedious and muddy postmodernism so popular in academia today.
Leftist ideology often features obscurantism, circular reasoning, emotionalism, and fuzzy thought. This is one reason why arguing with them is like drilling holes in the water. Rand described “floating abstractions”, very poorly-defined concepts that could mean whatever the speaker wants and effectively mean nothing. Rand also described the “fallacy of the stolen concept” (something that denies the existence of a concept it depends on); “property is theft” is one example. Another item is the “anti-concept”, a thought-terminating cliché meant to delegitimize a valid concept. All these rhetorical tricks are common in leftist terminology and linguistic bowdlerizations, notably catch-all insults larded up with preconceptions often ending in “-ism” and “-phobia”.
Rand used the word “evasion” in a technical sense—basically meaning refusal to face the facts—even calling this evil. These days, people having their PC blinders on are afraid to face uncomfortable truths that threaten their views. Ideology is often taken to a fanatical degree, and cultural Marxism is a huge offender. Social Justice Warriors in particular are so screwed up that hearing contradictory facts is “triggering”, and logically reassessing their views could cause an existential crisis.
Subjectivism is a big article of faith in far-left viewpoints, which basically asserts that reality is a product of our minds. That’s childish nonsense popular with those educated beyond their ability to understand. For example, some varieties of feminism say that men and women are exactly the same, other than a few body parts. They act as if they repeat it enough and believe it strongly enough, it will become true. Naturally, Objectivism—stating that that reality exists independent of our beliefs, we encounter this reality through observation and the power of reason, “A is A”, and wishing something doesn’t make it so—is a great antidote to subjectivism.
Rand took it pretty far, for example, that one should examine why one likes particular styles of music, art, etc.; it wasn’t enough just to like them. Still, she couldn’t quite figure out why she was a Salvador Dali fan. Rand had a theory of aesthetics and how it relates to one’s sense of life. It’s altogether good, though not as significant. Still, it was considered serious business back in the day. It’s true that one’s taste in art can tell you something about that person’s psychology, but some things are just a mystery buried deep in the unconscious mind.
The importance of freedom
My philosophy, in essence, 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.
Rand knew the distinction between liberty and license. She was on board with the Aristotelian concept of liberty—freedom to act in your rational best interests. Others had the same rights, which shouldn’t be transgressed. She didn’t believe freedom meant doing whatever the hell you want; she called that “whim worship” and denounced it.
She thought anarchy was silly, which it is. Her view of the state’s role is that it should only provide basic law-and-order functions. I consider that debatable, but Rand’s perspective is a good antidote to leftists who want an overreaching government that can do anything for you (and to you).
Within the bounds of the above considerations, she strongly emphasized personal freedom. If she were around today, she would be appalled by the degree of domestic spying, nanny-state intrusiveness, and erosion of Constitutional law. More emphasis on personal freedom is a good thing, given today’s stifling government increasingly hostile toward its citizens.
Rand considered compromise wrong, stating:
In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.
There can be no compromise on basic principles. There can be no compromise on moral issues. There can be no compromise on matters of knowledge, of truth, of rational conviction.
Note well, Saul Alinsky had a very different viewpoint. As he put it in Rules For Radicals:
But to the organizer, compromise is a key and beautiful word. It is always present in the pragmatics of operation. It is making the deal, getting that vital breather, usually the victory. If you start with nothing, demand 100 per cent, then compromise for 30 per cent, you’re 30 per cent ahead.
A free and open society is an on-going conflict, interrupted periodically by compromises–which then become the start for the continuation of conflict, compromise, and on ad infinitum.
As Alinsky hinted, this “new normal” would then be the launching point for more demands as soon as the other side partially capitulates. Not accepting the 30% compromise they agreed to means they were negotiating in bad faith all along. This is a very valuable lesson to those of us who strive against cultural Marxism’s dialectic strategy. It’s a mistake to give into their demands and let the camel get its nose under the tent; it just encourages them, and you lose piecemeal.
Still, Rand’s refusal to compromise could be seen as excessively hard-headed. There’s something to be said for building bridges with potential allies. She rejected the Libertarians as whim-worshipers lacking a philosophical grounding; a lost opportunity since Libertarians actually have political positions very close to Objectivists.
Emphasis on capitalism
Objectivism presents an excellent, devastating critique of Communism. The epic tragedy We, The Living described first-hand the tyranny, hunger, and corruption of the early USSR. Atlas Shrugged provided another hard-hitting look at all the graft and dysfunction resulting from socialism. Her scathing depiction of those supporting and profiteering from it—limousine liberals, pointy-headed intellectuals, and what we now call SJWs—will be quite familiar to those aware of today’s globalist/leftist alliance. The Fountainhead skewered them too, focusing on how they manipulate the arts and the cultural scene.
Rand’s glowing elegies to productivity and genius are admirable. The creative captains of industry driven to success who she describes are alphas in the best possible sense. If Rand’s novels inspire someone stuck in a dead-end job—or stuck in his mom’s basement playing video games—to start a small business which becomes a profitable career, so much the better.
Capitalism does have much going for it, but Rand didn’t quite foresee the distortions that great concentrations of wealth can cause. For instance, she defended the existence of monopolies, but didn’t fully grasp that lack of competition interferes with Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” effect, which is what makes capitalism fairly efficient. Neither did she foresee the negative effects of big money on the political process and all the associated corruption.
If Rand were around now, she would regard the wealthy being in charge as right and natural. However, she’d be horrified that they are leftist degenerates who use cultural Marxism as a control method, manipulate international culture and geopolitics, and are doing their damnedest to produce a sheep-like servility in the public. There’s much to be said for a market economy, but problems result when it’s dominated by huge corporations. Instead, we should decentralize production.
Rejection of altruism
Most think of altruism as being kind to others. Objectivism uses it in a technical sense, basically meaning putting others above oneself, contrary to one’s own interests and well-being. Altruism includes anything from social pressure (for instance, your loser brother bugging you for yet another “loan”) to hardcore tyranny. Objectivism, being highly individualistic, regards altruism as involuntary self-sacrifice; basically like slavery. People should be self-reliant, neither mooching from others nor tolerating that.
Rejecting altruism might seem “not nice”, especially for those unaware of the Objectivist technical sense. Still, it’s time we refuse to be played for chumps. Being “Mister Nice Guy” gets you nowhere! There was a reason for hospitality to wayfarers in ancient times, and looking out for your family is a good thing (within reason). However, it’s wrong to make you responsible for the well-being of the whole country (or the world), or force you to place everyone else’s interests ahead of yours.
Pathological altruism features in the runaway welfare state as well as the religion of multiculturalism. These days, our society’s values—kindness, tolerance, fairness, etc.—have been turned into weapons against us. Thus, we should reevaluate if things like extending charity to the entire planet, letting in the world’s hard-luck cases, or becoming a global melting pot are wise or good for us.
Ultimately, I favor a balanced perspective. Some are helpless through no fault of their own, such as children, the severely disabled, and the elderly. I wouldn’t mind a well-regulated social safety net encouraging and assisting people to become as independent as they can, given their circumstances. Unfortunately, what exists now is a massive and inefficient bureaucracy subsidizing dependency. That leads to intergenerational poverty, causing squalor and crime, and that doesn’t help in the long term.
One definition of justice is the balance of the interests of individuals to the interests of the community. This balance is an example of the Aristotelian Golden Mean, wherein virtue is the middle ground between two vices. One negative extreme is pathological altruism. The other negative extreme is atomistic hyper-individualism. Society is more than just the sum of its parts, and we should care about the outcome of our civilization.
Rejection of nationalism
I’ve covered several largely positive items. Now here’s a major shortcoming. Rand dismissed the importance of ethnic heritage because of the belief in the primacy of the individual. As the idea goes, one’s accomplishments stand on their own, neither increased nor diminished by one’s ancestry.
That’s fine in theory, but regarding people as identical, interchangeable social units misses some important considerations. To mention just a few, group differences are real. Genetics has an influence on culture. Packing several unrelated groups—with greatly differing customs and values—into the same territory is a recipe for trouble. More cultures mean more conflicts. Since evasion is bad, Objectivists aren’t allowed to dismiss all this once they’re confronted with the facts.
To her credit, Rand didn’t make this a centerpiece of her ideology as leftists do, or virtue-signal about it like today’s cuckservatives. Actually, she did make some politically incorrect remarks that certainly would “trigger” SJWs these days.
The failure to see beyond Rousseau’s “blank slate” argument and confront the problems with multiculturalism causes some to see Objectivism as a distraction. Indeed, it offers no ideological defense against globalist population replacement policies. If Rand had seen that multiculturalism and mass immigration were being used as a sociopolitical battering ram (something more apparent now than in her day), she might have reconsidered. Ultimately, dismissing ethnic solidarity as collectivism was an opportunity lost.
Other pain points
Rand was a hard-boiled atheist, which she considered to be a key part of Objectivism. She was strictly materialist, in the “if you can’t touch it, it’s not real” sense, and had a great dislike for what she saw as irrational mysticism. This has turned off many conservatives who might otherwise embrace it. There’s no wiggle room for reconciling religion with science, and this matter remains a hot topic of discussion.
Rand didn’t personally put much emphasis on family ties, and this is reflected in the childless heroes of her novels. This is an unfortunate lapse, since youth is the future. Our families are part of who we are, even as individuals. Further, she was pro-abortion; she wasn’t a feminist (and took a lot of heat for saying a woman wouldn’t make a good President), but endorsed their most lethal position. If she’d witnessed one of these ghastly procedures, perhaps she would’ve changed her mind.
Objectivism galvanized a great many. Eventually, a cult of personality emerged around her, which she didn’t discourage. If it seems inconsistent that a passionate advocate of rationality and individualism would have a cult-like following, it is.
Rand got into a polyamorous relationship with Nathaniel Branden, then her top disciple, a detail many consider immoral. To make a long story short, he broke up with her, and that caused a rift severely damaging the Objectivist community. Polyamory does have a high drama potential, and bad breakups are a cost of doing business, but it would’ve been much better kept as a private matter.
Despite striving for perfection, Rand was still only human, and subject to personal flaws. Whatever these shortcomings were, confusing the messenger with the message is mistaken.
The possible influence of Rand’s background
There are some, such as David Duke, who regard her Jewish ancestry suspiciously (her birth name was Alisa Zinivievna Rosenbaum). It’s a bit indelicate, but I should address it lest it be the elephant in the room. Perhaps too much has been made of it; there are far more deserving targets for criticism. Rand was pro-Israel (though saying fairly little about it), seeing Palestinians as dreadfully backward, per the general opinion of Muslims as fanatical “camel jockeys”. I’m not taking sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict, but there are reasons why that stereotype exists.
As an atheist who didn’t consider ethnicity important (even her own), she didn’t feel her Jewish roots strongly; no more than I consider my very scanty Mormon background while I enjoy a cold beer. Neither did she have a self-hatred complex like Karl Marx or certain key globalists today. Actually, she greatly admired us, and lacked any ill will or rivalry toward gentiles. By some others, that most unfortunately has led to friction, ultimately destructive to both sides.
Did her latent Jewishness inspire her notions on materialism? She did carefully work out her ideology from first principles and believed what she said. So we should consider Objectivism on its own terms, at least until some scientist discovers a gene for materialism. I’m happy to recognize overall positive Jewish contributions; more of the same (and fewer negative ones) will help alleviate the regrettable friction. Those concerned about anti-Semitism should note this well.
What can be learned from Ayn Rand
Objectivism is like spicy food: some like it and some don’t. Extending the analogy, it can be a refreshing break if you’ve been fed a steady diet of nothing but baloney. It does have much to contribute to politics and philosophy, serving as a remedy for much worn-out leftist thought. Still, it does have some negatives, most of which are from taking good principles too far as well as shortsightedness in some areas.
Objectivism is not really a “pick and choose” ideology. An Objectivist diverging on one of the major tenets (or perhaps some minor one) might be criticized for not being a true Objectivist. This “all or nothing” approach surely turns off some who agree with most of it. However, there’s nothing stopping us from learning from its good points, or deciding how far it is beneficial to take them.
If Objectivism gives a Libertarian a sharper ideological perspective, there’s no harm in that. If it causes a liberal to lose faith in socialism, that’s even better. If exposure to Objectivist epistemology causes someone steeped in mainstream conservatism to realize that one must consider uncomfortable truths, that person might shed the PC blinders. Rather than an ideological dead end, Objectivism’s clarity, emphasis on reason, and barbecuing leftist sacred cows can be a launching point to other valuable perspectives such as ours.
Read More: Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal