Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ayn Rand in Summary

Several days ago I was challenged for being an ideologue without actually understanding conservatism or acknowledging the extreme views of Ayn Rand. As part of this discussion I was asked to respond but in something short of a white paper.

Ayn Rand is a very complex person while paradoxically seeming to be simplistic and predictable. I agree with others in that Rand’s philosophy can be summed up as “Objective Materialism”, but what this means probably falls into the same amorphous category as ‘socially conscious”. Do I find her views “appealing?” Yes and no – I think Rand makes some very valid philosophical points but that doesn’t mean that I subscribe to all of her positions, which can be extreme. Some of the left have asked that I distill Rand’s philosophy into a set of bullet points. The bullets below represent my effort to do so, but condensing Rand’s philosophy into a series of bullets probably cannot provide any in depth insight into her philosophy as a whole. So here is my (pathetic?) attempt to summarize Ayn Rand’s philosophy.

1. Probably the simplest and easiest way to view Rand’s philosophy is to summarize it as the struggle of society and government between individualism and collectivism. Where the individual has a right to be himself and to retain the fruits of his labor while the collectivist represents the right of government to take the fruits of the individual’s labor and use it for the “greater good”.

2. Rand sees the collectivists as destroyers of capitalism and the profit motive who if left unchecked will cause the ultimate collapse of society itself. Although Rand died before the collapse of the USSR I think that bears out her conclusion.

3. The Philosophy of Objectivism essentially is a defense or advocacy for reason, individualism, capitalism, and the free market economy while establishing a rejection of government coercion through laws and regulations intended to further government control and support for the greater good of society.

4. Much of Ayn Rand’s philosophy can be summarized as describing the inherent conflict between Marxism (Rand was a strong anti-Marxist) and Capitalism in the form of a free market and individual rights over the collective.

5. Rand’s Magnum Opus “Atlas Shrugged” actually was a treatise on how fascism, communism, and socialism or any form of government control of society is fatally flawed at its core and ultimately destructive to society as a whole. She feels that any form of coerced self-sacrifice is destructive to society.

6. Perhaps the most controversial part of Ayn Rand’s philosophy is her rejection of God or any sort of higher being. In her philosophy she rejects anything which she sees as claiming authority or control over the individual or the individual’s mind. Whether or not she is an outright Atheist is unclear, but this position puts her at odds with much of the conservative political movement.

7. Rand’s philosophy when examined at its core echo’s the position of Frederic Bastiat (The Law) which postulates that no man or government can obtain anything of value from an individual through force either physical or legal. In effect the rights of the individual are paramount (read rights of property) and that the individual has the fundamental right to the fruits of his labor. In effect Rand supports laissez faire capitalism – a free and unregulated market. Rand (and Bastiat) reject any legislation based on enforced or coerced altruism (e.g. equalization of opportunity) which Rand sees as a triumph of special interests over those who produce value (the individual).

8. Another summarized view of Ayn Rand’s philosophy and what probably makes it attractive to the political conservative is her position that society must protect itself from the parasites and “looters” (her term) who are represented by the “tax the rich politicians”, big labor, government ownership, government spending, government economic planning, onerous federal regulations, and most of all any form of wealth redistribution. That latter point in and of itself makes her philosophy attractive to the political right.

I think the above is a brief summarization of what passes for Ayn Rand’s philosophy called Objectivism and Individualism. There is undoubtedly more than what is shown here but I think these brief paragraphs demonstrate why she is attractive to the political right. Now it can be argued that her positions are extreme and that a society composed entirely of individuals beholden to no one but themselves could not be sustained anymore than the collectivist society that she condemns. On the other hand it can be argued that the US was a great deal richer and freer before the federal government became so powerful while the failure of the collectivist society is demonstrated by the failure of the USSR and the growing woes of the socialist European nations

Monday, May 09, 2011

Bin Laden -- Some Observations

As the details regarding Osama bin Laden continue to unfold it is becoming obvious that his rejection of things western left him vulnerable. Here was a man, a man of great wealth, living a more or less hypocritical existence. He has rejected all things western and called on his followers to live by the Koran. He rejected the Internet, cell phones, satellites, while using them to further his objectives of the overthrow of western society. He lived in a “mansion” we are told but the photos and videos showing his living conditions would have led to his indictment in the US as a slum lord. He feared capture and death while producing videos showing him in various militant poses with weapons. The real irony here is how he lived at the end. Hitler died in his bunker from self administered poison. His dreams of a super race and a Third Reich were crushed by bombs while he was rejected and betrayed by his own military. Stalin apparently died of natural causes but his was an existence of fear and mistrust because he feared all of those around him. So his life was hardly the kind of life anyone would wish and at the very end his own daughter betrayed him. Saddam Hussein ended on the gallows after being dragged out of hole in the ground. For Bin Laden he had effectively been in prison for the last five years, not venturing out beyond his walled compound. Apparently in his rejection of all things western he had failed to read his Shakespeare or he would have learned the lesson of King Lear. Bin Laden had divided his power and those to whom he delegated his power wielded it on their own leaving him ignored, living in squalor, and left to die surrounded by his two remaining loyal followers. So bin Laden followed in the footsteps of all of those mass murders who preceded him.

The pages of history are strewn with examples of how those who misuse their power seem to come to bad ends, destroyed by their friends, allies, or even by their own over reaching for power. Perhaps the lesson is that while empires may be build on blood and treasure individuals cannot achieve a positive place in history using the same methods. Caesar came to power over the bodies of his own citizens but was assassinated by his friends, because he could not bring himself to restore the republic. Napoleon came to power much the same way but he too could not lay down his power and set up a democratic government. George Washington is the only historical figure who having achieved total control over a government and country set aside his power in favor of a government of representatives. In the end, bin Laden ended like all of his predecessors, alone and undefended.