Why the world should shrug off Atlas


As the current presidential cycle reaches a fever pitch, each party in an existential struggle to choose either an establishment or outsider figurehead, the philosophies which drive each candidate’s politics are often only vaguely hinted at.

One of the most predominant political philosophies of the current cycle is Libertarianism, a carnivorous philosophy of selfishness which rejects the American collectivism of Social Security and Medicare and which borrows its economic philosophies from Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.

Though most students aware of Ayn Rand know her as the author of the novel “Atlas Shrugged,” she was once considered amongst college students as something of a philosophical deity. Her reign as such peaked in the sixties on college campuses, much as Scientology had down in the fifties.

Her philosophy, Objectivism, decreed altruism and self-sacrifice as moral evils perpetuated by witch doctors in the service of Attilas — tribal chiefs who rule through force and can only take what is produced by others.

It is only through the businessman’s use of reason as the sole driving force of action, without government intervention, that society flourishes. Through the sole pursuit of one’s own success, these giants of industry contribute to the community in a way reminiscent of trickle-down economics.

The only true virtues in Objectivism are selfishness and productivity, and any enforcement of altruism through government intervention, in the forms of taxes or legislated morality, leads inevitably — or so Rand posits—to the collectivist death of individual rights. In short, state-sponsored altruism and taxes lead to Communism or Fascism.

Nazi Germany was, to Rand, the epitome of forced altruism, and to allow the government to demand taxes and conscription from us, among Rand’s more palatable ideals was an objection to the draft, could only lead to a government believing it can demand our life from us for the good of the ‘Volk.’

“In some sense, it’s an extreme expression of the individual in consumer culture and the capitalist conception of what it means to be a part of the human species,” said Patricia Glazebrook, director of the School of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs at WSU. “It’s a deeply problematic view when we live in a world that requires an ethics that’s much broader than selfish intention.”

To put this philosophy in context, America is in many ways a society based on the social contract of Hobbes the philosopher, or as it is most often taught to children, the ‘Golden Rule.’

Citizens protect those who are struggling with the belief that if they were to meet their own struggles, the community they contribute to would protect them from ruin.

This sense of implicit social altruism is the founding sentiment on which all social benefits are built, and it is a telling influence of Objectivism and its ilk that all such social programs must be explained to the public in terms of global benefits.

It is becoming more common to hear politicians describe Medicare, not in how it can create a livable life for the elderly or the disabled, but in how it economically benefits the country and thus any given individual.

Rand would of course not accept this pragmatism, and as altruism is a moral sin to Objectivists, demanded an end to such benefits and securities. To Rand, spending tax money to benefit “subnormal children and the mentally disabled” reduced all of society to the level of the handicapped.

The Objectivist sees only men of industry, the Atlas’ of society, as being worthy of influence. The amazingly fundamental lack of understanding of economics is expressed this way, completely forgetting that Rand’s men of industry were organizers, and that their power and industry came from the collection of workers and the Advent of machines.

It is not that the businessman deserves no credit for the achievements of his company, but that ultimately it is the achievement of the company, i.e., the collection of workers.

It is this forgetfulness that leads Objectivists to despise labor unions, despite the union’s legitimate desire to have influence proportionate to their importance as a collective.

It is important to remember that though no Objectivists are currently running for influential office, the Libertarian movement is in many ways the most powerful amalgamation of Objectivism currently active.

Ironically, the Libertarian movement is largely a marriage of Objectivism and Christianity, which the ideologically atheist Rand would have found abhorrent.

In the essay, “Philosophy: Who Needs It,” Rand regarded the movement as, “the “libertarian” hippies, who subordinate reason to whims.”

Yet, no amount of decades-old condemnation from Rand has any stopping power to this political movement, and indeed the strongest condemnation of the group must be ideological, not epistemological.

America has never been strengthened by the wholesale dismissal of its vulnerable populations, nor is it becoming of a democratic culture to assume that the elderly and disabled do not make vital contributions to society.

Decades of trickle-down economics has created a gap in wealth and power unsustainable in a country of supposed equality. Rand’s philosophy fails us collectively, though she would claim this is because we are philosophically immoral.

Perhaps more so in this presidential cycle than in any in living memory, it is important to remember that what we’re really voting for is not a politician, but a philosophy.