The Rand Centennial

Various people have commented today on Ayn Rand's 100th birthday, including -

* Bryan Caplan
* Alex Tabarrok
* Tyler Cowen
* Roderick T. Long
* Russell Roberts
* Will Wilkinson
* Radley Balko has some links up

As Tyler states, she made a great sociologist. One theme I appreciated in Rand's novels is how there is always some measure of hatred toward successful people. Some of my acquaintances are cheering for the Patriots to lose this weekend's Super Bowl for the mere fact that they've won two others in the last three years. One direct quote was, "I hate the Patriots. They win too much." Rooting for the underdog is one thing; despising success is another beast altogether. I also notice this tendency in the blogosphere. People will begin to dislike a blog and make unintelligible criticisms about it, from what I can tell, only due to its success. It's a general rule of life: if you're successful, someone will hate you for the mere fact that you accomplished something. Why? I don't know.

Another point that Tyler makes is that though there may be flaws in her philosophy, there are flaws in every philosopher's work - enormous, gaping holes - and in comparison to other philosophers, her work stands on its own, although that may be a consequence of my belief that moral philosophy has made little progress over the last two thousand years.

In contrast to many libertarians, my views were spurred not by Rand, but rather by Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich A. Hayek originally and more recently by David Friedman and Randy Barnett. While Rand might have been a lone voice for individual liberty many decades ago when statist assumptions were much more common than they are even today, I don't know if her influence is a net positive for liberty today. Though I agree with most of the political positions of her modern-day followers, the cost has been dogmatism that drives away people from ideas about limited government after first contact. Often when I reveal I am a libertarian, people automatically assume that I will spout the usual Objectivist arguments when in fact, they have almost nothing to do with my worldview. Persuasion becomes an even more uphill battle than it already is.

Among Rand's more doctrinaire followers, there is a too great a tendency to see the world in overly-simplified terms instead of all its complexity, a failure of introspection and self-criticism, and an inability to take others' ideas seriously. Perhaps the most egregious flaw is the vilification of anyone who cannot see the arguments as unintelligent or irrational. The vast majority of people, including friends, family, and co-workers, are relegated to the status of the subhuman since the fraction of Objectivists in the population is so small. They are further driven outside the mainstream, angry at the world for not seeing what they see, not intuiting what they intuit. Rather than getting caught in the feedback loop of dogmatism and isolation, I wish some of the modern day followers of Rand would take a more skeptical, questioning method to philosophy and a more open-minded approach in their interactions with others.

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Jon Pierce has posted a

Jon Pierce has posted a piece on Rand's attitudes towards Art and music. Many of us in London attended an event at the ASI celebrating the life of Rand.

While I admire much of her philosophy; I find her fiction to be turgid and verbose.

I find it ironic that you

I find it ironic that you seem to have a simplified, very black and white view of Rands followers that lacks any appreciation of their complexity.

Did you read the part about "among Rand's more doctrinaire followers..." and "some of the modern day followers of Rand..."? It's evident I do not have a simplified view of Rand's followers. I was clearly referring to a subset. If you read this blog you know we often link approvingly to people like Rod Long, Chris Sciabarra, and Tim Sandefur - all greatly influenced by Rand.

You then go on to vilify them claiming they lack the ability of self criticism or even introspection!

Yes, some of them do lack this ability, denying outright that consequences have any bearing on what actions one ought to take, insisting that evolutionary explanations of human behavior are bunk, not realizing how varied our moral intuitions can be, maintaining that simplistic axioms of morality can guide every possible scenario, and not grasping the fact that they violate those axioms everyday.

You also wrote an entire post without engaging any of the basic ideas of the woman you are criticizing, almost as if you don’t take her ideas seriously.

The first paragraph of my post praised her work, the second defended it, and the third and fourth was a criticism of a subset of her followers. I never criticized "the woman". A lot worse has been written online and in the blogosphere in the last couple of days about her and her ideas.

Some of Rand's followers need to grow a thicker skin.

Theres virtually nothing

Theres virtually nothing philosophically that can stand in the way of her logic juggernaut. The worlds greatest religious dogmas are like childish prattle compared to her genius. Probably the greatest mind altering human to ever have lived.

I will freely admit Ayn Rand

I will freely admit Ayn Rand was not a perfect person, nor did she produce a perfect philosophy.

But it is Ayn, so far as I can tell, who way back when planted those first seeds of political philosophy in me. Ayn alone contorted my entire world view into something new and vibrantly original. Perhaps I was always a libertarian at heart, and perhaps I would have found the stance on my own, but regardless, there was a magic in that first reading of Atlas Shrugged. I saw the world from a new view, and though that view was (is?) still foggy with contradiction and ambiguity, without Ayn, I might not have even looked in that direction.

Happy Birthday, Ayn.

To me, when people say that

To me, when people say that something is “complex,” it means that certain people are not able to comprehend it – it requires training, intelligence and experience to properly grasp it.

I don’t believe that “the world” as a whole is complex, in that I don’t believe there’s any inherent barrier to understanding it. I think that any person with intact mental faculties can look at the world around them and understand what is right and wrong – that some do not does not indicate complexity, but rather that those people are distressed by the reality they see and choose to believe something else.

I do believe that the world "as a whole" is complex. So are many ethical dilemmas. Choices are not always black and white. Rather than assume that everyone who doesn't agree with you are "not able to comprehend it" or are too dumb to properly grasp it, I suggest trying to convince them of your point of view, and periodically convincing yourself again that you are correct.

She established a holistic philosophy in which capitalism and freedom were the only moral choices, just as certain policies are the inescapable conclusions of major religions.

Before Rand, any defense of capitalism and freedom were based on either “they work better” or on other incomplete philosophies, such as natural rights or Christianity. She produced an internally consistent philosophy that justified capitalism and freedom.

Certainly, she believed she did, and many of her followers believe she did, but I am not convinced she did. I must lack the necessary "mental faculties".

Rob - some arguments one

Rob - some arguments one gets tired of having. I've been wearied of arguing with Oists just by watching David Friedman do so on Usenet for the past 15 years. Why must we repeat the arguments every time we reference Rand?

But if you really want, I'll give it briefly: Rand claims that the definition of man is as a rational animal, and his behaviors and actions all flow from there. That is simply false. Evolutionary biology gives us the definition and origin of man's nature, and makes it very clear that while intelligence is part of it, so are a multitude of consistent irrationalities. The empirical evidence demolishes Rand's invented axiom. Once you realize that people are not rational, but are deeply irrational, smart tribal apes, evolved to survive and reproduce, many of her arguments go out the window.

As for the view of Oists, while individuals certainly have varying viewpoints, in examining the differences between the two sets "Objectivists" and "Non-Objectivist libertarians", I see clear and consistent patterns. And those patterns have to do with just what Jonathan is talking about, like a blindness to grey. Hence I blame the philosophy. (One could call it a selection effect, except the same pattern is true for individuals who at one time are Oists and at another time aren't).

Brian - It is not the the

Brian - It is not the the case that one can merely look at the world and determine what is right and wrong. Or rather, you can, but you don't get the same answer as everyone else. Lots of people have lots of different beliefs about what is obviously right and wrong. That is a clearly true empirical statement about the world.

And what Rand's philosophy gains in internal consistency I believe it loses in being wrong. You can build a very pretty structure from incorrect axioms, but its prettiness does not save it from being wrong.

I find it ironic that you

I find it ironic that you seem to have a simplified, very black and white view of Rands followers that lacks any appreciation of their complexity. You then go on to vilify them claiming they lack the ability of self criticism or even introspection! You also wrote an entire post without engaging any of the basic ideas of the woman you are criticizing, almost as if you don't take her ideas seriously.

Is your opinion based mostly on message board discussion or people that you have met and interacted with over lengthy periods of time in person? I know a lot of these people that you are referring too, and each of them are complex thoughtful people capable of a great deal of introspection.

Rand was hardly the lone

Rand was hardly the lone individualist, anti-collectivist voice of her era. There were Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Rose Wilder Lane, Alfred Jay Nock, Garet Garrett, HL Mencken plus Hayek and Hazlett.

Certainly, along with Mises and Friedman, and before them, Spooner, Tucker, and the Founders. Perhaps I should have have modified "lone voice" with "with mainstream influence".

I've read a lot of her work

I've read a lot of her work and never once sensed or read her say if you didn't 'get it' you weren't 'worthy' or some such nonsense. maybe peoples feelings get hurt too easily, not quite sure where that comes from.:???:

Rand was hardly the lone

Rand was hardly the lone individualist, anti-collectivist voice of her era. There were Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Rose Wilder Lane, Alfred Jay Nock, Garet Garrett, HL Mencken plus Hayek and Hazlett. The source of Rand's appeal has to lie somewhere other than her unique commitment to liberty.

"Among Rand’s more

"Among Rand’s more doctrinaire followers, there is a too great a tendency to see the world in overly-simplified terms instead of all its complexity,"

You could replace "Among Rand’s more doctrinaire followers" with "In Rand's writing."

“Among Rand’s more

“Among Rand’s more doctrinaire followers, there is a too great a tendency to see the world in overly-simplified terms instead of all its complexity,”

Certainly, many specific topics within the world are complex -- like quantum physics or tax forms. But I don't believe that morality and philosophy are complex, and I think that's what Rand was referring to. To me, when people say that something is "complex," it means that certain people are not able to comprehend it -- it requires training, intelligence and experience to properly grasp it.

I don't believe that "the world" as a whole is complex, in that I don't believe there's any inherent barrier to understanding it. I think that any person with intact mental faculties can look at the world around them and understand what is right and wrong -- that some do not does not indicate complexity, but rather that those people are distressed by the reality they see and choose to believe something else.

"The source of Rand’s appeal has to lie somewhere other than her unique commitment to liberty."

I believe you are right. Her appeal is this: I think that Rand outlined much (certainly not all) of the philosophical basis for the capitalist and libertarian "policies." When Adam Smith wrote about free markets, his was primarily a utilitarian argument; influenced as he was by Utilitarian thinkers. Many had justified "freedom" and capitalism through Christianity, social good, 'The American Way,' or whatever. She established a holistic philosophy in which capitalism and freedom were the only moral choices, just as certain policies are the inescapable conclusions of major religions.

Before Rand, any defense of capitalism and freedom were based on either "they work better" or on other incomplete philosophies, such as natural rights or Christianity. She produced an internally consistent philosophy that justified capitalism and freedom. I believe this was her greatest achievement.

I posted last week on The

I posted last week on The Problem With Libertarians, and one of my key points was on Rand.

I think Ayn Rand holds a dear place in the world of libertarianism. Frankly, I don't think I would have found libertarianism without Ayn Rand, so "Atlas Shrugged" tops my book list.

That being said, we need to understand her place in the movement, and not throw a crown on her head and a scepter in her hand. One of the biggest issues I see is people using her argumentative style, leading to marginalization of the person doing the argument.

If nothing else, we need to realize that Ayn Rand lived and wrote 50 years ago. While the same arguments still apply, they need to at the very least be put into today's language.

Patri Friedman — February

Patri Friedman — February 05, 2005 @ 6:20 pm wrote:

"Rob - some arguments one gets tired of having. I’ve been wearied of arguing with Oists just by watching David Friedman do so on Usenet for the past 15 years. Why must we repeat the arguments every time we reference Rand?"

Well, see my comment below. You simply do not understand her arguments.

"But if you really want, I’ll give it briefly: Rand claims that the definition of man is as a rational animal, and his behaviors and actions all flow from there. That is simply false."

First of all, Ayn Rand did not equate - as you falsely do - definitions with concepts: please consult her "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" for a detailed exposition on her theory of concept formation. She knew that human beings have the potential for irrational thought and behavior and that is why she developed her defense for reason.

"Evolutionary biology gives us the definition and origin of man’s nature, and makes it very clear that while intelligence is part of it, so are a multitude of consistent irrationalities. The empirical evidence demolishes Rand’s invented axiom."

When Ayn Rand defined (using Aristoteles correct definition) man as a rational animal, she did not mean that men was determined to be rationality. She knew man had volition (the cognitive capacity to regulate one's thought) and could choose actions contrary to mans ontological nature. But because man must by ontological necessity gain his knowledge of the world and how to gain values by thinking, he should therefore think rationally. Reason is the only means of thinking, gaining knowledge and living a good life proper to man. Your interpretation of her viewpoint is just silly.

"Once you realize that people are not rational, but are deeply irrational, smart tribal apes, evolved to survive and reproduce, many of her arguments go out the window."

But do you not at least see that people do not _have_ to be irrational? Was it smart tribal apes that lifted mankind from despair and the brute forces of nature uncontrolled, to our present level? You have a very dark view of mans nature I must say. In fact, it is in all essentials in agreement with the viewpoint Hobbes advanced in Leviathan. And why on earth should man have freedom if he's just a silly, primitive irrational ape as you claim?

"As for the view of Oists, while individuals certainly have varying viewpoints, in examining the differences between the two sets “Objectivists” and “Non-Objectivist libertarians", I see clear and consistent patterns. And those patterns have to do with just what Jonathan is talking about, like a blindness to grey. Hence I blame the philosophy. (One could call it a selection effect, except the same pattern is true for individuals who at one time are Oists and at another time aren’t)."

By the way, Ayn Rand loathed the libertarian movement and said that her philosophy had nothing in common with it. She called the movement the "hippies of the left".

Comment by Patri Friedman — February 05, 2005 @ 6:20 pm

Harald: "But because man

Harald:

"But because man must by ontological necessity gain his knowledge of the world and how to gain values by thinking, he should therefore think rationally."

You are smuggling in an "ought."

Compare the structure of your statement:

Because A is only accessible by B, man should thus behave as B.

That doesn't follow without some premise: man ought to seek A.

For instance, consider the statement. Because man must by gravital necessity construct rockets to get off of Earth, he should therefore develop rocket technology.

The statement is only true if we presuppose that man ought to get off of Earth.

The question is thus: from whence does Rand derive her ought: that man ought to gain knowledge of the world?

"Reason is the only means of thinking, gaining knowledge and living a good life proper to man."

Your definition of what a "good life proper to man" is is blatantly subjective.

"But do you not at least see that people do not have to be irrational?"

Of course, but people do not have to be rational either.

"Was it smart tribal apes that lifted mankind from despair and the brute forces of nature uncontrolled, to our present level?"

It could very well be a combination of both, but regardless, whether or not what you are describing is true, it still has no normative force without a way of deriving an ought. It may be true that rationality "lifts" mankind, but to get to the conclusion that man should thus act rationally, you need an ought: you need to show that man ought to act in such a way as to lift mankind.

"And why on earth should man have freedom if he’s just a silly, primitive irrational ape as you claim?"

Because the only alternative to freedom is being ruled by other primitive irrational apes.