Saturday, March 30, 2013

Correcting False Claims about Ayn Rand's Ideas

Again, I was unable to restrain myself from defending Ayn Rand's ideas against gross misrepresentations. Thankfully, they are the same misrepresentations I see throughout liberal/progressive blogs and media articles. So my response is ready-to-post because I have posted many variants of it. This time, I responded to a comment from an article that criticizes the funding of the Florida Gulf Coast economics department by the Koch brothers. As an aside, despite some misguided decisions (e.g., funding the Romney Presidential campaign), I have every reason to believe the Koch brothers are libertarian and fund organizations that support political and economic liberty.

There were several false claims about her philosophy, but I picked one that seemed to capture most of misrepresentations in one sentence!

The quote: "When an ideology preaches that volunteerism, altruism, charity, generosity, cooperation, etc. are harmful."

My response: If you can find a single quote to prove this claim, you would be lying. This false claim (which appears to be mostly made by liberals/progressives) of Ayn Rand's ideas is widespread on the Internet. When you make these false claims, you are not exhibiting "free thought." When many of you misrepresent Rand's ideas with the same smears, that's called "group think." It also reveals that you did not read Rand (or if you did, you need to review what she actually wrote). What I suspect is happening is that these false claims are being propagated by online "criticisms" of Rand. Again, this is not evidence of "thinking for yourself."

What did Ayn Rand say about "charity?" [From the Ayn Rand Lexicon]. "My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue." How did Rand define altruism? (Hint: She did not define it as "helping others." She used the term as it was originally coined by August Comte. However, today "altruism" practically means "helping others.")

Again, from the Ayn Rand Lexicon: "What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value. Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good...

The fact that a man has no claim on others (i.e., that it is not their moral duty to help him and that he cannot demand their help as his right) does not preclude or prohibit good will among men and does not make it immoral to offer or to accept voluntary, non-sacrificial assistance. It is altruism that has corrupted and perverted human benevolence by regarding the giver as an object of immolation, and the receiver as a helplessly miserable object of pity who holds a mortgage on the lives of others—a doctrine which is extremely offensive to both parties, leaving men no choice but the roles of sacrificial victim or moral cannibal."

To read a scholarly analysis of Ayn Rand's view on altruism and why she opposed it, see this excellent series of essays by George H. Smith.

Did Rand oppose "cooperation" or "volunteerism?" That's simply absurd. She opposed the welfare state, which mandates how money (from taxation) is to redistributed/spent (i.e., no longer the individual's choice). And she opposed involuntary taxation because it was based upon coercion (e.g., imprisonment). But to know this about Rand, you would need to read her first!

Indeed, she was all for voluntary cooperation, namely, promoting that people act freely (without coercion) in their rational self-interest, especially through trade. Whenever you buy something, you are trading. You are coming to a mutual agreement. In short, you are cooperating! I know it's hard for some progressives to not view the free market as a non-coercive mechanism for cooperation (probably thanks to left-leaning indoctrination), but that's a fact of reality and it's time to stop denying it.
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