Friday, January 28, 2011

Libertarianism and Self Interest

Funny... here's a story about the icon of Libertarians, Ayn Rand, having feet of clay. This was published in the Huffington Post:
Miss Rand, famously a believer in rugged individualism and personal responsibility, was a strong defender of self-interest. She was a staunch opponent of government programs from the New Deal and Social Security to the Great Society and Medicare.

A Library of Congress survey of the most influential books on American readers, "Atlas Shrugged" ranked second only to the Bible. Rand's influence is encyclopedic ranging from Alan Greenspan to Paul "I grew up on Ayn Rand" Ryan (R-Wis), a "Young Gun" who aims to cut or privatize Medicare and Social Security.

The Right should be commended politically for their ability to develop and stick to a unified message. But close inspection of this unified message reveals a disappointing secret identified by a student of the Godfather of Neo-conservatism, --- the University of Chicago's Leo Strauss. The student, Anne Norton ("Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire") identified what she called VIP-DIP meaning Venerated in Public, Disdained in Private. "Do as I say, not as I do." The list of vip-dipers on the Right runs from Harold Bloom to Newt Gingrich, but certainly not Ayn Rand. Right?


A heavy smoker who refused to believe that smoking causes cancer brings to mind those today who are equally certain there is no such thing as global warming. Unfortunately, Miss Rand was a fatal victim of lung cancer.

However, it was revealed in the recent "Oral History of Ayn Rand" by Scott McConnell (founder of the media department at the Ayn Rand Institute) that in the end Ayn was a vip-dipper as well. An interview with Evva Pryror, a social worker and consultant to Miss Rand's law firm of Ernst, Cane, Gitlin and Winick verified that on Miss Rand's behalf she secured Rand's Social Security and Medicare payments which Ayn received under the name of Ann O'Connor (husband Frank O'Connor).

As Pryor said, "Doctors cost a lot more money than books earn and she could be totally wiped out" without the aid of these two government programs. Ayn took the bail out even though Ayn "despised government interference and felt that people should and could live independently... She didn't feel that an individual should take help."

But alas she did and said it was wrong for everyone else to do so. Apart from the strong implication that those who take the help are morally weak, it is also a philosophic point that such help dulls the will to work, to save and government assistance is said to dull the entrepreneurial spirit.

In the end, Miss Rand was a hypocrite but she could never be faulted for failing to act in her own self-interest.
This is funny because it shows that Ayn Rand was consistent in her beliefs. She believed in self interest. If that meant that you sell the suckers a philosophy of "objectivism" to make it easier to pick their pockets, that is fine. If it means that you are a VIP-DIPer, that is fine. It is for small minds to be consistent. For demi-gods like Ayn Rand, the rules don't apply. They are simply rules to allow her to acquire great wealth worthy of her noble mind. Leave it to pettyfoggers and the impotent to quibble about consistency and the "principles" of libertarianism. Ayn Rand knew what she was doing. She was selling snake oil to line her pockets. Only fools would believe that snake oil is "medicine". It isn't. It is a vehicle for self aggrandizement by the "great minds" of history such as Ayn Rand.

From the Wikipedia article on Libertarianism:
Modern libertarianism was influenced by Ayn Rand's international bestsellers The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957) and her books about her philosophy of Objectivism Two other women also published influential pro-freedom books in 1943, Rose Wilder Lane's The Discovery of Freedom and Isabel Paterson's The God of the Machine.

In the 1950s many with classical liberal beliefs in the United States began to describe themselves as "libertarian." Academics as well as proponents of the free market perspectives note that free-market libertarianism has been successfully propagated beyond the US since the 1970s via think tanks and political parties and that libertarianism is increasingly viewed worldwide as a free market position. However, Libertarian socialists Noam Chomsky, Colin Ward and others say the term is still considered a synonym of anarchism in countries other than the US.

Arizona United States Senator Barry Goldwater's libertarian-oriented challenge to authority had a major impact on the libertarian movement,[45] through his book The Conscience of a Conservative and his run for president in 1964.[46] Goldwater's speech writer, Karl Hess, became a leading libertarian writer and activist.
Admit it... you have to rank "libertarianism" up there with the other great "systems of thought" like Hitler's "nazism" and Mao Tse-tung's "little red book".

The wonderful thing about Ayn Rand is that she helped the social system by making sure that those "little people" who would simply suck wealth out of the economy for their petty interests could be tricked into believing he confection called "libertarianism" which would allow the truly noble minds of their time -- like her -- to enjoy an even bigger share of the social wealth. She convinced them to disdain government. That left more for her. This is the secret of all great minds. Get people to throw away their lives in order to let you have more goodies to frolic with and waste. In short, treat humans an objects to be disposed of as fits your fancies.


thomas said...


Thank you for posting this; we need this kind of thing from time to time to lighten up the day if nothing else.

My thought; it seems like people latch onto onto these gods that are not any better than any other human, but people become convinced that what they say or write is how life should be lived. I used to wonder about the charismatic leader of the church I attended for years; did he really believe the stuff he preached or was it a show and a way to make money? Most people in the church thought he could do no wrong and lived as he preached and no one would think of even quietly criticizing him. The amazing thing is that there are so many that believe in Rand's writing as if it came directly from heaven.. And, they ignore or don't believe in any "sins" she committed. Amazing how this works.

RYviewpoint said...

Thomas: I saw how people could be fooled when as I got older I realized that one of my grandfathers had turned to religion in the Great Depression in a strangely self rewarding way. He went from running a bar where his musical talents helped bring in the clients to back on the farm and starving to becoming a preacher where his musical talents could bring in parishioners.

I went from being in awe of his religiosity to a cynical appreciation of how his dramatic skills could invoke sincere belief in his congregations. He was a bit of a star. He was sent from place to place because he had a knack for quickly growing a congregation.

But eventually the church "pensioned him off" because he also had a knack for seducing women. It seems that he hit on one of the side benefits of being a religious leader. Some of the faithful assumed that if you could preach powerfully then you must be close to God and good yourself. Sadly, this isn't true.

We are big-brained apes and it is built into us to look up to leaders. People like Ayn Rand (and my grandfather) used this against the very people who followed them. Rather than being an honest leader saying "here's what I think but don't take my word, test it, distrust it, criticize it", Ayn Rand formed a "cell" in which you adopted the great leader's every thought verbatim or you were kicked out. Tragic.

I keep going back to how I like democracy. It is messy. But it lets people battle over ideas. Lots of mistakes are made. But so long as the people are free and can test ideas and throw out the bad ones, democracy is a messy but effective way of getting to a better future. Being an acolyte of Ayn Rand (or some religion leader) is just a good way to get your pocket picked for the benefit of "the dear Leader".

thomas said...


Democracy is probably, at least in theory, the best government in the world. I say, "in theory" because there are so many of the people who don't care to be involved or research, so they can become informed and vote responsibly. But, still, it is far better than any other idea that man has come upon so far.

I am thinking of the tea party people who worship the founding fathers and want to rewrite history to keep from seeing their human side. This is a type of hero worship or deification that the Rand worshippers have done. Their enthusiasm is a pretty dangerous thing in this country right now.