Taking out the Trash:

Ayn Rand and The False Gods of


- By Dimitrije Kostic

Objectivism is a nominal "philosophy" molded around the turgid, unreadable novels of one Ayn Rand. The main characters of Rand's novels extol the supposed virtues of selfishness, egotism, and capitalism. For instance, John Galt, the protaganist of Atlas Shrugged, leads a strike of intellectuals and the discord--resulting, of course, from the subsequent slide into socialism--illustrates the central importance and virtue of the industrialist class. This self-canonized high priestess of Objectivism waves her wand, and confidently intones that, for example, "city smog and filthy rivers...are not the kind of danger that the ecological panic-mongers proclaim them to be." [1] Her flock of true believers--typically white, wealthy, spoiled brats in college who've never anything about capitalism not written by her--take their cue and respond that "multiculturalism is racism in a politically correct guise." [2]

But we all know the Wizard of Oz was a charlatan. And once you glimpse behind the curtain of detached philosophy, the blind, naive faith in capitalism that drives Objectivism is exposed. That's what I really learned at a lecture given by Andrew Bernstein called "Global Capitalism: The Solution to Global Oppression and Poverty." He never bothered to define what makes an economy capitalist, but assured us that "enormous benefits" flow from "capitalism's nature." Among the benefits he cited were an end to the international slave trade and the abolition of child labor in the United States, even though it was actually centuries of popular agitation--movements these same Objectivists regularly decry--that brought an end to these horrific excesses of unbridled capitalism. And what he couldn't ignore or lie about, he whitewashed.

For example, we were told in glowing terms how British colonialism conferred the comforts of local infrastructure--railroads and so forth--to India and, although he didn't say this explicitly, we are to assume this excuses the mass enslavement of the population. He stated, incorrectly, that social welfare programs in Hong Kong did not exist and that health care is entirely privatized [3]. And on and on.

But it's worse than just petty lying. The "reason" that Objectivism pays so much lip service to is nowhere in view. Its followers will not acknowledge, for example, the staggering failures of private corporations to provide any health care to more than 40 million Americans and affordable health care to any of the rest. Instead they offer ludicrous defenses of doctors' "moral right to be free" to ignore the "invalid notion of an individual 'right' to health care" [4] and they drown out inconvenient facts and internal contradictions in their arguments with shouts of "collectivism!", "socialism!", and "altruism!"; slanders Rand herself often employed.

The monotonous use of Rand's vocabulary reflects her messianic stature in the Objectivist movement, even twenty years after her death. Excerpts from her mediocre books adorn Objectivist webpages and clutter their soliloquies. There's a lot of unspoken tension between this fawning idol worship and the atheism Objectivists commit themselves to.

This cult of personality, though generally marginal, does hold some allure among the left, because of its idiosyncratic advocacy of an end to the war on drugs, protection of civil liberties, a loosening of the two-party death grip on American politics, and its rhetorical veneer of reason. But make no mistake: Objectivism is fundamentally Stalinism, reupholstered to couch capitalist sensibilities. No improvement in our society will ever come from a movement claiming that selfishness is the highest human virtue.

Dimitrije Kostic is a graduate student in mathematics at Texas A&M; University. He can be reached at dkostic@math.tamu.edu.


[1] http://environmentalism.aynrand.org/quotes.shtml

[2] http://multiculturalism.aynrand.org/

[3] See http://www.hmiworld.org/past_issues/

Dr William Ho, the chief executive of the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, criticizes Hong Kong's medical system, which is actually run in part by the government and in part by the private sector. Whatever the (mixed) successes of that system are, it is clear that Bernstein was misrepresenting the nature of health care and welfare in Hong Kong.

[4] http://www.aynrand.org/medialink/mylife.shtml

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