Saturday, October 23, 2010



an essay by Michael Dennis Mooney

"Objectivism," so-called, is an ultraconservative hankering and nostalgia
for Victorian Days when autocrats and oligarchs ruled everything, people
like Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Rockefeller (or in the late-Victorian era,
those like Ford, Edison, and Bell.)

Ayn Rand's objectivism was never a system of thought, nor was it ever, even
slightly, objective. It was the product of Ayn Rand's strongly angry
reaction to growing trends for social democracy in the early part of the
century, some of which went mightily awry (and murderously so with Russian
bolshevism) some of which went fairly well, as with evolving social democracy
in Britain and in Denmark, for example, and in the U.S. under Franklin Roosevelt
and the Democrats.

Ayn Rand was an ultraconservative who was uncomfortable with anything
that pulled away from late-Victorian values, her values. Values she'd
adopted from her headstrong tyrannical mother. The last social thinker Ayn Rand
agreed with was Ebenezer Scooge, pre-conversion. She was stuck in the mud,
like a Model T in a rainstorm. She was so antediluvian she was an embarrassment
to the right. She was, for example, eager to censor fellow screenwriters like
Dalton Trumbo, via her denunciations of them as Un-American during the McCarthy

She was understandably, of course, devastated by the revolution in Russia,
which had indeed confiscated her father's thriving business and her once-affluent
family's home.

Her advocacy of reason and reality are perfectly fine. She wanted ideas
which you can prove with an appeal to reason and to the facts of evidence. Fine.
But her conservatism, her longing for an old-school late-Victorian world of
earnest striving, long hours of hard work, careerism, achievement, and
success is merely her nostalgia. Neither reason nor the facts of reality
recommend to us her passionate longing for the good old days before the car,
the phone, and the electric light bulb, also the days before public education,
municipal hospitals, or pensions and health care for the elderly. Indeed, before
paved sidewalks.

Her entire system was one passionately incensed and bitter reaction, ultimately a
paranoid one, to marxist thought, some version of which she heard all around
her at the University of Petrograd in her late teens, and it surely left an
ugly after-taste with her. She was right to critique socialist states, especially
in their most totalizing idealogical manifestations, as in Soviet Russia and in
Maoist China. But she was wrong to see statist tyranny in the New Deal's social
democracy here: that's just Bircher-style conspiracy theory.

She remained essentially traumatized after she arrived in the West,
deciding that social democracy in general was merely a prelude to bolshevist
revolutionary mayhem. She had become a rather fully paranoid personality, a
reactionary, a rightist.

Her answer to marxist thought was an entire system of anti-marxism, and
that is what so-called objectivism is. Marxists claimed that industrialists
exploited the surplus value of labor. Randianism claims, countering, there
is a surplus of value that inventors and entrepreneurs contribute to a
product which is then exploited by the government's authority for taxation
and for redistribution.

Marxism claims workers are enslaved by low wages and subsistence
living conditions. Anti-marxism, in Randian analysis, says businessmen
are a voiceless exploited minority who are forced to pay for social
democracy, schools, roads, utlities like sewers and water lines,
municipal hospitals, public transport, regional airports, community college
job training facilities.

She fantasizes in Atlas Shrugged that the business execs should go on strike,
the ultimate anti-marxism, a "strike" by the capitalists, and the rest of us
would be mere incompetent shirkers who wouldn't know how to get things done
without the corporate VPs of this world, the Dagny Taggarts, directing us.
That is some fantasy! (Note for readers: Dagny Taggart was the central character in
Atlas Shrugged, dealing with enormous frustration as an executive, in not
being able to find effective employees and reliable suppliers.)

And that is some chutzpah!-- to think of businessmen as a poor downtrodden
minority. I'm sure the executives at Goldman Sachs, at General Motors, at Microsoft,
are telling themselves every day, I'm a poor exploited minority group waif! I'm
like a lil David Copperfield in the workhouse, saying, "Please, sir, can I have a
little more, a little more gruel, sir!"
Actually, maybe at Lehman Brothers,
they are saying that (since the ex-Goldman execs who were insiders at Treasury
let them die like dogs in a blizzard, while Goldman got bailed via its exquisite
connections to the policy makers.)

Now, those who truly were a voiceless exploited minority in Old St. Petersburg
were the Russian Jews, such as Rand's father, who didn't have good legal protections,
as those maintained in Western countries.

Ayn Rand denied she was a conservative, but only because the
prevailing conservative editors and writers she met were too middle-road
and moderate, too relatively timid, to support her strongly felt
anti-communist fury. She couldn't affiliate with them. She was, in fact,
a paleoconservative, an ultra-rightist of a kind that conservatives found
too rigidly dogmatic. She wanted the role of government dialed-back to that of the
era before there were roads! She wanted an American Frontier type of
government, a national militia of some sort, municipal police forces, jails,
and courts. That's it. All else would be the province of the business
community, privately run for profit. Social concerns would be the bailiwick
of church groups, of philanthropic organizations, all non-governmental, no
public treasury monies involved.

Her idea of what capitalism is, or is supposed to be, in fact, never existed.
People with wealth and governmental officials with power always collaborated!
N.Y. Central Railroad under Cornelius Vanderbilt, e.g., literally "owned" every legislator
in New York State via an unpublished payroll. There was never any principled separation
of economic puissance and state power in the history of capitalism, and there isn't
now. But that is what capitalism is: it's an industrial system that has an unfair advantage
due to its capability for getting cozy with the state. So called laissez-faire, the
separation of state and economics, was always merely a theoretical model, an hypothesis
which didn't apply well to facts, by the time of the industrial era. It might have been
meant to apply to an earlier mercantile era, but I'm not sure it applied well then.

Ayn Rand's appeal to reason, also her appeal to the evidence of the perceivable
facts of reality, was not original with her by a long shot. So much for her
"objectvism" as a new philosophy. Her interest in rationalism, in logic and science,
in the objective "facts of reality," was only really new to cultish Ayn Randians,
semi-educated fans of her works, who had read one or two books, hers, fans who
hadn't the background to evaluate her in the broad history of human thought.

[Actually, all of her core beliefs date from the late 1700's and the English
Enlightenment: Laissez-faire and free trade (Adam Smith;) Rational self-interest
as a motive power for productive behavior (Adam Smith;) Limited government (John Locke;)
The perceivable facts of evidence (John Locke and all who came before him, back to
Francis Bacon;) also, Enlightenment Era Rationalism, that of Humboldt and others, who knew
that knowledge was possible and definable through science and good methodologies. Yet she
had no grasp of rationalism's application to twentieth century matters. The last time
she was up to date, philosophically, was in the time of Mozart operas, tricorn hats, knee
breeches, waistcoats, powdered wigs, and snuff. Also duelling pistols!]

Since the era of Voltaire and, following him, all the dozens of
philosophes of the Enlightenment in Europe and in England, there had been
a thorough-going rejection of the non-rational superstition-based thinking of
the church authorities, and a rejection of the birth-right authority of the
land-owning class, the aristocracy and royalty. This appeal to reason by the
philosophes, a group most influenced by Voltaire and Rousseau, created
our ideals of democracy, a striving for a greater equality of opportunity for working
people, it led to the overthrow of aristocracy and kings, to the weakening
of the church, and to the establishment of republics and the rule of law.

This is where reason leads, to greater equality, to opportunities for
industrious people and their families.

Ayn Rand was tempted to mis-use the achievements of the Enlightenment and
its dozens of thinkers. She wrote as if there were no philosophers
before her who recommended reason and opposed authoritarianism. She took credit
for what Voltaire, frequently writing from the Bastille, had done. (Every one
of his nearly 100 volumes was suppressed by royalty, he was often imprisoned,
always writing gay little notes to the king thanking him for the free bread and
water, such hospitality!)

Why did she act as if Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Montesqieu, St Simon,
dozens of others, never wrote their pamphleteering attacks on authoritarianism?
And she was aware of the French language and literature, it was one of her
languages from childhood on. Why?

Because these thinkers wanted to promote increased equality for all people.
They weren't rightist rearguarders fighting against change, but she was!
She was essentially a proto-fascist, a highly intolerant reactionary hate-monger,
a shoot-from-the-hip-ster, someone who'd be glad to see the public's concerns
go to hell while industrialists reaped trillions via the laissez-faire tradition.
The BP disaster, the coasts of the Gulf states despoiled to the tune of tens
of billions in damages, that is what laissez-faire is.

The ultimate "junk shot" to shut-up the spewing BP well would be a boat-load of the
Atlas Shrugged volumes, 1300-plus pages each, that the Ayn Rand
sends out free to the schools. I'm sure there are enough copies
of the laissez-faire new testament in a warehouse somewhere to choke that well forever.
It would be that rare instance of Atlas exerting a benevolent influence!

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