Ayn Rand Bashing Time, Once Again
by Walter Block: Arguing
With a Leftist
Itís Ayn Rand
bashing time once again. Our "friends" on the left are
on the warpath for a change, and have Miss Rand in their crosshairs.
tell, are the charges? It would appear that Ayn Rand, one of the
greatest libertarian minds as far as I am concerned in the entire
history of mankind, is, wait for it; no, you had better be sitting
down when you read this or I wonít be responsible for your doctor
bills, is, yes, a socialist! And a hypocrite to boot. And
why is this? It is because while she railed against Social
Security and Medicare, she availed herself of payments from these
funds. Isnít that horrible?
these leftie critics are pikers. This leader of Objectivism also
favored the gold standard. Yet, when she went to the store, she
never offered anyone gold coins. Instead, like everyone else, she
paid in fiat coin of the realm, even though she properly detested
this system. She also favored the privatization of the post office,
but she mailed letters care of the hated government monopoly post
office. Shall we indict her, too, for hypocrisy on these grounds?
But wait, the charges against her mount up even more. Ayn also opposed
subsidies to farmers, and yet, ate food produced under this
system. Isnít she really despicable? She thought the New
York City taxi medallion system was a socialist disgrace, and yet,
upon occasion, could be found ensconced in a Yellow Cab.
hope and trust everyone realizes where I am going with this. I am
not at all joining her critics and "piling up" on Ayn
Rand. Very much to the contrary, I am demonstrating, via the reductio
ad absurdum method, that the argument of these real socialists has
not a logical leg to stand upon.
full disclosure here, I am an avid admirer of Ayn Rand. When I was
22 years old and a senior in college, I was converted to my present
political economic philosophy by her, personally, and by reading
her monumental Atlas
Shrugged. I read it for the first time then, in a fevered
heat; I got very little sleep during the weekend that I first read
that book. I have read it every decade since (albeit at a more leisurely
pace), and have benefited from new insights upon each rereading.
critics entirely misunderstand the Randian philosophy. Suppose Ragnar
Danneskjold (my favorite character in Atlas) breaks into
the illegitimate governmentís coffers, liberates (it is logically
impossible to steal from an illicit state) some treasure, and turns
it over to Hank Rearden. Is that a just act? Of course. Indeed,
it is one of the high points of Atlas, a book which, I assume,
has never been read and understood by her present critics. But the
act of liberation and then transfer to Rearden consists of two parts.
One, seizing the money from the government, and, two, subsequently
giving it to Rearden. If the entire act is to be legitimate, then
each of the two constituent parts of it must be proper. Two
wrongs cannot make a right. Thus, in Randís view, it is entirely
proper to relieve the (illegitimate) government of its ill-gotten
gains (the first part of this dual act). Was the U.S. a legitimate
laissez faire government during the years that Ayn Rand accepted
payments from Social Security and Medicare? To ask this question
is to answer it: of course not. Thus, it would have been entirely
proper for Ragnar to raid the Social Security and Medicare offices
and make off with their stolen wealth, and, then, to give the proceeds
to an innocent, such as Ayn Rand. If so, where is the hypocrisy
of Ayn Rand accepting payments directly from these government bureaus?
It simply does not exist. Similarly, she and all other libertarians
are fully justified in mailing letters with the US post office and
thus accepting the implicit subsidy therein, and, also, walking
on the socialist
sidewalks, driving on the socialist
using money issued by our central bank, eating subsidized food,
etc. It is improper to give money to the illicit state, not
to take from these bureaucrats. Did Ayn Rand ever contribute
money to the semi-socialist-fascist government? If she did, then
and only then would her critics have a case. But, of course, she
never came within a million miles of doing any such thing. I have
made this "Ragnar" case here,
I write so often about this issue because even libertarians (see
below) misunderstand it.
But wait. One
of the critics of Miss Rand cited above makes great play over the
following: "Rand is one of three women the Cato Institute calls
founders of American libertarianism. The other two, Rose Wilder
Lane and Isabel ĎPatí Paterson, both rejected Social Security benefits
on principle. Lane, with whom Rand corresponded for several years,
once quit an editorial job in order to avoid paying Social Security
taxes. The Cato Institute says Lane considered Social Security a
ĎPonzi fraudí and Ďtold friends that it would be immoral of her
to take part in a system that would predictably collapse so catastrophically.í"
is that no matter how well intended were Lane and Paterson, both
misconstrued the libertarian philosophy on this point. Again, what
is improper is to give money to the illicit government (unless
under duress), not to take money away from these thieves.
If it was a rights violation for Lane and Paterson to accept Social
Security payments, why was it acceptable for them to use streets,
subways, taxis, the post office, currency, etc., which these two
women most obviously did. Lane and Paterson were staunch libertarians
in many ways, but neither was, God bless her (so to speak), an Ayn
criticisms of Miss Rand bespeak a serious misunderstanding of her
philosophy. These critics would do well to read Atlas Shrugged
(I greatly envy them; never again shall I be able to read this magnificent
book for the first time), with special emphasis on the relationship
between Ragnar and Hank Rearden.
Block [send him mail] is a
professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, and a senior
fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of Defending
the Undefendable and Labor
Economics From A Free Market Perspective. His latest book
Privatization of Roads and Highways.
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